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Play That Was Work And Work That Was Play








From: Dorothy On A Ranch

The silence that followed Leslie's frightened cry, as he hurled himself
to the ground beside the old man he had struck, lasted but an instant.
Then, recovering their scattered wits, Herbert and Monty stooped and
lifted the Captain's head.

The movement roused him and he opened his eyes, drawing a long breath as
he did so and trying to speak. But he couldn't do that yet; nor, indeed,
till Dorothy had come back with a glass of water, for which she had
instantly run to the house as Captain Lemuel fell.

Dipping her fingers in the water she moistened his lips, and when he
parted them as if demanding more, she gently dropped some between them.
He swallowed with an effort but, presently, his strength returned and he
tried to rise. The lads helped him and were overjoyed when he said,
quite clearly and with a touch of his native humor:

"Ain't so tough as I thought. Eh, what? Lessen a little tenderfoot
like--Why, what's he down for? Tried it on himself?"

At the sound of his victim's voice an infinite relief surged through
Leslie's heart and he lifted a very white face to look at the ranchman.

"Oh, Captain Lem! I--I was wild to do that! I beg your pardon--please
forgive me--if you can!"

The petition ended with a sob, that was really a gasp for breath, due to
the excitement of his rage, and the anger of his mates changed to pity
for him.

"His weak heart! How ill he has made himself!" thought Helena,
compassionately putting her hand under his arm and helping him to his
feet, where he stood trembling and still breathing with much difficulty.

Dorothy had told her of this weakness of the lad's and that his parents
had been somewhat doubtful if he could endure the rarefied air of that
high region. If he could it would cure that other weakness of his lungs
and they hoped for the best. She was frightened by his appearance and
inwardly resolved to oppose any sort of fun which might bring on a
return of this attack. She had already heard her brother and Monty
proposing a bear hunt on the more distant peaks of the mountains and
decided that it should never take place.

But Captain Lem was answering the boy and she listened to his words:

"Course, sonny, I shan't lay it up again' you. An' I allow 't there's
one thing decent about you: if you're quick to get r'iled you're just as
quick to own yourself in fault. I'm willin' to wash the slate all clean
now, an' start over again with any little problems we may meet, same's
when I was a little shaver, an' 'tended deestrict school an' got my sums
wrong, the teacher made me do. I'm no hand to lay up malice just 'cause
a feller's got more 'n his share o' temper, specially not again' your
father's son. Anybody 't spells his name Ford can do most as he's a mind
to with Lemuel Hunt. Only--don't you dast to do it again; 'cause I'm
some on the temper myself, an' I ain't much used to bein' struck.
So--so--just don't show off any more o' that there little playfulness
again. That's all."

Too proud to show how really shaken and miserable he felt, the
sharpshooter retired to his own quarters at the Barracks and was seen no
more that night: but he sent word to Dorothy, the "Little One," that
Netty, the lamb, had been given a soft bed close to his own and would be
carefully attended.

The hours passed quietly till bedtime, which all the young strangers at
San Leon felt inclined to make early that night. Seven young people,
with all the means of enjoyment at hand which these had, should have
been very merry, but these were not. The absence of their hosts made the
great house seem very empty. Nobody had heart for any music, though
Dorothy bravely brought out her violin and Helena took her place at the
piano, ready to accompany. But, unfortunately, the first melody which
came to Dolly's mind was one that Father John, Aunt Betty, and poor Jim
had each loved best--"Auld Lang Syne."

She mastered a few strains and the tears rose to her eyes. She suddenly
felt lonely and helpless, so far from all who had hitherto made her
happy world. So, rather than break down completely and let the tears
fall, she nodded to Helena and put her beloved Cremona "to bed," as she
called its placing in its case.

"Let's play 'Authors,'" suggested Molly.

"'Authors' is the dullest game going," objected Monty.

"That's because you're not well read. If you knew as much about books as
Jim Barlow--" she retorted, teasing, then stopped abruptly. That was an
unfortunate reference, for who, alas! could tell if that too studious
youth were alive or dead?

