CROSSBAR RANCH

The barking of dogs sounded down in the valley, and a door opened,
letting out a pathway of lamplight.

“That’s mother—there’s mother now,” cried Jean, and she sent out a long,
clear call of happy greeting that was answered by the lamp, raised and
lowered as a welcoming signal.

“Guess she’ll be glad to see us coming home,” Mr. Murray said. “She’s
anxious to meet you after reading of you in Jeanie’s letters.”

“Just the same as we want to know all of Miss Murray’s family,” Ruth
replied, eagerly. “You don’t know how we’ve coaxed her over and over to
tell us about them and the ranch.”

“You’ll have to wait for daylight to get an idea of the place. Whoa,
there, Peanuts.”

“Peanuts! Is that its name?” Sue asked.

“It sure is. Because of the most inordinate longing and yearning and
hankering after peanuts that ever a horse had.”

Mr. Murray laughed, as he got out, and lifted down the girls. Jean was
already in her mother’s arms, and trying to introduce the new guests at
the same time.

“Well, come in, do, all of you, where the light is, and I can see you to
tell you all apart,” exclaimed Mrs. Murray, happily. “Father, you and
Don put the girls’ trunks down in the cabin there.”

“We didn’t bring any, Mrs. Murray,” said Polly. “Only our suit-cases.”

“They know this is not a summer resort, mother,” Jean put in. “I told
them just to bring what they would need for roughing it.”

“’Tis more convenient traveling that way, I suppose. And what a journey
you have had.” All the while Mrs. Murray talked she was bustling about
the great kitchen, preparing supper for them. “Now, sit up, and eat, for
you must be hungry. Jeanie, child, you may sit here in father’s place.”

Such a supper as the girls enjoyed that first night at the ranch! Brook
trout that Don had caught that morning early, baked potatoes, and graham
bread, and glasses of milk that were half filled with cream.

“You mustn’t eat too heartily, going to bed,” Mrs. Murray told them,
“but to-morrow you can make up for it. I shall mother every one of you
while you’re here.”

“We’ll be good,” Polly promised, and the others chimed in willingly
enough.

“Where are you going to put us all to sleep, motherie?” asked Jean.

“And well may you ask me that, Jeanie,” laughed her mother, with the
light burr to her speech giving it a delightful softness. “We have but
three beds here in the main house, you must know, girls. There is the
large bunkhouse for the men down below the corral, and the two cabins,
as we call them. One was our first house here, when father and I took up
the claim over thirty years back, and the other the boys built for
themselves. So after talking it over, we thought it would be best to
give you the home cabin, and then you’ll be by yourselves, and can have
as good a time as you like. If you’re timid the first few nights, Jeanie
or myself will stay with you.”

“Oh, we won’t be timid, Mrs. Murray,” protested Ted, with quick mental
visions of royal good times in the cabin. “We’ll be ever so good. I
think that’s a dandy plan, girls.”

“And so do we,” chorused the rest.

“Then gather up your belongings, and follow me,” called Jeanie, picking
up a lantern that stood by the door. “Is there a light there, motherie?”

“Yes, child, on the table in the large room. Good-night, bairnies. And
that’s all you are, too,” she smiled, “despite your height and weight.
Just a peck of bairnies to be happy and enjoy life while you may. God
bless you all.”

“Look out for the two steps as you go into the cabin,” Peggie called
last of all, and they followed Jean out into the night. It was bright
with moonlight. Every shadow was distinct and black, and for a minute
they stood and looked about, at the near-by buttes, rising bluffs of
rock and sandstone, back of the ranch, that blended into the shadowy
foothills beyond; and these again, led upward against the clear night
sky, until one could see far, far away, outlines of ranges where Bear
Lodge lay.

“We will take long trips on horseback as soon as you learn how to ride
well, and can stand the saddles,” Jean told them. “Father said he would
give us a few days of camping before it was time to go back, and it is
much better to ride than to take the wagons or surrey.”

“Indeed we will ride just as soon as we are allowed to,” declared Polly,
fervently. “I wouldn’t dare to go back home, unless I could ride, after
all the nice things that grandfather said about you, Miss Jean. It will
be the first thing he asks me, I’m sure—whether I can ride or not.”

“It won’t take very long. The ponies are all well broken, and used to
the youngsters riding them. Peggie is in the saddle half the time in the
summer, between here and Mrs. Sandy’s, and up with the boys and father
on the sheep range.”

There was the flash of a moving lantern down at the corral. They could
hear Don whistling as he moved around, looking after the ponies. From
some place up in the hills there came a strange, appealing cry at
intervals. Isabel stopped to listen.

“Is it a wild animal, Miss Murray?” she asked, doubtfully.

“Why, Isabel, I’m surprised. Don’t you know a mountain lion when you
hear one?” Ted exclaimed, reproachfully.

“It’s only a hoot owl, Isabel,” Jean said, merrily. “There’s nothing to
hurt you at all up here, unless you go farther West. There used to be a
great deal of game, but they have gone farther West towards the
mountains, and into the national reserve. We hardly ever see anything
here except a stray bobcat, or a deer. Even the brown bears keep away
unless they are hungry.”

“B-r-r-r-r,” shivered Isabel. “Don’t let’s talk any more about them.
There might be a hungry one around some place.”

“If you like, I will sleep down here with you,” Jean said, when they
came to the two-room log cabin, “but it is truly safe, girls. You can
shut the door, and drop this bar across it. See?” She set the light down
on the floor, and showed them how to fasten the door with a broad bar of
wood, “just like the pictures of Davy Crockett keeping out the wolves,”
as Polly said.

“And when they broke the bar, he put his own arm through and kept them
out. We’ll take turns being the bars if we have to, Miss Murray.”

“Then good-night all, and sleep well, and be sure and remember what you
dream. Dreams in a new place are sure to come true, they say.” Jean
kissed each sweet, upturned, girlish face, and went back to the house.

“Well, girls!” exclaimed Polly, once they were alone. She raised the
lamp from the table, and looked about.

The cabin consisted of two long, low ceiled rooms, and yet, no ceilings
of plaster, but only the natural wood for an interior; and soft and rich
in tone it looked too. The foundation of the cabin was of rocks, and the
roof projected far over in front, forming the top of the porch.
Over-shadowing it were some spruces. So much they had seen as they had
entered it. But the interior was best of all. There was a huge rock
fireplace, screened with great spruce boughs. Above it was a hanging
shelf of wood. Before each of the four windows was a rough wooden seat,
covered over with Indian blankets, and on the floor were a few rugs.

“Girls, what a fine idea this is,” exclaimed Sue, standing where she
could take in the whole interior. “Do you know this furniture is mostly
homemade of just rough, barked wood. Look at this lovely big center
table, and the chairs to match.”

“Maybe this is the first wedding outfit,” Polly suggested. “Wasn’t it
Daniel Boone who set the style in honeymoon settler furniture?”

“How, Polly?” asked Ruth.

