Then to bed and a few hours of sleep; another breakfast, as good as the first; after which buckboards were driven round and horses saddled; Herbert, Jim, and Manuel electing to ride while Monty was to travel in the wagon with Silent Pete, as driver. He was the better suited thus because Mr. Ford and Leslie were to be his companions, the gentlemen having arranged matters this time without any casting of lots.
Lemuel drove the four-in-hand as on the day before, having as passengers Mrs. Ford and Miss Milliken—who had slept soundly through all the events of the night—with the four girls. Jedediah, Mr. Ford's colored "boy" also rode beside the driver, for the greater protection of the feminine travelers, should any need arise.
But nothing did. All the untoward incidents of this journey to the Rockies had happened during its first stage. "Tenderfoot Sorrel" was left behind, of course, but he did not greatly regret that. He felt that he could more easily endure physical pain than the chaffing of his fellows at San Leon.
As before, the start was made with a flourish of whip and horn, amid good wishes and farewells from the hosts of the Wayside Inn, and a sure promise to "come again!" Then a day's journey steadily onward and upward, through river-fed valleys and rocky ravines, with a mid-day stop at another little hostelry, for a change of horses and a plain dinner.
Then on again, following the sun till it sank behind a mountain range and they had climbed well nigh to the top. Here Mr. Ford ordered a brief halt, that the travellers might look behind them at the glorious landscape. When they had done so, till the scene was impressed upon their memories forever, again the order came:
"Eyes front! but shut! No peeping till I say—Look!"
Laughing, finding it ever so difficult to obey, but eager, indeed, the last ascent was made. Then the wheels seemed to have found a level stretch of smoother travelling and again came Mr. Ford's cry:
"All eyes front and—open! Welcome to San Leon!"
Open they did. Upon one of the loveliest homes they had ever beheld. A long, low, roomy building, modelled in the Mission style that Lady Gray so greatly admired; whose spacious verandas and cloistered walks invited to delightful days out of doors; while everywhere were flowers in bloom, fountains playing, vine-clad arbors and countless cosy nooks, shadowed by magnificent trees. A lawn as smooth as velvet, dotted here and there by electric light poles whose radiance could turn night into day.
For a moment nobody spoke; then admiration broke forth in wondering exclamations, while the host helped his wife to alight, asking:
"Well, Erminie, does it suit you?"
"Suit? Dear, I never dreamed of anything better than a plain shack on a mountain side. That's what you called it—but this—this is no shack. It's more like a palace!"
"Well, the main thing is to make it a home."
"Is it as good as the 'cabin,' father?" asked Leslie, coming up and laying his hand on Mr. Ford's shoulder.
"Let us hope it will be! If the first inmates are peace and good will. Peace and good will," he repeated, gravely. Then his accustomed gayety replaced his seriousness and he waved his hand toward the entrance, saying:
"Queen Erminie, enter in and possess your kingdom! Your maids of honor with you!"
"My heart!" cried Alfaretta, following her hostess, like a girl in a dream. "I thought 'twould be just another up-mounting sort of place, not near so nice as Deerhurst or the Towers, but it's splendid more 'n they are, either one or both together."
"Wonderful, what money can do in this land of the free!" remarked Herbert, critically estimating the establishment. "Think of a man having his own electric light plant away up here! Why, if it weren't for the mountains yonder one could fancy this is Newport or Long Branch."
"Without the sea, Bert. Even money can't bring the sea to the mountain-tops," said Helena, though her own face was aglow with admiration.
"It can do the next best thing to it. Look yonder," said Monty, pointing where a glimmer of sunset-tinted water showed through a hedge of trees.
"Let's go there. It certainly is water," urged Jim Barlow.
"Well, Leslie told me there was a strange waterfall near San Leon and I suppose the same money has pressed that into service. To think! That 'Railroad Boss' earned his first quarter selling papers on the train! He was talking about the 'cabin' as we came along. It had two rooms and he lived in it alone with his mother. By his talk they hadn't always been so poor and she belonged to an old family, as 'families go in America.' That was the way he put it, and it was his ambition to see his mother able to take 'the place where she belonged.' That's how he began; and now, look at this!"
All the young people had now gathered around the pond, or lake, that had been made in a natural basin on the mountain side, for thinking that their host and hostess would better like to enter their new home with no strangers about them, Dorothy had suggested:
"Let's follow the boys! Jim's arm ought to be looked after, first thing, and I'll remind him of it. He'd no business to come on horseback all that long way, but he never would take care of himself."
"Has Leslie ever been here before?" asked Molly Breckenridge.
"No. It is as much a surprise to him as to his mother. But he's mighty proud of his father," answered Dorothy. "Look, here he comes now."
He came running across the sward and down the rocky path to the edge of the lake and clapped a hand on the shoulders of Herbert and Montmorency. He did not mean to be less cordial to Jim Barlow but he was. For two reasons: one that Dorothy had extolled her humble friend till he seemed a paragon of all the virtues; and secondly what he had learned of Jim's eagerness for knowledge had made him ashamed of his own indifference to it. Even that day, his father had commended the poorer boy for his keen observation of everything and read him a portion of a letter received from Dr. Sterling, the clergyman with whom James lived and studied.
The Doctor had written that the lad was already well versed in natural history and that his interest in geology was as great as the writer's own. He felt that this invitation to his beloved protege was a wonderful thing for the student, and that Mr. Ford might feel he was having a hand in the formation of a great scientist.
There had been more of the same sort of praise and Leslie had looked with simple amazement at the tall, awkward youth, who had arrived in Denver with the rest of his young guests.
"That fellow smart? Clever? Brainy? Well, he doesn't look it. If ever I saw a regular clodhopper, he's the chap. But that Herbert Montaigne, now, is rippin'! He has the right 'air,' and so has the shorty, the fat Monty, only his figure is against him," he had remarked to Mateo, who had instantly agreed with him. Indeed, the Mexican never disagreed with his "gracious excellency, Senor Leslie."
Mateo's service was an easy one and his salary good. Besides, he was really fond of his young master and formed all his opinions in accordance. So then he, too, cast a supercilious glance at Jim, and had caused that shy lad's color to rise, though beyond that he took no notice.
Already as they stood there gazing over the lake, crimson with the last rays of the sun, Jim was studying the rocks upon the farther side and squinting his eyes at something moving among them. It was with a startled return to his surroundings that he heard Leslie now say:
"My father wants to have you come in, Mr.—I mean James. The doctor is going to properly dress your arm."
"The doctor? Is there a doctor here?" asked Dorothy, slipping her hand under Jim's uninjured arm, and conveying by that action her sympathy with his feeling of an alien.
But he coolly drew aside. He wasn't going to be humiliated by any girl's cossetting, not even hers. He had never realized his poverty so bitterly, nor been more ashamed of that fact. Just because some richer boys looked down upon him was no reason he should look down upon himself. Also, it angered him that he really needed surgical attention. He had suffered intensely during the ride hither but he had kept that to himself. He meant to keep it to himself whatever happened, and to join in what was going on as if he were physically sound as the other boys.
"It's only my left arm, anyway. I'd be a poor stick of a thing if I couldn't manage with the other," he had thought, bravely, despite the pain. Now here was he being made the object of everybody's notice; and, being Jim—he hated it! There was a surly look in his eyes as he replied to Leslie's message:
"I guess not. I mean—there isn't any need—I'm all right. I'm all right, I say. I'm—Shucks! I'm bully!"
It was Dorothy who blushed this time, she was so mortified by the rudeness of her "paragon." Whenever had he used such an expression? She flashed an indignant glance upon him, then coolly commanded him:
"You come right straight along, James Barlow. You're Mr. Ford's guest now and must do what he wants, just the same as if he were Dr. Sterling. Besides, I know we all ought to be freshening ourselves before supper. Lady Gray hates untidy people. Come on."
Again she linked her arm in Jim's and led the way up the slope toward the house, while at the mention of supper all the others fell into line behind her. And now Jim was already ashamed of his petulance with her. After all, she was the prettiest girl of them all; and, so far as he knew, the richest. She was "thoroughbred;" her family one of the oldest in its native State; and though the poorhouse boy had no family pride of his own he was loyal to old Maryland and his earliest friend. What had not Dolly been to him? His first teacher, his loving companion, and the means of all that was good coming into his life.
"Say, Dolly, I'm sorry I said that and shamed you. Sorry I'm such a conceited donkey as to hate being looked down on. You just keep me posted on what's what, little girl, and I'll try to behave myself. But it beats creation, to find such a place as this up here on the Rockies and to know one man's done it. Kind of takes a feller's breath away, don't it?"
They were a little ahead of the rest of the party and able to talk freely, so Dorothy improved the chance to give "her boy Jim" a little lecture; suggesting that he must never stop short of accomplishing just as much as Daniel Ford had done.
"What one poor lad can do, another can—if he will! If he will, James Barlow! It's just the will, you see. There was a copy in my old writing-book: 'What man has done, man can do.'"
