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At The Watts Ranch

From: The Gold Girl

It was with a decided feeling of depression that Patty Sinclair
approached the Watts ranch. Long before she reached the buildings an
air of shiftless dilapidation was manifest in the ill-lined barbed
wire fences whose rotting posts sagged drunkenly upon loosely strung
wire. A dry weed-choked irrigation ditch paralleled the trail, its
wooden flumes, like the fence posts, rotting where they stood, and its
walls all but obliterated by the wash of spring freshets. The
depression increased as she passed close beside the ramshackle log
stable, where her horse sank to his ankles in a filthy brown seepage
of mud and rotting straw before the door. Two small, slouchily built
stacks of weather-stained hay occupied a fenced-off enclosure, beside
which, with no attempt to protect them from the weather, stood a
dish-wheeled hay rake, and a rusty mowing machine, its cutter-bar
buried in weeds.

Passing through a small clump of cottonwoods, in which three or four
raw-boned horses had taken refuge from the mosquitoes, she came
suddenly upon the ranch house, a squat, dirt-roofed cabin of unpeeled
logs. So, this was the Watts ranch! Again and again in the delirium
that preceded her father's death, he had muttered of Monte's Creek and
the Watts ranch, until she had come to think of it as a place of cool
halls and broad verandahs situated at the head of some wide mountain
valley in which sleek cattle grazed belly-deep in lush grasses.

A rabble of nondescript curs came snapping and yapping about her
horse's legs until dispersed by a harsh command from the dark interior
of the cabin.

"Yere, yo' git out o' thet!"

The dogs slunk away and their places were immediately taken by a
half-dozen ill-kempt, bedraggled children. A tousled head was thrust
from the doorway, and after a moment of inspection a man stepped out
upon the hard-trodden earth of the dooryard. He was bootless and a
great toe protruded from a hole in the point of his sock. He wore a
faded hickory shirt, and the knees of his bleached-out overalls were
patched with blue gingham.

"Howdy," he greeted, in a not unkindly tone, and paused awkwardly
while the protruding toe tried vainly to burrow from sight in the hard

"Is--is this the Watts ranch?" The girl suppressed a wild desire to
burst into tears.

"Yes, mom, this is hit--what they is of hit." His fingers picked
vaguely at his scraggly beard. An idea seemed suddenly to strike him,
and turning, he thrust his head in at the door. "Ma!" he called,
loudly, and again "Ma! Ma!"

The opening of a door within was followed by the sound of a harsh
voice. "Lawzie me, John Watts, what's ailin' yo' now--got a burr in
under yo' gallus?" A tall woman with a broad, kindly face pushed past
the man, wiping suds upon her apron from a pair of very large and very
red hands.

"Sakes alive, if hit hain't a lady! Hain't yo' done tol' her to git
off an' come in? Looks like yer manners, what little yo' ever hed of
'em, fell in the crick an' got drownded. Jest yo' climb right down
offen thet cayuse, dearie, an' come on in the house. John, yo' oncinch
thet saddle, an' then, Horatius Ezek'l, yo' an' David Golieth, taken
the hoss to the barn an' see't he's hayed an' watered 'fore yo' come
back. Microby Dandeline, yo' git a pot o' tea abilin' an' fry up a
bate o' bacon, an' cut some bread, an' warm up the rest o' thet pone,
an' yo', Lillian Russell, yo' finish dryin' them dishes an' set 'em
back on the table. An' Abraham Lincoln Wirt, yo' fetch a pail o'
water, an' wrinch out the worsh dish, an' set a piece o' soap by, an'
a clean towel, an' light up the lamp."

Under Ma Watts's volley of orders, issued without pause for breath,
things began to happen with admirable promptitude.

