A DAY AT THE ALAMEDA

The next day they rode over again to the Alameda ranch to see the
Chief’s horses of which he was so proud. By this time, as Ted said, they
were so accustomed to riding horseback that it seemed queer to walk
around.

“Ted, that sounds for all the world like some old sailor who didn’t like
dry land,” said Sue. “Anybody’d think, to hear you, that you were born
and bred on a ranch.”

“Wish I had been,” Ted flung back over her shoulder, as she rode past.
“Peggie, will you change places with me? You go back to school, and let
me stay here.”

“Have to ask mother that,” Peggie replied, shaking her head.

“Have you asked her, yet, really, Peggie?” said Polly, who was next to
her in the file of horses. But Peggie shook her head.

“Not yet. I mustn’t. It isn’t my turn. Don comes next.”

But Polly made up her mind privately, to ask Jean. If the skeleton
turned out to be worth anything, the Doctor would be the first to
purchase it for the Institute at Washington, and Peggie was the finder,
so the money would be hers and the Chief’s, as it was his property. The
Admiral always said that Polly was the most rapid builder of air castles
he had ever known, but that never disconcerted nor discouraged Polly.

It was the first time since their arrival at the ranch that Jean had let
them ride without her, but with the extra harvesters that week, she felt
she must help her mother. Sally Lost Moon was willing, but slow and a
poor cook.

“Peggie knows the way over as well if not better than I do,” Jean had
said, that morning. “Take the trip easily, girls. I think you’ll be all
right.”

Peggie and Polly rode together, and the other girls behind them. It was
a merry cavalcade of demoiselles, as Mrs. Sandy put it, that trotted up
to the Alameda that morning. After they had turned the ponies into the
corral, the whole day lay before them. They went far up the back road
with Sandy himself, first of all, about a mile, until they came to the
horse range. Carefully selected, it was, out of all the land he owned,
chosen for shelter and good water and grass. Here he had built a great
corral in the center, with feed-sheds for winter. Here grazed fifty
beautiful mares, horses that had never felt a saddle touch their glossy
arched backs.

“What do you think of them?” asked the Chief, proudly, as he rested one
foot on a fence rail, and looked at the lot with loving eyes. “They are
my special hobby, girls. I always liked a fine horse even when I was a
youngster, but I never saw any to compare with my beauties over yonder.
I keep weeding them out, and breaking in the ones that don’t seem fit
for the royal family, as it were. They all know me, too. Watch.” He put
his fingers to his lips and blew a shrill, far-reaching whistle. Every
neck lifted at the call, heads were turned towards him, and some
whinnied anxiously. Then one broke into a run, and the rest followed.

“Oh, oh, just look at them come,” cried Polly, enthusiastically. “See
their manes float on the wind, and how light they are.”

“Many a time I’ve come across a drove of them feeding on a good plain,
and have watched until my own horse would give the alarm to them, and
off they’d all go like that. It was hard catching them, and hard
breaking them afterwards, but those that did, got horses with the speed
of the wind in their hoofs, and the strength of the hills in their
muscles. The desert breed is the only one that matches it, I’m
thinking.”

“Who takes care of them?” asked Ted.

“The boys. I’ve five of them. I used to try to do it all myself, but
they fare better and so do I, if I keep away. Besides, there’s plenty to
be doing down at the home ranch. Over yonder, a few miles more, are the
cattle, and some more of the boys. There’s about five hundred head. I
used to have a larger herd, in the old Texan trail days, but there are
few real ranches left now. They’re all stockmen and farmers. I’ve got
some of the last long-horned steers in the county, now, out yonder, and
when I settled here, they were all Texans. I sold some youngsters to a
farmer in Iowa, I remember, for yoke work, and he wrote back after he’d
got them home, that he didn’t know what to do, because their horns were
so wide he couldn’t get them into the barn. ‘Widen your barn door, you
nester,’ I wrote him. ‘Don’t cut the horns. Cut the barn.’ And he did
too.” The Chief laughed heartily over the recollection, and they all
went back to where Mrs. Sandy was watching for them on the broad, cosy
porch.

“Do just what you want to, girls,” she told them. “Go where you feel
like going, and play that it is home for a day. Ted, I saw you looking
longingly at the collection of hunting knives and guns in the long
dining-room. Why don’t you take the girls in to see them? They are all
trophies of Sandy’s Indian campaigns,” she added with pride.

There seemed to be no kitchen to speak of, in sight. The long sunny room
at the back of the house was a great living-room and dining-room too.
There was a huge rock fireplace that reached clear up to the rafters,
and the walls were decorated with all sorts of treasures of the Chief.
On one side were specimens of Indian beadwork. There were hunting bags
made of leather with beautifully-beaded fronts, the beads woven in
solidly in threads instead of being fastened to the cloth or leather.
There were hunting jackets, heavily fringed and beaded richly, with elk
teeth and eagle feathers, and bear claws fastened to them ornamentally.

“Here is the headdress of old Red Buck, a Sioux Chief,” Sandy told them.
He held it up so they could see that it was as tall as he was, a great
cascade of eagle feathers. “The day I saw him in battle, he wore nothing
but this, and another strip about his waist, but he was so heavily
painted that he looked fully dressed. The others turned their war ponies
about, and ran at the finish, when they saw the cavalry closing in on
them, but he stood his ground, and stood yelling defiance at us, and
shooting arrows until a bullet caught him, and he fell back from his
pony.”

“What did the pony do?” asked Polly.

“Stood over his master, with lowered head, and whinnied to him. We found
the two of them that way, and I stopped to take the headdress. He was a
brave old lad, that redskin. I honor him for standing his ground alone
with a whole troop of United States cavalry swooping down on him. That
elk head up yonder is the biggest ever shot in our section. He used to
come down and fairly taunt us early settlers with his royal kingship of
these hills and valleys. I got him one moonlight night up at Ghost Lake,
about seven miles above here, after nearly a week’s stalking.”

“Aren’t the moccasins pretty?” Isabel exclaimed, quick to notice
anything fanciful. There must have been twenty or thirty pairs dangling
from the wall on nails.

“Those there,” said the Chief smiling, “belong to my wife. They are her
special reward of merit from the women folks in the tribes, twenty or
thirty years ago, and more, I guess. Some of them were given to me
before we were married. They’d come around and find me building this
cabin, and I’d tell them just what it was for, and they’d go away and
think about it. Then after a time, one would return, and bring me
something for a peace offering to my bride. Mostly they brought
moccasins, and they are certainly worked fine, those honeymoon
slippers.”

“Isn’t this a papoose case?” asked Ruth.

“Yes. An Indian girl named Laughing Flower left that here one day. Her
baby was pretty sick, I guess, and she didn’t like the way the old women
and medicine men fussed over it, so she brought it over here to Diantha.
It couldn’t walk, and they had told her at the camp it never would, that
it was bewitched, and all that sort of nonsense. When I came home I
found Di sitting in front of the fire there, with the little brown thing
on her lap. She’d loosened its clothes, and bathed it, and rubbed its
limbs with sweet-oil, and hung the papoose case up on the wall. After a
week, Laughing Flower went back, and her boy could walk. Little two year
old he was, with eyes like coffee beans. That’s why they loved Diantha,
I guess, and let us stay here in the valley. We always treated them
decent.”

“Now, tell us about all these guns, please,” begged Sue. “I didn’t know
there were so many kinds.”

“Didn’t you? I’ve used everything from an old flint lock that belonged
to Zed, down to this lightweight Winchester. These breech-loaders came
in use along in the Indian wars, when I was a little lad about five, I
guess. Here’s a carbine that went through the Civil War. It belonged to
an old pard I had, back in my first days here; Tennessee Clayborne, he
was called, but mostly Tennessee. He was with Custer to the finish.”

The Chief was silent after that, whistling softly to himself as he
fingered the old gun lovingly.

“I wish I could shoot,” said Polly. “Not to kill anything but just to
hit something.”

“Do you? Well, I shouldn’t wonder if that could be gratified.” Sandy
lifted down a lightweight Winchester. “We’ll go out, and see which one
has the steadiest hand, and surest eye.”

“Polly has, I’m sure,” said Isabel. “I don’t want to shoot, please. I
don’t like even to touch anything that will go off.”

So out they went, and the Chief put up a piece of paper on a tree near
the wagon-sheds, not a very big piece either.

“Now, you girl sharpshooters,” he laughed, stepping back, “let’s see
what sort of scouts you’d make.”

Ted tried her luck first, and came within an inch of the paper, then Sue
shot, and clipped the bark a couple of inches below the mark. Polly was
laughing and eager, and managed to take a corner off the white square,
but it was Ruth, quiet, steady-handed Grandma, as the girls called her,
with spectacles and all, who lifted the rifle to her shoulder, aimed and
sighted slowly, and put her bullet where it should go.

“There’s one place where you can’t trust to luck,” said Sandy. “That’s
when you’re leveling a gun. You’ve got to think and figure too. Ruth’s
got a calculating eye, I should say. We had one little shaver with us,
in the Shoshone uprising, with only one eye, and he could pick off any
brave’s topknot you’d prefer. We’ll throw some pieces of wood into the
creek, and see if you can hit them on the go. That’s good practice.”

“Peggie, you didn’t try,” called Polly, as Peggie came around the corner
of the house.

“I went over to the cook-shack to see Fun.”

“Fun?”

“Ah Fun, the cook. He came from California with Sandy a long time ago.
His name is Ah Fun, and he never smiles. Isn’t that queer? I always go
over and speak to him.”

“Oh, I want to see him too,” Polly said, so after the target practice, a
formal call was paid to the cook-cabin, and there they found Ah Fun, a
thin old Chinaman, with a face so yellow it looked like a dry maple
leaf.

“Better not let the Doctor see him,” said Ruth, in her comical way,
without a smile, when they came away. “He’ll gather him up for a fossil
specimen sure as shooting.”

The girls strolled down towards the corral, for it was getting late, and
the ride lay before them. Polly had lingered before a picture that hung
over the old chest of drawers in Mrs. Sandy’s bedroom. It was a portrait
of Miss Honoria, taken in the seventies, a wreath of flowers on her
head, and a low-necked dress with a fichu of white Spanish lace about
her shoulders. Very girlish and lovely it looked. Mrs. Sandy lingered
too.

“Does she look at all like that now?” she asked, softly. “That was my
favorite picture.”

Polly felt a sudden impulse, and spoke on the spur of it.

“No, she doesn’t look at all that way. She’s quite old looking, and very
gray, and she hardly ever smiles. Mrs. Sandy, please forgive me, but
what is the trouble?”

“Trouble, dear child?” A little flush stole to Diantha’s cheek, and she
bent over to smooth the linen pillow shams, already without a wrinkle.
“What can you mean?”

“I don’t know how to explain it,” Polly went on, “but I have always
wished I had a sister all my very own, and here you have one, and—and—”

“And what, Polly?”

“And you never see each other, or write, or anything. Was it—was the
trouble so bad as all that? I don’t see how anything could ever be that
way with sisters.”

“Don’t you, dear? Perhaps you will some day.” Diantha paused, and
thought for a minute. They could hear the laughter of the girls mingling
with the Chief’s deep bass down at the corral as they got the ponies
ready for the home trip. “It is so far back now that only in the hearts
of a few old families lie the pain and the rancor of the old war days.
My father, Colonel Calvert, never forgave the North. He believed the
government should have purchased the slaves and then freed them under
special act of Congress, and forbidden slave-holding thereafter. But he
held it as unnatural and unlawful for brother to lift hand against
brother, or to take away property rights without restitution. This is
all so far back that you cannot get even the shadow of its intensity,
and I am glad you cannot, but my childhood days were filled with it.
Honoria has all the Calvert pride, but I am afraid I had not, for,
dearie, I married a Northerner, and love him better than all of
Virginia, and so—” she made a hopeless little gesture with her slim,
pretty hands, “so Honoria has never forgiven me, nor will she accept
Sandy, no, not after thirty-five years. Honoria is very consistent.” She
finished with a sigh.

“Polly, are you ready to go?” called Peggie outside.

“Coming,” said Polly. She reached over, and put her arms around Mrs.
Sandy’s throat, and pressed her cheek to hers. “I’m sorry for both of
you, dear Mrs. Sandy,” she whispered. “Have you tried writing to her?”

“She never replies to my letters. I am afraid there’s nothing that can
be done, Polly child.”

“I know what I’d do,” said Polly, resolutely, as she reached for her
hat. “I’d just get on a train, and go down home, and go straight up to
the Hall, and when I saw her, I’d hug her before she knew what was
happening, and I’d shake her too, a little bit, and kiss her, and say,
‘Hello, Honoria.’ That’s what I’d do.”

Mrs. Sandy laughed heartily at the mental picture of her accosting the
stately Honoria in such a fashion after thirty-five years, but Polly was
serious in her intent.

“It would settle the whole thing, Mrs. Sandy, dear, I am sure it would,
and grandfather and I’d be delighted to have you and the Chief at
Glenwood with us too.”

“Oh, Polly, do you realize what the trip would cost? Sandy would have to
sell off some of his thoroughbreds, wouldn’t he?”

“Why not take the money that will come from the bones in Zed’s gulch,
and make it a second honeymoon trip?” asked Polly. “Don’t laugh at me,
please. I know it’s only another air-castle, but let’s keep hoping.”

“All right, child,” promised Mrs. Sandy, as she kissed her good-bye.
“I’ll keep hoping.”

Polly did not tell the girls that she had learned what the secret
trouble was between the two sisters. Someway, she could not. It seemed
such a personal, tender secret that, after all, concerned only the two,
and Sandy himself. Dear, stalwart, dauntless Chief Sandy! Polly wondered
whether Miss Honoria knew him well. It did not seem as if any one who
had met him, and come under the spell of that genial, generous spirit,
could fail to sense its charm and worth. She could almost shut her eyes,
and imagine him going up the broad stone steps at the Hall, and bowing
over Miss Honoria’s hand. No, come to think of it, he wouldn’t bow, not
the Chief. He was no courtly Southerner like the Admiral. More likely he
would smile that broad sunny smile of his that seemed to take in all
creation, and gripping Honoria’s hand in his, he would probably kiss her
willy-nilly, in brotherly fashion, and say:

“Well, sister, how goes the world?”

Then what would the mistress of the Hall do? Polly smiled to herself.
Would she faint, or would she gasp and laugh, or would she order the
Northern invader from the sacred precincts of Calvert Hall? What would
she do? Polly could hardly wait to find out. Someway, she decided,
someway, it must be arranged for the meeting to happen.

“Does any one feel like taking a camping trip next week?” asked Mr.
Murray, Monday night. “I won’t have the time to spare now girls, but if
mother says so, we’ll start out a week from to-day, with a good team,
and go camping.”

“Why, father, you’ll have to take more than one team, won’t you?” said
Mrs. Murray. “I’ll leave Sally to cook for the boys, and go too.”

“Couldn’t we ride horseback?” Polly put in.

“I was figuring on a grub wagon that would take the tents too, and then
fix up that old sheep wagon, for the girls to ride in. We can put four
cross seats in that, mother, and the boxes and cupboards would come in
handy. I’m afraid they’d get tired out riding.”

“If we did, we could hitch the ponies on behind, and get into the wagon,
the way the pack-trains do. We’d love to ride, wouldn’t we, girls?”

“Listen to them,” exclaimed Jean. “Wouldn’t you think, to hear them
talk, that they’d been in a saddle since they could walk. I’d let them
ride, father. We’ll have the fun of teasing them after a good
twenty-mile jolt over the mountain roads.”

“Monday then, and an early start. Archie and Neil will look after
things, and it will do us good too, won’t it, mother?”

“The biggest lad of the lot,” said Mrs. Murray, tenderly, as she watched
the tall, angular figure start off down towards the sheds. “He’ll enjoy
it vastly.”

“It seems too wonderful to be true,” said Isabel, in her fervent way.
“Will we be right in the mountains, then, Miss Jean?”

“‘In the heart of the ancient woods,’” quoted Jean, blithely. “Have you
ever slept out of doors on a bed of spruce boughs, with nothing around
you but the mountains and the sky? Mother says it comes the nearest to
feeling the everlasting arms around one of anything in this life that
she’s found.”

“You’re rocked in Mother Nature’s cradle, bairnies, then,” smiled Mrs.
Murray. “Just like all her younglings of the wilds. And good it is for
you, too. I feel the summer’s missed its best reward when we fail to
have our little camp outing after the haying.”

“I used to think they never bothered over hay on ranches,” said Ted,
suddenly. “I thought they just let all the cattle out to range.”

“So they did in the old range days, when it was free. But we small
ranchers have to take care of ourselves a good deal.”

“I don’t understand this,” exclaimed Polly, who had been reading over
her last letter from the Admiral. “Grandfather says here that he did
think he might get out this way, but business keeps him near Washington
all summer, so he is sending the Doctor under safe convoy. What is that,
‘safe convoy’?”

“Special delivery, receipt guaranteed,” spoke up Don, who was making a
cage for a couple of ’coons he had caught.

“That letter was mailed a week ago, Polly,” Ruth said. “And you know the
Doctor will be here by Wednesday.”

“But under ‘safe convoy,’” repeated Polly. “Grandfather never uses too
many words. What does he mean by that ‘convoy.’ A convoy is a ship that
conducts another ship, isn’t it?”

“Right-O,” sang out Ted, teasingly. “I think he will come straight
through by express. And you told Jimmie to be on the watch for him
around Deercroft, to make him feel at home, and the Chief is to meet him
Wednesday.”

“Maybe it doesn’t mean anything, but I ‘s’pects it strongly,’” Polly
replied, using Aunty Welcome’s favorite phrase of incredulity. “I don’t
believe he is coming alone, but whom could he bring way out here?”

“Let’s ride down and meet him too,” Jean said. “I’m very anxious to meet
this wonderful Doctor of yours, anyway. We could take the surrey, and
Peggie or I will drive. Then he will have a double surprise to find you
girls waiting as well as the Chief.”

“Oh, could we?” cried the girls together.

So it happened that unconsciously they planned a participation in the
Doctor’s surprise. Wednesday morning they all packed into the surrey,
and drove away over the mountain road to Deercroft. They were early, and
Jean put the horses up at the local livery stable, while they walked
around and saw what they could of the town.

“It isn’t one bit like what I expected to see,” Ruth declared. “Here are
electric lights, paved streets, and everything orderly and shipshape.”

“Well, what did you expect?” asked Peggie, wonderingly.

“I don’t know exactly. A Western town always seems to mean just a row of
frame houses, and a lot of saloons—”

“We haven’t any,” said Peggie, simply. “The women voted no license.”

“I told you this was the girl State, didn’t I?” Jean added, merrily. “We
keep it swept clean.”

“Grandfather always says that girls don’t have to consider such things,”
said Polly, thoughtfully.

“He wouldn’t if he lived out here. Our girls study their political
economy and civil government, and it trains them for the issues they
will meet later. Hark, that’s the express. I hear it whistle. Let’s
hurry.”

“There’s the Chief, and Mrs. Sandy too, at the station,” said Sue, who
was ahead. “They are waving to us.”

“How are you, chickens?” called Mrs. Sandy cheerily to them, as they
came to the platform. “I had to do some town shopping, so we killed two
birds with one stone. Looks like we might have a thunder shower, doesn’t
it?”

“That’s blowing to the north, Di,” the Chief put in, placidly. “You can
see its shiny lining now.”

The express came swinging down the track, and stopped. Few passengers
got off at Deercroft, so it was not hard to find the Doctor. Third coach
to the last, they saw him, as the porter put the stool down for him to
alight. He turned at their quick call, and waved his hand, but all his
attention was centered on some one who was coming down the steps, some
one rather tall, and dressed in silver gray, even to the long gray veil
that was draped about her hat.

And suddenly, in one flash of recognition, the girls knew the Doctor’s
surprise.

But Mrs. Sandy did not. There she stood, smiling happily at the pleasure
of the girls, supremely unconscious and unprepared. She saw the tall,
slender, stately old lady behind the figure of the Doctor, but did not
associate her with him, not until the girls surrounded both, and were
kissed and shaken by the hand. It was Polly who put her arm around the
figure in gray, and led her where Mrs. Sandy stood, her Chief beside
her.

“Here she is, Miss Honoria,” Polly said, with shining eyes that filled
with quick tears as the two faced each other after more than thirty-five
years. Honoria held out both hands. Her voice trembled with emotion.

“Sister,” was all she could say, “sister, I had to come, too.”

Mrs. Sandy opened her arms, and took the stately figure close to her
heart, sobbing happily.

“Let’s get the horses,” said Ted in an inspired moment, and deftly she
diverted attention from the main group, leading the way over to the
stable with the Doctor, the girls all following.

The Doctor looked like a boy who had achieved some long-cherished
ambition. He kept taking off his traveling cap, and smiling around from
face to face, then putting the cap on again and adjusting his
eyeglasses.

“God bless my heart, but this is a glorious reunion, isn’t it, girls?”
he said.

“Wait until you see the skeleton, the—the bones, the fossil remains,”
said Polly.

“Polly, I think that was all hatched up by you, as a wise and clever
scheme to drag me into this part of Wyoming,” he replied.

“But I sent you a specimen—”

“I’ll wait until I see where you took the specimen from.”

“Wasn’t it a good specimen?”

“Fine, undoubtedly. So was the surrounding rock.” The Doctor laughed
heartily at the puzzled expression on Polly’s face. “If it is exactly as
represented, we’ll give you a degree, Polly, an honorary degree, if we
have to invent one to fit the occasion. We can’t call you a Fellow
Geologist, can we? This will necessitate Congress striking off a special
bronze medal for a new sisterhood of geologists. How would that do?”

“It is a very large skeleton, I think,” Polly answered. “And truly,
Doctor, we girls have nothing to do with it. Peggie Murray found it long
ago. We are only the—the—”

“Promoters of the science,” finished the Doctor. “I see. Dear, dear,
what a tanned lot of young Indians you are. Isn’t it a splendid country?
I felt several inches taller as soon as I breathed the air of this
altitude.”

Jean said the team was ready to start now, so they all climbed in, and
drove back to the station.

“This is my first experience with a three-seated surrey behind a pair of
bronchos,” exclaimed the Doctor. “They use them on the tourist
expeditions through the National Park, though, come to think of it. Have
you been over there yet?”

“Not this time,” said Ruth, frankly. “We haven’t money enough. But we’re
having a perfectly splendid time at the ranch, and next week we’re going
camping.”

“Just for a few days to give them a taste of it,” Jean added over her
shoulder. “We start back for Virginia on our fourth week.”

“You, too, Miss Jean?” asked Polly. She had not expected that Miss
Murray would go back with them.

“Isn’t this a personally-conducted tour?” asked Jean, smiling. “Of
course, I shall see you safe and sound at home.”

When they drove up to the station, there sat Mrs. Sandy and Miss Calvert
holding each other’s hands, and talking in low tones, making up for the
silence of all the years.

Sandy had a quiet, comprehensive, half-humorous smile on his face, and
as he shook hands with the Doctor, he said in an undertone:

“Lee has surrendered.”

The Doctor nodded his head in quick appreciation.

“It’s high time,” he answered. But the girls held bravely to the
traditions of Calvert Hall. Never by smile or look or word did they show
that they knew of the reconciliation. Not then. Not until the drive home
was finished, and they had waved a temporary good-bye to the MacDowells
and the Doctor and Miss Calvert at the creek crossing, did they dare to
give vent to their feelings, but when they finally reached their own
private quarters, Ted tossed her cap high in the air, and Polly began to
dance a Virginia reel with Sue.

“Well, they’ve made it up, that’s sure,” said Ruth, meditatively, “but
what puzzles me is, what the trouble was in the first place.”

“I know,” cried Polly, pausing to take breath. “I’ve known for days. And
I couldn’t tell. But as long as it’s all over, I will. Let’s sit down in
front of the fire, and comb our hair and talk.”

The nights had been cool ever since their arrival, and a few blazing
spruce knots just took the shiver off, as Sue said, so they sat around
its blaze now, clad in kimonos, combing out their hair, as girls love to
do, and talking. And the old love-tale of Diantha Calvert and her
Northern sweetheart gained a fresh tenderness and charm, told there in
the dancing firelight. When Polly had finished, there was a long
silence, while blue eyes and gray eyes and brown stared dreamily at the
fire. Then Ruth said softly:

“‘Many waters cannot quench love.’”

“Did you hear what Mrs. Sandy said, when I asked her if she was
surprised?” Polly reached over and gave a big log a friendly poke so
that it rolled over and became a blazing ledge. “She said, with _such_ a
look, you know, all glad and proud and kind of relieved too: ‘No, honey,
not very much. I always knew it would happen some day. Love will bring
to us that which is ours if we trust.’ Isn’t that beautiful to remember?
Love will bring to us that which is ours, if we trust.”

“Well, I’m trusting that those bones will turn out to be a perfect and
well-preserved dinosaur,” proclaimed Sue, rising, “and it’s getting
late.”

They left the cabin-door open now, with the screen door fastened, and
long after the rest were asleep, Ruth lay wide awake thinking. A head
raised cautiously from Polly’s pillow.

“Ruth, are you asleep?”

“No,” came back a whisper.

“Aren’t you glad for poor dear old Honoria?”

“So glad I can’t sleep. Think of them to-night, talking and making up
for thirty-five years of lonesomeness.”

“Bet a cookie she’d never have thought of coming out here if we hadn’t
blazed the way. Good-night.”

Ruth’s whisper came back softly, and there was silence in the
guest-cabin.

It had been arranged with the Chief that the girls were to wait at the
Crossbar until they heard from him, and not attempt making the trip over
to the gulch unless they were sure he and the Doctor would be there to
meet them.

It was hard being patient, but after their morning dip down at the
swimming place, Jean kept them busy getting the sheep wagon ready for
the camping trip. They took clean papers, and tacked them evenly inside
the cupboards and lockers under the seats, and made a regular inventory
of everything they would need. Ruth took charge of this, and would check
off each article as it went into the wagon.

The heavy things, such as tents, bedding, cooking utensils, and so on,
were to follow in what Don called the grub wagon.

Sally Lost Moon was to stay at the ranch and do the cooking and
housework for the boys, and it had been decided to let the girls ride
their ponies. When one of them grew tired, she could ride in the wagon.
The girls were delighted at this prospect. Of all the outdoor pleasures
they had enjoyed at the ranch, the riding came first of all. There was
something so exhilarating and healthful about it. The trouting was good
sport and plenty of fun, and the long tramps they took nearly every day
out to the Indian graves, or over old Topnotch’s twisted trails, or far
down along the river to the lower rapids, each held a special enjoyment
all its own, but there was something so novel and exciting about the
pony riding that it excelled all other sports.

Polly had been delighted too, the first time that Jinks whinnied to her,
and showed plainly he felt on friendly terms. By the third week, all of
the ponies were quite willing to respond to the petting and overtures of
friendship that had been lavished on them.

“I do really believe they all know us by now,” Ted had declared, that
morning. “Don let me help rub Shoofly down yesterday morning, and he
understood everything I said to him.”

“Who, Don?” queried Sue, in a muffled tone, as she knelt by a locker,
and dug down under towels and mosquito netting to be sure that she had
not packed the kodak at the very bottom.

“No, goose. The pony. I wish I could take him back home. I shall miss
him so, and the riding, and oh—I don’t know what to call it—the wideness
of everything.”

“Glorious expanse, she means, Sue,” Isabel explained. “Where did you
pack my hand mirror?”

“It is not packed, Lady Vanitas,” retorted Sue, firmly. “We are to wash
at pools and river brinks, and other handy wet spots en route, and
you’ll just have to peek over at yourself like Narcissus when you want
to see how you look.”

“Don’t you worry, Isabel,” Polly called cheerily. “I saw Peggie drop a
three-cornered looking glass in the box with the dishes. We’ll nail it
up on a tree. Oh, girls, I wish we had some lightweight rifles, not to
shoot with—”

“Not shoot with?” repeated Ted, indignantly. “For what, then?”

“Practice and defence,” replied Polly. “We won’t want to stay around the
camp every minute, and if we stray off any distance, some wild animal
might appear, and where would we be?”

“‘Algy met a bear,
The bear was bulgy.
And the bulge was Algy,’”

quoted Sue solemnly.

“Sue, I’m surprised,” laughed Polly. “Wouldn’t I love to see Miss
Calvert’s face if she heard that.”

“She would laugh, too—now.” Sue made a significant pause. “Here they
come. I heard the wheels on the bridge over the creek.”

So then they all left the sheep wagon, and their camp outfitting, to go
and greet the visitors from the Alameda. There was a tinge of color in
Miss Honoria’s delicate cheeks, and she looked around at her girls with
a happy smile that spoke volumes.

“I wanted her to rest after her long journey,” Mrs. Sandy said,
tenderly, “but she said she’d rather come over. Sister, you’d better sit
up on the stoop where it’s cool.”

Honoria smiled proudly, and obeyed.

“She has mothered me every minute since I arrived, Mrs. Murray,” she
exclaimed. “And the girls all know well how self-reliant I am.”

“Don’t you love to be mothered, though?” asked Polly, eagerly. “I do.”

“We all do,” declared Mrs. Sandy. “And the oldest ones are always the
ones that need it most.”

“Who wants to ride with me?” called out the Chief. “Room for three
here.”

Isabel, Jean, and Ruth took advantage of the surrey, but the rest of the
girls were glad to wait while Don saddled up the ponies for them.

“The Doctor left us at the Forks back yonder,” said Sandy, driving on
with a salute to the group up on the low stoop. “He’s riding too. Said
he never sat in a vehicle when he could get a saddle and anything
beneath it with four legs. The Fork trail is a good short cut to the
Gulch, and he can’t miss the way. We’ll find him sitting on old Zed’s
doorstep just like a forest foundling.”

The girls laughed heartily at the picture. It was a splendid day. The
wind rippled the leaves of the cottonwoods along the river, and sent
their bits of down sailing away into the air. The far-off mountain range
to the northwest seemed incredibly near, and for once its trailing robes
of violet and gray were laid aside. Every peak stood out distinctly.
Down in the valley Archie was hammering at a new bar gate, and every
blow seemed to rouse a hundred echoes from old Topnotch’s crags and
precipices.

“We haven’t brought anything to dig with,” said Ruth, in her quiet, dry
way. “There are some old picks at the shack, I think. We can use those
if the Doctor wants us to help him.”

“Old-time poll picks, those are,” the Chief explained. “Zed used to go
around, digging one prospecting hole after another. It’s a wonder he
never found the skeleton himself.”

“I think it must have been covered up until the big storm,” Peggie
called from her saddle. “Don and I have been down through the valley
lots and lots of times, and we’d never noticed that great ledge of rock
before. We would surely have seen it.”

It was past noon when they finally reached the gulch, and just as the
Chief had predicted, they found the Doctor sitting on the doorstep,
smoking his short brier-wood very peacefully, and reading from a pocket
edition of some favorite author. It was characteristic of him to be so
occupied just on the brink of a discovery.

Peggie led the way up to the cavern, and all, even Sandy himself,
followed after her. The horses were hobbled in Zed’s little clearing,
and the surrey team was hitched to a tree. Behind Peggie trod the
Doctor, then Polly and Jean, last of all, the Chief, and his three
scouts, as he called them. It was an important and solemn occasion, and
even the irrepressible Ted and Sue walked soberly, and refrained from
any giggles. They all realized fully just what the discovery would mean
if it turned out to be authentic and valuable. The Murrays were far from
being even well-to-do. There were too many mouths to feed, too many
school bills to cover. And to Peggie belonged the credit of first
discovery. Some share of the reward must be hers too, they knew.

“If any old deer or buffalo has dared to crawl ’way into that cave to
die,” said Polly, as they all paused to rest at one place, “I shall give
up all hope of founding the Sisters of the Geological Society, Doctor.”

“I think it’s a tidy little mastodon myself,” Ted remarked. “Nobody’s
asked me what my opinion is, but I’m sure it’s a mastodon.”

“Mastodons are very ordinary, Ted,” Ruth said. “They’ve been found even
in New York State.”

