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A Handsome Cowboy To The Rescue








From: Her Prairie Knight

Beatrice took immediate possession of the front seat, that she might
comfort her heartbroken young nephew.

"Never mind, honey. They'll bring the horses back in a minute, and we'll
make them run every step. And when you get to Uncle Dick's ranch you'll
see the nicest things--bossy calves, and chickens, and, maybe, some
little pigs with curly tails."

All this, though alluring, failed of its purpose; the small boy
continued to weep, and his weeping was ear-splitting.

"Be still, Dorman, or you'll certainly scare all the coyotes to death."

"Where are dey?"

"Oh, all around. You keep watch, hon, and maybe you'll see one put the
tip of his nose over a hill."

"What hill?" Dorman skipped a sob, and scoured his eyes industriously
with both fists.

"M-m--that hill. That little one over there. Watch close, or you'll miss
him."

The dove of peace hovered over them, and seemed actually about to
alight. Beatrice leaned back with a relieved breath.

"It is good of you, my dear, to take so much trouble," sighed his Aunt
Mary. "How I am to manage without Parks I'm sure I cannot tell."

"You are tired, and you miss your tea." soothed Beatrice, optimistic as
to tone. "When we all have a good rest we will be all right. Dorman will
find plenty to amuse him. We are none of us exactly comfortable now."

"Comfortable!" sniffed her mother. "I am half dead. Richard wrote such
glowing letters home that I was misled. If I had dreamed of the true
conditions, Miss Hayes, I should never have sanctioned this wild idea of
Beatrice's to come out and spend the summer with Richard."

"It's coming, Be'trice! There it is! Will it bite, auntie? Say, will it
bite?"

Beatrice looked. A horseman came over the hill and was galloping down
the long slope toward them. His elbows were lifted contrary to the
mandates of the riding-school, his long legs were encased in something
brown and fringed down the sides. His gray hat was tilted rakishly up
at the back and down in front, and a handkerchief was knotted loosely
around his throat. Even at that distance he struck her as different from
any one she had ever seen.

"It's a highwayman!" whispered Mrs. Lansell "Hide your purse, my dear!"

"I--I--where?" Miss Hayes was all a-flutter with fear.

"Drop it down beside the wheel, into the water. Quick! I shall drop my
watch."

"He--he is coming on this side! He can see!" Her whisper was full of
entreaty and despair.

"Give them here. He can't see on both sides of the buggy at once." Mrs.
Lansell, being an American--a Yankee at that--was a woman of resource.

"Beatrice, hand me your watch quick!"

Beatrice paid no attention, and there was no time to insist upon
obedience. The horseman had slowed at the water's edge, and was
regarding them with some curiosity. Possibly he was not accustomed to
such a sight as the one that met his eyes. He came splashing toward
them, however, as though he intended to investigate the cause of their
presence, alone upon the prairie, in a vehicle which had no horses
attached in the place obviously intended for such attachment. When he
was close upon them he stopped and lifted the rakishly tilted gray hat.

"You seem to be in trouble. Is there anything I can do for you?" His
manner was grave and respectful, but his eyes, Beatrice observed, were
having a quiet laugh of their own.

"You can't get auntie's watch, nor gran'mama's. Gran'mama frowed 'em all
down in the mud. She frowed her money down in the mud, too," announced
Dorman, with much complacency. "Be'trice says you is a coyote. Is you?"

There was a stunned interval, during which nothing was heard but the
wind whispering things to the grass. The man's eyes stopped laughing;
his jaw set squarely; also, his brows drew perceptibly closer together.
It was Mrs. Lansell's opinion that he looked murderous.

Then Beatrice put her head down upon the little, blue velvet cap of
Dorman and laughed. There was a rollicking note in her laughter that was
irresistible, and the eyes of the man relented and joined in her mirth.
His lips forgot they were angry and insulted, and uncovered some very
nice teeth.

"We aren't really crazy," Beatrice told him, sitting up straight and
drying her eyes daintily with her handkerchief. "We were on our way to
Mr. Lansell's ranch, and the horses broke something and ran away, and
Dick--Mr. Lansell--has gone to catch them. We're waiting until he does."

