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The Call Of The Mountains








From: Dorothy On A Ranch

As the approaching company came around the bend of the road into sight
of the inn, a "calico" pony detached itself from the group of riders and
before those watching on the porch could hear her words, Molly was
shouting to them:

"We're all right! Everybody is all right--except the one that isn't! And
he--Wait, I'm coming!"

The three girls ran down the road to meet her, and even Lady Gray walked
swiftly after, and in a moment more they had encircled the truant with
their loving arms, forgetting that she had given them a needless
anxiety.

"They weren't Indians at all. They were just our own folks, but Leslie
and I were frightened half to death! I don't know what would have become
of us except the pony told our story. And he's only smashed up a little
some way. They had to hold him on the horse--"

"What! Leslie, my Leslie, my boy!" gasped Mrs. Ford.

"Leslie? No, indeed! Nothing the matter with him only riding the
rack-o'-bones. The 'Tenderfoot' man, and the cowboys say it served him
right. Only he got off too easy with just a broken collar bone, and a
sprained ankle, and some teeth gone--and a few other trifles like that.
He--"

"You can get off Chiquita now, Molly. I want to rub her down. Ain't she
the best ever?" said Mattie, calmly lifting the rider down from the
saddle.

"Indeed she is! And how strong you are, to lift a big girl like me!"
cried Molly, eagerly. "I do believe your little Chiquita saved our
lives, Leslie's and mine."

"Tell me what you mean, child. Where is Leslie?" demanded the Gray Lady,
placing her hand on Molly's shoulder and peering into her eyes.

"Why--I mean, what I say, course, Mrs. Ford. But Leslie's all right now.
He's scratched with the briars and torn his clothes and has had to ride
double with a cowboy, or drover, because he couldn't stand Beelzebub
again. Mr. Roderick is riding that creature and--Here, here they are!"

Once in sight of the house most of the party came up at a canter, Mr.
Ford cheerfully saluting his wife, and the others waving their hats and
showing off a few tricks of their steeds--while Dorothy was handed down
from riding-pillion behind her host. Everybody's tongue was loosened at
once and such a hubbub arose that Mrs. Ford clapped her hands to her
ears, then caught hold of Leslie as he slid to the ground and ran like a
girl to the house. She wanted a chance to kiss him before the rest came
in and had learned long before this that her boy "hated coddling."

However, he submitted to a little of it that night with a better grace
than usual, understanding that he had given his mother anxiety; and told
her as briefly as possible the whole story.

"You see, Lady Gray, that 'Sorrel Tenderfoot' was too smart, so came to
grief."

"A good lesson to remember, son."

"Course. Well, he drove into a road, a trail, and got stuck. The horses
bolted, the wagon went to smash and he was hurt. Pretty bad, I guess.
The others weren't at all, only frightened and sort of stunned. They
were in a tight fix. So dark in there they didn't know which way was out
and made up their minds to stay till daylight. That Jim Barlow--I tell
you he's great!--he fixed a bed with the wagon cushions and laid
'Sorrel' on it. Then he felt the man all over and saw his legs and arms
were sound. After that he got the box of the buckboard right side up and
made Dorothy get into that and lie down. He covered her with the robes
and made Manuel promise to stay right beside her while he went back for
help. Dorothy wouldn't let him go, at first, till he made her ashamed
thinking about the 'Tenderfoot.'

"He made his way back all that distance to the main road, just by
noticing the branches that had been broken by their driving in. He was
going to walk back to Denver for help, thinking that was the quickest
way, but when he got out of the woods he couldn't go any further. He'd
hurt his arm some way--Dad says it's broken--and the pain made him
faint. We found him there--I mean the searchers did, and when he came to
be told them the rest.

"Lem Hunt and Roderick knew exactly where to look. They found the
runaway blacks and captured them, or some of the cowboys did, and they
made a litter of the wagon box, covered it with branches and carried him
out of the woods. They've brought him all the way here for he insisted
on coming. Said he'd be better cared for by Mrs. Roderick than at any
hospital in Denver. He was sort of crazy and they didn't dare oppose
him. That's why they are so slow. But they'll be here soon and he'll be
put to bed. Lemuel says the man'll take a blazed trail the rest of his
life, and will have time to get over his smartness while his bones heal.
But I think it's too bad. I'm sorry for him, and so is Dad. Now, come.
They're going to table and I'm hungry as a bear. Isn't it fine of Mrs.
Roderick to get a meal this time of night, or day, or whatever hour it
is?"

