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Beatrice's Wild Ride








From: Her Prairie Knight

"Well, are we all ready?" Dick gathered up his reins, and took critical
inventory of the load. His mother peered under the front seat to be
doubly sure that there were at least four umbrellas and her waterproof
raglan in the rig; Mrs. Lansell did not propose to be caught unawares in
a storm another time. Miss Hayes straightened Dorman's cap, and told
him to sit down, dear, and then called upon Sir Redmond to enforce the
command. Sir Redmond repeated her command, minus the dear, and then rode
on ahead to overtake Beatrice and Keith, who had started. Dick climbed
up over the front wheel, released the brake, chirped at the horses, and
they were off for Lost Canyon.

Beatrice was behaving beautifully, and her mother only hoped to heaven
it would last the day out; perhaps Sir Redmond would be able to extract
some sort of a promise from her in that mood, Mrs. Lansell reflected,
as she watched Beatrice chatting to her two cavaliers, with the most
decorous impartiality. Sir Redmond seemed in high spirits, which argued
well; Mrs. Lansell gave herself up to the pleasure of the drive with
a heart free from anxiety. Not only was Beatrice at her best; Dorman's
mood was nothing short of angelic, and as the weather was simply
perfect, the day surely promised well.

For a mile Keith had showed signs of a mind not at ease, and at last he
made bold to speak.

"I thought Rex was to be your saddle-horse?" he said abruptly to
Beatrice.

"He was; but when Dick brought Goldie home, last night, I fell in love
with him on sight, and just teased Dick till he told me I might have him
to ride."

"I thought Dick had some sense," Keith said gloomily.

"He has. He knew there would be no peace till he surrendered."

"I didn't know you were going to ride him, when I sold him to Dick. He's
not safe for a woman."

"Does he buck, Mr. Cameron? Dick said he was gentle." Beatrice had seen
a horse buck, one day, and had a wholesome fear of that form of equine
amusement.

"Oh, no. I never knew him to."

"Then I don't mind anything else. I'm accustomed to horses," said
Beatrice, and smiled welcome to Sir Redmond, who came up with them at
that moment.

"You want to ride him with a light rein," Keith cautioned, clinging to
the subject. "He's tenderbitted, and nervous. He won't stand for any
jerking, you see."

"I never jerk, Mr. Cameron." Keith discovered that big, baffling,
blue-brown eyes can, if they wish, rival liquid air for coldness. "I
rode horses before I came to Montana."

Of course, when a man gets frozen with a girl's eyes, and scorched
with a girl's sarcasm, the thing for him to do is to retreat until the
atmosphere becomes normal. Keith fell behind just as soon as he could
do so with some show of dignity, and for several miles tried to convince
himself that he would rather talk to Dick and "the old maid" than not.

"Don't you know," Sir Redmond remarked sympathetically, "some of these
Western fellows are inclined to be deuced officious and impertinent."

Sir Redmond got a taste of the freezing process that made him change the
subject abruptly.

The way was rough and lonely; the trail wound over sharp-nosed hills and
through deep, narrow coulees, with occasional, tantalizing glimpses of
the river and the open land beyond, that kept Beatrice in a fever of
enthusiasm. From riding blithely ahead, she took to lagging far behind
with her kodak, getting snap-shots of the choicest bits of scenery.

"Another cartridge, please, Sir Redmond," she said, and wound
industriously on the finished roll.

"It's a jolly good thing I brought my pockets full." Sir Redmond fished
one out for her. "Was that a dozen?"

"No; that had only six films. I want a larger one this time. It is a
perfect nuisance to stop and change. Be still, Goldie!"

"We're getting rather a long way behind--but I fancy the road is plain."

"We'll hurry and overtake them. I won't take any more pictures."

"Until you chance upon something you can't resist. I understand all
that, you know." Sir Redmond, while he teased, was pondering whether
this was an auspicious time and place to ask Beatrice to marry him. He
had tried so many times and places that seemed auspicious, that the man
was growing fearful. It is not pleasant to have a girl smile indulgently
upon you and deftly turn your avowals aside, so that they fall flat.