Alfaretta hurried to cover this mention by demanding:

"Let's sing 'rounds,' 'Scotland's burning,' or 'Three Blind Mice.' Now
don't stop to object or say nothin' but just begin. I will, and Nell,
you follow. Then the boys, if any of 'em can sing a note. Sometimes
their voices go 'way up in Q and sometimes 'way down suller. But they
can try. Now--here she goes: 'Three Blind Mice--Three Blind Mice--For
mercy's sake, Helena Montaigne, why don't you take it up? I sing one
line, you know, then you sing the same one over--and we each do it three
times then change to 'They--all--run--after--the--butcher's--wife--who--
cut--off--their--tails--with--a--carving--kni-i-ife!--You--never--see--
such--a--sight--in--your--life--as--Three--Blind Mice!' By that time
Dolly'll be ready, over cryin'. She can sing real nice if she's a mind
to. Listen! Everybody do it real solemn, no giggling, no forgettin'
your parts, where you go in and come out at and doin' that part about
the butcher's wife and the tails just as fast as you can speak it and
the end--as--s-l-o-w--a-s--s-l-o-w. Begin!"

Alfy's rich, though untrained voice, started the song and Helena
followed on time, singing very sweetly, indeed, until she came to that
tragic part about the tails, when she burst out in a giggle and a vain
effort to race along as rapidly as Alfy had done.

Herbert could sing well. He helped Alfaretta carry the thing through to
a triumphant finale, they two alone; for all the others had laughed
themselves out of place and tune, with Monty interspersing the melody by
outrageous cat calls and screechings of "Maria Maouw, come and catch
these Three Blind Mice!"

"Maria! Maria! Pussy, pussy cat Maria--Come to supper!" echoed Leslie,
laughing as he rarely laughed. To him this company of young people was
wholly delightful--except when he felt it his duty to entertain them.
When they were thus willing to entertain him everything was all right.
He had had so few young intimates in his life that each of these
youngsters seemed wonderful to him. Their nonsense and good natured
chaffing of one another kept him amused at all times and was doubly
pleasant to him that night.

For, like Dorothy, he felt oddly forlorn and deserted in this great
beautiful home that was practically his own; and he wished as he had
done before that he might step into that cottage of the Babcock's,
"up-mounting" where Alfaretta belonged and where she said everyone was
as jolly as the day was long. He hadn't liked Alfy at first and he
still rather looked down upon her. She wasn't of his station in life,
she would not see that money made such a great difference, whether
one had it or had not. She was greatly lacking in delicacy of speech,
but she was honest to a fault. Not honester than Dolly, perhaps, but
in another way. She hadn't hesitated to give him one of those generous
"pieces of her mind" with which she regaled anyone she considered at
fault; and the "piece" she had cut for him that day had been:

"Well, Leslie Ford, if bein' rich as Croesus--whoever he was--or havin'
all creation to wait on you can't make you no better 'n a coward--I pity
you. Yes, I do. That was the lowest-down, orneriest trick to hit an old
man like Captain Lem, without givin' him a chance to help himself. Why,
a boy that hadn't a cent, an' never looked to have, couldn't ha' been no
meaner. An' just sayin' 'Forgive me' don't undo that job. Worst is, you
raised a bigger welt on your own insides, on that thing Mr. Winters
calls your conscience, 'n you did on his old head, an' it won't heal so
quick, neither. I sure was ashamed of you, I sure was."

This lecture had been in response to his appeal, as they chanced to
stand together in the cloistered walk, waiting for supper:

"You don't think very badly of me, do you, Alfaretta, for getting so
angry?"

The lad was very unhappy and very ashamed. He hoped to recover his own
self-respect by hearing his mates declare the recent affair had been
"nothing." Herbert had gone so far, indeed, as to say that he, too,
would have resented being told "must" and "mustn't" by a mere hired man,
but Leslie knew that Herbert would never have struck anybody under any
provocation; and Monty had simply remarked: "Well, if you really liked
to soil your hands that way, all right."

Alfy was the first of the girls he had interviewed, though he had
gratefully recognized Helena's compassion and Dorothy's distress--for
himself. Molly--he guessed he wouldn't question Molly. That young
person had a flippant tongue and she was always inclined to "call a
spade a spade." He couldn't imagine her calling a coward a hero--and his
own heart told him he had not been that. But Alfy was poor and intensely
grateful for all his parents were doing for her. She would be the one to
soothe his self-esteem and overlook the episode, he thought, and so he
appealed to her.

