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A Spill By The Way








From: Dorothy On A Ranch

The "line" remained busy for so long that the loungers in the hotel
lobby grew amused at Leslie's impatience while the two girls became very
anxious.

"It was only an hour or so, Mr. Ford said, before Aunt Betty's train
would leave and I shall be too late to see her--to bid her good-by--and
it's for all summer--a whole long summer! I must go, I must find her, I
shall--I will!" cried poor Dorothy, her own words increasing her fear of
this calamity, and with a sudden burst of tears. For an instant she
tried to keep them back, then careless who might see her crying, darted
outward to the curbstone and to the hackman waiting there.

In so doing she collided with a gentleman entering, who staggered
backward from the impact, then quietly put his hands upon the girl's
shoulders, to steady her also.

"Beg pardon, little miss! and hello! What's wrong? Did I hurt you? Beg
pardon twice, in that case!"

The tone was kindly and to Dorothy it was a case of "any port in a
storm."

"No, no, sir, you didn't! But I'm--we're--in dreadful trouble. Do you
know--do you?--where that other hotel is, that Metropolitan?"

"Surely, I know. Why?"

"Is it far? Can I run there quick? The cabman--we haven't any money--it
was a mistake--and I must go, I must!"

Leslie laid a soothing hand on Dorothy's, which she had clasped
imploringly before the stranger, and told their story.

The effect was surprising. This gentleman was the proprietor of this
establishment and he well knew Mr. Ford, by reputation at least. With
one angry glance around the lobby and at the now obsequious clerk, he
wheeled about, strode to the cab, opened the door and lifted Dorothy
within. Then he as promptly settled Alfaretta beside her, himself took
the forward seat and motioned Leslie to follow. Then he ordered:

"Now, cabby, drive like lightning! It'll be worth your while. Straight
ahead, five blocks--east two--north three! Drive, I tell you."

And "drive" the man did, as fast as his slow horse could be urged, while
within the carriage the three young folks sat in anxiety, Dorothy
leaning far forward, as if by that means she could reach her destination
sooner.

Their new friend beamed upon her, asking a few questions which drew out
a brief history of their trip and the plans for their coming summer.
Then almost before the cab was halted before a big hotel he had opened
its door again and taking the hands of the two girls piloted them
straight into it and through some great halls to the dining room. There
he halted and gave the name:

"Mr. Daniel Ford and party."

"At dinner, sir, private dining room. May not wish to be disturbed. I'll
send to inquire--step into the reception room please," bowed and
explained the employee the gentleman had summoned.

"That's all right. Direct us. I'm Darby of the Metropole. These young
people belong to Mr. Ford's party."

A moment later they had met Mr. Ford himself, issuing from his private
room, vexed and anxious at their delay and starting out in their
pursuit.

"Well, laggards! What does this mean? Wasting the time when there's so
little of it? Mrs. Calvert's fretting so she can't eat her dinner
and--in with you! In with you! There's but fifteen minutes before her
train starts east!"

When a good natured man is angry he seems another person and Dorothy
drew back in fear. But Alfaretta's own temper rose and she exclaimed:

"Don't scold us, please, Mr. Ford, it wasn't our fault!" while Leslie
vainly tried to explain: "A gentleman, a stranger, brought us here and
paid our cab fare. I want a dollar, Dad, to refund him."

But, for once, the doting father was deaf to his son's words. He did not
even pause in his rapid stride along the corridor, fairly dragging
Dorothy off her feet in his unconscious haste, and finally depositing
her in an empty chair beside Aunt Betty's, with the remark:

"Here's your 'bad penny' again! She--they all--will learn some lessons
up at San Leon, this summer, or I'm a mistaken man. The one thing nobody
should dare lose is--time!"

Mrs. Calvert gave him a surprised look but she had also been hurt by
Dorothy's absence during the brief space that remained to them together,
and she hastened to deliver the many last charges and bits of advice
that seemed needful before their parting.

A waiter placed their dinner before the three young folks and Alfy and
Leslie fell to work upon it with hungry zeal, but Dorothy could not eat.
Her eye had discovered a clock on the wall, with the hands pointing five
minutes to three. At ten minutes past that hour the "Eastern Limited"
would roll out of the station and she be left behind. In a sudden
impulse, she threw her arms about Aunt Betty's neck, begging:

"Take me with you! Please take me with you! I--I love you best of all
the world, so why shouldn't we keep together?"

