F. Parsons, Esq., was called to the chair, and Mr. Wm.
XXV LITE COMES OUT OF THE BACKGROUND
XXVI HOW HAPPINESS RETURNED TO THE LAZY A
Without going into a deep, psychological discussion of the elements in men's souls that breed events, we may say with truth that the Lazy A ranch was as other ranches in the smooth tenor of its life until one day in June, when the finger of fate wrote bold and black across the face of it the word that blotted out prosperity, content, warm family ties,--all those things that go to make life worth while.
Jean, sixteen and a range girl to the last fiber of her being, had gotten up early that morning and had washed the dishes and swept, and had shaken the rugs of the little living-room most vigorously. On her knees, with stiff brush and much soapy water, she had scrubbed the kitchen floor until the boards dried white as kitchen floors may be. She had baked a loaf of gingerbread, that came from the oven with a most delectable odor, and had wrapped it in a clean cloth to cool on the kitchen table. Her dad and Lite Avery would show cause for the baking of it when they sat down, fresh washed and ravenous, to their supper that evening. I mention Jean and her scrubbed kitchen and the gingerbread by way of proving how the Lazy A went unwarned and unsuspecting to the very brink of its disaster.
Lite Avery, long and lean and silently content with life, had ridden away with a package of sandwiches, after a full breakfast and a smile from the slim girl who cooked it, upon the business of the day; which happened to be a long ride with one of the Bar Nothing riders, down in the breaks along the river. Jean's father, big Aleck Douglas, had saddled and ridden away alone upon business of his own. And presently, in mid- forenoon, Jean closed the kitchen door upon an immaculately clean house filled with the warm, fragrant odor of her baking, and in fresh shirt waist and her best riding-skirt and Stetson, went whistling away down the path to the stable, and saddled Pard, the brown colt that Lite had broken to the saddle for her that spring. In ten minutes or so she went galloping down the coulee and out upon the trail to town, which was fifteen miles away and held a chum of hers.
So Lazy A coulee was left at peace, with scratching hens busy with the feeding of half-feathered chicks, and a rooster that crowed from the corral fence seven times without stopping to take breath. In the big corral a sorrel mare nosed her colt and nibbled abstractedly at the pile of hay in one corner, while the colt wabbled aimlessly up and sniffed curiously and then turned to inspect the rails that felt so queer and hard when he rubbed his nose against them. The sun was warm, and cloud-shadows drifted lazily across the coulee with the breeze that blew from the west. You never would dream that this was the last day,--the last few hours even,--when the Lazy A would be the untroubled home of three persons of whose lives it formed so great a part.
At noon the hens were hovering their chickens in the shade of the mower which Lite was overhauling during his spare time, getting it ready for the hay that was growing apace out there in the broad mouth of the coulee. The rooster was wallowing luxuriously in a dusty spot in the corral. The young colt lay stretched out on the fat of its side in the sun, sound asleep. The sorrel mare lay beside it, asleep also, with her head thrown up against her shoulder. Somewhere in a shed a calf was bawling in bored lonesomeness away from its mother feeding down the pasture. And over all the coulee and the buildings nestled against the bluff at its upper end was spread that atmosphere of homey comfort and sheltered calm which surrounds always a home that is happy.
Lite Avery, riding toward home just when the shadows were beginning to grow long behind him, wondered if Jean would be back by the time he reached the ranch. He hoped so, with a vague distaste at finding the place empty of her cheerful presence. Be looked at his watch; it was nearly four o'clock. She ought to be home by half-past four or five, anyway. He glanced sidelong at Jim and quietly slackened his pace a little. Jim was telling one of those long, rambling tales of the little happenings of a narrow life, and Lite was supposed to be listening instead of thinking about when Jean would return home. Jim believed he was listening, and drove home the point of his story.