MoboReader > Literature > Dorothy on a Ranch

   Chapter 9 A MODERN HORSE FAIR

Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 19364

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


They departed as they had entered, by way of the window, Dorothy lifted through it by her admiring Captain Lem, whose heart she had wholly won by her music the night before, and by the deference she paid to his talk. She was eager to find out the cause of all this excitement and placed herself alongside him, as he led off with a military tread and tensely squared shoulders. It wasn't for him to admit that rheumatism commonly bowed those same shoulders, when he was "off duty" and secure in the shelter of his own room.

"Hep, hep, hep,-hep," said the Captain marking time, and scowling at the irregular pace of the excited youngsters behind her. At which Dorothy promptly echoed his "Hep, hep, hep," and the others took the hint, pairing off into a compact little company and following their leader like soldiers on parade.

Captain Lemuel smiled and nodded:

"Good, Little One! 'Tis you has the head of sense, and fingers for the fiddle bow. The boys are all just proud to have you up at S' Leon, and anything you want done-say the word! All I want is to see you shoot well as you can fiddle. Ride, eh? Can you ride a horse, Little One?"

"My name is Dorothy, Captain Lemuel, and I can-a little. Helena, too, is fine on horseback. She's the yellow-haired girl, you know. But why? What makes you ask?"

They had come across the grass as far as the end of the Barracks, and still drilling his "awkward squad," the old ranchman wheeled about and ordered:

"Halt! About-face!"

Alfy giggled, but seeing the faces of all the rest, especially Dorothy's, sober and set in imitation of the Captain's, she stopped laughing and applied herself to the business in hand.

"Hep, hep, hep-March!"

They might have been veterans, instead of an awkward squad, so perfectly they now kept step and so fully they entered into the old man's whim. For only a whim they supposed this drilling to be, though in reality he had taken note of all their figures and, with the exception of Herbert's and Dorothy's, saw that each could be improved. Especially was there need of this in Leslie's case; and having been told of the lad's delicacy by his beloved "Boss," he had conceived this scheme of drill.

"You see, Boss, I can easy enough cure that boy by 'whipping him over the others' shoulders,' so to speak. You've heard tell of that before, I 'low. He's all right. He's a real likely, well-growed lad; and that West Point 't he's hankerin' for'd be the best thing ever happened to him. Exceptin' course 't it would nigh break his mother's heart, so he told me. Well, that's no more here nor there. A little drillin' in this Colorady air'll do 'em all good and set him up to a dandy shape. Yes, siree! You or your lady best just drop the hint to that there little fiddler-girl, 't seems to lead the rest of 'em round by the nose-though they like it, they like it an' her too! Couldn't help it, you see. Nobody could; eh, what?"

"Indeed not! A daughter of our own could scarcely be dearer than little Dorothy. I'll have Mrs. Ford speak to her, and I'll make it worth your while, Captain, to do your utmost for Leslie's improvement. He has lost his cough; he does seem to be well, now; but-there is still enough delicacy about his appearance to make us anxious. You do your best, Lem, and so will I."

The captain had drawn himself up with a little pride, but with an adoring look in his old eyes, and had answered:

"Drop that, Boss, drop it! Of all the unfortunate, down-on-their-luck fellers 't this S' Leon ranch shelters now, I was the downdest! I ain't never forgot what you done for me, takin' me out the gutter, so to speak, and settin' me on my pins again. And if there's a single mortal thing 't I can do for you-that debt's paid an' overpaid, a hundred thousand times. A hundred thousand times, sir, yes, sir."

"A hundred thousand is a sizable number, Lem-but we understand each other. Shake hands and-God speed your efforts!"

This little talk had taken place on the night before, and Lady Gray had taken an opportunity to relate it to Dorothy. This was why she so eagerly fell in with Captain Lemuel's idea, though she forebore to mention it to any of the other young folks at San Leon. Lady Gray had warned her:

"I would rather Leslie did not himself know, and if the others did he'd be sure to find it out. It would make him conspicuous, maybe worry him and set him brooding over himself, so I'm trusting you to keep it secret. And, in any case, what better amusement could you have? The regular exercise in this perfect air will be as good for you girls as for the boys."