If there were tears in Mrs. Calvert's bright, dark eyes, she did not
allow them to fall. Unclasping her darling's arms and gently laying them
down, she silently signalled to Mrs. Ford and almost as silently left
the room.

The "Gray Lady" followed and Aunt Betty whispered:

"I'm getting too old for good-bys. I'm going to slip away in the hotel
stage and don't let Dolly follow me, please, till it's too late. She'll
be all right again, directly, and--and so shall I. Good-by to you,
though, and--that's all."

Dolly dropped her head on the edge of the table, as Aunt Betty loosened
her arms. She was bravely trying to overcome the sudden loneliness which
possessed her and in this was helped by Alfy's warning:

"Dolly Doodles! Take your head out of your soup plate! Are you crazy?
There goes your ribbon right into the mess!"

The head was lifted so suddenly that the ribbon flew off and fell into
the dish and its owner's tears ended in a giggle. Then her face flushed
at thought of her own awkwardness and she looked down expecting a
reprimand from Mrs. Calvert. When none came she lifted her eyes and
found the next chair empty. This was a relief. She'd hide the ribbon
before her aunt discovered it! But already the waiter had whisked that
plate away and was supplying her with another.

Funny! Where Aunt Betty had gone! But, of course she'd merely left the
room for a minute and would be back to say good-by. Then she picked at
her food for a moment, wondering why Mr. Ford had also disappeared, and
at the eagerness with which Leslie and Alfaretta enjoyed the good things
served to them.

Gray Lady slipped back to her own place between the other two young
people and began to ask them about the adventure which had delayed them.
Presently they were all talking together, even Dorothy adding her
comments and forgetting to look again at that warning clock.

Besides, she was listening to the grumbles of Leslie who, for once, was
angry against his father and was explaining to his mother:

"I never felt so ashamed of myself. The idea of letting that stranger,
and the proprietor of a rival hotel, pay our cab fare! I wish you'd hand
me the cash and I'll send a boy to hunt him up and settle. I--"

Mrs. Ford stopped his further complaints by a nod of her head and the
odd remark:

"They must have arrived by this time and the others must be gone. Yes,
they ought to be here. I hope they'll not delay us, too, as you did.
Money? No, dear, I can't give you that. Not in this case when your
father has denied it. Ah! Fifteen minutes after three! Then our friends
must be well out of the city by now."

Lady Gray, as her son still loved to call her, now took her eyes from
the clock she had been studying and cast a tender look upon the face of
Dorothy. The girl had sprung up from her chair and had fixed her own
gaze upon the time-piece while the color left her cheeks and she
trembled violently. But Mrs. Ford's arm was about the slender waist and
her voice was comforting:

"Your Aunt Betty thought it was the best. She shrank from the good-bys
for both your sakes. She's a wonderful woman and thinks of everything
that will make people happier. She said she'd just postpone the
farewells till you meet again. She went away as cheerfully as possible
and you must follow her example. Ah! hark!"

Dorothy's bent head lifted slightly. There was a sound of merry,
youthful voices in the corridor, the genial tones of Mr. Ford mingling
with them, and presently the portieres were parted and the opening was
filled by a group of faces matching the voices and belonging to--Could
it be? Could it!

"Molly Breckenridge! Helena! Oh! Oh! Jim--you dears!" cried the
astonished Dolly, rubbing her eyes that had been so dimmed by tears, and
gazing at the faces in the doorway as if she couldn't believe her own
sight.

There, too, was Alfaretta, clasping the hands of all the newcomers,
fairly dancing up and down in her excitement, "hail-fellow-well-met"
with them all, forgetful for once of the difference in their social
positions which had used to make her shy and restrained.

"Be I awake or asleep? How in my senses have you all got away out here
to this jumpin' off place of all creation? Jim Barlow, you darlin' old
Jim! How's Ma Babcock? How's Pa? How's every single one the precious
folks up-mounting? Oh! I could just squeeze the life out of you, I'm so
terrible glad to see you!" almost screamed the girl, as she now for a
moment forsook the "'ristocratics" of the party to hug and kiss James
Barlow.

He, poor fellow, rid himself of her clasping arms as soon as possible,
reddening yet laughing, and casting an appealing look upon the lady who
had risen from the table and stood smiling her welcome to them all.

