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´╗┐Title: Tabitha's Vacation
Author: Brown, Ruth Alberta
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Tabitha's Vacation" ***

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TABITHA'S VACATION

Volume III in the Ivy Hall Series

by

RUTH ALBERTA BROWN

Author of "Tabitha at Ivy Hall," "Tabitha's Glory," "At the Little
Brown House," Etc.



[Frontispiece: "I hope," panted Tabitha, trotting along at the rear of
the procession, "that you don't have your fun in such a hurry."]



The Saalfield Publishing Company
Chicago, ---- Akron, Ohio ---- New York
Made in U. S. A.
Copyright, MCMXIII
By the Saalfield Publishing Company



CONTENTS

    I.  The McKittricks' Misfortune
   II.  Tabitha and Gloriana, Housekeepers
  III.  Unwelcome Guests
   IV.  Mischief Makers
    V.  Irene's Song
   VI.  Gloriana's Burglars
  VII.  Toady and the Castor Beans
 VIII.  Billiard Runs Away
   IX.  Billiard Surrenders
    X.  Susanne Entertains a Caller
   XI.  In the Canyon
  XII.  The Bank of Silver Bow is Robbed
 XIII.  The Robbers and the Haunted House
  XIV.  The Unexpected Happens
   XV.  Myra's Climax



ILLUSTRATIONS

"I hope," panted Tabitha, trotting along at the rear of the procession,
"that you don't have your fun in such a hurry." . . . _Frontispiece_



TABITHA'S VACATION


CHAPTER I

THE MCKITTRICKS' MISFORTUNE

  "'Ho, ho, vacation days are here,
    We welcome them with right good cheer;
  In wisdom's halls we love to be,
    But yet 'tis pleasant to be free,'"

warbled Tabitha Catt, pausing on the doorstep of her little desert home
as she vigorously shook a dingy dusting cloth, and hungrily sniffed the
fresh, sweet morning air, for, although the first week of June was
already gone, the fierce heat of the summer had not yet descended upon
Silver Bow, nestling in its cup-like hollow among the Nevada mountains.

  "'Ho, ho, the hours will quickly fly,
    And soon vacation time be by;
  Ah, then we'll all in glad refrain,
    Sing welcome to our school again.'"

piped up a sweet voice in muffled accents from the depths of the closet
where the singer was rummaging to find hooks for her wardrobe, which
lay scattered rather promiscuously about Tabitha's tiny bedroom.

"Why, Gloriana Holliday, where did you learn that?" demanded the girl
on the threshold, abruptly ceasing her song.  "It's as old as the
hills.  Mrs. Carson used to sing it when she went to school."

"So did my mother.  I've got her old music book with the words in it,"
responded her companion, emerging from the dark closet, flushed but
triumphant.  "There!  I've hung up the last dud I could find room for.
The rest must go back in the trunk, I guess.  My, but it does seem nice
to have a few weeks of vacation, doesn't it?"

"One wouldn't think so to hear you carolling about school's beginning
again," laughed Tabitha, shaking her finger reprovingly at the
red-haired girl now busily collecting the remainder of her scattered
property and bundling it into a half-empty trunk just outside the
kitchen door.

Gloriana echoed the laugh, and then answered seriously, "But really, I
have never been glad before to see vacation come.  It always meant only
hard work and worry, gathering fruit in the hot sun or digging
vegetables and peddling them around from door to door; while school
meant books and lessons and a chance to rest a bit, and the last two
years it meant Miss Angus, who did not mind my red hair and crutches."

"But it is all different now," Tabitha interrupted hastily, shuddering
at the gloomy picture her companion's words had called up.  "You are my
sister now, and there won't be any more goats and gardens to bother
about.  You have left off using one crutch altogether, and don't need
the other except out of doors.  We are going to have a lovely vacation,
and you won't want school to begin at all in September."

"Yes, it is all different now, Kitty Catt, thanks to dear old you!"
agreed the younger girl, giving the slender figure in the doorway an
affectionate hug.  "And I suppose I shall be as daffy about this queer
desert place as you are by the time Ivy Hall opens its doors again----"

"Aha!" triumphed Tabitha.  "Then you don't like it now, do you?  I
never could get you to admit it last winter."

"I haven't admitted it yet," Gloriana retorted spiritedly.  "It looks
so much different in the summer time, but still seems queer to me with
its heaps of rocks and no trees except the stiff old Joshuas.  I wonder
why they are called that.  Even they don't seem like trees to me.  They
look like giant cactus plants, and just as cruel."

"They have beautiful blossoms," Tabitha interrupted.  "We are a little
too late to see them, though many of the other desert flowers are still
in bloom.  Look across that stretch beyond the river road.  Isn't it
pretty with its red and yellow carpet?  May is the month to see the
desert in its glory, though.  _Then_ it is truly beautiful.  _No_ one
could think it ugly.  But come, let's run over to Mercy's house.  We
have swept and dusted, and you have finished unpacking.  This is our
second day at home and I haven't been near to inquire how Mr.
McKittrick is.  He was hurt before Christmas, so we never went there
during the holidays, you remember."

"Where do they live?"

"Why, I showed you the place--that queer brown house perched up-----"

"Oh, yes, on that great shelf of rock, overlooking the railway station."

"The first house we see on our way up here from the depot.  Mr.
McKittrick always called it the Eagles' Nest, and his children the
eaglets."

"What a pretty idea!  How many eaglets are there besides Mercedes and
the little boy you named?"

"Four other girls.  Mercy is the oldest of the family.  Then come
Susanne, or Susie, as they call her; the twins, Inez and Irene; Rosslyn
and the baby, Janie."

"That's quite a family.  What nice times they must have together!"
sighed Gloriana wistfully, thinking of her own orphaned life with no
brothers or sisters with whom to make merry.

"Yes, I reckon they are a pretty lively bunch sometimes, for Susie is
as wild as Mercedes is quiet; and Inez should have been her twin
instead of Irene's.  Janie is a regular little mischief, too, but such
a darling!  You are sure to love her, though Rosslyn is my favorite.
Put on your hat and let's go down before dinner.  Daddy won't be home
until evening, and there is nothing to keep us here."

Seizing her sunbonnet from its peg by the door, Tabitha started up the
path toward town with Gloriana hobbling along at her side, when they
saw Mercedes, with roguish Janie and chubby Rosslyn in tow, coming down
the slope toward them.  Her round, serious eyes looked heavy and
worried, her childish face pale and frightened; but at sight of the two
approaching figures, a smile of relief suddenly curved the drooping
lips, and she exclaimed eagerly, "Oh, girls, I was just going for you!
Are you on the way to our house?  Oh, please say yes!  Something
dreadful has happened, I'm sure, for mamma has sent us all out-doors,
and is in the kitchen crying fit to kill.  She won't say what's the
matter, and I'm horribly scared.  I never saw her cry before."

Tabitha's face paled instantly.  "I wonder--" she began, then stopped.
How could she put her thought into words when Mercedes was already so
dreadfully frightened?  "Has the doctor been to see your father this
morning?" she asked.

"Yes.  He stayed ever so long and talked to mamma in the kitchen.  I am
afraid papa is worse, for 'twas right after the doctor was gone that
she began to cry so hard."

Tabitha turned to Gloriana.  "I'll run on ahead," she said, "if you
don't mind.  You can follow more slowly with Mercedes.  I--perhaps it
would be better if I saw Mrs. McKittrick alone first."

"All right," agreed Glory, who, like Tabitha, was wondering if the
message the doctor had delivered in the Eagles' Nest that morning had
left the little mother without a ray of hope; and so she fell in step
beside the anxious Mercedes, and began to chat in spritely, diverting
tones while Tabitha sped swiftly up the narrow, winding path to the
lonely-looking, little, brown house perched on the steep mountainside.

Arriving at the door breathless and panting, she hesitated a moment
before knocking, suddenly aware that she had not the slightest idea of
what she intended to say or do.  A glimpse through the screen of a
huddled figure bowed despairingly over the kitchen table drove every
other thought from her mind, however, and flinging open the door, she
ran lightly across the room and impulsively laid her hand upon the
quivering shoulders.

"Mercedes, must I tell you again--" began the muffled voice of the
distracted woman, as she impatiently shook off the hand resting on her
arm.

"It isn't Mercedes," Tabitha interrupted.  "It is I--Tabitha.  I don't
know what is the matter, but if you will tell me, perhaps I can be of
some use, even if I am only a girl."

Mrs. McKittrick lifted a red, swollen face from her arms outstretched
on the table, glanced in surprise at the black-eyed girl bending so
sympathetically above her, and once more burst into a flood of tears,
sobbing wildly, "It ain't any use, Tabitha!  You couldn't help if you
was a woman grown.  No one can help.  The doctor says--"  The choking
words died on her lips.  She could not bear to repeat the doctor's
verdict.

"That Mr. McKittrick is worse?" whispered Tabitha.

The bowed head nodded despairingly.

"Surely he isn't going to----"

"Die?" cried the woman wildly.  "Yes, he must die unless we can get him
out of here.  The only hope is an operation.  That means Los Angeles, a
hospital, a nurse, and hundreds of dollars; and not a cent coming in
from anywhere.  The children are too young to earn, and I can't work
with him to nurse and six youngsters to care for.  Oh, it does seem as
if troubles never come singly!  Whatever we are going to do is more
than I know.  The whole world has turned upside down!"

Gravely Tabitha nodded her head.  Only a year before as she had stood
beside the bed of her father, fighting what seemed like a hopeless
battle with death, she, too, had felt that despairing helplessness.
"If only Dr. Vane were here!" she whispered fervently.

"I don't believe he could do a bit more for the man than Dr. Hayes is
doing.  He'd just say the same thing, and there wouldn't be any more
money than there is now to carry out his orders."

In vain Tabitha sought to comfort and cheer the despondent soul, but
seemed only to make matters worse, and at length, disheartened at her
apparent failure, she stole away from the brown house on the bluff, and
with Gloriana following silently at her heels, set out for home.  Not a
word passed between them as they hastened down the main street of the
town, until, just as they reached the dingy telegraph station, the
sound of the busy, clattering key caused Tabitha to halt abruptly and a
gleam of determination to flash over her sober, worried face.

"That's what!" she exclaimed joyfully.  "I'll do it!  Mr. Carson will
fix everything.  'Twas in his mine that McKittrick was hurt."

"What do you mean?  Where are you going?" asked bewildered Gloriana,
unable to follow Tabitha's thoughts, and wondering what errand was
taking her into the low, dimly lighted shack from which issued the
monotonous, nervous, clicking sound which had attracted Tabitha's
attention.

"To telegraph Mr. Carson.  If he knew how badly off Mr. McKittrick is,
he would send him inside in a minute."

"Inside?"

"To Los Angeles, I mean.  People here on the desert call that 'inside,'
though I never could see why.  Please, Mr. Goodwin, give me a blank.  I
want to send a telegram."

The man behind the counter supplied her with the necessary materials,
and stood waiting curiously for the message to be written.  But another
idea had occurred to Tabitha, and turning away from the operator with
the blank in her hand, she whispered to Gloriana in dismay, "I don't
dare telegraph.  Mr. Goodwin is a worse gossip than any old maid I ever
knew, and he'd tell it all over town before noon!"

"Then write a letter."

"It takes nearly a week for mail to travel that far.  It might be too
late by--I've got it!  How will this do?"

Rapidly she scribbled a few hasty words on the slip in her hands and
passed it to Gloriana, who read in amazement this queer scrawl:

"Wire five hundred silver headed eagles.  Must get rich quick.  Ask
Carrie to translate.  Letter follows.

Tabitha Catt."


"That is more than ten words, but I can't help it.  I'm willing to pay
for it if it does the work."

"But, Kitty, what does it mean?" asked mystified Gloriana, privately
thinking it the silliest piece of nonsense she had ever heard of.
"Will he know what you want?"

"Carrie will.  We used to write notes to each other in cipher when we
were little.  _We_ called it cipher.  Of course it was all utter
nonsense, but I am sure she will remember."

"It doesn't sound--sensible--to me," Gloriana confessed.  "I suppose
five hundred silver headed eagles means five hundred dollars, but what
is that about getting rich?"

Tabitha laughed gleefully.  "Rosslyn McKittrick was a long time
learning to say his own name when he was a baby," she explained.  "As
near as he could get it, 'twas 'Russ Getrich.'  Mr. Carson was
superintendent of the Silver Legion then, instead of one of the owners,
and as Mr. McKittrick was working there when Rosslyn was born, the
miners made him their mascot, and Mr. Carson used to tease him by
calling him 'Must get rich quick.'  I couldn't write 'McKittrick' in
the telegram without Goodwin suspecting what I am up to; so I did the
next best thing I could think of."

"But--"  It all still seemed so ridiculous to the red-haired girl.

"You think he will wonder if I am crazy?"  Tabitha had read the look of
doubt in her companion's face, and correctly surmised what she was
thinking.  "Perhaps he will, but I don't believe so.  He is quick to
understand things.  Now we will skip back to the post-office and I'll
scratch him a letter of explanation, so it will go out with to-day's
mail.  Then if he shouldn't translate the telegram correctly--well, the
letter will get there as soon as possible afterward."

As she spoke, she delivered the written message to the waiting
operator, smiled with satisfaction at his look of baffled curiosity and
bewilderment, and assuring him that it was worded exactly as she wanted
it sent, she left the dingy office confident that the queer cipher
would bring the desired results.  Nor was she mistaken.

Early the next morning Mercedes came flying excitedly down the path to
the Catt cottage, and, without the formality of knocking, burst into
the kitchen where the two girls were busy washing up the breakfast
dishes.

"Oh, Kitty!  Gloriana!" she cried, half laughing, half sobbing with
sheer delight.  "Guess what's happened!  Mr. Carson has sent mamma some
money to take papa to Los Angeles.  Now he can get well.  That is what
has been worrying her so much.  The doctor said he would die unless he
was operated on and mamma hadn't the money to get it done.  They are to
start to-morrow.  Mamma's going, too.  Doctor says every minute counts,
and he has telegraphed to the hospital to make arrangements already."

She paused, all out of breath, to mop her steaming forehead; and
Tabitha, studying the flushed, shining face, wondered that she had ever
thought Mercedes McKittrick dull and homely.

"Isn't that fine?" she heard Gloriana saying, as heartily as if she had
not known anything about the telegram before.  "What are the rest of
you going to do while your mother is away?  You children, I mean."

"That's how I happened to come here," Mercedes replied, her eyes losing
some of their glow as she recalled her errand in that part of the town.
"Mamma sent me down to Miss Davis' house with a note, but she isn't
there; and the woman next door says she has gone to Riverside for two
weeks.  I s'pose we'll have to find someone else instead.  But I was so
near I couldn't help running on down to tell the news.  I must be going
now.  There is lots to be done before train time to-morrow, and
mamma'll need me."

"We will come up and help her pack as soon as we get the house
righted," Tabitha found tongue to say.  "She mustn't get too tired
before she starts."

So Mercedes raced away again, and a few moments later the two busy
little housekeepers in the hollow locked up their orderly cottage and
followed more slowly up to the Eagles' Nest on the bluff.

"Where can the children be?"  Tabitha's expectant eyes searched in vain
for a glimpse of the noisy, lively brood of 'eaglets,' who usually saw
her coming a long way off, and met her half-way down the mountainside
with a boisterous shout of welcome.  To-day, however, not one of the
sextette was in sight about the queer little brown house, and the whole
place wore a deserted air.

"Maybe they have gone visiting so Mrs. McKittrick can look after her
packing unmolested," suggested Gloriana, letting her keen gray eyes
sweep the steep, rocky incline for some sign of the youthful
McKittricks, but with no better result.

"That must be it," concluded Tabitha, "though I should have
thought--why, Mercedes, Susie!  What _is_ the matter?"

Coming suddenly around the corner of a huge boulder where the children
often played house, the two girls almost tumbled over a row of the most
woe-begone, utterly miserable looking figures they had ever
seen,--Mercedes, Susie, Inez, Irene, Rosslyn and Janie, all seated on a
broad, flat rock as stiff as marble statues, and with faces almost as
stony and staring.

"Why, children!" echoed Gloriana, equally amazed.  "What are you doing
here?  What has happened?"

"Mamma is crying again," whispered Mercedes, dabbing savagely at a tear
which suddenly brimmed over and splashed down the end of her nose.

"She says she won't go and leave us alone with Mercy," gulped Susanne,
striving hard to keep the telltale quiver out of her voice.

"And there ain't money enough to go and take us all," supplemented
Inez, who had earned the title of "Susie's shadow," because she
preferred the society of her older sister to that of her quiet twin.

"Miss Davis has gone away and won't be back until it's too late,"
mourned gentle Irene, gazing sorrowfully down toward the low station
house on the flats below.

"Mrs. Goodale's gone, too, and there ain't nobody else to housekeep for
us," Rosslyn added plaintively, "'cept Mercy."

"But we'd be ist as dood as anjils wiv Mercy," lisped little Janie
dejectedly, seeming to comprehend the tragedy of the situation as well
as did the older children.

Slowly Tabitha turned toward her companion.  Gloriana's gray eyes
bravely met the questioning glance of the black ones.  "Would your
father----"

"_Our_ father," Tabitha mechanically corrected her.

"Our father let you--us, I mean?"

"All summer, if he thought we wanted to; but it won't be that long."

"Only two weeks."

"Until Miss Davis gets back--or Mrs. Goodale."

"Do you think Mrs. McKittrick would leave the----"

"I don't know," confessed the older girl in worried accents.  "It's a
chance for him.  I believe she'll take it.  I'm sure we are old enough."

"And know enough about keeping house."

"They would be perfectly safe with us two."

"Supposing we ask her."

Impulsively, Tabitha started for the house with Gloriana at her heels;
and the children, though not understanding the drift of the
conversation they had just overheard, fell in behind the two, and
marched in solemn procession up the path, feeling sure that something
was about to happen which would clear away the heavy cloud of despair
hovering over their household.

Again Mrs. McKittrick was sitting beside the battered kitchen table
with her head on her arms as they had found her the day before, but
this time Tabitha did not hesitate.  Breathlessly, excitedly, she
began, almost before she was inside the house:

"Oh, Mrs. McKittrick, Mercy has told us all about it--how Miss Davis
and Mrs. Goodale are away and you can't find anyone to leave the
children with.  But you mustn't stay here on that account!  Glory and I
will take charge of the house.  Really, we know how to cook and can
manage splendidly, I'm sure, if you will let us try.  Miss Davis will
soon be back and then she can look after everything.  Two weeks isn't
very long.  No harm can come to us in that time, I know.  We'd love to
do it.  Say you will go.  It means so much to you----"

She had not intended to say just that, but misreading the look of
wondering surprise in the tear-stained face lifted to hers, she
blundered, hesitated, and stood silent and distressed in the middle of
the floor, shifting uneasily from one foot to the other, and looking so
much like the frank, outspoken, bungling Tabitha of old, that Mrs.
McKittrick could not refrain from laughing.  It was an odd, hysterical,
little laugh, to be sure, more pathetic than mirthful, but it relieved
the sharp tension of the situation; and Gloriana, quick to take
advantage of auspicious moments, broke in, "All you need to do is to
say yes.  We will be model housekeepers and take the best of care of
the family."

"But--but--what about your father?  He won't listen to such a plan, I'm
sure."

"Now, don't you fret about that!" cried Tabitha joyfully, regarding the
battle as good as won.  "Daddy won't care a mite!  Two weeks is such a
little time.  He will be glad to have us come."

"I believe--I better--take Janie.  She is so small, and----"

"I believe you better not!" the black-eyed girl laughingly retorted.
"She would be dreadfully in your way, no matter how good she is; and
you want to be free to take care of your--patient.  Now, where is your
trunk?  What clothes do you need to take?  If you will tell us where to
find things, we will begin to pack at once while you are getting the
house settled the way you want to leave it, and writing out your
orders."

"'Cause we'll be ist as dood as anjils," lisped Janie, as the
procession, at a signal from Mercedes, quietly trooped forth into the
June sunshine once more, and, with radiant faces and happy hearts,
skipped down to their boulder playhouse to celebrate.



CHAPTER II

TABITHA AND GLORIANA, HOUSEKEEPERS

"You really think you want to do it?"  Mr. Catt glanced quizzically
from one bright, girlish face to the other as his fingers gently
stroked the red tresses and the black hovering so close to his knee.

"Sure, daddy!" promptly answered Tabitha, patting the arm nearest her
in a fashion that a year before she never would have dreamed of.

"Perfectly sure!" repeated Gloriana, snuggling closer to the big
armchair in which her adopted father sat, and smiling contentedly at
thought of the new life opening up before her.

"Two weeks mean fourteen whole days," he warned them.

"Yes," they giggled, "fourteen whole days!"

"And six lively children can raise quite a racket."

"The house is too far from the rest of town for their noise to bother
anyone else," Tabitha reminded him.

"That's another point.  What would you do if burglars broke in at
night?  You would be too far from town to call help."

"There is nothing at McKittrick's to burgle," his daughter retorted
triumphantly.  "I am not afraid."

"Nor I," said Gloriana, though somewhat faintly, for of a sudden a new
phase of the matter had presented itself.  She _was_ still afraid of
the black desert nights, and burglars were a constant source of terror
to her, though never in all her life had she encountered any of that
species of mankind.

"The cottage on the cliff is no more isolated than our cottage here in
the hollow, now that the Carsons are away," continued the black-haired
girl.  "It would be just as easy--easier, in fact, to get help if we
needed it there, than here; for the McKittrick house is on the side of
the mountain overlooking the town, while our place is hidden from the
rest of Silver Bow by that hill.  We can see only the roof of the
assayer's office from here, and that is the nearest building to ours
except Carrie's house."

"That's true!" exclaimed Gloriana with such an air of relief that Mr.
Catt could not refrain from smiling.

"And besides, nothing is going to happen in two weeks," continued
Tabitha.

"Suppose Miss Davis doesn't return in two weeks?  I thought you wanted
to spend your summer at the beach."

"Oh, Miss Davis will be back on time," was the confident reply.  "And
we had planned to stay here a few weeks anyway, you know.  Myra won't
be looking for us before the first of July, for we had expected Tom
would come home early in the summer for his vacation instead of having
to wait until fall, and so made our plans accordingly."

He smiled at the grown-up air she had assumed, then sighed, for
something in her quiet self-assurance and dignified poise suddenly
brought home to him the realization that his little girl was fast
growing up.  The sensitive, rebellious, little spitfire of a few months
ago had developed into a charming, gentle-mannered maid; and while he
rejoiced in gaining so sweet a daughter, he disliked to lose the wild,
untamed elf who had so suddenly blossomed into a young lady before he
could in any measure atone for the unhappy years of her loveless
childhood.  He would have kept her a little girl all her life, had he
been able; but here she was springing up into the beauty of a glorious
womanhood before his very eyes.  So he sighed as he thought of his lost
opportunities, then abruptly asked, "How old are you, Tabitha?"

"Going on sixteen, daddy."

"And you, my other daughter?" turning to Gloriana sitting silently on
her low stool by his side.

"Fourteen, sir."

"Rather youthful housekeepers," he drawled, teasingly.

"But experienced in spite of youth," Tabitha gayly retorted.  "Why,
Miss King says we are the two most promising domestic science pupils
she has.  Now what do you think of that?"

"That she is right," came the prompt though unexpected reply; "and if
you really think you want to play Good Samaritan for a couple weeks,
you have my hearty sanction.  The fact of the matter is, I find it
impossible to be here at home much for the next fortnight, myself;
possibly not at all after tonight.  So you might just as well be
mothering the McKittricks as left alone in this end of the town, so far
as I can see."

"I knew you would say yes," sighed Tabitha contentedly.  "You shall see
what model housekeepers your daughters can be.  We'll make you proud of
us."

"I have no doubt of it," he answered heartily.  "But if you begin your
arduous duties to-morrow, it is time you were in bed this minute.  Fly
away now!"

So they ran laughingly away to their room, both secretly glad of the
chance to seek their pillows an hour earlier, for that day at the
McKittrick cottage had been a busy one, and though neither would
acknowledge it to the other, feet, arms and backs ached sadly.  But the
next morning, after a refreshing night's sleep, the duet was ready and
eager for the novel role they were about to play; and just as soon as
their own simple tasks were done, the necessary clothes packed and the
little cottage made secure for its two weeks of solitude, they tramped
merrily up the steep path to the Eagles' Nest, and entered upon their
summer vacation as housekeepers for a family of six, as Susie expressed
it.

Everything was topsy-turvy in the excitement of getting the injured
father, and weary, distracted mother started on their brief journey;
but finally they were off, and a row of sober-faced children stood on
the bluff overlooking the flats below, watching the train puff its way
slowly out of sight behind the mountains.

With the last glimpse of the departing cars, the sense of
responsibility in her new charge descended upon the shoulders of the
volunteer housekeeper, and Tabitha was for a brief moment appalled at
the task which she had so rashly undertaken.

"Six children to look after for two whole weeks!" she gasped in dismay.
Then her courage returned with a rush.  "Why, Tabitha Catt, you coward!
I am ashamed of you!  If you can't take care of six children for two
short weeks, particularly with Gloriana to help, you are not good for
much!"  Resolutely she turned toward the house, saying briskly, to hide
her own wavering spirits, "Well, folkses, let's have chocolate pie for
supper!"

"Oh, goody!" cried Inez, whirling about to follow her leader; and at
mention of these words, the faces of the whole group brightened
wonderfully.

"Can't we have some cake, too?  Mamma said we might if you knew how to
make it."

"Knew how to make it?" boasted Tabitha scornfully.  "Well, I should say
we do!  What kind will you have?"

"Nut loaf," quickly responded Mercedes, who knew from experience how
delicious Tabitha's nut loaves were.

"Angel cake," wheedled Susie, with her most engaging smile.

"Frosted with chocolate," added Inez.

"Devil's food," suggested Irene.

"Cookies," pleaded Rosslyn, who had a boy's fondness for that
particular delicacy.

"Dingerbread," lisped the baby.

And Tabitha laughed.  "That's quite a collection, my dears."

"I should say so!" gasped Gloriana.  "We can't make them all to-night.
In fact, it is nearly four o'clock now.  There isn't time for both pie
and cake."

"Unless we do make gingerbread, as Janie suggested," said Tabitha
slowly, seeing the look of disappointment clouding the row of round,
serious faces watching them so expectantly.

"Wiv raisins," coaxed Rosslyn.  "Lots of 'em!"

Instantly the faces brightened again.  "Oh, yes, that's the way we like
it best," chorused the four older members.

"And let us seed them," pleaded Inez.  "Mamma often lets us."

"She won't let us eat more'n twelve," added Irene hopefully, "and we
can work real fast."

"Well, you will have to if we have gingerbread for supper," said
Gloriana.  "I supposed the raisins were already seeded.  Will we have
time, Tabitha?"

"Yes, if everyone hustles, I reckon.  Mercy, you know where things are
in the pantry.  Supposing you get out the spices, sugar, flour, and
things.  Susie and the twins stone the raisins; and, Rosslyn, you might
bring in some small wood for the stove.  We'll use the range to-night,
because I have baked in that oven before and know how it works, but
won't know until I experiment with it, how the gasolene oven bakes."

While she was issuing orders, Tabitha flaxed blithely about the little
kitchen, lighting the fire, hunting up cooking utensils, and beginning
the process of making chocolate pie, leaving Gloriana to wrestle with
the mysteries of a raisin gingerbread.

Anxious for the coming treat, the children obediently flew to their
various tasks; and soon voices buzzed busily, while the little hands
tried their best to hurry.

"There!" breathed Tabitha at last, lifting a red, perspiring face from
an inspection of two beautifully frosted pies in the oven, "they are
done.  Don't they look fine?  Now you can put in your gingerbread
whenever you are ready, Glory.  I'll set these on the wash bench
outside to cool, while I hustle up the rest of the supper."

"Mamma always puts her pies in the pantry window," volunteered Irene,
not wishing to have the tempting delicacy removed from her sight.

"But they will cool quicker in the open air," explained Tabitha.  "And
supper will be ready so soon that they won't be cool enough to eat if
we set them in the window.  Now, Mercy----"

"Oh, Kitty," came a sudden wail of alarm from the dooryard where
Rosslyn was still busy with his basket of chips, "Janie is gone!  I
can't find her anywhere!"

Tabitha dropped her platter of cold potatoes which she was preparing to
warm over; Mercedes hastily left her dishpan where she was piling up
the soiled kitchen utensils which the youthful cooks had used with
extravagant hand; Susie and the twins abruptly deserted the raisin jar;
and all bolted for the door.

Only Gloriana remained at her post.  She had arrived at the most
critical stage of her gingerbread making, and though her first impulse
was to join in the search for the missing baby with the rest of her
mates, her thrifty bringing-up reminded her that in the meantime the
cake would spoil.  So she paused long enough to dump in the cupful of
raisins still standing on the doorsill, where the seeders had been
sitting at their task.  Giving the mixture a final beat, she poured the
spicy brown dough into the baking sheet, thrust it into the oven,
adjusted the dampers, and followed the example of the others, setting
out down the rocky path as rapidly as her lameness would permit.

