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Title: Ruth Fielding In the Saddle - College Girls in the Land of Gold
Author: Emerson, Alice B.
Language: English
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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.

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[Illustration: AS THE MAD HORSE CIRCLED HER, THE GIRL STRUCK AGAIN AND
AGAIN. Page 171]



                             Ruth Fielding
                             In the Saddle


                            COLLEGE GIRLS IN
                            THE LAND OF GOLD

                                   BY

                            ALICE B. EMERSON

               Author of “Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill,”
                 “Ruth Fielding on Cliff Island,” Etc.

                             _ILLUSTRATED_

[Image]

                                NEW YORK
                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS



                            Books for Girls
                          BY ALICE B. EMERSON
                          RUTH FIELDING SERIES
                       12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.


                 RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL

                 RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL

                 RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP

                 RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT

                 RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH

                 RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND

                 RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM

                 RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES

                 RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES

                 RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE

                 RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE

                 RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE


               Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York.

                          Copyright, 1917, by
                         Cupples & Leon Company

                      Ruth Fielding in the Saddle

                          Printed in U. S. A.



                                CONTENTS

               CHAPTER                                 PAGE
                    I. What Is Coming                     1
                   II. Eavesdropping                      9
                  III. The Letter from Yucca             18
                   IV. A Week at Home                    26
                    V. The Girl in Lower Five            35
                   VI. Somebody Ahead of Them            44
                  VII. A Mysterious Affair               52
                 VIII. Min                               58
                   IX. In the Saddle at Last             67
                    X. The Stampede                      75
                   XI. At Handy Gulch                    82
                  XII. Min Shows Her Mettle              94
                 XIII. An Ursine Holdup                 100
                  XIV. At Freezeout Camp                109
                   XV. More Discoveries                 117
                  XVI. New Arrivals                     124
                 XVII. The Man in the Cabin             134
                XVIII. Ruth Really Has a Secret         142
                  XIX. Something Unexpected             151
                   XX. The Mad Stallion                 159
                  XXI. A Peril of the Saddle            167
                 XXII. Ruth Hears Something             177
                XXIII. More of It                       185
                 XXIV. The Real Thing                   192
                  XXV. Uncle Jabez Is Converted         199



RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE



CHAPTER I—WHAT IS COMING


“Will you do it?” asked the eager, black-eyed girl sitting on the deep
window shelf.

“If Mr. Hammond says the synopsis of the picture is all right, I’ll go.”

“Oh, Ruthie! It would be just—just scrumptious!”

“_We’ll_ go, Helen—just as we agreed last week,” said her chum, laughing
happily.

“It will be great! great!” murmured Helen Cameron, her hands clasped in
blissful anticipation. “Right into the ‘wild and woolly.’ Dear me, Ruth
Fielding, we _do_ have the nicest times—you and I!”

“You needn’t overlook me,” grumbled the third and rather plump freshman
who occupied the most comfortable chair in the chums’ study in Dare
Hall.

“That would be rather—er—impossible, wouldn’t it, Heavy?” suggested
Helen Cameron, rolling her black eyes.

Jennie Stone made a face like a street gamin, but otherwise ignored
Helen’s cruel suggestion. “I’d rather register joy, too——Oh, yes, I’m
going with you; have written home about it. Have to tell Aunt Kate
ahead, you know. Yes, I’d register joy, if it weren’t for one thing that
I see looming before us.”

“What’s that, honey?” asked Ruth.

“The horseback ride from Yucca into the Hualapai Range seems like a
doubtful equation to me.”

“Don’t you mean ‘doubtful equestrianism’?” put in the black-eyed girl
with a chuckle.

“Perhaps I do,” sighed Jennie. “You know, I’m a regular sailor on
horseback.”

“You should have taken it up when we were all at Silver Ranch with Ann
Hicks,” Ruth said.

“Oh, say not so!” begged Jennie Stone lugubriously. “What I should have
done in the past has nothing to do with this coming summer. I groan to
think of what I shall have to endure.”

“Who will do the groaning for the horse that has to carry you, Heavy?”
interposed the irrepressible Helen, giving her the old nickname that
Jennie Stone now scarcely deserved.

“Never mind. Let the horse do his own worrying,” was the placid reply.
The temper of the well nourished girl was not easily ruffled.

“Why, Jennie, _think!_” ejaculated Helen, suddenly turned brisk and
springing down from the window seat. “It will be just the jaunt for you.
The physical culturists claim there is nothing so good for reducing
flesh and helping one’s poor, sluggish liver as horseback riding.”

“Say!” drawled the other girl, her nose tilted at a scornful angle,
“those people say a lot more than their prayers—believe me! Most
physical culturists have never ridden any kind of horse in their lives
but a hobbyhorse—and they still ride _that_ when they are senile.”

Ruth applauded. “A Daniel come to judgment!” she cried.

“Huh!” sniffed Jennie, suspiciously. “What does that mean?”

“I—I don’t just know myself,” confessed Ruth. “But it sounds good—and
Dr. Milroth used it this morning in chapel, so it must be all right.”

“Anything that our revered dean says goes big with me, I confess,” said
Jennie. “Oh, girls! isn’t she just a dear?”

“And hasn’t Ardmore been just the delightsomest place for nine months?”
cried Helen.

“Even better than Briarwood,” agreed Ruth.

“That sounds almost sacrilegious,” Helen observed. “I don’t know about
any place being finer than old Briarwood.”

“There’s Ann!” cried Ruth in a tone that made both the others jump.

“Where? Where?” demanded Helen, whirling about to look out of the window
again. The window gave a broad view of the lower slope of College Hill
and the expanse of Lake Remona. Dusk was just dropping, for the time was
after dinner; but objects were still to be clearly observed. “Where’s
Jane Ann Hicks?”

“Just completing her full course at Briarwood Hall,” Ruth explained
demurely. “She will go to Montana, of course. But if I write her I know
she’ll join us at Yucca just for the fun of the ride.”

“Some people’s idea of fun!” groaned Jennie.

“What are _you_ attempting to go for, then?” demanded Helen, somewhat
wonderingly.

“Because I think it is my duty,” the plump girl declared. “You young and
flighty freshies aren’t fit to go so far without somebody solid along——”

“‘Solid!’ You said it!” scoffed Helen.

“I was referring to character, Miss Cameron,” returned the other shaking
her head. “But Ann is certainly a good fellow. I hope she will go,
Ruth.”

“I declare, Ruthie,” exclaimed her chum, “you are getting up a regular
party!”

“Why not?”

“It _will_ be great fun,” acknowledged the black-eyed girl.

“Of course it will, goosie,” said Jennie Stone. “Isn’t everything that
Ruth Fielding plans always fun? Say, Ruth, there are some girls right
here at Ardmore—and freshies, too—who would be tickled to death to join
us.”

“Goodness!” objected Ruth, laughing at her friend’s exuberance. “I
wouldn’t wish to be the cause of a general massacre, so perhaps we’d
better not invite any of the other girls.”

“Little Davenport would go,” Jennie pursued. “She’s a regular bear on a
pony.”

“Bareback riding, do you mean, Heavy?” drawled Helen.

Except for a look, which she hoped was withering, this was ignored by
the plump girl, who went on: “Trix would jump at the chance, Ruth. You
know, she has no regular home. She’s just passed around from one family
of relations to another during vacations. She told me so.”

“Would her guardian agree?” asked Ruth.

“Nothing easier. She told me he wouldn’t care if she joined that party
that’s going to start for the south pole this season. He’s afraid of
girls. He’s an old bachelor—and a misogynist.”

“Goodness!” murmured Helen. “There should be something done about
letting such savage animals be at large.”

“It’s no fun for poor little Trix,” said Jennie.

“She shall be asked,” Ruth declared. “And Sally Blanchard.”

“Oh, yes!” cried Helen. “She owns a horse, and has been riding three
times a week all this spring. Her father believes that horseback riding
keeps the doctor away.”

“Improvement on ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away,’” quoted Ruth.

“How about eating an onion a day?” put in Jennie. “That will keep
everybody away!”

“Oh, Jennie, we’re not getting anywhere!” declared Helen Cameron. “_Are_
you going to invite a bunch of girls, Ruth, to go West with us?”

This is how the idea germinated and took root. Ruth and Helen had talked
over the possibility of making the trip into the Hualapai Range for more
than a fortnight; but nothing had as yet been planned in detail.

Mr. Hammond, president of the Alectrion Film Corporation had conceived
the idea of a spectacular production on the screen of “The
Forty-Niners”—as the title implied, a picture of the early gold digging
in the West. He had heard of an abandoned mining camp in Mohave County,
Arizona, which could easily and cheaply be put into the condition it was
before its inhabitants stampeded for other gold diggings.

Mr. Hammond desired to have most of the scenes taken at Freezeout Camp
and he had talked over the plot of the story with Ruth Fielding, whose
previous successes as a scenario writer were remarkable. The producer
wished, too, that Ruth should visit the abandoned mining camp to get her
“local color” and to be on the scene when his company arrived to make
the films.

There was a particular reason, too, why Ruth had a more than ordinary
interest in this proposed production. Instead of being paid outright for
her work as the writer of the scenario, some of her own money was to be
invested in the picture. Having taken up the making of motion pictures
seriously and hoping to make it her livelihood after graduating from
college, Ruth wished her money as well as her brains to work for her.

Nor was the president of the Alectrion Film Corporation doing an
unprecedented thing in making this arrangement. In this way the shrewd
capitalists behind the great film-making companies have obtained the
best work from chief directors, the most brilliant screen stars, and the
more successful scenario writers. To give those who show special talent
in the chief departments of the motion picture industry a financial
interest in the work, has proved gainful to all concerned.

Ruth had walked slowly to the window, and she stood a moment looking out
into the warm June dusk. The campus was deserted, but lights glimmered
everywhere in the windows of the Ardmore dormitories. This was the
evening before Commencement Day and most of the seniors and juniors were
holding receptions, or “tea fights.”

“What do you think, girls?” Ruth said thoughtfully. “Of course, we’ll
have to have the guide Mr. Hammond spoke about, and a packtrain anyway.
And the more girls the merrier.”

“Bully!” breathed the slangy Miss Stone, wiggling in her chair.

“Oh, I vote we do, Ruth. Have ’em all meet at Yucca and——”

Suddenly Ruth cried out and sprang back from the window.

“What’s the matter, dear?” asked Helen, rushing over to her and seizing
her chum’s arm.

“What bit you, Ruth Fielding? A mosquito?” demanded Jennie.

“Sh! girls,” breathed the girl of the Red Mill softly. “There’s somebody
just under this window—on the ledge!”



CHAPTER II—EAVESDROPPING


Helen tiptoed to the window and peered out suddenly. She expected to
catch the eavesdropper, but——

“Why, there’s nobody here, Ruth,” she complained.

“No-o?”

“Not a soul. The ledge is bare away to the end. You—you must have been
mistaken, dear.”

Ruth looked out again and Jennie Stone crowded in between them, likewise
eager to see.

“I know there was a girl there,” whispered Ruth. “She lay right under
this window.”

“But what for? Trying to scare us?” asked Helen.

“Trying to break her own neck, I should think,” sniffed Jennie. “Who’d
risk climbing along this ledge?”

“_I_ have,” confessed Helen. “It’s not such a stunt. Other girls have.”

“But _why?_” demanded the plump freshman. “What was she here for?”

“Listening, I tell you,” Helen said.

“To what? We weren’t discussing buried treasure—or even any personal
scandal,” laughed Jennie. “What do you think, Ruth?”

“That is strange,” murmured the girl of the Red Mill reflectively.

“The strangest thing is where she could have gone so quickly,” said
Helen.

“Pshaw! around the corner—the nearest corner, of course,” observed
Jennie with conviction.

“Oh! I didn’t think of that,” cried Ruth, and went to the other window,
for the study shared during their freshman year by her and Helen Cameron
was a corner room with windows looking both west and south.

When the trio of puzzled girls looked out of the other open window,
however, the wide ledge of sandstone which ran all around Dare Hall just
beneath the second story windows was deserted.

“Who lives along that way?” asked Jennie, meaning the occupants of the
several rooms the windows of which overlooked the ledge on the west side
of the building.

“Why—May MacGreggor for one,” said Helen. “But it wouldn’t be May. She’s
not snoopy.”

“I should say not! Nor is Rebecca Frayne,” Ruth said. “She has the fifth
room away. And girls! I believe Rebecca would be delighted to go with us
to Arizona.”

“Oh—well——Could she go?” asked Helen pointedly.

“Perhaps. Maybe it can be arranged,” Ruth said reflectively.

She seemed to wish to lead the attention of the other two from the
mystery of the girl she had observed on the ledge. But Helen, who knew
her so well, pinched Ruth’s arm and whispered:

“I believe you know who it was, Ruthie Fielding. You can’t fool me.”

“Sh!” admonished her friend, and because Ruth’s influence was very
strong with the black-eyed girl, the latter said no more about the
mystery just then.

Ruth Fielding’s influence over Helen had begun some years before—indeed,
almost as soon as Ruth herself, a heart-sore little orphan, had arrived
at the Red Mill to live with her Uncle Jabez and his little old
housekeeper, Aunt Alvirah, “who was nobody’s relative, but everybody’s
aunt.”

Helen and her twin brother, Tom Cameron, were the first friends Ruth
made, and in the first volume of this series of stories, entitled, “Ruth
Fielding of the Red Mill,” is related the birth and growth of this
friendship. Ruth and Helen go to Briarwood Hall for succeeding terms
until they are ready for college; and their life there and their
adventures during their vacations at Snow Camp, at Lighthouse Point, at
Silver Ranch, at Cliff Island, at Sunrise Farm, with the Gypsies, in
Moving Pictures and Down in Dixie are related in successive volumes.

Following this first vacation trip Ruth and Helen, with their old chum
Jennie Stone, entered Ardmore College, and in “Ruth Fielding at College;
Or, The Missing Examination Papers,” the happenings of the chums’
freshman year at this institution for higher education are narrated.

The present story, the twelfth of the series, opens during the closing
days of the college year. Ruth’s plans for the summer—or for the early
weeks of it at least—are practically made.

The trip West, into the Hualapai Range of Arizona for the business of
making a moving picture of “The Forty-Niners” had already stirred the
imagination of Ruth and her two closest friends. But the idea of forming
a larger party to ride through the wilds from Yucca to Freezeout Camp
was a novel one.

“It will be great fun,” said Helen again. “Of course, old Tom will go
along anyway——”

“To chaperon us,” giggled Jennie.

“No. To see we don’t fall out of our saddles,” Ruth laughed. “Now! let’s
think about it, girls, and decide on whom we shall invite.”

“Trix and Sally,” Jennie said.

“And Ann Hicks!” cried Helen. “You write to her, Ruth.”

“I will to-night,” promised her chum. “And I’m going to speak to Rebecca
Frayne at once.”

“I’ll see Beatrice,” stated Jennie, moving toward the door.

“And I’ll run and ask Sally. She’s a good old scout,” said Helen.

But as soon as the plump girl had departed, Helen flung herself upon
Ruth. “Who was she? Tell me, quick!” she demanded.

“The girl under that window?”

“Of course. You know, Ruthie.”

“I—I suspect,” her chum said slowly.

“Tell me!”

“Edie Phelps.”

“There!” exclaimed Helen, her black eyes fairly snapping with
excitement. “I thought so.”

“You did?” asked Ruth, puzzled. “Why should she be listening to us?
She’s never shown any particular interest in us Briarwoods.”

“But for a week or two I’ve noticed her hanging around. It’s something
concerning this vacation trip she wants to find out about, I believe.”

“Why, how odd!” Ruth said. “I can’t understand it.”

“I wish we’d caught her,” said Helen, sharply, for she did not like the
sophomore in question. Edith Phelps had been something of a “thorn in
the flesh” to the chums during their freshman year.

“Well, I don’t know,” Ruth murmured. “It would only have brought on
another quarrel with her. We’d better ignore it altogether I think.”

“Humph!” sniffed Helen. “That doesn’t satisfy my curiosity; and I’m
frank to confess that I’m bitten deep by _that_ microbe.”

“Oh well, my dear,” said Ruth, teasingly, “there are many things in this
life it is better you should not know. Ahem! I’m going to see Rebecca.”

Helen ran off, too, to Sarah Blanchard’s room. Many of the girls’ doors
were ajar and there was much visiting back and forth on this last
evening; while the odor of tea permeated every nook and cranny of Dare
Hall.

Rebecca’s door was closed, however, as Ruth expected. Rebecca Frayne was
not as yet socially popular at Ardmore—not even among the girls of her
own class.

In the first place she had come to college with an entirely wrong idea
of what opportunities for higher education meant for a girl. Her people
were very poor and very proud—a family of old New England stock that
looked down upon those who achieved success “in trade.”

Had it not been for Ruth Fielding’s very good sense, and her advice and
aid, Rebecca could never have remained at Ardmore to complete her
freshman year. During this time, and especially toward the last of the
school year, she had learned some things of importance besides what was
contained within the covers of her textbooks.

But Ruth worried over the possibility that before their sophomore year
should open in September, the influence at home would undo all the good
Rebecca Frayne had gained.

“I’ve just the thing for you, Becky!” Ruth Fielding cried, carrying her
friend’s study by storm. “What do you think?”

“Something nice, I presume, Ruth Fielding. You always _are_ doing
something uncommonly kind for me.”

“Nonsense!”

“No nonsense about it. I was just wondering what I should ever do
without you all this long summer.”

“That’s it!” cried Ruth, laughing. “You’re not going to get rid of me so
easily.”

“What do you mean?” asked Rebecca, wonderingly.

“That you’ll go with us. I need you badly, Becky. You’ve learned to
rattle the typewriter so nicely——”

“Want me to get an office position for the summer near you?” Rebecca
asked, the flush rising in her cheek.

“Better than that,” declared Ruth, ignoring Rebecca’s flush and tone of
voice. “You know, I told you we are going West.”

“You and Cameron? Yes.”

“And Jennie Stone, and perhaps others. But I want you particularly.”

“Oh, Ruth Fielding! I couldn’t! You know just how _dirt poor_ we are.
It’s all Buddie can do to find the money for my soph year here. No! It
is impossible!”

“Nothing is impossible. ‘In the bright lexicon of youth,’ and so forth.
You can go if you will.”

“I couldn’t accept such a great kindness, Ruth,” Rebecca said, in her
hard voice.

“Better wait till you learn how terribly kind I am,” laughed Ruth. “I
have an axe to grind, my dear.”

“An axe!”

“Yes, indeedy! I want you to help me. I really do.”

“To _write?_” gasped Rebecca. “You know very well, Ruth Fielding, that I
can scarcely compose a decent letter. I _hate_ that form of human folly
known as ‘Lit-ra-choor.’ I couldn’t do it.”

“No,” said Ruth, smiling demurely. “I am going to write my own scenario.
But I will get a portable typewriter, and I want you to copy my stuff.
Besides, there will be several copies to make, and some work after the
director gets there. Oh, you’ll have no sinecure! And if you’ll go and
do it, I’ll put up the money but you’ll be paying all the expenses,
Becky. What say?”

Ruth knew very well that if she had offered to pay Rebecca a salary the
foolishly proud girl would never have accepted. But she had put it in
such a way that Rebecca Frayne could not but accept.

“You dear!” she said, with her arms about Ruth’s neck and displaying as
she seldom did the real love she felt for the girl of the Red Mill.
“I’ll do it. I’ve an old riding habit of auntie’s that I can make over.
And of course, I can ride.”

“You’d better make your habit into bloomers and a divided skirt,”
laughed Ruth. “That’s how Jane Ann—and Helen and Jennie, too—will dress,
as well as your humble servant. There _are_ women who ride sidesaddle in
the West; but they do not ride into the rough trails that we are going
to attempt. In fact, most of ’em wear trousers outright.”

“Goodness! My aunt would have a fit,” murmured Rebecca Frayne.



CHAPTER III—THE LETTER FROM YUCCA


Before Dare Hall was quiet that night it was known throughout the
dormitory that six girls of the freshman class were going to spend a
part of the summer vacation in the wilds of Arizona.

“Like enough we’ll never see any of them again,” declared May
MacGreggor. “The female of the species is scarce in ‘them parts,’ I
understand. They will all six get married to cowboys, or gold miners,
or——”

“Or movie actors,” snapped Edith Phelps, with a toss of her head. “I
presume Fielding is quite familiar with any quantity of ‘juvenile leads’
and ‘stunt’ actors as well as ‘custard-pie comedians.’”

“Oh, behave, Edie!” chuckled the Scotch girl. “I’d love to go with ’em
myself, but I must help mother take care of the children this summer.
There’s a wild bunch of ‘loons’ at my house.”

Fortunately, Helen Cameron did not hear Edith’s criticism. Helen had a
sharp tongue of her own and she had no fear now of the sophomore.
Indeed, both Ruth and Helen had quite forgotten over night their
suspicions regarding the girl at their study window. They arose betimes
and went for a last run around the college grounds in their track suits,
as they had been doing for most of the spring. The chums had gone in for
athletics as enthusiastically at Ardmore as they had at Briarwood Hall.

Just as they set out from the broad front steps of Dare and rounded the
corner of the building toward the west, Ruth stopped with a little cry.
There at her feet lay a letter.

“Somebody’s dropped a billet-doux,” said Helen. “Or is it just an
envelope?”

Ruth picked it up and turned it over so that she could see its face.
“The letter is in it,” she said. “And it’s been opened. Why, Helen!”

“Yes?”

“It’s for Edie Phelps.”

Helen had already glanced upward. “And right under our windows,” she
murmured. “I bet she dropped it when——”

“I suppose she did,” said Ruth, as her chum’s voice trailed off into
silence. Suddenly Helen, who was looking at the face of the envelope,
gasped.

“Look!” she exclaimed. “See the return address in the corner?”

“Wha——Why, it says: ‘Box 24, R. F. D., Yucca, Arizona!’”

“Yucca, Arizona,” repeated Helen. “Just where we are going. Ruth! there
is something very mysterious about this. Do you realize it?”

“It is the oddest thing!” exclaimed Ruth.

“Edith getting letters from out there and then creeping along that ledge
under our windows to listen. Well, I’d give a cent to know what’s in
that letter.”

“Oh, Helen! We couldn’t,” cried Ruth, quickly, folding the envelope and
slipping it between the buttons of her blouse.

“Just the same,” declared her chum, “she was eavesdropping on us. We
ought to be excused if we did a little eavesdropping on her by reading
her letter.”

But Ruth set off immediately in a good, swinging trot, and Helen had to
close her lips and put her elbows to her sides to keep up with her.
Later, when they had taken their morning shower and had dressed and all
the girls were trooping down the main stairway of Dare Hall in answer to
the breakfast call, Ruth spied Edith Phelps and hailed her, drawing the
letter from her bosom.

“Hi, Edith Phelps! Here’s something that belongs to you.”

The sophomore turned quickly to face the girl of the Red Mill, and with
no pleasant expression of countenance. “What have you there?” she
snapped.

“A letter that you dropped,” said Ruth, quietly.

“That _I_ dropped?” and she came quickly to seize the proffered missive.
“Ha! I suppose you took pains to read it?”

Ruth drew back, paling. The thrust hurt her cruelly and although she
would not reply, the sophomore’s gibe did not go without answer. Helen’s
black eyes flashed as she stepped in front of her chum.

“I can assure you Ruth and I do not read other people’s correspondence
any more than we listen to other people’s private conversation, Phelps,”
she said directly. “We found that letter _under our window where you
dropped it last night!_”

Ruth caught at her arm; but the stroke went home. Edith Phelps’ face
reddened and then paled. Without further speech she hurried away with
the letter gripped tightly in her hand. She did not appear at breakfast.

“It’s terrible to be always ladylike,” sighed Helen to Ruth. “I just
_know_ we have seen one end of a mystery. And that’s all we are likely
to see.”

“It is the most mysterious thing why Phelps should be interested in our
affairs, and be getting letters from Yucca,” admitted Ruth.

The chums had no further opportunity of talking this matter over, for it
was at breakfast that Rebecca Frayne threw her bomb. At least, Jennie
Stone said it was such. Rebecca came over to Miss Comstock’s table where
the chums and Jennie sat and demanded:

“Ruth Fielding! who is going to chaperon your party?”

“What? Chaperon?” murmured Ruth, quite taken aback by the question.

“Of course. You say Helen’s brother is going. And there will be a guide
and other men. We’ve got to have a chaperon.”

“Oh!” gasped Helen. “Poor old Tommy! If he knew that! He won’t bite you,
Rebecca.”

“You girls certainly wouldn’t dream of going on that long journey unless
you were properly attended?” cried Rebecca, horrified.

“What do you think we need?” demanded Jennie Stone. “A trained nurse, or
a governess?”

Rebecca was thoroughly shocked. “My aunt would never hear of such a
proceeding,” she affirmed. “Oh, Ruth Fielding! I want to go with you;
but, of course, there must be some older woman with us.”

“Of course—I presume so,” sighed Ruth. “I hadn’t thought that far.”

“Whom shall we ask?” demanded Helen. “Mrs. Murchiston won’t go. She’s
struck. She says she is too old to go off with any harum-scarum crowd of
school girls again.”

“I like that!” exclaimed Jennie, in a tone that showed she did not like
it at all. “We have got past the hobbledehoy age, I should hope.”

Miss Comstock, the senior at their table, had become interested in the
affair, and she suggested pleasantly:

“We Ardmores often try to get the unattached members of the faculty to
fill the breach in such events as this. Try Miss Cullam.”

“Oh, dear me!” muttered Helen.

Ruth said briskly, “Miss Cullam is just the person. Do you suppose she
has her summer free, Miss Comstock?”

“She was saying only last evening that she had made no plans.”

“She shall make ’em at once,” declared Ruth, jumping up and leaving her
breakfast. “Excuse me, Miss Comstock. I am going to find Miss Cullam,
instantly.”

It was Miss Cullam, too, who had worried most about the lost examination
papers which Ruth had been the means of finding (as related in “Ruth
Fielding at College”); and the instructor of mathematics had taken a
particular interest in the girl of the Red Mill and her personal
affairs.

“I haven’t ridden horseback since I was a girl,” she said, in some
doubt. “And, my _dear!_ you do not expect me to ride a-straddle as girls
do nowadays? Never!”

“Neither will Rebecca,” chuckled Ruth. “But we who have been on the
plains before, know that a divided skirt is a blessing to womankind.”

“I do not think I shall need that particular blessing,” Miss Cullam
said, rather grimly. “But I believe I will accept your invitation, Ruth
Fielding. Though perhaps it is not wise for instructors and pupils to
spend their vacations together. The latter are likely to lose their fear
of us——”

“Oh, Miss Cullam! There isn’t one of us who has a particle of fear of
you,” laughed Ruth.

“Ahem! that is why some of you do not stand so well in mathematics as
you should,” said the teacher dryly.

That was a busy day; but the party Ruth was forming made all their
plans, subject, of course, to agreement by their various parents and
guardians. In one week they were to meet in New York, prepared to make
the long journey by train to Yucca, Arizona, and from that point into
the mountains on horseback.

Helen found time for a little private investigation; but it was not
until she and Ruth were on the way home to Cheslow in the parlor car
that she related her meager discoveries to her chum.

“What did you ever learn about Edie Phelps?” Helen asked.

“Oh! Edie? I had forgotten about her.”

“Well, I didn’t forget. The mystery piques me, as the story writers
say,” laughed Helen. “Do you know that her father is an awfully rich
man?”

“Why, no. Edith doesn’t make a point of telling everybody perhaps,”
returned Ruth, smiling.

“No; she doesn’t. You’ve got to hand it to her for that. But, then, to
blow about one’s wealth is about as crude a thing as one can do, isn’t
it?”

