A Rifle Practice

: Dorothy On A Ranch

"Mother, what do you mean? Don't turn so white and do speak! What

'tragedy' could have happened up here in this lovely place?" demanded

Leslie, putting his arm around the lady's shoulders and wondering if she

had suddenly become ill. She was slender but had never complained of any

weakness, nor shown the least fatigue during her long care of him at San

Diego. Since then, she had been like a happy girl with him and his

ather but something was amiss with her now.

In a moment she had calmed herself and was already blaming herself for

her disobedience to her husband's request for silence. However, this

last matter was a small one; for, if the missing lad was not soon found,

all would have to know it. Indeed, it might be better that they did so

now. They knew him better than his hosts did and possibly might give a

clue to his whereabouts. So she told them all she knew, and the surmise

that he had wandered away in a fit of delirium. The very telling

restored her own courage, and, as yet, there was little fear showing

upon the faces of her young guests.

Except on Dorothy's. Her brown eyes were staring wide and all the pretty

color of her cheeks had faded. As if she saw a vision the others could

not she stood clasping and unclasping her hands, and utterly sick at

heart for the loss of her early friend. Longer than she had known any of

these here about her she had known poor Jim. He had saved her life, or

she believed so, in her childhood that now seemed far away. But for Jim,

the poorhouse boy, she had never escaped from Mrs. Stott's truck-farm

when she had been kidnapped and hidden there. He had stood by her in all

her little troubles, had praised and scolded her, and known her through

and through. It was her talk about him which had made Mr. Ford invite

him to San Leon--to his death, maybe.

That thought was too much. Clinching her small hands and stamping her

little foot she defied even death to hurt poor Jim, good Jim, brainy

Jim, who was to astonish the world some day by his wisdom!

"Oh! If you'd only have told me before! I would have had him found long,

long ago! To think of that poor fellow wandering around alone, sick,

crazy, suffering--not knowing where he was or what he was doing! And we

strolling around, looking at old 'Barracks' and things, and telling

silly stories of silly picnics! It was cruel, cruel! Come, Alfy. You

like him, too. You don't look down on my poor boy--you come and help me

find him!"

She seized her old friend's hand and ran toward the house, which now

looked anything save beautiful in her sight; and, turning, she saw the

lake, gleaming in the noonday sun as it gleamed in the red rays of

sunset with Jim there to admire it.

"The lake! He's drowned! That's where he is, our Jim! In the bottom of

that horrible lake!"

Catching Alfaretta's hand more firmly she drew that frightened girl

along with her to the edge of the pond and to a little boat that was

moored there. Both lake and boat were merely toylike in proportion and

the bottom of the pond was pebble-strewn and plainly visible through the

clear, shallow water.

"He ain't--he--ain't--he can't--you could see--him--He isn't--Oh! Dolly,

Dolly Doodles! I'm sick! It makes me feel terrible queer!" wailed

Alfaretta. "But Jim can't--Jim can't be drowned! He can't!"

"Yes he can, too. Shut up. Help me untie that rope. Get in. Take an oar.

Row--row, I tell you," snapped Dorothy, distraught.

"I can't. I dassent! I never touched to row an oar in my life. Not in my

whole life long, and--I--I shan't do it now!" retorted the mountaineer

with equal crispness.

But she had no need to try. The whole party had followed Dorothy to the

water's edge and had divined her intent. Not one believed that Jim was

drowned, though they could have given no good reason for this disbelief.

Only that was too horrible. Such a thing would not have been permitted!

Yet Herbert, as the best oarsman there and also as the loyal friend of

the missing lad, assumed the place Alfy would not take. Without a word

he did what Dorothy desired. He slipped the painter from its post,

helped the girl to take her seat in the little "Dorothy," even smiling

as he observed that it had been named for her, and quietly pushed out

from shore.

It was just as Alfy had said: the bottom of the lake was clearly visible

everywhere, and no frightful object marred its beauty. Dorothy was

utterly quiet now but her searching gaze never lifted from the water, as

Herbert patiently rowed around and around. The group on the bank waited

also in silence, though certain after that first circuit of the pond

that Jim was not there.

When they had gone around several times, and had crossed and

criss-crossed in obedience to Dorothy's nod, Herbert brought the boat

back to the little landing and helped Dorothy out.

"He isn't there, Gray Lady. May I go to the doctor?"

"Surely. I'll go with you. And don't look so tragic, darling. The boy

will certainly be found. There will nothing else be done at San Leon

until he is. Both my husband and myself agree on that point--that Jim

Barlow's safety is our first consideration. He will probably be found

near at hand, although--"

"Hasn't he been looked for 'near at hand,' then, dear Gray Lady?"