Meanwhile, toiling up the steep trail on the other side of the house,
came a tiny, tired figure, almost ready to drop from her unusual
exertions.  Her dress was torn in a dozen places where the cruel
mesquite had caught her as she passed, one shoe was unlaced, one
stocking hung in rolls about the plump, scratched ankle, she wore no
hat, and her fair hair was sadly tousled by the wind and her struggle
through sagebrush and Spanish bayonets.  Altogether, she presented a
woeful spectacle; but in spite of it all, she clasped tightly in one
chubby fist, a soiled and crumpled letter, which every now and then she
examined critically, having discovered that the warmth and moisture of
her fat hands left tiny, smudgy fingerprints on the white envelope, and
being anxious to present a clean document to her wondering audience
when she should have reached her goal.  But oh, it did seem so far up
to the Eagles' Nest, and the way was so rough for her little feet!
Still she kept plodding wearily along, and at length reached the end of
her journey, only to find the house silent and deserted.

"Mercy!" she piped shrilly, pushing open the screen and stumbling into
the hot kitchen.  "I'se dot a letter!  Where is you?  Susie!  Rossie!"

Still no answer.  Puzzled at this unusual state of affairs, she raced
from room to room as fast as her short, tired legs would carry her, but
no one was there.

"Tabby!" she shrieked.  "Dory!  What did you leave me for?"

A panic seized her.  She had been deserted!  Tears gathered in her
sea-blue eyes, and trickled in rivulets down her flushed cheeks.  She
was afraid to stay alone.  Why had everyone left her?  Back to the
kitchen she pattered.  It was empty, but a fire still burned in the
stove and savory odors from the oven lured her on.  Curiosity overcame
her fear for a moment, and with a mighty tug, she jerked open the door,
revealing Gloriana's gingerbread just done to a turn.

"Dingerbread!" cried the child, gloating over the huge, golden sheet
which smelled, oh, so good!  "I want some now!"  And forgetting that
the oven was hot, she seized the pan with both chubby fists, but
instantly let go her hold and roared with pain, for ten rosy fingers
were cruelly burned, and how they did smart!

Suddenly above the wail of her lusty voice came the sound of excited
voices and flying feet; and the next instant frightened Tabitha with
her adopted brood in close pursuit, flew into the kitchen, and gathered
up the hurt, sobbing baby in her arms, crooning tenderly, "There,
there, dearie, you mustn't cry any more.  We've all come back.  We were
hunting you.  Where did you go?"

"Oh, see her hands!" cried Irene, shuddering in sympathy.  "She has
burned herself!"

"But the gingerbread isn't burned at all," volunteered Susie with
satisfaction, after a keen and anxious scrutiny of the spicy loaf
half-way out of the oven.

"For goodness' sake!" ejaculated Tabitha, not having noticed the seared
fingers up to that moment, "What do you do for burns?"

"Bring some butter," ordered Gloriana, remembering Granny Conover's
first remedy for burns.

"Mamma uses molasses," said Irene; and Susie and Inez, recovering their
senses at the same instant, dived into the pantry, returning
immediately, one with a crock of butter in her hand, and the other
bearing a bucket of molasses; and before either of the older girls
could intervene, they plunged both of Janie's dirty, scorched hands
first into one dish and then into the other, leaving them to drip
sticky puddles down the front of Tabitha's dress and on to the clean
kitchen floor.

"Why, you little monkeys!" gasped the senior housekeeper, forgetting
the dignity of her position in her wrath at what seemed inexcusable
carelessness on the part of the girls.

"Mamma _always_ puts molasses on burns," quavered Inez, her lip
trembling at Tabitha's tone.

"And Glory said butter," surprised Susie defended.  Then both culprits
dissolved in tears.

"There, there, never mind!" cried Tabitha in dismay.  "I didn't mean to
scold, but you ought to have known more than to stick the baby's dirty
hands into the molasses pail and butter crock."

"Not dirty!" screamed the outraged Janie, striking the face above her
with a dripping fist.  "On'y burned!  Ve pan was--"  Her sentence
unfinished, she found herself ruthlessly shaken and dumped into the
middle of the floor, while angry Tabitha rushed out of the door into
the cool dusk of early evening, leaving a dismayed family staring
aghast at each other in the hot kitchen.  Even the amazed baby forgot
to voice her protest at such treatment, but stood where she had landed,
staring with round, scared eyes after the fleeing figure.

Down the mountainside sped Tabitha to the big boulder, wheeled about
and rushed back to the house as swiftly as she had left it, and before
the astounded children had recovered their breath, she cried, "I am
sorry I was cross.  I reckon I'm a little tired and everything has gone
upside down and--suppose we have supper now.  I know you are all
hungry.  Susie, while I am tying up Janie's hands, you might put the
potatoes on in the frying pan; Irene, set the table; Inez, fetch the
water; and Mercy, cut the bread.  Is the gingerbread done, Gloriana?"

"Yes," responded the junior housekeeper proudly, "and already sliced
for the table.  Shall I bring in the pie?"

"The pies!" shouted the six McKittricks.

"I had forgotten all about them," confessed the older girl.  "Yes, you
better get them right away.  One will be enough for supper,--the tins
are so large."

While Tabitha was speaking, Gloriana had stepped briskly out of the
door into the summer night and disappeared around the corner of the
house; but immediately a terrified scream pierced the air, there was a
loud snort and the sound of startled, scampering feet, and Gloriana
burst into the room again bearing an empty plate in one hand and a
dilapidated looking pie, minus all its frosting, in the other.

"Oh, our lovely pies!" wailed the children in chorus.

"The burros!" gasped Tabitha.

Gloriana nodded.  "One had his nose right in the middle of this pie.
The other beast had upset the second tin and was licking up the crumbs
from the gravel."

"Oh, dear, I want some pie!" whimpered Rosslyn, puckering his face to
cry.

"Ain't that the worst luck?" Susie burst out.

"If you had put the pies in the _window_ to cool, like mamma does--"
began Inez.

"It's too late to make any more to-night," Gloriana hastily
interrupted, seeing a wrathful sparkle in Tabitha's black eyes; "but if
you don't make any more fuss about it this time, we'll bake some
to-morrow."

"And if you want any supper at all, you'd better come now," advised
Mercedes, from her post by the stove, where she was vigorously making
hash of the sliced potatoes.  "This stuff is beginning to burn."

Gloriana rescued the frying pan, and the disappointed children gathered
about the table, trying to look cheerful, but failing dismally.

"Don't want any 'tato," objected Janie, scorning the proffered dish.
"Dingerbread!"

"Potato and beans first," insisted Tabitha.

"Dingerbread!" stubbornly repeated the child, so sleepy and cross that
the weary older girl said no more, but slid a large slice of the savory
cake into the little plate, and proceeded to help the other children in
the same liberal manner.  No one wanted beans and potato, but at the
first mouthful of the tempting-looking gingerbread, everyone paused,
looked inquiringly at her neighbor, chewed cautiously a time or two,
and then eight hands went to eight pair of lips.

"I thought we stoned raisins for this cake," cried Susie, half
indignantly.

"So you did," replied Gloriana, her face flushed crimson as she bent
over her plate, intently examining her slice of cake.

"Oh, and put the stones in the cake!  What did you do with the
raisins?" demanded Inez.

Before Glory could frame a reply, or offer any excuse for the accident,
Irene slid hurriedly off her chair, flew through the doorway and down
the path toward town, but she was back in a moment, and in her hand she
held a cup of raisins.

"Why, Irene McKittrick!" cried Mercedes, lifting her hands in horror.
"What made you hide them?"

"I didn't hide them," the twin indignantly protested.  "The cup was in
my lap when Rosslyn called that Janie was lost, and I forgot to put it
down when I ran out-doors.  I remembered it by the time we reached our
playhouse, so I set it down there and that's where I found it now."

"Janie wasn't lost," interrupted that small maiden in drowsy tones.
"Me went to get a letter."

"To get a letter!" chorused her sisters.  "Where?"

"To the store where Mercy goes.  A man dave me one, too," she finished
triumphantly, squirming down from her high chair to search about the
room for the missing epistle, while the rest of the family forgot both
pie and gingerbread in joining in the hunt.  Rosslyn found it at last
under the stove where it had fallen when Janie began her investigation
of the oven; and the girls exclaimed in genuine surprise, "Why, it _is_
a real letter!"'

"Addressed to mamma," said Mercedes, "Do you suppose Janie really went
to the post-office all alone?"

But Janie was fast asleep in her chair where she had retired when
convinced that Rosslyn had actually found her precious letter; so the
sisters once more bent curious eyes upon the soiled envelope.

"Better re-address it to your mother," suggested Tabitha, remembering
that in her written instructions, Mrs. McKittrick had failed to mention
the matter of mail which might come to Silver Bow for her.

"Mamma told me to open all her letters, and not even to send papa's to
Los Angeles, unless 'twas something _very_ important."

"Then why don't you open it?" cried Susanne impatiently.

"And see who wrote it," added Inez.

"I--I--guess I will."  Deliberately she tore open the envelope, spread
out the brief letter it contained, and with a comically important air,
read the few short lines.  Then beginning with the heading, she read it
the second time, her face growing graver at each word, until impatient
Inez could stand the strain no longer, and burst out, "Well, what's it
all about?  Does it take you all night to read that teenty letter?"

"It's from Aunt Kate, Uncle Dennis' wife," Mercedes slowly retorted.
"She is going to Europe for something, and wants to send the boys out
here to us."

"Williard and Theodore?"

"Yes."

"But how can they, with papa hurt and mamma gone?"

"She says that they will pay good board and she knows mamma will be
glad enough to get the money, seeing that papa's still unable to work."

Tabitha's face darkened.  "It's an imposition!" she exploded wrathfully.

"I sh'd say so!" agreed Susanne.  "They are dreadful noisy boys.  We
had 'em here once before, and Aunt Kate got awful mad 'cause papa
licked 'em when they touched a match to the old shed to see how the
people on the desert put out fires."



"She said they never should come again," added Inez, "but I guess she's
forgot."

"How old are they?" ventured Gloriana.

"Williard's between me and Susie," Mercedes answered, "and Theodore's
between Susie and the twins."

"Are you going to let them come?" demanded Irene.

Mercedes turned helplessly toward Tabitha.  "What would you do, Kitty?"
she asked.  "Shall I write and ask mamma?"

"I shouldn't," Tabitha promptly replied.  "Your mother has her hands
full now, and it would only worry her to know how nervy your Aunt Kate
is.  I'd write her,--your aunt, I mean,--and tell her just how things
stand, your father in the hospital and your mother with him.  She ought
to know more than to send them then.  Still, I believe I'd just say
that the boys can't come.  She would understand that all right.  And
I'll be responsible, Mercedes, if your mother should think we ought to
have told her about it first."

"_I'd_ telegraph, so's to be sure," said Susanne.  "Aunt Kate doesn't
think much about other folks' wishes, and if she wanted to go to Europe
bad enough, she'd ship the boys to us if we all had smallpox."

"That's a good idea," Tabitha acknowledged.  "We'll telegraph at once,
and then she will have no excuse for not knowing how sick your father
is.  Where is there a pencil and paper?  I'll write out a telegram now,
and we'll slip down town, and send it to-night."

She hastily scribbled the words:

"Mrs. Dennis McKittrick,
  Jamaica Plains, Mass.

Don't send boys.  Father in Los Angeles hospital.  Mother with him.

MERCEDES McKITTRICK."


Then taking Irene as company, she carried the message to the telegraph
station that same evening, to make sure it reached its destination in
time to prevent the threatened visit from the unwelcome cousins.

"Perhaps I acted in a high-handed manner," she confessed to Gloriana,
as they were preparing for bed that night, "but I couldn't bear to
think of that selfish old cat--yes, that's what she is,--imposing upon
Mrs. McKittrick again.  I remember the boys, though it was quite a
while ago that they were here.  They were only little shavers then,
too.  I never met them, but one doesn't have to in order to know all
they want to know about their antics."

"And judging from our first day's experiences as housekeepers in this
family, we shall have all _we_ want to do, without two terrors of boys
added."

"To-day has been rather hard and disappointing," Tabitha acknowledged
with a gusty sigh.

"But to-morrow will be better," Gloriana comforted her.  "And it is
only for two weeks.  That's one consolation."

"Thank fortune!" Tabitha exclaimed with fervor; and the tired eyelids
closed over the drowsy black eyes and the gray.



CHAPTER III

UNWELCOME GUESTS

"Well, one whole week is gone," said Tabitha exultantly, as she bent
over the heaped-up mending basket one hot afternoon, and tried to make
neat darns of the gaping holes in the heels of Susie's stockings.

"Yes, and half of the first day of the second week," Gloriana replied
cheerily.  "But really, Puss, time hasn't dragged as slowly as I
feared.  That first day was the longest, I think, I ever knew."

"That first day was a horrible nightmare," the older girl emphatically
declared.  "I thought it _never_ would end, and I'd have quit my job on
the spot if there had been anyone to take my place."

"I'd have quit it anyway if you had just said the word," laughed her
companion.  "I thought you'd never go to sleep that night--I wanted so
badly to cry."

"Did you?  So did I, but you kept tossing so restlessly that I knew you
were still awake, and finally I dropped off without getting my cry at
all."

"That's just what I did, too!" giggled Gloriana.

"And the next morning everything looked so different----"

"Yes, I could laugh then at the burro's nose in your lovely pie and the
seeds in my gingerbread; but they didn't seem so funny the night
before."

"They seemed anything but funny to me for several days, and I don't
think I'll ever see a chocolate pie or a gingerbread again in my life
without remembering this vacation."

"But things have gone splendidly since that first night," Gloriana
reminded her.  "The children have tried to be angels, even if they have
executed some queer stunts for cherubs."

"Yes, I know, but I am glad just the same that half of
our--apprenticeship--is over.  If this week will pass as smoothly as
last week did, it's all I'll--  What in the world is the matter with
the children?  Sounds as if they were having an Indian war dance.  I
wonder if those Swanberg boys are bothering again."

Both girls dropped their mending and hurried to the door just in time
to hear Inez's voice say cuttingly, "Of course we know who you are,
Williard and Theodore McKittrick!"

"Guess again!" drawled the older of two strange boys, lolling on
suitcases in the middle of the yard.

"Well, those _are_ your names," Inez insisted.

"You look enough like you used to when you were here before, so we
can't be mistaken," said Mercedes primly.

"Can't, eh?  Well, our names are Williard and Theodore no longer.  We
are Billiard and Toady these days.  Mind you don't forget!  We've come
to stay till the folks get back----"

"Didn't you get our telegram telling you not to come?" demanded
belligerent Susie.

"Sure we did!"

"Then why didn't you stay at home?"

"'Cause ma had the arrangements all made to go across the ocean and
there wasn't anyone else to send us to.  Grandma's away travelling, and
Aunt Helen's kids have got scarlet fever."

"But papa's in the hospital and mamma's there nursing him," said Irene
indignantly.

"Truly?"  The boy called Toady spoke for the first time.

"Do you think I'm lying?"

"Well, ma said she bet it was all a bluff to keep us from coming out
here," Billiard explained, looking genuinely surprised at Irene's words.

"And anyway," supplemented Toady, "she said if it was true about your
father and mother being away to Los Angeles, there'd have to be someone
here to look after you kids, and two more wouldn't make much
difference."

"Specially when she's paying for our board!"

Tabitha, a silent spectator in the doorway, ground her teeth in
helpless rage, while Gloriana gasped audibly at the impudence of mother
and sons.

"It's no more'n right that you should pay board," Susie declared in
heat.  "You make so much trouble wherever you go."

"Do, huh?"  Billiard, frowning darkly, advanced threateningly toward
his outspoken cousin, with fists doubled up and an ugly sneer on his
face.  But Susie was no coward, and when he shook his knuckles close to
her little pug nose to emphasize his words, the girl's arm shot out
unexpectedly and landed a blow fair and square on one eye.

With a yell of rage and pain, the surprised boy lunged forward, but
instead of confronting Susie, he found himself in the grasp of a tall,
irate young lady, who wore her shining black hair pinned up on top of
her head, although her skirts were still short enough to show a pair of
trim ankles.  "Now stop right here!"

She spoke quietly, almost too quietly; but one look into the
smouldering depths of those big, black eyes was enough to cow the
bully, and he jerked himself free, muttering sulkily, "She hit me
first!"

"She had to, or get hit herself," bawled Inez, jigging excitedly from
one foot to the other in her exultation over her cousin's defeat.

"Inez!"

"Well, he needn't have come!  We telegraphed them not to!"

"_Inez_!"

The girl subsided, and Billiard found courage to leer triumphantly at
her discomfiture.  But Tabitha intercepted the glance, and in that
ominously calm voice which had struck terror to his cowardly heart
before, she announced, "It is too late now to think of that side of the
question.  We'll have to make the most of a bad situation; but I _will
not_ tolerate fighting.  You may as well understand that first as last.
If you boys can't behave like gentlemen, you can just move on down to
the hotel.  Is that plain?"

"Yes, sir--ma'am," stammered the abashed Billiard, glancing uneasily
about for some means of escape, but Tabitha had delivered her
ultimatum, and now swept grandly into the house, satisfied that she had
displayed her authority in a very impressive manner.

Hardly had the screen closed behind her, however, when her sharp ears
caught Billiard's hoarsely whispered question, "Who is that high-headed
geezer?"

"The girl who is taking care of us," answered Mercedes unguardedly.

"Girl?"

"Sure!  What did you take her for?"

"A--a new woman.  A--one of these things that's trying to vote and do
men's work and such like."

"Oho!" yelled the McKittrick girls in unison.  "Why, she ain't much
older'n us!"

"She goes to Ivy Hall in Los Angeles, the boarding school I belong to,"
said Mercedes.

"Honest Injun?"

"Cross my heart!"

"Huh!"

And instinctively Tabitha knew that there was trouble ahead for her.
"Isn't this the worst luck you ever heard of?" she groaned to Gloriana
when once inside the house again.

"If I had my way about it, I'd ship them straight home on the next
train," declared the red-haired girl angrily.  "The very idea of their
mother doing such a thing as that!  What kind of a woman is she,
anyway?"

"I don't know much about her, except that she is utterly selfish and
very rich.  The boys are sent away to school most of the year; and
during vacations she manages to shift them onto some of her relatives.
Fortunately, Jim McKittrick is too far away to be bothered with them
very often."

"But what shall you--we do with them?  Shall we tell Mrs. McKittrick
that they have come?"

"Goodness, no!  At least not yet.  It would just worry her more than
ever and she is worn to distraction now.  No, we must make the best of
it this week, and by that time Miss Davis will be here.  She was raised
in a family of boys and ought to know how to manage them."

"Well, I am thankful _I_ am not in her shoes," breathed Gloriana.  "I
suppose we can get along somehow for the six days that are left.  Where
shall you put them?"

"Well, I declare!  I had forgotten all about that part of it.  They
will think I am a real hospitable hostess."  She stepped to the door to
call them, but not a soul was in sight anywhere.  Two open suitcases
lay on the ground with their contents scattered all about, but both
owners and their cousins had disappeared.

"Mercedes!  Susie!" she called peremptorily, but no one answered; and
not even the sound of their voices at play fell on her listening ear.
"Strange," she muttered.  "They were here a minute ago.  Where can they
have gone so quickly?"

She was about to start on a tour of investigation when a series of
wild, piercing screams of abject terror rent the air, and Rosslyn came
stumbling down the steep incline behind the house, bruised, scratched,
torn, and covered from head to foot with what looked like blood
Gloriana caught him as he fell, for Tabitha turned faint and sick at
the sight; but a shout of boyish disgust from above brought her to her
senses.

"Aw, come back, you bawl baby!  We were just foolin'!  You ain't hurt a
mite!"  Billiard swaggered into view from behind a tall boulder
half-way up the mountainside, and even Tabitha shuddered at the
spectacle he presented, for he was togged out in war paint and feathers
till he looked fiendish as he brandished a tomahawk in one hand and an
evil-looking knife in the other.  At sight of the girl on the narrow
piazza, he hastily retreated behind the rocks again; but Tabitha was
there almost as soon as he.  Snatching the gorgeous headdress from the
culprit's head, she trampled it ruthlessly in the sharp gravel,
disarmed the would-be Indian brave, breaking the treasured tomahawk and
knife against the rocks, and shook the cowering savage with strong,
relentless hands.  But not a word did she speak, and though her victim
writhed and squirmed and wriggled, he could not break the fierce grip
on his shoulders.

"Don't, don't," he blubbered in desperation.  "I didn't mean to scare
him so bad.  We were only playing Indian."

"Only--playing--Indian!" panted Tabitha, in scorching scorn.  "Look at
those children!  You have frightened them all to death!"  Pausing an
instant in her vigorous shaking, she pointed at the circle of
sisters,--Mercedes, weak and trembling, bent over the limp form of
little Janie, blowing frantically in the still, white face; a
thoroughly subdued and frightened Toady was wildly fanning poor Irene,
who had likewise crumpled in a faint; while close by sat Susie and Inez
clinging to each other and sobbing in terror.

"Oh, I didn't mean to!" bellowed Billiard, as Tabitha resumed her
shaking.  "I thought they'd seen Indians before."

"And so they have, but not such horrible savages as you!"  Shake!
Shake!  Shake!

Irene sighed faintly and opened her eyes.  Toady's heart gave a violent
thump of relief and thanksgiving, and abruptly dropping the headdress
of feathers which he had been using as a fan, he flew to his brother's
rescue.

"Oh, please, Mrs. Tabitha," he pleaded, "you've drubbed him enough.
Shake me if you ain't through yet.  You'll have him plumb addled!
Really, we were just in for some fun.  We never dreamed the kids would
scare so easy.  That's only vegetable dye on Rosslyn's head.  He
thought we had scalped him, but we didn't mean to hurt him."

Tabitha glanced down into the entreating brown eyes at her elbow,
straightway forgave Toady, and released her victim so suddenly that he
fell sprawling into a nest of sharp-thorned Mormon pears; but of this
she was unaware, for with one swoop she gathered up the now hysterical
baby, and stalked off toward the house, saying grimly, "You boys stay
right where you are until you are willing to apologize and promise to
behave yourselves in the future.  I've a mind to turn you over to the
sheriff now.  Come, girls!"  Followed by the troop of white, shivering
sisters, she disappeared within doors, and soon quiet reigned in the
Eagles' Nest.

Only then did the cowed Billiard venture to peer from his retreat at
the house below.  It was nearing the supper hour and he was hungry, but
Tabitha had said he must apologize and promise good behaviour before he
would be admitted to the family circle.  It was evident that she meant
business.

"Toady," he whispered to the other boy, sitting silent and motionless
where he had dropped when Tabitha had left them an hour before.
"Toady, can you see anyone down there?"

Toady glanced off at the hazy flat below with its winding silver ribbon
of railroad track, and the lonely, dingy station house, and shook his
head.

"Aw, not there!" Billiard protested, seeing that his brother's thoughts
had evidently been running in the same channel.  "Down to Uncle Jim's,
I mean."

Scarcely shifting his position, dutiful Toady craned his neck around a
boulder, surveyed the quiet mountainside in the waning afternoon light,
and again shook his head.

"Creep down and see what they're doing.  Maybe they are talking about
us."

"Go yourself," returned Toady briefly.

"Aw, come now, Toady!  She ain't so mad at you, and besides, you're
littler.  They wouldn't see you so quick."

Still Toady remained seated.

"We'll have to have some water to wash off this stuff before she'll let
us in to--to apologize," wheedled Billiard.

"_Are_ you going to apologize?"

"Looks like we got to," answered the older boy gloomily.  "She's a
reg'lar cyclone.  Smashed up half our things already, and like enough
she will sick the sheriff on us like she said, 'nless we
do--er--apologize."

It was very evident that Billiard was not in the habit of apologizing
for anything; and Toady, grinning with no little satisfaction at his
brother's discomfiture, arose and slowly descended by a roundabout
trail to the cottage.  He was gone a long time and Billiard was growing
decidedly restless and anxious when he appeared in sight once more.
"She's--they are going to write to Uncle Hogan!" he announced
breathlessly.

"Uncle Hogan!" cried Billiard in dismay.

"Yes, that's just what I heard them say.  Mercedes told her how Uncle
Hogan----"

"I'll get even with Miss Mercedes," Billiard interrupted fiercely.

"You better get that paint off your face and hike for the house with
your apology," advised the more easily persuaded brother, "else you'll
never have a chance to get even with anybody again."

"Why?"

"Because if we don't promise to be good inside of an hour, they are
going to ask the--the--some man, sort of a policeman, I guess, to look
after us until Uncle Hogan answers."

"Do you really think they'd write to Uncle Hogan?"

"Sure!  Tabitha knows him.  She and that Glory girl with the red hair
kept him all night last winter off some mountain he wanted to climb
'cause they didn't know who he was.  She had a gun and shot at them;
but when her father got there he said 'twas all right, and Uncle Hogan
thinks Tabitha is the whole cheese now."

"Supposing we do--apologize, will they write to him still?"

"No, I guess not.  If you'll promise to behave, they will let you stay
until some woman who's going to take care of the kids most of the
summer gets here.  Then she can do as she pleases about writing.  You
better knuckle under, Billiard."

The older boy groaned.  "You don't seem to care very much," he
complained bitterly, feeling that Toady had deserted him at the most
critical moment.

"I--I've apologized already," acknowledged the other.  "I'd rather do
that than have Uncle Hogan get after us."

"So would I," Billiard sulkily decided, and pulling himself up from his
rocky seat, he slowly shambled down the mountainside, with Toady at his
heels hugely enjoying his brother's humiliation, for, though comrades
in mischief, the older boy loved to bully the younger, and Toady had a
long list of scores to settle, so he could not refrain from grinning
broadly behind Billiard's back, particularly since his part of the
disagreeable program had already been accomplished.

"Better wash your face, first," he suggested, as Billiard made straight
for the kitchen door, through which savory odors of supper cooking were
beginning to steal.

"Aw, come off!"

"She won't let you in till you do."

"Well, then, where's the water?"

Toady pointed toward a basin on a nearby rock, and Billiard made a
vigorous, if somewhat hasty toilet.  Then, after a moment's further
hesitation, he entered the kitchen with hanging head, and, addressing a
grease spot on the floor by Tabitha's feet, muttered surlily,
"I--er--apologize."

Tabitha's lips twitched.  He looked so utterly downcast and abject that
she could scarcely keep from smiling openly.  "Are you ready to promise
to behave yourself from now on?"

"Yes, sir--I mean, ma'am," he gulped, flushing angrily as the girls
tittered.

Tabitha instantly silenced their mirth, and turning to the boy, said
graciously, "Then we'll let bygones be bygones; but we'll have no more
such actions while you stay.  Your suitcase is in the back bedroom.
Toady will show you.  But first, please bring in a couple armfuls of
wood.  It looks like rain and----"

"Wood!  We never bring in wood at home!" the boy rebelled.

"You are not at home now," Tabitha answered sweetly.

"But--we're paying board!"

"I haven't seen any board money yet.  And anyway, we need the wood."

Angrily the boy jerked out a purse from his trousers pocket and slammed
some gold pieces on the table.

"Twenty dollars," she counted.  "For how long?"

"All summer."

"Ten weeks!  Two dollars a week for two of you!  Board on the desert is
cheap at a dollar a day.  You can write your mother to that effect; and
in the meantime, perhaps you better put up at the hotel----"

"Oh, she said if anyone made a fuss, she'd pay more," Billiard hastily
explained, for somehow the hotel idea did not appeal to him.

"Well, you tell her a dollar a day for each of you is the regular rate.
And now you will have just about time to get that wood before supper is
ready."

Billiard glanced questioningly up into the clear, olive face above him,
as if he could not believe his ears.

"The pile is close to the door," she continued, paying no attention to
the amazement in his face: "and the woodbox is on the screened porch."

Billiard hesitated, opened his lips as if to speak, closed them again,
and inwardly raging, but outwardly meek, marched out of the door to the
woodpile.



CHAPTER IV

MISCHIEF MAKERS

Tabitha retired late that night, weary but triumphant, congratulating
herself that Billiard was conquered; but she had reckoned without her
host.  Two little heathen such as Williard and Theodore McKittrick are
not to be converted in one day, nor are they apt to be forced into
reforming.  Brought up with utter disregard for other people's rights,
by a mother who bore them no particular love, but who surrounded them
with every luxury money could buy simply because she found it less
trouble to indulge than to deny them, it is scarcely to be wondered at
that they had no idea of honor or obedience.

Their father, Dennis McKittrick, had been more successful than his
brothers in his struggle for wealth.  After amassing a comfortable
fortune, he had not lived to enjoy it, and before his oldest son had
seen his sixth birthday, the father was laid to rest in the shadow of a
resplendent monument in an Eastern cemetery; and the rearing of the two
boys was left wholly to their fashion-plate mother, whose only gods
were dress and personal pleasure.  Tabitha had heard many stories of
the selfish, heartless woman, who found her motherhood a burden rather
than a blessing, but she did not understand the difficulties one must
contend with in attempting to reform such lawless youths, and being
little more than a child herself, it was only natural that she should
make mistakes.

But she did not at once realize this fact, for Billiard, completely
surprised by the unusual treatment accorded him, was a model of
obedience and politeness for the next two days, and Tabitha was
deceived into thinking his reformation was genuine and lasting; while
in reality, the young scapegrace was merely studying the unique
situation and plotting how to "get even" with the girl who already had
mastered him twice.  A coward at heart, he knew he could not come out
openly and fight her, so he slyly planned little annoyances to hinder
her work and try her patience.  Yet so adroitly did he manoeuvre that
Tabitha was some time in finding out the real culprit.

"My brefus food ain't nice," wailed Janie, the third morning of her
cousins' stay.

"Nor mine, either," protested Rosslyn, tasting his critically, and
wrinkling his nose in disgust.

"You've salted it something fierce," said Billiard, winking solemnly at
Toady while Tabitha was busy sampling her dish of porridge.