"Shucks! I'm ambitious enough, but 'tain't along no money lines. What I want is learnin'—just plain knowledge. I wrote a copy once, too, and 'twas that 'Knowledge is Power.' I made them capitals the best I could so 't I never would forget 'em."
"Huh! For such a wise young man you talk pretty common. There's no need, Jim Barlow, for you to go back into all the bad grammar and chipped-off words just because you're talking to—me. I notice you are very particular and careful when you speak to our hosts. Oh, Jim! isn't this going to be just a glorious summer? Except when I think about Aunt Betty I'm almost too happy to breathe."
Jim had stumbled along beside her, unseeing the objects that were nearest—the lovely shrubbery, beautiful flowers, and quaint little furnishings of that grand lawn—but with his eyes fixed on a distant mountain peak, bare of verdure, and seemingly but a mass of vari-colored rock; and he now remarked:
"I wonder how much of this country that Dan Ford owns! I wonder if he's got a claim on the peaks yonder!"
"Come back to earth, boy! Can't you think anything, see anything but—stones? Here we are at the door and I fancy this gentleman is the doctor. Good evening, sir."
"Is this the lad with the injured arm?" asked the gentleman meeting the pair, and glancing toward Jim's bandaged arm, with the coat sleeve hanging loose above it.
"Yes, sir, but it's nothing. It doesn't need any attention," said Jim, ungraciously.
"Behave yourself, Jim. Yes, Doctor—I suppose you're that?—he is so badly hurt that he's cross. But it's wonderful to find a doctor away up here," said Dorothy. Her odd little air of authority over the great, loutish lad, and her gay smile to himself, instantly won the stranger's liking, and he answered warmly:
"Wonderful, maybe, but no more so than all of Dan Ford's doings. Step this way, my son, and Miss, I fancy you'd best not follow just yet. Nurse Melton will assist me, if I need assistance."
"A nurse, too? How odd!" said Dorothy turning to join her mates.
She did not see Jim Barlow again that night. When the examination was made the doctor found the injured arm in bad shape, swollen and inflamed to a degree that made great care a necessity unless much worse were to follow.
So, for the first time in his healthy life, Jim found himself an invalid; sent to bed and ministered to by a frail, sweet-faced woman in a white uniform, whose presence on that far away ranch was a puzzle to him. Until, seeing his evident curiosity, she satisfied it by the explanation:
"Oh! I'm merely another of Mr. Ford's beneficiaries. My brother is an engineer on one of his railroads, and he heard that I was threatened with consumption. So he had me sent to Denver for a time, till San Leon was ready. Then I came here. I'm on hand to attend any sick folks who may need me, though you're the first patient yet. I can tell you that you're fortunate to number Daniel Ford among your friends. He's the grandest man in the world."
Jim lay quiet for a time, till his supper was brought in. But he could not taste that. The dressing of his wounded arm had been painful in extreme, though he had borne the pain without a groan, and for that been greatly admired by both the surgeon and the nurse. He was now feverish and discontented. The "happy summer" of which Dorothy had boasted was beginning anything but happily for him. He was angry against his own weakness and disappointed that he could not at once begin his work of studying the rocks of this region. To do so had been his chief reason for accepting Mr. Ford's genial invitation, for his shyness shrank from meeting strangers and accepting favors from them. Dr. Sterling had talked him "out of his nonsense" for the time being, but he now wished himself back in his familiar room at Deerhurst lodge, with Hans and Griselda Roemer. They were humble folk and so was he. He had no business in this rich man's "shack" that was, in reality, a palace; where pleasure was the rule and work the exception. Well—things might happen! He'd take care they should! He was among the mountains—for that part he was glad; only regretful of the debt to another which had brought him there.
The hum of voices in and about the big house ceased. Even the barking dogs were silent at last, and the music from the men's quarters, stopped. There was where he, Jim belonged, by right. Out in some of the many buildings at the rear; so many, in fact, that they were like a village. He guessed he'd go there. Yes. In the morning, maybe the Boss would give him a job, and he could work to pay his keep. His thoughts grew wilder and more disordered, his head ached.
The nurse was sitting silent in an adjoining room. Actual watching was unnecessary and she understood her patient's mood, that her presence in his chamber worried him. It was his time—now or never. He crept from his bed and stepped out of the low window upon the wide porch.
Even in his delirious confusion it struck him that he had never seen such wonderful moonlight, nor such a big, inviting world. The vagary of thought altered. He would not seek the workmen's quarters, after all. The mountains were better. They called him. They did not seem far away. He would not feel so hot and then so shivery if he could lie down on their cool tops, with only the sky above him. Aye, they called him; and blindly answering to their silent summons the sick boy went. The things he prophesied had surely begun to "happen."
A MARTINET OF THE ROCKIES
San Leon ranch was a large one. The dwelling house and many outbuildings were upon a rich plateau topping a spur from the great mountain beyond. On one side, the land sloped to the valley of the Mismit, utilized for the sheep farming; and across the river, or run, rose grassy fields, climbing one above another till they ended in rocky, verdureless soil. Here were the cattle ranges, and here the herds of horses lived their free life. The extent of the property amazed the newcomers, even Lady Gray herself.
She was exploring the premises escorted by Leslie and her young guests, and piloted by the talkative Lem Hunt. For once he had attentive listeners. There was no fellow ranchmen to ridicule his oft-told tales, but eager ears to which they were new; and eyes as eager to behold the scenes of these same marvellous stories.
All began and ended with "The Boss, he." Evidently, for old Lem, there existed but one man worth knowing and that was the "Boss, he."
"I s'pose, Ma'am, you know how the Boss, he come to buy S' Leon. No? You don't? By the Great Horned Spoon! Ain't that great? Just like him. The Boss, he never brags of his doin's, that's why I have to do it for him. Well, Ma'am, I can't help sayin' 'twas a deed o' charity. Just a clean, simon-pure piece of charity. Yes, Ma'am, that's what it was, and you can bite that off an' chew it."
Mrs. Ford smiled. She was always delighted to hear of her husband's generous deeds but rarely heard of them from himself. Also, she had supposed that the purchase of San Leon had been a recent one and was amazed now to learn it had been owned by Mr. Ford for several years. Not as it then was, for no improvements had been made to the home-piece till after he had found her that last winter in San Diego. Then, at once, preparations had been made for this home-coming, with the result of all the beauty that now greeted her eyes.
"Tell us, Lemuel. I'm anxious to hear."
Lem switched some hay from a wagon seat, that stood upon the ground, and motioned the lady to be seated. The youngsters grouped about her, Lem cut off a fresh "chaw," rubbed his hands and began. He stood with legs far apart, arms folded, an old sombrero pushed back on his head, a riding crop in hand, and an air of a king. Was he not a free-born American citizen, as good as could be found in all the country? Lemuel adored his "Boss" but he had not learned the manners which that "Boss" would have approved in the presence of the Gray Lady; who, by the way, was never more truly the "Lady" than in her intercourse then, and always, with the toilers at San Leon.
"Well, sir, Ma'am, I mean—'twas really a deed o' gift. There was another railroader, rich once, done somethin' he hadn't ought to. I don't rightly know what that was. The Boss never told, course, and it never leaked out otherwise. That's no more here nor there. But he, the other feller, had his bottom dollar into S' Leon, and some dollars 't wasn't his 'n. He was countin' on this range bein' chock full o' silver an' he'd wheedled the rest to takin' his word for it. Silver? Not on your life. The sheriffs got after him. He hadn't a friend in the world. He lit out a-foot and got as far as Denver city an' aboard a train. Leastwise, under a baggage car, stealin' a ride. Course he got hurt. Happened the Boss, he was on hand. He's a way of bein' when other folks is in trouble. Heard the feller's story. Had knowed him out east and 'lowed he was more fool than knave. Long-short was—S' Leon swopped owners. The first named had had to take his medicine an' I've been told he took it like a little man. The Boss paid in full, on condition 't all hands round got their level dues. Atterwards, the Boss made this a dumpin'-ground for all the down-in-the-world unfortunates he knew.
"The doctor's one. He was just dyin' back yonder, same as Miss Melton. Doc, he took the place o' book-keeper, sort o' manager—I claim to be that myself—but to do anything needed. The's always somebody gettin' broke, legs, an' arms, and such. But as for gineral sickness, why there ain't never been none o' that to San Leon. No wonder that Dan Ford's a prosperous man! He lives his religion—he ain't no preachin'-no-practice-sky-pilot, the Boss, he ain't.
"Ma'am? Like to see where the boys hang out? Well, come along. If things ain't the way I'd like to have 'em, you c'n allow 't I'm the only one's been in the ranks. Yes, Ma'am. I have that. Used to belong to a crack comp'ny out home and was one the picked men to shoot at Seagirt, New Jarsey. The National Rifle Range, Ma'am, as maybe you know. I've scored highest, more 'n once. That's how I come to sort o' set up in business out here. Shootin' an' hosses; them's my business; and every tenderfoot strikes S' Leon comes under my teachin' first or last."