“Well, what about Edith’s father?” asked Ruth, curiously.

“Nothing particular. Only he is one of our ‘captains of industry’ that
the Sunday papers tell about. Makes oodles of money in mines, so I was
told. Edith has no mother. She had a brother——”

“Oh! is he dead?” cried Ruth, with sympathy.

“Perhaps he’d better be. He was rusticated from his college last year.
It was quite a scandal. His father disowned him and he disappeared.
Edith felt awfully, May says.”

“Too bad,” sighed Ruth.

“Why, of course, it’s too bad,” grumbled Helen. “But that doesn’t help
us find out why Edie is so much interested in our going to Yucca; nor
how she comes to be in correspondence with anybody in that far, far
western town. What do you think it means, Ruthie?”

“I haven’t the least idea,” declared the girl of the Red Mill, shaking
her head.



CHAPTER IV—A WEEK AT HOME


Mr. Cameron met the chums _en route_, and the next morning they arrived
at Seven Oaks in time to see Tom receive his diploma from the military
and preparatory school. Tom, black-eyed and as handsome in his way as
Helen was in hers, seemed to have interest only in Ruth.

“Goodness me! that boy’s got a regular crush on you, Ruthie!” exclaimed
Helen, exasperated. “Did you ever see the like?”

“Dear Tom!” sighed Ruth Fielding. “He was the very first friend—of my
own age, I mean—that I found in Cheslow when I went there. I _have_ to
be good to Tommy, you know.”

“But he’s only a boy!” cried the twin sister, feeling herself to be
years older than her brother after spending so many months at college.

“He was born the same day you were,” laughed Ruth.

“That makes no difference. Boys are never as wise or as old as girls——”

“Until the girls slip along too far. Then they sometimes want to appear
young instead of old,” said the girl of the Red Mill practically. “I
suppose, in the case of girls who have not struck out for themselves and
gone to college or into business or taken up seriously one of the arts,
it is so the boys will continue to pay them attentions. Thank goodness,
Helen! you and I will be able to paddle our own canoes without depending
upon any ‘mere male,’ as Miss Cullam calls them, for our bread and
butter.”

_“You_ certainly can paddle your own boat,” Helen returned admiringly,
leaving the subject of the “mere male.” “Father says you have become a
smart business woman already. He approves of this venture you are going
to make in the movies.”

But Uncle Jabez did not approve. Ruth had written to Aunt Alvirah
regarding the manner in which she expected to spend the summer, and
there was a storm brewing when she reached the Red Mill.

Set upon the bank of the Lumano River, the old red mill with the
sprawling, comfortable story-and-a-half farmhouse attached, made a very
pretty picture indeed—so pretty that already one of Ruth’s best
scenarios had been filmed at the mill and people all over the country
were able to see just how beautiful the locality was.

When Ruth got out of the automobile that had brought them all from the
Cheslow station and ran up the shaded walk to the porch, a little,
hoop-backed old woman came almost running to the door to greet her—a
dear old creature with a face like a withered russet apple and very
bright, twinkling eyes.

“Oh, my pretty! Oh, my pretty!” Aunt Alvirah cried. “I feared you never
_would_ come.”

“Why, Auntie!” Ruth murmured, taking Aunt Alvirah in her arms and
leading her back to the low rocking chair by the window where she
usually sat.

There was a rosy-cheeked country girl hovering over the supper table,
who smiled bashfully at the college girl. Uncle Jabez, as he had
promised, had hired somebody to relieve the little old woman of the
heaviest of her housekeeping burdens.

“Oh, my back! and oh, my bones!” groaned Aunt Alvirah as she settled
back into her chair. “Dear child! how glad we shall be to have you at
home, if only for so short a while.”

“What does Uncle Jabez say?” whispered Ruth.

“He don’t approve, Ruthie. You know, he never has approved of your doing
things that other gals don’t do.”

“But, Aunt Alvirah, other girls _do_ do them. Can’t he understand that
the present generation of girls is different from his mother’s
generation?”

Aunt Alvirah wagged her head seriously. “I’m afraid not, my pretty.
Jabez Potter ain’t one to l’arn new things easy. You know that.”

Ruth nodded thoughtfully. She expected a scene with the old miller and
she was not disappointed. It came after supper—after Uncle Jabez had
retired to the sitting-room to count his day’s receipts as usual; and
likewise to count the hoard of money he always kept in his cash-box.

Uncle Jabez Potter was of a miserly disposition. Aunt Alvirah often
proclaimed that the coming of his grand-niece to the Red Mill had barely
saved the old man from becoming utterly bound up in his riches.
Sometimes Ruth could scarcely see how he could have become more miserly
than he already was.

“No, Niece Ruth, I don’t approve. You knowed I couldn’t approve of no
sech doin’s as this you’re attemptin’. It’s bad enough for a gal to
waste her money in l’arnin’ more out o’ books than what a man knows. But
to go right ahead and do as she plumb pleases with five thousand
dollars—or what ye’ve got left of it after goin’ off to college and sech
nonsense. No——”

The miller’s feelings on the subject were too deep for further
utterance. Ruth said, firmly:

“You know, Uncle Jabez, the money was given to me to do what I pleased
with.”

“Another foolish thing,” snarled Uncle Jabez. “That Miz Parsons had no
business to give ye five thousand dollars for gettin’ back her necklace
from the Gypsies—a gal like you!”

“But she had offered the reward to anybody who would find it,” Ruth
explained patiently.

Uncle Jabez ploughed right through this statement and shook his head
like an angry bull. “And then the court had no business givin’ it over
to Mister Cameron to take care on’t for ye. _I_ was the proper person to
be made your guardeen.”

Ruth had no reply to make to this. She knew well enough that she would
never have touched any of the money until she was of age had Uncle Jabez
once got his hands upon it.

“The money’s airnin’ ye good int’rest in the Cheslow bank. That’s where
it oughter stay. Wastin’ it makin’ them foolish movin’ pictuers——”

“But, Uncle!” she told him desperately; “you know that my scenarios are
earning money. See how much money my ‘Heart of a Schoolgirl’ has made
for the building of the new dormitory at Briarwood. And this last
picture that Mr. Hammond took here at the mill is bound to sell big.”

“Huh!” grunted the miller, not much impressed. “Mebbe it’s all right for
you to spend your spare time writin’ them things; but it ain’t no re’l
business. Can’t tell me!”

“But it _is_ a business—a great, money-making business,” sighed Ruth.
“And I am determined to have my part in it. It is my chance, Uncle
Jabez—my chance to begin something lasting——”

“Nonsense! Nonsense!” he declared angrily. “Ye’ll lose your money—that’s
what ye’ll do. But lemme tell you, young lady, if you do lose it, don’t
ye come back here to the Red Mill expectin’ me ter support ye in
idleness. For I won’t do it—I won’t do it!” and he stamped away to bed.

The few days she spent at home were busy ones for Ruth Fielding.
Naturally, she and Helen had to do some shopping.

“For even if we are bound for the wilds of Arizona, there will be men to
see us,” said the black-eyed girl frankly. “And it is the duty of all
females to preen their feathers for the males.”

“Just so,” growled her twin. “I expect I shall have to stand with a gun
in both hands to keep those wild cowpunchers and miners away from you
two when we reach Yucca. I remember how it was at Silver Ranch—and you
were only kids then.”

“‘Kids,’ forsooth!” cried his sister. “When will you ever learn to have
respect for us, Tommy? Remember we are college girls.”

“Oh! you aren’t likely to let anybody forget that fact,” grumbled Tom,
who felt a bit chagrined to think that his sister and her chum had
arrived at college a year ahead of him. He would enter Harvard in the
fall.

During this busy week, Ruth spent as much time as possible with Aunt
Alvirah, for the little old woman showed that she longed for “her
pretty’s” company. Uncle Jabez went about with a thundercloud upon his
face and disapproval in his every act and word.

Before Saturday a telegram came from Ann Hicks. She had arrived at
Silver Ranch, conferred with Uncle Bill, and it was agreed that she
should meet Ruth and the other girls at Yucca on the date Ruth had named
in her letter. The addition of Ann to the party from the East would make
it nine strong, including Miss Cullam as chaperon and Tom Cameron as
“courier.”

Tom was to make all the traveling arrangements, and he went on to New
York a day before Ruth and Helen started from Cheslow. There he had a
small experience which afterward proved to be important. At the time it
puzzled him a good deal.

It had been agreed that the party bound for Arizona should meet at the
Delorphion Hotel. Therefore, Tom took a taxicab at the Grand Central
Terminal for that hostelry. Mr. Cameron had engaged rooms for the whole
party by telephone, for he was well known at the Delorphion, and all Tom
had to do was to hand the clerk at the desk his card and sign his name
with a flourish on the register.

The instant he turned away from the desk to follow the bellhop Tom noted
a young man, after a penetrating glance at him, slide along to the
register, twirl it around again, and examine the line he, Tom, had
written there. The young fellow was a stranger to Tom. He was dressed
like a chauffeur. Tom was sure he had never seen the young man before.

“Now, wouldn’t that bother you?” he muttered, eyeing the fellow sharply
as he crossed the marble-floored rotunda to the elevators. “Does he
think he knows me? Or is he looking for somebody and is putting every
new arrival through the third degree?”

He half expected the chauffeur person to follow him to the elevator, and
he lingered behind the impatient bellhop for half a minute to give the
stranger a chance to accost him if he wished to.

But immediately after the fellow had read Tom’s name on the book, he
turned away and went out, without vouchsafing him another glance.

“Funny,” thought Tom Cameron. “Wonder what it means.”

However, as nothing more came of it—at least, not at once—he buried the
mystery under the manifold duties of the day. He met a couple of school
friends at noon and went to lunch with them; but he returned to the
hotel for dinner.

It was then he spied the same chauffeur again. He was helping a young
lady out of a private car before the hotel entrance and a porter was
going in ahead with two big traveling bags.

Tom was sure it was the same man who had examined the hotel register
after he had signed his name; and he was tempted to stop and speak to
him. But the young lady whisked into the hotel without his seeing her
face, while the chauffeur, after a curious, straight stare at Tom,
jumped into the car and started away. Tom noticed that there was a
monogram upon the motor-car door, but he did not notice the license
number.

“Maybe the girl is one of those going with us,” Tom thought, as he went
inside.

The porter with the bags and the young lady in question has disappeared.
He went to the desk and asked the clerk if any of his party had arrived
and was informed to the contrary.

“Well, it gets me,” ruminated Tom, as he went up to dress for dinner. “I
don’t know whether I am the subject of a strange young lady’s
attentions, or merely if the chauffeur was curious about me. Guess I
won’t say anything to the girls about it. Helen would surely give me the
laugh.”



CHAPTER V—THE GIRL IN LOWER FIVE


Tom and his father had visited his sister and Ruth at Ardmore; the young
fellow was no stranger to the girls whom Ruth had invited to join the
party bound for Freezeout Camp. Of course, Jennie Stone knew Helen’s
black-eyed twin from old times when they were children.

“Dear me, how you’ve grown, Tommy!” observed the plump girl, looking Tom
over with approval.

“For the first time since I’ve known you, Jennie, I cannot return the
compliment,” Tom said seriously.

“Gee!” sighed the erstwhile fat girl, ecstatically, “am I not glad!”

That next day all arrived. Ruth and Helen were the last, they reaching
the hotel just before bedtime. But Tom was forever wandering through the
foyer and parlors to spy a certain hat and figure that he was sure he
should know again. He was tempted to tell Helen and her chums about the
chauffeur and the strange young lady while they were all enjoying a late
supper.

“However, a man alone, with such a number of girls, has to be mighty
careful,” so Tom told himself, “that they don’t get something on him.
They’d rig me to death, and I guess Tommy had better keep his tongue
between his teeth.”

The train on which the party had obtained reservations left the
Pennsylvania Station at ten o’clock in the forenoon. Half an hour before
that time Tom came down to the hotel entrance ahead of the girls and
instructed the starter to bespeak two taxicabs.

As Tom stepped out of the wide open door he saw the motor-car with the
monogram on the door, the same chauffeur driving, and the girl with the
“stunning” hat in the tonneau. The car was just moving away from the
door and it was but a fleeting glimpse Tom obtained of it and its
occupants. They did not even glance at him.

“Guess I was fooling myself after all,” he muttered. “At any rate, I
fancy they aren’t so greatly interested. They’re not following us,
that’s sure.”

The girls came hurrying down, with Miss Cullam in tow, all carrying
their hand baggage. Trunks had gone on ahead, although Ruth had warned
them all that, once off the train at Yucca, only the most necessary
articles of apparel could be packed into the mountain range.

“Remember, we are dependent upon burros for the transportation of our
luggage; and there are only just about so many of the cunning little
things in all Arizona. We can’t transport too large a wardrobe.”

“Are the burros as cunning as they say they are?” asked Trix Davenport.

“All of that,” said Tom. “And great singers.”

“Sing? Now you are spoofing!” declared the coxswain of Ardmore’s
freshman eight.

“All right. You wait and see. You know what they call ’em out there?
Mountain canaries. Wait till you hear a love-lorn burro singing to his
mate. Oh, my!”

“The idea!” ejaculated Miss Cullam. “What does the boy mean by
‘love-lorn’?”

It was a hilarious party that alighted from the taxicabs in the station
and made its way to the proper part of the trainshed. The sleeping car
was a luxurious one, and when the train pulled out and dived into the
tunnel under the Hudson (“just like a woodchuck into its hole,” Trix
said) they were comfortably established in their seats.

Tom had secured three full sections for the girls. Miss Cullam had Lower
Two while Tom himself had Upper Five. There was some slight discussion
over this latter section, for the berth under Tom had been reserved for
a lady.

“Well, that’s all right,” said Tom philosophically. “If she can stand
it, _I_ can. Let the conductor fight it out with her.”

“Perhaps she will want you to sleep out on the observation platform,
Tommy,” said Jennie Stone, wickedly. “To be gallant you’d do it, of
course?”

“Of course,” said Tom, stoutly. “Far be it from me to add to the burden
on the mind of any female person. It strikes me that they are mostly in
trouble about something all the time.”

“Oh, oh!” cried Helen. “Villain! Is that the way I’ve brought you up?”

Tom grinned at his sister wickedly. “Somehow your hand must have slipped
when you were molding me, Sis. What d’you think?”

When the time came to retire, however, there was no objection made by
the lady who had reserved Lower Five. Of course, in these sleeping cars
the upper and lower berths were so arranged that they were entirely
separate. But in the morning Tom chanced to be coming from his berth
just as the lady started down the corridor for the dressing room.

“My!” thought Tom. “That’s some pretty girl. Who——”

Then he caught a glimpse of her face, just as she turned it hastily from
him. He had seen it once before—just as a certain motor-car was drawing
away from the front of the Delorphion Hotel.

“No use talking,” he thought. “I’ve got to take somebody into my
confidence about this girl. To keep such a mystery to myself is likely
to affect my brain. Humph! I’ll tell Ruth. She can keep a secret—if she
wants to,” and he went off whistling to the men’s lavatory at the other
end of the car.

Later he found Ruth on the observation platform. They were alone there
for some time and Tom took her into his confidence.

“Don’t tell Helen, now,” he urged. “She’ll only rig me. And I’m bound to
have a bad enough time with all you girls, as it is.”

“Poor boy,” Ruth said, commiseratingly. “You _are_ in for a bad time,
aren’t you? What about this strange and mysterious female in Lower
Five?”

But as he related the details of the mystery, about the chauffeur and
all, Ruth grew rather grave.

“As we go through to the dining car for breakfast let us see if we can
establish her identity,” she told him. “Never mind saying anything to
the other girls about it. Just point her out to me.”

“Say! I’m not likely to spread the matter broadcast,” retorted Tom.
“Only I _am_ curious.”

So was Ruth. But she bided her time and sharply scrutinized every female
figure she saw in the cars as they trooped through to breakfast. She
waited for Tom to point out this “mysterious lady;” but the girl of
Lower Five did not appear.

The train was rushing across the prairies in mid-forenoon when Tom came
suddenly to Ruth and gave her a look that she knew meant “Follow me.”
When she got up Jennie drawled:

“Now, see here, Ruthie! What’s going on between that perfectly splendid
brother of Cameron’s and you? Are you trying to make the rest of us
girls jealous?”

“Perhaps,” Ruth replied, smiling, then hurried with her chum’s brother
into the next car.

“Oh!” exclaimed Ruth suddenly, and she stopped by the door.

“Know her?” asked Tom, with curiosity.

Ruth nodded and hastily turned away so that the girl might not see that
she was observed.

“Well, now!” cried Tom. “Tip me off. Explain—elucidate—make clear. I’m
as puzzled as I can be.”

“So am I, Tommy,” Ruth told him. “I haven’t the least idea _why_ that
girl should be interested in our affairs. And I’m not sure that she
_is_.”

“Who is she?” he demanded.

“She goes to college with us. Not in our class, you understand. I am
sure none of our party had an idea Edie Phelps was going West this
vacation.”

“Huh!” said Tom suspiciously. “What’s up your sleeve, Ruth?”

“My arm!” she cried, and ran back to the other girls and Miss Cullam,
laughing at him.

Edith’s presence on this train was puzzling.

“That was a man’s handwriting on the envelope Helen and I picked up
addressed to Edith,” Ruth told herself. “Some man has been writing to
her from that Mohave County town. Who? And what for?”

“Not that it is really any of my business,” she concluded.

She did not take Helen into her confidence in the matter. Let the other
girls see Edith Phelps if they chanced to; she determined to stir up no
“hurrah” over the sophomore.

Besides, it was not at all sure that Edith was going to Arizona. Her
presence upon this train did not prove that her journey West had any
connection with the letter Edith had received from Yucca.

“Why so serious, honey?” asked Helen a little later, pinching her chum’s
arm.

“This is a serious world, my dear,” quoth Ruth, “and we are growing
older every minute.”

“What novel ideas you do have,” gibed her chum, big-eyed. But she shook
her a little, too. “There you go, Ruthie Fielding! Always having some
secret from your owniest own chum.”

“How do you know I have a secret?” smiled Ruth.

“Because of the two little lines that grow deeper in your forehead when
you are puzzled or troubled,” Helen told her, rather wickedly. “Sure
sign you’ll be married twice, honey.”

“Don’t suggest such horrid possibilities,” gasped the girl of the Red
Mill in mock horror. “Married twice, indeed! And I thought we had both
given up all intention of being wedded even the _first_ time?”

This chaff was all right to throw in Helen’s eyes; but all the time Ruth
expected one of the party to discover the presence of Edith Phelps on
the train. She felt that with such discovery there would come an
explosion of some kind; and she shrank from having any trouble with the
sophomore.

Of course, with Miss Cullam present, Edith was not likely to display her
spleen quite so openly as she sometimes did when alone with the other
Ardmore girls. But Ruth knew Helen would be so curious to know what
Edith’s presence meant that “the fat would all be in the fire.”

It was really amazing that Edith was not discovered before they reached
Chicago. After that her reservation was in another car. Then on the
fifth night of their journey came something that quite put the sophomore
out of Ruth Fielding’s mind, and out of Tom Cameron’s as well.

They had changed trains and were on the trans-continental line when the
startling incident happened. The porter had already begun arranging the
berths when the train suddenly came to a jarring stop.

“What is the matter?” asked Miss Cullam of the porter. She already had
her hair in “curlers” and was longing for bed.

“I done s’pect we broke in two, Ma’am,” said the darkey, rolling his
eyes. “Das’ jes’ wot it seems to me,” and he darted out of the car.

There was a long wait; then some confusion arose outside the train. Tom
came in from the rear. “Here’s a pretty kettle of fish,” he said.

“What is it, Tommy?” demanded his sister.

“The train broke in two and the front end got over a bridge here, and,
being on a down grade, the engineer could not bring his engine to a stop
at once. And now the bridge is afire. Come on out, girls. You might as
well see the show.”



CHAPTER VI—SOMEBODY AHEAD OF THEM


Even Miss Cullam—in her dressing gown—trailed out of the car after Tom.
The sky was alight from the blazing bridge. It was a wooden structure,
and burned like a pine knot.

Beyond the rolling cloud of smoke they could see dimly the lamps of the
forward half of the train. The coupling having broken between two
Pullmans, the engine had attached to it only the baggage and mail
coaches, the dining car and one sleeping car.

The other Pullmans and the observation coach were stalled on the east
side of the river.

“And no more chance of getting over to-night than there is of flying,” a
brakeman confided to Tom and the girls. “That bridge will be a charred
wreck before midnight.”

“Oh, goodness me! What _shall_ we do?” was the cry. “Can’t we get over
in boats?”

“Where will you get the boats?” sniffed Miss Cullam.

“And the water’s low in the river at this season,” said the brakeman.
“Couldn’t use anything but a skiff.”

“What then?” Tom asked, feeling responsibility roweling him. “We’re not
destined to remain here till they rebuild the bridge, I hope?”

“The conductor is wiring back for another engine. We’ll pull back to
Janesburg and from there take the cross-over line and go on by the
Northern Route. It will put us back fully twelve hours, I reckon.”

“Good-_night!_” exploded Tom.

“Why, what does it matter?” asked Helen, wonderingly. “We have all the
time there is, haven’t we?”

“Presumably,” Miss Cullam said drily.

“But I telegraphed ahead to Yucca for rooms at the hotel,” Tom
explained, slowly, “and sent a long message to that guide Mr. Hammond
told you about, Ruth.”

“Oh!” cried Helen, giggling. “Flapjack Peters—such a romantic name. Mr.
Hammond wrote Ruth that he was a ‘character.’”

“‘H. J. Peters,’” Tom read, from his memorandum. “Yes. I told him just
when we would arrive and told him that after one night’s sleep at the
hotel we’d want to be on our way. But if we don’t get there——”

“Oh, Tom, there’s Ann, too!” Ruth exclaimed. “She will be at Yucca too
early if we are delayed so.”

“I’ll send some more telegrams when we get to Janesburg,” Tom promised
Ruth and his sister. “One to Ann Hicks, too.”

“Those people in the forward Pullman will get through on time,” Jennie
Stone said. “I’m always losing something. ‘’Twas ever thus, since
childhood’s hour, my fondest hopes I’ve seen decay,’ and so forth!”

Tom whispered to Ruth: “That sophomore from Ardmore will get ahead of
us. She’s in the forward Pullman.”

“Oh, Edith!” murmured Ruth. “She was in that car, wasn’t she?”

They were all in bed, as were the other tourists in the delayed
Pullmans, before the extra locomotive the conductor had sent for
arrived. It was coupled to the stalled half of the train and started
back for Janesburg without one of the party bound for Yucca being the
wiser.

Tom Cameron meant to send the supplementary telegrams from that junction
as he had said. Indeed, he had written out several—one to his father to
relieve any anxiety in the merchant’s mind should he hear of the
accident to their train; one to the guide, Peters; one to Ann Hicks to
supplement the one already awaiting her at Yucca; and a fourth to the
hotel.

But as he wished to put these messages on the wire himself, Tom did not
entrust them to the negro porter. Instead he lay down in his berth with
only his shoes removed—and he awoke in the morning with the sun flooding
the opposite side of the car where the porter had already folded up the
berths!

“Good gracious, Agnes!” gasped Tom, appearing in the corridor with his
shoes in his hand. “What time is it? Eight-thirty? Is my watch right?”

“Ah reckon so, boss,” grinned the porter. “‘Most ev’rybody’s up an’
dressin’.”

“And I wanted to send those telegrams from Janesburg.”

“Oh Lawsy-massy! Janesburg’s a good ways behint us, boss,” said the
porter. “Ef yo’ wants to send ’em pertic’lar from dere, yo’ll have to
wait till our trip East, Ah reckon.”

Tom did not feel much like laughing. In fact, he felt a good deal of
annoyance. He made some further enquiries and discovered that it would
be an hour yet before the train would linger long enough at any station
for him to file telegrams.

They spent one more night “sleeping on shelves,” as Jennie Stone
expressed it, than they had counted upon. Miss Cullam went to her berth
with a groan.

“Believe me, my dears,” she announced, “I shall welcome even a saddle as
a relief from these cars. You are all nice girls, if I do say it, who
perhaps shouldn’t. I flatter myself I have had something to do with
molding your more or less plastic minds and dispositions. But I must
love you a great deal to ever attempt another such long journey as this
for you or with you.”

“Oh, Miss Cullam!” cried Trix Davenport, “we will erect a statue to you
on Bliss Island—right near the Stone Face. And on it shall be engraved:
‘Nor granite is more enduring than Miss Cullam.’”

“I wonder,” murmured the teacher, “if that is complimentary or
otherwise?”

But they all loved her. Miss Cullam developed very human qualities
indeed, take her away from mathematics!

The party was held up for two hours at Kingman, waiting for a local
train to steam on with them to their destination. And there Tom learned
something which rather troubled him.

Telegrams were never received direct at Yucca. The railroad business was
done by telephone, and all the messages sent to Yucca were telephoned
through to the station agent—if that individual chanced to be on hand.
Otherwise they were entrusted to the rural mail carrier. One could
almost count the inhabitants of Yucca on one’s fingers and toes!

“Jiminy!” gasped Tom, when he learned these particulars. “I bet I’ve
made a mess of it.”

He tried to find out at the Kingman station what had become of the final
messages he had sent. The operator on duty when they arrived was now off
duty, and he lived out of town.

“If they were mailed, son,” observed the man then at the telegraph
table, “you will get to Yucca about two hours before the mail gets
there. Here comes your train now.”

Had the girls not been so gaily engaged in chattering, they must have
noticed Tom’s solemn face. He was disturbed, for he felt that the
comfort of the party, as well as the arrangements for the trip into the
hills, was his own particular responsibility.

It was late afternoon when the combination local (half baggage and
freight, and half passenger) hobbled to a stop at Yucca. Besides a dusty
looking individual in a cap who served the railroad as station agent,
there was not a human being in sight.

“What a jolly place!” cried Jennie Stone, turning to all points of the
compass to gaze. “So much life! We’re going to have a gay time in Yucca,
I can see.”

“Sh!” begged Trix. “Don’t wake them up.”

“Awaken whom, my dear?” drawled Sally Blanchard.

“The dead, I think,” said Helen. “This place must be the understudy for
a graveyard.”

At that moment a gray muzzle was thrust between the rails of a corral
beside the track and an awful screech rent the air, drowning the sound
of the locomotive whistle as the train rolled away.

“For goodness’ sake! what is that?” begged Rebecca, quite startled.

“Mountain canary,” laughed Helen. “That is what will arouse you at
dawn—and other times—while we are on the march to Freezeout.”

“You don’t mean to say,” demanded Trix, “that all that sound came out of
that little creature?” And she ran over to the corral fence the better
to see the burro.

“And he didn’t need any help,” drawled Jennie. “Oh! you’ll get used to
little things like that.”

“Never to that little thing,” said Miss Cullam, tartly. “Can’t he be
muzzled?”

Meanwhile Tom had seized upon the station agent. He was a long, lean,
“drawly” man, with seemingly a very languid interest in life.

“What telegrams?” he drawled.

Tom explained more fully and the man referred to a memorandum book he
carried in the breast pocket of his flannel shirt.

“Yep. Three messages received over the ’phone from Kingman station. All
delivered.”

“Good!” Tom exclaimed, with vast relief.

“Four days ago,” added the station agent.

That was a dash of cold water. “Didn’t you receive other telegrams in
the same way yesterday?”

“Not a one.”

“Where have they gone, then?”

“I wouldn’t be here ’twixt eight and ‘leven. They’d come over the wire
to Kingman, and the op’rator there would mail ’em. Mail man’s due any
time now.”

“Well,” groaned Tom, “let’s go up to the hotel and see if they’ve
reserved the rooms for us, if we are late.”