"It's so salt that sugar doesn't sweeten it," added Susie, making a wry
face at the first mouthful and taking a hasty swallow of water.

Tabitha's mystified face quickly cleared.  Seizing the sugar-bowl, she
cautiously tasted its contents, and turning toward Inez, said
accusingly, "You filled it with salt instead of sugar!"

"Then someone put the salt cup in the sugar barrel," cried Inez
indignantly, "'cause I just poured one cupful into the sugar-bowl."

"Well, be more careful the next time," admonished the black-eyed girl,
retreating to the pantry for a fresh supply of sweetening; and
Billiard, elated at the success of his first attempt, determined to try
again.

"What in the world did you put in that salad dressing, Glory?" cried
Tabitha, snatching up her glass of water with eager hands.

"What's the matter with it?" demanded the second cook, whose turn it
was to wait upon the table that day.

"You used ginger 'stead of mustard," scolded Toady, who had a
particular aversion for red hair, and took little pains to conceal it.

Gloriana had her suspicions as to how such an accident could have
happened, but a hurried visit to the pantry disclosed the spice cans in
their proper places, all correctly labelled; so she reluctantly
admitted her mistake, but decided to keep her eyes open.

"There's soap in my glass of water," complained Irene at the next meal.

"Soap!" echoed Mercedes.  "I washed those glasses myself, and never
used a bit of soap on them!  That's the way mamma told us to wash them."

But the fact still remained that not only was Irene's glass soapy, but
more than half the dishes on the table tasted of Fels Naptha.  Tabitha
looked concerned, but Billiard and Toady were so innocent appearing
that she never suspected them of having had a hand in the affair.

The next time it was Tabitha's biscuits.  When they appeared on the
table they were as thin as wafers and as hard as bricks.  In some way
she had substituted corn starch for baking powder; but as another
hurried visit to the pantry showed both articles where they belonged on
their respective shelves, she concluded that carelessness on her part
had caused the trouble, and let the matter drop.

Then the house began to be infested with all sorts of obnoxious insects
and reptiles.  Mercedes found two huge grasshoppers in the soup one
day; a long, wriggling centipede fell out of the cook-book as Tabitha
turned its pages in search of a favorite recipe; a scorpion dropped off
the cake plate which Gloriana was in the act of passing, so frightening
the girl that she dashed cake, dish and all onto the floor, and
promptly had hysterics.  Horned toads, ugly lizards, and worms of every
description made their appearance by the dozen, until even Tabitha grew
alarmed; but still she did not suspect the cause of such an invasion,
as the two brothers were apparently as docile and obedient as their
gentler cousins.

Even when they found a dead rattler coiled up in the middle of the
kitchen floor, Tabitha attributed it to Carrie's dog, General, who
still spent much of his time at the McKittrick cottage.  Nor did she
notice that the reptile was coiled in a most impossible manner, with
its head propped up by two tiny wires.  She merely hustled the thing
out of doors, hacked it into pieces with the axe, and buried the
remnants under a pile of rocks to make sure no harm came of them.  It
never occurred to her to wonder how General, who was not allowed in the
house, could have dragged the snake inside without someone seeing or
hearing him, for he was proud of his snake-killing accomplishment and
always made a big commotion when he succeeded in trapping one.  So the
culprits enjoyed the girls' scare, and retired to the water-tank behind
the assayer's office to hatch up some new scheme.

Only Gloriana, whose cordial dislike for boys, caused by her unhappy
experiences in Manchester, made her suspicious of all that species of
humanity, seemed aware of what was going on, but she could not catch
them red-handed.  And knowing that she suspected them, the brothers
made life miserable for her in a hundred ways.  They hid her crutch in
the most out-of-way places, adroitly misplaced her cooking utensils, or
whatever article she was about to use, causing her many a long and
annoying search when she was in a hurry.  They stopped the clock or set
it ahead with aggravating frequency; and discovering that the plucky
girl grimly bore their tormenting in silence, they grew bolder, jumping
out at her from unexpected corners, tweaking her long braids, tripping
her up, and calling her "Carrots," or "Red-top," when Tabitha was out
of hearing, for they still entertained a wholesome fear of that
strong-armed, hot-tempered little housekeeper, who demanded instant
obedience from her charges, and was able to enforce her authority by
main strength if necessary.

Also, they felt a certain boyish admiration for the tall, lithe girl
who bore such a record for bravery, though not for the world would they
have admitted the fact, even to each other; and they could not resist
plaguing her on the sly whenever a chance presented itself.  But to
tease her openly was out of the question; so Gloriana received a double
share of tormenting, which she bore with such uncomplaining fortitude
that the boys forgot to be cautious, and one afternoon while Tabitha
was in town on an errand, Mercedes came upon them as they were limping
about the kitchen in an exaggerated fashion chanting with tuneless
voices,

  "Baa-baa, black sheep, have you any wool?
  Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags full;
  One for the master, one for the dame,
  And one for the 'gory head' who limps awful lame."


Tears were standing in the tired gray eyes, but Gloriana, with her back
resolutely turned toward her tormentors, scrubbed her pan of vegetables
more vigorously, and tried not to hear the taunting words, though she
knew from the sound of their steps that the boys were circling nearer
and ever nearer, and would soon jerk off her hair-ribbon or poke her in
the back.

"Cowards!" exploded Mercedes wrathfully.  "You'd never dare do that if
Tabitha was here!  I'm going to tell her just how mean you are!"

"Tattletale, tattletale!" jeered Billiard, taking a rapid survey of the
yard as he limped past the door, to see if the other housekeeper had by
any chance returned from the post-office.

"You wait and see what you get when Tabby finds out what you have been
doing," threatened the girl; and the little name slipping inadvertently
from her tongue gave the boys another inspiration.

  "Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt," they began in
      unison, "where have you been?
  I've been to Silver Bow to buy me a bean.
  Tabby Catt, Tabby Catt, what saw you there?
  I saw 'Gory Hanner' with her fearful red hair."


So intent were they upon rendering their new song, that neither boy
heard the screen open and close softly behind him, but Mercedes caught
a glimpse of the set, white face and flashing eyes through the doorway,
and held her breath in mingled fear and expectation.

"Billy goat, Billy goat, where have you been?" a low, ominous voice
interrupted; and the two tormentors came to an abrupt halt in the
middle of the floor, paralyzed at the unexpected appearance of the
black-haired girl.

"A-chewing the whiskers, that grow under my chin," the voice calmly
finished, and seizing the pan of dirty water from which Gloriana had
just rescued the last potato, Tabitha dashed its contents over the
astonished duet.  Then realizing that once more she had let go of her
fiery temper, she fled from the house up the trail to a great boulder
on the summit of the mountain, and threw herself face down in an
abandon of shame, remorse and despair.

"Oh, dear, why can't I be good?" she sobbed.  "Just when I think I can
hold onto myself and be ladylike no matter how mad I get, something
comes up to show me that I'm mistaken.  I'm just as hateful as
Billiard!  Oh, dear!  And I thought he was being so good, and all the
while he was doing mean things behind my back.  I make a miserable
fizzle of everything I undertake.  What would Mrs. McKittrick say if
she could have seen me a few minutes ago?  Now I've lost all the hold I
had on the boys.  They can't respect anyone who doesn't control her
temper any better than I.

"How I wish I had never offered to take care of the tribe of
McKittrick!  No, that isn't so, either, for then the mother couldn't
have gone inside with Mr. McKittrick, and perhaps the operation would
have killed him.  I'm glad he had his chance, bad boys or no bad boys!
But oh, I am so thankful that Miss Davis will soon be home.  I will
never play housekeeper again, never!  But now,--how can I make it right
with Billiard and Toady?  What a world this is to live in!  Always
stepping on someone's toes and then having to beg pardon.  The trouble
of it is I--I don't believe I am very sorry that I doused the boys.  I
am sorry I got so mad and did such a hateful thing, of course, but they
deserved more than they got.  And yet they aren't to blame, either,
after the bringing up they have had.  I suppose--it's up to me--to do
the apologizing act--myself--this trip."

Drying her eyes and taking a firm grip on herself, she descended from
her refuge and sought out the boys in their room.

"Come in," Billiard called gruffly in response to her knock, though
inwardly he was quaking with fear lest it might be the sheriff or Uncle
Hogan, whose authority he had never but once dared to defy.  So he was
visibly relieved when he saw Tabitha standing alone on the threshold,
but waited uncertainly for her to state her errand.

She was as anxious as they to have the ordeal over with, and plunged
into the middle of her carefully framed speech, saying briefly, "I came
to ask your pardon for my rudeness of a few minutes ago.  I forgot
myself.  It was wrong of me to speak and act as I did, no matter how
great the provocation."

Her wandering gaze suddenly fell upon Billiard's face, just in time to
see him wink wickedly at Toady, and her good resolutions abruptly took
wing.  "But you deserved every bit you got," she finished fiercely,
"and the next time I'll _souse you in the rain barrel_!"

Slamming the door in their surprised faces, she marched majestically
away to the kitchen, and furiously began beating up a cake, so
chagrined over this new defeat of her plans that she could not keep the
tears from her eyes.

Suddenly a meek voice at her elbow spoke hesitatingly, "Say, Tabitha,
we've apologized to Gory Anne--Gloriana, I mean.  Will you--excuse--me
for what we said about you, too?"

Toady's big, beseeching, brown eyes met hers unflinchingly--he
certainly knew how to look angelic when occasion demanded it--and
Tabitha relented.

"Yes, Toady, I'll excuse _you_," she said with meaning emphasis, which
was not lost on the older brother, keeping well in the background.

"I--I'm ready to be excused, too," Billiard gulped at length, shuffling
forward a few steps, but not raising his eyes from the floor.

"Very well," she answered coldly.  "But don't you dare bother Gloriana
again.  I won't stand for it!"

"No, ma'am," Billiard responded meekly; and the two boys made good
their escape, feeling very virtuous indeed.



CHAPTER V

IRENE'S SONG

"Miss Davis gets home to-day," sang Tabitha under her breath, as she
drew on her slippers that bright, hot morning.  "Do you know that,
Gloriana Holliday?"

"Haven't I been counting every minute,--yes, every second for the past
twenty-four hours?" laughed the second girl, letting down her luxuriant
auburn mane and beginning to brush it vigorously.  "But I had a
horrible dream last night.  I thought she sent us her wedding
announcements, and we had to stay here all summer."

"False prophet!  How dare you dream such a thing as that?  Didn't we
have a letter from her just two days ago saying she would reach here on
to-day's train?  And anyway, dreams always go by contraries, you know."

"It's mighty lucky they do in this case," Gloriana replied seriously.
"But I woke in a cold sweat, the dream was so very real.  I couldn't
help wondering if something _had_ delayed her so she wouldn't reach
here as soon as we had expected."

"What a pessimist you are!" cried Tabitha, eyeing her companion in
surprise.  "You are usually just the opposite.  What is the matter with
you to-day, Glory?"

"Oh, I just somehow feel it in my bones that something is going to
happen----"

"To be sure!  Miss Davis is coming home and relieve us of our job."

"Something disappointing, I mean.

"Well, you just get that feeling out of your bones right away!"
commanded Tabitha, thrusting the last pin into her shining, black hair
and whisking into her big, kitchen apron.  "You must have the
rheumatism and that is bad for one's health.  One more meal after this,
and--exit Tabitha Catt and Gloriana Holliday, housekeepers."

Gloriana laughed, as, with a comical flourish and backward courtesy,
the black-haired girl disappeared through the door, but her gay spirits
were contagious, and presently the younger maid joined her companion in
the kitchen, singing softly:

  "'Maxwellton's braes are bonnie
    Where early fa's the dew,
  And 'twas there that Annie Laurie
    Gave me her promise true.'"


"There, that sounds better," Tabitha commented.  "Really, I was
beginning to get shivers of misgiving myself from your gloomy
forebodings in the other room.  What shall we have for dinner in honor
of the occasion?  Green peas, asparagus tips, French potatoes and
caramel pudding?  Or shall we invest in some strawberries at two bits a
box and have shortcake for dessert?"

Merrily she skipped about the kitchen, making ready the simple
breakfast for the hungry brood; and when that was out of the way, and
the house swept and dusted, the two housekeepers began preparations for
an elaborate dinner.

"To celebrate our release from bondage," laughed Gloriana, browning the
sugar for a caramel pudding, while Tabitha carefully concocted her best
layer cake.  So busy were they that the morning flew by as on wings,
and before either was aware of the hour, a shrill blast of a whistle
proclaimed the approach of a locomotive.

"The train!" gasped Tabitha.

"And we haven't tidied the children up or changed our own dresses,"
mourned Gloriana.

"I intended to meet Miss Davis at the station, to be sure she came here
for dinner," wailed the other.

"It's too late now to do that, but we can make the youngsters a little
more presentable before the 'bus comes up from the depot," suggested
the younger girl.

"They certainly will need cleaning up by this time, I'll admit.  Call
them, will you, please?"

Gloriana stepped to the door and yodelled shrilly, but there was no
answering trill, save the echo thrown back by the mountain peaks.

"Decamped again!" sighed Tabitha impatiently.  "Did you ever see a
bunch of children who could do the disappearing act as quickly or as
completely as the tribe of McKittrick?  If you will watch these
potatoes, I will go hunting.  They were here only a few seconds ago,
seems to me."

Briskly she circled the house.  Not a chick nor a child was anywhere in
evidence.  Down to the boulder playhouse, up the trail to the summit,
but nowhere were the children to be found.  Tabitha became alarmed.
What mischief had Billiard led them into now?  He had been perfectly
angelic for twenty-four hours.  It was time for another outbreak.

Shading her eyes with her hand, she anxiously surveyed the surrounding
hillsides, the gray flat below, the dingy station house, and presently
her sharp eyes espied a procession of lagging figures straggling down
the steps from the depot platform.

"Can it be--" she began.  "Yes, I do believe it is!  Horrors!  Whatever
will Miss Davis say when she sees that bunch of dirty ragamuffins!
One, two, three, four--Billiard is lugging Janie pickaback, and Mercy
and Toady have made a chair for Rosslyn.  Yes, that is my family!"

She turned to go back to the house, but another thought had suddenly
occurred to her.  "Miss Davis!  She's not with them.  Can it be she
didn't come?  Was Gloriana right after all?  She surely would not let
the children plod home in the heat while she rode in the 'bus.  No,
there are only eight people in that bunch and they are all children.
Oh, dear, suppose Glory's dream has come true!"

Mechanically she turned back to the house, and her comrade in misery,
catching a glimpse of her disturbed face, cried in alarm, "Can't you
find any of them?"

"Yes, they have been to the depot."

"The little rascals!  Without so much as asking leave!  And it is such
a long walk for Rosslyn and Janie!"

"I suppose Billiard put them up to it," Tabitha murmured, glad that
Glory had not asked about Miss Davis; and she fell to dishing up
potatoes with such reckless energy that the hot fat slopped over and
blistered her hand.

"Oh!" cried Gloriana pityingly, "you have burned yourself.  Let me
finish taking them up."

"No, it's nothing.  Serves me right for getting so provoked.  I do wish
I could learn to control my temper."

Gloriana remained discreetly silent, thinking that Tabitha was angry
because of the children's latest escapade; and in silence they finished
dinner preparations, both waiting anxiously, nervously for the
runaways' return.

At length they heard them coming up the steep path from town, and Susie
flew through the door with two letters in her hand.  "They are both for
you, Tabitha," she panted.  "One's from mamma.  I'd know her writing in
the dark.  Miss Davis didn't come on to-day's train, but I s'pose
likely she'll be here to-morrow, don't you think?"

Tabitha snatched the envelopes from Susie's outstretched hand, and
ripped them open with one stroke of the knife she held, muttering
feverishly, "The other is from Miss Davis."  Her quick eyes swept the
page at a single glance, it seemed, and a smothered groan escaped her.

"What is it?" ventured Gloriana timidly, the morning's foreboding
gripping her anew.

"She has broken her leg."

"Broken her leg!" repeated the red-haired girl dully.

"Broken her leg!" echoed mystified Susie.

"Who?  Mamma?"

"Miss Davis."

"Holy snakes!"

"Why, Susie!"

"I mean--I--I--that just slipped out accidental.  I was so s'prised at
wondering what we'd do with a broken-legged woman hopping around here."

"But she won't be hopping around here," Tabitha grimly told her.  "She
must stay flat on her back in bed for three weeks, and then it will be
days and days before she can get around without a crutch."

"Then--who--will housekeep--for us?" gasped Susie.  "I reckon it is up
to you to stay a while longer.  Mrs. Goodale's grand-baby's got the
fever and she is going to stay in Carson City until he's well.  He is
the only grandbaby she's got."

"How did you hear that?" demanded Tabitha, her heart sinking within her
at Susie's words.

"Don't we know the Goodales well?  She has only one girl, and that girl
has only one baby."

"Oh, I didn't mean that!  Where did you hear that the baby was sick?"

"Mr. Porter told us at the station.  He has just got home from Carson
City, and he saw Mrs. Goodale there.  Why don't you read mamma's
letter?  You hain't looked at it yet."

Tabitha had completely forgotten the second envelope, and now hurriedly
drew out the written page and scanned the blurred, uneven lines.  Then
without a word of explanation, she slipped the paper back into its
envelope, and dropped it into her pocket, saying only, "Let the
children have their dinner now.  Everything is ready."

But all through the meal she was unusually preoccupied, puzzling,
pondering, struggling, longing to be alone with herself, and yet held
to her post by her sense of duty.  At last, however, the hungry
appetites were satisfied, the chattering children had gone back to
their play, the dishes were washed and piled away in the cupboard, and
Tabitha slipped away to the little room which she shared with Gloriana
and Janie, knowing that no one would molest her here as long as the
lame girl stood guard at the door.

Once alone, she spread the two letters out on the bed before her and
read and re-read them until she knew both word for word.

Only one course lay open to her, that was plain; but yet her heart
rebelled hotly against the circumstances which made this one course the
only right one.

"There never was such a girl for getting into scrapes,", she groaned.
"And this time I've not only got myself into one, but Gloriana as well.
It will be six weeks at the very least before Miss Davis can come home,
and there is no telling when Mrs. Goodale will be back.  It is out of
the question for Mrs. McKittrick to leave her husband just when he
needs her most, even though she does offer to come.  No, it's up to me,
as Susie says.  And I did want to go to Catalina with Myra so much!
Here's my whole summer spoiled just because of a hasty promise.

"_Tabitha Catt_!  Aren't you ashamed of yourself!  You know right well
that Mrs. McKittrick never could have gone to the city if you hadn't
taken charge of her children, and the chances are that Mr. McKittrick
would have died without her.  He isn't wholly out of danger even yet.
You selfish wretch!  What do you think of a person who will talk the
way you have been doing?  Oh, dear, what a queer world it is!  I
wouldn't mind so much if Gloriana didn't have to suffer, too; but it is
too bad to keep her here on the boiling desert when she might be
enjoying life on the Island or at the beach.  It wouldn't be so bad if
those awful boys weren't here, either; but they are the _limit_.  I am
on edge every minute of the day, looking for the next outbreak.  I
don't believe they _can_ be good.  And yet--there's no other way--out
of it.  I can't let Mrs. McKittrick come home just because I am too
utterly selfish to stay here myself.  She has been so good to me.  And
it is positively out of the question for her to have the children with
her."

Undecided, rebellious, unhappy, Tabitha crossed the room to the window,
and stood looking out over the barren mountainside.  Should she?  Could
she?  What ought she to do?  On the other side of a little gully just
opposite the window, sat Irene, rocking to and fro on a teetering
stone, and singing in a high, sweet treble to a battered rag-doll,
hugged tightly to her breast.  The words floated up to the girl in the
window, indistinct at first, but growing clearer as the singer forgot
her surroundings; and Tabitha suddenly found herself listening to the
queer, garbled words of the song that fell from the childish lips.

"What in creation does she think she is singing?" she asked herself in
amazement, recognizing with a fresh pang the tune Gloriana had begun
the day with.

Irene finished the verse and commenced again:

  "Maxwellton breaks her bonnet,
    And nearly swallows two,
  An' 'twas their hat and her locket
    Gave me a pummy stew.
  Gave me a pummy stew
    Which near forgot can be,
  And for bonnet and a locket
    I'd lame a downy deed."


Three times she repeated the distorted version of that grand old song,
and somehow the frown of perplexity smoothed itself from the listener's
brow.

"Dear little girl," she whispered; "it's your father and your mother!
I am a selfish old heathen!  Of course I will stay as long as I am
needed!"

Quietly returning to the kitchen where Gloriana sat pretending to sew,
she laid the mother's letter on the table before the seamstress, and
when the gray eyes had read the message and glanced inquiringly up at
the dark face beside her, Tabitha nodded her head.  "Yes," she
half-whispered.  "I can't desert them now."  Then after a moment of
silence, she added, "But you will go with Myra, Glory.  Please!  I'd
feel so much better, knowing that you were having a good time."

The red head shook a vigorous denial.  "I shall stay with you,"
Gloriana declared.  "I knew you wouldn't leave here as long as you were
needed, and you needn't think I'll let you stay alone.  I shouldn't
have a good time at all if I did such a thing as that, Tabitha."

"But it may mean all summer," Tabitha protested.  "And it does get so
hot here.  Besides, there will be little fun in such a vacation."

"Then it is up to us to _make_ some fun," said Gloriana firmly.

"That's so," Tabitha replied, startled at the thought.  "Maybe the boys
wouldn't be such trials then.  Let's try it!"

"All right," agreed Gloriana.

And straightway the two girls put their heads together to devise some
method of breaking the deadly monotony of the desert days, and bringing
added enjoyment to their troublesome charges.



CHAPTER VI

GLORIANA'S BURGLARS

There was a glorious moon that night, and as the girls were washing the
supper dishes, Tabitha proposed, "Let's go up to the peak when we are
through here and watch the moon rise."

There was a moment of dead silence in the room.  Usually the two
inexperienced young housekeepers sought to hustle their restless,
boisterous brood into bed as soon as the evening meal had ended and the
night's chores were done.  What had come over her to suggest such a
thing as an evening stroll, or climb, as it would be if they went up to
the peak?  Susie looked at Tabitha with incredulous eyes, then glanced
questioningly at Mercedes, but the older sister was as much mystified
as were the rest.

"Do you mean that, or are you joking?" demanded Irene bluntly.

"I mean it," replied Tabitha calmly, though her face flushed
uncomfortably under the surprised stare of eight pair of eyes.

"You usually chase us off to bed, you know," said Susie, still
wondering what the unexpected proposal meant.

"Well, it is such a lovely night, I thought it would be fun to follow
the trail to the top of the mountain, and watch the moon come up."

"And tell stories?" breathed Irene, clasping her hands ecstatically.

"Yes, if you wish," laughed the senior housekeeper.

"And speak pieces!" cried Mercedes, who was never tired of hearing
Tabitha recite.

"Perhaps."

"And sing songs," suggested Rosslyn, who loved to listen to Gloriana's
rich, sweet voice carolling joyous lays or softly crooning lullabyes.

"Maybe."

"And build a bonfire to roast--" began Billiard, but paused,
remembering that it was too early for green corn yet, and not being
able to think of anything else roastable.

"Mosquitoes," finished Toady mischievously.

But Tabitha's face clouded anxiously.  "I am afraid we'll have to let
the bonfire go this time," she said gravely.  "There is a law against
such things here in Silver Bow.  A fire is such a hard thing to fight
on the desert, supposing it once gets started; so no one takes any
risks."

Toady's face fell and Billiard looked rebellious, seeing which, Tabitha
hastily continued, "Some day we will go down to the river----"

"Oh, and have a picnic!" squealed Susie, giving such an eager little
hop of anticipation that the cup she was drying flew out of her hand
and half-way across the room, falling with a dull thud in a pan of
bread sponge which Tabitha had just been mixing.

"My!" breathed Irene enviously, "I wish my dishes would do that!  When
_I_ drop one it always bu'sts."

Her peculiar grievance, coupled with Susie's look of utter amazement at
the performance of her cup, caused a merry laugh all around, and the
subject of bonfire was speedily forgotten, to Tabitha's unbounded
relief.

The dishes were soon washed and piled away in the cupboard, the evening
chores completed, and the troop of eager children romped gaily up the
rocky trail to the summit of the mountain, on which the Eagles' Nest
was built.  It was just such a night as Tabitha loved, and she would
gladly have sat in silence the whole evening through, watching the
barren landscape lying glorified in the white moonlight; but not so
with the younger members of the party.  To be sure, it was a pretty
picture that the old moon revealed to their eyes, but even the most
beautiful pictures cannot hold a child's attention long.  It is
excitement that they desire; so scarcely had the party reached their
goal than Inez demanded imperiously, "Now Tabitha, speak something for
us."

"Oh, not right away," protested the older girl, glancing wistfully
about her at the beauties of the night, and longing for a few moments
of solitude that she might enjoy herself in her own peculiar fashion.
"Let's watch the moon come up."

"No," clamored the boys, who had heard Tabitha's many talents lauded by
their cousins until their curiosity had well-nigh reached the bursting
point.  "Speak right away.  It's no fun watching the old moon come up!
Besides, it's high enough now to make things as plain as day."

"Suppose you recite something first, then," suggested Gloriana, noting
the wistfulness in the big, black eyes of her new sister.

"Not on your tin-type!" Billiard emphatically declared.  "It's ladies
first, you know!  We want Tabitha to spiel."

"Well, then, what shall it be?" sighed that young lady resignedly.

"Something with ginger in it," was Toady's prompt reply.  "Not a
sissy-girl piece."

"About a battle or a prize-fight," suggested Billiard with amusing
impartiality.

"_Barbara Fritchie_," put in eager Irene.

"No, don't," cried Susie.  "We've heard that so often.  Speak
_Sheridan's Ride_."

"Or _Driving Home the Cows_," suggested Mercedes.  "I think that is so
pretty, and it is a war piece, too."

"But it is too sad," promptly vetoed Susie.  "We want something--noisy."

"With cannons and guns," seconded the boys.

So Tabitha obligingly recited the thrilling lines:

  "'Up from the South at break of day,
  Bringing to Winchester fresh dismay,
  The affrighted air with a shudder bore,
  Like a herald in haste, to the chieftain's door,
  The terrible grumble, and rumble, and roar,
  Telling the battle was on once more,
  And Sheridan twenty miles away.'"


And her thoughts flew back to that black day in the dingy old town
hall, when she had declaimed those very lines, and of the dire
punishment which had overtaken her; but the sting of it was all gone
now, and she found herself smiling at the recollection of that fateful
encore.  Everything was so different these days.  She could afford to
forget the old heartaches and longings in the happiness which had come
to her during the past year.

  "'Here is the steed that saved the day
  By carrying Sheridan into the fight,
  From Winchester, twenty miles away!'"

she finished; and before the enthusiastic audience realized that the
recitation was ended, she began _Horatius at the Bridge_.  Then
followed in quick succession all the thrilling wartime pieces at her
tongue's command, while the delighted children held their breath in
wondering admiration.

Breathless at length, she paused, and surveying the circle of faces
about her, said whimsically, "That's a plenty, I reckon.  My throat is
as dry as the desert!"

"Just one more!" they pleaded eagerly.

"But I have spoken all I can think of now with guns and cannons in
them."

"Then give us a different kind," wheedled Irene, in her most persuasive
tones.

"That one you spoke May Day at Ivy Hall," suggested Mercedes, "when you
tumbled off the platform."

"Tumbled off the platform?" echoed the boys in great surprise.  This
was an adventure which had never been recounted to them.  "How did she
tumble off the platform?  Tell us about it."

Tabitha merely laughed and shook her head, but Mercedes, elated at the
opportunity of singing the praises of her idol, regaled them with a
laughable description of Tabitha's mishap.  This led to other boarding
school reminiscences,--the christening of the vessel, when Cassandra
took her memorable plunge into the ocean; the night of the opera and
their experiences with the runaway ostriches; the voice of the
mysterious singer in the bell-tower, which some of the more timid
students had mistaken for a ghost; and finally, the appearance of the
Ivy Hall ghost itself.  The McKittrick girls had heard all these events
recounted so often that they knew them almost by heart; but,
nevertheless, they were never tired of listening, and drank in the
stories of all those delightful mishaps with almost as much eagerness
as was displayed by Billiard and Toady, hearing them for the first time.

But all frolics come to an end, and Tabitha at length roused with a
start to announce, "That clock struck ten, I am positive."

"What clock?"

"Yours.  The one in the kitchen.  We were unusually quiet, I reckon,
for I was able to count ten strokes.  We must fly into bed as fast as
we can get there.  I had no idea it was so late, although Janie and
Rosslyn have been snoozing for ages.  Come on, let's march.  See who
can get to the house first."

Away they scampered as hard as they could run down the rough path,
while Tabitha and Glory wrestled with the two little sleepers, trying
to rouse them from their slumber so they might walk down to the cottage
instead of having to be carried.  But Rosslyn refused to waken
thoroughly, and created such a scene that it was some minutes before
they could coax him to follow them down the trail.  So when they
entered the moonlit kitchen, leading the stumbling boy and carrying
Janie, who could not keep her eyes open or her feet under her, the rest
of the family had vanished completely.

"Can they be in bed already?" asked Tabitha in surprise.  "Have we been
wrestling with those children so long?"

Gloriana tiptoed across the floor and opened the door to the room where
the four sisters slept, and disclosed four flushed faces peacefully
reposing on their pillows.  Mercedes and Irene were already fast
asleep, and the other two so near the land of Nod that their eyes
merely fluttered open for an instant at the sound of the opening door,
and then drowsily fell again.

