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The Trip In The Erminie








From: Dorothy On A Ranch

The "Erminie," private car of "Railway Boss, Dan Ford," stood
side-tracked at Denver, and his guests within it were the happy people
whom, some readers may remember, we left keeping a belated Christmas in
the old adobe on the mesa, in southern California.

To Dorothy, the trip thus far had been like a wonderful dream.

"Just think, Alfy Babcock, of owning a real car, going and stopping
just as you please, same's riding in a carriage with horses! Even
darling Aunt Betty, who's been 'most everywhere and seen 'most
everything, in her long life, never travelled 'private coaching' this
way before. I hate to think it's over, that I'll have to say good-by
to her so soon. Seems if I ought not. Seems if she'll be dreadful
lonesome without me all summer. I'm her own folks and I--I believe I
shall go home with her after all, 'stead of into the mountains to that
ranch with the Gray Lady."

Alfaretta gave a vigorous tug to the shawl-strap she was fastening
about a curious assortment of her personal belongings and answered:

"That's enough of your 'seems-if-ing,' Dolly Doodles! It's all
settled, isn't it? And when a thing's fixed--it ought to stay fixed.
Mrs. Calvert don't want either of us. She said so, more 'n once, too.
She's tickled to death to think there's such a good time comin' for
us. She's got all that prop'ty that got itself into trouble to look
after, and she's got them ladies, her old friends, that's been in San
Diego all winter, to go home to New York with her. You better stop
frettin' and lookin' out o' winder, and pick up your things. You've
lots more 'n I have and that's sayin' consid'able. The way that Mr.
Ford moves makes other folks hustle, too! Hurry up, do! He said we
was all to go to a big hotel for our dinners and I'm real ready for
mine. I am so! Car-cookin's well enough, but for me--give me a table
that won't go wobblety-wobble all the time."

Dorothy roused from her idleness and began to collect her own
"treasures." They had accumulated to a surprising degree during this
journey from San Diego to Denver; for their genial host had indulged
his young guests in all their whims and, at the various stops along
the way, they had purchased all sorts of things, from baskets to
blankets, horned toads on cards, centipedes in vials of alcohol,
Indian dolls and pottery, and other "trash," as Aunt Betty considered
it. In the roomy private car these had given but little trouble; now
Alfaretta expressed the thought of both girls as well as of the lad,
Leslie, when after a vain effort to pack an especially ugly red-clay
"image," she exclaimed:

"A fool and his money! That's what I was. Felt as rich as a queen,
startin' out with all them earnin's and presents in my pocket-book. Now
I haven't got a cent, hardly, and I'd ha' been better off if I hadn't a
had them! There! that paper's busted again! Does beat the Dutch the way
things act! Just plain things! If they was folks you could box their
ears, but you can't do a thing to things, not a thing! Only--"

"Throw them away! That's what I'm going to do with my stuff!" cried
Leslie, from a far corner, standing up and wiping his face, after his
own bit of packing. "This old musket that that man in uniform assured
me had belonged to General Custer--Dad says never saw a soldier's
hands, let alone Custer's. Says he knew that all the time, even when
I was dickering for it. Says--"

Dorothy looked up from her own task to ask:

"Why should he let you buy it then?"

"For experience, likely. That's the way he likes to have us learn, he
claims."

"Humph! But Aunt Betty says it's wicked to waste money. One ought only
to use it for some good purpose."

A shout of derision came from both Alfy and Leslie, at this remark, and
they pointed in high glee at a basketful of things Dorothy was vainly
trying to make look a tidy bundle. She had to join in the laughter
against herself and Mr. Ford came forward to lend a hand or offer
advice, as need be.

"So you're up against a tough proposition, are you, youngsters? How
much of all that stuff do you really want?"

"Not a scrap!" said Alfaretta, frankly.

"Good enough! Well, let me tell you. There's a poor old fellow hangs
out just beyond this station who makes his scanty living selling just
such 'trash.' I'll give you just five minutes to select whatever you
really wish to keep, five minutes more to stow them compactly for our
long buckboard-drive, and about as much longer to make the acquaintance
of my lame peddler and give him your leavings. Five seconds wasted
already, taring at me! Begin, begin!"

The gentleman's face was aglow with happiness and mischief, but there
was a tone in his voice which compelled instant obedience; and long
before the first five minutes had passed all three young folks had
heaped the most of their "things" in a pile in the center of the car.
The rest was quickly strapped in the beautiful Navajo blankets which
Mrs. Ford, or the "Gray Lady"--as they best loved to call her, had
purchased and given them as souvenirs of this wonderful trip. Blankets
that were almost priceless, as only Dorothy knew from Aunt Betty's
explanation, but that Alfaretta considered far less attractive than a
plain white wool one.