"Land sakes!" cried the woman, as Patty climbed painfully to the
ground, "hain't yo' that sore an' stiff! Yo' must a-rode clean from
town, an' hits fifty mile, an' yo' not use to ridin' neither, to tell
by the whiteness of yo' face. I'll help yo' git off them hat an'
gloves, an' thar sets the worsh dish on the bench beside the do'.
Microby Dandeline 'll hev a bite for ye d'rec'ly an' I'll fix yo' up a
shake-down. Horatius Ezek'l an' David Golieth kin go out an' crawl in
the hay an' yo' c'n hev theirn." Words flowed from Ma Watts naturally
and continuously without effort, as water flows from a spring. Patty
who had made several unsuccessful attempts to speak, interrupted

"Oh, I couldn't think of depriving the boys of their bed. I----"

"Now, honey, just yo' quit pesterin' 'bout thet. Them young-uns
'druther sleep out'n in, any time. Ef I'd let 'em they'd grow up plumb
wild. When yo've got worshed up come on right in the kitchen an' set
by. Us Wattses is plain folks an' don't pile on no dog. We've et an'
got through, but yo' take all the time yo're a mind to, an' me an'
Microby Dandeline 'll set by an' yo' c'n tell us who yo' be, ef yo're
a mind to, an' ef not hit don't make no difference. We hain't
partic'lar out here, nohow--we've hed preachers an' horse-thieves, an'
never asked no odds of neither. I says to Watts----"

Again the girl made forcible entry into the conversation. "My name is
Sinclair. Patty Sinclair, of Middleton, Connecticut. My father----"

"Land o' love! So yo're Mr. Sinclair's darter! Yo' do favor him a mite
about the eyes, come to look; but yer nose is diff'rnt to hisn, an'
so's yer mouth--must a be'n yer ma's was like that. But sometimes they
don't favor neither one. Take Microby Dandeline, here, 'tain't no one
could say she hain't Watts's, an' Horatius Ezek'l, he favors me, but
fer's the rest of 'em goes, they mightn't b'long to neither one of
us." Microby Dandeline placed the food upon the table and sank, quiet
as a mouse into a chair beneath the glass bracket-lamp with her large
dark eyes fixed upon Patty, who devoured the unappetizing food with an
enthusiasm born of real hunger, while the older woman analyzed volubly
the characteristics, facial and temperamental, of each and several of
the numerous Watts progeny.

Having exhausted the subject of offspring, Ma Watts flashed a direct
question. "How's yer pa, an' where's he at?"

"My father died last month," answered the girl without raising her
eyes from her plate.

"Fer the land sakes, child! I want to know!"

"Watts! Watts!" The lank form appeared in the doorway. "This here's
Mr. Sinclair's darter, an' he's up an' died."

The man's fingers fumbled uncertainly at his beard, as his wife paused
for the intelligence to strike home. "Folks does," he opined,
judiciously after a profound interval.

"That's so, when yo' come to think 'bout hit," admitted Ma Watts.
"What did he die of?"

"Cerebrospinal meningitis."

"My goodness sakes! I should think he would! When my pa died--back in
Tennessee, hit wus, the doctor 'lowed hit wus the eetch, but sho',
he'd hed thet fer hit wus goin' on seven year. 'Bout a week 'fore he
come to die, he got so's 't he couldn't eat nothin', an' he wus thet
het up with the fever he like to burnt up, an' his head ached him fit
to bust, an' he wus out of hit fer four days, an' I mistrust thet-all
mought of hed somethin' to do with his dyin'. The doctor, he come an'
bled him every day, but he died on him, an' then he claimed hit was
the eetch, or mebbe hit wus jest his time hed come, he couldn't tell
which. I've wondered sence if mebbe we'd got a town doctor he mought
of lived. But Doctor Swanky wus a mountain man an' we wus, too, so we
taken him. But, he wus more of a hoss doctor, an' seems like, he never
did hev no luck, much, with folks."

Her nerves all a-jangle from trail-strain and the depressing
atmosphere of the Watts ranch, it seemed to Patty she must shriek
aloud if the woman persisted in her ceaseless gabble.

"Yer pa wus a nice man, an' well thought of. We-all know'd him well.
It wus goin' on three year he prospected 'round here in the hills, an'
many a time he's sot right where yo're settin' now, an' et his meal o'
vittles. Some said las' fall 'fore he went back East how he'd made his
strike, an' hit wus quartz gold, an' how he'd gone back to git money
to work hit. Mr. Bethune thought so, an' Lord Clendenning. They must
of be'n thicker'n thieves with yer pa, 'cordin' to their tell." The
woman paused and eyed the girl inquisitively. "Did he make his strike,
an' why didn't he record hit?"

"I don't know," answered the girl wearily.