“He just went out and took the wood as he found it, and made furniture
out of it, that’s all, and put pelts around for rugs. How pungent and
sweet those spruce boughs do smell. Ruth, you be monitor of the light,
won’t you, please, dear? I’m going to bed this minute. I just can’t keep
awake. Do you feel the motion of the train even now? I do. Just as if we
were going and going all the time.”

So Ruth put out the lamp, and they all went to bed, tired from the long
journey overland, and happy in their new quarters.

“It is just as if we were real settlers, and had finally reached a
resting place,” Isabel said sleepily.

“I wish that hoot owl would turn settler, and find his resting place,”
grumbled Ted. “He sounds so awfully lost.”

But almost as she said it, she drifted away to dreamland, and the first
night in Wyoming had begun.

Polly was the first to awake the following morning. She heard the oddest
sound right under her window, a sharp cry of “Come back, come back, come
back!”

Then came Mrs. Murray’s voice, hushed, but agitated.

“Get away from there! Shoo, with you, shoo!”

Polly jumped up from her cot, and looked out. A flock of speckled guinea
hens fluttered away from a waving apron, and vanished behind the old
blacksmith shop. It was early morning. Polly dressed quietly, and went
out, leaving the rest of the girls sleeping, for she knew how tired they
were after the long overland journey.

Once outdoors, she stood still, and looked around her. The Murray ranch
lay in a pleasant valley, with foothills and buttes surrounding it.
Polly’s first thought was, where could the trees be? Excepting for the
cottonwoods that fringed the creek bed, and the spruces rising
spire-like in every place they could find a foothold, there seemed to a
Virginia-bred girl, to be a dearth of trees. The ranch was built facing
the south, and almost backed into the buttes at the north for shelter.
The main log cabin was only one story high, but broad and long, and
home-like looking. A hammock swung under its porch shelter, and there
were some flower borders around it, with geraniums and mignonette
growing in them, and some pansies, but precious little else. Just across
the valley rose a mountain. Patches of pines covered its sides, with
here and there the white line of the wagon road showing around the
slopes. Straggling away from the main cabin were various buildings, all
low, and built also of logs. Farther back, under the shelter of the
shelving sandstone butte, was the corral, a round enclosure of rails,
and ponies within. Down in the valley where the creek wound in and out,
were some sheep, their heads bent down as they grazed, their backs
stone-gray like rocks.

Eastward, the sun was just showing above the hills, and everywhere was
heard the songs of birds.

Polly hesitated between the main house, and the corral, but the call of
the ponies was too strong to be resisted, and she went down to the
corral. When Don and Jean came down from the kitchen, they found her
perched up on the topmost rail, at one side, talking to the ponies, and
trying to coax them to her.

“We thought you were still asleep,” Jean said. “Good-morning.”

“Good-morning,” answered Polly, happily. “The rest are. I wanted to get
up and take a look out. Oh, Miss Murray, isn’t that pony over there a
dear, the one with the white nose? He’s the only one that notices me,
and when I call him, he lays back his ears, and shakes his head.”

Don went into the corral, and threw a halter over the pony’s head.

“This is Jinks,” he told her. “Used to be called High Jinks, but we cut
it short to Jinks. Don’t you want to ride him?”

It was a temptation. Polly looked longingly at the pony, but someway, it
did not seem loyal to the others to start the fun before they were
ready.

“No, thank you, Don, I think I’ll wait,” she said. “But could I have
that one to ride, when we start?”

“Guess so,” responded Don, in his stolid way. When he talked he got off
each sentence first, and rested before he took up the next. “Father said
he was going to let each of you have the use of the same pony all the
time you stayed; then you’d get used to the pony, and the pony’d get
used to you. He has five safe ones picked out, and Jinks is one of
them.”

“Well, I’d love to have Jinks unless one of the other girls wants him
too.”

“Finding’s keeping,” said Don, placidly. “I’ll put your brand on him,
Miss Polly.”

“Father’s gone to Deercroft after the boys,” Jean said, as they walked
back to the house. “Archie and Neil, you know. He is very glad to have
them home to help him too. It’s hard to get good ranchmen on these
smaller places, for they are nearly all snapped up by the large outfits.
Oh, Polly, look here.” She stopped short, and pointed off at the
mountain. “Can you see that great wooden cross way up there on the rock
ledge, half way up the mountain. That is where the first church service
was held here in Uwanda Valley. It was before father took up the claim
even, when the Shoshones still wandered freely over these ranges. Now,
they are all gathered into the same reservations with the Arapahoes. It
seems strange, when they have always been hereditary foes, that now they
have to settle down, and live in peace side by side as Uncle Sam’s good
children.”

“But how did the cross come there?” asked Polly, eagerly, shading her
eyes so that she might see it plainly. “It looks like a bare pine tree
with a piece nailed across it.”

“That is just what it is. The Indians were encamped in the valley here,
where the water was good and hunting fine, and one of our missionaries
traveled on horseback over seventy miles to reach them. They wouldn’t
allow him down in the camp, not even to enter it. So he went up the
mountain to that rock ledge, where he could overlook them; put on his
vestments, and read the service. Before he was half through, ever so
many of the Indians had stolen gradually nearer and nearer until they
were close to him. He stayed here after that nearly a week, as their
guest, and always held the service on the same spot. They grew very fond
of him, and when they left the valley, they erected that cross in memory
of him.”

Just then Sue and Ted came out of the cabin, and joined them.

“Good-morning. Ruth’s waiting to button Isabel’s waist,” Sue explained.

“Button what waist? Is she daring to dress up out here? Wait till I find
out.” Polly sped back to the cabin, and found Isabel just slipping on a
fresh white blouse.

“Young lady, where’s your khaki skirt and blouse? If we are to ‘rough
it,’ and not have a stack of washing, we must be careful. Put on that
middy blouse, and come along.”

Isabel obeyed, but a bit ruefully. She stood before the little oblong
mirror that hung on a nail above the washstand, and fluffed out her hair
with her side-combs, while Ruth and Polly watched her, laughingly.

“I declare, Lady Vanitas, I do truly believe you’d stop to fix your hair
if you were going to telephone,” said Polly. “Can’t you smell
breakfast?”

“Did you all rest well, girls?” asked Mrs. Murray, smiling up at them
from the kitchen table as they entered. “It’s only six now. I thought
you’d be so tired you’d sleep late, but even Jeanie was out a little
past five herself. Peggie, you may dish the porridge, and bring in the
cream.”

Porridge. That sounded solid and Scotch, thought the girls, and they
enjoyed it too, with plenty of cream, and fresh berries, and eggs. It
was very pleasant in the long, low, ceiled kitchen. In the summer time,
the cooking at the ranch was done at what they called the cook-house, a
cabin half rock, half logs apart from the main house. This left the
kitchen free from the warmth of the fire, and all its windows were open.
The interior was unplastered. Here and there on the walls hung a pair of
antlers, and over the fireplace was a pair of long, sword-like horns
from a Rocky Mountain goat. On a homemade rack along one side of the
room were several rifles, and one long, old-fashioned musket.

“That was father’s,” Jean explained, when the girls were examining the
guns after breakfast. “He was in several of the Indian campaigns out
here, along with Sandy MacDowell. Wait until you visit over at the
Alameda ranch, and hear them talk together. Now, come out to the
cook-house and meet Sally. She’s very anxious to see you all.”

