"All right," he said more cheerfully. "I am Wampus. I will be there, Miss 'Lizbeth."
AMONG THE INDIANS
Little Myrtle grew brighter day by day. She even grew merry and developed a fine sense of humor, showing new traits in her hitherto undeveloped character. The girl never mentioned her injury nor admitted that she suffered any pain, even when directly questioned. Indeed she was not uncomfortable during that splendid automobile ride over mountain and plain into the paradise of the glowing West. Never before in her life had Myrtle enjoyed an outing, except for an hour or two in a city park; never before had she known a friend to care for her and sympathize honestly with her griefs. Therefore this experience was so exquisitely delightful that her responsive heart nearly burst with gratitude. Pretty thoughts came to her that she had never had before; her luxurious surroundings led her to acquire dainty ways and a composed and self-poised demeanor.
"Our rosebud is unfolding, petal by petal, and beginning to bloom gloriously," said Patsy to sympathetic Uncle John. "Could anyone be more sweet or lovely?"
Perhaps almost any girl, situated as Myrtle Dean was, would have blossomed under similar influences. Certain it was that Uncle John came to have a tender affection for the poor child, while the Major's big heart had warmed from the first toward the injured girl. Beth and Patsy were devoted to their new friend and even Mumbles was never so happy as when Myrtle would hold and caress him. Naturally the former waif responded freely to all this wealth of affection and strove to be companionable and cheery, that they might forget as much as possible her physical helplessness.
Mumbles was not the least important member of the party, but proved a constant source of amusement to all. In the novel domains they now traversed the small dog's excitable nature led him to investigate everything that seemed suspicious, but he was so cowardly, in spite of this, that once when Patsy let him down to chase a gopher or prairie dog—they were not sure which—the animal turned at bay and sent Mumbles retreating with his stubby tail between his legs. His comradeship for Wampus surprised them all. The Canadian would talk seriously to the dog and tell it long stories as if the creature could understand every word—which perhaps he did. Mumbles would sit up between the driver and Patsy and listen attentively, which encouraged Wampus to talk until Patsy in self-defense turned and tossed the fuzzy animal in to Myrtle, who was always glad to receive him.
But Patsy did not always sit on the front seat. That honor was divided among them all, by turns, except the Major, who did not care for the place. Yet I think Patsy rode there oftener than anyone else, and it came to be considered her special privilege because she had first claimed it.
The Major, after the incident at Gallup, did not scorn Wampus so openly as before; but he still reserved a suspicion that the fellow was at heart a coward and a blusterer. The chauffeur's sole demerit in the eyes of the others was his tremendous egotism. The proud remark: "I am Wampus!" was constantly on his lips and he had wonderful tales to tell to all who would listen of his past experiences, in every one of which he unblushingly figured as the hero. But he really handled the big touring car in an admirable manner, and when one afternoon a tire was punctured by a cactus spine by the roadside—their first accident—they could not fail to admire the dexterous manner in which he changed the tube for a new one.
From Gallup they took a wagon road to Fort Defiance, in the Navajo Indian reservation; but the Navajos proved uninteresting people, not even occupying themselves in weaving the famous Navajo blankets, which are now mostly made in Philadelphia. Even Patsy, who had longed to "see the Indians in their native haunts," was disgusted by their filth and laziness, and the party expected no better results when they came to the adjoining Moki reservation. Here, however, they were happily disappointed, for they arrived at the pueblo of Oraibi, one of the prettiest villages on the mesa, on the eve of one of their characteristic snake dances, and decided to remain over night and see the performance. Now I am not sure but the "Snake Dance" was so opportune because Uncle John had a private interview with the native chieftain, at which the head Snake Priest and the head Antelope Priest of the tribe were present. These Indians spoke excellent English and the chief loved the white man's money, so a ceremony that has been held during the month of August for many centuries—long before the Spanish conquistadors found this interesting tribe—was found to be on tap for that very evening. The girls were tremendously excited at the prospect and Wampus was ordered to prepare camp for the night—the first they had spent in their automobile and away from a hotel. Not only was the interior of the roomy limousine converted into sleeping quarters for the three girls, but a tent was spread, one side fastened to the car while the other was staked to the ground. Three wire folding cots came from some hidden place beneath the false bottom of the car, with bedding enough to supply them, and these were for the use of the men in the tent. The two "bedrooms" having been thus prepared, Wampus lighted the tiny gasoline stove, over which Patsy and Beth enthusiastically cooked the supper. Beth wanted to "Newburg" the tinned lobster, and succeeded in creaming it very nicely. They had potato chips, coffee and toasted Holland rusks, as well, and all thoroughly enjoyed the improvised meal.
Their camp had been pitched just at the outskirts of the Indian village, but the snake dance was to take place in a rocky glen some distance away from the pueblo and so Uncle John instructed Wampus to remain and guard their outfit, as the Moki are notorious thieves. They left the lean little chauffeur perched upon the driver's seat, smoking one of his "stogie" cigars and with Mumbles sitting gravely beside him.
Myrtle hobbled on her crutches between Beth and Patsy, who carried little tin lanterns made with lamp chimneys that had candles inside them. They first visited the chief, who announced that the ceremonies were about to begin. At a word from this imposing leader a big Indian caught up Myrtle and easily carried her on his shoulder, as if she were light as a feather, leading the way to the rocky amphitheatre. Here were assembled all the inhabitants of the village, forming a wide circle around the performers. The snakes were in a pit dug in the center of the space, over which a few branches had been placed. This is called the "kisi."
These unique and horrifying snake dances of the Moki have been described so often that I need not speak of this performance in detail. Before it was half over the girls wished they were back in their automobile; but the Major whispered that for them to leave would cause great offense to the Indians and might result in trouble. The dance is supposedly a religious one, in honor of the Rain God, and at first the snakes were not used, but as the dancers became wrought up and excited by their antics one by one they reached within the kisi and drew out a snake, allowing the reptiles to coil around their almost naked bodies and handling them with seeming impunity. A few were harmless species, as bull snakes and arrow snakes; but mostly the Moki used rattlesnakes, which are native to the mesa and its rocky cliffs. Some travelers have claimed that the fangs of the rattlers are secretly withdrawn before the creatures are handled, but this has been proved to be untrue. The most accepted theory is that the snakes are never permitted to coil, and cannot strike unless coiled, while the weird chanting and graceful undulating motions of the dancers in some manner "charms" or intoxicates the serpents, which are not aroused to antagonism. Occasionally, however, one of the Moki priests is bitten, in which case nothing is done to aid him and he is permitted to die, it being considered a judgment of the Rain God for some sin he has committed.
The barbaric rites seemed more picturesque, as well as more revolting, in that they took place by the flickering light of torches and bonfires in a rock strewn plain usually claimed by nature. When the dancers were more frenzied they held the squirming serpents in their mouths by the middle and allowed them to coil around their necks, dancing wildly the while. The whole affair was so nauseating and offensive that as soon as it was possible the visitors withdrew and retired to their "camp." It was now almost midnight, but the path was lighted by the little lanterns they carried.
As they approached the automobile Uncle John was disturbed not to see Wampus at his post. A light showed from the front of the car, but the chauffeur seemed to be missing. Coming nearer, however, they soon were greeted by a joyous barking from Mumbles and discovered Wampus squatting upon the ground, puffing at the small end of the cigar and seeming quite composed and tranquil.
"What are you doing there?" demanded the Major, raising his lantern the better to light the scene.
"I play jailer," grunted Wampus, without moving. "Him want to steal; Mumble he make bark noise; for me, I steal too—I steal Injun."
A dusky form, prone upon the ground, began to squirm under Wampus, who was then discovered to be sitting upon a big Indian and holding him prisoner. The chauffeur, partly an Indian himself, knew well how to manage his captive and quieted the fellow by squeezing his throat with his broad stubby fingers.
"How long have you had him there?" inquired Uncle John, looking at the discomfited "brave" curiously.
"About an hour," was the reply.
"Let him go, then. We have no prison handy, and the man has perhaps been punished enough."
"I have wait to ask permission to kill him," said Wampus solemnly. "He know English talk, an' I have told him he is to die. I have describe, sir, several torture we make on Injun who steal, which make him think he die several time. So he is now prepare for the worst."
The Indiam squirmed again, and with a sigh Wampus arose and set him free.
"See," he said; "you are save only by mercy of Great White Chief. You ver' lucky Injun. But Great White Chief will leave only one eye here when he go away. If you try to steal again the eye will see, an' then the torture I have describe will be yours. I am Wampus. I have spoke."
The Indian listened intently and then slunk away into the darkness without reply. The night had no further event and in spite of their unusual experiences all slept excellently and awoke in the morning refreshed and ready for new adventures.
From the reservation to the Grand Canyon of the Colorado was not far, but there was no "crosscut" and so they were obliged to make a wide detour nearly to Williams before striking the road that wound upward to the world's greatest wonder.
Slowly and tediously the big car climbed the miserable trail to the rim of the Grand Canyon. It was night when they arrived, for they had timed it that way, having been told of the marvelous beauty of the canyon by moonlight. But unfortunately the sky filled with clouds toward evening, and they came to Bright Angel, their destination, in a drizzling rain and total darkness. The Major was fearful Wampus might run them into the canyon, but the machine's powerful searchlights showed the way clearly and by sticking to the road they finally drew up before an imposing hotel such as you might wonder to find in so remote a spot.
Eagerly enough they escaped from the automobile where they had been shut in and entered the spacious lobby of the hotel, where a merry throng of tourists had gathered.
"Dinner and bed," said Patsy, decidedly. "I'm all tired out, and poor Myrtle is worn to a frazzle. There's no chance of seeing the canyon to-night, and as for the dancing, card playing and promiscuous gaiety, it doesn't appeal much to a weary traveler."
The girls were shown to a big room at the front of the hotel, having two beds in it. A smaller connecting-room was given to Myrtle, while Patsy and Beth shared the larger apartment. It seems the hotel, big as it was, was fairly filled with guests, the railway running three trains a day to the wonderful canyon; but Uncle John's nieces did not mind occupying the same room, which was comfortably and even luxuriously furnished.