"I'm ready," she announced, blind to what his eyes were saying.

"Shall we trek?" Sir Redmond sighed a bit. He was not anxious to
overtake the others.

"We will. Only, out here people never 'trek,' Sir Redmond. They 'hit the
trail'."

"So they do. And the way these cowboys do it, one would think they were
couriers, by Jove! with the lives of a whole army at stake. So I fancy
we had better hit the trail, eh?"

"You're learning," Beatrice assured him, as they started on. "A year out
here, and you would be a real American, Sir Redmond."

Sir Redmond came near saying, "The Lord forbid!" but he thought better
of it. Beatrice was intensely loyal to her countrymen, unfortunately,
and would certainly resent such a remark; but, for all that, he thought
it.

For a mile or two she held to her resolve, and then, at the top of a
long hill overlooking the canyon where they were to eat their lunch, out
came her kodak again.

"This must be Lost Canyon, for Dick has stopped by those trees. I want
to get just one view from here. Steady, Goldie! Dear me, this horse does
detest standing still!"

"I fancy he is anxious to get down with the others. Let me hold him for
you. Whoa, there!" He put a hand upon the bridle, a familiarity Goldie
resented. He snorted and dodged backward, to the ruin of the picture
Beatrice was endeavoring to get.

"Now you've frightened him. Whoa, pet! It's of no use to try; he won't
stand."

"Let me have your camera. He's getting rather an ugly temper, I think."
Sir Redmond put out his hand again, and again Goldie dodged backward.

"I can do better alone, Sir Redmond." The cheeks of Beatrice were red.
She managed to hold the horse in until her kodak was put safely in its
case, but her temper, as well as Goldie's, was roughened. She hated
spoiling a film, which she was perfectly sure she had done.

Goldie felt the sting of her whip when she brought him back into the
road, and, from merely fretting, he took to plunging angrily. Then, when
Beatrice pulled him up sharply, he thrust out his nose, grabbed the bit
in his teeth, and bolted down the hill, past all control.

"Good God, hold him!" shouted Sir Redmond, putting his horse to a run.

The advice was good, and Beatrice heard it plainly enough, but she
neither answered nor looked back. How, she thought, resentfully, was one
to hold a yellow streak of rage, with legs like wire springs and a neck
of iron? Besides, she was angrily alive to the fact that Keith Cameron,
watching down below, was having his revenge. She wondered if he was
enjoying it.

He was not. Goldie, when he ran, ran blindly in a straight line, and
Keith knew it. He also knew that the Englishman couldn't keep within
gunshot of Goldie, with the mount he had, and half a mile away--Keith
shut his teeth hard together, and went out to meet her. Redcloud lay
along the ground in great leaps, but Keith, bending low over his neck,
urged him faster and faster, until the horse, his ears laid close
against his neck, did the best there was in him. From the tail of his
eye, Keith saw Sir Redmond's horse go down upon his knees, and get up
limping--and the sight filled him with ungenerous gladness; Sir Redmond
was out of the race. It was Keith and Redcloud--they two; and Keith
could smile over it.

He saw Beatrice's hat loosen and lift in front, flop uncertainly, and
then go sailing away into the sage-brush, and he noted where it fell,
that he might find it, later. Then he was close enough to see her face,
and wondered that there was so little fear written there. Beatrice was
plucky, and she rode well, her weight upon the bit; but her weight was
nothing to the clinched teeth of the horse; and, though she had known
it from the start, she was scarcely frightened. There was a good deal of
the daredevil in Beatrice; she trusted a great deal to blind luck.

Just there the land was level, and she hoped to check him on the slope
of the hill before them. She did not know it was moated like a castle,
with a washout ten feet deep and twice that in width, and that what
looked to her quite easy was utterly impossible.

Keith gained, every leap. In a moment he was close behind.

"Take your foot out of the stirrup," he commanded, harshly, and though
Beatrice wondered why, something in his voice made her obey.

