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Title: The Adventure Girls at K Bar O
Author: Blank, Clair
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 "The Adventure Girls at K Bar O" ***

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                          THE ADVENTURE GIRLS
                               At K Bar O

                                   By
                              Clair Blank

                     [Illustration: girl on horse]

                        THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING
                                COMPANY

                      Akron, Ohio        New York

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           Copyright MCMXXXVI
                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

                     The Adventure Girls at K Bar O

                  Made in the United States of America

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                           I ARRIVAL             7
                          II ROBBERY            14
                         III GALE’S ADVENTURE   20
                          IV DISCOVERY          33
                           V PURSUIT            41
                          VI GHOST CABIN        54
                         VII LANDSLIDE          70
                        VIII PRISONERS          81
                          IX ON THE TRAIL       90
                           X RUSTLERS          106
                          XI SURPRISE          119
                         XII GONE              128
                        XIII RESCUE            139
                         XIV TRAPPED           155
                          XV CAPTURE           166
                         XVI ALARM             175
                        XVII REVENGE           189
                       XVIII PREMONITION       204
                         XIX HELP              214
                          XX REWARD            225
                         XXI ADIOS             240

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                     The Adventure Girls at K-Bar-O


                               Chapter I

                                ARRIVAL


The thing that went under the name of automobile wheezed into the
ranchyard and rattled to a halt. With creaks and groans in every joint
the car discharged its six very dusty, very weary occupants.

At the same time, the screen door of the ranch house banged shut and a
flying figure descended on the new arrivals.

“Oh, Gale, but I’m glad to see you,” the girl from the ranch house
declared hugging the foremost one of the visitors.

Gale Howard returned the hug with equal warmth. The two were cousins,
and Gale and her friends, The Adventure Girls, had traveled West to
spend the summer on the K Bar O Ranch, owned by Gale’s uncle.

“But don’t tell me you traveled all the way West in that!” Virginia
Wilson murmured aghast, when the introductions and first greetings were
over.

“We wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale,” declared Carol Carter. “I
never knew a car that had so many bumps in it.”

“We came West to Phoenix on the train,” Gale explained. “It was there we
bought the car and drove up here.”

“You wouldn’t think we bought it second hand, would you?” Janet Gordon
murmured.

“No,” Phyllis Elton agreed with a twinkle in her eyes. “It looks as
though we made it ourselves.”

The last two of the new arrivals, Madge Reynolds and Valerie Wallace,
who had been busy unstrapping luggage and tumbling bags onto the ground,
turned now to the ranch girl.

“What shall we do with our stuff?” Madge asked.

“I suppose you will want to change from your traveling suits,” Virginia
suggested, “so just bring along what you want now. Leave the rest here.
Tom can bring it in later.”

Tom was her elder brother and as the girls walked toward the ranch house
he crossed the yard from the corral. Behind him came Gale’s uncle.
Virginia called her mother and more greetings and introductions
followed.

“But how did you manage to leave home without a chaperon?” Virginia
asked from her position on the bed in the room shared by Gale and
Valerie.

“It was all we could do to get away without one,” a laughing voice in
the adjoining room declared, and Janet appeared on the threshold.

“Finally our parents decided that Gale and Valerie, being the only sane
and level-headed ones among us, could be trusted to see that we behaved
properly,” Carol added, hanging over Janet’s shoulder.

“That shows how much they really know Gale and Valerie,” added Janet
mischievously. “If they had any sense at all, they would have appointed
me guardian angel of the troupe.”

“Then we would never have gotten this far,” Valerie declared, struggling
to pull on a brown riding boot.

“Yes, Virginia,” Gale laughed, “when we did let Janet drive for a little
while, she ran us into a ditch, went the wrong way on a one way street
in a little town below here, talked back to a policeman and nearly
landed us all in jail.”

“Yes, we had to let Gale drive thereafter for self preservation,” Carol
murmured.

“That is all the gratitude I get,” Janet mourned in an injured tone. “I
do my best to make our trip a success and you don’t appreciate me.”

“What? Aren’t you dressed yet?” Phyllis demanded as she and Madge
entered the other girls’ room. “Slow pokes!” she teased.

“Yes, do hurry,” Janet pleaded. “I want to get outside and see the horse
I’m to ride.”

“I’ll wager you don’t even know what side of a horse to get on,”
declared Carol as the latter two disappeared into their own room.

“Well--ah--um--we won’t go into that,” Janet evaded.

Virginia laughed and the other girls smiled sympathetically.

“Don’t mind anything they say,” Madge advised Virginia. “They don’t mean
a word of it.”

“I gathered that much,” Virginia said, rising as Janet and Carol
returned, this time fully dressed and eager to get outside.

The Adventure Girls were dressed alike in brown breeches, leather boots,
and khaki shirts with brown silk ties to match. Some of them wore
crushable felt hats while the others carried them. They had been
delighted with the prospect of spending a summer in the open air on the
ranch, looking forward to unknown adventures with keen anticipation. The
six had dubbed themselves the Adventure Girls when on school hikes and
outings they had usually managed to stir up some kind of excitement. It
was their desire to spend their summer becoming better acquainted with
the country out here, rather than spend their months free from school in
loafing about home. They wanted to get out in the air, see new wonders,
and enjoy new adventures.

When, in response to a letter from Virginia, Gale had suggested to the
other five girls that they come West and spend the summer in Arizona it
had seemed delightful and intriguing, but not probable. Gradually the
girls had won round parental objections and collected the things they
would need. Now they were here, with a full summer of freedom before
them.

The K Bar O Ranch was one of the biggest in the state. This the girls
did not fully realize until later, when they began to ride around the
countryside. Henry Wilson, Virginia’s father, dealt in cattle and his
herds were large and of the finest stock. There were horses too, and it
was these that the girls were most interested in.

Virginia led the way to the corral. Tom was there, talking to a cowboy
and when he saw the girls, brought up three saddled mounts, the cowboy
following with a string of four more. The western ponies were sturdy
little animals, sure-footed and fast.

The girls claimed their mounts and Gale and Valerie, already experienced
riders, mounted their horses immediately.

Janet looked her horse over with speculative eyes. “Well, horse,” she
said, “I think we are about to become better acquainted and I hope you
are as nice as you look.”

“They’re all tame,” Tom assured the girls, assisting Carol into her
saddle.

“Hey,” Carol called to Janet. “You’ll never get on that way!”

Virginia had her horse and by the time Tom had helped Janet into the
saddle, the girls were moving forward. Virginia rode ahead with Gale,
the two setting their ponies at an easy trot over the trail.

“We won’t go far,” Virginia said, “it will be suppertime shortly and I
know you wouldn’t want to miss it. The lunch you had wasn’t very
substantial.”

“And this Arizona air certainly gives one an appetite,” Gale declared.
“What’s that?”

They had come to the crest of a hill and in the green valley below could
be seen a slowly moving herd of the K Bar O cattle. But it was not to
the cows that Gale called her friend’s attention. Off to the left had
sounded a series of sharp explosions, as a fusillade of rifle shots.

Virginia had grown a little pale under her tan, and the hand that
gripped her horse’s reins was clenched tightly, but she summoned a smile
for Gale’s benefit.

“Just some of the boys having target practice, I reckon,” she said
easily.

But Gale was not to be deceived. Target practice would not cause
Virginia to appear suddenly so nervous. However, Gale did not press the
subject at the time. She knew if there was something wrong at the K Bar
O she would know it before long.



                               Chapter II

                                ROBBERY


“I’m going into town, ride along?” Virginia asked, coming into the ranch
house living room the next morning.

“I will,” Gale said immediately.

“And me,” agreed Valerie.

“Did you say ride?” groaned Janet. “On a horse?”

“Of course,” Virginia laughed.

Janet made a wry face and with the greatest care eased herself into a
chair piled with cushions.

“Not this morning, my dear Virginia. I don’t believe the horse likes
me.”

Carol laughed from her position before the fireplace. “For once in my
life I agree with Janet. You won’t get me on a horse today.”

“I shall stay right here, too,” Madge murmured. “Somehow I appreciate
comfort this morning.”

“I’ll go with you,” Phyllis said, “if you will go nice and slowly.”

Accordingly the four mounted and rode away, leaving the other three
comfortably fixed with books and magazines. It was almost an hour’s ride
into the little town of Coxton at the pace the girls went, but they
enjoyed it. They found a lot of things to talk about and besides they
were in no great hurry.

“I’m going to get me a rope,” Gale proposed as the girls left their
horses and mounted the sidewalk. “If I’m going to be a westerner, I’m
going to learn to rope.”

“And I want a pair of gloves,” Valerie added.

“I have to see a man at the bank on business for Father,” Virginia said,
“do you want to come along? Or do you want to do your shopping and meet
me here in a few minutes?”

“We’ll meet you here,” said Gale. “We won’t get lost,” she added with a
smile, taking in the few stores and buildings on the single street the
town afforded.

“No danger,” laughed Virginia. “See you here then.”

With a cheery wave of the hand she was off across the street. The girls
sauntered along, regarding the stores and one of two lounging cowboys
with interest.

“I wish we’d seen an Indian,” murmured Phyllis. “Just to prove that we
are in the West.”

Valerie laughed. “I doubt if you would know one if you did. They don’t
wear war paint any more, you know.”

“Of course I’d know one,” Phyllis said indignantly. “I--look, there is a
general store. Perhaps you can get your rope in there, Gale.”

The girls mounted the single wooden step to the store and stepped into
the queerest conglomeration of articles they had ever seen. It developed
that Gale got her rope, Valerie got her gloves; in fact, they could get
anything they wanted. Even postcards, of which they took a goodly
supply.

There were few people on the street when they left the store. An
automobile drew up before the bank and two men stepped out, a third
remained at the wheel.

“Guess Virginia hasn’t come out of the bank yet,” Phyllis said, looking
the length of the street and not seeing the western girl.

The three of them strolled to the bank and waited outside. Suddenly from
inside the bank came the sound of shots and a scream. Two men appeared
in the doorway with drawn revolvers. One man faced the crowd on the
street, the other the people in the bank. The people on the street had
become tense, fearful.

Valerie grasped one end of Gale’s rope and sprang across the pavement.
Gale, realizing immediately her friend’s intention, grasped her end of
the rope more securely. The bandits, running from the bank to their
waiting car, tripped headlong over the rope. The first man’s gun flew
one way and the black bag in which was the money from the bank flew the
other.

Phyllis reached over, picked up the gun, and leveled it calmly at the
bandits. Valerie secured the black bag. It had been alarmingly easy and
so quickly done that the spectators did not at first realize that a
robbery had been committed and foiled almost on the same instant. Then
there arose a buzz of excited talk while two men stepped from the group
of spectators and took charge of the thieves. Unnoticed, the car that
had been meant for the bandits’ means of escape, sprang away from the
curb and was gone in a cloud of dust.

In the bank all was disorder and excitement. One of the shots that had
been fired was lodged in the teller who had attempted to resist the
thieves. His condition was not serious, however, and he was able to add
his incoherent story to the other tales told by the people who had been
present.

Virginia, when she joined the girls to go home, was flushed and excited.

“You certainly acted quickly,” she declared admiringly. “The town owes
you a vote of thanks. They would have gotten away sure if you hadn’t
tripped them.”

“Catching bandits is just one of the things we do,” laughed Phyllis.
“You ought to really see us in action.”

“I had use for my rope before I thought I would,” Gale said smilingly.
“I haven’t even learned how to use it yet--when we catch two bandits.”

Back at the ranch the three of the Adventure Girls would have said
nothing about their part in the robbery, but Virginia promptly declared
them heroines and told with harrowing details every bit of the robbery,
including the shooting of the bank teller.

The girls who had remained at home were utterly chagrined to think that
they had missed any excitement whatever and promptly began to think of
means to have some more.



                              Chapter III

                            GALE’S ADVENTURE


The Arizona night was cool, the sky studded with stars. In the living
room the girls from the East were toying with the radio and dancing.
Gale and Valerie stepped out onto the porch into the cool darkness.
Walking a short distance from the house they were enveloped in silence,
interrupted only now and then by the noise from the radio. They
sauntered to where a giant pine tree spread its sheltering branches
overhead.

Valerie coughed as she leaned against the sturdy trunk and a sympathetic
gleam entered Gale’s eyes. The girls all knew that Valerie’s health was
not of the best, and it was hoped that this month they were to spend
here in Arizona would do her good. She liked fun and excitement as well
as any of them, but she could not stand too much. She needed to build up
a stranger constitution and her friends were sure the western air would
help as no medicine could.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Valerie asked dreamily.

“So quiet!” Gale agreed. “It would be a relief to hear a noise.”

In the distance a coyote howled mournfully and the girls shivered. Arm
in arm they strolled toward the corral.

“I wish Virginia’s parents would let us take that camping trip,” Valerie
said. “It would be fun.”

At supper Janet and Carol had proposed a camping trip which the others
received with enthusiasm. The idea was to take their horses and camping
equipment and go camping up in the mountains, or down across the desert
to Mexico. The girls, Virginia included, and Tom were decidedly in favor
of it, but Mr. Wilson had demurred. It was dangerous, he said, for a
party of young people to go camping about the hills just now. Too many
bandits and disturbances along the Mexican border. However, the girls
had refused to drop the subject.

“Are you sure it wouldn’t be too much for you?” Gale asked anxiously.
“You can’t do too much, you know.”

“We could take our time,” Valerie answered. “I think it would be good
for me, sleeping in the open air and all.”

The girls had been walking along the corral fence and now stopped in the
darkness. Around the corner from them two men were talking. The girls
recognized the voices of Mr. Wilson and Tom.

“I tell you it would be a perfect cover for Jim and me,” Tom was saying
excitedly.

“But I don’t want to run the girls into danger,” Mr. Wilson insisted.

In the darkness Gale and Valerie exchanged wondering glances. Their
curiosity was caught and without realizing they were doing so, they
eavesdropped.

“No one would know,” Tom continued. “We could act as guides for the
girls and at the same time perhaps discover a clue to the hideout of the
rustlers.”

“But it is dangerous, Tom,” Mr. Wilson said slowly.

“Listen, Dad,” Tom said earnestly. “The rustlers have been stealing your
cattle and a lot of other people’s for a long time, haven’t they?”

“Yes.”

“You admit that if a stop isn’t put to this robbing, soon it will ruin
you?”

“I’m getting desperate,” Mr. Wilson agreed heavily, “But I can’t permit
you or Jim or any of those girls to run the risk.”

“But I tell you there isn’t any risk,” Tom argued. “No one would ever
suspect us. Even the girls won’t know. We will be just a camping party.”

“But if someone should find out what you are doing--you would have no
protection, there would be nothing you could do.”

“We’ll figure something out,” Tom said. “Don’t you see, Dad? It is the
best way to attempt to find the bandits. They would never suspect a
party of girls.”

The two voices trailed away as Tom and his father moved toward the
cowboys’ bunkhouse. The girls stood perfectly still until they saw the
bunkhouse door opened and closed again behind the two.

“Well,” Valerie said, “it appears we are to be lures for rustlers.”

“I knew there was something wrong here at the K Bar O,” Gale said
thoughtfully as the girls walked toward the house. “So it’s cattle
thieves. No wonder Virginia’s mother and father look constantly worried.
Even Virginia herself seems to be always watching for something when we
are out riding.”

“We’d better say nothing to the others,” Valerie said as they mounted to
the porch.

“No,” Gale agreed. “If Uncle finally agrees to let us go on the trip, we
are not to let on we know what Tom and his cowboy friend are up to.”

“Just keep our eyes and ears open,” murmured Valerie.

The next morning at breakfast Tom announced to the girls that his father
had agreed to the proposed camping trip. The news was received with
whoops of joy from Janet and Carol. Gale and Valerie exchanged a quiet
glance.

“We’ll take two tents for you girls,” Tom continued. “Jim, the rider who
is going with us, and I will sleep in blankets. We’ll leave tomorrow.”

A clatter of hoofs and shouting outside brought them all away from the
breakfast table. A rider was flinging himself from his weary horse. Both
the rider and the horse looked played out.

“What’s up, Bert?” Mr. Wilson asked, striding from the ranch house and
confronting the rider.

The others eagerly crowded forward, intending to miss not one word. From
the man’s appearance and the appearance of his horse something important
had happened.

“The two fellows who robbed the bank the other day broke outa jail last
night and got clean away!” the rider said, mopping his face with a
handkerchief. “I been out for hours with the Sheriff and his posse
lookin’ for the trail. Didn’t come this way, did they?”

Mr. Wilson shook his head. “If they did, Bert, we didn’t see ’em. Come
in and have some breakfast?”

“Shore will,” the man replied gratefully. “A fella gets all fired hungry
ridin’ around.”

“Didn’t the thieves leave any trail at all?” Tom asked when the man had
joined them and they were all seated once more about the table.

“Wal, son,” the rider said, “we figger they separated, one goin’ north
and the other south. Leastways, they were seen apart. Hank Cordy saw one
tryin’ to swim the creek. He chased him but the fella got away. That was
the short, dark haired one. The tall one was seen ridin’ out this way.”

“If he passed the K Bar O none of us saw him,” Mr. Wilson declared.

“Wal,” the man sighed as he pushed his chair away from the table and the
rest followed him into the ranch living room, “that was shore the most
appetizin’ meal I ever ate. Reckon now I’ve got to be gettin’ along.”

“We’ll let you know if we see anything of the robbers,” Tom called after
him.

Madge and Phyllis declared their intention of writing letters while
Carol and Janet rode with Tom and Virginia out to the valley where the
largest of the K Bar O’s herds was grazing. Valerie was not looking so
well this morning and the other girls had coaxed her to lie down for a
while. It would be a tragedy if she were not well enough for them to go
on the proposed camping trip the next day.

Gale, rope in hand, found her way to the corral where Jim, she knew him
by no other name, the cowboy who was to accompany the girls on their
trip, was waiting to give her her first lesson with the use of her
lasso. She learned first to make the slip knot, how to coil her rope,
then how to grasp it for throwing.

“I never knew there was so much to it,” she declared after an hour had
flown by.

“It won’t take you long to learn,” he assured her.

A little while later Mr. Wilson appeared and had an errand for Jim to
do. Gale wandered off by herself across the valley and up the hillside.
The sun was warm and it was tiring work climbing through the grass and
tangled undergrowth, so when she came to a tree which offered a large
patch of shade from the sun she sank down to rest. Pretty soon she lay
back, her arms under her head, gazing up at the little spot of blue sky
that she could see through the branches of the tree.

Gale did not know when she fell asleep or for how long she slept, but
when she opened her eyes the sun was blazing down into her face. It must
be hours she thought instantly since she had sat down here to rest for a
few minutes. Then the thought of what had awakened her made her prop
herself up on an elbow and gaze around.

Her throat went suddenly dry and a half smothered scream rose to her
lips. It had been a heavy pressure on her right leg that had brought her
back from her dreams, and now as she looked down at her foot horror
overcame her. Its scaly body wound about her boot, the flat head swaying
from side to side, was a huge rattlesnake. Gale dropped back on the
grass with closed eyes, trying to erase from her mind the sight of that
reptile, the bite of which meant death.

What was she to do? Scream? There was no one about to hear her. She was
too far from the ranch house to summon help by calling aloud. Raising
her head a few inches she took one look and let it drop back again. The
gimlet eyes of the snake were coming closer. It would not be long before
it struck, or had it done so already? It could scarcely send its
poisonous fangs through her heavy boot, she reminded herself
desperately. But what was she to do? Nothing, she told herself
hopelessly, a sinking in her heart. There was nothing she could do. She
might struggle for her freedom, but she could not hope to avoid the
darting, poisonous fangs of the snake. It would surely strike soon, and
when it did----

She caught her underlip between two rows of white teeth to quell the
groan of helplessness. Tears of impotence sprang to her eyes. If only
there were something she could do--some way she could---- Was it her
imagination or did she hear a sound? Quickly she raised her head and a
voice spoke from behind her.

“Don’t move! Keep quiet!” the man, for it was a man’s voice, commanded.

Gale wondered hysterically if he expected her to do anything else. She
couldn’t move if she wanted to. Terror made her lifeless.

“Please hurry!” she murmured.

A revolver shot was her answer and when next she looked down at her boot
she shivered. The sight of the headless, mutilated body was sickening.

“Don’t look,” Jim whispered as he lifted Gale’s boot clear of the snake.
“Did it bite you?”

“I don’t think so,” Gale murmured fighting to control her nerves. Now
that it was all over she felt as if she must scream. It was the natural
reaction and as she stood up she leaned weakly against the tree. “How
did--you happen--along just in time?”

The cowboy replaced his revolver in the holster at his belt. It was the
first time Gale had noticed that he wore a gun. How lucky it had been
for her that he did!

“I came lookin’ for you for some more practice with yore rope,” he
drawled, as he sometimes did.

“You saved my life,” Gale said gratefully.

“Shucks,” the cowboy said, flushing deep red. “How did the snake ever
come to wind itself about yore leg?”

“I was asleep,” Gale said. “I’ll never forget the sight of that snake
when I awoke. It was horrible!” She trembled involuntarily.

Jim patted her shoulder with clumsy kindness. “Do you reckon you can
come back to the house now?”

“Of course,” Gale said and turned to follow him down the slope, sternly
keeping her eyes away from that slippery, scaly, headless thing lying in
the long grass.

“Do you always wear a gun, Jim?” she asked. “I never noticed it before.”

“No, Miss Gale, none of us cowboys do,” he answered. “Guns belong to the
old, bad West. But here lately we been havin’ trouble and I kinda got
used to havin’ one along when I go ridin’.”

“Probably on account of the cattle thieves,” Gale said to herself. Aloud
she said:

“Trouble? What kind?”

“Oh, like these bank robbers,” he said evasively. “There’s always
somebody willin’ to steal and honest folk have to protect themselves.”

“How did they get out of jail?” she asked as they reached the bottom of
the hill and started along the trail to the ranch house.

“Sawed clean through the bars on the window,” he answered. “Probably had
help from outside.”

“Has the Sheriff discovered either of them yet?”

“I reckon not. The Sheriff is good at trailin’ crooks, but these fellas
are probably experienced in hidin’ out. I ’spect they’re almost to the
border by now.”

“Which way are we going to travel tomorrow?” Gale asked.

“Up into the hills would be the prettiest country,” he answered.

At the corral fence they separated, Gale going on to the ranch house and
Jim into the cowboys’ bunkhouse. The girls were on the porch, Janet and
Carol perched at perilous angles on the railing, Virginia and Valerie on
the top step, and Madge and Phyllis in chairs.

“Where have you been?” Janet demanded.

“What’s wrong?” Valerie asked.

“Wrong?” Gale questioned. She did not realize that her recent experience
with the deadly rattlesnake had left her face pale and a tinge of shadow
in her eyes.

“You look as though you had seen somebody’s ghost,” Carol declared.

“I came near to being one,” Gale answered, squeezing between Valerie and
Virginia.

“What do you mean?” Madge asked. “Did you meet the bank robbers?”

Gale described with all the terrifying details her adventure with the
snake and the girls were all speechless with amazement. When she had
finished they regarded her wonderingly, fully appreciating what a close
call she had had.

“I’ll bet that was the only rattlesnake in this part of the country for
weeks,” Virginia declared. “But you would have to meet him.”

“Hereafter you don’t go off by yourself,” Janet said determinedly.

Gale laughed. “You needn’t caution me now. One experience is enough. You
can be sure I won’t fall asleep like that again!”



                               Chapter IV

                               DISCOVERY


The ranch house was astir early the next morning. The girls dashed about
in mad last minute haste. Horses were saddled and waiting. The few
necessities the girls were taking were rolled in slickers and strapped
behind their saddles. Tents, cooking utensils, and eating supplies were
loaded on two pack horses which Tom was to lead behind his own mount. As
the girls were about to mount, Mr. Wilson called Gale and Phyllis over
to where he was giving some last minute instructions to Tom and Jim.

Mr. Wilson handed a small caliber revolver each to Gale and Phyllis.

“What----” Phyllis began wonderingly.

“I think you ought to have them for protection,” Mr. Wilson explained.
“Against rattlesnakes--and jack rabbits. I’m trusting you two with these
because I think you are the steadiest ones.”

“Gale knows about the rattlesnakes,” Tom said smiling. “I’ll bet she
would have given a fortune for a gun yesterday.”