Satisfied, Gloriana turned to Tabitha, busy trying to slip Rosslyn's
nightgown over his limp body, and whispered, "All serene!"

"Then skip off to bed," said the other girl.  "I will bring Janie when
I come."

"But----"

"Oh, it is just the bread.  I want to knead it down once more.  It
won't take me half a jiffy, but if I don't do it now, it will be all
over the floor by morning."

So Gloriana crept wearily away to her room, for it had been a long,
hard, disappointing day, but a moment later she scurried back into the
kitchen; and when Tabitha wheeled about in surprise at her hasty
entrance, she laughed nervously, half apologetically, "I kicked
someone's shoes under the bed!  Don't know whether they are my own or a
burglar's!"

Knowing how timid the red-haired girl still felt on the desert at
night, Tabitha refrained from smiling at what seemed an uncalled-for
fright, and said reassuringly, "No burglars ever visit Silver Bow.
There is nothing in a miner's shack to tempt them."

"I should think there would be plenty of gold nuggets," answered
Gloriana in surprise.

"Not many in Silver Bow houses, I reckon," Tabitha placidly replied,
"But if you are afraid to go to bed alone, you better wait for me.
I'll be ready in a minute."

She did not mean to speak scornfully, for she sympathized heartily with
the sensitive gain remembering with what horror the desert nights used
to fill her when Silver Bow first became her home.  But Gloriana
thought she detected a hint of ridicule in her companion's voice, and
hurriedly departed for their room once more, saying with a great show
of bravado, "Oh, I'm not afraid!  Come to think of it, I believe I left
my slippers at the foot of the bed, and that is probably what I hit."

The door closed behind her again, and Tabitha, smiling sympathetically
at the girl's attempt at bravery, began to cover the mound of soft,
white dough in the huge pan, when a wild, unearthly shriek echoed
through the house, followed by the sharp crack of a pistol, and the
muffled fall of a body.

For one brief instant Tabitha stood rooted to the spot, fairly
paralyzed with horror.  Then the thought of Glory gave wings to her
feet, and, heedless of her own danger, she flew for the scene of
disaster, whispering to herself, "Oh, why did I leave the house
unlocked all the evening while we were gone?"

As the door of her room swung back on its hinges, the first thing her
eyes fell upon was the flickering, smoking, chimneyless lamp standing
on the low dresser; and even in her terror she wondered how it chanced
that careful Glory had neglected to protect the light properly.  The
next object that met her gaze was Glory herself, leaning white and limp
against the closet door, holding a battered, smoking pistol at arm's
length from her.

"Glory, are you hurt?" she gasped.

"No!"

"But the gun--the shot----"

"No one's shot--only the lamp chimney!  I aimed at the--the burglars
under the bed, and shot off the lamp chimney," she panted, beginning to
laugh hysterically, and tightening her grasp on the rusty gun.

"Where is the burglar?"  Intrepidly she stooped and peered under the
bed, half expecting to see the disturber of their peace still hiding
there.

"In the closet,---both of them!"

"Two?"

"Yes."

"Oh, Glory!"

"They are locked in.  Here is the key."

"I must go for the constable."

A scuffling sound suddenly issued from the closet, and Gloriana cried
in terror, "And leave me here alone with them?"

"There is no other way.  I'll be gone but a minute.  They surely can't
get loose in that time!"  And she darted from the room without giving
Gloriana opportunity for further objections.

Hardly had the sound of her racing footsteps died away in the distance,
however, when the red-haired guard, leaning against the door, half dead
with fear, was electrified at hearing a muffled voice call through the
keyhole, "I say, Glory, let us out, do!  We were just a-foolin'.
Didn't you know 'twas us?  Please don't turn us over to the sheriff!"

"'Twas Tabitha's story about the Ivy Hall ghost that made us think of
it," pleaded Toady.  "We ain't sure-enough burglars.  We just meant to
scare you a little bit."

"And you sure scared _us_ enough to make up," coaxed Billiard.  "Please
let us out before Tabitha gets back.  She said she'd write Uncle Hogan
the next time we got into trouble."

"And that will mean he will take us away from here," wheedled Toady.
"He's awful hard on a fellow."

"You deserve it!" suddenly answered Glory, with a grimness that
startled even the girl herself.

"Then you won't let us out?" cried the boys in great dismay.

"I--I haven't decided yet," Gloriana was forced to admit.

"But Tabitha will be back directly."

"Yes, she's a swift runner.  I don't think she will be gone long."
Glory was beginning to enjoy the strange situation.

"Oh, Glory, don't keep us here, please!  prayed Billiard desperately.

"We'll _never_ play burglar again!" promised repentant Toady.

"No, it will be something else the next time," said their jailer
heartlessly.

"If you'll just set us free this time, we'll be reg'lar sissy girls all
the rest of the summer," they cried.

"You have promised so many times--" Glory began wearily.

"Oh, I can hear her coming!" cried Toady, half frantic at thought of
the constable whom Tabitha had gone to summon.

Gloriana thought she could, also, and swiftly turning the key in the
lock, she let the quaking prisoners out, urging them on with a violent
push as they scurried past her, and hissing in their ears, "Scamper!
If you aren't in bed when she gets here, she'll know you did it."

But they needed no urging.  Their feet scarcely touched the floor, it
seemed to Gloriana, as they made a mad rush for their room; and when
Tabitha returned a moment later, alone, they lay tense and breathless
under the coverlets of the cot.

"Glory!" they heard her ejaculate.  "You let them get away from you!"

"I couldn't help it," replied the red-haired girl in excited tones.
"Couldn't you get anyone?  Wasn't the constable at home?"

"No, but he'll investigate as soon as----"

The rest of the sentence was lost in the slamming of a door; but the
two culprits lay and quaked with fear long after the rest of the
household was fast asleep, little dreaming that as soon as the door was
tightly closed so they could no longer distinguish the voices, Glory
had wheeled on Tabitha and giggled accusingly, "You knew all the time!"

"Not until I ran past their door and saw their bed was empty,"
whispered the black-haired girl with her hand over her mouth to stifle
the laughter she could no longer suppress.

"What possessed you to keep on, then?'

"I surmised what would happen, and decided to scare _them_ a little,
too.  So I crept around the house and listened to you talking with
them.  When they thought they heard me coming back, I concluded it was
time I did put in appearance again; but I thought I'd die laughing to
hear them scuttling into bed.  Now I reckon the score is even!"

"Then you won't tell their Uncle this time?"

"I ought to."

"They've had a big punishment already, Puss."

"They deserve it."

"I--I scared them stiff when I shot."

"Poor girlie, and you were as badly scared yourself.  My brave Glory!"

"Don't praise me, Kitty.  I'm an awful coward.  My teeth are chattering
yet."

"And you are trembling as if you had the ague.  Are you sure you're not
hurt?  I thought I heard something fall."

"The gun kicked and knocked me over," Gloriana admitted.  "That is what
gave the boys a chance to scramble into the closet.  I didn't know it
was Billiard and Toady then, because the bullet splintered the lamp
chimney and I couldn't see real well."

"But you locked them in."

"Oh, that was easy!  They were holding the door shut with all their
might, and the only thing left to do was to turn the key in the lock.
I am so thankful it was only a prank!"

"So am I," Tabitha admitted grudgingly.  "But I can't say I relish that
class of pranks."

"Give them another chance, Tabitha.  I think they really are trying to
be good."

"Well, I'll--see.  We'll forget all about it now and go to sleep.
Morning can't be very far off."



CHAPTER VII

TOADY AND THE CASTOR BEANS

But when morning dawned, Gloriana lay flushed and feverish upon her
pillow, her head throbbing until she could scarcely open her eyes.
Tabitha was alarmed, and between her worry over the sick girl lying in
their darkened room, and her ministrations to croupy Janie, who had
caught cold sleeping in the night air on the mountain top, the poor
housekeeper was so nearly distracted that she had little time to devote
to the rest of her large family, and they wandered about the premises
like so many disconsolate chicks who had lost their mother.  It was an
ideal time to get into mischief, and yet something restrained them.

The girls, it seemed, had slept through all the racket of the previous
night, and were not aware that anything out of the ordinary had
occurred, but they could not understand the tense atmosphere; and when
Mercedes heroically tried to fill Tabitha's place the other members of
the brood resented her authority, frankly found fault with her badly
cooked oatmeal and unsalted potatoes, and insulted her attempts at
housekeeping in such a heartless, unfeeling manner that she finally
dissolved in tears and refused to do anything further toward their
comfort.  Susie and Inez quarreled over the dishes and had the sulks
all day.  The boys, still fearful of the consequences of their latest
prank, and somewhat remorseful at having frightened Gloriana into a
fever, wandered aimlessly away toward town, glad to escape from
Tabitha's watchful eye, and greatly relieved to think no mention had
been made by anyone of the burglars' visit.

"Guess the girls couldn't have heard the noise last night," ventured
Toady, when they had left the house far enough behind to make it
impossible for anyone to overhear their conversation.

"The girls?" repeated Billiard blankly, his thoughts on another phase
of the situation.

"Mercedes and Susie and the twins, I mean."

"Oh!  P'r'aps Tabitha's making 'em keep still."

"Do you think Tabitha knows we did it?" cried Toady in alarm.

"Naw, you ninny!  That is, not 'nless Glory's gone and squealed."

"But----"

"I meant she'd prob'ly try to hush them up if they had heard our
racket, so's the whole town wouldn't know about the burglars."

"Why?  That's just what is worrying me.  If she has hushed them up,
it's just to make us believe she doesn't suspect.  I'll bet the
constable will be up there bright and early with his d'tectives, asking
all sorts of questions, and everyone in Silver Bow will join in the
hunt."

"Then we'll be found out even if Glory doesn't tell."

Toady nodded gloomily.

"It'll go hard with us if the _constable_ should find out who did it."

Again Toady nodded.

"We--better--light--out--now."

Toady stopped stock-still in the roadway.  "Why?" he demanded.

"Do you want to go to jail?"

"Naw, but they don't put _kids_ in jail here.  I s'pose likely we'd get
a good thrashing----"

"Would you rather stay here and take a whaling than skip while you've
got the chance?" cried Billiard, turning pale at the mere thought of
such a punishment at the hands of a desert constable, who, somehow, in
his imagination, had assumed the proportions and disposition of a
monster.

"We--we deserve a sound licking," bravely replied Toady, whose
conscience was troubling him sorely.

It was Billiard's turn to halt in the rocky road and stare with
unbelieving eyes at his brother, finally finding vent for his feelings
by hissing the single word, "Coward!"

"No more coward than you!" Toady denied.  "We have been as mean as dirt
ever since we came here, and if Tabitha had been as hateful as most
girls are, she'd have written Uncle Hogan long ago."

"So you're fishing to get her to write, are you?"

"No, I ain't, but I believe she'd--like it--better--if we told her
ourselves, instead of getting found out by someone else."

"Oh!  Going to turn goody-goody, are you?" sneered Billiard, not
willing to admit that he had been thinking similar thoughts.

Toady bristled.  "I hate goody-goodies as bad as you do," he said, with
eyes flashing.  "But I'm going to own up to my part in last night's
racket.  We might have scared Glory to death."

"Pooh!  You make me sick!  Suppose you think she'll let you off easy if
you squeal.  Well, go ahead, tattler!  You will change your mind maybe,
when she writes to Uncle Hogan."

"If she wants to write Uncle Hogan, let her write!" screamed the
exasperated Toady, stung by his brother's taunts.  "I'm going to quit
bothering them right here and now; and what's more, I'm going to own
up, too."

"Tattler!"

Toady turned on his heel and strode haughtily away, not daring to trust
himself to further speech.

"Coward!  'Fraid cat!  Sissy girl!" jeered Billiard.

That was the last straw.  The younger boy wheeled about and retraced
his steps in a slow, ominous manner.  Thrusting his angry face close to
Billiard's, and shaking his clenched fist under his nose, he said
quietly, "Say that again if you dare, Williard McKittrick!"

Billiard was delighted.  He had succeeded in making Toady mad, and now
he would have the pleasure of thrashing him.  He felt just like
pounding someone.

"Coward!  'Fraid cat!  Sis----"

A white fist shot out with accurate aim, striking the bully squarely
between the eyes.  A shower of stars danced merrily about him, blood
spurted from his nose, and the next thing he knew, he was stretched
flat on the rocky ground, with a grim-faced Toady bending over him.

"Do you take it back?" a menacing voice was asking.

"You--you--" spluttered the angry victim, mopping his streaming nose
with his coat sleeve.

"Or do you want some more?"  The doubled-up fist drew perilously near
the disfigured face in the gravel.

"That's it!  Hit a fellow when he's down!" taunted the fallen bully,
still unable to realize just what had happened.

"I shan't hit you while you're down," said Toady calmly but decisively.
"I'll let you get onto your pins and then I'll knock them from under
you again."

And Billiard, looking up into the determined face above him, knew that
it was no idle threat.  Toady was in deadly earnest, but still the
older boy temporized.  It would never do to give in to Toady.  If he
took such a step as that, his leadership was gone forever.  "Aw, come
off!" he began, in what he meant to be jocular tones.  "Quit your
fooling and let me up!  I've swallowed a bucket of blood already!"

"Will you take it back, or shall I pummel the stuffing out of you?"

Billiard capitulated.  "I take it back," he said sullenly, "but,"--as
Toady removed his knees from his chest and allowed him to rise--"I'll
get even with you for this."

"All right," responded the younger boy cheerfully.  "But don't forget
that you will get what's coming to you, too."

"Don't be so sure, sonny!  You took me off guard; you know you did, or
you'd never have laid me out.  You weren't fair."

Toady, tasting his first victory over his bully brother, and finding it
very sweet, suggested casually, "I'll scrap _you_ any time you say.
Now, if you like."

"My head aches too bad," said the other hastily.  "That was a nasty
place to fall.  It's a wonder it didn't fracture my skull."

Toady looked back at the spot which Billiard had adorned a moment
before, and remorse overtook him.  "I'm sorry, old chap, if I hurt
you," he said contritely.  "I wasn't aiming to put you out of business,
but you made me so all-fired mad----"

"Aw, forget it!  I was just fooling," protested Billiard, shamed by
Toady's frank and manly confession.  "Say, ain't that the haunted house
the girls are always talking about?"

"Which?  Maybe 'tis.  It's the last one in town, they said.  Mercy
promised to point it out the next time we climbed the trail behind the
house.  Do you s'pose it really is haunted?"

"I dunno," Billiard answered indifferently.

Haunted houses in his opinion were things to be avoided.  He had merely
sought to distract Toady's thoughts from their fistic encounter by
mentioning the place.  But the younger boy's curiosity was aroused, and
as they neared the deserted, unpainted, dilapidated hut, he studied it
closely.  To him it looked like any other untenanted shack in the
mining town, and so he said musingly, "I wonder if that man really did
kill himself there, or was he murdered?"

Billiard shivered.  "Mercedes said he _died_ there.  That's all I know."

"She told me he was _found_ dead, with all his pockets turned inside
out, and----"

"Oh, Toady," interrupted Billiard again, "here's a plant just like
those mamma always has in her garden.  I didn't s'pose things like that
would grow here on the desert."

"That's a castor bean."

"Like they make castor oil of?"

"Sure!  At least, I guess so.  Glory told me it's the only thing green
on the desert that the burros won't eat.  Folks could have flowers here
the same as back home if water didn't cost so much, and the burros
didn't eat the plants as fast as they came up."

"It's the first castor bean _I've_ seen here."

"Why, there's a whole bunch down by the drug-store!  We've passed them
dozens of times.  Where are your eyes?"

Billiard's face flushed wrathfully.  Toady's recent victory had made
him suddenly very important and domineering, but his fists were
certainly hard enough to deal a telling blow; so the older boy, still
caressing his swollen, aching nose, thought it wise to overlook such
sarcastic flings, and, pretending to be deeply interested in the
queer-leaved plant, he casually asked, "Do they all have such funny
burrs on them?"

"When they're big enough.  That's where the castor beans themselves
grow."

Billiard gingerly picked one of the strange balls and minutely examined
the hooked prickles of the reddish covering.  Then with his jack-knife
he proceeded to investigate the inside.  "Do you s'pose they really
make castor oil out of these?  I don't see how they can."

"Glory says they do."

"The insides _smell_ something like castor oil, but they don't look at
all oily."

"I'll bet they taste oily."

"Stump you to eat one!"

"Huh!  It doesn't bother me to take castor oil.  I can eat anything!"
To prove his boast, he plumped one white bean into his mouth, and
chewed it down with apparent relish.

Billiard watched him with eagle eyes to see that he actually did
swallow it, then held out another, and Toady obediently munched it.
Three, four, five,--bean by bean they disappeared down his throat; but
at last he rebelled.

"You hain't tasted one, Billiard McKittrick!  How many do you think you
are going to feed _me_?"

The brother laughed derisively.  "Wanted to see how big a fool you
was," he jeered.  "Thought you were going to eat all there were on the
bush."

Toady made no reply.  The beans tasted anything but appetizing, and
already the boy was beginning to feel queer.

"Sure you don't want some more?" teased Billiard.

"No.  Guess I'll go home."

"And tat--tell about last night?"  Billiard remembered all at once the
reason they were so far from the Eagles' Nest, and was alarmed lest
Toady's threatened confession should involve him also.

"Y-e-s."

"I think you're downright mean, Toady McKittrick!"

"I shan't tell on you."

"Might as well!  They will know I was in it."

"And you know you ought to own up, too."

"Cut it out, good--Toady.  If you won't tell, I'll not plague them--nor
you--any more."

Toady silently plodded on, and in exasperation Billiard caught him by
the shoulder and shook him roughly.

"Le' go!" muttered the boy.  "I'm going home, I tell you!  Ge' out my
way!"

The white misery of that round, freckled face as it turned toward him
struck terror to the older brother's heart, and he excitedly demanded,
"What's the matter, kid?  Are you sick?"

"Feel funny," panted the castor-bean victim.  "I--want--to--lie--down."

"Let's hurry then.  We'll soon be home."  Billiard was genuinely
alarmed now, and seizing the other's cold hand, he tried to hasten the
lagging steps up the rocky trail.  But Toady was really too ill to care
what happened or where he went, and he stumbled blindly on, tripping
over a loose pebble here, or bruised by staggering into a boulder
there, protesting one minute that he could go no further, and the next
instant begging Billiard to hurry faster.

At length, however, the house was reached, and Toady drifted like a
crumpled leaf across the threshold and lay down in the middle of the
floor.  Irene had seen them coming, and rushed pell-mell for Tabitha,
shrieking in horrified accents, "Kitty, oh, Kitty, they've been to a
s'loon and got drunk!"

So Tabitha was somewhat prepared for their dramatic entrance; but one
glance at the livid lips, pinched nose and heavy, lusterless eyes would
have convinced her that Irene was mistaken, even if Billiard had not
caught the words and indignantly denied it.  However, recalling a
certain episode in Jerome Vane's life in Silver Bow, she demanded
severely, "How many cigarettes has he smoked, Billiard McKittrick?"

"He hain't been smoking at all!" declared that young gentleman, more
ruffled at Tabitha's tone than at her accusation.  "He--he--I dared him
to eat some castor-beans, and I guess they made him sick."

"Castor-beans!" shrieked Tabitha in wild alarm.  "Go for the doctor at
once.  Dr. Hayes at the drug-store!  Tell him it's castor-beans.  He
worked all night to save the Horan children who ate them once."

Billiard had shot out of the door before the words were out of her
mouth and was half-way down the trail before the dazed girl awoke with
a start to the realization that something must be done at once for the
suffering boy on the floor, or it might be too late.  "We must make him
vomit," she said to red-eyed Mercedes, who had come out of her
hiding-place to see what was the cause of all the commotion.

"But how?"

"I don't know myself what emetic would be best.  They use mustard and
warm water for some poisons, and--oh, I remember!  Bring me that
three-cornered, blue bottle from the cupboard, Susie.  Hurry!  Your
mother told me to use plenty of that if any of you got poisoned.
Mercedes, light the stove and set on the tea kettle.  Inez, get the
boy's bed ready, and Irene, bring some clean towels from the closet."

Tabitha had suddenly grown calm again, and as she issued orders to the
panic-stricken sisters, she was deftly at work herself, pouring the
vile-tasting emetic down poor, unresisting Toady's throat.  She worked
hard and furiously, fearful that her efforts might fail, and her heart
sank within her as she watched the white face grow whiter and listened
to the weak moans which escaped his lips with every breath.

Would the doctor never come?  The suspense was horrible.  When it
seemed as if she must scream with frenzy, the five watchers on the
door-step shouted wildly, "He's coming, he's coming!  Billiard found
him and he's got his v'lise!"

Another instant and he was in the kitchen kneeling beside the limp form
on the floor, and working as he questioned.  It was over at last, the
boy was pronounced out of danger, and Tabitha, weak and trembling, felt
her strength suddenly ooze from her limbs.

"Here, here, none of that!" commanded the physician in gruff but kindly
tones.  "There is no use of fainting now, my girl, when you have done
your work so well.  But for your efforts before I got here, the chap
might have been--well, he can thank his lucky stars that he is in the
land of the living."

Perhaps Toady heard, for when Tabitha bent over him a few moments
later, the brown eyes fluttered weakly open, and the repentant sinner
murmured, "How is Glory?"

"Better.  She will be well by morning.  But you mustn't talk now."

"Yes, I must, 'cause I made her sick.  I burgled--that is, I pretended
I was a burglar last night and hid under your bed.  I only meant to
scare you, though.  Honest!"

"Sh!  I know all about it.  Go to sleep now, Toady."  When seeing an
unspoken question in his eyes, she answered, "No, Glory didn't give you
away.  I found it out myself."

"The constable----"

"I never went for him at all.  He doesn't know a thing about it."

"Uncle Hogan--I expect you'd better write him.  It was awful mean of
me, and I'm sorry, but he ought to know."

"Not this time, Toady.  I am sure you will not forget again."

A great light of relief crept into the big, brown eyes, and Toady
answered with all the vim he could muster, "You are right, I won't."



CHAPTER VIII

BILLIARD RUNS AWAY

Billiard, white, scared, remorseful, had crept away up the mountainside
the minute he had seen Dr. Hayes bending beside the still form on the
kitchen floor, and remained in his retreat, watching the house with
frightened eyes, until the physician's bulky figure strode down the
path toward town again.  Then, flinging himself face down in the
gravel, he sobbed in unrestrained relief, until, exhausted by the
strain of his recent fearful experience, he fell asleep in the shadow
of a ragged boulder, where late that afternoon Tabitha found him, after
a vain search about house and yard.

Surprised at having caught a glimpse of this unsuspected side of the
bully's character, she beat a hasty retreat, and with the tact of a
diplomat, sent one of the younger girls in quest of him, feeling that
he might resent being awakened by her while the trace of tears still
showed on his face.  Nor was she mistaken in this surmisal, for the
instant the boy's eyes unclosed in response to Susie's energetic
shaking, he demanded, "Does Tabitha--know where I am?"

"She wouldn't have set the rest of us to hunting if she had, would she?"

"Well, 'tain't necessary for you to tell her I was asleep.  The sun was
so hot it made my head ache, and I guess it has burned my face to a
blister," cautiously touching his puffed, smarting cheeks.

Susie eyed the swollen lids and scarlet visage suspiciously, but for
once held her tongue, only announcing briefly as she started on a trot
down the trail, "We're waiting supper for you."

"Well, you needn't for I'm not hungry.  Tell Tabitha I don't want
anything to eat.  I am going to bed.  My head aches."

"All right," retorted Susie, too cheerfully, he thought with bitterness
in his heart, as he followed her nimble feet toward the house.  He had
hoped she would at least express some sympathy for his aching head; but
what did she care?  What did anyone care about him?  Morosely he
shambled along behind his agile cousin; but instead of entering the
kitchen, which was of necessity also the dining-room, he chose the
front door, and quietly sought the room where he and his brother slept.

Toady's pale face on the pillow made him pause on the threshold, while
a twinge of remorse tugged at his heart, but the victim, hearing the
creak of the opening door, opened his round eyes, and smiling
beatifically, asked in a weak voice, "Seen Tabitha?"

Billiard grunted an unintelligible reply.

"Tell you what, she's a crackerjack!" continued the invalid.  Then, as
Billiard's only answer was a vicious jerk which divested him of collar
and waist at a single effort, Toady cried in surprise, "Why, Bill, have
you had your supper?"

"Don't want any!" growled the other, tugging savagely at his boots.

"What's the matter?  Sick?"

"Headache!"

"_You_ didn't eat any castor-beans, did you?"

Billiard paused in the act of crawling into bed to glare angrily at his
brother, thinking he was being made fun of; but Toady's cherubic face
seemed to allay his suspicions, and he briefly, but savagely replied,
"Naw!"

"You better tell Tabitha--" began Toady in genuine solicitude; but
Billiard again misconstrued his brother's meaning, and interrupted,
"Aw, shut up!  Let a feller alone for once, can't you?"  And as
Billiard wriggled into bed, puzzled Toady lapsed into silence.

Tabitha, too, was puzzled by the older boy's actions.  She had hoped
that the poisoning of his brother would awake his better nature if
nothing else would, so she was keenly disappointed, as well as
surprised, at the change which now took place in him.

"It seems so strange," she confided to Gloriana.  "He acted so terribly
cut up the day he brought Toady home sick, that I thought it would cure
him of his mean mischief, at least.  But now he seems bent on trying to
find the limit of human endurance--doubling his mischief and being more
aggravatingly hateful than ever."

"Perhaps he is getting even for Toady's reform," suggested the
red-haired girl, looking worried.

"Toady--bless the boy!" exclaimed Tabitha fervently.  "I should go wild
if he had taken the streak Billiard has."

"And yet I can see how provoking it must be to Bill----"

"Why, Gloriana!"

"I mean that Toady's declaration of independence would naturally rouse
Bill's 'mad,' as Rosslyn says, when Toady had blindly followed his
leadership for so long.  And besides, the way Toady flaunts his virtues
in his brother's face----"

"That _is_ rather amusing, isn't it?"

"Provoking?  I should, say!  Billiard has been used to saying the word
and Toady has obeyed.  It's rather a--a--jar, to be defied, or ignored
all of a sudden.  Bill is bright----"

"Too bright," sighed Tabitha, somewhat sarcastically, Gloriana thought.

"He _is_ bright!" championed the younger girl warmly.  "This morning I
happened to overhear him teasing the girls at play under the kitchen
window, and he declared that it was a mistake for Inez and Irene to be
twins; that it should have been Susie and Inez, and then their names
would have been Suez and Inez."

Tabitha smiled in spite of herself, then said heatedly, "But he is so
mean about it!  To-day while you were at the bakery and he thought I
had gone for the mail, I heard a commotion in the yard, and what do you
suppose I found him doing?"

Gloriana shook her head.

"He had the girls and Rosslyn lined up by the woodpile and was making
them carry in _his_ wood.  Even little Janie was loaded down with two
immense sticks, so heavy she could hardly toddle with them."

"What did you do?"

"Made them drop their loads right where they were, and he had to carry
it all in by himself."

"Without even Toady's help?"

"All by himself!" repeated Tabitha emphatically.

"I am afraid--we are not apt--to----"

"To what?" asked Tabitha, as her companion stammered in confusion and
paused abruptly.

"To gain anything--_much_ of anything by trying to force Billiard into
being good."

"How _are_ we to make him mind, then?  He won't coax.  You can't
flatter him into behaving himself, and threats don't do a mite of good.
_I_ think a smart dose of the hickory stick would be the most effective
medicine for such cases as his."

Glory looked dubious.

"You don't agree with me?" suggested Tabitha.

"He is such a big boy to be thrashed," she evaded.

"He is such a big boy to act that way!"

"Yes, that's true, but----"

How she would have finished her sentence Tabitha never found out, for
at that moment a piercing scream broke the stillness of the desert
afternoon, followed by a medley of excited accusations, denials,
threats, and Billiard's taunting laugh.  Tabitha flew to the rescue of
her brood and found Irene stretched full length in the gravel, with
Mercedes and Toady deluging her with water, while the rest of the
sisters danced frantically about the trio.

"He--he shot her!" cried Rosslyn indignantly, at sight of the slender
figure in the doorway.

"I gave her fair warning," said defiant Billiard.

"Hand me your gun!" demanded Tabitha in exasperation, after a hasty
examination of the victim had convinced her that Irene was more
frightened than hurt.

"Gun!  Ha, ha, ain't that rich?" mocked Billiard.

"'Twas a slingshot," volunteered Toady.

"And he shooted a rock," added Janie.

Tabitha held out her hand with an imperious gesture.  "Pass it over
quietly, or I shall make you."

Billiard calmly pocketed the article in dispute, and seeing that Irene
was recovering under the heroic treatment of her amateur nurses, he
seated himself in tantalizing silence upon the saw-horse, as if to
enjoy the scene he had created.  But his enjoyment was short lived.
Tabitha, now thoroughly aroused, and forgetful of her dignity, swooped
down upon the tormentor, wrested his slingshot from his grasp, and
before anyone could divine her intentions, seized a barrel stave from
the woodpile and gave the surprised boy a sound drubbing.

In the midst of the thrashing, there came vividly to her mind her
childish horror of that day of reckoning with her father, when he had
struck her with one of his slippers, and she recalled the fact that it
was not the physical hurt, but the humiliation of the blow which had
wounded her most deeply.  Flinging down the stick, she released the
struggling lad as suddenly as she had seized him; and in tones that
sounded husky in spite of herself, briefly ordered, "Go to your room!"