“And where’s Jane Ann Hicks?” queried Ruth, in some puzzlement. “_She_
ought to be here to greet us.”

“What about that guide—the Flapjack person?” added Helen. “Didn’t you
telegraph him, Tommy?”

“Who d’you mean—Flapjack Peters?” asked the station agent, interested.
“Why, he lit out for some place in the Hualapai this forenoon, beauin’ a
party of these here tourists—or, so I heard tell.”

There were blank faces among the newly arrived visitors from the East.
But only Tom Cameron really felt disturbed. It looked to him as though
somebody had got ahead of them!



CHAPTER VII—A MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR


“You needn’t be ‘fraid of not findin’ room at Lon Crujes’ hotel,”
drawled the station agent. “He don’t often have more’n two visitors at a
time there, and them’s mostly travelin’ salesmen. Only when somebody’s
shippin’ cattle. And there ain’t no cattlemen here now.”

“Well, that is some relief, at least,” Helen said promptly. “Come on,
Tommy! Lead the procession. Take Miss Cullam’s bag, too. The rest of us
will carry our own.”

“How can we get the trunks up to the hotel?” asked Ruth, beginning to
realize that Tom, to whom she had left all the arrangements, was in a
“pickle.”

“Let’s see what the hotel looks like first,” returned Helen’s twin,
setting off along the dusty street.

A dog barked at the procession; but otherwise the inhabitants of Yucca
showed a disposition to remain incurious. It was not necessary to ask
the way to Lon Crujes’ hotel; it was the only building in town large
enough to be dignified by the name of “Yucca House.”

A Mexican woman in a one-piece garment gathered about her waist by a
man’s belt from which an empty gun-sheath dangled, met the party on the
porch of the house. She seemed surprised to see them.

“You ain’t them folks that telegraphed Lon you was comin’, are you?” she
asked. “Don’t that beat all!”

“I telegraphed ahead for rooms—yes,” Tom said.

“Well, the rooms is here all right—by goodness, yes!” she said, still
staring. Such an array of feminine finery as the girls displayed had
probably never dawned upon Mrs. Crujes’ vision before. “Nobody ain’t run
off with the rooms. We ain’t never crowded none in this hotel, ‘cept in
beef shippin’ time.”

“Well, how about meals?” Tom asked quietly.

“If Lon gets home with a side of beef he went for, we’ll be all right,”
the woman said. “You kin all come in, I reckon. But say! who was them
gals here yesterday, then, if ’twasn’t you.”

“What girls?” asked Ruth, who remained with Tom to inquire.

“Have they gone away again?” demanded Tom.

“By goodness, yes! Two gals. One was tenderfoot all right; but ‘tother
knowed her way ’round, I sh’d say.”

“Ann?” queried Ruth of Tom.

“Must have been. But the other—Say, Mrs. Crujes, tell us about them,
will you, please?” he asked the Mexican woman.

“Why, this tenderfoot gal dropped off the trans-continental. Jest the
train we expected you folks on. I s’pose you was the folks we expected?”

“That’s right. We’re the ones,” said Tom, hastily. “Go on.”

“The other lady, _she_ come later. She’s Western all right.”

“Ann is from Montana,” Ruth said, deeply interested.

“So she said. I reckoned she never met up with the Eastern gal before,
did she?”

“But who is the girl you speak of—the one from the East?” gasped Ruth.

“Huh! Don’t you know her neither?”

“I’m not sure I couldn’t guess,” Ruth declared. Tom kept his lips
tightly closed.

“They made friends, then,” explained the woman. “The gal you say you
know, and the tenderfoot. And they went off together this morning with
Flapjack——”

“Not with our guide?” cried Ruth. “Oh, Tom! what can it mean?”

“Got me,” grunted the young fellow.

“Why! it is the most mysterious affair,” Ruth repeated. “I can’t
understand it.”

“Leave it to me,” said Tom, quickly. “You go in with the other girls and
primp.”

“Primp, indeed!”

“I suppose you’ll have to here, just the same as anywhere else,” the boy
said, with a quick grin. “I’ll look around and see what’s happened. Of
course, that Flapjack person can’t have gone far.”

“And Ann wouldn’t have run away from us, I’m sure,” Ruth sent back over
her shoulder as she entered the hotel.

Before the Mexican woman could waddle after Ruth, Tom hailed her again.
“Say!” he asked, “where can I find this Peters chap?”

“The Señor Flapjack?”

“Yes. Fine name, that,” he added in an undertone.

“He it is who is famous at making the American flapjack—_si si!_” said
the woman. “But he is gone I tell you. I know not where. Maybe Lon, he
can tell you when he come back with the beef—by goodness, yes!”

“But he lives here in town, doesn’t he? Hasn’t he a family?”

“Oh, sure! He’s got Min.”

“Who’s Min? A Chinaman?”

“Chink? Can you beat it?” ejaculated the woman, grinning broadly. “Min’s
his daughter. See that house down there with the front painted yellow?”

“Yes,” admitted Tom, rather abashed.

“That’s where Flapjack, he live. Sure! And Min can tell you where he’s
gone and how long he’ll be away.”

The hotel proprietor’s wife disappeared, bustling away to attend to the
wants of this party of guests that was apt to swamp her entire menage.
Tom hesitated about searching out the guide’s daughter alone. “Min”
promised embarrassing possibilities to his mind.

“Jiminy! we’re up against it, I believe,” he thought. “They’ll all blame
me, I suppose. I ought not to have gone to sleep night before last and
missed sending those last telegrams from Janesburg.

“Father will say I wasn’t ‘tending to business properly. I wonder what
I’d better do.”

Ruth suddenly reappeared. She had merely gone inside to get rid of her
bag and assure Miss Cullam that there were some matters she and Tom had
to attend to. Now she approached her chum’s brother with a question that
excited and startled him.

“What under the sun could have made her act so, do you suppose, Tom?”

“Huh? Who?” he gasped.

“That girl. She’s gone off with our guide and all.”

“Who do you mean? Jane Ann Hicks?”

“Goodness! I don’t understand Ann’s part in it, either. But she’s not
the leading spirit, it is evident.”

“Who do you mean, then?” Tom demanded.

“Edith Phelps. Of course it is she. She arrived here on the
trans-continental train on time. Tommy, she was in correspondence with
somebody here in Yucca. Helen and I saw the envelope. And it puzzled us.
Her being on the train puzzled me more. And now——”

“Oh, Jiminy!” ejaculated Tom Cameron. “The mystery deepens. Rival
picture company, maybe, Ruth. How about it?”

“I don’t think it’s _that_,” said Ruth Fielding, reflectively. “I am
sure Edie Phelps has no connection with movie people—no, indeed!”



CHAPTER VIII—MIN


“Well, let’s go along and see Flapjack’s daughter,” Tom proposed. “I
don’t want to make the acquaintance of any strange girl without somebody
to defend me,” and he grinned at the girl of the Red Mill.

“Oh, yes. We know just how desperately timid you are, Tommy-boy,” she
told him, smiling. “I will be your shield and buckler. Lead on.”

The house had a yellow front, but was elsewhere left bare of paint. It
stood away from its neighbors and, as Ruth and Tom Cameron approached
it, it seemed deserted. From other houses they were frankly watched by
slatternly women and several idle men.

Tom rapped gently at the front door. There was no reply and after
repeating the summons several times Ruth suggested that they try a rear
entrance.

“Huh!” complained the boy. “This Min they tell of must be deaf.”

“Or bashful. Perhaps she is nothing but a child and is afraid of us.”

Tom merely grunted in reply, and led the way into a weed-grown yard. The
fence was of wire and laths—the kind bought by the roll ready to set up;
but it was very much dilapidated. The fence had never been finished at
the rear and up on a scrubby side hill behind the house a man was
wielding an axe.

“Maybe he knows something about this Flapjack Peters person,” grumbled
Tom.

“Knock on the back door,” ordered Ruth Fielding briskly. “If that guide
has a daughter she must know where he’s gone, and for how long. It’s the
most mysterious thing!”

“It gets me,” admitted Tom, knocking again.

“Mr. Hammond said that he knew this guide and that he believed he was a
fairly trustworthy person. He is what they call an ‘old-timer’—been
living here or hereabout for years and years. Just the person to find
Freezeout Camp.”

“Well, there must be other men who know their way about the hills,” and
Tom turned his back to the door to look straight away across the valley
toward the faint, blue eminences that marked the Hualapai Range.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” sighed Ruth, likewise looking at the
mountains. “How clear the air is! See that peak away to the north? We
saw it from the car window. That is the tallest mountain in the
range—Hualapai Peak. Oh, Tom!”

“Yes?” he asked.

“That man looks awfully funny to me. Do you see——?”

Tom wheeled to look at the person chopping wood a few rods away. The
woodchopper wore an old felt hat; from underneath its brim flowed
several straggly locks of black hair.

“Must be an Indian,” muttered Tom.

“It must be a woman!” exclaimed Ruth. “It is a woman, Tom! I’m going to
ask her——”

“What?” demanded the youth; but he trailed along behind the self-reliant
girl of the Red Mill.

The woodchopper did not even raise her head as the two young folks
approached. She beat upon the log she was splitting with the old axe and
showed not the least interest in their presence.

Ruth led the way around in front of her and demanded:

“Do you know where Mr. Peters’ daughter is? We had business with him,
and they tell us he is away from home.”

At that the woman in men’s shabby habiliments raised her head and looked
at them.

“Jiminy!” exploded Tom, but under his breath. “It is a girl!”

Ruth was quite as curious as her companion; but she was wise enough to
reveal nothing in her own countenance but polite interest.

The masquerader was both young and pretty; only the perspiration had
poured down her face and left it grimy. Her hands were red and
rough—calloused as a laboring man’s and with blunted fingers and broken
nails.

When she stood up straight, however, even the overalls and jumper she
wore, and the broken old hat upon her head, could not hide the fact that
she was of a graceful figure.

“I beg your pardon,” said Ruth again. “Can you tell me where Miss Peters
is?”

“I can tell you where _Min_ Peters is, if you want to know so bad,”
drawled the girl, red suffusing her bronzed cheeks and a little flash
coming into her big gray eyes.

“That—that must be the person we wish to see.”

“Then see her,” snapped the other ungraciously. “An’ I s’pose you fancy
folks think her a sight, sure ’nuff.”

“You mean _you_ are Mr. Peters’ daughter?” Ruth asked, doubtfully.

“I’m Flapjack’s girl,” the other said, biting her remarks off short.

“Oh!” cried Ruth. “Then you can tell us all about it.”

“All about what?”

“How it happens that your father is not here at Yucca to meet us?”

“Huh! What would he want to meet you for?” asked the girl, shaking back
her straggly hair.

“Why, it was arranged by Mr. Hammond that Mr. Peters should guide us
into the Range. We are going to Freezeout Camp.”

“Wha-at?” drawled Min Peters in evident surprise. “You, too?”

Tom here put in a word. “I am the one who telegraphed to Mr. Peters when
we were on the way here. It was understood through Mr. Hammond that Mr.
Peters was to hold himself in readiness for our party.”

“Then what about them other girls?” demanded the girl, with sudden
vigor. “They done fooled pop, did they?”

“I don’t understand what you mean by ‘those other girls,’” Ruth hastened
to say.

“Why, pop’s already started for the hills. I I dunno whether he’s goin’
to Freezeout or not. There ain’t nobody at that old camp, nohow. Dunno
what you want to go there for.”

Ruth waived that matter to say, eagerly:

“How many girls are there in this party your father has gone off with?”

“Two. He ‘spected more I reckon, for there’s a bunch of ponies down in
Jeb’s corral. But the girl that bossed the thing said you-all had backed
out. It looked right funny to _me_—two girls goin’ off there into the
hills. And she was a tenderfoot all right.”

“You mean the girl who ‘bossed’ the affair?” asked Tom, curiously.

“Yep. The other girl seemed jest driftin’ along with her. _She_ knowed
how to ride, and she brought her own saddle and rope with her. But that
there tenderfoot started off sidesaddle, like a missioner.”

“A ‘missioner?’” repeated Ruth, curiously.

“These here women that sometimes come here teachin’ an’ preachin’. They
most all of ’em ride sidesaddle. Many of ’em on a burro at that. ’Cause
a burro don’t never git out of a walk if he kin help it. But I’ve purty
near broke my neck teachin’ four or five of the ponies to stand for a
sidesaddle—poor critters. I rid ’em with a blanket wrapped ’round me to
git ’em used to a skirt flappin’,” and she spoke in some amusement.

“Well,” Ruth said, more briskly, “I don’t exactly understand those girls
going without us. One of them I am sure is our friend. The girl who
evidently engaged your father is not a stranger to us; but she was not
of our party.”

“What in tarnation takes you ‘way into them mountains to Freezeout?”
demanded Min Peters. “There ain’t a sign of color left there, so pop
says; and he’s prospected all through the range on that far side. Why,
he remembers Freezeout when it was a real camp. And I kin tell you there
ain’t much left of it now.”

“Oh!” cried Ruth. “Have you seen it?”

“Sure. I been all through the Range with pop. He didn’t have nobody to
leave me with when I was little. I ain’t never had no chance like other
girls,” said Min, in no very pleasant tone. “Why I ain’t scurcely human,
I reckon!”

At that Ruth laughed frankly at her. “What nonsense!” she cried. “You
are just as human and just as much of a girl as any of us. As I am. Your
clothes don’t even hide the fact that you are a girl. But I suppose you
wear them because you can work easier in men’s garments?”

“And that’s where you s’pose mighty wrong,” snapped Min.

“No?”

“I wear these old duds ’cause I ain’t got no others to wear. That’s
why.”

She said it in an angry tone, and the red flowed into her cheeks again
and her gray eyes flashed.

“I never _did_ have nothin’ like other girls. Pop bought me overalls to
wear when I was jest a kid; and that’s about all he ever did buy me. He
thinks they air good enough. I haf to work like a boy; so why not dress
like a boy? Huh?”

Tom had moved away. Somehow he felt a delicacy about listening to this
frank avowal of the strange girl’s trials. But Ruth was sympathetic and
she seized Min’s unwilling hand.

“Oh, my dear!” she cried under her breath. “I am sorry. Can’t you work
and earn money to clothe yourself properly?”

“What’ll I do? The cattlemen won’t hire me, though I kin rope and
hog-tie as well as any puncher they got. But they say a girl would make
trouble for ’em. Nobody around here ever has money enough to hire a girl
to do anything. I don’t know nothing about cookin’ or housework—‘cept to
make flapjacks. I kin do camp cookin’ as good as pop; only I don’t use
two griddles at a time same’s he does. But huntin’ parties won’t hire
me. It sure is tough luck bein’ a girl.”

“Oh, my dear!” cried Ruth again. “I don’t believe that. There must be
some way of improving your condition.”

“You show me how to earn some money, then,” cried Min. “I’ll dress as
fancy as any of you. Oh! I was watchin’ you girls troop up from the
train. And that other girl that went off with pop this mornin’. _She_
gimme a look, now I tell you. I’d like to beat her up, I would!”

Ruth passed over this remark in silence. She was thinking. “Wait a
moment, Min,” she begged, “I must speak to Mr. Cameron,” and she led Tom
aside.

“Now, Tommy, we’ve just got to get to Freezeout Camp some way. We don’t
want to wait here a week or more for the movie company to arrive. Mr.
Hammond expects me to have the first part of the scenario ready for the
director when he gets on the ground. And I _must_ see the old camp just
as it is.”

“I’d like to know what that Edith Phelps has got to do with it—and why
Ann Hicks went off with her,” growled Tom.

“Oh, dear! Don’t you suppose I am just as curious as you are?” Ruth
demanded. “But _that_ doesn’t get us anywhere.”

“Well, what will get us to Freezeout?” he asked.

“Getting started, first of all,” laughed Ruth. “And we can do it. This
girl can guide us just as well as her father could. We can get a man or
a boy to look after the ponies and the packtrain. A ‘wrangler’ don’t
they call them on the ranch?”

“The girl looks capable enough,” admitted Tom. “But what will your Miss
Cullam say to her?”

Ruth giggled. “Poor Miss Cullam is doomed to get several shocks, I am
afraid, before the trip is over.”

“All right. You’re the doctor,” Tom said, grinning. “Looks to me like
some lark. This Min Peters is certainly a caution!”



CHAPTER IX—IN THE SADDLE AT LAST


“The matter can be arranged in one, two, three order!” Ruth cried.

She had already seen just the way to go about it. Give Min Peters the
chance to make money and she would jump at it.

“You see, _we_ don’t mind having a girl for cook and guide. We will
rather like it,” she said, laughing into Min’s delighted face. “Poor old
Tom is our only male companion. And unless we find a man to take care of
the horses and burros he’ll have to put on overalls himself and do that
work.”

“That’ll be all right. I can get a Mexican boy—a good one,” Min said
quickly. “The hosses is all in Jeb’s corral and you can hire of him. I
tell you pop expected a big crowd of you and he was disappointed.”

“You will make the money he would have made,” Ruth told her cheerfully.
“We will pay you man’s wages and we shall want you at least a month.
Eighty dollars and ‘found.’ How is that?”

“Looks like heaven,” said Min bluntly. “I ain’t never seen so much money
in my life!”

“And the Mexican boy?”

“Pedro Morales. Twenty-two fifty is all he’ll expect. We don’t pay
Greasers like we do white men in this country,” said the girl with some
bruskness. “But, say, Miss——”

“I am Ruth Fielding.”

“Miss Fielding, then. You’re the boss of this outfit?”

“I suppose so. I shall pay the bills at any rate. Until Mr. Hammond and
the moving picture people arrive.”

“Well! what will them other girls say to me—dressed this here way?”

“If you had plenty of dresses and were starting into the range for a
trip like this, you’d put on these same clothes, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, sure.”

“All right then. You’re hired to do a man’s work, so I presume a man’s
clothing will the better become you while you are so engaged,” said
Ruth, smiling at her frankly.

“All right. Though they’ve got some calico dresses at the store. I could
buy one and wear it—that is, if you’d advance me that much money. But I
got a catalog from a Chicago store—— Gee! it’s full of the purtiest
dresses. I _dreamed_ about gettin’ hold of some money some time and
buyin’ one o’ them—everything to go with it. But to tell you honest,
when pop gits any loose change, he spends it for red liquor.”

“I’ll see that you have the money you are going to earn, for yourself,”
Ruth assured her. “Now tell Mr. Cameron just what to buy. He will do the
purchasing at the store. And introduce him to the Mexican boy, Pedro,
too. I’ll run to tell the other girls how lucky we are to get you to
help us, Min.”

She hurried away, in reality to prepare her friends for the appearance
of the girl who had never worn proper feminine habiliments. She knew
that Min would not put up with any giggling on the part of the
“tenderfoot” girls. As for Miss Cullam, that good woman said:

“I’m sure I can stand overalls on a girl as well as I can stand these
divided skirts and bloomers that some of you are going to wear.”

“Just think of a girl never having worn a pretty frock!” gasped Helen.
“Isn’t that outrageous!”

“The poor thing,” said Rebecca. “But she must be awfully coarse and
rough.”

“Don’t let her see that you think so, Rebecca,” commanded Ruth quickly.
“She has keener perceptions than the average, believe me! We must not
hurt her feelings.”

“Trust _you_ not to hurt anybody’s feelings, Ruthie,” drawled Jennie
Stone. “But I might find a dress in my trunk that will fit her.”

“Oh, girls! let’s dress her up—let’s give her enough of our own finery
out of the trunks to make her feel like a real girl.” This from Helen.

“Not now,” Ruth said quickly. “She would not thank you. She is an
independent thing—you’ll see. Let her earn her new clothes—and get
acquainted with us.”

“Ruth possesses the ‘wisdom of serpents,’” Miss Cullam said, smiling.
“Are the trunks going to remain here all the time we are absent in the
hills?”

“Mr. Hammond is going to have several wagons to transport his goods to
Freezeout; and if there is room he will bring along our trunks too. By
that time we shall probably be glad to get into something besides our
riding habits.”

Miss Cullam sighed. “I can see that this roughing it is going to be a
much more serious matter than I thought.”

However, they all looked eagerly forward to the start into the hills.
The hotelkeeper returned with his horse-load of beef, and he was able to
give Ruth and Miss Cullam certain information regarding the two girls
who had departed with Flapjack Peters on the trail to Freezeout.

“What can Edith Phelps mean by such actions?” the Ardmore teacher
demanded in private of Ruth. “You should have told me about that letter
and Edith’s presence on the train. I should have gone to her and asked
her what it meant.”

“Perhaps that would have been well,” Ruth admitted. “But, dear Miss
Cullam! how was I to know that Edith was coming here to Yucca?”

“Yes. I presume that the blame can be attached to nobody in particular.
But how could Edith Phelps have gained the confidence of your friend,
Miss Hicks?”

“That certainly puzzles me. Edith made all the arrangements with Min’s
father, so Min says. Ann Hicks must have been misled in some way.”

“It looks very strange to me,” observed Miss Cullam. “I have my
suspicions of Edith Phelps, and always have had. There! you see that we
instructors at college cannot help being biased in our opinions of the
girls.”

“Dear me, Miss Cullam!” laughed Ruth. “Isn’t that merely human nature?
It is not alone the nature of members of the college faculty.”

The hotel was a very plainly furnished place; but the girls and Miss
Cullam managed to spend the night comfortably. At eight o’clock in the
morning Tom and a half-grown Mexican boy were at the hotel door with a
cavalcade of ten ponies and four burros.

Tom had learned the diamond hitch while he was at Silver Ranch and he
helped fasten the necessary baggage upon the four little gray beasts.
Each rider was obliged to pack a blanket-roll and certain personal
articles. But the bulk of the provisions, and a small shelter tent for
Miss Cullam, were distributed among the pack animals.

The Briarwood girls and Trix Davenport rode in men’s saddles; as did Min
Peters; but Sally Blanchard and Rebecca and Miss Cullam had insisted
upon sidesaddles.

“And the mildest mannered pony in the lot, please,” the teacher said to
Tom. “I am just as afraid of the little beasts as I can be. Ugh!”

“And they are so cunning!” drawled Jennie. She stepped quickly aside to
escape the teeth of her own mount, who apparently considered the
possibility of eating her so as not to bear her weight.

“And can you blame him?” demanded Helen. “It would look better if you
shouldered the pony instead of riding on his back.”

“Is that so? Just for that I’ll bear down as heavily as I can on him,”
declared Jennie. “I’m not going to let any little cowpony nibble at me!”

The party started away from Yucca with Min Peters ahead and Pedro
bringing up the rear with his burros. Although the ponies could travel
at a much faster pace than the pack animals, the latter at their steady
pace would overtake the cavalcade of riders before the day was done.

The road they struck into after leaving town was a pretty good wagon
trail and the riding was easy. There was an occasional ranch-house at
which the occupants showed considerable interest in the tourists. But
before noon they had ridden into the foothills and Min told them that
thereafter dwellings would be few and far between.

“‘Ceptin’ where there’s a town. There are some regular gold washin’s we
pass. Hydraulic minin’, you know. But they are all on this side of the
Range. Nothin’ doin’ on t’other side. All the pay streaks petered out
years an’ years ago. Even a Chink couldn’t make a day’s wages at them
old diggin’s like Freezeout.”

“Well, we are not gold hunting,” laughed Ruth. “We are going to mine for
a better output—moving pictures.”

“I’ve heard tell of them,” said Min, curiously. “There was a feller
worked for the Lazy C that went to California and worked for them
picture fellers. He got three dollars a day and his pony’s keep an’ says
he never worked so hard in his life. That is, when the sun shone; and it
most never does rain in that part o’ California, he says.”

The prospect of camping out of doors, even in this warm and beautiful
weather, was what most troubled Miss Cullam and some of the girls.

“With the sky for a canopy!” sighed Sally Blanchard. “Suppose there are
wolves?”

“There are coyotes,” Helen explained. “But they only howl at you.”

“That’s enough I should hope,” Rebecca Frayne said. “Can’t we keep on to
the next house and hire beds?”

This was along toward supper time and the burros were in sight and the
sun was going down.

“The nearest ranch is Littell’s,” explained Min Peters. “And it’s most
thirty mile ahead. We couldn’t make it.”

“Of course it will be _fun_ to camp out, Rebecca,” declared Ruth
cheerfully. “Wait and see.”

“I’m likely to know more about it by morning,” admitted Rebecca. “I only
hope the experience will not be too awful.”

Ruth and her chum, as well as Jennie and Tom, laughed at the girl. They
expected nothing unusual to happen. However——



CHAPTER X—THE STAMPEDE


Their guide was fully as capable as a man, and proved it when it came to
making camp. Her selection of the camping site could not have been
bettered; she wielded an axe as well as a man in cutting brush for
bedding and wood for the fires.

As soon as Pedro and the burros arrived, Min proceeded to get supper for
the party with a skill and celerity that reminded him, so Tom said, of
one of those jugglers in vaudeville that keep half a dozen articles in
the air at a time.

Min broiled bacon, made coffee, mixed and baked biscuits on a board
before the coals, and finally made the popular flapjacks in unending
number—and attended to all these things without assistance.

“Pop can beat me at flapjacks. Them’s his long suit,” declared the girl
guide. “Wait till you see him toss ’em—a pan in each hand.”

Min’s viands could only be praised, and the party made a hearty supper.

As dusk mantled them about, Tom suddenly saw a spark of light out across
the plain to the south.

“What’s yonder?” he asked. “I thought you said there was no house near
here, Miss Peters?”

“Gee! if you don’t stop calling me _that_,” gasped their guide, “I
certainly will go crazy. I ain’t used to it. But that ain’t a house.”

“What is it, then?” asked the abashed Tom.

“One of the Lazy C outfits I reckon. Didn’t you see the cattle grazin’
yonder when we come over that last ridge?”

“Oh, my! a regular herd of cattle such as you read about?” demanded
Sally Blanchard. “And real cowboys with them?”

“I s’pect they think they’re real enough,” replied Min, dryly. “Punchin’
steers ain’t no cinch, lemme tell you.”

“Doesn’t she talk queerly?” said Rebecca, in a whisper. “She really
doesn’t seem to be a very proper person.”

“My goodness!” gasped Jennie Stone, choked with laughter at this. “What
do you expect of a girl who’s lived in the mines all her life? Polite,
Back-Bay English and all the refinements of the Hub?”

“No-o,” admitted Rebecca. “But, after all, refined people are ever so
much nicer than rude people. Don’t you find it so yourself, Jennie?”

“Well, I s’pose that’s so,” admitted the plump girl. “For a steady diet.
Just the same, if you judged it by its husk, you’d never know how sweet
the meat of a chestnut is.”

The campfire at the chuckwagon of the herding outfit was several miles
away; and later in the evening it died down and the glow of it
disappeared.

The girls were tired enough to seek repose early. Min, Tom and the
Mexican boy had agreed to divide the night into three watches. Otherwise
Rebecca declared she would be afraid even to close her eyes—and then her
regular breathing announced that sleep had overtaken her within sixty
seconds of her lying down!

Min chose the first watch and Ruth was not sleepy. During the turns
before midnight the girl from the East and the girl who had lived a
boy’s life in the mining country became very well acquainted indeed.

There had not been any “lucky strikes” in this region since Min could
remember. But now and then new veins of gold were discovered on old
claims; or other metals had been discovered where the early miners had
looked only for gold.

“And pop’s an old-timer,” sighed Min. “He’ll never be any good for
anything but prospectin’. Once it gets into a man, I reckon there ain’t
no way of his ever gettin’ away from it. Pop’s panned for gold in three
States; he’ll jest die a prospector and nothin’ more.”

“It’s good of you to have stuck to him since you grew big,” said Ruth.