"Don't mind Alfy, ma'am; she always did have to be the middle of
things," begged the lad, overcoming his own shyness rather than have
that beautiful lady think he was a "softie" who liked kissing girls.
Also, he was thankful that Dorothy had contented herself with merely
holding tight to his hand and simply looking her affection.

"Oh! that's all right. We love Alfy; and this, I see, is that wonderful
'Jim' of whom I've been told so much. I--we--are delighted that you were
able to take your holiday with us; and though we are not there yet, I
bid you hearty welcome to San Leon," said Lady Gray, now moving forward
and warmly shaking the hand of the "work boy" as Dorothy released it.

"Isn't it splendid? Is it a surprise? Didn't you know a thing about it,
Dolly Doodles?" demanded pretty Molly, hugging her friend, then standing
back to hold her at arm's length and study the changes which a few
months' separation had made in the beloved face.

Helena Montaigne, too, was trying to clasp her in equally tender arms,
and Molly reluctantly released Dorothy, while she let Mr. Ford lead her
to his wife, introducing her as:

"The daughter of my old friend, Judge Breckenridge. He and I were
classmates once, and come here, Leslie boy! I've heard this little lady
spoken of as 'Jolly Molly,' and you must make it your business that not
one day of her coming summer with us shall be anything save 'jolly.' Ah!
Erminie, young people on a ranch!"

Evidently, Leslie was as much in the dark as Dorothy and Alfy had been,
this visitation of so many young strangers a complete surprise to him;
but he was trained to good manners and at once captivated Molly's
admiration by his cordial greeting. So that, a moment later, she
whispered to Dorothy:

"Isn't he a dear! I declare he's just a heavenly handsome boy, with his
blue eyes and--and his air! He really is too sweet for words, that
boy!"

Whereat Dolly laughed and answered:

"Oh! you funny Molly! You don't change a bit! Still 'doting on boys' as
much as ever! How's Melvin?"

"Melvin's a poke. The invitation included him, too, but he sets himself
up stiff as stiff and said he had no time to waste visiting. He'd got to
learn the business soon as he could, for his mother--Oh! a lot of bosh
about his mother, and her trusting him. Even my father--"

"Never mind him, then, but tell me how in the world you happened to come
just here and now?"

The two had retreated to the window and stood with arms about each other
and Dorothy's eyes now free from tears. Indeed, so surprising was this
whole affair that she had, for a moment, forgotten Aunt Betty's
departure.

"Why, it's this way. Mr. Ford is an old friend of Papa's and when he
found out that you knew us, too, he just planned the whole thing for a
grand treat to you! He wrote Papa that he was under 'lifelong
obligation to you' because--well, of something or other. I wasn't told
what, but it doesn't matter. The thing that does matter is that we're to
be together all summer long, at least for three whole months. Think of
that, girlie, just think of that! He wrote Papa, too, that he'd have
liked to gather the whole 'House Party' together if it had been
practical, but his wife didn't think it would. I reckon she knew she'd
have her hands full enough, chaperoning eight youngsters, without asking
more. We came pretty near not getting Helena and Herbert, though! Mr.
Montaigne fancied it was too much like an imposition to let them come,
because he didn't know the Fords. Helena wrote me that, so I got Dad to
send him a letter to make him stop and think! Besides, Jim--that boy is
just grand! He--"

"Of course, honey. He's a boy, you know."

"Laugh away! I'm too happy to care. I do like boys best. Why shouldn't
I? They're heaps more fun than girls--except you. And to think! Helena
and Jim were the real chaperons of our trip, though Helena's governess,
Miss Milliken, was called such. But she's a stick! I had the time of my
life, keeping her scared all the way on. Oh! I'm glad to be off that
train. Mr. Ford says we're to finish our journey in wagons. I like
that."

"But I don't see Miss Milliken, Molly."

"No. She knows some people here in Denver and they met her at the
station and carried her off to dine with them. I wish she'd get belated
and left behind. She was a regular kill-joy all the way out."

"Poor, meek, timid woman! She used to have so little snap that Herbert
nicknamed her 'The Worm.' It was horrid--"

"Well, she's 'turned,' then. Of course, we were pretty full of fun and
scared her with some of our pranks. But--Ah! there she is now! You can't
lose that woman! Mrs. Montaigne told her that 'the lives of her precious
children were entrusted to her hands,' and the governess feels her
responsibility to the full, I tell you. Even Helena--"

"Dinner for the newcomers!" called Mr. Ford, interrupting, as a fresh
meal was placed upon the table and they were invited to their seats. The
zeal with which they accepted and the fine appetites they displayed sent
a satisfied smile to their host's lips, and he nodded merrily to his
wife:

"No invalids among them! Glad of that! But youngsters, eat first,
chatter afterwards! The wagons will be at the door very soon and I want
to get in a good thirty miles before bedtime!"