Angry, stunned, shamed, Billiard bounced through the kitchen, slammed
the door of his room, turned the key in the lock and--stood still in
the middle of the floor.  Whipped by a girl not four years his senior!
Whipped by a _girl_!  It was an unforgivable outrage.  He would get
even for that.  But what was he to do?  Would _could_ he do?  She had
beaten him at every turn, she had set Toady against him, she had made
him the laughing stock of his cousins.  He--he--he would do something
desperate.  He would----

As if in answer to his thoughts, he heard a strange voice close beside
the open window say, "Yes, he has run away.  The inspector completed
his job this morning, found Atwater's accounts five hundred dollars
short, and he skipped."

"Who?" demanded Mercedes.  "The post-master?"

"Yep!  Lit out.  Can't have been gone more'n an hour, but no one seems
to have seen him anywhere around town, and they are scouring the
country for him."

Billiard drew a deep breath.  That was an idea.  Why hadn't he thought
of it before!  He, too, would run away.  Stealthily he crept to the
little closet, selected a clean shirt, a pair of stockings, a necktie,
and his pajamas, tied them up in a bath-towel, not having such a thing
in his wardrobe as a bandana handkerchief, although he felt that this
was an essential; and after a cautious survey of the premises to make
sure that the children were nowhere near, he crawled out of the window,
carefully shut the screen again, and darted swiftly down the steep,
pathless incline on the west side of the house to the flat below.  It
was a hazardous undertaking, and at any other time he would have shrunk
from attempting it, but in his unreasonable anger and desire for
revenge, all else was forgotten; and he arrived at the sandy bottom
breathless, badly scratched by the mesquite, and smarting from the
prick of cactus thorns, but triumphant.

Pausing only long enough to shake his fist defiantly at the house on
the cliff above, he made off across the desert as fast as his legs
would carry him.  His first idea had been to follow the railroad, but
on second thought he concluded that he might easily be overtaken and
brought back if he took that course.  So after a brief survey of the
pathless landscape, he decided to skirt the mountains in whose hollow
lay the town of Silver Bow, and to strike off to the west, in the
direction of a neighboring mining camp called Crystal City.

"If I _should_ miss that place," he reasoned to himself, "I am sure to
get somewhere.  Perhaps to Los Angeles that Mercy goes so crazy about.
Say, that's just the thing!  It takes only about twelve hours to get
there by train; I ought to be able to walk it in two days, and I'll
join the navy.  I always did want to be a sailor!"

So he trudged sturdily on through the heavy sand of the flats, building
air castles and nursing his wrath, but paying little heed to the course
he was taking, until with a shiver of alarm he discovered that the
afternoon sun had set and the range of white-capped mountains which
sheltered Crystal City was seemingly no nearer than when he had set
out.  He began to feel faint with hunger and thirst, and was appalled
to think he had forgotten in his flight to pack any lunch in his small
store of belongings, and was now what seemed miles from civilization,
in the midst of the pathless desert with neither food nor drink, and
night coming on.

Night!  He shuddered.  How could he have forgotten the night part of
it?  Where was he to stay?  He was afraid of the desert darkness.
Somehow, it always seemed blacker and stiller there than anywhere else
on earth.  But perhaps the moon would come up.  That would be lots of
company, and the weather was so warm that he would really enjoy
sleeping out in the open air.  Eagerly he scanned the evening sky, and
perceiving that the east appeared to be growing lighter, his spirits
began to rise.  After all, he was not sorry he had run away.  Wouldn't
there be consternation in the Eagles' Nest when his absence was
discovered?  How Tabitha would regret her unwarranted harshness!  And
Toady--Toady would cry and snivel because he had deserted his dear, big
brother in his hour of need.  And searching parties would be sent all
over the country to find him.  How he gloated over the pictures his
vivid imagination had drawn!

But all the while he stumbled on, it was growing darker, the landscape
had become an indistinct blur, and night sounds filled the air.  The
lonely howl of a wolf in the distance sent a chill of fear down
Billiard's spine; the scream of a night-hawk overhead made him jump
almost out of his shoes, and he was just beginning to consider where he
should lie down to sleep when a sudden scurry in the underbrush froze
him in his tracks.  The next minute, however, he laughed at his fright,
for it was merely a mother burro and her baby colt which his steps had
routed from their hiding-place and sent flying across the flats for
safety.  A twig snapping sharply under his feet startled him; what
sounded like a warning hiss close by brought his heart into his mouth;
and trembling from head to foot he paused by a clump of Spanish
bayonets, uncertain what to do next.

Oh, if only he had not run away!  If only he were sitting with the rest
of the lively troop of children around the supper table!  Or perhaps it
was too late for supper now.  More likely they would be preparing for
bed.  What frolics they had enjoyed in the evenings when Tabitha made
taffy and recited stirring ballads to fill in the moments while the
toothsome sweet was cooking.  What exciting tales his cousins told of
the brave, black-haired maid whom he was trying so hard to hate.  He
did hate her!  That is, sometimes he did.  But he could not help
admiring her pluck, even though he stood in awe of the fierce temper
that blazed up so quickly, and as quickly died away again.  She was
certainly a wonder for a girl.  There was no 'fraid cat about her.  He
wished she liked him better.  But how could she, when he was so
tantalizing, mean and sly?  Perhaps if he went back home, that is, to
Aunt----

"Hands up!  We've got you at last!" growled a stern voice almost in his
ear, it seemed; and poor Billiard's hands shot high into the air, he
shut his eyes, held his breath and waited for the end.  But to his
utter amazement, a second voice huskily replied, after an instant,
"Yes, you've got me, boys.  I knew it was no use to run away,
but--I--couldn't bear--to stay--and know that everyone looked at me as
a thief.  I never took the money."

The moon, which had seemed so slow in rising, had finally mounted to
the crest of the surrounding hills, and poured a stream of mellow light
upon the waste below.  Billiard, his hands still thrust stiffly above
his head, now distinguished a few feet in front of him the dark shapes
of a dozen or more men, armed with revolvers, clustering around one
whom he recognized as Atwater, the runaway post-master of Silver Bow.

"That's all right, Atwater," growled the first speaker, who was
evidently leader of the posse.  "Tell your tale in court, but be a man
and face the music.  Fall in, boys!"

For a long time, Billiard watched them as they marched their hapless
prisoner back to town, and the leader's words kept ringing in his ears,
"Be a man and face the music!"  Suddenly a new thought flashed through
his brain.  Why had he not followed them?  It wasn't too late yet.  He
could still see their forms indistinctly moving across the desert, and
by following their lead, would sooner or later reach Silver Bow
himself.  Stepping out from the clump of Spanish bayonets which had
formed his retreat, he set out on a dog-trot in the direction the men
had taken, and after a long, rough, weary journey, actually found
himself trailing up the familiar path to the Eagles' Nest.

He paused as he reached the children's play house and took a furtive
survey of the place.  One lone light burned in the low cottage.
Probably Tabitha had missed him and was waiting for his return.
Supposing she should lick him again for running away?

"Billiard!"

'Twas only a whisper from a rock nearby?  but the boy almost screamed
aloud in his fright at the unexpectedness of it.

"Sh!" the voice continued.  "It's only I,--Glory.  I had to go to the
drug-store for some alum,--Janie has the croup,--and I saw you coming
up the trail.  Tabitha hasn't missed you yet.  She has been so anxious
over the baby.  So sneak back to your room and I'll bring you something
to eat as soon as I can.  Run now!  Tabitha will be expecting me."

"But Glory, doesn't _anyone_ know I--" began bewildered Billiard, much
taken back at his reception.

"Ran away?" finished Gloriana.  "No one but Toady and myself.  He won't
tell.  I made him promise.  Of course we'd have had to, if you hadn't
come back, but I knew--I thought you would--"  How could she tell him
that she knew he was too much of a coward to persist in running away?
"Scramble into your room as quietly as possible," she continued, "so as
not to disturb the others, and I will bring you some supper in a minute
or so."

"You're--you're awfully good to a feller," mumbled the abashed boy,
wondering how he ever could have disliked the red-haired Glory.
"I--I'll not forget it."  And as the girl hurried up the path to the
kitchen door, he skirted the house till he reached the window of his
room, through which he wriggled cautiously and disappeared in the
friendly darkness within, thankful that he was home again.



CHAPTER IX

BILLIARD SURRENDERS

Toady kept his promise not to mention Billiard's runaway expedition to
anyone else save Gloriana; but being human, he could not keep from
twitting his brother occasionally, and the days which followed that
memorable night were full of misery for the unhappy boy.  His cousins
avoided him, Tabitha ignored him, Toady tormented him, and even
Gloriana seemed indifferent to his plight.  In his fright at
discovering himself lost on the desert at night, he had resolved to
follow Toady's example and turn over a new leaf.  He could not quite
make up his mind to confess his sins to eagle-eyed Tabitha, but was
really sincere in his desire to do better; and was as surprised as he
was disappointed to find that no one paid any attention to the sudden
change in his deportment.

"Might as well have kept on being bad," he growled with an injured air
one afternoon when a fortnight had passed without any noticeable change
in the atmosphere.  "Wish I hadn't come back that night.  Guess they'd
have sung a different tune then!  Maybe a coyote would have got me, or
I'd have stepped into a rattlesnake's nest and been stung to death.
Bet they'd have felt sorry when they found me--," he hesitated.  His
picture was too vivid, and he shuddered as he thought what a fate would
have been his had a rattlesnake bitten him as he tramped across the
pathless waste in his flight.  "Pretty near dead," he finished finally,
unable to endure the thought that they _might_ have found him dead.

"If I had kept on, I'd be in Los Angeles now,--maybe in the navy
already.  I've a good notion to try again.  I could almost go by train,
now that my 'lowance has come.  Mercy says it takes twelve dollars, and
I've got ten.  'T any rate, I could ride as far as that would take me,
and--by George, I b'lieve I could beat my way without spending a cent!
That's the way tramps travel from city to city."

He winced at the idea of being classed with tramps, and fell to
debating whether he would buy a ticket and ride like a gentleman as far
as his ten dollars would carry him, or whether he would attempt the
hobo's hazardous method of transportation.  Before he had arrived at
any satisfactory conclusion, he heard the tramp of feet close by, and
the lively chatter of voices, and around the bend of the path came
Toady with his six cousins.  They did not see him at first, half hidden
as he was by the heap of ragged rocks on which he lay stretched full
length, but even when they did become aware of his presence, they
merely glanced indifferently at the lazy figure and passed by without
speaking.

Angered at thus being ignored and left out in the cold, Billiard
resolved to display no interest in them, either, although he was
consumed with curiosity as to where they were bound; but a chance
remark of Susie's about being lowered in a bucket overcame his resolve,
and he called after them, "Where you going, kids?"

"Don't you wish you knew?" Inez flung back with a saucy toss of her
head.

"Up Pike's Peak," said Toady, without so touch as looking back.

"You mean down Ali Baba's cave," suggested Mercedes laughingly.

"Shall we tell him?" asked Irene, relenting as she glanced back at the
lonely figure on the rocks.

"He'll just be bad if we let him come," warned Susie.

"He hasn't been bad for a long time," gentle Irene reminded them.

"Aw, what do you s'pose I care where you are going?" sung out Billiard,
more hurt by their manner than he cared to acknowledge.  "Keep on to
Jericho, if you want to."

"We ain't going to Jericho," said Irene, lagging uncertainly behind the
others.  "Only just across town to that hill over there where is a--a
'bandoned mine.  Toady's never seen what one looks like, so we're
taking him along to get a peek at it.  Have you ever seen a mine?"

Billiard shook his head.

"Tabitha says if we're real good, she'll see if the superintendent
won't take us all through the Silver Legion mine before the summer is
over; but to-day we're just going to show Toady how the miners go up
and down the shaft.  He won't b'lieve they use a bucket.  Don't you
want to come too?"

"Nope, guess not," Billiard answered promptly, though the wistful look
in his eyes belied his words.

"It's int'resting," urged Irene, who somehow seemed to understand that
Billiard did not really mean what he said.

"Is it a real bucket?" he could not refrain from asking.

"Yes."

"Like a water bucket?"

"Yes, only bigger."

"I sh'd think the miners would fall out."

"Oh, it's big enough so they can't tumble if they mind the rules; but
you've got to keep your head down inside, or you'll be killed by the
big beans--" she meant beams--"which are built in to hold the dirt from
caving in and filling up the mine.  Come and see for yourself."

"Well, p'r'aps I will."  With a great show of indifference, the boy
uncoiled his legs, slid to the ground beside Irene, and hurried with
her after the others, now a considerable distance in advance; but the
little group had reached their goal and were gingerly peering into the
black depths of the abandoned shaft when Billiard and Irene joined them.

"Ugh!" shuddered Mercedes, drawing back with a shiver from the yawning
mouth of the hole.  "It smells like lizards.  I'll bet the bottom of
the shaft is full of them."

"It didn't use to be," remarked Susie, dropping a pebble over the brink
and listening to the hollow echoes it awoke as it bounded from timber
to timber.

"Were you ever down there?" asked Toady in surprise.

"No, but papa was one of the men here when the mine was working."

"What did it quit working for?" ventured Billiard, testing the
weather-stained rope still coiled about the winch above the shaft.

"The vein of rich silver stopped all of a sudden and they couldn't make
the other ore pay, so they shut down, and the men went to work in other
mines, or else moved away."

"How deep is a shaft?" asked Toady, as Susie sent another pebble
spinning after the first and counted rapidly until it struck the bottom.

"Some are _hundreds_ of feet deep," replied Mercedes impressively, glad
of a chance to air her meagre knowledge of mining affairs.  "But
this----"

"Is only a hole," finished Inez contemptuously.

"What do you mean by that?" demanded Billiard, mystified.  "Ain't this
a sure-enough shaft?"

"Oh, yes," Mercedes hastened to inform him; "only 'tisn't the main one.
That's all boarded up, and no one can go down it any more.  This was
dug later.  Someone thought there was more silver here, and they made
this shaft.  It's not very deep----"

"Let's go down it!" proposed Billiard, boyishly eager for such an
adventure.

"Oh, horrors!" shrieked Mercedes.  "With all those lizards down there?"

"Shucks!  Lizards won't hurt a fellow."

"Maybe there are snakes, too," said Rosslyn, hastily backing away from
the place.

"We'd have heard them," Billiard answered promptly.  "Susie has fired
enough rocks at 'em to stir 'em up if there was any there."

"But Tabitha mightn't like it," suggested Irene in troubled tones.

"Did she ever say you _couldn't_ go?"

"N-o."

"Or did your mother?"

"N-o."

"Then what's to hinder?"

"S'posing the rope should bu'st," mused Irene aloud.

"_That_ rope?  Why, it's half as big as my arm!  Yes, bigger."

"But it has been here a long, long time.  Ever since I can remember.
Doesn't rope rot?"

"I'll bet that's as strong as iron," boasted Billiard.  "There's
nothing rotten about it.  I'll stump any of you to go down with me."

"Will you go first and see if there are any snakes?" demanded Susie,
whose love of adventure was constantly leading her into mischief.

"If you'll promise honor bright to come next."

"I will," Susie rashly promised, her eyes dancing with excitement and
eagerness.  "Will you go, too, Toady?"

"Sure, but who's going to let us down?  I'll bet it takes some work to
keep the rope unwinding just right."

"I'll lower you all," proposed Mercedes magnanimously, for the idea of
descending into that black, musty hole did not appeal to her in the
least, but she could not bear to appear less brave than fly-away Susie.

"You!  Pooh!  You are just a girl!  The bucket would get away from you
the first thing, and then where'd the rest of us be?  No, I've got a
better plan than that.  You and Toady and Irene let Susie and Inez and
me down first; and after we have had a look at the thing, we'll come up
and let you down.  How does that suit you?"

"It's a go," Toady readily responded.

"All right," quavered Mercedes.

But Irene held her peace.  Nothing could tempt her to crouch in that
great, swaying bucket and be dropped into the blackness of that yawning
pit, but she did not mean to voice her opinions until the proper
moment.  So she took her place beside Mercedes and Toady and puffed and
panted as the rope slowly unwound, and Billiard, scrooched low in the
bucket, disappeared from view.  It was hard work and slow, to pay out
the rope evenly, but Billiard did not seem at all inclined to be
critical, and accepted his rough, jolting descent without a murmur.
Had the truth been known, the boy was too nearly paralyzed with fright
to notice anything of his surroundings, and more than once he was on
the point of signalling for his companions to hoist him to the surface
again, but fear of ridicule kept him tongue-tied until it was too late.

With a final jerk and jolt, the bucket stood still, and cautiously
opening his eyes for the first time since he had stepped into his queer
elevator.  Billiard beheld a row of black, shadowy heads hovering over
the brink of the aperture, and heard Toady's voice, sounding strangely
muffled and far away, call cheerfully, "Well, you've struck bottom, old
boy!  What does it look like?"

Bottom?  Billiard blinked and rubbed his eyes, and peered about him in
surprise; but at first in the semi-darkness, he could distinguish
nothing.  Then as he grew more accustomed to the blackness, he could
see before him the mouth of a still blacker cavern, which to his vivid
imagination seemed yawning to swallow him up; and he shudderingly
shrank back into the friendly protection of the bucket.

"Why don't you answer?" demanded an impatient voice from above.

"_Are_ there snakes and lizards?" called Mercedes.

Snakes!  Lizards!  Billiard had forgotten them, but with a sigh of
relief he realized that there was not a sound of anything stirring
about him.  "Naw!" he yelled back, trying to make his voice sound brave
and scornful.  "Guess not.  I can't see a thing.  Might as well haul me
up, 'cause no one could tell what a mine looks like in this blackness."

"Got any matches?" inquired Toady.

Billiard rapidly felt through his pockets.  "One," he announced.

"Then here's a candle.  Catch it!"

Toady let it drop almost before the words were out of his mouth, and
with a tremendous thump it struck poor Billiard on the head before he
had caught the significance of the directions from above; and with a
yelp of surprise and pain, he tumbled out of the bucket against a
timber, which shivered and splintered under his weight.  But in some
mysterious manner, he found himself in possession of the candle when he
had righted himself once more and brushed the rotten wood from his eyes
and mouth.  He lost no time in striking his one lone match and lighting
the slender taper in his hand, much to the relief of the group hovering
anxiously about the shaft.

"There!" he heard Susie ejaculate.  "I was sure he had killed himself."

"You mean that Toady did," spluttered the indignant Billiard.  "What do
you think my head is made of--iron?"

"_I_ couldn't tell that it would hit you on the head, could I?"
protested the younger boy apologetically.  "Why didn't you dodge?"

"Dodge?  D'ye think I'm a cat with eyes that see in the dark?"

"Never mind," soothed Irene, who had ventured near enough the curbing
to take an occasional peep down into the blackness.  "It's too bad it
hurt you.  Put some cold water on the bump----"

A derisive shout from her sisters stopped her, and even Billiard had to
smile, though he felt grateful toward the little twin who was sorry he
was hurt.  By this time the pale candle flame had ceased to sputter and
flicker uncertainly, but burned with a steady light, and with a thrill
of exultation Billiard looked curiously about him, relieved to find no
snakes or crawly things in the abandoned shaft, and pleased beyond
measure to think he had actually braved the terrors of the dark to
explore this mysterious place, so he could crow over his brother and
cousins because of his courage.

"Say, but it's great down here," he called, venturing just inside the
timbered cross-cut and staring at the rocky walls which here and there
glistened alluringly.  "And there's pecks of silver sticking out of
every stone.  Why don't you come on down, Toady?"

"Can't till you come up.  It's Susie and Inez now.  Going, girls?"

"You bet!" cried Susie enthusiastically.  "Pull up the bucket and help
me in."

Eagerly they turned the creaking old windlass and Susie descended to
join Billiard in his underground explorations.  Being much lighter than
her cousin, it was easier to lower her down the shaft; and still easier
with Inez in the bucket; but once the trio were safely at the bottom,
the little group above became all impatience for their turn.  Mercy's
courage had returned as she saw how simple an operation it was to let
down the loaded bucket, and even Irene began to feel a desire to
explore the mysteries of the abandoned mine with the rest of her mates.
Only Rosslyn and Janie hung back, but no one cared.  In fact, it
simplified matters not to have to bother with such little tads; but it
was a nuisance to have Billiard linger so long when he knew the others
were just dying to go down.

At last Toady could resist temptation no longer.  "I'm going, too," he
announced with determination.

"Before Billiard comes up?"

He nodded grimly.

"But s'posing you're too heavy for just Irene and me," suggested
Mercedes.

"I shall slide down the rope.  I'd rather do that than have you drop me
or let the rope out too fast."

"But--how can you?" Mercedes demurred.

"It's so far down there," said Irene.

"Aw, in gym work at school we slide down poles and bars and all sorts
of things.  It oughtn't to be any harder with a rope.  I'm going to
try, anyway."

Silently but enviously, the girls watched him spit on his palms, test
the rope, and finally let himself slowly down into the shaft, with legs
wrapped tightly about his slender, swaying support, and hands grasping
the rough strands with a desperate grip, for, too late, he realized
what a horrible fate would be his if he should fall; but when he would
have gone back, he could not.

"How in the world will we ever get them up?" whispered Irene
wonderingly; but before Mercedes could frame a reply, there was a crash
from below, a cry, a grating sound of falling rock and then hideous,
horrible silence.

"Toady!" shrieked the girls in frenzy, "did you fall?"

"No," came back a muffled answer.  "I'm all right, but we have knocked
down some boards and can't get out."

"Can't get out!" they repeated dully.

"No.  Run for help!  Our candle has gone out and it's as black as pitch
in here."

"Who'll I go for?" wailed panic-stricken Mercedes, while Irene danced
frantically around the shaft and wrung her hands as she chanted,
"They'll smother, they'll smother, they'll smother!"

"Anyone, but hustle up!" yelled Toady impatiently, for his companions
in the disaster had uttered not a sound since their first wild scream,
and a horrible fear that they were hurt or even killed gripped his
heart.

However, little Rosslyn was already half-way down the mountain, fairly
skimming over the rocks and rubbish, and almost before the distracted
girls had recovered their senses enough to be of any aid to the
prisoners, the little fellow stumbled across the threshold of the
Eagles' Nest, gasping, "They've caved in--Bill and Toady and the girls.
I guess maybe they're dead by now!"

Tabitha was on her feet in an instant and the pan of potatoes which she
was peeling went spinning across the floor.  "Where, Rosslyn?"

Mutely he pointed, too spent for words; and the girl, remembering the
old, unprotected shaft of the abandoned Selfridge mine, flew to the
rescue of her brood, pausing only to snatch a lantern from a peg on the
wall, and a handful of matches from the pantry shelf.

Mercedes had disappeared when she reached the spot of the accident, but
Irene was tugging desperately at the huge windlass, slowly winding up
the heavy bucket, moaning all the while in a distracted undertone,
while tears of fright trickled down her dirty face.  So busy was she
that she never heard the patter of Tabitha's feet behind her, and the
first intimation she had of help at hand was when the older girl jerked
her back from the mouth of the shaft, released the half-raised bucket,
and sent it hurtling back into the pit once more.

"Go for the assayer," she commanded hoarsely, seizing the heavy rope
with both hands, and preparing to descend as Toady had done.  "Run,
hurry!  And then get Dr. Hayes.  We may need him."

The windlass creaked and groaned, the rope swayed and strained, as
Tabitha slid out of sight, while Irene raced madly away to do her
bidding.  Unmindful of bumps or bruises, and almost unaware that her
hands were cruelly burned and torn from her too rapid descent, the
black-eyed girl had scarcely touched the bottom of the shaft before she
had her lantern lighted and was digging like mad at the fallen rock and
debris which almost completely blocked the entrance of the narrow
cross-cut.

"Who is it?" called a voice from behind the barrier.

"Thank God!" breathed Tabitha, working with renewed fury.  "That you,
Toady?"

"Bet you!" came the cheering response.

"Are you hurt?"

"Nope!"

"Where are the others?"

"Here!"

"Safe?"

"I--don't know.  I can feel 'em, but they don't answer."

At that instant, without any warning, one of the fallen timbers slipped
from its position, and revealed a narrow aperture into the crosscut,
through which Tabitha caught a glimpse of Toady's white face and the
gleam of Susie's scarlet dress.

"Can you crawl through?" she demanded.

"Yes."

"Carefully now, so as not to start another landslide.  There!  Now, can
you help me make the opening bigger?"

But other aid was at hand.  The assayer with three men from the town
had arrived and the rescue of the quintette at the bottom of the shaft
was speedily effected.

"Are they--"  Tabitha's voice faltered as she stood at last on the
rocky mountainside and looked down into the still, white faces of
Billiard, Susie and Inez.  How could she ever have let them out of her
sight?  How could she ever break the news to the mother?

"Merely stunned," replied the doctor, examining the victims with rapid,
practised fingers.  "See, the girls are coming to their senses.  It's
nothing short of a miracle that--  Hello, Susie, what did you say?"

"It wasn't gold at all," murmured the child faintly; "just quartz, but
he wouldn't b'lieve it."

Billiard opened his eyes slowly.  "She says gold don't look like gold
in a mine, but I got a pocketful of--"  His sentence ended in a groan
of pain, and the hand he was trying to thrust into his trousers fell
limply at his side.

"Aha!" cried the doctor.  "Let's see what we have here."

"A break?" questioned the assayer.

"Bad sprain, I think, but it will keep the young man out of mischief
for one while.  Are your legs all right?  Then I reckon we better move
on to town."

So it happened that no serious results came from their latest prank,
but Tabitha, in her thankfulness that all her brood was safe and sound,
fell into a fit of bitter weeping as soon as the children were back in
the Eagles' Nest once more and the rescuers had departed.

"Don't," begged Janie tearfully.  "I loves 'oo!  I was dood!"

"Please don't," pleaded the other sisters in great distress.  "We'll
never do it again."

"It was all my fault," cried Toady contritely.  "I'm ever so sorry."

"It was not," muttered Billiard, wincing with the pain in his arm, but
truly repentant.  "I dared 'em to go.  Honest, Tabby, _I_ was to blame!
Will you--will you--er--forgive me?  I'm horribly--sorry.  Won't you
try me again?"

So sincere was his tone, so straightforward his confession, so manly
his bearing, that Tabitha could not fail to be convinced of his
earnestness of purpose, and drying her eyes, she took Billiard's
proffered hand in a hearty grasp, saying with quivering, smiling lips,
"Let's all try each other again."

"Let's!" cried the rest of the brood; and they meant it, every one.



CHAPTER X

SUSANNE ENTERTAINS A CALLER

"Let's make some candy.  It's too hot to play."

Susie and the twins were sitting idly on a great, shaggy, redwood log
in the scanty shade of the house, fanning themselves as briskly as
their tired arms would move, and longing for the cool of sundown.

Irene looked startled at the older sister's suggestion, and began,
"Tabitha----"

"Oh, I know she made us promise not to get into mischief," Susie
impatiently interrupted her, "but taffy ain't mischief.  We'll make a
big batch so's there will be plenty for the others when they get back."

"It's so hot," objected Inez, as Susie turned to her for approval.

"We'll use the gasolene stove."

"But you've never lighted it.  How'll you----"

"Oh, Irene, you make me tired!  Don't you s'pose I know how?  Haven't I
watched mamma and Tabitha hundreds of times?  Guess I can manage it if
Mercy can.  Come on, Inez!"

"Do you know how to make taffy?" questioned the undaunted Irene,
following the other two into the sweltering kitchen.

"Course!  Molasses and sugar and vinegar and butter.  Ask me something
hard."

"Tabitha measures 'em."

"So shall I.  You go fetch the m'lasses jug and a cup.  Inez, bring the
vinegar and butter, and I'll measure things after I get the stove
a-going."  Mopping her face and bustling energetically about the small
room, Susie marshalled her forces and set to work with contagious
enthusiasm.  All three donned huge aprons, hunted up long-handled
spoons, and rattled among the neat array of pots and pans until it
sounded as if a whole regiment had been turned loose in the kitchen.

The stove was lighted without any trouble, much to the relief of the
breathless trio, and the candy making was soon in progress.  Sugar was
measured and molasses spilled with reckless abandon over table, floor
and stove, in their hurry to get their delectable sweet on cooking
before the rest of the family should return from their day's outing and
interfere, for, secretly, each be-aproned girl, paddling in the pot
with her sticky spoon and dribbling syrup wherever she ran, felt that
she was not strictly obeying Tabitha's parting injunction, and was
anxious to have a peace offering ready when she returned with the rest
of her brood.

They had gone for a drive to the river, and as there was not room in
the light wagon for all the large family, Susie and the twins had been
bribed to remain at home with the promise of ice-cream sodas at the
little drug-store.  However, that unusual treat had disappeared long
ago down the three eager throats, and they had begun to rue their
bargain when Susie's inspiration fired them with enthusiasm once more.

"I wish we had some nuts," panted perspiring Inez, stirring the
bubbling mess in the kettle so vigorously that a great spatter flew up
and struck Irene on the hand.

"Ooo!" screeched the unfortunate victim.  "What made you do that?"

"I didn't do it a-purpose," indignantly denied her twin.  "Stop your
jumping and suck it off."

Irene obediently thrust the smarting wound into her mouth, and
immediately let out another howl of anguish, for the sticky mass had
burned the little tongue sadly, and the tears rained down the rosy
cheeks unchecked while the dismayed sisters racked their brains for
some soothing remedy to deaden the pain.

"Try this," suggested Susie, hurrying out of the pantry with a can of
baking powder in her hand, vaguely recalling that some kind of white
powder used in cooking was good for burns.

"I will not," sobbed Irene angrily.  "You don't know what it will do.
You're just guessing."

"Gloriana put coal oil on Toady's foot," timidly began Inez, half
distracted at having been the cause of all her sister's woe.

"And you think I'll stick my _tongue_ in _that_?" roared the usually
gentle twin so savagely that both her companions fell silent, perplexed
at the unhappy situation.

Meanwhile the bubbling syrup had been forgotten, and with an ominous
hiss and a pungent odor, the seething mass boiled over the top of the
kettle and was promptly licked up by the eager flames of the stove.  A
great cloud of smoke filled the kitchen, and the paralyzed girls awoke
to their danger with a sickening horror.

"Oh, oh, oh!" they screamed in frenzy.  "The house will catch!  We'll
all be burned up!  What will mamma say?"

"Hush!  Shut up!  Give me your apron!" commanded an authoritative voice
behind them, and a big, shabby stranger rushed past them, snatched
Susie's apron, gave a deft twist to the flaming burner, seized the
smoking kettle, and vanished through the kitchen door before any of the
sisters realized what had happened.  He was soon back with the
blackened pot in his hands and a reassuring smile on his lips.  "It's
all right, kids," he announced cheerily, noting the terror in their
faces.  "No harm's done.  It won't take but a few minutes to clean up
that stove and pan and no one will be the wiser.  You are housekeeping
by yourselves to-day, I see."  His quick, restless, eager eyes had
noted the tell-tale signs of mischief about him before he hazarded that
remark.

"Yes, oh, yes!" breathed Susie in great relief.  "Tabitha's taken the
rest of the children down to the river, and we're all alone."

"The river?"

"The Colorado.  We often go there when we can get the assayer's horses,
but the wagon won't hold us all, so we three stayed at home to-day."

"And had ice-cream sodas for being good," added Irene.

"We _wanted_ to make some taffy," mourned Inez, ruefully eyeing the
blackened mass which the mysterious stranger was deftly removing from
the stove and floor.

"'Twas so lonesome here by ourselves," supplemented Susie
apologetically, remembering that she was responsible for the candy
suggestion.

"So 'while the cat's away the mice will play'," chuckled the man,
beginning a vigorous scraping of the sticky kettle.

"Why, how did you know her name was Catt?" cried Irene in amazement.

"Goosie!" exclaimed Susie sarcastically.

"He didn't know.  That's not what he meant.  But truly, mister, I don't
think Tabitha would have minded a bit if our candy had come out all
right.  As 'tis, we've wasted such a lot of m'lasses and sugar that I
reckon she'll scold----"

"If she ever finds it out," broke in Inez.

"That's it--_if_ she ever finds it out," chuckled the man again.  "Who
is this mysterious Tabitha that you are so scared of?"

"We ain't _scared_ of her," protested Susie loyally.  "Her name is
Tabitha Catt, and she's taking care of us while mamma is with papa at
the hospital in Los Angeles.  She's only a girl herself, but we
promised to mind her so mamma could go, and not fret about us all the
time, and we're trying hard to keep our promise."

"But sometimes we forget," said truthful Irene.  "We oughtn't to have
made that candy, 'cause we told her we wouldn't get into mischief while
she was gone.  I guess that's why it burnt up."

"I guess it's no such thing!" Inez contradicted hotly.  "You made such
a fuss over nothing that Susie and me forgot to watch it and it boiled
over."

"I guess you'd have made a fuss if I'd blistered your hand like you did
mine," cried Irene in great indignation, suddenly remembering her
grievance, and affectionately regarding the white blister on her plump
hand.  "Then on top of that you told me to suck it off, when you knew
it was boiling hot and would skin my whole mouth."

"Tut, tut!" interrupted the stranger, seeing that a quarrel was
imminent.  "Now don't get mad all at once.  I've a proposition to make
to you----"

"A what?" asked Susie, glad she had taken no part in the flare-up
between the twins.

"A bargain.  I'll make you a mess of candy that'll pop your eyes out if
you will give me a square meal,--something to eat, you know, and plenty
of it.  I'm hungry as the deuce, and candy ain't very filling.  Is it a
go?"

Susie looked at her crestfallen companions, and they looked at her.

"There were no potatoes left from dinner," began Irene.

"But there's any number of cans of stuff in the pantry," said Inez
hastily.

"Salmon and sardines and veal loaf and corned beef and vegetables,"
added Susie hopefully, yet fearful lest the menu should not prove
sufficiently tempting to the queer, unexpected, unknown visitor.  "And
Tabitha cut the cake for dinner."

"Besides cookies and crackers and bread," murmured Irene, seeing
reproof in her sisters' eyes, and feeling that she had been
inhospitable to their hungry guest.

"Good!" promptly answered the man.  "I reckon we'll make out.  Just
open a tin of salmon, make a pot of strong coffee, and bring on your
bread and cake and sauce--lots of it, now, for I haven't had a bite to
eat since last night.  Lost my money, you know, and it hurts a decent
fellow's pride to beg."

The trio nodded sympathetically, and hurried to do his bidding, while
he rapidly measured out fresh supplies of sugar and syrup, and briskly
began stirring the mass over the fire, talking all the while.  "I just
happened to be passing when I smelled your stuff burning, and thinks I,
now there's trouble in there.  Just then you all commenced screaming,
and I was sure the house was a-fire, so I rushed in to help.  Good
gracious, but I was scared for a minute when I see the flames jumping
so high.  You might have had an explosion any minute."

"Yes," gravely agreed the girls, the look of terror returning to their
eyes.

"If it hadn't been for you, I reckon the house would have burned down,
and it's the only one we've got," said Irene.

He nodded.  "I understand, and so I thought you wouldn't begrudge me a
bite to eat, after I had put out the fire and cleaned up the clutter so
Tabitha wouldn't know that you had been in mischief."

"Course we're glad to give you something to eat," Inez again hastily
interrupted.  "'Specially when you are making us some more candy.  Are
you ready for your--lunch--now?"

"In a jiffy.  Just grease a pan for this dope and I'll pour it out to
cool.  Bet it beats yours all hollow.  There!  Set it in the
window--so!  Now, I'll sample your larder.  Looks fine and smells
bully.  Which store is best here in town?"

"Brinkley's," promptly answered the trio, with longing eyes fixed upon
the golden flood of syrup cooling in the window.

"Though Dawley's is bigger," added Irene.

"Do they make much money?"

"They ought to.  Prices are high enough," answered Susie with a
comically grown-up air.

"Most of the miners trade at Dawley's, 'cause he don't hurry 'em so
about paying," said Inez naively.  "But the Carsons and Catts and Dr.
Hayes, and those folks buy at Brinkley's, 'cause his stuff is nicer."

"We _did_ trade there," began Irene, but Susie interrupted, "Most of
our stuff comes from Los Angeles now.  It's cheaper to trade that way,
and anyhow, papa knows the man real well, and now that he's sick in the
hospital, he doesn't have to worry about pay day all the time, for this
man will wait till he is well enough to work again."

"When is pay day?" casually inquired the man.  "I mean how often does
it come?"

"Once a month--the fifteenth."

The stranger's eyes glittered with satisfaction, and he muttered, "The
fifteenth,--that's to-morrow."

"What did you say?" asked Susie.

"I was just thinking," he replied, glancing uneasily from one bright
face to the other to see if any of the children had caught his
indiscreet remark.  "By the way, who lives in that little, unpainted
house on the edge of town?"  He pointed vaguely over his shoulder, and
the sisters looked at each other in bewilderment.

"The pest house?" suggested Irene.

"The Ramsey place?" said Inez questioningly.

"The haunted house?" ventured Susie.  "You see, there are so many
unpainted houses on the edge of town."

"The haunted house!" laughed the stranger incredulously.  "Whoever
heard tell of a haunted house in a mining camp!"

"Silver Bow has one," stoutly asserted the twins.

"Where?  Which one?  I confess I am curious."

"It's the last one on the East End Lode," replied Susie with dignity,
feeling that the reputation of her town was at stake.

"The queer old shack beyond Tabitha's," added Inez.

"There are only three houses in that hollow," explained Irene.  "The
Carson's big house, the Catt's littler one, and this haunted house."

"What haunts it?" jeered the man, pushing back from the table and
glancing sharply down the trail toward town.

"A--a ghost," the twins half whispered.

"A man killed himself there once," said Susie.

"Or was murdered," shuddered Inez.

"Or else he just died," put in practical-minded Irene.  "Anyway, they
found him there dead."

"And sometimes now folks hear queer things there."

"And see lights."

"Tabitha never has," Irene declared.  "And she lives nearest it."

"Well, 't any rate, it's haunted and no one ever goes there now, not
even Tabitha, who ain't afraid of a _thing_."

The stranger rose slowly to his feet, yawned as if bored by their
chatter, picked up his hat, and started for the door; then paused, and
casually surveying the pan of taffy on the window sill, remarked,
"Believe if I was you, I'd eat that all up before the rest of the folks
get back.  There's just about enough for three, and I've a notion that
Miss Tabitha will think you didn't keep your promise very well if she
ever finds out how near you came to setting the house a-fire.  She'll
never dare trust you again.  It might be well not to mention that I
dropped in, either.  Tramps aren't often welcome visitors, even in a
mining camp, you know.  But I appreciate your dinner, and thank you
kindly.  Good-day, ladies."

"Good-day," they echoed mechanically, and with puzzled eyes watched him
disappear in the direction of the railroad station on the flats.  Then
they faced each other.

"Do you s'pose we better--" began Susie slowly.

"Not tell?" ventured Inez.

"And eat all the candy ourselves?" added Irene.

There was a moment's pause while three active brains worked furiously.

Then Susie sighed, "I b'lieve he's right.  Tabitha would never trust us
again.  We better keep still about the whole thing."

"Then we'll have to hurry and clear up this mess," said Irene.  "We can
hide the candy until later, but this table would give everything away."

So the trio flew to work again, put away the remains of the tramp's
dinner, washed the telltale dishes, and had the kitchen in its usual
spick and span order when the rest of the large family returned an hour
later from their sojourn to the river.  If their consciences pricked
them a little for their deception, they said nothing, not even to each
other; and it was several days before the young housekeeper discovered
their secret.



CHAPTER XI

IN THE CANYON

The next day was Saturday, and the morning dawned so hot and sultry
that almost before the old kitchen clock struck five, the restless
eaglets were stirring once more.

"Now's the time I wish we didn't live so far up the mountain," sighed
Mercedes, mopping her perspiring face on her sleeve as she struggled to
button the dress she had just donned.

"Yes, summer's an awful trial here in this house," agreed Susie, trying
to decide whether to put on her shoes and stockings and suffer from the
heat in that manner, or to go bare-footed and burn her tender soles on
the hot sands.

"Le's do down to the river to-day," lisped Janie, lifting eager eyes to
scan the dark face bending over, as Tabitha patiently brushed the
tangled curls into smooth ringlets.

"Oh, let's!" seconded the twins.

"You know we had to stay at home yesterday when the rest of you went,"
wheedled Inez.

"And 'twould have been awful lonesome," began Irene, "if it hadn't been
for that----"

"Ice-cream," hastily interposed Susie, giving the little blunderbus a
warning glance.  "Can't we go, Tabitha?  It would be so much cooler
there."

"I don't see how we can manage it," answered the flushed housekeeper,
glancing longingly out of the window down the yellow ribbon of a road
which wound its way in and out among the rocks and yuccas on its way to
the muddy Colorado, seven miles away.  "The assayer will be wanting his
horses to-day and it's too far to walk."

"Can't we hire a team from the stables?" proposed Inez.

"And pay ten dollars a day for it?" scoffed Mercedes.  "Where are you
going to get your money to foot the bill?"

"Then let's catch enough burros to lug us all," suggested the
resourceful Susie.  "No one would care.  They run loose on the desert
all the time."

Tabitha shook her head slowly, although her eyes gleamed appreciatively
at the plan.  If only Rosslyn and Janie were older!  How she would
enjoy such a frolic as Susie's suggestion would mean.

Only Gloriana remained discreetly silent.

She shuddered whenever she recalled her first and only ride on one of
the wicked little beasts,--that wild New Years Even when she and
Tabitha had tried to keep Mr. McKittrick's claims from being
jumped,--and she drew an audible sigh of relief at Tabitha's decision.
But the next instant her heart sank within her, for with a scurry of
feet in the narrow hallway, the door of the room was unceremoniously
flung open, and two eager, boyish faces peered in.

"I say, Tab," began Billiard, so excited he could hardly refrain from
shouting his news, "your Uncle Decker is out here----"

"And he's brung a whole--flock--of burros," broke in Toady, so anxious
to tell part of the good news that he could not stop for choice of
words.

"Saddled," Billiard hurried on, trying to beat Toady to the climax.

"For us!" cried the smaller boy.

"To ride to the canyon on!" bellowed the two as with one voice.

"Really?" gasped Tabitha.

"How perfectly scrumptious!" squealed the tribe of McKittrick.

"But Janie and Rosslyn," faltered Gloriana faintly.  "Aren't they too
small----"

"Oh, he's got a buckboard, too," grinned Billiard, who had recently
discovered the red-haired maid's poor little secret; but forbore to
make unkind remarks about it because he himself stood somewhat in awe
of the sleepy-eyed demons of the desert, since one had unexpectedly
kicked him when he was trying to mount.  "He drove in for some
provisions, and your father told him to bring us all back with him, and
we're to _camp_ at the mines until Monday.  Won't that be great?
Whoop-ee!"  He leaped into the air, cracked his heels together and came
down with a resounding thump which shook the whole house and made the
dishes in the pantry rattle.

But no word of reproof was uttered, for Tabitha had seized the
half-dressed, half-combed Janie in her arms, and rushed from the room.
It seemed impossible that anyone could have come up that narrow, rocky
trail to the Eagles' Nest with a half dozen or more burros and a
buckboard without her having heard them, but there they were lined up
by the kitchen steps,--seven sleepy-eyed, wicked little burros, saddled
and bridled, and a pair of small, wiry mustangs hitched to a light
wagon, and driven by Decker Simmons, Mr. Catt's partner.

"Why, Uncle Decker!" Tabitha began.

"Didn't we tell you he was here?" exulted the two boys who had followed
her.

"But--but--" she stammered.

"But she didn't b'lieve us," crowed Toady.

"I thought you must be mistaken," she confessed, "for I could not
imagine anyone so crazy as to want _ten_ children under foot at a mine.
Whatever possessed Dad, Uncle Decker?"

The man laughed good-naturedly.  "Thought we all needed a vacation, I
reckon," he answered.  "Are you anywhere near ready?  Better hurry.
Sun will soon be unmercifully hot, and the canyon isn't exactly within
walking distance.  Can't I help?"

"No, thanks.  It won't take us long----"

"We're ready now," announced the procession of girls crowded around her.

"Mercy finished Janie's hair while you stood here gabbing.  Glory
packed up what duds we'd need, and Billiard's got the house all locked
up.  Who's to take which burro?"

"Makes no difference," answered the man, chuckling at the despatch with
which preparations for the outing were made.  "Put the little tikes in
here with me, and any of the rest of you who perfer the buckboard can
pile in.  That red--the girl with the game hip--you better ride with
us, too."

This suited Gloriana perfectly, and she lost no time in making herself
comfortable among the leather cushions with Rosslyn and Janie beside
her; but the rest of the party declined that method of transportation,
and mounted the animals standing patiently in the scant shade of the
porch.  In less time than it takes to tell, the hilarious procession
was on its way to the canyon, and the baking town was left behind.

"Let's race," cried Billiard, who was mounted on an innocent-looking,
lazy beast.

"Come on!" cried Susie, giving her animal a prod with a sharp stick she
had snatched from the woodpile as they clattered out of the yard; and
away they flew, shouting and flapping reins, urging the stolid little
burros out of their poky gait into a surprised run.

But the race came to an abrupt and unexpected end.  Susie's mount
seemed more ambitious than its mates, or else the youthful rider goaded
it to desperation; for, with a mighty spurt, it took the lead, and shot
three lengths ahead of the rest, cantering off across the desert as if
racing were its daily delight.  Rosy-cheeked Susie glanced back over
her shoulder, waved the sharp stick triumphantly in the air, and
jeered, "Yah, yah!  Why don't you come along?  Has you burro gone to
sleep?"

This was too much for Billiard, and grabbing a needle-pointed Spanish
bayonet frond from the hands of his brother, he gave the brown-coated
beast beneath him a vicious stab, as he yelled in disgust, "Giddap, you
old demon!  Wake up and stretch your legs a lit----"

Brownie awoke into surprising activity, leaped forward with unseating
suddenness, planted his forefeet firmly among the rocks, and with one
deliberate, energetic kick, sent Billiard flying through the air.  The
watchers behind held their breath in terror.  Would the boy be killed
for his folly?  Then a wild shout of laughter rose from eight throats.
But who could have resisted it?  For the luckless Billiard, after
turning a summersault high in the air, fell astraddle the neck of
Toady's burro, and slipped to the ground in a sprawling heap, while the
second startled beast bolted across the desert with its plucky rider
still clinging to its back.

The dazed Billiard picked himself up from the ground considerably
shaken but not hurt, and gazing ruefully first after his own fleeing
burro, and then after Toady's, now far in advance of Susie's little
animal, remarked, "Well, the old thing has got _some_ ginger in him
after all!  Do you suppose I can ever catch him?"

"I'll help," quickly volunteered Tabitha, trying hard to suppress her
mirth, so meek and woebegone was the tumbled figure standing in the
roadway; and with a nimble spring she landed beside him, tethering her
burro to a yucca, growing close at hand.  Mercedes and the twins
followed her example, but it was a lively chase they had before the
unruly animal was finally captured, and the party continued its
journey, reaching their destination without further mishap.

Gloriana was disappointed at first, as she looked about her while her
companions were dismounting, for she had expected to see a canyon like
those lovely spots hidden among the San Bernardino hills; but this
place was no different from the rocky, barren mountains surrounding
Silver Bow.  However, there was little time for lamentations, for with
surprising ingenuity, Mr. Catt had arranged a delightful program for
the two days the young folks were in camp, and not a moment of the
brief holiday was dull even for Rosslyn and Janie.  So it was with
reluctant hearts that the party mounted their burros Monday morning for
their return trip.

"Where are the boys?" inquired Mercedes curiously, as she sprang nimbly
into her saddle and gathered up the reins ready to start.

"Susie isn't here, either," said Tabitha, pausing in her task of
packing to count noses.  "They must be in the tent.  I saw them not
very long ago.  Dad, are the boys ready?"

"Haven't seen them," he answered emerging from one of the tents with a
light grip and dumping it into the back of the buckboard.

"I saw Billiard and Toady whispering something to Susie just as the
wagon drove up," tattled Inez, provoked to think she had not been
included in the secret, "and they all ran off that way."  She pointed
up the mountainside, where the mesquite and cacti grew thickest, and
huge boulders made climbing difficult.

"What in the world possessed them to go off like that?" fretted
Tabitha, impatient at the unexpected delay.

"Bet I know," Irene piped up.  "They prob'ly went for a last look at
the puppies."

"Puppies!" cried the others in amazement.  "Where are there any puppies
about here?"

"Quite a piece up there on the other side,--they weren't going to tell
the rest of us, but I happened to find them myself."

"Here they come now," Rosslyn excitedly interrupted; and sure enough,
the trio had appeared on the hillcrest, each tugging something which
squirmed and twisted, and snarled and yapped until their flushed,
panting owners could scarcely hold them.

"Holy snakes!" ejaculated Decker Simmons.

Mr. Catt whistled.  The rest of the party stared.

"What in creation have you got, Susie McKittrick?" demanded Mercedes,
with all the severity her gentle nature could muster, as the three
children came within speaking distance, Susie in advance.

"A pup," gasped the red-faced girl, taking a fresh grip on the
wriggling, sharp-nosed little animal, half hidden in the torn skirt of
her dress.  "Isn't he cute?  See what bright eyes he's got."

"And see how you've snagged your clothes," said Irene reprovingly.

"And scratched your face," added Inez, glad now that she had not been a
party in the expedition.

"That's nothing to what Billiard's did to him," Susie retorted sharply,
nettled at her reception.  "He picked out the prettiest of the bunch
for Tabitha.  We told him how much you used to want a dog all your own,
Kitty.  But it's the wildest thing I ever saw.  Here he comes now.
Billiard, didn't you choose your pup for Tabitha?"

"Would you accept it?" he panted somewhat shyly, embarrassed and a
little provoked that Susie should have announced his intentions the
first thing.  "I--I got the handsomest fellow of them all, but I pretty
near had to club it to death before it would come along peaceably."

"But Billiard," gasped Tabitha, finding her tongue at last, "that isn't
a pup!"

"What is it then?"  Susie bristled so aggressively that she forgot to
keep a tight hold on her unwilling prisoner, and with a final scratch
and yap of exultation, it freed itself from her arms, and darted away
among the sagebrush.

"A coyote."

"No!"  Toady dropped his as if it were poison, and lifted startled eyes
to Tabitha's face.

"You're fooling!" cried Susie in exasperation over her loss.

"Dad, Uncle Decker, isn't that a baby coyote?"

Both men nodded silently, a look of amusement flickering about their
lips.

"But--but--" spluttered Billiard, still hugging his half-smothered
treasure to his bosom.  "It--they _look_ like pups."

"Yes, they do, but you found them pretty frisky for pups, didn't you?"

"They _were_ pretty lively," admitted the older boy slowly.

"And as scratchy as--" began Toady.

"As _cats_," finished Susie, angry at Tabitha for calling the animals
coyotes, angry at her sisters for laughing, and angry at herself for
not knowing the truth of the matter without being told.

"That's so, too," agreed Mr. Catt amiably.  "It beats me how you ever
managed to catch them."

"It was a job," sighed Billiard regretfully, freeing the pretty little
ball wrapped so snugly in his coat, and watching it skulk away after
its two brothers.  "We had some empty sacks----"

"But they weren't much good," Susie broke in contemptuously.  "If it
hadn't been for that can of meat we swiped, we'd never have caught 'em.
They bite like everything, as well as scratch."

"Yes," said Billiard mournfully, taking the reins from Tabitha's hands
and mounting his burro, "and we had all our pains for nothing."

"Not quite," whispered Tabitha sympathetically.  "I understand, and I'm
glad you took such trouble for me.  But hurry.  It's late already, and
will be terribly hot before we reach home."

So the party said good-bye to the canyon and set out briskly on their
long ride back to Silver Bow, but Tabitha was exultant, for Billiard,
unruly, rebellious Billiard was at last completely won.



CHAPTER XII

THE BANK OF SILVER BOW IS ROBBED

"It must have rained here since we left," observed Toady, as they drew
near the town.

"Why?" asked Irene curiously.

"'Cause there's a puddle of water in that hollow rock and unless it had
rained, how would it get there?"

"By Jove, the lad is right," muttered Decker Simmons to himself.
"Queer we didn't get any at the canyon, though.  Wonder what's the
trouble ahead.  Town seems excited.  Do you suppose the new postmaster
has embezzled his funds already?"

"Uncle Decker," Tabitha's voice interrupted his meditations.

"Yes?"

"Something must have happened in town while we were gone."

"Why?"

"Main street is full of people and the bank platform is black with
them.  Do you suppose there is another run on the bank, or can it have
failed?"

"Why, so 'tis!" ejaculated the man, noting for the first time what
Tabitha's keen eyes had seen,--that the greater crowd of the people
were gathered in front of the Silver Bow Bank.  "Wonder what's up."

"Hello, Simmons," called Dawley, the grocer, from his position in the
doorway of his store.  "You don't look as if you'd heard the news."

"No.  Let's have it."  The whole party halted and waited curiously.

"Bank robbed."

"You don't say so!  When?"

"Saturday night."

"Get much?"

"Don't know yet, but reckon 'twas only a few hundred.  Brinkley lost a
lot of provisions, too, but fortunately his safe was empty."

"Well, I declare!  Any clue?"

"Not so far.  Rain wiped out all tracks that might have been made.  Had
a corker of a thunderstorm that night."

"Well, well!  Now what do you think of that!  What steps are you taking
toward the capture of the thieves?"

"Posse out scouring the desert."

"Humph!"

"Well, what else can we do without clues?"

"_Find_ some clues.  You'll never catch the rascals by scouring the
desert with a handful of men.  They must have gone into camp close by,
or they would never have stocked up.  Bet they are new at the business.
_Must_ be to make a mistake like that.  I'd laugh if they had never
left town."  And gathering up the reins, he drove on, followed by the
cavalcade of burros.

The children were greatly excited.  Burglaries in that lonely little
desert town were unheard of, and this novel experience furnished food
for their lively imaginations to feed upon.  Tabitha was particularly
impressed, for never before in her short life had a robbery occurred so
near home, and she could think of little else.  A reward of two hundred
dollars had been offered for the capture of the thieves, and as soon as
the little brood in the Eagles' Nest heard of this, they began to amuse
themselves by telling how they would spend the money if by chance they
could win the reward.

"I'd buy me a pony," said Toady, as they sat on the shady side of the
house discussing the all-absorbing topic.  "Ma said she never should
get us another after Spotty kicked her when she struck it with the
whip."

"I'd save it towards a motorcycle," declared Billiard boastfully.  "No
ponies for mine!  With another hundred I could get a dandy machine, and
then wouldn't you see me spinning about the country just as I pleased!"

"It would almost pay for another term at Ivy Hall," sighed Mercedes,
who, though she never mentioned the matter, knew that the family purse
was too flat to permit of her returning to her beloved school with the
coming of September.

"I'd buy a little house in Los Angeles and go there to live," said
Irene.  "It must be pretty where there are real trees and flowers the
year around."

"It's not your turn," Susie objected.  "I'd buy--I'd buy--what _would_
I buy?  There are so many things I want, but I b'lieve I'd go
travelling.  Two hundred dollars would take me quite a piece, and I'd
see lots of big cities."

"And I'd go along," breathed Inez in ecstasy, "and we'd beat our way
back on freight cars."

"Ho!  That wouldn't be any fun," scoffed Rosslyn.  "I'd buy candy, 'n'
ice-cream, 'n' peanuts, 'n' popcorn."

"And a doctor," laughed Mercedes.

There was a pause, and seven pair of eyes turned expectantly toward
Gloriana, who, perceiving the look, said shyly, "There are probably
heaps of things I'd like to get for myself now and then, but I think
the most of my two hundred would go to Granny Conover for taking care
of me all those years.  I'd like to see her have plenty of money to do
as she pleased with before she dies."

"Wouldn't that be splendid?" cried the children, who were never tired
of hearing the pitiful tale of Gloriana's life.

"Now,  Tabitha,"  suggested Billiard.  "Why, where _is_ Tabitha?"

"Gone to put Janie to bed, I guess," said Toady, seeing that the
youngest member of the family was also missing.  "It's her nap time."

But in reality, Tabitha was far down the mountainside, speeding like a
deer in pursuit of a tiny, white-clad figure toddling in and out among
the sagebrush and greasewood toward a forbidden playground, where,
half-hidden by rocks and rubbish, were several unprotected prospect
holes, mysterious and alluring to the investigative baby eyes.  Even as
Tabitha came within calling distance of the child, Janie discovered
that she was being pursued, and quickened her steps into a run,
heedless of the path she was taking, until with a shrill cry of fright,
she slipped over the brink of one of the very holes she had stolen away
to visit, and disappeared from sight.

"O, God, don't let her be killed!" prayed the black-eyed girl, and her
feet fairly flew over the uneven ground, till she, too, reached the
edge of the deep excavation.  But before she could discover the plight
of the runaway, she felt the ground give way beneath her feet, and
echoing Janie's cry of alarm, she, too, shot out of sight.
Fortunately, however, little sand fell with her, and as by a miracle,
she landed free and clear of the frightened, sobbing, but unhurt figure
crouching in the opposite corner.

Scrambling to her feet, she seized the scared baby in her arms,
exclaiming over and over again, "Janie, Janie, are you sure you aren't
killed?" till at length she had soothed the child's fright and had
coaxed her into laughing again.  "Now, Miss Mischief," she cried,
setting the baby down and beginning to investigate their prison, "we
must find some way out of this place.  'Tisn't very deep, to be sure;
but the sides seem pretty crumbly, so I don't dare to climb out.  I
reckon we'll have to shout.  Help, help, help!"

They screamed themselves hoarse, but no one came to answer their call,
and Janie began to wail dismally, for the minutes seemed like hours to
her, and she was tired and cross.  "Never mind, honey," Tabitha
comforted.  "If they don't find us around the house by supper time,
they will know something has gone wrong and send General to find us.
Now let's amuse ourselves for a while, and then we'll shout again.
Here is a stick.  See if you can dig a deeper hole than I can.  Why,
what's this?"

Stooping over to pick up a fragment of redwood bark at her feet, she
uncovered a small bag, which rattled as she touched it; and as she
untied the drawstring, a shower of glittering gold pieces fell into her
lap.

"Pennies!" cried Janie, making a dive for a share of the shining coins.

"Yes, dear, gold pennies, but Janie mustn't touch," answered Tabitha,
busily sorting the money into various piles according to its
denomination.  "It doesn't belong to us, and we must take it to the--
Say, Janie McKittrick, what will you bet this isn't the money stolen
from the bank Saturday night?  Mr. Dawley said they got only a few
hundred.  Let's count it.  One, two, three, four, five hundred dollars.
Janie, that's just what we've found!  The robbers didn't dare take it
with them, and so hid it here, thinking it would be absolutely safe."

