With a swift change of front, he now fell in with the lads' notions, and thereafter followed an hour of "practice," accompanied by curious sounds and growlings. All this behind locked door and tightly shuttered windows—something almost unknown at peaceful San Leon.
At supper time there was a subdued air of mystery about the three lads, which Dorothy noticed, if none of the other girls did. Also, they were so extremely courteous and thoughtful that it was rather overdone. However, politeness was agreeable, and there followed the happiest evening the young guests had spent since the departure of Gray Lady for the east.
The fading moonlight was now supplemented by the electric lights, making the wide lawns brilliant as day, save where the deep shadows fell, black in contrast. At midnight, Dorothy awoke. Something had startled her and she sat up in bed, shivering in fear. How queer! she thought and peered through the window as if expecting some unwelcome sight. There was nothing unusual visible and, except for a curious creeping sound, as of some large body moving stealthily on the veranda floor, nothing to hear.
Strange that brave Dorothy's heart should beat so fast and she turn so cold. She wished Alfy would awake. She wanted to hear somebody speak. Then she scorned herself for her foolishness, wondering if she, too, had caught the Chinaman's terror of "bewitchment." Oh! this was horrid! Alfy would go right to sleep again, even if she were awakened, and she must, she must hear somebody human!
She opened her trembling lips to call: "Alfy! Alfy dear, please wake up!"
But the words were never uttered. Something had come into view at her open window which froze them on her lips.
THE GRIZZLY AND THE INDIANS
For a moment Dorothy sat still in bed, afraid to move or cry out while the great animal at the window remained equally motionless. Then she was able to shriek:
"Alf! Helena! Somebody—help—help! HELP!"
Alfy leapt from her little bed with an answering cry, frightened by Dorothy's screech, and hurriedly demanding: "Why—why—what?" then rubbed her eyes and stood transfixed with horror.
A moment later the whole house was in an uproar. The lads came running from their rooms, yelling in sympathy with the cries of the girls, the doctor rushed from his office-bedroom clad only in pajamas; the nurse forsook her sick bed—which she had not left before since first stricken with a chest attack; Anita—Wun Sing—kitchen boy—all the household gathered in the great corridor upon which the girls' rooms opened.
Such an uproar had never been heard at peaceful San Leon since its foundation stone was laid; and the sounds carrying clearly in that night air, out from the Barracks rushed a horde of cowboys and workmen with Captain Lem in lead.
"The Grizzly! The Grizzly!"
A grizzly it was sure enough. All the feminine portion of the household retreated to the empty chamber of Miss Milliken, slammed down its window and locked themselves within; then from curiosity opened the door a little way, to peek through the crack.
"Oh! Oh! It's coming this way—why doesn't somebody shoot it!" cried Helena, running back to look through the window panes.
The great animal had now dropped from its upright position at Dolly's window and was crawling on all fours back along the wide porch. It certainly was coming that way but—it couldn't get in!
"Could it? Can bears—open—open—things?" gasped Molly, retreating to a wardrobe and hiding within it, whence she demanded in a torrent of questions information of all sorts concerning bears and why nobody killed it before it killed them!
Oddly enough, nobody had interfered with the creature's movements thus far, though some of the men had run back to the Barracks for firearms, and just then unlucky Wun Sing came round the corner of the building and met it face to face. He had run at top speed in the opposite direction from that the beast seemed taking when he had first espied it, issuing from his room beyond the kitchen. Seeing it headed that way he had instinctively chosen the other, not reckoning that even bears can change routes.
Then the yell that rose belittled all which had gone before.
Grizzly uprose on his hind feet and rushed to meet poor Wunny, squeezing him in a terrible embrace that checked the Chinaman's yell instantly. Until a touch of Bruin's teeth upon his thinly clad shoulder and a bite of sharp teeth awoke it again. A clutch of his queue from the great paw brought forth greater shrieks and seemed to give the victim an extraordinary strength. By some means he wrenched himself free and escaped, the grizzly pursuing on all fours again—and both headed toward the lake.
Whether Wun Sing's purpose was to throw himself within it he didn't know himself, but the road toward it was the clearest and offered his best chance. Half way to the water his feet caught in his long night blouse and he tripped. Instantly the grizzly was upon him. The great furry creature sprawled over the prostrate cook, growling and snapping his teeth but as yet inflicting no further injury, and the man underneath no longer knowing anything, for his terrified senses had taken leave of his quivering body.
Slowly the bear got upright again and, for a moment towered above his helpless victim. Then seeming to have satisfied his rage in that direction, he resumed his natural position and moved back toward the house. He kept his great head well lowered, wagging it from side to side and, altogether, conducting himself like a half-blind or greatly bewildered bear.
By this time the men from the Barracks had reappeared, well armed; but as the grizzly climbed upon the veranda floor again they hesitated to fire because the low windows opening upon it were full of peeping faces. Silent Pete, alone, dared approach the creature as near as the other end of the veranda. This man had been a mighty hunter in his youth, when Colorado was an almost unknown country with few settlers and big game plentiful. His old blood had warmed to the conflict now, though he was silent as ever and paid no heed to the warnings called to him by his ranch mates. Creeping stealthily forward toward the encounter he watched his grizzly enemy with exultation, his thought being:
"He's tough! He's an old one! His hide's thick—I must make no mistake. When I get nigh enough to hit him through the heart—wish he'd rise up again—queerest actin' grizzly I ever met—likely my last one—so anxious to meet me he come a-visitin'—he, he, he! Ah! he's risin'—I'll—"
Out on the electric lighted grounds the men were grouped with their rifles, all anxious to fire and all eager to delay till the last moment, watching this wild beast so uncommonly near at hand. Why, from its movements it might almost have been a tame animal escaped from some menagerie. Besides, the trophy belonged to Silent Pete. He was first and hardiest to face the brute and only if his famously sure shot failed would they fire to the rescue. Yes, the bear was the old hunter's legitimate prize—they'd wait, guns ready—
"Don't shoot! Oh! men, don't shoot! DON'T SHOOT!"