A noise of footsteps along the corridor disturbed Patsy at an early hour. She opened her eyes to find the room dimly lighted, as by the first streaks of dawn, and sleepily arose to raise the window shade and see if day was breaking. Her hand still upraised to guide the shade the girl stood as motionless as if turned to stone. With a long drawn, gasping breath she cried: "Oh, Beth!" and then stood staring at what is undoubtedly the most entrancing, the most awe inspiring and at the same time the most magnificent spectacle that mortal eye has ever beheld—sunrise above the Grand Canyon of Arizona.
The master painters of the world have gathered in this spot in a vain attempt to transfer the wondrous coloring of the canyon to canvas. Authors famed for their eloquent command of language have striven as vainly to tell to others what their own eyes have seen; how their senses have been thrilled and their souls uplifted by the marvel that God's hand has wrought. It can never be pictured. It can never be described. Only those who have stood as Patricia Doyle stood that morning and viewed the sublime masterpiece of Nature can realize what those homely words, "The Grand Canyon" mean. Grand? It is well named. Since no other adjective can better describe it, that much abused one may well be accepted to incompletely serve its purpose.
Beth joined her cousin at the window and was instantly as awed and absorbed as Patsy. Neither remembered Myrtle just then, but fortunately their friend had left the connecting door of their rooms ajar and hearing them stirring came in to see if anything had happened. She found the two cousins staring intently from the window and went to the second window herself, thus witnessing the spectacle in all its glory.
Even after the magnificent coloring of sunrise had faded the sight was one to rivet the attention. The hotel seemed built at the very edge of the canyon, and at their feet the ground appeared to fall away and a great gulf yawned that was tinted on all its diverse sides with hues that rivaled those of the rainbow. Across the chasm they could clearly see the trees and hills; yet these were fully thirteen miles distant, for here is one of the widest portions of the great abyss.
"I'm going to dress," said Beth, breaking the silence at last. "It seems a sin to stay cooped up in here when such a glorious panorama is at one's feet."
The others did not reply in words, but they all began to dress together with nervous haste, and then made their way down to the canyon's brink. Others were before them, standing upon the ample porches in interested groups; but such idleness would not content our girls, who trooped away for a more intimate acquaintance with the wonderful gorge.
"Oh, how small—how terribly small—I am!" cried Patsy, lost in the immensity of the canyon's extent; but this is a common cry of travelers visiting Bright Angel. You might place a baker's dozen of the huge Falls of Niagara in the Grand Canyon and scarcely notice they were there. All the vast cathedrals of Europe set upon its plateau would seem like pebbles when viewed from the brink. The thing is simply incomprehensible to those who have not seen it.
Presently Uncle John and the Major came out to join them and they all wandered along the edge until they came to a huge rock that jutted out far over the monster gulf. On the furthermost point of this rock, standing with his feet at the very brink, was a tall, thin man, his back toward them. It seemed a fearful thing to do—to stand where the slightest slip would send him reeling into the abyss.
"It's like tempting fate," whispered Patsy, a safe distance away. "I wish he would step back a little."
As if he had overheard her the man half turned and calmly examined the group. His eyes were an almost colorless blue, his features destitute of any expression. By his dress he seemed well-to-do, if not prosperous, yet there was a hint of melancholy in his poise and about him a definite atmosphere of loneliness.
After that one deliberate look he turned again and faced the canyon, paying no attention to the interested little party that hovered far enough from the edge to avoid any possible danger.
"Oh, dear!" whispered Myrtle, clinging to Beth's arm with trembling fingers, "I'm afraid he's going to—to commit suicide!"
"Nonsense!" answered Beth, turning pale nevertheless.
The figure was motionless as before. Uncle John and the Major started along the path but as Beth attempted to follow them Myrtle broke away from her and hobbled eagerly on her crutches toward the stranger. She did not go quite to the end of the jutting rock, but stopped some feet away and called in a low, intense voice:
The man turned again, with no more expression in his eyes or face than before. He looked at Myrtle steadily a moment, then turned and slowly left the edge, walking to firm ground and back toward the hotel without another glance at the girl.
"I'm so ashamed," said Myrtle, tears of vexation in her eyes as she rejoined her friends. "But somehow I felt I must warn him—it was an impulse I just couldn't resist."
"Why, no harm resulted, in any event, my dear," returned Beth. "I wouldn't think of it again."
They took so long a walk that all were nearly famished when they returned to the hotel for breakfast.
Of course Patsy and Beth wanted to go down Bright Angel Trail into the depths of the canyon, for that is the thing all adventurous spirits love to do.
"I'm too fat for such foolishness," said Uncle John, "so I'll stay up here and amuse Myrtle."
The Major decided to go, to "look after our Patsy;" so the three joined the long line of daring tourists and being mounted on docile, sure-footed burros, followed the guide down the trail.
Myrtle and Uncle John spent the morning on the porch of the hotel. At breakfast the girl had noticed the tall man they had encountered at the canyon's edge quietly engaged in eating at a small table in a far corner of the great dining room. During the forenoon he came from the hotel to the porch and for a time stood looking far away over the canyon.
Aroused to sympathy by the loneliness of this silent person, Uncle John left his chair and stood beside him at the railing.
"It's a wonderful sight, sir," he remarked in his brisk, sociable way; "wonderful indeed!"
For a moment there was no reply.
"It seems to call one," said the man at length, as if to himself. "It calls one."
"It's a wonder to me it doesn't call more people to see it," observed Mr. Merrick, cheerfully. "Think of this magnificent thing—greater and grander than anything the Old World can show, being here right in the heart of America, almost—and so few rush to see it! Why, in time to come, sir," he added enthusiastically, "not to have seen the Grand Canyon of Arizona will be an admission of inferiority. It's—it's the biggest thing in all the world!"
The stranger made no reply. He had not even glanced at Uncle John. Now he slowly turned and stared fixedly at Myrtle for a moment, till she cast down her eyes, blushing. Then he re-entered the hotel; nor was he again seen by them.
The little man was indignant at the snub. Rejoining Myrtle he said to her:
"That fellow wasn't worth saving—if you really saved him, my dear. He says the canyon calls one, and for all I care he may go to the bottom by any route he pleases."
Which speech showed that gentle, kindly Mr. Merrick was really annoyed. But a moment later he was all smiles again and Myrtle found him a delightful companion because he knew so well how to read people's thoughts, and if they were sad had a tactful way of cheering them.
The girls and the Major returned from their trip to the plateau full of rapture at their unique experiences.
"I wouldn't have missed it for a million dollars!" cried the Major; but he added: "and you couldn't hire me to go again for two million!"
"It was great," said Patsy; "but I'm tuckered out."
"I had nineteen narrow escapes from sudden death," began Beth, but her cousin interrupted her by saying: "So had everyone in the party; and if the canyon had caved in we'd all be dead long ago. Stop your chattering now and get ready for dinner. I'm nearly starved."
Next morning they took a farewell view of the beautiful scene and then climbed into their automobile to continue their journey. Many of the tourists had wondered at their temerity in making such a long trip through a poorly settled country in a motor car and had plied them with questions and warnings. But they were thoroughly enjoying this outing and nothing very disagreeable had happened to them so far. I am sure that on this bright, glorious morning you could not have hired any one of the party to abandon the automobile and finish the trip by train.
A COYOTE SERENADE
The roads were bad enough. They were especially bad west of Williams. Just now an association of automobile tourists has been formed to create a boulevard route through from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, but at the time of this story no attention had been given the roads of the far West and only the paths of the rancheros from town to town served as guides. On leaving Williams they turned south so as to avoid the more severe mountain roads, and a fine run through a rather uninteresting country brought them to Prescott on the eve of the second day after leaving the Canyon. Here they decided to take a day's rest, as it was Sunday and the hotel was comfortable; but Monday morning they renewed their journey and headed southwesterly across the alkali plains—called "mesa"—for Parker, on the boundary line between Arizona and California.
Towns of any sort were very scarce in this section and the country was wild and often barren of vegetation for long stretches. There were some extensive ranches, however, as this is the section favored for settlement by a class of Englishmen called "remittance men." These are mostly the "black sheep" or outcasts of titled families, who having got into trouble of some sort at home, are sent to America to isolate themselves on western ranches, where they receive monthly or quarterly remittances of money to support them. The remittance men are poor farmers, as a rule. They are idle and lazy except when it comes to riding, hunting and similar sports. Their greatest industry is cattle raising, yet these foreign born "cowboys" constitute an entirely different class from those of American extraction, found in Texas and on the plains of the Central West. They are educated and to an extent cultured, being "gentlemen born" but sad backsliders in the practise of the profession. Because other ranchers hesitate to associate with them they congregate in settlements of their own, and here in Arizona, on the banks of the Bill Williams Branch of the Colorado River, they form almost the total population.
Our friends had hoped to make the little town of Gerton for the night, but the road was so bad that Wampus was obliged to drive slowly and carefully, and so could not make very good time. Accidents began to happen, too, doubtless clue to the hard usage the machine had received. First a spring broke, and Wampus was obliged to halt long enough to clamp it together with stout steel braces. An hour later the front tire was punctured by cactus spines, which were thick upon the road. Such delays seriously interfered with their day's mileage.
Toward sunset Uncle John figured, from the information he had received at Prescott, that they were yet thirty miles from Gerton, and so he decided to halt and make camp while there was yet sufficient daylight remaining to do so conveniently.
"We might hunt for a ranch house and beg for shelter," said he, "but from the stories I've heard of the remittance men I am sure we will enjoy ourselves better if we rely entirely upon our own resources."
The girls were, of course, delighted at the prospect of such an experience, for the silent, solitary mesa made them feel they were indeed "in the wilds of the Great American Desert." The afternoon had been hot and the ride dusty, but there was now a cooler feeling in the air since the sun had fallen low in the horizon.
They carried their own drinking water, kept ice-cold in thermos bottles, and Uncle John also had a thermos tub filled with small squares of ice. This luxury, in connection with their ample supply of provisions, enabled the young women to prepare a supper not to be surpassed in any modern hotel. The soup came from one can, the curried chicken from another, while artichokes, peas, asparagus and plum pudding shed their tin coverings to complete the meal. Fruits, cheese and biscuits they had in abundance, so there was no hardship in camping out on a deserted Arizona table-land, as far as food was concerned. The Interior of the limousine, when made into berths for the three girls, was as safe and cosy as a Pullman sleeping coach. Only the men's quarters, the "lean-to" tent, was in any way open to invasion.
