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´╗┐Title: Meg of Mystery Mountain
Author: North, Grace May
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Meg of Mystery Mountain" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: Down the steps she went, holding out the papers. (Page 173)]


MEG OF MYSTERY MOUNTAIN

by

GRACE MAY NORTH



The Saalfield Publishing Company
Akron, Ohio    New York

Copyright MCMXXVI

Made in the United States of America



MEG OF MYSTERY MOUNTAIN.



                               CHAPTER I.
                        THE MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL


Jane Abbott, tall, graceful and languidly beautiful, passed through the
bevy of girls on the wharf below Highacres Seminary with scarcely a nod
for any of them. Closely following her came three other girls, each
carrying a satchel and wearing a tailored gown of the latest cut.

Although Esther Ballard and Barbara Morris called gaily to many of their
friends, it was around Marion Starr that all of the girls crowded until
her passage way to the small boat, even then getting up steam, was
completely blocked.

Jane, when she had crossed the gang plank, turned to find only Esther and
Barbara at her side. A slight sneer curled her lips as she watched the
adulation which Merry was receiving. Then, with a shrug of her slender
shoulders that was more eloquent than words, the proud girl seated
herself in one of the reclining deck chairs and imperiously motioned her
friends to do likewise.

"It's so silly of Merry to make such a fuss over all those girls. She'll
miss the boat if she doesn't hurry."

Marion had evidently thought of the same thing, for she laughingly ran up
the gang plank, her arms filled with candy boxes, boquets and magazines,
gifts of her admiring friends. Depositing these on a chair, she leaned
over the rail to call: "Good-bye, girls! Of course I'll write to you,
Sally, reams and reams; a sort of a round-robin letter to be sent to the
whole crowd.

"Sure thing, Betty Ann. I'll tell my handsome brother Bob that you don't
want him to ever forget you." Then as there was a protest from the wharf,
the girl laughingly added: "But you wished to be remembered to him. Isn't
that the same thing?"

Noticing a small girl who had put her handkerchief to her eyes, Merry
remonstrated. "Tessie, don't cry, child! This isn't a funeral or a
wedding. Of course you'll see us again. We four intend to come back to
Highacres to watch you graduate just as you watched us today. Work hard,
Little One, and carry off the honors. I've been your big-sister coach all
this year, and I want you to make the goal. I know you will! Goodbye!"
Marion Starr could say no more for the small river steamer gave a warning
whistle--the rope was drawn in, and, as the boat churned the water
noisily in starting, the chorus of goodbyes from the throng of girls on
the wharf could be heard but faintly.

Marion remained standing at the rail, waving her handkerchief, smiling
and nodding until the small steamer rounded a jutting-out point of land,
then she turned about and faced the three other girls, who had made
themselves comfortable in the reclining steamer chairs.

"What a fuss you make over all those undergrads, Merry," Jane Abbott
remarked languidly. "A casual observer might suppose that each one of
them was a very best friend, while we three, who are here present, have
that honor. For myself, I much prefer to conserve my enthusiasm."

Marion sat down in a vacant steamer chair, and merely smiled her reply,
but the youngest among them, Esther Ballard, flashed a defense for her
ideal among girls. "That's the very reason why Merry was unanimously
voted the most popular girl in Highacres during the entire four years
that we have been at the seminary. Nothing was ever too much trouble, and
no girl was too unimportant for Merry's loving consideration."

"Listen! Listen!" laughed good natured Barbara Morris. "All salute Saint
Marion Starr."

But Esther, flushed and eager, did not stop. "While you, Jane
Abbott"--she could not keep the scorn out of her voice--"while you were
only voted the most beautiful."

"Only?" there was a rising inflection in Barbara's voice, and she also
lifted her eyebrows questioningly. "I think our queen is quite satisfied
with her laurels."

Jane merely shrugged her shoulders, then turning her dark, shapely head
on the small cherry colored pillow with which she always traveled, she
asked in her usual languid manner, "Marion, let's forget the past and
plan for the future."

"You said you had a wonderful vacation trip to suggest, and that you
would reveal it when we were on the boat. Well, this is the time and the
place."

"And the girls?" chimed in Barbara. "Do hurry and tell us, Merry. Your
plans are always jolly."

And so with a smile of pleasurable anticipation, Merry began to unfold
her scheme.

"Aunt Belle is going to one of those adorable cottage hotels at Newport.
She is just past-perfect as a chaperone and she said that she thought a
party of four girls would be ideal. It will only cost each of us about
$100 a month."

"A mere mite," Jane Abbott commented, "and the plan, as far as I'm
concerned, is simply inspirational. I've always had a wild desire to live
at one of those fashionable cottage-hotels, but not having a mother to
take me, I have never been. I know my father will be glad to have me go,
since your Aunt Belle is to be there, and I shall ask for $150 a month,
so that we may have plenty of ice cream and not feel stinted."

The usually indolent Jane was so interested in Merry's plan that she was
actually sitting erect, the small cherry-colored pillow in her lap.

"I'm not so sure that I can go," Esther Ballard said ruefully. "My father
is not a Wall Street magnate as is your father, Jane, and $100 a month
may seem a good deal to him, following so closely the vast sum that he
has had to spend on my four years' tuition at Highacres."

"Nonsense," Jane flashed at their youngest. "You are the idol of your
artist-father's existence. He'd give you anything you needed to make you
happy."

Then, before Esther could voice her retort, the older girl had continued:
"As for me, I shall need an additional $500 for clothes. Since we are
going to so fashionable a place, we ought to have the smartest and latest
summer styles from Paris. Let's all make note of the wardrobe we'd like
to take."

Out came four small leather notebooks and with tiny pencils suspended
above them, the girls thought for a moment.

Then Merry scribbled something as she remarked, "My first is a bathing
suit. Green, the color mermaids wear."

"Mine shall be cherry colored. It best suits my style of beauty," Jane
said complacently.

"You surely do look peachy in it," Barbara remarked admirably. "It
doesn't matter what I put on, my squint and my freckled pug nose spoil it
all."

"Oh, you're not so bad!" Esther said generously. "I heard one of the
cadets at our closing dance say that he thought your squint was
adorable."

"Lead me to him!" Barbara jumped up as though about to start in search of
her unknown admirer, but sank back again when she recalled that she was
on a steamer which was chugging down the Hudson at its best speed.

"Do be serious, girls. See, I've made out a long list of things that I
shall need." Jane held up her notebook for inspection. But Esther closed
hers and replaced it in her natty alligator traveling bag. "I'll select
my wardrobe after I have had my father's consent," she said. "You might
as well stop planning now, Jane, as we are nearly to the Battery."

Esther was right and in another five moments all was confusion on the
small steamer. When they had safely crossed the gang plank, Merry
detained them long enough to say, "Girls, before we part, let's plan to
meet at my home next Friday. Since you will all have to travel so far,
suppose you come early and stay to lunch. Then we can make our final
plans. How I do hope that we can all go."

"I know that I can," Jane replied confidently. "I always do as I wish,
and nothing could induce me to spend another summer with my young brother
and sister. They're so boisterous and bothersome. As for Dan, he's so
eager to make high grades at college that he always is deep in a book."

"Why Jane Abbott," rebuked Esther. "I think your little sister is
adorable. I'd give anything if I were not an only child." Jane merely
shrugged. "Au revoir," she called over her shoulder. "I've got to catch
the ferry."



                              CHAPTER II.
                         THE MOST SELFISH GIRL


The girls who had been inseparable friends during the four years at the
fashionable Highacres Seminary parted at the Battery to go in as many
different directions.

Marion Starr's home was far up on Riverside Drive, while Barbara Morris'
millionaire father had an extensive estate on Long Island. Esther
Ballard, the only daughter of devoted parents, resided in the house of
her grandfather, Colonel Ballard, on Washington Square, while Jane
Abbott's family of four lived in the same rambling, picturesque wooden
house that Mr. Abbott's father had built for his bride long before his
name had become so well known on Wall Street. Edgemere, a pretty little
town among the Jersey hills, Mr. Abbott deemed a good place to bring up
his younger girl and boy, and so, although Jane often pleaded that they
move to a more fashionable suburb, in Edgemere they had remained. Nor
would her father tear down the old home to replace it with one finer, for
his beloved wife, who had died at the birth of little Julie, had planned
it and had chosen all of the furnishings. "Some day you will have a home
of your own, Jane," he had told his proud older daughter, "and then you
may have it as fine as you wish."

But in all other things, Mr. Abbott humored her, for she was so like her
mother in appearance. It was with sorrow that the father had to confess
in his heart that there the resemblance ceased, for the mother, who had
been equally beautiful, had been neither proud nor selfish. Little Julie,
though not so beautiful, was far more like the mother in nature, and so,
too, was Daniel, the nineteen-year-old lad upon whom the father placed so
much reliance.

Regrettable as it may seem, Jane Abbott, as she stood on the deck of the
ferry that was to convey her to the Jersey shore, was actually dreading
the two weeks that she would have to spend in her own home. Marion had
suggested that they plan going to Newport by the middle of July and it
was now the first.

It was late afternoon, and there were many working girls on the huge
ferry, who were returning to their Jersey homes after a long hot day in
the New York offices. As they crowded against her, Jane drew herself away
from them haughtily, thankful, indeed, that her father was so wealthy
that she would never have to earn her own way in the world, nor wear such
unattractive ready-made dresses. Unconsciously her lips curled scornfully
until she chanced to catch a glimpse of her own trim tailored figure in
one of the panel mirrors; then she smiled complacently and seated herself
somewhat apart from the working girls, who, from time to time, glanced at
her, as she supposed, with admiration. But she was disabused of this
satisfying thought when one of them spoke loud enough for her to hear.
"See that stiff-necked snob! She thinks she's made of different clay from
the rest of us. I wish her pa'd lose his money, so she'd have to scrub
for a living."

This remark merely caused Jane to sneer slightly, but what she heard next
filled her heart with terrified foreboding, for another girl had turned
to look at her and replied:

"Well, if she's who I think she is, her father's already gone bankrupt,
and she's poor enough, all right."

The working girls then moved to another part of the ferry and Jane was
left alone. It was ridiculous, of course. Her father could not lose his
vast fortune. Jane determined to think no more about it. The ferry had
reached its destination, and the proud girl hurried away. Never before
had she so longed to reach her home.

"Of course it is not true," her panicky thought kept repeating. "But what
could it mean? What could it mean?"

                            * * * * * * * *

Jane vowed to herself that she would not again think of what the spiteful
working girl had said, for how could she, a mere nobody, have information
concerning the affairs of a man of her father's standing, which Jane, his
own daughter, did not have?

But a disquieting thought reminded her that the working girl's face had
been familiar, and then memory recalled that she had seen her in the very
building on Wall Street where Mr. Abbott's offices were located.

Jane's troubled reverie was interrupted by a joyous exclamation, and her
brother, who was three years her senior and a head taller, leaped from
the crowd and held out both hands. His greeting was so enthusiastic, his
expression so radiant, that the girl was convinced that all was well with
their father, and so she said nothing of what she had heard.

It was not until they were seated on the train and had started for
Edgemere that Jane noticed how pale and thin was her brother's face, and,
when his eager flow of conversation was interrupted by a severe coughing
spell, the girl exclaimed with real concern, "Why, Brother Dan, what a
terrible cold you have! You ought to be in bed."

The boy's smile was reassuring. "Don't worry about that cough, sis," he
said lightly. "Now the grind is over, it will let up, I'm thinking. But
it surely has stuck closer than a postage stamp. Caught it weeks ago, but
I've been so busy, well, doing things, that I haven't had time to coddle
myself."

Suddenly the lad's expression became very serious, and turning, he placed
a thin hand, that was far too white, lovingly on his sister's as he said:
"Jane, dear, some changes have taken place in our home since you went
back to Highacres last Christmas. For Dad's sake try to bear them
bravely."

Then it was true, true, all that this dreadful working girl had said. For
a moment the girl's whole being surged with self-pity, then she felt cold
and hard. What right had their father to lose his fortune and bring
disgrace and privation upon his family? In a voice that sounded most
unfeeling, she asked, "And just what may those changes be?"

It was hard, so hard for Dan to tell the whole truth to a girl whom he
knew, with sorrow, thought only of herself. He had believed that trouble
might awaken the true Jane, whom he had always felt must be somewhere
deep under all the adamant of selfishness, but as yet there was no
evidence of it.

He removed his hand, as from something that hurt him, and folding his
arms, he began: "Our father is in great trouble, Jane, and he needs our
aid, but at present all we can do is to bear cheerfully the
inconveniences that are not nearly as severe as many others have to
endure."

But the girl was impatient. "For goodness sakes, Dan, don't preach! Now
is no time to moralize. If our father has done some idiotic speculating
and has lost his money, tell me so squarely."

A red spot burned in each pale cheek of the lad and a light of momentary
indignation flashed in his eyes, but he replied calmly enough: "Remember,
Jane, that you are speaking of our father, one of the noblest men who
ever trod on this earth. You know as well as I do that Dad never did any
wildcat speculating."

"Well, then, stop beating around the bush and tell me just what has
happened."



                              CHAPTER III.
                           FACING HARD TRUTHS


"It is because our father is honest that today we are poor," Dan Abbott
began, "and I glory in that fact."

His sister, sitting beside him in the train that was nearing Edgemere,
curled her lips but did not reply. "The firm to which Dad belonged made
illegal contracts in western oil fields. The other men will be many times
richer than they were before, but, because our father scorned to be a
party to such dishonesty, he has failed. Not a one of the men in whom he
trusted made the slightest effort to help avert the catastrophe."

"When did this all happen?" Jane's voice was still hard, almost bitter,
as though she felt hatred and scorn for her father, rather than loyalty
and admiration.

"Last February," was the brief reply.

"Then why was I not informed? Am I a mere infant to be kept in ignorance
of facts like these? Father has treated me unfairly, letting me boast to
my most intimate friends that I could have an elaborate Paris wardrobe
for the summer. My position is certainly a most unpleasant one."

At this the slow temper of the lad at her side flamed and though he spoke
in a low voice that the other passengers might not hear, he said just
what he thought. "Jane Abbott, you are the most selfish, heartless girl I
have ever known. It is very hard to believe that you are an own daughter
to that most wonderful woman whom we are permitted to claim as our
mother. In an hour of trouble (and there were many of them in those long
ago days) she was always brave and cheerful, comforting Dad and urging
him above all to be true to an ideal. But I actually believe that you,
Jane Abbott, would rather our Dad had entered into dishonest negotiations
as did the other members of his firm."

The lad glanced hopefully at his sister. Surely she would indignantly
refute this accusation, but she did nothing of the sort. With a shrug of
her slender shoulders, she sank back against the cherry colored cushion
as she replied, "I have often heard that an honest man can not be a
success in business, and I do feel that our father should have considered
his family above all else."

Dan pressed his lips firmly together. He feared that if his torrent of
angry thoughts were expressed it might form a barrier between himself and
his sister that the future could not tear down, and so, after taking a
deep breath that seemed almost a half sob, he again placed his hand
tenderly on the cold white one that lay listlessly near him.

"Sis, dear," he implored, "try to be brave, won't you? I'll do all I can
to make things easier for you, and so will Dad. He's pretty much stunned,
just now, but, oh, little girl, you can't guess how he is dreading your
homecoming. That's why I offered to meet you at the ferry station. I
wanted to tell you and save Dad that agony of spirit. If you would only
go in brightly and say, what our dear mother would have said, it will do
more to help our father than anything else in this world."

Selfish as Jane was, she dearly loved the brother who had idolized her,
and who in moments of great tenderness had always called her his little
girl, remembering only that she was three years younger and in need of
his protection.

Tears sprang to her eyes, but as the train was drawing in at the Edgemere
station she only had time to say, "I'll try. But, oh, it is so hard, so
hard."

Dan engaged a hack and after assisting his sister in, he sat beside her.
Then, as they drove along the pleasant streets of the village that were
shaded by wide spreading elms, the lad told her what changes had occurred
in their home.

"Mrs. Beach, our housekeeper, and Nora, her assistant, have left, and our
dear old grandmother has closed up her farm in Vermont and is staying
with father. It has been his greatest comfort to have his mother with
him. You always thought her ways so old-fashioned and farmerish, Jane,
but for all that she is the sweetest kind of a little old lady and as
brisk and capable as she was two years ago when we visited the farm."

There was a slight curl to Jane's lips, but she merely said: "I suppose I
shall be expected to wash dishes now. We must be terribly poor if we
couldn't even keep Nora."

"But we have one big blessing," Dan said brightly, "the home, which was
mother's can not be taken from us, for it belongs to us children."

Jane was not listening. She was trying to figure out something in her own
mind. "Dan." She turned toward him suddenly. "I can't see why Dad lost
his money, just because he did not want to be a partner in what he
considered a dishonest oil deal. Explain it to me a little more clearly."

"I didn't at first," her brother confessed, "fearing that it would not
have your sympathy. Many poor people invested their entire savings in the
oil deal, supposing that father's firm could be relied upon to be
absolutely honest. It is their money, much of it, which is making the
rich men richer. Our father, knowing that many had invested their all
because they trusted his personal integrity, has turned over his entire
fortune to make up their losses, as far as it will go." Dan was sorry he
had to make this explanation, for he saw at once the hard expression
returning to the eyes of his sister.

"If our father has greater consideration for the poor of New York than he
has for his own children, you can not expect me to express much sympathy
for him."

"Dear girl, wouldn't you rather have our father honest than rich?" The
lad's clear grey eyes looked at her searchingly.

Jane put her hand to her forehead as though it ached. "Oh, Dan," she
said, wearily, "you and father have different ideals from what I have, I
guess. I never really gave any thought to these things. I like comfort
and nice clothes and I hate, hate, hate drudgery and work of every kind.
I suppose now I shall have to scrub for a living." Jane was recalling
what the working girl on the ferry had said.

Dan's amused laughter rang out. "Oh, Jane, what nonsense. Do you suppose
that while I have a strong right arm I would let my little pal work in
any of those drudgery ways? No, indeed, so forget that fear, if it's
haunting you." But the boy could say no more, for another violent
coughing spell racked his frail body.

Instantly Jane was self-reproachful. "Oh, Dan, Dan," she said, "I know
you would give your very life to help me. I'm so selfish, so very
selfish! I'm going to think of only one thing, and that is how I can help
you to get well, for I can see now that you must have been ill."

The boy took advantage of this momentary tender spell to turn and take
the girl's hands in his and say imploringly: "Dear, we're almost home. If
you really want to help me to get well, be loving and brave to Dad. Your
unhappiness grieves me more than our loss, little girl, and I can't get
strong while I am so worried."

There were again tears in the beautiful dark eyes of the girl, and
impulsively she kissed the one person on earth whom she truly loved.
"Brother, for your sake I'll try to be brave," she said with a half sob
as the hack stopped in front of their home.



                              CHAPTER IV.
                            A SAD HOMECOMING


As Jane walked up the circling graveled path which led to the
picturesque, rambling, low-built brown house that she called home her
heart was filled with conflicting emotions. She bit her trembling lips
and brushed away the tears that quivered on her eyelashes. She knew, oh,
how well she knew, that they were prompted only by self-pity. She
struggled to awaken the nobler self that her brother was so confident
still slumbered in her soul, but she could not. She felt cold, hard,
indignant every time she recalled that her father had sacrificed his
children's comfort for a Quixotic ideal. "It is no use trying," she
assured herself, noticing vaguely that they were passing the rose garden,
which was a riot of fragrant, colorful bloom. How tenderly her father
cared for that garden, for every bush in it had been planted by the loved
one who was gone.

The tall lad carrying her satchels walked silently at Jane's side. He
well knew the conflict that was raging in the heart of the girl he had
always loved, in spite of her ever-increasing selfishness, with a
tenderness akin to that which he had given his mother, but he said no
word to try to help. This was a moment when Jane must stand alone.

They were ascending the wide front steps when the door of the house was
flung open and a little girl of ten leaped out with a glad cry. "Oh,
Janey, my wonderful big sister Janey." Two arms were held out, and in
another moment, as the older girl well knew, she would be in one of those
crushing embraces that the younger children called "bear hugs." She
frowned slightly. "Don't, Julie!" she implored. "My suit has just been
pressed. Won't you ever grow up, and greet people in a more dignified
way?"

The glad expression on the freckled face of the little girl, who could
not be called really pretty, changed instantly. Her lips quivered and her
eyes filled with tears. "Don't be a silly," Jane said rebukingly, as she
stooped and kissed the child indifferently on the forehead.

A dear old lady, wearing a pretty lavender gingham and a white "afternoon
apron," appeared in the doorway all a-flutter of happy excitement. She
had not seen Jane for two years, and she took the girl's hands in her own
that trembled.

"Dear, dear Jenny!" (How the graduate of fashionable Highacres had always
hated the name her grandmother had given her.) "What a blessing 'tis that
you have come home at last. It'll mean more to your father to have you
here than you can think." The old lady evidently did not notice the
scornful curling of the girl's lips, or, if she did, she purposely
pretended that she did not, and kept on with her speech. "You know,
dearie, you're the perfect image of that other Jane my Daniel loved so
dearly, and she was just your age, Jenny, when they met. It'll be like
meeting her all over again to have you coming home now, when he's in such
trouble, you being so like her, and she was most tender and brave and
unselfish."

Even the grandmother noticed that her well-meant speech was not
acceptable, for the girl's impatience was ill concealed.

"Where is my father?" she said in a voice which gave Dan little hope that
the nobler self in the girl had been awakened.

"He's working in the garden, dearie; out beyond the apple orchard," the
old lady said tremulously. "He told me when you came to send you out. He
wants to be alone with you just at first. And your little brother,
Gerald; I s'pose you're wondering where he is. Well, he's got a place
down in the village as errand boy for Peterson's grocery. They give him
his pay every night, and he fetches it right home to his Dad. Of course
my Daniel puts the money in bank for Gerald's schooling, but the boy
don't know that. He thinks he's helping, and bless him, nobody knows how
much he is helping. There's ways to bring comfort that no money could
buy."

Dan knew that Jane believed their gentle old grandmother was preaching at
her. He was almost sorry. He feared that it was antagonizing Jane; nor
was he wrong.

"Well, I think the back orchard was a strange place for father to have me
meet him," she said, almost angrily, as she flung herself out of the
house. Dan sighed. Then, stooping, he kissed the little old lady. "Don't
feel badly, grandmother," he said, adding hopefully: "The real Jane must
waken soon."

The proud, selfish girl, again rebellious, walked along the narrow path
that led under the great, old, gnarled apple trees which the children had
used for playhouses ever since they could climb. She felt like one
stunned, or as though she were reading a tragic story and expected at
every moment to be awakened to the joyful realization that it was not
true.

Her father saw her coming and dropped the hoe that he had been plying
between the long rows of beans. "How terribly he has changed," Jane
thought. He had indeed aged and there was on his sensitive face, which
was more that of an idealist than a business man, the impress of sorrow,
but also there was something else. Jane noticed it at once; an expression
of firm, unwavering determination. She knew that appealing to his love
for his daughter would be useless, great as that love was. A quotation
she had learned in school flashed into her mind--"I could not love thee,
dear, so much, loved I not honor more."

There was, indeed, infinite tenderness in the clear gray eyes that looked
at her, and then, without a word, he held out his arms, and suddenly Jane
felt as she had when she was a little child, and things had gone wrong.

"Father! Father!" she sobbed, and then she clung to him, while he held
her in a yearning, strong embrace, saying, "It's hard, my daughter,
terribly hard for all of us, but it was the thing that I had to do. Dan,
I am sure, has told you all that happened. But it won't be for long,
Janey. What I have done once, I can do again." He led her to a rustic
bench under one of the trees, and removing her hat, he stroked her dark,
glossy hair. "Jane, dear," he implored, when her sobs grew less, "try to
be brave, just for a time. Promise me!" Then, as the girl did not speak,
the man went on, "We have tried so hard, all of us together, to make it
possible for you to finish at Highacres. Poor Dan made the biggest
sacrifice. I feared that I would have to send for you to come home,
perhaps only for this term, but Dan wrote, 'Father, use my college money
for Jane's tuition. I'll work my way through for the rest of this year.'
And that is what he did. Notwithstanding the fact that he had to study
until long after midnight, he worked during the day, nor did he stop when
he caught a severe cold. He did not let us know how ill he was, but
struggled on and finished the year with high honors, but, oh, my
daughter, you can see how worn he is. Dr. Sanders tells me that Dan must
go to the Colorado mountains for the summer and I have been waiting,
dear, to talk it over with you. You will want to go with Dan to take care
of him, won't you, Jane?"

Almost before the girl knew that she was going to say it, she heard her
self-pitying voice expostulating, "Oh, Dad, how cruel fate is! Marion
Starr wanted me to go with her to Newport. They're going to one of those
adorable cottage-hotels, she and her Aunt Belle, and we three girls who
have been Merry's best friends were to go with her. It would only cost me
one hundred dollars a month. That isn't so very much, is it, Dad?"

Mr. Abbott sighed. "Jane," and there was infinite reproach in his tone,
"am I to believe that you are willing that Dan should go alone to the
mountains to try to find there the health he lost in his endeavor to help
you?"

Again the girl sobbed. "Oh, Dad, how selfish I am! How terribly selfish!
I love Dan, but the thing I want to do is to go to Newport. Of course I
know I can't go, but, oh, _how_ I do want to."

The girl feared that her father would rebuke her angrily for the frank
revelation of her lack of gratitude, but, instead, he rose, saying kindly
as he assisted her to arise, "Jane, dear, you _think_ that is what you
want to do but I don't believe it. Dan is to go West next Friday. My good
friend Mr. Bethel, being president of a railroad, has sent me the passes.
As you know, I still own a little cabin on Mystery Mountain which I
purchased for almost nothing when I graduated from college and went West
to seek my fortune. There is _no_ mystery, and there was _no_ wealth, but
I have paid the taxes until last year and those Dan shall pay, as I do
not want to lose the place. It was to that cabin, as you have often heard
us tell, that your mother and I went for our honeymoon. You need not
decide today, daughter. If you prefer to go with your friends, I will
find a way to send you."



                               CHAPTER V.
                          JANE'S SMALL BROTHER


There were many conflicting emotions in the heart of the tall, beautiful
girl as she walked slowly back to the house, her father at her side with
one arm lovingly about her.

"Jane," he said tenderly, "I wish there were words in our English
language that could adequately express the joy it is to me because you
are so like your mother, and, strangely perhaps, Dan is as much like me
as I was at his age as you are like that other Jane. She was tall and
willowy, with the same bright, uplifting of her dark eyes when she was
pleased."

Then the man sighed, and he said almost pleadingly, "You do realize, do
you not, daughter, that I would do anything that was right to give you
pleasure?"

Vaguely the girl replied, "Why, I suppose so, Dad. I don't quite
understand ideals and ethics. I've never given much thought to them."
Jane could say no more, for, vaulting over the low fence beyond the
orchard, a vigorous boy of twelve appeared, and, if ten-year-old Julie
had made a terrifying onrush, this boy's attack resembled that of a
little wild Indian. "Whoopla!" he fairly shouted, "If here isn't old
Jane! Bully, but that's great! Did you bring me anything?"

There was no fending off the boy's well meant embraces, and Jane emerged
from them with decidedly ruffled feelings.

"I certainly don't like to have you call me old Jane," she scolded. "I
think it is very lacking in respect. Father, I wish you would tell Gerald
to call me Sister Jane."

Mr. Abbott reprimanded the crestfallen lad, then he told the girl that
the boy had not meant to be disrespectful. "You know, Jane, that children
use certain phrases until they are worn ragged, and just now 'old' is
applied to everything of which Gerald is especially fond. It is with him
a term of endearment." Then, with a smile of loving encouragement for the
boy, their father added: "Why, that youngster even calls me 'old Dad' and
I confess I rather like it."

The boy did not again address his sister, but going to the other side of
his father, he clung affectionately to his arm and hopped along on one
foot and then on the other as though he had quite forgotten the rebuff,
but he had not. They entered a side door and Jane went upstairs to her
own pleasant room with its wide bow windows that opened out over the tops
of the apple trees and toward the sloping green hills for which New
Jersey is famous. Grandmother was in the kitchen preparing a supper such
as Jane had liked two years before when she had visited the Vermont farm,
and Julie was setting the table, when Gerald appeared. Straddling a chair
he blurted out, "Say, isn't Jane a spoil-joy? I'm awful sorry her
school's let out, and 'tisn't only for vacation that she'll be home. Dan
says it's forever 'n ever 'n ever. She'll be trying to tell us where to
head in. We'll have about as much fun as--as--(the boy was trying hard to
think of a suitable simile)--as--a----" Then as he was still floundering,
Julie, holding a handful of silver knives and forks, whirled and said
brightly, "as a rat in a dog kennel. You know last week how awful unhappy
that rat was that puppy had in his kennel, till you held his collar and
let the poor thing get away." Then as the small girl continued on her way
around the long table placing the silver by each plate, she said
hopefully, "Don't let's mope about it yet. Jane always goes a-visitin'
her school friends every summer and like's not she will this."

"Humph! She must be heaps nicer other places than she is here, or folks
wouldn't want her." Their mutual commiserating came to an abrupt end, for
Grandma appeared from the kitchen with a covered dish, out of which a
delicious aroma was escaping. Then in from the other door came Dad, one
arm about Jane and the other about Dan. Grandma glanced anxiously at her
big son. His expression was hard to read, but he seemed happier. How she
hoped Jane had proved herself a worthy daughter of her mother.

It is well, perhaps, that we cannot read the thoughts of those nearest
us, for all that evening Jane was wondering how she could make over her
last summer's wardrobe that it might appear new even in a fashionable
cottage-hotel.

On Thursday, directly after breakfast, Jane went up to her room without
having offered to help with the morning work. She had never even made her
own bed in all the eighteen years of her life and the thought did not
suggest itself to her that she might be useful. Or, if it did, she
assured herself that Julie was far more willing and much more capable as
a helper for their grandmother than she, Jane, could possibly be. The
truth was that bright-eyed, eager, light-footed little Julie was far more
welcome than the older girl, bored, sulky, and selfish, would have been.

Dan left early for the city, where he wished to purchase a few things he
would need while "roughing it" in the Colorado mountains. Gerald went
with him as far as the cross-roads, then the older boy tramped on to the
depot while the younger one, whistling gaily and even turning a
handspring now and then, proceeded to his place of business, and was soon
nearly hidden in an apron much too big for him, while he swept out the
store.

Mr. Abbott had watched his older daughter closely during that morning
meal. He had said little to her, but had conversed cheerily with Dan,
telling him just what khaki garments he would need, and, at Gerald's
urging, he had retold exciting adventures that he had had in that old log
cabin in the long ago days, when he had first purchased it. How the boy
wished that he, also, could go to that wonderful Mystery Mountain, but
not for one moment would he let Dad know of this yearning. He was needed
at home to earn what he could by working at the Peterson grocery. His big
brother was not well, so he, Gerald, must take his place as father's
helper. He was a little boy, only twelve, and it took courage to whistle
and turn handsprings when he would far rather have crept away into some
hidden fence corner and sobbed out his longing for travel and adventure.

All that sunny July morning Mr. Abbott worked in his garden back of the
apple orchard.

Often as he hoed between the long rows of thrifty vegetables, the
sorrowing man glanced up at the windows of the room in which he knew his
beloved daughter sat. How he wished she would come out and talk with him,
even if it were to tell him that she had decided that she wanted to go
with her friends to Newport. He had promised to find a way to obtain the
$300 she would need, if she wished to go for three months.

He sighed deeply, and, being hidden from the house by a gnarled old apple
tree, he stopped his work and took from his pocket an often read letter
from an old friend who had offered to loan him any sum, large or small,
at any time that it might be needed. "If Jane wants to go, I'll wire for
the money," he decided. Never before had a morning dragged so slowly for
the man who was used to the whirl, confusion and excitement of Wall
Street.

And yet, though he hardly realized it, the warm, gentle breeze rustling
among the leaves of the trees, the smell of the freshly turned earth in
which he was working, the cheerful singing of the birds far and
near--brought into his soul a sense of peace. At the end of one row he
stood up, very straight as he had stood before it had all happened, and
looking up into the radiant blue sky, he seemed to know, deep in the
heart of him, that all would be well. It was with a brisker step than he
had walked in many a day that he returned to the house, when little Julie
appeared at the back door to ring the luncheon bell.

"Surely Jane has decided by now," he told himself. "And equally surely
she will want to go West with the brother who has sacrificed himself, his
ease and his health that she might finish her course at Highacres." So
confident was he of his daughter's real nobility of nature that he found
himself planning what he would suggest that she take with her. She would
ask him about that at lunch. There was not much time to prepare, but she
would need little in that wild mountain country. At last he heard her
slowly descending the stairs. His anxiety increased. What would Jane's
decision be?



                              CHAPTER VI.
                             JANE'S CHOICE


The father, with his hands clasped behind him, was pacing up and down the
long dining room when his daughter entered. He saw at once that she had
been crying, although she had endeavored to erase the traces of the tears
which had been shed almost continuously through the morning.

In a listless voice she said at once, "Father, I have decided to go with
Dan since you feel that it is my duty, but, oh, how I want to go to
Newport with Merry and the rest: but of course it would cost $300 and
there is no money."

The father had started eagerly toward his daughter when she had entered,
but, upon hearing the concluding part of her speech, he drew back, a hurt
expression in his clear gray eyes. He folded his arms and a more alert
observer than Jane would have noticed an almost hard tone in his voice.
Never before had it been used for the daughter who was so like the mother
in looks only. "The matter is decided. Jane," he informed her. "The $300
that you require will be forthcoming. However, I wish you would plan to
leave tomorrow, the same day that your brother goes West. I want to be
alone, without worries, that I may decide how best to go about earning
what I shall need to finish paying the debt that I still owe to the poor
people who trusted me."

"Oh, father, father!" Jane flung herself into her chair at the table and
put her head down on her folded arms. "I didn't know that you felt that
you owe them more than your entire fortune."

"It was not enough to cover their investments," the man said, still
coldly, for he believed the girl was crying because she would have to
give up even more than she had supposed, and be kept in poverty for a
longer period of time. She sat up, however, when her father said, "Jane,
dry your tears. Since you are to go to Newport, I see nothing for you to
cry about, and I do not wish mother and Julie to know how I feel about
this whole matter."

Hastily Jane left the table to again remove the traces of tears, and when
she returned, her grandmother and Julie were in their places. Her father
had remained standing until she also was seated. Then, bowing his head,
he said the simple grace of gratitude which had never been omitted at
that table.

Jane marveled at the courage of her father, for he was actually smiling
at the little old lady who sat at his side. "Mother mine," he said, "if
this isn't the same kind of a meat pudding that you used to make for me
as a special treat, long ago, when I had been good. Have I been good
today?"

There were sudden tears in the fading blue eyes and a quiver in the
corners of the sweet old mouth as the grandmother replied, "Yes, Dan, you
have been very good. And all the while I was making it I was thinking how
proud and pleased your father would be if he only knew, and maybe he does
know, how good you've been. When you weren't more than knee high to your
Dad, he began to teach you that it was better to have folks know that
your word could be depended on than to be praised for smartness, and
that's how 'tis, Danny, and I'm happy and proud."

The dear little old lady wiped her eyes with a corner of her apron; then
she smiled up brightly, and pretended to eat the meat pie, which was in
danger of being neglected by all except Julie, who prattled, "We've set
away two big pieces, one for brother Dan, when he comes home from the
city, and one for Gerry. Umm, won't they be glad when they see them?
They'll be hungry as anything! I like to be awful hungry when there's
something extra special to eat, don't you, Janey?" Almost timorously this
query was ventured. Julie did not like to have the big sister look so
sad. The answer was not encouraging. "Oh, Julie, I don't want to talk,"
the other girl said fretfully.

"Nor eat, neither, it looks like," the old lady had just said when the
front door bell pealed. Julie leaped up, looking eagerly at her father.
"Oh, Dad, may I go?" But, being nearest the door, he had risen. "I'll
answer it, Julie," he replied. "It is probably some one to see me." But
Mr. Abbott was mistaken. A messenger boy stood on the porch. After the
yellow envelope had been signed for, it was taken to Jane, to whom it was
addressed.

Eagerly the girl tore it open, the others watching her with varied
emotions, although Julie's was just eager curiosity. "Ohee," she
squealed, "telegrams are such fun and so exciting. What's in it, Janey,
do tell us!"

Mr. Abbott noted that a red spot was burning in each cheek of the
daughter who had been so pale. She glanced up at him, her eyes shining.
"Dad," she cried, "you won't have to give me $300. Listen to this. Oh,
Merry is certainly wonderful!" Then she read:

  "Dearest Jane: Aunt Belle has changed her plans. She has rented a
  cottage just beyond the hotel grounds and is going to take her own cook
  and I want you to come as our guest, because, darling girl, I owe you a
  visit, since you gave me such a wonderful time in the country with you
  last year, and, what is more, we are going Friday, so pack up your
  trunk today, and be at the Central Station tomorrow at 4:00. Lovingly,
  your intimate friend--Marion Starr.

  "P. S.--Who, more than ever, is living up to her nickname, Merry.--M.
  S."

During the reading of the "night letter" Mr. Abbott had quickly made up
his mind just what his attitude would be. "That's splendid, Jane, isn't
it?" he said, and not even his watchful mother noted a trace of
disappointment in his voice. "If I were you I would pack at once. You
would better go over to the city in the morning and that will give you
time to buy a new summer dress, for I am sure that you must need one."

Jane started to reply, but something in her throat seemed to make it hard
for her to speak, and so she left the room hurriedly without having more
than touched her plate. Julie followed, as she adored packing. When they
were gone, the man sighed deeply. "Mother," he said, "I have decided to
send Julie with Dan. She can cook the simple things he will need and some
one must go with the boy. I would go myself, but I would be of little
use. In a few days, as soon as I can pull myself together, I am going
back to the city to start in some occupation far from Wall Street."

The old lady reached out a comforting hand and placed it on that of her
son nearest her. "Dan," she said in a low voice, "Jane doesn't know a
thing about your long illness, does she? Nobody's told her, has there?"

The man shook his head. "Jane has been so interested in her own problems,
and in finding a way to do as she wished, that she has not even wondered
why I am working about in the garden instead of going to the city daily,
as I always have done. But don't tell her, mother. She does not seem to
care, and, moreover, I am now much stronger. My only real worry is Dan,
and I do feel confident that if he can be well cared for, the mountain
air will restore his health."

Rising, he stooped to kiss his mother's forehead, then left the room,
going through the kitchen to the garden. As he worked he glanced often at
the open windows of the room above the tree tops. He saw the two girls
hurrying about, for Jane had gladly accepted Julie's offer of service,
and the trunk packing was evidently progressing merrily. This assurance
was brought to him when he heard Jane singing a snatch of a school song.

It sounded like a requiem to the man in the garden below. He leaned on
his hoe as he thought, self-rebukingly, "It is all my fault. I have
spoiled Jane. My love has been misdirected. It is I who have made her
selfish. I wanted to give her everything, for she had lost so much when
she lost her mother. I have done as much for the other three children,
but somehow they didn't spoil."

The comfort of that realization was so great that the father soon
returned to his self-imposed task, and, an hour later, when Dan appeared,
he told the boy Jane's decision, saying: "Son of mine, it would be no
comfort to you to have her companionship if her heart were elsewhere."
The shadow of keen disappointment in the lad's eyes was quickly
dispelled. Placing a hand on his father's shoulder he said cheerfully,
"It's all right, Dad. Julie is a great little pal."

But even yet the matter was not decided.

That Thursday night, after the younger members of the household were
asleep, Mr. Abbott and his mother talked together in his den.

"Julie was the happiest child in this world when I told her she was to go
with Dan." The old lady smiled as she recalled the hoppings and
squealings with which the small girl had expressed her joy. "Luckily I'd
washed and ironed her summer clothes on Monday and Tuesday, and this
being only Thursday, she hadn't soiled any of them."

Then her tone changed to one of tenderness. "Dan," she said, "Julie and
Jane aren't much alike, are they? That little girl didn't hop and squeal
long before she thought of something that sobered her. Then she told me,
'I don't like to go, Grandma, and leave Gerald at home. He's been wishing
and wishing and wishing he could go, but he wouldn't tell Dad 'cause he
wants to stay home and earn money to help.'"

To the little old lady's surprise, her companion sprang up as he
exclaimed: "Mother, I won't be gone long. Wait up for me!" Seizing his
hat from the hall "tree," he left the house. "Well, now, that's certainly
a curious caper," the old lady thought. "He couldn't have been listening
to a word I was saying. He must have thought of something he'd forgotten,
probably it's something for Jane. Well, there's nothing for me to do but
wait." She glanced at the clock on the mantle. Even then it was late. She
was usually asleep at ten. There had been time for many a little cat-nap
before she heard her son returning. His expression assured the old lady
that he was satisfied with the result of his errand.

"Why, Dan Abbott," she exclaimed, "whatever started you off in that way?
'Twasn't anything I said, was it?"

The man sank down in his chair again and took from his pocket a telegram.
"That's what I went after, mother," he told her. "I wired Bethel for one
more pass, as I had a small son who also wished to go West, and this is
his answer:

"'Glad indeed to accommodate you, Dan, and I'm sending one more, just for
good measure. Happened to recall that you have four children. Let me do
something else for you, old man, if I can.'"