“I’ll say I would,” Gale said with a shudder. “But we will have to have
some target practice, so we know which end of the gun to aim.”

“Tom can take care of that,” Jim interposed, “he’s right handy with a
gun.”

“I don’t like this,” Phyllis said to Gale as the girls walked back to
their horses. “Why should we need guns for protection? We are going on a
peaceful trip.”

“What with bank robbers running loose,” Gale smiled. “We might be glad
we have them.”

The guns were stored in the girls’ slickers and soon the party was ready
to start. They waved gay farewells to Mr. and Mrs. Wilson as their
horses trotted down the trail. Jim rode in front to guide them and
directly behind him came Gale, Virginia, and Valerie. The other three
Adventure Girls followed and Tom brought up the rear with the pack
horses.

The sun was slowly creeping higher in the sky pouring its warm rays on
the world below. Three hours after their start the party halted for
luncheon which they ate cold from their saddle bags, pushing on
immediately. Jim had a camping place in mind and he wanted to make it in
plenty of time to pitch their tents by the light of day.

Gale and Virginia watched Valerie with growing alarm. The girl was
looking paler and more tired with the passing of the minutes. But
Valerie was too plucky to call a halt on her own account. Once she
swayed visibly in her saddle. Gale, reining her horse in beside
Valerie’s, put an anxious arm about her friend.

“Too tired to go on, Val? Just say so. Jim won’t mind camping right
here.”

“No, don’t stop because of me,” Valerie pleaded. “I’ll stick it out.”

She would stick it out, Gale agreed admiringly, but it would take all
her courage to do so. Certainly Valerie deserved to conquer the ill
health that was robbing her of so much of the zest of living.

The horses mounted to the ridge of a hill and there Jim called a halt.
He gestured with his arm to the valley below where a cool stream of
water dashed over rocks on its way to join a bigger tributary.

“There’s our camp site,” he said, beaming, “and we’ve made it with a
good hour of daylight left.”

“Thank goodness we made it at all!” Janet said vigorously, voicing the
relief most of them felt. “I’ll be as stiff as a board tomorrow.”

“I was going to suggest that we camp all day tomorrow,” Virginia added.
“It looks like a nice spot, water and everything.”

“As you say,” Tom said cheerily. “Let’s get going, Jim, down to our camp
site. I want to get settled and smell something cooking over the fire.”

It took them about ten minutes to work their way down to the little
stream and when they descended from their horses there was a chorus of
groans. All of them were stiff from their positions in the saddle. It
was worse because it was the first time most of them had ever ridden all
day.

“Get the tents up first,” Virginia proposed. “You and Jim can do that,
Tom, while we gather some wood for a fire.”

After Tom and Jim had unsaddled the horses they set about erecting the
girls’ tents. It was not long before a fire was crackling cheerily and
bacon was spitting in a frying pan over the blaze.

Directly the tents were erected and the girls’ beds made with a blanket
spread over pine boughs, Valerie lay down utterly worn out. Gale brought
her supper and then left her alone to fall asleep early and get as much
rest as she could. The others gathered about the campfire, despite their
weariness, to talk and to sing songs. Tom had his harmonica and it
seemed the fire gave him inspiration for he played until the others
begged for mercy.

As Gale and Phyllis lay down on their bed of boughs in the tent with
Valerie, a coyote howled dismally in the distance. From afar came an
answering cry.

“I’ll never get used to that noise if I stay here a hundred years,”
declared Phyllis. “It will keep me awake all night.”

But five minutes after she had spoken Gale heard her regular breathing
and knew she was asleep.

The next morning the girls were awakened by the aroma of coffee and by
Tom banging on the frying pan.

“Wake up, sleepy-heads!” he roared.

The girls tumbled from their tents stiff and only half awake. The cold
creek water, dashed in their faces, though, served to put life into them
with its tingling properties. Breakfast was more delicious than they had
ever remembered that meal to be. Perhaps it was the invigorating air,
the exercise of the day before, or the excitement prevailing over this
trip, but they all had big appetites.

“What are we going to do today?” Virginia asked.

“I am going to rest, rest, and rest some more,” Janet said loudly, as if
daring someone to contradict her. “I shall never, never forget that ride
yesterday.”

“I’m going to do the same,” Valerie declared. She was looking a little
weary this morning, but she seemed in good spirits.

“Me likewise!” vouchsafed Carol.

“Well, I think I’d like to take a walk,” Madge said. “How about it,
Virginia?”

“Just the thing,” Virginia declared.

“Jim and I are going to follow the creek a ways and see if there could
possibly be any fish in it,” Tom said.

The latter two started off and Madge and Virginia started to walk along
the creek in the opposite direction.

“Let’s cross the creek and see what’s over the hill on the other side,”
proposed Phyllis to Gale.

The two crossed the creek on a series of stones placed just right for
the purpose. From the other side they waved gayly at their remaining
camp mates and started forward. Here the undergrowth was thick. In her
hand Gale held the gun Mr. Wilson had given her. It was not her
intention to be confronted unprepared by any more rattlesnakes. Jim had
explained the working mechanism of the little gun and Gale was sure she
knew enough about it not to hurt herself at least.

“Oh!” Phyllis jumped as something darted across in front of them.

“Only a jack rabbit,” Gale laughed.

“You never can tell,” Phyllis murmured, treading through the grass more
warily. “I knew of a man once who tread on a snake.”

“That’s not as bad as finding one wound around your leg,” Gale declared.
“Look, what’s that up there?”

Half hidden by a growth of cactus and tangled vines, yawned a dark
cavernous hole.

“Let’s investigate,” proposed Phyllis. “It rather looks like a cave. I
didn’t know they had caves in Arizona.”

“I know there were a lot of huge subterranean caves discovered in 1909,”
Gale answered. “But I don’t know in what part of the state they were.
Phyllis, look!” The last words had come with a gasp of incredulity.

They were closer to the cave now and could clearly see the man who stood
in the opening. He was gazing away from them, toward the other side of
the valley.

“One of the bank robbers!” Phyllis gasped.

The man, as though he had heard her, turned and looked in their
direction. The next minute he had turned and disappeared into the cave.

“C’mon,” Phyllis said excitedly, “let’s see where he goes.”

The girls covered the few remaining yards to the cave in a run. Once at
the cave, caution overtook them. The desperado might be lying in wait
for them, and it would be well for them to proceed slowly and carefully.

As they entered the mouth of the cave, darkness, black and impenetrable,
dropped on them like a cloak.



                               Chapter V

                                PURSUIT


Gale’s left hand clasped tightly in that of Phyllis and with Gale
holding her gun tightly and ready for instant action should the need
arise, the two walked forward. They tried to make as little noise as
possible, but though they walked on tiptoe, the sound echoed back to
them dully. The ground underfoot was rough and uneven. On both sides of
them the earth walls were damp and cold. The air was heavy and musty and
the girls shivered as they tried to walk bravely forward. From up ahead
of them came a sudden sound as of a boot heel striking against stone.

“There he is!” Phyllis said in a sharp whisper. “What’ll we do?”

“Follow him and see where he is hiding,” Gale returned.

Slowly and with the utmost caution the girls crept forward. Once when
they came to a turn in the passage they were unprepared for it and
stumbled into the wall. Thereafter as they walked along, Phyllis kept
one guiding hand against the wall. Suddenly her hand came in contact
with something round and small set in a large niche in the wall.

“Hold on, I’ve found something, Gale,” she said. “I wish we had a
flashlight.”

“What is it?”

“I guess it’s a candle. It _is_ a candle, and it’s been lit recently,
too, because the end is still warm and the wax isn’t hard yet.”

“Keep it, maybe we’ll find some matches,” Gale laughed.

They came to a turn in the passage and for a moment a little speck of
light showed ahead of them. But suddenly it flickered and died out.

“I’ll bet it was another candle,” Phyllis whispered. “But if that was
the man we are after who blew it out, he is awf’ly far away from us.”

Gale stood still and Phyllis stopped also. Over and about them was
silence. As they stood there they seemed to imagine all sorts of sounds,
footsteps, whispers from unseen antagonists, scurrying of mice in the
passageway.

“I don’t like this,” Phyllis said nervously. “Let’s go back to camp and
get Tom or Jim.”

“If you will lead the way out,” invited Gale.

“You mean to say we are lost in here?”

“Well, I haven’t the faintest knowledge in which direction the entrance
lies,” Gale said candidly. “Do you?”

“It is back of some place,” Phyllis said uneasily. “We’ve got to find
it.”

“We’ve got to find it if we want to get out,” Gale agreed. “Suppose we
turn around and walk the other way.”

A mocking laugh arose from somewhere in the passage and echoed loudly
and weirdly. Both girls shivered from the ominous tone of it. They
walked along, Phyllis’ hand against the wall to guide them, but soon her
hand touched empty air.

“There’s a turn here,” she cautioned.

“It’s a cross passage,” Gale said. “Passages on both sides of us, but
which one do we take?”

Again that taunting laugh rumbled from behind them.

“Whichever way we go, I hope it is away from him,” Phyllis declared
trembling. “That laugh gives me the jitters, it is so melodramatic. Soon
he will be telling us we are in his power.”

Gale laughed nervously as the girls continued along the right hand
passage. Phyllis stumbled wildly over something and shrieked madly as
her exploring fingers came in contact with something cold and hard.

“What is it?” Gale demanded.

“It f-feels like a s-skull,” Phyllis murmured with difficulty.

“Don’t be silly,” Gale said, repressing a shudder. “Probably only a
rock. Come along, the girls will begin to worry about us soon.”

“They would worry more if they knew we were lost in here,” Phyllis
declared.

They walked on for what seemed hours, straining their eyes into the
darkness for that bit of light which would mean they were near the
entrance, straining their ears to catch unfamiliar sounds.

“G-Gale, do you really think we will find the way out?” Phyllis asked
after a long while.

“Of course,” Gale said staunchly, with far more cheerfulness than she
felt. “We can’t stay in here forever.”

“No,” Phyllis said and her voice shook uncontrollably. “Soon we would
starve.”

Gale, her own nerves on edge with the darkness and their hopeless search
for the opening, recognized the hysteria in her friend’s voice. But
before she could remonstrate, there arose that maddening, taunting
laugh.

“Gale,” Phyllis said hysterically, “I can’t stand it! I can’t! If we
don’t find the entrance soon, I’ll----”

Gale shook her sternly. “Phyllis! Pull yourself together! Don’t you see,
that is just what he is trying to do, get us rattled? Of course we’ll
find the entrance. We’ve got to, but for goodness sake don’t go to
pieces now. Wait until we get back to camp and then we’ll scream and
tear our hair.”

The picture of the two of them screaming and tearing their hair was a
little too much for Phyllis’ sense of humor and she laughed jerkily.

“It wouldn’t be so bad,” she said, Gale’s arm about her shoulders, “if
Relentless Rudolph would stop laughing.”

“That’s a good name for him,” Gale smiled.

They stood together in the darkness, trying to fathom a way out of their
predicament.

“Gale, do you suppose----” Phyllis began.

“What?” her friend encouraged.

“This sort of thing was what your uncle was thinking of when he gave us
those revolvers?”

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” Gale said slowly.

“I wish I had mine now,” Phyllis wailed. “A lot of good it does us in my
slicker.”

“I’ve got mine,” Gale reminded her, “but we haven’t seen anything to
shoot at yet.”

“Why do you suppose he, Relentless Rudolph, is trying to scare us so?”
was Phyllis’ next question.

“I haven’t the faintest idea,” Gale answered. “Unless he is trying to
scare us so we will be afraid to send the police after him.”

“Not much chance,” Phyllis said indignantly. “I’d like to lead the
police here, myself. If this cave didn’t give me the jitters,” she
added. “Let’s get going--some place.”

Hand in hand they started off again. This passage had a more hollow
sound than the others. Their footsteps, for they no longer bothered to
tread silently, sounded like thunder in their ears. The ground was
getting more uneven and suddenly they bumped ignominiously into the
wall.

“That’s the end of that,” Phyllis said in a tired voice. “We’ll wear
ourselves out before long.”

They went back the way they had come and when they came to the cross
passages, chose one going in the opposite direction. Their steps were
lagging, and their eyes burned from straining them to catch one glimpse
of daylight.

“Phyllis! Look! The entrance!” Gale cried joyously.

“Hurray! Let’s run!” Phyllis said eagerly.

All their tiredness was gone now. They raced eagerly for the patch of
light ahead of them and burst out upon a valley of green.

“I was never so glad to leave any place,” Phyllis said, sinking down
beneath a tree and leaning wearily against the trunk. “Rest a couple of
minutes and then we’ll go back to camp.”

“Phyllis,” Gale said slowly, gazing about them first this way and then
that. “This isn’t the same place where we went in.”

“No,” Phyllis agreed thoughtfully, after looking around, “it isn’t.
Don’t tell me we’re lost again! At that,” she said calmly, “I’d rather
be lost out here in the open than in those underground passages.”

“Come on,” Gale said impatiently, “we can’t sit here all day. We have to
find the camp.”

The sun was high overhead. It was hours since they had left their camp
site. What must the others be thinking? Had Tom or Jim started out to
find them?

“Maybe we could stay here and let ’em find us,” Phyllis said, relaxed
and lazy.

“We can’t stay here,” Gale said decidedly. She hit upon a sudden
inspiration to make her friend bestir herself. “We are too close to the
cave, the bandit might pursue us,” she added smilingly.

That was enough. Phyllis jumped to her feet and started to climb over
the uneven ground through the trees. At the top of the rise they saw
their camp nestling beside the little creek in the valley. The
subterranean passages they had been in led directly through the hill
which they had started to climb earlier in the day. From where they
stood now, they could see the partly hidden entrance which they had
first discovered. On their way down the hillside they took particular
care not to go near the mouth of the cave, lest they should see and be
seen by the bank bandit.

When they returned to the camp the others greeted them with mingled
exclamations of curiosity and thankfulness.

“We had about decided that you were lost,” Carol declared.

“You would have been right----” Gale began.

“Hold on!” Phyllis exclaimed. “Who is that with Jim?”

The girls saw Jim approaching the campfire where they were all gathered,
and with him was the man who two days before had brought the news of the
escape of the bank bandits to the K Bar O.

“Are you still hunting for the escaped robbers?” was Phyllis’ eager
question the minute the two men came within hearing distance of the
girls and Tom.

“Shore!” he answered promptly.

“Well,” Phyllis smiled over the sensation she knew her words would
create, “we saw one of them this morning.”

“You what? Where? Are you sure it was one of them?” The questions poured
from all present.

“Oh, we’re sure all right,” Phyllis said. “He scared us out of a month’s
sleep. I’ve christened him Relentless Rudolph the way he followed us and
laughed at us.”

“Followed you? Laughed at you?” Janet echoed. “What _do_ you mean?”

“Explain yourself,” urged Carol.

So while the others listened Gale let Phyllis tell of their morning’s
adventure. Phyllis recreated vividly with words the suspense they had
felt while fumbling around in the dark of the passages. The other girls
were quite beside themselves with excitement when she had finished.

Armed with flashlights and the revolvers they always carried now Tom
followed Jim and the special deputy into the cave when Gale and Phyllis
had shown them the entrance.

The girls returned to the camp to await the return of the three and
their prisoner. They had no doubts that if the bandit was still in the
cave, the three men would find him and bring him back to face justice.

“But there might be another exit to the cave that you don’t know about,”
Virginia mused to Phyllis and Gale. “Even now he might be miles away.”

“Well,” Phyllis said uncomfortably, remembering the thief’s laughter,
“the farther he stays away from me, the better.”

“I hope nothing happens to Tom,” Virginia said with a worried frown for
her brother. “If there is any danger, he is bound to rush right into
it.”

“Don’t worry,” Gale consoled her, “Tom is old enough to take care of
himself. While we are waiting, I’m going to have some target practice so
I’ll know how to handle this revolver.”

“A good idea,” Phyllis declared jumping to her feet. “We’ll have a
shooting match.”

Virginia tacked a large piece of paper to a tree and paced off
twenty-five feet. From her mark Gale tried her luck at hitting their
target. When she had finished they discovered that one of her six
bullets had just nicked the edge of the paper. The others had gone clear
past the tree. Phyllis was not even as lucky. None of her tries was
successful.

“You couldn’t hit a barn door if you were inside the barn,” Carol
teased.

“You couldn’t do any better!” was Phyllis’ spirited retort. “Give us a
chance, we’ll show you.”

The sun fell farther and farther in the west. The girls nervously idled
away the time, keeping anxious eyes on the hill opposite where they
expected Tom and his companions to reappear. But the minutes flew and
the others did not come. The sun dropped from sight, leaving a trail of
glorious colors in his wake. From the east, night like a pearly gray
blanket covered the sky.

Virginia sliced bacon in the frying pan over the fire. Gale made coffee
and soon inviting aromas of their supper drifted on the air.

“The smell of food will bring Tom if nothing else does,” Virginia
declared laughingly.

But it grew later. Darkness with its impenetrable shadows closed down.
The girls huddled about the campfire, watching the fantastic shadows the
flames threw over the tents. They had had their supper and put aside
things to be warmed when the others returned.

“Do you suppose they could have gotten lost like we did?” Phyllis asked
after a long and heavy silence.

“They had flashlights,” put in Madge. “They shouldn’t have.”

“Ah, but you don’t know that place!” Phyllis shivered, “It gives me the
creeps to think of it.”

“What’s that?” Virginia cried suddenly.

They listened attentively. A stick cracked as a heavy foot trod on it.
In the fitful firelight’s gleam they could see three shadowy figures
crossing the creek.

“Tom?” Virginia called uncertainly.

“All safe,” Tom’s hearty voice assured her.

“But where is the bandit?” Valerie asked excitedly.

“That’s what we’d like to know,” grumbled Tom. “We searched that place
all through but there was no one in there.”

“But we did see him,” Phyllis insisted. “He must have escaped before you
got there.”

“That’s what we figgered,” Jim put in. “We found footprints of a man,
but escaping the law seems to be that fella’s strong point.”

“He won’t escape all the time,” murmured the deputy. “We’ll catch up
with him some day.”

The girls, Virginia and Gale, warmed the supper for the three men and
before they all turned in for the night, the deputy took his leave,
declaring he could not spend the night at their campfire, but had to be
miles away by morning.

The girls slept peacefully and dreamlessly, storing up energy for the
day’s ride ahead of them, for it was Tom and Jim’s plan to continue on
to a new camp site the next day.



                               Chapter VI

                              GHOST CABIN


“Ah, me, the joys of camping in the open!” Carol said to the world at
large.

Rain had been steadily pouring down on the file of riders since early
morning. Clad in shining slickers they were riding on through the
downpour. It was decidedly uncomfortable and to make it worse, they had
had to have a cold lunch because everything was soaked and neither Tom
nor Jim could make a fire. Such conditions had led to Carol’s
declaration.

The others smiled but Janet was the only one who grumbled in reply.

“When do we get to this cabin, Jim?” she called over the heads of Gale,
Valerie and Virginia.

Jim knew of a cabin where he promised them they could spend the night in
comparative dryness and warmth. It was an old miner’s shack, long since
deserted by its owner, but no matter how ramshackle and tumbledown, it
beckoned as a heavenly haven to the wet, weary riders because it
promised shelter from the rain.

“In ’bout an hour, I reckon,” Jim replied. “Mebbe less.”

“I hope it’s less,” Gale murmured to Virginia.

Her cousin smiled at her. “Feeling disgusted with camping in the open? I
wouldn’t blame you. This isn’t a nice experience for newcomers to our
state.”

“It isn’t me,” Gale said with a surprised glance, as though the mere
thought of her own comfort had never entered her head. “It’s Val. She’s
looking rather--peaked.”

“She’s bearing up marvelously well,” Virginia replied with equal
concern. “I hope today isn’t too much for her. I don’t want to spend
more than one night in this cabin Jim is taking us to.”

“Why not?” Gale asked.

“Well,” Virginia shifted uncomfortably, “I--just don’t that’s all.”

“Come on, out with it,” Gale said gayly. “Don’t go keeping secrets from
me. Is the place haunted?” she asked hopefully.

“It’s known as Ghost Cabin,” Virginia said reluctantly.

“How interesting!” Gale declared. “Tell me more! How did it come by that
name?”

“It is near the entrance to an old silver mine,” Virginia explained.
“Years ago this region was thought to hold valuable silver deposits.
Some miners came and camped here. The owner of the cabin worked his mine
for a year or so. Some people said he made a lot of money out of it. I
don’t know. Anyway, the miner was found murdered in his cabin,
supposedly killed by thieves.”

“Where does the ghost come in?” Gale wanted to know.

“The miner is supposed to come back to his cabin at night to wait for
the thieves who murdered him,” Virginia told her.

“Cheerful thought,” Gale grimaced wryly. “Do you suppose he’ll come
tonight?”

“I don’t know,” Virginia said doubtfully, albeit a bit hopefully. “It
would be fun, wouldn’t it, to meet a ghost?”

“A lot of fun,” Gale agreed dryly. “I’m not particularly fond of the
things myself. I’ll have to pass this tale on to the others.”

While they rode, Gale, with Virginia’s help, told the rest of the
Adventure Girls the story about the cabin to which they were going. They
were a little dubious about the night and its outcome, but all agreed it
would be highly exciting. Tom and Jim promptly declared the tale a myth,
that there were no such things as ghosts.

“You’re just trying to spoil our prospect of an exciting evening,”
declared Janet loftily to Tom. “I shall look for ghosts just the same.”

“Go ahead,” he grinned, “and may you find a lot of them.”

“Oh, not a lot,” she said hastily. “One healthy one is about all that I
could handle.”

“We’ll all be there to help you--handle him,” Carol assured her friend.
“Don’t tell me we have finally reached our goal!” This last as the party
rounded a clump of trees and through the rain saw a low, ramshackle
cabin ahead of them. A little distance from the cabin was a shed and
Carol demanded to know what it was.

“Entrance to his mine,” Tom replied, “Don’t go near it or you will
probably fall down a shaft or something.”

Carol frowned on him. “I will not fall down anything,” she declared with
dignity.

“See that you don’t,” he laughed. “Come along, Ambitious,” he urged one
of the pack horses who was lolling behind.

Jim was the first to approach the cabin and when they crowded behind him
there were mingled exclamations of disgust and disappointment. A layer
of dust lay over everything and there were dirt and filth in abundance.
But the sight of a fireplace and plenty of dry wood ready to flame up at
the spurt of a match heartened them somewhat.

“First of all,” Jim said, “I’ll sweep the place. There’s a makeshift
broom over there in the corner. You all wait outside.”

So there was nothing for the others to do but go back out into the rain
until Jim and Tom could restore the place to some semblance of
cleanliness.

“We’ll tie the horses back of the cabin,” Virginia proposed, to keep
them busy.

“Feeling tired?” Gale asked anxiously of Valerie as the two walked side
by side, leading their mounts.

Valerie nodded, forcing a smile. “No worse than you, I expect.”

Again Gale felt a thrill of admiration for her friend who was so
cheerfully determined to fight her way back to strong, ruddy health.

“The minute the cabin is respectable, you shall sit down and not stir
again tonight,” she declared.

“I’ll help get supper,” Valerie corrected.

“No you won’t,” Gale said.

“But I want to,” Valerie insisted. “I don’t want the girls to wait on
me. I didn’t intend to be a burden when I came on this trip and I won’t
be one!”

“Darling, you could never be that!” Gale said tenderly. She continued
humorously: “Here we want to give you service and you won’t have it. I
wish somebody----”

“All clear,” Tom called, and there was a sudden rush of wet figures for
the poor sanctuary of the tumbledown shack.

A fire crackled cheerily in the fireplace and the tired riders were
gathered around it gratefully, yielding to the comfort of its warmth and
to the laziness a good supper had instilled in them.

“And still no ghosts,” Madge sighed, leaning her head cozily against
Janet’s shoulder.

“No, and I can’t say that I miss them,” that individual added, stifling
a yawn.

“It has stopped raining,” Jim volunteered from his post at the door.
“Tom and I will put up a tent outside for the night.”

“You girls can roll in your blankets on the floor here in front of the
fire,” Tom continued. “We----”

All of them came to attention. From somewhere, they were not certain of
the exact position, came three slow, measured knocks.

“Ah, the ghost has arrived!” murmured Carol.

“Where was he?” demanded Virginia. “It sounded as though he were beneath
the floor, but the place has no cellar.”