Now as Dorothy fell into step with the Captain, she realized that here was one thing, however slight, that she could do to prove her love for sweet Lady Gray. She could use her influence to keep up what the others considered a temporary game, entered into merely to gratify the vanity of an ex-sharpshooter; and as she now marched along by his side, she begged:

"Do please, Captain, set a regular hour for this drill, and make us stick to it, just as in the regular army. I promise I'll not oversleep again-I'll try not, I mean. Will you?"

"Sure, Little One, and I'll app'int you First Leftenant, Company B, San Leon Life Guards. Halt!"

He stopped and faced his followers:

"It has been proposed 't we make this a regular company, same as Company A, of the boys. I second the proposition. I'd be proud to train ye, if so be you'll hold up your end the musket. I mean, no shirkin' duty and bein' marched to the guard house, or sentinel work, for bad behavior. Put on your thinkin' caps and keep 'em on a minute. Down to West Point, where some of us is hankerin' to be, they don't allow no lyin'. A broken promise is the worst kind of a lie. So before you pledge your word, gals and boys alike, you-think. Think hard, think deep. I'll time ye. When one minute is up, to the second, I'll call for your answer. Everybody turn their eyes inside themselves and-think."

With that the wise and shrewd old fellow pulled his silver time-piece from his pocket and placed it in the hollow of his hand. Then he fixed his eyes upon its white face and stood motionless, watching the second hand make its little circuit. When the sixty seconds had been counted, he held up his hand with profound gravity and called:

"All in favor of forming a new Company, say 'Aye!' Contrary 'No!'"

Every hand went up-but Leslie's. Every voice uttered an earnest "Aye!" save his, and Dorothy flashed an indignant, as well as disappointed glance upon him, exclaiming:

"Oh! What a mean-I mean, what a rude boy! When all your guests are just suffering to be soldiers, you go and spoil the whole business. Why do you do that?"

The lad flushed. He had been duly instructed by both parents in the duties of a host, even a young one; and he knew it was his business to see that all his guests were helped to enjoy themselves as they, not he, desired. It was the first time that he had had any responsibility of this sort and it didn't greatly please him. Now when he found they were all looking at him in that aggrieved way he tossed his head, thrust his hands into his pockets, and answered:

"I know I proposed it and thought I'd like it, but I've changed my mind and now think it would get to be a confounded nuisance. I've never done anything, regularly, as you talk about, and I don't see any use in beginning at this late day when-"

"When you're getting so old and infirm, poor dear!" said Molly, interrupting. In reality she cared little what they did at San Leon, so long as they were all together and having a good time. But she saw on Dorothy's expressive face a keener disappointment than the affair seemed to warrant and loyally placed herself in support of her chum.

Leslie went on as if she hadn't spoken, though he glanced her way with a promise in his eyes to "get even" with her for that mockery:

"We're up here on the mountains for a summer holiday. What's the use of making it a work day, then? It would be work-sure enough. There'd be lots of mornings when every one of us would hate it. Oh! you needn't look that way. You all would, sure. What's fun when you feel like it is quite the other thing when you don't. And nine o'clock comes pretty early in the morning. Doesn't it, Miss Dorothy?"

The laugh was upon her and she joined in it. Yet she hadn't one whit abandoned her plan of helping Leslie against himself. But there was no use in arguing, and, small woman that she was, she tried strategy instead.

"Well, Leslie, you make me think of Mr. Seth Winter's story about the eleven contrary jurymen. All 'contrary' except the one who couldn't get his own way. No matter, nobody wants to force you into hard work. Though I suppose you'll be willing, we, your guests, shall do as we please?"

"Certainly," he replied with an absurdly profound bow, to which Dorothy merrily returned a sweeping courtesy.

"Then the rest of us who have given our word will keep it. We will be on hand every morning, Captain, to be drilled in the noble tactics of the soldier. Aunt Betty says everybody always finds use for all the knowledge he possesses. Aunt Betty knows. She's lived almost as long as all our ages put together, and she's the very happiest person I ever saw. I don't know anything about soldiering yet but I'm going to learn what I can with this splendid teacher to instruct me-" here she made another profound obeisance to Captain Lem, who returned the courtesy by his finest military salute, mentally appraising the earnest little girl as the best of them all.

"So that I shall have one more thing to put in my knowledge-box, ready to use if I

ever need it. And while we are drilling you can amuse yourself otherwise, Leslie dear. Now, Captain, can't we go on and find out what wonderful thing is hidden in that corral behind these Barracks?"