"An' don't yo' tell no one ef yo' do know. I b'lieve in folks bein'
close-mouthed. Like I'm allus a-tellin' Watts. But yo' must be plumb
wore out, what with ridin' all day, an' a-tellin' me all about
yo'se'f. I'll slip in an' turn them blankets an' yo' kin jest crawl
right into 'em an' sleep 'til yo' slep' out."

Ma Watts bustled away, and Microby Dandeline began to clear away the

"Can't I help?" offered Patty.

The large, wistful eyes regarded her seriously.

"No. I like yo'. Yo' hain't to worsh no dishes. Yo're purty. I like
Mr. Bethune, an' Lord Clendenning, an' that Vil Holland. I like
everybody. Folks is nice, hain't they?"

"Why--yes," agreed Patty, smiling into the big serious eyes. "How old
are you?"

"I'm seventeen, goin' on eighteen. Yo' come to live with us-uns?"

"No--that is--I don't know exactly where I am going to live."

"That Vil Holland, he's got a nice camp, an' 'tain't only him there.
Why don't yo' live there? I want to live there an' I go to his camp on
Gee Dot, but he chases me away, an' sometimes he gits mad."

"What is Gee Dot?" Patty stared in amazement at this girl with the
mind of a child.

"Oh, he's my pony. I reckon Mr. Bethune wouldn't git mad, but I don't
know where he lives."

"I think you had better stay right here," advised Patty, seriously.
"This is your home, you know."

"Yes, but they hain't much room. Me, an' Lillian Russell, an' David
Golieth sleeps on a shake-down, an' they-all shoves an' kicks, an'
sometimes when I want to sleep, Chattenoogy Tennessee sets up a
squarkin' an' I cain't. Babies is a lot of bother. An' they's a lot of
dishes an' chores an' things. Wisht I hed a dress like yo'n!" The girl
passed a timid finger over the fabric of Patty's moleskin riding coat.
Ma Watts appeared in the doorway connecting the two rooms.

"Well, fer the lands sakes! Listen at that! Microby Dandeline Watts,
where's yo' manners?" She turned to Patty. "Don't mind her, she's kind
o' simple, an' don't mean no harm. Yo' shake-down's ready fer yo' an'
I reckon yo' glad, bein' that wore out. Hit's agin the east wall. Jest
go on right in, don't mind Watts. Hit's dark in thar, an' he's rolled
in. We hain't only one bed an' me an' Watts an' the baby sleeps in
hit, on 'tother side the room. Watts, he aims to put up some bunks
when he gits time."

Sick at heart, and too tired and sore of body to protest against any
arrangement that would allow her to sleep the girl murmured her thanks
and crossed to the door of the bedroom. Not at all sure of her
bearings she paused uncertainly in the doorway until a sound of heavy
breathing located the slumbering Watts, and turning toward the
opposite side of the room, proceeded cautiously through the blackness
until her feet came in contact with her "shake-down," which consisted
of a pair of blankets placed upon a hay tick. The odor of the blankets
was anything but fresh, but she sank to the floor, and with much
effort and torturing of strained muscles, succeeded in removing her
boots and jacket and throwing herself upon the bed. Almost at the
moment her head touched the coarse, unslipped pillow, she fell into a
deep sleep, from which hours later she was awakened by an insistent
tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. "Someone has forgotten to pull up the
canoe and the waves are slapping it against the side of the dock," she
thought drowsily. "Did I have it last?" She stirred uneasily and the
pain of movement caused her to gasp. She opened her eyes, and instead
of her great airy chamber in Aunt Rebecca's mansion by the sea, she
was greeted by the sight of the hot, stuffy room of the Watts cabin. A
rumpled pile of blankets was mounded upon the bed against the opposite
wall, and a shake-down similar to her own occupied a space beside the
open door through which hot, bright sunlight streamed.

Several hens pecked assiduously at some crumbs, and Patty realized
that it was the sound of their bills upon the wooden floor that had
awakened her. She succeeded after several painful attempts in pulling
on her boots, and as she rose to her feet, Ma Watts thrust her head in
at the door.

"Lawzie! Honey, did them hens wake yo' up? Sho'! ef I'd a thought o'
thet, I'd o' fed 'em outside, an' yo' could of kep' on sleepin'. 'They
ain't nothin' like a good long sleep when yo' tired,' Watts says, an'
he ort to know. He aims to build a house fer them hens when he gits
time. Yo' know where the worsh dish is, jest make yo'se'f to home,
dinner'll be ready d'rec'ly." The feel of the cold water was grateful
as the girl dashed it over her face and hands from the little tin
wash-basin on the bench beside the door. Watts sat with his chair
resting upon its rear legs and its back against the shady west wall of
the cabin.

