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Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 19524

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

For a moment Dorothy sat still in bed, afraid to move or cry out while the great animal at the window remained equally motionless. Then she was able to shriek:

"Alf! Helena! Somebody-help-help! HELP!"

Alfy leapt from her little bed with an answering cry, frightened by Dorothy's screech, and hurriedly demanding: "Why-why-what?" then rubbed her eyes and stood transfixed with horror.

A moment later the whole house was in an uproar. The lads came running from their rooms, yelling in sympathy with the cries of the girls, the doctor rushed from his office-bedroom clad only in pajamas; the nurse forsook her sick bed-which she had not left before since first stricken with a chest attack; Anita-Wun Sing-kitchen boy-all the household gathered in the great corridor upon which the girls' rooms opened.

Such an uproar had never been heard at peaceful San Leon since its foundation stone was laid; and the sounds carrying clearly in that night air, out from the Barracks rushed a horde of cowboys and workmen with Captain Lem in lead.

"A bear!"

"The Grizzly! The Grizzly!"

A grizzly it was sure enough. All the feminine portion of the household retreated to the empty chamber of Miss Milliken, slammed down its window and locked themselves within; then from curiosity opened the door a little way, to peek through the crack.

"Oh! Oh! It's coming this way-why doesn't somebody shoot it!" cried Helena, running back to look through the window panes.

The great animal had now dropped from its upright position at Dolly's window and was crawling on all fours back along the wide porch. It certainly was coming that way but-it couldn't get in!

"Could it? Can bears-open-open-things?" gasped Molly, retreating to a wardrobe and hiding within it, whence she demanded in a torrent of questions information of all sorts concerning bears and why nobody killed it before it killed them!

Oddly enough, nobody had interfered with the creature's movements thus far, though some of the men had run back to the Barracks for firearms, and just then unlucky Wun Sing came round the corner of the building and met it face to face. He had run at top speed in the opposite direction from that the beast seemed taking when he had first espied it, issuing from his room beyond the kitchen. Seeing it headed that way he had instinctively chosen the other, not reckoning that even bears can change routes.

Then the yell that rose belittled all which had gone before.

Grizzly uprose on his hind feet and rushed to meet poor Wunny, squeezing him in a terrible embrace that checked the Chinaman's yell instantly. Until a touch of Bruin's teeth upon his thinly clad shoulder and a bite of sharp teeth awoke it again. A clutch of his queue from the great paw brought forth greater shrieks and seemed to give the victim an extraordinary strength. By some means he wrenched himself free and escaped, the grizzly pursuing on all fours again-and both headed toward the lake.

Whether Wun Sing's purpose was to throw himself within it he didn't know himself, but the road toward it was the clearest and offered his best chance. Half way to the water his feet caught in his long night blouse and he tripped. Instantly the grizzly was upon him. The great furry creature sprawled over the prostrate cook, growling and snapping his teeth but as yet inflicting no further injury, and the man underneath no longer knowing anything, for his terrified senses had taken leave of his quivering body.

Slowly the bear got upright again and, for a moment towered above his helpless victim. Then seeming to have satisfied his rage in that direction, he resumed his natural position and moved back toward the house. He kept his great head well lowered, wagging it from side to side and, altogether, conducting himself like a half-blind or greatly bewildered bear.

By this time the men from the Barracks had reappeared, well armed; but as the grizzly climbed upon the veranda floor again they hesitated to fire because the low windows opening upon it were full of peeping faces. Silent Pete, alone, dared approach the creature as near as the other end of the veranda. This man had been a mighty hunter in his youth, when Colorado was an almost unknown country with few settlers and big game plentiful. His old blood had warmed to the conflict now, though he was silent as ever and paid no heed to the warnings called to him by his ranch mates. Creeping stealthily forward toward the encounter he watched his grizzly enemy with exultation, his thought being:

"He's tough! He's an old one! His hide's thick-I must make no mistake. When I get nigh enough to hit him through the heart-wish he'd rise up again-queerest actin' grizzly I ever met-likely my last one-so anxious to meet me he come a-visitin'-he, he, he! Ah! he's risin'-I'll-"

Out on the electric lighted grounds the men were grouped with their rifles, all anxious to fire and all eager to delay till the last moment, watching this wild beast so uncommonly near at hand. Why, from its movements it might almost have been a tame animal escaped from some menagerie. Besides, the trophy belonged to Silent Pete. He was first and hardiest to face the brute and only if his famously sure shot failed would they fire to the rescue. Yes, the bear was the old hunter's legitimate prize-they'd wait, guns ready-

"Don't shoot! Oh! men, don't shoot! DON'T SHOOT!"