"It wasn't Mrs. Roderick. Alfy was the moving spirit and the other girls
helped. But not one mouthful shall you have till you confess your own
fault. Why did you, Leslie, run away into all that danger against my
wishes?"

"Why, Molly--" began the lad, then checked himself for shame. "Why,
Lady Gray, I couldn't let a girl like Molly ride away alone, could I?
And she would go--just would. And the funny part was--we heard 'lions'
or 'panthers', or something in the woods behind us. We'd stopped to rest
and we thought so. Then we saw the searchers coming back and thought
they were Indians! and the way we took to the woods would make you
laugh. That's how I got to look like this. We might have been in them
yet if little Chiquita hadn't stood like a post right beside the rock
where we'd been sitting. Her being there, and Molly's hat and jacket
that she'd taken off because she was too warm, told the truth. Dorothy
saw the hat and knew it at once. So when Roderick came up and recognized
Chiquita they made another search and found--us. But I tell you, Lady
Gray, I've had all the lecturing I need just now from the other head of
the family. I think Dad would have liked me to ride with him, at first,
but he gave me his opinion of a boy who would 'sneak' off and 'leave his
mother unprotected in a strange house at night.' Just forgive me this
once, motherkin, and I'll be good in future; or till next time, any
way. Now, come."

Such a meal as followed had rarely been eaten even in that land of
hungry people, where the clear air so sharpens appetite; and in the
midst of it came the landlady herself, not even showing surprise, and
certainly not offence, at the liberties which had been taken in her
house. Fortunately, Jim's arm had been bruised and strained, only; not
broken as Mr. Ford had feared.

Then to bed and a few hours of sleep; another breakfast, as good as the
first; after which buckboards were driven round and horses saddled;
Herbert, Jim, and Manuel electing to ride while Monty was to travel in
the wagon with Silent Pete, as driver. He was the better suited thus
because Mr. Ford and Leslie were to be his companions, the gentlemen
having arranged matters this time without any casting of lots.

Lemuel drove the four-in-hand as on the day before, having as passengers
Mrs. Ford and Miss Milliken--who had slept soundly through all the
events of the night--with the four girls. Jedediah, Mr. Ford's colored
"boy" also rode beside the driver, for the greater protection of the
feminine travelers, should any need arise.

But nothing did. All the untoward incidents of this journey to the
Rockies had happened during its first stage. "Tenderfoot Sorrel" was
left behind, of course, but he did not greatly regret that. He felt
that he could more easily endure physical pain than the chaffing of his
fellows at San Leon.

As before, the start was made with a flourish of whip and horn, amid
good wishes and farewells from the hosts of the Wayside Inn, and a sure
promise to "come again!" Then a day's journey steadily onward and
upward, through river-fed valleys and rocky ravines, with a mid-day stop
at another little hostelry, for a change of horses and a plain dinner.

Then on again, following the sun till it sank behind a mountain range
and they had climbed well nigh to the top. Here Mr. Ford ordered a brief
halt, that the travellers might look behind them at the glorious
landscape. When they had done so, till the scene was impressed upon
their memories forever, again the order came:

"Eyes front! but shut! No peeping till I say--Look!"

Laughing, finding it ever so difficult to obey, but eager, indeed, the
last ascent was made. Then the wheels seemed to have found a level
stretch of smoother travelling and again came Mr. Ford's cry:

"All eyes front and--open! Welcome to San Leon!"

Open they did. Upon one of the loveliest homes they had ever beheld. A
long, low, roomy building, modelled in the Mission style that Lady Gray
so greatly admired; whose spacious verandas and cloistered walks invited
to delightful days out of doors; while everywhere were flowers in bloom,
fountains playing, vine-clad arbors and countless cosy nooks, shadowed
by magnificent trees. A lawn as smooth as velvet, dotted here and there
by electric light poles whose radiance could turn night into day.

