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HOME > Classical Novels > Dorothy Dale in the West > CHAPTER XXIII “WHERE IS AUNT WINNIE?”
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 Tavia declared Dorothy’s insisting upon going back to the so early “spoiled all her fun.”  
“You can miss that fun, Miss,” said her chum, somewhat sharply. “Teasing Mr. Petterby is a good deal like a cat playing with a mouse. It’s fun for the cat, but for the mouse.”
“Tragedy! Fancy!” responded Tavia, tossing her head. “As though my innocent little conversations with Lance were tragic in any way.”
“He thinks you are in earnest when you show interest in his affairs,” declared Dorothy.
“But you know, dear, he’s such fun!” Tavia. “I can’t help plaguing him. He is so very innocent—a big man like him!—that he’s fair game. You are a regular spoil-sport.”
“I’ve another reason for going home,” said Dorothy, seriously. “Just the same, you are not to be trusted, Tavia. I am ashamed of you.”
“You needn’t be. I wouldn’t harm poor little Lance Petterby for the world!” the black-eyed girl.
 Dorothy was too worried over what the cowboy had told her about Philo to keep on joking with her friend. The instant they reached the ranch-house she ran to find Aunt Winnie.
“Oh, Auntie! you haven’t signed those papers, have you?” Dorothy cried.
“What do you mean, child?” asked Mrs. White.
“For that Marsh man.”
“Why, Dorothy! you are greatly excited. What is the matter?”
“Then you have signed?” Dorothy.
“No. I told him I would to-morrow if he brought out a of deeds with him. I cannot go to town now.”
“Don’t do it!” begged her niece, excitedly. “There’s something queer about it. Let me tell you,” and there poured then all her suspicions and her reasons for holding them. She told her aunt about the strange talk she had overheard between the foreman of the ranch and Philo Marsh, as well as about the surveying party she and Tavia had seen back in the hills. She likewise repeated what Lance Petterby had told her that very day.
“I cannot understand it,” Mrs. White said. “I have read the agreement Mr. Marsh offers very carefully. It is between your father and me, as party of the first part (that is the legal phrase), and Mr. Marsh, Mr. Kendrick, and Mr. Stephen Goode, who agree to take the water of Lost River under certain conditions. There is no corporation formed as yet, I am told, and these men constitute a committee.”
“A committee for whom?” asked Dorothy, briskly.
“Why—why, for the people who want the water.”
“But who are they, Aunt Winnie? Philo Marsh says he is for the Desert people; but you don’t really know if it is so.”
“Child! it can’t be possible that the man would boldly to gain my signature for a different purpose from that Colonel Hardin intended?”
“That’s exactly what I believe Marsh is aiming to do,” cried Dorothy. “Don’t you sign.”
“I won’t. A bad promise is better broken than kept. I shall write to Mr. Jermyn. When I to him in Dugonne he said he had had no reason for looking into the matter, but he supposed that Mr. Marsh was acting in good faith. Lawyers, I am afraid, are like doctors. The of the profession sometimes stand before their duty to a client.
“But Mr. Jermyn shall come out here and examine the papers and talk with Mr. Marsh in my presence, before I sign,” added Mrs. White. “Thank you, my dear, for being so helpful. Go tell Dempsey to find a man to ride into Dugonne at once with a note.”
Dorothy ran to do as she was bid, while Mrs. White went to write the letter. A man came to the ranch-house in a few minutes, a-straddle of a vicious . He was a , rough looking fellow, but Mrs. White presumed he was to be trusted as a messenger.
However, had she known that the fellow carried her note to Philo Marsh instead of to Mr. Jermyn—being in Marsh’s pay—the lady from the East would not have been so in her mind. Having been unsuccessful in Hank into aiding him, Marsh had hired this Mexican to play the spy at the Hardin ranch.
Tavia and the boys were not informed of the new mystery regarding the water-rights affair. Dorothy had promised Aunt Winnie not to speak of it at present.
“After working as hard as we do all day,” quoth Ned at the supper table that night, “a fellow needs a little recreation in the evening. You girls aren’t at all entertaining. Why! you haven’t had even a ‘sing’ since we came out here to the ranch.”
“What will we do for music?” asked Dorothy. “There isn’t even a banjo in the house.”
“There are mandolins, or guitars, or something,211 down to the bunkhouse,” Nat broke in. “I heard somebody plunking one to-day. You know, these Mexicans are great on music—of a kind.”
“I’ll ask Flores,” promised Dorothy, briskly. “Just as soon as supper is over.”
“And we’ll all sing,” announced Ned, gravely.
Tavia immediately her knife and fork. “I object,” she declared. “Perhaps I should say that I rise to a point of order.”
“What about, Miss?” demanded Ned.
“Are you going to attempt to sing?” asked Tavia, point blank.
“What if I do?”
“Prithee, don’t, dear Neddie,” begged the teasing girl. “We’ve heard you make the attempt before. You escaped with your life on that occasion, but remember it was in a comparatively ‘tame’ country.
“This is the wild and woolly West. They hang people here for horse-stealing—and perhaps for eating with their knives, I don’t know! At any rate, Lance Petterby tells me that many of the ‘old-timers’ shoot from the , and without much . Your sweet young life may be snuffed out, Neddie, if you try to sing, by some native with an ear for music.”
“Ha, ha!” cried Nat. “Old Ned’s like the minister they tell about who was called to a new pastorate. One of the members of the new church asked a friend of the minister if he was a good man.
“‘He is a very good man,’ agreed the minister’s friend.
“‘Well, what are his faults? He must have some fault?’ said the curious one.
“‘Since you press me,’ said the other, ‘I know of but one grave fault in your new minister.’
“So the man asked him what that fault was. ‘He doesn’t know how to sing,’ declared the friend.
“‘Well, that’s not a very serious fault,’ said the anxious one, much relieved.
“‘No,’ was the reply; ‘but, you see, he sings just the same as if he did know.’”
“That settles it,” Ned, appearing to be much offended. “I’ll not sing, no matter how much I am urged. I refuse.”
“I can go on with my supper, then,” said Tavia, calmly, “and with a mind relieved of anxiety.”
“And while you are finishing,” laughed Dorothy, “I’ll go hunt up Flores, and see if there is music to be had to the breasts of these amateur cowpunchers.”
She ran down to the where the foreman and his wife lived. The was falling, and Dorothy thought the country beautiful. Bare as the ranges were, the vari-colored sky arching the rolling plain lent a softness to the earth’s outline that pleased the eye.
By broad day she could see the cropping out of the hillsides, and the scars of ancient land-slips upon the faces of the higher mountains, but now purple and saffron shadows all these rude outlines of the landscape, while the little valleys were pits of gray mist and shadow.
Dorothy came, cheerfully singing, to the door of the foreman’s house. “Where is Flores?” she asked Mrs. Ledger, who had hurried down from the big house as soon as suppe............
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