The grandmother looked up with shining eyes as she commented: "Bert
Bethel's a true friend, if there ever was one. Won't Gerry be wild with
joy?

"But, goodness me, Danny, that means more packing to do. There's room
enough in Julie's trunk for the things Gerald will need, and I do believe
I'll go right up and put them in while the boy's asleep." Then she paused
and looked at her son inquiringly. "Will it be quite fair to Mr. Peterson
to have Gerry leave his store without giving notice?"

"I've attended to that, mother," the man replied. "While I was waiting
for an answer from Bert, I walked over to the grocery and told Jock
Peterson all that had happened, and he was as pleased as he could be. He
wants Gerald to come over there first thing in the morning to get a
present to take with him.

"He didn't say what it would be. I don't even suppose that he had decided
when he spoke. I was indeed happy to have him praise Gerald as he did. He
said that he would trust our boy with any amount of money. He has watched
Gerald, as he always does every lad who works in the store. He said that
nearly all of them had helped themselves to a piece of candy from the
showcase when they had wished, but that Gerald had never once touched a
thing that did not belong to him. Mr. Peterson was so pleased that he
asked Gerald about it one day, saying: 'Don't you like candy, lad?' And
our boy replied: 'Indeed I do, Mr. Peterson! I don't buy it because I
want to save all my money to help Dad.'

"Gerald hadn't even thought of helping himself as he worked around the
store."

"Of course, Gerry wouldn't," the old lady replied emphatically, "for
isn't he your son, Daniel?"

"And your grandson, mother?" the man smilingly returned. "But we must get
some sleep," he added, as the chimes on the mantle clock told them that
it was eleven. "Tomorrow is to be a busy day."

It was also to be a day of surprises, although this, these two did not
guess.



                              CHAPTER VII.
                            GERRY'S SURPRISE


Grandmother Abbott had indeed been right when she prophecied that
Gerald's joy, upon hearing that he could accompany Dan and his sister
Julie, would be unbounded. She told him before breakfast while they were
waiting for the others to come down. They had planned telling him later,
but when his father saw how hard the small boy was trying to be brave;
how the tune he was endeavoring to whistle wavered and broke, he could
stand it no longer, and, putting a hand on each of the boy's shoulders,
he looked down at him as he asked: "Son, if you could have your dearest
wish fulfilled, what would it be?"

The lad hesitated, then he said earnestly: "There's two things to wish
for, Dad, and they're both awful big. I want everything to be all right
for you, but, oh, how I do want brother Dan to get well."

Tears sprang to the eyes of the little old lady, and placing a hand
affectionately on the boy's head she asked: "Isn't there something else,
dearie, something you'd be wishing just for yourself?"

It was quite evident to the two who were watching that a struggle was
going on in the boy's heart. He had assured himself, time and again, that
his dad must not know how he wished that he could go with Dan. He even
felt guilty, because he wanted to go, believing that his dad needed his
help at home, and so he said nothing. His father, surmising that this
might be the case, asked, with one of his rare smiles: "If you knew, son,
that I thought it best for you to go with Julie, to help her take care of
Dan, would you be pleased?"

Such a light as there was in the freckled face, but, even then, the boy
did not let himself rejoice. "Dad," he said, "don't you need me here?"

"No, son, your grandmother has decided to stay all summer. She has found
a nice family to take care of her farm. Indeed I shall feel better,
knowing that you are with Julie, if Dan should be really ill."

For a moment the good news seemed to stun the little fellow. But when the
full realization of what it meant surged over him, he leaped into his
father's arms and hugged him hard, then turning, he bolted for the
stairway, and went up two steps at a time.

"Hurray!" he fairly shouted. "Dan, Jane, Julie, I'm going to Mystery
Mountain!"

This unexpected news was received joyfully by Julie and Dan, but Jane,
who was putting the last touches to her traveling costume, merely gave a
shrug, which was reflected back to her in the long mirror. "Well, thanks
be, I'm not going," she confided to that reflection. "I'd be worn to rags
by the end of the summer if I had to listen to such shrieking. I'm
thankful Merry's Aunt Belle has no children. They may be all very well
for people who like them, but I think they are superlative nuisances."

The entire family had gathered in the dining room when Jane descended,
and, after the grace had been said, the two youngest members began to
chatter their excitement like little magpies. Dan, who sat next to Jane,
smiled at her lovingly. "I suppose you are going to have a wonderful
time, little girl," he said. "I have heard that Newport is a merry whirl
for society people in the summer time, with dances, tallyho rides, and
picnic suppers."

Jane's eyes glowed, and she voiced her agreement. "I've heard so, too,
and I've always been just wild to have a wee taste of that gay life, and
now I can hardly believe that I am to be right in the midst of it for
three glorious months." Then, as she saw a sudden wearied expression in
her brother's face, she added: "You're very tired, Dan, aren't you? If
only you were rested, I should try to plan some way to have you go with
me. I'm wild to have you meet Merry. I do believe she is just the kind of
a girl whom you would like. You never have cared for any girl yet, have
you? I mean not particularly well?"

There was a tender light in the gray eyes that were so like their
father's. Resting a hand on Jane's arm, he said in a low voice, "I care
right now very particularly for a girl, and she is my dear sister-pal."

Somehow the expression in her brother's eyes made Jane unhappy. She did
wish he would not look at her--was it wistfully, yearningly or what?
Rising, their father said, "The taxi is outside, children. Are you all
ready?"

There was much confusion for the next few moments. The expressman had
come for the trunks, and there were many last things that the father
wished to say to the three who were going to his cabin on Mystery
Mountain.

"Dan, my boy," Mr. Abbott held the hand of his eldest in a firm clasp and
looked deep into his eyes, "let your first thought be how best you can
regain your strength. If you need me, wire and I will come at once." Then
putting his hand in his pocket, he drew out an envelope. "The passes are
in here. Put them away carefully." Then he turned to Jane. "Goodbye,
daughter. You will be nearer. Come home when you want to. May heaven
protect you all."

The two younger children gave "bear hugs," over and over again, to their
dad and grandmother, and when at last all were seated in the taxi, they
waved to the two who stood on the porch until they had turned a corner.

Dan smiled at Jane as he said: "This is indeed an exodus. That little old
home of ours never lost so many of us all at once."

"Gee, I bet ye the apple orchard'll wonder where me and Julie are," the
boy began, but Jane interrupted fretfully. "Oh, I do wish you would be
more careful of the way you speak, Gerald. You know as well as any of us
that you should say where Julie and I are."

The boy's exuberance for a moment was dampened, but not for long. He soon
burst out with, "Say, Dan, you know that story Dad tells about a brown
bear that came right up to the cabin door once. Do you suppose there's
bears in those mountains now?"

"I'm sure of it, Gerry. Dozens of them, but they won't hurt us, unless we
get them cornered."

"Well, you can bet I'm not going to corner any of them," Gerry confided.
"But I'd like to have a little cub, wouldn't you, Julie, to fetch up for
a pet?"

The little girl was doubtful. "Maybe, when it grew up, it would forget it
was a pet bear, and maybe you'd get it cornered, and then what would you
do?"

Dan laughed. "The bear would do the doing," he said. He glanced at Jane,
who sat looking out of the small window at her side. He did not believe
that she really saw the objects without. How he wished he knew what the
girl, who had been his pal all through their childhood, was thinking. As
he watched her, there was again in his eyes that yearning, wistful
expression, but Jane did not know it as she did not turn.

The little station at Edgemere was soon reached, the trunks checked for
the big city beyond the river, and, after a short ride on the train and
ferry, they found themselves in the whirling, seething mass of humanity
with which the Grand Central Station seemed always to be filled.

The train for the West was to leave at 10, and after it was gone, Jane
planned going uptown to buy a summer dress. Dad had told her to charge it
to him. His credit was still good. As they stood waiting for the gates to
open, Dan took from his pocket the envelope containing the passes. For
the first time he glanced them over, then exclaimed: "Why, how curious!
There are four passes! I thought there were but three. Oh, well, they are
only slips of paper, and do not represent money." He replaced them and
smiled at Jane. The children raced to a stand to buy a bag of popcorn and
Dan seized that opportunity to take his sister's hand, and say most
seriously: "Dear girl, if I never come back, try to be to our Dad all
that I have so wanted to be."

There was a startled expression in the girl's dark eyes. "Dan, what do
you mean?" Her voice sounded frightened, terrorized. "If you never come
back? Brother, why shouldn't you come back!" She clung to his arm. "Tell
me, what do you mean?" But he could not reply for a time, because of a
sudden attack of coughing. Then he said: "I don't know, little girl. I'm
afraid I'm worse off than Dad knows. I----"

"All aboard!" The gates were swung open. Frantically, Jane cried: "Dan,
quick, have my trunk checked on that other pass. I'm going with you."

                            * * * * * * * *

Mr. Abbott smiled through tears as he handed his mother the telegram he
received that afternoon. "I felt sure our Jane had a soul," he said. "Her
mother's daughter couldn't be entirely without one."

"And now that it's awakened maybe it'll start to blossoming," the old
lady replied.



                             CHAPTER VIII.
                               ALL ABOARD


There had been such a whirl at the last moment that it was not until they
were on the train and had located their seats on the Pullman, that the
children realized what had happened. Luckily Jane was too much occupied
readjusting her own attitude of mind, and trying to think hastily what
she should do before the train was really on its way, to notice the
disappointment which was plainly depicted on the faces of Julie and
Gerald. They gazed at each other almost in dismay when they heard that
their big sister was to accompany them, but the joy in their brother's
face and manner was all that was needed to reconcile the younger boy.

In the confusion caused by passengers entering the car with porters
carrying their luggage, Gerald managed to draw Julie aside and whisper to
her: "Don't let on we didn't want Jane, not on your life! Dan wanted her,
and this journey's got just one object, Dad says, and that's to help Dan
get well."

But Julie was too terribly disappointed to pretend that she was not. "I
know all that," she half sobbed and turned toward the window across the
aisle, "but I was so happy when I s'posed I was to cook for Dan, and when
you and I were to be the ones to take care of him. But now Jane will get
all the honor and everything, and we'll have to be bossed around worse
than if we were at home, for Dad's there to take our part."

Gerald's clear hazel eyes gazed at his sister rebukingly. "Julie," he
said, with an earnestness far beyond his years, "the train hasn't started
yet and if you'n I are going to think of ourselves we'd better go back
home. Shall we, Julie?"

The little girl shook her head vigorously. "No, no. I don't want to go
home." She clung to the back of a seat as though she feared she were
going to be taken forcibly from the train.

Gerald leaned over to whisper to her, but he first gave her a little kiss
on the ear, then he said: "Julie, you'n I will have oodles of fun up
there in the mountains. If Jane isn't too snappish, I'll be glad she's
along, because, of course, she'll be able to take care of Dan better than
we could." Then suddenly he laughed gleefully.

"I've got it!" he confided to the girl, who had looked around curiously.
She could not imagine how Gerald could laugh when such a tragic thing had
happened. "You're dippy about pretending, Julie. You once said you could
pretend anything you wanted to, and make it seem real. Well, here's your
chance. Every time Jane is snappy, pretend she has said something
pleasant. That'll be a hard one, but for Dan's sake, I'm willing to give
it a try."

Julie's mania had always been "pretending," and she had often wished that
Gerald would play it with her, but he was a matter-of-fact sort of a lad,
and his reply had been that real things were fun enough for him. The
little girl's face brightened. At last her brother was willing to play
her favorite game.

"That will be a hard one," she agreed. Then, as she was lunged against
the boy, she also laughed. "Oh, goodie!" she whispered. "Now the train is
really started--nobody can send us back home. Honest, I was skeered Jane
might want to. She thinks we're so terribly in the way."

Happy as Dan was, because the sister he so loved was to accompany him to
the West, he did not forget the two who had been willing to go with him
and care for him in the beginning, and, as soon as the train was well
under way, he called to the children. "Come here, Julie. I've saved the
window side of my seat for you, and I'm sure Jane will let Gerald sit by
the window on her seat. Now, isn't this jolly?"

The children wedged into the places toward which he was beckoning them.
Julie glanced almost fearfully up at the older girl she had accidentally
jostled in passing, but Jane was gazing out of the window deep in dreams.
Dan noticed his sister-pal's expression. How he hoped she was not
regretting her hasty decision.

His fears were soon dispelled, for Jane turned toward him with a tender
light in her beautiful dark eyes. "Brother," she said, "I have just been
wondering how I can communicate with Marion Starr. She expects to meet me
at the Central Station at four. It is now nearly noon. I should have left
some message for her."

"We must send a telegram to her home when we reach Albany, or sooner, if
we make a stop. I'll ask the conductor. Suppose you write out what you
wish to say." And so Jane took from her valise the very same little
leather covered notebook in which, less than a week before, she had
written a list of the things she would need for a wardrobe to be worn at
the fashionable summer resort at Newport.

Of this Jane did not even think as she wrote, after a thoughtful moment,
the ten words that were needed to tell her best friend that she was on
her way West with her brother Dan, who was ill and who needed her.

The conductor took the message and said that he expected to have an
opportunity to send a telegram in a very short time. The train soon
stopped at a village, where it was evidently flagged, and the young
people saw the station master running from the depot waving a yellow
envelope. The conductor received it, at the same time giving him the
paper on which Jane's message was written. "Please send this at once."
The sound of his voice came to them through Gerald's window. Then the
train started again and had acquired its former speed when the kindly
conductor entered their car. He was reading the telegram he had just
received. Stopping at their seats, he asked: "Are you Daniel Abbott,
accompanied by Jane, Julie and Gerald?"

"We are," the tall lad replied in his friendly manner. "Have you a
message from our father?"

The conductor shook his head. "No, not that. This telegram is from the
president of the railroad telling us that four young people named Abbott
are his guests, and he wishes them to receive every courtesy, and now, as
it is noon, if you will come with me, I will escort you to the diner."

"Oh, but I'm glad," Julie, who treated everyone with frank friendliness,
smiled brightly up into the face of the man whom she just knew must be a
father, he had such kind, understanding eyes. "I'm awful hungry; aren't
you, Gerry?" she whispered, a moment later, as they filed down the aisle
in procession, the conductor first, Jane next, with Dan at the end as
rear guard. Julie tittered and Jane turned to frown at her. Gerry poked
his young sister with the reminder, "Pretend she smiled."

But frowns could not squelch Julie's exuberance when they were seated
about a table in the dining car, which was rapidly filling with their
fellow travelers.

"Ohee, isn't this the jolliest? I'm going to pretend I'm a princess
and----" But the small girl paused and listened. The head waiter was
addressing Jane. "As guests of Mr. Bethel's," he told them, "you may
select whatever you wish from the menu. Kindly write out your orders." He
handed them each an order slip and a pencil and then went on to another
table. Julie gave a little bounce of joy. The "_real_" was so wonderful,
she would not have to pretend. She and Gerald bowed their heads over a
typed menu; and then they began to scribble. Dan, glancing across at
them, smiled good naturedly. "What are you doing, kiddies, copying the
entire menu?" he asked. But Jane remarked rebukingly, "Julie Abbott, do
you wish people to think that you have been starved at home? Tear those
up at once. Here are two others. If you can't make them out properly,
I'll do it for you."

Dan saw a rebellious expression in Julie's eyes, so he suggested, "Let
them try once more, Jane. They can't learn any younger. Just order a few
things at first, Gerry, and then, if you are still hungry, you can have
more."

Such a jolly time as the children had! When the train turned sharply at a
curve and the dishes slid about, Julie laughed outright. She purposely
did not look at Jane. She could pretend her big sister was smiling
easier, if she didn't see the frown. But their fun was just beginning.



                              CHAPTER IX.
                               TELEGRAMS


Although the children were greatly interested in all they saw, nothing of
an unusual nature had occurred, when, early one morning they reached
Chicago.

The kindly conductor directed them to the other train that would bear
them to their destination, assuring them that on it, also, they would be
guests of Mr. Bethel.

The four young people were standing on the outer edge of the hurrying
throng, gazing about them with interest (as several hours would elapse
before the departure of the west-bound train), when Jane was sure that
she heard their name being called through a megaphone.

"It's that man in uniform over by the gates. He's calling 'Telegram for
Jane Abbott!'" Gerald told her. "May I go get it, Dan? May I?"

The older boy nodded and the younger pushed through the crowd, the others
following more slowly. Very quickly Gerald returned, waving two yellow
envelopes. One was a night letter from Marion Starr. Tearing it open,
Jane read:

  "Dearest friend: As soon as I received your message I telephoned your
  father, knowing that he could explain much more than you could in ten
  words. What you are doing makes me love you more than I did before, if
  that is possible. My one wish is that I, too, might go West. I like
  mountains far better than I do fashionable summer resorts. Will write.
  Your
                                                                 Merry."

The other telegram contained a short message, but Jane looked up with
tears in her eyes as she said: "It is from father and just for me."

Dan smiled down at her and asked no questions. The few words were: "Thank
you, daughter, for your self-sacrifice. Now I know that Dan will get
well."

But their father did not know how serious Dan believed his condition to
be.

"And he shall not," the girl decided, "not until I have good news to
send."

As soon as they were seated in the train that was to take them the rest
of the journey, Jane said anxiously: "Dan, dear, aren't you trying too
hard to keep up? You look so very weak and weary. Let's have the porter
make up the lower berth, even though it is still daytime. You need a long
rest."

Dan shook his head, though he pressed her arm tenderly, but a coughing
spell racked his body when he tried to speak. The conductor on the Rock
Island was more practical than their former friend, but not more kindly.
He motioned Jane to one side.

"Miss Abbott," he said, "there is a drawing-room vacant. Bride and groom
were to have had it, but the order has been canceled. Since you are
friends of Mr. Bethel, I'm going to put you all in there. It will be more
comfortable, and you can turn in any time you wish."

Jane's gratitude was sincerely expressed. It would give Dan just the
opportunity he needed to rest, and the lad, nothing loath, permitted Jane
to have her way. How elated the children were when they found that they
were to travel in a room quite by themselves. That evening they went to
the diner alone, but Gerald was not as pleased as was his sister.

"I should think you'd be tickled pink," Julie said, inelegantly, "to be
able to order anything you choose and not have Jane peering at what you
write."

The boy replied dismally: "I can't be much pleased about anything. Don't
you know, Jane's staying with Dan 'cause she thinks he's too weak to come
out here? I heard her ask the porter to have their dinners brought in
there. Julie, you and I'll have to keep quieter if we want to help Dan
get well. He's sicker than he was when we started. I can see that easy."

The small girl was at once remorseful.

"I'm so glad you told me," she said with tears in her dark violet eyes.
"I've just been thinking what a lot of fun we're having. I've been worse
selfish than Jane was."

Seeing that her lips were quivering, Gerald said consolingly: "No, you
haven't, either. Anyhow, I think Dan's just tired out. He'll be lots
better in the morning. You see if he isn't."

But when Dan awakened in the morning he was no better.

During the afternoon, that their brother might try to sleep, the
conductor suggested that Julie and Gerald go out on the observation
platform.

"Is it quite safe for them out there alone?" Dan inquired.

"They will not be alone," was the reply. "I'll put them in the care of
Mr. Packard, with whom I am acquainted, as he frequently travels over
this line."

Julie had been very eager to ride on the observation platform, but Jane
had not wished to go outside because of the dust and cinders which she
was sure she would encounter, but now that the small girl was actually
going, she could hardly keep from skipping down the aisle as she followed
the conductor with Gerald as rear guard.

There was only one occupant of the observation platform, and to Gerald's
delight, he wore the wide brimmed Stetson hat which the boy had often
seen on the screen.

"I'll bet yo' he's a cattle-man. I bet yo' he is!" Gerry gleefully
confided to his small sister while their guide said a few words to the
Westerner. Then, turning, the conductor beckoned to them.

The stranger arose and held out a strong brown hand to assist the little
girl to a chair at his side.

"How do you do, Julie and Gerald?" he said, including them both in his
friendly smile. Julie bobbed a little curtsy, but Gerald's attempt at
manners was rudely interrupted by the necessity of seizing his cap.

"We have to watch out for our hats," the stranger cautioned, "for now and
then we are visited by a miniature whirlwind."

Gerald was almost bursting with eagerness. "Oh, I say, Mr. Packard," he
blurted out, "aren't you a reg'lar--er--I mean a reg'lar----" The boy
grew red and embarrassed, and so Julie went to his aid with, "Mr.
Packard, Gerry thinks maybe you're a cow-man rancher like we've seen in
the moving pictures."

The bronzed face of the middle-aged man wrinkled in a good-natured smile.
"I am the owner of a cattle-ranch fifteen miles from Redfords," he told
them.

This information so delighted the boy that Julie was afraid he would
bounce right over the rail.

"Gee-golly! That's where we're going--Redfords is! Our daddy owns a cabin
way up high on Mystery Mountain."

The man looked puzzled. "Mystery Mountain," he repeated thoughtfully. "I
don't seem to recall having heard of it."

Then practical little Julie put in: "Oh, Mr. Packard, that isn't its
really-truly name. Our daddy called it that 'cause there's a lost mine on
it and Dad said it was a mystery where it went to."

The man's face brightened.

"O-ho! Then you must mean Redfords' Peak. That mine was found and lost
again before I bought the Green Hills Ranch. Quite a long while ago that
was."

Gerry nodded agreement. "Yep. Dan, our big brother is most twenty-one and
he hadn't been born yet." Then the boy's face saddened as he confided:
"Dan's sick. He's got a dreadful cough. That's why we're going to Dad's
cabin in the Rockies."

"Our doctor said the al-te-tood would make him well," Julie explained,
stopping after each syllable of the long word and saying it very
thoughtfully.

Gerald looked up eagerly. "Do you think it will, Mr. Packard? Do you
think Dan will get well?"

The older man's reply was reassuring: "Of course he will. Our Rocky
Mountain air is a tonic that gives new life to everyone. Are you three
traveling alone?"

Julie and Gerald solemnly shook their heads, and the small girl, in
childish fashion, put a finger on her lips as though to keep from saying
something which she knew she ought not. It was Gerald who replied: "Our
big sister Jane is with us." The boy said no more, but Mr. Packard was
convinced that, devoted as the youngsters were to Dan, Jane, for some
reason, was not very popular with them.

Then, as he did not wish to pry into their family affairs, the genial
rancher pointed out and described to fascinated listeners the many things
of interest which they were passing.

The afternoon sped quickly and even when the dinner hour approached the
children were loath to leave their new friend.

"Me and Julie have to eat alone," the small boy began, but, feeling a
nudge, he looked around to see his sister's shocked little mouth forming
a rebuking O! and so, with a shake of his head, he began again: "I mean
Julie and I eat alone, and gee-golly, don't I wish we could sit at your
table, Mr. Packard. Don't I though!"

"The pleasure would be mine," the man, who was much amused with the
children, replied. Then, after naming an hour to meet in the diner, the
youngsters darted away and Mr. Packard laughed merrily.

It was quite evident that some one of their elders had often rebuked them
for putting "me" at the beginning of a sentence, he decided as he also
arose and went within.

Meanwhile Julie and Gerald had quietly opened the door of the
drawing-room, and, finding Dan alone, they told him with great gusto
about their new friend. "Mr. Packard says he's a really-truly neighbor of
ours," Gerry said. "How can he be a neighbor if he lives fifteen miles
away?"

"I don't know, Gerald, but I suppose that he does," Dan replied. "I would
like to meet your new friend. I'll try to be up tomorrow."



                               CHAPTER X.
                          A CATTLE-MAN FRIEND


The next day Dan seemed to be much better as the crisp morning air that
swept into their drawing-room was very invigorating. By noon he declared
that he was quite strong enough to go to the diner for lunch, and, while
there, the excited children pointed out to him their friend Mr. Packard.

That kindly man bowed and smiled, noting as he did so that the older girl
in their party drew herself up haughtily. The observer, who was an
interested student of character, did not find it hard, having seen Jane,
to understand the lack of enthusiasm which the children had shown when
speaking of her.

Not wishing to thrust his acquaintance upon the girl, who so evidently
did not desire it, the man passed their table on his way from the diner
without pausing.

It is true that Julie had made a slight move as though to call to him,
but this Mr. Packard had not seen, as a cold, rebuking glance from Jane's
dark eyes had caused the small girl to sit back in her chair, inwardly
rebellious.

Dan, noting this, said: "I like your friend's appearance. I think I shall
go with you for a while to the observation platform. I cannot breathe too
much of this wonderful air."

Jane reluctantly consented to accompany them there. "Gee-golly, how I
hope Mr. Packard is there," Gerald whispered as he led the way.

The Westerner rose when the young people appeared and Jane quickly
realized that he was not as uncouth as she had supposed all ranchers
were.

Dan was made as comfortable as possible and he at once said: "Mr.
Packard, Gerald tells me that you are our neighbor. That is indeed good
news."

"You have only one nearer neighbor," the man replied, "and that is the
family of a trapper named Heger. They have a cabin high on your
mountain."

Then, turning toward Jane, he said: "Their daughter, whom they call Meg,
is just about your age, I judge. She is considered the most beautiful
girl in the Redfords district. Indeed, for that matter, she is the most
beautiful girl whom I have ever seen, and I have traveled a good deal.
How pleased Meg will be to have you all for near neighbors."

Jane's thoughts were indignant, and her lips curled scornfully, but as
Mr. Packard's attention had been drawn to Gerald, he did not know that
his remarks had been received almost wrathfully.

"Ranchers must have strange ideas of beauty!" she was assuring herself.
"How this crude man could say that a trapper's daughter is the most
beautiful girl he has ever met when he was looking directly at _me_, is
simply incomprehensible. Mr. Packard is evidently a man without taste or
knowledge of social distinctions."

Jane soon excused herself, and going to their drawing-room, she attempted
to read, but her hurt vanity kept recurring to her and she most heartily
wished she was back East, where her type of beauty was properly
appreciated. It was not strange, perhaps, that Jane thought herself
without a peer, for had she not been voted the most beautiful girl at
Highacres Seminary, and many of the others had been the attractive
daughters of New York's most exclusive families.

Dan returned to their drawing-room an hour later, apparently much
stronger, and filled with a new enthusiasm. "It's going to be great,
these three months in the West. I'm so glad that we have made the
acquaintance of this most interesting neighbor. He is a well educated
man, Jane." Then glancing at his sister anxiously, "You didn't like him,
did you? I wish you had for my sake and the children's."

Jane shrugged her slender shoulders. "Oh, don't mind about me. I can
endure him, I suppose."

Dan sighed and stretched out to rest until the dinner hour arrived.

Julie and Gerald joined them, jubilantly declaring that they were to
reach their destination the next morning before sun-up.

"Then we must all retire early," Dan said. This plan was carried out, but
for hours Jane sobbed softly into her pillow. It was almost more than she
could bear. She had started this journey just on an impulse, and she
_did_ want to help Dan, who had broken down trying to work his way
through college that there might be money enough to keep her at
Highacres. It was their father who had been inconsiderate of them. If he
had let the poor people lose the money they had invested rather than give
up all he had himself, she, Jane, could have remained at the fashionable
seminary and Dan would have been well and strong.

Indeed everything would have been far better.

But the small voice in the girl's soul which now and then succeeded in
making itself heard caused Jane to acknowledge: "Of course Dad is so
conscientious, he would never have been happy if he believed that his
money really belonged to the poor people who had trusted him."

It was midnight before Jane fell asleep, and it seemed almost no time at
all before she heard a tapping on her door. She sat up and looked out of
the window. Although the sky was lightening, the stars were still shining
with a wonderful brilliancy in the bit of sky that she could see. Then a
voice, which she recognized as that of Mr. Packard, spoke.

"Time to get up, young friends. We'll be at Redfords in half an hour."

Gerald leaped to his feet when he heard the summons. Then, when he
grasped the fact that they were nearly at their destination, he gave a
whoop of joy.

"Hurry up, Julie," he shook his still sleeping young sister. "We are
'most to Mystery Mountain, and, Oh, boy, what jolly fun we're going to
have."

Half an hour later, Mr. Packard and the young Abbotts stood on a platform
watching the departing train. Then they turned to gaze about them. It
surely was a desolate scene. The low log depot was the only building in
sight, and, closing in about them on every side were silent, dark,
fir-clad mountains that looked bold and stern in the chill gray light of
early dawn. Jane shuddered. How tragically far away from civilization,
from the gay life she so enjoyed--all this seemed.

The station master, a native grown too old for more active duty, shuffled
toward them, chewing tobacco in a manner that made his long gray beard
move sideways. His near-sighted eyes peered through his brass-rimmed
spectacles, but, when he recognized one of the new arrivals, he grinned
broadly. In a high, cracked voice he exclaimed: "Wall, if 'tain't Silas
Packard home again from the East. Glad to git back to God's country,
ain't you now, Si? Brought a parcel of young folks along this trip? Wall,
I don't wonder at it. Your big place is sort o' lonesome wi' no wimmin
folks into it. What? You don' mean to tell me these here are Dan Abbott's
kids! Wall, wall. How-de-do? Did I know yer pa? Did I know Danny Abbott?
I reckon I was the furst man in these here parts that did know him. He
come to my camp, nigh to the top of Redfords' Peak, the week he landed
here from college." The old man took off his bearskin cap and scratched
his head. "Nigh onto twenty-five year, I make it. Yep, that's jest what
'twas. That's the year we struck the payin' streak over t'other side of
the mountain, and folks flocked in here thicker'n buzzards arter a dead
sheep. Yep, that's the year the Crazy Creek Camp sprung up, and that's
how yer pa come to buy where he did."

Then, encouraged by the interest exhibited by at least three of the young
people, the old man continued:

"The payin' streak, where the camp was built, headed straight that way,
and I sez to him, sez I--'Dan Abbott,' sez I, 'If I was you I'd use the
money I'd fetched to get aholt of that 160 acres afore it's nabbed by
these rich folks that's tryin' to grab all the mines,' sez I. 'That's
what I'd do.' And so Dan tuk it, but as luck would have it, that vein
petered out to nothin' an' I allays felt mighty mean, havin' Dan stuck
that way wi' so much land an' no gold on it, but he sez to me, 'Gabby,'
that's my name; 'Gabby,' sez he, 'don' go to feelin' bad about it, not
one mite. That place is jest what I've allays wanted. When a fellow's
tired out, there's nothin' so soothin',' sez he, 'as a retreat,' that's
what he called it, 'a retreat in the mountains.' But he didn't need 160
acres to retreat on, so he let go all but ten. He'd built a log cabin on
it that had some style, not jest a shack like the rest of us miners run
up, then Dan went away for a spell--but by and by he come back." The old
man's leathery face wrinkled into a broad smile. "An' he didn't come back
alone! I reckon you young Abbotts know who 'twas he fetched back with
him. It was the purtiest gal 'ceptin' one that I ever laid eyes on.
You're the splittin' image of the bride Danny brought." The small blue
eyes that were almost hidden under shaggy gray brows turned toward Jane.
"Yep, you look powerful like your ma."

But Jane had heard only one thing, which was that even this garrulous old
man knew one other person whom he considered more beautiful. How she
wanted to ask the question, but there was no time, for "Gabby" never
hesitated except to change the location of his tobacco quid or to do some
long distance expectorating.

Turning to Mr. Packard, he began again: "Meg Heger's took to comin' down
to Redfords school ag'in. She's packin' a gun now. That ol' sneakin' Ute
is still trailin' her. I can't figger out what he wants wi' her. The
slinkin' coyote! She ain't got nothin' but beauty, and Indians ain't so
powerful set on that. Thar sure sartin is a mystery somewhere."

The old man stopped talking to peer through near-sighted eyes at the
canon road.

"I reckon here's the stage coach," he told them, "late, like it allays
is. If 'tain't the ho'ses as falls asleep on the way, then it's Sourface
his self. Si, do yo' mind the time when the stage was a-goin' down the
Toboggan Grade----"

It was quite evident that Gabby was launched on another long yarn, but
Mr. Packard laughingly interrupted, placing a kindly hand on the old
man's shoulder.

"Tell us about that at another time, Gab," he said. "We're eager to get
to the town and have some breakfast."

He picked up Jane's satchel and Dan's also, and led the way to the edge
of the platform, where an old-fashioned stage was waiting. Four white
horses stood with drooping heads and on the high seat another old man was
huddled in a heap as though he felt the need of seizing a few moments'
rest before making the return trip to Redfords.

"They have just come up the steep Toboggan Grade," Mr. Packard said by
way of explanation. "That's why the horses look tired."

Then in his cheerful way he shouted: "Hello, there, Wallace. How goes
it?"

The man on the seat sat up and looked down at the passengers with an
expression so surly on his leathery countenance that it was not hard for
the young people to know why he had been given his nickname, but he said
nothing, nor was there in his eyes a light of recognition. With a grunt,
which might have been intended as a greeting, he motioned them to get
into the lower part of the stage, which they did.

Then he jerked at the reins and the horses came to life and started back
the way they had so recently come. Gabby had followed them to the edge of
the platform, and as far as the Abbotts could make out, he was still
telling them the story which Mr. Packard had interrupted.

"How cold it is!" Julie shivered as she spoke and cuddled close to Dan.
He smiled down at her and then said:

"Mr. Packard, this is wonderful air, so crisp and invigorating. I feel
better already. Honestly, I'll confess now, the last two days on the
train I feared you would have to carry me off when we got here, but
now"--the lad paused and took a long breath of the mountain air--"I feel
as though I had been given a new lease on life."

The older man laid a bronzed hand on the boy's sleeve.

"Dan," he said, "you have. When you leave here in three months you'll be
as well as I am, and that's saying a good deal."

Then the lad surprised Jane by exclaiming: "Perhaps I won't want to
leave. There's a fascination to me about all this."

He waved his free arm out toward the mountains. "And your native
characters, Mr. Packard, interest me exceedingly. You see," Dan smilingly
confessed, "my ambition is to become a writer. I would like to put
'Gabby' into a story."

Mr. Packard's eyes brightened. "Do it, Dan! Do it!" he said with real
enthusiasm. "Personally I can't write a line, not easily, but I have real
admiration for men who can, and I am a great reader. Come over soon and
see my library."

Then he cautioned: "I told you to write, but don't begin yet. Not until
you are stronger. Stay outdoors for a time, boy. Climb to the rim rock,
take notes, and then later, when you are strong, you will find them of
value."

While they had been talking, the stage had started down a steep, narrow
canon. The mountain walls on both sides were almost perpendicular, and
for a time nothing else was to be seen. It was more than a mile in
length, and they could soon see the valley opening below them.

"Redfords proper," Mr. Packard smilingly told them as he nodded in that
direction. "It is not much of a metropolis."

The young Abbotts looked curiously ahead, wondering what the town would
be like.



                              CHAPTER XI.
                                REDFORDS


"Is that all there is to the town of Redfords?" Jane gasped when the
stage, leaving Toboggan Grade, reached a small circular valley which was
apparently surrounded on all sides by towering timber-covered mountains.
A stream of clear, sparkling water rushed and swirled on its way through
the narrow, barren, rock-strewn lowland. The rocks, the very dust of the
road, were of a reddish cast.

"That road yonder climbs your mountain in a zig-zag fashion, and then
circles around it to the old abandoned mining camp." Then to Gerald, he
said: "Youngster, if you're pining for mystery, that's where you ought to
find one. That deserted mining camp always looks to me as though it must
have a secret, perhaps more than one, that it could tell and will not."

"Ohee!" squealed Julie. "How interesting! Gerry and I are wild to find a
mystery to unravel. Why do you think that old mining camp has secrets,
Mr. Packard?"

Smiling at the little girl's eagerness, the rancher replied: "Because it
looks so deserted and haunted." Then to Dan, "You heard what Gabby said
at the depot. Well, he did not exaggerate. A rich vein of gold was found
on the other side of your mountain, and a throng of men came swarming in
from everywhere, and just overnight, or so it seemed, buildings of every
description were erected. They did not take time to make them of
permanent logs, though there are a few of that description. For several
months they worked untiringly, digging, blasting, searching everywhere,
but the vein which had promised so much ended abruptly.

"Of course, when the horde of men found that there was no gold, they
departed as they had come. For a time after that a wandering tribe of Ute
Indians lived there, but the hunting was poor, and as they, too, moved on
farther into the Rockies, where there are many fertile valleys. Only one
old Indian, of whom Gabby spoke, has remained. They call him Slinking
Coyote. Why he stayed behind when his tribe went in search of better
hunting grounds surely is a mystery."

Julie gave another little bounce of joy. "Oh, goodie!" she cried. "Gerry,
there's two mysteries and maybe we'll find the answers to both of them."

"I would rather find something to eat," Jane said rather peevishly. "I
never was obliged to wait so long for my breakfast in all my life. It's
one whole hour since we left the train." She glanced at her wrist watch
as she spoke.

Mr. Packard looked at her meditatively. The other three Abbotts were as
amiable as any young people he had ever met, but Jane was surely the most
fretful and discontented. Although he knew nothing of all that had
happened, he could easily see that she, at least, was in the West quite
against her will.

"Well, my dear young lady," he said as he reached for her bag, "you won't
have long to wait, for even now we are in the town, approaching the inn."

"What?" Jane's eyes were wide and unbelieving. "Is this wretched log
cabin place the only hotel?" She peered out of the stage window and saw
two cowboys lounging on the porch, and each was chewing a toothpick. They
were picturesquely dressed in fringed buckskin trousers, soft shirts,
carelessly knotted bandannas and wide Stetson hats. Their ponies were
tied in front, as were several other lean, restless horses.

Mr. Packard nodded. "Yes, this is the inn and the general store and the
postoffice. Across the road is another building just like it and that has
a room in front which is used as a church on Sunday and a school on
weekdays, while in back there is a billiard room. There are no saloons
now," this was addressed to Dan, "which is certainly a good thing for
Redfords."

"Billiard room, church and a school house all in one building," Jane
repeated in scornful amazement. "But where are the houses? Where do the
townspeople live?"

Mr. Packard smiled at her. "There aren't any," he said. "The ranchers,
cowboys, mountaineers and summer tourists are the patrons of the inn and
billiard rooms. But here we are!" The stage had stopped in front of the
rambling log building and reluctantly Jane followed the others.

Mr. Packard held the screen door open for the young people to pass, then,
taking Jane's arm, he piloted her through the front part of the building,
which was occupied by the postoffice and store, to the room in the rear,
where were half a dozen bare tables. Each had in the center a vinegar
cruet, a sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers. At least they were clean,
but the dishes were so coarse that had not Jane been ravenously hungry,
she told herself, she simply could not have eaten. Mr. Packard led the
way to the largest table, at which there were six places, and as soon as
they were seated a comely woman entered through a swinging green baize
door.

"Howdy, Mr. Packard?" she said in response to the rancher's cordial
greeting. "Jean Sawyer, your foreman, was in last night an' left your
hoss for yo'. He said as how he was expectin' yo' in some time today.
You've fetched along some visitors, I take it." The woman looked at the
older girl with unconcealed admiration. The blood rushed to Jane's face.
Was this innkeeper's wife going to tell her that she had never seen but
one other girl who was more beautiful? But Mrs. Bently made no personal
comment.

When Mr. Packard explained that his companions were the young Abbotts,
and that they were to spend the summer in a cabin on Redford Mountain,
her only remark was: "Is it the cabin that's been standin' empty so long,
the one that's a short piece down from where Meg Heger lives?"

"Yes, that's it, Mrs. Bently." Then the man implored: "Please bring us
some of your good ham and eggs and coffee and----"

"There's plenty of waffle dough left, if the young people likes 'em." The
woman smiled at Julie, who beamed back at her.

"Oh, boy!" Gerald chimed in. "Me for the waffles!"

The cooking was excellent and even the fastidious Jane thoroughly enjoyed
the breakfast.

When they emerged from the inn, Dan said, regretfully: "The sun is high
up. We've missed our first sunrise."

"We were on the Toboggan Grade when the sun rose," Mr. Packard told them.
He then shook hands with Jane and Dan as he said heartily:

"Here is where we part company. That is my horse over yonder. A beauty,
isn't he? Silver, I call him. By the way, Dan, I want you to meet Jean
Sawyer. He is just about your age, and a fine fellow, if I am a judge of
character. I would trust him with anything I have. In fact, I do. I send
him all the way to the city often, to get money from the bank to pay off
the men. I know he isn't dishonest, and yet, for some reason, he ran away
from his home. You know, we have a code out here by which each man is
permitted to keep his own counsel.

"We ask no one from whence he came or why. We take people for what they
seem to be, with no knowledge of their past."

Then, breaking off abruptly, the older man repeated: "I would, indeed,
like you to meet Jean and tell me what you think of him. Come over to our
place soon, or, better still, since that is a rough trip until you get
hardened to the saddle, I'll send him over to call on you next Sunday."

Dan's face brightened. "Great, Mr. Packard; do that! A chap whom you so
much admire must be worth knowing. Have him take dinner with us. Goodbye,
and thank you for being our much-needed guide."

When their neighbor and friend had swung into his saddle and had ridden
away, Jane said fretfully: "I don't see why you asked that Jean Sawyer,
who may be an outlaw, for all we know, to come over to our place for
dinner." Then, when she saw the expression of troubled disappointment in
her brother's face, again the small voice within rebuked her, and she
implored: "Oh, Dan, don't mind me! I know I am horridly selfish, but I am
so tired, and these people are all so queer. What are we to do next?"

