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Dorothy on a Ranch By Evelyn Raymond Characters: 19754

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Molly gave one glance and screamed. Then flung herself to her knees and buried her face in Helena's lap, who pityingly drew her light skirt over the child's head. Nobody else moved nor spoke. All felt their last hour had come.

"An Indian raid!"

This was their thought and then of their helplessness. This company was only the forerunner of more!

"Massacre! Oh! to die like this!"

Even the lads' faces blanched, but resolution flashed from their observant eyes, and these beheld a strange spectacle.

The superbly mounted Indians, in their gaudiest attire, bead-decked shirts and fringed leggings, their supple feet clad in embroidered moccasins, outshone even the most magnificent of "Wild West" shows; and without a spoken word each understood the desire of their Chief. They rode to the semi-circle of concrete before the main entrance to the great house and ranged themselves around it, the Chief in front, alone, and as the last hoof fell into position where the rider wished, they became as rigid as a company of warriors carved in stone.

"What will they do next!" was the wonder in all the observers' minds, as they gazed in fascination at this curious sight.

What they would do next seemed long in coming. Though it was but a few moments it seemed like ages while the redskins waited, stolid, immovable before the doorway of the mansion. But, at last, the spell was broken.

Across from the Barracks, around the corner, through the cloistered walk, came Captain Lemuel, whistling. He was in good spirits; ready to join his "Squad" beside the fountain and have an evening's "gabble" with the youngsters. They had been abnormally good that day. Wholly obedient to his restrictions in the length of their rides, eager to improve in their shooting-which was so far removed from "sharp"; and in every respect so "decent" that he puzzled his brain to find the best story to tell them of old days in Colorado and of his own prowess therein.

But, as he passed the corner, his whistling ceased. The story was told! And a far better one than any his memory could furnish.

The young watchers caught their breath. Poor Captain Lem! Rushing thus to his own undoing! But still they had to gaze and gaze-they could not turn their eyes away; and gazing they beheld a stranger thing than any which had gone before.

That was the jolly Captain clapping his hands as if in glee, bowing before the silent Chief, almost prostrating himself, in fact. Afterward a brief clasping of hands between the two and the Captain beginning a long harangue in a strange tongue, interrupted now and then by grunts and gutturals from the attentive Indians. Then giving the Chief his finest military salute, the Captain "right faced" and silently marched away. The Indians as silently followed him, the Chief first, and the others in single file, till they all disappeared toward the Barracks, and the youngsters were left gasping in amazement.

A sigh of relief rose from them in unison and, hearing it, Molly lifted her face. She only had seen nothing of the pantomime, or such it seemed which had been enacted, though she had heard through her terror the whistling of the Captain and its abrupt ceasing.

"Is-is-he-dead?" she whispered.

"He's the liveliest dead man I ever saw. Come on, boys! That's the sight of our lives! Who's afraid?" cried Herbert, springing up and eager.

But his sister clutched his arm. "No, no, Bert! You mustn't! You shan't!"

"I shall and will! So should you-all! Whoever they are they're friendly. Else old Lem wouldn't have seemed so pleased and led 'em off with his best 'hep, hep, hep,' that way. I'll bet they're Utes, good neighbors of the white ranchers, but they're genuine Indians all the same and I'm going to see them. My! But I did feel mighty weak in the knees for a minute! I thought it was all up with yours truly. Come on, I say!"

He really wished to follow but, evidently, he also wished to have his courage bolstered by the presence of his mates.

Oddly enough it was Monty who first joined Herbert. He was still half afraid, yet also wild with curiosity. His was the least war-like spirit there, but he couldn't withstand this knowledge at first hand of real, live Indians.

One after another they all followed. In any case they would be safer among the ranchmen than here in this lonelier spot, and Lemuel's manner had been quite different from fear.

As they slowly passed around the house, whose corner hid the Barracks front view, they were wholly reassured. The lawn was wide and a good distance was still between them and the red-skinned visitors, but they could see all that was going on. The Indians had all dismounted, a lot of the cowboys had come forward to meet them, and the fine horses they rode were being led off to a still more distant and disused corral. Here the animals were turned loose, their blankets and trappings removed, and the ranchmen themselves at once setting to work to rub the fine creatures down and to supply them with ample fodder for the night. A big trough in the corral, through which running water was always piped furnished them with drink; and the entrance being secured, the attendants went back to the Barracks' porch, that extended from one end to the other of the long, low building.

Upon the porch floor the blankets were spread and the Utes squatted on them, greatly pleased at their reception. Pipes were lighted and smoked, Captain Lem and several others joining in what looked to be a ceremony of welcome. A few of the ranchmen hurried to the Barracks' kitchen and prepared supper for the visitors, and after this was eaten by the strange guests, sitting where they were under the porch roof, the discarded pipes were again resumed and some sort of palaver followed.

In this talk Silent Peter took the leading part. He was escorted by Captain Lem to the side of the Chief, none other than White Feather, and placed upon another blanket, handed a fresh pipe, and left to do the honors of the occasion. Meantime Captain Lem sent a messenger across to the watching youngsters, that they should come quietly to his own room at the Barracks and observe matters from that nearer point.

"But-is it safe? What does it all mean?" demanded Leslie of the man.

"Safe as can be. Why, that's White Feather, Chief of a band of Utes and one of the best friends your father has. Fact. He's awful disappointed, too, to find the Boss away. Came on a visit of ceremony, with the finest bucks in his band, to get acquainted and do a little horse-trading. That's all. Silent Pete can talk Injun and has travelled not a little with this crowd, afore he settled at San Leon. Huh! Did you think they was from the Plains?"

"What's the difference? An Indian is an Indian, isn't he? Not to be trusted, any of them. I don't think my father would like to have the boys treat those fellows as they're doing. You men ought to arm yourselves and drive them off the ranch."

The young ranchman regarded Leslie with a look of amused contempt, then retorted:

"Well, you may be a rich man's son but what you don't know about your own country'd fill books! All the rest afraid, too? 'Cause if you are, you'd better get out o' sight. Captain Lem has asked White Feather to let him bring you over to meet him an' the old feller's said yes. He said it as if he hated to but was willin' for Lem's sake to do you the honor. Great Scott! Why, you young idiot, White Feather's a great Chief, a king among his people, feels he ranks with our President, or the Czar of all the Russias! Well,-well, I'm beat. I thought 't they had schools back east where you tenderfeet come from. I supposed you'd learned that there's more 'n one kind of Indian in this big country. Why, sir, the difference 'twixt the Arapahoes, or the Cheyennes, and them peaceable Utes yonder-humph! Well, are you comin' or not?"

Leslie had resented the talkative ranchman's comments on his own ignorance but had the grace to conceal it. He had even jested a little at his own expense and said that he must "read up on Indians." Then he led off his party toward the Barracks and, arrived there, found Captain Lem vastly relieved. It was greatly to Mr. Ford's advantage to be on cordial terms with all his neighbors, in that isolated region, and the loyal Captain realized this. Both he and Silent Pete had to regret the fact that, at present and in their employer's absence, they could not venture on the trading; but at the old hunter's suggestion they had assumed the responsibility of giving White Feather the finest horse in stock. This was a magnificent black stallion which had never been broken to harness and with a temper that threatened ill to any man who undertook the task.

The youngsters came up and filed before White Feather, standing now, and gravely accepting their timidly proffered hands, as the name of each was mentioned. His own response was a friendly grunt but he was evidently bored by the affair and passed the girls over with the slightest notice. His eye lingered a bit longer upon the lads and it seemed that he was measuring their heights with his eye. But he let them go, almost as soon as he had the girls, and as Molly exclaimed when they had retreated to Captain Lem's room:

"I never felt I was such a litty-bitty-no-account creature in all my life! I wouldn't be an Indian squaw for anything! But wasn't he just grand-and hideous?"

Then Captain signalled to them that they would better return to the house. The Chief evidently considered the presence of females an intrusion and that of such slender, white-faced lads but little better. Upon Leslie, as son of the ranch owner, he bestowed several grave stares but no more speech than on the others.