With that remark he cast a critical eye upon the assembled young folks and noted the kindling gleam of seven pairs of eyes. Only Jim Barlow's blue orbs were missing; but, of course, that nurse or doctor had made him stay in bed, which was a shame, the others thought, and Dorothy loyally expressed:
"Course! That's one the things we're all wild to do—learn to handle a rifle. But don't let's begin till Jim gets well."
A curious expression passed over Mrs. Ford's face. She was the only one present who knew of Jim's midnight escape. The knowledge had almost miraculously been kept from Lemuel and by the master's express orders. Whatever that talkative ranchman knew, all the world knew, as fast as his tongue could tell it.
All had been so quiet in the sick room that the nurse had supposed her patient fallen asleep; and it was not till daybreak that she discovered his absence. She had immediately informed Dr. Jones, and he, in turn, the "Boss," who understanding the shy nature of the truant and knowing how he would dislike to be talked about, had instituted a quiet but thorough search. Only the trustiest men had been set upon this search, Mr. Ford taking the most active part in it. By his request the matter had been kept from his young guests, also; and they were to be made as happy as possible in their ignorance. As he said to Lady Gray, before leaving her:
"Of course, we shall find him in a very little while. He can't have gone far afield, and we'll have him back in bed before any of those youngsters get wind of his performance. Nurse says he was flighty and feverish and I don't wonder. Doctor claims he'd rather have had a clean, sharp break to mend than all those bruised and torn ligaments. However, don't you worry. This party is going to be a success—don't doubt. Sorry to leave you with seven young folks on your hands—a little world in themselves, of varying ideas and wills. They can easily spend this first half-day in inspecting the ranch and, if they're as healthy and happy as they seem, will be too interested to give much thought to Master James. Good-by, don't worry."
However, although they felt it would be well to wait for the injured Jim before beginning their lessons in shooting, Lemuel himself took the matter out of their hands, explaining:
"I've lived long enough to know there ain't never but one time to do one thing, an' that if a feller don't snatch it then, afore it gets out o' reach, he'll be sorry forever atterwards. We'll go inspect the boys' quarters first hand. That's a part o' my business, anyway. Makes 'em mad, sometimes, but it's for their good. Nothin' like the army for trainin' folks right, an' so I tell 'em. Get jawed for it a pretty consid'able, but Lemuel G. W. Hunt—I'm named for the Father of my Country, Ma'am—Lemuel G. W. Hunt always does his duty, let come what follers atterwards. Right this way, Ma'am. Hep, hep, hep, right face!"
The odd fellow led off with a military step and catching his humor the boys did likewise. Then, the girls laughed and marched, Herbert gallantly escorting Mrs. Ford, as the eighth of the little "Company A," as Leslie immediately named the new "awkward squad."
"And I say, Lem, it'll be just rippin' if you'll drill us in regular 'tactics.' Once a day, anyhow. I'll get Dad to furnish the uniforms and it'll be a help because, you know, I'm bound for West Point sometime," cried Leslie.
Lady Gray's face resumed its look of anxiety that had passed for a moment, listening to Lemuel's talk. This West Point ambition of her son's was a sore subject with her, though his great desire for a military life had never been hidden from her.
"If I can pass the physical exam., and the book one—either," he added, with a grimace.
"Well, you'll have to know a power more 'n you do now, if you get into that place," said truthful Alfy. "I've heard Mis' Judge Satterlee, up-mounting, tell 't her boy near studied his head off, an' then got shut out. It's a terrible fine thing, though, if a body could. Why, up-mounting, we can hear the bands playin', guns firin', and Dolly there, she's seen 'em drill. Seen the battery-drill, she called it, and didn't guess how in the world them gray-coated boys could hop on-an'-off their gun wagons like they did. When I get home, I mean to go over to the Point myself and see 'em. If you should be there I'd take you something to eat."
Leslie was now much more interested in hearing about the place of his dreams than in the present inspection of San Leon; and encouraged by this Alfaretta made Dolly tell how she and Molly had once visited the Academy and Molly's cadet cousin, Tom Hungerford.
Molly interrupted the narrative with frequent comments and they all paused at the entrance to the Barracks, as Lemuel had named the long building of the workmen, while the story was told. Lemuel and Leslie were the most eager listeners, both faces alight with enthusiasm, as the two girls described their day at the military school.
"Tom got leave off, to show us around, and Aunt Betty with Mrs. Hungerford—"
"That's Aunt Lucretia, Tom's mother," explained Molly.
"You tell it, Molly. You can do it better," urged Dorothy.
"All right. I'd rather. Well, we went down in the morning early, on the boat, to be in time for early drill. It was summer time and the darling cadets were all in their white uniforms, fresh as daisies. Do you know those poor lambs have to change their white suits every day? Some oftener, if they get a single speck of dirt on them. Their laundry bills are something terrible. Terrible! poor dears!"
Lady Gray laughed at the girl's sympathy with the afflicted young soldiers, and Dolly took up the tale again:
"Well, they needn't worry. The Government pays for it, really. They just get a little salary each month and their expenses come out of that. Whatever else they have their own people give them. But, anyway, it was just lovely. If I were a boy and didn't want to be a great scientist, like Jim does, or a banker like Monty, or—or anything else, I'd be an army man."
"Bother what you'd be, Dolly. You're only a girl. Go on with the story," said impatient Leslie, while Lemuel nodded his head in satisfaction. Talk of soldiering touched the warmest spot in the old sharpshooter's heart. "Do hurry up."
"Why, after all, there isn't much to tell—"
"But there is," cried Molly. "About the luncheon in the church. Listen. We went everywhere about the grounds, saw the riding-school, the mess-room, the dancing-hall and all, a lot of places. Oh! yes, the library, too. Then it got noon and hungry-time and we'd brought an elegant lunch. Cold chicken and sardines and sandwiches and early peaches—the nicest we could get, and Tom's 'leave' gave him a chance to eat it with us. We asked him where we could and he thought a minute, then said in the church. Aunty Lu thought that was dreadful, to eat in a church! But Tom said it was the only place on the Point where we wouldn't be stared at by others. Folks were everywhere else; cadets and visitors—and oh! It was so pretty. All the white tents on the campus and the darling boys walking about in their white—"
"Nighties?" suggested Monty, maliciously. It had been an ambition of his own to enter the Academy; but his being under age, his size—and several other good reasons, including his utter want of fitness in the matter of book learning—had prevented the realization of this fine dream. His failure had rendered him skeptical of the charms of the famous institution, and he now always mentioned it as a place quite beneath his own notice.
The story promised to be a long one and Lemuel thoughtfully produced a chair and placed it for Mrs. Ford's use. Her eyes were on Leslie's interested face and she would gladly have postponed the recital; for, even more than the disgruntled Monty, she disliked the very name of West Point. However, in this matter, as in many future ones, her own fancy was to be set aside by the eagerness of her young guests. So Dorothy went on:
"There wasn't anybody else in the church except ourselves. A few visitors came to the door and peeped in, to see a famous painting over the chancel, but finding us there went away again. That old church is so interesting! Tablets to famous generals everywhere—"
"This isn't a history lesson! Go on with the story!" cried Herbert, who was so familiar with West Point that he desired no fresh description.
Molly made him a little mocking face and herself took up the tale:
"Well, we had our dinners there, sitting in some of the front pews, and the way Tom walked into that fried chicken and things would make you open your eyes. We were all hungry, course, after so early a breakfast, and the sail down, and all; but Tom was simply ravenous. He was so hungry he took away our own appetites, just watching. When he'd eaten all he could there was still a lot of stuff left; and Mrs. Calvert asked him if he knew any place where we could dispose of it; a garbage can, she meant, or some waste-box.
"Tom said yes he did, and if she'd excuse him he'd show her. It was what he called 'slumgudgeon day.' 'Slumgudgeon' is a kind of stew made up of the leavings of lots of other meals and the poor, darling cadets just hate it. He said 'cold victuals' never came in as handy as ours did then. So he unbuttoned his jacket, that fitted him as if he'd been melted into it, and began to pad himself out with the leavings. Cake and chickens, pickles and sardines, boiled eggs and fruit—you never saw such a mess! And the way he packed it in, so as to keep an even sort of front, was a caution. You know the poor dears have no pockets in their uniforms. Not allowed. So that was the only way he could take it. He wanted to share it with his cronies after we'd gone and told Aunty Lu that it would have been a perfectly wicked shame to have thrown it away, when it would do him so much good. Oh! we had a glorious time. I do just love West Point—"
"The cadets, you mean! I never saw a girl that liked the boys so well as you do, Molly Breckenridge. But I s'pose you can't help it. If 't wasn't for that you'd be just splendid, and they don't seem to mind—much—anyway," remarked Alfaretta, beaming upon pretty Molly with loving smiles. Molly's liking for "boys" seemed to honest, sensible Alfy the one flaw in an otherwise lovely character.
But Molly tossed her sunny head and laughed. Also, she flashed a mischievous glance into all the boyish faces turned toward her and on every one she saw a similar liking and admiration of herself. She was quite satisfied, was Jolly Molly.