“Who’s Sally?” asked Sue.

“Sally is Sally Lost Moon, mother’s standby on the work question. Sally
wandered here years ago in a blizzard. She had lost her way somehow,
trying to get over to Deercroft. She is a half-breed Shoshone squaw who
worked at different camps as cook, until she came to us. If you want to
hear all the old Indian legends of this part of the world, you want to
start Sally talking when she has her supper work all finished, and is
sitting out on the stoop resting.”

The girls trooped after Jean, as she led the way to the cook-house.
Inside, they found Sally Lost Moon, and were formally introduced to her.
She was very “blank” as Ted remarked afterwards, but scrutinized each
young face with shrewd intent, and a curious, set smile, and shook hands
deliberately with each one.

“Can she talk if she really feels like it?” asked Ruth interestedly,
when they left her.

“Indeed she can,” returned Jean. “She is always very dignified with
strangers. She has two little granddaughters at one of the mission
schools, and sometimes they come out in vacation time to see her with
their mother. Each time they bring Sally a gift, and she never uses it.
She has everything that they have brought her sacredly put away. And
she’s so proud that they belong to the Church, and are being educated.
Nearly all the Indian women are that way. It is the men who sit back,
and regret the days before the white men came and took away their
hunting grounds.”

Peggie joined them, and said that Don was anxious for the girls to meet
Prometheus. They went down past the corral, to the wagon sheds, and
there they found Prometheus Bound, as Jean said. He was the most
cheerful looking bear, with a way of holding his jaws open as if he were
smiling, like a panting dog, and he sat up on his hind legs obligingly,
and shook hands with each girl.

“What kind of a bear is he?” asked Polly. “I can’t tell the difference
between the Rocky Mountain bears.”

“You would if you thought about it,” Don told her. “There’s four that we
have up this way, Cinnamon, Silvertip, Grizzly and Common Brown bear.
That’s what old Pro is, just a common brown Johnny bear. I got him when
he was a cub. Some folks up at the Sweetwater ranch were out hunting,
and they killed the mother, and right after it I found this little
shaver trotting around looking for his mother, so I caught him, and
brought him down home, and Peg helped me bring him up. He can dance, and
walk on a pole, and play ’possum, and say his prayers, and do lots of
tricks. We used to have him in the shed back of the house, but mother
sent him down here after he’d eaten up the bishop’s Sunday dinner.”

“Poor old boy.” Sue sympathized with Prometheus, as she always did with
a dumb animal. “I’d love to take you home with me.”

“I’d like to see your mother’s face when you appeared in Queen’s Ferry
leading him,” laughed Ted gayly. “It would be worse than the tame crabs
you caught at Lost Island last summer, Sue.”

“Oh, I don’t know, now. I think he’d make a very nice pet,” returned Sue
reflectively.

“Let’s get Sue away from Prometheus right this minute, girls,” exclaimed
Polly, “or he will surely go back home with us. Miss Murray, are there
any real Indians around here nowadays?”

Jean slipped one arm around Polly’s waist, and they strolled up the
narrow winding path that led to the buttes of sandstone back of the
corral.

“We’ll go up to Council Rock, and there I can tell you about them,” she
said. “And after that, we’ll have the first riding lesson.”

“Where’s Council Rock?” Ruth asked.

“It’s a great flat rock about half a mile up the trail, where the
Indians used to meet under a flag of truce, and parley with the
settlers, and hunters years ago. At one time, I believe it was the only
neutral spot in this whole valley. That was long before Custer’s raid,
back when they were trying to push the railroad through. Don’t you girls
know anything at all about it?”

“Not a blessed thing,” the girls all chimed in.

“Then you must. For though our Wyoming is only one of the girl states as
yet, she has been as great a heroine in her struggle for statehood and
protection as any of the first colonies, I think. And if you are to love
her and appreciate her, you must understand some of her history as
well.”

The trail led upward from the valley over the buttes, winding in and out
between rocks that formed natural buttresses and fortifications. Only
the scrub pines and low spruces found a foothold on them, but the
crevices were filled with mosses and stray flowers. Finally, they came
to a small plateau, or stretch of tableland, and on its brink,
overlooking the ranch and valley, was Council Rock. It was an immense,
natural formation of stone, and as the girls stood there, they could
almost see the circle of chiefs sitting around it, listening in stolid
mistrust to the parleyings of their white brothers.

“There are steps in the rock on this side, girls,” Jean said, showing
them how the stones had been hewn into stairs at one side. “Father has
said he did not doubt that at some far-off age, the Indians offered
sacrifices here to the Sun god. That was the highest worship up here in
our corner of the State, the worship of the Sun god. They used to hold
the great ceremonial here each year, over on Sundance Mountain. Isn’t
that odd? Think how at almost the same time, nations were worshiping the
Sun god in Persia, and Japan, and Peru, and here.”

“I think it was better than praying to three-faced images and totem
poles,” said Ruth, in her grave, unsmiling way. “I suppose the sun
seemed warm and good to them, and they thought it made the world
beautiful.”

“‘And the Sun of Righteousness shall rise with healing in His wings,’”
quoted Jean, softly. “It is a beautiful thought, Ruth. Let us sit down
here like the old-time chiefs, and talk of our Wyoming.”

“Why do they call it that, Miss Murray?” asked Isabel. “I always like to
know about names.”

“Do you? This name is a rather sad one. After the massacre of 1866, it
was called Wyoming, in memory of the terrible massacre of settlers in
the old Wyoming valley in Pennsylvania. The first white explorer who
found us, was the Chevalier de la Verendrye, back in the early part of
the eighteenth century. He took up fur trading with the natives, and
lived eleven years among them. Later came John Colter—”

“He discovered the Yellowstone,” put in Ruth, “and then the trappers and
traders all came up here. We had that, girls, in Irving’s story about
Captain Bonneville, don’t you remember?”

“And the first white settlement was at Fort Laramie,” went on Jean,
dreamily. Her chin was uplifted. She looked off over the valley with its
winding creek bed, fringed with cottonwoods, and almost forgot the
girls. Dearly had she always loved the story of Wyoming’s upward fight
to statehood. “Then a few more settlements were made. But it was always
hard and dangerous, because there was no protection from the Indians,
and no guarded line of travel. Sandy loves to tell stories of the old
Bonzeman trail, and Conner’s march in which he participated, back in
’65. But finally the needs became so urgent that the railroad decided to
push through an overland route following the old trail.”

“What did the Indians say to that?” asked Sue, eagerly.

“They said little, but waited. Up this way, there were Sioux, and
Arapahoes. South were the Cheyennes, and west the friendly Crows. They
called them Upserokas, then, ‘from the land of the crows.’ And in 1866,
these tribes all met at Laramie to hold a council with the government
commission about the road. They seemed to be acting in good faith, and
willing for the country to be opened up. Forts were established, and
posts here and there, but in December of that same year, without
warning, the Indians decoyed three officers and over seventy men into
ambush, and killed them. And for years after that, it is one long story
of brave men trying to hold point after point against odds, with long
delays in government relief, until finally General Grant ordered the
forts demolished for lack of troops to keep them up. Think of that,
girls.”