"Certainly. At the beginning. We didn't think he could have wandered

far, yet when they failed to find him on the home-grounds, the searchers

spread out in all directions. Here is the doctor coming now, if you wish

to speak with him."

"Thank you, I do."

The gentleman came toward them and Dorothy ran to meet him.

"Oh! sir, have you found him?"

A negative shake of the head answered her. Then she plied him with all

sorts of questions: how long could a sick boy live exposed to the night

air, as Jim had been; without food or medicine; and couldn't he think of

some place that nobody else had searched, so she might go and try it?

He laid his hand upon her head and gently asked:

"Was he your brother, little girl?"

"No. I haven't any brother. I haven't anybody but Jim, that has known me

always, seems if, and--and dear Doctor, won't you please, please find


Clasping her hands about his arm she looked up piteously into his face,

and his own grew pitiful as he answered:

"I will do my utmost. What I hope is that he will wander back, of his

own will, just as he wandered away. Be sure I shall keep a sharp

lookout, but it is Mr. Ford's wish that I do not leave the home-place

till--at present. If he is found, I mean when he is found, he will

need my care and it wouldn't do for me to be away then. Else I should

have gone out with one of the searching parties."

That "when he is found" was reassuring. Evidently, the doctor expected

the speedy return of the lad and all were relieved, even Dorothy.

Alfaretta expressed her own feeling by saying:

"Out here in this Colorado, seems if there wasn't anything but folks

gettin' lost and other folks searching for 'em. I never heard anything

like it," she finished with a sigh.

The sigh was echoed by all the rest; then Mrs. Ford suggested:

"Let us have luncheon now, then call on Lemuel to give us our first

lesson in rifle-firing." She assumed a cheerfulness she did not really

feel, but felt that the happiness of so many should not be spoiled by

the absence of one.

"Oh! Lady Gray, will you practice with us?" asked Leslie, eagerly.

"To be sure. I'm going to 'play pretend,' as children say, that I'm

just as young as any of you. In my busy life I've not had much time for

'playing' but I mean to make up for lost time. Come, I'm sure that Wun

Sing has made something nice for us. He--"

"Wun Sing! Wun Sing? Why that was the name of Aunt Betty's cook at El

Paraiso! How odd that yours should have the same name!" exclaimed

Dorothy, forgetting her troubles for the moment.

"Not so odd, dearie, because it is the same man. He came to Mr. Ford one

day while we were still in San Diego and confessed his regret for his

behavior at Mrs. Calvert's home. And my good Daniel can never turn his

back upon any penitent; so the result is the Chinaman reigns in our

kitchen here. Doubtless he'll be pleased to see Alfaretta who taught him

so many fine dishes."

"Oh! good! May we go see him, Mrs. Ford?" demanded that young person,

eager not only to see Wun Sing because he was one more familiar

acquaintance but because she wished to settle a few old scores. "I'm so

glad! I'll make him toe the mark here, see if I don't. Come on, Dolly

Doodles, he's an old friend of yours, too."

Alfy's eagerness infected even anxious Dorothy and gave an agreeable

turn to the thoughts of all. So, at a nod of consent, the girls sped

along the cloister, seeking the great kitchen and the salaaming

grinning Chinaman within it.

"Oh! how good you look, Wunny! Same old purple sack! same old shoes;

same old twisted cue around your same old shiny black head! Same old

nasty messes cooking! and same old Alfaretta to get after you with a

sharp stick!" cried Leslie bursting in with all the others.

Even Dorothy was laughing now, Jim quite forgot, while the cook held

such a reception as had never been his before. Leslie went through some

formal introductions, beginning with the lady of the mansion and ending

with Miss Milliken, who had followed unseen till now.

Wun Sing's back must have ached, so often and so low he bowed, while his

tongue mumbled compliments to the most gracious and honorable visitors;

but a look of real delight was on his swarthy face and one of great

affection for smiling Alfaretta.

"My heart! Ain't it just grand to find an old friend up here on the

mountains! I declare, it does beat the Dutch!" and to this, her

expression of greatest wonderment, Leslie added his own:

"Just downright rippin'! He's worth all he costs just to make our Dolly

forget that horrid Jim Barlow. I can't forgive him for running away and

stirring up all this mess, sending Dad off on a tiresome ride and

spoiling sport this way. He was good enough, I'd have treated him

decent, all right, but I wish now he'd never been heard of."

But the most of this was whispered in his mother's ear, as he stood

beside her, his hand upon her shoulder, in that familiar, loving

attitude which always made her so happy.

Then she demanded of the proud chef how soon he could have lunch

ready, and he replied with another gesture of profound respect:

"Light away, this instlant! By my honorable forefathers it is fittee for

the most bleautiful!"

Then he bowed them out of the place and they wandered to the pretty room

where the meal would be served, and which because of its simple,

cloister-like effect, Helena at once named "The Refectory."

It had been a trifling incident, but it had had a happy effect. All

tongues were talking now, planning, anticipating, wondering over the

things they meant to do and to learn; while a man was sent across to the

"Barracks" to tell Lemuel that they would like to begin their rifle

lessons that afternoon.

Mrs. Ford suggested naps for everybody, on account of their previous

long journeys but none wished to sleep just then.

"How can anybody be tired in this glorious air?" asked Helena, burying

her nose in a beautiful bunch of wild flowers somebody had placed beside

her plate.

Even Miss Milliken was wide awake now and as happy as she ever could be

anywhere. Her one complaint was that it was "so far from civilization."

"But you knew that, Milly, before you came. Mamma stated everything to

you as plainly as could be. You knew you were going to an isolated ranch

on a mountain, so how could you expect daily papers, visitors, and such

things? You've always said you loved quiet and, now you've got it, do be

satisfied," begged Helena. She was really fond of the nervous little

governess but sometimes lost patience with her.

"Yes, dear, but suppose--suppose something happened? Illness at home, or

something serious."

Lady Gray gently interposed, and made, also, her little speech. It was

her first and last advice, or request, to her guests and most of them

were impressed by it.

"Dear Miss Milliken, don't be troubled by 'being so far from

civilization.' You aren't that, at all. My husband has brought

civilization with him. I am amazed at all he has accomplished. We have a

telegraph line--that he found necessary for his business, but that can

be used by any of us. Bad news travels fast. Be sure if 'anything

happens' we shall hear of it all too soon. And now I have but one

suggestion to make for our life together, and I mean to apply it to

myself first of all. It is: Let us put everything unpleasant under our

feet, as far as possible, and each do his and her share to make this a

wholly joyous summer. I'm inclined to 'worry' and it's a most

unfortunate inclination. This is the first time I have had a chance to

make a 'home' for Daniel and Leslie and I want it to be perfect. Will

you all help me? Will you all take my dear husband's words for a summer

text and make life at this dear San Leon a synonym of 'Peace and Good


Lady Gray's beautiful face was very earnest, there was even a suspicion

of tears in her long-lashed eyes, but they did not fall, and, after a

moment's silence, Leslie sprang to his feet with a:

"Hip, hip, hurra, for the Gray Lady and her maiden speech! All in favor

of following her lead, say 'Aye'!"

All the company rose and the deafening "Ayes" which those young throats

emitted were as flattering as confusing to the "speech" maker. Then she

waved them back to their chairs and Wun Sing's perfection lunch was


Of course they all missed their jolly host, and their hearts were still

troubled because of the missing Jim; but each strove with the other to

keep these feelings out of sight. This was hardest for Dorothy, who

guessed that the lady's suggestion was meant for her most of all; yet

she bravely tried to smile at every witticism made by her mates and to

respond in sort as far as she could. They had been a little company of

eight and because one was away should the seven be made to suffer? She

would try not, and contented herself with one final question, as the

hostess rose from the table and, the others hurrying "Barracks"-ward,

she could whisper:

"Even if they don't find my poor boy right away, you won't let them give

up looking, will you, dearest Gray Lady?"

Mrs. Ford drew the child close into her arms and kissed her tenderly:

"Don't fear that, for a moment, darling. As if James Barlow were our own

Leslie, the search for him would never be given up till he were found.

Scouts will be looking for him everywhere; though, of course he's sure

to be found near home and soon. Now, my dear little girl, shorten up

that long face and trust to older heads to do the right thing. Your

business now, as it has always seemed to be, is to make your playmates

happy. Jim shall be found; and soon--I do believe. You've heard the men

say that whatever 'Dan Ford, Railroad Boss' undertook he accomplished.

Now let's put that matter aside and learn how to handle a rifle."

"Captain Lem" had made great preparations for his "shooting school." He

had called upon his own company, as far as he could find it, to help

him. Most of the "boys" had gone searching, but the few who were left

soon had a row of benches set out, a target placed, and the finest guns

available stacked in readiness. It was really a very business like

arrangement and the would-be students soon found Lemuel's rule was

business only. For the boys he had placed arm-rests and they were to

fire from the ground, aided by these slight supports.

