Roy Rides to Silver Spur
When Mary stepped into the little bedroom Cousin Hannah Pratt had already spoken.
"Your pa and ma was movers that come here sixteen years ago--movers, like the folks you seen to-day and made such fun of. The name was Mudd."
These whispered words sounded in Elizabeth's ears, and the girl crumpled up on the bed sobbing just as Mary opened the door. Mrs. Pratt pulled the elder sister into the room.
"I've told Libby--she ought to have been told long ago--with you marryin' and goin' away and Ruth not havin' a bit of faculty and her bein' the one to take your place I think she was obliged to know it."
Mary came across the room with a rush, and took slim Elizabeth in loving arms.
"Go away, Cousin Hannah, please," she said. "You can sleep with Ruth and I'll stay with Elizabeth."
Mrs. Pratt, glad enough to be relieved from sight of the misery she had caused, hurried away and the two sisters were alone together. Mary knew very little of what Cousin Hannah had seen fit to reveal, a child herself at the time, she had but vague remembrances of it, and indeed Elizabeth asked no questions--she only needed to be comforted, and this Mary did as best she could.
The next day but one was the wedding day, Mr. Bellamy was expected in the morning and they would probably have no other chance for private talk, but Mary urged Elizabeth to go to their mother for comfort when the wedding was over, and some time late in the night they both fell asleep.
In the days that followed the wedding, when everything was strange, and they were settling slowly back into the usual routine Elizabeth found no opportunity to speak with her mother of that trouble which had come now to haunt every waking hour, and even pursued her into dreams.
Mary and her euphoniously named Mr. Bellamy had gone on their way to Oklahoma, where the bridegroom owned a ranch. Cousin Hannah Pratt, having helped with the wedding sewing and the packing, had gone back to Emerald and her own overflowing boarding-house. Mrs. Spooner, the three girls, and old Jonah were left alone, face to face with the problem of getting along.
Everything had settled into the usual routine at the Silver Spur; Mrs. Spooner, rather weak from her neuralgia and the strain of the wedding, sat on the front porch in a big chair which Elizabeth had endeavored to make comfortable with rugs and pillows.
"Are you perfectly sure I can't do anything else for you, Mother?" she asked anxiously. "Mary always waited on you so beautifully, while--it seems to me I've never done one little thing for you, when you've done so much for me!"
A big tear slipped from the long lashes and splashed on Mrs. Spooner's little hand, fluttering among the cushions. In a minute the mother-arms had pulled the girl's head down to the mother-breast, the thin fingers patting the blond braids and the mother-voice crooning comfort into the crumpled little ear buried upon the maternal shoulder.
"Don't cry, daughter, Mother loves you just the same! Haven't you been our own since you were, O, such a wee baby! It was cruel of Cousin Hannah to tell you, but we won't let it make one bit of difference. You're ours and we are yours. A thing like that can't matter to people who love each other as we do."
"It--it doesn't matter, Mother," gasped Elizabeth, as she mopped her reddened eyes, "if I can just take Mary's place to you. I am going to try, my very level best."
"Then you'll be sure to succeed," said her mother, confidently. "You always succeed in everything you undertake--hadn't you noticed that, dear? Now, really, I'm just as comfortable as hands can make me, so you run on down to the corral and help Ruth and the Babe with the ponies. You ride with them to Emerald, and get the mail--it'll do you good. And be sure you bring me a letter from father."
Cheered by her mother's words, Elizabeth gave one more pat and pull to the pillows, kissed her, and ran down to the corral, where the girls were roping the ponies. She and Ruth could each rope a little, missing about three out of five throws, but the Babe usually flourished so reckless a loop that she entangled herself, and had to be helped out; in spite of which old Jonah Bean insisted that she was the only one who showed any signs of learning the art.
Poor Elizabeth! Her castle of dreams had fallen, leaving her wide awake to the fact that she was no princess of romance but the humble offspring of miserable movers, such as had always been the objects of her shuddering contempt. Even Cousin Hannah's heart was touched with pity, and she tried with clumsy but hearty kindness to make amends for the grief she had caused by her disclosure. Nothing had been said to Ruth and the Babe, of course--they still believed her to be their born sister. However, deep down in her heart, Elizabeth was walking in the Valley of Humiliation amid the dust and ashes of dead hopes; and, as most people know, when one enters the Valley it is very, very hard to find the way out again!
Mrs. Spooner, watching the girls ride down the road, sighed softly. "Poor child," she murmured pityingly, "I can hardly forgive Cousin Hannah. But in the end it may prove the best thing. I'm afraid we were spoiling her. This may bring out the fine nature that I know she possesses."
Texas is a land of far horizons; Mrs. Spooner could see all the vast, brown-green circling plain until it lost itself in the hazy distance.
Away up the trail that led to her brother's distant ranch, twenty miles further from Emerald, she noticed a moving cloud of dust which resolved itself into an oscillating speck--two--a man on a pony, with a led horse.