The older lad knew what an effort Jane was making, and he held her arm
affectionately close as he replied: "Mr. Packard said that the stage
would call for us at 8:30. We will have half an hour to purchase our
supplies. Grandmother made out a list of things we would need. Julie has
that. Jane, here is my wallet. I wish you would take charge of our funds.
You won't be climbing around as I will. It will be safer with you."

Together the girls went into the store and purchased the supplies they
would need. Then they rejoined the boys, who had waited outside. Gerry
wanted to look in the school house.

The Abbotts found the door of the rambling log cabin across from the inn
standing open, and they peered in curiously. The room was long and well
lighted by large windows, but it was quite like any other country school.
There were eight rows of benches, one back of the other, with a
shelf-like desk in front of each. These had many an initial carved in
them. The teacher's table and chair faced the others, with a blackboard
hanging on the wall at the back. Near the door was a pail and a dipper.
Dan smiled. "It doesn't look as though genius could be awakened here,
does it?" he was saying, when a pleasant voice back of them caused them
to turn.

"You're wrong there, my friend." The young people saw before them a
withered-up little old man with the whitest of hair reaching to his
shoulders. Noting their unconcealed astonishment, he continued, by way of
introduction, "I am Preacher Bellows on Sunday and Teacher Bellows on
weekdays. Now, as I was saying, having overheard your remark, this little
schoolroom and the teacher who presides over it are proud to tell you
that your statement is not correct. It may not look as though genius
could be awakened here," he smiled most kindly. "I'll agree that it does
not, but that is just what has happened. Meg Heger, one of my mountain
girls, has written some beautiful things. Her last composition, 'Sunrise
From the Rim-Rock,' is truly poetical."

Jane turned away impatiently. Was she never to be through with hearing
about Meg Heger? "Brother," the manner in which she interrupted the
conversation was almost rude, "isn't that the stage returning? I am so
tired, I do want to get up to our cabin." She started to cross the
street. Dan quickly joined her. He did not rebuke her for not having said
goodbye to the teacher.

"He's a nice man, isn't he, Dan?" Gerald skipped along by his brother's
side as he spoke. "He loves mountain people, doesn't he?"

Dan smiled down at the eager questioner. "Why, of course, he must, if he
practices what I suppose he preaches; the brotherhood of man."

"Well, I certainly don't want to claim people like the ones we have met
in Redfords as any kin of mine," Jane snapped as they all crossed to the
stage that awaited them. Again the four white horses drooped their heads
and the driver slouched on his high seat, as though at every opportunity
they took short naps. But the horses came to life when the driver snapped
his long whip and with much jolting they forded the stream.

"Oh, my; I'm 'cited as anything!" Julie squealed. "Wish something,
Gerald, 'cause this is the first time we've ever been up our very own
mountain road."

"There's just one thing to wish for," the small boy said with the
seriousness which now and then made him seem older than his years, "and
that's that Dan will get well. What do you wish, Jane?"

"Why, the same thing, of course," the girl replied languidly.

Gerald continued his questioning. "What do you wish, Dan?"

The boy thought for a moment and then he exclaimed, "I have a wonderful
thing to wish. Wouldn't it be great if we could find the lost gold vein
on our very own ten acres? Then Dad could pay the rest that he owes and
be free from all worry?"

"Me, too," Julie cried jubilantly. "Now, we've all wished and here we go
up the mountain."

The road was narrow. In some places it was barely wide enough for the
stage to pass, and, as Jane looked back and down, she shuddered many
times.

At last, when nothing happened and the old stage did stick to the road,
Jane consented to look around at the majestic scenery, about which the
others were exclaiming. Beyond the gorge-like valley in which was
Redfords, one mountain range towered above another, while many peaks were
crowned with snow, dazzling in the light of the sun that was now high
above them.

The air was becoming warmer, but it was so wonderfully clear that even
things in the far distance stood out with remarkable detail.

At a curve, Gerald pointed to the road where it circled above them.
"Gee-whiliker! Look-it!" he cried excitedly. "How that boy can ride." The
others, turning, saw a pony which seemed to be running at breakneck
speed, but as the stage appeared around the bend, the small horse was
halted so suddenly that it reared. When it settled back on all fours, the
watchers saw that, instead of a boy, the rider was a girl, slender of
build, wiry, alert. She drew to one side close to the mountain, to permit
the stage to pass. She wore a divided skirt of the coarsest material, a
scarlet blouse but no hat. Her glossy black wind-blown hair fluttered
loosely about her slim shoulders. Her dusky eyes looked curiously out at
them from between long curling lashes. Dan thought he had never before
seen such wonderful eyes, but it only took a moment for the stage to
pass.

They all turned to look down the road. The pony was again leaping ahead
as sure-footed, evidently, as a mountain goat, the girl leaning low in
the saddle. Jane's lips were curled scornfully. "Well, if that is their
mountain beauty, I think they have queer taste! She looked to me very
much like an Indian, didn't she to you, Dan?"

The boy replied frankly: "I should say she might be Spanish or French,
but I do indeed think she is wonderfully beautiful. I never saw such
eyes. They seem to have slumbering soul-fires just waiting to be kindled.
I should like to hear her talk."

Jane shrugged her shoulders. "Well, I certainly should not. I have heard
enough of this mountain dialect, if that's what you call it, to last me
the rest of my life. I simply will not make the acquaintance of that--Oh,
it doesn't matter what she is--" she hurried on to add when she saw that
Dan was about to speak. "I don't want to know her, and do please remember
that, all of you!"

"Gee, sis," Gerald blurted out, "you don't like the West much, do you? I
s'pose you wish you had stayed at home or gone to that hifalutin watering
place."

Jane bit her lips to keep from retorting angrily. Julie was still
watching the small horse that now and then reappeared as the zigzagging
mountain road far below them came in sight.

"That girl's going to school, I guess. Though I should think it would be
vacation time, now it's summer," she remarked.

"I rather believe that winter is vacation time for mountain schools. It's
mighty cold here for a good many months and the roads are probably so
deep in snow that they are not passable."

Dan had just said this when Gerald, who had been kneeling on the seat,
watching intently ahead, whirled toward them with a cry of joy. "There's
our log cabin on that ledge up there! I bet you 'tis! Gee-whiliker, we're
stopping. Hurray! It's ours."



                              CHAPTER XII.
                            THE ABBOTT CABIN


It was quite evident that the picturesque log cabin which nestled against
the side of the mountain on a wide, overhanging ledge was indeed their
own. The road curved about twenty feet below it, and crude steps had been
hewn out of the rocks. The small boy tumbled out of the stage almost
before it came to a standstill.

"Oh, Julie, look-it, will you! We've got a real stairway leading right up
to our front door. I'll beat you to the cabin."

Julie, equally excited, scurried up after her brother and reached the top
almost as soon as he did. Then they turned and shouted joyfully to the
two below them: "Jane! Dan! Look at us! We're top of the world."

"Oh, boy!" Gerald capered about, unable to stand still. "I'm glad I came.
I bet you, Julie, we'll have a million adventures, maybe more." But Dan
was calling and so they scampered back down the rocky flight of stairs.

The older lad laughed at their enthusiasm. "I know just how you feel," he
told them. "If I weren't afraid of shocking your sedate sister here, I
believe I would--well--I don't know just what I would do."

"Stand on your head," Gerald prompted. "Do it, Dan. I'll dare you."

But the older boy was needed just then to tell the surly driver where the
trunks were to be put. "Let me help you, Mr. Wallace." Dan made an
attempt to take one end of a trunk, but the husky man, with the
unchangeable countenance, merely grunted his dissent, and swinging a
trunk up on his broad shoulders, he began the ascent of the steep stone
stairs quite as though it were not a herculean task.

Dan followed. "Just leave them on the porch until we get our bearings,"
he directed. "We can move them in after we have unpacked." Then, from the
loose change that he had in his pocket, he paid the man. A few moments
later the stage rumbled on its way up the road, which circled the
mountain and then descended to a hamlet in the valley on the other side.

As soon as the four young Abbotts were alone, Dan, slipping an arm about
Jane, exclaimed: "Think of it, sister! Isn't it almost beyond
comprehension that we have such magnificence right in our front
door-yard." He took a long breath. The pine trees, though not large, were
spicily fragrant. Then, whirling toward her, he caught both of her hands,
and there were actually tears in his eyes as he said, "Jane, I'm going to
live! I know that I am!"

Selfish as the girl was, she could not but respond to her brother's
enthusiasm. The younger children had raced away on a tour of discovery.
Their excited voices were heard exclaiming about something they had
discovered beyond the cabin. Clear and high Gerry's voice rang out: "Dan,
Jane, come quick! We've found Roaring Creek, and it isn't making a
terrible lot of noise at all."

But the older boy had noted the extreme weariness on his sister's face.
He well knew that she had sacrificed herself to come to a country which
did not appeal to her; where she had to meet people whom she considered
far beneath her, and she had done it all to help him get well. Instantly
the boy decided that he would make Jane's comfort his first care, that
her stay with him might be as pleasant as possible, and so he called
back: "After a time, Gerald. Come on; I'm going to unlock the door. Don't
you want to see what's on the inside of our cabin?"

"Oh, boy, don't I, though!" Gerry, closely followed by Julie, raced back
to the wide front porch, which was made of logs. Dan took from his
satchel a very large key and holding it up, he called merrily, "The key
to health and happiness."

"You left out something," Gerry prompted. "It's health, wealth and
happiness. Maybe we'll find that lost mine, who knows?"

Dan merely laughed at that. "Now," he said, as he put the key in the
lock, "what do you suppose we'll find on the other side of this door?"

What they saw delighted the hearts of three of the young people. A large
log cabin room with a long window on either side of the door. At the back
was a crude fireplace made of rocks. There was no window on that side of
the room, as a wall of the mountain came so close to the cabin that there
would have been no view.

The rafters were logs with the bark still on, and the furniture had been
made of saplings. There were leather cushions in the chairs, but the
thing that made Gerald caper about, mad with joy, was a bearskin on one
of the walls.

"Oh, look-it, will you, Dan? What kind of a bear is it? Do you think it
is a grizzly, and do you s'pose it's that one Dad said came right down
here to our ledge? Do you, Dan?"

The older boy looked at the rather small bearskin and shook his head.

"No, it isn't a grizzly," he said. "I think it is the skin of a black
bear. But here is another on the floor in front of the fireplace. That's
Dad's bear, I remember now. This old fellow was the grizzly who was
unfortunate enough to come down here to try to help himself to Dad's
supplies."

Jane had dropped wearily into a big chair that really was comfortable
with its leather-covered cushions, and Dan, noting how tired she was,
exclaimed:

"Jane, I'll unlock the packing trunk and get out some of the bedding, and
if you wish, you may lie down for a while. Dad said there were two good
beds here and several cots."

Gerald and Julie had darted through a door at one side and, reappearing,
they beckoned to their big brother.

"We've found one of 'em," the younger lad announced. "It's in a dandee
room! I bet you Jane will choose it for hers."

Then Julie chimed in with: "Jane, please come and see it."

The older girl, who was feeling terribly sorry for herself, rose
languidly and went with the small sister. The boys followed.

"Why, what a nice room this is!" Dan, truly pleased, remarked. Then
anxiously, and in his voice there was a note that was almost imploring,
he asked: "Jane, dear, don't you think you can be comfortable in here?"

The girl's heart was touched by the tone more than the words, and she
turned away that she might not show how near, how very near, she had been
to crying out her unhappiness. It was hardship to her to be in a log
cabin where there were none of the luxuries and conveniences to which she
had been used. She smiled at her brother, but he saw her lips tremble. He
was tempted to tell her to go back to civilization, since it was all
going to be so hard for her, but something prompted him to wait one week.
Inwardly he resolved: "If Jane is not happy here by one week from today,
I am going to insist that she return to Newport and to the friend Merry
for whom she cares so much."

But Jane, too, had been making a resolve, and so when she spoke her voice
sounded more cheerful.

"It is a nice room," she said. "That wide window has a wonderful view of
the mountains and the valley." It was hard to keep from adding, "If
anyone cares for such a view, which I do not."

But instead she looked up at the rafters. "What are those great bundles
that are hanging up there?" she inquired.

Dan laughed. "Why, those bundles, Dad said, contain the mattress and
bedding which he and mother stored away. They are wrapped in canvas and
so he expected that we would find them in good condition."

"But how are we to get them?" Julie wanted to know.

Gerald's quick eyes found the answer to that.

"Look-it!" he cried, pointing. "There's a ladder nailed right against the
back wall. I'll skin up that in two jiffs. Give me your knife, Dan. I'll
cut the ropes."

The boy was soon sliding along a rafter. "Out of the way down below
there!" he shouted the warning. "Here they come!"

There was a soft thud, followed by another as the two great bundles fell
to the floor. An excellent mattress was in one of them and clean warm
blankets in the other.

"Now, I'll get the sheets from the packing trunk and a pillow case, and
in less than no time at all we'll have a fine bed in our lady's chamber."

Dan led Jane to another large comfortable though rustic chair as he said:

"The rest of us are going to pretend that you are a princess today and we
are going to wait upon you. By tomorrow, when you have had a long sleep,
perhaps you will want to be a mountain girl."

Again there was the yearning note in his voice. How he hoped that Jane
would want to stay, but a week would tell.

Jane was quite willing to pretend that she was a princess and be waited
upon, and so half an hour later, when the bed in her room was made, she
consented to lie down and try to make up the many hours of sleep that she
had lost on the train. Hardly had her head touched the pillow before she
was sound asleep. Two of her windows, that swung inward, were wide open
and a soft mountain breeze wafted to her the scent of the pines. Even
though she was not conscious of it, the peace of the mountains was
quieting her restless soul. She had supposed that, as soon as she were
alone, she would sob out her unhappiness, but her weariness had been too
great, and not a tear had been shed.

Julie reported that Jane had gone right to sleep and Dan's face
brightened. Surely his sister-pal would feel better when she awakened and
how could she help loving it all, so high up on their wonderful mountain.

The younger children had gone on another trip of exploration, and soon
burst back into the big living-room with the information that on the
other side of the cabin there were two smaller bedrooms and a real
kitchen.

Dan held up a warning hand and framed the word "quiet" with his lips, and
so the excited children took his hands and dragged him from the deep easy
chair where he had sought to rest for a moment and showed him what lay
behind the two doors on the other side of the cabin. "Aren't these little
bedrooms the cunningest?" Julie whispered. "See the front one has a bed
in it like Jane's and the other has the cot. But there are three of us,
so what shall we do?" Julie's brown eyes were suddenly serious and
inquiring.

"That's easy!" Dan told her. "Dad said there were several cots. See,
there they are, hanging up on the rafters. I shall take one of those and
put it out on the wide front porch. That's where I want to sleep. I don't
want to be shut in by walls. And Julie may have this pretty front room
with the bed and Gerald the other. Now, let's get them made up, just as
quietly as we can. Then we will unpack the supplies that you got from the
store, Julie, and prepare a noon meal."

The cots were untied from the rafters and one was placed on the porch in
the position chosen by Dan, then the bedding was put on all of them and
it was 11 o'clock and the sun was riding hot and high above the mountain
when Julie, suddenly becoming demure, announced that she wanted Dan to go
to sleep also, and that she and Gerald would get the lunch.

The older boy did not require much urging and when he saw the eager light
in the eyes of the little girl, who had in the beginning supposed that
she alone was to be the one to take care of him, he decided to do as she
wished. Julie had had six months' training with her grandmother, who
believed that a girl could not begin too young to learn how to cook, and
she had often boasted that she had a very apt pupil.

He soon heard the children whispering and laughing happily at the back of
the cabin, then a door was closed softly and the lad heard only the
soughing in the pine trees close to the porch and the humming of the
winged insects far and near. Then he, too, fell into a much needed
slumber.



                             CHAPTER XIII.
                            TWO LITTLE COOKS


The kitchen of the log cabin had one window and a door which opened out
into what Gerry called the "back-yard part of their ledge." It was only
about fifty feet to the very edge, and Gerry crept on hands and knees to
look over, that he might see where their "back-yard went." He lifted a
face filled with awe and beckoned his sister to advance with caution.
Lying flat, the two children gazed over the rim of the ledge, straight
down a wall of rock, far below which the road could be seen curving.
"Ohee!" Julie drew back with a shudder. "What if our cabin should slide
right off this shelf that it's built on?"

"It can't, if it wants to," the boy told her confidently. "We're safe
here as anything. That's two ways a bear can't come," he continued; "but
on the other side, where the creek is, and in front, where the stone
steps are, I suppose the bear came in one of those two ways."

The small girl looked frightened. "Oh, Gerry," she said, "what if a bear
should come again? What would we do?"

"Why, Dan would shoot it, just the way Dad did," the boy replied with
great assurance. His big brother was his hero, and that he could not
perform any feat required was not to be thought of for one moment.

"But Dan hasn't a gun, has he?" Julie was not yet convinced.

"Indeed he has, silly. Do you s'pose Dad would let us come into this wild
country without guns? Dan has two in his trunk. One's a big fellow! Dad
let me hold it once, and, Oh, boy, I'm telling you it's a heavy one. I
most had to drop it, and I've got bully muscle. Look at what muscle I've
got!"

Gerry crooked his bare arm, but his sister turned away impatiently,
saying: "Oh, I don't want to! You make me feel what muscle you've got
most every day."

Julie returned to the kitchen, but Gerry followed, and, if he were
offended by her lack of interest in his brawniness, he did not show it.
He was far too interested in the subject under discussion. "That big gun
I was telling you about is the very one Dad used when he shot the
grizzly, and if it shot one bear, then of course it can shoot another
bear."

The little girl was convinced. That seemed clear reasoning, but she
interrupted when the boy began again, by saying: "Gerald Abbott, do stop
telling bear stories, and help me clean up this kitchen. Jane won't be
any more use than nothing and we might as well do things and pretend she
isn't here, the way I wish she wasn't."

"I sort of wish she hadn't come, myself," Gerry confessed. "Now, let's
see. Here's a cupboard all nailed up. I guess I can pull out the nails,
but first I'd better make a fire in this old stove. I'll have to fetch in
some wood."

"No, you won't! Not just at first. There's a box full behind the stove.
Big, knotty pieces; pine, I suppose; but maybe we do need some kindling.
Then bring me some water from the creek and I'll wash up everything. Dad
said we'd find some dishes in the cupboard, if they hadn't been stolen."

"Gee, I hope they haven't!" The boy, who was as handy about a home as was
his small sister, soon had a fire in the stove, and then, having found a
pail, he went to the creek, stealing around past the front porch and
under his sister's window as quietly as he possibly could. Although dry
twigs creaked and snapped, the two sleepers did not waken.

Such fun as those youngsters had putting the kitchen in order. In the
cupboard they found all of the dishes which their father had mentioned.
Although the china was coarse, the green fern pattern was attractive.
Gerald, standing on a chair, handed it out, piece by piece, to the small
girl, who put them in hot, sudsy water and then dried them till they
shone. Gerald, meantime, was washing the shelves. Then they replaced the
dishes and stood back to admire their handiwork.

"Oh, aren't we having fun?" Julie chuckled. "Now, we're all ready to get
the lunch."

It was one o'clock when Julie went to waken Jane, and Gerald, at the same
time, went out on the porch where Dan had been sleeping, but the older
boy was sitting up on the edge of his cot drinking in the beauty of the
scene which, to him, was an ever-changing marvel. He sprang up,
wonderfully refreshed, and going to the packing trunk, he procured a
towel.

"Hello, Jane," he called brightly to the tall girl, who appeared in the
open door. Then he gave a long whistle. "Sister," he exclaimed, love and
admiration ringing in his voice, "I hope that Jean Sawyer, who is coming
to dine with us day after tomorrow, has a heart of adamant. I pity him if
he hasn't! I honestly never saw anyone so beautiful as you are, with the
flush of slumber on your cheeks and your eyes so bright."

Jane came out smiling. This was the sort of adulation she desired and
required, but her brother felt a twinge of guilt, for, even as he had
been talking, he had seen in memory a slender, alert little creature with
eyes, star-like in their dusky radiance, gazing out at him from under
dark, curling lashes.

But they were so unlike, these two, he told himself. The one proud,
imperious, ultra-civilized; the other, a wild thing, untamed, or so she
had appeared to him in that one moment's glance, a native of the
mountains.

"Where are you going with that towel?" Jane asked him.

The lad laughingly dived again into the packing trunk and brought out
another. "Let's go to the creek to wash," he suggested. "I haven't even
seen it yet, and I'm ever so eager to feel that cold mountain water dash
into my face." Then in a low tone he whispered close to his sister's ear,
"The children have a surprise for us, Jane, and so let's be very much
surprised and not disappoint them."

Jane shrugged. To her, children and their ways had to be endured, but she
took no interest in what they did or did not do. However, she accompanied
her brother around the house.

She glanced at him with a sense of satisfaction, which was, as usual,
prompted by selfishness. If Dan seemed so much better in one day, he
might be so well by the end of a fortnight that she would not need to
remain with him. If she were sure that all was to be well with him, she
would return to Merry. The lad, not dreaming what her thoughts were,
caught her hand boyishly. "Oh, Jane," he cried as he pointed ahead, "can
you believe it, Sister-pal, that is our very own mountain stream! Isn't
it a beauty?"

The sunlight, falling between the pines, lighted the narrow, rushing,
whirling little mountain brook, which sparkled and seemed to sing for the
very joy of being. Standing on its edge, Dan looked up the mountain along
the course the brook had come. "See," he cried jubilantly, "wherever the
sunlight filters through, it gleams as though it were laughing. Dad said
that it springs out just below the rim rock. Oh, I do hope by next week I
will be able to climb up that high."

Jane's glance followed her brother's up the rough, rocky mountain side
and she shook her head. "I'll never attempt it," she decided, but Dan
whirled, laughing defiance. "I'm going to prophesy that you'll climb the
rim rock before a fortnight is over."

Then kneeling, he splashed the clear, cold water in his face and reached
for the towel that Jane held. Then he implored her to do the same. With
great reluctance she complied, and so cool and restful did she find it,
that she actually smiled, almost with pleasure.

But Dan had the misfortune to say the wrong thing just then. "I suppose
this brook, or one like it, is all the mirror that the mountain girl, Meg
Heger, has ever had," he began, when he sensed a chill in his sister's
reply.

"I certainly do not know, nor do I care." Then she added, as an
afterthought, "And I shall never find out."



                              CHAPTER XIV.
                              FRETFUL JANE


Luckily Dan had succeeded in changing his sister's thought before they
returned to the cabin, and he vowed inwardly that he would never again
mention Meg Heger, since Jane had taken such a strange dislike to her.
How one could dislike a girl one had barely seen was beyond his
comprehension, but girls were hard to understand, all except Julie. She
was just a wholesome, helpful little maid with a pug-nose that was always
freckled.

"Now for the surprise!" Dan said as they neared the cabin.

"Well, I certainly hope it is something to eat," Jane began, with little
interest, but when the two children threw open the front door and she saw
the table in the living-room close to the wide window with four places
set, she delighted the little workers by announcing that it was the best
sight she had beheld that day. Then, when Jane and Dan were seated, Julie
and Gerry skipped to the kitchen and returned with as tempting a lunch as
even Jane could have wished for. There was creamed tuna on toast and jam
and a heaping plate of lettuce sandwiches and two of the Rockyford melons
for which Colorado is famous. Then there was for each a glass of creamy
milk.

"Great!" Dan exclaimed. "I didn't know we were going to be able to get
milk."

Julie nodded eagerly. "It comes from the Packard ranch, fresh to the inn
every day, and Mrs. Bently said she would send us two quarts every time
the stage comes up our road, which usually is three times a week. We can
keep it cool as anything in the creek. Mrs. Bently told us how."

"After lunch can we get out the guns, Dan?" Gerald asked when he had
hungrily gulped down a sandwich.

"Why, I guess so," the older boy laughed good naturedly. "You aren't
expecting a bear to find out this soon, are you, that we have some
supplies that he might wish to devour?"

Julie looked anxiously toward the open door of the cabin. "Don't you
think maybe we'd better keep that door closed when we're eating?" she
asked anxiously. "You know Dad said he and mother were sitting right here
where we are, maybe, one morning at breakfast, when mother looked up and
there was an old grizzly standing in the open door. He had been around to
the kitchen and had eaten up all the supplies he could find and he was
hunting for more."

Gerald chimed in with: "It was lucky Dad kept his big gun always standing
in the corner. I suppose it was right there, near you, Dan, so he could
just grab it and shoot."

The children were watching the door as though they expected at any minute
that another grizzly might appear. Dan laughed at them. "We might as well
have stayed at home if we are going to stay in the cabin and keep the
door closed," he told them. "I'm going to suggest that we put the table
on that nice porch just outside of the kitchen. That will make an ideal
outdoor dining-room, with a big pine tree back of it to shelter us from
the sun. It will be handy to the kitchen, and, what is more, a bear
simply could not scale up that wall beyond the ledge." Then, very
seriously, the older brother addressed the younger two. "Julie, I don't
want you or Gerald to go close to that cliff. It's too dangerous."

Honest Gerald blurted in with, "We did go once, Dan. We squirmed out on
our tummies till we could look 'way down, and I tell you it made us
dizzy. We won't ever want to do it again."

After lunch the children announced that they would do up the dishes if
Dan would give them a lesson in shooting the big gun when they were
through. "Well," the older boy smilingly conceded, "I'll try to teach you
to handle the smaller gun; yes, both of you," he assured Julie, who was
making an effort to attract his attention by motions behind Jane's back.
"You really ought to both know how to use it. You might need to know how
some time to protect yourselves."

"What shall you do, Jane, while we are learning to shoot?" Julie inquired
when the kitchen had again been tidied and the children were ready for
their very first lesson with the small gun.

"Maybe Jane'll want to learn too," Gerald suggested, but the older girl
declared that she simply could not and would not touch one of the
dreadful things.

"Won't you come with us and watch the fun?" Dan lingered, when the two
active youngsters had bounded out of the cabin. But the girl shook her
head. "It wouldn't be fun to me," she said fretfully. "I'd much rather be
left all alone. I want to write a long letter to Merry. She will be eager
to hear from me, just as I am from her." There was a self-pitying tone in
the girl's voice and a slight quiver to her lips. She turned hastily into
her room and closed the door. She did not want Dan to see the tears. The
lad went out on the wide front porch and stood for a moment with folded
arms, his gray eyes gazing across the sun-shimmered valley, but he was
not conscious of the grandeur of the scene. He was regretting, deeply
regretting that he had permitted his sister to come to a country so
distasteful to her. He well knew that she had shut herself in her room to
sob out her grief and disappointment and then perhaps to write it all to
this friend of whom she so often spoke and whom she seemed to love so
dearly.

Once Dan turned toward the door as though to return to the cabin. His
impulse was to go to Jane and tell her not to unpack. The stage would be
passing there again on the following day, and, if she wished she could go
back to the East. In fact, the lad almost believed that if Jane went, it
might hasten his recovery. Her evident unhappiness was causing him to
worry, and that was most detrimental. With a deep sigh of resignation, he
did turn toward the open door, bent on carrying out his resolve, but a
cry of alarm from Julie sent him running around the cabin and up toward
the brook.

He met the children, white-faced, big-eyed, hurrying toward him, Gerald
carrying the small gun.

"What is it, Gerry? What have you seen to frighten you?" He looked about
as he spoke, but saw nothing but the jagged mountain side, the rushing,
whirling brook and the peaceful old pines.

But it was quite evident by the expressions of the two children that they
at least thought they had seen something of a dangerous nature. Gerald
pointed toward a clump of low-growing pines on the other side of the
brook as he said in a tense, half-whispered voice: "Whatever 'twas, Dan,
it's hiding in there." Then he explained: "Julie and I were crossing the
water on those big stones when, snap, something went. I whirled to look.
Honest, I expected to see a grizzly, but there wasn't anything at all in
sight. Julie and I stood just as still as we could; we didn't even make a
sound! Then we saw those bushy trees moving, though there wasn't a bit of
wind, so we know whatever 'tis, it's in there."

While the small boy had been talking, Dan had been loading the gun.
"You'd better let me go alone," he said to the children, but their
disappointed expressions caused him to add: "At least let me go ahead,
and if I think best for you to come, I'll beckon."

Dan crossed the brook on the big stones and went toward the clump of
small stubby pines. Then he stood still, watching the dense low trees
intently. His heart beat rapidly, not from fear, for he almost hoped that
it might be a grizzly, and yet, would it not be unwise to shoot at it
with a small gun? It might infuriate a huge beast, and so endanger all of
their lives. But, although he waited, watching and listening for many
minutes, no sound was heard. He began to believe that the children had
imagined the stealthy noise they thought they had heard, for, after all,
they had not really seen anything, and so he beckoned them to join him.
They leaped across the brook and were quickly at his side.

"Wasn't it a bear, or a wildcat, or anything?" Gerald asked eagerly. Dan
shook his head, as he replied with a laugh: "Don't be too disappointed,
youngsters, even if you don't see everything on the first day. This time
it was just a false alarm."

But Dan was mistaken, for, from a safe hiding place, the old Indian,
Slinking Coyote, was watching their every move.

"Why don't we shoot into that pine brush anyway?" Julie suggested. "We
might scare out whatever is hiding there." But Dan didn't wish to do
this. He felt that it would be safer to have the larger gun with him
before he started beating up hidden wild creatures of any kind.

"Come along, youngsters, let's get back on the home-side of our brook and
set up a target," the older boy suggested as he crossed the brook,
followed by the children.

In their door-yard Dan paused and looked about meditatively. "I want to
set up a target near enough to be within call, and yet far enough away to
keep from disturbing Jane too much with our racket."

"Oh, I know!" Gerald cried. "Over there, just above where the road bends!
That'll be a dandee place. Won't it, Dan?"

The older boy smiled his agreement. "I do believe it will do as well as
any place." They went toward the spot indicated and Dan continued:
"Suppose we choose a cone on that lowest pine branch. If a bullet hits
it, the cone will surely fall. Now, Gerald, just to be polite, shall we
let Julie try first?"

The boy nodded, his eyes shining with eagerness. "Sure! How many tries do
we each get? Three?"

"Any number you wish is all right with me." Then Dan placed the small gun
in the position that Julie was to hold it, showed her how to look along
the barrel, and how to take aim.

"Hold it steady! One, two, three, go!" But no report was heard.

"What's the matter, chick-a-biddie?" Dan was surprised to see how white
the small girl's face had become, and to note that her arm was shaking so
that she could hardly hold the gun. "I'm scared," she confessed. "I don't
know why, but I am, Dan." She dropped the gun and ran to his arms. Then
she smiled up through her tears. "I guess I'm afraid to hear the noise."

"Pooh, pooh! That's just like a girl," said Gerry almost scornfully.
"Anyhow, you don't need to learn to shoot. Dan or I'll always be around
to protect you'n Jane. Can I have a try now, Dan? Can I?"

The older lad turned to the small girl. "Suppose we let Gerald practice
today, and later, when you feel that you would like to try again, you may
do so?"

This plan seemed quite satisfactory to Julie, who seated herself upon a
rock which overhung the curving mountain road, and was about twenty feet
above it. Gerald, instead of dreading the noise that the small gun would
make, was eager to hear it, and after repeated trials, he managed to
dislodge the brown cone. "Hurray! I did it! Bully for me! I'm a marksman
now! Isn't that what I am, Dan? Now I'll pick out another one, and I bet
you I'll hit it first shot."

Julie, having wearied of the constant report of the small gun, had
wandered away in search of wild flowers. The boys saw her running toward
them, beckoning excitedly. "Dan," she said in a low voice, "Come on over
here and look down at the road. The queerest man seems to be hiding. I
was so far up above him, he didn't see me. He's hiding back of some rocks
watching the road. Who do you suppose he is?"

Dan looked troubled. He thought at once that it might be the old Ute
Indian who had not gone with his tribe when they went in search of better
hunting grounds, nor was he wrong. Very quietly, the three went to the
rim of their ledge. About twenty feet below they beheld a most uncouth
creature crouching behind a big boulder. Evidently he was intently
watching the road as it wound up from Redfords. His cap was of black fur
with a bushy tail hanging down at the back. They could not see his face
as they were above him. Julie clung fearfully to her brother. "Oh, Dan,"
she whispered. "What do you suppose he's watching for?"

Before Dan could decide what he ought to do, a pounding of horse's feet
was heard just below the bend, and a wiry brown pony leaped into view.
The old Indian sprang from his hiding place so suddenly that the small
horse reared, but the rider, her dark face flushed, her wonderful eyes
flashing angrily, cried: "What did I tell you last time you stopped me?
Didn't I say I'd shoot? You know I pack a gun, and I _never_ miss. I
can't give you any more money. I'm saving all I can to go away to school.
I've told you that before, and if you _are_ my father, as you're always
telling me that you are, you'd ought to be glad if I'm going to have a
chance."

The old Indian whined something, which Dan could not hear. Impatiently
the girl took from her pocket a coin and tossed it to him. "I don't
believe you're hungry. You don't need to be, with squirrels as thick as
they are. You'll spend all I give you on fire-water, if you can get it."

Already the old Indian, evidently satisfied with what he had received,
had started shambling down the road in the direction of the town, but the
girl turned in the saddle to call after him: "Mind you, that's the last
time I'll give you money. I don't believe that you are my father, and
neither does Mammy Heger."

She might have been talking to the wind for all the attention the old
Indian paid. His pace had increased as the descent became steeper.

Dan felt guilty because he had overheard a conversation not meant for his
ears, and he drew the children away toward the cabin, and so heard,
rather than saw, the girl's rapid flight up the road.

The chivalry of the ages stirred in his heart. "It's a wicked shame that
she hasn't a brother to protect her," he thought. "A young girl ought not
to be tormented by such a coward. Slinking Coyote, that's what he is.
Blackmailing, it would be called in civilized countries." Dan's
indignation increased as he recalled how wonderfully beautiful the girl
had looked when her dark eyes had flashed in anger. "I'd be far more
inclined to think her a daughter of noble birth."

His thoughts were interrupted by Julie, who, believing that they were a
safe distance from the road, asked anxiously, "Who was the awful looking
man, Dan? Will he hurt us?"

The same question had presented itself to Dan, but he made himself say
lightly, "Oh, no! That old Indian isn't at all interested in us. He
evidently is just a beggar. He was asking the mountain girl for money and
she gave it to him." Then, as an afterthought, he cautioned, "Don't
mention having seen him to Jane, will you, children?"

Willingly they agreed. They were indeed pleased to share a secret with
their big brother.

Julie chattered on, "Dan, I'd like to go up and see that nice girl. Do
you think she'd let me ride on her pony? May Gerald and I go up there
tomorrow?"

Dan forced himself to smile. He did not want either of his companions to
know that he was troubled. "Yes, we'll go up there tomorrow. I would like
to meet the trapper who is, I believe, the father of that little
horsewoman." But even as he spoke Dan recalled that the slinking Indian
had insisted that he was her father, and that the girl did not believe
it.

When he reached the cabin, Jane was still shut in her room. The children
declared that they were hungry as wolves and that they would get the
evening meal, and so the older lad seated himself on the edge of the
front porch to think over all that he had seen and heard, and decide what
it would be best for him to do. Perhaps, after all, he had been unwise to
bring either of the girls to a place so wild. Perhaps he ought to send
them both home. He and Gerald could protect themselves if there were to
be trouble of any kind. He decided that the very next day, as soon as the
mountain girl had gone to the Redfords school, he would climb up the road
to the cabin, which he believed was just about a mile above them. Then he
could discover from the trapper if any real danger might lurk on the
mountain for the two Eastern girls.



                              CHAPTER XV.
                               MEG HEGER


To the surprise of the young people, almost as soon as the sun had set,
night descended upon them. Dan had helped the children clean the lamps
and lanterns. Their grandmother, at their father's prompting, had
remembered to put kerosene on their list and also candles.

Jane chose one of the latter to light her to bed. She simply detested
kerosene lamps, she declared when Dan had asked if she didn't want to sit
up with them a little while and read some of the books their father and
mother had left in the cabin. "No, thank you!" had been the emphatic
refusal. "The nights here are bitterly cold. In bed at least I can keep
warm."

"Gee-whiliker," Gerald said when the girl to whom everything seemed
distasteful had retired. "Ain't she a wet blanket?"

Before Dan could rebuke him for criticizing his elders, Julie burst in
with, "Why, Gerry Abbott, didn't you promise Dad you wouldn't ever say
ain't, and there you said it."

The boy squirmed uncomfortably. "It's an awful long time since I said it
before," he tried to excuse himself. "I bet you I won't do it again. You
see if I do."

Dan was looking at the empty hearth. "We should have cut some wood and
had a roaring fire tonight. Let's do it tomorrow and make it more
cheerful for Jane, if----" He paused as though he had said more than he
had intended, but his alert companions would not let a sentence go
unfinished.

"If what, Dan?" Julie asked curiously.

The boy was not yet ready to tell, even these two, that he might think it
best to start Jane and Julie on their homeward way the next day. He knew
that the older girl would be overjoyed, but the younger would be so
disappointed that it seemed almost a cruel thing to contemplate. "I'll
tell you tomorrow noon," he compromised, when he saw both pairs of eyes
watching him as though awaiting his answer.

In a very short time the children were nodding sleepily and Dan was glad
when Julie took a candle and Gerry a lantern and bade him good-night.

"We're going to get up to see the sunrise," Julie said.

"If you wake up," Dan laughingly told them. Then, putting out the
remaining lights, he, too, retired to his cot on the porch. He placed his
loaded gun in the corner, back of him, where it could not be reached by
anyone else without awakening him.

For long hours he lay with wide eyes watching the sky, which seemed to be
a canopy close above him, brilliant with stars. A slight wind kept the
mosquitos away and, as it rustled through the pine boughs that were so
near, a sense of peace stole into his heart--his fears were banished and
he seemed to know that all was well.

It was long after sunrise when he wakened and no one else was astir in
the cabin. Very quietly he arose and dressed. Then he went to the
kitchen, and a fragrance of coffee was what finally awakened the two
children. They bounded from bed, ashamed of their laziness, and when they
joined their big brother he had a good breakfast spread on the table in
their out-of-door dining-room.

"Julie, will you see if Jane is awake?" the older lad asked, and the
small girl cautiously opened the door into her sister's room. Then she
entered and went to the bedside. "You've got one of your dreadful
headaches, haven't you, Janey?" The younger girl was all compassion. She
knew well how Jane suffered when these infrequent headaches came. What
she did not know was that they always followed a spell of anger or of
worry. "I'll draw the curtains over this window so the sun can't come in
and I'll fetch you your breakfast."

Julie liked nothing better than to be mothering someone, but Jane showed
no sign of appreciation. Her only comment was, "Have the coffee hot."

Dan was sorry to hear that Jane had neuralgia, and, from past experience,
he knew that she would be unable to travel that afternoon, and so she
would be obliged to wait until the following Tuesday, when the stage
would again pass that way. He felt elated at the thought, but first he
must find out if it were safe for the girls to remain. Directly after
breakfast he drew Gerald aside and asked him if he would stay at the
cabin while he (Dan) went up the mountain road to interview the trapper.
Although the small boy would much rather have accompanied Dan, he always
wanted to do his share, and so he consented to remain.

Dan waited until he was sure that Meg Heger had passed on her way to the
Redfords school before he began the ascent of the mountain road. He could
not have explained to himself why he did not want to meet the girl. It
might have been a feeling that he had lacked in chivalry on the day
before, when he had listened to the conversation in which she had
probably revealed a secret which she would not wish strangers to share.
He sauntered along by the brook, his gun over his shoulder, stopping
every few feet to examine some rock or growth or just to gaze out over
the valley, seeing new pictures at each changed position.

It was a glorious morning, but with the invigorating chill yet in the
air. He breathed deeply and walked with shoulders thrown back. Birds sang
to him, squirrels in the pine boughs over his head, or scurrying among
the dry soft carpet of needles, chattered at him; some were curious, many
were scolding, but he laughingly told them that he was a comrade. He
stopped on a level with one protesting bushy-tailed fellow to say, "Mr.
Bright-Eyes, I wouldn't harm you, not for anything! This gun is merely to
be used on something that would harm me, if it got the chance first. I
don't believe in taking life from a little wild creature that enjoys
living just as much as I do." Then, as he continued his walk, he thought,
"I must tell Gerry not to kill any harmless creature unless we need it
for food."

Coming to a sudden sharp descent of about fifteen feet, he saw that the
brook became a waterfall and just below it was a large pool which would
make an excellent swimming hole. The water was as clear as crystal and
was held in a smooth, red rock basin. After standing for some time,
watching the joyous waterfall on which broken sunlight flashed, the lad
glanced at his watch. It was after nine and so he could safely take to
the road without fear of encountering the mountain girl. She was surely,
by now, reciting to that kindly old man, Teacher Bellows. After another
downward scramble, the road was reached. The ascent was gradual and Dan's
thoughts wandered on without his conscious direction. He wondered how
that mountain girl had happened to have a thirst for knowledge. That, in
itself, proved to him that the old Ute was not her father, but, if he
were not, why did he pretend that he was? What could be his reason? To
obtain what money he could by making her think it her duty to help care
for him. Dan had just decided this to be the most plausible explanation
of the whole thing, when he was greatly startled by hearing the sudden
report of a gun from the high rocks at his right. He looked up and beheld
the girl about whom he had been thinking, every muscle tense, a smoking
gun still against her shoulder. It was pointed at the bushes directly at
his left. "Don't you move!" she shouted the warning. "Maybe I didn't kill
it."