"Now, if we are to 'inspect' the 'Barracks,' isn't it time? So that we can get back to the house by the time James Barlow is ready to see us. I suppose the doctor won't keep him in bed all day; do you, Mrs. Ford?" said Helena Montaigne.
She had already learned that the Gray Lady was bitterly opposed to Leslie's plans for the future and wanted to put aside the unfortunate subject of West Point. To her surprise, instead of lightening, the lady's face grew still more troubled, as she turned to scan the landscape behind her with a piercing gaze.
"That story was just rippin'! When I get to the Point the first place I shall go to see will be that church! Hear me, Dorothy Doodles?" demanded Leslie, catching her hand and swinging it lightly as he led her forward into the first room Lemuel had opened. "Will you come over there and bring me just another such a luncheon, girlie?"
"Well, yes. I don't like to promise things but I guess this is safe enough. When you get there—when you get there—I'll come, and you shall have the finest dinner Alfy and I can cook. We'll do it all by ourselves—when you get there to eat it!"
"Oh! I'll be there, never fear. My! isn't this rippin'? How does the old soldier make the men keep such order, I wonder! Lem Hunt must be as great a martinet as he is talker. Look at him."
The ranchman was in his element. He had long before marshalled the entire working force of San Leon into a "regiment." Any newcomer who declined to join it was promptly "left out in the cold." The "soldiers" were jolly company for themselves and none at all for any outsider who refused to obey the unwritten laws which honest old Lem had laid down for their benefit. "Captain Lem" was the neatest man of all, but he required the rest to come as near his standard as the disadvantages of previous bad training permitted.
Now, in imitation of that West Point discipline he admired, he had pulled from his pocket a white linen handkerchief and was passing it gently but firmly over the few simple furnishings of this first apartment in the long row. It belonged to Silent Pete, just then engaged breaking to harness a spirited colt, exercising it around and around the smooth driveways of the "home piece." He was not so far away that he could not perfectly see what was going on at the "Barracks," and even at that distance his grizzled cheek flushed. He had risen late and been remiss in his room-cleaning. He hoped old Lem would forget to mention who was the occupant of that cell-like place, and, for once, he did.
There was dust on the chest of drawers which held Peter's belongings, the cot was just as he had crawled out of it at daybreak, a horsewhip and blankets littered the floor, and the "Martinet" was so ashamed of the whole appearance of things that, after one hasty test with the handkerchief, he withdrew carrying the company with him. Yet, before leaving, he had drawn a piece of chalk from the band of his sombrero and made a big cross upon the dusty chest. Silent Pete would know what that meant: mounting guard for three nights to come! and a grim smile twisted Lemuel's lips, reflecting what that meant to one of his "Squad."
The visitors had smiled, too, but with amusement at this odd old ranchman's discipline; and Monty had whispered:
"What makes 'em put up with it? What right has he to order them around?"
But Leslie, the young master of San Leon, was as much in the dark as any other stranger, and could only answer:
"Suppose it's because he's a leader. Born that way, just as my father was, though it's a different way, of course. Otherwise, I can't guess. But I'm wild to get at the shooting lessons. I hope the rest of you are, too. The first step to becoming a real 'wild westerner' is to know how to handle the 'irons.' He's rippin', Lem is. But come on. He's getting away from us. I wish poor old Jim was here. It's a pity anybody has to be sick in such a place as this. I tell you, boys, I was never so proud of Dad as I am now, when I look around and see what a ranch he's got—earned—right out of his own head-piece! I don't see where he is! I wish he was here. I'd ask him about those uniforms and I'd get him to let old Lem off every other duty, just to teach us. Dad's a sort of sharpshooter himself. Once he—No matter. That story'll keep. Lady Gray is calling us."
They had lingered to inspect some of the ranchmen's belongings, as they passed from room to room, Lady Gray and the girls going forward in Lemuel's company. She was beckoning her son and asked, as he came running up:
"Please go across the lawn and ask Miss Milliken to join us. She went to her room to write letters, immediately after breakfast, but I see she's come out now and I don't want her to feel lonely nor neglected."
Leslie darted away, but returned again to say:
"She doesn't want to come, just now. She wants Jim Barlow. Says she went to his room but the nurse said he wasn't in. Jim knows about some books she wants to send for, when the mail-bag is sent out. Do you know where he is? Or father? 'Tisn't half-fun, this inspection of San Leon without Dad here to tell us things. I haven't seen him this morning, any more than I have Jim. Do you know where they are?"
Poor Lady Gray was not much better at keeping secrets than old Lemuel was. She had had to put a great constraint upon herself not to reveal the anxiety which consumed her. Hours had now passed since Mr. Ford had ridden away, with a couple of men attending him. All the other men not absolutely required to look after the place had been despatched to search on foot. Their long-delayed return seemed to prove the matter of the sick boy's disappearance a more serious one than at first imagined. Her answer was a sudden wringing of her white hands and the tremulous cry:
"No, no, I don't. Pray God, no tragedy marks the opening of our home!"
A RIFLE PRACTICE
"Mother, what do you mean? Don't turn so white and do speak! What 'tragedy' could have happened up here in this lovely place?" demanded Leslie, putting his arm around the lady's shoulders and wondering if she had suddenly become ill. She was slender but had never complained of any weakness, nor shown the least fatigue during her long care of him at San Diego. Since then, she had been like a happy girl with him and his father but something was amiss with her now.
In a moment she had calmed herself and was already blaming herself for her disobedience to her husband's request for silence. However, this last matter was a small one; for, if the missing lad was not soon found, all would have to know it. Indeed, it might be better that they did so now. They knew him better than his hosts did and possibly might give a clue to his whereabouts. So she told them all she knew, and the surmise that he had wandered away in a fit of delirium. The very telling restored her own courage, and, as yet, there was little fear showing upon the faces of her young guests.
Except on Dorothy's. Her brown eyes were staring wide and all the pretty color of her cheeks had faded. As if she saw a vision the others could not she stood clasping and unclasping her hands, and utterly sick at heart for the loss of her early friend. Longer than she had known any of these here about her she had known poor Jim. He had saved her life, or she believed so, in her childhood that now seemed far away. But for Jim, the poorhouse boy, she had never escaped from Mrs. Stott's truck-farm when she had been kidnapped and hidden there. He had stood by her in all her little troubles, had praised and scolded her, and known her through and through. It was her talk about him which had made Mr. Ford invite him to San Leon—to his death, maybe.
That thought was too much. Clinching her small hands and stamping her little foot she defied even death to hurt poor Jim, good Jim, brainy Jim, who was to astonish the world some day by his wisdom!
"Oh! If you'd only have told me before! I would have had him found long, long ago! To think of that poor fellow wandering around alone, sick, crazy, suffering—not knowing where he was or what he was doing! And we strolling around, looking at old 'Barracks' and things, and telling silly stories of silly picnics! It was cruel, cruel! Come, Alfy. You like him, too. You don't look down on my poor boy—you come and help me find him!"
She seized her old friend's hand and ran toward the house, which now looked anything save beautiful in her sight; and, turning, she saw the lake, gleaming in the noonday sun as it gleamed in the red rays of sunset with Jim there to admire it.
"The lake! He's drowned! That's where he is, our Jim! In the bottom of that horrible lake!"
Catching Alfaretta's hand more firmly she drew that frightened girl along with her to the edge of the pond and to a little boat that was moored there. Both lake and boat were merely toylike in proportion and the bottom of the pond was pebble-strewn and plainly visible through the clear, shallow water.
"He ain't—he—ain't—he can't—you could see—him—He isn't—Oh! Dolly, Dolly Doodles! I'm sick! It makes me feel terrible queer!" wailed Alfaretta. "But Jim can't—Jim can't be drowned! He can't!"
"Yes he can, too. Shut up. Help me untie that rope. Get in. Take an oar. Row—row, I tell you," snapped Dorothy, distraught.
"I can't. I dassent! I never touched to row an oar in my life. Not in my whole life long, and—I—I shan't do it now!" retorted the mountaineer with equal crispness.
But she had no need to try. The whole party had followed Dorothy to the water's edge and had divined her intent. Not one believed that Jim was drowned, though they could have given no good reason for this disbelief. Only that was too horrible. Such a thing would not have been permitted! Yet Herbert, as the best oarsman there and also as the loyal friend of the missing lad, assumed the place Alfy would not take. Without a word he did what Dorothy desired. He slipped the painter from its post, helped the girl to take her seat in the little "Dorothy," even smiling as he observed that it had been named for her, and quietly pushed out from shore.
It was just as Alfy had said: the bottom of the lake was clearly visible everywhere, and no frightful object marred its beauty. Dorothy was utterly quiet now but her searching gaze never lifted from the water, as Herbert patiently rowed around and around. The group on the bank waited also in silence, though certain after that first circuit of the pond that Jim was not there.
When they had gone around several times, and had crossed and criss-crossed in obedience to Dorothy's nod, Herbert brought the boat back to the little landing and helped Dorothy out.
"He isn't there, Gray Lady. May I go to the doctor?"