They tried to check their eager talk but they were all too excited for
quiet, and presently rose from the table, ready for the ride, while Mr.
Ford said:

"Now, Erminie, wife, you do the pairing off of the youngsters, and
arrange how we shall divide. First, count noses! Eight youngsters, three
oldsters, two 'boys'--thirteen passengers in all! Miss Milliken, did you
ever 'cross the plains' before?"

The prim little lady, who had been standing beside Mrs. Ford, appeared
not to hear the gentleman's question, but turned with an air of anxiety
to ask in turn:

"Madam, did I hear there were 'thirteen,' THIRTEEN?"

"Yes, Miss Milliken. Why?"

"Then I think you'll have to excuse me. I might follow you later if
there were some way but I positively decline to make the thirteenth of
any party."

There certainly was nothing wormlike, or undecided, about the governess,
whose lips had closed in such a thin line of obstinacy as changed her
whole appearance, while her would-be hostess inquired with amusement:

"Are you superstitious, Miss Milliken? Surely, with your culture and--"

Helena advanced with an air of authority:

"Milliken, this is absurd! Please get back your common sense. Remember
we are guests and have no right to object to anything."

The chaperon bridled, but kept silence, till Mr. Ford explained:

"Thirteen doesn't mean the whole party. There'll be three drivers,
besides. Possibly more men picked up along the road. Moreover, thirteen
is my 'lucky number,' if 'luck' is anything. Well, Mrs. Ford, have you
arranged the company?"

"No, I cannot. I know them so slightly, as yet, and the best way is to
draw lots. How many will the first buckboard carry?"

"Eight, all told. A dozen, if need be. Well, time's precious! Here's a
lot of matches. The whole ones go in number one, the next lengths in
wagon two, and the little ones in the last. See, I've snapped them off,
and Miss Milliken, as head of the expedition, please draw first!"

The lady flushed and drew. Her lot was in the last and smallest
buckboard which would carry but two more beside the driver; and it fell
out that her companions would be Alfaretta and Monty Stark. The driver
was known as Silent Pete, and it certainly was an odd combination which
had resulted from the first "drawing."

To the leading wagon the "lots" assigned the three Fords and Jedediah,
their colored "boy," with Molly, Helena and Herbert--their driver, Lem
Hunt, the most talkative man at San Leon but, also, the crack whip of
the ranch.

The driver of the second team was "Tenderfoot Sorrel," so called because
of his red hair and his comparatively recent arrival from the east. He
was less familiar with the country than the other two teamsters and had
been assigned to the place in the middle of the little cavalcade, so
that "he can't lose hisself afore or ahind, ary way," as Lemuel
explained it.

Naturally, everybody was disappointed at the result of the lots, Mrs.
Ford protesting that it was inhospitable to put all her family in one
vehicle, and that the best, but that "a Ford should have been in each."

"Let's change, then," begged Monty, "and let one of the girls settle it
as she knows we'd like it."

But Alfy gave him such a frown that he ducked his head, avoiding an
imaginary blow, while Miss Milliken as vigorously declared:

"You mustn't do that. Oh! don't do that! 'Twould be the very worst luck
of all. Something would surely happen!"

"Well, if there doesn't I shall be disappointed! We're all eager for
adventures, and that's why I took this long, roundabout way to the
ranch. We could have gone there in next to no time, by rail, but that's
too humdrum a thing. Anyhow, I bow to Miss Milliken's prejudices for the
time being. We shall be in sight of each other all the time, I expect,
and meet at Roderick's for our suppers and beds! All off for San Leon
that's going!" cried Mr. Ford, in imitation of a steamboat steward, and
taking his wife's arm led her and her guests out of the hotel.

The trunks and heavier luggage had already gone ahead in other wagons
and only suit-cases and hand-bags were on hand. These were hastily
bestowed in the boxes of the two less crowded buckboards, and no
attention paid to their ownership, since it was expected that all would
meet at "Roderick's," where every traveller could find his own.

With a blast on his coach horn, a crack of his long whip over his
four-in-hand, proud Lemuel led the way along the city street, out of the
town, and into the open country beyond.