“It came from the ceiling,” contradicted Phyllis.

“Do you really think it is a ghost?” whispered Janet.

The others motioned for silence as the knocks were resumed. Three more
were followed by a low, gurgling scream that rose and wavered on the
night air, dying slowly away. The girls exchanged glances, their faces
white and troubled. Tom was frowning fiercely. Jim’s eyes were darting
about the room to find the source of the ghostly knocks and scream.

“This isn’t funny any more,” Janet said fearfully.

“Do you think we can stay here all night?” Valerie added.

“It will take more than knocks and a scream to scare us away,” Virginia
declared staunchly.

“But suppose it is the old miner come back to wait for the thieves?”
Carol began. “What are----”

Her voice died away as the distinct rattling of chains filled the air.

“All the desired sound effects,” Tom growled.

“It seemed to come from right under our feet,” Gale declared.

“Rattling chains indeed!” sniffed Phyllis. “We can be sure it isn’t a
real ghost now. He has too much to be true. Somebody is trying to scare
us.”

“You’re right,” Jim agreed.

“But where is he? Why can’t we see him?” demanded Virginia.

“He can’t be on the roof,” Tom said thoughtfully, “there is no
cellar----”

“He certainly isn’t here with us,” Carol declared. “There goes that
scream again!” She shivered. “It gives me the creeps. Do you suppose he
could be on the outside?”

“No, he isn’t anywhere in sight,” Jim said firmly, returning from a
quick circle of the cabin.

“We haven’t heard him for some minutes now,” Virginia said
encouragingly. “Maybe he has gone.”

“Just a slight intermission,” murmured Janet calmly.

They waited, but nothing happened. Tom and Jim set a tent up before the
cabin. The girls spread their blankets before the fire, all but Valerie.
The girls had insisted that she take possession of the low bunk the
cabin afforded. It would be slightly more comfortable than the floor.

She was tired, but rolled in her blanket in the silent cabin, Gale found
she could not sleep. All desire for sleep had left her and her mind was
active. The other girls were sleeping, she supposed Tom and Jim were
too, out in their tent. But her ears magnified a thousandfold each
crackling of a log and each creak of the floor sent expectant shivers
along her spine. She realized then she was waiting for the ghost of the
cabin to return. She was sure he would. No self-respecting ghost would
stop after such a mild attempt to frighten them away if he was really
anxious to be rid of them. But who was it that was playing ghost? The
bank bandit? Hardly. Whoever it was, why did he want people to stay away
from the cabin? From where she lay, she looked around at the room. She
could see nothing that anyone might wish to keep from prying eyes.

Quietly she threw back her blanket and stood up. Tiptoeing, she went to
the door and stepped outside. Stentorian snores were coming from the
little tent. Tom and Jim were in dreamland. Smiling, she leaned against
the door and stared up at the stars overhead. The storm had cleared and
there was not a cloud in the sky. The stars hung low like brightly
lighted lanterns. The moon cast its silver light on the earth, causing
huge black shadows under trees and behind the cabin and the shanty set
apart.

Standing in the darkness, the wind ruffling her hair, gray eyes alight
with a hint of the brightness of the stars in their depth, Gale sighed
with sheer enjoyment of the scene. She had never before realized that a
spot such as this, away from the noise and the people of the world,
could be so lovely. It was almost like standing on the edge of the
world. Behind her towered high and mighty mountains, before her lay a
sea of moon-swept valley. Born and brought up in the little town of
Marchton, Gale had known some outdoor life, but never the breathless
beauty and limitless quiet of a night in Arizona. Quiet had she thought?
Far away a coyote howled and yet another. She shivered. The sound was
so--uncivilized. The cry of that animal was like a call straight from
the wild untamed world of which she knew nothing.

Gale was staring at the dark little shanty that Tom had said was
doubtless the entrance to the old miner’s mine. She wondered if the man
had ever realized his dream of great wealth, the dream he doubtless had
when he settled here and began to dig. A shadow, a moving shadow, had
detached itself from the spot of darkness which was the shanty and was
going toward a thick clump of trees. Instantly Gale stiffened to
attention. Who was it? Certainly it was no ghost, for no ghost was ever
so solid. Was it the one who had tried to frighten them from the cabin?
Certainly he had not tried very hard. Perhaps he was coming back later
for a second attempt. Were there more mysterious men in the shaft to the
mine? Gale had a sudden impulse to call Tom or Jim to investigate that
shadow. No, she would investigate it herself, she decided. The man was
out of sight now, lost in the blackness of the trees and she moved
forward.

It was not far from the shadow of the cabin to the protecting darkness
of the shanty and Gale covered it quickly. She did not want to be seen
by that other sleuthing person. She preferred to do her detecting unseen
and unknown. Her exploring fingers found the latch, consisting of a nail
and a piece of string, and in a minute the shanty door swung to behind
her. It was dark and silent in here. From her jacket pocket she took a
small flashlight. Ever since she and Phyllis had been lost in the cave
she had carried her light with her, rather than leaving it rolled in her
slicker. Now she was glad she had it. The little circle of light
revealed a pair of worn wooden steps leading downward. Gale listened
intently and when she heard nothing that indicated another’s presence,
descended into the passage. It was nothing like the big coal mines she
had read and seen pictures of. It was merely a tunnel that had been
hewed out of the ground with pick and shovel. If the ground had once
held a fortune of silver, it gave no evidence of it now. She had to
stoop, so low was the ceiling, as she picked her way along over rocks
and débris.

Suddenly the thin ray of light from her lamp wavered and she noticed
that it had grown dim. The battery was growing weak and would not last
much longer. She switched it off. She must save it so she would have at
least enough light to find her way back to the entrance. That was where
she made her mistake. Creeping along in darkness, she did not see the
black hole ahead and when her foot touched empty air, fell head foremost
down--down--several feet.

For a moment she lay stunned with the unexpectedness of her fall. Too,
the jar of landing had knocked all collected thought from her head.
Slowly she sat up and felt for an injury. Nothing but bruises, thank
goodness. She had dropped her flashlight and had to feel out with her
hands along the damp earth until she found it. She hoped fervently that
the drop had not put it entirely out of commission. No, when she pressed
the little button, a feeble ray of light shot out. The light was bright
enough to see that she had fallen into a pit of some sort that stretched
away out behind her into darkness which the lamp would not penetrate.

She got to her feet and endeavored to shake some of the dirt from her
clothes. It was a risk to go forward without a light, but a glance at
the wall of dirt and rock had shown her that she could never hope to
climb up to where she had been before her fall. There was no course but
to explore this passage here and to hope that that mysterious shadow did
not decide to come back into the mine immediately. But perhaps he had
friends in here, friends that would not welcome her intrusion. The very
thought that any minute she might stumble upon some mysterious, fearful
unknown made her nervous and she proceeded with greater caution.

Gale endeavored to readjust her sense of direction, which had been
somewhat confused with her fall, to find in what direction this passage
led. If she was correct, and she believed she was, it should lead across
to directly beneath the cabin where her friends were sleeping. In that
case, the man she had seen might have been the “ghost” who with his
mysterious knocks and screams had frightened them. But, remembering the
fall which she had had, how did he get down to this lower passage, and
once down here, how did he get up again? She had not been able to find
any means of gaining the higher level. She halted and switched her
flashlight on again. The light was failing rapidly and she dared to keep
it on only a moment. But in that moment she had switched it overhead and
seen the row of four or five boards which she was sure were part of the
floor of the cabin. She sought a rock and hurled it up against the
boards, ducking as it rebounded back at her. She followed it with
another and then another.

“The ghost is back again,” said a nervous voice which she recognized as
Janet’s.

Certainly it was the floor of the cabin and she had discovered how the
ghost had done his mysterious knocking. His voice from here would have
been clearly audible to them, too, just as she could hear the girls now.

“Gale’s gone!” she heard Valerie cry in alarm.

“Gone!” the others echoed.

She was just about to call out to reassure them when a sound in the
passageway behind her made her hold her breath in suspense. Someone was
coming along the tunnel. That must mean that the mysterious ghost had
returned to do some more of his haunting. With quick and as quiet steps
as possible, she retreated back the way she had come, and directly
toward that unknown. Standing flattened against the earth wall, her
heart thumping so she was sure he would hear it, Gale waited for the
ghost to pass her. He did so, actually brushing against her in the
darkness. He carried no flashlight and it was this fact alone that had
saved her from discovery. Evidently he knew his way about in the
darkness.

Aided now by fear, she sped along the narrow, low tunnel to where she
had had her fall. The man certainly had not been in here when she fell,
hence there must be some way he had entered since. She had to find that
entrance to gain her freedom. Now that the others had discovered her
absence, they would be alarmed and a search would be begun. She must get
back and reassure them. She must also send Tom and Jim to find this
mysterious stranger.

Flashing on the last faint rays of her flashlight, she saw the wall down
which she had fallen and against it hung a crude rope ladder. So this
was how he entered and left this lower tunnel! With one foot on the
ladder, she slipped her flashlight into her jacket pocket. It had failed
entirely now and she would have to depend on her memory to lead her to
the entrance. It took but a few moments to climb the ladder and once at
the top she pulled it up behind her. That would keep the ghost in the
lower passage until Tom and Jim could come along and investigate him.
There must be some reason why he “haunted” the cabin with his mysterious
knocks.

Swiftly as possible she went along the tunnel and after several minutes
stumbled against the steps leading up to the door.



                              Chapter VII

                               LANDSLIDE


“But I can’t understand how he got out!” Gale said again with a puzzled
frown. “I purposely pulled the ladder up behind me to keep him in
there.”

“There must be another way out that’s all,” Tom said.

“He’s gone and now we shall never know who the ghost was,” said Janet.

Tom and Jim exchanged a fleeting glance that only Gale seemed to see.

“Well, Gale gives a good imitation of a spook,” was Carol’s declaration.
“Imagine, throwing rocks at the floor to scare us all out of our well
earned sleep.”

“I was only demonstrating how it was done for my own satisfaction,” Gale
laughed.

The nine of them were jogging along on their horses. They had had their
breakfast while they discussed the disappearance of the ghost. For the
man whom Gale had thought imprisoned in the lower tunnel had gone when
Jim and Tom let themselves down on the rope ladder. They had not
explored the tunnel to its full length so they were not sure, but they
surmised that there must be another exit some place along the passage
and it was this that the mysterious stranger had used. They had all
endeavored to go back to sleep, but their rest was fitful and broken.
They had eaten an early breakfast and now, two hours later, found them
picking their way through cactus and undergrowth to the distant hills.

“Git along little dogie, git along, git along,” Janet sang lustily.

“I wish I had brought some cotton,” Carol commented darkly, “for my
ears,” she added at Janet’s curious glance. “Then I wouldn’t have to
listen to you sing.”

“Oh, you don’t appreciate a good voice when you hear it,” was Janet’s
retort.

“A good voice, I do,” Carol declared, and moved her pony so that Gale
was between her and Janet. “But who ever told you----”

“What? Not another musical person?” Madge demanded as Tom blew
vigorously on his harmonica.

“If riding affects them like that,” Virginia laughed, “it is time we
called a halt. What do you say, Jim?”

“For ten minutes,” Jim nodded.

They fell from their mounts, grateful for the respite. Tom promptly
stretched out on the ground, his hat over his face to shut out the sun.
Jim led the horses to a little stream of water as the girls stamped the
stiffness out of their cramped legs.

“Where’s Jim?” Virginia wanted to know at the end of the allotted ten
minutes for Jim was not in sight. The horses were standing ready for
their riders, but they could not proceed without the guide.

Virginia went over and poked her brother into wakefulness.

“What’s the matter?” he asked drowsily.

“Jim hasn’t come back yet,” Virginia informed him, “and if we don’t get
started, we won’t make our next campsite before dark.”

Tom stretched lazily. “Well, stay here an’ I’ll find him.”

Gale and Virginia mounted their horses and the others did likewise.

“You know, I’m either going to wear the horse out or he is going to wear
me out,” Janet declared with a grimace as she lowered herself into the
saddle. “I’m afraid it is the latter.”

They waited for fully fifteen minutes before either Tom or Jim came into
sight. The horses had caught the impatience of their riders and were
fidgeting to be off.

“We thought you had deserted us for sure!” Virginia declared. “Where
were you?”

To Gale it seemed that the two men had the air of conspirators. There
was a gleam in their eyes that had not been there before. The minute
they came within earshot of the girls they stopped talking and came on
silently.

“Virginia,” Tom said immediately, “we want you to lead the girls to Bear
Rock and have lunch. Wait there for us.”

“But where are you going?” Virginia demanded.

“Jim has found a trail that looks strange so we are going to follow it,”
Tom explained. “But we’ll catch up to you at Bear Rock. You camp there
until we come, understand?”

“No,” Virginia said firmly. “I don’t understand. What is so strange
about this trail? Why can’t we all ride that way?”

“We couldn’t follow the trail with all of you along,” Tom declared. “It
would be obliterated in no time.”

“But, Tom, if we get lost up here we could never find each other again,”
Virginia continued.

“But Miss Virginia, you’ve been to Bear Rock lots of times,” Jim put in.
“Yore Dad would want us to follow this trail, too. It shore looks mighty
strange. You won’t get lost.”

“You don’t know what you might be getting into,” Virginia said. “I think
you should let that trail alone and mind your own business.”

Tom shook his head, tightening his saddle strap.

“We’re goin’ so you might as well save your breath. See you at Bear
Rock,” he added as he and Jim swung their horses about and were off in a
cloud of dust.

The girls stared after them in surprise, then Virginia, with a shrug of
her shoulders, turned her horse and led the way at an abrupt angle from
the road taken by Jim and Tom. Gale undertook to bring up the rear with
the pack horses. As the girls jogged forward, Phyllis rode directly
behind Virginia with Janet and Carol following. Valerie had dropped
behind with Gale.

“Do you suppose that mysterious trail was left by the bank bandits?”
Valerie murmured in a low tone to her friend.

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” Gale answered. “You know, Val, that is what
they are really looking for. I believe that is why Jim has a definite
camping place in mind for each day and doesn’t let us loiter much along
the way. He and Tom must think the rustlers and robbers are connected.”

Valerie nodded. “Do you think the bandit might have been the man you saw
at the mine last night?”

Gale frowned. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that. It might
have been, but I can’t be sure because I didn’t get a close enough look
at him. He might have been using the cabin as a hiding place.”

“That’s why he tried to scare us away,” added Valerie. “I believe that’s
it!”

“What are you two chattering about?” Janet wanted to know.

“About having broiled rattlesnake for supper,” Valerie retorted. “I’ve
heard it is very good with mustard.”

It was but a short ride to Bear Rock, so named because a huge boulder so
resembled the head of a ferocious grizzly. Once there, the girls
dismounted and gathered wood for a fire. They would eat a cold luncheon,
but insisted on at least having hot coffee to drink. The horses were
tethered and the girls gathered about the fire. Seated on stones, for
the ground was still damp from the heavy rains of the day before, the
girls waited for the two men to join them. They drank their coffee and
had long finished their lunch before the clatter of hoofs reached them
and Jim and Tom rode up.

“We’ll have a new campsite tonight,” Tom said at once. “Jim and I want
to do a little more sleuthing so we might as well go along and camp when
it gets dark, no matter where we are.”

“That’s better than leaving us behind at any rate,” Carol declared. “I’m
rather anxious to get a look at this trail.”

“Just a lot of hoof marks,” Tom answered blandly.

That was all it proved to be and the girls were disappointed. They
didn’t know what they had expected to find, but certainly more than
this. Unexperienced in trail reading they didn’t realize what a wide,
easy-to-read trail had been left. If they had, they might have been
suspicious. Even so, Tom and Jim, western bred and experienced in
trailing both men and animals, should have been suspicious. But they
weren’t.

In the northern region of Arizona are plateaus broken by high mountains.
Between the foothills of a high range was a winding trail and it was
this that the Adventure Girls and their friends followed, winding in and
out through forests thick with pine trees and cottonwoods, jack rabbits
darting across the trail, making the horses prance and rear, and the
girls getting so weary they could hardly stay in their saddles.

At last Jim called a halt beside a small stream. The sun was sinking
swiftly. Darkness was creeping into the east. When they had pitched
their tents and supper was started, the girls took time out to admire
the scenery of their surroundings. They were camped on the base of a
rugged plateau broken in two by a narrow pass through which they
proposed to ride on the morrow. Overhanging the pass was a huge boulder,
balanced precariously on the edge of the jutting cliff.

“Just one push is all that needs to block up that whole pass,” Tom
declared.

“Let’s hope nobody pushes it tomorrow when we are going through there,”
commented Janet cheerfully.

“Let’s see what is on the other side of the mountain,” proposed Gale to
Valerie.

“All right,” she agreed readily, getting up from her knees where she had
been putting another piece of wood on the fire.

“Or are you too tired?” Gale asked suddenly, remembering that Val
couldn’t keep going as incessantly as the rest of them.

“Of course I’m not too tired for that short walk,” Val said stoutly.
“Come along.”

“When supper is ready give us a halloo,” directed Gale as the two
started out.

“You’re taking awful chances,” Carol declared mischievously, “we might
eat all the supper without you.”

“You had better not!” Gale warned laughingly.

The two walked leisurely, enjoying the glorious hues of the sunset. In
the west the sky was a maze of colors as the last rays of the sun
flashed on the banked clouds. The gurgling of the little stream by which
they walked was the only sound other than that of their footsteps that
they heard. Yet Gale had the uncanny feeling that eyes were watching
them. Once she turned to look back at the others in camp. They were all
busy with something or other. No one was watching her and Val. Yet that
peculiar feeling persisted.

Directly beneath the overhanging boulder they paused to look up at it.
It hung menacingly over them. They took a few steps forward when
something made Gale look up again. Certainly her eyes had not played a
trick on her! The rock had actually wavered. It was falling!

“Run, Val, run,” she shouted, at the same time grasping her friend’s arm
and pulling her along.

“What in the world----” Valerie began.

“The rock--it’s falling!” Gale panted.

Thereafter she did not need to urge Val to exert speed to get away from
the spot toward which the rock was rushing. The two of them flung
themselves forward while certain destruction hurtled down almost on
them. The boulder crashed into the earth with such force that it half
buried itself. On top of it poured earth that had been loosened in its
descent.

“What if we had been under it?” gasped Val when the girls, at a safe
distance, viewed the wreckage behind them.

“We would look like pancakes now,” Gale said humorously. “With that
landslide, can you tell me how we are going to get out of here for our
supper?”

Valerie looked around. What they had thought was a trail leading through
the mountains was just a trail that led to the basin here, a valley on
all sides of which rose steep hills. Their only means of entrance and
exit had been through the pass, and now that was effectively stopped.

“I wish we would have waited for supper,” Gale said, attempting to keep
lighthearted.

“You can join us,” said a suave voice behind the girls.

They whirled and were grasped in rough hands.

“Well, two are better ’n none, eh, boss?” a rumbling voice laughed.
“Maybe we couldn’t get ’em all, but these two will do us.”

Both Gale and Valerie struggled, but what was the use? They were soon
subdued, not too gently, and led away, their hands tied behind their
backs, to a cabin, hidden entirely from the trail in a clump of trees.



                              Chapter VIII

                               PRISONERS


“What are you going to do with us?” Gale demanded, summoning as much
courage to her voice as she could.

In the untidy, sparsely furnished room on the first floor of the cabin
the girls faced their abductors, three of the most dangerous, most
crafty looking individuals they had ever seen. It was with a pang of
fear that both Gale and Valerie recognized the leader as one of the
bandits who had robbed the bank in Coxton.

The leader leered at them with a wide grin. “You, my fine young ladies,
are to be our safe ticket across the border.”

“You mean--to hold us as hostages?” Gale asked.

“Call it anything you like,” he retorted. “We’re goin’ to put the
proposition up to your friends. If they don’t agree, you don’t go back
to ’em--that’s all.”

“You wouldn’t dare to harm us!” Gale said staunchly.

He laughed and exchanged glances with the other two men.

“Take ’em upstairs, Mike,” he ordered, and stamped from the cabin.

None too gently one of the other outlaws pushed the girls before him to
where a makeshift ladder led to a loft above the first floor. They
entered through a trap door and it was slammed shut after them. A rusty
bar slithered into place and they were prisoners.

Gale endeavored to stand upright and sat down again abruptly as her head
bumped against a beam in the ceiling.

“Well, we’ve landed ourselves in a fine mess, haven’t we?” she grumbled.

“What are we going to do, Gale?” Valerie asked.

Gale heard the tremble in Val’s voice and frowned gloomily. It was all
her fault that they were in this predicament. If she hadn’t suggested
the walk they wouldn’t be here now, they would be back with their
friends eating a good supper.

“The first thing seems to be to get loose,” Gale said, keeping her voice
perfectly normal. “Can you get your hands out?”

“No,” Val said after a few moments of futile struggling. “They made a
good job of it.”

“Back up against me,” Gale directed, “and let me see if I can get the
rope off your hands first.”

Valerie did as directed, but it was impossible. Not able to see the knot
and working under such a handicap was too hard. Gale had to give it up.
Below them everything was silent. Had the men really gone to the camp of
the girls’ friends as they said they intended to do? If so, there must
be a way out of the valley other than climbing over all that newly
fallen rock and dirt. The landslide hadn’t blocked them in then at any
rate! If once they got out of this cabin, Gale knew they would be all
right. She had the means in her possession to guarantee safe conduct of
their abductors--or so she thought.

In the wall just above their heads was a window, large enough for them
to squeeze through Gale reflected when she saw it. Large enough to
squeeze through if once they got their hands free and could open it.

“Gale--even if we get free what will we do?” Valerie asked. “The window
will be too high from the ground to jump. Then, too, those men will be
back soon----”

“If we get free,” Gale gritted through clenched teeth, tugging at the
rope, “things will be simple. I’ve got my revolver in my boot.”

“You haven’t!” Val gasped.

Gale laughed. “Sure I have. I haven’t been without it since my uncle
gave it to me. I intended to save it for rattlesnakes--but now we’ve got
something else to use it on.”

“You wouldn’t actually shoot one of them, would you?” Val asked.

“What would you do?” Gale retorted. “With enough provocation, I s’pect I
would. After all, they’re bandits--and we’re not exactly safe in their
hands.”

“You’re right!” Val said with sudden spirit. “Shoot the whole
three--they need it. I wonder when they will be back?” she added
tremulously.

Gale had gained her feet, keeping her head low this time so as not to
bump it, and standing with her back to the window, her exploring fingers
had encountered the window catch.

“Ouch!” she said suddenly.

“What’s the matter?” Valerie demanded.

“This window catch--it’s as sharp as a knife.” Endeavoring to turn the
catch, her finger had been cut by the edge of the lock. “Sharp as a
knife,” she murmured again under her breath. “Hold everything, Val!” she
cried excitedly.

It was an awkward, uncomfortable position Gale had to assume in order to
be able to work the edge of the rope that bound her hands together over
the catch. It was tiring and so slow, but it was accomplishing the task.
The threads of the rope were being cut through and in a few moments she
would be free. When finally the rope fell away, her arms were stiff and
her wrists sore from where the rope had cut into the flesh. Then it was
only a matter of minutes until she had Val free, too.

“Listen!” Val said, rubbing her wrists to restore circulation.

The sound of heavy footsteps and the murmur of voices drifted up to
them. The three men reentered the room below and the girls held their
breath. Almost subconsciously Gale secured her tiny revolver from the
top of her boot and grasped it ready in her hand. But the trap door did
not lift. No one came up to see if they were safe.

“What are we going to do now?” Valerie whispered frantically.

Gale went to the window and looked out. A porch had been added to the
cabin and the roof sloped away from the window where she stood. With a
protesting squeak the window swung inward when she opened it. The girls
waited lest the faint noise attract the attention of their abductors.
But the voices continued in their indistinguishable hum and in a minute
Gale was through the window on the roof. She helped Valerie and the two
of them clung to the window sill. Inch by inch they eased themselves
over the short roof to the edge. There, Gale lay face downward and hung
over.

“You’ll fall!” Valerie hissed, holding firmly to her friend’s belt.

“Shshsh,” Gale cautioned. “Are you good at sliding down a pole? Well,
whether you are or not, you’re going to. I’ll go first and catch you,”
she added humorously. “But don’t you fall on top of me!”