To the utter amazement of everyone, up flew Dorothy's window and out she leaped, so close behind the creeping grizzly that she almost touched him: she was gesticulating wildly and her repeated cries of "Don't shoot!" startled old Captain Lem almost to numbness.
What was that she was saying?
"He isn't a bear! I see his feet! Bears don't wear—SHOES!"
Alas! Her cry came too late. As bruin reared himself old Peter's shot rang out. An instant later, with such a cry as never issued from the throat of any bear, he dropped to the veranda floor and lay there motionless. The great bear hunt was over.
Five minutes later the grizzly rug was back on the floor of Leslie's room and the lad who had masqueraded in it to frighten a few girls, the over-zealous Mateo, lay on his own little bed with Doctor Jones probing for the bullet which had entered his shoulder.
Fortunately, it had not lodged there but passed straight through leaving a clean flesh wound which would promptly heal, the doctor said, but that would keep unhappy Mateo in bed for a few days. He had feigned sickness when there was none, dreading to act the part he had just so unfortunately done. But the young master's will had been too strong and the suggestion had been Mateo's own.
"The punishment, for once, has fallen upon the guilty person. You'll have time to reflect, Mateo, that frightening timid people is scarcely a manly pastime. I trust there'll be no more skylarking till Mr. Ford is home. You will be kept upon a rigid diet till I order otherwise, and good night."
So said the doctor, leaving his patient to his own thoughts and assuring himself that all the young folks had retired to their rooms again. He had administered no further reproofs—nor needed to do so. It was an exceedingly crest-fallen trio of lads who disappeared from view, when once the extent of Mateo's injury was learned, and a very quiet one.
But the excited girls were not so quiet. They had to talk it over, simply had to!
"I thought it was queer all the boys were in their day clothes," said Helena, with her arm about Molly, who was still shaking with fright, now and then, despite the fact that the affair was all over.
"I noticed, too, but I thought they'd just dressed awful quick. But suppose it had been a real one—would it have eaten us up?" she begged to know.
To which Alfy replied from her own room:
"No, Molly Breckenridge, don't be a goose. We'd have eaten him up, course. We'd have had bear steak for breakfast—Some say it's good. Don't s'pose with all them men around they'd have let it live very long? No, indeedy. But Matty did it real cute, after all, didn't he? Must ha' been terrible hot, trampin' around under all that skin. Well, we ought to go to sleep, but seems if I'd never catch another wink. I wonder what became of Wunny! Last I saw him he was lyin' flat on the ground—thinkin' he was et up, I guess. Dolly—My heart! Dolly Doodles is asleep a'ready. Did you ever see such a sleepy head, Nell?"
There was no answer from the room across the hall, so Alfy curled down among her pillows and composed herself to sleep. But her mind wasn't at rest. She kept seeing, in her fancy, the prostrate figure of Wun Sing, and hoped some of the men from the Barracks had looked after him. She felt as if she must get up again and go to see for herself. But—out of doors at night didn't seem quite the same, even to this sensible girl, as it had done before the bear scare. Besides—something really was the matter with her eyes. They felt as if they were full of sand—she'd just shut them a minute to—
She was asleep at once. A body simply could not stay awake after bedtime, in that Colorado air! And it was well she could not. Else, the warm-hearted girl would have suffered fresh alarm.
It was a belated household which struggled out of heavy slumber the next day, and as Dorothy lazily yawned and stretched her arms above her head it seemed as if all the exciting events of the night must be part of her dreams. Alfy woke, too, as reluctantly as her mate and just as Helena appeared from her own room, looking a little heavy-eyed but fully dressed. She bade them good morning, but waited for no response before she added:
"The house seems unusually still, and I don't smell coffee. I generally do, the first thing. I sometimes think it's the odor of that wakes me. I wonder if Wun Sing's fright and his worry about his poor hen has made him ill! I'll go and see; and if the boys aren't up I'll call them."
The lads answered sleepily to Helena's summons, yet were not long in appearing on the porch, where the other girls promptly joined them. As if by common consent nobody mentioned the escapade of the night, though it was in the minds of all and all were really longing to discuss it. The boys because they wished to "explain," and the girls thinking that to treat the "joke" with silent contempt would be their severest punishment. Nobody even mentioned unlucky Mateo, who had lent himself to the furtherance of the affair, only to be the one to suffer most from it.
"Hmm. Isn't it past breakfast time?" asked Monty, at last.
Herbert looked at his watch, and exclaimed:
"Ten minutes to nine! Who'd have believed it? Horses to be groomed before drill, and time up already. I wonder—But here's Nell. She's coming from the kitchen and looks important. What's up, Sis?"
"Several things. First, the hen of Wun Sing lies dead in her coop."
"O-oh!" "Ah!" "Unwise, ambitious hen!" were the exclamations which responded; and Molly added:
"That isn't all. There's something worse on Helena's mind than the death of a bewitched hen! Out with it, child! After—I mean—my nerves won't stand any more."
"Didn't know you had nerves," laughed Alfy. "What's happened, Helena?"
"Wun Sing has disappeared."
"It is true. He has gone, nobody knows where. There's a man from the Barracks, the one who does the cooking over there, getting breakfast. Captain Lem is flying around in a terrible state of mind. He's angry with you boys, says there'll be neither drill nor rifle practice to-day, but the horses must be groomed just as soon as we get our breakfasts. He's sent a half-dozen men looking for the cook, now, and they expect to find him soon."
