THE RANCH

The next day the girls packed their things and said goodbye to their
fellow passengers. Walter Brooks still showed signs of resentment, but
Marjorie insisted upon parting good friends.

When they left the train at the little town of Bailey, which was
nearest to their ranch, they were surprised at seeing so few houses.
But upon inquiry, the station-master told them that they would find
more in the other end of the place, where the hotel was situated, and
the yearly “stampede” held.

“What’s a stampede?” asked Doris. “Doesn’t it have something to do with
run-away cattle?”

“Oh, yes, a real stampede,” replied the man, laughing. “But out here we
have a big time once a year with horse-races, and rough-riding, and all
sorts of exciting things. We’ve had ours already–but maybe you’ll get
to see one somewhere else.”

“I hope so,” said Marjorie. “And by the way, have you seen anything of
the people who are supposed to come to meet us?”

The station-master walked across the platform, and gazed up the hill.
Two Ford cars were making their way towards them; and a minute or
two later, stopped at the platform. Their drivers–two young men of
about eighteen and twenty–both wore the broad-brimmed hats and bright
colored shirts and handkerchiefs similar to those which the girls had
noticed on the cowboys they had seen from the train windows. Daisy
shrunk back at the sight of them, for they did seem a little wild to
the Eastern girl, accustomed to the conventional dress of city men; but
as soon as they spoke, she was reassured by their voices. They were
soft and cultivated, and could not have belonged to an uncouth person.

“Are you the Girl Scouts?” asked the older of the two.

“Yes,” replied Marjorie. “And we’re all here!”

“Good! Pack yourselves in, then!”

The girls proceeded to do as they were told, four of them climbing into
each car. They began almost immediately to ask questions.

“How big is the ranch?” inquired Ethel.

“In acres, you mean? Why–”

“No, I don’t care about the number of acres–that means nothing to a
girl. I mean how many buildings and how many people?”

“Oh, well, there is one big central cabin, and about eight small
living cabins. And there are twelve dudes there now–”

“Twelve _dudes?_” repeated Alice. “What in the world do dudes want to
do on a ranch?”

Bob–as the young man had informed them his name was–laughed
unrestrainedly. “Why, you’re all dudes, or dudeens, on this ranch,” he
said, “unless you’re horse-wranglers or cooks. Anybody who boards on a
ranch is a dude.”

The girls were relieved at the explanation; they had not particularly
enjoyed the prospect of spending the summer with twelve dudes of the
conventional type which one sees on the stage.

They were going up a steep incline, with a sharp embankment on one
side, and several of the girls felt rather nervous. Marjorie noticed
this, and thought it would be better to refrain from asking questions,
so that the driver might devote all his attention to his task.

“Just see how barren the country seems,” she said, “no trees at all.
Doesn’t it seem funny after being used to Pennsylvania and New York!”

“Yes, we couldn’t find enough dry leaves to fill our bed-sacks if we
were camping out all night,” said Lily. “Remember how we used to do on
the canoe trip?”

“And shall we ever sleep out all night?” asked Doris, as if she were
not in love with the idea.

“Yes, if you want to go on the pack-trips,” replied Bob, who had turned
his car into a more level space now, and felt free to talk again.

“And if we want to go to Yellowstone, do we have to sleep out for a
week or so at a time?” continued Doris.

“No, because they have regular camps and hotels there, and we don’t
bother to take our own equipment,” he answered.

The road gradually became more level and less dangerous, and for a time
Doris felt relieved. But just as they came within sight of the ranch,
she was frightened by the sound of eight pistol shots, fired one right
after the other. Several of the girls put their fingers in their ears,
and all looked questioningly at their drivers.

“That’s to announce your arrival,” Bob explained; “and to send you
greetings. There was a shot for each of you.”

“I’m afraid I’d just as soon not be welcomed so boisterously,” sighed
Doris. “It certainly did startle me.”

“You’ll soon get used to it,” replied the young man. “They’re only
blanks, and they fire them off all the time.”

The girls now had a good view of the ranch, with the one big cabin in
the center, as Bob had described, and the smaller ones a short distance
away in somewhat of a semicircle. Beyond were the fields, in which
they could catch glimpses of the horses, and of a few cows.

“Isn’t it great!” exclaimed Ethel, rapturously.

“Yes; and it sort of reminds me of the training camp last year,” said
Marjorie.

Lily looked a little dubious.

“Doris,” she whispered, “do you suppose they have bath-rooms, and hot
water?”

Bob, who had overheard the question, laughingly answered it.

“You have all the modern conveniences,” he said. “You’ll find as nice
showers as in any hotel in Denver!”

The girls got out of the machine and followed their guides to the main
cabin. Mr. and Mrs. Hilton, the rancher and his wife, were waiting for
them.

“Bob and Art found you all right, did they?” asked Mrs. Hilton,
cordially. Her smile was so frank and her manner so engaging that the
girls felt immediately at home.

“Yes, indeed; everything was fine!” replied Ethel.