Gale restored her revolver to her boot and swung her legs over the edge.
For once in her life, Gale was thoroughly glad for her athletic training
and gymnastic ability. Cautiously she transferred her hold from the edge
of the porch roof to the pole around which her legs were locked. She
lowered herself inch by inch, with some little damage by splinters, to
the ground.

“All right!” she called up to Valerie.

Her friend’s legs appeared over the edge and in another minute Val had
begun her descent of the pole. In a short time she was beside Gale and
the two joined hands to run from the scene. But at the same moment, the
cabin door was thrown open and slammed shut again behind the leader of
the three men. He did not see the girls, but as they attempted to step
back into the shadow of the trees, Gale stepped on a twig. It cracked as
loudly as a pistol report in the silence.

“Run, Val, toward the pass,” Gale said, her hand on her friend’s arm,
urging her along.

“But you----” Val protested.

“I’m coming,” Gale said. “Go on,” she urged. “I’ll stop him from
following us.”

The leader was coming toward them now, to investigate that mysterious
noise among the trees.

“Who’s there?” he called. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”

But the girls sped off through the trees. A bullet whistled through the
leaves above their heads and abruptly they zigzagged from their course.
They could hear the bandit crashing after them. They stumbled on,
covering the ground as rapidly as they could. Somewhere ahead was the
pass that had been blocked that afternoon, but surely they could find
some way past or over it. Beyond the pass lay their friends and safety.
The thought lent new vigor to them. Another bullet sped past them.

Gale whirled and fired point blank at the shadow of their pursuer. A
groan was her reward and the chase was effectively stopped. The shots
had summoned the other two men who were thrashing about in a vain
attempt to find the cause of the shooting. By the time they discovered
their companion, the girls were farther away.

Val had reached the blocked pass and was already endeavoring to climb up
and over the landslide when Gale caught up with her. Gale assisted her
chum as much as she could, for she could see that Val was nearing the
end of her endurance. They were forced to rest to catch their breath
several times, and each time they feared that the three bandits would be
on their heels. But silence seemed to have settled over the valley and
the cabin they had left behind. They heard nothing as they reached the
rise of ground and began their slippery slide down the other side.

Halfway down they met Tom and Jim, who were making an attempt to climb
over the boulder and find the girls, and also to fathom the mystery of
the shots they had heard.

By the time the four arrived at the camp, Tom and Jim were supporting
Valerie. The excitement had buoyed her up, but now that the suspense was
past, Val was utterly worn out.



                               Chapter IX

                              ON THE TRAIL


“Did you kill him, I hope?” Janet asked with keen excitement.

Valerie was in her tent asleep while Gale, after a substantial supper,
told the others of what had happened to them. She had come to the part
in their escape when she stopped and fired at the bandit when Janet
voiced her opinion.

Gale shivered. “I hope I didn’t,” she declared. “I wouldn’t care to be a
murderess.”

“I think there is not much danger of that,” Tom reassured her. “Those
fellows are pretty hard to kill.”

“We were all nearly frantic,” Virginia said, a fond arm about Gale’s
shoulders. “First we saw the rock fall and then when you didn’t come
back--we didn’t know what to think or do!”

“That’s something else,” Gale said, “that rock didn’t fall of its own
accord. It was pushed.”

“Are you sure?” Carol demanded.

“I saw the man,” Gale said positively. “Something, I don’t know what,
made me look up just as we were walking under it.”

“That something saved you from being smashed flatter than a pancake,”
Janet said wisely.

“But who would push the rock?” Madge asked wonderingly. “Those men
didn’t actually want to--murder you, did they?”

Gale laughed nervously. “Let’s hope they didn’t; they might try again.”

“Hereafter none of you go wandering away by yourselves from camp,” Jim
said sternly. “To-morrow Tom and I will go see those fellows, since they
didn’t come to see us,” he added grimly.

“But you----” Virginia was beginning when her voice died away into
silence.

The thunder of hoofs echoed down into the valley to them. All eyes
turned up to where the rim of the mountain was silhouetted against the
moonlit sky. Three black mounted figures were picking their way slowly
across the trail. In a moment they were swallowed up in the blackness of
a forest as they made their way down to the valley some distance from
the Adventure Girls’ camp.

“Three of them,” Tom murmured. “Evidently you didn’t kill that fellow
after all, Gale.”

“And I’m afraid we won’t be able to get a look at them tomorrow,” Jim
added. “We’ll follow their trail of course to see in what direction they
are heading. I think, Virginia, you had better lead the girls back to
the K Bar O. There is too much danger in these hills.”

“Nothing doing,” Janet interrupted, flatly. “We like danger and we don’t
want to go home. If you follow the bandits, so do we!”

“I’m afraid we’re all agreed on that,” Gale nodded.

“So you see it is useless for you to argue,” Virginia added, as Jim
opened his mouth to protest.

“But Dad wouldn’t like it, Virginia,” Tom said with a frown. “Jim and I
are responsible for you girls. If anything happens----”

“Nothing will,” Carol assured him. “We all bear charmed lives. We shall
return to the K Bar O when our trip is over just as we started out,” she
declared.

“But what about Valerie?” Madge put in. “Do you think she can stand a
lot of hard riding?”

Gale grew thoughtful. “She came through tonight with never a protest. I
believe Val can stand a lot more than we give her credit for.”

Later, lying on her bed of pine boughs beside Phyllis, Gale thought of
Valerie again. It had been strenuous, climbing down from the roof and
later fleeing through the underbrush and over that huge boulder had been
particularly wearying, without considering that they did it all on top
of a day’s riding. Val had borne up marvelously well. True she had been
near collapse at the end, but then she herself had not had much vitality
left and she had always been stronger than Valerie. Yes sir, Val was in
a much better physical condition than when they had started for the
West.

The morning, however, found Valerie not as robust as Gale’s optimistic
thoughts had pictured her. Breaking camp was delayed until lunch time in
order to give Val the benefit of a few more hours rest. After luncheon,
the party saddled and mounted their horses. After a while, Jim picked up
the trail of the outlaws and they followed it a short distance. But the
bandits had evidently suspected a chase and rode their horses into a
stream. From there all trace of trail was wiped out.

Sunset found them miles from the scene of the girls’ adventure. Supper
was prepared and after it had disappeared they sat about the campfire
telling stories or singing songs. They retired early and were up with
the first rays of the sun.

Day after day they followed the same procedure. Their skins were getting
tanned and their appetites were enormous.

“I never thought I could eat so much,” wailed Janet, after a
particularly hearty meal.

“You’ll look like a baby elephant when we get back home,” prophesied
Carol encouragingly.

They rode like regular westerners now, and every day they appreciated
more and more the beauty of the country through which they rode. If Jim
had planned on showing them the loveliest scenery, he was running true
to plan. The girls had never realized before that nature, untamed by
man, could be so lovely. They never realized that just to sit and gaze
at a sunset could bring such a thrill. In every way the country was
affecting them. Physically they were healthier than they had ever been.
Their mental outlook was brighter, more cheerful. Here in limitless
space, mid tall mountains, they felt more drawn to one another. Their
friendships grew and flourished.

One day they camped close to the mighty Colorado River that flows
through the Grand Canyon. The cliffs of sandstone and limestone, almost
a mile high, were so rugged and majestic as to fill the girls with awe.
All the colors of the rainbow were in the rocks and under the influence
of the sun and the shadows cast by it, formed pictures of entrancing
beauty, pictures too beautiful to ever be put down on canvas. Rain and
wind had sculptured the cliffs into bewildering and fantastic forms
which added to their brilliant coloring.

“Doesn’t it make you feel tiny?” murmured Janet, scarcely above a
whisper, afraid to disturb the great hush that hung over the Canyon.

“The Canyon was first seen by white men in 1541,” Tom told them. “The
Colorado River where it runs through the Canyon there is three hundred
feet wide, and in times of freshets it’s a mighty torrent.”

“You sound like a traditional guide book,” Janet told him.

“It’s wonderful,” Valerie murmured, voicing the feelings of all of them.

Another day found the Adventure Girls and their friends examining the
colossal stone tree trunks of the Petrified Forest. Here they found more
to awe and surprise them. Still another day found them at the rim of the
Painted Desert, the desert with its multi-colored plains alive with
somber, purple shadows.

“I’m overwhelmed!” Carol declared. “From now on I shall be a strong
advocate of See America First!”

Valerie had out the little sketching block she always carried with her.
With a strong talent for sketching and limitless subjects on which to
try her skill, Val rode with her pencil and pad in her hands nearly all
day. She wanted to take back home sketches of the spots that interested
her most on this trip.

“I’ll never be able to make it look as beautiful on paper as it really
is,” she sighed. “No one could really hope to.”

“I’d like to have one of the sketches you made of the Canyon the other
day,” Gale said. “I intend to frame it and keep it as a memento.”

“Isn’t it funny, Gale,” Val mused aloud, “how you never miss anything
until you’ve seen it.”

“You might feel as though you miss something,” Gale agreed, “but you
don’t know what it is.”

“I shall miss all this a lot when we go back East,” Val declared,
looking about at the Arizona sunset. “Everything is so--big out here. I
feel awf’ly small. When I think of the silly things we quarrel over in
school and the things we think we can’t get along without in the city,
it makes me ashamed of myself.”

Gale laughed. “If you lived out here long enough, I’m afraid you would
have a bad inferiority complex.”

“No, but don’t you feel that way?” Val demanded. “Tomorrow we start for
Monument Valley near Kayenta. That’s one hundred and seventy-five miles
from the nearest telephone. Imagine what that means! Back home we don’t
think anything of a telephone because nearly everybody has one.”

“Yes, and just think, I haven’t had a chocolate soda since I came out
here,” chimed in Janet, coming up behind them. “I hope I shall survive.”

“You look as though you might pull through,” Valerie laughed.

“Come and get it!” Tom called and there was a concerted rush for the
makeshift supper table.

Day after day they rode through cañons and winding intermittent gullies,
shallow basins, and dry washes. They followed trails through thick
sagebrush and cottonwoods, over dry beds of streams and sunken deserts,
marveling how the dull gray and olive of the sagebrush and trees
mingled. They learned that many of the mountains were extinct volcanoes
and admired the brilliant colored sandstone and shale formations. Once
or twice they ran into heavy thunderstorms that turned dried-up streams
into rushing torrents of muddy swirling waters.

They explored with keen interest Monument Valley with the spire-like
rock of El Capitan at its head, and its fantastic flat topped pillars
rising thousands of feet into the air. A day’s ride from Kayenta the
riders came upon Betatakin, one of the most interesting, although least
known, of the cliff dwellings, standing silent within its mammoth cave.

“Just think, hundreds of people lived and died here a thousand years
ago,” Virginia commented.

“I’m glad we don’t live in houses like these,” Janet said, as she
climbed up the worn stone steps to the next level. “I’ve no desire to
climb all these steps every time I want to go home.”

“If you walked in your sleep it was just too bad,” added Carol, looking
back down at the stones over which they had come.

“It gives me an appetite,” Madge complained. “When do we eat?”

“The sooner the better,” put in Phyllis.

For hours the girls prowled around in the dark houses of the cliff
dwellers, taking their time to examine everything of interest. The next
day they resumed their riding, heading south toward the K Bar O.

During the days Gale and Phyllis had a lot of practice with their
revolvers and now could succeed in coming fairly close to the bull’s eye
every time they tried. Gale, too, was becoming proficient with her rope.
Jim spent hours teaching her and she proved an apt pupil.

Riding with Virginia behind Jim as they swung along the trail, Gale was
looking up at the trees and the blue sky, thinking how she would hate to
leave all this when it came time for the Adventure Girls to go back
East.

“Look out, Jim!” Virginia screamed suddenly.

There was a snarl and a streak of yellow leaped from the low-hanging
limb of a tree. Jim’s horse reared wildly and plunged away as its rider
was dragged from the saddle by the impact of the cougar’s weight.

For a second none of the riders could do anything but check their
mounts. All the horses threatened to run away and careened wildly,
almost unseating their riders. Meanwhile, Jim was thrashing about on the
ground, struggling for his life while his companions watched helplessly.

“Quiet, boy,” Gale said, a soothing hand on her trembling pony’s neck.
With her other hand she unfastened her rope.

“Look out, I’m going to shoot,” Tom said, raising his rifle to his
shoulder.

“Don’t!” Carol cried. “You might hit Jim.”

“But the beast is killing him,” Janet said with a shudder. “Somebody do
something!”

Despite Carol’s warning, Tom discharged his gun and succeeded only in
frightening the ponies more. Jim was fighting madly to keep the sharp
claws and teeth away from his face and throat.

Once more Gale spoke to her pony and patted him reassuringly. He jerked
nervously under her hand, but he was by far the quietest one of the
beasts. During the days in the saddle Gale had learned the tricks and
tendencies of her mount and she had instilled a trust in him for his
rider. Now, though he longed to flee from this spot with its danger, he
stood quietly obedient to her voice and touch. In her hand Gale held her
coiled rope. Tom had dismounted and handed the reins of his horse and of
the pack horses to Carol and was edging nearer to those thrashing
figures on the ground. Virginia, too, had dismounted.

At the first opportune moment, Gale’s rope slithered out and fell over
the two. The loop caught a hind leg of the cougar. Immediately it
tightened and the snapping teeth were diverted from Jim to the rope
about its leg.

“Go it, boy!” Gale urged her horse.

The horse darted forward. Behind her the rope pulled the cougar clear
from Jim. The pony sped down the trail, its rider bent low in the
saddle, the rope dragging the squirming, struggling mountain lion over
the stony ground. Gale did not slow her mount till she was sure that the
animal was dead. Then she turned her horse and trotted him slowly back
to the group.

Tom and Virginia were busy with Jim. The cowboy’s shirt hung in ribbons,
and the flesh of his shoulders and arms was streaming with blood. He had
a long scratch along his cheek, but otherwise he was safe and sound.

“Never thought that rope trainin’ would come in so handy,” he grinned at
her. “Reckon I owe you a heap for pullin’ that fella offa me, Miss
Gale.”

“Is he dead?” Janet asked tremulously with a glance for the dust covered
thing at the end of Gale’s rope.

“If he isn’t, he ought to be,” Gale replied, dismounting. “Are you hurt
much, Jim?”

The cowboy insisted that they should not stop their day’s ride on his
account. After Tom’s first aid treatment had been administered and Jim
remounted his horse, they started forward again. Tom had cut the cougar
loose from Gale’s rope and pulled him to one side of the trail.

“That’s what I like about the country out here,” Janet said to no one in
particular. “Always something doing. Any time at all you might step on a
rattlesnake or get jumped on by a ferocious animal. Nice country!” she
declared with a grin.

“Pleasant thoughts you have,” Carol laughed. “It’s no worse than back
home. There we have to dodge street cars and taxi cabs.”

“Give me the taxi cabs,” Madge murmured. “They at least give you a
warning.”

It was late when they stopped for their camp. Riding and excitement had
whetted their appetites and while they ate, Tom and Jim told them of
other experiences each had had with animals in the surrounding country.
Jim took the whole affair as all part of the day, and refused to declare
himself a bit thrilled over it.

“At least we’ll have something to talk about when we get home,” Phyllis
smiled.

“We’ve got a lot to talk about,” Valerie declared. “We’ve met nearly
everything the West can produce, haven’t we?”

“Nearly,” Virginia laughed. “Do you feel like going home now?”

“No!” came unanimously from all the girls.

“Well, whether you like it or not, we are,” Tom declared. “Tomorrow we
get back on K Bar O soil. Two more days and we’ll be at the ranch
house.”

“We’ve got to go home, our supplies are running low,” Virginia
explained.

“Can we go on another trip then?” Carol asked immediately.

“If we have enough time,” Valerie commented. “The days have gone so
quickly. We’ll be going home soon.”

“We’ll refuse to think of that,” Phyllis said firmly. “Let’s hear some
more of your experiences,” she suggested to Jim and Tom.

For another hour while the fire crackled and shadows danced over the
tents and figures around it, Jim entertained them with memories of the
range lands. Valerie and Phyllis retired first. After them went the
other four girls. Gale alone remained beside the fire with her cousin
and the cowboy.

“Tom----” Gale began hesitantly.

“Yes?” Tom encouraged, tossing another log on the fire.

“That trail we passed just before we camped--was it the bandits’?” she
asked.

Tom and Jim exchanged a fleeting glance.

“What made you think of them?” Tom asked.

“Before we started on this trip,” Gale said, “Valerie and I overheard
you and your dad talking about rustlers. We didn’t mean to listen, but
we did. Had that trail today anything to do with them? I thought you
both looked worried when you saw it.”

“We were worried,” Jim admitted. “It was a fresh trail and the same men
who held you prisoner that night in the hills, made that trail. We
thought we had lost them sure, but it doesn’t look that way.”

“What are you going to do?” Gale wanted to know.

“Nothing,” Tom said promptly. “We are going to take you girls safely
back to the K Bar O.”

“The bandits are probably making for the border into Mexico,” Jim
murmured. “The Sheriff and his men will catch ’em.”

Tom laughed. “They haven’t done much catching so far. I’ll bet the
bandits get clean away.”

“Then there is nothing to worry about,” Gale said.

“No, nothing to worry about,” agreed Tom.

When Gale had entered the tent she shared with Valerie and Phyllis, she
went immediately to sleep and did not know that long after she retired,
Tom and Jim talked seriously and long about the possibility of meeting
the rustlers before they reached the ranch safely.



                               Chapter X

                                RUSTLERS


“Oh, how I love to get up in the morning,” sang Janet between yawns as
she stumbled from the tent with Carol close behind her. “Hullo, are we
getting company?”

Two cowboys on dust covered, lathered ponies had dashed into the camp
circle and pulled their mounts up short beside the campfire. Jim who had
been on his knees poking at the ashes to stir the flames to life got up
slowly with a wide grin of welcome. Tom joined the four and Virginia,
coming from the tent, greeted them also.

“Let’s get an earful,” Carol proposed. “Evidently they are riders from
the K Bar O.”

“Then ya didn’ see anythin’ of ’em?” one of the new arrivals was
murmuring to Tom.

“Not a thing, Lem,” Tom replied with a serious frown. “How many did they
get?”

“Close to a hundred head, I reckon,” Lem declared viciously.

“By now they are across the border,” Virginia murmured. “Why did you
look for them up here near the hills?”

“A couple of the boys went toward the border,” Lem’s partner answered.
“We found a trail leadin’ up this way.”

“They didn’t pass near here or we would have seen them,” Virginia said
again and her brother and Jim nodded in agreement.

“Then we got to be goin’ farther,” Lem said remounting his pony.

“But can’t you wait and have a bite of breakfast?” Tom wanted to know.

“Not now, son,” Lem replied. “We’ll eat a cold snack from our saddle
bags. We want to find those birds before the trail is gone.”

“Wish you luck,” Jim sang out as the ponies darted forward.

“Who were they?” Phyllis asked as she, with Gale and Valerie, appeared.

“Riders from the Lazy K,” Virginia answered. “Rustlers stole close to a
hundred cattle last night. They were following them.”

“But they didn’t bring the cattle up this way, did they?” Carol put in.

“No, but the boys figured some of the riders came this way. I hope they
catch ’em,” Virginia said viciously. “We’re probably due for a raid
tonight.”

Jim and Tom said nothing as they busied themselves getting breakfast
ready. Whatever thoughts they may have had on the subject, they kept to
themselves.

Breakfast was eaten, for the most part, in silence. Even when camp was
struck and they started on their way again, there was not the usual
light-hearted banter and teasing. Each one realized that the situation
at the K Bar O and other ranches was coming to a head. Rustlers had been
busy too long. Now the ranchers were acting. Instead of going to the
ranch for safety from rustlers and bandits, it seemed that the girls
were running into more trouble. Jim led the way, silent and foreboding.
Tom brought up the rear with the pack horses. He too was silent and
grim. It was their attitude that brought home to the girls just how
serious the situation was.

Along about noon Jim’s horse developed a limp that necessitated their
moving more slowly. After deliberation they decided to camp for the rest
of the day and night. Perhaps by the morrow Jim’s horse would be well
again and they could travel at an increased pace. Now there was an
undisguised desire to get back to the ranch house prevalent with all of
them. Things were undoubtedly happening there and the girls wanted to be
in on the excitement. They thought it high time the ranchers got busy
and did something about their stolen cattle. The authorities had failed
to capture the thieves so it was up to the ranchers themselves.

After camp was made Val took her sketching board and went off by herself
to draw. Gale had not unsaddled her horse and now she mounted him for a
ride.

“Not that there is much to see,” Virginia laughed when Gale started out.
“Just sagebrush, rocks, and trees.”

Gale liked to be alone sometimes and now she did not feel the need of
the companionship of any of her friends. Once in a while the other girls
thought her a little strange when she went off by herself. But there was
nothing strange about her. Gale was the sort of person who is not
dependent upon other people. She could spend a whole day by herself and
not be bored with her own company. She couldn’t see why some people had
to always travel with a crowd, always have a lot of other people with
them. She could enjoy a walk, a movie, or a ride just as much alone as
with others. Of course it was fun to travel with a group, but she
enjoyed a day all to herself quite as much. When she was alone she could
really think.

Gale reined her horse in and looked back at the valley she had just
left. She could see all her friends like moving spots against the dull
gray and olive background. On the other side, the way she faced, a long
flat plain stretched out to the right while on the left was a forest of
cottonwoods and fir trees. There was a narrow trail leading down from
her position on the crest of the hill through the woods and she urged
her horse forward. As she rode, she had to bend low in the saddle to
keep from being slapped in the face by low hanging branches.
Occasionally she saw a rabbit or a squirrel, but for the most part
everything was still.

Her horse was young and frisky and jogged along with light, prancing
step. Gale was enjoying herself hugely with no thought of the passing of
time. Her surroundings were quiet and inspiring and, as usual with Gale
in such circumstances, she was dreaming of a thousand and one things
other than the present. When the girls got back to Marchton they would
start their last year in the Marchton High School. The next year they
started college. As yet the girls had not firmly decided on the school
to which they would go after high school days. They were concerned now
with ideas of what to do and be when they were finally all through with
school. They all firmly resolved that they wanted careers, but just what
those careers were to be was a little undecided. Of course it was
understood that Val would continue with her art. She was really the only
one of them all that had a talent of any kind to which she could cling.
Long and repeatedly the girls had discussed the subject of careers. What
_could_ they be? Artists? Only Val could do justice to that branch of
work. Actresses then? Well, perhaps Phyllis would go in for the Drama.
Madge, Carol, and Janet were totally at sea, as was Gale herself.

Gale had always thought she might like to be a doctor. But just the
thought of all the years of study and preparation ahead of her was a
little disheartening. She liked the study of medicine and had always
been interested in it. At first she thought of being a nurse, but now
she didn’t like that idea. The thought of being a doctor was much more
intriguing. Doctors led such fascinating lives, she thought. In her rush
of enthusiasm and ardor she didn’t reckon with the long, tedious hours
the doctor devotes to his patients, nor the fact that he has little free
time for himself. Then, too, she would like to be a sculptor. She liked
to model things in clay and she was sure she could chisel interesting
things from marble if given the chance. She sighed and urged her horse
along a little faster. It was really quite a problem deciding what to
be. At any rate, whatever she went into, she wanted to go into it full
of enthusiasm and willingness to work and do her best. She had no
intention of idling her life away. She wanted to do something, to be
somebody, to be proud of her achievements whatever they might be. She
was resolved that she would forge ahead to success and make a name for
herself. After all, why not? Other people had started out with nothing
and made themselves famous.

A huge drop of water on the back of her neck brought her back sharply to
the problem at hand. Riding along and musing with herself, she had not
noticed the dark clouds that had gathered overhead from nowhere. Now as
her horse came out into an open clearing, rain began pouring down. She
could not hope to get back to camp before the worst of the storm broke.
If this heavy downpour continued, she would be drenched in a minute.
Wildly she looked about for shelter of some kind. Through the trees to
the left she saw a log cabin, not much of a building, but enough to
afford shelter in the storm. To the rear she found a sheltered hitching
post where she tied her mount and ran back to the main cabin.

One step inside she stopped and glanced around. She had had the
strangest premonition when she stepped over the threshold. It was as if
she had a warning of something dreadful about to happen. The room--there
was only one--was empty of all but its meager furnishings, a table and
two makeshift chairs standing before the fireplace. A saddle and rifle
lay in one corner. On the table were a few dirty dishes. Someone had
been here lately, if they were not here now. She had seen no horse when
she tethered her own, but there was a saddle and, more ominous still,
the rifle. Where was the owner?

