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Miss Darling Arrives

From: A Story Of The Outdoor West

Miss Messiter clung to civilization enough, at least, to prefer that her
chambermaid should be a woman rather than a Chinese. It did not suit her
preconceived idea of the proper thing that Lee Ming should sweep floors,
dust bric-a-brac, and make the beds. To see him slosh-sloshing around
in his felt slippers made her homesick for Kalamazoo. There were other
reasons why the proprieties would be better served by having another
woman about the place; reasons that had to do with the chaperone system
that even in the uncombed West make its claims upon unmarried
young women of respectability. She had with her for the present
fourteen-year-old Ida Henderson, but this arrangement was merely

Wherefore on the morning after her arrival Helen had sent two letters
back to "the States." One of these had been to Mrs. Winslow, a widow of
fifty-five, inviting her to come out on a business basis as housekeeper

of the Lazy D. The buxom widow had loved Helen since she had been a
toddling baby, and her reply was immediate and enthusiastic. Eight
days later she had reported in person. The second letter bore the
affectionate address of Nora Darling, Detroit, Michigan. This also in
time bore fruit at the ranch in a manner worthy of special mention.

It was the fourth day after Ned Bannister had been carried back to the
Lazy D that Helen Messiter came out to the porch of the house with a
letter in her hand. She found her foreman sitting on the steps waiting
for her, but he got up as soon as he heard the fall of her light
footsteps behind him.

"You sent for me, ma'am?" he asked, hat in hand.

"Yes; I want you to drive into Gimlet Butte and bring back a person whom
you'll find at the Elk House waiting for you. I had rather you would go
yourself, because I know you're reliable."

"Thank you, ma'am. How will I know him?"

"It's a woman--a spinster. She's coming to help Mrs. Winslow. Inquire
for Miss Darling. She isn't used to jolting two days in a rig, but I
know you will be careful of her."

"I'll surely be as careful of the old lady as if she was my own mother."

The mistress of the ranch smothered a desire to laugh.

"I'm sure you will. At her age she may need a good deal of care. Be
certain you take rug enough."

"I'll take care of her the best I know how. Expect she's likely
rheumatic, but I'll wrop her up till she looks like a Cheyenne squaw
when tourist is trying to get a free shoot at her with camera."

"Please do. I want her to get a good impression of Wyoming so that she
will stay. I don' know about the rheumatism, but you might ask her."

There were pinpoints of merriment behind the guileless innocence of her
eyes, but they came to the surface only after the foreman had departed.

McWilliams ordered a team of young horse hitched, and presently set out
on his two day; journey to Gimlet Butte. He reached that town in good
season, left the team at a corral and walked back to the Elk House.
The white dust of the plains was heavy on him, from the bandanna
that loosely embraced the brown throat above the flannel shirt to the
encrusted boots but through it the good humor of his tanned face smiled
fraternally on a young woman he passes at the entrance to the hotel. Her
gay smile met his cordially, and she was still in his mind while he
ran his eye down the register in search of the name he wanted. There
it was--Miss Nora Darling, Detroit, Michigan--in the neatest of little
round letters, under date of the previous day's arrivals.

"Is Miss Darling in?" asked McWilliams of the half-grown son of the
landlady who served in lieu of clerk and porter.

"Nope! Went out a little while ago. Said to tell anybody to wait that
asked for her."

Mac nodded, relieved to find that duty had postponed itself long enough
for him to pursue the friendly smile that had not been wasted on him
a few seconds before. He strolled out to the porch and decided at once
that he needed a cigar more than anything else on earth. He was helped
to a realization of his need by seeing the owner of the smile disappear
in an adjoining drug store.

She was beginning on a nut sundae when the puncher drifted in. She
continued to devote even her eyes to its consumption, while the foreman
opened a casual conversation with the drug clerk and lit his cigar.

"How are things coming in Gimlet Butte?" he asked, by way of prolonging
his stay rather than out of desire for information.

Yes, she certainly had the longest, softest lashes he had ever seen, and
the ripest of cherry lips, behind the smiling depths of which sparkled
two rows of tiny pearls. He wished she would look at HIM and smile
again. There wasn't any use trying to melt a sundae with it, anyhow.