The Hiltons showed them the buildings, assigning to them their two
cabins. Each contained four cots–quarters for four girls.

“And now I’ll leave you to get settled,” said Mrs. Hilton. “Supper is
at six o’clock, but if you are ready early, come over to the cabin and
meet the other people.”

When she had withdrawn, the scouts began to discuss how they should
divide. Since it did not seem to make any particular difference to any
of them, they finally decided to draw lots. Marjorie, Lily, Daisy and
Alice were to be together in one cabin; Ethel, Mae, Florence and Doris
in the other.

Accustomed to doing things quickly after their long training at
boarding school, they soon had their suit-cases unpacked, and their
things in order. Lily, as usual, was the slowest in dressing, and long
before she had finished, the others had all gathered in her cabin.

“I certainly am anxious to see the dudes, as Bob called them,” said
Ethel, seating herself on one end of a cot. “Do you suppose they are
men and girls both?”

“I don’t know,” replied Marjorie. “Bob didn’t say, did he?”

“No, he just said there were twelve of them,” put in Alice.

“Girls,” interrupted Daisy, who had not been listening to the
conversation, “how often do you think there are mails here?”

“Not very often, I’m afraid,” said Marjorie, wondering at the same time
whether she might hope to hear from John Hadley soon. “But don’t you
worry, Daisy, if there were any news you’d get it by wire.”

“I suppose that’s true,” said the girl, thoughtfully. “And that reminds
me, I wanted to ask you girls not to say anything about my sister out
here. Of course I knew you wouldn’t intentionally, but something might
slip out–like it did about that fake lieutenant–if you weren’t on
your guard.”

The girls laughed at the reference to the joke the boy had tried to
play upon them, and assured Daisy that they would be very careful of
her confidence.

It was half-past five when they finally strolled over to the porch
of the big cabin. A large, roomy veranda, with plenty of benches and
chairs, it looked most inviting and homelike. The girls approached it
with a sensation of pleasure that almost seemed like adventure.

All the scouts had put on simple summer dresses, and yet as they saw
the only other two girls of the ranch in riding breeches and flannel
shirts, they experienced that uncomfortable feeling which comes to a
woman when she realizes that she is not appropriately clothed. As they
approached the porch Bob Hilton came out of the cabin to introduce them
to the others. He did it clumsily, but so informally that they felt
immediately at ease.

“That bunch in the corner playing fan-tan is the Grimes Academy bunch,”
he said, indicating five boys ranging from thirteen to sixteen years
of age. “And that’s Pop Welsh, their keeper!”

The boys looked up and grinned, and the girls smiled back in return.

“Irene and Maud Judson,” continued Bob, nodding in the direction of the
two young ladies.

“Mike and Tom Melville, here”–he indicated two young men in their
early twenties. “And that’s all of us, except Kirk Smith, who happens
to be taking a swim. And, of course, Art and me–; now you know where
you stand.”

“No we don’t!” objected Alice, laughingly. “I don’t remember a single
name besides yours and the two young ladies.”

“Well, you soon will. And we call each other by our first names
entirely. So if you people had any idea of getting ‘Miss,’ you’ll be
left!”

“We hadn’t–we wouldn’t like it a bit!” Lily reassured them.

The girls declined an invitation to join in the games with the boys
in the corner of the porch, and seated themselves near the two young
women. They were attractive girls, of twenty and twenty-two, of the
healthy, athletic type. Their clear complexions and bright eyes
proclaimed them living exponents of this simple, out-door life.

“We’re awfully glad to have some other girls,” said Irene, the older
of the two. “Although it has been fun to be the only ones, in a way,
too.”

“You’ll love it here!” said Maud. “We wish we could stay the whole
summer, but we’ve been here since the first of June, and we have to
leave the beginning of August, to join our parents.”

“If they could only come here!” sighed Irene. “I’d rather be here than
anywhere else in the world!”

“That sounds good!” cried Marjorie, happily. She loved to be with
people who were contented.

“Is horseback-riding really so wonderful?” asked Doris, who was still
a little doubtful about the pleasures of a whole summer on the ranch.
She had been eager to be with the girls once more during the vacation,
but, had she been consulted, she would have chosen some more civilized
resort.

“It isn’t entirely the exercise!” laughed Maud. “Irene has other
reasons for being so crazy about the place.”

“Maud!” said her older sister, reprovingly.

“Oh, do tell us the rest!” cried Alice. “It isn’t fair to stop in the
middle of something interesting.”

“There’s really nothing to tell,” said Irene, coldly.

Maud winked at Alice.

“I’ll see you in private,” she said, “though I won’t tell any names,
Irene!”

“Oh, go ahead–I don’t care! It isn’t serious, girls; it’s only silly.
But maybe the warning will help some of you. I sort of lost my head
about Kirk–he’s terribly good-looking, you know–and he treated
me like ice. Don’t any of you show him that he makes the slightest
impression on you!”

“I should say we won’t!” cried Alice, with true loyalty to another
member of her own sex. “Oh, girls, let’s don’t pay any attention at all
to him! I hate conceited men! Let’s–”

“Sh! Alice! Do be careful!” warned Ethel. “You don’t want the boys to
hear you, do you?”

“No, of course not, but–”

“Why, here he comes!” interrupted Maud. “Now girls, don’t seem
impressed by his looks!”

“I’m not!” said Alice, stoutly, forcing herself to believe the truth of
her assertion.

The man who came toward them was dressed in a gray riding suit, so
conservative in color and cut, that it presented a decided contrast to
the flashy costumes of the younger boys. He was tall, a perfect figure,
with big square shoulders. His face would have been handsome had his
expression been less disagreeable. Alice immediately marked him for a
cynic.

When he had come within a few yards of the porch, however, he seemed to
change his mind about going any further, for, hesitating only a moment,
he abruptly turned about and retraced his steps to his cabin.

Bob Hilton, who was already standing in order to make him acquainted
with the new arrivals, whistled softly, and dropped again into his seat.

“He evidently didn’t like our looks!” remarked Alice.

“That’s just the sort of queer, rude thing he is always doing,” said
Maud. “What Rene sees in him–”

“Oh, I guess I sort of like him just because of his indifference,”
returned the other girl. “Come, let’s change the subject! I really
think we had better give you girls some instructions about clothes.
Those dainty dresses you have on are entirely too good for here. They
wouldn’t last two days!”

Like most girls, the scouts were all interested in the topic of dress,
and discussed it with animation until the supper bell interrupted them.

It was not until everyone was seated in the dining-room that the
young man who had been the cause of so much talk finally put in his
appearance. He acknowledged the introduction to the girls with a brief
bow, and took his place next to Mrs. Hilton.

“He _is_ stunning!” whispered Marjorie to Ethel, as he took his seat.

“Yes, rather. But I like those Melville boys’ looks, too.”

Doris, who sat next to Bob Hilton, was already deep in a conversation;
while the other scouts, who were grouped together, talked among
themselves. They were glad, however, when Mrs. Hilton told them that
their places would be changed the following day.

“Tomorrow,” she said, “we are going to draw lots for seats at the
table, so that you girls can become acquainted with the rest of us. But
tonight I thought I’d let you be together.”

“Both plans suit beautifully,” said Marjorie, well pleased with her
surroundings.

“And what do you do in the evenings?” asked Daisy, as casually as she
could, although in reality she was dreading the strangeness of this
first night on the ranch.

“We usually sit on the porch as long as it’s light,” replied Irene.
“Some of the boys go for a walk, and some of us play games. Of course,
if it is cold we have a fire in the fire-place.”

“What games do you play?” asked Lily, brightening. “Bridge?”

“Mike and Tom are the only ones who know how,” replied Bob. “But they
have both been dying for a game.”

At these words the Melville boys became interested.

“Do you girls play?” asked Tom, with a broad smile. “That will be
great!”

“Some of us do,” replied Lily. “I guess I’m the craziest about it. It
always bores Marj and Alice.”

“I simply can’t sit still that long,” laughed Alice. “And I talk so
much it makes everybody furious.”

“Well, nobody keeps quiet here!” remarked Bob. “And nobody intends to,
either!” he added, emphatically.

“I say we have a game after supper!” urged Michael, who was as anxious
as his brother to play.

“Delighted!” said Lily. “I’ll see that we get another girl. Who
volunteers?”

“Not I!” said Daisy; “I have to write home.”

“And I’m such a poor player,” sighed Doris. “I’d rather join in
fan-tan.”

“Well, I’d love to, if nobody else cares!” put in Mae.

The big porch was indeed a cheery looking place: even Daisy could
hardly be homesick amid such a homelike, friendly crowd of people.
Here and there groups were playing games; others were reading or
writing; and some were just chatting and joking together. Marjorie
went inside to the book-shelves, and looked mechanically at the books;
but in reality she was trying to decide whether or not to write to
John Hadley. Suddenly she had missed him; she found herself wishing
that he were one of the young men among that pleasant gathering. She
was sorry for the careless way she had dismissed the whole matter of
their vacation as a mutual affair, and for the indifferent manner in
which she had said goodbye. She would indeed regret the loss of his
friendship; there were no other young men among her acquaintanceship
whom she so thoroughly admired.

“I’ll let him wait a couple of weeks anyhow,” she thought. “It will
do him good to wait a while. I might as well read tonight.” So she
selected a book and returned to the porch.

But she found she could not read long; in a few minutes Bob was at her
side.

“All ready for tomorrow’s ride, Lieutenant?” he asked, giving her a
mock salute.

Marjorie looked up laughingly.

“How did you know?” she asked.

“Doris told me.”

“Well, I certainly am ready–I can hardly wait! When do you go?”

“I don’t go at all; I have to work at home. I get up early and bring in
the horses–”

“Oh, that must be heaps of fun! I love to ride early in the morning!”

“All right, you can come along and help. The more the merrier!”

“Good! What time?”

“Six sharp!”

“I’ll be there!” returned Marjorie.

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