For some reason which she could not have explained, Mrs. Spooner felt that the approaching rider was going to turn in at the Silver Spur. There was no pleasant feeling between herself and Harvey Grannis. John Spooner had bought the Silver Spur ranch from his brother-in-law when he came to this part of Texas, and there had been trouble over the transaction, due, Mrs. Spooner felt, to Harvey's disposition to take too much authority. He was a bachelor, and the rich man of the community--excepting the English rancher, McGregor, who did not live so far away. He would have liked to do a good deal for the family of his only sister, but he wanted to do it in his own way, asserting that John Spooner couldn't take care of them, and treating them, Elizabeth fireily said like paupers. A hard man, with his good qualities, yet full of the "rule or ruin" spirit, and liable to go to great lengths to make his point.
The approaching rider was now seen to be a young fellow, scarcely more than a big boy. He came up the long bare drive, stopped at the porch edge and took off his hat before he spoke to the woman in the rocking-chair. She noted that the pony he rode stumbled with weariness, while the led horse trotted briskly, unencumbered with saddle or rider. She saw, too, that while the tired pony bore a brand unfamiliar to her, the led one was marked with a G in a horse-shoe--Harvey Grannis's brand.
"Good morning, ma'am," the newcomer greeted her. He was a handsome lad of perhaps sixteen, but just now in a woeful plight, dusty, shaking, haggard with weariness. "I stopped to ask if you'd like to buy a pony at a big bargain."
Mrs. Spooner leaned forward in her chair with a little gasp. She was afraid of what was coming.
"I don't know," she replied evasively. "Which one of them do you want to sell?"
"O, mine's played out," the boy returned never noticing the admission his words contained. "I've ridden pretty hard, and besides I've got to have her to carry me to Emerald, so I can take the train there. It's the other one. He's a mighty fine pony, and I'll let him go for enough to buy me a ticket back home."
"Won't you come in and rest a minute?--you look tired," said Mrs. Spooner, sympathetically. Somehow she could not bring herself to ask if he was from her brother's ranch, though she felt quite sure something was wrong about the pony that would go so cheap.
"I am tired, but I've got to go on so as to catch the six o'clock train," the boy smiled wanly. "I guess I can stop in for a drink, anyhow."
He dropped the lines, and the two ponies stood, cattle country fashion, as though they had been tied.
Mrs. Spooner got up from her chair, forgetting, in her excitement, any weakness or weariness.
"Just come right in and lie down on the lounge," she invited him. "It's cool and shady. I'll make you a pitcher of lemonade in a minute. You'll gain time by resting."
She smiled that reassuring mother-smile of hers as she opened the door of the quiet living-room. The boy followed in, his spurs clinking on the boards, and dropped wearily down upon the lounge. When she came back he was sitting with his head in his hands, but he drank the cool lemonade thirstily, finally draining the pitcher.
"It's awfully good," he sighed, his eyes speaking his gratitude. "Mother always made us lemonade in the summer time at home. You--you make me think of her, someway."
As if the resemblance had been too much for him, he turned from her with an inarticulate sound, and buried his face in the cushions. Mrs. Spooner sat down beside him, and after awhile his groping hand caught hers. She spoke to him in whispers, though there was nobody in the house to hear.
"I'm afraid you're in trouble, my poor boy," she said gently. "Don't you want to tell me all about it? Maybe I can help you."
After a time he found strength to face her, and tell the poor, pitiful little story.
His name was Roy Lambert. He was, indeed, one of Harvey Grannis's cowboys, and had come west fascinated by the stories of frontier life. He had made a contract with Grannis to work for him for one year. Then came a letter, telling him that his mother was desperately ill, and he must hurry to her. Grannis refused to advance him money or to annul the contract. He treated the matter with contempt, pretending to believe that the boy was simply homesick, and the letter a ruse to get away. At last, frantic at the treatment he received, and determined to reach his mother, Roy got up before daylight, took his own pony and one of Grannis's which he hoped to sell for enough money to get home, and set out for Emerald and the railroad.
"I couldn't walk it, it would take too long to get to Emerald that way," he said, "besides, Grannis owes me more than the chestnut's worth, if I sold it for full value. I didn't expect to get only just enough to buy my ticket."
"Two wrongs won't make a right, Roy," said Mrs. Spooner, gravely. "Mr. Grannis was wrong--very wrong, not to advance you the money, or let you off your contract. But did you stop to think he could have you arrested for horse-stealing when you took his pony?"
"No!" blazed Roy, "I didn't steal it. If I had, I don't care. He's a hard-hearted old skinflint. I'd like to wring his neck, but even Harvey Grannis can't say I'm a horse thief. And I must get home!"
"Of course you must," soothed Mrs. Spooner, well aware as she looked at his flushed face, that Roy himself disapproved of what he had done. "I have a little money, and I will try and manage it, someway."
"Would you?" cried the boy. "I'll pay you--I'll send you a check as soon as I get home."