After the meal was ended and the things washed and put away they all sat on folding camp chairs outside the little tent and enjoyed the intense silence surrounding them. The twilight gradually deepened into darkness. Wampus kept one of the searchlights lit to add an element of cheerfulness to the scene, and Myrtle was prevailed upon to sing one or two of her simple songs. She had a clear, sweet voice, although not a strong one, and they all—especially Uncle John—loved to hear her sing.
Afterward they talked over their trip and the anticipated change from this arid region to the verdure of California, until suddenly a long, bloodcurdling howl broke the stillness and caused them one and all to start from their seats. That is, all but Wampus. The chauffeur, sitting apart with his black cigar in his mouth, merely nodded and said: "Coyote."
The Major coughed and resumed his seat. Uncle John stood looking into the darkness as if trying to discern the creature.
"Are coyotes considered dangerous?" he asked the Canadian.
"Not to us," replied Wampus. "Sometime, if one man be out on mesa alone, an' plenty coyote come, he have hard fight for life. Coyote is wild dog. He is big coward unless pretty hungry. If I leave light burn he never come near us."
"Then let it burn—all night," said Mr. Merrick. "There he goes again—and another with him! What a horrible wail it is."
"I rather like it," said Patsy, with her accustomed calmness. "It is certainly an added experience to be surrounded by coyotes. Probably our trip wouldn't have been complete without it."
"A little of that serenade will suffice me," admitted Beth, as the howls grew nearer and redoubled in volume.
Myrtle's eyes were big and earnest. She was not afraid, but there was something uncanny in being surrounded by such savage creatures.
Nearer and nearer sounded the howls, until it was easy to see a dozen fierce eyes gleaming in the darkness, not a stone's throw away from the camp.
"I guess you girls had better go to bed," remarked Uncle John, a bit nervously. "There's no danger, you know—none at all. Let the brutes howl, if they want to—especially as we can't stop them. But you are tired, my dears, and I'd like to see you settled for the night."
Somewhat reluctantly they entered the limousine, drew the curtains and prepared for bed. Certainly they were having a novel experience, and if Uncle John would feel easier to have them listen to the howling coyotes from inside the limousine instead of outside, they could not well object to his request.
Presently Wampus asked the Major for his revolver, and on obtaining the weapon he walked a few paces toward the coyotes and fired a shot into their group. They instantly scattered and made off, only to return in a few moments to their former position.
"Will they continue this Grand Opera chorus all night?" asked Uncle John.
"Perhap," said Wampus. "They hungry, an' smell food. Coyote can no reason. If he could, he know ver' well we never feed him."
"The next time we come this way let us fetch along a ton or so of coyote feed," suggested the Major. "I wonder what the poor brutes would think if they were stuffed full for once in their lives?"
"It have never happen, sir," observed Wampus, shaking his head gravely. "Coyote all born hungry; he live hungry; he die hungry. If ever coyote was not hungry he would not be coyote."
"In that case, Major," said Uncle John, "let us go to bed and try to sleep. Perhaps in slumber we may forget these howling fiends."
"Very well," agreed Major Doyle, rising to enter the little tent.
Wampus unexpectedly interposed. "Wait," called the little chauffeur. "Jus' a minute, if you please."
While the Major and Mr. Merrick stood wondering at the request, the Canadian, who was still holding the revolver in one hand, picked a steel rod from the rumble of the automobile and pushing aside the flap of the little tent entered. The tail-lamp of the car burned inside, dimly lighting the place.
The Major was about to follow Wampus when a revolver shot arrested him. This sound was followed by a quick thumping against the ground of the steel bar, and then Wampus emerged from the tent holding a dark, squirming object on the end of the rod extended before him.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Merrick, somewhat startled.
"Rattlesnake," said Wampus, tossing the thing into the sagebrush. "I see him crawl in tent while you eat supper."
"Why did you not tell us?" cried the Major excitedly.
"I thought him perhaps crawl out again. Him sometime do that. But no. Mister snake he go sleep in tent which is reserve for his superior. I say nothing, for I do not wish to alarm the young ladies. That is why I hold the dog Mumble so tight, for he small eye see snake too, an' fool dog wish to go fight him. Rattlesnake soon eat Mumble up—eh? But never mind; there is no worry. I am Wampus, an' I am here. You go to bed now, an' sleep an' be safe."
He said this rather ostentatiously, and for that reason neither of the others praised his watchful care or his really brave act. That Wampus was proving himself a capable and faithful servant even the Major was forced to admit, yet the man's bombast and self-praise robbed him of any word of commendation he justly earned.
"I think," said Uncle John, "I'll bunk on the front seat to-night. I'm short, you see, and will just about curl up in the space. I believe snakes do not climb up wheels. Make my bed on the front seat, Wampus."
The man grinned but readily obeyed. The Major watched him thoughtfully.
"For my part," he said, "I'll have a bed made on top the roof."
"Pshaw!" said Uncle John; "you'll scratch the paint."
"That is a matter of indifference to me," returned the Major.
"You'll roll off, in your sleep, and hurt yourself."
"I'll risk that, sir."
"Are you afraid, Major?"
"Afraid! Me? Not when I'm awake, John. But what's to prevent more of those vermin from crawling into the tent during the night?"
"Such thing very unusual." remarked Wampus, placing the last blanket on Mr. Merrick's improvised bed. "Perhaps you sleep in tent a week an' never see another rattler."
"Just the same," concluded the Major, "I'll have my bed on top the limousine."
He did, Wampus placing blankets and a pillow for him without a word of protest. The Major climbed over Uncle John and mounted to the roof of the car, which sloped to either side but was broad and long enough to accommodate more than one sleeper. Being an old campaigner and a shrewd tactician, Major Doyle made two blankets into rolls, which he placed on either side of him, to "anchor" his body in position. Then he settled himself to rest beneath the brilliant stars while the coyotes maintained their dismal howling. But a tired man soon becomes insensible to even such annoyances.
The girls, having entered the limousine from the door opposite the tent, were all unaware of the rattlesnake episode and supposed the shot had been directed against the coyotes. They heard the Major climbing upon the roof, but did not demand any explanation, being deep in those bedtime confidences so dear to all girls. Even they came to disregard the persistent howls of the coyotes, and in time fell asleep.
Wampus did not seem afraid of snakes. The little chauffeur went to bed in the tent and slept soundly upon his cot until daybreak, when the coyotes withdrew and the Canadian got up to make the coffee.
The Major peered over the edge of the roof to watch him. He had a sleepy look about his eyes, as if he had not rested well. Uncle John was snoring with gentle regularity and the girls were still asleep.
"Wampus," said the Major, "do you know the proper definition of a fool?"
Wampus reflected, stirring the coffee carefully.
"I am not—what you call him?—a dictionairre; no. But I am Wampus. I have live much in very few year. I would say a fool is man who think he is wise. For what is wise? Nothing!"
The Major felt comforted.
"It occurred to me," he said, beginning to climb down from the roof, "that a fool was a man who left a good home for this uncomfortable life on a barren desert. This country wasn't made for humans; it belongs to the coyotes and the rattlesnakes. What right have we to intrude upon them, then?"
Wampus did not reply. It was not his business to criticise his employers.
A REAL ADVENTURE AT LAST
Uncle John woke up when the Major inadvertently placed a heel upon his round stomach on the way to the ground. The chubby little millionaire had slept excellently and was in a genial humor this morning. He helped Wampus fry the bacon and scramble the eggs, while the Major called the girls.
It proved a glorious sunrise and the air was full of pure ozone. They had suffered little from cold during the trip, although it was in the dead of winter and the altitude considerable. Just now they were getting closer to California every hour, and when they descended from the mesa it would gradually grow warmer.
They were all becoming expert at "breaking camp," and preparing for the road. Beth and Patsy put away the bedding and "made up" the interior of the limousine for traveling. The Major and Uncle John folded the tent and packed it away, while Wampus attended to the dishes and tinware and then looked over his car. In a surprisingly short time they were all aboard and the big machine was gliding over the faint trail.
The mesa was not a flat or level country, for they were still near to the mountain ranges. The way was up hill and down, in gentle slopes, and soon after starting they breasted the brow of a hill and were confronted by half a dozen mounted men, who seemed as much astonished at the encounter as they were.
It being an event to meet anyone in this desolate place Wampus involuntarily brought the car to a halt, while the riders lined up beside it and stared rather rudely at the party. They were dressed as cowboys usually are, with flannel shirts, chapelets and sombrero hats; but their faces were not rugged nor healthy, as is the case with most Western cowboys, but bore marks of dissipation and hard living.
"Remittance men," whispered Wampus.
Uncle John nodded. He had heard of this curious class. Especially were the men staring at the three pretty, feminine faces that peered from the interior of the limousine. They had remained silent thus far, but now one of them, a fellow with dark eyes and a sallow complexion, reined his horse nearer the car and removed his hat with a sweeping gesture that was not ungraceful.
"A merry morning to you, fair ladies—or angels—I much misdoubt which we have chanced upon. Anyhow, welcome to Hades!"
Uncle John frowned. He did not like the bantering, impudent tone. Beth flushed and turned aside her head; Myrtle shrank back in her corner out of sight; but Patsy glared fixedly at the speaker with an expression that was far from gracious. The remittance man did not seem daunted by this decided aversion. A sneering laugh broke from his companions, and one of them cried:
"Back up, Algy, and give your betters a chance. You're out of it, old man."
"I have no betters," he retorted. Then, turning to the girls again and ignoring the presence of the men accompanying them, he continued:
"Beauteous visions, since you have wilfully invaded the territory of Hades Ranch, of which diabolical domain I, Algernon Tobey, am by grace of his Satanic majesty the master, I invite you to become my guests and participate in a grand ball which I shall give this evening in your honor."
His comrades laughed again, and one of them shouted:
"Good for you, Algy. A dance—that's the thing!"
"Why, we haven't had the chance of a dance for ages," said another approvingly.
"Because we have had no ladies to dance with," explained Algy. "But here are three come to our rescue—perhaps more, if I could see inside that barricade—and they cannot refuse us the pleasure of their society."
"Sir," said Major Doyle, stiffly, "you are pleased to be impertinent. Ride on, you rascals, and spare us further sight of you."
The man turned upon him a scowling face.
"Don't interfere," he said warningly. "This isn't your party, you old duffer!"
"Drive ahead, Wampus," commanded Uncle John.