"Mo'nin'," he greeted. "Hit's right hot; I be'n studyin' 'bout fixin'
them thar arrigation ditches."

Patty smiled brightly. "All they need is cleaning out, isn't it?"

"Yas, mom. Thet an' riggin' up them flumes. But it's a right smart o'
work, an' then the resevoy's busted, too. I be'n aimin' to fix 'em
when I git time. They hain't had no water in 'em fer three year. Yo'
see, two year ago hit looked like rain mos' every day. Hit didn't rain
none to speak, but hit kep' a body hatin' to start workin' fer fear it
would. An' las' year hit never looked like rain none, so hit wasn't no
use fixin' 'em. An' this year I don't know jest what to do, hit might,
an' then agin hit mightn't. Drat thet sun! Here hit is dinner time.
Seems like hit never lets a body set in one place long 'nough to study
out whut he'd ort to do." Watts rose slowly to his feet, and
picking up his chair, walked deliberately around to the east side of
the house, where he planted it with the precision born of long
practice in the exact spot that the shadow would be longest at the
conclusion of the midday meal.

Patty entered the cabin and a few minutes later the sound of voices
reached her ears. Ma Watts hurried to the window.

"Well, if hit ain't Mr. Bethune an' Lord Clendenning! Ef you see one
you know the other hain't fer off. Hain't he good lookin' though--Mr.
Bethune? Lord hain't so much fer looks, but he's some high up nobility
like over to England where he come from, only over yere they call 'em
remittance men, an' they don't do nothin' much but ride around an'
drink whisky, an' they git paid for hit, too. Folks says how Mr.
Bethune's gran'ma wus a squaw, but I don't believe 'em. Anyways, I
allus like him. He's got manners, an' hit don't stan' to reason no
breed would have manners."

Patty could distinctly see the two riders as they lounged in their
saddles. The larger, whose bulging blue eyes and drooping blond
mustache gave him a peculiar walrus-like expression, she swept at a
glance. The other was talking to Watts and the girl noted the slender
figure with its almost feminine delicacy of mold, and the finely
chiseled features dominated by eyes black as jet--eyes that glowed
with a velvety softness as he spoke.

"We have been looking over your upper pasture," he said. "A fellow
named Schmidt over in the Blackfoot country will be delivering some
horses across the line this summer and he wants to rent some pastures
at different points along the trail. How about it?"

Watts rubbed his beard uncertainly. "Them fences hain't hoss tight. I
be'n studyin' 'bout fixin' 'em."

"Why don't you get at it?"

"Well they's the resevoy, an' the ditches----"

"Never mind the ditches. All that fence needs is a few posts and some

"My ax hain't fitten to chop with no mo', an' I druv over the spade
an' bruk the handle. I hain't got no luck."

Reaching into his pocket, Bethune withdrew a gold piece which he
tossed to Watts. "Maybe this will change your luck," he smiled. "The
fact is I want that pasture--or, rather, Schultz does."

"Thought yo' said Schmidt."

"Did I? Those kraut names all sound alike to me. But his name is
Schultz. The point is, he'll pay you five dollars a month to hold the
pasture, and five dollars for every day or night he uses it. That ten
spot pays for the first two months. Better buy a new ax and spade and
some staples and get to work. The exercise will do you good, and
Schultz may want to use that pasture in a couple of weeks or so."

"Well, I reckon I kin. Hit's powerful hot fer to work much, but that's
a sight o' money. As I wus sayin' to Mr. Sinclair's darter----"

"Sinclair's daughter! What do you mean? Is Sinclair back?"

Patty noted the sudden flash of the jet black eyes at the mention of
her father's name. It was as though a point of polished steel had
split their velvet softness. Yet there was no hostility in the glance;
rather, it was a gleam of intense interest. The girl's own interest in
the quarter-breed had been casual at most, hardly more than that
accorded by a passing glance until she had chanced to hear him refer
to the man in the Blackfoot country in one breath as Schmidt, and in
the next as Schultz. She wondered at that and so had remained standing
beside Mrs. Watts, screened from the outside by the morning-glory
vines that served as a curtain for the window. The trifling incident
of the changed name was forgotten in the speculation as to why her
father's return to the hill country should be a matter of evident
import to this sagebrush cavalier. So intent had she become that she
hardly noticed the cruel bluntness of Watts's reply.