"Sure. Forward, march!"

He faced forward again and even Leslie fell into step behind the others, willing to join in such "foolishness" as a temporary amusement.

In fine order they reached the further end of the long building, marched around its rear, and came upon what Dorothy thought was a most beautiful sight. Within the wide paddock, or corral, as these westerners called it, was a small herd of young, thoroughbred horses. From a little stand outside the paling, Mr. and Mrs. Ford were watching the handsome creatures and talking with the grooms that attended them, concerning their good, and possibly, bad qualities.

But at the sound of the approaching "squad" Lady Gray turned an eager face and called out, reprovingly:

"Oh! my dears, how slow you have been! If I were your age and had been promised a horse for my very own, I shouldn't have tarried on the way!"

"Our very own? What do you mean, dear Mrs. Ford?" asked Dorothy, hastening to bid her tardy "Good morning," before she more than glanced across the fence.

"Just what I say, dear. Mr. Ford has had eight horses brought in for you young folks to use. Each is to make a choice for herself or himself, subject to change if any necessity for it. Your choice is to be your own property and I hope will give you lots of pleasure. Captain Lem and some of the other good horsemen will teach you anything you need to know. Why, my dears! How astonished you look! Didn't you understand? Didn't Leslie tell you?"

For, indeed, surprise had kept them silent. None had guessed of having a horse of her "own," supposing from Leslie's words that they were only to have the loan of an animal during their stay at San Leon. Alfaretta broke the silence, explaining:

"No, he didn't say any such thing. He said we was to come choose horses to ride, and when he said one was white I picked that out at once. I-can't really believe you mean it, Mrs. Ford, though-course-Ma Babcock-I never heard o' such folks-never-never-in my life. It certainly does beat the Dutch. I-Alfy Babcock-Dolly Doodles-Jolly Molly-Helena-to have horses of our own-it makes me cry! I, Alfy Babcock, ownin' a whole horse! Oh! My!"

"Then I shall be very, very sorry the idea ever entered my husband's mind, of making such a gift. We don't want tears-we just want happiness, perfect happiness, up here at San Leon!" said beautiful Gray Lady, smiling, and looking fairer than ever in this new delight of making gifts, as freely as she wished. Her own life had grown so much happier, these last months, that she longed only to "pass on" happiness to all whom she knew. Alfy's tears really hurt her, for a moment, till Dolly explained, with an arm about the weeper's waist:

"I reckon these must be what I've heard of as 'happy tears,' dear Lady Gray. Alfy is too pleased to do anything else-even to say 'thank you'-yet."

Queer little Alfy had dropped her head on Dorothy's shoulder and was repeating in a low tone:

"A whole horse of my own! Mine, Alfy Babcock's! A whole horse-a whole-livin'-horse-A-whole-horse!"

"Well, you wouldn't want a half one, would you, Miss Babcock? Nor one that wasn't living?" demanded Monty, laughing. "Quit crying and let's choose, for that's what Leslie said we were to do. Is that correct, Mr. Ford?"

"Entirely. But-see to it that your choice falls each on a different animal! Suppose you begin, alphabetically. Alfaretta first."

Such a group of radiant faces as now peered over the paling! while without a second's hesitation, Alfaretta announced:

"I choose that pure white one for mine!"

"All right. Captain Lem, lead out Blanca and put on her side saddle," directed Mr. Ford.

A passage was opened in the paling and the beautiful Blanca was led forth, amid a murmur of admiration from everybody, except the girl herself. She could only stand, clasping and unclasping her hands, and gazing with dim eyes at this wonderful possession. The handsome saddle cloth was marked Blanca, and Mr. Ford explained that each animal was registered and its name had been chosen by its breeder. Most of these names were Spanish and suited well; as that Blanca meant "white," which the gentle little mare certainly was. To another corner of the saddle cloth, Captain Lem slowly attached the initial "A," as mark of ownership, then beckoned to Alfy that she should mount.