"So they did Jim! Seems if there wasn't anything doing on this ranch but just getting lost," wailed Alfaretta, turning a little pale; while Molly nervously begged:
"Somebody tie me fast! Tie me fast! It'll break my father's heart if I get lost, too!"
Captain Lem came up at that moment. He looked so stern and unlike himself that the young folks were all of them awed by his manner. Even light hearted Monty slunk back, "shaking in his shoes," while Leslie dropped his eyes and lost all his bravado.
"Hark to me, Squad! Every mortal son an' gal of ye! I'm riled—I'm mad. Here am I left in charge, so to speak, of your doin's, and of the work on the ranch, anyways. Your smart-aleck work has turned everything topsy-turvy. Men took from their reg'lar jobs to go hunt worthless Chinamen, and take his place a-cookin'. Hens dyin' to right an' left—pizened by some your doses, likely—"
"Oh, no! Captain, I'm sure nobody would do such a cruel thing as poison helpless creatures!" protested Dorothy, running to clasp his hand.
He had on his "specs," which they had already learned he used mostly when he was angry, and they were very glittering just then. But Dorothy would not be put aside. She clung to him till his mood softened and removing the menacing "specs," dropped them in his blouse pocket. Then he smiled upon her, rather shamefacedly, though he felt that he still had good cause for offence.
"Well, Little One, you've got ways to win a feller, 'spite of himself. If they was all as good as you—"
"Oh! they are, and even lots better! 'Twas just lads' foolishness that they mistook for smartness. And they, we, all of us will do all we can to help. Where can we look for Wunny? He's the first one to be thought of. And I'm sorry he was so scared. Also, he'll be sorry himself over the poor hen. What can I do?"
"Go along an' eat what breakfast you can get. Then tend to your horses. Likely, they're hungrier 'n you are and I'll go see 't they're fed. But hear me! Not another mite o' foolin' with serious things till Dan Ford gets back an' takes the reins into his own hands. 'Twas the mercy of Providence—nothin' else—that that jabberin' shallow-pate Mateo wasn't killed plumb out. Silent Pete's used to grizzlies. He's used to killin' 'em. It's his trade, a deal more 'n 'tis to tend horseflesh. I wouldn't like to stand as nigh hand to his gun as that Greaser did last night. Now, hurry up and eat. Then report for duty. I'm off to mine."
"Where do you suppose Wun Sing is?" asked Helena, of anybody who chose to answer.
Nobody did: it may be stated right here that he was never again seen at San Leon. The "bewitched dead fowl" was duly buried in her own courtyard, the little gate to this locked, and its key hung up in the cook's wall-cupboard. But Wun Sing came no more. Everything belonging to him was left as if he meant to return at any minute, but he did not come.
They searched the pebbly bottom of the lake, thinking he might have drowned himself in his superstitious fear, but he was not there: and after days had been wasted in the fruitless search, Captain Lem had his belongings packed together and sent to his relative, Der Doo, in San Diego. Whence, at the very end of the summer word came back that he had reappeared in that city, a wreck of himself, but it was hoped that with time and good Chinese cooking he would recover his scattered wits and his own culinary skill.
Meanwhile, many messages came from the travellers in the east. The expected old aunt had duly arrived but in no fit condition to travel further for the present. Gray Lady sent dearest love and hoped all her big, new family would find San Leon the happiest place in the world, and the most peaceful. She had lived long enough to understand that peace and harmony were the most precious things in life. She longed to be with them and would be as soon as it was right. Meanwhile, let all be patient as possible over her enforced absence and just feel that she was with them in spirit all the time.
"Odd, isn't it? That she who so longed to have this home and so enjoyed it should have to leave it to us, a lot of strange youngsters, to use instead?" said Helena, one evening some time later, as they all had gathered about the fountain in the soft sunset light, to talk over happenings and plan things for the coming day.
Since the escapade of the false bear hunt there had been a notable absence of pranks. An ominous peace had settled over the whole young company, remarked by the astute Captain Lem as the "'ca'm before a storm.' 'Tain't in natur' for 'em to be so demure an' tractable. No siree. They've 'tended to their groomin' like reg'lar saints, an' they've learned to drill amazin' well. They don't shoot none to hurt, yet, 'ceptin' that Leslie himself. Sence he's waked up an' took an interest he's done fine. He's the best o' the lot and his knowin' that is what inspires him to do better yet. That, an' hopin' to please the Boss. But—I hope the storm'll blow over—the one they're brewin'. And I wonder what in creation ever did become o' that first boy, or of Wunny."
For as yet no news had come of the latter and the former had almost dropped out of thought—save now and then in Alfy's, and always in faithful Dorothy's.
Now that they were better riders and had become what their teacher called "pals" with their horses, they were daily given larger liberty. In company with him, and sometimes without him, they rode long distances over the roads, the narrow trails, and the almost imperceptible paths which led over the mountains and through the forests.
The wild flowers of Colorado are innumerable, almost, and most of them were new to Dorothy, the flower-lover. In search of these she was tireless and many hours were spent after her return from her rides, in pressing her "specimens" and preparing herbariums. In this delightful work she had the company and help of Dr. Jones, himself a well-read and enthusiastic botanist.
Helena spent hours over her journal: "taking notes" for future literary labors. Alfy and Molly were content to do nothing save be happy. As Alfy expressed it:
"I never was so lazy and I likely never will have a chance to be again. I can work when I have to and I can play just as hard."
The lads fished, rode, hunted small game, and tried various feats of horsemanship, lariat casting, and even—when they were especially energetic, played ball. There was a fairly good team among the ranchmen and they entered into the sport with vim. Only Leslie found the exercise too violent and was content to lounge and watch the rest.