Dan whirled toward the rocks and low-growing bushes at his left and what
he saw reassured him. A mountain lion lay there, evidently dead, its
position showing that it had been just about to spring upon him. He
turned to thank the girl, but she had disappeared. She, too, had
evidently been convinced that the animal was dead. On examining it
closer, the boy saw that the bullet had entered the creature's head at a
most vulnerable spot, and being thus assured that it was not playing
possum, he went on his way.

Already Meg Heger had won a right to his chivalry. She had saved his
life. How he wished that in turn he might do something to save her from
her tormentor.



                              CHAPTER XVI.
                          THE TRAPPER'S CABIN


Dan felt a glow of pleasure as he neared the log cabin which nestled
against the mountain, sheltered by rock walls on the side from which the
worst storms always came.

Eagerly he looked ahead, hoping that he would see the girl. He wanted to
thank her for having saved his life, but no one was in sight.

It was a pleasant, home-like place, with chickens clucking cheerfully in
a large, wired-in yard. Goats climbed among the rocks at the back, and a
washing fluttered on a line at one side, while, to the boy's delight,
masses of wild flowers, showing evidence of loving care, carpeted the
earth-filled stretches between boulders, and some of them that trailed
along the ground hung over the cliff in vivid bloom. It was Meg's garden,
he knew, without being told.

He rapped on the closed front door, but a voice from outside called to
him. "Whoever 'tis, come around here. I'm washin'."

Dan did as he was told and saw a thin, angular woman, who stood up very
straight and looked at him out of keen blue eyes, as she wiped her sudsy
hands on her gingham apron. Then she brushed back her graying locks.

Her smile was a friendly one. "You're Dan Abbott's son, ain't you?" she
began at once. "Hank Wallace, him as drives the stage, stopped in for
dinner to our place yesterday and he told us all about having fetched you
up. Pa and I knew your pa, and your ma, too, years back, afore any of you
children was living, and long afore I had Meg." The woman nodded toward
the wooded mountain beyond. "Meg's out studyin' some fandangled thing she
calls bot'ny." Then she waved a bony hand toward the glowing gardens.
"Them's what she calls her specimens. Queer things they get to larnin' in
schools nowadays. I didn't have much iddication. None at all is more like
the real of it. But pa, he went summers for a spell, and learned readin',
writin' and 'rithmetic. All a person needs to know in these mountains;
but Meg, now, she's been goin' ever since she could talk, seems like.
Notion Pa Heger took. He got talked into doin' it by Preacher Bellows."
Then, before saying more, the woman cautiously scanned the woods and the
road. Feeling sure that there was no one near enough to hear her, she
confided: "You see, we ain't dead sure who Meg is. She was about three
when one of the Ute squaw women fetched her, all done up in one of them
bright-colored blankets they make. It was a terrible stormy night.
There'd been a cloudburst, and the thunder made this old mountain shake
for true. Pa Heger said he heard someone at the door, and I said 'twas
the wind. He said he knew better, and he went to see. There stood a Ute
squaw, and she grunted something and held out the blanket bundle. Pa took
it, bein' as he heard a cry inside of it. That squaw didn't stop. She
shuffled away and Pa shut the door quick to keep the storm out.

"'Well, Ma,' he says, turning to me, 'what d' s'pose we've got here?'

"'Some Indian papoose,' I reckoned 'twas.

"'Well, if 'tis,' said he, 'I can't throw it out into this awful storm.
We'll have to keep it till it clears, an' then I'll pack it back to the
Utes.'

"They was over at the Crazy Creek camp then, but when that storm let up,
and Pa did go over, there wa'n't a hide or hair left of that Ute tribe.
They'd gone to better huntin' grounds, the way they allays do, and we've
never seen 'em since. None of 'em 'cept ol' Slinkin' Coyote. It's queer
the way he sticks to it that he's Meg's pa, but my man won't listen to
it. Gets mad as anythin' if I as much as say maybe it's true. He'll rave,
Pa will, an' say: 'Look at our Meg! Does she look like a young 'un of
that skulkin' old wildcat?' Pa says, an' I have to agree she don't. But
he pesters her, askin' for money. That is, he used to afore Pa Heger set
the law on him. Pa has a paper from the sheriff, givin' him the right to
arrest that ol' Ute if he ever sets eyes on him.

"But I declare to it! Here comes Pa Heger himself. He'll be glad to meet
you, bein' as he knew your pa so well."

The lad turned eagerly. He was always glad to meet someone who had known
his father in the long ago years, when he had come West, just after
leaving college, hoping to win a fortune.

Then, as the boy waited for the man to come up, he wondered why Meg did
not return. Didn't she care to make his acquaintance?

"Pa Heger," as he liked to be called, was a pleasant-faced man whose
deeply wrinkled, leathery countenance showed at once that he had
weathered wind and storm through many a long year in the mountains.

As Ma Heger had done, he seemed to know intuitively who the visitor was.
But before he could speak, his talkative spouse began:

"Pa, ain't this boy the splittin' image of Danny Abbott, him as used to
come over to set by our fire and hear you spin them trappin' yarns o'
yourn? That was afore he went away an' got married. 'Arter that he wa'n't
alone when he come climbin' up the mountain, but along of him was the
sweetest purtiest little creature I'd ever sot my eyes on. The two of 'em
were a fine lookin' pair."

Dan shook hands with the silent man, who showed his pleasure more with
his smiling eyes than with words. He was quite willing to let his wife do
most of the talking. The lad was pleased with the praise given his father
and mother, when they were young, and he at once told Mrs. Heger that his
sister Jane, who was with him, very closely resembled that bride of long
ago.

"Wall, now," the good woman exclaimed, "how I'd like to see the gal.
She'n my Meg ought to get on fine, if she's anyhow as friendly as her ma
was. Mis' Abbott used to come right out to my kitchen. She'd been goin'
to some fandangly cookin' school, the while she was gettin' ready to be
married, and she larned me a lot of things to make kitchen work easier.
I'm doin' some of 'em yet, and thinkin' of her often."

Dan did not comment on the possibility of his proud sister becoming an
intimate friend of the mountain girl, but, for himself, he found that he
very much wanted to know more about their adopted daughter.

"Mr. Heger," he turned to the man, who stood shyly twirling his fur cap,
"your daughter has just saved my life."

His listeners both looked very much surprised.

"Why, how come that?" Mrs. Heger inquired. "You didn't say as how you'd
seen Meg, all the time I was talkin' about her."

Dan might have replied that he had not had an opportunity to say much of
anything. But to an interested audience he related the recent occurrence.

"Pshaw, that's queer now!" Pa Heger scratched his gray head back of one
ear, which Dan was to learn was a habit with him when he was puzzled.

"You say the mountain lion was crouched to spring at you? Then it must o'
been that she had some young near. They're cowards when it comes to
humans, them lions are. They kill sheep an' calves an' deer, an' all the
little wild critters, but they don't often attack a man. They'll trail
'em for hours, curious, sort of, I reckon, keepin' out of sight. Makes
you feel mighty uncomfortable to know one of them big critters is
prowlin' arter you, whatever his intentions may be. But that 'un, now,
you was mentionin', I'll walk back wi' you, when you go, an' take a look
at it. Thar's a bounty paid for 'em by the ranchers. An' if young air
near by, there'll be no time better for puttin' an end to 'em."

Ma Heger glanced often toward the wooded mountain beyond Meg's "Bot'ny
Gardens." Then to her husband she said: "I reckon Meg knows thar's
company, an' that's why she's stayin' so long. She said to me, 'Ma, I
ain't agoin' to school today,' says she. 'I reckon I'll get some more
specimens.'"

At that the man looked up quickly, evident alarm in his clear blue eyes.

"Did she say anything about havin' seen that skulkin' Ute? Has he been
pesterin' her? The day arter she's given him money, she don' dare go to
school, fearin' he'll be rarin' drunk wi' fire-water an' waylay her. If
ever I come up wi' that coyote, I'll--I'll----"

The wife tried to quiet the increasing anger of her spouse.

"Pa Heger," she said, "you're alarmin' yerself needless. That Ute knows
the sheriff gave you power to jail him, an' he's mos' likely gone to whar
his tribe is."

Dan stood silently, wondering what he ought to say. He knew that Meg had
given the old Indian money, and he realized that was why she had been at
home to save his life.

"I shall be glad to have you walk back with me, Mr. Heger," he said.

Dan wanted to be alone with the mountaineer. When they had started down
the mountain road, the man at Dan's side was silent, a frown gathering on
his leathery forehead. Suddenly he blurted out: "This here business has
got to stop. That slinkin' ol' Ute's got to prove that my Meg is his gal.
In the courts, he's got to prove it, or I'll have him strung up. Jail's
too good for him. Pesterin' a little gal to get her to give up her
savin's that she's been puttin' by this five year past, meanin' to go to
school in the big city and larn to be a teacher. That's what Meg's
figgerin' on, and that skulkin' Ute drainin' it away from her little by
little. I made her pack a gun, an' tol' her to shoot him on sight, but I
reckon she ain't got the heart to take a life, though I'd sooner trap him
than I would a--well, a coyote that he's named arter."

Dan could be quiet no longer. "Mr. Heger," he said, "it was about that
very Indian that I came up here to talk to you this morning. I saw him in
hiding near our cabin. Yesterday afternoon he frightened the children,
although he did not come out into the open; then about two hours later we
saw him hiding behind boulders on the road below us. He waylaid your
daughter, just as you fear. Also she gave him money." While the boy had
been talking, the man's great knotted hands had closed and unclosed and
cords swelled out on his reddening face. "I knew it," he cried. "Dan
Abbott, I want you to help me catch that Ute. Meg won't. She ain't sure
but what he is her pa, an' it's agin nature to ask her to harm him. I
won't let on that you tol' me, but, Dan, we've got to trap him. You
needn't be afraid of him. He won't harm you or your family. He's too
cowardly for that. What's more, he's paralyzed in one arm; it's all
shriveled up so he can't hold a gun."

Dan felt greatly relieved upon hearing this, and wishing to change the
conversation to something pleasanter, he inquired how soon Meg expected
to be able to go away to school. But the subject evidently was not
pleasant to the old man. "Next fall's the time, an' me and ma can't bring
ourselves to think on it. Snowed in all winter without Meg's 'bout as
pleasin' as bein' shet in a tomb." The anger had all died out of the
leathery, wrinkled face and in the blue eyes there shone that wonderful
love-light that is the most beautiful thing the world holds. "Queer, now,
ain't it, how a slip of a baby girl could fill up two lives the way Meg
did our'n from the start. An' she cares for us jest as much as we for
her, I reckon. 'Pears like she does." The old man's voice had become
tender as he spoke.

"I'm sure of it," Dan said heartily. Then, after a pause, Pa Heger
continued slowly: "That gal of our'n has the queerest notions. One's the
way she takes to flowers." Then, looking up inquiringly, "Did Ma tell you
how she earned the money she's savin' for her iddication?" Dan shook his
head, and so the old man continued: "Teacher Bellows 'twas got her
started on it. He's what folks call a naturalist, an' when he used to
stay up to our cabin for weeks at a time an' he'd take Meg wi' him
specimen huntin'. Seems like thar's museum places all over this here
country that wants specimens of flowers growin' high up in the Rockies.
So Teacher Bellows and Meg would hunt for days, startin' early every
mornin' and late back in the arternoon, till they had a set of specimens.
They'd press 'em till they was dry as paper, then mount 'em, as they call
it, an' send 'em off to a museum, and along come a check. Arter Teacher
Bellows went back to his school, Meg kept right on doin' it by herself,
him helpin' now an' then, an' she's saved nigh enough for the two years'
schoolin' she'll need to be a low grade schoolmarm. She's got another
queer notion, Meg has. I wonder if Ma tol' you about that?" The old man
looked up inquiringly, and Dan, finding himself very much interested in
the notions of this girl whom he did not know, said that he would very
much like to hear about it.

The old man removed his fur cap and scratched his gray head again. His
voice grew even more tender. "You know what it says in that good book
Preacher Bellows is allays readin' out of, how a little child shall lead.
Wall, that's sartin what Meg's done for me and Ma Heger. When she was
about six year old, or maybe, now, she was seven, it was curious how
friendly even the skeeriest little wild critters was toward her. She
could feed 'em out of her hand, arter a little coaxin', an' how she loved
'em! You see, they was all the playmates she's ever had. Then 'twas she
started her horspital for hurt critters, an' she's kept it goin' ever
sence. Got one now, but, plague it, I can't remember what kind of
patients she's got into it. She won't keep nothin' captive arter they're
well enough to fight for themselves out in the forest. Wall, as I was
sayin' back a piece, Meg was about seven as I recollect, when she sort of
sudden like seemed to realize how 'twas I made my livin', trappin' wild
animals and sellin' their skins at the tradin' post.

"But even then, she didn't fully sense what it meant, seemed like, till
the day we couldn't find her nowhar. She'd never gone far into the
mountains afore that, but when she didn't come home at noonday, Ma asked
me to go an' hunt for her. It was late arternoon afore I come upon her,
an' I'll never forget that sight as long as I'm livin'.

"My habit was to set them powerful steel traps to catch mountain lions
and the fur animals I wanted for pelts. Then, every few days, I'd go the
round and shoot the critters that had been caught in 'em. Wall, as I was
goin' toward whar one of them big traps was. I heard sech a pitiful
cryin'. Good God, but I was wild wi' fear, an' I ran like wolves was
arter me. I'd a notion our baby gal was catched in it. An' thar she was,
sure enough, but not hurt. Instead she was down on the ground wi' her
arms around a little black bear cub that had been catched hours before
and was all torn and bleedin'.

"The fight was gone out o' him, but he wa'n't dead yet. It was our little
Meg who was doin' the cryin'. Clingin' to the little fellow, not heedin'
the blood, her sobbin' was pitiful to hear. I picked her up, an' I ain't
'shamed to be tellin' you that I was cryin' myself along about that time.

"'Take him out, Pa,' my little gal was beggin'. 'Maybe he'll get well,
Pa.'

"So I opened the great steel jaws of that trap and took out the little
cub bear. He was too small to be worth anything for a pelt, an' we
fetched him home, but he died soon arter, and Meg, she had me bury him.
But she couldn't get over what she had seen. She had a ragin' fever for
days. I sot up every night holdin' her little quiverin' body close in my
arms, an' prayin' God if he'd let my little gal live, I'd never set
another of them cruel steel traps to catch any of His critters as long as
I'd breath in my body.

"Wall, boy, sort of a miracle took place. That little gal of mine had
fallen asleep while I sat holdin' her, but jest as I made that promise,
silent to God, she lifted up her little hand and put it soft like on my
face, an' says, still asleep, seemed like--'I love you, Pa Heger.' An'
when she woke up next mornin', the fever was gone, and she was well as
ever.

"I kept my promise," he went on grimly. "I went all over the mountain an'
I took them steel traps, one by one, unsprung 'em and dropped 'em down
into that crack some earthquake had split into Bald Peak. It's
bottomless, seems like, an' what goes into that crack never does no more
harm. Now, when I kill a critter that needs killin', I shoot an' they
never know what hits 'em. Meg is a sure-shot, too, though she'd never
pack a gun if 'twant that I make her."

They had reached the spot where the mountain lion still lay, and the old
man stooped to examine it. "I reckon that was a sure shot, all right."
Then he shouldered the limp creature. "Thar's fifty dollars bounty, so I
might as well have it. I'll hunt for the cubs tomorrer. So long. Hit the
trail up our way often."

As Dan walked slowly down the mountain road toward his home cabin, he
found that he was more interested in this unknown Meg than he had ever
before been in any girl.

Jane's headache was better when Dan returned, but her disposition was
worse, and poor Julie was about ready to cry. She had been spoken to so
sharply when she had really tried to help. Gerald was angry and
indignant. He had at first urged his small sister and comrade to pretend
that Jane was being pleasant, but, after a time, even he had decided that
such a feat was too much for anyone to accomplish. Then he had
intentionally slammed a door and had declared that he hoped it would make
"ol' Jane's" head worse.

It was well that Dan returned just when he did. He entered the cabin
living-room calling cheerily, "Good, Jane, I'm glad to see you are up."
Then he looked from one to the other. Julie, tearful, rebellious, stood
near the kitchen door, and Gerald, with clenched fists, had evidently
been saying something of a defiant nature. "Why, what's the matter? What
has gone wrong?"

Dan was indeed dismayed at the picture before him. Jane, who had seated
herself in the one comfortable chair in the room, said peevishly:
"Everything is the matter. Dan, you can see for yourself what a mistake I
made in coming to this terrible place, and trying to live with these two
children who have had no training whatever. They are defiant and
rebellious."

Even as Jane spoke, a memoried picture presented itself of Julie's sweet
solicitude for her earlier that morning, but she would not heed, so she
hurried on: "I have been lying in there with this frightful headache
thinking it all out, and I have decided that either the children must go
back or I will." A hard look, unusual in Dan's face, appeared there and
his voice sounded cold. "Very well, Jane, I will help you pack. The stage
passes soon. If we hurry, we may be ready." The children could hardly
keep from shouting for joy. Something which Julie was cooking, boiled
over and so she darted to the kitchen, followed by Gerald, who stood upon
his head in the middle of the floor. But they had rejoiced too soon, for
Gerry, who a moment later went to the brook for water, returned with the
disheartening news that the stage was passing down their part of the
road. Julie plumped down on the floor and her mouth quivered, but before
she could cry, Gerald caught her hands, pulled her up and said
comfortingly: "Never mind, Jule. The stage will be going past again on
Monday. Me and you'll stay on the watch and tell Mister Sourface to stop
for Jane when he goes back to Redfords on Tuesday. That is not so awful
long. Oh, boy, then won't we have the time of our lives?"

Julie agreed that they would indeed and decided to be very patient during
the remaining two days. So she went back to her cooking and, with
Gerald's help, soon had the lunch spread.

Jane ate but little, and again shut herself up in her room for all that
afternoon. Dan was almost as glad as were the children that she was to go
back to the East, but Jane, strangely enough, was deeply hurt because her
brother, who had been her playmate when they were little, and her pal in
later years, had actually chosen the younger children in preference to
herself. That proved how much he really cared for _her_ and, as for his
health, he seemed to be recovering remarkably. He had coughed a while the
evening before, and for a shorter time that morning.

Then he had evidently been on a long hike. Of all that had happened Dan
had said nothing, knowing that Jane would not wish to hear about the
mountain girl, toward whom she felt so unkindly.

That afternoon Dan gave the children another lesson at shooting cones
from an old pine, far enough from the cabin to keep from disturbing Jane.
Julie grew braver as she watched Gerald's success, and at last she too
tried, and when, after many failures, she sent a brown cone spinning, she
leaped about wild with joy.

"Now we are both sharpshooters," Gerald cried generously. Then, glancing
over at the cabin, he added: "There's Jane sitting out on the porch. She
does look sort of sick, doesn't she?"

Dan's heart was touched when he saw the forlorn attitude of the sister he
so loved. "You youngsters amuse yourselves for a while," he suggested, "I
want to have a quiet talk with Jane." Dan neglected to tell the children
not to wander away.



                             CHAPTER XVII.
                             QUEER KITTENS


Left alone, Julie and Gerald scrambled to the road and looked both up and
down. "Which way will we go?" Julie inquired.

"We've been down--or, I mean, we've been up the down road." Then the boy
laughed. "Aw, gee! You know what I mean. We came up the road yesterday in
the stage; so now, let's go on further up."

Julie hopped about, clapping her hands gleefully. "Ohee, I know what!
Let's see if we can find that cabin the innkeeper lady said was about a
mile up the mountain road from our place. Wouldn't that be fun? And maybe
that nice girl will be at home from school, and, if she is, I just know
she'll let me ride her pony."

Gerald, nothing loath, fell into step by his sister's side, the gun over
his shoulder. After the fashion of small brothers, he could not resist
teasing. "I bet you couldn't stay on that pony, however hard you tried.
It's a wild Western broncho sort, like those we saw at Madison Square
Garden that time Dad took us to Buffalo Bill's big circus." Then, in a
manner which seemed to imply that he did not wish to boast, he added: "I
sort of think I could ride it easy. Boys get the knack, seems like,
without half trying."

They had rounded the bend and were nearing the very spot where the
mountain girl had shot the lion, when Julie clutched her brother's arm
and drew him back, whispering excitedly: "Gerry! Hark! What's that noise
I hear?"

The boy listened and then crept cautiously toward the bushes. He also
heard queer little crying sounds that were almost plaintive. "Huh!" he
said boldly. "'Tisn't anything that would hurt us. Sounds to me like
kittens crying for their mother."

A joyful shout from the girl, closely following him, turned into "Gerry!
That's just what they are! Great big kittens! See how comically they
sprawl? They haven't learned to walk yet. Their little legs aren't strong
enough to stand on. See, I can pick one right up. He doesn't seem to mind
a bit." The small girl suited the action to the word, and it was well for
her that the mother lion had been killed, or Julie would soon have been
badly torn, despite the fact that her brother still carried his small
gun.

The boy had lifted the other weak creature, which had not been alive many
days, and, with much curious questioning as to what kind of "pussy cats"
they might be, they continued their walk and soon reached the cabin.

Meg Heger, who had remained long in the forest that day, having sought a
rare lichen high on the mountain, was just descending from the trail that
led into her "botany gardens" when she saw the two children entering the
front yard of her home cabin. Unbuckling the basket which she carried
much as an Indian squaw carries a pappoose, the girl leaped down the
rocks and exclaimed: "Oh, children, where did you find those darling
little mountain lion babies?"

Luckily she took the one Julie was holding in her own arms as she spoke,
for if she had not, that particular "baby" would have had a hard fall,
for when the small girl from the East heard that she was actually holding
a mountain lion, she uttered a little frightened scream and let go her
hold. But Gerald, being a boy, realized that even a future fierce wild
animal was harmless when its legs were too weak for it to stand on, and
so he continued to hold his pet, even venturing to admire it.

"It's a little beauty, ain't--I mean, isn't it?" He glanced quickly at
Julie, but the slip had evidently not been observed, for she was intently
watching the mountain girl, who was caressing the little creature she
held as though she loved it, as she did everything that lived in all the
wilderness.

But as Meg Heger held that helpless, hungry baby her heart was sad, for
well she knew that it was unprotected and perhaps starving because she
had shot and killed its mother. Of course she had to kill the lion to
save the life of the lad who had gone too close to the place where the
mother had her young; but, nevertheless, she felt that, in a way, her act
had made her responsible for these helpless little wild creatures, since
they had been brought to her.

Brightly she turned to the children. "Don't you want to come with me to
the hospital?" she invited. "We'll give them some supper."

She did not ask who the children were, nor from whence they had come.
Perhaps she remembered having seen them the day before on the stage; or
Sourface Wallace may have told her.

Julie and Gerald followed, wondering what the "hospital" might be.

Back of the cabin, on a rocky ledge, the children saw a queer assortment
of wooden boxes, small cages and little runways. "This is the hospital."
Meg flashed a merry smile at them over her shoulder. "There aren't many
patients just now. Most of them have been cured. Here's one little
darling, and I'm afraid he never will be well. Some prowling creature
caught him and had succeeded in breaking a wing when it heard me coming.
Why it dropped its prey when it ran, I don't know, but I brought the
little fellow home and Pap helped me set its wing. It's ever so much
better, but even yet can't fly, but it can scuttle along the ground just
ever so fast."

Gerald was much interested.

"What kind of a bird is it, Miss Heger?" he began, very politely, when
the girl's musical laughter rippled out. "Don't call me that!" she
pleaded. "It makes me feel as old as the thousand-year pine Teacher
Bellows told our class about. It's a little quail bird, dearie. You'll
see ever so many of them in flocks. There are sixty different kinds of
cousins in their family. The Bob Whites with their reddish brown plumage
have a black and white speckled jacket. They live in the grass rather
than in trees and are good friends of the farmer because they devour so
many of the insects that destroy grain and fruits. This one is a mountain
quail; it is one of the largest cousins. The one that lives in the South
is called a partridge."

Gerald listened politely to the life history of the pretty bird, but his
attention had been seized and held by what Meg had said about the very
ancient pine. "Was there ever a tree that lived a thousand years?" he
asked with eager interest. The girl nodded. "Indeed, there are many that
have lived much longer, but this pine was blown over, and Teacher Bellows
was allowed to cut it up to read its life history. He found that it had
been in two forest fires, and about five hundred years ago an Indian
battle had been fought near it, for there were arrow heads imbedded in
the rings that indicated that year of its life."

Then Meg concluded with her bright smile: "Some day, when Teacher Bellows
is up here, I'll have him tell you the names and probable ages of all our
neighbor trees! It's a fascinating study."

Julie was not much interested in the length of a tree's life and so she
began eagerly: "Miss--I mean--do you want us to call you Meg?" she
interrupted herself to inquire.

The older girl nodded. Every move she made seemed to express
bubbling-over enthusiasm and interest. "Haven't you any more patients?"

Gerry was peering into empty boxes in which there were soft, leaf-like
beds.

"Only just Mickey Mouse. He's a little cripple! His left foot was cut off
in a trap, but he gets around nicely on one stump. That's his hole over
there. I put grain and bits of cheese in front of it. Keep ever so still
and I'll put a kernel of corn right by his door. Then perhaps you'll see
his bright eyes." And that is just what happened. As soon as the corn
kernel rolled in front of the hole, out darted a sharp brown nose with
twitching whiskers and two beady black eyes appeared just long enough for
their owner to drag his supper into the safe darkness of his particular
box.

Meg laughed happily. "He's the cunningest, Mickey is! I sometimes take
him with me in my pocket. He likes to ride there, or so it seems. At any
rate he is just as good as he can be. Often he goes to sleep, but at
other times, he stands right up and looks out of the pocket, just as
though he were enjoying the scenery."

At that moment a sharp, almost impatient cry from the small creature she
held recalled to the head doctor of the hospital the fact that she had
started out to feed the baby lions. She brought milk from a cave-like
room, only the front wall of which was wood, the rest being in the
mountain. "That's our cooler," she told Gerald, whom she could easily
observe was interested in all the strange things he saw. Dipping one
corner of her handkerchief into the milk, she put it in the mouth of her
tiny lion and the children were delighted to see how readily and joyfully
the creature seemed to feast upon it. Having gathered courage, Julie
wished to feed the other baby lion and then Meg suggested that they be
put in a soft lined box on the rocks near, since they were used to being
high up. The baby lions, being no longer hungry, cuddled down and went to
sleep. Gerald's conscience was troubling him. "We'll have to be going,"
he said. "Nobody knows where we are." Then he hesitated. He knew that it
would be polite to ask the mountain girl to call upon them, but he was
afraid that Jane would not treat her kindly, so, in his embarrassment, he
caught Julie by the hand and fairly dragged her away as he called,
"Goodbye, Meg, I'm coming up often." When they were on the down-road, the
boy cautioned Julie to say nothing whatever of their adventure to their
sister, but just to Dan.



                             CHAPTER XVIII.
                            A YOUNG OVERSEER


Sunday dawned gloriously, and Dan declared that he felt better than he
had supposed that he ever would again. Jane, too, though she did not
voice it, was conscious of feeling more invigorated than she had been in
the East, and yet, of course, she was very glad that she was going back
again on the following Tuesday. She would go directly to Newport to visit
Merry Starr, as had been their original plan. Her conscience would not
trouble her, since it was Dan's wish that she be the one to leave.

The two children, on the evening before, had failed to confide that they
had visited the cabin up the mountain road. They were wild to tell Dan,
but they wished to get him off by himself before they did so. They
dragged him out into the kitchen after the Sunday morning work was done
and asked him if he would go with them for a hike up along the brook to a
natural bridge that they could see from their door-yard.

The older lad hesitated. "I'll ask Jane if she would like to go," he
began, but the immediate disappointment expressed by the two freckled
faces made him turn back to add, "Or, rather, I'll ask Jane if she minds
our going, just for a little while." This suggestion was far more
pleasing to the children.

They all entered the living-room where Jane sat reading. "My goodness,
don't go far," she said petulantly. "Don't you remember that the terrible
overseer from the Packard ranch is coming to take dinner with you today?
I intend to shut myself in my room and stay there until he is gone."

"Hm!" Dan snapped his fingers as he ejaculated. "Queer I'd forget that
visit, since I have been looking forward to it so eagerly." Then he
queried: "Why do you say that he is terrible, Jane? A foreman on a vast
cattle ranch is not necessarily an uncouth specimen of humanity."

The girl flung herself impatiently in the chair as she emphatically
replied: "Of course he'll be terrible! A big, rawboned creature who will
speak with a dreadful dialect, or whatever you call it; and he will be so
embarrassed at meeting people from the city, that he will stutter more
than likely."

Dan laughed at the description. "Maybe you are right, sister of mine, but
we'll be home to prepare the meal for our guest, long before the hour he
is to arrive. Goodbye! Fire off the gun if you are frightened at
anything."

The girl merely shrugged her shoulders, and when they were gone she
decided, since it really was very lovely out-of-doors, to take her book
to the porch, and so she dragged thither the comfortable chair with the
leather pillows. She was soon reading the story, which interested her so
greatly that she did not notice the passing of time until she heard a
step near by. Jane supposed that her family was returning, and did not
glance up until she heard a pleasant, well-modulated voice saying:

"Pardon me if I intrude, but is this the cabin occupied by the Abbott
family?"

Looking up in astonishment, Jane saw before her a handsome youth whose
wide Stetson hat was held in one hand. He wore a tan-colored shirt of
soft flannel, and his corduroys, of the same shade, were tucked into
high, laced boots. Even before she spoke, Jane was conscious that the
youth with the clean-shaven face, strong square chin, pleasant mouth,
blue eyes with clear, direct gaze was not in the least embarrassed by her
presence. He was indeed the kind of a lad she had always met in the homes
of her best friends, the kind that Dan was. But that of which she was
most conscious was the fact that he was very good looking, and that in
his eyes there was an expression of sincere admiration for her.

Graciously Jane rose and held out a slim white hand. "We are the
Abbotts," she began; then, laughingly confessed that, unfortunately, she
was the only one at home, as the others had gone on a hike--she really
had not inquired where.

The lad did not seem to consider it unfortunate. "Please be seated again,
Miss Abbott, and I'll occupy the door-step, if you don't mind. I'd heaps
rather meet strangers one by one. It's easier to get acquainted."

Then, as he thought of something, he exclaimed: "I hope I have not come
over much earlier than I was expected. I hiked all the way. I thought it
might be easier to come cross-lots, so to speak, than to ride horseback
to Redfords and then up your mountain road."

"Was it?" Jane asked, wishing to appear interested.

"It was great! I adore mountain climbing, don't you, Miss Abbott?"

Then, not waiting for her reply, he continued with boyish enthusiasm: "I
tell you, it means a lot to me to have you Abbotts here. I love the West,
but I've missed my friends. We'll have great times! How long are you
going to stay?"

Jane hesitated. She should have replied that she was leaving on Tuesday,
but now she was not sure that she wished to go.

For a merry half hour these two chattered. The lad seemed to be quite
willing to talk of everything but his home, and Jane was too well bred to
ask questions. Jean told of his college life, and when she asked if he
regretted that his days of study were over, he laughingly declared that
they never would be. "Mr. Packard is a great student," he looked up
brightly to say, "and our long winter evenings, that some chaps might
call dull, are the most interesting I have ever spent. We take one
subject after another and go into it thoroughly. We're most interested in
experimental inventions and we have rigged up all sorts of labor saving
contrivances over on the ranch." Recalling something which for the moment
had been forgotten, Jean exclaimed: "Mr. Packard wished me to invite you
all to visit us as soon as you are quite settled here."

Then with that unconscious admiration in his eyes, he concluded: "For
myself I most eagerly second the invitation." Jane's vanity was indeed
gratified. She laughed a happy musical laugh which sounded natural,
although it had really been cultivated. "I am greatly flattered that you
should be so anxious to entertain the Abbotts," she told him, "since I am
the only one of us whom you have met."

"True!" he confessed, merrily, "but you know we scientists can visualize
an entire family from one specimen. How could the other three be
undesirable when one is so lovely? Maybe it's because I am a blonde that
I admire the olive type of beauty."

Just why she said it Jane could not have told, unless the memory of what
that awful Gabby at the station had said still rankled. Be that as it
may, almost without her conscious direction she heard herself saying: "I
suppose, then, that you must be a great admirer of Meg Heger?" There was
a note in the girl's voice which made the lad look up a bit puzzled. What
he said in reply was both pleasing and displeasing to his companion. With
a ring of sincerity he assured his listener that there were few girls
finer than Meg Heger.

"I do not know her personally very well," he told Jane. "She seems to
shun the acquaintance of all young people. I sometimes think that she may
believe her friendship would not be desired since she is supposed to be
the daughter of that old Ute Indian, but this is not true. We in the West
ask not the parentage but the sincerity of our friends. It's through her
foster-father that I know the girl, really. I often go with him to the
timber line and above it, when I am not needed on the ranch. It's a
beautiful thing to hear him tell how Meg has enriched their lives."

Then, as his direct gaze was again lifted to the olive-tinted face of the
girl near him, he said frankly: "Many of the cowboys and others of our
neighbors rave about Meg's beauty. But I do not admire the Spanish or
French type as much as I do our very own American girl."

Jean did not say in words which American girl he thought wonderfully
lovely to look upon, but his eyes were eloquent.

Jane could have sat there basking in the lad's evident admiration for
hours, but the position of the sun, high above them, suggested to her
that something must be amiss. "I wonder why Dan and the children do not
return," she said, rising to look up the brook trail. Jean leaped to his
feet and together they went around the cabin and scanned the
mountain-side and the lad yodeled, but there was no response.

"Of course, nothing could have happened to them all," Jane assured him.
"They have gone farther than they planned, I suppose." Then, turning with
a helpless little laugh, she said in her most winning way (and Jane could
be quite irresistible when she wished), "I have a terrible confession to
make. You will have to starve if they do not return, for I have never
learned to cook."

"Great! I'm glad you haven't, because that will give me an opportunity of
shining in an art at which I excel." The lad seemed brimming over with
enthusiasm. Jane smiled up at him. He stood a head taller than she, with
wide, square shoulders that looked so strong and capable of carrying
whatever burden might be placed upon them.

"How did you happen to learn how to cook?" the girl inquired, and then
wondered at the sudden change of expression in his handsome face. The
joyful enthusiasm of the moment before was gone and in its place was an
expression both tender and sad. "The last year of my little mother's life
we two went alone to our cabin on the Maine coast. Mums wanted to take
our Chinaman, but I begged her to let me have her all alone by myself,
and so under her direction I learned to cook. Miss Abbott," the boy
turned toward her, seeming to feel sure of her understanding sympathy,
"that was the happiest summer of my life, but it had the saddest ending,
for, try as I might to keep her, my little mother faded away and left
us." Then abruptly he exclaimed, as though he dared not trust himself to
keep on: "Won't you lead me to the kitchen, and when the wanderers return
we will have a feast ready for them."



                              CHAPTER XIX.
                               A NEW COOK


Such a pleasant half hour was spent by these two who seemed content just
to be together, Jane, with a twinge of regret, realized that the youth
was idealizing her. He constantly attributed to her qualities that she
well knew that she did not possess. He told her that he could understand
why she had not learned to cook simply because for years she had been
away at a fashionable seminary. "But now is your golden opportunity, and
I am indeed lucky to be your first teacher." That he was pleased was
quite evident. "I am sure you agree with me, Miss Abbott, that cooking is
as essential in a young woman's education as painting or singing." Then
he laughed boyishly. "I'm afraid, when I am hungry that I would far
rather have a beautiful girl cook for me than sing to me. Now, what is
the menu to be?"

Jane looked about the kitchen helplessly. She did not wish to confess to
Jean Sawyer that she had not before been in there except to pass through
it to their outdoor dining-room.

"Julie and Dan were planning the meal. I really don't know." The
situation was relieved by Jean's asking: "May I prepare anything I can
find?"

"Oh, yes, do please! It really doesn't matter which of our supplies are
used first." The girl was glad to have the problem thus easily solved.
After a few moments of ransacking, the lad looked up from a box as he
asked: "Miss Jane, will you pare the potatoes?"

She shrank away before she realized what she was doing. "Oh, wouldn't
they stain my hands terribly?" Then, with her most winning smile, she
held them both out to him. "You see, they haven't a stain on them yet,
and I did hope they never would have." The boy made a move as though to
take the hands in his. But he stooped quickly over the box of potatoes
and said earnestly: "Right you are, Miss Abbott. They are far too lovely
to mar."

Perhaps because of associated ideas it was that he recalled a poem that
went somewhat in this way: "Beautiful hands are those that do work that
is useful, kind and true." What he said was: "Suppose you set the table.
I'll make the fire and have a pot of goulash in no time. That is my
favorite camp menu, perhaps because it is the simplest."

Everything was in readiness when merry voices were heard without, and
Julie, evidently believing they were unheard, said in a stage whisper:
"Don't tell Jane that we've been up to see Meg Heger's hospital, will
you, Dan? She'd be mad as anything." The older lad was opening the
kitchen door at that moment, and the two, who had been keeping so still
in the kitchen that the surprise might be complete, could not but hear.
Vaguely Jean Sawyer wondered why Jane would be "mad" because the rest of
her family had been to call upon a neighbor. Glancing at her proud,
beautiful face, he saw a scornful curl to the mouth which he had thought
so lovely, and it was not pleasant to behold. But a moment later he had
forgotten it, in the excitement that followed his discovery. Dan advanced
with glowing eyes and outstretched hand. "Jean Sawyer! How glad we are to
have you with us. These are the youngsters, Julie and Gerald." The little
girl made a pretty curtsy and Gerry thrust out a chubby, freckled hand,
smiling his widest as he looked admiringly at the cowboy's costume.
"Gee!" he confided, "I'd like awful well to have one of those rigs. Dan,
don't you s'pose they make 'em small enough for boys?"

But it was Jean who answered. "They do, indeed, and what is more, there
is one over at the Packard ranch more typical than mine, which I am
pretty sure will fit you. A grandson of Mr. Packard's was with us last
summer, but he isn't coming this year and he'd be glad to have you wear
it." Then, smiling at the older girl, he said to Dan: "Your sister, Miss
Jane, has agreed to bring you all over to our place to spend next Sunday.
That is a week from today." Julie, upon hearing this, was about to blurt
out her disappointment by saying, "How can she, if she's going back East
on Tuesday?" But a cold glance from her sister's eyes made the small girl
turn away with quivering lips. After all Jane was going to stay and their
summer would be spoiled. Jean Sawyer had also witnessed this by-play and
he felt a sense of great disappointment.

It was quite evident that Jane Abbott's beauty was only skin deep.

When Jean Sawyer took his departure that afternoon, Dan accompanied him
part way "cross-lots," as the former lad had called it.

They crossed the brook and after climbing many a jagged boulder, began
the descent on the side of the mountain nearest the wide valley in which
was located the fertile Packard ranch.

These two lads, so near of an age, found that they were most congenial.
When Dan confessed that his dearest desire was to become a writer of
purpose fiction, Jean heartily applauded. "Great! I'd give anything if I
had the ability to do something fine for this old world of ours, but,
just at present, I believe I will continue being Mr. Packard's foreman.
Really, Dan, reading and studying with that man is as good as having a
post-graduate course at college."

Then apropos of nothing (or so it seemed), Jean said: "What a beautiful
girl your sister is. What a pity that she has not had the love and
direction of a mother. I had such a wonderful mother myself, Dan, I well
know what girls and boys have missed when they lost their mothers while
they were very young."

Dan grew serious at once. Then he confessed:

"Jean, I feel as though I had known you for a long time, and so I am
going to tell you my greatest problem. My sister Jane is beautiful, and
before she went away to that fashionable Highacres Seminary she was as
sweet and lovable a girl as any you could find, but for some reason she
learned there much that was not in the curriculum. Pride of family,
snobbishness, and because of our father's position, many of her
companions were so differential to her that she has come to expect it
from everyone. How I wish I knew how to save Jane from herself."

It was just as Jean had feared. He surprised himself by saying: "If she
would chum with Meg Heger a while, I believe it would help her to
overcome those artificially acquired qualities, for Meg is sincerely
natural. But your sister would have to make the advances. Meg never will.
She keeps apart by herself, and will probably continue doing so until it
is proven that she is not that Ute Indian's daughter. I know that you
have met Meg, for I overheard your little sister saying that you had been
there this morning."

"Yes, we were. The children pleaded so hard that I go and see their baby
lions."

Then he told the story of the death of the mother lion to an interested
listener. "I wondered why Meg Heger disappeared directly after having
saved my life. Nor would she come to her home while she know that I was
there. It is too bad that she shuts herself away from people who would
gladly be her friends."

