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Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 23598

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The silence that followed Leslie's frightened cry, as he hurled himself to the ground beside the old man he had struck, lasted but an instant. Then, recovering their scattered wits, Herbert and Monty stooped and lifted the Captain's head.

The movement roused him and he opened his eyes, drawing a long breath as he did so and trying to speak. But he couldn't do that yet; nor, indeed, till Dorothy had come back with a glass of water, for which she had instantly run to the house as Captain Lemuel fell.

Dipping her fingers in the water she moistened his lips, and when he parted them as if demanding more, she gently dropped some between them. He swallowed with an effort but, presently, his strength returned and he tried to rise. The lads helped him and were overjoyed when he said, quite clearly and with a touch of his native humor:

"Ain't so tough as I thought. Eh, what? Lessen a little tenderfoot like-Why, what's he down for? Tried it on himself?"

At the sound of his victim's voice an infinite relief surged through Leslie's heart and he lifted a very white face to look at the ranchman.

"Oh, Captain Lem! I-I was wild to do that! I beg your pardon-please forgive me-if you can!"

The petition ended with a sob, that was really a gasp for breath, due to the excitement of his rage, and the anger of his mates changed to pity for him.

"His weak heart! How ill he has made himself!" thought Helena, compassionately putting her hand under his arm and helping him to his feet, where he stood trembling and still breathing with much difficulty.

Dorothy had told her of this weakness of the lad's and that his parents had been somewhat doubtful if he could endure the rarefied air of that high region. If he could it would cure that other weakness of his lungs and they hoped for the best. She was frightened by his appearance and inwardly resolved to oppose any sort of fun which might bring on a return of this attack. She had already heard her brother and Monty proposing a bear hunt on the more distant peaks of the mountains and decided that it should never take place.

But Captain Lem was answering the boy and she listened to his words:

"Course, sonny, I shan't lay it up again' you. An' I allow 't there's one thing decent about you: if you're quick to get r'iled you're just as quick to own yourself in fault. I'm willin' to wash the slate all clean now, an' start over again with any little problems we may meet, same's when I was a little shaver, an' 'tended deestrict school an' got my sums wrong, the teacher made me do. I'm no hand to lay up malice just 'cause a feller's got more 'n his share o' temper, specially not again' your father's son. Anybody 't spells his name Ford can do most as he's a mind to with Lemuel Hunt. Only-don't you dast to do it again; 'cause I'm some on the temper myself, an' I ain't much used to bein' struck. So-so-just don't show off any more o' that there little playfulness again. That's all."

Too proud to show how really shaken and miserable he felt, the sharpshooter retired to his own quarters at the Barracks and was seen no more that night: but he sent word to Dorothy, the "Little One," that Netty, the lamb, had been given a soft bed close to his own and would be carefully attended.

The hours passed quietly till bedtime, which all the young strangers at San Leon felt inclined to make early that night. Seven young people, with all the means of enjoyment at hand which these had, should have been very merry, but these were not. The absence of their hosts made the great house seem very empty. Nobody had heart for any music, though Dorothy bravely brought out her violin and Helena took her place at the piano, ready to accompany. But, unfortunately, the first melody which came to Dolly's mind was one that Father John, Aunt Betty, and poor Jim had each loved best-"Auld Lang Syne."

She mastered a few strains and the tears rose to her eyes. She suddenly felt lonely and helpless, so far from all who had hitherto made her happy world. So, rather than break down completely and let the tears fall, she nodded to Helena and put her beloved Cremona "to bed," as she called its placing in its case.

"Let's play 'Authors,'" suggested Molly.

"'Authors' is the dullest game going," objected Monty.

"That's because you're not well read. If you knew as much about books as Jim Barlow-" she retorted, teasing, then stopped abruptly. That was an unfortunate reference, for who, alas! could tell if that too studious youth were alive or dead?

