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Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 19031

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Night fell on San Leon; and the searching party which had gone out in the morning, sure of prompt success, returned tired and dispirited. But their places were immediately taken by fresh recruits, Mr. Ford announcing that the matter would not be dropped, night or day, until all hope had to be given up.

Except that Jim's clothes had been left in his room it might have seemed that the lad had run away, feeling himself out of place at San Leon. But the folded garments placed on the chair beside his empty bed told a different tale.

"No, he has wandered off unknowing what he did. Well, when he comes back he shall find his place ready for him and the warmest of welcomes waiting. While we have tried-and will still-to visit every cabin and ranch within reasonable reach, there are many such little shacks dropped here and there among the mountains; and we have probably overlooked the one in which he is sheltered. Open hospitality is a feature of the west. Anybody who comes across the boy will be good to him. Now, let's have a little music and then to bed. A whole day in the saddle tires me, though I'm bound to get used to it yet, and so shall all of you. Come, Erminie, give me a song; and Dorothy dear, get out your violin."

Thus said Mr. Ford, when their evening dinner had been enjoyed and they had all gone out to sit upon the wide veranda, the moonlight flooding the beautiful grounds, and the soft spring air playing about them.

Dorothy felt that she could not play a note, and even Alfaretta was quietly crying in the retired corner she had sought, in the shadow of a pillar. But Mrs. Ford at once obeyed her husband's wish, and as her wonderful voice floated over them it banished every thought save the delight of listening.

The "boys" came over from their "Barracks" and sprawled on the grass, entranced. Hitherto, their life on the ranch had been one of toil, lightened by sports almost as rough, with the evening diversion of swopping stories over their pipes. They hadn't been greatly pleased at the prospect of a lot of strangers living so near them, but already all that was changed; and though they didn't know, till Lemuel informed them, and this singer was one of a few famous artistes, they were moved and touched by the marvellous beauty of her voice.

"You know, boys, it'd be worth ten dollars a ticket-gallery seats, at that-just to get into an opery house an' hark to yonder lady. An' now you're just gettin' it for nothin', free, clear gratis, take it or leave it, ary one. Fact. The 'Boss's' lady is an A 1 singer if she is a-I mean, a poor show at a rifle."

The songs went on till the Gray Lady dared sing no more. Like all trained singers she was careful of her throat and unused, as yet, to the air of this region at night. But when she laughingly declared:

"No more this time; not if I'm to sing again," there was a murmur of dissatisfaction from the group of men about the fountain; and old Captain Lem begged, in their name:

"Just one more, lady, to sleep on. That kind o' music makes a feller hungry for more and sort-of-kind-of sets him thinkin' 'bout things back home."

But Mr. Ford interposed:

"No, Captain, not to-night! I want to have a lot of just such concerts so we mustn't put the prima donna out of condition. But I've a little girl here with a fiddle and I tell you she can just make it talk! Come farther forward, Dolly dear, and stand close to me. Then 'rosin your bow' and get to work. Show these cowboys what a little girl-tenderfoot can do. Maybe, too, who knows? Maybe our Jim will hear it wherever he is and hurry back. At it, child, and call him!"

Lady Gray feared this was a trifle unkind to the girl, who she wished might wholly forget the boy, but the master felt it not so. He knew that nothing would more thoroughly inspire her than this possibility.

"Oh! do you think so? Then I'll play as I never did before-I will, I will!"

She stepped out from the veranda upon the broad walk before it, and with the moonlight pouring down upon her white-clad little figure, her face uplifted to the sky, and her precious violin beneath her chin, she played, indeed, "as she had never done before."

On and on she played; one ranchman after another softly suggesting some desired melody, and her eager little fingers rendering it upon the instant. The men ceased sprawling and sat up. If they had found the Gray Lady's voice a marvel, here was a greater. That any child-a despised "female" child-could evoke such music seemed past belief; and when, at length, Mr. Ford bade her render the beloved "Home, Sweet Home" as a finale, there was a reluctant rising of the audience to its feet, ordered to it by the Captain who, in rather husky tones, stated:

"Ladies and gentlemen, and mostly the little gal, I give the sentiments o' my regiment, to a man, when I say all you tenderfoots is welcome to S' Leon. We wasn't very tickled before, thinkin' all our free livin's an' doin's was to be interfered with, but we are now. Three cheers for the company an' the treat they've give us, more especial for the Little One, and-Long may she wave! Hip, hip, hurrar!"