This evening, sitting together so cosily, the peace of the beautiful scene gradually soothed them all to quiet. They had settled the plans for the morrow and were as happy as such care-free children could be. Helena picked up her guitar and played soft melodies upon it, the others humming them under their breaths—not to disturb the player, only Alfy presuming to fit real words to the music but not interfering with it.
Suddenly Dorothy raised her eyes from the playing fountain, on which she had been dreamily gazing and thinking of lost Jim. A sound, faint, of horses' footfalls had entered her dream. With a silent gesture of alarm she sprang to her feet, staring with wide eyes at a company of Indians ascending the hill. They avoided the hard driveway, their horses treading with velvety softness upon the shaven lawn. They were many in number, twenty perhaps, and they were in gala dress. Head-dresses of eagles' feathers, gaily colored, hung from their crowns over the sides of their mounts, to the length of a man's height. They uttered no sounds, looked neither to the right nor left, but like a dreadful, phantom procession moved straight forward toward the fountain.
A TRIP TO BALD EAGLE ROCK
Molly gave one glance and screamed. Then flung herself to her knees and buried her face in Helena's lap, who pityingly drew her light skirt over the child's head. Nobody else moved nor spoke. All felt their last hour had come.
"An Indian raid!"
This was their thought and then of their helplessness. This company was only the forerunner of more!
"Massacre! Oh! to die like this!"
Even the lads' faces blanched, but resolution flashed from their observant eyes, and these beheld a strange spectacle.
The superbly mounted Indians, in their gaudiest attire, bead-decked shirts and fringed leggings, their supple feet clad in embroidered moccasins, outshone even the most magnificent of "Wild West" shows; and without a spoken word each understood the desire of their Chief. They rode to the semi-circle of concrete before the main entrance to the great house and ranged themselves around it, the Chief in front, alone, and as the last hoof fell into position where the rider wished, they became as rigid as a company of warriors carved in stone.
"What will they do next!" was the wonder in all the observers' minds, as they gazed in fascination at this curious sight.
What they would do next seemed long in coming. Though it was but a few moments it seemed like ages while the redskins waited, stolid, immovable before the doorway of the mansion. But, at last, the spell was broken.
Across from the Barracks, around the corner, through the cloistered walk, came Captain Lemuel, whistling. He was in good spirits; ready to join his "Squad" beside the fountain and have an evening's "gabble" with the youngsters. They had been abnormally good that day. Wholly obedient to his restrictions in the length of their rides, eager to improve in their shooting—which was so far removed from "sharp"; and in every respect so "decent" that he puzzled his brain to find the best story to tell them of old days in Colorado and of his own prowess therein.
But, as he passed the corner, his whistling ceased. The story was told! And a far better one than any his memory could furnish.
The young watchers caught their breath. Poor Captain Lem! Rushing thus to his own undoing! But still they had to gaze and gaze—they could not turn their eyes away; and gazing they beheld a stranger thing than any which had gone before.
That was the jolly Captain clapping his hands as if in glee, bowing before the silent Chief, almost prostrating himself, in fact. Afterward a brief clasping of hands between the two and the Captain beginning a long harangue in a strange tongue, interrupted now and then by grunts and gutturals from the attentive Indians. Then giving the Chief his finest military salute, the Captain "right faced" and silently marched away. The Indians as silently followed him, the Chief first, and the others in single file, till they all disappeared toward the Barracks, and the youngsters were left gasping in amazement.
A sigh of relief rose from them in unison and, hearing it, Molly lifted her face. She only had seen nothing of the pantomime, or such it seemed which had been enacted, though she had heard through her terror the whistling of the Captain and its abrupt ceasing.
"Is—is—he—dead?" she whispered.
"He's the liveliest dead man I ever saw. Come on, boys! That's the sight of our lives! Who's afraid?" cried Herbert, springing up and eager.
But his sister clutched his arm. "No, no, Bert! You mustn't! You shan't!"
"I shall and will! So should you—all! Whoever they are they're friendly. Else old Lem wouldn't have seemed so pleased and led 'em off with his best 'hep, hep, hep,' that way. I'll bet they're Utes, good neighbors of the white ranchers, but they're genuine Indians all the same and I'm going to see them. My! But I did feel mighty weak in the knees for a minute! I thought it was all up with yours truly. Come on, I say!"
He really wished to follow but, evidently, he also wished to have his courage bolstered by the presence of his mates.
Oddly enough it was Monty who first joined Herbert. He was still half afraid, yet also wild with curiosity. His was the least war-like spirit there, but he couldn't withstand this knowledge at first hand of real, live Indians.
One after another they all followed. In any case they would be safer among the ranchmen than here in this lonelier spot, and Lemuel's manner had been quite different from fear.
As they slowly passed around the house, whose corner hid the Barracks front view, they were wholly reassured. The lawn was wide and a good distance was still between them and the red-skinned visitors, but they could see all that was going on. The Indians had all dismounted, a lot of the cowboys had come forward to meet them, and the fine horses they rode were being led off to a still more distant and disused corral. Here the animals were turned loose, their blankets and trappings removed, and the ranchmen themselves at once setting to work to rub the fine creatures down and to supply them with ample fodder for the night. A big trough in the corral, through which running water was always piped furnished them with drink; and the entrance being secured, the attendants went back to the Barracks' porch, that extended from one end to the other of the long, low building.
Upon the porch floor the blankets were spread and the Utes squatted on them, greatly pleased at their reception. Pipes were lighted and smoked, Captain Lem and several others joining in what looked to be a ceremony of welcome. A few of the ranchmen hurried to the Barracks' kitchen and prepared supper for the visitors, and after this was eaten by the strange guests, sitting where they were under the porch roof, the discarded pipes were again resumed and some sort of palaver followed.