Jean nodded. "That is just what she does. Last year, as I was telling
Gerald, Mr. Packard's daughter, Mrs. Delbert, and her young son were with
us. When Mrs. Delbert heard the story of Meg's devotion to her
foster-parents and how she is trying to become a teacher that she might
make life easier and pleasanter for them, she at once wished to make
Meg's acquaintance. We hiked up to the Heger cabin one Saturday morning,
and although Meg willingly showed Mrs. Delbert her botany gardens, and
her hurt animal hospital, she was so reserved and shut away from us, that
we realized at once that she did not wish our friendship. Mrs. Delbert
invited Meg to spend a day with her at the ranch, but the girl never
came, nor have I seen her since."

The other lad understood.

"With me she is also distant and reserved," he said, "but when she talks
to Julie and Gerald she is very different."

Then, returning to a remark made earlier, he concluded: "My sister Jane
would be greatly helped if she could see how much more naturalness is
admired than cultivated poses, but she will never learn from Meg Heger,
whom she considers greatly beneath her." Then, stopping, he held out his
hand. "Jean," he said seriously, "I hope I have not given you a wrong
opinion of my beautiful sister. I honestly believe that the girl she used
to be still lives beneath all this artificial veneer that she has
acquired at the fashionable seminary and my most earnest wish is to find
a way by which that other girl, who was my dearly loved sister-pal, can
be returned to me. I would not have spoken of this were it not that I am
as greatly troubled for Jane's sake as my own."

"I am glad you told me, Dan. I, too, have faith in her. Goodbye till next
Sunday."

Dan walked slowly back to the cabin, pleased, indeed, with his new
friend.

Dan found his sister Jane alone with her book on the front porch of their
cabin. She looked up with a smile of welcome. "I was agreeably surprised
in our guest," she began at once, "and so, before you tease me for having
described him as raw-boned and illiterate, I will make the confession
that I never met a better looking or nicer mannered youth."

"Tut! Tut!" her brother, sinking to the doorstep where earlier in the day
Jean had sat, merrily shook a finger at his sister, "That is extreme
praise, and I may take offense, since I consider myself good looking and
nice mannered."

The girl laughed happily. Her brother reflected that, not in many a day,
had he seen her brow unclouded with frown or fretfulness.

Suddenly he said: "Jane, have you changed your mind about going East next
Tuesday?" He looked up inquiringly, eagerly.

The girl flushed, then said with an effort at indifference: "I thought
perhaps it is hardly fair to decide that I do not like the mountain life,
after having been here for such a few days. Shall you mind if I postpone
my departure until a week from Tuesday?" The lad caught the hand that
hung near him and pressed it with sudden warmth to his cheek. "Jane," he
said, "I'm desperately lonesome for the comrade that my sister used to
be. Won't you give up all thought of going away and try once again to be
that other girl?"

Jane looked puzzled, then she drew her hand away, saying coldly: "You are
evidently not satisfied with me. I suppose that you also admire a girl
who prefers to pare potatoes and stain her hands, than you do one who
keeps herself attractive."

Dan was astonished at the outburst, but wisely made no comment, though
his thoughts were busy. Evidently Jean Sawyer had told his sister that he
admired a girl who could be useful as well as ornamental. What would the
result be, he wondered. But on the following day Jane permitted the other
three to do all of the work of the cabin while she idled hours away at
letter writing to her many girl friends in the East; finished her book,
and started a bit of lace making which had been the popular pastime at
the seminary.

At nine o'clock on Monday the stage drew up in front of their stone
stairway and the discordant sound from a horn seemed to be calling them,
and so Gerald hopped down to receive from Mr. "Sourface" Wallace a packet
of newspapers and letters. "Oh, thanks a lot, Mr. Wallace!" the boy
shouted, knowing that the stage driver was deaf, and then up the stairway
he scrambled to distribute the mail. There was a letter for each of the
Abbotts from their father and a tiny note inclosed from grandmother with
good advice for each, not excluding Jane, whose lips took their favorite
scornful curve when it was read.

But a glance at her other two letters sent her to her own room, where she
could read them undisturbed. One was from Merry Starr and, instead of
containing enthusiastic descriptions of the gay life at Newport, which it
was her good fortune to be living, the epistle was crammed full of
longing to see the wonderful West.

"Tastes are surely different!" Jane thought as she opened the second
epistle, which was from Esther Ballard. In it she read a news item which
pleased her exceedingly. "Jane, old dear"--was the very informal
beginning.

"Put on your remembering cap and you will recall that you told me, if
ever I could find another string of those semi-precious cardinal gems
that you so greatly admired, to buy them at once, notify you and you
would send me the money. Well, the deed is done. I have found the
necklace, and, honestly, Jane, it holds all of the glory of the sunset
and sunrise melted into one. They will set off your dark beauty to
perfection. But I'll have to confess that I haven't a penny. Always
broke, as you know, and so, if you want them, you'll have to mail me
twenty-five perfectly good dollars by return post.

"Yours in great haste,
                                                                  E. B."

Jane sat looking thoughtfully out of the window. In about two weeks she
would have a birthday, and on that occasion her aunt, after whom she was
named, always sent her the amount needed for the gems, but in a
postscript Esther had said that she had asked to have the chain held one
week, feeling sure that by that time Jane would have sent the money.

Taking from her purse two bills, she put them in an envelope addressed to
Esther, added a hurried little letter, stamped it and was just wondering
how she would get it to the post when she saw Meg Heger coming down the
road on her pony. Although she herself would not ask a favor of the
mountain girl, she called Julie and requested that she hail Meg and ask
her to mail the letter. Not until it was done did Jane face her
conscience. Had she any right to use the tax money for a necklace? She
shrugged her shoulders. What would two weeks more or less matter?



                              CHAPTER XX.
                         MEG AS SCHOOL-MISTRESS


Upon arriving in Redfords, Meg Heger had at once given the letter which
had been marked "Important! Rush!" to the innkeeper, who was about to
start for the station to meet the eastbound train. He promised the girl
to attend to putting the letter on the train himself, and thus assured
that she had served her neighbors to the best of her ability, Meg went
across the road to the school, only to find that her good friend, Teacher
Bellows, was not to be there that day as he had been sent for by a dying
mountaineer in his capacity as preacher, and had left word that he wished
Meg to hear the younger children recite, and dismiss them at two, which
was an hour earlier than usual.

Nothing pleased the girl more than to have an opportunity to practice the
art of instruction, since that was to be her chosen life work, and a very
happy morning she had with the dozen and one pupils, queer little
specimens of childhood, although, indeed, several of them were beyond
that, being long, lanky boys and girls in their teens. They, one and all,
loved Meg devotedly and considered it a rare treat to have her in charge
of the class. This happened quite often, as, in his double capacity as
preacher as well as teacher, the kindly old man had various calls upon
his time; some of them taking him so far into the mountains that he was
obliged to be gone for days at a time.

Meg had a charming way, quite her own, of teaching, with story and word
pictures. Even the master had to concede that she was more fitted by
nature than he was to instruct the child mind. At two o'clock, when the
young teacher dismissed her class, they flocked about her as she crossed
the road to the inn.

The tallest among her pupils, a rancher's daughter, who was indeed as old
as Meg, put an arm lovingly about her as she said, "When yer through with
yer schoolin', don't I hope yo'll come back to Redfords an' be our
teacher."

The mountain girl laughed. "Why, Ann Skittle!" she teased. "You will be
married, with a home of your own, by the time that I am ready to teach.
You are seventeen, now, aren't you?"

Ann's sunburned face flushed suddenly and her unexpected embarrassment
caused Meg to believe that she had guessed more accurately than she had
supposed. "Yeah, I'm seventeen. But I'll be eighteen before snowfall, an'
then Hank Griggs an' me's goin' to be married. He's pa's hired man. A new
one from Arizony."

"Then why should you care whether or not I teach the Redford school?" Meg
turned at the lowest step of the inn porch to inquire. Her dark eyes
seemed always to hold a kindly interest in whatever they looked upon,
were it a hurt little animal or, as at that moment, a girl who had not
been endowed with much natural intelligence.

Ann Skittle, again visibly embarrassed, stood looking down, twisting one
corner of her apron as she said in a low voice: "Me an' Hank is like to
have kiddies an' I'd be wishin' you could teach 'em."

Suddenly Meg leaned over and impulsively kissed the flushed face of her
surprised companion. "Of course you'll have little ones, dear," she said,
and in her voice there was a note of tenderness. "No greater happiness
can come to any girl than just that; to be a mother and to have a
mother." She turned away to hide the tears that, mist-like, always rose
to her own eyes when she thought of the mother whom she never knew. Ann,
calling goodbye, walked away toward the corral back of the school where
her pony had been for hours awaiting her.

When Meg entered the front room of the inn, her smile was as bright as
ever. Mrs. Bently often said that it didn't matter how gloomy the day
might be, when Meg appeared with "that lighten' up" smile of hers,
somehow it seemed as though the sun had burst through, and even if things
had been going wrong, they began to go right then and there. "Mrs.
Bently," the girl said, "Pa Heger told me not to come home today without
the County Weekly News. It's days overdue."

The comely woman's face brightened.

"Wall, I've found that newspaper at last," she announced. "That man of
mine didn't have on his specks when he was sortin' the mail, I reckon.
Anyhow he stuck that paper o' yer pa's 'way over into Mr. Peters' box.
'Twas fetched clear out to his ranch and fetched back agin."

"Thanks." Meg said brightly, as she took the paper. "It won't matter any.
I don't suppose there's any startling news in it."

Half way up the mountain road Meg drew rein and listened. There was not a
breath of wind stirring. The sun beat down relentlessly and heat
shimmered from the red-gold dust of the road ahead. The only sounds were
the humming, buzzing and wing-whirring of the multitudinous insects all
about her. Then again she heard the sound which had first attracted her
attention. A pitiful little gasping cry. Leaping from her pony, she
commanded: "Pal, stand still for a moment. One of our little brothers is
calling for help."

Although the faint cry had instantly ceased, Meg remembered the direction
from which it had come and climbed agilely down the rocks to find that
one, having been dislodged, had caught a Douglas squirrel's tail and had
held it captive so long that the creature was nearly starved.

"You poor little mite," Meg said with tender sympathy as she stooped,
and, after removing the heavy stone, lifted the small creature in her
hands. She held it, unresisting, for a moment against her cheek, then put
it into one of her saddle bags. Peering in, she said assuringly, "Don't
be frightened. I'm going to take you to the hospital, but as soon as you
are stronger, you shall have your freedom." The bead-like eyes that
looked up out of the dark depths of the bag seemed to be more
appreciative than fearful. There was a quality in Meg's voice when she
spoke to the sad and wounded that soothed and comforted even though the
words were not understood. "I'll take the newspaper out," she thought;
"then his bed will be more comfortable." And, as she did so, she chanced
to see a name which attracted her attention. It was a name which had
come, within the last three days, to mean much of possible comradeship to
her. It was "Daniel Abbott." Opening the paper, the girl expected merely
to read an article telling of the arrival of the Abbott family at their
cabin on Redfords Peak, but, to her dismay, the story that newspaper
contained was of an entirely different nature. It was a list of the
properties in the county that were tax delinquents. Meg learned from the
short paragraph that the ten acres and "cabin thereon" belonging to one
Daniel Abbott, having been for three weeks advertised as delinquent, was
to be sold for taxes on August the tenth at five o'clock unless the
aforesaid taxes, amounting to the sum of twenty-five dollars, should be
paid before that hour.

The girl stared at the printed page, unable at first to comprehend its
meaning. Then she glanced at the sun. It was at least two-thirty. But
what could it mean? Surely the young man with whom she was talking but
yesterday, when the children had brought him to see the baby lions,
surely he had known of this and had paid the taxes. Refolding the paper,
Meg started leisurely up the mountain road, but something seemed to be
urging her to at least tell Dan Abbott what she had seen. Perhaps he had
not paid the back taxes, and, if not, she might be instrumental in saving
his cabin home for him, and yet, even as she thought of it, she was
assailed with doubt. It would be impossible to reach Scarsburg, the
county seat, before five unless one rode at top speed, and the Abbotts
had neither car nor horse.

Meg had reached the stairway hewn in the rocks, leading to the cabin,
which, for so many minutes had been uppermost in her thoughts, and she
drew rein, yodeling to a tall, graceful girl whom she saw standing by a
pine gazing out over the valley. Jane Abbott turned and looked down,
amazed that the mountain girl should have the effrontery to yodel to
_her_. "Just because she mailed a letter for me does not entitle her to
_my_ friendship as an equal!" Abruptly Jane turned her back and walked
away toward the cabin. Meg's face flushed and her inclination was to ride
on to her own home, but she recalled the clinging of little Julie's arms
and the sweet, yearning expression in the small girl's face when she had
said, "Meg, I like you. I wish you were my sister instead of Jane. You'd
love me, wouldn't you?"

Leaping from her pony, she bade him wait for her, and, taking the paper,
the girl sprang, nimble as a mountain goat, up the rocky steps. Jane had
seated herself in the comfortable chair on the porch, and was reading
when she heard hurrying footsteps. She looked up, an angry color
suffusing her cheeks. This halfbreed was evidently going to force her
acquaintance upon her. Well, she would soon regret it. But the proud,
scornful words were never spoken.



                              CHAPTER XXI.
                          MEG AS BENEFACTRESS


Dan and the children had gone on a hike, and Jane, being quite alone,
rose and confronted the mountain girl with a cold stare that would have
caused Meg at another time to have whirled about and departed, but for
the sake of the other three she was willing to be treated unkindly.

"Miss Abbott," she said, holding out the newspaper, and pretending not to
notice the unfriendly expression, "there is news in here which may be of
great importance to you. May I show it to your brother?"

Suddenly Jane found herself trembling from some unnamed fear. Instantly
she had thought of the taxes. Perhaps, without really being conscious of
it, she had read the word somewhere on that outheld paper.

She sank back into her chair, saying, almost breathlessly, "Dan isn't
here. What is it, Miss Heger? Is something wrong?"

The mountain girl pointed to the paragraph and was amazed at the effect
the reading of it had upon the proud girl. There was an expression of
terror in the dark eyes that were lifted.

"Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?" she implored helplessly. "Our
father gave us the money. He told us the taxes must be paid, but I
thought another two weeks would do as well as now. Dan did not know the
need of haste."

Meg, seeing that the girl, unused to deciding matters of importance, was
more helpless than even Julie would have been, felt a sudden compassion
for her and so she said: "If you can get the money to the county seat
before five o'clock you will not lose your property."

A dull flush suffused the dark face. "I--I haven't the money! I--I
borrowed it for something I wanted. It was in that letter that Julie gave
you this morning to mail."

Then looking up eagerly, hopefully, "Miss Heger, perhaps you forgot to
post it. Oh, how I hope that you did!"

But the mountain girl shook her head. "I sent it by Mr. Bently to the
eastbound train, which was due about noon. He said that he himself would
put it in the mail car."

"Then there is nothing that I can do!" The proud girl burst into sudden
tears. "Father has lost everything but our home in the East, and now, now
I have been the cause of his losing the cabin he so loved." Lifting a
tear-stained face to the girl who was watching her, troubled and
thoughtful, she implored: "Oh, isn't there something I can do? If I tell
them I will pay it in two weeks, when my birthday money comes, won't that
do as well as now?"

Meg shook her head. "No," she said. "This is final. They notified your
father some time ago."

Jane nodded hopelessly. "Oh, if only brother were here! But the worry
would start him to coughing."

Again the girl, who scorned tears in others, began to sob helplessly. How
vain and foolish she had been to want that necklace, hoping that it would
make her appear more beautiful in the eyes of Jean Sawyer.

Meg stood for one moment deep in thought. Then she said: "Miss Abbott,
find your papers. Have them ready for me when I return. I'll try to save
your place."

With that she turned and ran back to her pony, leaped upon it and
galloped out of sight up around the bend.

"What does she mean?" Jane sat, almost as one stunned, for a moment, then
as the command of the mountain girl recalled itself to her, she arose and
went indoors to locate the papers their father had given Dan.

These being fastened with a rubber band into a neat packet, she held
closely while she ran out to the brook calling Dan's name frantically,
but there was no response. Soon she heard the musical yodeling which had
so filled her heart with wrath a short half hour before. Now it was to
her a sound sweeter than any she had ever heard. It brought a faint hope
that her father's cabin might yet be saved. Down the stone steps she
went, holding out the papers. Then and for the first time she thought of
something: "But the money--I haven't any to give you."

Meg's answer was: "I am loaning you twenty-five dollars from my savings,
but don't hope too much. It will be very hard for me to make Scarsburg by
five o'clock, but for Julie's sake I'll do my best."

"For Julie's sake!" The words drifted back to Jane as she stood watching
the pony hurtling itself down the mountain road until the cloud of dust
hid it from view. She, Jane, had never done anything for Julie's sake,
and why, pray, should this mountain girl loan her own money to strangers
who might never repay her, and risk her life and that of her pony, as it
was evident she was doing?

Jane looked out into the heat-shimmering valley. Many times the mountain
road reappeared to her as it zigzagged down to Redfords. Again and again
a rushing cloud of dust assured her that Meg was still racing with time.

Returning to the porch, Jane sank down in the deep chair, keenly
conscious of her own uselessness.

"Oh, what a vain, worthless creature I am! I don't see why Dan cares for
me so much; why he risked his health that I might finish my course in
that seminary where everyone, everything, conspired to make me more proud
and helpless."

Then before her arose a mental picture. Meg, clear-eyed, eager to be of
service in an hour of need, and more than that, capable of being, and
she, Jane, had snubbed her, but for Julie's sake the mountain girl had
persevered in her desire to be neighborly.

Unable to sit still, Jane went again to the brook to call, but the
children, with Dan, had climbed higher than usual and had found so much
to interest them that they had failed to note the passage of time.

As there was no answer to her calling, Jane went back to the house, and,
because she had to do something (she had entirely lost interest in her
book), she wandered out into the kitchen. She saw on the table a pan of
potatoes with the paring knife near.

Hardly knowing what she was about, Jane took the pan to the porch, and,
seating herself on the step, she began most awkwardly to pare. She had
heard her grandmother say that the peeling should be as thin as possible
as the goodness was next to the skin. It took a very long time for Jane
to pare the half dozen potatoes and she had almost resolved not to tell
Dan about the taxes until she knew the worst or the best, when she heard
him hallooing from the brook. Placing the pan on the step, she ran to
meet him. One glance at her white, startled face assured him more than
words could have done that something of an unusual nature had occurred
during their absence. Catching her in his arms, he felt her body tremble.
He led her back to the porch before he asked, "Jane, tell me. What has
happened? Has that Slinking Coyote frightened you?"

Julie and Gerald, wide-eyed and wondering, crowded near. "Dan," Jane
clung to him as she had not since the long ago childhood, when she had so
often been frightened and had turned to him for protection, "please send
the children away. I want to tell you alone."

Gerald needed no second bidding. "Come on, Julie," he called. "Let's go
and practice on our pine tree rifle range." He was carrying the small
gun, and so away they raced. Although they were almost overcome with
natural curiosity, they neither of them desired to stay where they were
not wanted.

When they were gone, Jane leaned against her brother and told the story
between sobs that were almost hysterical. "Oh, brother, brother! If only
this cabin is saved for Dad, I will never, never again be so vain and
selfish. Oh, Dan, tell me, say that you think Meg will reach the county
seat before five."

The lad found that his heart was filled with conflicting emotions. The
scorn his sister's pride and selfishness would have aroused in him at
another time was crowded out by pity for her. She had suffered enough
without his rebuke. Then there was the dread that the cabin might not be
saved, for well he knew the sorrow its loss would bring to his father,
but, above all, there was something in his heart he had never felt
before, a warm glow of admiration for a girl who was not his sister. What
he said was, "Jane, dear, quiet yourself. We can do nothing but wait."

And a long, long wait they were destined to have. The hands of the clock
moved slowly to four, then five and then six. Jane's poor efforts at
paring the potatoes received much comment from the children alone in the
kitchen.

"Gee," Gerald confided to his small sister, "something must have happened
if it upset Jane so she didn't know what she was doing. She surely
didn't, or she wouldn't have tried to pare potatoes and stain those lily
hands of hers."

Try as the small boy might, he could not keep the scorn out of his voice.
But Julie was more forgiving. "Gerry, don't be too hard on Jane. She acts
awfully worried about something. I don't believe she saw a bear or
anything that scared her. I think it's something in her heart that's
troubling her. I think she's sorry about something she's done."

"Well, she sure ought to be." The boy was less sympathetic. "She's been
dirt mean to us ever since she's been home from that hifalutin' seminary,
and what's more, she's none too good to Dan. I'd hate her, that's what,
if she wasn't my sister, and if she didn't look just like our mother. But
even for all of that, I'm going to let myself hate her hard if she isn't
better to you, Jule. The way she lets you do the work, and she setting
around reading novels to keep her hands white so's folks will admire
them! Aren't you the same family as she is, and shouldn't your hands be
kept just as white? Tell me that now!"

The boy, who was holding the bread knife, whirled with such an indignant
expression on his freckled face that Julie laughed merrily, which broke
the spell.

"Oh, Gerry, you do look so funny! If I had time, I'd find some riggins to
make you into a pirate. It could be done easy, 'cause your face looks
just like their pictures and that knife would do for a dagger."

Meanwhile, on the front porch, the two who had long watched and waited,
were getting momentarily more anxious, and often Dan walked to the top of
the steep stairway, down which he gazed at the zig-zagging mountain road.
At last he saw a pony climbing, oh, so slowly, as though it could hardly
take another step; and at its side there walked a girl. Dan leaped back
to the porch and snatched up his hat. "Jane," he said, "you and the
children have your supper. I'm going up to the Heger cabin and get one of
their horses. Meg's pony is worn out, and I'm not going to have that
brave girl walk all the way up the mountain, just to serve us."

Jane did not try to detain him, and the lad fairly leaped up the road to
the Heger cabin. He found the trapper, who had just returned from a ride
over the other side of the mountain. "Take this hoss," he said, when he
had heard the story which fairly tumbled from Dan's mouth. "Ol'
Bag-o'-Bones ain't a bit tired, and he's the best hoss I have on the
place."

Then the man held out a strong hand as he said: "Dan, boy, I hope my gal
made it! She would if anyone could."

Dan silently returned the clasp, then he mounted the horse, that was not
at all what its name might suggest, but lean and wiry, as were all of the
mustangs of the West, with hard muscles and a loping step that carried it
down the road, sure-footed and with great rapidity. Jane heard the halloo
when he passed, but she did not stir. She felt that she never could move
again until she had learned the news that Meg would have for them.

And Meg, far down the mountain, looked up and saw Bag-o'-Bones, her
foster-father's favorite horse, descending with speed, and, believing it
to be ridden by Mr. Heger, she wondered why, at that hour, he was in such
haste. But at a lower turn of the road, she saw that the figure on the
horse was that of the lad from the East, who as yet did not know how to
ride as they did in the West.

Then she knew why he was coming, and for the first time in her lonely,
isolated life, there was a sudden warmth in her heart. She had a real
friend, she knew that instinctively, and his name was Dan Abbott.



                             CHAPTER XXII.
                            MEG'S CONFIDENCE


As soon as Dan was near enough to see Meg's face, he knew that all was
well. Leaping from the back of the dusty gray horse, he went forward with
both hands outheld. "Miss Heger," he cried, and his voice was tense with
emotion, "how can I, how are we ever going to thank you for what you have
done for us today?"

The girl's radiant smile flashed up at him. "Be my friend," she said
simply, and, as the lad stood there looking deep into those wonderful
dark eyes, he seemed to feel that no greater privilege could be accorded
him than to be permitted to be the friend of this courageous, rarely
beautiful mountain girl.

But she did not give him the opportunity to voice his feeling, for at
once she said in a matter-of-fact tone: "Wasn't I lucky to reach the
county court-house at five minutes to five? Pal and I have been
congratulating each other all the way home."

"Poor Pal!" Dan stroked the drooping head of the faithful little animal
which had raced down the rough mountain road as he had never raced
before. Then, quite irrelevantly, the youth asked: "Would you mind if I
call you Margaret? It fits you better than Meg." Instantly Dan was sorry
he had made the request, for he saw the sudden clouding of the girl's
brow. The joyousness of the moment before was gone and when she spoke
there was a note of sorrow in her voice. "Mr. Abbott," she began with
sweet seriousness, "I forgot when I said that your friendship would be
the reward I would ask, yours and Julie's and Gerald's--I forgot who I
am, or rather that I do not know who my parents were. My real name is not
Meg. Mammy Heger called me that after a little sister of hers who had
died when a baby. Mammy loved that other Meg and so it meant a great deal
to her to call me by that name." Then, sighing wistfully: "I wish I knew
my real name," she concluded.

Dan took her hand in a firm, friendly clasp as he said earnestly: "Meg
Heger, I don't care what your name is, I don't care who your parents
were. I care only to be your friend, your very best. Of course I would
not wish to call you Margaret since it would be displeasing to you."

The girl withdrew her hand, replying: "Call me Meg. I'm used to that and
hearing it won't make me think. Oh, I've thought about it all so long and
so much!"

Then as they started walking side by side, leading their horses, the girl
confided: "Next month, when I am eighteen, Teacher Bellows, Pa Heger and
I are going to start on a long, hard trip. We're going to find, if we
can, the tribe that was living in the deserted mining town on Crazy Creek
the year that I was brought to the Heger cabin." How her dark face
brightened, and Dan realized that he had never dreamed that anyone could
be so beautiful. "If we find them, then I shall know," she concluded. For
a few moments they walked on in silence. "If they tell me I am the
daughter of----" The girl hesitated as though dreading to utter the name
of Slinking Coyote, then began again, "If I am a member of their tribe, I
shall live near them and help them. I shall be a teacher to their
children. It will be my duty. But if, as Pa Heger and Teacher Bellows
think, my parents were of a foreign race, my future will be different."

Dan, knowing how deeply humiliating the conversation must be for the girl
and wishing to change the subject, exclaimed: "How stupid of me! I
brought Bag-o'-Bones down for you to ride. You must be very tired after
your wild race to Scarsburg."

The girl smiled gratefully. "I believe I am very, very tired," she
confessed, "which happens but seldom. I had thought that I was tireless."

They soon reached the road in front of the Abbotts' cabin and Meg bade
Dan take from the pony's saddle bags the papers and receipts. Although he
pleaded to be permitted to accompany her to her home, she shook her head.
"You haven't had your supper and it is very late." Then impulsively she
reached down her brown hand as she said with an almost tremulous smile:
"Good-night, my friend."

It was early dusk when Jane, still sitting on the porch of their cabin
intently listening, heard voices and the clattering of slow-moving horses
along the mountain road below the bend. She leaped to her feet, her
breath came with nervous quickness, she pressed her hand to her heart.
Oh, what if Meg had been too late. Before she could decide what she ought
to do, she heard Dan's voice calling to the mountain girl, who was
evidently not stopping. Jane ran to the top of the stone stairway. How
ungrateful it must have seemed for her not to have been there to thank
Meg for the effort she had made, whether or not it was successful. But
Dan was leaping up the steps, two at a time, his face radiant.

Jane thought that all of his joyousness was caused by the message he was
shouting to her: "Sister, that wonderful girl reached there on time! Our
cabin is saved for us! How can we ever thank her?"

Jane, who had never been so upset by anything before in her protected
life, clung to her brother almost hysterically. "Oh, Dan, Dan, I am so
thankful! Do you think Meg Heger will ever forgive me? I was so rude to
her when she first came."

The lad was serious at once. "I do not know that she will," he replied as
he recalled that the mountain girl had said the reward she requested was
the friendship of all the Abbotts except Jane.

It was hard not to rebuke his sister for her foolish pride, but she was
trembling as she clung to him, and so he encircled her with his arm as he
said hopefully: "Meg is too fine a girl to hold a grudge when she finds
out that your heart has changed."

Jane said nothing, but she suddenly wondered if, in reality, her heart
had changed. Now that the taxes were paid and the hours of anxiety were
over, she was not sure that she cared to begin an intimate friendship
with a "halfbreed," merely to show her gratitude, but even as she was
conscious of this shrinking, the voice of her soul told her that she was
despicable.

The children, who had been on the kitchen porch, hearing Dan's voice,
rushed out, but Jane delayed him long enough to whisper: "They know
nothing of what has happened. Please do not tell them."

Gerald was the first to reach them, and he cried, rebukingly: "Dan, why
did you go horseback riding without taking me. I saw you go by an hour
ago. I'm just wild to learn to ride that Bag-o'-Bones. Do you think Mr.
Heger will let me?"

Dan realized that the younger members of their family thought he had
merely been for a horseback ride, and so he made no further explanation,
replying gayly: "Indeed I do! But I think you would better take your
first lesson on the level. Wait until we go down to the Packard ranch.
You remember that good friend of ours told us that he had forty horses
and many of them were broken to the saddle."

Julie clapped her hands as she hopped up and down gleefully. "Me, too!"
she cried ungrammatically. "Mr. Packard said he had a little spotted
horse, just the right size for me. When are we going down there, Dan?"

The older lad glanced at his sister. "Did you say that we are to go next
Sunday?" The girl nodded, but the boy looked perplexed. "But how?" he
queried. "If we went to Redfords by the stage, how are we to get to the
Packard ranch? And we couldn't possibly return on the same day."

Jane thought for a moment, then she looked up brightly. "I recall now.
Jean Sawyer said that we would hear from Mr. Packard during the week."
Then she smilingly confessed: "I was so pleased to find the foreman
different--I mean--one of our own class--that----"

Gerald, noting the blushes, pointed a chubby finger at his sister as he
sing-songed: "Jane likes Jean Sawyer extra-special."

It was Julie, knowing that her sister did not like to be teased, who came
to the rescue by saying emphatically: "So do I like Jean Sawyer
extra-special; and I know what girl you like best, Gerald Abbott. It's
Meg Heger; so now."

The small boy grinned his agreement. "Bet you I do," he confessed.

Dan said nothing, but by the warm glow in his heart at the mention of the
mountain girl's name, he knew that he also liked Meg Heger extra-special.



                             CHAPTER XXIII.
                            JANE HUMILIATED


The next morning Jane arose early with the determination to walk up the
mountain road and meet Meg Heger on her way to the Redfords school. And
so, directly after breakfast, she started away alone. She asked Dan to
detain the children in the kitchen that they might not see her go and
perhaps wish to accompany her.

The older lad, recalling the incident of the mountain lion, wondered if
he ought to permit her to go alone, but the trapper had assured him that
the occurrence had been a most unusual one, that the lions, and other
wild creatures usually remained far from the haunts of man, and that in
the ten years that Meg had ridden up and down that mountain road to the
Redfords school, she had never encountered a dangerous animal of any
kind.

The sun, even at that early hour, was so warm Jane was glad that most of
the mile she was to climb was in the shadow. She found herself scanning
the roadside with great interest, stopping to watch a scaly lizard that
was lying on a rock gazing at her intently with small back eyes,
believing himself to be unseen because his coat was the color of his
surroundings. He had not stirred, even when she started away.

It was a still morning and out of many a cool green covert a bird-song
pealed. Again and again Jane paused to listen to some clear rising
cadence. She wondered why she had never before heard the singing of
birds. Of course, she must have heard them many, many times. They had
often awakened her in her home, and at Highacres, but she had felt
disturbed rather than pleased. She never before had listened to a single
song, like the one which some hidden bird was singing. It would be
interesting to know what kind of a bird it was. She would ask Meg Heger.
Surely the mountain girl would know. Jane Abbott had not been in so
susceptible a mood, at least not since her long ago childhood, and it was
with a sense of eager anticipation that she at last drew to one side of
the road to await the coming of the small horse and rider that she could
hear approaching.

Meg Heger was indeed surprised to see the sister of Dan Abbott in the
road so evidently awaiting her, but she experienced no pleasure from the
meeting. She well knew that the city girl, who had snubbed her on the day
before, would again do so, if it were not that she considered it her duty
to express gratitude for what Meg had done.

She drew rein, merely because Jane Abbott had stepped forward and had
held up her hand. The expression in the dusky eyes of the mountain girl
was at that moment as proud and cold as had been the expression in the
eyes of Jane on the day previous. Before the girl in the road could
speak, Meg said: "Miss Abbott, I know that you have come to thank me for
having ridden to Scarsburg, but let me assure you at once that I did not
do it for your sake. I did it for Julie and Gerald, chiefly, because they
are my friends. You owe me nothing. Good morning!"

The pony, feeling the urging of his mistress' heel, started away so
suddenly that Jane found herself standing in a whirl of dust. Her face
grew crimson as her anger rose. She, Jane Abbott, had actually been
snubbed by a halfbreed. It had been only natural that she, a city girl of
family and culture, should have snubbed Meg Heger. But she had supposed
that the mountain girl would be pleased, indeed, when she condescended to
be friendly. As she walked slowly back toward their cabin, she did not
hear the song of the birds, nor see the beauty that lay all about her.
She was wrathfully deciding that she would pack at once and leave a place
where it was possible for her to be snubbed by a halfbreed Indian.

Then that persistent voice, deep within her, asked: "Didn't you deserve
it, Jane? Would you admire a girl who would fall upon your neck after you
had been rude to her?"

And Jane had to acknowledge that the soul-voice was right.

But, though Jane had seemed to have a change of heart toward Meg Heger,
she still felt most irritable toward Julie. Nothing that small girl could
do pleased her. She had at once retired to her room, wishing to be alone.
True, she had decided to try to win the friendship of the mountain girl,
but after the first few hours she found herself questioning if she really
wanted it. Of course she did not. She wanted only friends of her own
kind. She flung herself down on her bed and in her heart was a growing
anger at herself and at everyone. Dan had gone for the daily climb which
he believed would aid the recovery of his strength, as indeed everything
seemed to be doing in a most miraculous manner. Julie and Gerald were
cleaning house and were dragging the heavy pieces of furniture about in
the living-room with shouts and laughter. Jane sprang up and threw open
her door.

"I do wish you children would try to keep quiet," she blazed at them.
Gerald faced her defiantly. "Come and do the cleaning yourself if you
want it done different. There's no reason why we should do it at all,
only Julie said, being as it hadn't been done right since we came, we'd
ought to get at it."

"You're just hateful, both of you! I wish you would clear out of my sight
and never come back!" With this angry remark, Jane closed her door with a
bang.

With a dark glance in that direction, Gerald caught Julie by the hand.
"Come on, sis," he said. "You'n I'll clear out and we'll stay away till
that Jane Abbott goes back East, that's what we'll do." The boy snatched
up his small gun and put the cartridges in his pocket. He took his cap
and handed Julie her hat and then led her out of the door.

"Why, Gerald Abbott, where are we going?" the small girl held back,
feeling sure that they ought not to leave their cabin home in this
manner.

"First off we're going to find Dan and tell him just what happened. Then,
second off, I don't 'zactly know what we will do, but I just won't stay
here and have that horrid old Jane saying mean things to you all the time
and us waiting on her and doing the work she ought to be doing. That's
what."

The boy led his small sister along so rapidly that she tripped and would
have fallen had he not turned and caught her. "Gee, I guess we'll have to
go slower," he confessed as they started to climb the steep rocks that
formed the outer edge of the mountain brook which tumbled in a series of
little waterfalls, now and then tossing a mist of spray over them.

Julie began to glow with the pleasurable sense of adventure, supposing,
of course, that Gerald knew where Dan had gone. At last she inquired.

"I sort o' think we'll find him up at the rim-rock," Gerald said stoutly.
"I'm pretty sure we will. He told me that's where he goes for his
constitootional. That means a hike to make him get strong,
constitootional does."

The girl's freckled face was aglow. "Oh, goodie!" she cried. "I'd love to
climb 'way up there." Then she asked, a little anxiously: "Aren't you
skeered we might meet a wildcat or a lion or a bear?"

Her small brother's courage was reassuring. "I hope we will. That's what!
I'm a sharpshooter, I am, and the wildcat that meets us will wish he
hadn't." Julie clung to his hand with a secure feeling that she was well
protected. "Oh, look-it, will you?"

Gerry pointed ahead and above. "There's a tree that has fallen right
across our brook. That's a nice bridge and if we can get up there we can
go across on it."

"Is the rim-rock on the other side of our brook?" Julie inquired. Now
Gerald had never climbed that high on their mountain before, and so he
had no real knowledge of the exact location of the rock about which Dan
had told them, but since it was on the very top, the small boy knew that
if they kept on climbing, in time they would surely reach it.

The fallen tree was lying across the brook at a very steep ascent and it
was with great difficulty that Gerald boosted his sister to the narrow
ledge on which it rested. "Don't be scared," he said. "I'll get you
across all right and then we'll begin calling for Dan."



                             CHAPTER XXIV.
                         JULIE AND GERALD LOST


It was nearly noon when Dan returned to the cabin. He gave a long whistle
of astonishment when he saw the disordered living-room and heard no one
about. Jane at once appeared in her doorway. Her face still showed
evidence of her anger. "Dan," she said coldly, "my trunks are all packed.
Please put out a flag or whatever you should do to stop the stage. It
passes about one, does it not, on the way to Redfords?"

The lad went to the girl with outstretched hands. "Jane, dear, what has
happened? Have you and the children had more trouble? Is it so hard for
you to love them and be patient with their playfulness? You know it is
nothing more." The girl's lips curled scornfully. "Love them?" she
repeated coldly. "I feel far more as if I hated them. I don't believe
love is possible to me. I even hate myself! Dan, there's something all
wrong with me, and I'm going back East to Merry, who is about the only
person living who can understand me."

There was an expression of tender rebuke in the gray eyes that were
gazing at her. "You are wrong," the lad said seriously. "Father and I
love you dearly, not only because we know that you are different from
what you seem to be, but for Mother's sake." Then, turning and glancing
again at the confusion, the lad said, "Tell me just what happened."

Jane did so, adding petulantly: "My head was beginning to ache. I had had
an unpleasant encounter with your Meg Heger." Dan felt a sudden leaping
of his heart. How strange, he thought, that for the first time in his
life the name of a girl should so affect him. He had heard of love at
first sight, but he had never believed in it. With an effort he again
listened to Jane's indignant outpouring of words. "Don't say I deserved
just such treatment," she protested. "No one knows it better than I do. I
acknowledge that I am despicable and I hate myself. Honestly, Dan, I do,
but I don't know how to change. I don't seem to really want to be
different."

"That's just it, Jane." The boy had grown very serious. "Just as soon as
you desire to be different you will at once begin to change. We are the
sculptors of our own characters. We can set before ourselves a model of
what we would like to be and carve accordingly." Then, as the clock was
striking twelve, the lad suddenly inquired, "Jane, when did all this
trouble with the children occur? I left at nine. You think it was about
an hour after that?"

The girl nodded, then, glancing out of the wide front door, she
exclaimed: "I wonder why they don't come back. I supposed, of course,
that they had gone to find you. Gerald knew where you were going, didn't
he?"

Dan shook his head. "He could not have known, for I did not myself.
Yesterday and the day before I climbed up to the rim-rock and planned
doing it every morning as a strength restorative measure, but today,
after we had been wondering how we were to get to the Packard ranch, I
thought I would cross the mountain to the other side and look down into
the valley, and see if I could, how much nearer was the trail which Jean
Sawyer took on Sunday. But I found that it would be much too rough and
hard for you, and so we will wait until we receive directions from Mr.
Packard. If you will prepare the lunch, I will go out and put up a white
flag. Surely Mr. Wallace will know that I wish to speak to him. Then I
will call the children to come home. They may be close, but since you
told them that you wished you would never see them again, they are
probably hiding, hoping that you are to go on the afternoon stage."

Jane was indeed miserable. Her flaring anger had often caused her to say
things that afterwards she deeply repented. "Perhaps if I would go with
you and call they would know that I did not mean all that I said," she
ventured. But Dan was insistent that she, at least, prepare a lunch for
herself.

"You must not start for the East without having a good hearty noon meal,"
he told her. As he spoke he was fastening an old pillow case to a pole.
Leaving the house, he placed it at the top of the stairway.

Then going to the brook, he began a series of halloos, but a hollow,
distant echo was all that responded.

Dan, after a fruitless effort to call to the children, returned to the
cabin, his face an ashen white. "Jane," he said, and his voice was almost
harsh, "you will have to attend to stopping the stage if it comes soon.
Mr. Wallace can carry your baggage down without my assistance. I am going
to hunt for those poor little youngsters who felt that they were turned
out of their home. Goodbye."

Jane, with a low cry of agony, leaped forward with arms outstretched, but
Dan had not given her another look, and by the time she reached the brook
he was out of sight. The girl sank down on a boulder and sobbed bitterly.

"If they're lost I shall never forgive myself. Oh, how selfish, how
unkind I have been, thinking only of Jane Abbott and her comfort. I can't
go away now, and not know what has become of Julie and Gerald."

Then another thought caused her to rise and go slowly to the cabin. "They
want me to go, all of them, even Dan. Perhaps it would be the best thing
for me to do, and when they come back they will be glad to find that I
have gone."