The cheer was given with a will, and then again came the Captain's order:

"Fall into line. Right about face. March! hep, hep, hep-hep!"

But as they filed away Dorothy had another inspiration and, acting upon it, sent the delighted cowboys marching to the lively air of "Yankee, Doodle, Doodle Doo."

"And now to bed!" advised the hostess. So within a very few moments all were in their rooms, tired and happy despite the worries of the day, and sure that all would come right at last.

The four girls shared two rooms, facing one another and with two dainty beds in each. Milliken's chamber was at the end of the long passage beyond theirs, and those of the rest of the household across a wide hall which cut this wing of the house in two. In structure the building was very like El Paraiso, which the Gray Lady had admired and where the happiness of reunion had come to her; and it seemed to those who had wintered in the old adobe that they had but stepped into another home.

Of course, sleep did not come at once. Four girls, even if together all day long, find much to chatter about at night, and this had been a day of "happenings" indeed.

Dolly and Alfy came across to sit on Helena's bed and watch her dainty, slow preparations for retiring. Molly was already perched in the middle of her own white bed, hugging her knees and proclaiming for the twentieth time, at least:

"Oh! I am such a thankful girl! After I fired that rifle and saw that purple mass of stuff lying on the ground I thought I was a murderer! I did so. Yet I was mad, too, to think Wun Sing had been such an idiot as to go between me and the target."

"Herbert claims the safest place for others, when a girl shoots, is right behind the target. But it wasn't when Alfy hit the bull's-eye. How did you do it, child? It was wonderful and at that distance-which Captain Lemuel fixed for himself!" said Helena, brushing out her hair preparatory to loosely braiding it.

"Oh! Nell, you're lovely that way! In that soft nightie-you do have such lovely, lacey things. I wish Aunt Betty would buy me some like them, but she won't. She's too sensible, and oh! dear! I wish I had my arms around her neck this minute!"

"Put them around mine, Dolly Doodles, and quit wishin' for things you can't get. Do you s'pose I'll ever do it again?" asked Alfaretta, drawing one of Dorothy's arms about her own shoulder.

"Do what again, child?"

"Child, yourself. I mean fire right into the middle of the thing, and 'honest Injun', I did do it with my eyes shut. I wonder if that ain't the rightest way to sharpshoot, anyway. The rest of you couldn't hit it anywheres near, with your eyes open. What say?"

Molly yawned and stretched herself luxuriously, and Helena remarked:

"Molly, you make me think of a Persian kitten! She does just that when she feels particularly good."

"Well, I ought to feel good. I didn't kill Wun Sing. I just made a hole in his old purple blouse and I can give him another new one. If I can find one like it, and have money enough, and-and other things. If I had shot him instead of his clothes what would they have done to me? Would I have been hung by the neck till you are dead and the Lord have mercy on your soul? Would I?"

"Oh! Molly, how horrible and how wicked! That's swearing!" cried indignant Dorothy.

"Well, I like that! I mean I don't! I never swore a swore in my life and you're horrid, just horrid, Dorothy Calvert, to say so," retorted Molly, suddenly sitting up and flashing a look of scorn at her beloved chum.

"It was really swearing, you know, though you didn't mean it."

"It's what the Judge says-my poor father's one-when a man is condemned to death."

"Aunt Betty says that any taking of the Lord's name in vain is swearing and-"

Foreseeing a childish squabble, due to over-excitement and fatigue, Helena gently interposed:

"That's enough. Neither of you knows what she is talking about. They don't hang people nowadays, they electrocute them, and Wun Sing wasn't hurt. He was only badly scared and will keep a good distance from our rifle-range hereafter. Alfy did hit the bull's-eye, no matter whether she meant to do it or not. We've had a perfectly lovely evening and a perfectly lovely summer is before us. I mean to get up, to-morrow, and see the sun rise, so-off with you, girls. Molly and I

are sleepy. Good night to both of you. What friends we shall be before this summer ends!"