"Sure, it's a good year on the range and the price of cows jumping," he
heard his sub-conscious self make answer to the patronizing inquiries of
him of the "boiled" shirt.

"Funny how pretty hair of that color was especially when there was so
much of it. You might call it a sort of coppery gold where the little
curls escaped in tendrils and ran wild. A fellow--"

"Yes, I reckon most of the boys will drop around to the Fourth of July
celebration. Got to cut loose once in a while, y'u know."

A shy glance shot him and set him a-tingle with a queer delight.
Gracious, what pretty dark velvety lashes she had!

She was rising already, and as she paid for the ice cream that innocent
gaze smote him again with the brightest of Irish eyes conceivable. It
lingered for just a ponderable sunlit moment or him. She had smiled once

After a decent interval Mac pursued his petit charmer to the hotel.
She was seated on the porch reading a magazine, and was absorbedly
unconscious of him when he passed. For a few awkward moments he hung
around the office, then returned to the porch and took the chair most
distant from her. He had sat there a long ten minutes before she let
her hands and the magazine fall into her lap and demurely gave him his

"Can you tell me how far it is to the Lazy D ranch?"

"Seventy-two miles as the crow flies, ma'am."

"Thank you."

The conversation threatened to die before it was well born. Desperately
McWilliams tried to think of something to say to keep it alive without
being too bold.

"If y'u were thinking of traveling out that way I could give y'u a lift.
I just came in to get another lady--an old lady that has just come to
this country."

"Thank you, but I'm expecting a conveyance to meet me here. You didn't
happen to pass one on the way, I suppose?"

"No, I didn't. What ranch were y'u going to, ma'am?

"Miss Messiter's--the Lazy D."

A suspicion began to penetrate the foreman's brain. "Y'u ain't Miss

"What makes you so sure I'm not?" she asked, tilting her dimpled chin
toward him aggressively.

"Y'u're too young," he protested, helplessly.

"I'm no younger than you are," came her quick, indignant retort.

Thus boldly accused of his youth, the foreman blushed. "I didn't mean
that. Miss Messiter said she was an old lady--"

"You needn't tell fibs about it. She couldn't have said anything of the
kind. Who are you, anyhow?" the girl demanded, with spirit.

"I'm the foreman of the Lazy D, come to get Miss Darling. My name is
McWilliams--Jim McWilliams."

"I don't need your first name, Mr. McWilliams," she assured him,
sweetly. "And will you please tell me why you have kept me waiting here
more than thirty hours?"

"Miss Messiter didn't get your letter in time. Y'u see, we don't get
mail every day at the Lazy D," he explained, the while he hopefully
wondered just when she was going to need his last name.

"I don't see why you don't go after your mail every day at least,
especially when Miss Messiter was expecting me. To leave me waiting
here thirty hours--I'll not stand it. When does the next train leave for
Detroit?" she asked, imperiously.

The situation seemed to call for diplomacy, and Jim McWilliams moved to
a nearer chair. "I'm right sorry it happened, ma'am, and I'll bet Miss
Messiter is, too. Y'u see, we been awful busy one way and 'nother, and I
plumb neglected to send one of the boys to the post-office."

"Why didn't one of them walk over after supper?" she demanded, severely.

He curbed the smile that was twitching at his facial muscles.

"Well, o' course it ain't so far,--only forty-three miles--still--"

"Forty-three miles to the post-office?"

"Yes, ma'am, only forty-three. If you'll excuse me this time--"

"Is it really forty-three?"

He saw that her sudden smile had brought out the dimples in the oval
face and that her petulance had been swept away by his astounding

"Forty-three, sure as shootin', except twict a week when it comes to
Slauson's, and that's only twenty miles," he assured her. "Used to be
seventy-two, but the Government got busy with its rural free delivery,
and now we get it right at our doors."

"You must have big doors," she laughed.

"All out o' doors," he punned. "Y'u see, our house is under our hat, and
like as not that's twenty miles from the ranchhouse when night falls."