"Surely. I'll go with you. And don't look so tragic, darling. The boy will certainly be found. There will nothing else be done at San Leon until he is. Both my husband and myself agree on that point—that Jim Barlow's safety is our first consideration. He will probably be found near at hand, although—"
"Hasn't he been looked for 'near at hand,' then, dear Gray Lady?"
"Certainly. At the beginning. We didn't think he could have wandered far, yet when they failed to find him on the home-grounds, the searchers spread out in all directions. Here is the doctor coming now, if you wish to speak with him."
"Thank you, I do."
The gentleman came toward them and Dorothy ran to meet him.
"Oh! sir, have you found him?"
A negative shake of the head answered her. Then she plied him with all sorts of questions: how long could a sick boy live exposed to the night air, as Jim had been; without food or medicine; and couldn't he think of some place that nobody else had searched, so she might go and try it?
He laid his hand upon her head and gently asked:
"Was he your brother, little girl?"
"No. I haven't any brother. I haven't anybody but Jim, that has known me always, seems if, and—and dear Doctor, won't you please, please find him?"
Clasping her hands about his arm she looked up piteously into his face, and his own grew pitiful as he answered:
"I will do my utmost. What I hope is that he will wander back, of his own will, just as he wandered away. Be sure I shall keep a sharp lookout, but it is Mr. Ford's wish that I do not leave the home-place till—at present. If he is found, I mean when he is found, he will need my care and it wouldn't do for me to be away then. Else I should have gone out with one of the searching parties."
That "when he is found" was reassuring. Evidently, the doctor expected the speedy return of the lad and all were relieved, even Dorothy. Alfaretta expressed her own feeling by saying:
"Out here in this Colorado, seems if there wasn't anything but folks gettin' lost and other folks searching for 'em. I never heard anything like it," she finished with a sigh.
The sigh was echoed by all the rest; then Mrs. Ford suggested:
"Let us have luncheon now, then call on Lemuel to give us our first lesson in rifle-firing." She assumed a cheerfulness she did not really feel, but felt that the happiness of so many should not be spoiled by the absence of one.
"Oh! Lady Gray, will you practice with us?" asked Leslie, eagerly.
"To be sure. I'm going to 'play pretend,' as children say, that I'm just as young as any of you. In my busy life I've not had much time for 'playing' but I mean to make up for lost time. Come, I'm sure that Wun Sing has made something nice for us. He—"
"Wun Sing! Wun Sing? Why that was the name of Aunt Betty's cook at El Paraiso! How odd that yours should have the same name!" exclaimed Dorothy, forgetting her troubles for the moment.
"Not so odd, dearie, because it is the same man. He came to Mr. Ford one day while we were still in San Diego and confessed his regret for his behavior at Mrs. Calvert's home. And my good Daniel can never turn his back upon any penitent; so the result is the Chinaman reigns in our kitchen here. Doubtless he'll be pleased to see Alfaretta who taught him so many fine dishes."
"Oh! good! May we go see him, Mrs. Ford?" demanded that young person, eager not only to see Wun Sing because he was one more familiar acquaintance but because she wished to settle a few old scores. "I'm so glad! I'll make him toe the mark here, see if I don't. Come on, Dolly Doodles, he's an old friend of yours, too."
Alfy's eagerness infected even anxious Dorothy and gave an agreeable turn to the thoughts of all. So, at a nod of consent, the girls sped along the cloister, seeking the great kitchen and the salaaming grinning Chinaman within it.
"Oh! how good you look, Wunny! Same old purple sack! same old shoes; same old twisted cue around your same old shiny black head! Same old nasty messes cooking! and same old Alfaretta to get after you with a sharp stick!" cried Leslie bursting in with all the others.
Even Dorothy was laughing now, Jim quite forgot, while the cook held such a reception as had never been his before. Leslie went through some formal introductions, beginning with the lady of the mansion and ending with Miss Milliken, who had followed unseen till now.
Wun Sing's back must have ached, so often and so low he bowed, while his tongue mumbled compliments to the most gracious and honorable visitors; but a look of real delight was on his swarthy face and one of great affection for smiling Alfaretta.
"My heart! Ain't it just grand to find an old friend up here on the mountains! I declare, it does beat the Dutch!" and to this, her expression of greatest wonderment, Leslie added his own:
"Just downright rippin'! He's worth all he costs just to make our Dolly forget that horrid Jim Barlow. I can't forgive him for running away and stirring up all this mess, sending Dad off on a tiresome ride and spoiling sport this way. He was good enough, I'd have treated him decent, all right, but I wish now he'd never been heard of."
But the most of this was whispered in his mother's ear, as he stood beside her, his hand upon her shoulder, in that familiar, loving attitude which always made her so happy.
Then she demanded of the proud chef how soon he could have lunch ready, and he replied with another gesture of profound respect:
"Light away, this instlant! By my honorable forefathers it is fittee for the most bleautiful!"
Then he bowed them out of the place and they wandered to the pretty room where the meal would be served, and which because of its simple, cloister-like effect, Helena at once named "The Refectory."
It had been a trifling incident, but it had had a happy effect. All tongues were talking now, planning, anticipating, wondering over the things they meant to do and to learn; while a man was sent across to the "Barracks" to tell Lemuel that they would like to begin their rifle lessons that afternoon.
Mrs. Ford suggested naps for everybody, on account of their previous long journeys but none wished to sleep just then.
"How can anybody be tired in this glorious air?" asked Helena, burying her nose in a beautiful bunch of wild flowers somebody had placed beside her plate.
Even Miss Milliken was wide awake now and as happy as she ever could be anywhere. Her one complaint was that it was "so far from civilization."
"But you knew that, Milly, before you came. Mamma stated everything to you as plainly as could be. You knew you were going to an isolated ranch on a mountain, so how could you expect daily papers, visitors, and such things? You've always said you loved quiet and, now you've got it, do be satisfied," begged Helena. She was really fond of the nervous little governess but sometimes lost patience with her.
"Yes, dear, but suppose—suppose something happened? Illness at home, or something serious."
Lady Gray gently interposed, and made, also, her little speech. It was her first and last advice, or request, to her guests and most of them were impressed by it.
"Dear Miss Milliken, don't be troubled by 'being so far from civilization.' You aren't that, at all. My husband has brought civilization with him. I am amazed at all he has accomplished. We have a telegraph line—that he found necessary for his business, but that can be used by any of us. Bad news travels fast. Be sure if 'anything happens' we shall hear of it all too soon. And now I have but one suggestion to make for our life together, and I mean to apply it to myself first of all. It is: Let us put everything unpleasant under our feet, as far as possible, and each do his and her share to make this a wholly joyous summer. I'm inclined to 'worry' and it's a most unfortunate inclination. This is the first time I have had a chance to make a 'home' for Daniel and Leslie and I want it to be perfect. Will you all help me? Will you all take my dear husband's words for a summer text and make life at this dear San Leon a synonym of 'Peace and Good Will'?"
Lady Gray's beautiful face was very earnest, there was even a suspicion of tears in her long-lashed eyes, but they did not fall, and, after a moment's silence, Leslie sprang to his feet with a:
"Hip, hip, hurra, for the Gray Lady and her maiden speech! All in favor of following her lead, say 'Aye'!"
All the company rose and the deafening "Ayes" which those young throats emitted were as flattering as confusing to the "speech" maker. Then she waved them back to their chairs and Wun Sing's perfection lunch was served.
Of course they all missed their jolly host, and their hearts were still troubled because of the missing Jim; but each strove with the other to keep these feelings out of sight. This was hardest for Dorothy, who guessed that the lady's suggestion was meant for her most of all; yet she bravely tried to smile at every witticism made by her mates and to respond in sort as far as she could. They had been a little company of eight and because one was away should the seven be made to suffer? She would try not, and contented herself with one final question, as the hostess rose from the table and, the others hurrying "Barracks"-ward, she could whisper:
"Even if they don't find my poor boy right away, you won't let them give up looking, will you, dearest Gray Lady?"
Mrs. Ford drew the child close into her arms and kissed her tenderly:
"Don't fear that, for a moment, darling. As if James Barlow were our own Leslie, the search for him would never be given up till he were found. Scouts will be looking for him everywhere; though, of course he's sure to be found near home and soon. Now, my dear little girl, shorten up that long face and trust to older heads to do the right thing. Your business now, as it has always seemed to be, is to make your playmates happy. Jim shall be found; and soon—I do believe. You've heard the men say that whatever 'Dan Ford, Railroad Boss' undertook he accomplished. Now let's put that matter aside and learn how to handle a rifle."
"Captain Lem" had made great preparations for his "shooting school." He had called upon his own company, as far as he could find it, to help him. Most of the "boys" had gone searching, but the few who were left soon had a row of benches set out, a target placed, and the finest guns available stacked in readiness. It was really a very business like arrangement and the would-be students soon found Lemuel's rule was business only. For the boys he had placed arm-rests and they were to fire from the ground, aided by these slight supports.