“Truly? Dead ones?” cried Ted, and they all laughed at her earnestness.

“What other kind do you suppose, Edwina?” asked the Doctor, severely. “A
mastodon was dug up at Newburg, along in the forties.”

But here Peggie started ahead once more, so conversation was checked.
Only once the Doctor spoke.

“It will be difficult getting it out.”

That gave Polly courage. Surely, unless there was good ground for hope,
he would not have said that. The Doctor was very quiet, very
non-committal, she knew. She could hardly wait to get to the cave, and
watch him. She was sure she could tell right away, whether or not there
was hope, just from the expression of his face.

“There it is,” said Peggie finally, with a little throb of happy pride
in her tone, as she stopped short and pointed to the great jaw-like
opening a few yards away. “It’s inside there.”

Instead of going into the cave at once, as the girls expected him to do,
the Doctor paused at the opening to look at the rock formation of the
ledge.

“It is limestone, isn’t it?” asked Polly. “And it is certainly blue.
They call this other kind of rock that crumbles, shale.”

“It’s good stuff,” the Doctor said approvingly. “Very good stuff. Now,
let us go in and look at Exhibit A.”

There was no need of a light. The cave, as the girls called it, was
really nothing but the great space left under the ledge by the tearing
away of a mass of the earth. Peggie scrambled over the rough ground
until she came to the precious bones, then stopped.

“There they are!” she cried.

Every one was wonderfully silent now. The Doctor’s face was grave too,
but behind his eyeglasses his gray eyes looked keen and bright. He laid
his cap to one side, and sat down deliberately beside the remains. And
he “handled them, and dandled them,” as Polly said afterwards, as
happily and contentedly as a mother with a brand-new baby.

“Want a pick Doctor?” called Sandy. “I can give you a hand too, if you
want to dig.”

“I wouldn’t disturb it for worlds,” returned the Doctor, “I want some of
my colleagues to see it, just like that. I believe we’ve struck into the
perfect Jurassic drift, unsuspected in this section entirely.”

“But what is it?” asked Polly, anxiously.

“Just what you said it was, Polly, child. A part of the vertebræ of a
dinosaurus, I feel sure. It is not a ninety-foot one, by any means, but
if we can judge from this section here, it must be at least thirty to
thirty-five feet long—long enough to justify a good leap in the dark if
you saw one coming at you.”

“How long has it been there, do you suppose?” asked Sue, in an awed
tone. It seemed so wonderful to think that the discovery was really
authentic. All along, they had half-questioned it, except Ruth and
Polly.

“Sue, we don’t know,” returned the Doctor, musingly, as he took a
penknife out of his pocket, and scraped at the bone. “We’re trying to
find out just such things as that, we old chaps who prowl around the
face of the earth, and try to win Mother Nature’s confidence. It may be
ten million years ago, some say ten thousand. When we start and figure
how long it takes for the Colorado River to eat its way through even an
inch deeper in the Grand Canyon, we begin to realize how many years it
must have taken for it to cut down all the way from the top.”

“It makes me feel dizzy,” said Ted, emphatically.

“It has made wiser heads than yours feel dizzy, child,” returned the
Doctor, gently. “And we are only children that He holds in His hand.
When I begin to feel pretty good, and well satisfied with myself, I go
away quietly, and read over that chapter in Job that has more geological
data in it than anything I know of.”

“I know,” said Polly. “‘Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of
the earth?’”

“Exactly. Where were we? It takes all the conceit out of me when I
consider a bit. Mr. MacDowell, this gulch belongs to you, doesn’t it?”

“I’m sorry to say it does,” said the Chief, fervently. “I just wish that
poor old Zed were here to claim his own. He put all his love into this
old strip of land for years, and it never opened its heart to him.”

“Purpose in all things,” protested the old Doctor, cheerily. “Maybe he
would have buried the cash receipts in a tin can, for all we know. You
have a better use for them. I want to send a telegram as soon as we can
get to a station. We’ll get some more authority on the remains than my
own, and then come to terms. How’s that? In the meantime, let’s go back
to dinner, for I am starved.”

In the ride back, the Doctor and Ruth went ahead, for Ruth was fairly
bursting with questions she wanted to ask. Polly and Peggie were last of
all. Sue had changed places with Ruth, and was in the surrey, letting
Ruth ride her pony.

“Sandy says I’m to have a third of whatever he gets,” Peggie said, her
cheeks pink with excitement. “He says one third goes to me for finding
it, and one third to Mrs. Sandy, and one third for him.”

“Oh, Peg, I’m so glad for you,” cried Polly, joyfully. “Will you come to
school with us? Will you, Peggie? We’d take you into our club, and have
the best times.”

Peggie smiled radiantly.

“I will if mother says so,” she promised.

You may also like