The rain was teeming down outside and she went to the window to stare
out. A regular cloudburst! Tomorrow a lot of the little streams they had
passed would be raging, swirling rivers. She was glad this cabin had
been here or else she would have been drenched. She smiled as she
thought of how her camp mates might be receiving this sudden rain. They
would no doubt be huddled in the waterproof tents, but nevertheless they
would be fuming with disgust. It was no pleasure camping out when it
rained. She looked up at the gray skies, impatient to be off and away
from this cabin that filled her with that strange, unreasonable fear.
Why should she feel fear the moment she stepped into the place? There
was no one here. Not a thing to frighten her. Yet she was filled with a
strange uneasiness. Evidently her horse had felt it too, for when she
had tied him he whinnied faintly and nudged her arm with mute appeal.
She had thought nothing of it at the time, but now it came back to her
with ominous warning. Animals had keen instinct and the horse had felt a
distrust of this place. She wished heartily it would stop raining so she
could go on. She didn’t want to get wet and she didn’t want to stay
here.

She shook her shoulders impatiently and went over to inspect the rifle
in the corner. Probably she was imagining things. It was the first time
she had let her imagination make her afraid of anything. She was being
silly she told herself again sternly. Most likely this cabin had been
deserted for a long time. But when she picked up the rifle she knew that
wasn’t so. The rifle was clean and recently oiled. Too, it was loaded.
It was the same make rifle as Tom carried in his saddle sheath and quite
without knowing why she took the cartridges out of the barrel to examine
them. At the same moment she looked up through the window to the trail
she had so recently left for this shelter.

Terror gripped her for a moment. Horsemen were issuing from the thick
growth of trees and there was no disputing the identity of the first
man. It was the bank bandit who had held Val and her prisoners in that
other cabin. She dropped the rifle over the saddle where it had been and
looked about wildly for a means of escape. Were they close enough to see
her if she slipped out of the door? Of course they were! In the rear
wall was a window. She placed a chair beneath it and a moment later was
squeezing through the opening. Rain or no rain, she preferred to get wet
to remaining in the cabin to receive those men. How had they managed to
elude the Sheriff and his men so long? Were the bank bandits connected
with the rustlers who had been stealing cattle from the K Bar O? Gale
made a shrewd guess that they were.

When she jumped from the window to the wet earth Gale ran immediately to
where her pony was tied and, slipping her arm through the reins, led him
back into the woods to the rear of the cabin. She was sure the thick
growth of trees and brush would shield them from view and that proved to
be the case. The trees overhead were a little protection from the rain,
but even so, when she had been in the open five minutes she was soaked.
She had left her slicker in the camp and now she wished fervently she
had let it remain rolled behind her saddle. She heard the thunder of
hoofs and sound of voices as the men she had eluded dismounted at the
cabin and entered it. Surprised, she looked down at her hand. She still
had the two shells from the rifle clutched in her fingers. She had
departed in such haste that she didn’t have time to replace them;
indeed, she had not even thought of them. Now she shoved them deep into
her breeches’ pocket and huddled beside her horse.

It would be better to get into the saddle and ride than to stand here in
the rain, but she was sure the sound of her horse’s hoofs would be
clearly audible to those men in the cabin and they would be sure to
investigate. Too, she had an idea. It would be a big help to her uncle
if she could, in some fashion, determine if these were the men who were
stealing cattle from the ranchers. Perhaps, now that she had stumbled
upon their cache, she could spy on them and learn something of interest
to the authorities. It was worth trying. She would wait until it grew
dark and then sneak up and endeavor to listen to their conversation and
to obtain a glimpse of the men within the cabin.

Her horse whinnied softly and she put an admonishing hand on his muzzle
while her heart raced with apprehension. Suppose one of the men heard
him and came to see---- But they were undoubtedly too busy and besides,
they might think it one of their own horses. Still, it would be best to
be on the safe side. She led her horse farther into the woods and there
tied him to a cottonwood. She was hungry. She remembered she had had
only a light lunch but she remembered, too, that she had put something
in her saddle bag just in case she wanted an afternoon snack. It came in
handy now. She found two lumps of sugar, also, which the horse promptly
snuggled from her hand.

Another thought came to her and she bent down to her boot. Her little
revolver still nestled in its customary place. She might have use for it
tonight, she reflected. Suppose the men were the rustlers and suppose
she did make sure of that fact. How was she to notify the authorities?
By the time she got back to her camp and told Jim and Tom and they
summoned the Sheriff or some of his men the rustlers would have ample
time to get away. What was she to do? With a shrug of her shoulders she
dismissed the thought. Everything would take care of itself she was
sure.



                               Chapter XI

                                SURPRISE


The rain had stopped. Darkness was over the world and stars blinked
solemnly from their heavenly nest. The rain had brought coolness and a
light wind that stirred the leaves of the trees.

Round the campfire were gathered all the girls but the absent Gale. Tom
was collecting firewood and Jim was making sure the horses were secure
for the night.

“Where do you suppose Gale can be?” Janet asked again.

“I wonder,” agreed Phyllis. “This is the first time in my acquaintance
with her that she ever missed a meal.”

“I’m beginning to be worried,” Virginia confessed. “I don’t see why she
stayed away so long.”

“You don’t suppose--something could have happened to her?” Valerie asked
hesitantly.

“What for instance?” Madge demanded.

“Well, her horse might have run away or----”

“Nonsense!” Carol said crisply. “Gale’s horse is the tamest one of the
bunch. I’ll bet she is having an adventure and a high old time.”

“But where can she be?” insisted Valerie.

Minutes passed into hours and hours passed and still that question was
not answered. The camp was thoroughly alarmed now. They were certain
Gale was in trouble or had lost her way in the strange country. Any
number of things might have happened, and their thoughts ran rampant.
The girls could see that Tom and Jim were as disturbed as they. For the
last half hour Jim had, almost lovingly, been cleaning his revolver.
There was something ominous in just the sight of him toying with his
weapon. What was he thinking?

“What are we going to do?” Valerie asked finally.

It was time for the girls to retire for it had been planned to ride
early on the morrow. But now, with Gale missing, their plans were
interrupted. None felt that she could sleep if they did go to bed.

“You girls might as well go to bed,” Tom said practically. “Jim and I
will wait until dawn and then go out and pick up Gale’s trail. It would
be no use going now, for we could find nothing in the darkness.”

They realized that he spoke the truth but still it was hard to sit idle
when they were longing to know what was happening to their comrade.
Reluctantly Madge, Carol, Janet and Virginia went to their tent. Valerie
and Phyllis followed slowly to theirs. Tom and Jim rolled in their
blankets by the fire, close together so they could talk in low whispers.
The light wind stirred the flames and sent them reaching high into the
air. A moment more and they died down to smouldering embers. Silence
gradually settled down over the tents and those two Indian-like figures
on the ground.

The camp was asleep or so it seemed. Not one occupant of the tents or
Tom or Jim saw the two figures that stood on the outer edge of the
circle of light and smiled over the serenity which gripped the camp.
Big, burly men they were, used to hard riding and hard living. The
leather chaps they wore and their heavy khaki shirts were covered with
dust. About their waists hung heavy holster and cartridge belts. Figures
of menace they were, menace to the peace of the Adventure Girls’ camp.
In their eyes, cold and relentless, was reflected the low, burning
embers of the campfire as the two took in every detail. They seemed to
have no desire to disturb the sleeping campers, just to note the lay of
the land, as it were. When their silent inspection was finished they
turned and melted into the darkness from whence they had come.

In the tent she shared now with only Phyllis, Valerie lay wakeful and
restless. Her thoughts were contemplating a hundred and one things that
might have happened to Gale. The two had been friends for a long, long
time and now the thought that her chum might be in trouble or danger,
perhaps, made Valerie long to be off to her assistance. She lay staring
at the black tent roof. Beside her Phyllis lay calm, breathing
regularly, already in the land of dreams. Valerie wished she could
smother her own troublesome thoughts and go to sleep. Tom and Jim knew
what they were about and if they said it was no use hunting for Gale
before morning, there simply was no use that was all. She realized that
they could scarcely find a sign of Gale in the pitch blackness of the
Arizona night. They thought that Gale might have lost her way and could
not return to the camp. Valerie seriously doubted that. Gale could find
her way about better than any of them. She seemed to possess a sixth
sense that enabled her to remember any route or trail of open country
that she had once taken. Valerie was sure Gale had not lost her way.
Instead, there was some other reason why she hadn’t returned to the
camp.

Valerie’s memory was particularly fresh with scenes of the night she and
Gale had been prisoners of the bank bandit. Had something similar
happened to Gale tonight? There was scarcely any other reason she should
stay away from camp. Valerie wondered if Gale still had her little
revolver with her. At least she had some little protection with that.

Valerie sat up and ruffled her hair restlessly. A moment later she stood
at the open tent flap. She could see Tom and Jim rolled snugly in their
blankets. What was that? For an instant she thought a shadow appeared on
the other side of the camp circle. A minute later she changed her mind.
It must have been a sudden spurt of the fire that threw a flickering
shadow over the sagebrush. She stepped out and let the flap close behind
her. There was no use to waken Phyllis or the others just because she
couldn’t sleep. She breathed deeply of the cool night air and marveled
at the thrill she felt. It was a thrill to note the difference in
herself. How changed she was since the first day they had camped in the
open. The sun and the usually dry air had wrought wonders, wonders that
had seemed impossible to even Valerie herself. She had often wondered if
she would ever feel the glow of vigorous health. Now she felt like a new
person. That annoying cough had entirely disappeared. She wondered if
the other girls realized what a transformation had taken place within
her. It had been a severe struggle, the hardest battle she had ever
fought, but she had won. The weeks of riding and camping, eating and
sleeping outdoors, had tanned her skin and put a sparkle in her eyes.
Too, she had gained weight. No more was she utterly exhausted at the end
of a day’s hard ride. No more were the other girls livelier than she.
Now she felt equal to any situation that might arise.

She had walked from the camp a ways to drink in the beauty of the night.
Unconsciously she had taken the same route Gale had ridden earlier in
the day. Ahead of her was the rise over which Gale had gone. Valerie
strolled along. The moon came out and threw dark shadows under the trees
and brush. Glancing up suddenly, Valerie was startled. She was sure she
had seen a figure step behind a group of trees ahead of her. She laughed
at her own fears. Nervousness wasn’t usually one of her traits. It must
be that Gale’s disappearance was preying on her mind. She was beginning
to imagine ominous sounds and sights. She frowned at the thought of Gale
and kicked an unoffending pebble from her path. She might as well go
back and try to sleep. There was no use wandering about like a lost
sheep. If the others discovered her absence they would be alarmed and
there was no cause to create a disturbance.

She decided to walk to the top of the rise and take a look at the plain
that stretched away to the right. She liked to see the plains in the
moonlight; it all looked as though the earth had been sprinkled with
silver dust. Then she would go back to camp, probably to lay awake until
dawn, she thought darkly. It was no use to argue about it. She worried
about Gale and about what might have happened. With rustlers and bank
robbers in the vicinity, what might not have happened? Too, there was
something about Tom and Jim that made her apprehensive. They seemed to
be waiting for something. Their whole attitude was one of preparedness,
but for what? Did they expect the outlaws to come to the girls’ camp?
The men would hardly do that she thought with a smile. Why should they?

She came to the rise of ground and stood there in the moonlight,
overlooking the plain. For a moment her eyes were somewhat dazzled by
the brilliance of the moonlight. Then she discerned a low cloud of dust
rolling along the horizon. Small dark figures she discerned. What could
it be? She knew, Jim had told them, that a herd of the K Bar O was
somewhere off there to the right. But were the riders moving the cattle
tonight? They were moving swiftly, too, she could tell.

Another thought occurred to her and her eyes narrowed with suspicion.
Could it be rustlers? Rustlers stealing another herd of K Bar O cattle?
It was possible, she declared to herself. The regular riders would
scarcely be moving the cattle so swiftly so late at night. There was no
reason they should. On the other hand, if it were rustlers, and if it
were K Bar O cattle, where were the regular riders? Didn’t they keep a
close watch these nights when there was such danger in the air? If she
were Gale’s uncle, she would put extra men on in an endeavor to catch
the thieves. Suppose there was trickery among the hired hands? Suppose
one of the riders whom Mr. Wilson trusted was in league with the
outlaws? It was quite possible. The man could very easily fix it so the
rustlers would have a clear hand. Was that what was happening? She
frowned thoughtfully. At any rate, she was sure that it was rustlers
moving K Bar O cattle and she was going to tell Jim and Tom about it.

She turned and her heart froze in her throat. Before her two men stepped
forward to block the path. Rough hands seized her and she was lifted
bodily from the ground. Kicking and squirming she let out a piercing
scream to summon the help of her camp mates. Just one scream, no more
was she allowed. She was roughly and effectively silenced and carried to
where two horses stood docilely among the trees. Her captors mounted and
she was swung up in front of one of them across the saddle. It was no
use to fight. Her captors were much stronger than she and there was no
course but to submit in stormy but, she hoped, dignified silence as the
two horses started away.



                              Chapter XII

                                  GONE


Phyllis reached out a hand. “Awake, Val?” But when there was no answer
and her hand encountered empty air she sat up alarmed. “Val?” she called
softly. Still there was no answer and Phyllis went to the tent flap and
stepped out. Everywhere was silence. “Val!” she called again.

“What’s the matter?” a soft voice spoke behind her and Virginia joined
her.

Phyllis smiled. “Can’t you sleep either?”

“No,” Virginia answered. “But--Val. Where is she?”

“She isn’t in the tent. I thought she might have stepped out here,”
Phyllis said with a thoughtful frown. “But I don’t see her. I wonder
where she can be?”

“Probably went for a walk,” Virginia smiled. “I suppose she was thinking
of Gale. I wish it was morning,” she added uneasily.

“What do you honestly think has happened to Gale?” Phyllis asked.

“I wish I knew,” Virginia said with a sigh. “I wish I knew,” she
repeated.

“Will you two chatterboxes please go to sleep?” Tom yawned from his
blankets. “Regular night owls, that’s what you are.”

“We can’t sleep,” Virginia said, seating herself cross-legged on the
ground beside her brother. “And there is no reason you should either,”
she added mischievously.

“Go away!” her brother implored. “We have to get up at dawn.”

“Anything wrong?” Jim asked, sitting up and shaking off his blanket.
“Girls all right?”

“Val has gone for a walk,” Phyllis informed him. “How long ago I don’t
know.”

“I wish----” Virginia was beginning when she stopped.

From the darkness behind them came a piercing scream. It echoed like
thunder through the sleeping stillness of the valley. It brought the
remaining girls tumbling from their tent. The four by the campfire
exchanged startled, incredible glances.

“That was Val’s voice!” Phyllis said with an effort.

“Come on, Jim!” Tom was already disappearing into the sagebrush. Behind
him was Jim and the girls trailed after. No one proposed to be left
alone in camp.

But, uncertain as they were of the exact spot from whence the scream had
come, they thrashed about in the darkness finding nothing. Finally Tom
held up a commanding hand for silence.

“Listen!” he ordered.

There was borne to them on the night air the pounding of hoofs. For a
time they were heard and then the sound died slowly into silence.

“Horses!” Janet said incredibly. “But who--why--who screamed?” she
demanded.

Jim was off at top speed for the spot where the horses must have been
when they started. When the rest joined him he was bending over
examining hoof marks with the aid of a burning pine faggot. He stamped
the torch out when he saw the girls and turned to lead the way back to
camp. There he bent serious glances upon all of them.

“Tom,” he said finally, “saddle your horse and ride to the ranch for
yore father and some men. Don’t lose any time about it either. There’s
something mighty funny goin’ on up here and we’re goin’ to need help.”

The girls exchanged frightened glances.

“What do you think, Jim?” Virginia asked.

“I think, I know,” he corrected himself, “those riders we heard were the
bandits we’ve been runnin’ across ever since we came on this trip. I
think they’ve got Miss Valerie just as they’ve probably got yore other
friend.”

“You mean--Gale?” Carol asked in a whisper.

“I shore do and unless we do something mighty prompt there’s no tellin’
what’ll happen.”

Tom had hastily thrown his saddle on his horse and now he led the
creature into the circle of firelight. In his hand he carried his
revolver. Gravely he handed it to Virginia.

“You might need it before I get back,” he said.

“But you----” Virginia protested.

“I’ll get another,” he said calmly. “You’ll stick to the camp, Jim?” he
asked turning to the cowboy.

“I can’t do nothin’ until you and yore Dad come,” Jim replied. “One
wouldn’t have a chance against a couple of those fellows.”

“Right you are!” Tom agreed and swung himself into the saddle. “I’ll
probably be back sometime about noon,” he said and was off.

As long as they could hear them, the girls listened to the rumbling beat
of his horse’s hoofs. When silence settled down on the valley again they
looked expectantly at Jim and Virginia. The latter two were westerners,
versed in the ways of the West. Surely they could tell the girls what
they could do. It was inconceivable that they should sit idle for hours
and hours, just waiting for Tom and his companions to come.

“Can’t we do something?” Madge asked, voicing the desire of all of them.

“We can make sure that nobody enters or leaves this camp without all of
us knowing it,” Jim said sternly.

“What could Val have been thinking of to wander off like that?” Virginia
added worriedly.

“She probably didn’t think there was anything to fear,” Phyllis
defended. “What are we to do?” she asked of Jim.

“Get your revolver,” he said crisply.

Phyllis bent down and pulled it from her boot. She had taken the
suggestion from Gale, and now she was never without it.

“We’ll have to watch the camp,” Virginia said practically. “Is that your
idea, Jim?”

“Yes. I’ll take a spot here in the shadows.” Jim indicated the direction
from which Val’s scream had come. He stationed Virginia and Phyllis on
both sides of the camp. The others, unarmed, could go back to bed or do
as they pleased as long as there was no noise and they didn’t leave the
camp.

“As though we could sleep,” Janet sniffed disdainfully when bed was
suggested.

“I’m going to sit with Virginia,” Madge said and departed to take up her
post in the shadows at Virginia’s side.

Carol and Janet went off to join Phyllis and so once more silence
descended on the Adventure Girls’ camp.

Virginia and Madge sat with their backs against a tree, facing the camp.
Protected by the heavy shadows all around them, the girls could see the
camp site clearly, but anyone coming stealthily onto the camp could not
see them.

“Why do you suppose Jim thinks it necessary to guard the camp?” Madge
whispered.

“It looks as though those bandits were interested in us for some
reason,” Virginia murmured. “Why should they kidnap two of the girls, as
Jim thinks they did, unless for some special reason?”

Madge thought this over for a moment. “But what reason could they have?”
she asked at length.

“I don’t know,” Virginia answered.

It was strange. The girls had done nothing to warrant this attack on
them by the outlaws. Or had they? They couldn’t tell what Gale or Val
might have found after they left the camp. Perhaps they had stumbled on
the hiding place of the bandits and now were being held prisoner by
those very outlaws. Virginia half smiled to herself. The girls had come
out for a restful, interesting summer and they had stumbled into a feud
of bandits and rustlers.

She hoped fervently that Tom, riding hard toward the K Bar O, was safe.
Since he had given her his gun, it left him unarmed and if he should
come face to face with any of the rustlers---- She turned her thoughts
sternly away from that subject. She had faith in Tom’s ability to take
care of himself. He was no child, he was older than she, and he knew the
range land and its secrets. The only time he had left the ranch was when
he had been away to school. After graduation he had returned eagerly to
his interrupted western life. Virginia settled herself more comfortably.
No, Tom would be all right. It was not him she should worry about, but
the two girls who had disappeared so mysteriously.

Since she was ten and Gale nine, Virginia had not seen her cousin until
that day weeks before when the ramshackle car had puffed into the ranch
yard and its occupants had piled gratefully from it. They had exchanged
letters faithfully, but they never really knew each other until they
started on this camping trip. Riding, eating, sleeping, laughing
together in the vast silence and beauty of Virginia’s native state, the
two cousins had grown close. Now Virginia knew and admired her cousin
tremendously. She recognized in Gale the same high ideals and love of
truth and sincerity that she herself cherished. There was in Gale, too,
a spirit of mischievous recklessness and courage that delighted
Virginia. In Gale’s gray eyes there burned a continual spark and her red
lips were always laughing. She liked Gale, honestly and whole-heartedly.
She wanted to be one of her firmest friends, because she was sure Gale
would be loyal and unselfish to those who won her deepest friendship.

Smothering a yawn, Virginia glanced at Madge beside her and received a
sunny smile. She smiled in answer and folded her arms. She liked all the
girls that had come West with Gale. What a fine name they had chosen for
themselves. The Adventure Girls! The very words spoke of fun, mystery,
and excitement. They must have countless good times. All of them were
capable of stirring up mischief and excitement. She wondered how so many
different natures had ever come together. She must ask Gale sometime how
they had first formed their group.

The darkness was like a heavy blanket and the faint wind was soothing.
The trees stirred faintly overhead. The few remaining embers of the
campfire in front of them glowed like a small red eye through the
blackness. Each faint sound was like a roar in their ears. Their nerves
were on edge and magnified each whisper of a leaf or cracking of a twig.
The stars overhead were fading and the moonlight was waning. Far, far in
the east the first faint streaks of daylight were creeping into the sky.

Virginia straightened up, startled. She had been asleep! That was her
first chagrining thought. Jim had put her on guard and she had fallen
asleep. Madge grinned at her when they glanced at one another.

“Have a good nap?” she asked laughingly.

Virginia laughed too. “Why didn’t you wake me?” she demanded.

“What for?” Madge asked blandly. “Nothing happened. In fact,” she
giggled, “I’ve a sneaking suspicion that I was asleep too.”

“Wouldn’t we make fine night watchmen?” Virginia laughed.

Jim had stepped into the circle of the camp and now he called them.
“Might as well have breakfast,” he suggested practically.

“When should Tom get back?” Phyllis asked.

“It’s a long ride to the ranch house,” Jim said, poking at the fire.
“Best he could do would be sometime this afternoon.”

The girls said nothing but each felt a sinking of the heart at the big
delay it meant. It would be hours yet before they could start looking
for their comrades.

They had breakfast, consisting mainly of steaming hot coffee and warmed
biscuits; but at that, they felt better, more cheerful, after a little
food. They could look upon Gale’s and Val’s absence with more fortitude
and confidence in the good fortune of their friends. Both absent girls
were resourceful and quick-witted. Perhaps nothing serious had happened
to them after all.

The girls were wondering what to do with themselves during the hours
they must spend when the galloping of hoof beats was heard. Their hearts
beat faster. Was it Tom and men from the ranch or--could it possibly be
the bandits?



                              Chapter XIII

                                 RESCUE


Darkness found Gale in much the same position she had occupied through
the rainstorm, standing beside her horse and gently stroking his nozzle.
The rain had stopped but she was uncomfortably wet. She wondered whether
this was a climate where one caught colds easily. If so, she would
probably have a dandy tomorrow. The horse shifted his feet impatiently
and nudged her shoulder.

She smiled at him. “Impatient to be off, old boy? So am I. Something
tells me that this is going to be a night of excitement. I wonder if I’m
being foolhardy in spying on these fellows. I might be, you know,” she
said seriously to the horse. He nodded his head as though in agreement.
“Oh, so you think I’m foolhardy, do you? But on the other hand, I might
be able to help Uncle. What do you think, old fellow?”

The horse shook his head and whinnied softly. “Please don’t do that,”
she said hastily, a hand on his nose. “If you make such a noise you
might bring those men out to investigate and that wouldn’t be lucky for
either you or me.”

The stars came out and with them the moon. The bright moonlight made
Gale frown in annoyance. Any other time she would have marveled at the
white radiance of Mr. Moon, but now it was indiscreet. The cabin where
she was to do her spying stood squarely in the center of a large patch
of moonlight. There would be no skulking in darkness close to it. If she
hoped to get close enough to peer in a window or to hear what was being
said, she would not only have to cross that moonlit space but to stand
in the white light, clearly visible to anyone coming to the cabin. Well,
she had made up her mind what she wanted to do and now she was going
through with it.