"The females can stand and shoot, on account o' their petticoats worryin' 'em, lyin'. An' as I can't do nothin' unless it's by rule an' rod, I lay it this way: Mrs. Ford, bein' she's the eldest—though she don't look it, Ma'am!—she'll begin. Nobody can have more 'n two tries to a round. Then Number Two takes it. The schoolma'am next, an' mebbe I mistook in that matter of age. But that's not here nor there. Mrs. Ford, Number One; the schoolma'am, Two; the rest the females follerin' in order. Then the boys. One, two, three—attention! Step right here, lady, and I'll show you the first position—how to hold your rifle."
Captain Lem had put on a rusty uniform, a relic of former grandeur "back home," and carried his bent shoulders with a military precision that quite transformed him. He gave Gray Lady a salute, moved forward and placed her "in position" and handed her the rifle.
"Hold it just this way, scholar, and sight your bull's-eye. Keep your eye on that, allowin' for a little play in the carryin', and now—pull your trigger—let her go!"
Mrs. Ford obeyed, or thought she did. The result was that the gun kicked, she screamed, and threw it as far from her as she could. What became of the bullet she never knew, but she firmly declined any further lessons in the fine art of sharpshooting.
"Look at Lem's face!" whispered Herbert to Molly who giggled and returned:
"Wait till it comes my turn, I'll show him something!"
The Captain, as they henceforth called him tried to hide his look of disgust by turning his back upon the group, and asking in a sarcastic tone:
"Any more females want to take a try? The schoolma'am lady, for instance?"
She ignored his question and sat down by her hostess to soothe that now abashed person for her failure. Captain Lem had withered even the lady of the ranch by his contempt.
"Helena next!" cried Molly, fairly dancing about in her impatience.
So Helena tried and made out fairly well. That is she succeeded in keeping the rifle in hand, she did not scream at the discharge, and she came within a hundred feet of the target. The lads applauded, noisily, and she mocked back at their pretended admiration, though she made one effort only and subsided on the bench beside the ladies.
"All the same it's wonderfully exciting! And I mean to try again, to-morrow, if they'll let me," she remarked.
"Let some of the boys try before we do, so we can see how it's done. Or you, Captain Hunt, you show us!" begged Molly.
This was what he had waited for. With a strut he marched across the space between them and the target and carried that much further back. He longed for a target bearing an arrangement of letters that he could hit and cause to disappear, as at his boasted Seagirt, instead of a plain affair such as this he had to use.
Strutting back to them he lay down, wriggled himself into position, muttered something about the sun in his eyes, hemmed and hawed, took final aim and—let her go!
But she didn't go—not in the least. All unconsciously, he had taken an unloaded piece!
There was no strut left in him as he rose to his feet, rather slowly, and faced his laughing audience; but he rallied after a moment and good-naturedly joined in the laugh against himself.
However, discipline was over for that lesson. Without regard to any rules the youngsters rushed to the stack and took whatever gun was fancied. Then began an indiscriminate firing till Mrs. Ford grew frightened and implored them to stop. They did so, all but Alfaretta and Molly, who had both been fascinated by the sport and felt sure that they could hit the bull's-eye—which nobody else had done.
"Come on, Alfy! Let's get down on our tummy, same's all marksmen do, let's!"
Down they flung themselves and now, as eager for their success as they were, old Lem handed each a fresh rifle and sang out:
"Let her go! A silver dollar to the gal that wins!"
They fired—and the unexpected happened. Alfaretta's untaught hands succeeded where greater skill had failed. Her bullet went straight into the bull's-eye, into its very centre.
"By the Great Horned Spoon! What an eye you've got, child of mortality! Why I couldn't ha' done better myself! Glory be!" shouted the excited ranchman, fairly dancing in his pride and glee. Then he helped Alfy up from the ground, where she still lay, wondering at the excitement about her, and peered critically into her blue orbs.
"However could you see it? That fur away?"
"Why—why, I didn't see it at all. I got scared and shut my eyes when I pulled that thing on it!"
Captain Lem staggered as if he had been hit instead of the target and softly marvelled:
"Such—dum—luck! She done it—with her eyes—shut! She—done—it—with—her—eyes—shut! Somebody take me out and lay me down. I'm beat."
His ludicrous manner amused the others but frightened the too successful Alfaretta. Also, her attention was claimed by Molly's expression. That ambitious young person was looking very white about the lips, and was clasping and unclasping her hands in evident distress.
"Molly, what's the matter?" cried Alfy, shaking her partner in the affair.
Molly lifted one shaking finger and pointed into the distance:
"I—I hit something, too!"
Other eyes than Alfy's followed the pointing finger and a groan of horror burst from more than one throat.
Indeed, and all too surely, Molly had "hit something, too!"
A CONCERT IN THE MOONLIGHT
Night fell on San Leon; and the searching party which had gone out in the morning, sure of prompt success, returned tired and dispirited. But their places were immediately taken by fresh recruits, Mr. Ford announcing that the matter would not be dropped, night or day, until all hope had to be given up.
Except that Jim's clothes had been left in his room it might have seemed that the lad had run away, feeling himself out of place at San Leon. But the folded garments placed on the chair beside his empty bed told a different tale.
"No, he has wandered off unknowing what he did. Well, when he comes back he shall find his place ready for him and the warmest of welcomes waiting. While we have tried—and will still—to visit every cabin and ranch within reasonable reach, there are many such little shacks dropped here and there among the mountains; and we have probably overlooked the one in which he is sheltered. Open hospitality is a feature of the west. Anybody who comes across the boy will be good to him. Now, let's have a little music and then to bed. A whole day in the saddle tires me, though I'm bound to get used to it yet, and so shall all of you. Come, Erminie, give me a song; and Dorothy dear, get out your violin."
Thus said Mr. Ford, when their evening dinner had been enjoyed and they had all gone out to sit upon the wide veranda, the moonlight flooding the beautiful grounds, and the soft spring air playing about them.
Dorothy felt that she could not play a note, and even Alfaretta was quietly crying in the retired corner she had sought, in the shadow of a pillar. But Mrs. Ford at once obeyed her husband's wish, and as her wonderful voice floated over them it banished every thought save the delight of listening.
The "boys" came over from their "Barracks" and sprawled on the grass, entranced. Hitherto, their life on the ranch had been one of toil, lightened by sports almost as rough, with the evening diversion of swopping stories over their pipes. They hadn't been greatly pleased at the prospect of a lot of strangers living so near them, but already all that was changed; and though they didn't know, till Lemuel informed them, and this singer was one of a few famous artistes, they were moved and touched by the marvellous beauty of her voice.
"You know, boys, it'd be worth ten dollars a ticket—gallery seats, at that—just to get into an opery house an' hark to yonder lady. An' now you're just gettin' it for nothin', free, clear gratis, take it or leave it, ary one. Fact. The 'Boss's' lady is an A 1 singer if she is a—I mean, a poor show at a rifle."
The songs went on till the Gray Lady dared sing no more. Like all trained singers she was careful of her throat and unused, as yet, to the air of this region at night. But when she laughingly declared:
"No more this time; not if I'm to sing again," there was a murmur of dissatisfaction from the group of men about the fountain; and old Captain Lem begged, in their name:
"Just one more, lady, to sleep on. That kind o' music makes a feller hungry for more and sort-of-kind-of sets him thinkin' 'bout things back home."
But Mr. Ford interposed:
"No, Captain, not to-night! I want to have a lot of just such concerts so we mustn't put the prima donna out of condition. But I've a little girl here with a fiddle and I tell you she can just make it talk! Come farther forward, Dolly dear, and stand close to me. Then 'rosin your bow' and get to work. Show these cowboys what a little girl-tenderfoot can do. Maybe, too, who knows? Maybe our Jim will hear it wherever he is and hurry back. At it, child, and call him!"
Lady Gray feared this was a trifle unkind to the girl, who she wished might wholly forget the boy, but the master felt it not so. He knew that nothing would more thoroughly inspire her than this possibility.
"Oh! do you think so? Then I'll play as I never did before—I will, I will!"
She stepped out from the veranda upon the broad walk before it, and with the moonlight pouring down upon her white-clad little figure, her face uplifted to the sky, and her precious violin beneath her chin, she played, indeed, "as she had never done before."
On and on she played; one ranchman after another softly suggesting some desired melody, and her eager little fingers rendering it upon the instant. The men ceased sprawling and sat up. If they had found the Gray Lady's voice a marvel, here was a greater. That any child—a despised "female" child—could evoke such music seemed past belief; and when, at length, Mr. Ford bade her render the beloved "Home, Sweet Home" as a finale, there was a reluctant rising of the audience to its feet, ordered to it by the Captain who, in rather husky tones, stated:
"Ladies and gentlemen, and mostly the little gal, I give the sentiments o' my regiment, to a man, when I say all you tenderfoots is welcome to S' Leon. We wasn't very tickled before, thinkin' all our free livin's an' doin's was to be interfered with, but we are now. Three cheers for the company an' the treat they've give us, more especial for the Little One, and—Long may she wave! Hip, hip, hurrar!"
The cheer was given with a will, and then again came the Captain's order:
"Fall into line. Right about face. March! hep, hep, hep—hep!"