For a moment nobody spoke; then admiration broke forth in wondering
exclamations, while the host helped his wife to alight, asking:

"Well, Erminie, does it suit you?"

"Suit? Dear, I never dreamed of anything better than a plain shack on a
mountain side. That's what you called it--but this--this is no shack.
It's more like a palace!"

"Well, the main thing is to make it a home."

"Is it as good as the 'cabin,' father?" asked Leslie, coming up and
laying his hand on Mr. Ford's shoulder.

"Let us hope it will be! If the first inmates are peace and good will.
Peace and good will," he repeated, gravely. Then his accustomed gayety
replaced his seriousness and he waved his hand toward the entrance,
saying:

"Queen Erminie, enter in and possess your kingdom! Your maids of honor
with you!"

"My heart!" cried Alfaretta, following her hostess, like a girl in a
dream. "I thought 'twould be just another up-mounting sort of place, not
near so nice as Deerhurst or the Towers, but it's splendid more 'n they
are, either one or both together."

"Wonderful, what money can do in this land of the free!" remarked
Herbert, critically estimating the establishment. "Think of a man having
his own electric light plant away up here! Why, if it weren't for the
mountains yonder one could fancy this is Newport or Long Branch."

"Without the sea, Bert. Even money can't bring the sea to the
mountain-tops," said Helena, though her own face was aglow with
admiration.

"It can do the next best thing to it. Look yonder," said Monty, pointing
where a glimmer of sunset-tinted water showed through a hedge of trees.

"Let's go there. It certainly is water," urged Jim Barlow.

"Well, Leslie told me there was a strange waterfall near San Leon and I
suppose the same money has pressed that into service. To think! That
'Railroad Boss' earned his first quarter selling papers on the train! He
was talking about the 'cabin' as we came along. It had two rooms and he
lived in it alone with his mother. By his talk they hadn't always been
so poor and she belonged to an old family, as 'families go in America.'
That was the way he put it, and it was his ambition to see his mother
able to take 'the place where she belonged.' That's how he began; and
now, look at this!"

All the young people had now gathered around the pond, or lake, that had
been made in a natural basin on the mountain side, for thinking that
their host and hostess would better like to enter their new home with no
strangers about them, Dorothy had suggested:

"Let's follow the boys! Jim's arm ought to be looked after, first thing,
and I'll remind him of it. He'd no business to come on horseback all
that long way, but he never would take care of himself."

"Has Leslie ever been here before?" asked Molly Breckenridge.

"No. It is as much a surprise to him as to his mother. But he's mighty
proud of his father," answered Dorothy. "Look, here he comes now."

He came running across the sward and down the rocky path to the edge of
the lake and clapped a hand on the shoulders of Herbert and Montmorency.
He did not mean to be less cordial to Jim Barlow but he was. For two
reasons: one that Dorothy had extolled her humble friend till he seemed
a paragon of all the virtues; and secondly what he had learned of Jim's
eagerness for knowledge had made him ashamed of his own indifference to
it. Even that day, his father had commended the poorer boy for his keen
observation of everything and read him a portion of a letter received
from Dr. Sterling, the clergyman with whom James lived and studied.

The Doctor had written that the lad was already well versed in natural
history and that his interest in geology was as great as the writer's
own. He felt that this invitation to his beloved protege was a wonderful
thing for the student, and that Mr. Ford might feel he was having a hand
in the formation of a great scientist.

There had been more of the same sort of praise and Leslie had looked
with simple amazement at the tall, awkward youth, who had arrived in
Denver with the rest of his young guests.

"That fellow smart? Clever? Brainy? Well, he doesn't look it. If ever I
saw a regular clodhopper, he's the chap. But that Herbert Montaigne,
now, is rippin'! He has the right 'air,' and so has the shorty, the fat
Monty, only his figure is against him," he had remarked to Mateo, who
had instantly agreed with him. Indeed, the Mexican never disagreed
with his "gracious excellency, Senor Leslie."