She wondered what her friends were thinking at her absence. She wished
there was some way she could let them know she was safe and sound. But
in an hour or two she would be on her way back to them with information
that might be valuable. She wished she had a good supper, though. That
was what ailed her horse too, he was hungry.

Through the trees she could see that there was a light in the cabin and
smoke curled from the chimney. Loud voices too, could be heard. Perhaps
they were planning something this very minute. Making sure her horse was
securely tied to a tree, Gale started slowly toward the cabin. It would
be a ticklish business and goodness knew what might happen if she was
caught. She approached the rear of the cabin but it was no good to take
up a post here. The window was too high for her to see in and the voices
were merely an indistinguishable blur through the thick wall.

Before the cabin stood six horses, reins hanging and their heads drooped
forward. Six horses! That meant there were six riders in the cabin.
Coming around the corner of the cabin, Gale trod heavily on a twig and
it snapped loudly. She stood still on the verge of flight, her heart
racing. But when no one came she realized that they were making too much
noise to hear such a slight sound. Evidently it was an occasion for
celebration for they all seemed in high spirits.

The window where she had meant to make her observations was closed but
the door stood ajar. It was perilous looking in at the window, for any
moment one of them might glance toward the glass and see her. Gale
discovered that, pressed flat against the wall beside the open door, she
could hear everything being said, though she could not see the
occupants. It was the latter position that she took. Making herself as
flat as possible against the rough logs, so there was scarcely risk of
detection as long as the men remained indoors, Gale strained her ears to
make sense of the conversation.

Suddenly their voices lowered, tones became confiding and mysterious.
Now Gale could distinguish only snatches of what was being said. She
slid a little closer to the open door.

“Pedro will stay here,” one man said sternly. “Three of you will tend to
the cows and the two of us will scout around to that dude camp and see
what’s goin’ on.”

Gale wondered if there was another party of easterners camping in the
hills, or did those words “dude camp” apply to her and her friends?
Quite possibly they did. But why were these men interested in what they
did?

“They’re too near the cattle to suit me,” one of the other outlaws said
in a deep rumbling voice. “Suppose they see us? Then they’ll be able to
give a nice little description to the Sheriff.”

He didn’t sound like an original westerner, Gale thought. More like a
gangster of the movie type. Another voice joined in, soft and slurring.
A Mexican, probably a half-breed, she decided mentally. For a while she
could catch no more of what they said and then only a word here and
there. But finally she knew enough that they planned to steal more of
the K Bar O cattle. Should she go now and tell Jim and Tom so they could
forestall the thieves? No, she would wait longer. Perhaps there was
something more she could learn. Where they were taking the cattle for
instance. As though in reply to her thoughts, the Mexican spoke again.

“You should have the cows across the border by morning.”

But there seemed to be some little dispute about this. Three of the men
started arguing. There was a step near her and a man’s shadow fell on
the ground where the light from the doorway streamed out. He was
standing in the doorway looking across to the trees. If he turned an
inch more in her direction he would see her. Gale held her breath and
leaned stiffly against the wall. He must hear her heart beating so
loudly. It sounded like thunder in her own ears. Tossing his cigarette
out to the ground the man turned and stepped back into the cabin again.
Gale almost sank to the ground in sheer relief. Pure luck, that was all
it had been, that kept the man from sensing her presence. If he had
stepped just a bit farther out, or turned just a bit more in her
direction, she would have been discovered. And then what would have
happened? She refused to think about that. Cautiously she moved a few
paces away from the door. There was no need for her to invite exposure.

Heavy steps sounded in the cabin and with lightning rapidity Gale
disappeared around the corner of the building and none too soon. Two of
the riders strode to their horses and mounted.

“Follow in an hour, Shorty,” one of them called and the two departed.

Were they the two who were going to investigate the camp, she wondered.
She hoped her friends would have some warning of the men’s approach and
were able to prepare themselves. She would like to have followed them
but she meant to stick here and see what happened. The rustlers were
leaving one man at the cabin. Why? What further than robbery did they
plot? Were they planning to return here and use the cabin as their
hiding place after the K Bar O cattle were safely across the border? If
that was it, she wanted to know so she could send the Sheriff and his
men here and be sure it was no wild goose chase.

The moon was high overhead and moving slowly toward the west. Gale had
no means of knowing what time it was for she wore no wrist watch, but
she judged it to be about midnight. She would say it was an hour since
the two riders had left, but still the other three had not followed
them. The four of them were having a high old time, she reflected as a
loud laugh floated out to her. She seated herself on the ground and
leaned against the wall. Might as well be comfortable while she waited
for something to happen. She was at the side, safe from immediate
discovery should they come out without warning. But it would be better
not to remain seated here, should she hear them, for it might just
happen that they would come around this side.

Suddenly the loud talking came to an end and there was a scraping as of
chairs on the floor. Three men came to the door and walked leisurely to
their horses. Gale was peeping around from the back of the cabin now and
she watched them as they rode away. There remained now only one man in
the cabin. Cautiously she went around to the window at the front. Slowly
she brought her eyes up to the level of the windowsill and gazed in. The
Mexican--she had been right as to his nationality she realized now--sat
before the fireplace, his chair tilted back, his feet propped on the
table. In his hands he held a stick of wood and a knife and he whistled
as he sent the chips flying. His profile was toward Gale and she
shivered at the ugliness of his countenance.

“Wouldn’t like to meet him in a dark alley,” she reflected to herself as
she studied him. A long scar ran down his cheek, making his profile even
more repulsive than it would ordinarily have been. “Something definite
with which to identify him, that scar,” she told herself as she left the
window.

The moon as it moved westward caused a dark, heavy shadow on the far
side of the cabin and Gale stepped into its protecting blackness. A
sudden thought of her horse occurred to her and she went back to where
he was tied to see if he was secure and safe. There was no telling when
she might want him in a hurry. She might have to leave suddenly, she
thought humorously. She returned to the cabin and sat down in the
protecting shadow. She wondered if there was a harder thing in the world
than the job of waiting. Her eyes were growing uncomfortably heavy and
the danger of falling asleep was very near. She smothered a yawn and
stood up. If she fell asleep now!

What was that? The gallop of hoofs? It was. And they were coming to the
cabin here. Who was it? The outlaws coming back from their nightly
marauding? Or could it, by some inconceivable magic, be Tom or Jim
looking for her? Somehow she had not expected them to. At any rate not
at night. Of course if she didn’t return to camp by the morning, no
doubt they would go out to look for her. But she planned to be safely
among them by morning. Meanwhile, those horses were drawing nearer. At
last they came into the moonlight from the direction she herself had
come early that afternoon.

There were two horses but it looked as though one horse was carrying a
double load. Gale’s interest was aroused. Who was it? The horses were
pulled up short in front of the cabin and Gale flattened herself against
the wall. She did not have as good a view of the new arrivals as she
might have wished for, but she could catch glimpses of them and she
could hear their voices. Right now they seemed anything but pleased.
They were having trouble with something--or someone.

“Let me go!”

Out of the thin air, it seemed to Gale, she heard Valerie’s voice.
Valerie here! How did she get here? Was she on the horse with one of the
outlaws? That must be the explanation of the double burden one of the
horses was carrying. In some way, the men had kidnapped Valerie and
brought her here. Gale rejoiced inwardly now that she had stayed, but
her heart leapt and her hands clenched the next second when she heard
what sounded like a slap and a half smothered scream from Valerie.

“Maybe that’ll keep you quiet for a while,” one of the men said.

Gale longed to rush out and interfere on Valerie’s behalf but she knew
how foolish that would be. She could only wait for an opportunity and
pray that they did not seriously harm Val. That it should be Valerie
made it all the more tragic in Gale’s estimation. If it had been Phyllis
or Madge or Virginia, one more able to stand rough handling and
hardship, Gale would have been more optimistic about her chances. But
with Val she was worried. She, Gale, had to help her friend, but how?

Carefully she approached her post by the window and looked in. Valerie
was seated in a chair by the fireplace and the Mexican was approaching
with two straps from the saddle lying in the corner. He proceeded to
strap Val’s hands to the chair posts. The other two riders watched him
for a moment and then came toward the door. Gale hastily retreated and
did not appear again until their horses were lost in the black trees.
Back at the window she watched, while the Mexican walked slowly around
his captive, deliberately appraising her. The door was closed and she
could not hear what was being said, but it was evident that Valerie was
saying uncomplimentary things for the breed’s face was growing blacker
and blacker with rage.

It was Gale’s intention to call the Mexican from the cabin on some ruse
and while he was out slip in and cut Val free. But for that purpose she
would need a knife. She ran back to her horse. In her saddle bag she
carried a knife and, while she was here, it would be just as well to
move her horse up closer to the cabin. If she and Val had to make a dash
for it, it would be well not to have to run too far. Leaving her horse
standing at the rim of the open space where the cabin was, she
approached the window again. Now she had to think of a ruse to get the
Mexican out of the cabin.

The light in the cabin was from the fire in the fireplace and from two
lanterns which cast a sickly yellow glow over the occupants of the
building and the meager furnishings. Gale could see the Mexican bending
over Val, leering at her. She could see Val’s bright eyes and flushed
cheeks. Whatever the Mexican was saying to taunt her, it had thoroughly
aroused Val’s temper. She saw Val’s lips move and wished desperately
that she might hear what the girl said. But the walls of the cabin were
thick and the windows and doors closed, effectively smothering all
sound. The Mexican’s hand shot out and struck Val a heavy blow across
the cheek, bringing a dark red stain to the white skin.

Gale saw Val’s head droop until her chin rested on her chest. What was
wrong? Was she going to cry now, of all times? It was just what the
Mexican wanted, to make her grovel. Evidently the Mexican thought he had
subdued all signs of rebellion in his fair prisoner for he bent closer
with a sneering smile. But it was a trick! When the Mexican bent over,
Val’s foot shot up and kicked him hard in the pit of the stomach. He
stumbled backward, doubled over in pain.

Gale could have danced in delight. Three cheers for Val! Her fighting
blood was up. Gale found herself a little surprised at Val’s daring. Val
had more courage than the girls had given her credit for. But now would
come a reckoning. The Mexican was straightening up, his face still
contorted with pain, and drawing a knife from his belt. He took two
steps toward Val, caressing the knife with loving fingers. If Val was
afraid, she gave no sign of it and for that Gale admired her all the
more. She was quite well aware that had she been in Val’s place she
would have been scared green. The Mexican looked awfully intent on doing
a bit of carving.

As for Val, she was frightened. The light in the half-breed’s eyes and
the way he held the knife sent little shivers up her back. She twisted
vainly at the bonds about her hands. Must she sit here while he stuck
his knife into her? But for all her terror, she gave no sign of it. Her
head was high and her gaze steady.

“Ah! You are brave my leetle one!” the Mexican said with his slurring
accent. “But you weel not be so brave w’en I have--what eez that?”

To Val’s ears it sounded like hoofbeats. She prayed earnestly that it
was. Even if it was but the other two bandits coming back, it would
delay the Mexican’s knife a little longer.

Gale, recognizing that the Mexican sought revenge for that kick and was
intent upon securing that revenge with his knife, cast about quickly for
some means of getting him from the cabin. Her eyes came round from the
window to the Mexican’s horse standing meekly a few paces away. She
crossed to him, pulled the reins up over his head and gave him a sharp
slap on the flank. The horse started forward with a jerk and Gale
disappeared around the side of the cabin. With the sound of the
hoofbeats the door of the cabin was pulled open and the Mexican stepped
to the ground. Gale could see him staring after his horse, but he made
no effort to chase the animal as she had hoped he would. He stood there
for several minutes until the horse had disappeared and then with a
smothered exclamation of disgust or wrath stalked back into the cabin.
Her ruse had failed. He didn’t apparently care what happened to his
horse. Now what was she going to do? Val needed help and she, Gale, must
do something. She didn’t have time to go for Jim or Tom. She would have
to handle the Mexican herself, and hope that she and Val would have a
fighting chance. If he should foil her attempt at rescue, then they
would both be his helpless prisoners and anything might happen! She
laughed nervously at her own lack of confidence. She wasn’t very
optimistic at any rate. However, they would see--what they would see.

She peeped in the window again. The Mexican was wiping the blade of his
knife carefully on his shirt sleeve. She knew he was so deliberately
cool and slow just to keep Valerie in suspense and to undermine her
courage. She looked at her friend. Valerie’s color had faded a bit and
her eyes were a little more luminous, but not with fear. She saw Val’s
lips move again but she didn’t know that Val had said:

“Well, why don’t you get it over with?”

“In time, my leetle one, in time,” Pedro laughed.

“If you don’t hurry my friends might arrive and spoil your little
party,” Valerie continued imperturbably.

He laughed again. “They weel not come here, my friend.”

“Yes they will,” Valerie said coolly, “and when they do, you will look
very handsome--at the end of a rope.”

“Rope?” he pretended not to understand her.

“Yes, a rope,” Valerie said bluntly, “for they will hang you to the
highest limb of the nearest tree and your friends with you!”

He laughed, albeit a tiny gleam of fear had flickered for a moment in
his eyes.

“But I weel not be here,” he said smoothly. “And you, my preety flower,
will not be able to tell them w’ere I have gone.”

Valerie swallowed with difficulty. The fellow was getting on her nerves.
He knew her story about her friends coming had been a bluff and he was
gloating over the fact. If something didn’t happen soon, her nerve would
go to pieces.



                              Chapter XIV

                                TRAPPED


Gale, her revolver clasped firmly in her right hand, and the knife with
which she was to free Valerie secure in her left, crept forward to the
door. What if the door was bolted on the inside? That would spoil
everything! With her foot she pushed on the heavy panels and, creaking
protestingly, the door swung inward.

The Mexican had wheeled sharply when the door first moved, and now he
stared in amazement at the slender girl on the threshold and then at the
business-like revolver in her hand.

“Oh, Gale!” was all that Valerie could manage to utter, so great was her
joy and relief.

“Hands up, Señor,” Gale commanded.

The knife clattered to the floor as the Mexican obediently raised his
arms above his head. Gale walked forward to Valerie.

“O. K., Val?”

“Yes--now,” Val said, with answering smile.

The Mexican, thinking to catch Gale off guard, slowly lowered his arms,
but she was watching him.

“Reach for the sky, you!” she said savagely. “I’m not afraid to shoot,
so be careful.”

But the Mexican, his pride outraged that such a slip of a girl should
dare oppose him, lunged forward and caught Gale’s wrist in his hand.
Gale’s finger pressed the trigger, but the bullet sped harmlessly past
him. His fingers were like steel talons about her wrist, hurting so she
had to drop the revolver. It fell to the floor by her foot and a kick
sent it spinning into the corner. At the same time she pulled herself
free of the man and darted to the other side of the rickety table. He
retrieved his knife from the floor and took a few catlike steps toward
her.

Gale retreated until she stumbled against a stool. She gripped it firmly
and watched her enemy.

“Don’t come near me!” she warned.

Forgotten was the knife she still had. Now she had another plan of
defense and, desperate as it was, she meant to use it. The Mexican came
nearer and she swung the stool up with a crashing blow against his head.
It was an effective means of subduing him, for he crumpled to the floor
without a sound.

“That was the one I owed him,” Val muttered.

Gale shivered, and turning away, secured her gun and went across to Val,
her back deliberately upon her fallen enemy. It took but a moment to
slash Valerie’s bonds.

“Oh, Gale!” Valerie said, almost sobbing, her head on Gale’s shoulder.
Now that there was no longer any reason for her to be brave, reaction
had set in. “It was--horrible!”

“You were marvelous!” Gale said soothingly.

“I was scared!” Val contradicted with a nervous laugh. “And now I’m
acting like a silly goose. Oh, Gale, how did you get here? Where did you
come from?”

“I was here all the time,” Gale said, “ever since this afternoon. But
we’ll have explanations later. Come along, we have to get out of here.”

“Slowly my young friends!” an oily voice spoke behind Gale.

The latter could see Val’s face whiten with sudden terror. She heard her
catch her breath and felt her tremble.

“Gale--he was shamming--it was a trick. He’s got a gun!” Val whispered
brokenly.

Gale put Valerie from her and turned about. The Mexican was peering
along the barrel of a rifle leveled at them. Her gaze went beyond him to
the corner where lay the saddle and where, this afternoon, she had found
the same rifle he now held. Her hand went into her breeches pocket and
she smiled broadly.

The more the Mexican glowered over the gun at them, the more Gale
smiled. Valerie watched her friend with amazement. Had the evening’s
events mentally unbalanced Gale? It was no situation at which to laugh.
At least she didn’t see the funny side.

“Gale! What’s the matter?” Val asked, shaking Gale’s arm vigorously.
“Are you crazy? He’ll shoot!”

“No, he won’t,” Gale said, shaking her head. “He can’t. The gun isn’t
loaded.” For an instant the rifle wavered. “Look for yourself,” she
invited, hoping desperately that it _hadn’t_ been reloaded.

Pedro did so and with a muttered exclamation of disgust flung the gun
aside.

“And now we’ll let you take Val’s place,” Gale said, leveling her
revolver at him. “Come on, sit down there!”

It took but a moment to fasten him as securely as Valerie had been. He
glared at them all the while.

“W’en I am free I will keel you!” he promised balefully.

“Ah, but you won’t be free,” Gale assured him happily. “The Sheriff will
take care of that.”

“You t’ink so, eh?” he laughed. “The gringo jail cannot hol’ me!”

“Sure of yourself, aren’t you?” was Gale’s opinion.

He nodded. “I know. An’ I weel fin’ you and wit’ my knife I weel slash
so----”

“Never mind the details,” Valerie interrupted. “Come on, Gale, let’s
leave him.”

“Right you are,” Gale said cheerily. “Well, Pedro, the next time we see
you I hope you are behind bars.”

“I weel not be,” he said confidently.

Outside was the sound of voices. Valerie turned startled eyes to Gale.
The Mexican laughed and then Gale understood why he had talked so loud
and confidently. He had talked to cover the sound of approaching horses
and he had succeeded. His friends had returned and they were trapped.

Gale’s mind worked with lightning rapidity. If their plans had worked
only two outlaws were to return here. The other three would be busy
taking cattle across the border into Mexico. But even two----

“What will we do, Gale?” Valerie’s voice was steady. The emergency had
brought back her courage.

Gale thrust her revolver into Val’s hand and snatched up the rifle. She
brought the shells from her pocket and loaded it.

“Get on the other side of the door,” she directed her friend. “We have
to take ’em by surprise or else----”

Valerie shivered. “Yes,” she agreed, “or else!”

“Steady,” Gale warned, “here they come.”

There was a ring of a bootheel as the two men approached the cabin
unsuspectingly. Gale was on one side of the doorway and Val on the
other. As the men stepped into the room and stopped aghast at the sight
of the Mexican, the girls stepped forward. The two, taken utterly
unaware by the pressure of the gun muzzles in their backs, raised their
hands obediently.

“Face the wall,” Gale ordered, and the two turned meekly. She knew if
she gave them time to overcome their surprise they would not be so
docile. Cautiously she reached forward and secured first one man’s gun
and then the other. While Valerie watched the two, Gale emptied the
guns, put the shells into her pocket and tossed the revolvers onto the
table.

“What shall we do with them?” Valerie asked nervously, indicating the
two men standing, faces to the wall, at the rear of the cabin.

“That’s what I’m wondering,” Gale murmured with a frown. “I suppose one
should watch them while one goes back to camp for Tom and Jim.”

“Well,” Val said firmly, “I’m sure I couldn’t find the way back to the
camp, and I refuse to stay here alone! So what?”

“Indeed, so what?” Gale returned. “We have to do one or the other. Stand
still there!” she warned, as one of the outlaws made as though to turn
around. “Don’t forget I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it.”

“It’s almost morning,” Val said.

Through the window they could see the sky growing lighter as night faded
into dawn. One of the bandits turned about.

“See here you----”

“Keep quiet,” Gale commanded, “and turn around.”

“No kid is gonna tell me what to do,” the man returned. “I’ll----”

Deliberately Gale raised her gun and fired a bullet into the wall over
his head. “I might hit you next time,” she said sweetly.

The man turned then with a muttered exclamation that only his companion
heard. The two of them stood with their faces to the wall while the
girls held a conference.

“We have to do something,” Valerie said. “And in a hurry too,” she
added.

“What’s that?” Gale asked.

Val went to the window and looked out. Coming into view between the
trees were riders, about six of them and all of them carried rifles
across their saddles.

“Horses,” Val answered in a low, worried tone. “I wonder if their pals
are to come back this morning?”

“Maybe some of them,” Gale replied uneasily. “Now what will we do? I
wish we had never got mixed up in this.”

“No more than I do,” Val agreed. “Well?” she asked.

“Can you recognize any of the riders?” Gale wanted to know.

“No,” Val answered, gazing out the window. “They are not coming toward
the cabin now. They seem to be having a conference about what to do.”

“If they come on here we are lost,” Gale declared. “We’ll have to stop
them.”

Val turned to watch the outlaws while Gale took a look out the window.
There were men in the distance, but they were indistinguishable in the
gray light of dawn and because of the thickness of the trees. While she
watched, they started forward toward the cabin. She raised her rifle and
fired a bullet that raised a spurt of dust in front of the advancing
horses. That had the desired effect. The men retreated to the trees
again. There they seemed to spread out fanlike.

“Going to surround the place,” she said to Val. “We’re trapped all
right. We might as well invite them in now.”

“We won’t give up without a fight,” Val said staunchly.

At the moment she spoke a well-planted bullet shook the center panel of
the door. The girls exchanged looks.

“I don’t think it will be much of a fight,” Gale said. “We have only one
rifle bullet left. That won’t be much help.”

“I’d like to know who it is,” Valerie said with a frown. “If it is these
fellows’ friends why did they stop before they got to the cabin in the
first place?”

Another bullet thudded into the door. The outlaws looked about uneasily.

“Why don’t you go out and meet your friends,” one of them demanded of
Gale.

She regarded him with a shrewd glance. “Our friends?” she murmured. “Are
you sure you weren’t expecting anybody?”

“Shore, the King of England,” the other man drawled loftily.

“Do you suppose it could be our friends?” Valerie asked.

“Too many,” Gale said immediately, but she was uncertain.

Were the outlaws as uneasy over these new arrivals as they seemed? Or
was it pretense to trick the girls? Gale wished she knew. To her the
terror of the outlaws seemed real enough. There was no mistaking the
fear on the face of Pedro when a bullet entered through the window and
pinged against the fireplace alarmingly close to him. They feared these
men, but why? Were the new arrivals officers of the law or a band of
rival outlaws? Were there such things as rival groups of bandits?

Gale pulled Val against the wall beside her. It was safest out of range
of any gun that might shoot in the window. Suddenly from the rear of the
cabin came a shout. Another voice took it up. A hasty glance out the
window showed men running from cover and toward the door.

“Use your gun,” screamed one of the outlaws.

“No,” Gale said firmly. “We’ll see who they are--first!”



                               Chapter XV

                                CAPTURE


Walking to the door Gale threw it open and stepped into the arms of the
two men who rushed forward. She recognized them with a great
overwhelming joy.

“Tom! Jim! How on earth did you get here? Who----”

“We’ve brought the Sheriff and his men,” Tom said breathlessly. “Looks
as though you had the situation well in hand,” he added after he had
greeted Valerie and taken in the sight of Pedro and the other two.

The Sheriff with two of his deputies crowded into the room and took
charge of the three bandits.

“Reckon you’ll do no more rustlin’ cattle or robbin’ banks,” the Sheriff
said, as he snapped handcuffs on the bigger of the two, while one of his
men did the same with Pedro.

“Ya can’t keep me in jail,” the man returned. “An’ when I get out--I’m
goin’ after these two kids!”

“Threats won’t get you anywhere,” Tom said practically. “Well, girls,
want to go back to camp? Your chums are pretty worried about you.”

Valerie and Gale mounted the latter’s horse and Tom took them back to
camp. Jim remained with the Sheriff to see the prisoners started on
their way to the K Bar O and from there to Coxton. Later he would join
the Adventure Girls again.

“Who shot at us from the window?” Tom demanded as they jogged along.

Gale grinned. “I did. How did I know it was help? I thought it was some
more bandits.”

“And you were taking no chances, eh?” Tom laughed.

“But how did you know we were in the cabin?” Valerie asked him next.

“Recognized Gale’s horse standing in back,” Tom replied. “How did you
get there in the first place?”

“When the rain came on yesterday I was looking for shelter,” Gale
explained. “I got in there and just had time to crawl out the back
window when I saw the men ride up. I decided to hang around and see if I
could learn anything about the cattle that are being stolen from your
Dad. I did. I heard them plotting to steal some more last night and
drive them over the border into Mexico. Then all but the Mexican went
away. Along about midnight two men came back and had Val with them. From
then on things moved fast.”

“I saw the rustlers last night, Tom,” Valerie chimed in. “At least I
think it was them. They were rounding up a herd of cattle and I turned
to come back to camp and tell you when two men grabbed me and took me to
that cabin. There the Mexican managed to scare me out of a year’s
growth--until Gale came along.”

“I left the camp last night for the ranch and to get Dad and some men,”
Tom added his bit. “I met the Sheriff and three of his deputies riding
out to meet us and this morning we picked up the trail of the two men
who had kidnapped you, Valerie. You know what happened after that. Oh,
yes, Dad and some of the boys got the three who were after the cows last
night.” He smiled. “I want to hear what happened all night and how you
managed to trick those fellows, but I’ll be patient until we get back to
camp and you’ve had some breakfast. I suppose you are hungry?”

“Are we!” Gale and Valerie echoed together.

“And I’m so sleepy I could sleep standing up,” Gale declared.

“You and me both,” Valerie murmured.

The three of them soon after rode up to the camp. The girls pounced on
the two adventurers and welcomed them with open arms. While they were
waited on and served with breakfast they told their story and the other
girls declared it thrilling. After the last bite of breakfast Gale and
Val went to their tent so sleepy they could scarcely keep their eyes
open. They slept the sleep of utter exhaustion for ten hours. When they
awoke the sky was aglow with sunset colors and the other girls were
waiting with their supper.

“We are going to ride tonight,” Virginia informed them as the two
appeared. “While you were snoozing we had a nap, too, so we could ride
by moonlight.”

“Grand,” Gale declared.

“We thought you would never wake up,” Janet complained. “How could you
sleep so long?”

“A clear conscience is the secret, my dear,” Valerie declared with a
laugh. “I’ll bet you never slept as soundly as we did.”

“And why shouldn’t I?” Janet demanded in a loud voice. “I’ve nothing on
my conscience----”

“How about the time you spilt ink on the professor’s desk? And the time
you rang the fire gong when there was no cause, and the time----” Carol
was enumerating when Janet interrupted.

“They should keep you awake,” Madge added mischievously.

“You’ve committed just as many crimes,” Janet defended quickly.

“I’ll wager they have,” Virginia said with a sympathetic arm about
Janet’s shoulders. “Well, Tom?” she said to her brother who was
approaching from the horses. “All set to go?”

“As soon as we take down the other tent,” he agreed. “How’re you,
girls?” the last was to Gale and Valerie.

“Fine as a fiddle!” Valerie declared.

Indeed she appeared to be. Gale had at first watched her friend with
some trepidation, remembering the strenuous events of last night.
Before, Valerie had always been worn out, utterly exhausted after any
excitement or nerve strain. Now she was as calm and steady as any of
them. It was borne home to them all that Valerie had surely won her long
fight for health.

Val herself was the happiest as it was natural that she should be. She,
too, had been anxious as to the results of last night’s adventure. This
morning when she and Gale had gone to bed, tired as she had been, she
had feared an undoing of all the good work these weeks in the sun and
air had done. But now, to her own amazement as well as to the surprise
of her friends, she felt more fit, more cheerful than she had done for
many months. It was a continual joy to her to be able to ride and
compete equally with her friends, to know that she was as capable of
meeting an emergency as any of them.

“Oh, Val!” Phyllis said, hugging her exultantly. “You look marvelous
this morning.”

“Indeed she does,” Gale agreed, as the three of them walked to their
horses.

“I feel it too,” Val declared.

“All the credit goes to beautiful Arizona,” Phyllis said cheerily.

“No it doesn’t,” Val said sturdily. “You girls deserve a vote of thanks
on my behalf. I hereby express it,” she said gayly.

“Who is getting thanked and for what?” Janet interrupted, overtaking the
three while Madge, Carol, and Virginia lagged behind.

“I’m offering all the Adventure Girls a vote of thanks for helping me
back to health,” Valerie said.

“And we claim we didn’t have anything to do with it,” Gale said
immediately. “It was sheer grit on Val’s part that she won out.”

“I’m inclined to agree with you,” Janet said to Gale. “She has been
wonderful, hasn’t she?”

“My word!” Valerie laughed. “I’m getting a lot of bouquets. You will
bring on a rainstorm with such compliments.”

“It’s the truth,” Phyllis asserted. “And our trip has served its
purpose.”

“What do you mean?” Valerie demanded suspiciously. “Was this Arizona
trip planned for my especial benefit?”

“Well, you see--we--ah----” Phyllis floundered.

“Phyllis Elton!” Janet sighed. “You never open your mouth but you put
your foot in it!”

“Well, I couldn’t help it,” Phyllis grumbled. “Val shouldn’t be so
suspicious.”

“Gale,” Valerie commanded, “tell me what this is all about. What does
she mean by the trip has served its purpose? Tell me!” she insisted as
Gale hesitated.

“Why--um--you see, Val, we--got together and sort of talked it over and
we decided----”

“You all decided to spend your summer out here so I could get well,” Val
said, a suspicion of tears in her voice. “Was there ever a girl had such
friends?”

“Bosh!” Janet said crisply, immediately dispersing all sentiment. “We
did it for ourselves. Aren’t we the Adventure Girls and didn’t we come,
out for some more adventures? But so far,” she added humorously, “you
and Gale have been doing all the adventuring. Getting kidnapped and----”

“And almost run through by a Mexican and his knife,” finished Valerie.
“Well, from now on, Janet, I cheerfully resign all my adventures in your
favor.”

“Can I count on that?” Janet asked when the other girls joined them.

“We are on our way home, girls,” sighed Carol, “and all our adventuring
is over for another summer. Dear me, winter and school are dull times,
don’t you think?”

“Yes!”

“No!” came simultaneously from Janet and Phyllis.

Carol had not spoken the whole truth. They were on their last long ride
of the summer, but their adventures were not over, and this they were
shortly to discover for themselves.



                              Chapter XVI

                                 ALARM


The moonlight turned the ground to silver dust and gave the girls the
appearance of ghostly white riders as, single file, they started on
their journey back to the K Bar O ranch house. They were feeling a
trifle sad and regretful that it was almost time to leave these wide
open spaces they had grown to love, when all thought of the approaching
parting was jogged out of them.

Janet, who had been riding behind Gale, turned her horse from the line
to come up beside Phyllis. At the same moment something, presumably a
squirrel or jack rabbit, darted across from the side of the trail in
front of her horse. She had been riding with loose reins, her horse’s
head drooping forward, and now, when her horse reared in sudden fright,
she was almost unseated. The horse stood for a moment balanced on his
hind legs, pawing the air wildly with his forehoofs, then came down to
earth and raced away, Janet trying frantically to retrieve her reins.

Jim had joined them again for the return to the ranch house, and now the
minute he saw Janet’s horse was a runaway, urged his own mount after the
girl’s. Tom was a close second, with Gale right behind him. The others
strung out behind the first three, all bent on catching the runaway or
saving Janet from an accident.

The wild dash of her horse, taking her utterly by surprise, had knocked
all thought from Janet’s head and now she could do nothing but cling
grimly to her seat. Darn the horse! she thought exasperatedly. He was
supposed to be tame and used to the wild life of the plains and hills,
yet a little jack rabbit could scare him out of his wits! She flung a
hasty glance over her shoulder and saw her friends bearing down on her.
But as if her own horse decided he didn’t want to be caught, he put on a
sudden spurt and widened the distance.

Janet could see the reins dangling over the horse’s head, just out of
her reach. Murmuring soothingly in his ear, Janet endeavored to catch
the elusive reins but failed. One hand clinging desperately to the
pommel on her saddle, Janet rose in her stirrups. For an instant she
felt the reins in her fingers and then she had lost them again. She was
quite well aware what the consequences would be if her horse threw her.
She might suddenly find herself with a broken shoulder or arm or a
fractured skull. The thought wasn’t at all pleasant and she set her
teeth grimly, determined to stop the fool horse before something did
happen to both of them.

They were coming out onto a wide plain where her horse had the best
chance of all to run himself out. But she didn’t propose to stick to him
until he was tired. She wanted him stopped now before he jolted all her
bones loose. Clinging to the saddle and rising in her stirrups she
leaned as far forward as possible. The horse lurched suddenly and it was
by the merest piece of luck that she wasn’t thrown off on her face. But
she clung to her saddle and persisted in her attempt to reach the reins.
Finally her fingers closed on the left rein and she hung onto it
desperately. She pulled with all her strength but the horse didn’t
slacken in speed, not a fraction. He seemed bent on reaching some
invisible object ahead and nothing could swerve him from his purpose.
Janet braced her feet squarely in the stirrups, put both hands on the
rein and continued to pull.

Phyllis, who was behind Gale in the race to reach Janet, saw the runaway
swerve suddenly, an act all of them had been unprepared for. Janet’s
horse raced parallel to its pursuers and it was a moment of lost
precious time before either Jim or Tom could change the course of their
own mounts. Phyllis, by the time Jim was after Janet again, had sent her
horse at an abrupt angle from the group. If Janet’s horse did not swerve
again, and she herself kept on at the present line, the two were bound
to come together. Perhaps if they collided it would bring Janet’s horse
to a halt, she reflected with a bit of humor.

For all of Janet’s tugging at the rein her horse was adamant. He did not
slacken his speed until he began to feel tired. He had swerved from his
course, but he would not stop. Janet, her whole attention claimed by the
horse under her, did not see Phyllis until horse and rider loomed up
before her. She felt herself suddenly hurled over her horse’s head as he
made a mad attempt to stop himself, and the next second she found
herself on top of Phyllis on the ground.

Janet rolled off her friend and sat up. She felt herself all over to be
sure she was still in one piece. It had been quite a jolt, that landing
on the ground. Then she turned to Phyllis. Her chum had not stirred and
Janet feared the girl might be seriously hurt.

“I say, Phyll, are you all right?” Janet asked anxiously.

Phyllis opened her eyes and grinned through the dust and grime she had
acquired when she pitched headlong to the ground.

“Yes,” she said thickly through a mouth full of dust. “I s’pose I’m all
right, but you knocked all the wind out of me. I also saw several stars
I never knew existed. But we stopped him, didn’t we?” she demanded,
gazing at Janet’s horse which was standing meekly beside Phyllis’ own,
all trace of rebellion gone.

“He ought to stop now, the crazy thing,” Janet said, getting stiffly to
her feet. “You know, Phyll,” she said with a laugh, “you aren’t at all
soft to land on. I’m all bumps and bruises.”

“You can be glad I was here to land on,” Phyllis said, “you might have
picked a cactus, you know.”

“It isn’t everybody has a runaway,” Janet said with satisfaction. “I’ve
certainly something to write home about now,” she declared, as the two
turned to greet their friends.

“All right?” Gale asked anxiously as the others flung themselves from
their horses and gathered solicitously around.

“Yes, but I’m going to sue Janet for damages,” Phyllis declared, rubbing
a bruised place tenderly. “She had no right to knock me off my horse.”

“You had no business running into me,” Janet laughed in turn.

“Our hearts were in our mouths when we saw Janet fly through the air
over her horse’s head,” Val declared.

“She floats through the air with the greatest of ease----” Carol started
to sing when Janet glared at her.

“Riding, especially runaways, gives me an appetite,” Virginia said.
“Suppose we have a bite of lunch.”

“You are indeed my friend,” Janet declared to Virginia. “You always know
just what I need.”

A half hour later the ride was resumed. Janet and Phyllis, to the
amusement of their friends, both lowered themselves gingerly into their
saddles. Their experience had left them jolted and bruised and before
much riding they began to coax the others to camp for the rest of the
night.

“We might as well,” Tom said. “It’s already nearing morning and this
afternoon will see us at the K Bar O even if we take our time.”

They camped on the plains and decided not to put the tents up for the
few hours that they meant to remain there. The girls rolled in blankets,
feet toward the campfire, and in a few moments all but Gale and Virginia
were dozing.

Lying flat on her back, the earth warm beneath her, staring up at the
stars overhead, Gale felt suddenly tiny, so infinitesimal. The plain was
so wide, the sky so near, the stars so bright----

“What are you thinking about?” Virginia asked from beside her.

“The stars,” Gale answered. “Didn’t somebody call them the windows of
heaven?”

“Are you looking for the angels with their golden harps?” Virginia
laughed.

“Yes,” Gale agreed with a smile. “Do you think I’ll see any?”

“Never can tell,” Virginia said, smothering a yawn. “Which one is your
wagon hitched to?”

“Which angel?” queried Gale.

“No, silly, which star?”

“That one up there, see it? The little one, all sparkly. Oh!” Gale
laughed, “It winked at me.”

“Not very big,” Virginia commented, squinting at the sky. “Whyn’t you
pick a big one?”

“Wait until it grows up,” Gale murmured. “Just like me, wait until I
grow up!”

“Won’t that be sompin’,” Virginia giggled. “What are you going to be? A
female Lindbergh?”

“Never can tell,” Gale said. “Maybe I’ll be another Columbus.”

“I don’t know whether there are any lands left to discover, so you might
have a little difficulty along that line,” was Virginia’s opinion.
“Meanwhile--I’m getting sleepy.”

She fell silent and Gale, too, pulled her blanket closer for a cool wind
had sprung up. The last thing she remembered before Tom brought them all
wide awake with a loud banging on the frying pan was the wild, untamed
howl of a coyote.

With the first dancing rays of the sun, the riders were up and about
their business. Packs securely fastened on the pack horses and the girls
mounted, they started on their way. As always when riding their spirits
rose with the sun. Tom was playing his harmonica and Janet and Carol
both insisted on giving voice to the tune Tom was playing until the
other girls threatened dire punishment unless they stopped.

Noon found them riding into the valley with the K Bar O ranch house just
ahead of them. To the girls it seemed as though there were a great many
men gathered about the bunkhouse and the corral. The very air seemed
tinged with suspense and mystery. Unconscious that they did so, all the
riders spurred their horses on at an increased pace. Why should there be
such activity where usually there were peace and orderliness unless
something had happened? It was as if a cloud of trouble had descended on
the K Bar O.

“I wonder what’s the matter?” Virginia murmured to Gale. “I hope nothing
has happened----”

“We’ll soon find out,” Gale answered as the horses trotted up to the
corral and the girls dismounted. “Look, isn’t that the Sheriff?”

“Hello, there, youngsters!” Gale’s uncle came forward and at his heels
came Sheriff Colman.

“What’s up, Dad?” Tom asked anxiously.

The Sheriff looked a bit sheepish and Mr. Wilson frowned in annoyance.

“It’s the--rustlers,” the Sheriff said finally. “They’ve
escaped--vamoosed!”

“Gone?” Valerie asked incredibly. “But how----”

“We locked ’em in the bunkhouse last night; when we came to the
bunkhouse--they were gone.”

“The three of them?” Virginia asked.

Mr. Wilson nodded. “We think they are hiding somewhere around the ranch.
They couldn’t have gone far.”

Carol cocked a speculative eye in the direction of Gale and Valerie. “I
wouldn’t want to be in your shoes with the three of them loose.”

“You’re cheerful,” Gale told her.

“It does make me rather uncomfortable,” Valerie said, uneasily glancing
over her shoulder as if she expected the Mexican to rise up behind her.

“Don’t let their threats frighten you,” the Sheriff said heartily.
“There are enough of my deputies here on the ranch to subdue an army.
You’ll be safe.”

“I hope so,” Valerie said, but her tone wasn’t very confident.

“How about some lunch?” Tom put in. “You can tell us about what’s
happened then.”

“Where’s Mother?” Virginia asked.

“She’s gone into town to stay with the Johnsons a few days--until we
find these bandits,” her father replied. “I wish you girls hadn’t come
back right now.”

“We thought we were coming to peace and quiet,” Phyllis laughed.
“Instead we walk into a----”

“Riot,” supplied Janet.

Luncheon was a spasmodic affair, interrupted by deputies wanting a
consultation with the Sheriff, and with discussions as to where the men
might be hiding. The hours between luncheon and dinner passed and still
the outlaws were not found. They eluded capture with the elusiveness of
ghosts. The Sheriff was angry and chagrined. It didn’t speak well for
his prowess as an officer of the law to have criminals escape him so
constantly.

The girls were worried. Each believed that the bandits would try to seek
revenge on the two who had been responsible for their capture. Valerie
especially had unpleasant memories of Pedro and his knife.

Gale and Virginia alone held the opinion that the outlaws wouldn’t
linger near the ranch when there were so many officers about. Why should
they risk their freedom for revenge? It seemed silly to fear the angry
threats made when the Sheriff and his men captured the bandits. Those
kind of men were notoriously brave talkers, but when it came to putting
their deeds into words they were slow in action. Gale believed their
bluster had been a mere attempt to cover up their fear of the law. She
refused to be worried over their escape.

“I’ll wager they are in Mexico by now,” she said confidently to Valerie
as the two stood at the window of their room preparatory to jumping into
bed.

“The Sheriff doesn’t think so,” Valerie said bluntly. “Or if he does,
why didn’t he follow them?”

“Because they didn’t leave a trail,” a jolly voice said behind them and
Janet and Carol trailed into the room through the communicating door.
Both were clad in flowing pajamas and robes and seated themselves
cross-legged on the bed.

“I happen to know,” Carol said in a mysterious whisper, “that the
Sheriff and his men trailed the outlaws to the creek and there the trail
was lost.”

“Isn’t that always the way?” Janet said wearily. “I thought we were
going to have some excitement but all the fun is over before we get
here.”

In answer to her words a volley of shots rang out from the ranch yard.

Valerie frowned on her friend. “All the fun is over, eh? I wonder what
that was?”

“I’m going to find out,” Gale said and ran from the room with Valerie at
her heels.

Carol and Janet remained calmly on the bed. When Gale and Valerie
returned Janet looked up in inquiry.

“Merely one of the patrolling sentries shooting at a shadow,” Gale said
dryly.

“Hm,” Janet yawned. “Those fellows are so nervous if they suddenly
looked in a mirror they would shoot themselves!”

“How come you didn’t run when you heard the shooting?” Valerie wanted to
know. “For all you know it might have been a lot of excitement.”

Janet shook her head. “I’ve got a sixth sense that tells me when there
is excitement in the air.”

“It doesn’t tell you when your horse is going to run away though, does
it?” Carol asked teasingly.

“Please,” Janet begged, “that is a painful subject. Let’s not talk of
it--I’ve still got a couple of bruises. I’m going to bed,” she announced
suddenly.

“It’s about time,” Carol declared, jumping up.

“Why do you say that?” Janet demanded. “If you’re so sleepy why didn’t
you go hours ago?”

“Because I can’t go without you, darling,” Carol said sweetly. “I can’t
sleep even if I do, because when you come in you are sure to fall over
something and scare all sleep out of me.”

“I do not,” Janet protested.

When the two, still arguing, had closed the door to their room Gale and
Valerie prepared for bed.

“I shall probably dream of Pedro,” Valerie said as she jumped between
the covers. “That fellow haunts me!”

“Nonsense,” Gale laughed. “Don’t let your mind dwell on it. Anyway,” she
sighed, “we’ll be going home in three days and then you can get all the
sleep you like.”

“Just the same,” Val murmured, “I won’t ever forget that knife.”

When the lights were out and sleep had come to the girls, Gale slept
dreamlessly, peacefully. But Valerie tossed and fretted, pursued in her
dreams by Pedro and his knife, which, with the fantasy of dreams, had
grown to new and large proportions.



                              Chapter XVII

                                REVENGE


Their horses were fresh and eager and the girls had a hard time holding
them into a leisurely walk on the way back from town. Gale and
Valerie--the other girls had remained at the ranch house to pack some of
their things, for they were to leave for the East day after
tomorrow--were the only ones who had felt eager for an early morning
ride. Tom had saddled their horses for them and the girls had ridden
into Coxton to get a last look at the little western town. They made
some trifling purchases in the general store and now were on their way
back to the ranch.

The sun shone down, its brilliance sending little dust eddies up from
the road. At the roadside a bird twittered.

“Funny,” Valerie said, “I never thought of them as having birds in
Arizona.”

Gale laughed. “Why shouldn’t they?”

“I don’t know. It just never occurred to me. Did it you?”

“I read about them in an encyclopedia,” Gale confessed laughingly. “I’m
afraid that is the way most of us become acquainted with places we’ve
never seen. It’s a very unsatisfying way.”

“I suppose you have an idea in your head to go to see all the places in
the world some day?”

“How did you guess?” Gale demanded gayly. “That is just what I’ve been
keeping up my sleeve. Do you possess the same secret yen?”

“I do,” Val said smilingly. “But the places I want to see are a little
far to walk and there’s not much hope of my going any other way.”

They turned off the trail into the ranch yard and Janet hailed them
frantically.

“Hi there! Come and hear the news!” she called.

“What is it?” Gale asked as they dismounted and left their horses’ reins
dangling.

“Hear ye, hear ye,” Carol chanted, “the Sheriff is about to capture the
famous outlaws.”

“Just like he did several times,” Val said dryly.

“This time he is not going to let them out of his sight one minute until
they are sentenced and on their way to a federal prison,” Janet said.

“How does he propose to catch them?” Gale asked, sitting astride the
banister.

“A little while ago,” Janet said, her voice a confidential whisper, “a
rider came from across the valley somewhere. He says one of the bandits
was seen about five miles on the other side of Coxton.”

“Only seen!” Valerie echoed.

“Is that all?” Gale added. “I thought they at least had the three of
them tied to a tree or something.”

“Let me finish!” Janet said. “He also said that they have Pedro--he fell
off his horse and hurt himself--or something,” she added vaguely.
“Anyway they’ve got him.”

“Let’s hope they keep him,” Val said heartily. “Why doesn’t the Sheriff
go get him?”

“He is,” Carol interrupted. “He and his men are getting their horses
ready now. We’re going, too,” she continued. “We coaxed and coaxed until
Mr. Wilson said we might ride along if we didn’t get in the way.
Everybody’s going,” she added.

“Well, I’m not!” Val said positively. “Everybody can go that wants to.
I’m staying right here!”

“Oh, Val,” Janet began coaxingly.

“I’m staying with Val,” Gale agreed. “Nine chances out of ten it will be
a wild goose chase anyway.”

“You’re going to miss all the fun,” Carol threatened.

“I don’t mind,” Val said. “Besides, I don’t want even one more glimpse
of Pedro or I’ll dream about him again.”

“Oh, but everybody is going,” Janet said, “Virginia--Madge--Tom--us,”
she enumerated.

“You’ll be quite alone,” added Carol.

“We don’t mind,” Gale assured them.

From the house came Virginia and Phyllis and Madge. Their voices were
added to Janet’s and Carol’s, but Gale and Valerie remained firm in
their decision to remain at the ranch. The girls trailed off to the
corral to get their mounts. Valerie and Gale walked with them and joined
Mr. Wilson, Tom, and the Sheriff where they were talking.

“Going along?” Tom asked.

“No,” Gale shook her head. “We’re of the opinion it is all a wild goose
chase so we’re staying here.”

“I rather agree with you,” he said in a low tone, “but it is up to the
Sheriff to follow every lead you know or the people will say he is
shirking his duty. I don’t believe those fellows are even in the United
States any more,” he continued. “Anyway, it won’t take long to make
sure.”

“I hope it is true,” Valerie said. “I’ve had the jitters ever since
those fellows got away again.”

“Well, Val, I’ll give Pedro your regards when I see him,” Carol said as
the girls rode up.

“You don’t have to bother,” Val said hastily.

“You better come along,” Janet laughed. “My sixth sense tells me we are
due for some excitement.”

“No,” Val said. “I’m going to stay here and make fudge.”

“Now why didn’t you tell me that sooner?” Tom said aggrievedly. “Fudge
is my weakness.”

“We’ll save you some,” Gale promised. “Adios!”

The girls and the Sheriff, with his men and Mr. Wilson and Tom, rode
away in a cloud of dust. Valerie and Gale leaned on the corral fence,
watching them out of sight. Then they turned and proceeded leisurely up
to the house.