Alfaretta hurried to cover this mention by demanding:

"Let's sing 'rounds,' 'Scotland's burning,' or 'Three Blind Mice.' Now don't stop to object or say nothin' but just begin. I will, and Nell, you follow. Then the boys, if any of 'em can sing a note. Sometimes their voices go 'way up in Q and sometimes 'way down suller. But they can try. Now-here she goes: 'Three Blind Mice-Three Blind Mice-For mercy's sake, Helena Montaigne, why don't you take it up? I sing one line, you know, then you sing the same one over-and we each do it three times then change to 'They-all-run-after-the-butcher's-wife-who-cut-off-their-tails-with-a-carving-kni-i-ife!-You-never-see-such-a-sight-in-your-life-as-Three-Blind Mice!' By that time Dolly'll be ready, over cryin'. She can sing real nice if she's a mind to. Listen! Everybody do it real solemn, no giggling, no forgettin' your parts, where you go in and come out at and doin' that part about the butcher's wife and the tails just as fast as you can speak it and the end-as-s-l-o-w-a-s-s-l-o-w. Begin!"

Alfy's rich, though untrained voice, started the song and Helena followed on time, singing very sweetly, indeed, until she came to that tragic part about the tails, when she burst out in a giggle and a vain effort to race along as rapidly as Alfy had done.

Herbert could sing well. He helped Alfaretta carry the thing through to a triumphant finale, they two alone; for all the others had laughed themselves out of place and tune, with Monty interspersing the melody by outrageous cat calls and screechings of "Maria Maouw, come and catch these Three Blind Mice!"

"Maria! Maria! Pussy, pussy cat Maria-Come to supper!" echoed Leslie, laughing as he rarely laughed. To him this company of young people was wholly delightful-except when he felt it his duty to entertain them. When they were thus willing to entertain him everything was all right. He had had so few young intimates in his life that each of these youngsters seemed wonderful to him. Their nonsense and good natured chaffing of one another kept him amused at all times and was doubly pleasant to him that night.

For, like Dorothy, he felt oddly forlorn and deserted in this great beautiful home that was practically his own; and he wished as he had done before that he might step into that cottage of the Babcock's, "up-mounting" where Alfaretta belonged and where she said everyone was as jolly as the day was long. He hadn't liked Alfy at first and he still rather looked down upon her. She wasn't of his station in life, she would not see that money made such a great difference, whether one had it or had not. She was greatly lacking in delicacy of speech, but she was honest to a fault. Not honester than Dolly, perhaps, but in another way. She hadn't hesitated to give him one of those generous "pieces of her mind" with which she regaled anyone she considered at fault; and the "piece" she had cut for him that day had been:

"Well, Leslie Ford, if bein' rich as Croesus-whoever he was-or havin' all creation to wait on you can't make you no better 'n a coward-I pity you. Yes, I do. That was the lowest-down, orneriest trick to hit an old man like Captain Lem, without givin' him a chance to help himself. Why, a boy that hadn't a cent, an' never looked to have, couldn't ha' been no meaner. An' just sayin' 'Forgive me' don't undo that job. Worst is, you raised a bigger welt on your own insides, on that thing Mr. Winters calls your conscience, 'n you did on his old head, an' it won't heal so quick, neither. I sure was ashamed of you, I sure was."

This lecture had been in response to his appeal, as they chanced to stand together in the cloistered walk, waiting for supper:

"You don't think very badly of me, do you, Alfaretta, for getting so angry?"

The lad was very unhappy and very ashamed. He hoped to recover his own self-respect by hearing his mates declare the recent affair had been "nothing." Herbert had gone so far, indeed, as to say that he, too, would have resented being told "must" and "mustn't" by a mere hired man, but Leslie knew that Herbert would never have struck anybody under any provocation; and Monty had simply remarked: "Well, if you really liked to soil your hands that way, all right."

Alfy was the first of the girls he had interviewed, though he had gratefully recognized Helena's compassion and Dorothy's distress-for himself. Molly-he guessed he wouldn't question Molly. That young person had a flippant tongue and she was always inclined to "call a spade a spade." He couldn't imagine her calling a coward a hero-and his own heart told him he had not been that. But Alfy was poor and intensely grateful for all his parents were doing for her. She would be the one to soothe his self-esteem and overlook the episode, he thought, and so he appealed to her.