All the horses attached to the blackboards were the picked ones of the
San Leon stables, with a record known as well in the far east as in that
wide western land. As one spectator of this gallant start remarked:

"It goes without saying that Dan Ford will drive no second-rate
horseflesh, any more 'n he will a second-class railroad. My! See 'em
travel! At that gait they'll pick up the stretch 'twixt here and
'Roderick's' long before nightfall, or I'm no judge."

"Likely enough, likely enough. Only I don't like the looks of that
second span--I mean the one to the middle buckboard. Them blacks. The
boys up to S' Leon hadn't no right to trust a tenderfoot to drive them
critters!" remarked another observer, as the fretful animals passed out
of sight, following their leaders.

Even Lem Hunt looked back once or twice, as they left the city limits,
and waved a warning hand toward "T. Sorrel," who merely tossed his red
head and continued to draw upon the reins he should have loosened. Also,
Silent Pete opened his lips for once and hallooed to the man ahead:

"Let 'em out, you fool! Give 'em their heads, I say!"

Then he relapsed into his normal condition, attending strictly to his
own business and making himself deaf to the timid shrieks of Miss
Milliken, from the rear seat. He was known to "hate silly women" and
felt his fate a hard one in having to escort such a one as the
governess. She, accustomed only to the sedate pace of the fat Montaigne
steeds, felt that the spirited animals before that wagon were simply on
the road to destruction and nowhere short of it! She clung to her
seat-arm with one hand and clutched Pete's coat collar with the other,
frantically beseeching him:

"Do stop! Oh! you--man--just stop--and let me get my breath! I--I bump
so--I--I can't even think!"

But this western jehu merely flicked her fingers off as he would a
troublesome fly, while Monty coolly advised:

"Don't try, Miss Milliken. Fast? Why, they call this mere walkin' out
here. I'm going to take a nap."

He settled himself sidewise on his seat, folded his arms upon its back,
dropped his face upon them and tried to sleep. He was cross. He had
wanted to ride in the foremost vehicle with the fine four-in-hand. He
hated being put at the tail end of the procession with stupid Alfaretta
Babcock, a speechless man, and a nervous, half-hysterical woman for
companions. But the chuckle that escaped him a moment later proved that
his slumber was only a pretended one. At a particularly rough spot in
the road and a particularly shrill scream from Miss Milliken, the angry
ranchman faced about and rudely ordered: "Shut up!" Then his lips closed
with a click and nothing further escaped them during all that drive.

Alfaretta giggled; then strained her eyes again to pierce the distance
which she had been studying for some time. Then she laid a hand on
Monty's head and shook it vigorously:

"Wake up, boy! Look ahead and see if either wagon is in sight! 'Tisn't
so awful dark yet but I wish--I wish I could get a glimpse of Dolly and
Jim. That fool driver might have taken the wrong road where it branched
off a ways back."

Silent Pete heard and guessed this was the truth, but he ventured no
reply. His business was to drive his own horses and let the tenderfoot
look out for himself. But Monty roused himself enough to assure Alfy:

"He wouldn't do that! Why, that road is nothing but a trail through the
woods. Dark as midnight. Don't worry." Then he settled himself to sleep
again.

Now the fact was that "T. Sorrel," as his fellow ranchmen called him,
had more conceit than common sense. He had heard that the branch road
was a short cut to "Roderick's," but not that it was impassable for a
team. A man on horseback might pass safely over it, by daylight and with
a trustworthy mount. Not otherwise; and though the opening was fairly
clear the trail entered a hopeless tangle of underbrush and fallen
timber but a short way further on. To go forward then became impossible,
and equally so the turning back. The lively blacks resented the
scratching of briers and broken branches upon their tender limbs and
pranced and fretted wildly. A molly cottontail scurried across the track
before them and with a mutual, frenzied impulse they shied and sprang
into the air.

The buckboard flew upward, turned turtle, scattered its load in all
directions, then settled into a broken heap, while the light traces
yielded to the strength of the horses, and they rushed madly forward out
of sight.

At that very moment it had been, that Silent Pete and his wagon had
passed the entrance of that trail; and even in that dusk his trained
eye had noted fresh wheel and hoof prints. But it was not his business
to stop and investigate. He had been set to bring his party to
"Roderick's", not to take care of a tenderfoot who ought to have a
nurse, the fool!





Next: The Midnight Searching Party

Previous: The Trip In The Erminie



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