"Why, I thought we was now. I'm sure I don't feel much above any of you, even if I can shoot better 'n the rest," said practical Alfaretta, moving slowly toward the door.

A shout of laughter greeted her words and Molly indignantly retorted:

"You aren't one bit smarter than I am. You only hit an old target and I hit a man, and we didn't either of us mean to do it. But good night, good night. Wake early, 'cause Leslie says we've a great doin's before us, to-morrow. Something better than waking up to see the sun rise. Helena'll get over that, though. Such fine resolutions don't last."

"You'll see. I-I think I shall keep a diary. Take notes of what happens up here on the Rockies. If I succeed I may-I may write a book, sometime," said Helena.

Molly and Dolly stared, seized with sudden awe of this ambitious young person, and Alfy stared, too; but she was not impressed and her comment was a not unkindly but perfectly sincere remark:

"Why, Nell, you couldn't do that. It takes brains to-"

"Young ladies! I am amazed at your disturbing the house like this, after retiring hours! Lights out, or off, silence at once!" ordered Miss Milliken, appearing in their midst. And at this apparition silence did follow.

Back in their own room, Dorothy and Alfaretta pushed their little beds close together and knelt down to say their prayers. In the heart of each was an earnest petition for "poor Jim," Dolly's ending with the words: "And let me see his face the first thing in the morning."

But Alfy reproved this.

"We haven't any right to set times for things to be done and prayers to be answered, Dolly Doodles, and don't say no more. It's sort of saucy seems if, to ask for things and then keep thinkin' in your insides that they won't be give. You've asked and the Lord's heard you-now get up and go to bed."

"Oh! Alfy! I wish you had-had-a little more spiritually!" wailed Dorothy, rather stumbling over the long word but obediently rising from her knees and creeping between the snowy sheets. "And I don't feel as if there was any use going to bed, any way. I know I shan't sleep a wink."

"Fiddlesticks! You just do beat the Dutch! As if great Jim Barlow hadn't a decent head on his shoulders and needed the use o' your 'n! He wouldn't thank you for makin' him out such a fool. Good night. I'm goin' to sleep."

Dorothy felt that this was simply heartless and sighed:

"I wish I could! But I can't!"

Then she drew the covers about her shoulders, stared through the open window at the moonlit ground, felt the scene a trifle dazzling, and closed her lids just to rest her eyes a minute.

When she opened them again Alfaretta's bed was empty and neatly spread. Except her own belongings the room was in perfect order for the day, the sun shone where the moonlight had been, and the cathedral clock on the cloister wall was striking-

"Oh! Oh! It's morning! It's late morning, too, that's six, seven, nine o'clock! Oh! how could I sleep so? I never did before in all my life-except-well, sometimes, but I'm ashamed, I'm awfully ashamed of myself."

As she sprang to her feet there was a tap at the door and a white-capped, white-aproned maid appeared, saying:

"Good morning, Se?orita. The Se?ora sent me to serve you and help you about your bath. It is ready, yes, and the other se?oritas have breakfasted and gone out, si. By my Lady's orders you were not to be awakened till you roused yourself."

"Oh! but I am sorry. I didn't mean to do this, for I know one of Mr. Ford's rules is early rising. I found that out at El Paraiso and-yes, yes, please do help me. But tell me, what shall I call you?"

"Anita, ni?a. Anita Mantez I am, from the dear City of the Angels, si. This way, carita, do not fear displeasure. They are all beloved, the fair young things, but you are nearest, dearest, so my Lady tells. For you will never be blamed, believe me."

Dorothy made short work of her toilet and felt so refreshed by her night of sound sleep and her delightful morning bath, that the world outside seemed even lovelier than she remembered it. Also, she was hungry-so hungry! It was quite as Mr. Ford had said; that the mountain air made people almost ravenous, at first. Afterwards, one's appetite sank to the normal and to be out and doing was the one great desire of life.

Anita led her to the refectory and served her with a dainty breakfast, disposed on exquisite "individual" dishes, and oddly enough, bearing the initial "D." Dolly lifted a cup and stared at it, wondering while Anita glibly explained in her patois of Spanish-English, that yes, indeed, it was the Se?orita's own.