But as they filed away Dorothy had another inspiration and, acting upon it, sent the delighted cowboys marching to the lively air of "Yankee, Doodle, Doodle Doo."
"And now to bed!" advised the hostess. So within a very few moments all were in their rooms, tired and happy despite the worries of the day, and sure that all would come right at last.
The four girls shared two rooms, facing one another and with two dainty beds in each. Milliken's chamber was at the end of the long passage beyond theirs, and those of the rest of the household across a wide hall which cut this wing of the house in two. In structure the building was very like El Paraiso, which the Gray Lady had admired and where the happiness of reunion had come to her; and it seemed to those who had wintered in the old adobe that they had but stepped into another home.
Of course, sleep did not come at once. Four girls, even if together all day long, find much to chatter about at night, and this had been a day of "happenings" indeed.
Dolly and Alfy came across to sit on Helena's bed and watch her dainty, slow preparations for retiring. Molly was already perched in the middle of her own white bed, hugging her knees and proclaiming for the twentieth time, at least:
"Oh! I am such a thankful girl! After I fired that rifle and saw that purple mass of stuff lying on the ground I thought I was a murderer! I did so. Yet I was mad, too, to think Wun Sing had been such an idiot as to go between me and the target."
"Herbert claims the safest place for others, when a girl shoots, is right behind the target. But it wasn't when Alfy hit the bull's-eye. How did you do it, child? It was wonderful and at that distance—which Captain Lemuel fixed for himself!" said Helena, brushing out her hair preparatory to loosely braiding it.
"Oh! Nell, you're lovely that way! In that soft nightie—you do have such lovely, lacey things. I wish Aunt Betty would buy me some like them, but she won't. She's too sensible, and oh! dear! I wish I had my arms around her neck this minute!"
"Put them around mine, Dolly Doodles, and quit wishin' for things you can't get. Do you s'pose I'll ever do it again?" asked Alfaretta, drawing one of Dorothy's arms about her own shoulder.
"Do what again, child?"
"Child, yourself. I mean fire right into the middle of the thing, and 'honest Injun', I did do it with my eyes shut. I wonder if that ain't the rightest way to sharpshoot, anyway. The rest of you couldn't hit it anywheres near, with your eyes open. What say?"
Molly yawned and stretched herself luxuriously, and Helena remarked:
"Molly, you make me think of a Persian kitten! She does just that when she feels particularly good."
"Well, I ought to feel good. I didn't kill Wun Sing. I just made a hole in his old purple blouse and I can give him another new one. If I can find one like it, and have money enough, and—and other things. If I had shot him instead of his clothes what would they have done to me? Would I have been hung by the neck till you are dead and the Lord have mercy on your soul? Would I?"
"Oh! Molly, how horrible and how wicked! That's swearing!" cried indignant Dorothy.
"Well, I like that! I mean I don't! I never swore a swore in my life and you're horrid, just horrid, Dorothy Calvert, to say so," retorted Molly, suddenly sitting up and flashing a look of scorn at her beloved chum.
"It was really swearing, you know, though you didn't mean it."
"It's what the Judge says—my poor father's one—when a man is condemned to death."
"Aunt Betty says that any taking of the Lord's name in vain is swearing and—"
Foreseeing a childish squabble, due to over-excitement and fatigue, Helena gently interposed:
"That's enough. Neither of you knows what she is talking about. They don't hang people nowadays, they electrocute them, and Wun Sing wasn't hurt. He was only badly scared and will keep a good distance from our rifle-range hereafter. Alfy did hit the bull's-eye, no matter whether she meant to do it or not. We've had a perfectly lovely evening and a perfectly lovely summer is before us. I mean to get up, to-morrow, and see the sun rise, so—off with you, girls. Molly and I are sleepy. Good night to both of you. What friends we shall be before this summer ends!"
"Why, I thought we was now. I'm sure I don't feel much above any of you, even if I can shoot better 'n the rest," said practical Alfaretta, moving slowly toward the door.
A shout of laughter greeted her words and Molly indignantly retorted:
"You aren't one bit smarter than I am. You only hit an old target and I hit a man, and we didn't either of us mean to do it. But good night, good night. Wake early, 'cause Leslie says we've a great doin's before us, to-morrow. Something better than waking up to see the sun rise. Helena'll get over that, though. Such fine resolutions don't last."
"You'll see. I—I think I shall keep a diary. Take notes of what happens up here on the Rockies. If I succeed I may—I may write a book, sometime," said Helena.
Molly and Dolly stared, seized with sudden awe of this ambitious young person, and Alfy stared, too; but she was not impressed and her comment was a not unkindly but perfectly sincere remark:
"Why, Nell, you couldn't do that. It takes brains to—"
"Young ladies! I am amazed at your disturbing the house like this, after retiring hours! Lights out, or off, silence at once!" ordered Miss Milliken, appearing in their midst. And at this apparition silence did follow.
Back in their own room, Dorothy and Alfaretta pushed their little beds close together and knelt down to say their prayers. In the heart of each was an earnest petition for "poor Jim," Dolly's ending with the words: "And let me see his face the first thing in the morning."
But Alfy reproved this.
"We haven't any right to set times for things to be done and prayers to be answered, Dolly Doodles, and don't say no more. It's sort of saucy seems if, to ask for things and then keep thinkin' in your insides that they won't be give. You've asked and the Lord's heard you—now get up and go to bed."
"Oh! Alfy! I wish you had—had—a little more spiritually!" wailed Dorothy, rather stumbling over the long word but obediently rising from her knees and creeping between the snowy sheets. "And I don't feel as if there was any use going to bed, any way. I know I shan't sleep a wink."
"Fiddlesticks! You just do beat the Dutch! As if great Jim Barlow hadn't a decent head on his shoulders and needed the use o' your 'n! He wouldn't thank you for makin' him out such a fool. Good night. I'm goin' to sleep."
Dorothy felt that this was simply heartless and sighed:
"I wish I could! But I can't!"
Then she drew the covers about her shoulders, stared through the open window at the moonlit ground, felt the scene a trifle dazzling, and closed her lids just to rest her eyes a minute.
When she opened them again Alfaretta's bed was empty and neatly spread. Except her own belongings the room was in perfect order for the day, the sun shone where the moonlight had been, and the cathedral clock on the cloister wall was striking—
"Oh! Oh! It's morning! It's late morning, too, that's six, seven, nine o'clock! Oh! how could I sleep so? I never did before in all my life—except—well, sometimes, but I'm ashamed, I'm awfully ashamed of myself."
As she sprang to her feet there was a tap at the door and a white-capped, white-aproned maid appeared, saying:
"Good morning, Senorita. The Senora sent me to serve you and help you about your bath. It is ready, yes, and the other senoritas have breakfasted and gone out, si. By my Lady's orders you were not to be awakened till you roused yourself."
"Oh! but I am sorry. I didn't mean to do this, for I know one of Mr. Ford's rules is early rising. I found that out at El Paraiso and—yes, yes, please do help me. But tell me, what shall I call you?"
"Anita, nina. Anita Mantez I am, from the dear City of the Angels, si. This way, carita, do not fear displeasure. They are all beloved, the fair young things, but you are nearest, dearest, so my Lady tells. For you will never be blamed, believe me."
Dorothy made short work of her toilet and felt so refreshed by her night of sound sleep and her delightful morning bath, that the world outside seemed even lovelier than she remembered it. Also, she was hungry—so hungry! It was quite as Mr. Ford had said; that the mountain air made people almost ravenous, at first. Afterwards, one's appetite sank to the normal and to be out and doing was the one great desire of life.
Anita led her to the refectory and served her with a dainty breakfast, disposed on exquisite "individual" dishes, and oddly enough, bearing the initial "D." Dolly lifted a cup and stared at it, wondering while Anita glibly explained in her patois of Spanish-English, that yes, indeed, it was the Senorita's own.
Dorothy's heart was touched and grateful. Charming as her hosts were to all their guests, in many little ways they had singled her out as in this; and she understood without explanation from them that it was because of the part she had played in bringing together the once divided family. Very humbly and gravely she accepted these attentions, thankful in her deepest heart that she had been "inspired," on that past winter day, to lead the father and son across the mesa to the little cabin where Gray Lady dwelt alone. It had been a daring thing to do—an "assisting Providence"—such as wise Aunt Betty wholly disapproved; but that time it had been a fortunate one for all concerned.
Now as the girl sipped her cocoa, turning the egg-shell like cup to catch the light, she wondered what she could still do to help her dear Gray Lady and to prove her own love. Then her dreaming was cut short by a hubbub of merry voices without, and, a moment later, a crowd of young folks tumbled through the big window, laughing, teasing, exhorting:
"Lazy girl! Just eating breakfast and it's nearly time for lunch, seems if!"
"Oh! The loveliest thing in the world!" cried Molly, clapping her hands.
"Thank you," said Dolly, demurely, lifting her face for the other to kiss.
"Oh! not you, Miss Vanity, but a beautiful thing on four legs!"
"We're to take our choice and the white one's mine, for—" declared Alfaretta.
"No white one for me! Dad says we're to do our own grooming and white ones have to be washed just like a poodle dog and—" began Leslie.