“What else could I do?” demanded the Western girl. “Of course he loves
me in his way; and when he goes on his sprees he’d die some time if I
wasn’t on hand to nurse him. But some day I’m goin’ to get a bunch of
money of my own—an’ some clo’es—and I’m goin’ to light out and leave him
where he lies. Yes, ma’am!”

Ruth did not believe Min would do quite that; and to change the subject,
she asked suddenly:

“What’s that yonder? That glow over the hill?”

“Moon. It’s going to be bright as day, too. Them boys of the Lazy C will
ride close herd.”

“Why?”

“Don’t you know moonlight makes cattle right ornery? The shadows are so
black, you know. Then, mebbe there’s something ‘bout moonlight that
affects cows. It does folks, too. Makes ’em right crazy, I hear.”

“I have heard of people being moonstruck,” laughed Ruth. “But that was
in the tropics.”

“Howsomever,” Min declared, “it makes the cows oneasy. See! there’s the
edge of her. Like silver, ain’t it?”

The moon flooded the whole plain with its beams as it rose from behind
the mountains. One might have easily read coarse print by its light.

Every bush and shrub cast a black reflection upon the ground. It was
very still—not a breath of air stirring. Far, far away rose the whine of
a coyote; and the girls could hear one of the herdsmen singing as he
urged his pony around and around the cattle.

“You hear ’em pipin’ up?” said Min, smiling. “Them boys of the Lazy C
know their business. Singin’ keeps the cows quiet—sometimes.”

Their own fire died out completely. There was no need for it. By and by
Ruth roused Tom Cameron, for it was twelve o’clock. Then both she and
Min crept into their own blanket-nests, already arranged. The other
girls were sleeping as peacefully as though they were in their own beds
at Ardmore College.

Tom was refreshed with sleep and had no intention of so much as “batting
an eye.” The brilliancy of the moonlight was sufficient to keep him
awake.

Yet he got to thinking and it took something of a jarring nature to
arouse him at last. He heard hoarse shouts and felt the earth tremble as
many, many hoofs thundered over it!

Leaping up he looked around. Bright as the moon’s rays were he did not
at first descry the approaching danger. It could not be possible that
the cattle had stampeded and were coming up the valley, headed for the
tourists’ camp!

Yet that is what he finally made out. He shouted to Pedro, and finally
kicked the boy awake. Without thinking of the danger to the girls Tom
believed first of all that their ponies and burros might be swept away
with the charging steers.

“Gather up those lariats and hold the ponies!” Tom shouted to the
Mexican. “The burros won’t go far away from the horses. Hi, Min Peters!
What do you know about this?”

Their guide had come out of her blanket wide awake. She appreciated the
peril much more keenly than did Tom or the girls.

“A fire! We want a fire!” she shouted. “Never mind them ponies, Pedro!
You strike a light!”

Up the valley came charging the forefront of the cattle, their wicked,
long horns threatening dire things. As the Eastern girls awoke and saw
the cattle coming, they were for the most part paralyzed with fear.

“Fire! Start a fire!” yelled Min, again.

The thunder of the hoofs almost drowned her voice. But Ruth Fielding
suddenly realized what the girl guide meant. The cattle would not charge
over a fire or into the light of one.

She grabbed something from under her blanket and leaped away from Miss
Cullam’s tent toward the stampede. Tom shouted to her to come back;
Helen groaned aloud and seized the sleepy Jennie Stone.

“She’ll be killed!” declared Helen.

“What’s Ruth doing?” gasped the plump girl.

Then Ruth touched the trigger of the big tungsten lamp, and the
spotlight shot the herd at about the middle of its advance wave.
Snorting and plunging steers crowded away from the dazzling beam of
light, brighter and more intense than the moon’s rays, and so divided
and passed on either side of the tourists’ encampment.

The odor of the beasts and the dust they kicked up almost suffocated the
girls, but they were unharmed. Nor did the ponies and burros escape with
the frightened herd.

The racing punchers passed on either side of the camp, shouting their
congratulations to the campers. The latter, however, enjoyed little
further sleep that night.

“Such excitement!” murmured Miss Cullam, wrapped in her blanket and
sitting before the fire that Pedro had built up again. “And I thought
you said, Ruth Fielding, that this trip would probably be no more
strenuous than a picnic on Bliss Island?”

But Min eyed the girl of the Red Mill with something like admiration.
“Huh!” she muttered, “some of these Eastern tenderfoots are some good in
a pinch after all.”



CHAPTER XI—AT HANDY GULCH


Sitting around a blanket spread for a tablecloth at sunrise and eating
eggs and bacon with more flapjacks, the incidents of the night seemed
less tangible, and certainly less perilous.

“Why, I can’t imagine those mild-eyed cows making such a scramble by us
as they did,” Trix Davenport remarked.

“‘Mild-eyed kine’ is good—very good indeed,” said Jennie Stone. “These
long-horns are about as mild-tempered as wolves. I can remember that we
saw some of them in tempestuous mood up at Silver Ranch. Isn’t that so,
Helen?”

“Truly,” admitted the black-eyed girl.

“I shall never care even to _eat_ beef if we go through many such
experiences as that stampede,” Miss Cullam declared. “Let us hurry away
from the vicinity of these maddened beasts.”

“We’ll be off the range to-day,” said Min dryly. “Then there won’t be
nothing to scare you tenderfoots.”

“No bears, or wolves, or panthers?” drawled Jennie wickedly.

“Oh, mercy! You don’t mean there are such creatures in the hills?” cried
Rebecca.

“I don’t reckon we’ll meet up with such,” Min said.

“Shouldn’t we have brought guns with us?” asked Sally timidly.

“Goodness! And shoot each other?” cried Miss Cullam.

“Why, you didn’t say nothin’ about huntin’,” said the guide slowly.
“Pop’s got his rifle with him. But I’m packin’ a forty-five; that’ll
scare off most anything on four laigs. And there ain’t no two-legged
critters to hurt us.”

“I’ve an automatic,” said Tom Cameron quietly. “Didn’t know but I might
have a chance to shoot a jackrabbit or the like.”

“What for?” drawled Min, sarcastically. “We ain’t likely to stay in one
place long enough to cook such a critter. They’re usually tougher’n all
git-out, Mister.”

“At any rate,” said Ruth, with satisfaction, “the party is sufficiently
armed. Let us not fear bears or mountain lions.”

“Or jackrabbits,” chuckled Jennie.

“And are you _sure_ there are no ill-disposed men in the mountains?”
asked the teacher.

“Men?” sniffed Min. “I ain’t ‘fraid of men, I hope! There ain’t nothin’
wuss than a drunken man, and I’ve had experience enough with them.”

Ruth knew she referred to her father; but she did not tell the other
girls and Miss Cullam what Min had confided to her the previous evening.

The trail led them into the foothills that day and before night the
rugged nature of the ground assured even Miss Cullam that there was
little likelihood of such an unpleasant happening as had startled them
the night before.

They halted to camp for the night beside a collection of small huts and
tents that marked the presence of a placer digging which had been found
the spring before and still showed “color.”

There were nearly a dozen flannel-shirted and high-booted miners at this
spot, and the sight of the girls from the East had a really startling
effect upon these lonely men. There was not a woman at the camp.

The men knocked off work for the day the moment the tourists arrived.
Every man of them, including the Mexican water-carrier, was broadly
asmile. And they were all ready and willing to show “the ladies from the
East” how placer mining was done.

The output of a mountain spring had been brought down an open plank
sluice into the little glen where the vein of fine gold had been
discovered; and with the current of this stream the gold-bearing soil
was “washed” in sluice-boxes.

The miners, rough but good-natured fellows, all made a “clean up” then
and there, and each of the visitors was presented with a pinch of gold
dust, right from the riffles.

This placer mining camp was run on a community basis, and the camp cook
insisted upon getting supper for all, and an abundant if not a
delicately prepared meal was the result.

“I’m not sure that we should allow these men to go to so much expense
and trouble,” Miss Cullam whispered to Ruth and Min Peters.

“Oh, gee!” ejaculated the girl in boy’s clothing. “Don’t let it worry
you for a minute, Miss Cullam. We’re a godsend to them fellers. If they
didn’t spend their money once’t in a while they’d git too wealthy,” and
she chuckled.

“That could not possibly be, when they work so long and hard for a pinch
of gold dust,” declared the college instructor.

“They fling it away just as though it come easy,” returned Min. “Believe
me! it’s much better for ’em to have you folks here and blow you to
their best, than it is for them to go down to Yucca and blow it all in
on red liquor.”

The miners would have gone further and given up their cabins or their
tents to the use of the women. But even Rebecca had enjoyed sleeping out
the night before and would not be tempted. The air was so dry and tonic
in its qualities that the walls of a house or even of a tent seemed
superfluous.

“I do miss my morning plunge or shower,” Helen admitted. “I feel as
though all this red dust and grit had got into my skin and never would
get out again. But one can’t rough it and keep clean, too, I suppose.”

“That water in the sluice looks lovely,” confessed Jennie Stone. “I’d
dearly like to go paddling in it if there weren’t so many men about.”

“After all,” said Ruth, “although we are traveling like men we don’t act
as they would. Tom slipped off by himself and behind that screen of
bushes up there on the hillside he took a bath in the sluice. But there
isn’t a girl here who would do it.”

“Oh, lawsy, I didn’t bring my bathing suit,” drawled Jennie. “That was
an oversight.”

“Old Tom does get a few things on us, doesn’t he?” commented Helen.
“Perhaps being a boy isn’t, after all, an unmitigated evil.”

“But the water’s so co-o-ld!” shivered Trix. “I’m sure I wouldn’t care
for a plunge in this mountain stream. Will there be heated bathrooms at
Freezeout Camp, Fielding?”

“Humph!” Miss Cullam ejaculated. “The title of the place sounds as
though steam heat would be the fashion and tiled bathrooms plentiful!”

The third day of the journey was quite as fair as the previous days; but
the way was still more rugged, so they did not travel so far. They
camped that night in a deep gorge, and it was cold enough for the fires
to feel grateful. Tom and the Mexican kept two fires well supplied with
fuel all night. Once a coyote stood on a bank above their heads and sang
his song of hunger and loneliness until, as Sally declared, she thought
she should “fly off the handle.”

“I never _did_ hear such an unpleasant sound in all my life—it beats the
grinding of an ungreased wagon wheel! I wish you would drive him away,
Tom.”

So Tom pulled out the automatic that he had been “aching” to use, and
sent a couple of shots in the direction of the lank and hungry beast—who
immediately crossed the gorge and serenaded them from the other bank!

“What’s the use of killing a perfectly useless creature?” demanded Ruth.

“No fear,” laughed Jennie. “Tom won’t kill it. He’s only shooting holes
in the circumambient atmosphere.”

There was a haze over the mountain tops at dawn on the fourth day; but
Min assured the girls that it could not mean rain. “We ain’t had no rain
for so long that it’s forgotten how,” she said. “But mebbe there’ll be a
wind storm before night.”

“Oh! as long as we’re dry——”

“Yes, Miss Ruth,” put in the girl guide. “We’ll be _dry_, all right. But
a wind storm here in Arizona ain’t to be sneezed at. Sometimes it comes
right cold, too.”

“In summer?”

“Yep. It can git mighty cold in summer if it sets out to. But we’ll try
to make Handy Gulch early and git under cover if the sand begins to
sift.”

“Oh me! oh my!” groaned Jennie. “A sand storm? And like Helen I feel
already as though the dust was gritted into the pores of my skin.”

“It ain’t onhealthy,” Min returned dryly. “Some o’ these old-timers live
a year without seein’ enough water to take a bath in. The sand gives ’em
a sort of dry wash. It’s clean dirt.”

“Nothing like getting used to a point of view,” whispered Sally
Blanchard. “Fancy! A ‘dry wash!’ How do _you_ feel, Rebecca Frayne?”

“Just as gritty as you do,” was the prompt reply.

“All right then,” laughed Ruth. “We all must have grit enough to hurry
along and reach this Handy Gulch before the storm bursts.”

Min told them that there was a “sure enough” hotel at the settlement
they were approaching. It was a camp where hydraulic mining was being
conducted on a large scale.

“The claims belong mostly to the Arepo Mining and Smelting Company. They
have several mines through the Hualapai Range,” said the guide. “This
Handy place is quite a town. Only trouble is, there’s two rum sellin’
places. Most of the men’s wages go back to the company through drink and
cards, for they control the shops. But some day Arizona is goin’ dry,
and then we’ll shut up all such joints.”

“Dry!” coughed Helen. “Could anything be dryer than Arizona is right
here and now?”

The seemingly tireless ponies carried the girls at a lope, or a gallop,
all that forenoon. It was hard to get the eager little beasts to walk,
and they never trotted. Miss Cullam claimed that everything inside of
her had “come loose and was rattling around like dice in a box.”

“Dear me, girls,” sighed the teacher, “if this jumping and jouncing is
really a healthful exercise, I shall surely taste death through an
accident. But good health is something horrid to attain—in this way.”

But in spite of the discomforts of the mode of travel, the party hugely
enjoyed the outing. There were so many new and strange things to see,
and one always came back to the same statement: “The air _is_ lovely!”

There were certainly new things to see when they arrived at Handy Gulch
just after lunch time, not having stopped for that meal by the way. The
camp consisted of fully a hundred wood and sheet-iron shacks, and the
hotel was of two stories and was quite an important looking building.

Above the town, which squatted in a narrow valley through which a
brawling and muddy stream flowed, was the “bench” from which the gold
was being mined. There were four “guns” in use and these washed down the
raw hillside into open sluices, the riffles of which caught the
separated gold. The girls were shown a nugget found that very morning.
It was as big as a walnut.

But most of the precious metal was found in tiny nuggets, or in dust, a
grain of which seemed no larger than the head of a common pin.

However, although these things were interesting, the minute the
cavalcade rode up to the hotel something much more interesting happened.
There was a cry of welcome from within and out of the front door charged
Jane Ann Hicks, dressed much as she used to be on the ranch—broad
sombrero, a short fringed skirt over her riding breeches, high boots
with spurs, and a gun slung at her belt.

“For the good land of love!” she demanded, seizing Ruth Fielding as the
latter tumbled off her horse. “Where have you girls been? I was just
about riding back to that Yucca place to look for you.”

Jennie and Helen came in for a warm welcome, too. Ann was presented to
Miss Cullam and the other two girls before explanations were made by
anybody. Then Ruth demanded of the Montana girl a full and particular
account of what she had done, and why.

“Why, I reckon that Miss Phelps ain’t a friend of yours, after all?”
queried Ann. “She’s one frost, if she is.”

“Now you’ve said something, Nita,” said Jennie Stone. “She is a cold
proposition. Can you tell us what she’s doing out here?”

“I don’t know. She sure enough comes from that college you girls attend,
don’t she?”

“She does!” admitted Helen. “She truly does. But she’s not a sample of
what Ardmore puts forth—don’t believe it.”

“I opine she’s not a sample of any product, except orneriness,” scolded
Ann, who was a good deal put out by the strange actions of Edith Phelps.
“You see how it was. My train was late. According to the telegram I
found waiting for me, you folks should have arrived at Yucca hours ahead
of me.”

“And we were delayed,” sighed Ruth. “Go on.”

“I saw this Phelps girl,” pursued Ann Hicks, “and asked her about you
folks. She said you’d been and gone.”

“Oh!” was the chorused exclamation from the other girls.

“And _she_ is one of my pupils!” groaned Miss Cullam.

“She didn’t learn to tell whoppers at your college, I guess,” said Ann,
bluntly. “Anyhow, she fooled me nicely. She said she was going over this
very route you had taken and I could come along. She wouldn’t let me pay
any of the expenses—not even tip the guide. Only for my pony.”

“But where is she now?” asked Ruth.

“And where is that Flapjack person—Min’s father?” cried Jennie.

“We got here last night and put up at this hotel,” Ann said, going
steadily on with her story and not to be drawn away on any side issues.
“We got here last night. Late in the evening somebody came to see this
Phelps girl—a man.”

“Goodness!” exclaimed Rebecca. “And she is traveling without a
chaperon!”

“‘Chaperon’—huh!” ejaculated Ann. “She didn’t need any chaperon. She can
take care of herself all right. Well, she didn’t come back and I went to
bed. This morning I found a bit of paper on my pillow—here ’tis——”

“That’s Edie’s handwriting,” Sally Blanchard said eagerly. “What does it
say?”

“‘Good-bye. I am not going any farther with you. Wait, and your friends
may overtake you.’ Just that,” said Ann, with disgust. “Can you beat
it?”

“What has that wild girl done, do you suppose?” murmured Miss Cullam.

“Oh, she isn’t wild—not so’s you’d notice it,” said Ann. “Believe me,
she knows her way about. And she shipped that guide.”

“Discharged Mr. Peters, do you mean?” Ruth asked. Min was not in the
room while this conversation was going on.

“H’m. Yes. _Mister_ Peters. He’s some sour dough, I should say! He was
paid off and set down with money in his fist between two saloons.
They’re across the street from each other, and they tell me he’s been
swinging from one bar to the other like a pendulum ever since he was
paid off.”

“Poor Min!” sighed Ruth Fielding.

“Huh?” said Ann Hicks. “If he’s got any folks, _I’m_ sorry for ’em,
too.”



CHAPTER XII—MIN SHOWS HER METTLE


There were means to be obtained at the Handy Gulch Hotel for the baths
that the tourists so much desired, even if tiled bathrooms and hot and
cold water faucets were not in evidence.

The party lunched after making fresh toilets, and then set forth to view
the “sights.” Ruth inquired of Tom for Min; but their guide had
disappeared the moment the party reached the hotel.

“She’s acquainted here, I presume,” said Tom Cameron. “Maybe she doesn’t
wish to be seen with you girls. Her outfit is so very different from
yours.”

“Poor Min!” murmured Ruth again. “Do you suppose she has found her
father?”

Tom could not tell her that, and they trailed along behind the others,
up toward the bench where the hydraulic mining was going on.

Only one of the nozzles was being worked—shooting a solid stream three
inches in diameter into the hillside, and shaving off great slices that
melted and ran in a creamlike paste down into the sluice-boxes. Half a
hundred “muckers” were at work with pick and shovel below the bench. The
man managing the hydraulic machine stood astride of it, in hip boots and
slicker, and guided the spouting stream of water along the face of the
raw hill.

The party of spectators stood well out of the way, for the work of
hydraulic mining has attached to it no little danger. The force of the
stream from the nozzle of the machine is tremendous; and sometimes there
are accidents, when many tons of the hillside unexpectedly cave down
upon the bench.

The man astride the nozzle, however, took the matter coolly enough. He
was smoking a short pipe and plowed along the face of the rubble with
his deadly stream as easily as though he were watering a lawn.

“And if he should shoot it this way,” said Tom, “he’d wash us down off
the bench as though we were pebbles.”

“Ugh! Let’s not talk about that,” murmured Rebecca Frayne, shivering.

“Oh, girls!” burst out Helen, “see that man, will you?”

“What man?” asked Trix.

“_Where_ man?” demanded Jennie Stone.

“Running this way. Why! what can have happened?” Helen pursued. “Look,
Tom, has there been an accident?”

A hatless man came running from the far end of the bench. He was
swinging his arms and his mouth was wide open, though they could not
hear what he was shouting. The noise of the spurting water and falling
rubble drowned most other sounds.

“Why, girls,” shouted Ann Hicks, and her voice rose above the noise of
the hydraulic, “that’s the feller that guided us up here. That’s
Peters!”

“Flapjack Peters?” repeated Tom. “The man acts as if he were crazy!”

The bewhiskered and roughly dressed man gave evidence of exactly the
misfortune Tom mentioned. His eyes blazed, his manner was distraught,
and he came on along the bench in great leaps, shouting unintelligibly.

“He is intoxicated. Let us go away,” Miss Cullam said promptly.

But the excitement of the moment held the girls spellbound, and Miss
Cullam herself merely stepped back a pace. A crowd of men were chasing
the irrepressible Peters. Their shouts warned the fellow at the nozzle
of the hydraulic machine.

He turned to look over his shoulder, the stream of water still plowing
down the wall of gravel and soil. It bored directly into the hillside
and down fell a huge lump, four or five tons of debris.

“Git back out o’ here, ye crazy loon!” yelled the man, shifting the
nozzle and bringing down another pile of rubble.

But Peters plunged on and in a moment had the other by the shoulders.
With insane strength he tore the miner away from the machine and flung
him a dozen feet. The stream of water shifted to the right as the
hydraulic machine slewed around.

“Come away! Come away from that, Pop!” shrieked a voice, and the amazed
Eastern girls saw Min Peters darting along the bench toward the scene.

Peters sprang astride the nozzle and shifted it quickly back and forth
so that the water spread in all directions. He knew how to handle the
machine; the peril lay in what he might decide to do with it.

“Come away from that, Pop!” shrieked Min again.

But her father flirted the stream around, threatening the girl and those
who followed her. The men stopped. They knew what would happen if that
solid stream of water collided with a human body!

“D’you hear me, Pop?” again cried the fearless girl. “You git off that
pipe and let Bob have it.”

Bob, the pipeman, was just getting to his feet—wrathful and muddy. But
he did not attempt to charge Peters. The latter again swept the stream
along the hillside in a wide arc, bringing tons upon tons of gravel and
soil down upon the bench. The narrow plateau was becoming choked with
it. There was danger of his burying the hydraulic machine, as well as
himself, in an avalanche.

The tourist party was in peril, too. They scarcely understood this at
the moment, for things were transpiring so quickly that only seconds had
elapsed since first Peters had approached.

The miners dared not come closer. But Min showed no fear. She plunged in
and caught him around the body, trying to confine his arms so that he
could not slew the nozzle to either side.

This helped the situation but little. For half a minute the stream shot
straight into the hillside; then another great lump fell.

At the same moment Peters threw her off, and Min went rolling over and
over in the mud as Bob had gone. But she was up again in a moment and
made another spring for the man.

And then suddenly, quite as unexpectedly as the riot had started, it was
all over. The hurtling, hissing stream of water fell to a wabbling,
futile out-pouring; then to a feeble dribble from the pipe’s nozzle. The
water had been shut off below.

The miners pyramided upon him, and in half a minute Flapjack Peters was
“spread-eagled” on the muddy bench, held by a dozen brawny arms.

“Wait! wait!” cried Ruth, running forward. “Don’t hurt him. Take care——”

“Don’t hurt him, Miss?” growled Bob, the man who had been flung aside.
“We ought to nigh about knock the daylights out o’ him. Look what he
done to me.”

“But you mustn’t! He’s not responsible,” Ruth Fielding urged.

The miners dragged Peters to his feet and there was blood on his face.
Here is where Min showed the mettle that was in her again. She sprang in
among the angry miners to her father’s side.

“Don’t none of you forgit he’s my pop,” she threatened in a tone that
held the girls who listened spellbound and amazed.

“You ain’t got no call to beat him up. You know he can’t stand red
liquor; yet some of you helped him drink of it las’ night. Ain’t that
the truth?”

Bob was the first to admit her statement. “I s’pose you’re right, Min.
We done drunk with him.”

“Sure! You helped him waste his money. Then, when he goes loco like he
always does, you’re for beatin’ of him up. My lawsy! if there’s anything
on top o’ this here airth more ornery than that I ain’t never seen it.”



CHAPTER XIII—AN URSINE HOLDUP


Peters was still struggling with his captors and talking wildly. He
evidently did not know his own daughter.

“Well, what you goin’ to do with him?” demanded Bob, the pipeman. “We
ain’t expected to stand and hold him all day, if we ain’t goin’ to be
’lowed to hang him—the ornery critter!”

“You shet up, Bob Davis!” said Min. “You ain’t no pulin’ infant yourself
when you’re drunk, and you know it.”

The other men began laughing at the angry miner, and Bob admitted:

“Well, s’posin’ that’s so? I’m sober now. And I got work to do. So’s
these other fellows. What you want done with Flapjack?”

Ruth Fielding was so deeply interested for Min’s sake that she could not
help interfering.

“Oh, Min, isn’t there a doctor in this camp?”

“Yes’m. Doc Quibbly. He’s here, ain’t he, boys?”

“The old doc’s down to his office in the tin shack beyant the hotel,”
said one. “I seen him not an hour ago.”

“Let’s take your father to the hotel, Min,” Ruth said. “These men will
help us, I know. So will Tom Cameron. We will have the doctor look after
your father.”

“The old doc can dope him a-plenty, I reckon,” said Bob.

“Sure we’ll help you,” said the rough fellows, who were not really
hard-hearted after all.

“I dunno’s they’ll let him into the hotel,” Min said.

“Yes they will. We’ll pay for his room and you and the doctor can look
out for him,” Ruth declared.

“You are good and helpful, Ruth Fielding,” said Miss Cullam, coming
forward, much as she despised the condition of the man, Peters. “How
terrible! But one must be sorry for that poor girl.”

“And Min has pluck all right!” cried Jennie Stone, admiringly. “We must
help her.”

They were all agreed in this. Even Rebecca and Miss Cullam, who both
shrank from the coarseness of the men and the roughness of Min and her
father, commiserated the man’s misfortune and were sorry for Min’s
strait.

Tom assisted in leading the wildly-talking Peters to the hotel. Ruth and
Miss Cullam hurried on in advance to engage a room for the man whom they
assured the proprietor was really ill. Min, meanwhile, went in search of
the camp’s medical practitioner.

Dr. Quibbly was a gray-bearded man with keen eyes but palsied hands. He
had plainly been wrecked by misfortune or some disease; but he had been
left with all his mental powers unimpaired.

He took hold of the distraught Peters in a capable manner; and Tom, who
remained to help nurse the patient, declared to Ruth and Helen that he
never hoped to see a doctor who knew his business better than Dr.
Quibbly knew it.

“He had Peters quiet in half an hour. No harmful drug, either. Told me
everything he used. Says rest, and milk and eggs to build up the
stomach, is all the chap needs. Min’s with him now and I’m going to
sleep in my blanket outside the door to-night, so if she needs anybody
I’ll be within call.”

It had been rather an exciting experience for the girls and they
remained in their rooms for the rest of the day. The hotel proprietor
offered to take them around at night and “show them the sights”; but as
that meant visiting the two saloons and gambling halls, Miss Cullam
refused for the party, rather tartly.

“No offence meant, Ma’am,” said the hotel man, Mr. Bennett. “But most of
the tenderfeet that come here hanker to ‘go slumming,’ as they call it.
They want to see these here miners at their amusements, as well as at
their daily occupations.”

“I’d rather see them at church,” Miss Cullam told him frankly. “I think
they need it.”

“Good glory, Ma’am!” exclaimed the man. “We git that, too—once a month.
What more kin you expect?”

“I suppose,” Miss Cullam said to her girls, “that a perfectly
straight-laced New England old maid could not be set down in a more
inappropriate place than a mining camp.”

The speech gave Ruth a suggestion for a scene in the picture play of
“The Forty-Niners,” and she would have been delighted to have the
Ardmore teacher play a part in that scene.

“However,” she said to Helen, whispering it over in bed that night, “it
will be funny. I know Mr. Hammond will bring plenty of costumes of the
period of forty-nine, for he wants women in the show. And there will be
some character actress who can take the part of an unsophisticated blue
stocking from the Hub, who arrives at the camp in the midst of the
miner’s revelry.”

“Oh, my!” gasped Helen. “Miss Cullam will think you are making fun of
her.”

“No she won’t——the dear thing! She has too much good sense. But she
_has_ given me what Tom would call a dandy idea.”

“Isn’t it nice to have Tom—or somebody—to lay our use of slang to?” said
Ruth’s chum demurely.

The party did not leave Handy Gulch the next day, nor the day following.
There were several excuses given for this delay and they were all good.