Alfy's opening remark had been:

"I can't say I think very well. You might ha' done worse, course, you might have used that pistol I saw you cocking round, this morning, if you'd had it handy; and that you've got no more use for than a cat for two tails. You beat the Dutch, Leslie Ford. You're feelin' mean as pussley and you're coaxin' me to contradict you."

Then had followed that larger "slice" of the girl's opinion, recorded above. It hadn't left a very pleasant "taste" in the lad's "mouth."

Summons to supper was an agreeable sound, just then, and nobody referred to the event again. Yet, as has been told, the evening was a dull one for most of the party, the singing of the "rounds" its greatest amusement. Just as this ended, Dr. Jones appeared to read family prayers.

Mrs. Ford had instituted this on her arrival at San Leon, and Mr. Ford had conducted the little service with a dignified sincerity which could not fail to impress his young guests. On leaving, he had requested the doctor to take his place, saying:

"No ceremony that will help to bring a blessing on our home must be omitted just because I am away."

But, to-night, they missed the master's earnest voice and Gray Lady's wonderful singing of just the familiar, common hymn which everybody knew. The house-servants, and such of the ranchmen as would, filed into the spacious music-room and took their seats in reverent quiet. This was new business to most of those rough westerners and they came partly from curiosity, partly from admiration of "Dan Ford, Railroad Boss"; so great a man in their opinion that whatever he did they felt must have some merit in it.

Helena took her place at the piano and the other girls stood beside her; and Herbert, obeying a nod from Dorothy also came forward. Monty and Leslie reluctantly followed. They had grouped themselves thus when the master was present but had hesitated now from a foolish shame before these untutored workmen.

Dorothy's face lighted with gratitude and between the lines of the hymn Molly murmured, "Good boys," while Alfy sang with even greater vim than her beloved "rounds."

Then swift good nights and rest. It had been a busy, an exciting day; and Dorothy was soon asleep, though again her mind had been full of wonder concerning absent Jim and she had meant to lie awake and, as Alfy expressed it: "Cipher out where he could be."

But still she c

ould not worry greatly. The arrival of the lamb with his message assured her that he was alive and, she argued, must be well since he had not forgotten her.

But in one room there was no desire for sleep. Leslie was still restless and excited. His heart bothered him. He missed his parents more than he would acknowledge even to himself. He was fractious and tried Mateo's patience sorely.

"No, Mateo, I shan't go to bed till I get ready. No matter if my mother did say ten o'clock, it was because she didn't understand. You can't go, either. I want you to talk."

"Certainly, se?or."

But when silence followed Leslie impatiently inquired:

"Well, why don't you?"

Poor Mateo sighed. Commonly his tongue would run so fast that his young master would order him to be quiet. Now, when requested, the valet could find no word to say. He stood behind his master's chair, idly turning with his foot the corners of a mighty bear skin which lay upon the floor. It was the skin of an enormous grizzly, that had been shot by Captain Lem and another caballero, or horse trainer and had been mounted by themselves with infinite care, as a gift to their employer. The head was stuffed to the contour of life, and the paws outspread and perfect. It was, indeed, a most valuable skin and Leslie had admired it so greatly that it had been spread as a rug upon his floor. It annoyed him now to see Mateo toying with it and he bade him stop.

The Mexican flushed and sighed:

"It is that el se?or is not well, si?" he suggested, suavely.

"Yes, I am well, too," retorted the boy, who felt wretched, with a curious oppression on his chest.

"Imagine, Se?or Leslie, what it must be to kill, to slaughter such a monster!"

"Ah! a monster, indeed! But I shall kill just such another, you'll see. What's the use of a ranch on the Rockies and not go bear hunting? They can't keep me done up in cotton wool just because I used to cough a little."

"Certainly not, se?or."

"Oh! shut up with your everlasting 'certainly nots!' You're as tiresome as an old woman. I wish you'd stayed in San Diego, where you belong."

Mateo was amazed. He was really devoted to Leslie and they had rarely disagreed. He scarcely knew the lad in such a mood as this and realized that something must be done to give a pleasanter turn to things. A bear hunt? Was that what the young se?or had set his heart upon and been denied? An inspiration came to him.