"I had one once. His name was 'Goodenough,' and he was good enough, too. Could walk on its hind legs—" interrupted Herbert.
"Oh, Dorothy! If you aren't going to finish that buttered toast, do give it to me! I never was so hungry in all my life. I simply can't get filled up, and—"
"Montmorency Vavasour-Stark! You ought to be ashamed! After eating four chops, three boiled eggs, five helpings of potato, to say nothing of coffee enough for the regiment, and strawberries—"
"Well, Mistress Molly Breckenridge, I don't know who set you to keep tally on my appetite! and I hate to see good things wasted. Want the rest of those berries, girlie? I know you don't. You're real unselfish, you are; and you wouldn't eat all the nice-ripe-red-strawberries- raised-under-glass-ripe-red-strawberries and give your neighbor none. And give your neighbor none, you-shan't-have-any-of-my-nice-ripe-red- strawberries-who-gives-his-neighbor—Molly, give it back! Aw, now, Molly! You wouldn't eat all the nice-ripe—Hold on! Bert Montaigne, that's a beastly shame! After I had to warble in that dulcet way for a plate of poor, left-over, second-hand strawberries, to have 'em grabbed by you and Molly—that's too much. Just one drop too much to fill my bucket, but I say, 'Little One,' I wish you'd get up late every morning, and have just such a superfine breakfast as this saved for you, and not be hungry at all yourself, but save it for a poor starved little boy who hasn't had a mouthful in an hour—"
Monty was running on in this absurd way, yet holding his own in a three cornered scramble for possession of a dish of berries he had pre-empted from Dorothy's table; till, without saying anything, Helena calmly walked up, took the disputed dish from the contestants and, shoving Dolly aside to give up half her chair, sat down and began to eat them herself.
"Two spoons with but a single dish! How touching!" cried Herbert, posing in pretended admiration of the pair, yet covertly watching his chance to add a third spoon to the two and get his own taste of the luxury.
Not but that all had been served likewise, at the regular meal earlier in the day, and Monty's boasted appetite was but a part of the happy foolishness of their youth and high spirits.
For they were all evidently greatly excited over something, and the talk fell back upon "choice" and "points" and "colors" with a comparison of manes and tails, till Dorothy sprang up, clapped her hands over her ears, and demanded:
"One at a time! One at a time! Do tell me what you're all jabbering about and be quick! Just because I was lazy—I admit it, all right—I don't want to miss all the fun! Tell me!"
But her answer did not come from any of the lively group about her. A shadow fell across the floor and Captain Lem appeared at the window. Leaning his elbows on the low sill he surveyed the interior with a quizzical smile, then observed:
"If everybody's et all they can and has got time for somethin' elst, please to step over to the corral behind the Barracks. Time there was somethin' doin'! Come on, Little One. I'd like to have you head the procesh, for 'twas the Boss's orders, first pick for you. Hep, hep, hep—march!"
A MODERN HORSE FAIR
They departed as they had entered, by way of the window, Dorothy lifted through it by her admiring Captain Lem, whose heart she had wholly won by her music the night before, and by the deference she paid to his talk. She was eager to find out the cause of all this excitement and placed herself alongside him, as he led off with a military tread and tensely squared shoulders. It wasn't for him to admit that rheumatism commonly bowed those same shoulders, when he was "off duty" and secure in the shelter of his own room.
"Hep, hep, hep,—hep," said the Captain marking time, and scowling at the irregular pace of the excited youngsters behind her. At which Dorothy promptly echoed his "Hep, hep, hep," and the others took the hint, pairing off into a compact little company and following their leader like soldiers on parade.
Captain Lemuel smiled and nodded:
"Good, Little One! 'Tis you has the head of sense, and fingers for the fiddle bow. The boys are all just proud to have you up at S' Leon, and anything you want done—say the word! All I want is to see you shoot well as you can fiddle. Ride, eh? Can you ride a horse, Little One?"
"My name is Dorothy, Captain Lemuel, and I can—a little. Helena, too, is fine on horseback. She's the yellow-haired girl, you know. But why? What makes you ask?"
They had come across the grass as far as the end of the Barracks, and still drilling his "awkward squad," the old ranchman wheeled about and ordered:
Alfy giggled, but seeing the faces of all the rest, especially Dorothy's, sober and set in imitation of the Captain's, she stopped laughing and applied herself to the business in hand.
"Hep, hep, hep—March!"
They might have been veterans, instead of an awkward squad, so perfectly they now kept step and so fully they entered into the old man's whim. For only a whim they supposed this drilling to be, though in reality he had taken note of all their figures and, with the exception of Herbert's and Dorothy's, saw that each could be improved. Especially was there need of this in Leslie's case; and having been told of the lad's delicacy by his beloved "Boss," he had conceived this scheme of drill.
"You see, Boss, I can easy enough cure that boy by 'whipping him over the others' shoulders,' so to speak. You've heard tell of that before, I 'low. He's all right. He's a real likely, well-growed lad; and that West Point 't he's hankerin' for'd be the best thing ever happened to him. Exceptin' course 't it would nigh break his mother's heart, so he told me. Well, that's no more here nor there. A little drillin' in this Colorady air'll do 'em all good and set him up to a dandy shape. Yes, siree! You or your lady best just drop the hint to that there little fiddler-girl, 't seems to lead the rest of 'em round by the nose—though they like it, they like it an' her too! Couldn't help it, you see. Nobody could; eh, what?"
"Indeed not! A daughter of our own could scarcely be dearer than little Dorothy. I'll have Mrs. Ford speak to her, and I'll make it worth your while, Captain, to do your utmost for Leslie's improvement. He has lost his cough; he does seem to be well, now; but—there is still enough delicacy about his appearance to make us anxious. You do your best, Lem, and so will I."
The captain had drawn himself up with a little pride, but with an adoring look in his old eyes, and had answered:
"Drop that, Boss, drop it! Of all the unfortunate, down-on-their-luck fellers 't this S' Leon ranch shelters now, I was the downdest! I ain't never forgot what you done for me, takin' me out the gutter, so to speak, and settin' me on my pins again. And if there's a single mortal thing 't I can do for you—that debt's paid an' overpaid, a hundred thousand times. A hundred thousand times, sir, yes, sir."
"A hundred thousand is a sizable number, Lem—but we understand each other. Shake hands and—God speed your efforts!"
This little talk had taken place on the night before, and Lady Gray had taken an opportunity to relate it to Dorothy. This was why she so eagerly fell in with Captain Lemuel's idea, though she forebore to mention it to any of the other young folks at San Leon. Lady Gray had warned her:
"I would rather Leslie did not himself know, and if the others did he'd be sure to find it out. It would make him conspicuous, maybe worry him and set him brooding over himself, so I'm trusting you to keep it secret. And, in any case, what better amusement could you have? The regular exercise in this perfect air will be as good for you girls as for the boys."
Now as Dorothy fell into step with the Captain, she realized that here was one thing, however slight, that she could do to prove her love for sweet Lady Gray. She could use her influence to keep up what the others considered a temporary game, entered into merely to gratify the vanity of an ex-sharpshooter; and as she now marched along by his side, she begged:
"Do please, Captain, set a regular hour for this drill, and make us stick to it, just as in the regular army. I promise I'll not oversleep again—I'll try not, I mean. Will you?"
"Sure, Little One, and I'll app'int you First Leftenant, Company B, San Leon Life Guards. Halt!"
He stopped and faced his followers:
"It has been proposed 't we make this a regular company, same as Company A, of the boys. I second the proposition. I'd be proud to train ye, if so be you'll hold up your end the musket. I mean, no shirkin' duty and bein' marched to the guard house, or sentinel work, for bad behavior. Put on your thinkin' caps and keep 'em on a minute. Down to West Point, where some of us is hankerin' to be, they don't allow no lyin'. A broken promise is the worst kind of a lie. So before you pledge your word, gals and boys alike, you—think. Think hard, think deep. I'll time ye. When one minute is up, to the second, I'll call for your answer. Everybody turn their eyes inside themselves and—think."
With that the wise and shrewd old fellow pulled his silver time-piece from his pocket and placed it in the hollow of his hand. Then he fixed his eyes upon its white face and stood motionless, watching the second hand make its little circuit. When the sixty seconds had been counted, he held up his hand with profound gravity and called:
"All in favor of forming a new Company, say 'Aye!' Contrary 'No!'"
Every hand went up—but Leslie's. Every voice uttered an earnest "Aye!" save his, and Dorothy flashed an indignant, as well as disappointed glance upon him, exclaiming:
"Oh! What a mean—I mean, what a rude boy! When all your guests are just suffering to be soldiers, you go and spoil the whole business. Why do you do that?"
The lad flushed. He had been duly instructed by both parents in the duties of a host, even a young one; and he knew it was his business to see that all his guests were helped to enjoy themselves as they, not he, desired. It was the first time that he had had any responsibility of this sort and it didn't greatly please him. Now when he found they were all looking at him in that aggrieved way he tossed his head, thrust his hands into his pockets, and answered: