Stranded On The Prairie





"By George, look behind us! I fancy we are going to have a storm." Four

heads turned as if governed by one brain; four pairs of eyes, of varied

color and character, swept the wind-blown wilderness of tender green,

and gazed questioningly at the high-piled thunderheads above. A

small boy, with an abundance of yellow curls and white collar, almost

precipitated himself into the prim lap of a lady on the rear seat.



"Auntie, will God have fireworks? Say, auntie, will He? Can I say

prayers widout kneelin' down'? Uncle Redmon' crowds so. I want to pray

for fireworks, auntie. Can I?"



"Do sit down, Dorman. You'll fall under the wheel, and then auntie would

not have any dear little boy. Dorman, do you hear me? Redmond, do

take that child down! How I wish Parks were here. I shall have nervous

prostration within a fortnight."



Sir Redmond Hayes plucked at the white collar, and the small boy retired

between two masculine forms of no mean proportions. His voice, however,

rose higher.



"You'll get all the fireworks you want, young man, without all that

hullabaloo," remarked the driver, whom Dorman had been told, at the

depot twenty miles back, he must call his Uncle Richard.



"I love storms," came cheerfully from the rear seat--but the voice was

not the prim voice of "auntie." "Do you have thunder and lightning out

here, Dick?"



"We do," assented Dick. "We don't ship it from the East in refrigerator

cars, either. It grows wild."



The cheerful voice was heard to giggle.



"Richard," came in tired, reproachful accents from a third voice behind

him, "you were reared in the East. I trust you have not formed the

pernicious habit of speaking slightingly of your birthplace."



That, Dick knew, was his mother. She had not changed appreciably since

she had nagged him through his teens. Not having seen her since, he was

certainly in a position to judge.



"Trix asked about the lightning," he said placatingly, just as he was

accustomed to do, during the nagging period. "I was telling her."



"Beatrice has a naturally inquiring mind," said the tired voice, laying

reproving stress upon the name.



"Are you afraid of lightning, Sir Redmond?" asked the cheerful

girl-voice.



Sir Redmond twisted his neck to smile back at her. "No, so long as it

doesn't actually chuck me over."



After that there was silence, so far as human voices went, for a time.



"How much farther is it, Dick?" came presently from the girl.



"Not more than ten--well, maybe twelve--miles. You'll think it's twenty,

though, if the rain strikes 'Dobe Flat before we do. That's just what

it's going to do, or I'm badly mistaken. Hawk! Get along, there!"



"We haven't an umbrella with us," complained the tired one. "Beatrice,

where did you put my raglan?"



"In the big wagon, mama, along with the trunks and guns and saddles, and

Martha and Katherine and James."



"Dear me! I certainly told you, Beatrice--"



"But, mama, you gave it to me the last thing, after the maids were in

the wagon, and said you wouldn't wear it. There isn't room here for

another thing. I feel like a slice of pressed chicken."



"Auntie, I want some p'essed chicken. I'm hungry, auntie! I want some

chicken and a cookie--and I want some ice-cream."



"You won't get any," said the young woman, with the tone of finality.

"You can't eat me, Dorman, and I'm the only thing that looks good enough

to eat."



"Beatrice!" This, of course, from her mother, whose life seemed

principally made up of a succession of mental shocks, brought on by her

youngest, dearest, and most irrepressible.



"I have Dick's word for it, mama; he said so, at the depot."



"I want some chicken, auntie."



"There is no chicken, dear," said the prim one. "You must be a patient

little man."



"I won't. I'm hungry. Mens aren't patient when dey're hungry." A small,

red face rose, like a tiny harvest moon, between the broad, masculine

backs on the front seat.



"Dorman, sit down! Redmond!"



A large, gloved hand appeared against the small moon and it set

ignominiously and prematurely, in the place where it had risen. Sir

Redmond further extinguished it with the lap robe, for the storm,

whooping malicious joy, was upon them.



First a blinding glare and a deafening crash. Then rain--sheets of it,

that drenched where it struck. The women huddled together under the

doubtful protection of the light robe and shivered. After that, wind

that threatened to overturn the light spring wagon; then hail that

bounced and hopped like tiny, white rubber balls upon the ground.



The storm passed as suddenly as it came, but the effect remained. The

road was sodden with the water which had fallen, and as they went down

the hill to 'Dobe Flat the horses strained at the collar and plodded

like a plow team. The wheels collected masses of adobe, which stuck like

glue and packed the spaces between the spokes. Twice Dick got out and

poked the heavy mess from the wheels with Sir Redmond's stick--which

was not good for the stick, but which eased the drag upon the horses

wonderfully--until the wheels accumulated another load.