"Dear me!" She swept his graceful figure sarcastically. "And, of course,
twenty miles from a brush, too."

He laughed with deep delight at her thrust, for the warm youth in him
did not ask for pointed wit on the part of a young woman so attractive
and with a manner so delightfully provoking.

"I expaict I have gathered up some scenery on the journey. I'll go brush
it off and get ready for supper. I'd admire to sit beside y'u and pass
the butter and the hash if y'u don't object. Y'u see, I don't often meet
up with ladies, and I'd ought to improve my table manners when I get
a chanct with one so much older than I am and o' course so much more

"I see you don't intend to pass any honey with the hash," she flashed,
with a glimpse of the pearls.

"DIDN'T y'u say y'u was older than me? I believe I've plumb forgot how
old y'u said y'u was, Miss Darling."

"Your memory's such a sieve it wouldn't be worth while telling you.
After you've been to school a while longer maybe I'll try you again."

"Some ladies like 'em young," he suggested, amiably.

"But full grown," she amended.

"Do y'u judge by my looks or my ways?" he inquired, anxiously.

"By both."

"That's right strange," he mused aloud. "For judging by some of your
ways you're the spinster Miss Messiter was telling me about, but judging
by your looks y'u're only the prettiest and sassiest twenty-year-old in

And with this shot he fled, to see what transformation he could effect
with the aid of a whiskbroom, a tin pan of alkali water and a roller

When she met him at the supper table her first question was, "Did Miss
Messiter say I was an old maid?"

"Sho! I wouldn't let that trouble me if I was y'u. A woman ain't any
older than she looks. Your age don't show to speak of."

"But did she?"

"I reckon she laid a trap for me and I shoved my paw in. She wanted to
give me a pleasant surprise."


"Don't y'u grow anxious about being an old maid. There ain't any in
Wyoming to speak of. If y'u like I'll tell the boys you're worried
and some of them will be Johnnie-on-the-Spot. They're awful gallant,
cowpunchers are."

"Some of them may be," she differed. "If you want to know I'm just

He sawed industriously at his steak. "Y'u don't say! Just old enough to
vote--like this steer was before they massacreed him."

She gave him one look, and thereafter punished him with silence.

They left Gimlet Butte early next morning and reached the Lazy D shortly
after noon on the succeeding day. McWilliams understood perfectly that
strenuous competition would inevitably ensue as soon as the Lazy D
beheld the attraction he had brought into their midst. Nor did he need
a phrenologist to tell him that Nora was a born flirt and that her shy
slant glances were meant to penetrate tough hides to tender hearts.
But this did not discourage him, and he set about making his individual
impression while he had her all to himself. He wasn't at all sure how
deep this went, but he had the satisfaction of hearing his first name,
the one she had told him she had no need of, fall tentatively from her
pretty lips before the other boys caught a glimpse of her.

Shortly after his arrival at the ranch Mac went to make his report to
his mistress of some business matters connected with the trip.

"I see you got back safely with the old lady," she laughed when she
caught sight of him.

His look reproached her. "Y'u said a spinster."

"But it was you that insisted on the rheumatism. By the way, did you ask
her about it?"

"We didn't get that far," he parried.

"Oh! How far did you get?" She perched herself on the porch railing and
mocked him with her friendly eyes. Her heart was light within her and
she was ready for anything in the way of fun, for the doctor had just
pronounced her patient out of danger if he took proper care of himself.

"About as fur as I got with y'u, ma'am," he audaciously retorted.

"We might disagree as to how far that is," she flung back gayly with
heightened color.

"No, ma'am, I don't think we would."

"But, gracious! You're not a Mormon. You don't want us both, do you?"
she demanded, her eyes sparkling with the exhilaration of the tilt.

"Could I get either one of y'u, do y'u reckon? That's what's worrying

"I see, and so you intend to keep us both on the string."

His joyous laughter echoed hers. "I expaict y'u would call that
presumption or some other dictionary word, wouldn't y'u?"

"In anybody else perhaps, but surely not in Mr. McWilliams."

"I'm awful glad to be trotting in a class by myself."