“But there was Custer,” Polly broke in.

“Indeed there was, Polly,” agreed Jean, warmly. “You want to hear Sandy
tell of Custer. He was one of his scouts. Custer gave his heart to
Wyoming, and his life. I think that Sandy always feels he was most
unjustly treated by fate because he did not go with Custer on his last
journey, when the Sioux killed the entire command on Little Big Horn
River.”

“All of them?” asked Ted, in almost a whisper, her gray eyes wide and
startled.

“All, dear. So you see why Wyoming seems to me like the girl state. She
is so young and so willing and eager, and she has suffered greatly. We
who have been born here, and know her, realize her growth in the past
twenty years. There, I see Don waving to us from the corral, now. Who
wants to ride?”

“Riding skirts, girls, first,” Polly cried, and away they went down the
path to the cabin to change for the first ride. It had been Jean’s first
warning to them, the riding skirts. Out west, side saddles were a thing
of the past, she told the girls. There must be divided skirts, made very
much like their regular outing skirts of khaki, but giving perfect
freedom in the saddle.

“I must remember and show you my buckskin skirt that Archie made for me
when I was about your age,” she had said. “It was my first riding skirt,
and I felt like a real squaw in it.”

Don had five ponies ready for them when they returned to the corral, and
Jean’s own broncho besides. Saddled and bridled they waited, and Mrs.
Murray came down from the main cabin to see the first try-out. Even
Sally watched them from her cook-house, and smiled in her stolid,
close-lipped way as Polly and Ted took the lead, and mounted their
ponies.

Isabel and Ruth hesitated, but Sue followed the others, and Jean last of
all, on Ginger.

“We named him that for two reasons,” she said, as they rode down the
trail towards the creek. “He’s the color of ginger, and he has a temper
that is gingery too.” She turned in her saddle to see if the last two
girls were mounted safely. Very stiffly and anxiously they both sat in
the saddles, Isabel with her back stiff as a poker, Ruth precise and
resolute, her knees gripping the pony’s sides as though she had been on
a pony express. “Don’t be afraid, girls,” she called to them. “They
won’t bolt or kick a bit. Let them take the trail, and they’ll follow
after the rest like sheep. Just hold them up a bit when you come to a
steep incline, that’s all.”

“Don gave me a quirt,” said Polly, holding up the short braided whip.

“You’d better not wave it over Jinks’ head, young lady,” Jean laughed.
“He objects strongly to violent persuasion of any sort. Just be content
to jog along easily for a while.”

“Oh, where’s Peggie?” asked Sue suddenly. “I thought she was coming with
us.”

“She started out long ago, goose,” Ted told her. “I saw something go
‘sky-hooting’ along this road right after breakfast, and at first I
thought it must be a deer, or an Indian, but I saw Peggie’s pigtails
flying, and knew it was just she. Does she always ride that way, Miss
Murray?”

Jean laughed, and her eyes grew tender.

“I think she does. She rides to school all winter on that pony. Father
gave it to her when she was about eight, for her very own, and she talks
to it as though it understood everything. I presume it would seem
strange to you girls to have the birthday presents we two have been
accustomed to. Sometimes father gives us a pony, sometimes a yearling,
or even a calf of our own, and we help look after them ourselves. He
says that one of the finest ways to teach yourself self-reliance and
responsibility is to have a living creature dependent on you. Take the
turn to your left, Polly, where you come to the fork in the road over
the bridge.”

Polly was leading, or rather Jinks was leading. He had a most
authoritative way of throwing up his nose, and jerking the bridle as he
went along, and a reckless swing to his gait that was enchanting, Polly
thought. She only wished the Admiral might have seen her then. Down the
road from the ranch, and over the plank bridge at the creek, they went.
On the other side, at the fork, Jean told them one road led over the way
they had come from Deercroft, and the other one led due west towards the
Alameda ranch, where Mrs. Sandy lived.

“It is too far to go to-day, girls, when you are not used to riding, but
we can try it in a few days, I think. Elspeth has gone over there now,
to let them know you came yesterday.”

“I wonder, Miss Murray,” called back Polly over her shoulder, “why it
was that Miss Calvert didn’t send any message to Miss Diantha by us.”

“I don’t know anything about it, Polly, any more than you do,” said
Jean, simply. “Mother knows what the trouble is between the two sisters,
because Mrs. Sandy told her herself, but we don’t know. Mother has that
way always. Sometimes father will tell what he thinks is a great piece
of news, and mother will say very gently, ‘Land o’ rest, David, I knew
that six months ago. You mustn’t go ’round telling all you hear.’ Mrs.
Sandy had always told Peggie and me about her stately sister at the old
Southern home in Queen’s Ferry, and when I gave up the school over at
Beaver Ford and told her I wanted to get into an upper class school, or
preparatory for college, she said that she would write to her sister in
my behalf at Calvert Hall, and, well—I got the appointment.”

“But Miss Calvert never talks about her, and she didn’t send her love by
us,” put in Isabel, decidedly. “Has she lived out West here long, Miss
Murray?”

“Before father took up his claim. I really am not sure how long it is. I
know that Sandy was born East, but did most of his fighting out here,
and then he went back home, and married Miss Diantha. Perhaps, before
you go back home, you may find out all about it.”

“Oh, girls, look,” cried Polly, turning around eagerly. They had come to
a turn in the road, skirting the base of the mountain. On one side was
the sheer, precipitous cliff, with straight trunks of pines and spruce
rising like ship masts higher and higher, until the tops were lost to
sight. Below were the pines too, and the ground grew more and more
rugged, as they rode upward. Far beneath them lay the valley, and in the
distance was the ranch, its buildings and corrals looking almost like
toys. Ahead the wagon road wound around the face of the mountain, and
disappeared.

“We call this the Delectable Mountain,” Jean told them, as they all
halted, to look at the gorgeous panorama outspread before them. “Mother
named it years ago. It was a long and weary trip for her out here. They
came by wagon from Iowa, the nearest shipping point. Mother has often
told us of the long trip, and how kind people were at the ranches they
passed along the route, but how very few there were. Father had taken up
the claim, and then had sent for her to bring the goods on, and he met
her. And she says that when, at last, after days and days of travel,
they finally came around this curve of the old trail, and the valley lay
before her, she just looked and looked at it, and smiled. ‘Davy, it’s
the Delectable Mountain, isn’t it, dear heart, and yonder lies our
Promised Land.’ That is what she said, girls. I think it was, too.”

The girls were silent. It was about eleven, and the sunlight flooded the
valley with its golden glow. About it, the mountains grouped
shelteringly. For miles and miles, in all the vast view, the only spot
of human life was the ranch. And for the moment there came to the girls,
even in their own careless pleasure, a realization of what that long
journey had meant to the bride of thirty years ago, and what simple
heroism there lay in the story of the valley home.

“How brave she was,” said Ruth, gently. “What did she do when the
Indians came around?”

“She gave them bread,” Jean replied, smiling. “Mother doesn’t believe
much in bullets. Now, ride along, girls. We’ll go as far as the spring
cave for this morning, then back home to dinner, and you’ll have done
very well. I think even the Admiral would say that much.”

They kept on for another three quarters of a mile, until the road
broadened out, and there, at the side, was a spring tumbling and
trickling out of the rocky ledge. A granite cup was tucked into one of
the crevices, and they all dismounted, and had a good drink, then rode
back to the ranch with keen appetites for one of Mrs. Murray’s famous
dinners.

That first day at the ranch seemed the longest of the stay, when the
girls looked back to it afterwards. There were so many things to see and
talk about, so much ground to cover.

“It is sure to be like this for the first few days,” Mrs. Murray told
them, smilingly. “It is the same with my own bairns when they come home
for the summer vacation. They are like a lot of sheep for a while,
following me around, and dodging at their father’s heels the same way.
You must not try to do too much at first, or you’ll do nothing at all.”

“If I learn how to saddle a pony to-day, I’ll feel I’ve done well,”
sighed Sue. “I’ve tried to do it four times so far, and Don laughs at
me. When I tried to put the halter around his neck, I got hold of the
wrong end of the rope, and it was upside down. But I’m going right back,
and try it over.”

The girls laughed as she sped back to the corral. They were sitting out
of doors after supper, some on the broad low stoop, some in the hammock.
Mr. Murray had arrived from Deercroft about sunset with his two big
boys, as he called them. Two stalwart Westerners they were, with their
mother’s steady gray eyes, and the close-lipped smile of their father.

“I thought they were just boys from the way Miss Jean talked of them,”
protested Polly, as she looked after the two striding away to the house
with their suit-cases. “They’re grown up.”

“Archie is twenty-three, and Neil a year older,” explained Jean. “But
still they seem like boys, don’t they, mother dear?”

“They’re growing fast, Jeanie,” was all Mrs. Murray would say.

“We won’t see them much after to-morrow,” went on Jean. “Help is scarce
out here, and they have to help father with his haying. Ours is not a
big ranch, you know, girls. We’re only a home ranch, so we hardly depend
on the range at all for feed. It used to be a case of everybody turn out
the cattle to graze, and then have the two big round-ups, spring and
fall, but now everything has gone into sheep, as the cow-men say. Father
sold off his stock about seven years ago, and went in for sheep, as soon
as the trouble had quieted down.”

“What trouble?” asked Polly. “I didn’t know there was any trouble out
West here excepting from Indians long ago.”

“Didn’t you?” Jean smiled. “You should have lived here during the range
trouble. The range used to be free for all, girls, but the cattlemen
said when the sheep grazed on it, they didn’t leave enough for a
grasshopper to perch on. So they tried to drive them out. And you know
the old riddle. When an irresistible body meets an immovable body, what
is the result?”

“General and inevitable smash-up,” Ted said.

“Exactly. In this case, after thousands of sheep had been killed and
many men too; after the wells had been poisoned, and all the State
turned into a boiling kettle of trouble; all at once, Uncle Sam stepped
in, and homesteaded the land. That meant the loss of the range in a way,
although up here in our corner, we haven’t had much trouble, have we,
mother?”

“It’s a blessing we haven’t,” declared Mrs. Murray fervently. “Between
the Indians, the long winters, the range troubles, and the loneliness
out here, I’m thinking we’re as much pioneers and good pilgrims as those
that landed on the rock at Cape Cod. If it hadn’t been for the children,
I’d have grieved, but there’s no time for grieving with a brood of
bairns growing up around you.”

“It must be nice to belong to a large family,” Polly said, wistfully.
“Especially if they looked alike like yours do, Mrs. Murray. It must be
like having a lot of little selves around you.”

“Isn’t that just like Polly,” cried Ted. “Now, I’ve got two brothers,
and they’re not a bit like me. Mother says I am a good deal more like
the one boy in the family. Oh, look, girls!”

“It’s only Don,” Jean said, rising to get a better view. “He’s riding
Scamp. That’s his own pony. He broke him himself, and taught him tricks.
They say he’d make a good polo pony, but Don wouldn’t sell him for any
price.”

The girls rose to get a good look as Don flashed by on the calico pony.
Down went his hat on the earth, and he swung round in an oval, leaned
far over sideways, and caught up the hat. Then once again, and this
time, it was the handkerchief from his throat that went fluttering into
the dust, and as he came back, he seemed to almost slip out of the
saddle, as he caught it up.

Then he took the rope that hung at the saddle-bow, and sent it twirling
far out in ever widening circles and ovals.

“Don’t catch me, Don,” Peggie called merrily, as she ran up from the
corral.

“I could if I wanted to,” Don shouted back.

“Eh, lad,” his father said. “Hold up a bit, and to-morrow Archie and
Neil will help you show off.”

“It must be splendid to watch you roping cattle,” Polly said. “I’d like
to see that.”

“You’ll see that over at Sandy’s,” Mr. Murray promised. “Sandy’s the
only one of us old timers who sticks to tradition. His place is the same
to-day as it was twenty years ago. He has the only long-horned Texan
steers in the county, I think. When I put sheep in here at the Crossbar,
Sandy said he wouldn’t depend for a living on any herd of huckle-backed
lambies for all the country east of the Mississippi. He’s very set in
his opinions and habits, Sandy is.”

“Father,” interrupted Jean. “Do you remember the day the timber fire got
in the Pine Ridge stretch, and the cattle stampeded?”

“I didn’t know you had timber fires up here,” Ruth exclaimed seriously.
“There doesn’t seem to be much timber to burn.”

“Which makes what there is more precious, child,” laughed Mr. Murray.
“Anyhow, it’s true. We don’t have them as a usual thing, but now and
then they’ll start in spring and fall when the dry leaves and underbrush
are like excelsior for blazing up over nothing. This one on Pine Ridge
happened about eight or nine years ago. The lads were home then, but our
Jeanie was at school down at Laramie, taking her Normal course. Somehow
a fire started off yonder on the Pine Ridge range, southwest of here,
just behind old Topnotch Mountain. Archie saw the smoke pouring up, and
called out to me. I had the herd grazing around the shoulder of
Topnotch. The leader was a fine old chap. He knew more about herding
than any steer I ever saw, but he didn’t know a thing about timber
fires. This one was jumping from dry brush and grass straight for spruce
clumps, and scrub pine, and while the ranch wasn’t in danger, the herd
was, because that leader stampeded the wrong way, and all the rest after
him. Instead of making for the valley and home, he went on a dead run
straight for a line of buttes, and a drop of two hundred feet down over
the rocks.”

“Like enough you and Archie would have gone over with the cattle, too,
father,” interposed Mrs. Murray, placidly.

“Oh, how did you stop them?” broke in Ted, anxiously.

“Archie did the neatest bit of rope play I ever saw. He raced alongside
on his pony, and slung the rope fair around the old lad’s horns, and
turned him. Stop him? Indeed, and he never stopped till he reached the
home valley, but it turned him in the right direction. Sandy always
reminds me that is a rare bit of telling, but I saw it happen. Now,
girls, early to bed with you all, if it’s trolling you’ll be to-morrow
early.”

“What’s trolling?” asked Polly. “A troll’s a kind of gnome, isn’t it?”

“Not in Wyoming. Up here you troll for trout.”

“I thought you trailed for them,” said Sue. “Don’t you trail the bait
along on the top of the water, and kind of skip it?”

“There was a boy used to come and play with Stoney,” Polly added. “A
little colored boy from down the river, and he said he knew how to lie
down on the bank, and reach under, and grab the trout.”

“Now, Polly, if you develop into a teller of trout tales, you’ll be
worse than Don. Listen.” Jean rose from the hammock. “First of all, you
must fish up-stream. No standing still, and waiting for the fish to
bite. You must learn how to hunt the best spots, and then to cast well.
Trout lie with heads pointed up-stream, and hunt the shadowy nooks.
Peggie and Don are our best catchers.”

“It’s all in the way you cast and troll,” spoke up Peggie, half shyly.
“You mustn’t throw out heavily, or you scare them away, and you must
draw the fly very, very lightly along. Don’s caught them with worms, but
I like the flies best. We’ll go fishing to-morrow.”

“Not so soon,” protested Jean. “They want to get up early, and take a
ride before breakfast to-morrow, and you’ll need a good misty morning
for successful fishing. Did you ride all the way over to Sandy’s, Peg?”

Peggie nodded happily, and smiled.

“Mrs. Sandy says she’s glad they got here all safe and sound, and she
wants us all to ride over as soon as we can.”

“Next week we will ride over,” Jean said. “I want you to be accustomed
to the saddle, girls, first. We will ride every day, somewhere around
home here, and there are a good many interesting things to see. There
are Indian graves up in the hills, and the Picture Rocks down the river;
plenty to keep you busy.”

“We’d better go to bed,” cried Polly, rising. “We want to be up with the
chickens to-morrow, and make the most of every day we’re here.”

“If you rise early, you will be in time for a dip with Peggie and me. We
go in about five. Did you bring your suits?”

“Yes, they did, but if I hadn’t told them to do so, not one would have
remembered,” Ruth said, soberly.

“Oh, listen a minute,” Peggie cautioned. “Sally is singing the chant of
the new moon.”

In the hush that followed, they heard the old squaw’s low tremulous
tones, over and over, singing the same strange minor notes, quavering
and simple, that seemed to hold the spirit of the night and the spell of
these far reaches of distant hills and mountain ranges, in their melody.
Overhead, the new moon showed in the sky, silver and slender against the
amber afterglow of the sunset. Out on a patch of ground between the
ranch house and the cook-cabin stood the old Indian woman, lifting up
her arms every now and then as she sang, or rather, grunted the chant.

“What does she mean?” whispered Isabel. “I can’t understand a word she
says.”

“Neither does anybody else,” replied Jean. “Mother thinks it is part of
some old invocation to the moon, or a prayer for fair weather.
Sometimes, when she is in the humor, Sally will sit and tell us old
tales that she used to hear when she was a child in the Shoshone camps.
That was before the government compelled the tribe to give up their
roaming life, and settle down on the reservation at Fort Washakie.”

“What a queer name, Miss Jean!”

“It is in honor of the great Chief Washakie, Polly. He was the best
friend the whites had out here, and was always loyal.”

They did not disturb Sally Lost Moon, but called good-night to Mr.
Murray and the boys, and went over to the lodge.

“If you need more blankets, call out,” Jean said as she bade them
good-night.

“All right,” answered Polly. “Let’s not light a lamp, girls. I almost
wish we were in a tent.”

“I wish we were going to sleep right on Council Rock,” Ruth declared.
“I’d like to lie on my back, and look up at the stars and feel the earth
go ’round. Doesn’t this all make you want to fit into the same tune? I
mean, doesn’t it make you want to match the wilds, and be an Indian or a
ranch girl, or anyone who really belongs here. I feel as though Virginia
must be over on some star.”

“You’re sentimental, grandma,” Sue said, happily. “And that’s what
you’re always calling the rest of us. I’m really surprised at you, Ruth,
wanting to lie down and look at the stars and watch the world go ’round.
That’s like Polly. Virginia isn’t on a star. It’s right down back of
Topnotch there.”

“Yes, and what kind of an Indian would you make with pigtails, and
spectacles, goose?” added Polly.

“I don’t care,” sighed Ruth. “I feel that way. I think I’d like to live
out here.”

“There you are! And Peggie said to-day, she thought she’d like to live
down East,” laughed Polly. “It’s like Aunty Welcome tells about flies on
a window. All those on the outside want to get in, and all on the inside
want to get out.”

“But have you seen Peggie’s room yet?” asked Ruth, in self-defense.

“Not yet. Why?”

“Just wait.” Very mysteriously. “I wouldn’t spoil the surprise for you
by telling about it. I only wish I had one like it. She didn’t even
realize how different it was from other girls’ rooms until I told her
about it. It’s full of—no, I won’t tell. You will see it to-morrow.”

“Oh, please, Ruth, please,” they all begged.

“I shall put my shoes right back on,” protested Ted. “I feel put upon.”

“Let’s wait till morning,” Polly decided. “Peggie will be in bed now,
anyway. I don’t believe Ruth got more than a peep at it herself.”

“I didn’t,” said Ruth meekly. “It was through the window too, while
Peggie was in there after something. All I could see were horns and
pelts, and baskets, and that sort of thing, but she says she has ever so
many things she has collected.”

“I like Peggie,” Isabel said suddenly, in her precise way. “She has the
deepest dimples I ever saw.”

“Sally Lost Moon calls them smile holes,” said Polly. “Isn’t that dear,
girls? Smile holes.”

“Oh, listen a minute,” interrupted Sue who was near the open door. Up
from the corral came the Murray boys, singing together. They could not
catch the words, but the swinging, happy lilt carried on the night air.
The last line they heard clearly.

“Will you ride,
Oh, will you ride,
Say, will you ride the trail with me?”

It died away as they went into the main cabin, just as the new moon
slipped behind Topnotch’s shoulder.

“Will you ride,” started up Ted.

“Oh, will you ride,” Sue caught it up, and the rest finished it, Polly
beating time with the heel of her shoe on the side of her cot.

“Say, will you ride the trail with me?”

“Ranch taps, girls,” Ruth reminded them. “Up early for a swim, you
know.”

“Will you ride,” began Ted, gaily, but a well-aimed pillow from Polly
cut off the tantalizing strain, for all the world like a young rooster’s
crow, and they went quietly to sleep.

The long night’s quiet rest left the girls refreshed and bright. When
Peggie and Jean came over to the lodge at five, they were up and
dressed, ready for the run down to the creek for a morning dip.

“You’ll find it very different from sea bathing, girls,” Jean told them.
“The water does not have the same buoyancy, but it gives one a feeling
of exhilaration all the same. This place has been our swimming hole for
years.”

“I should think so, by the beaten path to it,” remarked Ruth. “You can’t
lose your way, can you?”

The little path led down to the creek, and along its winding course
until it turned a bend, and slipped into rapids around a rough, old
butte that the children at the ranch had named Thunder Cloud, years
before. Here the creek bed was full of rocks, as if, Polly said, years
before, some giant had thrown them down there like a handful of pebbles.
A little farther on, the creek broadened and deepened, and there lay the
swimming hole.

“There are no rocks in it, here,” said Elspeth. “It’s only up to my
shoulders at the center, excepting in early spring, when the snows melt,
and then it’s a regular torrent through the whole valley.”

Ted and Sue waded out into midstream carefully. They had dressed in
bathing suits up at the cabin, and even putting them on again had
brought back the old joyous times at Lost Island last summer.

The water felt cool, but not chilling. Isabel and Ruth splashed about in
the shore shallows experimentally, but Polly stood on a rock, and looked
around her at the gorgeous scenery. The sun was well up in the heavens,
but over everything there still clung the soft, hazy mist of a midsummer
dawn. The distant mountains looked as if they had folded violet and
pearl cloaks about them. The summits were veiled in straying, ever
changing cloud wreaths. Even the near-by buttes of sandstone and shale,
rugged and bare as they were, took on a certain beauty of their own in
that tender, mellowing light. The bottom of the creek looked golden too,
and the water was full of shimmering, shining ripples, as the girls
splashed into it, with merry cries.

“I wish there was a long stretch of sandy beach, don’t you, girls?” said
Isabel, as she hesitated, a mermaid without a resting place. “This shore
is so rocky.”

“Rocky,” exclaimed Sue, floundering around vigorously. “Call this rocky
after Maine. These rocks are pebbles.”

“Do you expect a Wyoming swimming hole to be a seaside sun-bath?” called
out Ted. “Come on in, Polly. It’s splendid.”

“This used to be the old fording place, mother says, for westbound
cattle bunches years ago,” said Jean, as she stopped a few minutes after
a spurt up the river and back. “Some of the settlers went this way too.
They named it Thunder Ford, so we called the old butte yonder Thunder
Cloud. There used to be a chief of that name. I can just remember seeing
him once when I was a little girl. I rode up to Sundance with father,
and they had a sheriff’s sale of Indian ponies.”

“Oh, tell us about it,” Polly begged at once, wading towards her. “We
can hear you.”

“There wasn’t anything to tell. The Indians were in debt, I guess, and
had to sell their ponies, some of them anyway, to settle. They showed
them off first, and many cowboys had ridden in from outlying ranches to
watch the fun. Each Indian would mount his pony, and try to put it
through all kinds of tricks, with the cowboys shouting at them, and
urging them on. There’s a little square of green grass in the center of
the town. At least, it’s supposed to be green, but it was pretty well
sun-dried and brown. Father and I stood there, and watched the racing,
and I noticed the old Indian next to me. He was very tall and homely,
with a broad band tied around his head, and one big eagle’s feather
slipped through. Then he wore an old army shirt, and fringed buckskin
‘chaps,’ and last of all, there was a heavy government blanket half
trailing from his waist; and mind, girls, this was in July.”

“Maybe he felt that he had to wear it as long as the government had
given it to him,” suggested Isabel, thoughtfully.

“Maybe he did. He watched the race with his arms folded, and when father
spoke to him, he wouldn’t even glance at him. But I said I couldn’t see,
and all at once, he lifted me up in his arms, where I could get a good
view of the street and the ponies, and held me there. And afterwards,
when we were buying things at the general store, we found out he was old
Chief Thunder Cloud who used to be with Sitting Bull years ago.”

“Can we get any bead work, or baskets around here, Miss Jean?” asked
Polly, as the remembrance of Mrs. Yates’ commission occurred to her.

“You can buy them at any of the reservations. When the bishop comes, we
will ask him.”

“When will he be here?” questioned Polly, with interest.

“Any time. He usually stops over night at our ranch on his way north. It
is different being a bishop out here from what it means in the eastern
or even middle states. Here he is a pioneer missionary. Do you know,
girls, that he even has jurisdiction over the reservations, at least the
Shoshone one?”

“He’s tall, and kind of young, and rides a horse like a soldier,” put in
Peggie. “And he looks like a soldier. That’s why all the ranchers and
cowboys like him, I guess.”

“I’m getting cold,” Isabel exclaimed, shivering.

“I should think you would,” declared Ted, “standing there with the water
up to your ankles. Isabel, I sigh to think what would ever become of you
in a deep swimming tank. You’d cling to the side like an anemone.”

“All out now,” Jean called. “And we’d better run to keep up the
circulation. Next time we’ll bring down the swimming suits, and kimonos,
and dress here. It’s too long a trip in wet clothes.”

Up the path they went, dripping wet, and radiant with health and
happiness.

“Hurry up and dress, girls,” Jean said, as they came to the guest cabin.
“After breakfast, we’ll ride over the other way towards the sheep range,
and you’ll have a chance to look them over.”

“Oh, look down there at Don,” cried Peggie, suddenly, and the next
minute she was flying as fast as her feet could carry her towards the
corral.

“Head him off, Peg, head him off,” shouted Don. “Not that way, over
here. Oh, suffering cats, look at that!”

“He’s making a bee line for the bars, Don; I can’t stop him,” Peggie
cried.

A flying streak of gray darted madly across the bare, brown earth of the
corral. Headlong after it raced Don, waving his arms and whooping
shrilly.

“What on earth—” began Ruth, but Sue, Ted and Polly were already on the
way to the corral also, and Jean was laughing.

“It’s Don’s timber cub,” she said to Ruth and Isabel. “He’s loose.”

Don caught at a coiled rope that hung on a saddle on the fence, just
where he had left it before saddling up for the ride. The streak of gray
made for the open passage like an escaped fleck of quicksilver, and Don
set his teeth, and threw out on a chance.

“I got him,” he called, as the rope circled out through the air, and
drew taut and snug over something. “He’s a dandy little cub. I brought
him in last week. Two months old. From Badger Hole Creek. The herders
said the mother was shot when she was hanging around the sheep one night
nearly two weeks ago. This little shaver must have been trying to find
her ever since. I’m going to tame him.”

Tenderly he bent over the palpitating little form, and loosened the
rope. The wolf cub looked like a shaggy, big-headed little Spitz dog,
with a very pointed nose. It tried to burrow down in Don’s coat sleeve,
and he trotted it back to its new home, a cage he had fashioned for it
in the shade of the wagon shed.

“What’s his name, Don?” asked Sue, eagerly.

“Kink,” grinned back Don. “Suits him, doesn’t it? I’ll have him tamed in
a month, but he’s pretty shy now.”

“Breakfast,” called Mrs. Murray from the back door of the house, and
they hurried back to the cabin to dress.

“Put on your riding skirts,” warned Jean. When they had finished eating,
there was no delay about the start. Don had the five ponies saddled in a
few minutes, and this time it was easier mounting, but it was still hard
to get accustomed to the movement of the ponies.

“I feel as if I were going to tumble off any minute,” Ruth declared.