One of the ponies had developed lameness; and a burro wandered away and
Pedro had to spend half a day searching for him. Perhaps the Mexican lad
would have been quicker about this had Min been on hand to hurry him.
But having been close beside her father all night she lay down for
needed sleep while Tom Cameron and the doctor took her place.

The report from the sickroom was favorable. In a few hours the man who
had come so near to bringing about a tragedy in Handy Gulch would be fit
to travel. Ruth declared that she would wait for him, and he should go
along with the party to Freezeout.

“But you are our guide and general factotum, Min. We depend on you,” she
told the sick man’s daughter.

“I dunno what that thing is you called me; but I guess it ain’t a bad
name,” said Min Peters. “If you’ll jest let pop trail along so’s I kin
watch him he’ll be as good as pie, I know.”

Then, there was Miss Cullam’s reason for not wishing to start. She said
she was “saddle sick.”

“I have been seasick, and trainsick; but I think saddlesick must be the
worst, for it lasts longer. I can lie in bed now,” said the poor woman,
“and feel myself wabbling just as I do in that hateful saddle.

“Oh, dear, me, Ruthie Fielding! I wish I had never agreed to come
without demanding a comfortable carriage.”

“They tell me that there are places on the trail before we get to
Freezeout so narrow that a carriage can’t be used. The wagons are going
miles and miles around so as to escape the rough places of the
straighter trail.”

“Goodness!” exclaimed Miss Cullam in disgust. “Is it necessary to get to
Freezeout Camp in such a short time? I tell you right now: I am going to
rest in bed for two days.”

And she did. The girls were not worried, however. They found plenty to
see and to do about the mining town. As for Ruth, she set to work on her
scenario, and kept Rebecca Frayne busy with the typewriter, too. She
sketched out the scene she had mentioned to Helen, and it was so funny
that Rebecca giggled all the time she was typewriting it.

“Goodness!” murmured Ruth. “I hope the audiences will think it is as
funny as you do. The only trouble is, unless a good deal of the
conversation is thrown on the screen, they will miss some of the best
points. Dear me! Such is fate. I was born to be a humorist—a real
humorist—in a day and age when ‘custard-pie comedians’ have the
right-of-way.”

The third day the party started bright and early on the Freezeout trail.
Flapjack Peters was well enough to ride; and he was woefully sorry for
what he had done. But he was still too much “twisted” in his mind to be
able to tell Ruth just how he came to start away from Yucca with Edith
Phelps and Ann Hicks, instead of waiting for the entire party to arrive.

Ann had told all she knew about it at her meeting with Ruth. It remained
a mystery why Edith had come to Yucca; why she had kept Ann and her
friends apart; and why at Handy Gulch she had abandoned both Ann and
Flapjack Peters.

“She met a man here, that’s all I know,” said Ann, with disgust.

“Maybe it was the man who wrote her from Yucca,” said Helen to Ruth.

“‘Box twenty-four, R. F. D., Yucca, Arizona,’” murmured Ruth. “We should
have made inquiries in Yucca about the person who has his mail come to
that postbox.”

“These hindsights that should have been foresights are the limit!”
groaned Helen. “We must admit that Edie Phelps has put one over on us.
But what it is she has done _I_ do not comprehend.”

“That is what bothers me,” Ruth said, shaking her head.

They set off on this day from the Gulch in a spirit of cheerfulness, and
ready for any adventure. However, none of the party—not a soul of
it—really expected what did happen before the end of the day.

As usual the pony cavalcade got ahead of the burros in the forenoon. The
little animals would go only so fast no matter what was done to them.

“You could put a stick of dynamite under one o’ them critters,” Min
said, “and he’d rise slow-like. ‘Hurry up’ ain’t knowed to the burros’
language—believe me!”

The pony cavalcade was halted most surprisingly about noon, and in a way
which bid fair to delay the party until the burros caught up, if not
longer. They had got well into the hills. The cliffs rose on either hand
to towering heights. Thick and scrubby woods masked the sides of the
gorge through which they rode.

“It is as wild as one could imagine,” said Miss Cullam, riding with Tom
in the lead. “What do you suppose is the matter with my pony, Mr.
Cameron?”

Tom had begun to be puzzled about his own mount—a wise old, flea-bitten
gray. The ponies had pricked their ears forward and were snuffing the
air as though there was some unpleasant odor assailing their nostrils.

“I don’t know just what is the matter,” Tom confessed. “But these
creatures can see and smell a lot that _we_ can’t, Miss Cullam. Perhaps
we had better halt and——”

He got no further. They were just rounding an elbow in the trail. There
before them, rising up on their haunches in the path, were three gray
and black bears!

“Ow-yow!” shrieked Jennie Stone. “Do you girls see the same things _I_
do?”

To those ahead, however, it seemed no matter for laughter. The
bears—evidently a female with two cubs—were too close for fun-making.



CHAPTER XIV—AT FREEZEOUT CAMP


There is nothing really savage looking about a bear unless it _is_
savage. Otherwise a bear has a rather silly looking countenance. These
three bears had been walking peacefully down the trail, and were
surprised at the sudden appearance of the cavalcade of ponies from
around the bend, for such wind as was stirring was blowing down the
trail.

The larger bear, the mother of the two half-grown cubs, instantly
realized the danger of their position. It may have looked like an ursine
hold-up to the tourists; but old Mother Bear was quite sure she and her
cubs were in man-peril.

She growled fiercely, cuffing her cubs right and left and sending them
scuttling and whining off into the bushes. She roared at the startled
pony riders and did not descend from her haunches.

She looked terrible enough then. Her teeth, fully displayed, promised to
tear and rend both ponies and riders if they came near enough.

Miss Cullam was speechless with fright. The ponies had halted, snorting;
but for the first minute or so none of them backed away from the
threatening beast.

The hair rose stiffly on the bear’s neck and she uttered a second
challenging growl. Tom had pulled out his automatic; but he had already
learned that at any considerable distance this weapon was not to be
depended upon. Min’s forty-five threw a bullet where one aimed; not so
the newfangled weapon.

Besides, the bear was a big one and it really looked as though a pistol
ball would be an awfully silly thing to throw at it.

Rebecca Frayne had just begun to cry and Sally Blanchard was begging
everybody to “come away,” when Min Peters slipped around from the rear
to the head of the column.

“Hold on to your horses, girls,” she whispered shrilly. “Mebbe some of
’em’s gun-shy. Steady now—and we’ll have bear’s tongue and liver for
supper.”

“Oh, Minnie!” squealed Helen.

Min was not to be disturbed from her purpose by any hysterical girl. She
was not depending upon her forty-five for the work in hand. She had
brought her father’s rifle from Handy Gulch; and now it came in use most
opportunely.

The bear was still on its haunches and still roaring when Min got into
position. The beast was an easy mark, and the Western girl dropped on
one knee, thus steadying her aim, for the rifle was heavy.

The bear roared again; then the rifle roared. The latter almost knocked
Min over, the recoil was so great. But the shot quite knocked the bear
over. The heavy slug of lead had penetrated the beast’s heart and lungs.

She staggered forward, the blood spouted from her wide open jaws as well
as from her breast; and finally she came down with a crash upon the hard
trail. She was quite dead before she hit the ground.

There was screaming enough then. Everybody save Ann Hicks and Tom,
perhaps, had quite lost his self-control. Such a jabbering as followed!

“Goodness me, girls,” drawled Jennie Stone at last, raising her voice so
as to be heard. “Goodness me! Min just wasted that perfectly good lead
bullet. We could easily have talked that poor bear to death.”

It had been rather a startling incident, however, and they were not
likely to stop talking about it immediately. Miss Cullam was more than
frightened by the event; she felt that she had been misled.

“I had no idea there were actually wild creatures like those bears in
this country, Ruth Fielding. I certainly never would have come had I
realized it. You could not have hired me to come on this trip.”

“But, dear Miss Cullam,” Ruth said, somewhat troubled because the lady
was, “I really had no idea they were here.”

“I assure you,” Helen said soberly, “that the bears did not appear by
_my_ invitation, much as I enjoy mild excitement.”

“‘Mild excitement’!” breathed Rebecca Frayne. “My word!”

“And those other two bears are loose and may attack us,” pursued Miss
Cullam.

“They were only cubs, Miss,” said Min, who, with her father, was already
at work removing the bear’s pelt. “They’re running yet. And I shouldn’t
have shot this critter only it might have done some damage, being mad
because of its young. We may have to explain this shootin’ to the game
wardens. There’s a closed season for bears like there is for game birds.
There ain’t many left.”

“And do they really want to keep any of the horrid creatures _alive?_”
demanded Trix Davenport.

“Yes. Bear shootin’ attracts tenderfoots; and tenderfoots have money to
spend. That’s the how of it,” explained Min.

The ponies did not like the smell of the bear, and they were all drawn
ahead on the trail. But the cavalcade waited for Pedro and the burros to
overtake them; then the load on one burro was transferred to the ponies
and the pelt and as much of the bear meat as they could make use of in
such warm weather was put upon the burro.

“Not that either the skin or the meat’s much good this time o’ year. She
ain’t got fatted up yet after sucklin’ them cubs. But, anyway, you kin
say ye had bear meat when you git back East,” Min declared practically.

The girls went on after that with their eyes very wide open. Miss Cullam
declared that she knew she never would forget how those three bears
looked standing on their hind legs and “glaring” at her.

“Glaring!” repeated Jennie Stone. “All I could see was that old bear’s
open mouth. It quite swallowed up her eyes.”

“What an acrobatic feat!” sighed Trix Davenport. “You _do_ have an
imagination, Jennie Stone.”

The event did not pass over as a matter for laughter altogether; the
girls had really been given a severe fright. Min was obliged to ride
ahead, or the tourists never would have rounded a bend in the trail in
real comfort. It was probable that the Western girl had a hearty
contempt for their cowardice. “But what could you expect of
tenderfoots?” she grumbled to Ann Hicks.

“D’you know,” said the girl from Silver Ranch to the girl guide, “that
is what I used to think about these Eastern girlies—that they were only
babies. But just because they are gun-shy, and are unused to many of the
phases of outdoor life with which you and I are familiar, Min, doesn’t
make them altogether useless.

“Believe me, my dear! when it comes to book learning, and knowing how to
dress, and being used to the society game, these girls from Ardmore are
_sharks!_”

“I reckon that’s right,” agreed Min. “I watched ’em come off the train
in Yucca, and they looked like they’d just stepped out of a mail-order
house catalogue. Such fixin’s!” and the girl who had never worn proper
feminine clothing sighed longingly at the remembrance of the Ardmore
girls’ traveling dresses and hats.

The more Min saw of the Eastern girls, the more desirous she was of
being like them—in some ways, at least. She might sneer at their lack of
physical courage; nevertheless, she was well aware that they were used
to many things of which she knew very little. And there never was a girl
born who did not long for pretty clothes, and who did not wish to appear
attractive in the eyes of others.

Helen and Jennie had not forgotten their idea of dressing their guide in
some of their furbelows.

“Just wait till our trunks get to that Freezeout place, along with your
movie people, Ruth,” said Jennie. “We’ll just doll poor Min all up.”

“That’s an idea!” exclaimed the girl of the Red Mill, her mind quick to
absorb any suggestion relative to her art. “I can put Min in the
picture—if she will agree. Show her as she is, then have her
metamorphosised into a pretty girl—for she _is_ pretty.”

“From the ugly caterpillar to the butterfly,” cried Helen.

“A regular Bret Harte character—queen of the mining camp,” said Jennie.
“You can give me a share of your royalties, Ruth, for this suggestion.”

Ruth had so many ideas in her head for scenes at the mining camp that
she was anxious to get over the trail and reach Freezeout. By this time
Mr. Hammond and his outfit must have arrived at Yucca.

The trail was rough, however, and the cavalcade of college girls could
travel only about so fast. Those unfamiliar with saddle work, like Miss
Cullam, found the journey hard enough.

At night they had to camp in the open, after leaving Handy Gulch; and
because of the appearance of the bears, there were two guards set at
night, and the fires were kept up. Tom and Pedro took half the watch,
and then Min and her father took their turn.

Nothing happened of moment, however, during the three nights that ensued
before the party reached the abandoned camp of Freezeout. They came down
into the “draw” or arroyo in which the old mining camp lay late one
afternoon. A more deserted-looking place could scarcely be imagined.

There were half a hundred log cabins, of assorted sizes and in different
stages of dilapidation. The air was so dry and so little rain fell in
this part of Arizona that the log walls of the structures were in fairly
good condition, and not all the roofs had fallen in.

Min and her father, with Tom Cameron, searched among the cabins to find
those most suitable for occupancy. But it was Ruth Fielding who
discovered something that startled the whole party.

“See here! See here!” she called. “I’ve found something.”

“What is it?” asked Tom. “More bears?”

“No. Somebody has been ahead of us here. Perhaps we are not alone in
having an interest in this Freezeout place.”

“What do you mean, Ruthie?” cried Helen, running to her chum.

“Here are the remains of a campfire. The ashes are still warm. Somebody
camped here last night, that is sure. Do you suppose they are here now?”



CHAPTER XV—MORE DISCOVERIES


A quick but thorough search of the abandoned mining camp revealed no
living person save the party of tourists themselves.

Ruth’s inquiry for the persons who had built the campfire aroused the
curiosity of Min Peters and her father, and they made some
investigations for which the girl from the East scarcely saw the reason.

“If we’ve got neighbors here, might’s well know who they are,” said
Flapjack, who was gradually finding his voice and was “spunking up,”
according to his daughter’s statement.

Peters was particularly anxious to please. He felt deeply the
humiliation of what he had gone through at Handy Gulch, and wished to
show Ruth and the other girls that he was of some account.

No Indian could have scrutinized the vicinity of the dead campfire which
Ruth had found more carefully than he did. Finally he announced that two
men had been here at the abandoned settlement the night before.

“One big feller and a mighty little man. I don’t know what to make of
that little feller’s footprints,” said the old prospector. “Mebbe he
ain’t only a boy. But they camped here—sure. And they’ve gone on—right
out through the dry watercourse an’ toward the east. I reckon they was
harmless.”

“They surely will be harmless if they keep on going and never come
back,” laughed Ruth. “But I hope there are not many idlers hanging about
this neighbourhood. I suppose there are some bad characters in these
hills?”

“About as bad as tramps are in town,” said Min, scornfully. “You folks
from the East do have funny ideas. Ev’ry other man out here ain’t a
train robber nor a cattle rustler. No, ma’am!”

“The movie company will supply all those, I fancy,” chuckled Jennie
Stone. “Going to have a real, bad road agent in your play, Ruthie?”

“Never mind what I am going to have,” retorted Ruth, shaking her head.
“I mean to have just as true a picture as possible of the old-time gold
diggings; and that doesn’t mean that guns are flourished every minute or
two. Mr. Peters can help me a lot by telling me what he remembers of
this very camp, I know.”

Flapjack was greatly pleased at this. Although Ruth continued to keep
Min, the girl guide, to the fore, she saw that the girl’s father was
going to be vastly pleased by being made of some account.

It was he who advised which of the cabins should be made habitable for
the party. One was selected for the girls and Miss Cullam to sleep in;
another for the men; and a third for a kitchen.

But Flapjack made supper that night in the open as usual. For the first
time he proudly displayed to the girls from the East the talent by which
his nickname originated.

Min made a great “crock” of batter and greased the griddles for him.
Flapjack stood, red faced and eager, over the bed of live coals and
handled the two griddles in an expert manner.

The cakes were as large as breakfast plates, and were browned to a
beautiful shade—one fried in each griddle. When the time came to turn
them, Flapjack Peters performed this delicate operation by tossing them
into the air, and with such a sleight of hand that the flapjacks
exchanged griddles in their “turnover”.

“Dear me!” murmured Miss Cullam. “Such acrobatic cooking I never beheld.
But the cakes are remarkably tasty.”

“Aeroplane pancakes,” suggested Tom Cameron. “Believe me, they are as
light as they fly, too.”

That night the party was particularly jolly. They had reached their
destination and, as Miss Cullam said in relief, without dire mishap.

The girls were, after all, glad to shut a door against the whole outside
world when they went to bed; although the windows were merely holes in
the cabin walls through which the air had a perfectly free circulation.

There were six bunks in the cabin; but only one of them was put in
proper condition for use. Miss Cullam was given that and the girls
rolled up in their blankets on the floor, with their saddles, as usual,
for pillows.

“We have got so used to camping out of doors,” Helen Cameron said, “that
we shall be unable to sleep in our beds when we get home.”

In the morning, however, the first work Min started was to fill bags
with dried grass from the hillsides and make mattresses for all the
bunks. Tom had brought along hammer and nails as well as a saw, and with
the old prospector’s assistance he repaired the remainder of the bunks
in the girls’ cabin and put up three new ones. There was plenty of
building material about the camp.

Ruth, meantime, cleared out a fourth cabin. Here was set up the
typewriter, and she and Rebecca Frayne planned to make the hut their
workshop.

“You girls, as long as you don’t leave the confines of the camp alone,
are welcome to go where you please, only, save, and excepting to the
sanctum sanctorum,” Ruth said at lunch time. “I am going to put up a
sign over the door, ‘Beware.’”

“But surely, Ruth, you’re not going to work _all_ the time?” complained
Helen.

“How are we going to have any fun, Ruth Fielding, if you keep out of
it?” demanded Ann Hicks.

“I shall get up early and work in the forenoon. While the mood is on me
and my mind is fresh, you know,” laughed Ruth. “That is, I shall do that
after I really get to work. First I must ‘soak in’ local color.”

She did this by wandering alone through the shallow gorge, from the
first, or lower “diggings,” up to the final abandoned claim, where the
gold pockets had petered out. There were hundreds of places about the
old camp where the gold hunters had dug in hope of finding the precious
metal.

Ruth really knew little about this work. But she had learned from
hearing Min and her father talk that, wherever there was gold in
“pockets” and “streaks” in the sand there must somewhere near be “a
mother lode.” Flapjack confessed to having spent weeks looking for that
mother lode about Freezeout Camp. It had never been discovered.

“And after the Chinks got through with this here place, you couldn’t
find a pinch of placer gold big enough t’ fill your pipe,” the old
prospector announced. “I reckon she’s here somewhere; but there won’t
nobody find her now.”

Ruth saw some things that made her wonder if somebody had not been
looking for gold here much more recently than Flapjack Peters supposed.
In three separate places beside the brawling stream that ran down the
gorge, it seemed to her the heaped up sand was still wet. She knew about
“cradling”—that crude manner of separating gold from the soil; and it
seemed to her as though somebody had recently tried for “color” along
the edge of this stream.

However, Ruth Fielding’s mind was fixed upon something far different
from placer mining. She was brooding over a motion picture, and she was
determined to turn out a better scenario than she had ever before
written.

Hazel Gray, whom Ruth and her chum, Helen, had met a year and a half
before, and who had played the heroine’s part in “The Heart of a
Schoolgirl,” was to come on with Mr. Hammond and his company to play the
chief woman’s part in the new drama. For there was to be a strong love
interest in the story, and that thread of the plot was already quite
clear in Ruth’s mind.

She had recently, however, considered Min Peters as a foil for Hazel
Gray. Min was exactly the type of girl to fit into the story of “The
Forty-Niners. As for her ability to act——

“There is no girl who can’t act, if she gets the chance, I am sure,”
thought Ruth. “Only, some can act better than others.”

Ruth really had little doubt about Min’s ability to play the part that
she had thought out for her. Only, would she do it? Would she feel that
her own character and condition in life was being held up to ridicule?
Ruth had to be careful about that.

On returning to the camp she said nothing about the discoveries she had
made along the bank of the stream. But that evening, after supper, as
the whole party were grouped before the cabins they had now made fairly
comfortable, Trix Davenport suddenly startled them all by crying:

“See there! Who’s that?”

“Who’s where, Trixie?” asked Jennie, lazily. “Are you seeing things?”

“I certainly am,” said the diminutive girl.

“So do I!” Sally exclaimed. “There’s a man on horseback.”

In the purple dusk they saw him mounting a distant ridge east of the
stream—almost on the confines of the valley on that side. It was only
for a minute that he held in his horse and seemed to be gazing down at
the fire flickering in the principal street of Freezeout Camp.

Then he rode on, out of sight.



CHAPTER XVI—NEW ARRIVALS


“‘The lone horseman riding into the purple dusk,’ à la the sensational
novelist,” chuckled Jennie Stone. “Who do you suppose that was, Min?”

“Dunno,” declared the Yucca girl. But it was plain she was somewhat
disturbed by the appearance of the horseman. And so was Flapjack.

They whispered together over their own fire, and Flapjack warned Tom
Cameron to be sure that his automatic was well oiled and that he kept it
handy during his turn at watching the camp that night.

Morning came, however, without anything more threatening than the almost
continuous howling of a coyote.

Ruth, who wandered about a little by herself the second day at
Freezeout, saw Flapjack go over to the ridge where they had seen the
lone horseman. He came back, shaking his head.

“Who was the man, Mr. Peters?” she asked him curiously.

“Dunno, Miss. He ain’t projectin’ around here now, that’s sure. His pony
done took him away from there on a gallop. But there ain’t many single
men that’s honest hoverin’ about these parts.”

“What do you mean?” asked the surprised Ruth. “That only married men are
to be trusted in Arizona?”

He grinned at her. “You’re some joker, Miss,” he replied. Then, seeing
that the girl was genuinely puzzled, he added: “I mean that ‘nless a
man’s got something to be ‘fraid of, he usually has a partner in these
regions. ’Tain’t healthy to prospect round alone. Something might happen
to you—rock fall on you, or you git took sick, and then there ain’t
nobody to do for you, or for to ride for the doctor.”

“Oh!”

“Men that’s bein’ chased by the sheriff, on t’other hand,” went on
Flapjack, frankly, “sometimes prefers to be alone. You git me?”

“I understand,” admitted the girl of the Red Mill. “But don’t let Miss
Cullam hear you say it. She will be determined to start back for the
railroad at once, if you do.”

Flapjack promised to say nothing to disturb the rest of the party, and
Ruth knew she could trust Min’s good judgment. But she began to worry in
her own mind about who the strange horseman could be, and about his
business near Freezeout Camp. She naturally connected the unknown with
the traces she had seen of recent placer washings and with the campfire
the ashes of which had been warm when her party arrived.

With these suspicions, those that had centered about Edith Phelps in
Ruth’s mind, began to be connected. She could not explain it. It did not
seem possible that the Ardmore sophomore could have any real interest in
the making of this picture of “The Forty-Niners.” Yet, why had Edith
come into the Hualapai Range?

Why Edith had kept Ann Hicks from meeting her friends as soon as they
arrived at Yucca was more easily understood. Edith wished to get ahead
of Ruth’s party on the trail without her presence in Arizona being known
to the freshman party.

But why, _why_ had she come? The perplexing question returned to Ruth
Fielding’s mind time and again.

And the man who had met Edith and with whom she had presumably ridden
away from Handy Gulch—who could _he_ be? Had the two come to Freezeout
Camp, and were they lingering about the vicinity now? Was the stranger
on horseback revealed against the skyline the evening before, Edith
Phelps’ comrade?

“If I take any of the girls into my confidence about this,” thought
Ruth, “it will not long be a secret. Perhaps, too, I might frighten them
needlessly. Surely Edith, and whoever she is with, cannot mean us any
real harm. Better keep still and see what comes of it.”

It bothered her, however. And it coaxed her mind away from the important
matter of the scenario. However, she was doing pretty well with that and
Rebecca had several scenes of the first two episodes ready for Mr.
Hammond.

That afternoon, while she was absorbed in sketching out the third
episode of her scenario, and Rebecca was beating the typewriter keys in
busy staccato, Helen came running from the far end of the camp and burst
into the sanctum sanctorum in wild disorder.

“What do you mean?” demanded her chum, almost angry at Helen’s
thoughtlessness. “Don’t you know that I am supposed to be ‘dead to the
world’?”

“Oh, Ruthie, forgive me! But I had to tell you at once. There’s a
strange woman about the camp. Miss Cullam and I both saw her.”

“A strange woman!” repeated Ruth. “I’m sure Miss Cullam didn’t send you
hotfoot to tell me.”

“No-o. But I had to tell you—I just _had_ to,” Helen declared. “Don’t be
mean, Ruthie. Do take an interest in something besides your old movie
picture.”

“Why, I am interested,” admitted Ruth. “But who is this strange woman?”

“Goodness!” exclaimed Helen. “That’s just what’s the matter. We don’t
know. We didn’t see her face. She had a big shawl—or a Navajo
blanket—around her.”

“An Indian squaw!” exclaimed Rebecca who could not help hearing. “I’d
like to see one myself.”

“We-ell, maybe she was an Indian squaw,” admitted Helen, slowly. “But
why did she run from us?”

“Afraid of you,” chuckled Ruth. “I expect to the eyes of the untutored
savage you and Miss Cullam looked perfectly awful.”

“Now, Ruth!”

“But why bring your conundrums to me—just when I am busiest, too?”

“Well, I never! I thought you might be interested,” sniffed Helen.

“I am, dear. But don’t you see that your news is so—er—_sketchy?_ I
might be perfectly enthralled about this Indian squaw if I really met
her. Capture her and bring her into camp.”

Helen went off rather offended. As it happened, it was Ruth herself who
was destined to learn more about the mysterious woman, as well as the
lone horseman. But much happened before that.

Before the end of the week Mr. Hammond rode into Freezeout with a
nondescript outfit, including a dozen workmen prepared to put the old
camp into shape for the making of the great film.

The old camp became a busy place immediately. Flapjack Peters “came out
strong,” as his daughter expressed it, at this juncture. His memory of
old times at these very diggings and at similar mines proved to be keen,
and he became a valuable aid to Mr. Hammond.

Four days later the wagons appeared and the girls got their trunks. That
very night there was a “regular party” in one of the old saloons and
dancehalls that chanced, even after all these years, to be habitable.

One of the teamsters had brought his fiddle, and at the prospect of a
dance, even with the paucity of men, the Ardmore girls were delighted.
But, to tell the truth, the “party” was arranged more for the sake of
Min Peters than for aught else.

“She’s got to get used to wearing fit clothes before those movie people
come,” Ann Hicks said firmly. “You leave it to me, girls. I know how to
coax her on.”

And Ann proved the truth of her statement. Not that Min was not eager to
see herself “all dolled up,” as Jennie called it, in one of the two big
mirrors the wagons had brought along for use in the actresses’ dressing
cabins. But she was fiercely independent, and to suggest that she accept
the college girls’ frocks and furbelows as gifts would have angered her.

But Ann induced her to “borrow” the things needed, and from the trunks
of all were obtained the articles necessary to make Min Peters appear at
the party as well dressed as any girl need be. Nor was she so awkward as
some had feared.

“And pretty was no name for it.”

“See there!” cried Helen, under her breath, to her chum. “The girl is
cutting you out, Ruth, with old Tommy-boy. He’s asked her to dance.”

Ruth only smiled at this. She had put Tom up to that herself, for she
learned from Ann that the Yucca girl knew how to dance.

“Of course she can. There is scarcely a girl in the West who doesn’t
dance. Goodness, Ruthie! don’t you remember how crazy they were for
dancing around Silver Ranch, and the fun we had at the schoolhouse dance
at The Crossing? Maybe we ain’t on to all those new foxtrots and tangos;
but we can _dance_.”

So it proved with Min. She flushed deeply when Tom asked her, and she
hesitated. Then, seeing the other girls whirling about the floor, two
and two, the temptation to “show ’em” was too much. She accepted Tom’s
invitation and the young fellow admitted afterward that he had danced
with “a lot worse girls back East.”

Before the evening was over, Min was supremely happy. And perhaps the
effect on her father was quite as important as upon Min herself. For the
first time in her life he saw his daughter in the garb of girls of her
age—saw her as she should be.

“By mighty!” the man muttered, staring at Min. “I don’t git it—not
right. Is that sure ‘nuff my girl?”

“You should be proud of her,” said Mr. Hammond, who heard the old-timer
say this. “She deserves a lot from you, Peters. I understand she’s been
your companion on all your prospecting trips since her mother died.”

“That’s right. She’s been the old man’s best friend. She’s skookum. But
I had no idee she’d look like that when she was fussed up same’s other
girls. She’s been more like a boy to me.”

“Well, she’s no boy, you see,” Mr. Hammond said dryly.

Out of the dance, however, Ruth gained her desire. She explained to Min
that she needed just her to make the motion picture complete. And Min,
bashfully enough but gratefully, agreed to act the part of the “lookout”
in the “palace of pleasure” afterward appearing in a girl’s garb in the
hotel parlor.

Ruth was deep in her story now and could give attention to little else.
Mr. Grimes and the motion picture company would arrive in a week, and by
that time the several important buildings would be ready and the main
street of Freezeout appear as it had been when the placer diggings were
in full swing.

Something happened before the company arrived, however, which was of an
astounding nature. Ruth, riding with Helen and Jennie one afternoon east
of the camp, came upon the ridge where the lone horseman had been
observed. And here, overhanging the gorge, was a place where the quartz
ledge had been laid bare by pick and shovel.

“See that rock, girls? Look, how it sparkles!” said Helen. “Suppose it
should be a vein of gold?”

“Suppose it _is!_” cried Jennie, scrambling off her horse.

“‘Fools’ gold,’ more likely, girls,” Ruth said.

“What is that?” demanded Jennie.

“Pyrites. But we might take some samples and show them to Flapjack.”

“Do you suppose that old fellow actually knows gold-bearing quartz when
he sees it?” asked Helen, in doubt.

They picked up several pieces of the broken rock, and that evening after
supper showed Peters and Min their booty. Flapjack actually turned pale
when he saw it.

“Where’d you git this, Miss?” he asked Ruth.

“Well, it isn’t two miles from here,” said the girl of the Red Mill.
“What do you think of it?”

“I think this here is a placer diggin’s,” said Peters, slowly. “But it’s
sure that wherever there’s placer there must be a rock-vein where the
gold washed off, or was ground off, ages and ages ago. D’you
understand?”

“Yes!” cried Helen, breathlessly.

“Oh! suppose we have found gold!” murmured Jennie, quite as excited as
Helen.

“The rock-vein ain’t never been found around here,” said Flapjack. “I
know, for I’ve hunted it myself. Both banks of the crick, up an’ down,
have been s’arched——”

“But suppose this was found a good way from the stream?”

“Mebbe so,” said the old prospector. “The crick might ha’ shifted its
bed a dozen times since the glacier age. We don’t know.”

“But how shall we find out if this rock is any good?” asked Jennie,
eagerly.

“Mr. Hammond’s goin’ to send a man out to Handy Gulch with mail
to-morrow,” said the prospector. “He’ll send these samples to the
assayer there. He’ll send back word whether it’s good for anything or
not. But I tell you right now, ladies. If I’m any jedge at all, that
ore’ll assay a hundred an’ fifty dollars to the ton—or nothin’.”



CHAPTER XVII—THE MAN IN THE CABIN


Why, of course they could not keep it to themselves! At least, the three
girls could not. They simply had to tell Miss Cullam and Tom, and the
other Ardmore freshmen and Ann of their discovery.

So every day after that the visitors from the East “went prospecting.”
They searched up and down the creek for several miles, turning over
every bit of “sparkling” rock they saw and bringing back to the camp
innumerable specimens of quartz and mica, until Mr. Hammond declared
they were all “gold mad.”

“Why, this place has been petered out for years and years,” he said. “Do
you suppose I want my actors leaving me to stake out claims along
Freezeout Creek, and spoiling my picture? Stop it!”

The idea of gold hunting had got into the girls, however, as well as
into Flapjack Peters and his daughter. The other Western men laughed at
them. Gold this side of the Hualapai Range had “petered out.” They
looked upon the old-timer as a little cracked on the subject. And, of
course, these “tenderfoots” did not know anything about “color” anyway.

Even Miss Cullam searched along the creek banks and up into the low
hills that surrounded the valley.

“Who knows,” said the teacher of mathematics, “but that I may find a
fortune, and so be able to eschew the teaching of the young for the rest
of my life? Gorgeous!”

“But pity the ‘young’,” begged Jennie Stone. “Think, Miss Cullam, how we
would miss you.”

“I can hardly imagine that you would suffer,” declared the mathematics
teacher. “Really!”

“We might not miss the mathematics,” said Rebecca, wickedly. “But you
are the very best chaperon who ever ‘beaued’ a party of girls into the
wilds. Isn’t that the truth, Ardmores?”

“It is!” they cried. “Hurrah for Miss Cullam!”

Ruth, however, despite the discovery of the possibly gold-bearing
quartz, was not to be coaxed from her work. Each morning she shut
herself into the “sanctum sanctorum” and worked faithfully at the
scenario. Likewise, Rebecca stuck to the typewriter, for she had work to
do for Mr. Hammond now, as well as for Ruth.

Some part of each afternoon Ruth took for exercise in the open. And
usually she took this exercise on ponyback.

Riding alone out of the shallow gorge one day, she struck into what
seemed to her a bridlepath which led into “dips” and valleys in the
hills which she had never before seen. Nothing more had been observed of
either the lone horseman or the supposed squaw for so many days that
their presence about Freezeout Camp had quite slipped Ruth Fielding’s
mind.

Besides, there were so many men at the camp now that to have fear of
strangers was never in the girl’s thoughts. She urged her hardy pony
into a gallop and sped down hill and up in a most invigorating dash.

Such a ride cleared the cobwebs out of her head and revivified mind and
body alike. At the end of this dash, when she halted the pony in an
arroyo to breathe, she was cheerful and happy and ready to laugh at
anything.

She laughed first at her own nose! It really was ridiculous to think
that she smelled wood smoke.

But the pungent odor of burning wood grew more and more distinct. She
gazed swiftly all around her, seeing no campfire, of course, in this
shallow gulch. But suddenly she gathered up the bridle reins tightly and
stared, wide-eyed, off to the left. A faint column of blue smoke rose
into the air—she could not be mistaken.

“Here’s a pretty kettle of fish!” thought Ruth. “Another camping party?
Who can be living so near Freezeout without giving us a call? The lone
horseman? The Indian squaw? Or both?”

She half turned her pony to ride back. It might be some ill-disposed
person camping here in secret. Flapjack and Min had intimated there were
occasionally ne’er-do-wells found in the range—outlaws, or ill-disposed
Indians.

Still, it was cowardly to run from the unknown. Ruth had tasted real
peril on more than one occasion. She touched the spur to her pony
instead of pulling him around, and rode on.

There was a curve in the arroyo and when she came into the hidden part
of the basin the mystery was instantly explained. A fairly substantial
cabin—recently built it was evident—stood near a thicket of mesquite.
The door was hung on leather hinges and was wide open. Yet there must be
some occupant, for the smoke rose through the hole in the roof. It
struck Ruth, for several reasons, that the cabin had been built by an
amateur.

She held in her pony again and might, after all, have wheeled him and
ridden away without going closer, if the little beast had not betrayed
her presence by a shrill whinny. Immediately the pony’s challenge was
answered from the mesquite where the unknown’s horse was picketed.

Ruth was startled again. No sound came from the cabin, nor could she
discover anybody watching her from the jungle. She rode nearer to the
cabin door.

It was then that the unshod hoofs of her pony announced her presence to
whoever was within. A voice shouted suddenly:

“Hullo!”

The tone in which the word was uttered drove all the fear out of Ruth
Fielding’s mind. She knew that the owner of such a voice must be a
gentleman.

She rode her pony up to the open door and peered into the dimly lighted
interior. There was no window in the cabin walls.

“Hullo yourself!” she rejoined. “Are you all alone?”

“Sure I am. I’m a hermit—the Hermit Prospector. And I bet you are one of
those moving picture girls.”

A laugh accompanied the words. Ruth then saw the man, extended at full
length in a rude bunk. One foot was bare and it and the ankle was
swathed in bandages.

“Sorry I can’t get up to do the honors. Doctor’s ordered me to stay in
bed till this ankle recovers.”

“Oh! Is it broken?” cried Ruth, slipping out of her saddle and throwing
the reins on the ground before the pony so that he would stand.

“Wrenched. But a bad one. I’m likely to stay here a while.”

“And all alone?” breathed Ruth.

“Quite so. Not a soul to swear at, nor a cat to kick. My horse is out
there in the mesquite and I suppose he’s tangled up——”

“I’ll fix that in a moment,” cried Ruth. “He’d better be tethered here
on the hillside before your door. The grazing is good.”

“Well—yes. I suppose so.”

Ruth was off into the mesquite in a flash. She found the whinnying pony.
And she discovered another thing. The animal’s lariat had been untangled
and his grazing place changed several times.

“You’ve hobbled around a good bit since your ankle was hurt,” she said
accusingly, when she returned to the cabin door. “And see all the
firewood you’ve got!”

“I expect I did too much after I strained the ankle,” the man admitted
gravely. “That’s why it is so bad now. But when a man’s alone——”

“Yes. When he _is_ alone,” repeated Ruth, eyeing him thoughtfully.

He was a young man and as roughly dressed as any of the teamsters at
Freezeout Camp. There was, too, several days’ growth of beard upon his
face. But he was a good looking chap, with rather a humorous cast of
countenance. And Ruth was quite sure that he was educated and at present
in a strange environment.

“Have you plenty of water?” she asked suddenly, for she had seen the
spring several rods away.

“Lots,” declared “the hermit.” “See! I’ve a drip.”

He pointed with pride to the arrangement of a rude shelf beside the head
of his bunk with a twenty-quart galvanized pail upon it. A pin-hole had
been punched in this pail near the bottom, and the water dripped from
the aperture steadily into a pint cup on the floor.

“Would you believe it,” he said, with a smile, “the water, after falling
so far through the air, is quite cooled.”

“What do you do when the pail is empty?” the girl asked quickly.

“Oh! I shall be able to hobble to the spring by that time. If the cup
gets full and I don’t need the water, I pour it back.”

Ruth stood on tiptoe and looked into the pail. Then she brought water
from the spring in her own canteen, making several trips, and filled the
pail to the brim.

“Now, what do you eat, and how do you get it?” she asked him.

“My dear young lady!” he cried, “you must not worry about me. I shall be
all right. I was just going to cook some bacon when you rode up. That is
why I made up a fresh fire. I shall be all right, I assure you.”

Ruth insisted upon rumaging through his stores and cooking the hermit a
hearty meal. She marked the fact that certain delicacies were here that
the ordinary prospector would not have packed into the wilds. Likewise,
there was vastly more tea and sugar than one person could use in a long
time.

Ruth was quite sure “the hermit” was not a native of the West. She was
exceedingly puzzled as she went about her kindly duties. Then, of a
sudden, she was actually startled as well as puzzled. In a corner of the
cabin she found hanging on a nail a rubber bathcap on which was
stenciled “Ardmore.” It was one of the gymnasium caps from her college.



CHAPTER XVIII—RUTH REALLY HAS A SECRET


Ruth Fielding came back from her ride to Freezeout Camp and said not a
word to a soul about her discovery of the young man in the cabin. She
had a secret at last, but it was not her own. She did not feel that she
had the right to speak even to Helen about it.

She was quite sure “the hermit” had no ill intention toward their party.
And if he had a companion that companion could do those at Freezeout no
harm.

Just what it was all about Ruth did not know; yet she had some
suspicions. However, she rode out to the lone cabin the next day, and
the next, to see that the young man was comfortable. “The Hermit
Prospector,” as he laughingly called himself, was doing very well.

Ruth brought him two slim poles out of the wood and he fashioned himself
a pair of crutches. By means of these he began to hobble around and Ruth
decided that he did not need her further ministrations. She did not tell
him that she should cease calling, she merely ceased riding that way.
For a “hermit” he had seemed very glad, indeed, to have somebody to
speak to.

Ruth was exceedingly busy now. The director, Mr. Grimes—a very efficient
but unpleasant man—arrived with the remainder of the company, and
rehearsals began immediately. Hazel Gray, who had been so fresh and
young looking when Ruth and Helen first met her at the Red Mill, was
beginning to show the ravages of “film acting.” The appealing
personality which had first brought her into prominence in motion
pictures was now a matter of “registering.” There was little spontaneity
in the leading lady’s acting; but the part she had to play in “The
Forty-Niners” was far different from that she had acted in “The Heart of
a School Girl,” an earlier play of Ruth’s.

Mr. Grimes was just as unpleasantly sarcastic as when Ruth first saw
him. But he got out of his people what was needed, although his shouting
and threatening seemed to Ruth to be unnecessary.

With Ruth Mr. Grimes was perfectly polite. Perhaps he knew better than
to be otherwise. He was good enough to commend the scenario, and
although he changed several scenes she had spent hard work upon, Ruth
was sensible enough to see that he changed them for good cause and
usually for the better.

He approved of Min’s part in the play, and he was careful with the
Western girl in her scenes. Min did very well, indeed, and even Flapjack
made his extra three dollars a day on several occasions when he appeared
with the teamsters in the “rough house” scenes in the night life of the
old-time mining camp.

The film actors were not an unpleasant company; yet after all they were
not people who could adapt themselves to the rude surroundings of the
abandoned camp as easily, even, as did the college girls. The women were
always fussing about lack of hotel requisites—like baths and electric
lights and maids to wait upon them. The men complained of the food and
the rude sleeping accommodations.

Ruth learned something right here: All the girls from Ardmore save
Rebecca Frayne and Ruth herself came from wealthy families—and Rebecca
was used to every refinement of life. Yet the Ardmores took the
“roughing it” good-naturedly and never worried their pretty heads about
“maid service” and the like.

Some of the film women, seeing Min Peters about in her usual garb,
undertook to treat her superciliously. They did not make the mistake
twice. Min was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, and she
intended to be treated with respect. Min was so treated.

Helen Cameron was much amused by the attitude her brother took toward
the leading lady, Hazel Gray. Miss Gray was not more than two years
older than the twins and when the film actress had first become known to
them Tom had been instantly attracted. His case of boyish love had been
acute, but brief.

For six months the walls of his study at Seven Oaks were fairly papered
with pictures of Hazel Gray in all manner of poses and
characterizations. The next semester Tom had gone in for well-known
athletes, not excluding many prize fighters, and the pictures of Miss
Gray went into the discard.

Now the young actress set out to charm Tom again. He was the only young
personable male at Freezeout, save the actors themselves, and she knew
them. But Tom gave her just as much attention as he did Min Peters, for
instance, and no more.

There was but one girl in camp to whom he showed any special attention.
He was always at Ruth’s beck and call if she needed him. Tom never put
himself forward with Ruth, or claimed more than was the due of any good
friend. But the girl of the Red Mill often told herself that Tom was
dependable.

She was not sure that she ever wanted her chum’s brother to be anything
more to her than what he was now—a safe friend. She and Helen had talked
so much about “independence” and the like that it seemed like sheer
treachery to consider for a moment any different life after college than
that they had planned.

Ruth was to write plays and sing. Helen was to improve her violin
playing and give lessons. They would take a studio together in
Boston—perhaps in New York—and live the ideal life of bachelor girls.
Helen desired to support herself just as much as Ruth determined to
support herself.

“It is dependence upon man for daily bread and butter that makes women
slaves,” Helen declared. And Ruth agreed—with some reservations. It
began to look to her as though all were dependent upon one another in
this world, irrespective of sex.

However, Tom was one of those dependable creatures that, if you wanted
him, was right at hand. Ruth let the matter rest at that and did not
disturb her mind much over questions of personal growth and expansion,
or over the woman question.

Her thought, indeed, was so much taken up with the picture that was
being made that she had little time to bother with anything else. She
almost forgot the lame young man in the distant cabin and ceased to
wonder as to who his companion might be. She certainly had quite
forgotten the specimens of ore which had been sent to the Handy Gulch
assayer’s office until unexpectedly the report arrived.

Helen and Jennie, as well as Peters and his daughter, were interested in
this event. The others of the Ardmore party had only heard of the
supposed find and had not even seen the uncovered bit of ledge from
which the ore had been taken.

“Why, perhaps we are all rich!” breathed Jennie Stone. “Beyond the
dreams of avarice! How much does he say?”

“One hundred and thirty-three dollars to the ton. And it’s ‘free gold,’”
declared Ruth. “It can be extracted by the cyaniding process. That can
be done on the spot, and cheaply. Where there is much sulphide in the
ore the gold must be extracted by the hydro-electric process.”

“Goodness, Ruth! How did you learn so much?” gasped Helen.

“By using my tongue and ears. What were they given us for?”

“To taste nice things with and drape ‘spit-curls’ over,” giggled Jennie.

They went to Peters and Min and displayed the report. The old prospector
could have given the thing away in the exuberance of his joy if it had
not been for the good sense his daughter displayed.

“Hush up, Pop,” she commanded. “You want to put all these bum actors on
to the strike before we’ve laid out our own claims? We want to grab off
the cream of this find. You know it must be rich.”

“Rich? Say, girl, rich ain’t no name for it. I know what this Freezeout
proposition was when it was placer diggings. Where so much dust and
nuggets come from along a crick bed, we knowed there must be a regular
mother lode somewheres here. Only we never supposed it was on that side
of the stream an’ so far away. It looked like the old bed of the crick
lay to the west.

“Well, we’ve got it! A hundred and thirty-three dollars per ton at the
grass-roots. Lawsy! No knowin’ how deep the ledge is. An’ you ladies
only took specimens in one spot. We want to take others clean acrosst
the ledge—as far as we kin trace it—git ’em assayed, then pick out the
best claims before any of these cheapskates around here can ring in on
it. Laugh at _me_, will they? I reckon they’ll find out that Flapjack is
wuth something as a prospector after all.”

He quite overlooked the fact that the three college girls had found the
ore—and that somebody had uncovered the ledge before them! But Min did
not forget these very pertinent facts.

“We got to get a hustle on us,” she announced. “No knowin’ who ’twas
that first opened that prospect, Pop. Mebbe he was green, or he ain’t
had his samples assayed yet. We got to get in quick.”

“Sure,” agreed Flapjack.

“And the best three claims has got to go to Miss Ruth and Miss Cam’ron
and Miss Stone. They found the place. You an’ I, Pop, ‘ll stake out the
next best claims. Then the rush kin come. But we want to git more
samples assayed first.”

“Is that necessary?” Ruth asked, quite as eager as the others now.
Somehow the gold hunting fever gets into one’s blood and effervesces. It
was hard for any of them to keep their jubilation from the knowledge of
the whole camp.

“We dunno how long this ledge of gold-bearing rock is,” Min explained.
“Maybe we only struck the poorest end of it. P’r’aps it’ll run two
hundred dollars or more to the ton at the other end. We want to stake
off our claims where the ore is richest, don’t we?”

“Let’s stake it _all_ off,” said Helen.

“Couldn’t hold it. Not by law. These big minin’ companies git so many
claims because they buy up options from different locaters all along a
ledge. There’s ha’f a hundred claims belongs to the Arepo Company, for
instance, at one workin’s. No. We’ve got to be careful and keep this
secret till we’re sure where the best of the ore lays.”

“Oh, let’s go at once and see!” cried Jennie.

“We’ll go this afternoon,” Ruth said. “All five of us.”

“I hope nobody will find the place before we get there,” Helen observed.

“No more likely now than ’twas before,” Min said sensibly. “Pop’ll sneak
out a pick and shovel for us, and meet us over there on the ridge.”

So it was arranged. But the three college girls were so excited that
they were scarcely fit for either work or play. They set off eagerly
into the hills after lunch and met Flapjack and his daughter as had been
appointed.



CHAPTER XIX—SOMETHING UNEXPECTED


The old prospector was wild with joy. He had already dug several holes
down to the surface of the ledge along the ridge north of the spot where
the first sample of gold-bearing rock had been secured. He claimed that
each spot showed an increase in the amount of gold in the rock.

“It’s ha’f a mile long, I bet. An’ the farther you go, the richer it
gits. I tell you, we’re goin’ all to be as rich as red mud! Whoop!”

“Hold in your hosses, Pop,” commanded Min, sensibly. “Them folks down in
camp may see you prancin’ around here, and they’ll either think you are
crazy or know that you’ve struck pay dirt. And we don’t want ’em in on
this yet.”

“By mighty! Listen here, girl!” gasped the old man. “We’re goin’ to be
rich, you and me. You’re goin’ to dress in the fanciest clo’es there is.
You’ll look a lot finer than that there leadin’ lady actress girl.
Believe me!”

“Now, Pop, be sensible!”

“You’re a-goin’ to be a lady,” declared Flapjack.

“Huh! Me, a lady, with them han’s?” and she put forth both her calloused
palms. “A fat chance I got!”

With tears in her eyes Ruth Fielding said: “Those hands have earned the
right to be a ’lady’s’, Min. If there is gold here in quantity, you
shall be all that your father says.”

“Of course she shall!” cried the other college girls in chorus.

“Well, it’ll kill me, I know that,” declared Min. “I’d just about bust
wide open with joy.”

Flapjack dug seven holes that afternoon, and they took seven specimens
of the rock with the bright specks in it. The college girls thought they
could detect an increasing amount of gold in the ore as they advanced up
the ledge.

The old prospector insisted upon filling in each hole as they went along
and putting back the tufts of bunch grass in order to make the place
look as it ordinarily did. Tiny numbered stakes driven down into the
loose and gravelly soil was all that marked the places from which the
specimens were taken. Of course, the specimens themselves were properly
marked, too.

The gold seemed to be right at the grass-roots, as Flapjack had said. He
told them the ledge was all of twenty yards wide, with the width
increasing as the value of the ore increased. The full length of the
ledge was still unexplored, but the depth of the vein of gold-bearing
quartz was really the “unknown dimension.”

“But we’re going to be rich, girls!” whispered Jennie Stone, almost
dancing, as they went back to the camp at dusk. “Rich! why, I’ve always
been rich—or, my father has. I never thought much about it. But to own a
real gold mine oneself!”

The thought was too great for utterance. Besides, they had agreed not to
whisper about the find at the camp. Not even Miss Cullam knew that the
report had come from the assayer regarding the first specimen of ore the
girls had found.

It was not hard to hide their excitement, for there was so much going on
at Freezeout Camp. Mr. Grimes was trying to rush the work as much as
possible, for the picture actors were complaining constantly regarding
their trials and the manifold privations of the situation.

The college girls and Ann Hicks, however, were having the time of their
lives. They dressed up in astonishing apparel furnished by the film
company and posed as the female populace of Freezeout Camp in some of
the episodes. Min, in the part Ruth had especially written for her, was
a pronounced success. Miss Gray, of course, as she always did, filled
the character of the heroine “to the queen’s taste”—and to Mr. Grimes’
satisfaction as well, which was of much more importance.

The weather was just the kind the “sun worshippers” delighted in. The
camera man could grind his machine for six hours a day or more. The film
of “The Forty-Niners” grew steadily.

Ruth had practically finished her part of the work; but Rebecca Frayne
was kept busy at her typewriter during part of the day. Therefore, Ruth
easily got away from the sanctum sanctorum the next forenoon and went up
to the ridge again with Flapjack and Min.

It had been settled that Helen and Jennie should remain with the other
girls and keep them from wandering about on the easterly side of the
stream.

Flapjack had been on the ridge since early light. He was taking samples
every few rods, and Min was wrapping them up and marking the ore and the
stakes. Beyond a small grove of scrubby trees they came in sight of what
Flapjack declared was probably the end of the gold-bearing rock. There
was a dip into another arroyo and beyond that a mesquite jungle as far
as they could see.

“Well, she’s more’n a ha’f a mile long,” sighed the old prospector.
“Ev’ry thing’s got to come to an end in this world they say. We needn’t
grow bristles about it—— Great cats! What’s them?”

“Oh, Pop!” shrieked Min, “We ain’t here first.”

“What _are_ those stakes?” asked Ruth, puzzled to see that the peeled
posts planted in the gravelly soil should so disturb the equanimity of
the prospector and his daughter.

“Somebody’s ahead of us. Two claims staked,” groaned Flapjack. “And
layin’ over the best streak of ore in the whole ledge, I bet my hat!”

There were two scraps of paper on the posts. Min ran forward to read the
names upon them. Flapjack rested on his pick and said no further word.

Of a sudden Ruth heard the sharp ring of a pony’s hoof on gravel. She
turned swiftly to see the pony pressing through the mesquite at the foot
of the ridge. Its rider urged the animal up the slope and in a moment
was beside them.

“What are you doing on my claim and my partner’s?” the man demanded, and
he slid out of his saddle gingerly, slipping rude crutches under his
armpits as he came to the ground. He had one foot bandaged, and hobbled
toward Ruth and her companions with rather a truculent air.

“What are you doing on my claim?” “the hermit” repeated, and he was
glaring so intently at Flapjack that he did not see Ruth at all.

The prospector was smoking his pipe, and he nearly dropped it as he
stared in turn at this odd-looking figure on crutches. It was easy
enough to see that the claimant to the best options on Freezeout ledge
was a tenderfoot.

“Ain’t on your claim,” growled Peters at last.

“Well, that other fellow is,” declared “the hermit,” “Let me tell you
that my partner’s gone to Kingman to have the claims recorded. They are
so by this time. If you try to jump ’em——”

“Who’s tryin’ to jump anything?” demanded Min, now coming back from
examining the notices on the stakes. “Which are you—this here ‘E’ or
‘R’yal?’”

“Royal is my name,” said the man, gruffly.

“Brothers, I s’pose?” said Min.

The young man stared at her wonderingly. “I declare!” he finally
exclaimed. “You’re a girl, aren’t you?”

“No matter who or what I am,” said Min Peters, tartly. “You needn’t
think you can stake out all this ledge just because you found it
first—maybe.”

It was evident that both Flapjack and his daughter considered the
appearance of this claimant to the supposedly richest options on the
ledge most unfortunate.

“I know my rights and the law,” said the young man quite as truculently
as before. “If it’s necessary I’ll stay here and watch those stakes till
my—my partner gets back with the men and machinery that are hired to
open up these claims.”

“By mighty!” groaned Flapjack. “The hull thing will be spread through
Arizony in the shake of a sheep’s hind laig.”

“Well, what of it? You can stake out claims as we did,” snapped “the
hermit.” “We are not trying to hog it all.”

“These men you’re bringin’ ‘ll grab off the best options and sell ’em to
you. You’re Easterners. You’re goin’ to make a showin’ and then sell the
mine to suckers,” said Min bitterly. “We know all about your kind, don’t
we, Pop?”

Peters muttered his agreement. Ruth considered that it was now time for
her to say another word.

“I am sure,” she began, “that Mr.—er—Royal will only do what is fair.
And, of course, we want no more than our rights.”

The man with the injured ankle looked at her curiously. “I’m willing to
believe what you say,” he observed. “You have already been kind to me.
Though you didn’t come back to see me again. But I don’t know anything
about this man and this—er——”

“Miss Peters and her father,” introduced Ruth, briskly, as she saw Min
flushing hotly. “And they must stake off their claims next in running to
the two you and your partner have staked.”

“No!” exclaimed Min, fiercely. “You and the other two young ladies come
first. Then pop and me. It puts us a good ways down the ledge; but it’s
only fair.”

The young man looked much worried. He said suddenly:

“How many more of you are informed of the existence of this gold ledge?”