In this talk Silent Peter took the leading part. He was escorted by Captain Lem to the side of the Chief, none other than White Feather, and placed upon another blanket, handed a fresh pipe, and left to do the honors of the occasion. Meantime Captain Lem sent a messenger across to the watching youngsters, that they should come quietly to his own room at the Barracks and observe matters from that nearer point.
"But—is it safe? What does it all mean?" demanded Leslie of the man.
"Safe as can be. Why, that's White Feather, Chief of a band of Utes and one of the best friends your father has. Fact. He's awful disappointed, too, to find the Boss away. Came on a visit of ceremony, with the finest bucks in his band, to get acquainted and do a little horse-trading. That's all. Silent Pete can talk Injun and has travelled not a little with this crowd, afore he settled at San Leon. Huh! Did you think they was from the Plains?"
"What's the difference? An Indian is an Indian, isn't he? Not to be trusted, any of them. I don't think my father would like to have the boys treat those fellows as they're doing. You men ought to arm yourselves and drive them off the ranch."
The young ranchman regarded Leslie with a look of amused contempt, then retorted:
"Well, you may be a rich man's son but what you don't know about your own country'd fill books! All the rest afraid, too? 'Cause if you are, you'd better get out o' sight. Captain Lem has asked White Feather to let him bring you over to meet him an' the old feller's said yes. He said it as if he hated to but was willin' for Lem's sake to do you the honor. Great Scott! Why, you young idiot, White Feather's a great Chief, a king among his people, feels he ranks with our President, or the Czar of all the Russias! Well,—well, I'm beat. I thought 't they had schools back east where you tenderfeet come from. I supposed you'd learned that there's more 'n one kind of Indian in this big country. Why, sir, the difference 'twixt the Arapahoes, or the Cheyennes, and them peaceable Utes yonder—humph! Well, are you comin' or not?"
Leslie had resented the talkative ranchman's comments on his own ignorance but had the grace to conceal it. He had even jested a little at his own expense and said that he must "read up on Indians." Then he led off his party toward the Barracks and, arrived there, found Captain Lem vastly relieved. It was greatly to Mr. Ford's advantage to be on cordial terms with all his neighbors, in that isolated region, and the loyal Captain realized this. Both he and Silent Pete had to regret the fact that, at present and in their employer's absence, they could not venture on the trading; but at the old hunter's suggestion they had assumed the responsibility of giving White Feather the finest horse in stock. This was a magnificent black stallion which had never been broken to harness and with a temper that threatened ill to any man who undertook the task.
The youngsters came up and filed before White Feather, standing now, and gravely accepting their timidly proffered hands, as the name of each was mentioned. His own response was a friendly grunt but he was evidently bored by the affair and passed the girls over with the slightest notice. His eye lingered a bit longer upon the lads and it seemed that he was measuring their heights with his eye. But he let them go, almost as soon as he had the girls, and as Molly exclaimed when they had retreated to Captain Lem's room:
"I never felt I was such a litty-bitty-no-account creature in all my life! I wouldn't be an Indian squaw for anything! But wasn't he just grand—and hideous?"
Then Captain signalled to them that they would better return to the house. The Chief evidently considered the presence of females an intrusion and that of such slender, white-faced lads but little better. Upon Leslie, as son of the ranch owner, he bestowed several grave stares but no more speech than on the others.
So from the unlighted music-room they watched for a time in silence; till everything grew quiet at the Barracks, all lights out, and the strange guests asleep on their blankets upon the porch. Then they, too, went to bed, greatly stirred by the fact of such uncommon acquaintances so close at hand, and with entirely new ideas of Colorado red men.
By daylight the visitors had gone, so silently that nobody in the house itself had heard their departure. With them, too, had gone Rob Roy, the black stallion; and, what seemed valueless to the givers some old garments of the ranchmen. From one a coat, another a sombrero, a blanket, shoes, underwear, and from Silent Pete himself a complete hunter's outfit.
All his comrades were surprised at this, for he kept the buckskin suit as a souvenir of earlier days, when he was as free to roam the forests as any Indian of them all and the blood still ran hot and wild in his veins. He was an old man now. He pondered much on the past and he spoke little to any man. But he talked with the Chief in that warrior's own tongue and in tones not to be overheard by any others. When that bit of talk was over he had brought out the precious suit, neatly folded and bound about with a marvellous lariat—also another dear possession—and had placed them in White Feather's hands.
Then he relapsed into his usual quiet and the life at San Leon resumed its usual routine. The visit of the Indians became as a dream, but news of the early return of the absent hosts sent new life and ambition into the minds of all their young guests.
Drills no longer were irksome. Were they not to show Mr. Ford how well they could carry themselves? As for rifle practice, there was such prolonged and continual popping of guns that Dr. Jones lamented his disturbed quiet and Nurse Melton had often to seek the most remote quarters to escape the startling sounds.
Riding, also, was kept up with great zest. It had proved true that the more one learned of his horse, the better he loved it, the greater the silent understanding between it and himself. They now had races of all sorts and daily. Hurdles had given place to great hedges and ditches, which most of the animals distinguished themselves in leaping. Monty was still the hindmost in everything, yet showed his pluck in sticking to his saddle at all risks, and sometimes with startling success.
So well, indeed, had they learned horsemanship that on a certain glorious morning before sunrise, the seven youngsters were already in saddle, alert for the long-coveted ride to Bald Eagle Rock, under the guidance of Captain Lem himself, with Silent Pete and another ranchman to carry the luncheon upon two soberer steeds. It was to be an all-day's outing and a goodly little company which would enjoy it. As soon as possible after arrival in New York Mrs. Ford had procured and sent back to San Leon, readymade habits and riding clothes for her girls and boys, not forgetting to include one for absent Jim, which Dorothy had carefully placed along with his other belongings in his own room; so that now arrayed in these gifts they all looked fine and fit.