Mateo's service was an easy one and his salary good. Besides, he was
really fond of his young master and formed all his opinions in
accordance. So then he, too, cast a supercilious glance at Jim, and had
caused that shy lad's color to rise, though beyond that he took no
notice.

Already as they stood there gazing over the lake, crimson with the last
rays of the sun, Jim was studying the rocks upon the farther side and
squinting his eyes at something moving among them. It was with a
startled return to his surroundings that he heard Leslie now say:

"My father wants to have you come in, Mr.--I mean James. The doctor is
going to properly dress your arm."

"The doctor? Is there a doctor here?" asked Dorothy, slipping her hand
under Jim's uninjured arm, and conveying by that action her sympathy
with his feeling of an alien.

But he coolly drew aside. He wasn't going to be humiliated by any girl's
cossetting, not even hers. He had never realized his poverty so
bitterly, nor been more ashamed of that fact. Just because some richer
boys looked down upon him was no reason he should look down upon
himself. Also, it angered him that he really needed surgical attention.
He had suffered intensely during the ride hither but he had kept that to
himself. He meant to keep it to himself whatever happened, and to join
in what was going on as if he were physically sound as the other boys.

"It's only my left arm, anyway. I'd be a poor stick of a thing if I
couldn't manage with the other," he had thought, bravely, despite the
pain. Now here was he being made the object of everybody's notice; and,
being Jim--he hated it! There was a surly look in his eyes as he replied
to Leslie's message:

"I guess not. I mean--there isn't any need--I'm all right. I'm all
right, I say. I'm--Shucks! I'm bully!"

It was Dorothy who blushed this time, she was so mortified by the
rudeness of her "paragon." Whenever had he used such an expression? She
flashed an indignant glance upon him, then coolly commanded him:

"You come right straight along, James Barlow. You're Mr. Ford's guest
now and must do what he wants, just the same as if he were Dr. Sterling.
Besides, I know we all ought to be freshening ourselves before supper.
Lady Gray hates untidy people. Come on."

Again she linked her arm in Jim's and led the way up the slope toward
the house, while at the mention of supper all the others fell into line
behind her. And now Jim was already ashamed of his petulance with her.
After all, she was the prettiest girl of them all; and, so far as he
knew, the richest. She was "thoroughbred;" her family one of the oldest
in its native State; and though the poorhouse boy had no family pride of
his own he was loyal to old Maryland and his earliest friend. What had
not Dolly been to him? His first teacher, his loving companion, and the
means of all that was good coming into his life.

"Say, Dolly, I'm sorry I said that and shamed you. Sorry I'm such a
conceited donkey as to hate being looked down on. You just keep me
posted on what's what, little girl, and I'll try to behave myself. But
it beats creation, to find such a place as this up here on the Rockies
and to know one man's done it. Kind of takes a feller's breath away,
don't it?"

They were a little ahead of the rest of the party and able to talk
freely, so Dorothy improved the chance to give "her boy Jim" a little
lecture; suggesting that he must never stop short of accomplishing just
as much as Daniel Ford had done.

"What one poor lad can do, another can--if he will! If he will, James
Barlow! It's just the will, you see. There was a copy in my old
writing-book: 'What man has done, man can do.'"

"Shucks! I'm ambitious enough, but 'tain't along no money lines. What I
want is learnin'--just plain knowledge. I wrote a copy once, too, and
'twas that 'Knowledge is Power.' I made them capitals the best I could
so 't I never would forget 'em."

"Huh! For such a wise young man you talk pretty common. There's no need,
Jim Barlow, for you to go back into all the bad grammar and chipped-off
words just because you're talking to--me. I notice you are very
particular and careful when you speak to our hosts. Oh, Jim! isn't this
going to be just a glorious summer? Except when I think about Aunt Betty
I'm almost too happy to breathe."

Jim had stumbled along beside her, unseeing the objects that were
nearest--the lovely shrubbery, beautiful flowers, and quaint little
furnishings of that grand lawn--but with his eyes fixed on a distant
mountain peak, bare of verdure, and seemingly but a mass of vari-colored
rock; and he now remarked:

"I wonder how much of this country that Dan Ford owns! I wonder if he's
got a claim on the peaks yonder!"