Wampus had to get out and crank the engines, which he calmly proceeded to do. The man who had called himself Algernon Tobey perceived his intention and urged his pony to the front of the car.
"Let that thing alone. Keep your hands off!" he said.
Wampus paid no attention. The fellow brought his riding whip down sharply on the chauffeur's shoulders, inflicting a stinging blow. Instantly little Wampus straightened up, grasped Tobey by the leg and with a swift, skillful motion jerked him from his horse. The man started to draw his revolver, but in an instant he and Wampus were rolling together upon the ground and the Canadian presently came uppermost and held his antagonist firmly between his knees. Then with deliberation he raised his clinched fist and thrust it forcibly against Mr. Tobey's eye, repeating the impact upon his nose, his chin and his cheek in a succession of jarring thumps that were delivered with scientific precision. Algy fairly howled, kicking and struggling to be free. None of his comrades offered to interfere and it seemed they were grimly enjoying the punishment that was being; inflicted upon their leader.
When Wampus had quite finished his work he arose, adjusted his disarranged collar and tie and proceeded to crank the engines. Then he climbed into his seat and started the car with a sudden bound. As he did so a revolver shot rang out and one of the front tires, pierced by the bullet, ripped itself nearly in two as it crumpled up. A shout of derisive laughter came from the cowboys. Algy was astride his pony again, and as Wampus brought the damaged car to a stop the remittance men dashed by and along the path, taking the same direction Uncle John's party was following". Tobey held back a little, calling out:
"Au revoir! I shall expect you all at my party. I'm going now to get the fiddler."
He rejoined his comrades then, and they all clattered away until a roll of the mesa hid them from sight.
Uncle John got down from his seat to assist his chauffeur.
"Thank you, Wampus," he said. "Perhaps you should have killed him while you had the opportunity; but you did very well."
Wampus was wrestling with the tire.
"I have never start a private graveyard," he replied, "for reason I am afraid to hurt anyone. But I am Wampus. If Mister Algy he dance to-night, somebody mus' lead him, for he will be blind."
"I never met such a lawless brood in my life," prowled the Major, indignantly. "If they were in New York they'd be put behind the bars in two minutes."
"But they are in Arizona—in the wilderness," said Uncle John gravely. "If there are laws here such people do not respect them."
It took a long time to set the new tire and inflate it, for the outer tube was torn so badly that an extra one had to be substituted. But finally the task was accomplished and once more they renewed their journey.
Now that they were alone with their friends the girls were excitedly gossiping over the encounter.
"Do you really suppose we are on that man's ground—his ranch, as he calls it?" asked Myrtle, half fearfully.
"Why, I suppose someone owns all this ground, barren as it is," replied Patsy. "But we are following a regular road—not a very good one, nor much traveled; but a road, nevertheless—and any road is public property and open for the use of travelers."
"Perhaps we shall pass by their ranch house," suggested Beth.
"If we do," Uncle John answered, "I'll have Wampus put on full speed. Even their wild ponies can't follow us then, and if they try shooting up the tires again they are quite likely to miss as we spin by."
"Isn't there any other road?" the Major asked.
Wampus shook his head.
"I have never come jus' this same route before," he admitted; "but I make good friend in Prescott, who know all Arizona blindfold. Him say this is nice, easy road and we cannot get lost for a good reason—the reason there is no other road at all—only this one."
"Did your friend say anything about Hades Ranch?" continued the questioner.
"He say remittance man make much mischief if he can; but he one foreign coward, drunk most time an' when sober weak like my aunt's tea. He say don't let remittance man make bluff. No matter how many come, if you hit one they all run."
"H-m," murmured Uncle John, "I'm not so sure of that, Wampus. There seems to be a good many of those insolent rascals, and I hope we shall not meet them again. They may give us trouble yet."
"Never be afraid," advised the chauffeur. "I am Wampus, an' I am here!"
Admitting that evident truth, our tourists were not greatly reassured. Wampus could not tell where the road might lead them, for he did not know, save that it led by devious winds to Parker, on the border between Arizona and California; but what lay between them and that destination was a sealed book to them all.
The car was heavy and the road soft; so in spite of their powerful engines the car was not making more than fifteen miles an hour. A short ride brought them to a ridge, from the top of which they saw a huddle of buildings not far distant, with a near-by paddock containing a number of ponies and cattle. The buildings were not palatial, being composed mostly of adobe and slab wood; but the central one, probably the dwelling or ranch house, was a low, rambling pile covering considerable ground.
The road led directly toward this group of buildings, which our travelers at once guessed to be "Hades Ranch." Wampus slowed down and cast a sharp glance around, but the land on either side of the trail was thick with cactus and sagebrush and to leave the beaten path meant a puncture almost instantly. There was but one thing to be done.
"Pretty good road here," said Wampus. "Hold tight an' don't get scare. We make a race of it."
"Go ahead," returned Uncle John, grimly. "If any of those scoundrels get in your way, run them down."
"I never like to hurt peoples; but if that is your command, sir, I will obey," said Wampus, setting his jaws tightly together.
The car gathered speed and shot over the road at the rate of twenty miles an hour; then twenty-five—then thirty—and finally forty. The girls sat straight and looked eagerly ahead. Forms were darting here and there among the buildings of the ranch, quickly congregating in groups on either side of the roadway. A red flag fluttered in the center of the road, some four feet from the ground.
"Look out!" shouted Uncle John. "Stop, Wampus; stop her, I say!"
Wampus saw why, and applied his brakes. The big car trembled, slowed down, and came to a stop less than a foot away from three ugly bars of barbed wire which had been placed across the road. They were now just beside the buildings, and a triumphant shout greeted them from their captors, the remittance men.
"Welcome to Hades!" cried a stout little man in a red blouse, sticking his leering countenance through the door of the limousine.
"Shut up, Stubby," commanded a hoarse voice from the group. "Haven't you any manners? You haven't been introduced yet."
"I've engaged the dark eyed one for the first dance," persisted Stubby, as a dozen hands dragged him away from the door.
The Major sprang out and confronted the band.
"What are we to understand by this outrage?" he demanded fiercely.
"It means you are all invited to a party, and we won't accept any regrets," replied a laughing voice.
Patsy put her head out of the window and looked at the speaker. It was Mr. Algernon Tobey. He had two strips of sticking plaster over his nose. One of his eyes was swollen shut and the other was almost closed. Yet he spoke in a voice more cheerful than it was when they first met him.
"Don't be afraid," he added. "No one has the slightest intention of injuring any of you in any way, I assure you."
"We have not the same intention in regard to you, sir," replied Major Doyle, fuming with rage, for his "Irish was up," as he afterward admitted. "Unless you at once remove that barricade and allow us to proceed we will not be responsible for what happens. You are warned, sir!"
Uncle John, by this time standing beside the Major upon the ground, had been quietly "sizing up the situation," as he would have expressed it. He found they had been captured by a party of fourteen men, most of whom were young, although three or four, including Tobey, were of middle age. The atmosphere of the place, with its disorderly surroundings and ill kept buildings, indicated that Hades Ranch was bachelor quarters exclusively. Half a dozen Mexicans and one or two Chinamen were in the background, curious onlookers.
Mr. Merrick noted the fact that the remittance men were an unkempt, dissipated looking crew, but that their faces betokened reckless good humor rather than desperate evil. There was no doubt but most of them were considering this episode in the light of a joke, and were determined to enjoy the experience at the expense of their enforced guests.
Uncle John had lived many years in the West and knew something of these peculiar English exiles. Therefore he was neither frightened nor unduly angry, but rather annoyed by the provoking audacity of the fellows. He had three young girls to protect and knew these men could not be fit acquaintances for them. But he adopted a tone different from the Major's and addressed himself to Tobey as the apparent leader of the band.
"Sir," he said calmly but with pointed emphasis, "I believe you were born a gentleman, as were your comrades here."
"You are right," answered Tobey. "And each and every one you see before you has fallen from his former high estate—through no fault of his own." This may have been a sarcasm, for the others laughed in boisterous approval. "In some respects we are still gentlemen," Tobey went on, "but in others we are not to be trusted. Be reasonable, sir—I haven't the faintest idea who you are or what your name is—and consider calmly our proposition. Here we are, a number of young fellows who have seen better and happier days, living alone in the midst of an alkali desert. Most of us haven't seen a female for months, nor a lady for years. Why, last fall Stubby there rode eighty miles to Buxton, just to stand on a corner and see a lot of greasy Mexican women go by. We tire of exclusive male society, you see. We get to bore one another terribly. So here, like a visitation from heaven, three attractive young ladies descend upon us, traveling through our domain, and having discovered their presence we instantly decided to take advantage of the opportunity and invite them to an impromptu ball. There's no use refusing us, for we insist on carrying out our plan. If you men, perhaps the fathers of the young ladies, behave reasonably, we will entertain you royally and send you on your way rejoicing. Won't we, boys?"
They shouted approval.
"But if you oppose us and act ugly about this fete, gentlemen, we shall be obliged to put a few bullets into you, and decide afterward what disposition to make of the girls. About the best stunt we do is shooting. We can't work; we're too poor to gamble much; but we hunt a good bit and we can shoot straight. I assure you we wouldn't mind losing and taking a few lives if a scrimmage is necessary. Eh, boys?"
"That's right, Algy," said one, answering for the others; "we'll have that dance if we die for it—ev'ry man Jack of us."
Myrtle was trembling in her corner of the limousine. Beth sat still with a curl on her lips. But Patsy was much interested in the proceedings and had listened attentively to the above conversation. Now the girl suddenly swung open the door and sprang out beside her father, facing the group of cowboys.
"I am Patricia Doyle," she said in a clear voice, "and these gentlemen," indicating the Major and Mr. Merrick, "are my father and my uncle. You understand perfectly why they object to the arrangement you suggest, as any one of you would object, had you a daughter in a like position. But you are arbitrary and not inclined to respect womanhood. Therefore but one course is open to us—to submit under protest to the unwelcome attentions you desire to thrust upon us."
They listened silently to this frank speech, and some of their faces wore crestfallen expressions by the time she had finished. Indeed, one of the older men turned on his heel and walked away, disappearing among the buildings. After a brief hesitation a delicate young fellow—almost a boy—followed this man, his face flaming red with shame. But the others stood their ground.
"Very good, Miss Doyle," remarked Tobey, with forced cheerfulness. "You are quite sensible to submit to the inevitable. Bring out your friends and introduce them, and then we'll all go in to luncheon and prepare for the dance."