"Jonah Bean, the only cowboy I keep now, can ride on with you to Emerald, and bring your pony back. I'll try to sell it for enough to repay myself, or I might keep it--I think we could use one more gentle animal."
"You're awfully good," choked the poor fellow. "If all the folks in the world were like you--such a man as Grannis makes me distrust everybody. Do you know him?"
"Yes. I think you're a little mistaken," said gentle little Mrs. Spooner. "Harvey Grannis isn't really a villain, he's just a hard-headed, high-tempered man, that was spoiled by having his own way when he was a boy."
"You don't know--" Roy was beginning, when she interrupted him.
"I think I do. Harvey Grannis is my only brother. My baby child is named after him--little Harvie."
"Your brother?" Roy Lambert leaped to his feet, looking about with terrified eyes.
Mrs. Spooner divined his thought at once.
"I'm not going to give you up to Harvey," she said firmly. "But I'm going to make you let me lend you the money, and leave Harvey's pony here. The laws calls what you've done horse-stealing, and you can't make laws for yourself. You lie down and try to get a little sleep, now, my child. I'll wake you in an hour."
He thanked her with trembling lips, turned on his side, and, secure in his trust of her, fell at once asleep. When she saw that he really slept, Mrs. Spooner once more took her seat on the porch, this time to look for her brother, being quite certain that Harvey would follow hot-foot on the trail of his stolen pony.
She didn't have long to wait; in less than an hour a buckboard drawn by a pair of good sized grade horses turned in at the gate; in it sat Harvey Grannis and one of his men. They were tracking the lost pony. She saw them long before they reached the house, recognize it, as it grazed on the bit of sunburned pasture which Elizabeth hopefully called a lawn.
"Hello, Jennie," her brother called out, ignoring any coldness there had been between them, as Mrs. Spooner walked rapidly out to meet him. Grannis was a loud-spoken individual, and she did not care to have the boy awakened. "I'm after the thief that stole this pony of mine. Is he on your place?"
"He's asleep in the house," said Mrs. Spooner, quietly, though her voice was shaking a little. "He's very tired, and he's going to ride to Emerald tonight. I don't want him disturbed."
"You bet he's going to ride to Emerald!" blustered the ranchman. "I'll have him in jail there before supper-time! Come on, Tom, we'll go in and wake the young gentleman. Fetch your rope. Keep your gun handy. You never know what a young, dime-novel-crazy idiot like that will do."
He sprang from the buckboard, and both men were starting for the house when Mrs. Spooner barred their way.
"You can't go in there, Harvey," she told him. And now she was trembling so that Tom, of the rope and gun, was sorry for her, and heartily sick of his errand. No doubt Harvey Grannis was too, which merely made him talk louder and more harshly.
"Well, I'd like to know why I can't?" he demurred, pretending to laugh at her a bit. "Who's going to stop me? Now see here, Jennie, you always were a simple-hearted, soft-natured little goose. Anybody can bamboozle you. Look at the way John Spooner--"
"We won't go into that," warned Mrs. Spooner, with a flash in her eyes that made Grannis's cowboy chuckle inwardly.
"What's your reason for defending this boy?" Grannis argued. "He's a thief."
"I'm not defending Roy Lambert alone," said Mrs. Spooner. "I'm defending my brother--a brother I used to be very fond of--from doing a thing he'll be sorry for all the days of his life."
Grannis flushed redly through the deep tan of his sunburned skin, while Tom, standing by and listening, enjoyed himself thoroughly over his employer's discomfiture.
"These boys come west crazy for ranch life," Grannis said dogmatically. "They soon get sick of honest work, and invent any kind of story to get away. This boy's lying to you, and he's stolen a pony from me. Move out of the way, Jennie, and let me handle him."
The men had been standing with their backs to the trail. Mrs. Spooner noted a little figure on a gaunt pony whose gaits were familiar to her approaching from the direction of Emerald. Now small Harvey rose in her stirrups and shouted, waving an envelope above her head. Mrs. Spooner was sorry she had not got rid of her brother before the girls returned. Grannis looked over his shoulder, and feeling unwilling that his beloved namesake should see him doing anything unkind rushed the matter hastily.
"Get out of the way, Jennie," he repeated. "Come on, Tom."
A figure appeared in the ranch-house door, Roy Lambert, flushed and trembling with the fever that Mrs. Spooner had been fearing for him. He carried his belt in his hand, and was fumbling at the holster to get his pistol.
"I won't go back alive," he said.
"Rope him, Tom," prompted Grannis in a low tone. "I don't want to shoot the crazy kid."
"Uncle Harvey--Uncle Harvey," came the Babe's thin, sweet pipe, "I'm glad you're here, 'cause I've got a telegram for somebody out at your ranch. Jonah was to take it on but now he won't have to."
The child's eyes saw nothing amiss. The three men were warily watching each other, Roy tugging desperately at the holster to get his weapon which had caught, and Tom half sullenly loosening and coiling his rope.
"It's for Mr. Roy Lambert," sang out the little girl, triumphant in her ability to read even bad handwriting.