So from the unlighted music-room they watched for a time in silence; till everything grew quiet at the Barracks, al

l lights out, and the strange guests asleep on their blankets upon the porch. Then they, too, went to bed, greatly stirred by the fact of such uncommon acquaintances so close at hand, and with entirely new ideas of Colorado red men.

By daylight the visitors had gone, so silently that nobody in the house itself had heard their departure. With them, too, had gone Rob Roy, the black stallion; and, what seemed valueless to the givers some old garments of the ranchmen. From one a coat, another a sombrero, a blanket, shoes, underwear, and from Silent Pete himself a complete hunter's outfit.

All his comrades were surprised at this, for he kept the buckskin suit as a souvenir of earlier days, when he was as free to roam the forests as any Indian of them all and the blood still ran hot and wild in his veins. He was an old man now. He pondered much on the past and he spoke little to any man. But he talked with the Chief in that warrior's own tongue and in tones not to be overheard by any others. When that bit of talk was over he had brought out the precious suit, neatly folded and bound about with a marvellous lariat-also another dear possession-and had placed them in White Feather's hands.

Then he relapsed into his usual quiet and the life at San Leon resumed its usual routine. The visit of the Indians became as a dream, but news of the early return of the absent hosts sent new life and ambition into the minds of all their young guests.

Drills no longer were irksome. Were they not to show Mr. Ford how well they could carry themselves? As for rifle practice, there was such prolonged and continual popping of guns that Dr. Jones lamented his disturbed quiet and Nurse Melton had often to seek the most remote quarters to escape the startling sounds.

Riding, also, was kept up with great zest. It had proved true that the more one learned of his horse, the better he loved it, the greater the silent understanding between it and himself. They now had races of all sorts and daily. Hurdles had given place to great hedges and ditches, which most of the animals distinguished themselves in leaping. Monty was still the hindmost in everything, yet showed his pluck in sticking to his saddle at all risks, and sometimes with startling success.

So well, indeed, had they learned horsemanship that on a certain glorious morning before sunrise, the seven youngsters were already in saddle, alert for the long-coveted ride to Bald Eagle Rock, under the guidance of Captain Lem himself, with Silent Pete and another ranchman to carry the luncheon upon two soberer steeds. It was to be an all-day's outing and a goodly little company which would enjoy it. As soon as possible after arrival in New York Mrs. Ford had procured and sent back to San Leon, readymade habits and riding clothes for her girls and boys, not forgetting to include one for absent Jim, which Dorothy had carefully placed along with his other belongings in his own room; so that now arrayed in these gifts they all looked fine and fit.

"We might be going for a ride in the Park instead of a climb through woods and over rocks! I do hope we won't tear our clothes!" said careful Helena; while Molly returned with native carelessness:

"Well, I think a ride to the top of the Rockies is worth at least one habit!"

"I shan't spoil mine, not 'nless I get tumbled off Blanca, someway. I've got dozens of safety-pins and I shall pin my skirt-I mean drawers-whatever they call these 'divided' things-so tight they can't get torn. I never had a habit before. Course not. I never even had a horse," said Alfaretta.

"Well, without the horse you wouldn't have needed the habit, dearie. But I do like this riding astride, as Lady Gray thought best we should do on hard trips. And aren't we happy? Only-only-if poor Jim was here!" answered Dorothy, with a little cry of delight that ended rather drearily.

But now they were off! And no further thought of anything or anybody except the pleasure of the moment rose in any mind.

Captain Lem had not over-rated the difficulties of that trip. The beginning was fairly easy, the road or trail wide enough for two to ride side by side, and one had leisure to admire the surroundings. But when they came to that same turn of the roads, beyond the river, and took the route which unhappy James had followed in his delirium, they could no longer travel in pairs.

And now was proved the good judgment of Captain Lem in training them to a familiar knowledge of their horses and in their close friendship.