Alfy's opening remark had been:

"I can't say I think very well. You might ha' done worse, course, you
might have used that pistol I saw you cocking round, this morning, if
you'd had it handy; and that you've got no more use for than a cat for
two tails. You beat the Dutch, Leslie Ford. You're feelin' mean as
pussley and you're coaxin' me to contradict you."

Then had followed that larger "slice" of the girl's opinion, recorded
above. It hadn't left a very pleasant "taste" in the lad's "mouth."

Summons to supper was an agreeable sound, just then, and nobody referred
to the event again. Yet, as has been told, the evening was a dull one
for most of the party, the singing of the "rounds" its greatest
amusement. Just as this ended, Dr. Jones appeared to read family
prayers.

Mrs. Ford had instituted this on her arrival at San Leon, and Mr. Ford
had conducted the little service with a dignified sincerity which could
not fail to impress his young guests. On leaving, he had requested the
doctor to take his place, saying:

"No ceremony that will help to bring a blessing on our home must be
omitted just because I am away."

But, to-night, they missed the master's earnest voice and Gray Lady's
wonderful singing of just the familiar, common hymn which everybody
knew. The house-servants, and such of the ranchmen as would, filed into
the spacious music-room and took their seats in reverent quiet. This was
new business to most of those rough westerners and they came partly from
curiosity, partly from admiration of "Dan Ford, Railroad Boss"; so great
a man in their opinion that whatever he did they felt must have some
merit in it.

Helena took her place at the piano and the other girls stood beside her;
and Herbert, obeying a nod from Dorothy also came forward. Monty and
Leslie reluctantly followed. They had grouped themselves thus when the
master was present but had hesitated now from a foolish shame before
these untutored workmen.

Dorothy's face lighted with gratitude and between the lines of the hymn
Molly murmured, "Good boys," while Alfy sang with even greater vim than
her beloved "rounds."

Then swift good nights and rest. It had been a busy, an exciting day;
and Dorothy was soon asleep, though again her mind had been full of
wonder concerning absent Jim and she had meant to lie awake and, as
Alfy expressed it: "Cipher out where he could be."

But still she could not worry greatly. The arrival of the lamb with his
message assured her that he was alive and, she argued, must be well
since he had not forgotten her.

But in one room there was no desire for sleep. Leslie was still restless
and excited. His heart bothered him. He missed his parents more than he
would acknowledge even to himself. He was fractious and tried Mateo's
patience sorely.

"No, Mateo, I shan't go to bed till I get ready. No matter if my mother
did say ten o'clock, it was because she didn't understand. You can't go,
either. I want you to talk."

"Certainly, senor."

But when silence followed Leslie impatiently inquired:

"Well, why don't you?"

Poor Mateo sighed. Commonly his tongue would run so fast that his young
master would order him to be quiet. Now, when requested, the valet could
find no word to say. He stood behind his master's chair, idly turning
with his foot the corners of a mighty bear skin which lay upon the
floor. It was the skin of an enormous grizzly, that had been shot by
Captain Lem and another caballero, or horse trainer and had been
mounted by themselves with infinite care, as a gift to their employer.
The head was stuffed to the contour of life, and the paws outspread and
perfect. It was, indeed, a most valuable skin and Leslie had admired it
so greatly that it had been spread as a rug upon his floor. It annoyed
him now to see Mateo toying with it and he bade him stop.

The Mexican flushed and sighed:

"It is that el senor is not well, si?" he suggested, suavely.

"Yes, I am well, too," retorted the boy, who felt wretched, with a
curious oppression on his chest.

"Imagine, Senor Leslie, what it must be to kill, to slaughter such a
monster!"

"Ah! a monster, indeed! But I shall kill just such another, you'll see.
What's the use of a ranch on the Rockies and not go bear hunting? They
can't keep me done up in cotton wool just because I used to cough a
little."

"Certainly not, senor."

"Oh! shut up with your everlasting 'certainly nots!' You're as tiresome
as an old woman. I wish you'd stayed in San Diego, where you belong."

Mateo was amazed. He was really devoted to Leslie and they had rarely
disagreed. He scarcely knew the lad in such a mood as this and realized
that something must be done to give a pleasanter turn to things. A bear
hunt? Was that what the young senor had set his heart upon and been
denied? An inspiration came to him.