"We might be going for a ride in the Park instead of a climb through woods and over rocks! I do hope we won't tear our clothes!" said careful Helena; while Molly returned with native carelessness:
"Well, I think a ride to the top of the Rockies is worth at least one habit!"
"I shan't spoil mine, not 'nless I get tumbled off Blanca, someway. I've got dozens of safety-pins and I shall pin my skirt—I mean drawers—whatever they call these 'divided' things—so tight they can't get torn. I never had a habit before. Course not. I never even had a horse," said Alfaretta.
"Well, without the horse you wouldn't have needed the habit, dearie. But I do like this riding astride, as Lady Gray thought best we should do on hard trips. And aren't we happy? Only—only—if poor Jim was here!" answered Dorothy, with a little cry of delight that ended rather drearily.
But now they were off! And no further thought of anything or anybody except the pleasure of the moment rose in any mind.
Captain Lem had not over-rated the difficulties of that trip. The beginning was fairly easy, the road or trail wide enough for two to ride side by side, and one had leisure to admire the surroundings. But when they came to that same turn of the roads, beyond the river, and took the route which unhappy James had followed in his delirium, they could no longer travel in pairs.
And now was proved the good judgment of Captain Lem in training them to a familiar knowledge of their horses and in their close friendship.
"Guide 'em—point out the way you want 'em to go—then trust the creatur's to do the best for them and you!" advised the old sharpshooter, halting at the top of the first steep climb, to breathe his own horse and let the stragglers come up. "More 'n that you can't maybe all follow just the same track. Blanca there, is goin' to pick her way, cautious an' careful as a gal in a nice new white frock, like them the Little One wears. She ain't goin' to tear her white dress, Alfaretty, so don't you get scared if she falls a good ways behind the rest. She's a sociable beast, is Blanca, and she'll get to the top all right, give her time. But Dolly's calico'll nigh bust herself to be first. More 'n that she's the keenest nose for a shortcut of any horse in the batch. She's little and she's light, and she'll trust herself in places 't no bigger creatur' would tackle. All right, everybody? Girths tight? Stirrups to suit? Then—trust your horses' wits and—let her go!"
It had been planned to have lunch on the Rock itself, and to be back at San Leon in time for a late supper. An early breakfast had been taken, of course, but not with the usual heartiness, for they were all too excited to eat. Bald Eagle Rock was the highest point in that region and it would be a fine thing to remember if they held out to reach its summit.
Meanwhile the road thither lay through a deep forest; down and along ravines; steep climbs of slippery rocks; and over masses of ferns and underbrush. After Captain Lem's halt and harangue they all became silent. They had all they could do to keep in their saddles, and, as he had prophesied, the animals they rode chose each a slightly diverging route.
However, they frequently called out to one another, their gay halloos and yodels echoing along the mountain side, to the glad assurance of themselves and the affright of the forest wildings. But the lads who had hoped to sight some big game, preferably a live grizzly and had brought their guns with them, were disappointed in that. Nothing fiercer than a coyote crossed their path. It was as if the forest had anticipated their invasion and put itself on guard.
Dorothy obeyed Captain Lem's advice implicitly. She did not try to guide Zaraza but let the pretty creature follow her own will, so long as that will pointed straight upward. This gave the girl time to study the flowers and ferns along the way and sometimes she slipped from her saddle to gather and closely inspect them. She did not herself call out but contented herself with listening to the shouts of the others, and, for some reason, her thoughts were more upon the missing Jim than they had been of late.
"Oh! how that boy would like this ride! How he'd pull out his little hammer and peg away at these wonderful rocks! What specimens he'd collect! and how his sharp eyes would see every little bird and beast that moves through this wilderness! Oh! I hope, I hope, he is still alive and safe. If I could only see him!"
Suddenly, the forest seemed strangely still. Zaraza stopped to breathe and Dorothy listened keenly for the halloo of her mates. Hearing none she ventured on a little shout herself which, low as it was, awoke a thousand deafening echoes all about her. Or so it seemed. With a thrill of horror, she remembered how Molly had once been lost in a far away Nova Scotian wood, and the girl's description of her terror. She wished she hadn't thought of that tale now. But, of course, this was quite different. They were many in this company, ten all told, and somebody must be very near. It would all come right. She mustn't be a goose and get frightened just because, for a moment, she heard nobody. Yet, Alfy's words rang in her head:
"Seems if there was nothing happens but somebody gets lost up here at San Leon!" and Molly's absurd appeal: "Tie me tight!"
After a moment when Zaraza seemed rested she urged the docile creature forward, and now the "calico" had certainly discovered a smooth and easy way. That was good. It must be a well-traveled road, though it was still but a "trail" to her eyes. Probably this was the final stretch of the trip, and in a moment she would come face to face with the gigantic Rock.
Instead, the way grew smoother all the time and now quite level. A little way farther she could see a wide plain, or mesa, with sheep grazing. How odd! that anybody should feed sheep upon a mountain that looked all rock and forest, seen from below. The sun was hot. It must be noon. She hoped she wouldn't be late for that famous lunch they had talked about so much.
Zaraza trotted around a last clump of trees, as if she knew her task was ended, and her own feeding time at hand.
Then Dorothy brought her up with a sharp, silent tug upon the reins. Yonder in that open space was a small hut, or cabin; and sitting on the ground before it was an Indian, with a little Indian child beside him. Evidently, they also were having a mid-day meal, for she saw the child lift a tin dipper to his lips and drink.
Zaraza whinnied. She was thirsty and scented water, and at that sound the man sprang up and turned around. For one astonished moment he gazed at that girlish apparition and Dorothy at him. Then with a cry of ecstasy she sprang to the ground and sped toward him.