A porter, laden with baskets, appeared at that moment, as if by
previous instruction; and into the baskets were tossed or tumbled the
odd collection, everybody working swiftly yet already half-regretfully
that they hadn't kept more.

"That horned toad'll get a rush of blood to his head!" cried Leslie, as
Alfaretta threw her recent "treasure" into the mess.

"Take care, boy! Don't break that alcohol bottle. That centipede mayn't
be as dead as he looks! The horrid leg-gy thing! How in the world did I
ever fancy it? Take care!" warned Dorothy, as Leslie dropped an uncouth
Indian "image" upon the vial.

"Hi, dere! Massa Leslie! Jed'll do de res'!" cried Mr. Ford's own
especial servant, coolly pushing the lad aside and rapidly making a
better arrangement of the articles. Then he shouldered his baskets and
left the car, Mr. Ford following, with the three young people trailing
after him. At the door Alfaretta turned and rapidly surveyed the
luxurious coach in which she had spent the past few days. To her it
had been a veritable fairyland, and quick tears sprang to her eyes
as she exclaimed:

"I never had such a good time in all my life as I've had in this
'Erminie,' and I never expect to again! It 'most breaks my heart to say
good-by to it!"

"Don't say it then! I shan't, though I feel as bad as you do. But our
worst good-by is to come when Aunt Betty starts east and we west. I
can't--how can I?--let her go alone?"

This was sufficient to arouse all Alfy's sympathy. She promptly forgot
her own regret in soothing her friend, for Dorothy's grief was most
sincere. Ever since that day when she had learned that Mrs. Calvert was
her own kin she had loved the lady with all her heart and had, during
the past winter of Aunt Betty's lameness, felt that she must now take
care of her. She did not realize that the one-time invalid was now quite
well and as independent of aid as ever. Indeed, the Gray Lady had
laughingly declared:

"Dear Mrs. Betty is the youngest-hearted of us all!"

After that happy day when Dorothy had helped to bring about the reunion
of the long parted Fords, the "Railroad Boss" had taken his wife and
son away for a little time; but they had soon returned to El Paraiso,
that charming home in the southwestern city and had remained as members
of Mrs. Calvert's household till the spring days came. Then Mr. Ford had
announced his summer plans:

"I'm going to give myself a long vacation. I own a ranch in the Colorado
mountains and I'm going to take you all, each and everyone, to enjoy it
with me. My wife, Erminie, claims it her turn to play hostess, so we'll
all become cowboys and cowgirls, and have a wild-west show of our own,
with a continuous performance for three jolly months. All in favor, say
Aye!"

"Aye! Aye! Aye!" the youngsters had it, so heartily that, for a moment,
nobody noticed that Aunt Betty was silent. Then, when Dorothy observed
this, with a down-sinking of her own spirits, the lady made haste to
explain:

"Nothing could please me better for Dorothy, and for myself if I were
able to accept. But I can't. As you know, my business affairs have
become tangled in some way and I must go home to really understand what
is amiss. Indeed, I don't know yet where I may have to be during the
warm weather and I'm delighted for my little girl, and for Alfaretta, to
have such a fine chance. I fancy you'll all come east in the autumn, as
brown as the Indians who'll be your neighbors, and in fine health. How
soon do you leave, Mr. Ford? That I may make some arrangement about this
dear old house, for I shan't want to stay in it after you're gone."

Then it was his turn to explain:

"I have felt all along, ever since I found Erminie here with our boy,
that the place should never become again just 'a house to rent.' So I've
bought it. I've found Padre Nicolas, the old priest whom the Indians
love and trust, and deeded it to him in trust for them as a Home. Here
Lazaro Gomez and the other ancients of his race shall dwell in comfort
for the rest of their days. The only proviso is that Father Nicholas
shall admit none who hasn't reached the age of discretion--say,
eighty-odd years, or so! Nor shall any of his charges be compelled to
tame wild beasts and sell them for a livelihood. The good old priest is
ready to take possession as soon as we vacate and will put everything
into what Alfy calls 'apple-pie order,' according to a red man's fancy.
So, when everybody is ready--Don't hurry, please!--we'll board my car,
the 'Erminie,' and take our leisurely way northward. It isn't as if we
had to say good-by, you see, for we'll be all together still. As for
Mrs. Calvert's plan--maybe we can persuade her to postpone business
awhile for a taste of real ranch life. Eh?"