"Caramba! Behold! I have a fine thought, me. Will it please el se?or to listen?"

"Of course. That's what I said to do-to talk."

Then Mateo did talk. For five, ten minutes, with many a gesture and mixture of Spanish and English, till his listener's face grew radiant and he sprang from his chair with a hip, hip, hurra! All his crossness was over and he now allowed Manuel to settle him for the night with a good nature not to be exceeded by anybody.

The morning found all the young folks happier than they had been on the night before; and, nobody was late for breakfast. It had been explained to them that each one should attend the grooming of his or her own horse. There would be men to wait upon them, of course, and for the girls but little labor. Yet Mr. Ford believed that they would all be benefited in health by this pleasant task and that the intimacy which should exist between horse and rider would be thus furthered.

Breakfast was scarcely over when Captain Lem appeared on the porch. He looked older than usual and uncommonly pale under his weather toughened skin, and he had put on his "specs," which he disliked. However, his manner was as gay as ever and he began:

"You cert'nly are the laziest set o' youngsters I've met sence I was knee-high to a hop-toad. Reckon if anybody'd give me a horse when I was your ages I'd ha' beat the sun a-risin' to see if 't had lived over night. The boys is waiting in the stables, and gettin' pretty cross. Some on 'em sort-of-kind-of feel 's if they was playin' nurse to you kids, and the notion don't go down none too good even to oblige Dan Ford, Boss. They've lived in the open, most of the boys has, and are better used to roundin' up stock than to tendin' tenderfeet youngsters. Eh, Little One? Ain't you nowise curious to hear how Netty passed the night?"

One thing was evident to them all-the sharpshooter's ready tongue had suffered no hurt from the unhappy incident of the day before.

Dorothy ran to put her hand in his, exclaiming:

"How dreadful of me! I had forgotten that darling thing. Actually forgotten. How could I when she came from Jim?"

Away she sped toward the Barracks, her white frock and scarlet ribbons making a pretty spot of color on the wide shaven lawn; but practical Alfaretta remarked:

"If that ain't just like Dolly Doodles! Make her think she's neglected somebody and off she flies, forgettin' things better worth rememberin'! The idea! She'll go right to cleanin' that calico filly, Zaraza, an' never think a mite about her clean clothes. Not till she gets 'em dirty-then nothing'll do but she must put on fresh. White frocks ain't so easy did up, either, so I'll go get our high aprons, that Mrs. Calvert had made for us to dust the house in, at Paradise. We've got quite a lot of 'em and, girls, if you'd like, I'll bring a couple for you, too."

"You dear, thoughtful little caretaker! I'll be ever so obliged for the loan till I can make one for myself," answered Helena gratefully, giving her mate a smile that made Alfy happy.

Eager to see their horses but not so pleased with the idea of grooming them, the lads sauntered toward the stables and corral, Leslie intimating that he thought "a quarter judiciously applied would be better than soiling himself by stable-work."

Neither Herbert nor Monty knew Leslie well enough yet to understand this shirking of what they anticipated as a delightful task. Herbert had always been used to horses, and to fine ones. He loved his own Bucephalus, "back home," as a dear friend, and looked forward to equal enjoyment in his new Blackamoor. With a little laugh he glanced at his young host and remarked:

"If I could help it I would never let another hand than mine touch that superb animal your father gave me. I hardly realize it yet, that it is truly my own. Why, I mean to train him to hurdles and high jumps, and when I go back east, this autumn, I'll get myself proposed for the Highland Valley Hunt and-elected, if I can. I say, this is just a glorious chance to learn what I couldn't at home, where houses are thick and farmers so stubborn they will object to one's riding to hounds across their property. Howev-"

Monty interrupted, rather jealously:

"Oh! Quit that riding-to-hounds talk! I don't know a thing about horses-except a saw-horse, that my mother insisted I should work on to reduce my-"

"'Too, too solid flesh!'" broke in Leslie, laughing now and eager to watch the inexperienced "fat boy" make his first attempt at grooming a spirited beast.