To the utter amazement of everyone, up flew Dorothy's window and out she leaped, so close behind the creeping grizzly that she almost touched him: she was gesticulating wildly and her repeated cries of "Don't shoot!" startled old Captain Lem almost to numbness.

What was that she was saying?

"He isn't a bear! I see his feet! Bears don't wear-SHOES!"

Alas! Her cry came too late. As bruin reared himself old Peter's shot rang out. An instant later, with such a cry as never issued from the throat of any bear, he dropped to the veranda floor and lay there motionless. The great bear hunt was over.

Five minutes later the grizzly rug was back on the floor of Leslie's room and the lad who had masqueraded in it to frighten a few girls, the over-zealous Mateo, lay on his own little bed with Doctor Jones probing for the bullet which had entered his shoulder.

Fortunately, it had not lodged there but passed straight through leaving a clean flesh wound which would promptly heal, the doctor said, but that would keep unhappy Mateo in bed for a few days. He had feigned sickness when there was none, dreading to act the part he had just so unfortunately done. But the young master's will had been too strong and the suggestion had been Mateo's own.

"The punishment, for once, has fallen upon the guilty person. You'll have time to reflect, Mateo, that frightening timid people is scarcely a manly pastime. I trust there'll be no more skylarking till Mr. Ford is home. You will be kept upon a rigid diet till I order otherwise, and good night."

So said the doctor, leaving his patient to his own thoughts and assuring himself that all the young folks had retired to their rooms again. He had administered no further reproofs-nor needed to do so. It was an exceedingly crest-fallen trio of lads who disappeared from view, when once the extent of Mateo's injury was learned, and a very quiet one.

But the excited girls were not so quiet. They had to talk it over, simply had to!

"I thought it was queer all the boys were in their day clothes," said Helena, with her arm about Molly, who was still shaking with fright, now and then, despite the fact that the affair was all over.

"I noticed, too, but I thought they'd just dressed awful quick. But suppose it had been a real one-would it have eaten us up?" she begged to know.

To which Alfy replied from her own room:

"No, Molly Breckenridge, don't be a goose. We'd have eaten him up, course. We'd have had bear steak for breakfast-Some say it's good. Don't s'pose with all them men around they'd have let it live very long? No, indeedy. But Matty did it real cute, after all, didn't he? Must ha' been terrible hot, trampin' around under all that skin. Well, we ought to go to sleep, but seems if I'd never catch another wink. I wonder what became of Wunny! Last I saw him he was lyin' flat on the ground-thinkin' he was et up, I guess. Dolly-My heart! Dolly Doodles is asleep a'ready. Did you ever see such a sleepy head, Nell?"

There was no answer from the room across the hall, so Alfy curled down among her pillows and composed herself to sleep. But her mind wasn't at rest. She kept seeing, in her fancy, the prostrate figure of Wun Sing, and hoped some of the men from the Barracks had looked after him. She felt as if she must get up again and go to see for herself. But-out of doors at night didn't seem quite the same, even to this sensible girl, as it had done before the bear scare. Besides-something really was the matter with her eyes. They felt as if they were full of sand-she'd just shut them a minute to-

She was asleep at once. A body simply could not stay awake after bedtime, in that Colorado air! And it was well she could not. Else, the warm-hearted girl would have suffered fresh alarm.

It was a belated household which struggled out of heavy slumber the next day, and as Dorothy lazily yawned and stretched her arms above her head it seemed as if all the exciting events of the night must be part of her dreams. Alfy woke, too, as reluctantly as her mate and just as Helena appeared from her own room, looking a little heavy-eyed but fully dressed. She bade them good morning, but waited for no response before she added:

"The house seems unusually still, and I don't smell coffee. I generally do, the first thing. I sometimes thin

k it's the odor of that wakes me. I wonder if Wun Sing's fright and his worry about his poor hen has made him ill! I'll go and see; and if the boys aren't up I'll call them."