"And you'll let us know when you have made your mind up which of us it
is to be?"

"Well, mine ain't the only mind that has to be made up," he drawled.

She took this up gleefully. "I can't answer for Nora, but I'll jump at
the chance--if you decide to give it to me."

He laughed delightedly into the hat he was momentarily expecting to put
on. "I'll mill it over a spell and let y'u know, ma'am."

"Yes, think it over from all points of view. Of course she is prettier,
but then I'm not afflicted with rheumatism and probably wouldn't flirt
as much afterward. I have a good temper, too, as a rule, but then so has

"Oh, she's prettier, is she?" With boyish audacity he grinned at her.

"What do you think?"

He shook his head. "I'll have to go to the foot of the class on that,
ma'am. Give me an easier one."

"I'll have to choose another subject then. What did you do about that
bunch of Circle 66 cows you looked at on your way in?"

They discussed business for a few minutes, after which she went back to
her patient and he to his work.

"Ain't she a straight-up little gentleman for fair?" the foreman asked
himself in rhetorical and exuberant question, slapping his hat against
his leg as he strode toward the corral. "Think of her coming at me like
she did, the blamed little thoroughbred. Y'u bet she knows me down to
the ground and how sudden I got over any fool notions I might a-started
to get in my cocoanut. But the way she came back at me, quick as
lightning and then some, pretendin' all that foolishness and knowin' all
the time I'd savez the game."

Both McWilliams and his mistress had guessed right in their surmise as
to Nora Darling's popularity in the cow country. She made an immediate
and pronounced hit. It was astonishing how many errands the men found to

take them to "the house," as they called the building where the mistress
of the ranch dwelt. Bannister served for a time as an excellent
excuse. Judging from the number of the inquiries which the men found
it necessary to make as to his progress, Helen would have guessed
him exceedingly popular with her riders. Having a sense of humor, she
mentioned this to McWilliams one day.

He laughed, and tried to turn it into a compliment to his mistress. But
she would have none of it.

"I know better, sir. They don't come here to see me. Nora is the
attraction, and I have sense enough to know it. My nose is quite out of
joint," she laughed.

Mac looked with gay earnestness at the feature she had mentioned.
"There's a heap of difference in noses," he murmured, apparently apropos
of nothing.

"That's another way of telling me that Nora's pug is the sweetest thing
you ever saw," she charged.

"I ain't half such a bad actor as some of the boys," he deprecated.

"Meaning in what way?"

"The Nora Darling way."

He pronounced her name so much as if it were a caress that his mistress
laughed, and he joined in it.

"It's your fickleness that is breaking my heart, though I knew I was
lost as soon as I saw your beatific look on the day you got back with
Nora. The first week I came none of you could do enough for me. Now it's
all Nora, darling." She mimicked gayly his intonation.

"Well, ma'am, it's this way," explained the foreman with a grin.
"Y'u're right pleasant and friendly, but the boys have got a savvy way
down deep that y'u'd shuck that friendliness awful sudden if any of them
dropped around with 'Object, Matrimony' in their manner. Consequence
is, they're loaded down to the ground with admiration of their boss,
but they ain't presumptuous enough to expaict any more. I had notions,
mebbe, I'd cut more ice, me being not afflicted with bashfulness. My
notions faded, ma'am, in about a week."

"Then Nora came?" she laughed.

"No, ma'am, they had gone glimmering long before she arrived. I was just
convalescent enough to need being cheered up when she drapped in."

"And are you cheered up yet?" his mistress asked.

He took off his dusty hat and scratched his head. "I ain't right
certain, yet, ma'am. Soon as I know I'm consoled, I'll be round with an
invite to the wedding."

"That is, if you are."

"If I am--yes. Y'u can't most always tell when they have eyes like

"You're quite an authority on the sex considering your years."

"Yes, ma'am." He looked aggrieved, thinking himself a man grown. "How
did y'u say Mr. Bannister was?"

"Wait, and I'll send Nora out to tell you," she flashed, and disappeared
in the house.