But they were apt to break in thus upon each other's remarks and no offence taken, and they were soon at the stables, where the girls were already assembled. One glance at his sister, covered from neck to foot by a brown gingham apron, reminded the fastidious Herbert that he was not fixed for dirty work, and he promptly begged a set of overalls from the nearest workman. The other lads followed his example, discarding jackets and vests, and beginning on their new tasks with a zeal that was almost too eager.

Even Leslie had done the same, willing for once to try this new game and see if there was any fun in it, as Herbert seemed to think. But his fingers shrank from handling the curry comb and brushes, absolutely new and clean though they were, and the best he accomplished was a roughening of C?sar's coat which disgusted him as well as the horse. At last, with a remark that "looking on was good enough for him," he tossed his brushes aside and signalled an attendant to finish the task so badly begun. To his amazement, the hostler declined:

"Sorry, Master Leslie, but the Boss's express orders was-have you do it yourself."

Leslie's eyes flashed. This was insubordination, indeed! Wasn't he master at San Leon, now? Then Captain Lem drew near, to pick up the brush and explain in a matter-of-fact way:

"Best never rub anything-nor anybody-the wrong way, lad! This sorrel, here, 'd be sp'iled in next to no time if his hair ain't smoothed the way natur' meant it should lie. There. That's how. See how it shines? And just look at Herbert and his black! By the great horned spoon! Them two is cronies a'ready-hand-in-glove, pals! And let me say right here an' now; there ain't no comfortabler love nowhere in this world than that 'twixt a horse and his owner-if the last has got sense. Now pitch in, sonny, and don't let nobody get ahead of you on that line. No, siree! What'd the Boss say?" Then turning toward Monty, valiantly struggling with this new business, he inquired in real kindness: "Want me to lend a hand, youngster?"

Poor Monty would have given many "quarters" to say "yes." But he was too plucky. His face was streaming with perspiration, he had worried the chestnut, Juan, till the creature threatened to kick, and he ached from head to foot. But he had glanced across to that open space where four girls were making a frolic of this "horrible mess" and manliness held him to his duty. But he couldn't refrain from a snappy:

"No, I don't! And how long at a time does a fellow keep at it? How tell whether a horse is groomed or isn't?"

"Ginger! Do you know when your shirt's buttoned or when it ain't? Just look at Herbert's piece o' work an' do accordin'. But keep cool, Monty. Don't get r'iled an' don't rile your nag. You'll do all right-you've got the makin' of a horseman in ye!"

Thus encouraged, Montmorency Vavasour-Stark renewed his efforts, though with less force and better judgment. There is always a right and a wrong way to everything and the worried lad had, at last, fallen upon the right. He "would be a horseman!" Hurray! That opinion from such a source was worth lots!

Well, that first lesson was over at last. Seven tired youngsters stripped off aprons and overalls and proceeded to mount the horses they had groomed and most of them were happy. It had been worth while, after all, to get thus familiar with the animals; and the girls, at least, remembered that their hosts had spoken of how beneficial it would be for their beloved son to be with such creatures as much as possible. Like the rifle practice, it was all for Leslie and Leslie's health; and they would have been willing enough to help this good work along, even if they had not got all the fun out of it for themselves, which they did.

They rode "off bounds," that morning; following Captain Lem, with a couple of trained horsemen riding at their rear. Perhaps of all the company, Herbert and Molly were happiest. They were as much at home in the saddle as any cowboy of them all, and their high spirits spread to their mates, so that even they regretted the order that the leader gave:

"Right about, face! Rifle practice-nine o'clock, sharp!"

They hadn't a minute to lose; yet when the "awkward squad" repaired to the Barracks only the four girls answered to roll call. The lads came straggling up, later, their heads close together, an air of profound mischief and mystery about them, and Dorothy heard the words "Bear Hunt" escape from one of them.

Her heart sank. Leslie was, indeed, coming to take the place he had declined in the "ranks," rather going with the crowd than be left out alone; but there was something in his manner that Dolly did not like. Were the three boys planning to steal off by themselves, despite Captain Lemuel's warnings?

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