"Guide 'em-point out the way you want 'em to go-then trust the creatur's to do the best for them and you!" advised the old sharpshooter, halting at the top of the first steep climb, to breathe his own horse and let the stragglers come up. "More 'n that you can't maybe all follow just the same track. Blanca there, is goin' to pick her way, cautious an' careful as a gal in a nice new white frock, like them the Little One wears. She ain't goin' to tear her white dress, Alfaretty, so don't you get scared if she falls a good ways behind the rest. She's a sociable beast, is Blanca, and she'll get to the top all right, give her time. But Dolly's calico'll nigh bust herself to be first. More 'n that she's the keenest nose for a shortcut of any horse in the batch. She's little and she's light, and she'll trust herself in places 't no bigger creatur' would tackle. All right, everybody? Girths tight? Stirrups to suit? Then-trust your horses' wits and-let her go!"

It had been planned to have lunch on the Rock itself, and to be back at San Leon in time for a late supper. An early breakfast had been taken, of course, but not with the usual heartiness, for they were all too excited to eat. Bald Eagle Rock was the highest point in that region and it would be a fine thing to remember if they held out to reach its summit.

Meanwhile the road thither lay through a deep forest; down and along ravines; steep climbs of slippery rocks; and over masses of ferns and underbrush. After Captain Lem's halt and harangue they all became silent. They had all they could do to keep in their saddles, and, as he had prophesied, the animals they rode chose each a slightly diverging route.

However, they frequently called out to one another, their gay halloos and yodels echoing along the mountain side, to the glad assurance of themselves and the affright of the forest wildings. But the lads who had hoped to sight some big game, preferably a live grizzly and had brought their guns with them, were disappointed in that. Nothing fiercer than a coyote crossed their path. It was as if the forest had anticipated their invasion and put itself on guard.

Dorothy obeyed Captain Lem's advice implicitly. She did not try to guide Zaraza but let the pretty creature follow her own will, so long as that will pointed straight upward. This gave the girl time to study the flowers and ferns along the way and sometimes she slipped from her saddle to gather and closely inspect them. She did not herself call out but contented herself with listening to the shouts of the others, and, for some reason, her thoughts were more upon the missing Jim than they had been of late.

"Oh! how that boy would like this ride! How he'd pull out his little hammer and peg away at these wonderful rocks! What specimens he'd collect! and how his sharp eyes would see every little bird and beast that moves through this wilderness! Oh! I hope, I hope, he is still alive and safe. If I could only see him!"

Suddenly, the forest seemed strangely still. Zaraza stopped to breathe and Dorothy listened keenly for the halloo of her mates. Hearing none she ventured on a little shout herself which, low as it was, awoke a thousand deafening echoes all about her. Or so it seemed. With a thrill of horror, she remembered how Molly had once been lost in a far away Nova Scotian wood, and the girl's description of her terror. She wished she hadn't thought of that tale now. But, of course, this was quite different. They were many in this company, ten all told, and somebody must be very near. It would all come right. She mustn't be a goose and get frightened just because, for a moment, she heard nobody. Yet, Alfy's words rang in her head:

"Seems if there was nothing happens but somebody gets lost up here at San Leon!" and Molly's absurd appeal: "Tie me tight!"

After a moment when Zaraza seemed rested she urged the docile creature forward, and now the "calico" had certainly discovered a smooth and easy way. That was good. It must be a well-traveled road, though it was still but a "trail" to her eyes. Probably this was the final stretch of the trip, and in a moment she would come face to face with the gigantic Rock.

Instead, the way grew smoother all the time and now quite level. A little way farther she could see a wide plain, or mesa, with sheep grazing. How odd! that anybody should feed sheep upon a mountain that looked all rock and forest, seen from below. The sun was hot. It must be noon. She hoped she wouldn't be late for that famous lunch they had talked about so much.

Zaraza trotted around a last clump of trees, as if she knew her task was ended, and her own feeding time at hand.

Then Dorothy brought her up with a sharp, silent tug upon the reins. Yonder in that open space was a small hut, or cabin; and sitting on the ground before it was an Indian, with a little Indian child beside him. Evidently, they also were having a mid-day meal, for she saw the child lift a tin dipper to his lips and drink.

Zaraza whinnied. She was thirsty and scented water, and at that sound the man sprang up and turned around. For one astonished moment he gazed at that girlish apparition and Dorothy at him. Then with a cry of ecstasy she sprang to the ground and sped toward him.

"Jim! O Jim!"


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