"He's dead."


"Yas, he died back East an' his darter's come."

"Does she know he made a strike?" Patty noted the look of eagerness
that accompanied the words.

"I do'no." Watts wagged his head slowly. "Mebbe so; mebbe not."

"Because, if she doesn't," Bethune hastened to add, "she should be
told. Rod Sinclair was one of the best friends I had, and if he has
gone I'm right here to see that his daughter gets a square deal. Of
course if she has the location, she's all right." Patty wondered
whether the man had purposely raised his voice, or was it her

Ma Watts had started for the door. "Come on out, honey, an' I'll make
yo' acquainted with Mr. Bethune. He wus a friend of yo' pa, an' Lord
too." As she followed the woman to the door, the girl was conscious of
an indefinable feeling of distrust for the man. Somehow, his words had
not rung true.

As the two women stepped from the house the horsemen swung from their
saddles and stood with uncovered heads.

"This yere's Mr. Sinclair's darter, Mr. Bethune," beamed Ma Watts.
"An' I'd take hit proud ef yo'd all stay to dinner."

"Ah, Miss Sinclair, I am most happy to know you. Permit me to present
my friend Lord Clendenning."

The Englishman bowed low. "The prefix is merely a euphonism Miss
Sinclair. What you really behold in me is the decayed part of a
decaying aristocracy."

Patty laughed. "My goodness, what frankness!"

"Come on, now, an' set by 'fore the vittles gits cold on us. Yere yo'
Horatius Ezek'l an' David Golieth, yo' hay them hosses!"

"No, no! Really, Mrs. Watts, we must not presume on your hospitality.
Important business demands our presence elsewhere."

"Lawzie, Mr. Bethune, there yo' go with them big words agin. Which I
s'pose yo' mean yo' cain't stay. But they's a plenty, an' yo'
welcome." Again Bethune declined and as the woman re-entered the
house, he turned to the girl.

"I only just learned of your father's untimely death. Permit me to
express my sincerest sympathy, and to assure you that if I can be of
service to you in any way I am yours to command."

"Thank you," answered Patty, flushing slightly under the scrutiny of
the black eyes. "I am here to locate my father's claim. I want to do
it alone, but if I can't I shall certainly ask assistance of his

"Exactly. But, my dear Miss Sinclair, let me warn you. There are men
in these hills who suspected that your father made a strike, who would
stop at nothing to wrest your secret from you." The girl nodded. "I
suppose so. But forewarned is forearmed, isn't it? I thank you."

"Thet Vil Holland wus by yeste'day," said Watts.

Bethune frowned. "What did he want?"

"Didn't want nothin'. Jest come a-ridin' by."

"I should think you'd had enough of him after the way he ran your
sheep man off."

Watts rubbed his beard. "Well, I do'no. The cattlemen pays me same as
that sheep man done. Vil Holland tended to that."

"That isn't the point. What right has Vil Holland and others of his
ilk to tell you, or me, or anybody else who we shall, or shall not
rent to? It is the principle of the thing. The running off of those
sheep was a lawless act, and the sooner lawlessness, as exemplified by
Vil Holland is stamped out of these hills, the better it will be for
the community. He better not try to bulldoze me." Bethune turned to
Patty. "That Vil Holland is the man I had in mind, Miss Sinclair, when
I warned you to choose your friends wisely. He would stop at nothing
to gain an end, even to posing as a friend of your father. In all
probability he will offer to assist you, but if you have any map or
description of your father's location do not under any circumstances
show it to him."

Patty smiled. "If any such paper exists I shall keep it to myself."

Bethune returned the smile. "Good-by," he said. "I shall look forward
to meeting you again. Shall you remain here?"

"I have made no plans," she answered, and as she watched the two
riders disappear down the creek trail her lips twisted into a smile.
"May pose as a friend of your father ... and probably will offer to
assist you;" she repeated under her breath. "Well, Mr. Bethune, I
thank you again for the warning."

Next: Patty Goes To Town

Previous: A Horseman Of The Hills

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