Now Redcloud's nose was even with her elbow; the breath from his
wide-flaring nostrils rose hotly in her face. Another bound, and he had
forged ahead, neck and neck with Goldie, and it was Keith by her side,
keen-eyed and calm.

"Let go all hold," he said. Reaching suddenly, he caught her around the
waist and pulled her from the saddle, just as Redcloud, scenting danger,
plowed his front feet deeply into the loose soil and stopped dead still.

It was neatly done, and quickly; so quickly that before Beatrice had
more than gasped her surprise, Keith lowered her to the ground and slid
out of the saddle. Beatrice looked at him, and wondered at his face, and
at the way he was shaking. He leaned weakly against the horse and hid
his face on his arm, and trembled at what had come so close to the
girl--the girl, who stood there panting a little, with her wonderful,
waving hair cloaking her almost to her knees, and her blue-brown eyes
wide and bright, and full of a deep amazement. She forgot Goldie, and
did not even look to see what had become of him; she forgot nearly
everything, just then, in wonder at this tall, clean-built young fellow,
who never had seemed to care what happened, leaning there with his face
hidden, his hat far hack on his head and little drops standing thickly
upon his forehead. She waited a moment, and when he did not move, her
thoughts drifted to other things.

"I wonder," she said abstractedly, "if I broke my kodak."

Keith lifted his head and looked at her. "Your kodak--good Lord!" He
looked hard into her eyes, and she returned the stare.

"Come here," he commanded, hoarsely, catching her arm. "Your kodak! Look
down there!" He led her to the brink, which was close enough to set him
shuddering anew. "Look! There's Goldie, damn him! It's a wonder he's
on his feet; I thought he'd be dead--and serve him right. And you--you
wonder if you broke your kodak!"

Beatrice drew back from him, and from the sight below, and if she were
frightened, she tried not to let him see. "Should I have fainted?"
She was proud of the steadiness of her voice. "Really, I am very much
obliged to you, Mr. Cameron, for saving me from an ugly fall. You did it
very neatly, I imagine, and I am grateful. Still, I really hope I didn't
break my kodak. Are you very disappointed because I can't faint away?
There doesn't seem to be any brook close by, you see--and I haven't my
er--lover's arms to fall into. Those are the regulation stage settings,
I believe, and--"

"Don't worry, Miss Lansell. I didn't expect you to faint, or to show any
human feelings whatever. I do pity your horse, though."

"You didn't a minute ago," she reminded him. "You indulged in a bit of
profanity, if I remember."

"For which I beg Goldie's pardon," he retorted, his eyes unsmiling.

"And mine, I hope."

"Certainly."

"I think it's rather absurd to stand here sparring, Mr. Cameron. You'll
begin to accuse me of ingratitude, and I'm as grateful as possible for
what you did. Sir Redmond's horse was too slow to keep up, or he would
have been at hand, no doubt."

"And could have supplied part of the stage setting. Too bad he was
behind." Keith turned and readjusted the cinch on his saddle, though it
was not loose enough to matter, and before he had finished Sir Redmond
rode up.

"Are you hurt, Beatrice?" His face was pale, and his eyes anxious.

"Not at all. Mr. Cameron kindly helped me from the saddle in time to
prevent an accident. I wish you'd thank him, Sir Redmond. I haven't the
words."

"You needn't trouble," said Keith hastily, getting into the saddle.
"I'll go down after Goldie. You can easily find the camp, I guess,
without a pilot." Then he galloped away and left them, and would
not look back; if he had done so, he would have seen Beatrice's eyes
following him remorsefully. Also, he would have seen Sir Redmond glare
after him jealously; for Sir Redmond was not in a position to know that
their tete-a-tete had not been a pleasant one, and no man likes to have
another fellow save the life of a woman he loves, while he himself is
limping painfully up from the rear.

However, the woman he loved was very gracious to him that day, and for
many days, and Keith Cameron held himself aloof during the rest of the
trip, which should have contented Sir Redmond.





Next: Dorman Plays Cupid

Previous: Mrs Lansell's Lecture



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