"The females can stand and shoot, on account o' their petticoats

worryin' 'em, lyin'. An' as I can't do nothin' unless it's by rule an'

rod, I lay it this way: Mrs. Ford, bein' she's the eldest--though she

don't look it, Ma'am!--she'll begin. Nobody can have more 'n two tries

to a round. Then Number Two takes it. The schoolma'am next, an' mebbe I

mistook in that matter of age. But that's not here nor there. Mrs. Ford,

Number One; the schoolma'am, Two; the rest the females follerin' in

order. Then the boys. One, two, three--attention! Step right here, lady,

and I'll show you the first position--how to hold your rifle."

Captain Lem had put on a rusty uniform, a relic of former grandeur "back

home," and carried his bent shoulders with a military precision that

quite transformed him. He gave Gray Lady a salute, moved forward and

placed her "in position" and handed her the rifle.

"Hold it just this way, scholar, and sight your bull's-eye. Keep your

eye on that, allowin' for a little play in the carryin', and now--pull

your trigger--let her go!"

Mrs. Ford obeyed, or thought she did. The result was that the gun

kicked, she screamed, and threw it as far from her as she could. What

became of the bullet she never knew, but she firmly declined any further

lessons in the fine art of sharpshooting.

"Look at Lem's face!" whispered Herbert to Molly who giggled and


"Wait till it comes my turn, I'll show him something!"

The Captain, as they henceforth called him tried to hide his look of

disgust by turning his back upon the group, and asking in a sarcastic


"Any more females want to take a try? The schoolma'am lady, for


She ignored his question and sat down by her hostess to soothe that now

abashed person for her failure. Captain Lem had withered even the lady

of the ranch by his contempt.

"Helena next!" cried Molly, fairly dancing about in her impatience.

So Helena tried and made out fairly well. That is she succeeded in

keeping the rifle in hand, she did not scream at the discharge, and she

came within a hundred feet of the target. The lads applauded, noisily,

and she mocked back at their pretended admiration, though she made one

effort only and subsided on the bench beside the ladies.

"All the same it's wonderfully exciting! And I mean to try again,

to-morrow, if they'll let me," she remarked.

"Let some of the boys try before we do, so we can see how it's done. Or

you, Captain Hunt, you show us!" begged Molly.

This was what he had waited for. With a strut he marched across the

space between them and the target and carried that much further back. He

longed for a target bearing an arrangement of letters that he could hit

and cause to disappear, as at his boasted Seagirt, instead of a plain

affair such as this he had to use.

Strutting back to them he lay down, wriggled himself into position,

muttered something about the sun in his eyes, hemmed and hawed, took

final aim and--let her go!

But she didn't go--not in the least. All unconsciously, he had taken an

unloaded piece!

There was no strut left in him as he rose to his feet, rather slowly,

and faced his laughing audience; but he rallied after a moment and

good-naturedly joined in the laugh against himself.

However, discipline was over for that lesson. Without regard to any

rules the youngsters rushed to the stack and took whatever gun was

fancied. Then began an indiscriminate firing till Mrs. Ford grew

frightened and implored them to stop. They did so, all but Alfaretta and

Molly, who had both been fascinated by the sport and felt sure that

they could hit the bull's-eye--which nobody else had done.

"Come on, Alfy! Let's get down on our tummy, same's all marksmen do,


Down they flung themselves and now, as eager for their success as they

were, old Lem handed each a fresh rifle and sang out:

"Let her go! A silver dollar to the gal that wins!"

They fired--and the unexpected happened. Alfaretta's untaught hands

succeeded where greater skill had failed. Her bullet went straight into

the bull's-eye, into its very centre.

"By the Great Horned Spoon! What an eye you've got, child of mortality!

Why I couldn't ha' done better myself! Glory be!" shouted the excited

ranchman, fairly dancing in his pride and glee. Then he helped Alfy up

from the ground, where she still lay, wondering at the excitement about

her, and peered critically into her blue orbs.

"However could you see it? That fur away?"

"Why--why, I didn't see it at all. I got scared and shut my eyes when I

pulled that thing on it!"

Captain Lem staggered as if he had been hit instead of the target and

softly marvelled:

"Such--dum--luck! She done it--with her eyes--shut!

She--done--it--with--her--eyes--shut! Somebody take me out and lay me

down. I'm beat."

His ludicrous manner amused the others but frightened the too successful

Alfaretta. Also, her attention was claimed by Molly's expression. That

ambitious young person was looking very white about the lips, and was

clasping and unclasping her hands in evident distress.

"Molly, what's the matter?" cried Alfy, shaking her partner in the


Molly lifted one shaking finger and pointed into the distance:

"I--I hit something, too!"

Other eyes than Alfy's followed the pointing finger and a groan of

horror burst from more than one throat.

Indeed, and all too surely, Molly had "hit something, too!"