The lads answered sleepily to Helena's summons, yet were not long in appearing on the porch, where the other girls promptly joined them. As if by common consent nobody mentioned the escapade of the night, though it was in the minds of all and all were really longing to discuss it. The boys because they wished to "explain," and the girls thinking that to treat the "joke" with silent contempt would be their severest punishment. Nobody even mentioned unlucky Mateo, who had lent himself to the furtherance of the affair, only to be the one to suffer most from it.

"Hmm. Isn't it past breakfast time?" asked Monty, at last.

Herbert looked at his watch, and exclaimed:

"Ten minutes to nine! Who'd have believed it? Horses to be groomed before drill, and time up already. I wonder-But here's Nell. She's coming from the kitchen and looks important. What's up, Sis?"

"Several things. First, the hen of Wun Sing lies dead in her coop."

"O-oh!" "Ah!" "Unwise, ambitious hen!" were the exclamations which responded; and Molly added:

"That isn't all. There's something worse on Helena's mind than the death of a bewitched hen! Out with it, child! After-I mean-my nerves won't stand any more."

"Didn't know you had nerves," laughed Alfy. "What's happened, Helena?"

"Wun Sing has disappeared."


"It is true. He has gone, nobody knows where. There's a man from the Barracks, the one who does the cooking over there, getting breakfast. Captain Lem is flying around in a terrible state of mind. He's angry with you boys, says there'll be neither drill nor rifle practice to-day, but the horses must be groomed just as soon as we get our breakfasts. He's sent a half-dozen men looking for the cook, now, and they expect to find him soon."

"So they did Jim! Seems if there wasn't anything doing on this ranch but just getting lost," wailed Alfaretta, turning a little pale; while Molly nervously begged:

"Somebody tie me fast! Tie me fast! It'll break my father's heart if I get lost, too!"

Captain Lem came up at that moment. He looked so stern and unlike himself that the young folks were all of them awed by his manner. Even light hearted Monty slunk back, "shaking in his shoes," while Leslie dropped his eyes and lost all his bravado.

"Hark to me, Squad! Every mortal son an' gal of ye! I'm riled-I'm mad. Here am I left in charge, so to speak, of your doin's, and of the work on the ranch, anyways. Your smart-aleck work has turned everything topsy-turvy. Men took from their reg'lar jobs to go hunt worthless Chinamen, and take his place a-cookin'. Hens dyin' to right an' left-pizened by some your doses, likely-"

"Oh, no! Captain, I'm sure nobody would do such a cruel thing as poison helpless creatures!" protested Dorothy, running to clasp his hand.

He had on his "specs," which they had already learned he used mostly when he was angry, and they were very glittering just then. But Dorothy would not be put aside. She clung to him till his mood softened and removing the menacing "specs," dropped them in his blouse pocket. Then he smiled upon her, rather shamefacedly, though he felt that he still had good cause for offence.

"Well, Little One, you've got ways to win a feller, 'spite of himself. If they was all as good as you-"

"Oh! they are, and even lots better! 'Twas just lads' foolishness that they mistook for smartness. And they, we, all of us will do all we can to help. Where can we look for Wunny? He's the first one to be thought of. And I'm sorry he was so scared. Also, he'll be sorry himself over the poor hen. What can I do?"

"Go along an' eat what breakfast you can get. Then tend to your horses. Likely, they're hungrier 'n you are and I'll go see 't they're fed. But hear me! Not another mite o' foolin' with serious things till Dan Ford gets back an' takes the reins into his own hands. 'Twas the mercy of Providence-nothin' else-that that jabberin' shallow-pate Mateo wasn't killed plumb out. Silent Pete's used to grizzlies. He's used to killin' 'em. It's his trade, a deal more 'n 'tis to tend horseflesh. I wouldn't like to stand as nigh hand to his gun as that Greaser did last night. Now, hurry up and eat. Then report for duty. I'm off to mine."

"Where do you suppose Wun Sing is?" asked Helena, of anybody who chose to answer.