"Well, Tabitha Catt!  Of all things!  Look, girls, she's as calm and
cool as if she had gone on a picnic, instead of tumbling into a
prospect hole."

So intent had the two prisoners become in their find that neither had
heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and as breathless Susie's
voice rang out above their heads, both started guiltily.

"Why, how did you know where to look for us?" cried Tabitha, bouncing
to her feet, and slipping the bag out of sight, lest the children see
and ask questions.

"Well, when we couldn't find you about the house anywhere, Glory
remembered that Janie had slipped off down the trail while we were
talking, and so we decided that you must have chased her.  Then Mercy
happened to think of these holes.  Janie is always possessed to play
down here, and has run away three times before; so we came down to
look, and here you are in the very first one," explained Susie.

"You hauled us out of the abandoned mine one day, and now we are going
to fish you out of a prospect hole," exulted Billiard, much relieved to
find the two girls unhurt, but unable to resist crowing a little over
their mishap.

"How?" asked Tabitha, a frown of anxiety gathering in her forehead.
"Don't get too near the edge there, or some of you may join us in our
retreat.  You must go for help.  You can't get us out all alone."

"Mercy has gone for the assayer," began Inez.

"And here he is now," Billiard interrupted.  "He has got a long board
and a rope.  Stand back, Irene, so you won't be in the way.  There,
now, Tabby, tie up the baby, and we'll lift her out first."

In a surprisingly short time, both girls were hoisted from the sultry
pit and landed laughing gaily among their mates.

"Well," said the assayer, shaking his gray head in a puzzled fashion,
"I don't understand how you kids work the stunt."

"What stunt?" they all inquired.

"Why, tumbling into every hole you come across and not getting hurt.
You aren't hurt, are you?"

"No, indeed!"

"And Kitty finded a whole sack full of gold pennies down there, but her
won't div Janie any," volunteered the baby quite unexpectedly.

"She--what?"

"Gold pennies!"

"What does she mean?"

The children lifted questioning eyes to Tabitha's crimson face, and
even the assayer looked down at her curiously.  She had not meant to
let the children know about the money; at least, not until she had
consulted older and wiser heads than theirs; but now that Janie had
betrayed her secret, she displayed her find, and explained how it had
come into her possession.

The assayer's eyes grew thoughtful, as he examined each coin minutely,
and counted the treasure, to make sure that Tabitha's figures were
right.  "What shall you do with it?" he finally asked, as he dropped
the last piece into the sack and returned it to Tabitha.

"Take it to the bank.  I thought it might be part of the money the
robbers got."

He glanced at her quickly, keenly; then answered, "That's the thing to
do, all right, and I don't believe your surmise is far off, either.
But see here, children, don't you dare lisp a word to a single soul
about this money until we know for certain whose it is."

"We won't," hastily promised the wondering, round-eyed flock, for they
stood much in awe of the silent, almost taciturn man who worked wonders
with the rock which the miners brought him; and the little company set
out for home, leaving Tabitha and the assayer to carry the precious
find over to the bank.

"Do you know," said Gloriana, as the black-eyed girl finished relating
the afternoon's happenings to her, "I half believe that man snooping
around the pesthouse is the robber."

"What man?" demanded the startled Tabitha.

"Well, I don't know who he is, but it is someone I've never seen here
in town.  He was there this morning, but I didn't think much about it
then.  We were so excited over the robbery.  But this afternoon while
the assayer was dragging you out of the prospect hole, and I was
watching through your field glasses, I happened to turn them in the
direction of the pesthouse, and there he was again, humped up on the
doorsill, watching through glasses of his own.  When you started off
toward town, he hustled into the house and shut the door.  Now, it
seems to me no one would stay in a _pesthouse_ unless he was hiding
from someone."

"No one ever had smallpox there."

"Then why does everyone avoid it so?"

"I don't know.  The name, I reckon.  It was built for a pesthouse, but
the doctors decided the patient didn't have smallpox after all, so the
building has never been used."

"Then perhaps he knows there is nothing to be afraid of in the house."

"That may be, of course.  Is he there yet?"

"Yes, I think he is.  I've kept a close lookout ever since I discovered
him, and I haven't seen him leave."

Tabitha seemed lost in thought a moment, then turned an eager face
toward her companion.  "Gloriana, the reward!"

"Could we?"

"Can't tell till we try!"

"But how----"

"There are only two small windows in the house,--funny, isn't it, when
air is so necessary in case of sickness,--he can't get out of them.  So
all we have to do is guard the door."

"But how shall we get him to the--police?"

"Sheriff?  I hadn't thought of that part.  We couldn't tie him up and
march him to jail,--we aren't strong enough, just us girls.  We'll have
to make sure he is there, lock him in, and then while one of us guards
the door, the other must go for help."

Gloriana shuddered.  She hoped it would not fall to her lot to guard
the door, and yet she could not bear to think of Tabitha's staying
there alone with only a flimsy structure between her and a desperate
character.

"I--we--had we better try it alone?" she asked timidly.  "Wouldn't it
be wiser to tell the assayer and get him to help?"

"The more people there are connected with his capture, the smaller our
share of the reward will be.  We can do it all right."

Tabitha's daring swept away her objections.  "That's so," she answered.
"Well, we better not wait any longer then, or perhaps he will get away
yet."

"I'm ready," Tabitha replied promptly, and with quaking hearts but
determined steps the two set out, armed with a stout stick and the
rusty old pistol which Gloriana had used the night the boys had played
burglar.

"What is that broom handle for?" questioned the red-haired girl,
wondering if she would be expected to crack the desperado over the head
with it.

"To lock the door with."

"_Lock the door_?"  Could Tabitha have gone suddenly crazy?

"Yes.  It's the only way we can fasten him in.  The door has an iron
handle on the outside, instead of a knob, you see."

"Oh!"

"Is that the man?"  The door of the pesthouse had opened abruptly and a
short, portly man roughly dressed, unshaved and florid of complexion,
appeared on the threshold a moment, eyed the approaching girls
indifferently, glanced searchingly toward town, and again vanished
within, closing the door behind him.  Gloriana's heart seemed to stop
beating, then pounded so loudly that it sounded to her like the pulsing
of the engines in the Silver Legion Mine.  "Yes," she gasped.

"Then we've got him!"  Scared but exultant, Tabitha leaped to the door,
thrust her stick through the handle, and cocked her revolver, just as
the man, hearing the noise outside, grasped the knob and tried to open
the door.

"What the deuce!" they heard him exclaim, and then he wrenched again.
"Who's out there, and what do you want?" he bellowed in rage, when the
door refused to budge.

"You're our prisoner," Tabitha answered boldly, though trembling like a
leaf with nervous dread; "and you might just as well keep quiet as to
make a fuss.  Glory, hurry for the sheriff, the assayer--anyone!  He's
desperate!"

And indeed he sounded desperate as he kicked and banged the door,
shouted and swore, tearing about his small prison like a madman, and
breathing threats of vengeance against his jailer, who stood pale but
undaunted in front of the door, with a cocked revolver clinched tightly
in both hands, waiting anxiously for the return of Gloriana with help
from town, and thanking her lucky stars that neither of the small
windows was on the door side of the house.

Then suddenly the tumult ceased within, and terrified Tabitha began to
take courage again.  "He has decided to behave himself at last," she
thought.  "It's the only sensible thing to do, for he can't get away
from here now without being caught.  There comes Glory at last, but oh,
gracious! look at the crowd following her.  Half the town is out."

Just then a subdued grunt from around the corner of the house caught
her attention, and beckoning wildly to the approaching throng, she
crept cautiously forward to investigate, but paused again, paralyzed at
the sight which met her eyes.  The portly prisoner had attempted to
escape by means of one of the small windows, and now hung suspended by
the middle over the sill, his hands clawing the air helplessly inside,
and his heels waving frantically without.  At another time, Tabitha,
would have shouted with laughter at the ridiculous figure he cut, but
now her only thought was to prevent his escaping, and flinging aside
her pistol, she plunged toward the body seesawing through the air, and
clutched the feet with a determined grip, while the helpless victim
protested in emphatic language.

Thus the crowd found them and went wild with delight at the spectacle,
much to the discomfiture of both captor and captive, and when at length
the florid prisoner was freed from his uncomfortable position, his face
was purple with rage and exertion.  "What is the meaning of this
outrage?" he exploded as soon as he could find sufficient breath to
voice his indignation.  "Who put you up to such a trick as that, you
young minx?  Do you know who I am?"

"Why, Jerry Weller!" exclaimed an astonished voice from the interested
throng of onlookers.  "What are you doing here?"

"I bought this old shack and was to have had it moved onto my claims
to-day, if the movers had showed up," exclaimed the irate man, his
voice thick with anger.  "But along come these jades and fasten me
in----"

"We thought he was the bank robber," Tabitha murmured faintly, sick at
heart over the mistake.  "He was acting so--so suspiciously."

"Bank robber!" echoed the speaker from the crowd.  "Why, Jeremiah
Weller is owner of the biggest placer mines in the country.  He made a
fortune in Alaska.  He's a millionaire!  Bank robber!  Ha--ha!  That's
rich!"

The crowd roared appreciatively, but the victim of the mistake quite
unexpectedly lost his glowering look, and gruffly declared, "Well, you
needn't laugh at her.  She's pluck to the backbone.  Show me another
girl who would have undertook to corral a bank robber as she did.  I
don't wonder she thought that was my occupation.  I certainly look
rough enough--"  Suddenly his roving eyes fell upon the timid,
shrinking Gloriana, so depressed at the way matters had turned out that
she could scarcely keep back the scalding tears.  If it had not been
for her, Tabitha would never have gone on such a wild-goose chase.  Why
hadn't she kept her suspicions to herself?

"What's your name?" demanded the stranger so abruptly that he seemed
positively rude.

"Gloriana Holliday," she managed to articulate.

"Did you ever have an Uncle Jerry?"

"If I did, he never came near us that I can remember," she candidly
replied.

The purple of his face deepened.  "That's right, too," he muttered.
"But your mother ran away to get married."

"And her folks told her never to let them see her face again,"
supplemented Gloriana bitterly.

"Was her name Weller at one time?  But of course it was.  There
couldn't be two people on earth look as much alike as she and you
unless they were mother and daughter; and besides, she married a
Holliday,--Jack Holliday."

Gloriana nodded.

"Then, my girl, I'm your Uncle Jerry, and if you didn't catch
your bank robber, you made a pretty good haul anyway.  Your
mother--she--she's--dead, isn't she?  And your father?  You're an
orphan----"

"She's not any longer!" Tabitha broke in savagely.  "We've adopted her
and she's my sister."

"Oh!  Well, that simplifies matters, too, for I'm a bachelor and have
no _home_ to offer, but--  Say, I want to talk with you.  Where's your
adopted father?  Not in town now?  Well, isn't there some place we can
go where we won't be gawked at by all these hoodlums?  Bring your
black-haired sister,--my jailer.  I certainly do admire pluck."

At this broad hint, the curious crowd reluctantly withdrew, and left
the trio alone at the pesthouse threshold.  Standing there bare-headed
with the waning sunlight glinting through the heavy, red locks,
Gloriana told what she could remember of the pitiful struggle of her
parents, their deaths, and her unhappy lot until the scholarship at Ivy
Hall had opened the way to better things.

So affected was the bluff stranger by the sad tale that he made no
effort to check the tears which filled his eyes and rolled down his
cheeks.  "Well, the past is passed," he said when the story was done,
"and we can't do anything now to change it.  I've been downright sorry
at the way we treated your mother, but she effaced herself pretty well.
We never got a trace of her whereabouts, though years afterwards we
heard that she was dead.  We never knew there was a child, but never
mind, you shall not want again as long as I live.  Being a rover and
unmarried, I have no home to offer, as I said before; so I am glad to
find you settled with such good friends.  But I've got all kinds of
money, and insist upon paying for your education from now on.  Here's a
check for pin money."

Drawing a check-book from his pocket, he rapidly scribbled a few lines,
tore out the slip and handed it to Gloriana.  Mechanically she took it,
and her gray eyes grew round with wonder as she read.  "One hundred
dollars!  Oh, you must have made a mistake, Mr.----"

"Uncle Jerry," he corrected her.

"Uncle Jerry," she dutifully repeated.

"Not a bit of it!  And what's more, there will be one of those ready
for you every quarter."

"Oh, that's too much!" she protested.  "Whatever would a girl do with
four hundred dollars a year spending money?"  The sum appalled her, and
well it might, for never before had she possessed more than five
dollars at one time.

He laughed at her dismay.  "Why, I often spend that much in a day.  You
can lay in a stock of jimcracks like the other girls have.  You'll find
plenty of ways to dispose of every cent, I know."

"Maybe," she half whispered.  "You see, I never had so much as a dollar
all my own that I can remember until I came to live with Tabitha, but
perhaps when I get used to knowing it's really mine and--genuine, I'll
find ways to spend it.  I--I thank you.  It's nice to have an Uncle
Jerry."

"It's nice to have a Niece Gloriana, too," he answered gruffly,
clearing his throat with much gusto; and as there seemed to be nothing
further to say, the trio turned from the lonely pesthouse, and silently
climbed the hill toward town.



CHAPTER XIII

THE ROBBERS AND THE HAUNTED HOUSE

"Billiard, did you ever see a ghost?"

It was almost a week since the bank robbery had occurred, and still no
clue as to the identity of the robbers had been found, although posses
were still searching the country, determined to catch them if such a
thing were possible.  But the excitement of the event had already died
down in the youthful minds of Silver Bow, and other topics of
conversation absorbed their attention.

"Naw," answered Billiard contemptuously, without looking up from the
stick he was whittling.  "What's eating you, Toady?  There ain't any
ghosts, and you know it."

"What about that haunted house in the east end of town?"

"'Tain't haunted."

"Susie says it is."

"And Tabitha has lived alone near it for six or seven years and she has
never seen anything stirring there."

"But ghosts walk only at midnight.  She's never been there at night."

"Aw, you softy----"

"Susie says the Gates boy declares he saw a ghost in the graveyard one
night."

"Well, that's different.  I don't blame a ghost for walking there."

"Why, Billiard McKittrick, what do you mean?"

"Did you ever see a lonesomer place on earth than the Silver Bow
graveyard?" demanded Billiard.  "Why, it's the worst looking cemetery
in the country, I believe,--just heaps of rocks and wooden sticks to
show where folks are buried.  Tabitha says they _blast_ out the graves
with dynamite, six at a time, and fill them up with people as fast as
they die.  Would you rest easy if you were planted in that style?
Wouldn't your ghost want to get out and walk?"

"_Billiard McKittrick_!"  Toady looked positively shocked.  Then after
a moment, as the older boy made no reply, the younger one continued
thoughtfully, "Maybe that's what is the matter with the ghost in the
haunted house."

"Oh, pshaw, Toady, I tell you there ain't such a thing as a ghost!"

"I'll stump you to go down to the haunted house some time and find out."

"All right, come along!"

"Not during daylight.  It must be after dark.  Midnight is the best
time, Susie says."

"Bother Susie!  Why don't you get her to go with you?"

"You are afraid to go!" jeered Toady.

"Am not!" retorted Billiard angrily.

"Then why don't you take my dare?"

"It's all tommy-rot," insisted Billiard, with a fine show of scorn.

"'Fraid cat!"

"Oh, I'll take you up," cried the other, stung into recklessness by
Toady's taunts.  "We'll go to-night."

"To-night?" stammered Toady, much abashed at his brother's sudden
acceptance of the dare.

"Yes, to-night!"

"What's your hurry?"

"Who's the 'fraid cat now?" taunted Billiard.

"Not me!  To-night's the time.  We'll set the alarm-clock for half-past
ten."

"Suppose it wakes the rest of the bunch?"

"They'll think it's a mistake, and in a few minutes will be asleep
again, and we can steal outside without their hearing us at all."

So it was decided, and though each boy, deep down in his heart, hoped
that the other would back out before the hour set, both resolved not to
show the white feather, and as the alarm-clock pealed forth its summons
in the silence of the night, two sleepy lads crept stealthily out of
bed, drew on their clothes, and without exchanging a word, started for
the haunted house at the other end of town.

Never, it seemed to the quaking boys, had the desert night seemed so
black.  The stars were shining, to be sure, but the very heavens seemed
further away, and the silence was appalling.  Nervous, excited,
dreading the ordeal, each boy waited for the other to propose that they
give up their wild-goose chase; but neither was willing to acknowledge
his cowardice first, so they stumbled fearfully on, clutching each
other's hands to keep from falling, they told themselves, but really to
feel the nearness of another human being.

At length, however, they reached the old, abandoned shack, where they
were to keep their ghostly vigil, and with bated breath they opened the
sagging door and crept trembling over the threshold into the black
shadows of the interior.  Fear held them tongue-tied, and they crouched
upon the dusty floor as close to the door as they could get.  The
silence was intense, terrifying.

Then the stillness was sharply broken by a hoarse whisper, "What was
that, Bill?"

Billiard, thinking Toady had spoken to him, was about to reply when a
second voice answered, "Only the wind, I reckon.  Shut up."

"But it sounded like someone opened the door."

"You're as bad as an old woman with the fidgets," said the second voice
crossly.  "Go to sleep, can't you?  At least, let me sleep.  I tell you
we're safe enough.  The fools will never think of looking for us here.
This is a _haunted_ house and no one ever comes here.  When they get
tired of scouring the desert and give up hunting for us, we'll light
out, but until then we've _got_ to lie low; and we might as well spend
our time snoozing as to be worrying all the while."

"The bank robbers!" thought each boy to himself.  What should they do?
It would be impossible for two small boys to capture such desperadoes
in the dead of night, especially as neither lad was armed, they argued.
Their only course was to steal noiselessly away, rouse the sheriff,
bring back a posse and surprise the men in hiding.

With one impulse, the terrified boys clasped hands, slipped cautiously
out of the house, hardly daring to breathe for fear of being heard, and
raced off along the road toward the sleeping town with all the speed
they could muster.  Once they fancied they heard a voice call to them,
but this only increased their head-long flight.  Their feet seemed
fairly to skim over the ground, and when they reached the main street
of the town they were breathless, exhausted and frightened almost past
speaking.

"Where--does--the sheriff--live?" panted Billiard, as they tore down
the last steep slope.

"Dunno," gasped Toady.

"Then how'll we find him?"

"Drug-store."

"It's shut."

"Ring the night bell."

And ring they did, sending peal after peal echoing through the silent
building until the sleepy proprietor, dishevelled and wrathy, stumbled
through the doorway, and demanded fiercely, "What the deuce is wanted?"

"The robbers--" half sobbed the boys.

"Well, they ain't here," snarled the angry druggist, not catching the
meaning of their words.  "Now you hike for home and the next time you
want to play a practical joke----"

"Oh, this isn't a joke!" cried Toady imploringly.  "We've found the
sure 'nough robbers, but----"

"We aren't big enough to capture them," finished Billiard.

"Aw, come off!" said the man, beginning to see from the boys' demeanor
that something was really wrong.  "You are having a bad dream.  How do
you happen to be wandering around town this time of night?"

"We dared each other to visit the haunted house to see if there was a
really ghost, like Susie said."

"And you found one, did you?" the druggist laughed sarcastically.

"Oh, this ain't a ghost.  It's burglars, truly!  They talked and we
heard what they said," cried Toady with convincing earnestness.

"And what _did_ they say?" persisted the druggist, though in a
different tone of voice.

Briefly they recounted their adventure in the vacant house, and as the
man listened he took down the telephone, said a few words which the
boys could not hear, and hung up the receiver again.  Almost
immediately there was a sound of footsteps without, and an armed
citizen of Silver Bow appeared in the doorway, then another, and
another, until a score or more had gathered just outside the building.
There was a hasty consultation one with another, then the boys were
bidden to repeat the story they had told the druggist, and after the
men had heard the meagre details, the posse separated, vanishing one by
one in the blackness.  But instinctively the boys knew that they would
attempt to surround the haunted house, and taking its occupants by
surprise, would compel them to surrender.

They wanted to remain at the drug-store until the capture was effected,
but the keeper ordered them home to bed, and they reluctantly obeyed,
listening every step of the way for the sound of shots.  But nothing
occurred to mar the stillness of the night, and they wondered if the
desperadoes had after all escaped.  So anxious were they, and so
nervous over their unusual experience that it seemed as if sleep would
never come to close their eyes, as they lay once more in their bed at
the Eagles' Nest; and they were astonished to find themselves waking up
the next morning at the sound of someone knocking at their door.

"Who is it?" called Billiard, vaguely wondering if he could have
dreamed all that had transpired during the past twelve hours.

"Susie," answered a voice from the hall.  "The sheriff wants to see
you."

"The sheriff?"

"Yes.  Hurry up!  The bank robbers have been caught and you have to go
to the justice of the peace's office."

"Then it's really so," sighed Billiard in relief.

"Course it is!" retorted Toady, now thoroughly awake.  "But what do you
s'pose the _sheriff_ wants us for?"

"Dunno.  Quickest way to find out is to go down and see."

Susie and the twins were waiting for them when they emerged from their
room, and ecstatically announced, "We're all going, too.  They want you
to be _witnesses_, and Tabitha to take notes.  No one else in town
writes shorthand."

"But what is it all about?" demanded Billiard.  "Ain't the robbers in
jail?"

"We have no real jail here," explained Tabitha, who chanced to overhear
his question.  "When a man does anything that he has to go to prison
for, they take him to the county seat.  This court only tries to prove
whether or not there is evidence enough to hold him for trial by the
county.  Hurry up, they are waiting for us.  And children, remember,
you must come straight back here after you take a look at the
prisoners.  Queer how youngsters want to see such things, isn't it?
Perhaps it will be quite a while before I can get back, but I know I
can trust you to keep out of mischief and mind Mercedes.  Oh, Glory,
I've got nervous chills already about taking that dictation.  The
lawyer who is to defend the robbers can talk like lightning."

"Fudge!" replied Gloriana reassuringly.  "You won't have any trouble at
all, I know.  They will take into consideration the fact that you have
no experience outside of school.  Is this the place?  What a funny
looking court!  Does he live here, too?  The justice of peace, I mean."

"Why, Tabitha!" interrupted Irene, clutching the older girl by the arm.
"Look there!  That's our candy man,--the tallest one--and they've got
him hand-cuffed.  Does--  Is _he_ the man they say robbed the bank?  I
don't believe he ever did it!"

"Hush!" warned Inez, giving her twin a vicious dig in the ribs.  But
the damage was already done.

"What do you mean?" demanded Tabitha, pausing on the threshold of the
tiny, dirty room that served as courthouse for the town of Silver Bow.

"Yes, what do you mean?" asked one of the lawyers, who had chanced to
overhear the remark.

"He made candy for us the day you went to the river and left us at
home," explained Irene, ignoring the frowns of her partners in guilt.

"Tell us all about it."

Bit by bit the story came out, and to Irene's great grief it forged
another link in the chain of evidence already so strong against the
cheery stranger.  "I don't want him to go to jail," she sobbed.  "He's
an awfully nice man."

"But, dear, he is a thief," Tabitha told her.  "He ought to go to jail."

"If they'd only let him loose this time, I'm sure he would never steal
again," the child staunchly maintained.  But in spite of her faith in
him, the "candy man," as the children continued to call him, was sent
to the county seat for trial, convicted, and sentenced to a long term
in prison.

"He shouldn't have stolen if he didn't want to go to prison," asserted
Billiard virtuously.  "If he hadn't robbed the bank, he never would
have had to hide in the haunted house and we wouldn't have found them
there."

"But as 'tis," added Toady, "they paid Billiard and me each fifty
dollars for finding them.  I mean the town paid us."

"Though you didn't discover whether there are any ghosts or not," said
Susie much disappointed.

"Who cares?" retorted the boys, drawing out their little hoard of gold
pieces and gloating over them.  "I wish there were more haunted houses
if they'd all pay us as well as this one did.  Now, what shall we do
with our money?"



CHAPTER XIV

THE UNEXPECTED HAPPENS

"Only two weeks more of vacation," sighed Tabitha, sinking wearily into
the hammock one August afternoon, and looking longingly away to the
west where the train was just puffing into view.  "I never dreamed we
should be here all summer when I offered to take care of the kidlets
for Mrs. McKittrick."

"Are you sorry?" asked Gloriana, glancing up from her sewing in
surprise at the tone of Tabitha's voice.

"No, oh, no!" she answered hastily, for fear her companion would think
she was complaining.  "I don't regret staying here at all, for that was
the only way Mr. McKittrick could get well; but still--I should have
enjoyed getting a peek at the ocean again, and having a good time all
around, like we'd surely have had with Myra."

"Yes, that would have been lovely," sighed Gloriana, who could not help
feeling sorry that their vacation had not turned out as they had
planned, although she admired Tabitha more than ever because of the
unselfishness which had prompted her to shoulder such a responsibility
in the first place.

"You see, I never have spent the summer at the seashore," Tabitha
continued; "nor anywhere else, for that matter, except here in Silver
Bow, since we came here to live; and I had planned so much on Myra's
invitation.  She is such a whirlwind for fun."

"It's too bad Miss Davis didn't let us know any sooner that she didn't
intend to come back to the desert till fall.  Perhaps we could have
found someone else--"

"I'm afraid not.  It's awfully hard to get anyone dependable away out
here.  _Hired help_ is simply out of the question.  They think Silver
Bow is beyond the bounds of civilization, I reckon."

"I don't blame them," began Gloriana impetuously; then blushed
furiously, and stammered, "Oh, what did I say?  What will you think of
me?  I didn't mean--"

"Yes, you did mean it," laughed her companion.  "And I don't blame
_you_.  I used to feel the same way myself."

"And did you _really_ get over it?" Gloriana eagerly asked.  "Do you
truly like this--this desolate place now?"

"I _love Silver Bow_," she answered slowly, yet with emphasis.  "I
sometimes wonder what kind of a girl I would have been if we had stayed
on at Dover or Ferndale, where there was no Carrie.  Then there would
have been no Ivy Hall, either, I suppose."

"And no me," half whispered the red-haired girl.  "Then I should be
thankful for the desert, too; because if it hadn't been for you, I
never should have been adopted by the best people in the whole wide
world, nor found an Uncle Jerry who really belongs to me.  And anyway,
there will be other summers, and the ocean will keep."

"No, it won't, either!" thrilled a bubbling voice behind them, and a
red-faced, perspiring, disheveled figure swept around the corner of the
house and plumped itself down in the hammock beside Tabitha whom she
proceeded to hug rapturously.

"Myra!" gasped the black-haired girl, trying to return the embrace, but
finding herself held fast by a pair of strong, sinewy arms.

"Myra!" echoed Gloriana, dropping her sewing and staring with
fascinated eyes at the newcomer, who promptly dragged the lame girl
from her chair into the already overloaded hammock and hugged her
vigorously.  "Where did you come from and _how_ did you get here?"

"On the train," Myra paused long enough to pant, "and as to finding
you,--haven't you described and sketched the Eagles' Nest often enough
in your letters for me to know it when I saw it?  I never even had to
ask directions how to find the trail.  Now just rustle your things
together and we'll catch that train back to Los Angeles this afternoon.
It leaves at three o'clock, doesn't it?  I simply had to come after
you, but it's too beastly hot to stay here a minute longer than
necessary."

"But Myra, the children!" cried the two maids, looking oh! so eager at
the mere thought of the seashore, but determined to turn their backs on
temptation at once.

"Hark ye!" answered Myra in tragic tones.  "What sound doth smite your
ears?  Or be you _deef_?"  Her abrupt change of tone and manner was too
comical to be resisted, but her upraised hand checked the mirth of the
other two, and they dutifully cocked their heads on one side and
listened intently.

"The youngsters at play," both replied in the same breath.

"Is that all?"

"Yes."

"Then I guess you're _deef_."

At that moment sturdy Rosslyn flew around the corner of the cottage,
and throwing himself into Tabitha's lap shrieked out, "Kitty, Kitty,
mamma's come, but papa must stay down there till it gets cooler."

"What!" whispered Tabitha, her face paling.  "It can't be!  Is she
truly?"

Myra nodded solemnly.

"What wonderful things are happening--"

There was an ominous crack, the hammock rope snapped in two, and the
quartette found themselves a tangled, huddled heap of arms and legs
upon the piazza floor.

"Indeed, and I see nothing wonderful about that," spluttered Myra, who
had just opened her lips to speak, when their downfall came, and in
consequence she had shut her sharp teeth together on her tongue.

Gloriana scrambled to her feet, then laughed.  She could not help it,
for long-limbed Myra did look so funny, sprawled on the floor like a
huge spider; and amazement was written so large upon Tabitha's face
that sterner hearts than hers would have made merry at the picture
which they presented.  Rosslyn's wail of grief checked her mirth,
however, and she came hastily to his rescue, but his mother had heard
the outcry, and now appeared on the scene with the remainder of her
brood clinging to her skirts, and Billiard and Toady following close at
their heels.

"Well, for the land sakes!" she ejaculated, holding up her hands in
surprise and amusement.  "What a sight!  Are any of you hurt?  That's
good!  Now, girls, perhaps it will seem rude and ungrateful to rush you
off this way, but I had orders to see that you caught the train back to
Los Angeles this afternoon.  So I reckon you will have to move lively,
with your packing and all."

"Who gave you such orders?" demanded Tabitha in bewilderment, rubbing
her eyes to make sure she was not dreaming.

"Your father.  I met him in the city just as I was about to board the
train for Silver Bow."