"Come back to earth, boy! Can't you think anything, see anything
but--stones? Here we are at the door and I fancy this gentleman is the
doctor. Good evening, sir."

"Is this the lad with the injured arm?" asked the gentleman meeting the
pair, and glancing toward Jim's bandaged arm, with the coat sleeve
hanging loose above it.

"Yes, sir, but it's nothing. It doesn't need any attention," said Jim,
ungraciously.

"Behave yourself, Jim. Yes, Doctor--I suppose you're that?--he is so
badly hurt that he's cross. But it's wonderful to find a doctor away up
here," said Dorothy. Her odd little air of authority over the great,
loutish lad, and her gay smile to himself, instantly won the stranger's
liking, and he answered warmly:

"Wonderful, maybe, but no more so than all of Dan Ford's doings. Step
this way, my son, and Miss, I fancy you'd best not follow just yet.
Nurse Melton will assist me, if I need assistance."

"A nurse, too? How odd!" said Dorothy turning to join her mates.

She did not see Jim Barlow again that night. When the examination was
made the doctor found the injured arm in bad shape, swollen and inflamed
to a degree that made great care a necessity unless much worse were to
follow.

So, for the first time in his healthy life, Jim found himself an
invalid; sent to bed and ministered to by a frail, sweet-faced woman in
a white uniform, whose presence on that far away ranch was a puzzle to
him. Until, seeing his evident curiosity, she satisfied it by the
explanation:

"Oh! I'm merely another of Mr. Ford's beneficiaries. My brother is an
engineer on one of his railroads, and he heard that I was threatened
with consumption. So he had me sent to Denver for a time, till San Leon
was ready. Then I came here. I'm on hand to attend any sick folks who
may need me, though you're the first patient yet. I can tell you that
you're fortunate to number Daniel Ford among your friends. He's the
grandest man in the world."

Jim lay quiet for a time, till his supper was brought in. But he could
not taste that. The dressing of his wounded arm had been painful in
extreme, though he had borne the pain without a groan, and for that been
greatly admired by both the surgeon and the nurse. He was now feverish
and discontented. The "happy summer" of which Dorothy had boasted was
beginning anything but happily for him. He was angry against his own
weakness and disappointed that he could not at once begin his work of
studying the rocks of this region. To do so had been his chief reason
for accepting Mr. Ford's genial invitation, for his shyness shrank from
meeting strangers and accepting favors from them. Dr. Sterling had
talked him "out of his nonsense" for the time being, but he now wished
himself back in his familiar room at Deerhurst lodge, with Hans and
Griselda Roemer. They were humble folk and so was he. He had no business
in this rich man's "shack" that was, in reality, a palace; where
pleasure was the rule and work the exception. Well--things might happen!
He'd take care they should! He was among the mountains--for that part he
was glad; only regretful of the debt to another which had brought him
there.

The hum of voices in and about the big house ceased. Even the barking
dogs were silent at last, and the music from the men's quarters,
stopped. There was where he, Jim belonged, by right. Out in some of the
many buildings at the rear; so many, in fact, that they were like a
village. He guessed he'd go there. Yes. In the morning, maybe the Boss
would give him a job, and he could work to pay his keep. His thoughts
grew wilder and more disordered, his head ached.

The nurse was sitting silent in an adjoining room. Actual watching was
unnecessary and she understood her patient's mood, that her presence in
his chamber worried him. It was his time--now or never. He crept from
his bed and stepped out of the low window upon the wide porch.

Even in his delirious confusion it struck him that he had never seen
such wonderful moonlight, nor such a big, inviting world. The vagary of
thought altered. He would not seek the workmen's quarters, after all.
The mountains were better. They called him. They did not seem far away.
He would not feel so hot and then so shivery if he could lie down on
their cool tops, with only the sky above him. Aye, they called him; and
blindly answering to their silent summons the sick boy went. The things
he prophesied had surely begun to "happen."





Next: A Martinet Of The Rockies

Previous: The Watchers At Roderick's



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