Almost unconsciously Jane began to put the living-room in order. She
smoothed rugs and dragged the heavy furniture into the places it had
formerly occupied. Then she went to the kitchen to prepare lunch. If
Julie and Gerald had been climbing the mountains all the morning they
would be starved, as she well knew. Again Jane Abbott pared potatoes and
after studying upon the subject for some moments she made a fire in the
stove and put on a kettle of water. In the midst of these preparations
she was startled by the shrill blast of the horn carried by the stage
driver. Oh, she could not go just then. She was nowhere near ready. Jane
snatched up a letter that she had that morning written to Merry and
hurried down the stone steps. The surly driver took it with a grunt which
seemed to express displeasure, although, as Jane knew, taking the mail to
town was one of his duties.

When the big creaking stage had rocked around the corner, Jane suddenly
felt as though a great load had been lifted from her heart. She had not
really wanted to go at all. She wanted to be sure that all was well with
the children, and more than that, she did so want to see Jean Sawyer
again. But her pleasure was short lived, for, with a sense of oppression,
she again recalled that they would all be disappointed to find her there,
even Dan.

As the water in the tea kettle had not yet started to boil, Jane went to
her room to change her dress to one more suitable for the work she had
undertaken. Upon opening her trunk she saw, lying on top, a miniature
picture delicately colored in a dainty frame of silver filigree. The girl
lifted it and looked long into the truly beautiful face. Then with a
half-sob she said aloud, "My mother!"

Instantly she recalled what Dan had said: "We are each of us sculptors of
our own characters. We can choose a model and carve ourselves like it."
The girl sank on her knees, the picture held close to her cheek.

"Oh, mother, mother!" she sobbed, "I choose you for my model. Help me; I
am sure you can help me to be more like you."

A strange sense of strength came to her as she arose. She had been
struggling without a definite goal. She had known, the small voice within
had often told her, that she was despicable, but she had not found a way
to change, but surely Dan's suggestion would help her. She clearly
remembered her mother, gentle, courageous and always loving.

With infinite tenderness Jane again addressed the miniature:

"Oh, mother, if you had only lived, you would have helped me carve a
character more lovely, but alone I have made of it an ugly thing, but
now, dearest one, I'll begin all over."

But even as the girl spoke she feared that it might be too late to ask
Julie and Gerald to forgive her and try to love her.



                              CHAPTER XXV.
                             JANE'S RESOLVE


The lunch was prepared, the potatoes had cooked quite to pieces, but
still the children did not return. Jane was becoming terrorized. She was
startled when there came a sharp rapping at the front door. Running into
the living-room, her hand pressed to her heart, she saw standing there a
tall, uncouth-looking mountaineer. She believed, and rightly, that it was
the trapper who lived near them.

He began at once: "Dan Abbott came to our place nigh an hour ago sayin'
the young 'uns was lost. Meg and me wasn't to home, but my woman said
she'd tell whichever of us come fust and we'd help hunt. Ben't they back
yet?"

Jane shook her head. "Oh, Mr. Heger," she cried, "what do you suppose has
happened to them? Do you suppose they have been harmed?"

It was unusual for the kind face of the man to look hard, but at that
moment it did so. His voice was stern. "Dan Abbott said 'twas you as let
them young 'uns go to hunt for him, not knowin' whar he was. Wall, Miss,
I'll tell ye this: If 'tis they ever come back alive, yo'd better keep
them young 'uns a little closer to home. Thar's no harm if they stay on
the road. Nothin's likely to happen thar, but 'way off in the wilderness
places, wall, thar's no tellin' what may have happened. I'll bid you good
day."

Here was still another of her fellow men who scorned her. Of course, Dan
had not told him the whole truth, that she had said she hoped she never
again would see the children. Oh, why had she said it? She knew, even in
her anger, that she had not meant it.

She sank down on the porch and buried her face in her hands. Would this
torture never end? The odor of something burning reached her and, leaping
to her feet, she ran to the kitchen and pushed back the kettle of
potatoes that had started to scorch. There was no one to eat the lunch
she had spread on the table and at two o'clock she began to mechanically
put things back in their places, when she heard a step on the porch.
Running into the living-room, hardly able to breath in her great anxiety,
she saw her brother stagger in and fall as one spent from a long race on
the cot-bed they were using as a day lounge. For a moment he lay white
and still, his eyes closed. Jane knelt at his side and held his limp
hand. "Brother. Brother Dan," she sobbed, "you are worn out. Oh, won't
you stay here and let me be the one to hunt? I would give my life to save
the children. Dan, brother, open your eyes and tell me that you forgive
me and believe me." A tightening of the clasp of the limp hand was the
only answer she received. Jane, rising, brought water, cold from the
brook, and when she returned the lad was sitting up, his elbows on his
knees, his face bent on the palms of his hands.

He looked at her as she handed him the goblet of water and when he saw
the lines of suffering in her face, his heart, that had been like
adamant, softened.

"Sister," he took her hand as he spoke, "I well know we none of us mean
what we say in anger, and yet the results are often just as disastrous. I
have sent word to the Packard ranch for them to be on the lookout for our
little ones. Luckily, high on the mountain, I came upon the cabin of a
forest ranger where there was a telephone to Redfords and Mrs. Bently
said she would relay the message to Mr. Packard." Then he rose, coughing
in the same racking way that he had on the train. "Now I am rested, I
must start out again."

Jane clung to him, trying to detain him. "Oh, brother, please eat
something. I had lunch all ready. Even yet it is warm." The lad smiled at
her wanly, but shook his head. "I couldn't swallow food, and there are
springs wherever I go."

Then turning back in the doorway and noting that Jane had flung herself
despairingly on the lounge, he said kindly: "Jane, dear, we often are
taught much-needed lessons through great suffering. You and I will each
have learned one of these if our little ones are found." Then, holding to
a staff for support, he again started away.

For another two long hours Jane sat in the porch chair as one stunned.
She had lost hope. She was sure Julie and Gerald, of their own free will,
would not stay away so long. They must have been attacked by wild animals
or kidnapped by that Ute Indian.

When the clock struck four, Jane leaped to her feet. She could no longer
stand the inactivity. She simply must do something. Going to her room,
she again unpacked her trunk and took from it a riding habit of dark blue
tweed. She donned the neat fitting trousers that laced to the ankles, her
high riding boots, the long skirted coat and a small visored cap. None of
her costumes was more becoming, but not once did Jane glance in the
mirror. She had but one desire and that was to help find the children.
She was about to write a note to tell Dan that she also had gone in
search of Julie and Gerald when she again heard a step on the porch, a
light, quick footfall which she had not heard before. In the open doorway
stood Meg Heger. Without a word of greeting she said: "The children, have
they been found?"

"No, no!" Jane cried. "Dan was here two hours ago, and, oh, Miss Heger,
he is all worn out. I am as troubled about him, or nearly, as I am about
Julie and Gerald. He told me to stay here for the children might return,
but it is so long now. They left at nine this morning. I am sure they
will not come back alone and I, also, must go in search of them."

The mountain girl's dusky eyes had been closely watching the speaker and
she seemed to sense that the proud girl was in no way considering
herself. "Jane Abbott," she said seriously, "it would be foolhardy for
you, an Easterner, unused to our wilderness ways, to start out alone. You
would better heed your brother's wishes and remain here."

But the girl to whom she spoke was beyond the power to reason. "No! No!"
she cried. "Oh, Meg Heger, if you are going, I beg of you let me go with
you."

The mountain girl thought for a moment, then she said: "I will leave word
for whoever may return." Taking from her pocket the notebook and pencil
she always carried, she tore out a page and wrote upon it:

"Jane Abbott and Meg Heger are going to the Crazy Creek Camp in search of
the children. The hour is now 4:30. If we think best, we will remain
there all night."

The Eastern girl shuddered when she read the note, but made no comment.
"Let us tack it on the door after we have closed it," she suggested.

This was done, and taking the stout staff Dan had cut for her, Jane
followed her companion, whom she was glad to see carried a gun.

Silently they climbed the natural stairway of rocks that ascended by the
brook until they reached the pine which, having fallen across the stream,
formed a bridge. Meg uttered an exclamation and turning back she said:
"We are on the right trail, Jane Abbott. There is a torn bit of your
sister's red gingham dress on the tree. She evidently feared to walk
across and so she jumped over."

Jane's eyes glowed with hope. "How happy I would be if we were the ones
to find them, although, of course, the important thing is that they shall
be found."

Meg often broke through dense undergrowth, holding open a place for Jane
to pass, then again she took the lead, beating ahead with her staff to
startle serpent or wild creature that might be in hiding.

Jane, though greatly frightened, followed quietly, but now and then, when
back of Meg, she pressed her hand to her heart to still its too rapid
beating. They came to a wall of almost perpendicular rocks which the
mountain girl said would save them many minutes if they could scale. How
Meg climbed them alone and unaided was indeed a mystery to the watcher
below. The toe of her boot fitted into a crevice so small that it did not
seem possible that it could be used as a stair, but with little apparent
effort the ascent was made, and then, kneeling on the top, Meg leaned far
down and pulled Jane to a place at her side.

At last they came to what appeared to be a grove of poles so straight and
tall were the pines. They were on a wide, slowly ascending mountainside.
The ground was soft with the drying needles and it was easier to walk.
Jane commented on the grove-like aspect of the place, and Meg at once
told her that they were called lodge-pole trees because Indians had used
them as the main poles in their wigwams. "It is the Tamarack Pine," the
mountain girl said, and then, as the ground was level for a considerable
distance, she walked more rapidly, and neither spoke for some time. Jane
was wretchedly unhappy and she well knew that she never again would be
happy unless the children were found.

"Redfords Peak is one of the lowest in the range," Meg turned to say when
they had left the pole-pine grove and were climbing over rugged bare
rocks which in the distance had looked to Jane unscaleable, but Meg, in
each instance, found a way. At last they stood on a large flat rock which
formed a small plateau. "This is the left shoulder of the peak," Meg
paused to say, "and it is here that we begin the descent to Crazy Creek
mine. See, far down there beyond the foothills is the Packard ranch. The
buildings are large, but they do not appear so from here." Jane, sitting
on a rock to rest, at Meg's suggestion, looked about her, eager to find
some trace of the lost children. From time to time they had both shouted,
but there had been no answer save the startled cry of birds, or the
scolding of squirrels, who greatly objected to intruders.

Suddenly the Eastern girl uttered an exclamation of surprise. "Why, there
is the stage road not very far below us. Wouldn't it have been easier for
us to follow that?"

Meg nodded. "Much easier, but I had been told that the children started
away along the brook, so if they were to be found we would have to hunt
in the way they had gone."

"Of course, and we did find that torn bit of Julie's dress."

Meg looked at her companion eagerly. "Are you rested enough now to start
down? It is an easy descent to the road and we will follow it directly
into the camp." As she spoke she glanced anxiously at the sun. "It is
dropping rapidly to the horizon," Jane, having followed the glance of the
other, commented.

Silently they began the descent. Jane found it much easier than she had
supposed and before long they were on the stage road which zigzagged
downward. They had not gone far when Jane said: "What a queer color the
sunlight is becoming." She turned to look toward the west and uttered an
exclamation. "Meg!" she cried, unconsciously using the mountain girl's
Christian name, "the sun looks like a ball of orange fire and the
mountain range is being hidden by a yellow haze. What can it mean?"

"It means that a summer storm is brewing. Let us make haste. We will soon
be under the shelter of the pines and just below them is the Crazy Creek
camp. We will keep dry in one of the old cabins. These sudden storms,
though often cloudbursts, are of short duration."

There was a weird light under the great old pines, but in the spaces
between they saw that clouds were rapidly gathering close above them.
Then a vivid flash of lightning almost blinded them. Instantly it was
followed by a crash of thunder which seemed to make the very mountain
rock. Big drops of rain could be heard pelting among the trees, though
few of them could be felt because of the densely interwoven branches. Meg
drew her companion close to one of the great old trunks.

"It isn't safe under trees, is it?" Jane's face was white with fear. Her
companion's matter-of-fact voice calmed her. "As safe as it is anywhere,"
she commented. "It won't last five minutes and we won't be much wet."

The flashes of lightning and crashes of thunder were incessant and the
road out of which they had scrambled became for a moment a raging
torrent. "I've been struck," Jane cried out. "I know I have! I feel the
electricity pulling at my hair."

Again the calm voice: "You are all right. That is because we are so near
the cloud. The air is charged with electricity."

The storm was gone as quickly as it had come, but there was a roaring,
rushing noise near. "That's the Crazy Creek. It floods for a few moments
after every cloudburst. Quick now, let's make for the shelter of a cabin.
The camp is just below here." Meg fairly dragged Jane out from under the
pines. The light was brighter and the Eastern girl saw beneath her a
scene of desolation, but before she could clearly define it, Meg had
dragged her into an old log cabin. There was a joyous cry from within. It
was Gerald shouting, "Meg, you've come. I knew you would."



                             CHAPTER XXVI.
                            A RECONCILIATION


The small boy, ignoring Jane, sprang toward the mountain girl and dragged
her into the cabin. On the floor lay Julie, her cheeks wet with tears,
her eyes dulled with suffering.

With a glad cry Jane leaped into the darkened room and was about to take
the small girl in her arms, but Julie turned away and held her hands out
toward Meg, when to their surprise Jane sank down in a worn-out heap on
the floor and began to sob bitterly.

"Oh, mother, mother!" she cried, as though addressing someone she knew
must be present, "help me to take your place with Julie and Gerald. Tell
them to forgive me."

Meg feared that Jane's long day of anguish had temporarily unbalanced her
mind, but Julie, hearing that cry, reached out a comforting hand.

"Jane," she said weakly, "don't feel so badly. I guess we were awfully
trying, me and Gerald."

Passionately Jane caught the child in her arms and held her close. She
kissed her forehead and her tumbled hair. Then she reached out a hand to
the boy, who had drawn near amazed to see his usually cold, hard sister
so affected.

"Give me another chance, Gerald!" she cried, tears streaming unheeded
down her cheeks. "Don't hate me yet. I'm going to begin all over. I'm
going to try to be like mother."

A cry of pain from the small girl then caught her attention.

"Julie, what is it, dear? Are you hurt? What has happened?"

Gerald spoke up: "That's why we came in here. We were headin' down the
mountain for the Packard ranch when Julie fell. I guess her ankle is
hurt."

Meg at once was on her knees unbuttoning the high shoe. The ankle was
swollen, but there were no bones broken.

"It is a bad sprain," she said.

Then, swinging the knapsack which she always carried when on a mountain
hike from her back, she took out her emergency kit. She washed the angry
looking place with soothing liniment and then wound tightly about it
strips of clean white cloth.

"Now," she said, "we will have some refreshments."

This amazed her listeners and greatly pleased at least one of them.

"Gee-golly!" Gerald cried. "I hadn't thought of it before, but I guess
I'm starving to death more'n likely."

Meg smiled as she produced a box of raisins. "This may not seem much of a
menu, but it is all one needs for several days to sustain life."

The small boy took a generous handful and gobbled it with speed. Then the
mountain girl brought out a canteen.

"Bring us some water from the creek," she told him. Jane held out a
detaining hand.

"Oh, Meg," she implored, "don't send Gerry to that raging torrent. Don't
you remember how we heard it roaring?"

"But you don't hear it now," was the reply. "The water from the
cloudburst has long since gone to the valley to be absorbed, much of it,
in the coarse gravel. You'll find Crazy Creek just as it always is."

"That's where Julie sprained her ankle," Gerald said. "We were trying to
reach it to get a drink."

He soon returned with the canteen full of ice-cold water. His eyes were
wide.

"Say, girls," he began, "we can't make it home tonight, can we? The sun's
going down west of our peak right this minute."

"We didn't expect to," Meg replied. "Gerald, you come with me and we will
bring in pine branches or kinnikinick, if we can find any, for our beds."

From her knapsack Meg took a folding knife as she talked.

"Kinnikinick?" the boy gayly repeated. Everything that had happened now
appeared to him in the light of a jolly adventure except, of course,
Julie's ankle, and she no longer seemed to be in pain. "What sort of a
thing is that?"

Meg had led the way out of the cabin.

"Here's some!" she shouted, and the boy raced over to find the girl whom
he so admired bending over a dense evergreen vine.

"It's prettier in winter," she told him, "for then it has red berries
among the bright green leaves. It makes a wonderful bed. It is so soft
and springy."

After half an hour of effort branches of pine and some of the kinnikinick
were laid on the floor, Julie was made comfortable, but Jane would not
lie down. She sat with her back against the wall holding the small girl's
head on her lap. Dan had been right. One could carve oneself after a
model. Never, never again would she lose sight, she assured herself, of
her chosen goal, which was to do in all things as her dear mother would
have done.

As soon as the sun sank it began to grow dark. Meg had at once barred the
door, and also she had examined the floor and walls to be sure that there
was no yawning knothole large enough to admit a snake.

The children slept from sheer exhaustion, but Jane and Meg stayed awake
through the seemingly endless hours, while night prowlers howled many
times close to their cabin.

At the first gray streak of dawn, Julie stirred uneasily and began to cry
softly. Meg begged Jane to change positions with her, and, completely
worn out, Jane did lie down on the pine boughs which had been so placed
that they were springy and comfortable. Almost at once she fell asleep.

Meg removed the bandages that were hot from the little girl's hurt ankle
and again applied the cooling liniment. Other fresh strips of cloth were
used and then, with the small head pillowed on Meg's lap, Julie again
fell asleep. Gerald had not wakened through the night, not even when a
curious wolf had sniffed at their doorsill and had then lifted his head
to wail out his displeasure.

The sun was high above the peak when Jane leaped up, startled, from her
restless slumber. "What was that? I thought I heard a gun shot."

"You did." Nothing seemed to stir Meg from her undisturbed calm. "Someone
is coming. Julie, will you sit up against the wall, dear, and I will open
the door."

Gerald, half awake, but sensing some excitement, leaped out of the cabin,
his small gun held in readiness. "Do you 'spect it's the Utes?" he asked,
almost hoping that the answer would be in the affirmative. But Meg
laughed. "No," she said. "It is probably someone searching for you." Then
she fired in answer. From not far above them came two gun shots in rapid
succession.

"Oh, boy!" Gerald leaped to a position where he could see the road as it
wound under the pines. "There are two horsemen. Gee! One of 'em is Dan."

"And the other is Jean Sawyer!" his companion told him.

Julie had wanted to see what was going on, so hopping on one foot, she
appeared in the doorway, supported by Jane. The two lads uttered whoops
of joy when they saw the group awaiting them. Dan at once caught Gerald
in his arms and then glanced tenderly toward the two in the doorway.
Little did Jane guess that in that moment, white and worn as she was, she
had never looked so beautiful to her brother. And as for Jean Sawyer, he
saw in the face which had charmed him, a softer expression, and he knew
that some great transformation had taken place in the soul of the girl.
Leaping forward, he said with deep solicitude: "Oh, Miss Jane, how you
have suffered!"

Dan lifted Julie most carefully to the back of his horse as he said:
"Meg, can you ride in front of this little miss and I will walk at your
side?" Then he smiled, and Jane, glancing at him anxiously, rejoiced to
note he was not ill as she had feared he would be, though he did look
very tired. The lad continued: "You see, Jean and I expected to find you
all here. Intuitive knowledge, if you wish to call it that, and so we
planned what we would do. Jane is to ride on Silver, which Mr. Packard
loaned us, and Jean will lead the way."

"But where are we going?" his older sister inquired.

"Down to the ranch," Jean replied. "I had strict orders to bring you back
with me, all of you, for that visit that you were to have paid at the
weekend."

Meg was about to demur, but the lad hastened to say: "I told your father
that I would telephone the forest ranger as soon as you all were located.
He is waiting there for a message, and I cannot until I get you to the
ranch."

Still Meg thought she ought to climb back to her own home, but Jane
implored: "Oh, don't leave me! I do _so_ want you to go with us." That
settled it and though the girl from the East little dreamed it, there was
a warm glow of joy in the heart of the mountain girl who had so wanted a
friend of her own age.

Jane shuddered as they rode down the old trail of the deserted mining
camp. Shacks in all degrees of ruin stood about, machinery was rusting
where it had been left. The beauty of the mountain had been marred by
dark tunnels, outside of which stood heaps of orange and blue-gray
refuse. Even in the more substantial log huts, made of aspen poles,
windows were broken and doors hung on one hinge. "The desolation of the
place will haunt my dreams forever," the girl from the East said.

"And all this," Jean made a wide sweep with his arm, "because the paying
vein they had been so frantically following was lost. It might have been
found, Mr. Packard told me, but another rich strike was made on Eagle
Head Mountain and the inhabitants of this camp, to a man, deserted it and
flocked to that new mine, and from there they probably followed other
lures, ending, I suppose, as poor, or poorer, than when they began."

Dan was interested. "Then the lost vein may still be here, who knows?" he
commented with a backward glance at the deserted camp they had left. And
yet, was it deserted? As soon as the young people were gone a stealthy
figure appeared, slinking out of one of the huts. It was the old Ute
Indian and since he carried a pick and shovel, it was quite evident that
he had started out to dig. Was it the lost vein or some other treasure
that he sought?



                             CHAPTER XXVII.
                         THE GREEN HILLS RANCH


Shielded from the fury of the storms by gently sloping foothills, the
rambling Packard ranch house presented a very inviting appearance to the
young people as the two big horses carefully picked their way down the
last steep trail.

"O, how beautiful!" was Jane's involuntary exclamation when the level
road, having been reached, she felt freer to look about and admire the
scene.

"I had no idea that a mere ranch could be so attractive." A great change
was evident in the Eastern girl, and Jean Sawyer had been quick to notice
it. Not once that morning had she seemed to be posing that she might
appear more charming to him. She was just sweetly, sincerely natural. The
reason, perhaps, was that Jane had suffered so much since his last visit
that she had changed her estimate of real values. She was so happy, so at
peace deep in her heart. She had learned that her mother's little ones
were dearer to her than all else, and so the impression she might make
had dwindled in importance. If Jean had thought her beautiful on the day
of their first meeting, he thought her more lovely now, although her face
showed evidence of a great weariness and the hours of anxiety through
which she had passed. He smiled up at her as he walked at her side, one
hand resting on the horse's bridle. "Mr. Packard and I have tried out
many schemes to make our home more beautiful," he told her. "That little
artificial lake surrounded by cottonwood trees and willows we made quite
by ourselves. A mountain stream flows into it. Indeed, there are many
springs in these foothills and that is why they have such a soft,
velvety-green appearance when the desert and mountains are so dry." They
were passing through a vegetable garden where a beaming Chinaman, hoe in
hand, nodded to them.

Then came the flower gardens and Meg's enthusiasm, though expressed in
her usual quiet way, was very evident. "How you do love flowers," Dan
said, smiling up at her.

"Indeed I do!" Meg replied. "They seem like live things to me, and so I
was not surprised to read recently that a scientist, with some very
delicate instrument, has learned that many plants are sentient, though
not acutely so. Since then I have never torn a plant ruthlessly. That
scientist advised cutting flowers rather than breaking them."

It was indeed Meg's much-loved subject and her eyes glowed as she gazed
at the banks of scarlet salvia, at the masses of golden glow, and
many-hued asters.

"Someone else must love flowers," she commented, turning to look back at
Jean. He nodded. "It is my best friend, Mr. Packard. You two ought to be
great cronies. I sometimes tell him that I think it is the color effect,
rather than the individual flower, that he so greatly admires, but here
he comes now."

They were riding up to the circling drive which passed under a
vine-covered portico. Mr. Packard leaped down the steps with an agility
which seemed to dispute the years his graying hair attributed to him.

"Welcome!" he cried, with a wide sweep of his sombrero. "This is indeed a
pleasant surprise, although I can hardly call it that as I have been
watching for just such a cavalcade to come riding down my foothills ever
since the dawn broke." He held out his strong arms to lift little Julie,
whose face, still tear-stained and white with pain, appealed to him. He
held her close as he listened sympathetically while Gerald told what had
happened to the poor little foot. Then, after giving a word of greeting
to each of the guests, he bade them follow him indoors to the breakfast
that had long been awaiting them.

The girls found that a wing, containing two rooms and a bath, and
overlooking the little lake, had been prepared for their comfort. Gerald,
with the two older boys, sought quarters elsewhere in the rambling ranch
house, which had room for the accommodation of many guests.

"When you girls have prinked enough," Mr. Packard said merrily, "follow
the scent of the coffee and you will find the rest of us." When the door
had closed and the three girls were alone, Jane held out a hand to Meg,
saying: "Will you forgive me for everything, and let me try to be a real
friend?" An expression of gladness in the mountain girl's dusky eyes was
her most eloquent reply.

Directly after breakfast in the dining-room, which seemed to be all
windows and where they were served by a silently moving Chinaman, the
girls were told that they were to go to their wing and rest until noon.

This was in no way a displeasing suggestion and in a very short while
Julie and Jane in one room and Meg in the other were deep in slumber.
Gerald was also advised to rest, but he declared that he would rather
stay awake and see what was going to happen. Dan laughed as he said that
Gerald seemed always to believe that an adventure might begin at any
moment.

"What boy does not?" Mr. Packard smiled understandingly down at the
stocky little fellow whose clear blue eyes and freckled face beamed good
nature. Then, quite as though he could read the small boy's thought, the
man exclaimed: "Gerald, you ought to wear my grandson's cowboy outfit.
He'd be glad to loan it to you." That this suggestion met with the
youngster's entire approval was quite evident by the wild dance which he
executed then and there.

Jean led the little fellow away and before long Gerald reappeared,
clothed in a costume of the most approved style, a fringed buckskin suit,
a red bandana handkerchief loosely knotted about his neck, while in one
hand he held a wide felt hat on which to his great joy a dried
rattlesnake skin served as band. His own small gun was never out of his
possession.

"Great!" Dan said with brotherly pride. "I wish our dad and dear old
grandmother might see you now, Gerry. You do indeed look ready to start
on an adventure."

"Where'll we go to look for it?" The small boy gazed eagerly, hopefully
up at their genial host.

"Well, sonny, what kind of an adventure would you prefer?" the amused man
asked as though he were willing, at least, to attempt to provide whatever
adventure his small guest might desire.

"I'd like an Indian raid best, or a hold-up." The boy was thinking of the
most exciting things he could recall in his set of Wild-West books, but
Mr. Packard shook his head. "Sorry to disappoint you, sonny, but the Utes
are a friendly tribe: peaceable, anyway, and they are no longer our near
neighbors. They have moved their camp deeper into the mountains. And, as
for hold-ups, since we are neither on a stage or a train we cannot
provide that, but if you boys are not too weary I am going to suggest
that you ride with me to the old stage road. I've been losing some calves
lately and Jean believes that they might have been driven into an
abandoned corral over in the foothills at night, and later were spirited
away." He hesitated. "It's a hard ride, though. Perhaps you boys would
rather not undertake it until tomorrow."

But they were glad to go, and Gerald would not agree to being left
behind. He was given a small horse that was gentle and used to boys, as
the grandson had claimed it as his own, and so they rode away, having
left word for the girls that they would return as soon as possible.

In the mid-morning they reached the old abandoned stage road. "No one
uses it now, that is, for legitimate purposes, as it is very dangerous.
There are washouts and cutways that make it almost impassable for stage
or for auto travel." Then, pointing to the place where the road circled a
high hill, Mr. Packard concluded: "Jean, can you see where yesterday's
cloudburst washed out the road? It has started a new canon that will have
to be bridged, for now and then a tenderfoot autoist does get started on
that old road, thinking that it leads to Redfords. Time and again we have
put up signs on the main highway, but they are hurled down in the storms,
I suppose."

Dan had been intently tracing the old road until it was lost from sight.
Suddenly he urged his horse forward to Mr. Packard's side. "May I take
the field glasses? I feel sure that I see a dark object moving along that
old road and coming this way. You look first, though. Your eyes are
better trained to these distances than mine." Mr. Packard gazed long,
then he turned to Jean. "Boy," he said, "it looks like an auto moving
slowly this way. If it ever starts on that down grade toward the washout
there is going to be a tragedy."

Jean was eagerly alert. "What shall we do, Mr. Packard? How can it be
averted?"

The automobile had disappeared as the road circled behind a hill, but the
watchers well knew that if it did not meet with disaster it would soon
reappear above the washout and then be unable to stop because of the
steep descent.

"Follow me!" Mr. Packard gave the brief order, and, urging his horse to
its utmost speed, he led the way at what seemed to Gerald a breakneck
pace. The small boy clung to his wiry little pony, which kept close
behind the racing mustangs. It was evident to the boys that Mr. Packard
was hoping to round the foot of the hill in time to shout a warning to
the autoists before they began the descent which would prove fatal. It
seemed a very long distance to Dan and he could not see how they possibly
could make it. He kept his eyes constantly on the crest of the hill road,
dreading the moment when the car would appear, there to plunge down to
certain destruction. Mr. Packard rounded the foot of the hill first,
whirled in his saddle, beckoned the boys to make haste, then disappeared,
leaving his horse standing riderless. "What can _that_ mean?" Dan asked,
but Jean merely shook his head. In another moment they would know. When
they, also, had rounded the hill, they saw that "ill fortune," as
autoists usually consider a blow-out, had befriended the travelers. The
car had been stopped just as it had begun the ascent of the hill, on the
other side of which sure death had awaited them.

Mr. Packard was seen breaking a trail through the underbrush. From time
to time he hallooed, and the boys saw that at last he had been heard.

"It will be needless for us to make the climb," Jean said, "since Mr.
Packard will warn them," and so the three boys awaited the man's return.

"Who were they?" Jean inquired. Mr. Packard, removing his Stetson to wipe
his brow, shook his head. "I do not know. Some family from the East
trying to cross the Rockies. They could have done it easily enough if
they had not taken the wrong road. The woman in the party is so utterly
exhausted that I invited them to come to our place to rest. I showed them
the road from the foot of the hill back of them. It certainly isn't in
good condition, but, being on the level, it at least will not be
dangerous. The woman fainted when she heard how near death lurked ahead
of them, but they'll be all right now. We'll inspect that old foothill
corral some other day, Jean. These strangers have need of our friendly
services." Mr. Packard turned his horse's head toward the ranch as he
spoke and they all galloped back at a moderate speed.

"That was sort of an adventure, wasn't it?" Gerald inquired hopefully.

Mr. Packard laughed heartily. "I certainly think it could be so
classified," he agreed. "I shudder to think what it would have been,
however, if that tire had not halted them. We could not have reached them
in time."

Although it was not quite noon, the girls were up and dressed when the
equestrians returned and were greatly interested in all that had
happened. Gerald waxed eloquent as he told Julie the details, and that
little girl, who hungered for adventure quite as much as her brother,
hoped that if anything exciting happened again, she might be in the thick
of it.

Mr. Packard retired to the kitchen to advise Sing Long, the cook, that
four other guests were to arrive for lunch. Although that Chinaman's
reply was merely "Ally lite" the American interpretation of his pleased
smile would be, "the more the merrier." Guests were his joy that he might
display the art at which he excelled.

An hour later a big, luxurious closed car limped into the ranch
door-yard. Mr. Packard went out to greet the strangers in the same
hospitable manner that he had greeted his friends. The girls on the wide
porch saw a fine looking man with a Van Dyke beard assisting a simply
though richly gowned woman from the car, then the front door was flung
open! There was a joyful cry from a girl who leaped out and fairly raced
up the front steps with arms out-held. "O Jane, Jane! How wonderful to
find you here! We were looking for your cabin and that's how we came to
lose our way."

"Marion Starr, of all things! I thought that you were in Newport!"



                            CHAPTER XXVIII.
                              OLD FRIENDS


Jean, Dan and Gerald had gone at once to the corral with the four horses
they had ridden and were still there (for Jean had much to show his
guests) when the car arrived, and so the excitement was quite over when
they at last sauntered around one corner of the porch.

There were four in the party of autoists, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Starr,
Marion, and Bob, her young brother.

Jane at once took Merry to her room, while Julie accepted Meg's
invitation to wander about the gardens and make the acquaintance of the
flowers. Mr. Packard had just returned from showing Mr. and Mrs. Starr to
the guest room when the boys appeared. Bob Starr had lingered to look
over the car, which was the pride of his heart, and so it was that he
first met Jean, Dan and Gerald. Jean proved himself an expert mechanic,
as was also Mr. Packard, and they promised the lad that directly after
lunch they would assist him in putting his car in the best of shape.

Meanwhile Jane and Merry were telling each other all that had happened
since last they had met.

"I simply can't understand it in the least," Jane declared for the tenth
time. "To think that you deliberately gave up the opportunity to spend a
whole summer in Newport to undergo the hardships of a cross-country motor
trip."

Merry dropped down in a deep easy chair and laughed happily. "Oh, I've
loved it! Every hour of the trip has been fascinating. Of course I'm
mighty glad Mr. Packard saved our lives, but even that was exciting."

"But wasn't your Aunt Belle terribly disappointed?"

"Why, no; not at all. There are steens of us in the Starr family. She
just invited some other girl cousins. Aunt Belle is never so happy as
when she is surrounded with gay young girls. Then, moreover, Esther
Ballard couldn't go. Her artist father had planned a tramping trip
through Switzerland as a surprise for her and Barbara Morris decided to
accompany them; so you and I would have been quite alone at Newport. But
do tell me who is the girl to whom you introduced me when I first
arrived? She is beautiful, isn't she?"

Jane surely had changed in the past week, for her reply was sincere and
even enthusiastic. "Merry, that girl is more than beautiful. She is
wonderful! I want you to know her better. She has saved me from myself."
Then she laughingly arose, holding out both hands to assist her friend to
her feet. "If you are rested, dear, come out on the porch. I want you to
meet the nicest, well, almost the nicest boy I have ever known."

Merry glanced up roguishly. "Are congratulations in order?"

Jane flushed prettily, though she protested: "You know they are not,
Marion Starr! Romance is as far from my thoughts today as it ever was,
but next to Dan, I do like Jean best."

"Well, I certainly am curious to meet this paragon of a youth." Merry
gave her friend's waist a little affectionate hug, then said: "I have a
pretty nice brother of my own. He ought to be ready by now to be
presented to my best friend." Together they went toward the front door.
"I know Bob must be nice," Jane agreed, "since he is your twin."

The girls appeared on the porch just as the boys had completed an
inspection of the machine and so Jane's "paragon," with a smudge of
grease on one cheek and smeared hands, laughingly begged Merry to pardon
his inability to remove his hat. Before Marion could reply, her brother
led her aside and talked rapidly and in a low voice, then returning he
said in his pleasing manner: "Miss Abbott, you will pardon any seeming
lack of courtesy on my part when I tell you there was something very
important which I wished to say to my sister, and there is no time like
the present, you know."

Merry laughingly interrupted: "And now that you have made that long
speech to Jane, it would be sort of an anti-climax, would it not, for me
to formally introduce you? However, Jane, this is my wayward young
brother Bob, whom I am endeavoring to bring up the way that he should
go." Jane held out a slim white hand, but, although she said just the
right thing, her thoughts were busy. Something had happened that she did
not understand.

Mrs. Starr rested that afternoon in one of the comfortable reclining
chairs on the wide front porch. Mr. Starr was most interested in all that
Mr. Packard had to show him, while the young people went for a horseback
ride in merry cavalcade. Bob Starr was eager to see the washout, and
decide for himself what chance of escape they might have had. Julie was
overjoyed that this time she also might accompany the riders. A small
spotted pony was chosen for her, as it was a most reliable little
creature--sure-footed and gentle.

For a while Jane and Merry rode side by side, then Bob and Jean Sawyer,
who for some time had ridden far back of the others, galloped up and rode
alongside of the two girls, Bob next to Jane and Jean close to Merry.

There was a pang in the dark girl's heart. She had noticed several times
at lunch that Jean had glanced across at Marion Starr and had smiled at
her when their eyes met. But the trail soon became too rough to permit
four to ride abreast, and so Jean called: "Miss Starr, suppose you and I
ride ahead and set the pace."

Marion smiled at her friend. "That will give you and Bob a chance to
become better acquainted," she said, then urged her horse to a gallop,
and away they went, Jean and Merry, laughing happily, and yet when they
had quite outdistanced the rest, Jane noted that they rode more slowly
and close together, as though in serious converse.

"They surely are becoming acquainted very rapidly," the girl thought
miserably. She had not realized until now how very much Jean Sawyer's
admiration had meant to her. Suddenly she felt so alone and looked back
to find the brother who had always cared so much for her, but he also was
completely engrossed in another girl, for Meg had dismounted to examine
some growth by the trail, and Dan, standing at her side, was listening,
as he gazed into her dusky eyes, with great evident interest. Jane
sighed.

"I deserve it all," she thought. "I have not been lovable, and so why
should I expect to be loved?"

"Jean Sawyer seems to be a mighty fine chap," her companion was saying.
"Is he overseer of this cattle ranch?"

"Yes, I understand that is the position he fills," Jane said, feeling
suddenly very weary, and wishing that she could ride back to the ranch
house. A fortnight before she would have done so, but now a thought for
the happiness of others came to prevent such a selfish decision, for, of
course, if Jane turned back, some of the others would also, for the lads
were too chivalrous to permit her to ride alone. Bob, glancing at her,
decided that she was not interested in his companionship, but for Merry's
sake he made one more effort at friendly conversation.

"I do not suppose, though, that so fine a chap and one so capable will
remain forever in the position of an employee," he ventured. "Do you know
where he hails from?"

"No, I do not," Jane replied. Then wishing to change the subject, she
pointed toward a hill over which one lone vulture was swinging in wide
circles. "There is the washout!" Merry and Jean were galloping back
toward them.

The girl rode up to Jane as she said with a shudder: "Oh, I don't want to
go any closer! When I saw that wicked looking vulture and heard why he is
circling there I could picture all too plainly what _would_ have happened
if we had been killed and----"

It was seldom that Merry was so overcome. "Jane, do you mind riding back
with me?" she pleaded. "I want to go to my mother."

And so the two girls turned back toward the ranch house. They assured the
others that they did not mind going alone. Jane noticed that Merry said
nothing of the conversation that she had had with Jean Sawyer; in fact,
she did not mention his name and neither did Jane. When they reached the
ranch house Merry ran up the steps, and kneeling, she held her mother
close. That sweet-faced woman smoothed the sunny hair of the girl she so
loved, marveling at the unusual emotion, but when her daughter told her
how much more vividly she could picture their escape, after she had seen
the washout, and the vulture, the older woman understood. Jane, watching
her friend, felt that something more than a view of the road where there
might have been a tragedy was affecting her dearest friend, nor was she
wrong.

Mr. Packard prevailed upon Mrs. and Mr. Starr to remain as his guests for
at least another day, that the mother of Merry and Bob might become
thoroughly rested before the return journey to the East, which was to be
made by train, the automobile to be shipped back.

"O, Mrs. Starr, how I do wish you would permit Merry and Bob to visit us
in our cabin on Redfords Peak," Jane said when this decision had been
reached. "Couldn't they stay until we return East next month?"

Mrs. Starr looked inquiringly at her husband, but it was Merry who
replied. "Not quite that long, dear," she said, slipping an arm about her
friend. "I very much want to be in New York on September the first."

Just why she glanced quickly up at Jean Sawyer, a pretty flush tinting
her cheeks, Jane could not understand. There was an actual pain in her
heart, and she caught her breath quickly before she could reply in a
voice that sounded natural: "Well, then, at least you and Bob can remain
with us for two weeks and that will be better than not at all."

The selfish side of Jane's nature was saying to her: "Why urge Merry to
remain, when, if she were to go, you could have Jean Sawyer's
companionship all to yourself?" But Jane had indeed changed, for she put
the thought away from her as unworthy, and gave her friend a little
affectionate hug when Mrs. Starr said that the plan was quite agreeable
to her.

"Good! That's great!" Dan declared warmly. Then he excused himself, for
he saw Meg Heger returning with Julie from a "botany expedition" in the
foothills.

The mountain girl smiled up at him in her frank way when he ran down the
garden path toward them. "Have you news to tell us?" she inquired.
"You're looking wonderfully well these days, Daniel Abbott. I do not
believe that your lungs were affected, after all."

"Indeed, they were not!" The boy whirled to walk at Meg's side, and as
she smiled up at him in her good comradeship way, he was almost impelled
to add, "But my heart is." Instead, he laughed boyishly, and took the
basket of specimens that the girl carried. Peeping under the cover, he
exclaimed: "Why, if you haven't taken them up, root and all."

Meg nodded joyfully. "Wasn't it nice of Mr. Packard to tell me that I
might transplant them to my own botany gardens. Aren't they the most
exquisite star-like flowers and the most delicate pinks and blues?" Then,
when the cover had been replaced, Meg lifted long-lashed, dusky eyes that
were more serious. "Dan, do you suppose Jane would mind if I went home
this afternoon? Think of it, in another fortnight I will be going to
Scarsburg to take the entrance examinations for the normal, and kind old
Teacher Bellows is giving me some special review work which I cannot
afford to miss."

"If you return, I will also," the lad said; then, when he saw that his
companion was about to protest, he hurriedly added: "Not because you need
my protection, but because I _wish_ to be with you."

Meg gave no outward sign of having understood the deep underlying meaning
of the words that she had heard, but the warmth in her heart assured her
that she was glad, glad that Dan wanted to accompany her.