"Jim! O Jim!"
PROSPERITY AND PARTING
They were both so excited that at first they couldn't talk, but could only stare at each other in speechless delight. Jim was trembling, for he was still weak from his long illness, and he steadied himself by attentions to Zaraza and by bidding Jose in Spanish to bring the stranger a drink.
Dorothy dropped down upon the stones where they had been sitting and watched the child.
He did not now dip water from the tank at the cabin door but from a nearby spring, which Jim had found and cleared of rubbish. The spring had always been there; but it had been easier for lazy Alaric, the herder, to fill the barrel now and then—or let the rain do it for him—and use from that till the supply failed. He did not yet understand how the stagnant water had had anything to do with his own fever, that had followed on Jim's partial recovery.
Children are quick witted. Jose came running back with the dipper, after having carefully rinsed and filled it at the spring, as Jim had taught him. His eyes were bright and there was a winning smile on his chubby face, now clean. He recognized Dorothy as the girl to whom he had given his pet lamb and promptly demanded:
"El cordero? Donde?"
Dorothy stared at him, then put her hands on each side his chubby face and kissed him. The child screamed with delight and repeated his question. At which the girl also laughed and turned to Jim, asking:
"What does he say? What does he want?"
"I reckon he wants his lamb. He's asking you where it is," answered the lad, gladly using this chance to air his own new knowledge.
That broke the spell of not knowing how to begin and their loosened tongues wagged fast enough after that. Dorothy forgot all about her lost company and seizing a piece of the coarse bread her old friend had been eating devoured it as if it had been a great delicacy.
Jim laughed, glad to see her so hungry and so eager, and obeyed her command:
"Now begin just as we used to do at home at Deerhurst. 'I went from here' and don't you miss a single thing until you come to 'and here I am.' I'll help you start. You went from San Leon the very night you got there. Now why?"
"I shall never know why, girlie. I was crazy with fever, I guess. I hadn't been real well before I came west and that was one reason Dr. Sterling made me come. He thought the change would cure me. It didn't. I must have got out the window but I don't really know, only I half remember that. Then the next thing I did know I was in Alaric's cabin yonder with him and little Jose here. I was pretty sick. I couldn't write but I was wild to tell you where I was and not to worry nor think me terrible mean. I didn't want to act that way, you know, even though I did find myself in the wrong box with those other rich boys——"
"No such thing, Jim Barlow! That was all your own self-consciousness. They're the nicest boys in the world and the friendliest. And it seems you can remember some things—bad ones—even if not how you ran away and got away up here to this peak. Jim, I'm ashamed of you. I certainly am!"
But the way in which she reached out and clasped his hand in both of hers disarmed the words of all offence. Jim threw back his head and laughed as he hadn't done in many a day. It was just glorious to be scolded again by his old comrade! It was so homelike that he felt "more himself" than any softer speech would have made him.
"Well, go on! Do go on!"
"Alaric isn't half bad. I reckon I'd have died but for him. An old Indian chief, of the Utes, White Feather Alaric called him—his brother-in-law——"
"Oh! I'm well acquainted with him. Don't stop to tell that part, but just do go on."
Jim stared and retorted:
"Oh! you are, eh? But I've got to tell about him 'cause it was he who found me and brought me here. Picked me up on the road somewhere. I've had a suspicion—just a suspicion, don't you know?—that Alaric wasn't any too glad to see me. It's a mighty little house and he's a mighty lazy man. But he had to do it. He's afraid of White Feather, though I tell you, Dolly Doodles, he's a splendid Indian. If all red men were like him——"
"I don't care at all about Indians. Go on."
"Alaric dressed my arm with leaves and stuff and fed me the best he could, but after I'd got that basket sent to you with the lamb and the stones—Did you get it? Did you understand?"
"Yes, I understood—part. I knew that only Jim Barlow could make such a curious D as was on the stone and the basket. I supposed you were alive somewhere and I tried to think you were all right. By the way, the lambkin is thriving and we've named it after you—Netty!"
"What? Why Netty, if you please?"
Dorothy laughed and explained. She was ready now to laugh at anything and so was he: she made him finish his story, which he promptly did.
After he had sent the basket-message he had grown worse. He was delirious and did not know what went on about him. He thought it was the bad water from the old tank that increased his fever, and was sure it was that which had made the sheep herder himself fall ill. So before his strength came back he had to turn nurse himself and attend upon Alaric. He had now recovered enough to go away to his employer's ranch for a few days. Meanwhile Jim was keeping the sheep for his host with little Jose for company.
Dorothy listened, asking questions now and then, and finally inquired:
"Is this Alaric an Indian?"
"No. A Mexican, a Greaser. He married an Indian princess, the sister of White Feather."
"How came you by that Indian rig? costume, I mean."
Jim laughed. "White Feather again. At first I hadn't anything to wear but a ragged pair of trousers which Alaric lent me, though he hated to, and a blanket for a coat. But a few days ago White Feather and his braves came this way again. He brought quite a collection of old duds and gave 'em to Alaric. That paid him for what he'd lent me, I guess. And some of White Feather's folks have always given little Jose his Indian fixings, too. Else—Well, he wouldn't have had much to wear. Ain't he cute?"
"Indeed, he is. Looks exactly like a tiny White Feather himself. The dear!" answered Dorothy, helping herself to another piece of bread and breaking it in bits to feed the child, who smiled and swallowed in great glee. "But your suit? You haven't told about that yet."
"Isn't it fine? I begin to feel like a red man myself, wearing it. White Feather gave this to me with his own hands. It looks as if it had been worn a long time but it's a mighty comfortable rig, especially after a fellow's had—nothing at all."