"Sorry to dirty your cane," Dick apologized, after the second halt. "You

can rinse it off, though, in the creek a few miles ahead."



"Don't mention it!" said Sir Redmond, somewhat dubiously. It was his

favorite stick, and he had taken excellent care of it. It was finely

polished, and it had his name and regiment engraved upon the silver

knob--and a date which the Boers will not soon forget, nor the English,

for that matter.



"We'll soon be over the worst," Dick told them, after a time. "When we

climb that hill we'll have a hard, gravelly trail straight to the ranch.

I'm sorry it had to storm; I wanted you to enjoy this trip."



"I am enjoying it," Beatrice assured him. "It's something new, at any

rate, and anything is better than the deadly monotony of Newport."



"Beatrice!" cried her mother "I'm ashamed of you!"



"You needn't be, mama. Why won't you just be sorry for yourself, and

let it end there? I know you hated to come, poor dear; but you wouldn't

think of letting me come alone, though I'm sure I shouldn't have minded.

This is going to be a delicious summer--I feel it in my bones."



"Be-atrice!"



"Why, mama? Aren't young ladies supposed to have bones?"



"Young ladies are not supposed to make use of unrefined expressions.

Your poor sister."



"There, mama. Dear Dolly didn't live upon stilts, I'm sure. Even when

she married."



"Be-atrice!"



"Dear me, mama! I hope you are not growing peevish. Peevish elderly

people--"



"Auntie! I want to go home!" the small boy wailed.



"You cannot go home now, dear," sighed his guardian angel. "Look at the

pretty--" She hesitated, groping vaguely for some object to which she

might conscientiously apply the adjective.



"Mud," suggested Beatrice promptly "Look at the wheels, Dorman; they're

playing patty-cake. See, now they say, 'Roll 'em, and roll 'em,' and

now, 'Toss in the oven to bake!' And now--"



"Auntie, I want to get out an' play patty-cake, like de wheels. I want

to awf'lly!"



"Beatrice, why did you put that into his head?" her mother demanded,

fretfully.



"Never mind, honey," called Beatrice cheeringly. "You and I will make

hundreds of mud pies when we get to Uncle Dick's ranch. Just think, hon,

oodles of beautiful, yellow mud just beside the door!"



"Look here, Trix! Seems to me you're promising a whole lot you can't

make good. I don't live in a 'dobe patch."



"Hush, Dick; don't spoil everything. You don't know Dorman.'



"Beatrice! What must Miss Hayes and Sir Redmond think of you? I'm sure

Dorman is a sweet child, the image of poor, dear Dorothea, at his age."



"We all think Dorman bears a strong resemblance to his father," said his

Aunt Mary.



Beatrice, scenting trouble, hurried to change the subject. "What's this,

Dick--the Missouri River?"



"Hardly. This is the water that didn't fall in the buggy. It isn't deep;

it makes bad going worse, that's all."



Thinking to expedite matters, he struck Hawk sharply across the flank.

It was a foolish thing to do, and Dick knew it when he did it; ten

seconds later he knew it better.



Hawk reared, tired as he was, and lunged viciously.



The double-trees snapped and splintered; there was a brief interval

of plunging, a shower of muddy water in that vicinity, and then two

draggled, disgusted brown horses splashed indignantly to shore and took

to the hills with straps flying.



"By George!" ejaculated Sir Redmond, gazing helplessly after them. "But

this is a beastly bit of luck, don't you know!"



"Oh, you Hawk--" Dick, in consideration of his companions, finished the

remark in the recesses of his troubled soul, where the ladies could not

overhear.



"What comes next, Dick?" The voice of Beatrice was frankly curious.



"Next, I'll have to wade out and take after those--" This sentence,

also, was rounded out mentally.



"In the meantime, what shall we do?"



"You'll stay where you are--and thank the good Lord you were not

upset. I'm sorry,"--turning so that he could look deprecatingly at Miss

Hayes--"your welcome to the West has been so--er--strenuous. I'll try

and make it up to you, once you get to the ranch. I hope you won't let

this give you a dislike of the country."



"Oh, no," said the spinster politely. "I'm sure it is a--a very nice

country, Mr. Lansell."



"Well, there's nothing to be done sitting here." Dick climbed down over

the dashboard into the mud and water.



Sir Redmond was not the man to shirk duty because it happened to be

disagreeable, as the regiment whose name was engraved upon his cane

could testify. He glanced regretfully at his immaculate leggings and

followed.



"I fancy you ladies won't need any bodyguard," he said. Looking back, he

caught the light of approval shining in the eyes of Beatrice, and after

that he did not mind the mud, but waded to shore and joined in the

chase quite contentedly. The light of approval, shining in the eyes of

Beatrice, meant much to Sir Redmond.





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