“After my claim,” said Ruth, firmly, “I am going to stake out one for
Rebecca Frayne. She needs money more than anybody else in our party—more
even than Miss Cullam. The others can come along as they chance to.”

“Great Heavens!” gasped the young man. “How many more of you are there?
I say! I’ll make you an offer. What’ll you-all take for your claims,
sight-unseen?”

“There! What did I tell you?” grumbled Min Peters. “He’s one o’ them
Eastern promoters that allus want to skim the cream of ev’rything.”



CHAPTER XX—THE MAD STALLION


Somehow Ruth Fielding could not find herself subscribing to this opinion
of “the hermit” so flatly stated by Min Peters. She begged the
prospector’s daughter to hush.

“Let us not say anything to each other that we will later be sorry for.
Of course, we all understand—and must admit—that the finding of this
gold-bearing ledge is a matter that cannot be long kept from the general
public.”

“Sure! There’ll be a rush,” growled Flapjack.

“And when this feller’s men git here they’ll hog it all,” declared Min.

“They won’t hog our claims—not unless I’m dead,” said her father
violently.

“Oh, hush! hush!” cried Ruth again. “This is no way to talk. We can
stake out our claims and the other girls can stake out theirs. You
understand we honestly found this ore just the same as you and your
partner did?” she added to the lame young man.

“I found it first,” he said, gloomily. “I found it months ago——”

“Great cats!” broke in Flapjack. “Why didn’t you file on it, then, and
git started?”

“Yes, Mr. Royal,” said Ruth, puzzled. “Why the delay?”

“Well, you see, I hadn’t any money. I had to write to—to my partner.
Ahem! I had to get money through my partner. I was afraid to file on the
claim for fear the news would spread and the whole ridge be overrun with
prospectors before I could be sure of mine.”

“And what you considered yours was the cream of it all,” repeated Min,
quickly.

“Well! I found it, didn’t I?” he demanded.

“We were going to do the same thing ourselves,” Ruth said. “Let us be
fair, Min.”

“But this feller means to git it all,” snapped the prospector’s
daughter, nodding at “the hermit.”

“It means a lot to me—this business,” the young man muttered. “More than
I can tell you. _It means everything to me_.”

He spoke so earnestly that the trio felt uncomfortable. Even Min did not
seem able to ask another personal question. Her father drawled:

“Seems to me I seen you ’round Yucca, didn’t I, Mister?”

“Yes. I stayed there for a while. With a man named Braun.”

“Yep. Out on the trail to Kaster.”

“Yes,” said “the hermit.”

“Oh!” ejaculated Ruth, suddenly. “Was his rural delivery box number
twenty-four?”

“What?” asked “the hermit.” “Yes, it was.”

Ruth opened her lips again; then she shut them tightly. She would not
speak further of this subject before Flapjack and Min.

“Well,” the latter said irritably. “No use standin’ here all day. We’re
goin’ to stake out them claims and put up notices. And we don’t want ’em
teched, neither.”

“If mine are not touched you may be sure I shall not interfere with
yours,” said the young man stiffly, turning his back on them and
hobbling to his waiting pony.

Ruth wanted to say something else to him; then she hesitated. Then the
young man rode away, the crutches dangling over his shoulder by a cord.

She left Peters and Min to stake out the claims, having written the
notices for her own, and for Helen’s and Jennie’s and Rebecca Frayne’s
claims as well. It was agreed that nothing was to be said at the camp
about the find. As soon as she arrived she took Helen and Jennie aside
and warned them.

“As Min says, we’ll ‘button up our lips,’” Jennie said. “Oh, I can keep
a secret! But who will go to Kingman to file on the claims?”

That was what was puzzling Ruth. Flapjack, who knew all about such
things—and knew the shortest trail, of course—was not to be trusted. He
had money in his pocket and as Min said, a little money drove the man to
drink.

“And Min can’t go. She is needed in several further scenes of the
picture,” groaned Ruth.

“I tell you what,” Helen said eagerly, “we have just got to take one
other person into our confidence.”

“You are right,” agreed Ruth. “I know whom you mean, Nell. Tom, of
course.”

“Yes, Tom is perfectly safe,” said Helen. “He won’t even go up there and
stake out a claim for himself if I tell him not to. But he _will_ rush
to Kingman and file on our claims.”

“And take these specimens of ore to the assayer,” put in Ruth.

It was so agreed, and when Min and her father reappeared at the camp the
suggestion was made to them. Evidently the Western girl had been much
puzzled about this very thing and she hailed the suggestion with
acclaim.

“Seems to me I ought to be the one to file on them claims,” Flapjack
said slowly. “And takin’ one more into this thing means spreadin’ it out
thinner.”

“I wouldn’t trust you to go to Kingman with money in your pocket,”
declared his daughter frankly. “You know, Pop, you said long ago that if
ever you did strike it rich you was goin’ to be a gentleman and cut out
all the rough stuff.”

“That’s right,” admitted Mr. Peters. “Me for a plug hat and a white vest
with a gold watchchain across it, and a good _seegar_ in my mouth. Yes,
sir! That’s me. And a feller can’t afford to git ’toxicated and roll
’round the streets with them sort of duds on—no sir! If this is my lucky
strike I’ve sure got to live up to it.”

Ruth wondered if clothes were going to make such a vast difference to
both Min and her father. Yet lesser things than clothes have been
elements of regeneration in human lives.

However, it was agreed that Tom must be taken into the gold hunters’
confidence. He was certainly surprised and wanted to rush right over to
look at the ridge. But they showed him the gold-bearing ore instead and
he had to be satisfied with that.

For time was pressing. “The hermit’s” partner might return with a crowd
of hired workers and trouble might ensue. Without doubt Royal and his
mate had intended to open the entire length of the ledge and gain
possession of it. The mining law made it imperative that the claims
should be of a certain area and each claim must be worked within so many
months. But there are ways of circumventing the law in Arizona as well
as in other places.

“I wonder who that partner of the lame fellow is?” Ruth murmured, as
they were talking it over while Tom Cameron was making his preparations
for departure.

“Same name as R’yal,” said Min, briefly. “Must be brothers.”

This statement rather puzzled Ruth. It certainly dissipated certain
suspicions she had gained from her visits to the cabin in the distant
arroyo, where “the hermit” lived.

Tom left the camp before night, carrying a good map of the trails to the
north as far as Kingman. He was supposed to be going on some private
errand for himself, and as he had no connection at all with the moving
picture activities his departure was scarcely noted.

Besides, Mr. Grimes and the actors were just then preparing for one of
the biggest scenes to be incorporated in the film of “The Forty-Niners.”
This was the hold-up of the wagon train by Indians and it was staged on
the old trail leading south out of Freezeout.

The wagons that had carted the paraphernalia over from Yucca had tops
just like the old emigrant wagons in ‘49. There were only a few real
Indians in Mr. Grimes’ company; but some of the cowboys dressed in
Indian war-dress. For picture purposes there seemed a crowd of them when
the action took place.

Everybody went out to see the film taken, and the fight and massacre of
the gold hunters seemed very realistic. Indeed, one part of it came near
to being altogether too realistic.

One of the punchers working with the company had announced before that
there was either a bunch of wild horses in the vicinity, or a lone
stallion strayed from some ranch. The horse in question had been sighted
several times, and its hoofprints were often seen within half a mile of
Freezeout.

The girls, while riding in a party through the hills, had spied the
black and white creature, standing on a pinnacle and gazing, snorting,
down upon the bridled ponies. The lone horse seemed to be attracted by
those of his breed, yet feared to approach them while under the saddle.
And, of course, the horses of the outfit were all picketed near the
camp.

In the midst of the rehearsal of the Indian hold-up, when the emigrant’s
ponies were stampeded by the redskins, the lone horse appeared and,
snorting and squealing, tried to join the herd of tame horses and lead
them away.

“It’s an ‘old rogue’ stallion, that’s what it is,” Ben Lester, one of
the real Indians remarked. He had been to Harvard and had come back to
his family in Arizona to straighten out business affairs, and was
waiting for the Government to untangle much red tape before getting his
share of the Southern Ute grant.

“He acts like he was locoed to me,” declared Felix Burns, the horse
wrangler, who, much to his disgust, had to “act in them fool pitchers”
as well as handle the stock for the outfit. “Looky there! If he comes
for you, beat him off with your quirts. A bite from him might send man
or beast jest as crazy as a mad dog.”

“Do you mean that the stallion is really mad?” asked Ruth, who was
riding near the Indians, but, of course, out of the focus of the camera.

“Just as mad as a dog with hydrophobia—and just as dangerous,” declared
Ben. “You ladies keep back. We may have to beat the brute off. He’s a
pretty bird, but if he’s locoed, he’d better be dead than afoot—poor
creature.”

The strangely acting stallion did not come near enough, however, for the
boys to use their quirts. Nor did he bite any of the loose horses. He
seemed to have an idea of leading the pack astray, that was all; and
when the ponies were rounded up the stallion disappeared again,
whistling shrilly, over the nearest ridge.



CHAPTER XXI—A PERIL OF THE SADDLE


Helen and Jennie, as they had promised, kept away from the ridge where
the gold-bearing rock had been found. But the next afternoon when Ruth
went for a gallop over the hills she chose a direction that would bring
her around to the rear of the ledge.

She left her pony and climbed the hill on foot. For some distance along
the length of the ledge and toward what was believed to be the richer
end, Flapjack and Min had staked out the claims. They followed the two
staked by the lame young man and his partner, and “R. Fielding” was on
the notice stuck up on the one next to the claims of the mysterious
young man and his partner.

“Well, nobody’s disturbed them, that is sure. Tom is pounding away just
as fast as he can go for Kingman. Dates and time mean much in
establishing mining claims, I believe. But if Tom gets to the county
office and files on these claims before this other party can get on the
site to jump them—if that is what they really mean to do—in the end we
ought to be able to get judgment in the courts.”

Yet, somehow, she could not believe that “the hermit” was the sort of
man who would do anything crooked. Satisfied that none of the stakes had
been disturbed she returned to her pony and started him into the east
again.

In a few moments she found herself following that half-defined path that
she had ridden on the day she had first seen the secret cabin and the
lame man in it. She had never mentioned this adventure to any of the
girls. Ruth was, by nature, cautious without being really secretive. And
when a second person was a party to any secret she was not the girl to
chatter.

She hesitated, if the pony did not, in following this route. Half a
dozen times she might have pulled out and taken a side turn, or ridden
into another arroyo and so escaped seeing that hidden cabin again.

It must be confessed, however, that Ruth Fielding was curious. Very
curious indeed. And she had reason to be. The gymnasium cap she had seen
in “the hermit’s” cabin pointed to a most astounding possibility. She
had not believed in the first place that “the hermit” was entirely alone
in this wild and lonely spot. Now he had admitted the existence of a
partner. Who was it?

She was deep in thought as her pony carried her at an easy canter down
into the arroyo at the far end of which the cabin stood. Suddenly her
mount lifted his head and challenged.

“Whoa! what’s the matter with you? What are you squealing at?” demanded
Ruth, tightening her grasp on the reins.

She glanced around and saw nothing at first. Then the pony squealed
again, and as it did so there came an answering equine hail from the
mesquite. There was a crash in the bushes; then out upon the open ground
charged the lone stallion that had the day before troubled the picture
making company.

There was good blood in the handsome brute. He was several hands higher
than the cow pony, and his legs were as slender and shapely as a
Morgan’s. His muzzle was as glossy as satin; his nostrils a deep red and
he blew through them and expanded them with ears pricked forward and
yellow teeth bared—making altogether a striking picture, but one that
Ruth Fielding would much rather have seen on the screen than here in
reality.

She raised her quirt and brought it down upon her pony’s flank. He
sprang forward under the lash but was not quick enough to escape the mad
stallion. That brute got directly in the path and they collided.

Ruth was almost unseated, while the clashing teeth of the free horse
barely grazed her legging. He snapped again at the rump of the plunging
pony, but missed.

The girl was seriously frightened. What Ben Lester and the other
cowpuncher had said about the stallion seemed to be true. Did he have
hydrophobia just the same as a dog that runs mad?

Whether the beast was afflicted with the rabies or not, Ruth did not
want either herself or the pony bitten. She had seen enough of
half-tamed horses on Silver Ranch in Montana to know that there is
scarcely an animal more savage than a wild stallion.

And if this black and white beast had eaten of the loco weed which, in
some sections of the Southwest is quite common, he was much more
dangerous than the bear Min Peters had shot as they came over from
Yucca.

She tried to start her pony along the bottom of the arroyo on the back
track; but the squealing stallion had got around behind them and again
charged with open jaws, the froth flying from his curled-back lips.

So she wheeled her mount, clinging desperately with her knees to his
heaving sides, and once more lashed him with the quirt.

Since she had ridden him that first day out of Yucca Ruth had been in
the saddle almost every day since; but so far she had never had occasion
to use the whip on her pony. He was a spirited bit of horseflesh, not
much more than half the size of the stallion. The quirt embittered him.

Although he wheeled to run, facing down the arroyo again, he began to
buck instead. His heels suddenly were thrown out and just grazed the
stallion’s nose, while Ruth came close to flying out of her saddle and
over his head.

If she was once unhorsed Ruth suddenly realized that her fate would be
sealed. The stallion rose up on his hind legs, squealing and whistling,
and struck at her with his sharp hoofs.

It was a moment of grave peril for Ruth Fielding.

Again and again she beat her mount, and again and again he went up into
the air, landing stiff-legged, and with all four feet close together.
Then she swung the stinging lash across the face of the stallion.

It was a cruel blow and it laid open the satiny, black skin of the angry
brute right across his nose. He squealed and fell back. The pony whirled
and again Ruth struck at their common enemy.

Lashing the stallion seemed a better thing than punishing her own
frightened mount, and as the mad horse circled her the girl struck again
and again, once cutting open the stallion’s shoulder and drawing blood
in profusion.

The fight was not won so easily, however. The pony danced around and
around trying to keep his heels to the stallion; the latter endeavored
to get in near enough to use either his fore-hoofs in striking, or his
teeth to tear the girl or her mount.

And then Ruth unexpectedly heard a shout. Somebody at the top of his
voice ordered her to “Lie down on his neck—I’m going to fire!”

She saw nothing; she had no idea where this prospective rescuer stood;
but she was wise enough to obey. She seized the pony’s mane and lay as
close to his neck as possible. The next instant the report of a heavy
rifle drowned even the squealing of the stallion.

He had risen on his hind feet, his fore-hoofs beating the air, the foam
flying from his lips, his yellow teeth gleaming. A more frightful,
threatening figure could scarcely be imagined, it seemed to the girl of
the Red Mill in her dire peril.

At the rifle shot he toppled over backward, crashing to the earth with a
scream that was almost human. There he lay on his back for a minute.

Out of the brush hobbled the young man named Royal. He was getting
around without his crutches now. The gun in his hand was still smoking.

“Have you a rope?” he shouted. “If you have I’ll noose him.”

“No. I haven’t a rope, though Ann is always telling me never to ride
without one in this country.”

“I think she’s right—whoever Ann is,” said the young man, with that
humorous twist to his features that Ruth so liked. “A rope out here is
handier than a little red wagon. Come on, quick! I only creased that
stallion. He may not have had the fight all taken out of him—the
ferocious beast!”

The black and white horse was already trying to struggle to his feet.
Perhaps he was not badly hurt. Ruth controlled her pony, and he was
headed down the arroyo.

“Where is your horse, Mr. Royal?” she asked the lame young man.

He started and looked a little oddly at her when she called him that;
but he replied:

“My horse is down at the cabin. I was just trying my legs a little.
Glory! I almost turned my ankle again that time.”

He was hobbling pretty badly now, for he had been too excited while
shooting the mad stallion to be careful of his lame ankle. Ruth was out
of the saddle in a moment.

“Get right up here,” she commanded. “We’ll get to your cabin and be
safe. I can go back to camp by another way.”

“Not alone,” he declared, firmly, as he scrambled into her place on the
pony. “I’ll ride with you. That beast is not done for yet.”

But the stallion did not pursue them. He stood rather wabblingly and
shook his head, and turned in slow circles as though he were dazed. The
rifle shot had not, however, permanently injured him.

They were quickly out of the sight of the scene of Ruth’s peril. The
young man looked down at her, trudging hot and dusty beside the pony,
and his face crinkled into a broad smile again.

“You’re some girl,” he said. “I’d dearly love to know your name and just
who you are. My—That is, my partner says you are a bunch of movie actors
over there at Freezeout. But, of course, that old-timer who was up on
the ridge and the girl in—er—overalls, were not actors. How about you?”

“Yes,” said Ruth, amusedly. “I act. Sometimes.”

“Get out!”

“I did. Out of my saddle to give you my seat. You should be more
polite.”

He burst into open laughter at this. “You’re all right,” he declared.
“Do you mind telling me your name?”

“Fielding. Miss Fielding, Mr. Royal.”

He grinned at her wickedly. “You’ve got only half of _my_ name,” he
said.

“Indeed?” she cried. “Yes, I suppose, like other people, you must have a
first name.”

“I have a last name,” he chuckled.

“What?” Ruth gasped. “Isn’t Royal——”

“That is what I was christened. Phelps is the rest of it—Royal Phelps.”

“I knew it! I felt it!” declared Ruth, stopping in the trail and making
the pony stop, too. “You are Edith Phelps’ brother. I was puzzled as I
could be, for I believed, since the first day I met you, that must be so
and that she had been with you at that cabin.”

“Why,” he asked curiously, “how did you come to know my sister?”

“Go to college with her,” said Ruth, shortly, and moving on again. “And
she was on the train with us coming West.”

“And you did not know where she was coming? Of course not! It was a
secret.”

“She knew where _we_ were coming,” said Ruth, briefly.

“Then you’re not a movie actress?”

“I’m a freshman at Ardmore. But I do act—once in a while. There are a
party of us girls from Ardmore, with one of the teachers, roughing it at
Freezeout Camp. The movie people are there, too. We are acquainted with
them.”

“Well, I’m mighty sorry my sister isn’t here——”

“Is she your partner, Mr. Phelps?” Ruth asked.

“Sure thing! And a bully good one. When I was hurt and couldn’t ride so
far, she set off alone to find her way over the trails to Kingman.”

“Oh!” Ruth cried. “Aren’t you worried about her? Have you heard——?”

“Not a word. But it isn’t time yet. Edith is a smart girl,” declared the
brother with confidence. “She’ll make it all right. I don’t expect her
back for a week yet.”

“Oh! but we expect Tom——”

“What Tom?” asked Phelps, suspiciously.

“My chum’s brother. He started—started day before yesterday—for Kingman
to file on our claims. We expect him back in ten days, or two weeks at
the longest. Why, we shall probably be all through taking the pictures
by that time!”

“Look here, Miss Fielding,” said the young man, his face suddenly
gloomy. “Can’t you fix it so we can buy up your claims along that ridge?
It means a lot to me.”

“Why, Mr. Phelps!” exclaimed Ruth, “don’t you suppose it means something
to the rest of us? If it is really a valuable gold deposit.”

“Not what it means to me,” he returned soberly, and rode in silence the
rest of the way to the cabin.



CHAPTER XXII—RUTH HEARS SOMETHING


Ruth Fielding was particularly interested in the situation of “the
hermit,” Edith Phelps’ brother. But she was not deeply enough interested
in him or in his desires to give up her own expectation from the
gold-bearing ledge on the ridge.

She remembered very clearly what Helen Cameron had told her about this
young Royal Phelps. She had not known his name, of course, and the fact
that Min Peters that day on the ridge had not explained fully what
Royal’s last name was, had caused the girl some further puzzlement.

The character the tale about Edith’s brother had given that young man
did not seem to fit this “hermit” either. This fellow seemed so
gentlemanly and so amusing, that she could scarcely believe him the
worthless character he was pictured. Yet, his presence here in the
wilds, and Edith’s coming out to him so secretly, pointed to a mystery
that teased the girl of the Red Mill.

When they came to the cabin door, and Royal Phelps slid carefully out of
her saddle, Ruth said easily:

“I wish you’d tell me all about yourself, Mr. Phelps. I am curious—and
frank to say so.”

“I don’t blame you,” he admitted, smiling suddenly again—and Ruth
thought that smile the most disarming she had ever seen. Royal Phelps
might have been disgraced at college, but she believed it must have been
through his fun-loving disposition rather than because of any
viciousness.

“I don’t blame you for feeling curiosity,” the young man repeated,
seating himself gingerly in the doorway. “If I had a chair I’d offer it
to you, Miss Fielding.”

“Thanks. I’ll hop on my pony. I’ll get yours for you before I go.”

“Wait a bit,” he urged. “I am going with you when you return to that
town. That wild beast of a horse may be rampaging around again.”

“Ugh!” ejaculated Ruth with no feigned shudder. “He was awful!”

“Now you’ve said something! But you are a mighty cool girl, Miss
Fielding. What Edie would have done——”

“She would have done quite as well as I, I have no doubt,” Ruth hastened
to say. “And I have been in the West before, Mr. Phelps.”

“Yes? You are really a movie actor?”

“Sometimes.”

“And a college girl?”

“Always!” laughed his visitor.

“I believe you are puzzling me intentionally.”

“I told you that I was puzzled about you.”

“I suppose so,” he laughed. “Well, tit for tat. You tell me and I’ll
tell you.”

“I trust to your honor,” she said, with mock seriousness. “I will tell
you my secret. Really, I am not a movie actress—save by brevet.”

“I thought not!” he exclaimed with warmth.

“Why, they are very nice folk!” Ruth told him. “Much nicer than you
suppose. I am really writing the scenario Mr. Hammond is producing.”

“Goodness!” he exclaimed. “A literary person?”

“Exactly.”

“But why didn’t Edie tell me something about you? She went over there
and took a peep at you.”

“I fancied so. The girls thought her an Indian squaw. That would please
Edie—if I know her at all,” said Ruth with sarcasm.

“I’ll have to tell her,” he grinned.

“Better not. She does not like us any too well. Us freshmen, I mean. You
know,” Ruth decided to explain, “there is an insurmountable wall between
freshmen and sophs.”

“I ought to know,” murmured Royal Phelps, and his face clouded.

Ruth, determined to get to the root of this mysterious matter, thrust in
a deep probe: “I believe you have been to college, Mr. Phelps?”

He reddened to his ears. “Oh, yes,” he answered shortly.

“And then did you come out here to go into the mining business?” she
continued, with some cruelty, for he was writhing.

“After the pater put me out—yes,” he said, looking directly at her now,
even though his face flamed.

Ruth was doubly assured that Royal Phelps could not be as black as he
was painted. “Though I do not believe any painter could reflect the
Italian sunset hue that now mantles his brow,” she thought.

“I am sorry that you have had trouble with your father. Is it
insurmountable?” she asked him quietly, and with the air that always
gave even strangers confidence in Ruth Fielding.

“I hope not,” he admitted. “I was mad enough when I came away. I just
wanted to ‘show him.’ But now I’d like to _show him_. Do—do you get me?”

“There is no difference in the words, but a great deal in the
inflection, Mr. Phelps,” Ruth said quietly.

“Well. You’re an understandable girl. After I had come a cropper at
Harvard—silly thing, too, but made the whole faculty wild,” and here he
grinned like a naughty small boy at the remembrance—“the pater said I
wasn’t worth the powder to blow me to Halifax. And I guess he was right.
But he’d not given me a chance.

“Said I’d never done a lick of work and probably wouldn’t. Said I was
cut out for a rich man’s wastrel or a tramp. Said I shouldn’t be the
first with _his_ money. Told James to show me the outer portal with the
brass plate on it, and bring in the ‘welcome’ mat so that I wouldn’t
stand there and think it meant _me_.

“So I came away from there,” finished Royal Phelps with a wry face.

“Oh, that was terrible!” Ruth declared with clasped hands and all the
sympathy that the most exacting prodigal could expect. “But, of course,
he didn’t mean it.”

“Mean it? You don’t know Costigan Phelps. He never says anything he
doesn’t mean. Let me tell you it won’t be a slippery day when I show up
at the paternal mansion. The pater certainly will not run out and fall
on either my neck or his own. There’ll be nobody at the home plate to
see me coming and hail me: ‘Kill the fatted prodigal; here comes the
calf!’ Believe me!”

“Oh, Mr. Phelps!” begged Ruth. “Don’t talk that way. I know just how you
feel. And you are trying to hide it——”

“With airy persiflage—yes,” he admitted, turning serious. “Well, pater’s
made a lot of money in mines. I said to Edie: ‘I’ll shoot for the West
and locate a few and so attract his attention to the Young Napoleon of
mines in his own field.’ It looked easy.”

“Of course,” whispered Ruth.

“But it wasn’t.”

“Of course again,” and the girl smiled.

“Grin away. It helps _you_ to bear it,” scoffed Royal Phelps. “But it
doesn’t help the ‘down and outer’ a bit to grin. I know. I’ve tried it
ever since last fall.”

“Oh!”

“I finally got to rummaging out through these hills. I came with a party
of sheep herders. You know the Prodigal Son only herded hogs. _That’s_
an aristocratic game out here in the West beside sheep herding. Believe
me!

“It puts a man in the last row when he fools with sheep. When I went
down to Yucca nobody would have anything to do with me but old Braun.
And he was owning sheep right then.

“If I went into a place the fellows would hold their noses and tiptoe
out. You know, it’s a joke out here: A couple of fellows made a bet as
to which was the most odoriferous—a sheep or a Greaser. So they put up
the money and selected a judge.

“They brought the sheep into the judge’s cabin and the judge fainted.
Then they brought in the Greaser and the sheep fainted. So, you see,
aside from Greasers, I didn’t have many what you’d call close friends.”

Ruth’s lips formed the words “Poor boy!” but she would not have given
voice to them for the world. Still, for some reason, Royal Phelps, who
was looking directly at her, nodded his head gratefully.

“Tough times, eh? Well, I’d seen something up here in these hills. I’d
been studying about mineral deposits—especially gold signs. I saved
enough money to get a small outfit and this pony I ride. I’d brought my
gun on from the East. I started out prospecting with scarcely a
grubstake. But nobody around here would have trusted a tenderfoot like
me. I was bound to do it on my lonely, if I did it at all.”

“Weren’t you afraid to start off alone?” asked Ruth. “Mr. Peters says it
is dangerous for _one_ to go prospecting.”

“Yes. But lots of the old-timers do. And this ‘new-timer’ did it.
Nothing bit me,” he added dryly.

“So I came back here and knocked up this cabin. Pretty good for ‘mamma’s
baby boy,’ isn’t it?” and he laughed shortly. “That’s what some of the
Lazy C punchers called me when I first came into their neighborhood.

“Well, mamma’s boy played a lone hand and found that ledge of gold ore.
For it is gold I know. I had some specimens assayed.”

“So did we,” confessed Ruth, eagerly.

He scowled again. “You girls—movie actresses, college girls, or whoever
you are—are likely to queer this whole business for me. Say!” he added,
“that one in the overalls isn’t an Ardmore freshman, is she?”

“Hardly,” laughed Ruth. “But she needs a gold mine a good deal more than
the rest of us do.”



CHAPTER XXIII—MORE OF IT


Royal Phelps continued very grave and silent for a few moments after
Ruth’s last statement. Then he groaned.

“Well, it can’t be helped! None of you can want that ledge of gold more
than I do. That I know. But, of course, your claims are perfectly
legitimate. It is a fact the men Edith will bring out with her are under
contract. I sent her to a lawyer in Kingman who understands such things.
An agreement with the men covers all the claims they may stake out on
this certain ledge—dimensions in contract, and all that. I wanted to
start the work, make a showing with reports of assayers and all, then
send it to a friend of mine in New York who graduated from college last
year and went into his father’s brokerage shop, and he would put shares
in my mine on the market. With the money, I hoped to develop and—Well!
what’s the use of talking about it? We’ll get our little slice and that
is all, if you girls and the other folks that have staked claims hang on
to your ownings.”