“You should ride the funny little burros down in Colorado if you want a
good jogging,” Jean said. “Last summer mother was pretty well tired out
after the shearing and shipping and all that, so after the extra helpers
had gone, I took her down for a little trip to the Springs, and we had a
good time. It was her first vacation in thirty years. I don’t like to
ride burros at all. The best horses for these roads are the
cross-breeds, half Indian pony, half easterner, like ours.”

“Oh, aren’t we going on Topnotch to-day?” asked Ted, as they took the
opposite turn at the creek crossing.

“No. We’re bound for the north this time. It’s a good ride, and easy for
you, and you’ll get used to the saddle.”

After they had passed the valley and lower buttes, great, rolling
tablelands came in view, their jagged bluffs fringed with scrub-pine and
spruce.

“This is the open range,” Jean said. “It goes on for miles and miles to
the north, higher and higher till it blends into Bear Lodge.”

“Oh, girls, don’t you remember that place in the Bible?” exclaimed
Polly, halting to lift her head and draw in deep breaths of the clear
fine air. “I mean where it tells about the cattle on a thousand hills.
Who’d want an old, smelly, burnt sacrifice, when he could have this, and
all the cattle on them.”

The full heat of the day was still far off, and the morning calm and
hazy. The lazy, droning sound of insects came from the shadowy depths of
sage-brush on either side of the path, and High Jinks would shy every
now and then as a honey-laden bee or flippant butterfly darted by his
nose.

“Is it far?” asked Polly, after they had passed the low, sun-dried bed
of Coon Creek, and struck out across a long, open stretch of upland with
only a ragged pine here and there to break its barren monotony.

“About five miles the short way, but nearly fifteen if we had to go
around the hills west of here. Father fixed a short cut years ago when
we used to pasture our herd on the Black Pine stretch. He built a bridge
over the gulch up here. Some of the road is so overgrown now that you
have to take your time. Polly, don’t hold Jinks in if you can stand a
little gallop. He’s just ready to dance for a run.”

“I won’t hold him in—” began Polly, and she slackened her hold on the
bridle. The pony shook his head free joyously, and started off on a
helter-skelter canter that made Polly lean forward, and grip his sides
with her knees like an Indian. Her cap dropped off, and her hair tumbled
down from its pins, but she liked it. Jean and Peggie had shown her how
to adjust herself to every turn and twist of the pony, how to grip with
her knees, and lean over his neck, and stand in the stirrups when he
ran. Many things had she learned with the other girls too, in just one
day at the Crossbar, and not the least of them was to consider the
temperament and feelings of the pony she rode.

“They’re all good chums, if you only know how to treat them right,”
Peggie had said, and the girls believed it.

Peggie came after her on her pony, Twinkle, but Polly beat her, and they
both reined up short and waited for the rest. Sue had dismounted, picked
up Polly’s cap, and was bringing it.

“Twinkle isn’t quite as fast a runner as Jinks,” Peggie said loyally,
“but he has a very understanding way with him. I like a horse that
understands, don’t you? I don’t like the white patch over Jinks’ eye,
because it always looks as if he had an eyeglass on, like Mr. Cameron,
the owner of the Red Star outfit.”

By this time the rest had caught up.

“Look west, girls,” said Jean, suddenly, pointing with her quirt. “See
where the ground sinks, and there’s a fringe of timber? That’s Lost
Chance Gulch, where father built the bridge.”

“What a queer name,” exclaimed Isabel, who was ever ready to scent a
story of romance. “Who lost the chance?”

“An old trapper named Zed Reed. He built a shack down in the gulch,
father says, years and years ago, and always vowed there was gold there.
Folks said he was a little bit light headed. I can remember seeing him
come to our place. Father used to give him work now and then to feed
him. He was very tall, and had a long red beard, and curly red hair, and
he wore a coonskin cap with the tail hanging down one side. I used to
like to have him come because he could play on the fiddle. He carried it
in an inside coat pocket that he had had made specially to hold it, and
he would play the loveliest tunes on it. The people around here, and
even the Indians, called him Old Darned Coat. Isn’t that a funny name?”

“Why?” asked Polly. “I never came across so many dandy stories about
people and places.”

“This country up here is full of stories,” answered Jean, dreamily. “I
love them. They are so real, and so full of human interest. People said
that, years before, Zed had been engaged to Colette Buteau, the daughter
of the French Canadian that used to keep the old trading post on the
Dakota border at Twin Forks. She died a day or two before the wedding.
She, with her father, was killed by the Sioux. Zed was never the same
after that, and he said he would wear his wedding coat for the rest of
his life. It was a green broadcloth coat, with black velvet collar and
large silk-covered buttons, and it had big revers, and a skirt to it,
and the lining was quilted silk. I suppose it was a very wonderful coat
in those days, but Zed kept his vow, and as the years went on, and the
coat grew shabbier and shabbier, he would darn each little frayed rent
as tenderly and carefully as possible. Mother says that finally it
seemed to be all darns, and they called him Old Darned Coat. I can
remember him coming to the back door, and bowing so courteously to
mother, and saying, ‘Howdy, Mis’ Murray. Could I get just a little piece
of darning silk from you, I wonder—silk twist is best of all, and I’ll
work it out on the wood pile.’”

“Did he die?” asked Sue, her eyes wide with interest.

“Yes. Father found him in his shack, just asleep, with Colette’s picture
beside him on his fiddle, and under the two, the old darned wedding
coat. He was buried in it.”

The girls were silent as they passed the level upland. The ground was
dipping again, and patches of trees became frequent. Ted and Sue were in
the lead now, and finally, as they came in sight of Sundance Mountain in
the far distance, about forty miles off, Peggie told them why it was
called that.

“I love its name,” she said, in her odd way, half shy, half abrupt. “It
always makes me think of the days that Sandy tells us about, before even
father came here, when the Indians would send out runners from tribe to
tribe to call them to the Sun Dance, and they would all gather each year
at the mountain to hold the dance and feast for seven days, I think it
was.”

“It must have been happy for them,” Sue said, “when the land was all
their very own, I mean. Sometimes, I don’t blame them for fighting for
it. After all, it had been theirs for so long. How would we like to be
chased off, like a lot of stray cats, just because we didn’t want our
country taken from us.”

Polly reined in her pony sharply.

“Look!” she cried. “Is that the bridge, Miss Jean?”

“That is it,” Jean answered, and they urged the ponies forward.

The path made a sharp turn to the left, and instead of the tall grass of
the low ground, up here they found the earth rough, and strewn with
jagged points of rock. They had come to the end of the trail, and could
look down into the shadowy depths of Lost Chance Gulch. A bridge of logs
spanned it, with hand rails on each side, and they rode over it in
Indian file, the ponies picking their way daintily. All excepting Polly.
Jinks hesitated at the bridge, and backed away.

“Now, what does ail him?” asked Polly, but before she could answer,
something crashed through the underbrush beside her. All she saw was the
haunches of a brown doe, but Jinks did not like it a bit, and he began
to live up to his name. The rest had gone on. And all at once a figure
came out from the gloom of the gulch, such a strange looking figure,
that for the moment, as she looked at him, and he at her in equal
astonishment, she thought it must be the ghost of old Zed himself.

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