Gerald came bounding toward them, dressed still in his fringed cowboy
suit. "Say, kids," he shouted inelegantly, then looked rather sheepishly
at Julie, as though he expected one of her grandmotherly rebukes, but
hearing none, he blurted on: "We're going to have a corn and potato roast
for supper tonight. Won't that be high jinks, though? Mr. Packard has a
barbecue pit on the other side of the little lake. Oh. boy!" he
continued, rubbing the spot where the feast would eventually be. "You bet
you I'll be there with bells!" Then, catching Julie by the hand, he raced
with her to the corral, where they liked to look over the log fence at
the horses and colts in the enclosure.

Dan smiled down at his companion. "Let us wait until morning and start at
sunrise, shall we?" he suggested. "If we go this afternoon, our host
might think that we do not appreciate his plans for our entertainment."

Meg agreed willingly, little dreaming that so slight an incident was to
make a vital change in her hitherto uneventful life.



                             CHAPTER XXIX.
                              THE BARBEQUE


Julie and Gerald were hilariously excited as the hour of the roast
approached. Mr. Packard had selected them as his aides, had made them a
committee on arrangement. They took wood to the pit and then went with
the ever-beaming Chinese gardener to the field where the corn grew, and
they carried back between them a heavily laden basket. Then the long
table near the lake that was sheltered by cottonwood trees was set with
the plate and dishes found on every cattle ranch in reserve for round-ups
and similar occasions when many are to be fed.

In the center Julie placed a huge bouquet of scarlet salvia and golden
glow to make the table "extra-pretty," and she put Meg's name nearest the
flowers, but, with the innocence of childhood, she put Dan's name at the
place directly opposite. When the guests were finally summoned, Julie's
big brother protested that he didn't want to sit directly behind that
huge bouquet because he couldn't "see anything." Julie looked perplexed.
"Why, yes, you can so! You can see the foothills, and just lots of
things."

Then Gerald blurted out, "Silly, he can't see Meg Heger, can he, when
you've put her right across from the bouquet?"

How they all laughed, even Meg, and Mrs. Starr, glancing at the mountain
girl, marveled at her beauty, and thought it quite natural that any lad
would rather look at her than at a scarlet and gold bouquet.

Mr. Packard settled the matter by removing the huge centerpiece to a side
table. "There, that's heaps better!" Jean said as he smiled across at
Marion. "Now I also have a better view of the foothills," he added
mischievously.

It was hard, cruelly hard for Jane, even though Bob Starr, who was seated
next to her, tried his utmost to be entertaining. Bob was indeed puzzled.
He was not at all conceited, but, up to the present, he had found even
very attractive girls seeking, rather than spurning, his companionship.

"Icebergs aren't in my line," he decided, and turned toward little Julie,
who was on his other side, and whose fresh enthusiasm was interesting,
even to a lad several years her senior.

Merry noticed that her best friend did not eat with the same zest that
was very apparent in the appetites of all the others, and, after a time,
she suggested to Bob that he change seats with her. The table had just
been cleared and Gerald had darted away with the Chinaman to bring on the
generous slices of watermelon, and so the change was made very easily.
Merry slipped a hand under the table and held Jane's in a close, loving
clasp. "Dear," she said very softly, "you aren't feeling well, are you?
Shall we go back to the ranch house? I do not mind missing the
watermelon."

"No, thank you, Marion," Jane's voice, try as she might to make it sound
natural, had in it a note of reserve that was almost cold. For the first
time in the years that they had been so intimate, Jane had used the
formal Marion. The friends who loved her always called her Merry.
Something was wrong, radically wrong. Merry ate her slice of melon,
wondering what it could possibly be, and finally decided that if Jane's
manner remained unchanged throughout the evening, she would accompany her
mother to the East on the following day.

"There is going to be a wonderful moon tonight," Mr. Packard said, "Why
don't you young people climb the foothill trail and watch it rise?"

"That's a good suggestion!" Jean Sawyer at once offered to lead the
expedition. Then, as everyone had arisen, he went to the two girls, who
were seated together, and said with a smile which included them both,
"Shall we three go ahead?"

But Jane replied, "You and Merry may go. I have one of my sick headaches.
I shall go to bed at once." Jean Sawyer looked at the girl almost sadly.
Then he said quietly, "I am sorry, Jane. May I walk back to the house
with you?"

"I thank you, no!" The girl's haughty manner was in evidence. Then going
to Mr. Packard, she asked to be excused and walked quickly around the
little lake. Merry watched her thoughtfully, then turning to her
companion, she said, "Jean, I think I understand. May I tell her our
secret now--tonight?"

The boy assented eagerly. "I shall be glad to have Jane know," he said.
Then Merry also excused herself and followed her friend.



                              CHAPTER XXX.
                          JEAN SAWYER'S SECRET


Jane, going to the deserted ranch house, threw herself down on her bed
and sobbed heart-brokenly. She did not hear the tap on the door, nor was
she conscious that Merry had entered until she heard her voice: "Jane,
dear, have I done anything to hurt you, to make you unhappy?" The
tenderness in the tone of her best friend was unmistakable. All at once
Jane felt ashamed of herself. Holding out a fevered hand, she said:
"Indeed not, dear girl. It isn't your fault at all. Any boy would like
you better than me. You are so sweet and unselfish and lovable." Merry's
eyes widened, for she was indeed perplexed, "Jane, I don't understand,"
she said. "What boy likes me better than he does you?" Then, slowly a
light dawned. Taking both hot hands in her own, she cried, her blue eyes
glowing, "Oh, Jane, dearest Jane, _did_ you think that Jean Sawyer cared
for me? Did you think for one moment that I, knowing how much you liked
him, would even want him to care for me? Indeed not, Janey! But now that
I think about it, I realize that you might misunderstand. Dear, it's a
long story. Let's go out on the veranda in the moonlight. There is no one
around. They all went up the foothill trail and will be gone for an
hour."

Jane permitted herself to be led to a vine-sheltered corner of the
veranda, where they sat close together in a hammock swing. Merry piled
the soft cushions behind her friend, whose flushed face assured her that
the head was really aching. Jane sighed as she sank back among them, but
it was a sigh of relief. How wrong it had been to doubt for one moment
the loyalty of this, her very best friend. But Merry was beginning the
story. "Dear," she said, placing a cool hand on the hot one near her,
"when you first introduced me to Jean Sawyer, did you notice that my
brother Bob drew me away to whisper something to me before I could
acknowledge the introduction?"

Jane nodded, both curious and interested. "Why did Bob do that? I
wondered at the time." Merry continued: "I was just about to exclaim,
'Why, Jean Sawyer Willoughby, so this is where you disappeared to when
you left home last February!' but I did not, for Bob gave me no time.
What he whispered was, 'Don't let on you know Jean. He wants his identity
kept in the dark. He is using his mother's maiden name. Get the cue?'

"Of course I got it, but as soon as I could I asked Jean to go for a
canter with me that I might tell him how heart-broken his family was
because he had disappeared as he did." Jane was no longer reclining among
the cushions. She sat up, listening intently.

"You and Bob know Jean's family?"

"Yes, indeed, both his father and older brother Ken. We met them every
summer on the coast of Maine, where our parents had cottages next to each
other."

"Jean told me of that cottage where he went that summer, alone with his
mother," Jane said. "I mean the summer she died."

"Poor boy! He never was happy in his home life after that," Merry
replied. "Ken, his brother, is a commissioned officer on one of the war
boats. He had little shore leave and that left Jean and his father quite
alone in their big house in New York. They never had been congenial in
their interests, but the final break came when the father entered into
some oil deal which Jean considered dishonorable. He told his father
exactly how he felt about it. He said that he refused to inherit money
that was taken from the poor who had invested their savings in the
wildcat scheme, believing the firm to be honest. Of course his father was
angry, and Jean, refusing to take one penny of what he called 'tainted'
money, left home to make his own way in the world.

"The father did not seem to care at first, for he had always loved Ken
more than he did Jean, but when Ken came home on a leave he took Jean's
part, and also denounced his father's dishonorable business methods."

Jane was sitting very erect and her breath came hard. At last she
interrupted. "Merry," she said in a voice she could hardly recognize as
her own, "Jean's father, Mr. Willoughby, was my father's partner." Then
she burst into unexpected tears. "Jean was nobler than I! Oh, Merry, I
never can be his friend again. I am not worthy of him. I want you to be
his best friend. You are so good. I am sure that in his heart of hearts
he must love you." Merry leaned over and kissed her friend tenderly. "I
hope Jean does love me," she said simply. "He is to be my brother, for I
am engaged to Ken Willoughby. His three years in the navy are nearly
over. Ken is coming home for good on September first."

Jane's heart was filled with conflicting emotions. She was indeed happy
when she heard the wonderful secret which Merry assured her she would
have told her at once but Ken had wanted her to wait until he had given
her the ring which he had bought for her in Paris. "But I just had to
tell you, dear girl, when I realized that my friendship with Jean might
lead you to believe that we cared for each other." Then, slipping an arm
affectionately about her companion, Merry continued: "And now there is
just one thing for which I am going to wish until it comes true, and that
is that you and Jean may care for each other in the way Ken and I care.
Then, Jane, I will be your sister. Think what that would mean, for we
would share all of the joy that the future holds."

But Jane, tears brimming her eyes, said sadly: "That can never be! If
Jean knew the truth; if he knew that I wanted father to cheat those poor
people who had trusted him, he would scorn me, even as I now scorn
myself. I never knew father's partners except by name. We lived so very
far apart and Dad always wanted to just rest when he reached our village
home, and so, even when I was with him, which was seldom, we had no
social life." Then, turning with a startled expression, Jane inquired,
"Oh, do you suppose that Jean knows? Do you suppose he recognized our
name as being the same as his father's partner?"

Merry replied thoughtfully: "There are a good many Abbotts in the world,
dear, and just at first Jean did not suspect that your father was the one
who had withdrawn from the firm, and who, by so doing, had incurred the
hatred and wrath of Mr. Willoughby, but, when I happened to mention why
your father had lost everything, as Dan had told him, Jean's face
brightened. 'I am glad,' he said, 'that the father of Jane had the
courage to do the honorable thing.' I noticed at the time that he said
'the father of Jane' and not of Dan. That means, dear, that you are often
in his thoughts."

But Jane had again burst into tears, and rising, she hurried to her own
room and begged Merry, who had followed her with tender solicitude, to
leave her alone. "I never, never can be Jean's friend again, but don't
tell him how dishonorable I have been, Merry. Promise me that you will
not tell him."

"Of course I will not tell, but, oh, Jane, you are over-imaginative
tonight. I am sure that you never wished your father to rob the poor that
you might have luxury. But there, please don't answer me, dear. You are
all worn out and your poor head is throbbing cruelly. Let me help you
undress. Tomorrow morning when you awake you will see everything in a
different light."

But Merry was wrong. Because of Jane, the young people did not start at
sunrise as they had planned, but delayed until after Mr. and Mrs. Starr
had been driven away to the Redfords station. Mr. Packard accompanied
them. Bob was pleased indeed that he and his sister were to remain in the
Rockies for another fortnight, and Merry was glad to be with Jane, who,
more than ever, seemed to need her friendship.

When the young people were gathered at the corral, preparing to start,
Jean glanced across at Jane and noting how pale and weary she looked, he
strode over to her, saying: "Aren't you afraid the ride will be too hard
for you? Suppose we let the others start now, if Meg feels that she must
get home. You and I could follow them more leisurely, starting later,
when you are rested."

There was a sad expression in the dark eyes that were lifted to his, but
the girl's reply was: "Thank you, Jean, I would rather go now, with the
others." Merry felt Jane's clasp tighten about her hand, and well knew
that she was suffering cruelly, and that it was a mental, not a physical
torture.

Jean assisted both of the girls to mount and then the string of horses
started toward the mountain trail, for Bob was eager to visit the old
deserted Crazy Creek mine. Jean Sawyer glanced often at the pale,
beautiful face of the girl who seemed purposely to avoid him.



                             CHAPTER XXXI.
                         AN UNCANNY EXPERIENCE


At the foot of the trail that led up the mountain, Dan, who had been in
the lead with Meg, called: "Jean, we're waiting for you to go ahead,
since you have so often ridden this trail."

The boy, who had been silently riding at Jane's side whenever it had been
possible, turned to ask: "Will you ride on ahead with me?"

The girl tried to smile at him, but her lips quivered. "No, thank you,
Jean. I think I will stay with Merry."

A boyish voice called, "Ask me and hear what I'll say." It was Bob, and
before Jean could express a desire for his companionship, the black horse
which the younger lad rode was scrambling up the rocky trail following
the leader. Julie and Gerald, on their agile ponies, were next; Meg and
Dan followed, while Jane and Merry rode more slowly, each putting her
entire trust in the horse on which she was mounted. "We do not need to
try to guide them," Merry had said. "Jean told me that the horses climb
best without direction. Just pull up on the rein if it should happen to
stumble."

Bob's enthusiasm over all he saw was given such constant expression that
Jane's silence was not so noticeable. Dan, now and then, glanced back
anxiously. He also had noted Jean's apparent devotion to Merry on the two
days previous, and he wondered if it had saddened Jane, and yet she had
never said that she really cared for Jean.

When they reached a wide rock plateau their guide whirled in his saddle
to ask if any of the riders were tired and wished to rest for a while,
but they all preferred to keep on. A few moments later they were passing
through the deserted mining camp. There was not a breath of wind stirring
and the only sounds they heard were the humming of insects and now and
then a bird song.

The cabins, many of them falling into ruins, looked as though they might
be haunted with ghosts of the men who had given their lives trying to
find gold. "Say, boy!" Bob drew rein to look about him. "This places
gives one the shivers, all right! At any minute I expect to hear a ghost
groan or----"

"Hark! What was that?" Merry interrupted. "I _did_ hear a groan! I am
positive that I did." They all listened and there was no mistaking the
fact that a groaning noise was coming from a cabin that stood near a deep
pit beside which was a pile of red and yellow ore.

"What do you suppose it is, since we know there is no such thing as a
ghost?" Dan turned toward Meg to inquire. Surely the mountain girl would
know.

But it was Jean who replied: "Don't you believe that some wounded animal
may have dragged itself into the cabin to die? They always _do_ try to
hide away when they are hurt, don't they, Meg?"

The girl nodded, her sweet face serious as she said: "I will ride over
and see what it is. A moan like that always means that some creature
needs help."

"You must not go alone," Dan told her. "I will ride over there with you."

Meg turned to the others. "Please wait here," she said. "If it is a hurt
animal, so many of us would frighten it."

In silence the group waited, watching the two who rode toward the yawning
pit. When they were near the place, Meg dismounted and Dan did likewise.
Together they approached the door of the isolated cabin. Dan swung his
gun from his shoulder and held it in readiness if harm were to threaten
them. Meg glanced at the door, then turning, motioned the lad to put up
his gun. Wondering what the girl had seen, the boy hastened to her side.

Meg entered the old cabin and Dan, standing at the door, saw on the
rotting floor the twisted form of the old Ute Indian.

His wrinkled, leathery face showed how cruelly he was suffering, but when
he saw Meg, who at once knelt at his side, his expression changed to one
of eagerness, almost of gladness. He tried to reach out his shriveled
arm, but groaned instead.

Dan stepped inside and looked down pityingly. Meg, glancing up with tears
in her wonderful eyes, said, "Poor old Ute. He has had another stroke,
and this one is his last." They both knew that the old Indian was making
a great effort to speak, and the lad bent to whisper, "Perhaps he is
trying to tell you something."

"Oh, if he only would! If he only could." Meg was rubbing the poor limp
hand that was crusted with dirt in her own. Then, close to his ear, she
asked clearly: "Could you tell me about my father?"

Again there was a lightening of the eyes that were beginning to dim.
"Fadder he die--hid box----. Dig, dig, no find box. _You_ find box, then
you know----" The old Ute could say no more, for another contortion had
seized him and it was the last.

Meg was trembling so that Dan had to assist her to rise. The others,
having been eager to know what had happened, had approached the cabin and
dismounted. Jane saw that, for the first time in their acquaintance, the
mountain girl was nearly overcome with emotion, and going to her, she
slipped an arm about her, saying sincerely, "Meg, dear, what is it? Can
we help you?" But almost at once Meg regained at least outward composure.
"It is the old Ute Indian who has died," she told them. "How thankful I
am that we came this way, for he has told me about my father. Perhaps I
shall know more, but that much is enough."

Turning back, she looked thoughtfully at the cabin, then said, "Dan, will
you help me bar the door that no wild creature can get in? The windows
were long ago boarded up. The old Ute shall have it for his tomb."

When this was done, a solemn group of young people rode away. Meg said
little, and Dan, riding at her side, understood her thoughtfulness. When
the Abbott cabin was reached, Meg said goodbye to the friends who were to
remain there, but Dan insisted upon accompanying her to her home.

When they were quite alone the lad rode close to her, and placed a hand
on hers as he said, "Meg, dear, how much, how very much this means to
you."

Such a wonderful light there was in the dusky eyes that were lifted to
his. "O, Dan, _now_ I can feel that I have a right to accept your
friendship; yours and Jane's." But with sincere feeling the lad replied:
"It is for your sake only that I am glad. Your parentage mattered not at
all to me, nor, of late, has it to Jane." Then, although Dan had not
planned on speaking so soon, he heard himself saying: "Meg, you are all
to me that my most idealistic dreams could picture for the girl I would
wish to marry. Do you think that some day you might care for me if I
regain my health and am able to make a home for you?"

There was infinite tenderness in the dark eyes, but the girl shook her
head. "Your companionship means very much to me, Dan, but I must teach. I
want to care for the two old people who took me in out of the storm and
who have given me all that I have had."

"You shall, dearest girl. That is, _we_ shall, if you will let me help
you."

Then before Meg could refuse, Dan implored, "Don't answer me yet. I can
wait if you will _try_ to love me." They had reached the cabin and saw Ma
Heger, wiping sudsy hands on her apron, hurrying out to greet them. Dan
detained the girl. "Promise me that you will try to care," he pleaded. "I
won't have to try," she said, then turned to greet the angular woman who
had been the only mother she had ever known.



                             CHAPTER XXXII.
                          HUNTING FOR THE BOX


Jean Sawyer, troubled indeed, because Jane Abbott continued to avoid him,
changed his plan and decided not to remain at the cabin until late
afternoon; and so, bidding them goodbye, he went down the road toward
Redfords, leading the string of horses. The other young people climbed
the stone stairway.

"Oh, Jane, what a perfectly adorable place," Merry exclaimed when the
door had been unlocked and the young people had entered the long rustic
living-room. "I like it so much better than those elaborately furnished
cottages at Newport. They are too much like our own homes, but this cabin
savors of camping out. It's a wonderful spot for a real vacation."

"It surely is different," Jane agreed as she led her friend into the
comfortable front bedroom which they were to share. Then she confessed:
"I do like it much more than I had supposed that I would when I first
came. Honestly, Merry, I feel differently inside. When I believed that
those poor little children had been driven out of their home by my
temper, and might never be found, something inside of me snapped;
something that had been holding me tense, I can't explain it, and I felt
as though I had been set free from--well, free from myself. Self, that is
it," she continued bitterly, "planning for oneself, living for oneself,
living for one's selfish pleasure and comfort, slowly but surely deadens
sympathy and love and understanding." Then taking from the table near the
wide window a delicate miniature, Jane handed it to her companion. "That
is my mother's portrait."

"How beautiful she must have been." Merry glanced from the sweet pictured
face to that of the girl at her side. "You are so alike. It is only the
expression that is different. I am sure that anyone in sorrow would have
gone to your mother for comfort."

Jane nodded. "I am not like that--yet; but Dan thinks that if we choose a
model and keep it ever in thought, we will grow to be like that person or
ideal, and I have chosen my mother."

Silently Merry kissed her friend and then replaced the miniature on the
table. Jane had indeed changed that she could talk, even with her best
friend, of these things of the soul.

A moment later there came a jolly rapping on their closed door, and Bob
called: "Come and see where I am going to hang out, or hang up rather."

Merry and Jane went out on the front porch with the lad, who was brimming
with enthusiasm. "Oh, aren't you afraid a bear will devour you in the
night?" his sister inquired, when she saw a hammock hung between two
pines.

"Hope one will," Bob replied jubilantly. "What a yarn that would be to
tell when I get back to college."

Practical Julie was wide-eyed. "Why, Bob Starr," she exclaimed, "how
could you tell about it after you were all eaten up?"

"Which reminds me," Bob said irrelevantly, "of a story about the South
Sea Islanders. A missionary was teaching them that they must take great
care of their bodies, as they were to rise on the last day, and one
native asked what would become of his poor brother who had been eaten by
a tiger."

"Bob, dear," Merry rebuked, "you ought not to joke about such things. It
does not matter what we believe ourselves, or how outlandish we consider
the beliefs of others, we ought to treat them with respect."

"Yes'm," Bob pretended to be quite contrite. "I'm willing to change the
subject if the next subject is something to eat."

"I'll get the lunch." Julie, leaning on the staff Dan had cut for her,
limped toward the kitchen, but her sister caught her and put her on the
porch cot and piled pillows under her head. "Indeed not, little lady."
Jane kissed her affectionately. "It's your turn now to pretend you are a
princess and I will be your maid of waiting."

Impulsively Julie threw her arms about her sister's neck and clung to her
as she whispered: "Oh, Janey, I love you so!" And Jane, when she arose,
felt in her heart a greater happiness than had ever been there when she
had received the adulation of the admiring girls at Highacres.

"And I will be your aide!" Merry, who had gone to the top of the stone
stairway to look down at the road, skipped back to say, and, then, arm in
arm, these two friends went, and from their merry laughter it was quite
evident that Jane's efforts as head cook were being mirthfully regarded
by both of them. However, when the others were called to the back porch,
where the table was set, they found as appetizing a lunch as could be
desired. But underneath all her apparent pleasure Jane was sorrowing. She
never again could be Jean Sawyer's friend. He would not want her
friendship if he knew how she had felt about her father's sacrifice, but
he must never, never know.

Jane glanced often at Dan during the lunch. Never had she seen him look
so wonderfully happy. He had expressed his regret that Jean had departed
before his return and exclaimed: "But the horse I rode also belongs to
Mr. Packard. I wonder why he did not wait for it."

"Mr. Packard told him to leave one horse with us," his sister explained,
"and more if we wished, but I thought one would be all you would want to
care for." Dan was pleased.

He said: "We have made good friends since we came here. It is hard to
realize that it is not yet a fortnight ago." Julie chimed in with: "Yep,
haven't we?" Then, beginning with one small thumb to count, "First
there's Meg Heger. Next to Janey, she's the nicest girl I guess there
is." Merry pretended to be quite offended. "Little one, you surely are
honest. You ought always to say present company excepted."

"Oh, I do like you, Merry, awful much. You can be third. Will that be all
right?" The golden haired girl laughed gaily: "Of course, I was only
teasing, dear. Now who comes next?"

"Jean Sawyer and Mr. Packard and then the little spotted pony, and then
my mountain lion baby." The small girl put down her hand as she
concluded. "I guess that's all the new friends I've made here in the
mountains."

Bob suddenly thought of something. "Say, Dan, there is a sort of mystery
about that trapper's daughter, isn't there? I understand that at first
the old Ute Indian pretended he was her father in order to get the girl
to give him money, and that this morning when he was dying he confessed
that he was not."

Dan nodded. Then turning to Jane, he said: "I am sure that Meg would not
wish it kept a secret from any of us and so I will tell you what the old
Indian said. His speech was almost incoherent, but we understood him to
say that Meg's father had died long ago. He must have told the squaw in
Slinking Coyote's hearing that he had hidden a box which he wished given
to his little girl when she was older, but he must have died before he
could tell where he had placed the box."

"How I wish it could be found," Jane said earnestly, "for without doubt
it would contain identification papers. Although it is a great joy to Meg
to know that she is not that old Ute's daughter, she will have to seek
out the squaw who took her to the Heger cabin before she can know who her
father really was."

"And even then I doubt if she would discover much," Dan remarked. "My
theory is that Meg's father was a miner who had brought the
three-year-old little girl to Crazy Creek Camp and had remained there for
a time, even after the exodus. In fact, he must have stayed until the
Indian tribe took possession of the otherwise deserted camp. Perhaps just
after they came he was seized with a fatal illness and left his little
one with the kindly old squaw, probably telling her to give the child to
a white family, since that is what she did."

"I believe you are right," Jane agreed. "It all sounds very reasonable to
me. But why do you suppose Meg's father remained at the camp after
everyone else had left? Do you think he had some clue to the whereabouts
of the lost vein?"

"That we cannot tell," Dan said. "He may have remained to hunt for it."
Then, rising, he smiled around at the group. "What shall we do this
afternoon, or do you want to just rest?"

"Nary for me!" was energetic Bob's reply. "I want to hunt for Meg Heger's
hidden box. Who will go with me and where shall we begin the search?"

Bob's enthusiasm was contagious. "I believe that I now understand the
real reason why the Ute Indian hung around the Crazy Creek Camp," Dan
told them. "He knew that the miner had hidden a box, an iron one, of
course it must be, and he has been searching for it, probably believing
it to contain whatever money Meg's father had."

"Of course," Bob agreed. "That's as clear as daylight. We have clues
enough, but the thing is to try to reason out _where_ would be a likely
place for the miner to have hidden it."

Gerald, not wishing to be left out of so interesting a discussion, wisely
contributed, "Maybe under the floor-boards in the cabin where he lived,
or some place like that."

Dan smiled down into the chubby freckled face of his small brother as he
replied: "One naturally might suppose so, but I do believe, Gerry, that
the old Ute suspected the same thing and has been ransacking those cabins
all these years. I would be more inclined to look in some of the dug-outs
or tunnels where, if he were a miner, Meg's father may have been
searching for the lost vein."

While the boys talked Jane and Merry had been washing and wiping the
lunch dishes. When they joined the excited group on the front porch, Bob
stood up, saying, "Shall we start now?"

Jane also arose, but, happening to glance down at Julie, she saw tears
brimming the small girl's eyes and that her lips were quivering.
Instantly the older girl sat on the cot beside her, and, putting her arms
about her little sister, she said compassionately: "Is your ankle hurting
again, dearie? Since you cannot go, I will stay here with you and read to
you. Don't feel badly, Julie. Your foot will soon be well; long before
they find the box, I am sure of that."

The small girl leaned happily against her sister and looked up at her
with adoration in her dark violet eyes. Then Merry announced: "This is a
boys' adventure anyway. We girls will sit on the porch and have the best
kind of a time all together."

And so the boys departed, armed with stout staffs and guns and calling
that they would surely be back by supper time.

But when at last they did return, they had discovered nothing, and Bob
was eager to start at dawn the next day and search everywhere around the
Crazy Creek Camp.

Merry shuddered. "Goodness, don't!" she ejaculated. "It was ghostly
enough before, but now that we know that old Ute is entombed in one of
those cabins, you couldn't get me within a mile of the place."

Bob retorted: "Well, we hadn't invited you girls, had we? So you need not
refuse with such gusto! We're going to take the horse, so that Dan can
ride most of the way." But that lad interrupted: "You mean that we will
take turns riding. Although I have been in the Rockies so short a time my
cold is entirely cured, and, as my lungs had not really been affected, I
am soon to be as husky as you, Bob."

"Of course you are, old man," Bob put a hand on his friend's shoulder,
"but soon isn't now. I won't go unless you will ride, when I think it is
the best for you to do so."

"All righto! Anything to be agreeable." Dan sank down on the porch step
as though he were rather tired after the climb they had just completed.

Bob then turned to the girls. "You maidens fair need not awaken. We'll be
as quiet as--as----" Dan smilingly offered: "How would Santa Claus do? He
steals around very softly, or so tradition has it." Bob laughed. "I was
going to say as a thief in the night, but I don't like to use a simile
which suggests an unpleasant picture, and it's the wrong time of the year
for Santa Claus."

"A mouse is awful quiet," Julie put in.

"Or a cat. They have cushions on their feet," Gerald added.

"We'll be as quiet as all of them," Bob said, "and tomorrow, young
ladies, we are going to bring home the box."

When the boys returned from Crazy Creek Camp they were weary and
disappointed, but not discouraged, or so Bob assured the girls. It was
quite evident that they were much excited, however, but what had caused
it they would not reveal. When Merry asked if their search had taken them
close to the tomb of the old Ute Indian, Bob had looked over at Dan and
had asked, "Shall we tell?"

The older boy nodded. "Why, yes, we might as well. Sooner or later they
are likely to find it out."

The young people were seated about the hearth in the living-room of the
cabin resting and visiting before they retired for the night. Gerald's
eyes glowed with excitement. "Julie won't sleep a wink if she knows about
it. She'll be skeered as anything, Julie will."

The small girl nestled closer to Jane and looked up at her inquiringly.
"What does Gerry mean, Janey?" she asked. "Are they trying to tease us?"

But Dan replied seriously, "No, it is the truth that something has
occurred since we were last at the Crazy Creek Camp, and the discovery of
it did startle us. Although we planned to give the tomb-cabin a wide
berth, we at once went to a position where we could look at it. You girls
can imagine our surprise, and I'll confess it, horror, when we saw the
front door standing wide open."

"Oh-oo, how dreadful!" Jane shuddered. "What did it mean? Had someone
opened the door out of curiosity, do you suppose, and what a shock it
must have been when they found that dead Indian on the floor."

Dan and Bob exchanged curious glances. Then the latter spoke up: "It is
just possible that the old Ute was not really dead and that he revived
and left the cabin."

"But how could he?" Merry looked thoughtfully into the fire. "As I
remember, the door was barred on the outside."

"True!" her brother replied, "but we also found a loose board on the
floor, which had been lifted, leaving a hole large enough for the Ute to
have crawled through. After that he may have opened the door to procure
his pick-ax and shovel, as both were gone."

Julie glanced fearfully at the dark windows of the room, and Gerald said,
almost gloatingly: "There, I told you so! Julie is skeered. She thinks
the old Ute may be prowling around our cabin this very minute."

"Mr. Heger ought to be told about this," Dan had started to say, when
Gerry grabbed his arm. "What's that noise?" he whispered. "Someone is
outside. I hear 'em coming."

Dan and Bob were on their feet at once. There was indeed the sound of
footsteps outside the cabin, then there came a rap on the door. Julie
implored: "O Dan, don't! don't open it! Get your gun first!"

The older boy hesitated for a moment, but in that brief time his own
fears were set at rest, for a familiar voice called, "Daniel Abbott, may
I speak with ye?"

The boy's tenseness relaxed and he threw open the door with a welcoming
smile. "Mr. Heger, we're mighty glad to see you! Come in, won't you?"

The mountaineer glanced at the group about the fire, but shook his head.
"No, I thank ye. I jest came down to ask if a big brown mare I found
whinnyin' around my corral is the one Mr. Packard loaned ye? I would have
asked Meg hed she been to home, but she went, sudden-like, to Scarsburg,
along of some school-work, and she'll put up at the inn there for several
days."

Dan thanked the mountaineer for the trouble he had taken, adding, "There
really is no place here to keep the horse. I suppose that is why it
wandered up to you. As soon as Jean Sawyer comes again, I will send it
back."

The mountaineer assured the boy: "No need to do that, Danny, if you'd
like to keep it. I'll jest let it into my corral along of Bag-o'-Bones.
They seem to be actin' friendly enough." The man was about to leave, when
Dan said, "Mr. Heger, we boys have been over to Crazy Creek Camp today
and we are rather puzzled about something."

He then told what they had seen, ending with, "We're afraid that old Ute
came to life, and that he will continue to blackmail Meg."

The mountaineer shook his head, saying: "No, Danny, Slinkin' Coyote'll
never more be seen in these parts, lest be it's his ghost. Arter Meg tol'
me what had happened, I went down to put the sheriff wise. He reckoned
'twouldn't do, no-how, to leave the body unburied, and that the county'd
have to tend to it."

The girls uttered sighs of relief. Jane rose, when the mountaineer had
departed, saying, "Well, now, I guess we can all sleep without fear of a
visit from Slinking Coyote."



                            CHAPTER XXXIII.
                            JANE'S BIRTHDAY


For the next two days the boys searched high and low, far and near,
without finding the box. On the morning of the third, which was Saturday,
Jane announced at breakfast that, as it was her birthday, she wished to
go down to the inn and get the mail. The stage would not come up that way
until the following Monday. Instantly there was an uproar. Julie, whose
foot was nearly well again, hopped around the table and threw her arms
about her big sister's neck without fear of being rebuked because the
fresh muslin collar might be crushed. The older girl slipped an arm
lovingly about the child, who stood with her cheek pressed against the
soft dark hair.

Dan reached a hand across the table. "Jane, so it is! This is the
wonderful day on which you are eighteen. I congratulate you!"

Gerry, with a whoop, had pounced upon her, even as Julie had done,
without fear of rebuke. The older girl had been so consistently loving
during the past few days that, childlike, they had accepted the change as
being natural and permanent. Dan smiled happily at the group and in his
eyes there was a tenderness that his sister rejoiced to see. But the lad
who had been her chum since little childhood also knew that Jane's heart
held a sorrow which she was not sharing with him. That it had something
to do with Jean Sawyer he surmised, but believed that it was because Jane
still thought Mr. Packard's overseer liked Merry especially well.

"Let's have a party!" Gerald shouted as he capered about the room unable,
it would seem, to otherwise express his enthusiasm. "That would be
sport!" Dan agreed. Julie slipped from Jane's encircling arm. Clapping
her hands, she sang out: "Goodie! We're going to have a party and maybe
there'll be ice-cream."

"There probably isn't any to be had nearer than Scarsburg," Dan remarked.
Then he grew thoughtful, wondering how long the girl he loved would be
detained at the county seat, "along of school-work."

As though voicing his thought, Gerald ceased his antics to say earnestly:
"It won't be a party unless Meg is at it."

"And Jean Sawyer, too!" Julie put in. "Let's ask Meg and Jean to our
party. You want them, don't you, Janey?"

The other girl smiled as she arose to clear the breakfast table; then
turned away, but not quickly enough to hide the sudden tears from Dan.
The boy's heart was sad. He also believed that Jean Sawyer especially
liked Merry, and, if this were true, there was nothing for Jane to do but
to try _not_ to care.

Bob suggested that he and Dan go up to the Heger place to get the horse.
"Then the girls can take turns walking and riding," he ended. Merry
seemed to be very eager to go to the village, far down in the valley. "I,
also, am expecting some mail," was all that she would tell the others.

"I'm glad it's such a shiny day," Julie chirped. "Birthdays ought to be
all gold and blue, hadn't they ought to be, Janey?"

"What a tangled up sentence that is, dearie!" The older girl tried to
hide her own sorrow that she need not depress the others who were all in
a holiday mood. "But I _do_ believe that birthdays _ought_ to be sunny,
for they are a chance to start life all over." Merry looked up brightly.
"I love beginnings!" she said, as she rolled her sleeves preparing to
wash the dishes. "Whatever the mistakes or faults of the past have been,
I feel that on New Years and birthdays, and even on Mondays, I can clean
off the slate, so to speak, and start all over." When the two girls were
alone in the kitchen, Merry slipped an arm about her companion as she
said, "Dear Jane, I wish you would act more friendly toward poor Jean
Willoughby. I know that your seeming to avoid him the other day, hurt him
deeply." But Jane shook her head and in her eyes there was an expression
of suffering. "I can't! Oh, I can't!" she said miserably. "Some day he
might find out how I had acted about father's renouncing his fortune, and
then he would scorn me! I couldn't endure it, Merry. Oh, indeed, I
couldn't! I'm going back East with you next week, and then I shall never
see Jean Sawyer."

An hour later the young people started down the mountain road, Julie
riding on the horse as the other two girls, dressed in their natty hiking
costumes, declared that they would rather walk. They had decided to have
lunch at the inn, for Mrs. Bently was an excellent cook.

Jane covered her aching heart so well that Dan believed after all he had
been mistaken in thinking that she was sorrowing for Jean. Her loving
devotion to her best friend plainly proved to him that she was not at all
jealous of Merry. Deciding that he must have been wrong, he entered
wholeheartedly into the joyousness of the occasion and a jolly procession
it was that wended its way down the circling road toward the hamlet of
Redfords. At every turn Dan glanced down to see if, by any chance, Meg
Heger might be returning to her home cabin. Her foster-father had not
known how long she would have to stay at the Normal, where Teacher
Bellows had sent her for a time of intensive preparatory work, but the
lad hoped and believed that, even if Meg would have to return to
Scarsburg on the following Monday, she would visit her home over the
week-end. Nor was he wrong, for, at the bend, just above the village,
Gerald, who had been racing ahead, turned to shout through hands held
trumpet-wise: "Say kids, Meg Heger's coming. Gee-golly! Now she can come
to the party!"

Luckily no one glanced at Dan, for his sudden brightening expression
would have revealed the secret he wished to share with none but Meg. In
another few moments the girl, riding slowly up the mountain road on her
spotted pony, heard a chorus of shouts, and glancing up, saw the young
people on the bend above waving caps and kerchiefs. What a warmth there
was in the heart of the girl who, through all the years, had been without
a companion of her own age. And when at last they met, Jane was the first
to hurry forward with outstretched hands. "We've missed our nearest
neighbor and we're so glad you came home today," she said in her
friendliest manner.

The beautiful girl looked from one to another of the group and seeing in
each face a joyful expression, she asked: "What is it? Some special
occasion?" Gerald shouted, "Yo' bet it is! It's ol' Jane's birthday!"
Instantly he remembered the time in the orchard at home when he had
called his sister "Ol' Jane" and how scathingly he had been rebuked, and
he looked quickly, anxiously at the girl, but she was laughingly saying,
"You're right, Gerald! Eighteen _is_ old! I feel as ancient as the
hills." Then taking Meg's free hand, for Julie was clinging to the other,
Jane said, "Won't you turn about and take lunch with us at the inn? It's
the first of the birthday celebrations." But the mountain girl shook her
head, smiling happily into her friend's eyes as she replied: "Ma Heger is
expecting me this noon and will have the things baked up that I like
best. I couldn't disappoint her nor dear old Pap, either."

"But you'll come later. We'll be home by two o'clock and then the real
celebration is to begin," Jane begged, while Gerald said informingly,
"We're going to do stunts. I mean something extra-different. We don't
know what yet, but it'll be something awful jolly."

Meg beamed down at the eager freckled face. "I wouldn't miss it for
worlds. Of course I will be there." Dan, who had been standing silently
at her side said: "I will come up to your cabin for you. Then you will
know when we are back and ready to begin the frolic, whatever it is to
be."

"Is Jean Sawyer coming?" Meg glanced at Jane to inquire. The mountain
girl noted the sudden clouding of her new friend's eyes and although the
reply was lightly given in the negative, Meg knew that something was
wrong. She had been so sure that Jane and Jean liked each other
especially well.

Glancing at the sun, which was nearing the zenith, she exclaimed: "I must
go now; my pony has had a long walk today and I do not want him to climb
too rapidly." Then with a direct glance out of her dusky, long-lashed
eyes at Dan, she said: "I'll be ready and waiting for you when you come."

Mrs. Bently was indeed pleased when she heard that she was to have so
many hungry guests for lunch and asked if she might have one hour for
preparation.

The young people were disappointed when they learned that the mail had
not arrived, but they had not long to wait before the stage drew up in
front of the inn. Mr. Bently went out to get the leather bag which both
Jane and Merry hoped might contain something of especial interest to
them.

They all crowded around the tiny window in the corner which served as
postoffice and waited eagerly while the innkeeper sorted out the papers,
letters and packages.

"Wall, now," he beamed at them over his spectacles, "if here ain't that
parcel ol' Granny Peters been waitin' fer so long. Yarn's in it," he
informed his amused listeners. "Red, black and yellar. Granny sends to
the city for a fresh batch every summer and knits things for Christmas
presents. I've had one o' Granny Peters' mufflers every year for longer
than I kin recollect." He reached again into the bag. "An' here's
magazines enough to start a shop. Them's for the Packard ranch. They must
have a powerful lot o' time for settin' around readin', them two must."
Merry was watching eagerly, for, on the very next package she was sure
that she saw her name. The postmaster looked at it closely. Then he held
it far off to get a different angle, evidently hoping for enlightenment.
Finally he shook his head and tossed it to one side. "Reckon thar's been
a mistake as to that parcel," he said. "Thar ain't no Miss Marion Starr
in these here parts."

"I'm Marion Starr," that maiden informed him, laughingly holding out her
hand. But before the postmaster would give up the parcel he presented the
girl with a paper to sign. "Reckon thar's suthin' powerful valuable in
that thar box," he said, "bein' as it's sent registered."

Then he leaned on his elbows as though planning to wait until Merry had
opened her package before he finished distributing the mail, but to his
quite evident disappointment, the girl slipped it into her sweater coat
pocket. "I know what's in it," she said brightly. Jane, noting the
radiant happiness in her friend's face, believed that she also knew, but
her attention was attracted again to the small window near which she
stood, for the postmaster was touching her arm with a long letter. "Miss
Jane Abbott," he said, adding, "Wall, golly be, you're sort o' popular, I
reckon. Here are three letters an' thar's another that come in
yesterday."

"It's Jane's birthday," Julie piped up informingly. A month before the
older girl would have rebuked the younger for having been so familiar
with one of a class far beneath her. As it was, she accepted smilingly
the well meant remark. "Wall, do tell! How old be yo', Miss Jane? Not a
day over sixteen, jedgin' by yer looks."