"Caramba! Behold! I have a fine thought, me. Will it please el senor
to listen?"

"Of course. That's what I said to do--to talk."

Then Mateo did talk. For five, ten minutes, with many a gesture and
mixture of Spanish and English, till his listener's face grew radiant
and he sprang from his chair with a hip, hip, hurra! All his crossness
was over and he now allowed Manuel to settle him for the night with a
good nature not to be exceeded by anybody.

The morning found all the young folks happier than they had been on the
night before; and, nobody was late for breakfast. It had been explained
to them that each one should attend the grooming of his or her own
horse. There would be men to wait upon them, of course, and for the
girls but little labor. Yet Mr. Ford believed that they would all be
benefited in health by this pleasant task and that the intimacy which
should exist between horse and rider would be thus furthered.

Breakfast was scarcely over when Captain Lem appeared on the porch. He
looked older than usual and uncommonly pale under his weather toughened
skin, and he had put on his "specs," which he disliked. However, his
manner was as gay as ever and he began:

"You cert'nly are the laziest set o' youngsters I've met sence I was
knee-high to a hop-toad. Reckon if anybody'd give me a horse when I was
your ages I'd ha' beat the sun a-risin' to see if 't had lived over
night. The boys is waiting in the stables, and gettin' pretty cross.
Some on 'em sort-of-kind-of feel 's if they was playin' nurse to you
kids, and the notion don't go down none too good even to oblige Dan
Ford, Boss. They've lived in the open, most of the boys has, and are
better used to roundin' up stock than to tendin' tenderfeet youngsters.
Eh, Little One? Ain't you nowise curious to hear how Netty passed the
night?"

One thing was evident to them all--the sharpshooter's ready tongue had
suffered no hurt from the unhappy incident of the day before.

Dorothy ran to put her hand in his, exclaiming:

"How dreadful of me! I had forgotten that darling thing. Actually
forgotten. How could I when she came from Jim?"

Away she sped toward the Barracks, her white frock and scarlet ribbons
making a pretty spot of color on the wide shaven lawn; but practical
Alfaretta remarked:

"If that ain't just like Dolly Doodles! Make her think she's neglected
somebody and off she flies, forgettin' things better worth rememberin'!
The idea! She'll go right to cleanin' that calico filly, Zaraza, an'
never think a mite about her clean clothes. Not till she gets 'em
dirty--then nothing'll do but she must put on fresh. White frocks ain't
so easy did up, either, so I'll go get our high aprons, that Mrs.
Calvert had made for us to dust the house in, at Paradise. We've got
quite a lot of 'em and, girls, if you'd like, I'll bring a couple for
you, too."

"You dear, thoughtful little caretaker! I'll be ever so obliged for the
loan till I can make one for myself," answered Helena gratefully, giving
her mate a smile that made Alfy happy.

Eager to see their horses but not so pleased with the idea of grooming
them, the lads sauntered toward the stables and corral, Leslie
intimating that he thought "a quarter judiciously applied would be
better than soiling himself by stable-work."

Neither Herbert nor Monty knew Leslie well enough yet to understand this
shirking of what they anticipated as a delightful task. Herbert had
always been used to horses, and to fine ones. He loved his own
Bucephalus, "back home," as a dear friend, and looked forward to equal
enjoyment in his new Blackamoor. With a little laugh he glanced at his
young host and remarked:

"If I could help it I would never let another hand than mine touch that
superb animal your father gave me. I hardly realize it yet, that it is
truly my own. Why, I mean to train him to hurdles and high jumps, and
when I go back east, this autumn, I'll get myself proposed for the
Highland Valley Hunt and--elected, if I can. I say, this is just a
glorious chance to learn what I couldn't at home, where houses are thick
and farmers so stubborn they will object to one's riding to hounds
across their property. Howev--"

Monty interrupted, rather jealously:

"Oh! Quit that riding-to-hounds talk! I don't know a thing about
horses--except a saw-horse, that my mother insisted I should work on to
reduce my--"

"'Too, too solid flesh!'" broke in Leslie, laughing now and eager to
watch the inexperienced "fat boy" make his first attempt at grooming a
spirited beast.