But Mistress Elisabeth Cecil-Somerset-Calvert was a matron who never
said "No" when she meant "Yes;" and she smilingly kept to her own
purpose, yet took good care that no shadow of a coming separation should
darken her beloved Dorothy's wonderful trip in a private car. Just here
we may recall to the readers' attention that this young girl's earlier
experiences have been told in "Dorothy's Schooling," her "Travels" and
"House Party" and best of all "In California."

Now those happy days of travel and sightseeing had ended in the city of
Denver. The "Erminie" was to be stripped and renovated and put aside to
await its owner's further orders. From this point the ranchers were to
proceed by a coaching tour over the long and delightful road to the
distant Rockies: while Mrs. Calvert, her black "boy," Ephraim, and some
women friends were to speed eastward by the fleetest "limited" express.
One more short hour together, in a hotel dining-room, and the parting
was due. Aunt Betty and Mrs. Ford had already been driven away to this
hotel as Leslie and his girl guests followed his father from the
"Erminie," and seeing the downward droop of Dorothy's lip he tried to
divert her by exclaiming:

"There was never such a man as Dad! He never forgets. Never. I believe
he knows every cripple between New York and San Francisco. I do, indeed.
This fellow we're going to give that 'trash' to is one of his pets. I
remember him now. Got hurt in a railway smash but is as independent as
they make 'em. Wouldn't sue the company and wouldn't take money from it
when offered. Claimed he was stealing a ride and only got what he calls
his 'come-uppance' when he got hurt. Dad was so astonished when he heard
about that, he said the man ought to be 'framed and put on exhibition,
as the only case of his kind on record.' Then he suggested this way of
earning his living. He has the 'boys' keep him fixed up in a little sort
of stand just yonder and they see to it that his stock never fails. The
cripple's as proud as Punch. Boasts that any honest man can do well in
America if he tries. He hasn't any legs left and his arms aren't worth
much but his spirit is the bravest ever. It would break his heart if he
guessed that most of the stuff he sells is bought for my father by some
of his employees, all on the sly. But he'll never know it. That's the
best of Dad! His 'boys' love him. They think he's just rippin'! And he
is. Look now. See how that man's face lights up when he hears that
'Halloo'!"

Dorothy stopped short to exclaim:

"Bought the stuff and gave us most of it, and now will buy it over again
just to throw away! I never heard anything like that!"

"Reckon you didn't, for there is only one Dan Ford! But he doesn't have
it thrown away. He has it burned. He says, 'Burned toads tell no tales,'
and the worst trouble the boys have is to get folks enough to buy the
things for them. When they see a likely lookin' tourist edging around
the stand they use him, if they can. If they can't it's a 'short day'
for Cripple Andy, but that doesn't worry him. 'The fat and the lean,' he
calls it. Oh! I say, he's almost as rippin' as Dad himself, he's so
plucky!"

The cripple's face did indeed light up as Mr. Ford appeared before him
and shouted that gay "Halloo!"

"Well, well, well! If you ain't the best sight I've had since I saw you
last. Halloo, yourself and see how you like it!" With this attempt at
facetiousness, the seller of notions leaned forward over his stand and
extended his best hand toward his benefactor.

"How's business, Andy?"

"Tollable, sir, fairly tollable. Been sellin' a lot o' truck, lately, to
some Cookies, and there was a reduction-school-ma'am-racket that nigh
cleaned me out. See that your man Jed here has got a heap more things.
How'd he come by them? Must ha' cleared the country of reptiles,
judgin' by them samples."

"Oh, he came by them fairly enough, Andy. These youngsters couldn't live
without the things when they first saw them, but now they'll be grateful
if you'll take them off their hands. Maybe you can make something from
them, maybe not. In any case they're not going to San Leon on a
buckboard with me! Take them off our hands, lad, and do a good deed once
in your life!"

By this time Mr. Ford had placed his own two strong hands over the
shrivelled one of the peddler and was pressing it warmly, while the two
looked into one another's eyes with mutual respect and liking. Then when
the hands unclasped there was left on Andy's palm a glittering double
eagle.

Dorothy, watching, wondered at this, after hearing Leslie's boast of the
cripple's independence; and there did a flush rise in his face for a
moment, till Mr. Ford said:

"For Laddie, you know. If you can't use it--pass it on!"

