"You've made your pictures all wrong, dearie; for here I am in prime condition, and loaded down with good things. The people up at Antelope Spring have shown themselves to be mighty generous. How is daddy?"
"He is resting comfortably just now, although he has suffered considerable pain. Did you see a doctor?"
"Yes; an' am loaded way up to the muzzle with directions as to what must be done. Let's go in and see the poor old man, an' then I'll tell you both the story."
Mr. Stevens's voice was heard from the inside of the wagon as he spoke Dick's name; Margie clambered out, her big brown eyes heavy with slumber, to greet her brother, and the boy was forced to receive her caresses before it was possible to care for the broncho.
Then, as soon as might be, Dick entered the wagon, and the hand-clasp from his father was sufficient reward for all his sufferings in the desert.
It was midnight before he finished telling of his journey, and reception by the men of Antelope Spring.
He would have kept secret the peril which came to him with the sand-storm; but his father questioned him so closely that it became necessary to go into all the details, and more than once before the tale was concluded did his mother press him lovingly to her as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
"You mustn't cry now it is all over," he said with a smile, as he returned the warm pressure of her hand. "I'm none the worse for havin' been half buried, an' we're rich. I'm countin' on pullin' out of here as soon as the horses are in condition; an' we'll stay at the town till spring—perhaps longer."
Although he claimed that he was not hungry, his mother insisted on preparing supper from the seemingly ample store of provisions; and when the meal had been eaten it was so nearly morning that Dick would have dispensed with the formality of going to bed, but that his mother declared it was necessary he should gain some rest.
His heart was filled with thankfulness when he lay down under the wagon again, covered with a blanket; and perhaps for the first time in his life Dick did more than repeat the prayer his mother taught him, for he whispered very softly,—
"You've been mighty good to me, God, an' I hope you're goin' to let my poor old man have another whack at livin'."
Dick had repeated to his mother all the instructions given him by the physician, and before he was awake next morning Mrs. Stevens set about dressing the wound in a more thorough manner than had ever been possible before.
She was yet engaged in this task when the boy opened his eyes, and learning to his surprise that the day was at least an hour old, sprang to his feet like one who has been guilty of an indiscretion.
"What! up already?" he cried in surprise, as looking through the flap of the wagon-covering, he saw what his mother was doing.
"Yes, Dick dear, and I have good news for you. Both your father and I now think he was mistaken in believing the bone was shattered by the bullet. Perhaps it is splintered some, but nothing more serious."
"Then you won't be obliged to have it cut off, daddy, an' should be able to get round right soon."
"There's this much certain, Dick, whether the bone is injured or not, my life has been saved through your efforts; for I know enough about gun-shot wounds to understand that I couldn't have pulled through without something more than we were able to get here."
"Yet you would have prevented me from leaving if I had told you what was in my mind."
"I should for a fact; because if one of us two must go under, it would be best for mother an' Margie that I was that one."
"Why, daddy! you have no right to talk like that!"
"It's true, Dick. I've been a sort of ne'er-do-well, otherwise I wouldn't have been called Roving Dick, while you are really the head of the house."
"I won't listen to such talk, daddy; for it sounds as if you were out of your head again, as when we were alone that night. You'll perk up after we're at Antelope Spring, an' show the people there what you can do."
"I shall be obliged to work very hard in order to make a good showing by the side of you."
Dick hurried away, for it pained him to hear his father talk in such fashion; yet at the same time he hoped most fervently that there would be no more roaming in search of a place where the least possible amount of labor was necessary, and it really seemed as if "Roving Dick" had made up his mind to lead a different life.
There was little opportunity for the boy to remain idle.
The supplies he had brought from Mr. Mansfield's shop would not suffice to provide the family with food many days unless it was re-enforced by fresh meat; and as soon as Dick had seen to it that the horses and the broncho were safe, he made preparations for a hunting-trip.
When breakfast had been eaten, and how delicious was the taste of bacon and flour-bread to this little party, which had been deprived of such food so long, he started off, returning at night-fall with a small deer and half a dozen rabbits.
The greater portion of the venison he cut up ready for smoking; and when his mother asked why he was planning so much labor for himself, he replied cheerily,—
"We're likely to lay here ten days at the very least, for the horses won't be in condition to travel in much less time; and now is my chance to put in a stock of provisions for the winter. It never'll do to spend all my wages for food; because you and Margie are to be fitted out in proper shape, and now I haven't even the rifle to sell, for that belongs to the prospectors."
Not an idle hour did Dick Stevens spend during the time they remained encamped at Buffalo Meadows; and when the time came that his father believed they might safely begin the journey to Antelope Spring, he had such a supply of smoked meat as would keep the family in food many days.
Mr. Stevens's wound had healed with reasonable rapidity, thanks to the materials for its dressing which Dick had risked his life to procure; and on the morning they decided to cross the desert the invalid was able to take his place on the front seat of the wagon to play the part of driver.
Dick rode the broncho, as a matter of course; and to him this journey was most enjoyable.
Not until the second day did the family arrive at their destination, and Dick received such a reception as caused his cheeks to redden with joy.
Bob Mason chanced to be in front of Mansfield's store when the party rode up, and insisted on their remaining there until he could summon the inhabitants of the settlement to give them welcome.
"We're glad you've come," Mr. Mason said when he believed the time had come for him to make a speech. "We've seen the kid, an' know how much sand he's got; so if the rest of the family are anything like him, and I reckon they must be, we're gettin' the kind of citizens we hanker after. I've pre-empted the boy, an' allow he'll look out for things on the ranch as well as any man I could hire, an' a good deal better'n the average run. We've got a house here for the rest of you, an' Stevens will find plenty of work if he's handy with tools. Now then, kid, we'll get the old folks settled, an' after that I'll yank you off with me."
Mason led the way to a rude shanty of boards, which was neither the best nor the worst dwelling in the town; and to Mrs. Stevens and Margie it seemed much like a palace, for it was a place they could call home, a pleasure they had not enjoyed since leaving Willow Point two years ago.
Dick observed with satisfaction that there was a sufficient amount of furniture in the shanty to serve his parents until money could be earned with which to purchase more; and then he rode away with Bob Mason, leading the team-horses to that gentleman's corral.
He had brought his family to a home, and had before him a good prospect of supplying them with food, even though his father should not be able to do any work until the coming spring; therefore Dick Stevens was a very happy boy.
Here we will leave him; for he is yet in Mason's employ, and it is said in Antelope Spring to-day, or was a few months ago, that when "Bob Mason hired that kid to oversee his ranch, he knew what he was about."
It is hard to believe that a boy only fifteen years of age (for Dick has now been an overseer, or "boss puncher" as it is termed in Nevada, nearly two years) could care for a ranch of six hundred acres; yet he has done it, as more than one can testify, and in such a satisfactory manner that next year he is to have an interest in the herds and flocks on the "Mason Place."
Mr. Stevens recovered from the wound in due time; and early in the spring after his arrival at the settlement, he joined Messrs. Parsons & Robinson in prospecting among the ranges.
His good fortune was even greater than Dick's; for before the winter came again the firm had struck a rich lead of silver, which has been worked with such profit that "Roving Dick's" home is one of the best and the cosiest to be found in the State.
Mr. Stevens would have been glad had young Dick decided to give up his work on the ranch; but the latter has declared again and again that he will leave mining strictly alone, because "cattle are good enough for him."
* Pg 24 Added opening quotes before "I went, an' have got back".
* Otherwise, archaic and inconsistent spelling and hyphenation retained.]