Conversation at the bunkhouse and the chucktent sometimes circled
around the young women at the house, but its personality rarely grew
pronounced. References to Helen Messiter and the housemaid were usually
by way of repartee at each other. For a change had come over the spirit
of the Lazy D men, and, though a cheerful profanity still flowed freely
when they were alone together, vulgarity was largely banished.

The morning after his conversation with Miss Messiter, McWilliams
was washing in the foreman's room when the triangle beat the call for
breakfast, and he heard the cook's raucous "Come and get it." There was
the usual stampede for the tent, and a minute later Mac flung back the
flap and entered. He took the seat at the head of the table, along the
benches on both sides of which the punchers were plying busy knives and

"A stack of chips," ordered the foreman; and the cook's "Coming up" was
scarcely more prompt than the plate of hot cakes he set before the young

"Hen fruit, sunny side up," shouted Reddy, who was further advanced in
his meal.

"Tame that fog-horn, son," advised Wun Hop; but presently he slid three
fried eggs from a frying-pan into the plate of the hungry one.

"I want y'u boys to finish flankin' that bunch of hill calves to-day,"
said the foreman, emptying half a jug of syrup over his cakes.

"Redtop, he ain't got no appetite these days," grinned Denver, as the
gentleman mentioned cleaned up a second loaded plate of ham, eggs and
fried potatoes. "I see him studying a Wind River Bible* yesterday.
Curious how in the spring a young man's fancy gits to wandering on house
furnishing. Red, he was taking the catalogue alphabetically. Carpets was
absorbin' his attention, chairs on deck, and chandeliers in the hole, as
we used to say when we was baseball kids."

[* A Wind River Bible in the Northwest ranch country is a
catalogue of one of the big Chicago department stores that
does a large shipping business in the West.]

"Ain't a word of truth in it," indignantly denied the assailed, his
unfinished nose and chin giving him a pathetic, whipped puppy look.
"Sho! I was just looking up saddles. Can't a fellow buy a new saddle
without asking leave of Denver?"

"Cyarpets used to begin with a C in my spelling-book, but saddles got
off right foot fust with a S," suggested Mac amiably.

"He was ce'tainly trying to tree his saddle among the C's. He was
looking awful loving at a Turkish rug. Reckon he thought it was a
saddle-blanket," derided Denver cheerfully.

"Huh! Y'u're awful smart, Denver," retaliated Reddy, his complexion
matching his hair. "Y'u talk a heap with your mouth. Nobody believes a
word of what y'u say."

Denver relaxed into a range song by way of repartee:

"I want mighty bad to be married, To have a garden and a home; I
ce'tainly aim to git married, And have a gyurl for my own."

"Aw! Y'u fresh guys make me tired. Y'u don't devil me a bit, not a bit.
Whyfor should I care what y'u say? I guess this outfit ain't got no
surcingle on me." Nevertheless, he made a hurried end of his breakfast
and flung out of the tent.

"Y'u boys hadn't ought to wound Reddy's tender feelings, and him so bent
on matrimony!" said Denver innocently. "Get a move on them fried spuds
and sashay them down this way, if there's any left when y'u fill your
plate, Missou."

Nor was Reddy the only young man who had dreams those days at the Lazy
D. Cupid must have had his hands full, for his darts punctured more than
one honest plainsman's heart. The reputation of the young women at the
Lazy D seemed to travel on the wings of the wind, and from far and near
Cattleland sent devotees to this shrine of youth and beauty. So casually
the victims drifted in, always with a good business excuse warranted to
endure raillery and sarcasm, that it was impossible to say they had come
of set purpose to sun themselves in feminine smiles.

As for Nora, it is not too much to say that she was having the time of
her life. Detroit, Michigan, could offer no such field for her expansive
charms as the Bighorn country, Wyoming. Here she might have her pick
of a hundred, and every one of them picturesquely begirt with flannel
shirt, knotted scarf at neck, an arsenal that bristled, and a sun-tan
that could be achieved only in the outdoors of the Rockies. Certainly
these knights of the saddle radiated a romance with which even her
floorwalker "gentleman friend" could not compete.

Next: A Shepherd Of The Desert

Previous: In The Lazy D Hospital

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