Nobody did: it may be stated right here that he was never again seen at San Leon. The "bewitched dead fowl" was duly buried in her own courtyard, the little gate to this locked, and its key hung up in the cook's wall-cupboard. But Wun Sing came no more. Everything belonging to him was left as if he meant to return at any minute, but he did not come.

They searched the pebbly bottom of the lake, thinking he might have drowned himself in his superstitious fear, but he was not there: and after days had been wasted in the fruitless search, Captain Lem had his belongings packed together and sent to his relative, Der Doo, in San Diego. Whence, at the very end of the summer word came back that he had reappeared in that city, a wreck of himself, but it was hoped that with time and good Chinese cooking he would recover his scattered wits and his own culinary skill.

Meanwhile, many messages came from the travellers in the east. The expected old aunt had duly arrived but in no fit condition to travel further for the present. Gray Lady sent dearest love and hoped all her big, new family would find San Leon the happiest place in the world, and the most peaceful. She had lived long enough to understand that peace and harmony were the most precious things in life. She longed to be with them and would be as soon as it was right. Meanwhile, let all be patient as possible over her enforced absence and just feel that she was with them in spirit all the time.

"Odd, isn't it? That she who so longed to have this home and so enjoyed it should have to leave it to us, a lot of strange youngsters, to use instead?" said Helena, one evening some time later, as they all had gathered about the fountain in the soft sunset light, to talk over happenings and plan things for the coming day.

Since the escapade of the false bear hunt there had been a notable absence of pranks. An ominous peace had settled over the whole young company, remarked by the astute Captain Lem as the "'ca'm before a storm.' 'Tain't in natur' for 'em to be so demure an' tractable. No siree. They've 'tended to their groomin' like reg'lar saints, an' they've learned to drill amazin' well. They don't shoot none to hurt, yet, 'ceptin' that Leslie himself. Sence he's waked up an' took an interest he's done fine. He's the best o' the lot and his knowin' that is what inspires him to do better yet. That, an' hopin' to please the Boss. But-I hope the storm'll blow over-the one they're brewin'. And I wonder what in creation ever did become o' that first boy, or of Wunny."

For as yet no news had come of the latter and the former had almost dropped out of thought-save now and then in Alfy's, and always in faithful Dorothy's.

Now that they were better riders and had become what their teacher called "pals" with their horses, they were daily given larger liberty. In company with him, and sometimes without him, they rode long distances over the roads, the narrow trails, and the almost imperceptible paths which led over the mountains and through the forests.

The wild flowers of Colorado are innumerable, almost, and most of them were new to Dorothy, the flower-lover. In search of these she was tireless and many hours were spent after her return from her rides, in pressing her "specimens" and preparing herbariums. In this delightful work she had the company and help of Dr. Jones, himself a well-read and enthusiastic botanist.

Helena spent hours over her journal: "taking notes" for future literary labors. Alfy and Molly were content to do nothing save be happy. As Alfy expressed it:

"I never was so lazy and I likely never will have a chance to be again. I can work when I have to and I can play just as hard."

The lads fished, rode, hunted small game, and tried various feats of horsemanship, lariat casting, and even-when they were especially energetic, played ball. There was a fairly good team among the ranchmen and they entered into the sport with vim. Only Leslie found the exercise too violent and was content to lounge and watch the rest.

This evening, sitting together so cosily, the peace of the beautiful scene gradually soothed them all to quiet. They had settled the plans for the morrow and were as happy as such care-free children could be. Helena picked up her guitar and played soft melodies upon it, the others humming them under their breaths-not to disturb the player, only Alfy presuming to fit real words to the music but not interfering with it.

Suddenly Dorothy raised her eyes from the playing fountain, on which she had been dreamily gazing and thinking of lost Jim. A sound, faint, of horses' footfalls had entered her dream. With a silent gesture of alarm she sprang to her feet, staring with wide eyes at a company of Indians ascending the hill. They avoided the hard driveway, their horses treading with velvety softness upon the shaven lawn. They were many in number, twenty perhaps, and they were in gala dress. Head-dresses of eagles' feathers, gaily colored, hung from their crowns over the sides of their mounts, to the length of a man's height. They uttered no sounds, looked neither to the right nor left, but like a dreadful, phantom procession moved straight forward toward the fountain.

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