"I won't submit to this!" cried the Major, stamping his foot angrily.
"Yes, you will," said Uncle John, with a motion preventing his irate brother-in-law from drawing a revolver, "Patsy is quite right, and we will submit with as much dignity as we can muster, being overpowered by numbers."
He beckoned to Beth, who stepped out of the car and assisted Myrtle to follow her. A little cheer of bravado had arisen from the group, inspired by their apparent victory; but when Myrtle's crutches appeared and they saw the fair, innocent face of the young girl who rested upon them, the shout died away in a hush of surprise.
"This is my cousin, Elizabeth De Graf," announced Patsy, with cold deliberation, determined that the proprieties should be observed in all intercourse with these people. "And I present our friend, Myrtle Dean. Under ordinary circumstances I believe Myrtle would be excused from dancing, but I suppose no brute in the form of a man would have consideration for her infirmity."
This time even Tobey flushed.
"You've a sharp tongue, Miss Doyle, and it's liable to lead you into trouble," he retorted, losing for the moment his suave demeanor. "We may be brutes—and I imagine we are—but we're not dangerous unless provoked."
It was savagely said, and Uncle John took warning and motioned Patsy to be silent.
"Lead the way, sir," he said. "Our chauffeur will of course remain with the car."
Wampus had kept his seat, motionless and silent. He only nodded in answer to Mr. Merrick's instructions and was entirely disregarded by the remittance men.
The man called "Stubby," who had a round, good-humored face, stepped eagerly to Myrtle's side and exclaimed: "Let me assist you, please."
"No," she said, shaking her head with a wan smile; "I am quite able to walk alone."
He followed her, though, full of interest and with an air of deep respect that belied his former actions. Tobey, content with his present success, walked beside Mr. Merrick and led the procession toward the ranch house. The Major followed, his tall form upright, his manner bellicose and resentful, with Beth and Patsy on either side of him. The remittance men followed in a straggling crowd, laughing and boisterously talking among themselves. Just as they reached the house a horseman came clattering down the road and all paused involuntarily to mark the new arrival. The rider was a handsome, slim young fellow, dressed as were the other cowboys present, and he came on at a breakneck speed that seemed only warranted by an errand of life and death.
In front of him, tied to the saddle, appeared a huge bundle, and as the horse dashed up to the group standing by the ranch house the rider gracefully threw himself off and removed his hat with a sweeping gesture as he observed the young ladies.
"I've got him, Algy!" he cried merrily.
"Dan'l?" asked Tobey.
"Dan'l himself." He pointed to the bundle, which heaved and wriggled to show it was alive. "He refused to come willingly, of course; so I brought him anyhow. Never yet was there a fiddler willing to be accommodating."
"Good for you, Tim!" shouted a dozen voices. And Stubby added in his earnest way; "Dan'l was never more needed in his life."
Tobey was busy unwinding a long lariat that bent the captive nearly double and secured him firmly to the panting horse. When the bonds were removed Dan'l would have tumbled prone to the ground had not willing hands caught him and supported him upon his feet. Our friends then observed that he was an aged man with a face thickly furrowed with wrinkles. He had but one eye, small and gray and very shrewd in expression, which he turned contemptuously upon the crowd surrounding him. Numb and trembling from his cramped position upon the horse and the terrible jouncing he had endured, the fiddler could scarcely stand at first and shook as with a palsy; but he made a brave effort to control his weakness and turned smilingly at the murmur of pity and indignation that came from the lips of the girls.
"Where's the fiddle?" demanded Tobey, and Tim unhooked a calico bag from the saddlebow and held it out. A laugh greeted the gesture.
"Dan'l said he be hanged if he'd come," announced Tim, with a grim appreciation of the humorous side of the situation; "so I hung him and brought him along—and his fiddle to boot. But don't boot it until after the dance."
"What do you mean, sir, by this rebellious attitude?" questioned Tobey, sticking his damaged face close to that of the fiddler.
Dan'l blinked with his one eye but refused to answer.
"I've a good mind to skin you alive," continued the leader, in a savage tone. "You'll either obey my orders or I'll throw you into the snake pit."
"Let him alone, Algy," said Tim, carelessly. "The old scoundrel has been tortured enough already. But I see we have partners for the dance," looking critically at the girls, "and I claim first choice because I've brought the fiddler."
At this a roar of protest arose and Tobey turned and said sullenly:
"Come in, all of you. We'll settle the order of dancing later on."
The interior of the ranch house was certainly picturesque. A great living room ran all across the front, with an immense fireplace built of irregular adobe bricks. The floor was strewn with skins of animals—mostly coyotes, a few deer and one or two mountain lions—and the walls were thickly hung with weapons and trophies of the chase. A big table in one corner was loaded with bottles and glasses, indicating the intemperate habits of the inmates, while on the chimney shelf were rows of pipes and jars of tobacco. An odor similar to that of a barroom hung over the place which the air from the open windows seemed unable to dissipate.
There were plenty of benches and chairs, with a long mess table occupying the center of the room. In a corner was an old square piano, which a Mexican was trying to dust as the party entered.
"Welcome to Hades!" exclaimed Tobey, with an absurd gesture. "Be good enough to make yourselves at home and I'll see if those devils of Chinamen are getting luncheon ready."
Silently the prisoners sat down. The crowd poured in after them and disposed themselves in various attitudes about the big room, all staring with more or less boldness at the three girls. Dan'l the fiddler was pushed in with the others and given a seat, while two or three of the imitation cowboys kept guard over him to prevent any possible escape. So far the old man had not addressed a word to anyone.
With the absence of the leader the feeling of restraint seemed to relax. The cowboys began whispering among themselves and chuckling with glee, as if they were enjoying some huge joke. Stubby had placed himself near the three young ladies, whom he eyed with adoring glances, and somehow none of the prisoners regarded this childish young fellow in exactly the same light as they did his comrades. Tim, his attitude full of grace as he lounged against a settle, was also near the group. He seemed a bit thoughtful since his dramatic arrival and had little to say to anyone.
Mr. Merrick engaged Stubby in conversation.
"Does Mr. Tobey own this place?" he asked.
"By proxy, yes," was the reply. "It isn't in his name, you know, although that doesn't matter, for he couldn't sell his desert ranch if he had a title to it. I suppose that is what his folks were afraid of. Algy is the fourth son of old Lord Featherbone, and got into a disgraceful mess in London some years ago. So Featherbone shipped him over here, in charge of a family solicitor who hunted out this sequestered spot, bought a couple of thousand acres and built this hut. Then he went home and left Algy here to keep up the place on a paltry ten pounds—fifty dollars—a month."
"Can he manage to do that?" asked Uncle John.
"Why, he has to, you see. He's got together a few cattle, mostly stolen I imagine; but he doesn't try to work the land. Moreover he's established this community, composed of his suffering fellow exiles, the secret of which lies in the fact that we work the cooperative plan, and all chip in our remittances to boil the common pot. We can keep more servants and buy more food and drink, that way, than if each one of us lived separately."
"Up in Oregon," said Mr. Merrick, "I've known of some very successful and prosperous ranchmen among the remittance men."
"Oh, we're all kinds, I suppose, good and bad," admitted Stubby. "This crew's mostly bad, and they're moderately proud of it. It's a devil of a life, sir, and Hades Ranch is well named. I've only been here a month. Had a little property up North; but the sheriff took it for debt, and that forced me to Algy, whom I detest. I think I'll move on, before long. But you see I'm limited. Can't leave Arizona or I'll get my remittance cut off."
"Why were you sent here into exile?" asked Myrtle artlessly.
He turned red and refused to meet her eyes.
"Went wrong, Miss," he said, "and my folks wouldn't stand for it. We're all in the same boat," sweeping his arm around, "doing punishment for our misdeeds."
"Do none of you ever reform?" inquired Patsy.
"What's the use? We're so far away from home no one there would ever believe in our reformation. Once we become outcasts, that's the end of our careers. We're buried in these Western wilds and allowed just enough to keep alive."
"I would think," said Uncle John musingly, "that the manly way would be to cut yourself off entirely from your people at home and go to some city in the United States where honesty and industry would win a new name for you. Then you could be respected and happy and become of use to the world."
"That has been tried," he replied; "but few ever made a success of it. We're generally the kind that prefers idleness to work. My family is wealthy, and I don't mind taking from them what little they give me willingly and all that I can screw out of them besides. I'm in for life, as the saying is, and I've no especial ambition except to drink myself to death as soon as possible."
Patsy shuddered. It seemed a horrible thing to be so utterly hopeless. Could this young fellow have really merited his fate?
Tim had listened carelessly to the conversation until now, when he said listlessly:
"Don't think us all criminals, for we're not. In my own case I did nothing to deserve exile except that I annoyed my elder brother by becoming more popular with our social set than he was. He had all the property and I was penniless, so he got rid of me by threatening to cut off my allowance unless I went to America and stayed there."
"And you accepted such a condition?" cried Patsy, scornfully. "Why were you not independent enough to earn your own living?"
He shrugged his shoulders, yet seemed amused.
"I simply couldn't," said he. "I was not educated to work, you know, and to do so at home would be to disgrace my noble family. I've too much respect for my lineage to labor with my hands or head."
"But here in America no one would know you," suggested Beth.
"I would only humiliate myself by undertaking such a task. And why should I do so? While I am in America my affectionate brother, the head of the family, supports me, as is his duty. Your philosophy is pretty enough, but it is not practical. The whole fault lies in our old-fashioned system of inheritance, the elder male of a family getting all the estate and the younger ones nothing at all. Here, in this crude and plebeian country, I believe it is the custom to provide for all one's children, and a father is at liberty to do so because his estate is not entailed."
"And he earns it himself and can do what he likes with it," added Uncle John, impatiently. "Your system of inheritance and entail may be somewhat to blame, but your worst fault is in rearing a class of mollycoddles and social drones who are never of benefit to themselves or the world at large. You, sir, I consider something less than a man."
"I agree with you," replied Tim, readily. "I'm only good to cumber the earth, and if I get little pleasure out of life I must admit that it's all I'm entitled to."
"And you can't break your bonds and escape?" asked Patsy.
"I don't care to. People who are ambitious to do things merely bore me. I don't admire them or care to imitate them."