The flush died out of the vender's cheek and a soft look came over it.
"So I will, man, so I will. Thank God there's always somebody poorer
than me! Good-by, and good luck, Boss! By that token I never seen you
look that happy as you do this day, man alive, never!"

"I never had such reason to be glad, Andy boy! Good-by, good-by!"

Mr. Ford started off at a brisk pace, the young folks trying to equal
his long strides, and Alfaretta asking:

"Is that cripple crazy? What'd he mean by sellin' things to 'Cookies'
and what's a 'school-ma'am-racket'?"

Leslie laughed and answered:

"A 'racket' of that sort has nothing to do with tennis, Miss Babcock, at
your service; and 'Cookies' are just Cook's tourists. All railroaders
call them that; and I suppose the 'racket' was a cheap excursion the
school-ma'ams were taking. Odd, isn't it? That though all Andy's trouble
came from the railroad he claims to belong to it as one of its 'boys.'
He's rippin', Andy is. He told father 't he 'teached school' himself,
once! But he got so tired of it that the sight of a spelling-book made
him sick."

"It does me, too," said Alfy, with sympathy.

"So he 'cut and run,' and rode on trains in every direction as long as
his money held out. Then he stole the ride that ended his travels right
here in Denver. Hello! where's Dad?"

They had loitered along the way and he had simply outstripped them. So
without even a quarter in his purse but in his most lordly air, Leslie
hailed a cab to carry them to the hotel he knew was that habitually
patronized by his father; and a few minutes later they rode up to the
entrance in state.

An attendant hastened to the curb to assist the "young ladies" out of
the cab, but the hackman laid a detaining hand upon Leslie's shoulder
with the remark:

"Fares, please."

"Eh? Just settle that with Mr. Daniel Ford, inside. Here, Buttons, you
find Mr. Ford and ask him to step here. It'll be all right, Jehu, and
let's hurry, girls, else we'll be late for dinner."

He started to enter the building but the cabman retained his hold on the
lad's shoulder and remarked:

"No, you don't! You may be all right and so may your Mr. Ford but, as
for me, I never heard tell of him and money talks. Fares, please."

Dorothy and Alfaretta clung together, really afraid of the cabman who
was now growing decidedly angry. He was a stranger to that city and had
just embarked in a rather losing business, his outfit of horse and cab
being a second-hand one and too shabby for most patrons.

Also, "Buttons," as Leslie had called the bell-boy, now returned to say
that "no name of Ford was on the register and the clerk wouldn't
bother."

Here was a dilemma. The trio who had ridden in state now felt very
small, indeed, and glanced at one another in dismay. Then Leslie
surveyed the name over the hotel entrance and exclaimed:

"Pshaw! This isn't the place at all. That donkey of a driver has brought
us to the Metropole and not the Metropolitan. I might have known Dad
wouldn't put up at such a third-rate tavern as this! Now, you idiot,
we'll get in again and you take us where you were bid! and there, it's
likely, you'll make the acquaintance of Mr. Daniel Ford in a way you
don't like! Get in, Dorothy--Alfy! We can't stand foolin' here!"

But the cabman closed the door of his vehicle with a bang and calmly
folded his arms to wait. Dolly pulled out her little purse. It contained
one nickel and two cents. She had carefully cherished these because
coins smaller than a nickel are not plentiful in California; but she
tendered them to Leslie who smiled and shook his head. Alfaretta
discovered a dime, but it was her "luck piece," wrapped in pink tissue
paper and carried thus in order that she "might always have money in her
pocket," and she hated to give it up. Both she and Dolly thought
regretfully of the little pocket-hoard they had begged the Gray Lady to
keep for them, lest they spend it on the trip. However, neither the
cabman nor Leslie accepted their offering, and the latter exclaimed:

"Ain't this rippin'? Lost in a strange city, in the middle of the day,
and not a soul willing to help us out! What in the world will Dad say!"

"What, indeed! But look here, Leslie Ford, we've got enough to pay for
telephoning that other hotel, if the man in here will let us use his
'phone! Then your father will send somebody after us or do something.
Please try. I feel so queer with so many folks staring at us as if we'd
done something bad!"

By this time the hotel clerk had become more amiable. The name of Ford
had impressed him if it hadn't the hackman, and though he, too, was new
to the town he bade Leslie:

"Go ahead! Call him up, if there is such a man."

With a glance of angry contempt Leslie put the receiver to his ear and
rang up "Dad;" only to hang it up again in disgust, as the answer came
back: "Line's busy!"





Next: A Spill By The Way

Previous: Exit The King



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