All her mates watched her curiously, expecting to see her timid and reluctant. She treated them to a fine surprise; first by running to Lady Gray and rapturously kissing her hand, then returning to Lemuel, and letting him swing her up to the saddle, without an instant's hesitation. Dorothy stared, amazed; but she needn't have done so: Alfy was "her mother's daughter" as the saying goes, and inherited that good woman's love of horseflesh and fearlessness; and as she settled herself and received the bridle reins she kept murmuring the marvellous fact:

"A whole horse-mine! And Ma Babcock's only got Barnaby!"

"Who is 'Barnaby,' Alfy?" asked Leslie, going round to her side and critically inspecting her treasure.

"Oh-he-Why, he's a mule!"

A shout of laughter greeted this announcement and Lemuel moved away. He was disappointed that the beautiful Blanca had not fallen to Dorothy's share, for he believed the white filly to be the best as well as the handsomest creature in the corral. However, her turn was next, and he listened anxiously to hear what it might be. He wished she wouldn't be so over-generous in offering the choice to her mates, and in saying that if she disappointed them she wanted to change.

"All are so fine. It can't make a bit of difference to me."

"Choose! Choose! You dear old slow-poke, for I'm just dying to do so, too. I can't wait-do choose!" cried impatient Molly, skipping about and trying to cut short Dorothy's hesitation.

"All right, then. I choose the 'calico'. She's so like another Portia that I used to ride 'back home.'"

"Zaraza, for Dolly. A Spanish title, too, dear, and means 'chintz'-a 'calico', if you please. Lead her out, Lem!"

The pretty creature was brought out, arching her graceful neck and lifting her dainty hoofs as if she were dancing to music, as she was now to the clapping of hands and lusty cheers of healthy young throats. Then she was saddled, a decorative "D" attached to her saddle-cloth, Dorothy put upon her back, to take her stand beside Alfaretta on Blanca, while the others chose and were mounted.

"It has been a real ceremony and a delightful one! Here's to the health and happiness of our young equestrians! Hip, hip, hurra!" cried the master of the ranch, with a boyish heartiness that sent the hats of the ranchmen from their heads and their voices echoing the gay "Hip, hip, hurra!"

But, despite her happiness, Dorothy's face was thoughtful. There had been eight horses in the corral, as there had been, at first, eight young guests at San Leon. To Helena had been allotted a fine bay, big and powerful as well as comely, by name Benito; to Herbert a black, chosen by him for its resemblance to his own "Bucephalus," "back home" where Portia was, and from a sentiment similar to Dolly's. Then Lady Gray was asked to choose for the absent James Barlow, and did so as calmly as if he had but stepped around the corner and had deputed her to act for him.

But it was noticeable that of all the splendid thoroughbreds within the paddock one was by far the finest. That was a dappled gray, perfect in every, point, and looking as if he were king of that four-footed company.

"For Jim, I choose Azul, the Gray! You all know I love gray in color and I love the 'blue,' as his Spanish owners named him. Captain Lemuel, please saddle Azul for Jim Barlow, and, Daniel, will you use him, please, till Jim comes back?"

Dorothy flashed a grateful look upon her hostess, then glanced at Alfaretta, sure of finding sympathy in that girl's honest eyes. But Alfy nodded, well pleased, and Mr. Ford rode to the head of the little cavalcade and took his place at Dorothy's side, while the others followed, two by two, to make a circuit of the grounds and test their mounts.

The men cheered again and again as the procession started, Mr. Ford and Dorothy leading; then Leslie on the sorrel, C?sar, with Alfy on Blanca; Helena on Benito, with Monty on the chestnut, Juan-a mount well suited to his stature and requirements. Last rode Molly on Juana, another chestnut, and a perfect match for her brother-Monty's Juan; while Herbert's Blackamoor finished the caravan, last but by no means least in the creature's own proud estimation.

They paced and they cantered, they trotted and they galloped, even the most inexperienced without fear, because of the vigilant attendants who raced beside them, as well as the high spirits of the others. Around and around the spacious grounds they rode, Captain Lem pointing out several fences and hedges he would have them leap, later on, and finally bringing up before the stately front of the house to dismount.

As they did so Dorothy noticed a queerly dressed little boy sitting beside the fountain holding a basket in his hand and eagerly watching the cavalcade. Nobody else seemed to observe him, amid all the clatter and laughter. He looked to the sympathetic girl as if he were very tired and, leaving the rest, she crossed to him and asked:

"Who are you, little boy? Do you want something?"

Instantly, he offered her the basket, and as instantly vanished.

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