From that moment they took no further interest in the handsome outcast. His world was not their world.
And now Tobey came in, driving before him a lot of Mexicans bearing trays of food. The long table was laid in a moment, for everything was dumped upon it without any attempt at order. Each of the cowboys seized a plate from a pile at one end and helped himself to whatever he wanted.
Two or three of the men, however, were courteous enough to attend to their unwilling guests and see they were served as well as conditions would permit The food was plentiful and of good quality, but although none of Uncle John's party was squeamish or a stickler for form, all more or less revolted from the utter disregard of all the proprieties.
"I'm sorry we have no wine; but there's plenty of whiskey, if you like it," remarked Tobey.
The girls were silent and ate little, although they could not help being interested in observing the bohemianism of these gently reared but decadent sons of respectable English families. As soon as they could they left the table, and Tobey, observing their uneasiness in spite of his damaged and nearly useless optics, decided to send them to another room where they could pass the afternoon without further annoyance. Stubby escorted the party and ushered them into a good sized room which he said was "Algy's study," although no one ever studied there.
"Algy's afraid you'll balk at the dance; so he wants to please you however he can," remarked the round faced youth. "You won't mind being left alone, will you?"
"We prefer it, sir," answered the Major, stiffly.
"You see, we're going to have a rare lark this afternoon," continued Stubby, confidentially. "Usually it's pretty dull here, and all we can do is ride and hunt—play cards and quarrel. But your coming has created no end of excitement and this dance will be our red-letter day for a long time to come. The deuce of if is, however, that there are only two girls to dance with thirteen men. We limit our community to fifteen, you know; but little Ford and old Rutledge have backed down and won't have anything to do with this enterprise. I don't know why," he continued, thoughtfully.
"Perhaps they still have some gentlemanly instincts," suggested Patsy.
"That must be it," he replied in a relieved tone. "Well, anyhow, to avoid quarrels and bloodshed we've agreed to throw dice for the dances. Every one is to have an equal chance, you see, and when you young ladies open the dance the entire programme will be arranged for you."
"Are we to have no choice in the matter of partners?" inquired Beth curiously.
"None whatever. There would surely be a row, in that case, and we intend to have everything; pass off pleasantly if we have to kill a few to keep the peace."
With this Stubby bowed low and retreated toward the door, which suddenly opened to admit old Dan'l the fiddler, who was thrust in so violently that his body collided with that of Stubby and nearly knocked him over.
"That's all right," laughed the remittance man, recovering from the shock. "You mustn't escape, you know, Dan'l, for we depend on you for the music."
He closed the door as he went out and they all heard a bolt shoot into place. Yet the broad window, scarcely six feet from the ground, stood wide open to admit the air.
Dan'l stood in the middle of the room, motionless for a moment. Then he raised his wrinkled face and clinched his fists, shaking them in the direction of the living-room.
"Me!" he muttered; "me play for dese monkeys to dance—me! a maestro—a composer—a artiste! No; I vill nod! I vill die before I condescention to such badness, such mockery!"
They were the first words he had spoken since his arrival, and they seemed to hold all his pentup indignation. The girls pitied the old man and, recognizing in him a fellow prisoner, sought to comfort him.
"If the dance depends upon us, there will be no dance," said Patsy, firmly.
"I thought you advised submitting to the whim of these ruffians," said Uncle John in surprise.
"Only to gain time, Uncle. And the scheme has succeeded. Now is our time to plot and plan how to outwit our enemies."
"Goot!" cried Dan'l approvingly. "I help you. Dey are vermin—pah! I vould kill dem all mitout mercifulness, unt be glad!"
"It won't be necessary to kill them, I hope," said Beth, smiling. "All we wish is to secure our escape."
"Vot a time dey make me!" said Dan'l, more calmly. "You see, I am living peacefulness in mine bungalow by der river—ten mile away. Dot brute Tim, he come unt ask me to fiddle for a dance. I—fiddle! Ven I refuse me to do it, he tie me up unt by forcibleness elope mit me. Iss id nod a crime—a vickedness—eh?"
"It certainly is, sir," said Uncle John. "But do not worry. These girls have some plan in their heads, I'm sure, and if we manage to escape we will carry you home in safety. Now, my dears, what is it?"
"Oh, we've only begun to think yet," said Patsy, and walked to the window. All but Myrtle and Dan'l followed her.
Below the window was a jungle of cactus, with hundreds of spines as slender and sharp as stilettos sticking in every direction.
"H-m; this room is burglar proof," muttered Uncle John, with marked disappointment.
"It also makes an excellent prison," added Patsy. "But I suspected something of this sort when I saw they had left the window open. We can't figure on getting out that way, you see."
"Id vould be suiciding," Dan'l said, mournfully shaking his head. "If dese fiends were as goot as dey are clefer, dey vould be angels."
"No argument seems to prevail with them," remarked Beth. "They are lawless and merciless, and in this far-away country believe they may do as they please."
"They're as bad as the bandits of Taormina," observed Patsy, smiling at the recollection of an adventure they had abroad; "but we must find some way to evade them."
Dan'l had gone over to Myrtle's corner and stood staring at her with his one shrewd eye. Uncle John looked thoughtfully out of the window and saw Wampus busy in the road before the house. He had his coat off and was cutting the bars of barbed wire and rolling them out of the way, while Mumbles, who had been left with him, ran here and there at his heels as if desiring to assist him.
From the big hall, or living room, at the right came a dull roar of voices, subdued shouts and laughter, mingled with the clinking of glasses. All the remittance men were gathered there deep in the game of dice which was to determine the order in which they were to dance with Beth and Patsy. The servants were out of sight. Wampus had the field to himself.
"Come here," said Uncle John to the girls, and when they stood beside him pointed to the car. "Wampus is making ready for the escape," he continued. "He has cleared the road and the way is now open if we can manage to get to the machine. Has your plan matured yet?"
Patsy shook her head.
"Not yet, Uncle," she replied.
"Couldn't Wampus throw us a rope?" inquired the Major.
"He could," said Uncle John; "but we would be unable to use it. Those terrible cactus spines are near enough to spear anyone who dared try to slide down a rope. Think of something else."
They all tried to do that, but no practical idea seemed forthcoming.
"Oh, no," Dan'l was saying to Myrtle; "dey are nod afraid to shoot; bud dey vill nod shoot ladies, belief me. Always dey carry refolfers in deir belts—or deir holsterses. Dey eat mit refolfers; dey schleep mit refolfers; dey hunt, dey quarrel, unt sometimes dey shoot each odder—de best enactionment vot dey do. Bud dey do nod shoot at ladies—nefer."
"Will they wear their revolvers at the dance?" asked Beth, overhearing this speech.
"I belief id," said Dan'l, wagging his ancient head. "Dey like to be ready to draw quick like, if anybody shteps on anybody's toes. Yes; of course."
"What a horrible idea!" exclaimed Patsy.
"They're quite liable to dance and murder in the same breath," the Major observed, gloomily.
"I don't like it," said Beth. "It's something awful just to think of. Haven't they any gallantry?"
"No," answered Patsy. "But I wouldn't dance with a lot of half drunken men wearing revolvers, if they burned me at the stake for refusing."
"Ah! shtick to dat fine expressionment," cried Dan'l, eagerly. "Shtick to id! Say you won't dance if dey wear de refolfers—unt den we win de schweepstakes!"
Patsy looked at him critically, in the instant catching a part of his idea.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Dan'l explained, while they all listened carefully, absorbed in following in thought his unique suggestions.
"Let's do it!" exclaimed Beth. "I'm sure the plan will succeed."
"It's leaving a good deal to chance," objected Uncle John, with a touch of nervousness.
"There is an element of chance in everything," declared Patsy. "But I'm sure we shall escape, Uncle. Why it's a regular coup!"
"We take them by surprise, you know," explained the Major, who heartily favored the idea.
They talked it over for a time, perfecting the details, and then became as calm and composed as a group of prisoners might. Uncle John waved his handkerchief to attract the attention of Wampus, who stole softly around the corner of the house and approached the window, taking care to keep at a respectful distance from the dangerous cactus.
"Is everything ready?" inquired Uncle John in a subdued voice.
"To be sure all is ready. Why not? I am Wampus!" was the reply, in cautious tones.
"Go back to the machine and guard it carefully, Wampus," commanded Mr. Merrick. "We expect to escape soon after dark, so have the headlights going, for we shall make a rush for it and there mustn't be a moment's delay."
"All right," said the chauffeur. "You may depend on me. I am Wampus, an' not 'fraid of a hundred coward like these. Is not Mister Algy his eye mos' beautiful blacked?"
"It is," agreed Uncle John. "Go back to the car now, and wait for us. Don't get impatient. We don't know just when we will join you, but it will be as soon as we can manage it. What is Mumbles doing?"
"Mumble he learn to be good automobilist. Jus' now he sit on seat an' watch wheel to see nobody touch. If anybody touch, Mumble he eat him up."
They all laughed at this whimsical notion and it served to relieve the strain of waiting. Wampus, grinning at the success of his joke, went back to the limousine to inspect it carefully and adjust it in every part until it was in perfect order.
Now that a definite plan of action had been decided upon their spirits rose considerably, and they passed the afternoon in eager anticipation of the crisis.
Rather earlier than expected Stubby and Tim came to say "they had been appointed a committee to escort their guests to the banquet hall, where dinner would at once be served."
"We shall have to clear away for the dance," added Stubby, "so we want to get the feast over with as quickly as possible. I hope you are all hungry, for Algy has spread himself on this dinner and we are to have every delicacy the ranch affords, regardless of expense. We can economize afterward to make up for it."
Elaborate preparations were not greatly in evidence, however. The Mexican servants had washed themselves and the floor of the big room had been swept and cleared of some of its rubbish; but that was all. The remittance men were in their usual rough costumes and the air was redolent with the fumes of liquor.
As the prisoners quietly took their places at the table Tobey, who had been drinking hard, decided to make a speech. His face was badly swollen and he could only see through a slit in one eye, so severe had been the beating administered by Wampus earlier in the day; but the fellow had grit, in spite of his other unmanly qualities, and his imperturbable good humor had scarcely been disturbed by the punishment the Canadian had inflicted upon him.