"I see." From the look in his eyes one might guess that what he saw
pleased him. "Which direction did they take?"

Beatrice waved a gloved hand vaguely to the left, and, without another
word, the fellow touched his hat, turned and waded to shore and galloped
over the ridge she indicated; and the clucketycluck of his horse's hoofs
came sharply across to them until he dipped out of sight.

"You see, he wasn't a robber," Beatrice remarked, staring after him
speculatively. "How well he rides! One can see at a glance that he
almost lives in the saddle. I wonder who he is."

"For all you know, Beatrice, he may be going now to murder Richard and
Sir Redmond in cold blood. He looks perfectly hardened."

"Oh, do you think it possible?" cried Miss Hayes, much alarmed.

"No!" cried Beatrice hotly. "One who did not know your horror of
novels, mama, might suspect you of feeding your imagination upon 'penny
dreadfuls.' I'm sure he is only a cowboy, and won't harm anybody."

"Cowboys are as bad as highwaymen," contended her mother, "or worse. I
have read how they shoot men for a pastime, and without even the excuse
of robbery."

"Is it possible?" quavered Miss Hayes faintly.

"No, it isn't!" Beatrice assured her indignantly.

"He has the look of a criminal," declared Mrs. Lansell, in the positive
tone of one who speaks from intimate knowledge of the subject under
discussion. "I only hope he isn't going to murder--"

"They're coming back, mama," interrupted Beatrice, who had been watching
closely the hilltop. "No, it's that man, and he is driving the horses."

"He's chasing them," corrected her mother testily. "A horse thief, no
doubt. He's going to catch them with his snare--"

"Lasso, mama."

"Well, lasso. Where can Richard be? To think the fellow should be
so bold! But out here, with miles upon miles of open, and no police
protection anything is possible. We might all be murdered, and no one
be the wiser for days--perhaps weeks. There, he has caught them." She
leaned back and clasped her hands, ready to meet with fortitude whatever
fate might have in store.

"He's bringing them out to us, mama. Can't you see the man is only
trying to help us?"

Mrs. Lansell, beginning herself to suspect him of honest intentions,
sniffed dissentingly and let it go at that. The fellow was certainly
leading the horses toward them, and Sir Redmond and Dick, appearing over
the hill just then, proved beyond doubt that neither had been murdered
in cold blood, or in any other unpleasant manner.

"We're all right now, mother," Dick called, the minute he was near
enough.

His mother remarked skeptically that she hoped possibly she had been in
too great haste to conceal her valuables--that Miss Hayes might not feel
grateful for her presence of mind, and was probably wondering if mud
baths were not injurious to fine, jeweled time-pieces. Mrs. Lansell
was uncomfortable, mentally and physically, and her manner was frankly
chilly when her son presented the stranger as his good friend and
neighbor, Keith Cameron. She was still privately convinced that he
looked a criminal--though, if pressed, she must surely have admitted
that he was an uncommonly good-looking young outlaw. It would seem
almost as if she regarded his being a decent, law-abiding citizen as
pure effrontery.

Miss Hayes greeted him with a smile of apprehension which plainly amused
him. Beatrice was frankly impersonal in her attitude; he represented a
new species of the genus man, and she, too, evidently regarded him in
the light of a strange animal, viewed unexpectedly at close range.

While he was helping Dick mend the double-tree with a piece of rope, she
studied him curiously. He was tall--taller even than Sir Redmond, and
more slender. Sir Redmond had the straight, sturdy look of the soldier
who had borne the brunt of hard marches and desperate fighting; Mr.
Cameron, the lithe, unconscious grace and alertness of the man whose
work demands quick movement and quicker eye and brain. His face was
tanned to a clear bronze which showed the blood darkly beneath; Sir
Redmond's year of peace had gone far toward lightening his complexion.
Beatrice glanced briefly at him and admired his healthy color, and was
glad he did not have the look of an Indian. At the same time, she caught
herself wishing that Sir Redmond's eyes were hazel, fringed with very
long, dark lashes and topped with very straight, dark brows--eyes which
seemed always to have some secret cause for mirth, and to laugh quite
independent of the rest of the face. Still, Sir Redmond had very nice
eyes--blue, and kind, and steadfast, and altogether dependable--and his
lashes were quite nice enough for any one. In just four seconds Beatrice
decided that, after all, she did not like hazel eyes that twinkle
continually; they make one feel that one is being laughed at, which is
not comfortable. In six seconds she was quite sure that this Mr. Cameron
thought himself handsome, and Beatrice detested a man who was proud of
his face or his figure; such a man always tempted her to "make faces,"
as she used to do over the back fence when she was little.