Dorothy's heart was touched and grateful. Charming as her hosts were to all their guests, in many little ways they had singled her out as in this; and she understood without explanation from them that it was because of the part she had played in bringing together the once divided family. Very humbly and gravely she accepted these attentions, thankful in her deepest heart that she had been "inspired," on that past winter day, to lead the father and son across the mesa to the little cabin where Gray Lady dwelt alone. It had been a daring thing to do-an "assisting Providence"-such as wise Aunt Betty wholly disapproved; but that time it had been a fortunate one for all concerned.

Now as the girl sipped her cocoa, turning the egg-shell like cup to catch the light, she wondered what she could still do to help her dear Gray Lady and to prove her own love. Then her dreaming was cut short by a hubbub of merry voices without, and, a moment later, a crowd of young folks tumbled through the big window, laughing, teasing, exhorting:

"Lazy girl! Just eating breakfast and it's nearly time for lunch, seems if!"

"Oh! The loveliest thing in the world!" cried Molly, clapping her hands.

"Thank you," said Dolly, demurely, lifting her face for the other to kiss.

"Oh! not you, Miss Vanity, but a beautiful thing on four legs!"

"We're to take our choice and the white one's mine, for-" declared Alfaretta.

"No white one for me! Dad says we're to do our own grooming and white ones have to be washed just like a poodle dog and-" began Leslie.

"I had one once. His name was 'Goodenough,' and he was good enough, too. Could walk on its hind legs-" interrupted Herbert.

"Oh, Dorothy! If you aren't going to finish that buttered toast, do give it to me! I never was so hungry in all my life. I simply can't get filled up, and-"

"Montmorency Vavasour-Stark! You ought to be ashamed! After eating four chops, three boiled eggs, five helpings of potato, to say nothing of coffee enough for the regiment, and strawberries-"

"Well, Mistress Molly Breckenridge, I don't know who set you to keep tally on my appetite! and I hate to see good things wasted. Want the rest of those berries, girlie? I know you don't. You're real unselfish, you are; and you wouldn't eat all the nice-ripe-red-strawberries-raised-under-glass-ripe-red-strawberries and give your neighbor none. And give your neighbor none, you-shan't-have-any-of-my-nice-ripe-red-strawberries-who-gives-his-neighbor-Molly, give it back! Aw, now, Molly! You wouldn't eat all the nice-ripe-Hold on! Bert Montaigne, that's a beastly shame! After I had to warble in that dulcet way for a plate of poor, left-over, second-hand strawberries, to have 'em grabbed by you and Molly-that's too much. Just one drop too much to fill my bucket, but I say, 'Little One,' I wish you'd get up late every morning, and have just such a superfine breakfast as this saved for you, and not be hungry at all yourself, but save it for a poor starved little boy who hasn't had a mouthful in an hour-"

Monty was running on in this absurd way, yet holding his own in a three cornered scramble for possession of a dish of berries he had pre-empted from Dorothy's table; till, without saying anything, Helena calmly walked up, took the disputed dish from the contestants and, shoving Dolly aside to give up half her chair, sat down and began to eat them herself.

"Two spoons with but a single dish! How touching!" cried Herbert, posing in pretended admiration of the pair, yet covertly watching his chance to add a third spoon to the two and get his own taste of the luxury.

Not but that all had been served likewise, at the regular meal earlier in the day, and Monty's boasted appetite was but a part of the happy foolishness of their youth and high spirits.

For they were all evidently greatly excited over something, and the talk fell back upon "choice" and "points" and "colors" with a comparison of manes and tails, till Dorothy sprang up, clapped her hands over her ears, and demanded:

"One at a time! One at a time! Do tell me what you're all jabbering about and be quick! Just because I was lazy-I admit it, all right-I don't want to miss all the fun! Tell me!"

But her answer did not come from any of the lively group about her. A shadow fell across the floor and Captain Lem appeared at the window. Leaning his elbows on the low sill he surveyed the interior with a quizzical smile, then observed:

"If everybody's et all they can and has got time for somethin' elst, please to step over to the corral behind the Barracks. Time there was somethin' doin'! Come on, Little One. I'd like to have you head the procesh, for 'twas the Boss's orders, first pick for you. Hep, hep, hep-march!"

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