"Ladies," said he, "and gentlemen—which of course includes our respected male guests—I am happy to inform you that the programme for the First Annual Hades Ranch Ball has finally been arranged, and the dances apportioned in a fair and impartial manner. The Grand March will take place promptly at seven o'clock, led by Miss Doyle and Knuckles, who has won the privilege by throwing four sixes. I am to follow with Miss De Graf, and the rest will troop on behind with the privilege of looking at the ladies. If anyone dares to create disorder his dances with the young ladies will be forfeited. Dan'l will play the latest dance music on his fiddle, and if it isn't spirited and up-to-date we'll shoot his toes off. We insist upon plenty of two-steps and waltzes and will wind up with a monney-musk in the gray light of dawn. This being fully understood, I beg you, my good friends, to fall to and eat and be merry; but don't linger unduly over the dainties, for we are all anxious, like good soldiers, to get into action."
The remittance men applauded this oratory, and incidentally attacked the eatables with evident determination to obey their leader's injunction.
"We can eat any time," remarked Stubby, with his mouth full; "but his Satanic majesty only knows when Hades Ranch will see another dance—with real ladies for partners."
The Chinese cooks and the Mexican servants had a lively time during this meal, for the demands made upon them were incessant. Uncle John, whose even disposition was seldom ruffled, ate with a good appetite, while even the Major, glum and scowling, did not disdain the numerous well-prepared dishes. As for Dan'l, he took full advantage of the occasion and was the last one to leave the table. Our girls, however, were too excited to eat much and little Myrtle, especially, was pallid and uneasy and had a startled look in her eyes whenever anyone made a sudden motion.
As soon as the repast was concluded the servants cleared the long table in a twinkling and pushed it back against the wall at one end of the long room. A chair was placed for Dan'l on top of this expansive board, which thus became a stage from whence he could overlook the room and the dancers, and then two of the remittance men tossed the old fiddler to his elevated place and commanded him to make ready.
Dan'l said nothing and offered no resistance. He sat plaintively sawing upon his ancient but rich-toned violin while the floor was brushed, the chairs and benches pushed against the wall and the room prepared for action. Behind the violinist was a low, broad window facing a grass plot that was free from the terrifying cactus, and the old man noted with satisfaction that it stood wide open.
Uncle John's party had pressed close to the table and stood watching the proceedings.
"Ready now!" called Tobey; "the Grand March is about to begin. Take your partners, boys. Look sharp, there, Dan'l, and give us a martial tune that will lift our feet."
Dan'l meekly set the violin underneath his chin and raised the bow as if in readiness. "Knuckles," a brawny fellow with a florid face and a peculiar squint, approached Patsy and bowed.
"You're to lead with me, Miss," he said. "Are you ready?"
"Not quite," she returned with dignified composure; "for I perceive you are not quite ready yourself."
"Eh? Why not?" he inquired, surprised.
"You are still wearing your firearms," she replied. "I cannot and will not dance with a man who carries a revolver."
"That's nothing," he retorted. "We always do."
"Of course. And if I shed my gun what's to prevent some one else getting the drop on me?"
"That's it," said Patsy, firmly. "The weapons must all be surrendered before we begin. We positively refuse to dance if rioting and shooting are likely to occur."
A murmur of protest arose at this speech, for all the remittance men had gathered around to listen to the argument.
"That's all tommy-rot," observed Handsome Tim, in a sulky tone. "We're not spoiling for a row; it's the dance we're after."
"Then give up the revolvers," said Beth, coming to her cousin's assistance. "If this is to be a peaceful entertainment you will not need to be armed, and it is absurd to suppose a lady will dance with a gentleman who is a walking arsenal."
They looked into one another's faces uncertainly. Dan'l sat softly tuning his violin, as if uninterested in the controversy. Uncle John and the Major looked on with seeming indifference.
"You must decide which you prefer—the revolvers or the dance," remarked Patsy, staring coolly into the ring of faces.
"Would your English ladies at home consent to dance with armed men?" asked Beth.
"They're quite right, boys," said Stubby, nodding his bullethead. "Let's agree to deposit all the shooting irons 'til the dance is over."
"I won't!" cried Knuckles, his scowl deepening.
"By Jove, you will!" shouted Tobey, with unexpected vehemence. "You're delaying the programme, old man, and it's a nuisance to dance in this armor, anyway. Here—pile all your guns in this corner; every one of you, mind. Then we shall all stand on an equal footing."
"Put them on the table there, by the old fiddler," said Patsy; "then we will know we are perfectly safe."
Rather unwillingly they complied, each man walking up to the table and placing his revolver at Dan'l's feet. The girls watched them intently.
"That man over there is still armed," called Beth, pointing to a swarthy Mexican who squatted near the door.
"That's all right," said Tobey, easily. "He's our guard, Pedro. I've stationed him there so you won't attempt to escape till we get ready to let you go."
"There's little danger of that," she said.
"All ready, now!" exclaimed Knuckles, impatiently. "We're all as harmless as doves. Let 'er go, Dan'l!"
The old man was just then assisting Uncle John to lift Myrtle to the top of the table, where the Major had placed a chair for her. Knuckles growled, but waited until the girl was seated near the window. Then Dan'l drew his bow and struck up a spirited march. Patsy took the arm of Knuckles and paraded down the long room. Beth followed with Tobey, and behind them tramped the remittance men in files of two. At the far end were grouped the servants, looking curiously upon the scene, which was lighted by lamps swung from the ceiling and a row of candles upon the edge of the mantelshelf.
To carry out the idea of a grand march Patsy drew her escort here and there by sharp turns and half circles, the others trailing behind like a huge snake until she had passed down the length of the room and started to return up the other side to the starting point. So engrossed had been the cowboys that they did not observe the Major and Uncle John clamber upon the table and stand beside Myrtle.
The procession was half way up the hall on its return when Patsy said abruptly: "Now, Beth!" and darted away from her partner's side and toward the table. Beth followed like a streak, being an excellent runner, and for a moment Knuckles and Tobey, thus deserted by their partners, stopped to watch them in amazement. Then their comrades bumped into them and recalled them to their senses.
By that time the two girls had reached the table and leaped upon it. Uncle John was waving his handkerchief from the window as a signal to Wampus; Dan'l had laid aside his fiddle and seized a revolver in either hand, and the Major had caught up two more of the discarded weapons.
As Beth and Patsy turned, panting, and from their elevation looked up the room, the cowboys gave a bellow of rage and rushed forward.
"Keep back!" shouted the Major, in stentorian tones, "I'll shoot the first man that interferes."
Noting the grim determination in the old soldier's eye, they hesitated and came to a halt.
"What do you mean by this infernal nonsense?" cried Tobey, in disgust.
"Why, it's just checkmate, and the game is up," replied Uncle John amiably. "We've decided not to hold the proposed dance, but to take our departure at once."
He turned and passed Myrtle out of the window where Wampus took her in his arms, crutches and all, and carried her to the automobile. The remittance men, unarmed and confronted by their own revolvers, stood gaping open-mouthed and seemingly dazed.
"Let's rush 'em, boys!" shouted Handsome Tim, defiantly.
"Rush 'em alone, if you like," growled Knuckles. "I'm not ready for the graveyard yet."
"You are vot iss called cowardices," said Dan'l, flourishing the revolvers he held. "Come on mit der courage, somebotty, so I can shoot holes in you."
"You're building your own coffin just now, Dan'l," retorted Tobey, in baffled rage. "We know where to get you, old boy, and we'll have revenge for this night's work."
"I vill take some popguns home mit me," was the composed reply. "Den, ven you come, I vill make a receptioning for you. Eh?"
Uncle John, Patsy and Beth had followed Myrtle through the window and disappeared.
"Now, sir," said the Major to the old fiddler, "make your escape while I hold them at bay."
"Nod yet," replied Dan'l. "Ve must gif ourselves de most protectionment ve can."
With this he gathered up the firearms, one by one, and tossed them through the window. Then he straightened up and a shot flashed down the hall and tumbled the big Mexican guard to the floor just as he was about to glide through the doorway.
"Dit ve say shtand still, or dit ve nod say shtand still?" asked Dan'l, sternly. "If somebody gets hurt, it iss because he don'd obey de orderations."
"Go, sir!" commanded the Major.
"I vill; bud I go last," declared the old man. "I follow you—see? Bud you take my violin, please—unt be very tender of id, like id vas your sveetheardt."
The Major took the violin and climbed through the window, proceeding to join the others, who were by now seated in the car. When he had gone Dan'l prepared to follow, first backing toward the window and then turning to make an agile leap to the ground below. And now with a shout the cowboys made their rush, only to halt as Dan'l reappeared at the window, covering them again with his revolvers.
"So, you defils—make a listen to me," he called. "I am experiencing a goot-bye to you, who are jackals unt imitation men unt haf no goot right to be alive. Also if I see any of you de next time, I vill shoot first unt apologise at der funeral. I haf no more monkey business mit you voteffer; so keep vere you are until I am gone, unt you vill be safeness."
He slowly backed away from the window, and so thoroughly cowed was the group of ruffians that the old fiddler had been lifted hastily into the automobile before the cowboys mustered courage to leap through the window and search in the darkness for their revolvers, which lay scattered widely upon the ground.
Wampus, chuckling gleefully, jerked the hoods off his glaring searchlights, sprang to his seat and started the machine down the road before the crack of a single revolver was heard in protest. The shots came thicker after that, but now the automobile was bowling merrily along the road and soon was out of range.
"De road iss exceptionalment goot," remarked Dan'l. "Dere iss no dangerousness from here to der rifer."
"Danger?" said the chauffeur, scornfully. "Who cares for danger? I am Wampus, an' I am here!"
"We are all here," said Patsy, contentedly nestling against the cushions; "and I'm free to confess that I'm mighty glad of it!"
THE ROMANCE OF DAN'L
It did not take them very long to reach the river, a muddy little stream set below high banks. By Dan'l's direction they turned to the left and followed the wind of the river for a mile or so until suddenly out of the darkness loomed a quaint little bungalow which the old German claimed to be his home.
"I haf architectured it mineself, unt make it built as I like it. You vill come in unt shtop der night mit me," he said, as Wampus halted the machine before the door.