But they were apt to break in thus upon each other's remarks and no
offence taken, and they were soon at the stables, where the girls were
already assembled. One glance at his sister, covered from neck to foot
by a brown gingham apron, reminded the fastidious Herbert that he was
not fixed for dirty work, and he promptly begged a set of overalls from
the nearest workman. The other lads followed his example, discarding
jackets and vests, and beginning on their new tasks with a zeal that was
almost too eager.

Even Leslie had done the same, willing for once to try this new game and
see if there was any fun in it, as Herbert seemed to think. But his
fingers shrank from handling the curry comb and brushes, absolutely new
and clean though they were, and the best he accomplished was a
roughening of Caesar's coat which disgusted him as well as the horse. At
last, with a remark that "looking on was good enough for him," he
tossed his brushes aside and signalled an attendant to finish the task
so badly begun. To his amazement, the hostler declined:

"Sorry, Master Leslie, but the Boss's express orders was--have you do it
yourself."

Leslie's eyes flashed. This was insubordination, indeed! Wasn't he
master at San Leon, now? Then Captain Lem drew near, to pick up the
brush and explain in a matter-of-fact way:

"Best never rub anything--nor anybody--the wrong way, lad! This sorrel,
here, 'd be sp'iled in next to no time if his hair ain't smoothed the
way natur' meant it should lie. There. That's how. See how it shines?
And just look at Herbert and his black! By the great horned spoon! Them
two is cronies a'ready--hand-in-glove, pals! And let me say right here
an' now; there ain't no comfortabler love nowhere in this world than
that 'twixt a horse and his owner--if the last has got sense. Now pitch
in, sonny, and don't let nobody get ahead of you on that line. No,
siree! What'd the Boss say?" Then turning toward Monty, valiantly
struggling with this new business, he inquired in real kindness: "Want
me to lend a hand, youngster?"

Poor Monty would have given many "quarters" to say "yes." But he was too
plucky. His face was streaming with perspiration, he had worried the
chestnut, Juan, till the creature threatened to kick, and he ached from
head to foot. But he had glanced across to that open space where four
girls were making a frolic of this "horrible mess" and manliness held
him to his duty. But he couldn't refrain from a snappy:

"No, I don't! And how long at a time does a fellow keep at it? How tell
whether a horse is groomed or isn't?"

"Ginger! Do you know when your shirt's buttoned or when it ain't? Just
look at Herbert's piece o' work an' do accordin'. But keep cool, Monty.
Don't get r'iled an' don't rile your nag. You'll do all right--you've
got the makin' of a horseman in ye!"

Thus encouraged, Montmorency Vavasour-Stark renewed his efforts, though
with less force and better judgment. There is always a right and a wrong
way to everything and the worried lad had, at last, fallen upon the
right. He "would be a horseman!" Hurray! That opinion from such a source
was worth lots!

Well, that first lesson was over at last. Seven tired youngsters
stripped off aprons and overalls and proceeded to mount the horses they
had groomed and most of them were happy. It had been worth while, after
all, to get thus familiar with the animals; and the girls, at least,
remembered that their hosts had spoken of how beneficial it would be for
their beloved son to be with such creatures as much as possible. Like
the rifle practice, it was all for Leslie and Leslie's health; and they
would have been willing enough to help this good work along, even if
they had not got all the fun out of it for themselves, which they did.

They rode "off bounds," that morning; following Captain Lem, with a
couple of trained horsemen riding at their rear. Perhaps of all the
company, Herbert and Molly were happiest. They were as much at home in
the saddle as any cowboy of them all, and their high spirits spread to
their mates, so that even they regretted the order that the leader gave:

"Right about, face! Rifle practice--nine o'clock, sharp!"

They hadn't a minute to lose; yet when the "awkward squad" repaired to
the Barracks only the four girls answered to roll call. The lads came
straggling up, later, their heads close together, an air of profound
mischief and mystery about them, and Dorothy heard the words "Bear Hunt"
escape from one of them.

Her heart sank. Leslie was, indeed, coming to take the place he had
declined in the "ranks," rather going with the crowd than be left out
alone; but there was something in his manner that Dolly did not like.
Were the three boys planning to steal off by themselves, despite Captain
Lemuel's warnings?





Next: The Hen Of Wun Sing

Previous: The Sheep Herder's Cabin



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