"But--but--"

"No 'buts' about it," put in Myra, still sucking her injured tongue.
"I accidentally ran up against Mrs. McKittrick in Los Angeles, knew her
at once because Mercy looks so much like her, discovered that she was
planning to come back here before school opened; so I just attached
myself to her and came along--"

"Aha!" crowed Gloriana jubilantly.  "Then all that tale about finding
the Eagles' Nest without help was a--fib!"

Myra's face crimsoned and her tell-tale eyes dropped, then lifted
again, twinkling like twin stars.  "Huh!" she giggled, "our detective
again!  Say, are you going to catch that train at three o'clock?  If
so, just take wings to your feet and fly for home.  Mrs. McKittrick can
hear all about everything when you get back.  The children are alive
and well, and that's the main point.  I told her everything you had
written me and--"

"Myra Haskell!"

"Well, she was on her way home and 'twas time she knew."  She glanced
across at Mrs. McKittrick, who smiled back through her tears.  "And she
says you are bricks.  Also I told the station agent to send up his rig
for your trunks, and if you don't make haste pretty lively, he'll be
there before we are.  I suppose your trunks are at your own house?
That's where I told him to call.  Now sling out the duds you've got
here, and I'll pack them while you are getting slicked up.  No, Mrs.
McKittrick, I don't want another bite to eat, and it's evident from the
looks of the house that either these folks don't get dinner, or else
they have already eaten it."

"We've had it," volunteered Irene, "but it wasn't very good."

"Irene McKittrick!" gasped her mother.

"She is right," laughed Tabitha.  "To-day was scrap dinner.  We have it
once a week to get rid of all the odds and ends.  However, it isn't
very popular.  No, thanks, we won't need a lunch put up for us.  If we
get hungry before we reach Los Angeles, we'll patronize the diner.
Sorry we can't stop to tell you all the news, but if Dad said we must
go back on this train, I suppose we must.  Where are you staying, Myra?
Avalon?  Catalina Island?"

"The very same."

Tabitha clasped her hands together and drew a deep breath.  "How
perfectly splendid!"

"I guess I'm dreaming," murmured Gloriana, half aloud, pinching herself
vigorously to make sure she was really awake.  "Do you get there by
boat?"

"Of course, goosie!  Did you think we took an airship?  Hurry up,
slowpokes!"

Laughing and chattering gleefully, the trio gathered up their
possessions, made a hurried visit to the Catt cottage, packed their
trunks, and were at the station long before the train rumbled its way
back to the great city by the sea.

"We are going to have the grandest kind of a time," Myra told them.
"All sorts of high jinks.  We've got a dandy site for our camp,--a
dozen tents--"

"A dozen!" cried Tabitha in a panic.  "Why, who are with you?  I
thought it was just your family."

"You knew Gwynne was there?"

"Yes, but she wouldn't occupy a dozen tents.  I'm scared!"

"You needn't be," mocked Myra soothingly.  "I'll bet you will vote it
the jolliest bunch you ever got mixed up with."

"Do I know any of them?"

"Do you consider yourself acquainted with Gwynne and me?"

"Of course.  I meant any of the others."

"Well," Myra spoke dubiously, "if you don't, I think you will get
acquainted easily."  And with that remark she adroitly turned the
conversation and managed to avoid that subject during the rest of their
journey.

When the train drew into the dingy little depot the next morning, and
the trio gathered up their wraps preparatory to alighting, Tabitha was
suddenly heard to ejaculate, "Why, there is Dad!  And he's talking
with--Miss Pomeroy, as sure as I'm alive!  Myra Haskell, is Miss
Pomeroy occupying one of those twelve tents?"

Myra glanced hastily through the iron gates, saw that Tabitha was
right, and demurely nodded her head.

"Then I can imagine who the others are."

"Bet you can't!  At least, not all."

"Bet I can!"

"Who, then, smarty?"

"Grace Tilton, Bessie Jorris, Jessie Wayne, Julia, Chrystie--_is_
Chrystie there?"

"Wait and find out," teased Myra.

"Possibly Madeline and Vera,--in fact, all our bunch."

Myra merely laughed, and as they were now spied by Mr. Catt and his
companion, there was no further opportunity for discussion; for, after
a hasty greeting all around, the man seized all the grips he could
manage, and made for the street, saying briskly, "We must hurry.  The
boat goes at ten, and it is quite a ride to San Pedro."

"I hope," panted Tabitha, trotting along at the rear of the procession,
tugging a heavy suit-case, "that you don't have your fun in such a
hurry."

"What do you mean?" Myra demanded.

"Well, it's been nothing but hustle since we started out yesterday
afternoon, and I was just wondering if that's the atmosphere of your
camp, too."

"Perhaps you will think so," laughed Myra; "for there certainly are few
idle minutes with us."

"How long has the bunch been at Avalon?  Surely not all summer, or you
never could have kept it secret for such a while."

"No," Myra acknowledged, "only--but there, not another question till we
reach Catalina.  Then you can ask all you want.  I've said too much
already.  First thing I know, you will guess the rest of our surprise."
And the girl resolutely closed her lips.

"_Rest_ of the surprise," mused Tabitha to herself, when further
questions failed to bring forth any more information, and Myra was
devoting her attention to quiet Gloriana.  "I wonder what it can be.
Seems as if there had been about all the surprises one human being
could expect in twenty-four hours.  Who would ever imagine that Dad
would go on a jaunt like this?  Isn't it great to be alive in this day
and age?"

She fell to dreaming over the many changes that had come to pass in her
life during one short year, and was only roused from her revery by
Myra's gripping her shoulder and shouting in her ear, "The boat is
whistling its warning now.  Not a minute to spare.  Run, Kit, run!"
And again the little company tore frantically down the street toward
the dock where the _Cabrillo_ was tugging at her anchor, waiting for
the signal to steam away to the Enchanted Isle on her daily voyage.

It was the first time either Tabitha or Gloriana had been on the ocean;
and with rapturous hearts they drank in every detail of their brief
trip, counted the flying fish that darted out of the water on either
side of them, watched the foam dashing high against the bow of the
vessel, wondered at the long ribbon of silent water which the ship left
in its wake, and were sorry when suddenly Myra called, "There's the
island.  We are almost there.  Now for the fun!  There's a bride and
groom on board."

"How do you know?"

"Didn't you hear the whistle blow?"

"Sure, but I supposed it was to tell the islanders that we were coming.
Doesn't it always whistle?"

"Yes, but not like it did just now.  That's the way they have of
letting the folks at Avalon know when there is a recently married
couple on board.  Then the men are ready and waiting at the dock with a
wheelbarrow."

"A wheelbarrow!  What on earth do they want of a wheelbarrow?" demanded
both girls at once.

"Just for fun.  They cart the groom all around the island in it and
make a fearful racket.  Regular chivari."

"How mean!" cried Gloriana compassionately.

"Oh, it's fun," Myra declared.  "They like it.  I believe an Avalon
citizen who didn't get treated that way would feel insulted, really.
Here we are at the landing, and there is the wheelbarrow brigade.  It's
Murphy, the ice-man, who got married this time.  See, he's as proud as
a peacock at the prospect."

"Yes, but look at the poor little bride," said Gloriana indignantly.
"She is scared stiff."

"Bet she's game," replied Myra, after a quick scrutiny of the little,
shrinking woman, clinging to the arm of the big, burly Irishman, as
they stepped briskly down the gangplank.

"Do they put her in the wheelbarrow, too?" cried Tabitha in amazement.

"Oh, dear, no----"

"They will this one," said the bride with startling suddenness, having
chanced to overhear both question and answer.  "If they cart my Pat
around town in that kind of a rig, they cart me, too."  And to the
delight and amusement of the crowd gathered to greet the _Cabrillo's_
passengers, the little lady tucked herself in the barrow beside her
husband and was trundled away by the surprised citizens, who had never
wheeled just such a cargo before.

"'Here comes the bride'," a voice began to sing; the crowd took it up,
and amid a shower of bright-colored confetti, the plucky bride
disappeared down the street still seated beside her smiling Pat.

So intent was Tabitha in watching the queer procession that she had not
noticed the quiet approach of a bevy of happy-faced girls; but now, as
she turned toward Myra with the remark, "She's clear grit.  I'd choose
a wife like that if I were a man," she found the laughing eyes of Grace
Tilton staring at her, and before she could find her tongue to voice
her surprise, Gwynne's regal head bobbed through the crowd toward her.
Jessie and Julia, Vera and Kate, all her particular friends at Ivy
Hall, seemed to spring up around her, and although half expecting to
find them there, she stood transfixed with amazement, silently
regarding them one by one, while they in silence stared back at her.
Then the circle parted, and among the familiar faces of her schoolmates
appeared another, which dimpled and smiled and nodded engagingly, and
Tabitha awoke with a start.

"Carrie Carson!" she cried, and ran straight into the outstretched arms
of the golden-haired girl.

"Kitty, my puss!" whispered Carrie, cuddling the black head dropped on
her shoulder; and the other girls thoughtfully turned away to watch the
sea-gulls careening about the mastheads of the big _Cabrillo_.

But after a moment, that sweet, familiar voice spoke again, and turning
back, the Ivy Hall girls saw Carrie stretching out her hands to timid
Gloriana, as she said, "So this is my other sister, my Gloriana!  It
seems as if I had always known you.  We are going to have great times
at Ivy Hall this year.  Come on, girls, the glass bottom boat is to
take us to the Marine Gardens right after dinner, and we'll have to
hurry, or be late."

Myra turned to Tabitha with a comical grimace, and said, "What did I
tell you?  Hurry's the word."

Then a babel of voices broke loose, all laughing and talking at once,
and in triumph Tabitha and Gloriana were escorted to Ivy Hall Camp.



CHAPTER XV

MYRA'S CLIMAX

"Well, vacation is over, and we had just begun having a good time,"
sighed Tabitha mournfully, drawing back the curtains and peering out of
the window that September morning into the gray fog of early dawn.  "It
doesn't seem possible that we are back in Los Angeles again.  I 'most
wish we had stayed at Catalina for this last day."

The Catalina campers, after a delightful two weeks' outing on the
Island, had returned to mainland the day before; but as Ivy Hall had
not yet opened its doors to its pupils, and most of the girls lived in
neighboring towns, Myra Haskell had invited them to spend the night
with her at her aunt's house.  The aunt, Mrs. Cummings, was herself
away on a brief vacation, but had given her harum-scarum niece
permission to take possession of her pretty bungalow for the two nights
the party would be in Los Angeles before school commenced.  So, as the
gray day dawned, it found a dozen mummy-like figures stretched about
the floor of the great living-room, wrapped in blankets and quilts, and
snoring blissfully.

This was the audience which Tabitha addressed, but she did not realize
that she had spoken her thoughts aloud, and was startled when Myra,
without opening her eyes, grunted, "Huh!  You'll sing another tune
before night.  This is to be _the_ gala day of your life.  You will
never forget it.  When Dad starts out to do a thing, he never stops
half way.  The only trouble is to get him started."

"I didn't mean to grumble, truly," cried Tabitha, dismayed at having
had her ungracious complaint overheard by her young hostess.  "It is
just grand of your family to invite all of us out to your ranch for the
day, but I believe it's going to rain.  It certainly looks like it.
You could cut the fog with a knife."

"Whist! my young friend," murmured Gwynne, wakened from her slumbers by
the sound of voices in the room.  "Don't be so pessimistic.  Don't you
know it never rains in California?  At least not in the summer time."
For from the opposite corner of the room someone had sleepily murmured,
"What about the ostriches?" and the whole company laughed
reminiscently, recalling that Thanksgiving night when the storm had
frightened the ostriches at the Park until they broke loose and created
a panic among the returning theatre-goers.

"Who said rain?" demanded Grace, lifting a tousled head from the pillow
to survey the hilarious group scattered about the floor of the spacious
room.

"Go back to sleep,--you dreamed it!" teased Bessie, who had begun to
slip on her clothes.  "'Twas snow we were talking about.  Feels like
it, anyway."

"It _is_ pretty chilly," admitted Tabitha, shivering under the thin
folds of her borrowed dressing-gown, as she turned away from the window
and prepared to follow Bessie's example.  "Wake up, thou sluggards,
'tis time you were dressed.  Remember we have a long and arduous day
ahead of us."

"Kitty must be tired," said Julia in mock sympathy, crawling out of her
warm nest and jerking the blanket off her nearest neighbor with
ruthless hand.  "Is that it, Kitty?  First you want it to rain, and
then when you can't make it do that, you begin to moan about the length
of the day before us."

"All wrong," Vera spoke up suddenly.  "She is merely thinking of that
dear, cross-eyed boatman at Avalon.  You know he promised to give us a
free ride to the Marine Gardens this morning, and here we all came away
and dragged Tabitha with us.  Shame on us!  What could we be thinking
about!"

Tabitha wisely joined in the laugh which followed this sally, and sent
a pillow flying after her tormentor, who had made a wild dash for the
hall.  "No, sir, I'm not bemoaning my fate," she vigorously denied,
with her mouth full of pins.  "I know we shall have a splendid time at
the ranch.  Only it seems as if vacation had only just begun, instead
of being nearly ended; and the day looks so cloudy and gray that it
doesn't seem like a fitting climax for our lovely two weeks at
Catalina."

"It is too bad that you got cheated out of all the fun this summer,"
Myra sympathized heartily.  "But just you wait until the day is done
before you say it is not a fitting climax--  Gracious Caesar!  Here's
one of the autos already!  Surely they can't be coming so soon!  What
time is it, anyway?"

"Half-past six," Gloriana answered, glancing at an open watch that lay
on the library table.

"Half-past nothing!" cried Vera, tumbling hastily into the room with
her eyes as big as saucers.  "It is almost eight o'clock!"

"You are joking!" cried the rest of the group in wild alarm.

"Am not!  True as you're alive, the kitchen clock says a quarter of
eight o'clock."

"Oho!" murmured Myra guilty.  "I--I--really, I forgot----"

"Forgot what?" they demanded, as she doubled up and shrieked with
laughter.

"I--I must have set all the watches in the crowd behind time," she
managed to explain at length.

"When?"

"Last night."

"What for?"

"Just a joke."

"A joke?  I can't see any joke about that!" spluttered Jessie
indignantly.  "Did you think we wanted to go for a forty-mile auto ride
on empty stomachs?  I'm as hungry as a bear this minute."

"I am awfully sorry," cried Myra penitently, sobering at the
realization of just what would be the outcome of her joke.  "I meant to
set them two hours ahead, so you would all get up at daybreak and be
ready long before the autos came."

"Just like you!" they exclaimed, half amused, half provoked.  "What are
you going to do about it now?"

"What can we do?  The autos are here already with the rest of the
people.  There are the Carsons and here comes Miss Pomeroy."

"And there is Tabitha's father in his new machine."

"Yes, and mine," said Myra.  "My! won't he be mad to think we aren't
even dressed?  If there is one thing above another that he abominates,
it is having to wait for a woman to get ready to go somewhere.  Well, I
suppose I'll have to break the news to him.  Then after you have all
gone home again, won't I get the dickens?"

"Hold on!" cried Tabitha, as Myra started for the door.  "There is no
need of that, is there?  I've got a brilliant inspiration.  Didn't you
say when you investigated the larder last night that your aunt must
have baked just a-purpose for our visit?"

"Yes, words to that effect.  There is a whole crock full of doughnuts
and another of cookies.  She must have had baking day just before she
decided to take her little trip.  But why?"

"We'll just fill our pockets----"

"Haven't any!"

"Well, our hands, then, and eat our breakfast on the sly."

"On the _fly_ you mean," said Gwynne, sarcastically.

"To be exact, yes.  Or perhaps it would be better to pretend that we
just found the supplies as we were about to leave the house.  That will
be the truth, so far as the most of us are concerned.  Won't it?"

"But cookies and doughnuts are pretty slim fare for hungry bodies,"
grumbled Vera, tugging at an unruly collar.

"Better than nothing," said Bessie cheerfully.  "Dinner will taste all
the better."

"But we aren't ready," objected Julia, slipping the last hairpin in the
heavy coil at the back of her head.  "My shoes aren't buttoned yet, and
I can't scare up a hook in the whole outfit."

"Bring 'em in your hand, then," suggested Gwynne.  "I'm ready now, and
I elect myself commissary general to distribute the rations as you pass
out.  Who'll be first in line?  Gather up your bedding, Jessie, and
stack it in the corner, else Myra's aunt will think tramps camped here
instead of civilized human beings.  Now, are you all clothed and in
your right minds?  Then, Grace, poke your head out of the window and
announce to the audience that we will be out in a minute.  Where are
your hats and coats?  Yes, Kate, there'll be time for you to wash your
face if you haven't been able to do so before.  Look pleasant, please!
No one must suspect that we've had no breakfast; but in my mind's eye,
I can see this bunch stowing away their dinner three or four hours from
now.  Hope they serve it as soon as we get there.  Do you suppose there
will be enough to go around?  How far did you say it was, Myra?  Forty
miles?"

Laughing and joking, the dozen hungry, breakfastless girls hurried into
their coats and veils, seized their pitifully small allotment of
doughnuts and cookies, and boisterously climbed aboard the autos
waiting for them.

"Only ten minutes late by actual count," Mr. Haskell complimented them,
as the merry crowd poured out of the door.

"Well, well, that's doing fine!  How did it happen?"

"It's all Myra's fault," began Vera plaintively, but Myra, fearful that
she was about to be betrayed, hastily asked, "Where is the dinner, Dad?
Didn't mother tell you to bring----"

"Some stuffed squabs, fruit and cake?  Yes, she did; and it's packed in
that trunk hitched onto the step there.  You'll have to sit on it, I
guess.  There doesn't seem to be quite room enough to accommodate all
the crowd."

This arrangement just suited Myra, who loved to romp like her brothers;
so she gleefully perched on top of the long, flat chest strapped on one
side of the auto, and the procession slowly set out on its long journey.

"My! but it's a beautiful day," sighed Tabitha at length, her eyes
wandering from the fog-wet landscape below to the sky above, where the
blue was already chasing away the gray, as the sun struggled up behind
the eastern hills.

"Didn't I tell you so?" crowed Gwynne, regretfully studying the last
bite of a doughnut before popping it into her mouth.  "It doesn't rain
in California.  Is this the river we cross eighteen times, Myra, in
order to reach your ranch?"

"Only eight," mumbled Myra, with her mouth full of cookie crumbs.
"This is it.  Allow me to introduce you to the great----"

"Great!" echoed Tabitha, looking down at the shallow, sluggish stream
with critical eyes.  "Is it _really_ a river?  Looks to me like the
little puddles we used to sail boats in after a heavy rain-storm back
home when I was a little tot."

"It isn't very awe-inspiring now, is it?  But you should see it in the
spring after the rains.  It certainly can play havoc then.  Changes its
channel every two or three years, and causes all sorts of damage.  What
is the matter ahead there?"  Their auto had slowed down suddenly, and
now came to an abrupt halt in the middle of the road.  "What has
happened, Dad?"

"Carson's auto is stuck in the mud."

"Mud?"

"Well, the river-bed, if that suits you any better.  I'll get out and
see if I can help them----"

"No need; they've started up again," said Tabitha, waving her hand at
Carrie and wishing that she had been fortunate enough to get a seat in
Mr. Carson's machine.

The delayed procession started onward again, and without further
difficulty crossed the muddy river-bed and sped swiftly away down the
smooth road on the other side.  But that same river had to be reckoned
with seven more times, and each time at least one of the cars sank in
the treacherous mud and had to be dug out.

"Well, thank fortune, this is the last time we cross!" breathed Myra,
as they approached the winding river for the eighth time.  "Ours is the
only auto that hasn't stuck fast so far.  Let her out, Dad, and we'll
be on the other bank in a jiffy.  I never knew the river to be so high
at this season of the year."

"Knock on wood, Myra, knock on wood!" cried Gwynne in mock alarm.  "Too
late, we've stuck fast!  Why on earth couldn't you wait until we had
safely reached the other side before you commenced bragging?"

"Huh!  You superstitious duck, did you think we could escape?  Oh,
pshaw, we're out!  Not even the fun of having to be helped across like
the others were!  Well, never mind, Mr. Catt's machine is sure to stick
again.  It has every time so far.  There, didn't I tell you?  Hurrah!
Watch your father puff, Kitty.  Ain't he a sight?  Get out your shovel,
Mr. Catt!"

Myra was excitedly dancing on the lid of the luncheon-filled chest, as
she hung precariously over the back of the tonneau, and bawled her
remarks at the unfortunate occupants of the auto behind them, which
seemed to sink deeper and deeper in the mire with every effort to dig
her out.

"Fasten this rope to your car and we'll try dragging you out," finally
suggested the ponderous Mr. Haskell, clambering heavily down from his
seat at the wheel and going to the aid of his unlucky neighbor, who was
not yet much skilled in the art of running an automobile.  So they tied
the two cars together with a heavy rope, and tried to drag the captive
machine loose, but without success.

"Let me drive," suggested Myra, after they had tugged in vain for
several minutes, "and you get out and pull on the rope, too."

"What good will that do?" growled her father crossly.  "If sixty horse
power won't budge the thing, do you suppose man's puny strength will?"

Nevertheless, he crawled out of his seat once more, and seized the
great rope dangling between the two cars.  Mr. Catt, resigning his
wheel to the driver of the next machine in line, followed Mr. Haskell's
example, and with three or four of the other men of the party, they
added their strength to that of the machine, and pulled with all their
might.  Myra, at the wheel, was in her element, and putting on full
power, she gave the lever a vicious jerk.  The car leaped forward like
a thing alive, and bounded up the opposite bank at break-neck speed.

"Ah!" she cried in triumph, "I knew I could get her started.  I'm a
bird!"

"Oh, Daddy," shrieked Tabitha's voice from the rear seat.  "Let go, oh,
let go!  Mr. Haskell, you'll be killed!"

"Myra, you chump!" hissed Gwynne in her ear.  "Shut that thing off!
The rope's bu'sted and you are dragging our precious men folks uphill."

Myra glanced hastily behind her, reversed the wheel, and as the car
came to a standstill, she sprawled across the seat, doubled up with
merriment, half hysterical.  "Oh, didn't they look funny hanging onto
that rope?  What fools some mortals be!  Why didn't they let go?  Bet
Dad's got his nose skinned good, for when I looked back, he was plowing
up the road on his head.  Is he hurt?  I don't dast to ask!  Mr. Catt,
your clothes are pretty dusty."

"Dusty I'll admit, but not very pretty," he smiled grimly, as he wiped
the perspiration from his grimy face.  "However, you got the car out of
the rut, so perhaps we can proceed on our way now."

"Then it might be wise if I resigned my seat to the chauffeur before I
am requested," chuckled Myra, still laughing immoderately at thought of
her father's undignified attitude as he was dragged through the dust,
clinging desperately to the frayed end of the broken rope.  So she
scrambled nimbly to her place on the running board, and there Mr.
Haskell found her sitting prim and decorous when he had finally
recovered his breath and made himself sufficiently presentable to face
the rest of the party.

"Your nose is a little--soiled," she told him, as he climbed stiffly
into his seat, "and somewhat scrubbed, I'm afraid."

Her voice shook a little in spite of her efforts to control her mirth,
and he scowled darkly at his irrepressible daughter, though he only
said, "Are you all ready?"

So again the procession of autos took up their journey, and with no
further accident finally reached the great walnut ranch where the
Haskell family lived during the summer.  The rosy, smiling mother
greeted them from the veranda as the cars rolled up the smooth driveway
and unloaded at the door.  "You are late," she said cheerily.  "Did you
have any mishaps?  I knew you would be hungry after your long ride, so
we are serving dinner early.  Dave, did you get the squabs all right?"

"Yes, he did," Myra answered.  "I sat on them all the way out here.
Dad, bring on the 'eats'.  Why, what is the matter?"

Mr. Haskell stood in the driveway frowning heavily at the car, much as
he might have done at a naughty little boy.  At Myra's boisterous call,
he raised his eyes and inquired, "Where _are_ the 'eats'?"

"In the chest, of course.  What do you--"  Her voice died away in a
husky, bewildered squeak.  The rest of the party came closer, followed
the direction of her glance, and gasped.  The hamper full of stuffed
squabs was gone!

"Well, of all things!" cried Gwynne, when the silence was becoming
oppressive.  "How could it have happened?"

"With Myra sitting on it!" chorused the girls.

"Didn't you miss it?"

"N-o."

"Ha, ha, that's one on you, Miss Haskell," laughed Mr. Carson.
"_Sitting_ on the lunch box and never missed it when it tumbled
overboard.  How did _you_ manage to stick on?"

"How did the other machines manage to come along behind us and never
find it?" retorted Myra, nettled at the hilarity of her companions.
"_That_ is the question!"

"We must have lost it in the river," suggested Tabitha.

"Of course!  When we were trying to pull out the other machine and I
shaved Dad's nose.  Didn't I do a good job, Mumsie?  Must we go hungry
now because I lost all your little stuffed scrubs,--I mean squabs?"
Anxiously she turned toward her mother and scanned that sober face, for
her eighteen hour fast had left her half famished, and there were at
least eleven other girls in the same boat, all because of her stupid
attempt at joking.

"We-ll, I have cooked a kettle of new potatoes and another of green
corn,--plenty of both.  But it looks as if you must go without meat."

"Oh, we can get along nicely, I know.  Vegetables are better than meat
anyway, you know.  Come on, let's eat!"  At that moment she felt hungry
enough to swallow the dishes themselves, and anything sounded
appetizing to her.  As the rest of the party were equally as hungry,
they were not slow to respond to her invitation, and in a very short
time the tables were stripped; but the ravenous appetites were
appeased, and the little company scattered in groups about the ranch to
enjoy the few brief hours of their stay.

The return trip was as tame as the first part of the journey had been
exciting, for not a single car stuck once, and just as the city clocks
were striking nine, the tired, sunburned, but blissfully happy girls
again found themselves entering Mrs. Cummings' deserted house, where
they were to spend this last night before Ivy Hall opened its doors to
receive them.

"Oh, Kit, your father gave me a letter for you, hours ago," suddenly
exclaimed Myra in dismay, as they were unrolling their blankets ready
for bed, and she dragged forth a crumpled envelope from her blouse and
presented it to her surprised companion.  "I'm so sorry I forgot it.
Really, it's inexcusable in me."

"It's of little consequence," Tabitha assured her, scanning the
unfamiliar handwriting with puzzled eyes.  "I don't know anyone in
Boston.  Oh, it's from Billiard and Toady, I reckon.  They live at
Jamaica Plains, and--why, there's money in it!  One hundred dollars.
What in the world--  Will you listen to this, girls?  You know I told
you about their getting part of the reward for helping capture the bank
robbers in Silver Bow?  Well, they are sending it back and want to know
if it's enough to give Mercedes another year at Ivy Hall."

A deep hush fell upon the group of tired, sleepy girls preparing for
the night.  Each maid recalled with a twinge of conscience the picture
of quiet, sober-faced Mercedes McKittrick, as she had said good-bye to
them that last day of school.  "I can never forget any of you," she had
said shyly, "and I'm glad of that, for it's nice to remember pleasant
times when you can't have any more."  They had not understood then, but
now they knew it was her way of renouncing the happy school days which
she must give up because of her father's illness; and they were ashamed
of their indifference.

"I'll add fifty dollars of the check Uncle Jerry gave me," whispered
Gloriana, breaking the painful silence at last.

"And there's my birthday money in the bank," said Tabitha.  "That's
another fifty."

"Oh, if only I hadn't spent my allowance for clothes that I didn't
need!" groaned Myra.  "But I still have nine dollars and ninety-nine
cents left.  Can anyone make it an even ten?  Ivy Hall will be open to
us to-morrow, and school begins Monday.  I can get along nicely on my
nerve until my next allowance comes in.  Here, let's pass the hat."

"Me, first!" cried Bessie enthusiastically, reaching for her purse.
"I'll give ten dollars."

"My money is _all_ gone," mourned Grace, "but I'll _promise_ ten
dollars if you will take pledges."

In utter amazement Tabitha sat curled up on her pile of blankets,
watching the shower of gold and silver which poured into her lap.  "Oh,
girls," she gasped, when she could find her tongue.  "How can I ever
thank you?  Mercy will be transported with joy.  Here's more than
enough to pay all her expenses, and Carrie will want a share in it,
too.  Aren't friends splendid!"  Her voice was husky and tremulous, and
two bright drops glistened in her black eyes.  What a beautiful world
this is to live in!  Somehow, the spontaneous gift to little Mercedes
seemed a gift to her also, and she thoroughly appreciated the loving
act of her classmates.  What a beautiful climax to her summer vacation!

Jessie sniffed audibly, and Vera surreptitiously wiped a big tear off
the end of her nose.  Myra, who hated scenes, brought the group back to
the earth with a thump, saying briskly, "Come, let's to bed!  I'm half
dead already, and my face is smarting like sin.  I don't like your cold
cream, Kitty."

"Cold cream?" repeated Tabitha in surprise.

"Yes, I helped myself to the contents of the jar I found in your
suitcase.  No one else had any, and my face was burned to a frazzle."

"Did you put that stuff on your face?" screamed Tabitha, holding up a
tiny white jar of creamy paste.

"Sure.  Why?"

"Because it's corn salve.  No wonder it smarts.  Go wash----"

But Myra waited to hear no more.  There was a wild scamper of bare feet
on the hall floor, the bath-room door banged noisily, water splashed
vigorously, and just as the girls were drifting off to sleep, they
heard Myra, snuggling down in her blankets, murmur sadly, "It's lucky
the Hall opens to-morrow.  Otherwise these girls would soon be the
death of me."





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