As soon as the two girls could slip away from the others, Jane led Merry
into the deserted parlor of the inn, where hair-cloth chairs and sofa, a
marble-topped table, and bright-colored prints on the wall were revealed
in the subdued light from windows hung with heavy draperies.

When they were alone, Merry whirled and caught Jane's hands as she asked
glowingly: "Can you guess what's in the box? I told mother to forward
it."

For answer Jane stooped and kissed the flushed cheek of her friend. "Of
course, I can guess," she replied. "It's the ring Jean's brother was to
send you from Paris."

Merry soon had the small box unwrapped and a dew-drop clear diamond was
revealed in a setting of quaint design. "Oh, Merry, how wonderfully
beautiful it is!" Jane said with sincere admiration. Her shining-eyed
friend slipped it on the finger for which it was intended, then, smiling
up at her companion, she prophesied, "Some day another ring, as lovely as
this one, will make you my sister."

There was a wistful expression in the dark eyes, but Jane's quiet reply
was, "You are wrong, Merry. Even if Jean thinks he cares for me, he would
not, if he knew, and what is more, I have no reason to believe that he
even likes me better than he does his other girl friends."

Merry, knowing that time alone could tell whether or not she was a
prophet, changed the subject by asking: "From whom are your letters,
dear? How selfish I have been, opening my box first when it is _your_
birthday." Jane glanced at the top envelope, then tore it open with
breathless eagerness.

Merry surmised, and correctly, that the letter was from Jean Sawyer. It
was the one Mr. Bently had taken from a pigeon-hole where it had been
since the day before. It did not take long for Jane to read it, and when
she looked up there was an expression of happiness shining through the
tears that had come. Then suddenly and most unexpectedly, the girl sank
down in the stiff chair by the marble-topped table and bending her head
on her arms, she sobbed bitterly. Merry went to her and putting an arm
about her, she implored: "Don't, don't cry, dearie. It will make your
eyes red and the others will wonder. Tell me what is in the letter and
let us try to think what it is best to do. Is it from Jean?"

Jane lifted her head and wiped her eyes. Then she held the letter out for
her friend to read. There were few words in it, but they told how
sincerely unhappy the lad was because Jane seemed not to wish for his
friendship. Jean had written: "All I can think of is that in some way I
have hurt you, and that I do so want to be forgiven. At least, be frank
and tell me just why you do not wish my friendship."

"Why don't you tell him, dearie? If it would be hard to talk it over with
him, write a little letter now and leave it until someone comes for the
Packard ranch mail. Will you do that if I get the materials?"

Jane nodded miserably. "Yes, I would rather write it. Then I will go back
with you next week and I shall never again see Jean Sawyer."

Merry procured from Mr. Bently the paper and envelope, while Bob
willingly loaned his fountain pen. A glance at the big, loud-ticking
clock on the wall showed that there was still twenty minutes before Mrs.
Bently would be ready for them.

Merry thoughtfully left Jane alone, nor did she ask what her friend had
written when, at last, she joined the others, who were seated in the
cane-bottomed chairs on the front veranda of the inn.

The letter Jane had given to Mr. Bently, asking him to place it with the
rest of the mail for the Packard ranch.

The boys sprang up when Jane appeared, and Bob, being nearest, offered
his chair with a flourish. Merry glanced anxiously at her friend, but the
beautiful face betrayed nothing. "Thank you," Jane replied with a smile
at Bob, who had perched upon the rail near. Then, to Dan, she said:
"Brother, I have such a nice letter from Dad and one from grandmother,
but best of all is the check in Aunt Jane's letter, because now I can
repay the debt that I owe our dear, wonderful Meg."

Before she could say more, Mrs. Bently appeared in the doorway, her face
rosy, her spotless blue apron wound about her hands. "The birthday lunch
is ready to be dished up," she announced. Instantly Bob was on his feet,
making a deep bow before Jane and holding out his arm as he inquired,
"May I have the great pleasure of escorting the guest of honor?"

Gerald, taking the cue, bowed before Merry and Julie, laughing up at Dan,
said ungrammatically but happily: "Me'n you are all that's left." The
tall boy caught the little girl by one hand as he joyfully replied: "Mrs.
Tom Thumb and The Living Skeleton will end the procession."

Jane, smiling over her shoulder, said rebukingly, "Don't call yourself
that, brother. You're not nearly as thin as you were." When the
dining-room was reached, the young people were surprised and pleased.
"Say, boy!" was Bob's comment "Mrs. Bently, you've decked it out in grand
style."

The table to which they had been led was indeed resplendent with the best
of everything that the good woman possessed. On a real damask table-cloth
was glass that sparkled, while a pink rose pattern wound about plates and
cups. "They're my wedding presents," the comely woman told them as she
beamed her pleasure. "I never use them except for extra occasions like
Christmas and----"

"Birthdays," Gerald put in. Then, after the boys had moved the chairs out
for the girls and all were seated, they glanced about the room. Two
cowboys were at a table in a corner, and Jane recognized that one of them
was from the Packard ranch. "He'll take back their mail," she thought,
"and so this very day Jean Sawyer will know all. He will never, never
want to see me after he reads what I have written."

The menu for that birthday lunch was indeed an excellent one, but the
children, who sat next to each other, were eagerly anticipating the
dessert. "What do you 'spect it will be?" Gerald inquired softly, and
Julie whispered back: "I know what I wish it was. It begins with I. C."

"You might as well wish for something else," Dan, who had overheard,
replied, but when Mrs. Bently appeared, on her tray there were six dishes
heaped high with chocolate ice cream.

"Why, Mrs. Bently, are you a miracle worker?" Jane, pleased for the
children's sake, inquired. Laughingly the woman confessed that the
ice-cream had been the reason she had asked for one hour in which to
prepare. "So many folks motorin' past want ice-cream," she told them,
"and so Pa Bently fetched a new contraption from Denver last time he was
up there, an' it'll freeze ice-cream in one hour easy." Then she
disappeared to soon return with a mountain of a chocolate layer cake.
"You'll have to get along without candles, Miss Jane," the good woman
said, "an' the frostin' ain't very hard yet, but I reckon it'll pass."

The girl, who had felt scornful of these "natives," as she had called
them only a short month before, was deeply touched and she exclaimed with
real feeling: "Mrs. Bently, I do indeed appreciate all the trouble that
you have taken. I have never had a nicer party."

A moment later Jane saw the two cowboys leave the dining-room. Almost
unconsciously she pressed her hand against her heart to still its rapid
beating as her panicky thought was questioning: "Do you really want to
send that letter to Jean Sawyer? There is yet time to get it. Do you want
him to know just how dishonorable you were about the money?" She half
rose, then sank down again, for through the swinging door she had seen
Mr. Bently handing the Packard mail pouch to the cowboy. It was too late.
Then, chancing to meet Merry's troubled glance, Jane smiled as she said
with an effort at gaiety: "Gerald, if all of your wishes are to be
fulfilled as magically as this one has been, you are to be a lucky boy."

"There's two things we've wished for lately that don't happen, aren't
there, Danny?" The small boy looked up at his big brother, who smiled
down, as be replied, "I suppose you mean that we have not found Meg
Heger's box. What is the other unmaterialized wish, Gerry?"

The boy's wide eyes expressed astonishment. "Why, Dan Abbott, I do
believe you've forgotten that we wished we might find the lost gold
mine."

The older boy laughingly confessed that was true. Dan had found a gold
mine that he valued much more than the one to which Gerald referred. It
was Mrs. Bently who said, "It wasn't a lost mine, exactly, dearie. The
vein they'd been workin' petered out, although there are folks who reckon
that vein branched off somewhars, but the miners went away hot-foot when
the Bald Mountain Strike was made." Then she concluded: "There's not much
use huntin' for that lost vein, how-some-ever. Time and again there's
been wanderin' miners diggin' around in them parts, but they allays give
up and go away."

Then, as the young people rose, they each expressed some characteristic
praise for the meal and indeed Mrs. Bently was almost as pleased about it
as her guests had been. The bill, they found, was surprisingly small.
Then, after bidding the two queer characters goodbye, the six merrymakers
started up the trail with Julie again on the horse. The other girls took
turns riding with her and so, at about two, they reached the Abbott
cabin. Dan climbed to the back of the mare. Calling that he would soon
return, he rode up the mountain toward Meg's home. How very many things
had happened in the few weeks they had been in the mountains, he thought.
If only Jane could be happy, Dan assured himself, he would be supremely
so. But poor Jane found, as the moments passed, that she regretted more
and more having sent the letter, but she would not confide this to Merry,
whose suggestion it had been. Meanwhile the letter had reached its
destination and had been read by Jean Sawyer.



                             CHAPTER XXXIV.
                                SECRETS


Merry glanced anxiously at Jane when they were alone, Bob having gone
with the children for a hike along the brook.

"Dear," she said, slipping an arm about her friend, "you are regretting
having taken my advice, aren't you?"

They were in the bedroom which they shared, removing their tams and
sweaters when, to Merry's surprise and grief, Jane threw herself down on
the bed and sobbed as though her heart would break. "Oh, I can't bear the
humiliation of it all! How I wish we could leave for the East today, this
very minute. While I am here, I may meet Jean Sawyer, and if he looks at
me scornfully, as of course he will, I would rather be dead, honestly I
would!"

Merry indeed regretted that she had asked Jane to send the letter which
was causing her so much unhappiness. "Try to forget about it, Janey, just
for today," she implored, "while we are celebrating your eighteenth
birthday." Then an inspiration came to her and she asked: "What would
your mother have done if she had had a sorrow that would sadden others if
they knew about it?"

Jane sat up on the side of the bed, and, after glancing at the miniature
on the table near, she turned and looked thoughtfully out of the wide
window and into the sun-shimmering valley. Merry wondered what her reply
would be. A moment later she knew, for Jane sprang up and after kissing
the golden-haired girl impulsively, she caught her by the hand, saying:
"I'm going out to the brook to wash my face in that clear, cold water,
just as Dan and I did the first day that we came. And I'll try to wash
away all selfish grievings and to think, if I can, only of the happiness
of the guests at my birthday party. That's what my mother would have
done. I am so glad that Dan told me that we can choose a model or an
ideal and carve our own characters like it and I'm grateful to you for
having recalled it to me, because, for the moment, I had forgotten." The
girls took their towels and hand in hand they skipped around to the
brook. Jane knelt by the big boulder and splashed the cold spring water
over her tear-stained eyes. When she looked up her wet cheeks were rosy.
And later, when they had gone back to the bedroom to complete their
preparations for the party, Merry begged Jane to wear a wine-colored
dress which was especially becoming to her. It was of soft, clinging
crepe de chine and had a deep collar of Irish crochet. Then they went
into the living-room to await the coming of their guest. Merry, whose
dainty blue summer dress made her lovely eyes the color of a June sky,
sat smiling admiringly at her friend. "Jane," she said, "you are
wonderful. But there is just one more touch needed to make you look a bit
more partified. I will get it."

Springing up, Merry went into their bedroom, took from her suitcase a box
which contained a beautiful scarlet rose with satin and velvet petals.
This she pinned into Jane's soft, dark hair just above her left ear.
Standing off to note the effect, Merry declared that her friend was
certainly the most beautiful girl she had ever seen. A short month before
Jane would have considered this praise her just due, but, so greatly had
she changed, her reply was given in entire sincerity: "I may be the most
beautiful to you, because you love me, but Meg Heger is really the more
beautiful." Before Merry could reply, there was an excited shouting
without. Both girls leaped to the open door. They saw Meg Heger riding on
her spotted pony, while Dan on the big brown mare was at her side, but
they were conversing quietly. The halloos came from the brook. Turning to
look in that direction, the girls saw Julie, Bob and Gerald racing toward
them as fast as they could over the rocky way, and it was quite evident
that they were all very much excited. "I wonder what they have seen?"
Jane said.

Before the children and Bob could reach the cabin, Meg and Dan had
climbed the stairway and had been greeted by the two girls.

The trapper's daughter wore a simply fashioned Scotch plaid gingham dress
in which many colors were mingled.

They all turned toward the brook when the three, who were racing toward
them, neared.

"What, ho!" Dan called gayly, and Jane noted that never before had she
seen in her brother's face an expression of such radiant happiness. "Did
you three see a bear? It never will do for us to go back East without
having at least sighted a grizzly."

To the surprise of the four who awaited them, the newcomers became
suddenly embarrassed, and even Bob acted as though he hardly knew what to
say, which was quite unusual in so straightforward and impulsive a lad.

"Dan," he said, "may I speak with you a moment?"

The older boy walked away from the curious group of girls.

"We did not know that Meg Heger had come," Bob began, "and we were just
going to call out that we had found another place where we would like to
look for the lost box. It's such a queer place, Dan, but it is one that
as yet we have not investigated. Can't we get away from the girls
somehow? Gerald and Julie and I want to show the spot to _you_ at least."

"Why, I presume so," Dan agreed, and after explaining to the three older
girls that Bob and the youngsters wished to show him something, he
followed them back along the brook. It was the way that he had gone on
that day when he had first visited the Heger cabin. When they reached the
waterfall which Dan had thought so pretty, they climbed down to the red
rock basin into which it fell. Excitedly, Gerald pointed back of the
tumbling water.

"Look-it, Dan!" he fairly shouted. "See that little cave opening in
there! Doesn't it look to you as if it had been made with a pickaxe? Bob
thinks it does."

Dan looked through the transparent sheet of hurrying water and smilingly
shook his head as he replied:

"I don't suppose that a human being has ever been through that crevice,
and, moreover, I don't quite see how we can investigate, do you, Bob?"

Dan, noting the disappointed expression on his small brother's face,
turned toward the older boy.

"We sort of had it figured out that Gerald could stand back of the
waterfall and then he could see better whether that is just a crevice in
the rocks or the mouth of a cave."

The youngest boy looked up eagerly. "You know, Dan, I fetched along my
bathing suit. Mayn't I go back to the cabin and put it on? Mayn't I,
Dan?"

"Why, of course, if you wish, but perhaps you had better say nothing to
the girls about it. I do not like to have Meg know that we are searching
for that box, since there is no real likelihood of our finding it."

Luckily the girls were not in sight, and so no questions were asked of
the small boy, who dived into his own room, donned his bathing suit and
raced away, without having been seen. Dan held the younger boy's hand in
a tight clasp as Gerald went down into the clear, cold pool.

"Now, hold your breath and step up on that ledge back of the waterfall,"
the older brother advised.

Julie watched wide-eyed, almost frightened.

"Oh, Danny," she suddenly exclaimed, "couldn't there be something
terrible hiding in that crack?"

But before Dan could assure her that it was not likely, Gerald had leaped
back into the rock basin, crying: "It's a cave in there! Oh, boy! Shall I
go in it, Dan; shall I?"

"Not alone!" The older boy was almost sorry that the crevice had been
found. "Bob," he said, turning to the lad who stood meditatively looking
at the waterfall, "I don't believe that it would be wise to permit Gerald
to go into that cave. He might suddenly drop into a pit filled with
water. Let's give it up, shall we, and go back to the girls?"

It was plain to see that Bob was disappointed, but his reply was: "Of
course, Gerald ought not to go into that cave, if it is one. I had no
intention of permitting him to do more than see if it really is an
opening. I also have a bathing suit and a flashlight. I never will be
satisfied unless I investigate, but of course I will not take a step
inside unless it is solid rock."

Against his better judgment, Dan said, "Well, go ahead, Bob, if you want
to."

The girls had evidently sauntered away from the cabin, for Bob did not
see them when he went there to don his bathing suit. He rejoined the
others in a very short time. Having been an athlete in college, he swung
himself down and back of the waterfall without aid. Then flashing the
light into the crevice, he sang out: "There's a solid floor, all right,
Dan, but I think Gerald had better not come."

For a long five minutes the group on the outside waited, listening with
ever-increasing anxiety. Dan thought that he would be sincerely glad when
this foolhardy adventure was over. At last he called:

"Bob, haven't you investigated enough? Come on out!"

But there was no reply. Another five minutes elapsed and Dan was just
about to have Gerald again climb back of the waterfall to look through
the crevice, when Bob appeared, carrying a pickaxe and a shovel, rusted
and dirt encrusted.

"What do you say to that?" he exulted, as he plunged through the fall and
waded out of the red rock pool.

Dan was amazed. "Bob," he exclaimed, "you were right about one thing at
least. The cave was made with a pick. Was it large?"

"No; that is, not wide. It is a narrow tunnel which stops abruptly. I
found these tools at the very end."

Dan lifted his shovel and looked at the handle. Then he examined it more
closely. Picking up a stone, he knocked away the dirt with which it was
crusted. A name was carved in the handle. Letter by letter was deciphered
and Dan wrote each in his small notebook. When they had reached the last,
Bob asked: "Is it a message telling where the box is?"

"No," Dan replied, "merely the name and address of the owner of the
shovel and pick, I judge. A French name, Giguette. Yes, that is it, Franc
Giguette."

"But there is more to it, Danny." Gerald was trying to see the pad.
"What's the rest?"

"Where the miner lived, I suppose," Dan told him. "Cabin 10, I think it
is."

Bob leaped around wild with joy. "Talk about a clue! Why, that's the
number of the cabin at Crazy Creek where this miner lived. Can't we go
right over and hunt for it, Dan? Do you suppose that the girls would care
if Gerald and I go? We aren't at all necessary to the birthday party. You
and Julie are."

"Of course, you may do as you wish," Dan acquiesced. "It's a long way to
the camp, though."

"Not if we can ride," Gerry put in. "You and Meg came down on the horses.
Where are they?"

"Back at the Heger cabin by this time," the older brother replied. "Meg
turned her pony's head up the mountain road and said, 'Go home, Pal,' and
the brown mare seemed to be quite content to follow. Perhaps you will
overtake them."

Bob caught hold of Gerald's hand as he said: "We'll have to hustle, old
man, if we get back before dark."

Gerry glanced at Julie to see if she were terribly disappointed, but the
small girl smiled, though a bit waveringly. Dan, noting this, spoke for
her: "Julie and I will stay at the cabin. It would hardly do for us all
to leave Jane on her birthday."

These two sauntered slowly along the brook, and before they reached the
cabin they saw Bob and Gerald, fully clothed, starting to run up the
mountain road.

Dan had little expectation that they would find the box of which the old
Indian had told Meg, but he knew that Bob would not be able to enjoy the
quiet party when be might be out following a clue.

The girls were seated on the rustic front porch when Dan and Julie
appeared. Jane smiled a greeting to them, then asked: "Do tell us what
has happened to Bob and Gerry. They dashed in and out again, nor would
they stop when we called to ask where they were going?"

"Boys will be boys," was Dan's evasive answer as he sank down on the
porch step and smiled up at Meg. Then he heard his questioning thought
asking: "Is it possible that Meg's real name is Giguette?"

The five who remained at the cabin that afternoon found it difficult to
converse idly, for the thoughts of each kept returning to a subject of
great interest to that individual. Meg's good friend Teacher Bellows had
told her that as soon as her examinations were completed he would
accompany her and Pa Heger to a distant valley in the mountains where he
had heard that the Ute tribe was then dwelling. They believed the finding
of the box to be impossible since all through the years the old Indian
had searched for it.

Merry, who had slipped her ring back into its case before any of her
friends, except Jane, had seen it, was wondering when would be the best
time to put it on her finger and announce to them all that she was to
become the wife of Jean's brother. She had wanted to wait until Jean
Willoughby should be with them, but when that would be, she could not
conjecture.

Dan and Julie were very much excited over the discovery of the pick and
shovel, and the lad could see by the small girl's manner that she was
finding the secret almost more than she could keep. Every now and then,
in childish fashion, Julie would look over at her brother, hump her
shoulders and put a finger on her lips. Jane noted this, but was too
miserably unhappy to wonder about little girl secrets. But she was being
true to her resolve. She was ever keeping the memory of her mother in
thought, and trying to be interested in what her companions were saying.

It was indeed a long afternoon, tense with suppressed excitement. At
five-thirty, when the boys had not returned, Dan began to regret that he
had granted the permission, for, of course, Gerry would not have gone to
Crazy Creek Camp if his older brother had thought it unwise, and Bob, in
all probability, would not have gone alone.

Jane, after glancing at her wrist watch, sprang up, announcing with
evident gaiety: "Merry and I have a supper planned."

Then, turning to the younger girl, she invited: "Julie, dear, wouldn't
you like to set the table and make it look real partified?"

"Oh, goodie!" The small girl was glad to be asked to accompany the older
two and away she skipped. Meg and Dan were left alone, for their offers
of assistance had been refused.

"Suppose we climb to Bald Rock and watch the sunset," Dan suggested. The
girl, smiling up at him, arose at once. As soon as they had started to
climb along the singing brook, Meg looked at her companion inquiringly.
"Dan," she said, "won't you share your secret with me?"

"Perhaps," the lad countered, "if you will share yours with me." A merry,
rippling laugh, as silvery as the song of the brook they were following,
was the girl's first response. Then, "We must be mind readers," she told
him.

Dan glanced down into the dusky uplifted face and in his eyes there was
an expression almost of adoration. "Meg," he said, "doesn't that alone
prove that we are perfect comrades? We can sense each other's unspoken
thought." Then, with greater seriousness: "I have hesitated about telling
you, and moreover you have been in Scarsburg during the past week, but it
is your right to know. Bob and Gerald and I have been searching for the
box of which the dying Indian told you."

"Why, Dan," the girl's surprise was unmistakable, "it is but wasting
time. If the old Ute could not find it, surely it is not findable. There
is a simpler way to learn of my parentage, and one which Pa Heger,
Teacher Bellows and I are planning to undertake." Then she told of the
journey into the mountains upon which they expected to start when her
examinations were completed. While Meg talked, she realized that Dan had
still more to tell, and so she asked: "Where did you boys search, and did
you find anything at all?"

"Yes, Meg, we did unearth something and that is why Bob and Gerry hurried
away in so mysterious a fashion." Then the lad told about the
dirt-crusted shovel and pick and of the carved name.

"Giguette!" the girl repeated as though she were searching her memory for
something forgotten. Then lifting a radiant face, she exclaimed: "Dan
Abbott, that is my name. I was only a little thing, less than three, when
someone taught me to lisp that my name was 'Lalie Giguette' when anyone
asked. Until now, I had completely forgotten."



                             CHAPTER XXXV.
                             JANE AND JEAN


Meanwhile the three girls in the kitchen were preparing the evening meal
with much nonsensical chatter, but Jane was finding the strain almost
more than she could bear. She felt that she might overcome her desire to
go to her room and sob her heart out, if only she could get away by
herself for a few moments, and so she suddenly, exclaimed, "The one thing
needed for our table is a bouquet. I saw a clump of the prettiest wild
flowers yesterday, and if you girls will excuse me I'll go and get them."
Merry at once saw through the ruse. Jane's flushed cheeks, quivering lips
and tear-brimmed eyes told the story, and so she urged, "Do go, Jane,
before it is dark. The cool mountain air will do you good." She did not
offer to accompany her friend, realizing that she wanted to be alone.

Jane left the cabin, and after crossing the brook, she hurried toward the
cleft in a rock where she had seen the flowers of which she had spoken,
but instead of gathering them, she threw herself down on a wide, flat
boulder and sobbed bitterly. She did not hear footsteps hurrying toward
her, but suddenly she was conscious that someone had taken her hand and
was holding it with great tenderness. "Of course it is Dan," she thought,
without glancing up. Dear old Dan who always understood. But in another
second, when the someone spoke, Jane knew that it was Jean Willoughby and
not her brother. Instantly she was on her feet, her cheeks flaming, her
hand pressed over her pounding heart. There was a wild, frightened
expression in her eyes and she was about to run, but she could not, for
two strong arms caught and held her, as the lad implored, "Jane, dear,
dear Jane, don't spurn me any longer. Don't you understand that I love
you? The very fact that you could write that letter to me reveals the
true nobility of your soul. I don't blame you in the least for finding it
hard, at first, to adjust yourself to the changed conditions, but when it
came to the testing, you would have told your father to do just what he
did." Then, putting a hand over her quivering lips, he begged, "Don't
let's talk about that subject now. There's something ever so much more
interesting that I want to say. Jane, can you care enough for me to
promise to be my wife?"

The sudden change from misery to joy had been so great that the girl
could hardly believe that it was real, and she gazed uncomprehendingly
into the eager, handsome face of the lad. Then slowly she read in his
glowing eyes the truth of all he had said, and she smiled tremulously. It
was enough for Jean Willoughby. Joyfully he cried, "You _do_ care, Jane!"
Then taking from his pocket a ring, he added (and there was infinite
tenderness in his voice), "That last summer on the coast of Maine, when
little mother and I were alone together, she gave me this for _you_,
dearest girl."

Again there were sudden tears in the dark eyes that were lifted to his.
"Not for _me_, Jean. Your mother would have chosen a girl who could do
useful things; pare potatoes, sew and darn."

The lad laughed happily, and catching the slim left hand, he slipped the
ring on the finger for which it was intended. Then he kissed each of the
five finger tips as he confessed, "It may seem inconsistent, but I want
these lovely hands kept stainless. We will have a Chinaman to pare and
cook." Then slowly they walked toward the cabin.

Meg and Dan had returned and with Merry and Julie were standing on the
rustic front porch wondering where Jane had wandered, and why she
remained away so long. When they saw the two coming toward them, hand in
hand, their faces, even in the dusk, that had so quickly fallen,
revealing their secret, there was joy in the hearts of Merry and Dan.
Jane would no longer be unhappy. When they had entered the lighted
living-room of the cabin, Merry exclaimed as she held out her left hand,
"I also am to be congratulated. I am to be married to Jean's brother on
the first day of September." "Let's make it a double wedding, Jane, can't
we?" her fiance implored.

"I'd like to!" The radiant girl glanced at Dan, then added, "If my big
brother will give his consent." "Indeed you have it, Jane," that lad said
heartily. "I know that I am voicing our father's sentiments-to-be, when I
say that I am proud to welcome Jean Willoughby into our family."

Of their own secret Meg and Dan had decided to say nothing.

Then remembering the commonplaces, Jane said: "We're waiting supper for
the boys. Where did they go and why?" She looked at both Julie and Dan.
"You two surely know, since you were with them. It is nearly seven and
getting dark rapidly. Aren't you anxious about them, Dan?"

"I shall be if they do not soon return," the lad replied. "Perhaps we had
better have the good supper you have prepared. There is no need to spoil
it for all."

"I'm not a bit hungry," Jane said and Merry teased: "Why, Janey, you must
be in love."

The table had been placed in the middle of the cabin living-room. Over it
hung a drop lamp with a crimson shade and, as there was a log burning on
the hearth, the room presented a most festive appearance. It was with
sincere regret that the six young people seated themselves, leaving two
chairs vacant. All during the meal, at intervals, they paused to listen,
hoping that they would hear the halloos of the returning boys.

Dan was becoming thoroughly alarmed and, at last, after a consultation
with Meg, he turned to the others and said: "We have decided to tell you
the mission on which the boys started out so hurriedly."

Of course Jane and Merry had surmised that they had gone in quest of the
hidden box, but they knew nothing of the finding of the pick, shovel and
carved name, and they were much interested.

At eight o'clock Jean Willoughby rose. "I had better be going," he said.
"I have a long hike ahead of me." But Dan protested. "Indeed you shall
not go tonight. Mr. Packard will not be worried if you remain with us,
will he? I may need your help to locate the boys if they do not soon
return."

That settled the matter, for Jean had not wished to leave. Another hour
passed, and Dan, who had really become very anxious, arose, but before he
could get his coat and cap, the halloos for which they had long listened
were heard.

Leaping to the door, Dan threw it open and a welcoming light streamed out
into the darkness.

Bob and Gerry, looking almost exhausted, staggered into the room
(although Dan well knew that it was for effect) and sank down on the
vacant chairs. "Say, talk about a climb! We certainly had a steep one!"
Bob gasped.

The young people at once noted that neither boy was carrying a box and so
they decided that it had not been found. "It isn't such a terrible steep
climb to Crazy Creek Camp," Dan commented. "Half of the way is down
grade."

The two younger boys exchanged glances that were hard for the watchers to
interpret. Then Bob sprang up, exclaiming: "Come on, kid. Let's wash and
have some of the good grub."

"You must be nearly starved," Jane said, also rising and going toward the
kitchen. "We are keeping your share of the party warm."

When they were gone, Dan said softly: "I'm inclined to believe that the
boys have something of a surprising nature to tell us, but after Gerry's
usual fashion he wants to keep us guessing for a time."

The two mountain climbers were indeed hungry and they ate heartily,
talking aggravatingly of everything but the matter which they knew was
uppermost in the minds of their companions. When they declared that
another bite could not be taken, the table was cleared, magazines and
books again spread upon it, and then Dan, feeling it unfair to Meg to
keep her longer in suspense, exclaimed, "Now, boys, tell us your
adventures."



                             CHAPTER XXXVI.
                         MYSTERIES HALF SOLVED


"It didn't take us long to get to Crazy Creek Camp, I can tell you." Bob,
glancing from one to another of the group about the fireplace, saw in
each face an eager interest in the tale he had to tell. But in Meg's face
there was more than interest, and suddenly Bob realized that the finding
of the lost box was of vital importance to the mountain girl, while, to
him, it had been merely an exciting adventure, the mystery of which had
lured him on.

After a thoughtful moment, he continued: "We found most of the cabins
unnumbered, or, if they had once been so marked, time and storms had done
away with the numerals. But we did find a tunnel above which the figures
10 had been chipped out of solid stone. The opening of the small tunnel
was closed, however, by red rocks that had fallen evidently in a
landslide. I suggested that we lift them away one by one, but Gerry
thought it a waste of time as the carving on the handle had been 'Cabin
10' and not Tunnel 10. But I was not so sure, and so we went to work and
in half an hour we had an opening large enough to enter one at a time. I
had my flashlight with me, and stooping, I looked in. Strangely enough, I
saw a faint gleam of daylight at the other end."

Bob paused and glanced about the group to make sure that they were all
properly curious before he continued: "The tunnel was not high enough for
even Gerry to stand in erect and so on all fours we crept through it.
Since the opening had been stopped up I did not fear meeting wild
creatures, but as we neared the other end, the daylight grew brighter and
then to our great surprise we came out upon a wide ledge which hung there
in the most dizzying manner. On it was a rustic cabin, and back of that a
fenced-in dooryard. Surely, we decided, this was Cabin 10. There was no
way of reaching it except through the tunnel, as the mountain wall was
almost perpendicular above and below the ledge.

"We were greatly elated and at once tried the door and found it unlocked.
There was only one room and it looked like the den of a student. Books
and papers were everywhere in evidence; dust-covered and yellowed with
the years. On the desk a bottle of dried ink was uncorked and a rusted
pen lying there seemed to indicate that someone had suddenly stopped
writing, and, for some reason, had never again taken up the pen. As
further proof of this we found a letter which was lying near, with even
the last sentence unfinished. It is addressed to 'My dear petite
daughter--Eulalie.' We didn't stop to read it because it was getting late
and so we started for home."

Meg, no longer able to keep silent, leaned forward, asking eagerly, "Bob,
may I see the letter that my father left for me?"

"_Your father?_" Jane and Merry exclaimed almost simultaneously. Even
then Meg's calm was not outwardly disturbed.

"Yes," she said, turning her wonderful eyes toward her friends. In them
the girls saw an expression of radiant happiness which told them more
than words could how great was Meg's joy that she had at last learned who
her father really was. Jane and Merry were perplexed. How did Meg know?
Their question was answered before it was asked. "I should have told you
girls this afternoon. When Dan spoke the name that he had found carved on
the handle of the old shovel, instantly memory recalled to me that, as a
very small child, I had been taught to lisp that my name was Lalie
Giguette."

"O Meg, what a beautiful name. May we begin at once to call you Eulalie?"
The mountain girl smiled at Jane. "If you wish, dear friend." She then
held out her hand for the letter which Bob had gone to his sweater coat
to procure.

"We found several books with your father's name on them as author," the
boy informed her, and the girl looked up brightly to say, "O, I am so
glad! Did you bring them?"

"No," Bob replied, "we thought perhaps you would like to visit the cabin
and find everything there just as he left it."

"I would indeed!" Meg rose, and going to the center table, she spread the
letter under the hanging lamp. After a moment's scrutiny, she turned
toward the silently waiting group. "It is clearly written," she said. "I
will read it aloud:

"'To my dear petite daughter Eulalie,'" Meg read,

"'Poor little wee lassie! Not yet three and no one to care for you. I
shall try to get back to New York before the end comes, but there is no
one, not even in France, where I lived as a boy. All--all are dead.

"'But you will want to know much and I will be gone when you are old
enough to question. When I was twenty-one I came to New York and married
a girl who was as all alone as I. We were very happy, but my loved one,
your mother, died when you were born. For a long year I grieved until my
health was broken. For your sake, Lalie, I followed my doctor's advice
and came to the Rocky Mountains. I was about to put you in a convent
school, but you clung to me and would not loosen your hold. I feared I
had not long to live and I did so want you with me, hence I brought you
here. But if I do not get stronger soon, I will take you back to the kind
sisters, who will make you a home.

"'We reached this deserted mining camp after weeks of wandering and I
built for us a cabin where we could be alone and unmolested. At last my
lost ambition had returned. I wrote the book of my dreams and sent it to
my publisher in New York. I hope, dear little daughter, that it will be a
success for your sake, but as yet I do not know.'"

Meg looked up and her dusky eyes were filled with tears. "That is all on
the first sheet," she said. "The next was written at a later date." Then
again she read:

"'A tribe of Ute Indians has taken possession of the deserted cabins in
the camp, but, as there is little game hereabouts, I doubt if they will
long remain.'

"Two weeks later: 'I have not been as well as I had hoped to be. I did
very wrong to spend so many hours writing my dream book, but now that it
is completed I will write no more until I am stronger. Every day with a
pick and shovel I dig in different places for recreation and exercise,
endeavoring to find the fabled gold mine, the vein of which was lost, or
so I have been told by an occasional miner who has passed this way.
Before starting out I take you each afternoon to the cabin of a most
kindly squaw who understands some English and since I pay her well, she
is willing to care for you during my absence.'"

For a long moment Meg ceased reading and Dan, noting that her hands
trembled, went to her side, saying with tender solicitude: "Dear girl,
what is it? I fear that reading aloud this letter from your father is
very hard for you. Wouldn't you rather read it to yourself?" The girl
lifted tear-filled eyes. "It isn't that, Dan," she said. "I want to share
it with my friends who are so loving and loyal, but I cannot decipher the
rest."

There was a faded blur on the paper as though the pen had fallen. Then it
had evidently been picked up again, but the scrawled letters that
followed were very hard to read. Slowly the girl deciphered: "Lalie, when
you are eighteen, get box ----" Then there was another blot and the pen
had evidently rolled across the paper.

The girl held the letter up to Dan. "I fear we will never know where the
box is," she said, "for that is all."

But the lad, after scrutinizing the sheet, held it up to the light.

"There is more written, but evidently a drop of ink spread over it.
Gerry, bring the magnifying glass." The small boy, glad to be of
assistance, leaped to get it. Dan gazed through it for a long five
minutes. Then he began to name the letters, and Bob, who had seized a
pencil and paper, wrote them down. "_B-a-n-k._" Dan glanced questioningly
at Meg. "What kind of a bank do you suppose it means?" Then to Bob: "Were
there any banks of dirt near the cabin?" That lad shook his head.

Jane suggested: "Would it not be more natural to suppose it to be a New
York bank, since that had been Mr. Giguette's home for years?"

They all decided this to be true. Then Merry asked: "Meg, or may I say
Eulalie, are you willing that I should wire my father all that we know?
He is a lawyer in New York and be will gladly find out what he can."

How the dusky face brightened. "Oh, thank you, Merry. Please do!" Then,
rising, the mountain girl held out both hands to Jane and Merry. "I must
go now," she said, "to the dear old couple who have been all the father
and mother I have ever known."

Dan accompanied Meg up the winding mountain road.



                            CHAPTER XXXVII.
                           THE MYSTERY SOLVED


"What a glorious moonlit night it is!" Merry exclaimed when, Meg and Dan
having gone, the others turned back toward the cabin.

"I say, sis," Bob exclaimed, "why not get that telegram written and let
me take it down to the village. You can put heaps more into a night
letter."

"Why, Bobby, it must be after nine. The innkeeper's family will be asleep
by the time you could get there."

Jean Willoughby explained: "They have two sons, and one of them is always
on duty as night clerk. Strangers motoring through put up there at all
hours." Then the young overseer added: "I wish now that I had ridden over
and you could have used my horse."

"We sent the two we had back to the Heger cabin," Bob said, but added, as
he took a handspring to prove to his sister that he was not at all tired,
"I'd just as soon walk." Then, as another thought occurred to him, he
turned to the younger lad, asking, "If you're game, Gerry, come along
with me. We'll put up at the inn for the night and bring back the answer
from father as soon as it comes."

Since there was no particular reason why they should not do this, Merry
and Jane made no further remonstrances. Going indoors, a carefully
planned night letter was prepared and in great glee the two boys started
out, each carrying a gun, as Jean told them that they _might_ meet a
wildcat.

"Huh! I hoped you were going to say a grizzly bear."

Gerry's tone seemed to imply that they were quite fearless.

Soon after the boys had departed, Dan returned. Glancing at Jean, he
questioned: "Ought we to follow them?" But the other lad replied:

"They're safe enough! Moreover, I told Bob to swing a red lantern three
times when they reach the inn. The night is so clear, we surely can see
it."

And so they waited, and an hour later the expected signal was plainly
seen by all of them.

"Now to bed, everybody!" Dan sprang up and held both hands toward his
sister Jane. Julie had been prevailed upon to retire soon after the lads
started out and was sound asleep.

The girls had decided to be up at an early hour, but because they had
gone to bed much later than usual they overslept.

It was after noon before Meg appeared.

"Ma Heger" had needed her help, was all that she said. Jane and Merry
decided not to tell her about the night letter, for the suspense would be
far harder for her to bear than it was for them.

But after a time Meg began to wonder why, at frequent intervals, one or
another of the young people went to the top of the stone stairs, and
through field glasses, gazed down the mountain road. It was two o'clock
when the old stage was seen slowly ascending.

"I entirely forgot that the stage passes us on Saturday afternoon," Dan
exclaimed. "Of course, Bob and Gerry waited to ride up."

But as the lumbering vehicle neared, the passengers were seen to be all
adults--a west valley rancher, his wife and grown daughters. Then, just
as the watchers had given up hope, the two laughing boys dropped from the
back of the stage and ran up the stone stairs.

Paying no heed to the others, Bob leaped over to where Meg was standing,
and making a deep bow, he handed her a yellow envelope.

"But this is for Merry," the mountain girl told him.

"True enough!" and Bob gave the telegram to his sister. Opening it, she
read:

  "Franc Giguette, author of 'The Star that Set.' Book was great success!
  Publishers holding royalties, as they were uncalled for. Box in name of
  Eulalie Giguette at the First National Bank. Contains contracts and
  papers of value, also jewels. Await further advice."

While all of the others congratulated the beautiful girl, Dan stood aside
with sorrow in his heart. He had asked Meg to marry him when he thought
her poor. Even then they would have had a long wait, for he had wanted to
help his father for a time before he considered his own happiness.

Meg looked over at the lad whom she so loved. "Aren't _you_ also glad for
me, Dan?" she asked.

"Yes, very glad," he said, but he was more than ever pleased that he and
Meg had not told of their engagement, which might never be fulfilled.

When the excitement had somewhat subsided, Bob recalled that he had a
letter for Jean Willoughby, and, bringing it forth, presented it to the
young man, who looked inquiringly at the handwriting; then with a quick,
questioning glance at Merry, he tore it open and read its message.

"Marion Starr," he cried, "you wrote my father, did you not, telling him
where you found me?"

It was evident that he was _not_ displeased.

The golden haired girl nodded, then waited eagerly to hear what manner of
message the letter contained.

"Dan," said Bob, "your father and mine are again partners, for Dad has
restored the money that had been supposedly lost. Since your father had
recompensed the investors, the firm of Abbott & Willoughby, as
re-established, is much richer than it was, for while holding the money,
Dad made investments that have tripled the capital of the firm. Nor is
that all! Father has set aside money to start my brother and me in any
business we may choose, and your father is to do the same for each of his
boys as the need arises."

Before Dan could speak, Jean hurried on with, "Mr. Packard has offered to
divide his ranch in three parts, and Jane and I are to have one of them.
Dan, you love the West. It agrees with you. Won't you take the third?"

"That's wonderful news!" Dan cried glowingly. "Indeed I would like to own
a third of the Green Hills ranch."

Then to the surprise of the others, he went to the mountain girl with
hands outstretched, and said, his voice tense with feeling:
"Meg--Eulalie--may I set the day for our wedding?"

The dusky eyes of the beautiful girl were more than ever starlike as she
nodded up at him.

"Great!" he cried joyfully. "Then we will _all_ be married on the first
of September."



                            * * * * * * * *



Transcriber's note:

--A few typographical errors were corrected without comment.

--Nonstandard spellings and dialect were left as in the original.

--Rearranged front matter to a more-logical order.





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ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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