There was a little murmur of protest at this, for the house appeared to be scarcely bigger than the automobile. But Uncle John pointed out, sensibly enough, that they ought not to undertake an unknown road at nighttime, and that Spotville, the town for which they were headed, was still a long way off. The Major, moreover, had a vivid recollection of his last night's bed upon the roof of the limousine, where he had crept to escape rattlesnakes, and was in no mood to again camp out in the open while they traveled in Arizona. So he advocated accepting Dan'l's invitation. The girls, curious to know how so many could be accommodated in the bungalow, withdrew all further objections and stood upon the low, pergola-roofed porch while their host went inside to light the lamps.
They were really surprised at the cosy aspect of the place. Half the one-story dwelling was devoted to a living room, furnished simply but with modest taste. A big square table was littered with music, much being in manuscript—thus proving Dan'l's assertion that he was a composer. Benches were as numerous as chairs, and all were well-cushioned with tanned skins as coverings. A few good prints were on the walls and the aspect of the place was entirely agreeable to the old man's guests.
As the room was somewhat chilly he made a fire in the ample fireplace and then with an air of pride exhibited to his visitors his tiny kitchen, his own bedroom and a storeroom, which occupied the remainder of the space in the bungalow. He told them he would prepare beds in the living room for the girls, give his own room to Mr. Merrick and Major Doyle, while he and Wampus would bunk in the storeroom.
"I haf much blankets," he said; "dere vill be no troubles to keep varm."
Afterward they sat before the fire and by the dim lights of the kerosene lamps chatted together of the day's adventures.
Uncle John asked Dan'l what had brought him to this deserted, out-of-the-way spot, and the old man told his story in a manner that amused them all greatly.
"I haf been," said he, "much famous in my time, unt had a individualness pointed out whereeffer I went. I vas orchestra leader at the Theater Royal in Stuttgart, unt our king haf complimented me many times. But I vas foolish. I vas foolish enough to think that ven a man iss great he can stay great. I married me to a clefer prima donna, unt composed a great opera, which vas finer as anything Herr Wagner has efer done. Eh? But dere vas jealousness at work to opposition me. Von day ven my fine opera vas all complete I vent to the theater to lead mine orchestra. To my surprisement der Herr Director tells me I can retire on a pension; I am too old unt he has hired a younger man, who iss Herr Gabert. I go home bewildered unt mishappy, to find that Herr Gabert has stole the score of mine opera unt run avay mit mine vife. Vot I can do? Nothing. Herr Gabert he lead my orchestra tint all der people applauds him. I am forgot. One day I see our king compliment Herr Gabert. He produces my opera unt say he compositioned it. Eferybody iss crazy aboud id, unt crown Herr Gabert mit flowers. My vife sings in der opera. The people cheer her unt she rides avay mit Herr Gabert in his carriage to a grand supper mit der nobility unt der Herr Director.
"I go home unt say: 'Who am I?' I answer: 'Nobody!' Am I now great? No; I am a speck. Vot can I do? Veil, I go avay. I haf some money—a leedle. I come to America. I do not like crowds any more. I like to be alone mit my violin. I find dis place; I build dis house; I lif here unt make happiness. My only neighbors are de remittance men, who iss more mischiefing as wicked. Dey vill nod bother me much. So after a time I die here. Vy nod? I am forgot in Stuttgart."
There was pathos in the tale and his way of telling it. The old man spoke cheerfully, but they could see before them the tragedy depicted by his simple words. His hearers were all silent when he had concluded, feeling they could say nothing to console him or lighten his burden. Only Wampus, sitting in the background, looked scornfully upon the man who had once been the idol of his townspeople.
Dan'l took a violin from a shelf and began to play, softly but with masterly execution. He caught their mood instantly. The harmony was restful and contented. Patsy turned down the lamps, to let the flicker of the firelight dominate the room, and Dan'l understood and blended the flickering light into his melody.
For a long time he continued to improvise, in a way that fairly captivated his hearers, despite their varied temperaments, and made them wonder at his skill. Then without warning he changed to a stirring, martial air that filled the room with its rich, resonant tones. There was a fugue, a wonderful finale, and while the concluding notes rang in their ears the old man laid his violin in his lap, leaned back against his cushions and heaved a deep sigh.
They forebore disturbing him for a while. How strange it seemed that this really talented musician should be banished to a wilderness while still possessing power to stir the souls of men with his marvelous execution. Truly he was a "maestro," as he had said; a genius whose star had risen, flashed across the sky and suddenly faded, leaving his future a blank.
Wampus moved uneasily in his chair.
"I like to know something," he remarked.
Dan'l roused himself and turned to look at the speaker.
"You have one bad eye," continued Wampus, reflectively. "What make him so? You stick violin bow in eye some day?"
"No," grunted Dan'l.
"Bad eye he no make himself," persisted the little chauffeur. "What make him, then?"
For a moment there was an awkward silence. The girls considered this personal inquiry offensive and regretted admitting Wampus to the room. But after a time the old German answered the question, quietly and in a half amused tone.
"Can you nod guess?" he said. "Herr Gabert hurt mine eye."
"Oh!" exclaimed Wampus, nodding approvingly "You fight duel with him? Of course. It mus' be."
"I haf one goot eye left, howefer," continued Dan'l. "It vill do me fery well. Dere iss nod much to see out here."
"I know," said Wampus. "But Herr Gabert. What happen to him?"
Again there was a pause. Then the German said slowly:
"I am nod rich; but efery year I send a leetle money to Stuttgart to put some flowers on Herr Gabert's grave."
The chauffeur's face brightened. He got up from his chair and solemnly shook Dan'l's hand.
"You are great musician," he announced. "You can believe it, for it is true. An' you have shake the hand of great chauffeur. I am Wampus."
Dan'l did not answer. He had covered his good eye with his hand.
THE LODGING AT SPOTVILLE
"Wake up, Patsy: I smell coffee!" called Beth, and soon the two girls were dressed and assisting Myrtle to complete her toilet. Through the open windows came the cool, fragrant breath of morning; the sky was beginning to blush at the coming of the sun.
"To think of our getting up at such unearthly hours!" cried Patsy cheerfully. "But I don't mind it in the least, Beth; do you?"
"I love the daybreak," returned Beth, softly. "We've wasted the best hours of morning abed, Patsy, these many years."
"But there's a difference," said Myrtle, earnestly. "I know the daybreak in the city very well, for nearly all my life I have had to rise in the dark in order to get my breakfast and be at work on time. It is different from this, I assure you; especially in winter, when the chill strikes through to your bones. Even in summer time the air of the city is overheated and close, and the early mornings cheerless and uncomfortable. Then I think it is best to stay in bed as long as you can—if you have nothing else to do. But here, out in the open, it seems a shame not to be up with the birds to breathe the scent of the fields and watch the sun send his heralds ahead of him to proclaim his coming and then climb from the bottomless pit into the sky and take possession of it."
"Why, Myrtle!" exclaimed Patsy, wonderingly; "what a poetic notion. How did it get into your head, little one?"
Myrtle's sweet face rivaled the sunrise for a moment. She made no reply but only smiled pathetically.
Uncle John's knock upon the door found them ready for breakfast, which old Dan'l had skilfully prepared in the tiny kitchen and now placed upon a round table set out upon the porch. By the time they had finished the simple meal Wampus had had his coffee and prepared the automobile for the day's journey. A few minutes later they said good-bye to the aged musician and took the trail that led through Spotville.
The day's trip was without event. They encountered one or two Indians on the way, jogging slowly along on their shaggy ponies; but the creatures were mild and inoffensive. The road was fairly good and they made excellent time, so that long before twilight Spotville was reached and the party had taken possession of the one small and primitive "hotel" the place afforded. It was a two-story, clapboarded building, the lower floor being devoted to the bar and dining room, while the second story was divided into box-like bedrooms none too clean and very cheaply furnished.
"I imagine we shall find this place 'the limit'," remarked Uncle John ruefully. "But surely we shall be able to stand it for one night," he added, with a philosophic sigh.
"Want meat fer supper?" asked the landlord, a tall, gaunt man who considered himself dressed when he was in his shirt sleeves.
"What kind of meat?" inquired Uncle John, cautiously.
"Kin give yeh fried pork er jerked beef. Ham 'a all out an' the chickens is beginnin' to lay."
"Of course, stranger. Thet's the on'y thing Spotville chickens lay, nowadays. I s'pose whar yeh come from they lay biscuits 'n' pork chops."
"No. Door knobs, sometimes," said Mr. Merrick, "but seldom pork chops. Let's have eggs, and perhaps a little fried pork to go with them. Any milk?"
"Canned er fresh?"
The landlord looked at him steadily.
"Yeh've come a long-way, stranger," he said, "an' yeh must 'a' spent a lot of money, here 'n' there. Air yeh prepared to pay fer thet order in solid cash?"
Uncle John seemed startled, and looked at the Major, who smiled delightedly.
"Are such things expensive, sir?" the latter asked the landlord.
"Why, we don't eat 'em ourselves, 'n' thet's a cold fact. Eggs is eggs, an' brings forty cents a dozen to ship. There's seven cows in town, 'n' forty-one babies, so yeh kin figger what fresh milk's worth."
"Perhaps," said Uncle John mildly, "we can stand the expense—if we won't rob the babies."
"Don't worry 'bout thet. The last autymobble folks as come this way got hot because I charged 'em market prices fer the truck they et. So I'm jest inquirin' beforehand, to save hard feelin's. I've found out one thing 'bout autymobble folks sense I've ben runnin' this hoe-tel, an' thet is thet a good many is ownin' machines thet oughter be payin' their bills instid o' buyin' gasoline."
The Major took him aside. He did not tell the cautious landlord that Mr. Merrick was one of the wealthiest men in America, but he exhibited a roll of bills that satisfied the man his demands would be paid in full.
The touring; party feasted upon eggs and fresh milk, both very delicious but accompanied by odds and ends of food not so palatable. The landlord's two daughters, sallow, sunken cheeked girls, waited on the guests and the landlord's wife did the cooking.
Beth, Patsy and Myrtle retired early, as did Uncle John. The Major, smoking his "bedtime cigar," as he called it, strolled out into the yard and saw Wampus seated in the automobile, also smoking.
"We get an early start to-morrow, Wampus," said the Major. "Better get to bed."
"Here is my bed," returned the chauffeur, quietly.
"But there's a room reserved for you in the hotel."
"I know. Don't want him. I sleep me here."
The Major looked at him reflectively.
"Ever been in this town before, Wampus?" he asked.
"No, sir. But I been in other towns like him, an' know this kind of hotel. Then why do I sleep in front seat of motor car?"