She mentally accused him of trying to show off his skill with his rope
when he leaned and fastened it to the rig, rode out ahead and helped
drag the vehicle to shore; and it was with some resentment that she
observed the ease with which he did it, and how horse and rope seemed to
know instinctively their master's will, and to obey of their own accord.

In all that he had done--and it really seemed as if he did everything
that needed to be done, while Dick pottered around in the way--he had
not found it necessary to descend into the mud and water, to the ruin of
his picturesque, fringed chaps and high-heeled boots. He had worked at
ease, carelessly leaning from his leathern throne upon the big, roan
horse he addressed occasionally as Redcloud. Beatrice wondered where he
got the outlandish name. But, with all his imperfections, she was glad
she had met him. He really was handsome, whether he knew it or not; and
if he had a good opinion of himself, and overrated his actions--all the
more fun for herself! Beatrice, I regret to say, was not above amusing
herself with handsome young men who overrate their own charms; in fact,
she had the reputation among her women acquaintances of being a most
outrageous flirt.

In the very middle of these trouble-breeding meditations, Mr. Cameron
looked up unexpectedly and met keenly her eyes; and for some reason--let
us hope because of a guilty conscience--Beatrice grew hot and confused;
an unusual experience, surely, for a girl who had been out three
seasons, and has met calmly the eyes of many young men. Until now it had
been the young men who grew hot and confused; it had never been herself.

Beatrice turned her shoulder toward him, and looked at Sir Redmond, who
was surreptitiously fishing for certain articles beside the rear wheel,
at the whispered behest of Mrs. Lansell, and was certainly a sight to
behold. He was mud to his knees and to his elbows, and he had managed to
plaster his hat against the wheel and to dirty his face. Altogether, he
looked an abnormally large child who has been having a beautiful day of
it in somebody's duck-pond; but Beatrice was nearer, at that moment,
to loving him than she had been at any time during her six weeks'
acquaintance with him--and that is saying much, for she had liked him
from the start.

Mr. Cameron followed her glance, and his eyes did not have the laugh all
to themselves; his voice joined them, and Beatrice turned upon him and
frowned. It was not kind of him to laugh at a man who is proving his
heart to be much larger than his vanity; Beatrice was aware of Sir
Redmond's immaculateness of attire on most occasions.

"Well," said Dick, gathering up the reins, "you've helped us out of a
bad scrape, Keith. Come over and take dinner with us to-morrow night.
I expect we'll be kept riding the rim-rocks, over at the Pool, this
summer. Unless this sister of mine has changed a lot, she won't rest
till she's been over every foot of country for forty miles around. It
will just about keep our strings rode down to a whisper keeping her in
sight."

"Dear me, Richard!" said his mother. "What Jargon is this you speak?"

"That's good old Montana English, mother. You'll learn it yourself
before you leave here. I've clean forgot how they used the English
language at Yale, haven't you, Keith?"

"Just about," Keith agreed. "I'm afraid we'll shock the ladies terribly,
Dick. We ought to get out on a pinnacle with a good grammar and
practice."

"Well, maybe. We'll look for you to-morrow, sure. I want you to help map
out a circle or two for Trix. About next week she'll want to get out and
scour the range."

"Dear me, Richard! Beatrice is not a charwoman!" This, you will
understand, was from his mother; perhaps you will also understand that
she spoke with the rising inflection which conveys a reproof.

When Keith Cameron left them he was laughing quietly to himself, and
Beatrice's chin was set rather more than usual.





Next: A Tilt With Sir Redmond

Previous: Stranded On The Prairie



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