“Tell me how you came to get Edith into it?” asked Ruth without
commenting upon his statement.

“Why, she’s a good old sport, Edie is,” declared the brother warmly.
“She stood up to the pater for me. She can do most anything with him.
But I’ve got to do something before he lets down the bars to me, even
for her sake.

“We kept in correspondence, Edie and I, all through the winter. When I
found this gold I wrote her hotfoot. I did not dare file my claim. It
would cause comment and perhaps start a rush this way.”

“I see.”

“And you can easily understand,” he chuckled, “how startled Edie was
when, as she told me, she learned that several girls she knew were
coming out here to old Freezeout to work with some movie people. Of
course, she did not tell me just who you were, Miss Fielding.”

“I suppose not.”

“No. Well, she was suspicious of you, she said. Wanted to know just when
you were coming and how. She desired to get to Yucca as soon as
possible, but she had to spend some time with the pater. Poor old chap!
he thinks the world and all of her—in his way.

“Well, she had to do some shopping in New York, and went to a friend’s
house. The chauffeur who drove them around was a decent fellow and she
told him to keep a watch on the Delorphion for you folks. You went
there, didn’t you?”

“Oh, yes!” exclaimed Ruth, remembering Tom’s story.

“So did she—for one night. She took the same train you did and an
accident gave her some advantage. I don’t think she was nice to that
friend of yours that she made tag on with her as far as Handy, where I
met her,” added Royal Phelps, slowly.

“Oh!” was Ruth’s dry comment.

“But she was mighty secretive, you know,” apologized the young man. “You
see, we really had to be.”

“I suppose so.”

“Well, that’s about all. Edie brought the money. She has some of her own
and the pater gave her five thousand without asking a question. She and
I are really partners. We’re going to show him—if we can.”

“I think it is fine of you, Mr. Phelps!” cried Ruth, with enthusiasm.
“And—and I think your sister is a sister worth having.”

“Oh, you can bet she is!” he agreed. “Edie is all right. I couldn’t
begin to pull this off if it were not for her. I expect the pater will
say so in the end. But if I can show some money for what I have done—a
bunch of it—it will be all right with him.”

Ruth made no further comment here. She saw plainly that Royal Phelps’
father probably weighed everybody and everything on the same scales upon
which precious metals are weighed.

“Now I’ll catch your pony, Mr. Phelps,” she said. “If you want to ride
back with me I’ll introduce you to the girls and Miss Cullam.”

“That’s nice of you. Perfectly bully, you know. Or, as they say out
here, ‘skookum!’ But I guess I’d better wait till Edie returns. Let her
do the honors. Besides, I am not at all sure that we sha’n’t be enemies,
Miss Fielding—worse luck.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Phelps,” Ruth said warmly. “Never _that!_”

“I don’t know,” he grumbled, hobbling on his crutches now while she
walked toward the pony that was trailing his picket-rope. “You see, I’m
pretty desperate about this gold strike. I’ve a good mind to go up there
on the ridge and pull up all your stakes and throw ’em away.”

“I wouldn’t,” she advised, smiling at him. “Mr. Flapjack Peters has what
they call a ‘sudden’ temper; and his daughter, we found out coming over
from Yucca, is a dead shot.”

“I want a big slice of that ledge,” said the young man, sighing. “Enough
to make a showing in the Eastern share market.”

“Let us wait and see. You know, you might be able to buy up us
girls—three of us who hold the next three claims to yours and your
sister’s.”

“Oh! Would you do it?” he demanded, brightening up.

“Perhaps. And we might wait for our money till you got the mine to
working on a paying basis,” Ruth said seriously. “Besides, there is Min
Peters and her father. If you would take them into your company, so that
they would have an income, Peters would be of great use to you, Mr.
Phelps.”

“Look here! I’ll do anything fair,” cried the young man. “It isn’t that
I am just after the money for the money’s sake——”

“I understand,” she told him, nodding. “We’ll talk about it later. After
we get reports on the ore that Peters took specimens of, all along the
ledge. But I am afraid your sister’s bringing workmen up here will start
a stampede to Freezeout.”

“What do we care, as long as we get ours?” he cried, cheerfully. “Whew!
The pater may think I am some good after all, before this business is
over.”

They mounted their ponies and rode to the camp. They followed the very
route Ruth had come, but did not see the wounded wild horse again. Royal
Phelps left her when they came in sight of Freezeout and Ruth rode down
into the camp alone.

She told the camp wrangler something about her adventure and the next
day he went out with some of the Indians and punchers working for the
outfit, and they ran down the black and white stallion.

However, Ruth had less interest in the wild stallion than she had in
several other subjects. She quietly told the girls and Miss Cullam now
about the possible discovery of a rich gold-bearing ledge so near camp.
The Ardmore’s were naturally greatly excited.

“Stingy!” cried Trix Davenport. “Why not tell us all before?”

“Because those who found it had first rights,” Ruth said gravely. “I
_did_ stake out a claim for Rebecca. And I think Miss Cullam comes
next.”

“Oh, girls! _Real gold?_” gasped the teacher, while Rebecca was
speechless with amazement.

There was certainly a small “rush” that evening for the gold-bearing
ledge. Miss Cullam staked her claim and put up a notice next to Rebecca
Frayne. All the other Ardmore’s followed suit; even Ann Hicks was bitten
by the fever of gold seeking.

They must have been watched, for not a few of the actors began to stake
out claims as best they knew how and put up notices on the outskirts of
the line along the summit of the ridge followed by those first to know
of the gold.

The Western men, the teamsters and others, laughed at the whole business
and tried to tease Flapjack Peters; but they could get nothing out of
him. Then some of them saw samples of the ore. The next morning found
Freezeout Camp almost abandoned. Everybody who had not already done so
was prowling around that half mile ridge of land, trying to stake claims
as near to the top of the ledge as he could.

“And at that,” Min said gloomily, “some of these fellers that caught on
last may have the best of it. We don’t know where the richest ore is
yet.”

Mr. Hammond and his director were nearly beside themselves. That day the
company was so distraught that not a foot of film was made.

“How can I tell these crazy gold hunters how to act like _real_ gold
hunters?” growled Grimes.

“If other people come flocking in the whole thing will be ruined,”
groaned Mr. Hammond.

Ruth Fielding did not believe that. She began to get a vision of what a
real gold rush might mean. If they could get a _bona fide_ stampede on
the film she believed it would add a hundred per cent. to the value of
“The Forty-Niners.”



CHAPTER XXIV—THE REAL THING


Freezeout Camp had awakened. Many of the old shacks and cabins had been
repaired and made habitable for the purposes of the moving picture
company. The largest dance hall—“The Palace of Pleasure” as it was
called on the film—was just as Flapjack Peters remembered it, back in an
earlier rush for placer gold to this spot.

Behind the rough bar, on the shelves, however, were only empty bottles,
or, at most, those filled with colored water. Mr. Hammond had been
careful to keep liquor out of the rejuvenated camp.

Flapjack Peters began to look like a different man. Whether it was his
enforced abstinence from drink, or the fact that he saw ahead the
possibility of wealth and the tall hat and white vest of which he had
dreamed, he walked erect and looked every man straight in the eye.

“It gets me!” said Min to Ruth Fielding. “Pop ain’t looked like this
since I kin remember.”

Two days of this excitement passed. The motion picture people “were
getting down to earth again,” as Mr. Grimes said, and the girls were
beginning to expect Tom Cameron’s return, when one noon the head of a
procession was seen advancing through the nearest pass in the mountain
range to the west. As Ruth and others watched, the procession began to
wind down into the shallow gorge where the long “petered-out” placer
diggings of Freezeout had been located, and where the rejuvenated town
itself still stood.

“What under the sun can these people want?” gasped Mr. Hammond, the
president of the film-making company, to Ruth.

The girl of the Red Mill was in riding habit and she had her pony near
at hand. “I’ll ride up and see,” she said.

But the instant she had sighted the first group of hurrying riders and
the first wagon, she believed she understood. Word of the “strike” at
the old camp had in some way become noised abroad.

Before Edith Phelps and the men she was to hire, with the Kingman
lawyer’s aid, reached the ledge her brother had located, other people
had heard the news. These were the first of “the gold rush.”

She spurred her horse up into the pass and ran the pony half a mile
before she turned him and raced back to Mr. Hammond. She came with
flying hair and rosy cheeks to the worried president, bursting with an
idea that had assailed her mind.

“Mr. Hammond! It is the greatest sight you ever saw! Get the camera man
and hurry right up there to the mouth of the pass. Tell Mr. Grimes——”

“What do you mean?” snapped the president of the Alectrion Film
Corporation. “Do you want to disorganize my whole company again?”

“I want to show you the greatest moving picture that ever was taken!”
cried the girl of the Red Mill. “Oh, Mr. Hammond, you _must_ take it! It
must be incorporated in this film. Why! _it is the real thing!_”

“What is that? A joke?” he growled.

“No joke at all, I assure you,” said Ruth, patiently. “You can see them
coming through the pass—and beyond—for miles and miles. Men afoot, on
horseback, in all kinds of wagons, on burros—oh, it is simply great!
There are hundreds and hundreds of them. Why, Mr. Hammond! this
Freezeout Camp is going to be a city before night!”

The chief reason why Mr. Hammond was a wealthy man and one of the powers
in the motion picture world was because he could seize upon a new idea
and appreciate its value in a moment. He knew that Ruth was a sane girl
and that she had judgment, as well as imagination. He gaped at her for a
moment, perhaps; the next he was shouting for Mr. Grimes, for the camera
men, for the horse wrangler, and for the “call-boy” to round up the
company.

In half an hour a train set out for the pass, which met the first of the
advance guard of gold seekers pouring down into the valley. The
eager-faced men of all ages and apparently of all walks in life hurried
on almost silently toward the spot where they were told a ledge of free
gold had been found.

There were roughly dressed teamsters, herdsmen, nondescripts; there were
Mexicans and Indians; there were well dressed city men—lawyers, doctors,
other professional men, perhaps. Afterward Ruth read in an Arizona
newspaper that such a typical stampede to any new-found gold or silver
strike had not been seen in a decade.

A camera man set up his machine in a good spot and waited for the whole
film company to drift along into the pass and join the real gold seekers
that streamed down toward Freezeout.

This idea of Ruth Fielding’s was the crowning achievement of her work on
this film. The company came back to the cabins at evening, wearied and
dust-choked, to find, as Ruth had prophesied, a veritable city on and
near the creek.

The newcomers had rushed into the hills and staked out their claims,
some of them on the very fringe of the valley out of which the
gold-bearing ledge rose. Of course, many of these claims would be
worthless.

A lively buying and selling of the more worthless claims was already
under way. With the stampede had come storekeepers and wagons of
foodstuffs.

That night nobody slept. Mr. Hammond, realizing what this really meant,
but feeling none of the itch for digging gold that most of those on the
spot experienced, organized a local constabulary. A justice of the peace
was found with intelligence enough, and enough knowledge of the state
ordinance, to act as magistrate.

The men were called together early in the morning in the biggest dance
hall and the vast majority—indeed, it was almost unanimous—voted that
liquor selling be tabooed at Freezeout.

Several men of unsavory reputations who had come, like buzzards scenting
the carrion from afar, were advised to leave town and stay away. They
met other men of their stripe on the trail from Handy Gulch and other
such places, and reported that Freezeout was going to be run “on a
Sunday-school basis”; there was nothing in it for the usual birds of
prey that infest such camps.

In a few hours the party coming from Kingman with Edith Phelps and the
lawyer she had engaged, arrived. The camp about the ridge grew and
expanded in every direction. Most of the claimholders slept on their
claims, fearing trickery. Shafts were sunk. The Phelps crowd began to
set up a small crusher and cyaniding plant that had been trucked over
the trails.

The moving picture was finished at last, before either Mr. Grimes or Mr.
Hammond quite lost their minds. Several of the men of the company broke
their contract with the Alectrion Film Corporation and would remain at
the diggings. They believed their claims were valuable.

Tom had returned before this with reports from the assayer and copies of
the filing of the claims. The specimen from Ruth’s claim showed one
hundred and eighty dollars to the ton. The ore from Flapjack Peters and
Min’s claims were, after all, the richest of any of their party, though
farther down the ledge. The ore taken from those claims showed two
hundred dollars to the ton.

“We’re rich—or we’re goin’ to be,” Min declared to the Ardmore girls and
Miss Cullam, the last night the Eastern visitors were to remain in
Freezeout. “That lawyer of R’yal Phelps is goin’ to let pop have some
money and we’re both goin’ to send for clo’es—some duds! Wish you could
wait and see me togged up just like a Fourth o’ July pony in the
parade.”

“I wish we could, Min!” cried Jennie Stone.

“You shall come East to visit me later,” Ruth declared. “Won’t you, Min?
We’ll all show you a good time there.”

“As though you hadn’t showed me the best time I ever had already,”
choked the Yucca girl. “But I’ll come—after I git used to my new
clo’es.”

“Have you and your father really made a bargain with Royal Phelps?” Miss
Cullam asked, as much interested in the welfare of the suddenly enriched
girl as her pupils.

“Yes, Ma’am. Pop’s going to have an office in the new company, too. And
Mr. Phelps is goin’ to git backin’ from the East and buy up all the
adjoinin’ claims that he can.”

“He’ll have all ours, in time,” said Helen. “That’s lots better than
each of us trying to develop her little claim. Oh, that Phelps man is
smart.”

“And what about Edith?” demanded the honest Ruth. “We’ve got to praise
her, too.”

There was silence. Finally, Miss Cullam said dryly: “She seems to have
no very enthusiastic friends in the audience, Miss Fielding.”

“Oh, well,” Ruth said, laughing, “we none of us like Edith.”

“How about liking her brother?” asked Jennie Stone, and she seemed to
say it pointedly.



CHAPTER XXV—UNCLE JABEZ IS CONVERTED


It was some months afterward. The growing town of Cheslow had long since
developed the moving picture fever, and two very nice theatres had been
built.

One evening in the largest of these theatres an old, gray-faced and
grim-looking man sat beside a very happy, pretty girl and watched the
running off of the seven-reel feature, “The Forty-Niners.”

If the old man came in under duress and watched the first flashes on the
screen with scorn, he soon forgot all his objections and sat forward in
his seat to watch without blinking the scenes thrown, one after another,
on the sheet.

It really was a wonderfully fine picture. And thrilling!

“Hi mighty!” ejaculated Uncle Jabez Potter, unwillingly enough and under
his breath in the middle of the picture, “d’ye mean to say you done all
that, Niece Ruth?”

“I helped,” said Ruth, modestly.

“Why, it’s as natcheral as the stepstun, I swan!” gasped the miller. “I
can ‘member hearin’ many of the men that went out there in the airly
days tell about what it was like. This is jest like they said it was. I
don’t see how ye did it—an’ you was never born even, when them things
was like that.”

“Don’t say that, Uncle Jabez,” Ruth declared. “For I saw a little bit of
the real thing. They write me that Freezeout Camp has taken on a new
lease of life. Mr. Phelps says,” and she blushed a little, but it was
dark and nobody saw it, “that we are all going to make a lot of money
out of the Freezeout Ledge.”

But Uncle Jabez Potter was not listening. He was enthralled again in the
picture of old days in the mining country. It seemed as though, at last,
the old miller was converted to the belief that his grand-niece knew a
deal more than he had given her credit for. To his mind, that she knew
how to make money was the more important thing.

The final flash of the film reflected on the screen passed and Uncle
Jabez and Ruth rose to go. It was dark in the theatre and the girl led
the old man out by the hand. Somehow he clung to her hand more tightly
than was usually his custom.

“’Tis a wonderful thing, Niece Ruth, I allow,” he said when they came
out into the lamplight of Cheslow’s main street. “I—I dunno. You young
folks seems ter have got clean ahead of us older ones. There’s things
that I ain’t never hearn tell of, I guess.”

Ruth Fielding laughed. “Why, Uncle Jabez,” she said, “the world is just
full of such a number of things that neither of us knows much about that
that’s what makes it worth living in.”

“I dunno; I dunno,” he muttered. “Guess you’ve got to know most of ’em
now you’ve gone to that college.”

“I am beginning to get a taste of some of them,” she cried. “You know I
have three more years to spend at Ardmore before I can take a degree.”

“Huh! Wal, it don’t re’lly seem as though knowin’ so _much_ did a body
any good in this world. I hev got along on what little they knocked
inter my head at deestrict school. And I’ve made a livin’ an’ something
more. But I never could write a movin’ picture scenario, that’s true.
And if there’s so much money in ’em——”

“Mr. Hammond writes me that he’s sure there is going to be a lot of
money in this one. The State rights are bringing the corporation in
thousands. Of course, my share is comparatively small; but I feel
already amply paid for my six weeks spent in Arizona.”

This, however, is somewhat ahead of the story. Uncle Jabez’ conversion
was bound to be a slow process. When the party returned from the West
the person gladdest to see Ruth Fielding was Aunt Alvirah.

The strong and vigorous girl was rather shocked to find the little old
woman so feeble. She did not get around the kitchen or out of doors
nearly as actively as had been her wont.

“Oh, my back! an’ oh, my bones! Seems ter me, my pretty,” she said,
sinking into her rocking chair, “that things is sort o’ slippin’ away
from me. I feel that I am a-growin’ lazy.”

“Lazy! You couldn’t be lazy, Aunt Alvirah,” laughed the girl of the Red
Mill.

“Oh, yes; I ‘spect I could,” said Aunt Alvirah, nodding. “This here
M’lissy your uncle’s hired to help do the work, is a right capable girl.
And she’s made me lazy. If I undertake ter do a thing, she’s there
before me an’ has got it done.”

“You need to sit still and let others do the work now,” Ruth urged.

“I dunno. What good am I to Jabez Potter? He didn’t take me out o’ the
poorhouse fifteen year or more ago jest ter sit around here an’ play
lady. No, ma’am!”

“Oh, Aunty!”

“I dunno but I’d better be back there.”

“You’d better not let Uncle Jabez hear you say so,” Ruth cried. “Maybe I
don’t always know just how Uncle Jabez feels about me; but I know how he
looks at _you_, Aunt Alvirah. Don’t dare suggest leaving the Red Mill.”

The little old woman looked at her steadily, and there were the scant
tears of age in the furrows of her face.

“I shall be leavin’ it some day soon, my pretty. ’Tis a beautiful place
here—the Red Mill. But there is a Place Prepared. I’m on my way there,
Ruthie. But, thanks be, I kin cling with one hand to the happy years
here because of you, while my other hand’s stretched out for the feel of
a Hand that you can’t see, my pretty. After all, Ruthie, no matter how
we live, or what we do, our livin’ is jest a preparation for our dyin’.”

Nor was this lugubrious. Aunt Alvirah was no long-visaged, unhappy
creature. The other girls loved to call on her. Helen was at the Red
Mill this summer quite as much as ever. Jennie Stone and Rebecca Frayne
both visited Ruth after their return from Freezeout Camp.

It was a cheerful and gay life they led. There much much chatter of the
happenings at Freezeout, and of the work at the new gold mining camp.
Min Peters’ scrawly letters were read and re-read; her pertinent
comments on all that went on were always worth reading and were
sometimes actually funny.

                   *       *       *       *       *

“I wish you could see pop,” she wrote once. “I mean Mr. Henry James
Peters. If ever there was a big toad in a little puddle, it’s him!

“He’s got a hat so shiny that it dazzles you when he’s out in the sun.
It’s awful uncomfortable for him to wear, I know. But he wouldn’t give
it up—nor the white vest and the dinky patent leather shoes he’s got on
right now—for all the gold you could name.

“And I’m getting as bad. I sit around in a flowery gown, and there’s a
girl come here to work in the hotel that’s trimming my nails and fixing
my hands up something scandalous. Man-curing, she calls it.

“But the fine clothes has made another man of pop; and I expect they’ll
improve yours truly a whole lot. When we get real used to them, sometime
we’ll come East and see you. I can pretty near trust pop already to go
into a rumhole here without expecting to see him come out again
orey-eyed.

“Not that he’s shown any dispersition to drink again. He says his
position is too important in the Freezeout Ledge Gold Mining Company for
any foolishness. And I’ll tell you right now, he’s the only member of
the company now that that Edie girl’s gone home that ever is dressed up
on the job. Mr. Phelps works like as though he’d been used to it all his
life.

“Let me tell you. _His_ pop’s been out here to see him. ‘Looking over
prospects’ he called it. But you bet you it was to see what sort of a
figure his son was cutting here among sure-enough men.

“I reckon the old gentleman was satisfied. I seen them riding over the
hills together, as well as wandering about the diggings. One night while
he was here we had a big dance—a regular hoe-down—in the big hall.

“This here big-bug father of Mr. Royal danced with me. What do you know
about that? ‘What do you think of my son?’ says he to me while we was
dancing.

“Says I: ‘I think he’s got almost as much sense as though he was borned
and brought up in Arizona. And he knows a whole lot more than most of
our boys does.’ ‘Why,’ says he to me, ‘you’ve got a lot of good sense
yourself, ain’t you?’ I guess Mr. Royal had been cracking me up to his
father at that.

“Mr. Phelps—the younger, I mean—takes dinner with us most every Sunday;
and he treats me just as nice and polite as though I’d been used to
having my hair done up and my hands man-cured all my life.”

                   *       *       *       *       *

This letter arrived at the Red Mill on a day when Jennie and Rebecca
were there, as well as Helen and her twin. There was more to Min Peters’
long epistle; but as Jennie Stone said:

“That’s enough to show how the wind is blowing. Why, I had no idea that
Phelps boy would ever show such good sense as to ‘shine up’ to Min!”

“The dear girl!” sighed Ruth. “She has the making of a fine woman in
her. I don’t blame Royal Phelps for liking her.”

“I imagine Edie took back a long tale of woe to her father and that he
went out there to ‘look over’ Min more than he did gold prospects,”
Rebecca said, tartly. “Of course, she’s awfully uncouth, and Royal
Phelps is a gentleman——”

“Thus speaks the oracle!” exclaimed Helen, briskly. “Rebecca believes in
putting signs on the young men of our best families who go into such
regions: ‘Beware the dog.’”

“Well, he is really nice,” complained Rebecca, who could not easily be
cured of snobbishness.

“I hope there are others,” announced Tom, swinging idly in the hammock.

“Fishing for compliments, I declare,” laughed Jennie, poking him.

“Why, he’s des the cutest, nicest ‘ittle sing,” cooed his sister,
rocking the big fellow in the hammock.

“It’s been an awful task for you to bring him up, Nell,” drawled Jennie.
“But after all, I don’t know but it’s been worth while. He’s almost
human. If they’d drowned him when he was little and only raised you, I
don’t know but it would have been a calamity.”

“Oh, cat’s foot!” snapped Tom, rising from the hammock with a bound.
“You girls mostly give me a woful pain. You’re too biggity. Pretty soon
there won’t be any comfort living in the world with you ‘advanced
women.’ The men will have to go off to another planet and start all over
again.

“Who’ll mend your socks and press your neckties?” laughed Ruth from her
seat on the piazza railing.

“Thanks be! If there are no women the necessity for ties and socks will
be done away with. And certain sure most of you college girls will never
know how to do either.”

“Hear him!” cried Jennie.

“Infamous!” gasped Rebecca.

“You wait, young man,” laughed his sister. “I’ll make you pay for that.”

But Tom recovered his temper and grinned at them. Then he glanced up at
Ruth.

“Come on down, Ruth, and take a walk, will you? Come off your perch.”

The girl of the Red Mill laughed at him; but she did as he asked. “Come
on, I’m game.”

“No more walks,” groaned Jennie. “I scarcely cast a shadow now I’m
getting so thin. That saddle work in Arizona pulled me down till I’m
scarcely bigger than a thread of cotton.”

Ruth and Tom started off to go along the river road, the two who had
first been friends in Cheslow and around the Red Mill. There was a smile
on Ruth’s lips; but Tom looked serious. Neither of them dreamed of the
strenuous adventures the future held in store for them, as will be
related in our next volume, entitled “Ruth Fielding in the Red Cross;
or, Doing Her Bit for Uncle Sam.”

The other young folks, remaining in the shaded farmyard, looked after
them. Jennie jerked out:

“Mighty—nice—looking—couple, eh?”

Nobody made any rejoinder, but all three of Ruth’s friends gazed after
her and her companion.

The couple had halted on the bridge. They were talking earnestly, and
Ruth rested one hand on the railing and turned to face the young man.
His big brown hand covered hers, that lay on the rail. Ruth did not
withdraw it.

“Mated!” drawled Jennie Stone, and the others nodded understandingly.


                                THE END



THE RUTH FIELDING SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON

12mo. Illustrated. Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

    RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL
        or Jasper Parole’s Secret

    RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOODHALL
        or Solving the Campus Mystery

    RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP
        or Lost in the Backwoods

    RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT
        or Nita, the Girl Castaway

    RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH
        or Schoolgirls Among the Cowboys

    RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND
        or The Old Hunter’s Treasure Box

    RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM
        or What Became of the Raby Orphans

    RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES
        or The Missing Pearl Necklace

    RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES
        or Helping the Dormitory Fund

    RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE
        or Great Days in the Land of Cotton

    RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE
        or The Missing Examination Papers

    RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE
        or College Girls in the Land of Gold

    RUTH FIELDING IN THE RED CROSS
        or Doing Her Bit for Uncle Sam

    RUTH FIELDING AT THE WAR FRONT
        or The Hunt for a Lost Soldier

    RUTH FIELDING HOMEWARD BOUND
        or A Red Cross Worker’s Ocean Perils

    RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST
        or The Hermit of Beach Plum Point

    RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
        or The Indian Girl Star of the Movies

    RUTH FIELDING ON THE ST. LAWRENCE
        or The Queer Old Man of the Thousand Islands

    RUTH FIELDING TREASURE HUNTING
        or A Moving Picture that Became Real

    RUTH FIELDING IN THE FAR NORTH
        or The Lost Motion Picture Company

    RUTH FIELDING AT GOLDEN PASS
        or The Perils of an Artificial Avalanche

CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY, Publishers, New York



THE BETTY GORDON SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON

Author of the Famous “Ruth Fielding” Series

12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors

Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

A series of stories by Alice B. Emerson which are bound to make
this writer more popular than ever with her host of girl readers.

    1. BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
       or The Mystery of a Nobody

    At the age of twelve Betty is left an orphan.

    2. BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON
       or Strange Adventures in a Great City

    In this volume Betty goes to the National Capitol to find her
    uncle and has several unusual adventures.

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       or The Farm That Was Worth a Fortune

    From Washington the scene is shifted to the great oil fields of
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       or The Treasure of Indian Chasm

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       or School Chums on the Boardwalk

    A glorious outing that Betty and her chums never forgot.

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       or Bringing the Rebels to Terms

    Rebellious students, disliked teachers and mysterious robberies
    make a fascinating story.

    8. BETTY GORDON AT RAINBOW RANCH
       or Cowboy Joe’s Secret

    Betty and her chums have a grand time in the saddle.

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By AGNES MILLER

12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Jacket in full colors

Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

This new series of girls’ books is in a new style of story
writing. The interest is in knowing the girls and seeing them
solve the problems that develop their character. Incidentally, a
great deal of historical information is imparted.

    1. THE LINGER-NOTS AND THE MYSTERY HOUSE
       or The Story of Nine Adventurous Girls

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BY MARGARET PENROSE

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Price per volume, 65 cents, postpaid

A new and up-to-date series, taking in the activities of several
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       or Singing and Reciting at the Sending Station

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       or The Wireless from the Steam Yacht

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