Then Dorothy talked, her words fairly tumbling over each other in her haste to tell all that had happened at San Leon while he was gone. She ended with the question:
"Will you go back with me now, Jim? or with all of us, when we find them! My heart! How glad, how glad they'll be!"
Jim shook his head.
"I can't, Dolly, not yet. I've got to stay till Alaric comes. Nobody knows when that'll be, he's so lazy; and so sure now that I'll do his work for him. Besides—I've got something on my mind. Even if—even if—Well, I shan't go back to San Leon till I take a peace offering with me. I think—anyway I hope—I've—No matter. Where are the others, do you think? How did you get so far away from 'em, alone?"
"I don't know. But I wish—I wish they'd come. Ah! Hark!"
Dorothy stood up and listened. They could hear a horse moving somewhere, the dull thud of hoofs on soft ground, and a whinny of recognition to Zaraza feeding near. A moment later Silent Pete came into sight, and in another moment had dismounted beside them.
He hadn't a word to say but stared at Jim with what would seem reproach except for a kindly gleam in his blue eyes. Up and down the lad's tall form the old man's eyes roved many times and then he gave one of his rare laughs.
"Fits good, hey?"
"First class! Did you ever wear an Indian costume?" asked Jim.
"Huh! I've wore that one more years 'n you're old," said the ex-hunter, and sitting down helped himself to the bread.
Perhaps the man had never talked so freely as he did now. Of hunting, of savage fights, and of mining—of anything and everything connected with Colorado's past as he had known it. Because he had never had such interested listeners. Jim's eyes shone, and when the subject touched on mining, he got up and went into the shack, coming back a moment later with some bits of stones lying on his palm. He held these out to Silent Pete who accepted them with sudden interest. Until he finally exclaimed:
Jim walked a little distance from that point of the mesa and the others followed him wondering. Then digging away some earth from the small hillock where he had paused, pointed downward.
Silent Pete gazed without speaking for a full moment. Then he stooped and gathered a few fragments of insignificant stone, while Dorothy watched him wondering. Presently the hunter looked up—his face transformed—the brilliancy of youth restored to his faded eyes.
"Silver! by gum! And—and—all the land this side that shack belongs to San Leon! Of all the dum luck—Let's go home! Let's go home!"
He couldn't move fast enough. The youngsters followed him at an equal pace so excited that they scarcely knew what they were doing. Jim had found silver! Jim had discovered a mine! This meant untold wealth to their beloved host!
There was no thought in their minds of a possible mistake. It could not be. It was all as clear as daylight to Dorothy, whose reverent heart always traced "leadings" in that chain of events which we call life.
Jim had been "led" to all and through all that had happened. If he hadn't wandered here—no use thinking about that. He had wandered, he had found the silver, it had been ordered, even the pain and suffering and grief. Oh! to get back to where they could send the good news flying to the absent owner of San Leon!
"Let's go home!" cried the girl, running to the Zaraza's side and trying to saddle her.
But Jim would not let her do that, though he did not seek to hinder her from going, and when she had sprung to her seat upon the filly's back, he held out his hand, saying:
"I'll come soon's I can, Dolly Doodles! This is a big day for me!"
"Why—why—aren't you coming too? You can ride part of the way and I part."
"No, girlie. I promised Alaric I'd take care of Jose and the sheep. I've got to—duty, you know."
"Oh! Duty! I hate duty! Oh! Jim, you ought to be the one, the very one to carry the good news straight to 'Boss Dan!' It should be you to send this glorious message!"
But Jim shook his stubborn head.
"I'd like to—shucks! But I ain't never seen how neglectin' the duty 't lies to hand helps a fellow to do the one 't is further off. It's all right, Dolly. You speed the good word and watch out for Jim. He'll be coming—sure. Good-by—good-by."
Meanwhile Peter had placed the lunch baskets on the ground, leaving them for Jim and the child.
Not until they had passed out of sight and were well on the downward trail did Dorothy remember her absent mates and to ask how Silent Pete had chanced to find her. He scarcely paused to reply; for though he spoke no word, except to answer her questions, he was fairly quivering with excitement. It isn't every day one stumbles on a silver mine, even in Colorado!
"Oh! I saw where you'd passed by the trompled brush. I knew the calico's tread. I saw 't you was off the line an' I blazed that so's the rest'd see and not get scared. We shan't see no more o' them till nightfall, only you an' me—we must get home. Don't waste breath talkin'—just travel."
Travel they did and, their own dispatches sent from San Leon, another came flashing back—crossed each other on the way, so to speak.
"Reach the ranch to-morrow. D. F."
Well, this story is about told. Such a wonderful home-coming that was! Messengers had been quickly sent to the sheep herder's hut to act as substitutes for Jim in his "duty" and to bring him and Jose "home," where he found himself welcomed as a hero—he who had thought himself despised.
Thus was discovered the famous "Bygum Mine," so named for the first words uttered by Silent Pete, when Jim showed him the site. Those who remember the energy of "Dan Ford, Railroad Boss" will understand how promptly matters were set in motion for the opening of "Bygum;" and those who know his generosity will guess how he made each young guest a sharer, to some degree, in this fresh prosperity. All except Jim Barlow: for that too independent youth promptly refused any further benefit from his great discovery than a simple "Thank you." How that refusal affected the lad's pursuit of "knowledge" will be told in another story of "Dorothy's House Boat," upon which, a few weeks later, he had to "work his passage."
But now, with Lady Gray's dear presence among them and the master's hand at the helm, there was nothing but happiness for all at San Leon: until, all suddenly it seemed, the three months of their stay had passed and the parting came. If there was sadness in their hearts that morning, when they mounted the buckboards for their journey back to Denver, there was also anticipation and delight; for, to quote the words of their genial host:
"The world is but a little place. We have met and loved each other—we shall meet and love again."
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author' words and intent.