“I wish them luck,” Valerie declared. “And now for the fudge!”

The K Bar O possessed a very fine Chinese cook who did the cooking for
the ranch house, as well as the bunkhouse, and he presided in solitary
estate over the kitchen and its equipment. Loo Wong had very definite
ideas about who was privileged to set foot in his domestic kingdom, and
Mrs. Wilson was the only one whom he greeted with his wide smile. The
“boss-lady” was welcome at any time, but woe to the others who tried to
muss up his kitchen.

Now as the girls entered the ranch house and approached the kitchen they
went on tiptoe. Together they peeped around the door. Everything was
spick and span, but Loo Wong was nowhere in sight.

“It seems the coast is clear,” smiled Gale.

“Ah, but if Loo Wong returns there will be fireworks,” Val declared.
“However, here goes.”

From the closet Valerie brought the pan and the necessary ingredients
while Gale sat on the edge of the table and watched. The brown mixture
was on the stove and a delicious odor filled the room. When Valerie took
the pan from the fire to beat the fudge Gale stuck an experimental
finger in it for a taste.

“Ouch!” she cried.

Valerie giggled. “You might have known it was hot,” she said
unsympathetically.

“Just the same, it tastes good,” Gale declared. “When can I have a
piece?”

“When it gets cold!” Valerie said. “Come along, young lady,” she said,
leading Gale into the other room. “Let it alone for a while.”

The girls took magazines and settled themselves for the rest of the
afternoon. The silence was undisturbed but for the occasional rustling
of paper when a page was turned. Val got up and turned on the radio.
Soft music filtered into the room.

“Imagine,” Gale smiled lazily from her comfortable position, “way out
here we can dance to music from California or New York.”

“Hm,” Val answered, executing a few intricate steps from sheer joy and
happiness.

“Val,” Gale continued teasingly, coaxingly, “how about that fudge? It is
a shame to leave it all by itself in the kitchen.”

“It ought to be cold enough now,” was Val’s opinion and there was a
concerted rush for the kitchen.

With appropriate ceremony Val cut the candy and each of them chose a
piece.

“Ah,” Gale murmured. “It is delicious, delightful, de----” Her voice
died slowly away.

Standing in the doorway was Loo Wong looking mightily unpleased and
angry. He took in the two girls and then the dirty dishes piled on the
sink. With difficulty Gale swallowed the last remaining bit of her fudge
as Loo Wong took a further step toward them.

“We’ll wash the dishes,” Val said hastily, seeking to placate him.

Gale held out the fudge. “H-Have a piece,” she invited.

Loo Wong looked from one girl to the other. Slowly he reached out and
took a piece of candy. Wonderingly he bit into it and a slow grin spread
over his yellow face.

“Missy alle same fline cook,” he declared. “You teach Loo Wong?”

If the girls had looked at each other they would have laughed so neither
glanced at the other. Both of them had expected dire results for mussing
Wong’s kitchen, but instead he wanted them to teach him to make fudge.

Gale, inwardly shaking with mirth, sat on the table and watched while
Val instructed the Chinaman. Loo Wong might be adept at making flapjacks
and other western specialties, but when it came to candy he wasn’t so
artful. He insisted on doing things wrong and Val was becoming
exasperated. But finally it was done, and set out to cool. Loo Wong, the
grin of a delighted child on his face, hands hidden in voluptuous
sleeves, bowed low and went out to the bunkhouse to start supper.

“I wouldn’t have missed that for anything,” Gale declared with a hearty
laugh. “When he first came in I expected no less than murder.
Instead----”

“We better wash the dishes,” Val declared. “He might take it into his
head to come back. It was funny, wasn’t it?” she murmured laughingly.
“He looked so serious all the time, too. And you,” she said, “you
wouldn’t help me explain it to him.”

Gale laughed. “He asked you. Besides, I was enjoying myself,” she added.

“There!” Val sighed when the dishes were clean and tucked away in their
proper places. “Now everything is just as we found it.”

“I’m going back to my magazine,” Gale declared. “I wonder when the girls
will get back?”

Above the music on the radio a knock sounded.

“Maybe Loo Wong has returned,” Val said with a laugh, jumping up and
going to the kitchen.

At the same time another knock came on the front door.

“What is this?” she heard Gale murmur as she got up to see who was
there.

Val pulled open the kitchen door and stumbled back in amazement. Terror
gripped her heart and her hands were suddenly cold. She caught at the
table for support.

“What do you want--here?” she asked through dry lips.

The man who stood on the threshold advanced slowly into the room and
closed the door behind him. All too well she had recognized him. It was
Pedro, the Mexican who had sworn revenge. He was here, the Sheriff
hadn’t caught him. Slowly she began to back away toward the other room.
Perhaps together she and Gale could do something. Possessed solely with
an unreasoning terror she turned and fled into the living room where she
flung herself on Gale.

“Gale--what’ll we do?” she demanded wildly.

“Keep your chin up,” Gale said into Val’s ear. “It seems we have two
visitors.”

“Two?” Val said in surprise. “Who--oh!”

While Pedro entered from the kitchen, Val faced the other man whom Gale
had been forced to let in at the front door. It was the bank bandit, the
same man who with his partner they had held up in the cabin when the
Sheriff arrested the three. The man who had boasted that no jail could
hold him. It seemed he had spoken the truth for here he was again, free.

Pedro looked across at his companion who was fingering a horsehair rope
and smiled. That smile made the girls’ blood run cold. It was like an
evil shadow of what was to come.

Gale felt Val’s hand tighten convulsively on hers. She looked at her
friend. Poor Val, she looked scared to death. Gale hoped she didn’t show
her own fright as plainly. Somehow, the knowledge that Valerie was
frightened and was counting on her, Gale, for help, served to banish
some of Gale’s own terror. When one was terror-stricken, one couldn’t
think clearly and goodness knew, they were in need of some straight,
clear thinking at this moment. How had these men eluded the police so
long? How _had_ they managed to keep in the vicinity and remain hidden
from their pursuers?

“How--how did you get here?” Gale said nervously. “We thought----”

“We were miles away, eh?” the outlaw said with a loud laugh. “We
couldn’t leave without payin’ a final visit to you. It was easy to get
your friends off the ranch.”

“But what if we had gone with them?” Gale demanded, wishing desperately
that they _had_ gone with the others.

“We’d have tried another way,” he said calmly. “You ride alone
sometimes.”

“But it is nicer so,” Pedro put in. “No one will hear you--scream!”

Valerie, who had been listening in frightened and worried silence, now
permitted herself a gleam of triumph. They supposed no one would hear,
did they? Loo Wong was in the bunkhouse. In fact, he might at any moment
come here to the big ranch house. And surely he would hear? Val smiled
to herself. Both girls had pretty good lungs and once they let out a
yell, Loo Wong would have to have bad ears indeed not to hear them!

“Loo Wong,” Val said in the barest of whispers to Gale.

Gale nudged her friend in understanding. It was well that they did have
a faint hope of help, but it would not do to let these men know of Loo
Wong. They had come here bloodthirsty and revengeful. What would happen
before they left? Of that she scarcely dared to think. The outlaw was
fingering his rope again, in a most unpleasant manner. What was he
contemplating? She shivered at the malicious look on his face. They
might try anything, they were utterly ruthless. She wished frantically
that there was some way in which they might summon Loo Wong.

“No, as I said, we couldn’t leave without paying a visit to you,” the
outlaw continued. “Did you ever see anybody horsewhipped?” he asked
next.

Gale paled at the suggestion. “You can’t mean to--you must be mad!” she
said.

“Oh, an’ I might as well tell you, there’s no use yellin’ for that crazy
cook o’ the Wilsons. My pal is takin’ care of him.”

That took all the wind out of the girls’ sails. It was the final blow.
Now they were certainly cornered. All their friends away and Loo
Wong--incapacitated.

“Are you mad to come here like this?” Gale said stormily. She had
decided it was better to put up a staunch front. “You know what will
happen when you are caught, and you will be caught! The Sheriff will
shoot you on sight!”

“We won’t be here,” the man said confidently. “Tonight we’re leavin’ the
country for good, eh, Pedro?”

“_Sí_,” replied his companion with a wide grin. “We go ver’ fast.”

“Not fast enough to get away,” Gale said confidently. “And when they
catch you----”

“That’s enough! They’re not goin’ to catch us,” he repeated, jerking his
rope between his hands and taking a firm grip on the handle.

Gale wished suddenly that they had not come to Arizona at all this
summer. But then when they had started out who had thought things might
come to this? The West nowadays was supposed to be calm and orderly,
with no traces of the old-time Billy the Kid and his confederates. They
had wanted adventures and now they were certainly getting them.

“I wonder if Janet’s sixth sense told her of this,” Val murmured, with a
dry attempt at humor.

“Ever since you landed here things have been poppin’,” the outlaw
resumed, fixing a stern eye on Gale. “First you grab the bank money and
land us in jail. Then you hand us over to the Sheriff again.”

“And we’ll do it a third time,” Gale said.

“Not when we get through,” the man assured her. “I reckon we’ve got a
little score to settle and we’re goin’ to do it--now!”



                             Chapter XVIII

                              PREMONITION


The Adventure Girls, with their companions, rode along briskly through
the bright sunshine. They were all anxious to reach the spot where the
outlaws had been as soon as possible so they did not dawdle along the
way.

“Gale and Val don’t know what they’re missing,” Janet declared as they
jogged along. “It’s not every day you can join in a chase for bandits.”

“But just think of them lounging around eating big chunks of fudge,”
Carol said mischievously.

Janet frowned on her. “Must you give voice to such disturbing thoughts?
If they don’t save me a piece, I’ll never forgive them,” she added
darkly.

“What’s the matter with you?” Virginia asked Phyllis as the latter rode
along between Virginia and Tom.

“I?” Phyllis laughed, “I’ve got a funny feeling that I’d like to run
back to the ranch. Call it a premonition or----”

“A hunch,” supplied Tom. “Well, it’s about time we called a halt. I’m
thirsty,” he declared, sliding from his saddle and approaching the
little stream beside which the party had halted.

The afternoon was wearing fast away and long shadows were appearing
under the trees.

“Say, Sheriff, when do you reckon we’ll find these fellows?” Tom wanted
to know.

“’Bout two, three hours yet,” the Sheriff replied.

“That means we’ll be riding back to the ranch in the moonlight,” put in
Madge.

“For which three cheers,” added Janet. “I like night riding.”

When they remounted, Phyllis declared her intention of returning to the
ranch house. It took a bit of determination to persuade the others to
leave her, but she was firm about it and finally watched them ride off
without her. Then she turned her horse and headed back to the K Bar O.
She was in no hurry now, so she let her pony proceed at a leisurely
walk.

It was strange, this feeling she had, that she should go back to her
friends. She could not tell why she should feel so. There was certainly
nothing that could happen to them at the ranch. Yet she had that queer
feeling that there was something doing, something in which she should
have a part.

She looked up at the setting sun. It would be dark before she reached
the ranch house and, she plotted mischievously, she would surprise Gale
and Valerie. Pounce on them all unaware. Behind her sounded the beat of
hoofs and Tom rode into sight.

“Hi, there!” he called. “Wait up for a pal.”

“Going home, too?” she demanded.

“Yep,” he nodded, reining his horse in beside hers. “I thought you might
get lost, so I’ll be your guide.”

“Was it me or was it Val’s fudge,” Phyllis asked suspiciously, “that
made you decide to come along?”

“Well now,” Tom drawled, a twinkle in his eye, “I reckon the fudge was
an added inducement.”

“I thought so,” laughed Phyllis.

“That hunch of yours must have been strong to take you back to the
ranch,” Tom declared after a while.

“It’s strange,” Phyllis frowned. “I can’t account for it.”

“Hunches are funny things,” Tom agreed. “Sometimes they’re right and
sometimes--well, sometimes they’re not so good.”

“Do you get them?” Phyllis asked.

“Lots of times,” he agreed. “I remember once a couple years ago, I was
out night riding with the herd. I made up my mind to return to the ranch
in the middle of the night. I came to a fork in the trail and a hunch
told me to take the trail to the right, so I did. Well, all of a sudden
my horse balked and refused to budge another step. He was right stubborn
about it too. I reckon I called him everything I could think of and used
my whip a lot, too. But he just set back on his haunches and refused to
go on.

“It was so dark I couldn’t see a thing of what was ahead an’ thought
maybe Dusty was afraid of something. Usually he was the best-behaved
horse on the K Bar O.”

“What did you do?” Phyllis asked interestedly.

“I got down and took out my flashlight. I got a habit of carryin’ a
light with me, and turned it ahead of us. Did my hair stand on end! Here
I had been trying to drive him off a sixty-foot cliff. All he would have
had to take was one step to land us both in kingdom come.”

“He had good reason to be stubborn,” Phyllis murmured in awe. “I didn’t
know horses had such sense!”

“Yep, you can trust a horse’s judgment in preference to a man’s
sometimes,” Tom said. “Especially in the country out here.”

They rode along, chatting amiably, while the sun sank farther and
farther out of sight.

“Boy, am I hungry!” Tom declared. “I hope Loo Wong has supper ready.”

“But he doesn’t know we’re coming,” Phyllis reminded him.

“Surely Gale and Val intend to eat,” Tom said. “There will be enough for
us, too.”

When they rode into the ranch yard it was dark and the windows of the
bunkhouse and the ranch house were gleaming yellow. Three horses stood
saddled by the corral. When Phyllis and Tom rode up and dismounted, Tom
went across and examined the horses curiously. He was back at Phyllis’
side in a moment.

“Something funny going on here,” he said in a low undertone. “The place
is too quiet to be natural.”

“My hunch was right,” Phyllis murmured in return. “But what is it? Don’t
you know those three horses?”

“No, never saw ’em before,” he answered. “Let’s go to the bunkhouse and
see if we can find Loo Wong.”

Cautiously they crossed the ranch yard and peered in the bunkhouse
window. Phyllis involuntarily caught her breath at what they saw.

Loo Wong was seated against the wall and directly in front of him,
across the table, his back to the window and door, sat another man, a
dirty, unkempt individual. The latter had his feet propped on the table
and a rifle aimed squarely at Loo Wong’s head. Loo Wong was glaring
fruitlessly at his enemy. The situation was highly injurious to his
oriental pride and this disgusting individual was keeping him from his
duties in the kitchen. Wong was properly angry, but he had no desire to
resort to violence and perhaps end up with a bullet in him from the
other’s gun, so he submitted impassively.

“What can we do?” Phyllis demanded of Tom.

Neither of the two was armed, but it was imperative that they rescue Loo
Wong and determine what, if anything, had happened to Gale and Valerie.
Tom pulled his hat, the usual ten gallon size, farther down on his
forehead and grinned maliciously.

“You stay here,” he directed in a tone that brooked no argument.

Around by the door was piled firewood. Loo Wong was negligent in
carrying his wood into the kitchen and usually commissioned one of the
cowboys to do it, but today no one had bothered. Tom chose a piece that
would be admirable as a club and approached the door.

Not by a glance or a sound did Loo Wong betray himself when he saw the
door slowly open and the face of the young boss appear. He kept his
almond eyes fixed on the man opposite him, hands hidden in his
enveloping sleeves, face perfectly impassive. What was going on in his
mind it was impossible to tell.

Phyllis, watching at the window, wondered how in the world he managed to
sit so perfectly still. She, herself, was almost dancing in impatience.
She expected to see the outlaw whirl about and shoot at Tom any minute.
It was impossible that he could be wholly ignorant of Tom’s presence.
She held her breath as Tom shut the door behind him and approached
catlike to his prey. She saw the man suddenly straighten in his chair
and stand up. He turned and at the same time Tom hurled himself forward.
The man fired his rifle and Phyllis instinctively ducked. It was
fortunate that she did, for the bullet crashed through the glass over
her head. When she cautiously raised her eyes to the window again, the
outlaw was on the floor and Loo Wong was grinning at Tom.

Phyllis left the window and ran to the door. She wanted to get up to the
ranch house and see if Gale and Val were safe and sound, but she wanted
company, for something told her she might run into trouble. Ever since
she had seen that man guarding Loo Wong, she had a secret conviction
that the girls were in trouble. If they were, it was up to her, Tom, and
Loo Wong, to get them out of it. The Sheriff and the others wouldn’t be
back for hours yet.

“That’ll hold him for a while,” Tom declared as she appeared. He dusted
his hands and turned to the Chinese cook. “What happened, Wong?”

Laboriously and in his funny English, Loo Wong proceeded to acquaint the
others with the details of how the man had surprised him at work and
held him prisoner at the point of a gun. Of the two girls in the ranch
house, he knew nothing. He had not known the man who accosted him had
had companions.

“When did he come, Loo Wong?” Tom asked.

“Mebbe one, almost one hour,” the Chinaman said with a shrug of his
shoulders. “Time flies.”

“Don’t you think we better go up to the house?” Phyllis asked Tom
worriedly.

“Yes, come along, Wong!” Tom said turning to the door.

“One moment, please,” the Chinaman said and disappeared into the
kitchen.

“What do you suppose he is after?” Phyllis asked impatiently.

“I don’t know,” Tom said with a half smile. “He has a funny idea in his
head, I suppose.”

He was as anxious as Phyllis to get to the ranch house. He believed,
now, that the hunt the Sheriff and the others had gone on was a hoax.
For some reason the outlaws had come here to the ranch, of that he was
certain, and he thanked his stars he had decided to return to the K Bar
O with Phyllis. He knew the men, on the day the Sheriff had arrested
them, had sworn to get even with the two girls who were responsible for
their capture, but he had not dreamed that they would attempt
anything--above all, here at the ranch. He tried not to seem worried in
front of Phyllis, but he was.

Loo Wong appeared from the kitchen brandishing his meat cleaver. The
wide, sharp blade gleamed dully in the lamplight.

“Don’t aim that thing at me,” Tom laughed. “What are you going to do
with it?”

“Show blandits tlwo, thlee thing,” Loo Wong said gravely.

“You’ll show them two or three stars if you hit them with that,” Phyllis
declared. “Let’s go, Tom.”

The three stepped from the bunkhouse and started across the yard. From
the house ahead of them came a crash and the light in the front room
went out. A shout arose, then another.

“Stay here, Phyllis,” Tom said, starting forward at a run. “Come along,
Wong.”

“Velly fast!” responded the Chinaman, his cleaver clasped tightly in his
hand, ready to smash the first thing that accosted him.



                              Chapter XIX

                                  HELP


The horsehair whip was heavy and long. It cracked ominously as the
outlaw swung it once around his head and brought it down on the floor.

Val jumped as it snapped scarcely six inches from her ankle. Two high
spots of color burned in her cheeks and her eyes were blazing. She was
beginning to conquer her terror and to feel exasperated with the
situation, it was so like a melodramatic “thriller” of the movies. She
was sure these men wouldn’t dare use the whip on them, but--she glanced
apprehensively at Pedro, and saw his knife once more between his
caressing fingers. Darn the man! Did he always have to look so much like
a--pirate? Mentally she decided that was just the appearance he gave,
ragged, dirty, daring--a pirate who was ready to make his victims walk
the plank. Val wished frantically that their friends would return and
upset the outlaws’ plans. Of course they wouldn’t dare to harm Gale and
her, but just the same she wanted to be rid of them.

Gale was not as confident of escape from injury as Val. She believed the
men were determined to seek the revenge which they claimed. Their
threatening appearance certainly did not belie their words. The sight of
the whip curled in the leader’s hand was enough to convince Gale of
their purpose. They intended to use the whip on the girls, and unless
something happened to interfere----

Gale was glad Val was conquering her terror. It seemed after the first
surprise and terror were over, Val rallied surprisingly. Now she was
standing beside Gale, calm and haughty. If the two of them kept their
wits about them, they might be able to find a means of escape from the
situation. But how? They could not look for help from their friends
because they were still miles away. It was up to them to either take the
horsewhipping, or to rebel and overthrow the tyranny of these two
bandits. With lightning glances, Gale looked about the room for
something, anything that might help, for she was determined to fight.

The girls were standing before an open window. The night breeze faintly
rustled the curtain. Before them was the lamp that lighted the room,
standing on a table among books and magazines. At one end of the room,
effectively blocked by Pedro, was the door to the dining room and the
kitchen beyond. At the other side of the room was the front door by
which the chief outlaw had entered. A dash to either of the doors would
be useless.

Pedro watched with a pleased grin while his companion stepped closer to
the girls. Instinctively the girls gave ground until they were flat
against the wall--by the window.

“Val,” Gale whispered.

“Yes?”

“Can you jump out the window in a minute?”

“Half a minute,” Val said at once. “But what----”

“Get ready,” Gale murmured urgently.

Gale had an idea. True it was a long chance, but it might work. If the
room was suddenly plunged in darkness, the outlaws would momentarily be
nonplussed. That moment was all they needed. Once outside they might
have a chance of outrunning or tricking their pursuers. If they stayed
here in the room, the whip was bound to fall on them. As it was, the
bandit was swinging it viciously and it took agility to avoid the
stinging lash.

Obedient to Gale’s command to get ready to drop out of the window, Val
half turned to face the wall.

“Don’t think you can get out that way,” the outlaw said. “We’ve got you
now and we’re going to settle a few things!” He swung the whip and it
descended with a crack on Val’s shoulders.

At the same time Gale launched herself forward and with one sweep of her
arm knocked the lamp to the floor. With a ringing crash, the room was
plunged into darkness. She heard Pedro shout to his partner as she saw
Val’s figure outlined against the window when her friend climbed over
the sill. It all happened in a split second and Gale sprang to the front
door which the outlaw had deserted when he sprang after Valerie. But ere
she reached the door Pedro was behind her and a heavy hand on her
shoulder pulled her stumbling back into the room. She eluded him and
sprang away. She had the advantage of the bandits, for she knew the
Wilson living room and she knew what to avoid but the men didn’t. They
thrashed about, stumbling over the furniture and muttering angrily.
Sliding along the wall she reached the dining room door and slipped
through while the men still sought her in the darkness.

She stepped into the silence of the other room and bumped into someone.
She drew back with a stifled exclamation. Had the men stationed another
of their friends in here?

“Gale?” a voice demanded.

“Tom! Quick, they’ll get away!” she said.

“How many are there?” he asked.

“Two. Oh, do be careful!”

“Phyllis and Val are outside, go out to them,” he said and pushed her to
one side. He and Phyllis and Wong had met Valerie when she dropped from
the window.

In quick strides he entered the living room and in another minute had
flung himself on one of the men. Together they struggled in the
darkness. Loo Wong had come up silently behind Gale and now he followed
Tom into the confusion.

“They’ll kill each other,” Phyllis declared nervously as she and Val
joined Gale.

“Tom has a hefty punch and I hope he uses it,” Valerie said
determinedly. “I--oh!”

A revolver shot had crashed through the sound of struggle and there was
an accompanying groan.

“Tom?” Gale called uncertainly.

When there was no answer she crept forward and into the living room.
Suddenly all had become quiet and she scarcely dared to press the switch
to light the overhead lights for fear of what she might see. The light
disclosed Tom swaying over the prostrate form of the chief bandit, while
Loo Wong sat calmly on Pedro’s chest, brandishing his meat cleaver.

“You’re hurt, Tom!” Gale said running forward.

“Just a scratch in the arm,” he answered. “I reckon we got these fellows
this time.”

“Alle same velly blad business,” was Loo Wong’s opinion.

“Let me fix your arm, Tom,” Gale said.

“It’ll be all right,” he assured her.

But Gale insisted and after cutting away the bloody sleeve cleansed and
wrapped the wound in clean bandages. As he had said it was not severe,
but it was better that they should take no chances.

After Gale’s first-aid treatment was over, Tom and Loo Wong locked the
two desperadoes with their partner in the bunkhouse and there they
stayed until the Sheriff returned.

The others returned to the ranch house to set the living room to rights.
It was a wreck, table overturned, lamp broken, magazines torn, and
chairs upside down.

“It looks as though a cyclone had hit the place,” Phyllis declared.

“I’ll send your Mother a lamp when I get home,” Gale promised Tom. “It
was my idea to put the place in darkness.”

“You don’t have to bother,” he said laughingly. “You’ll probably get a
reward for capturing those fellows. We’ll let the Sheriff buy the lamp.”

“You and Loo Wong deserve the reward,” Val put in. “We didn’t do a
thing.”

“You captured them that time in the cabin,” Tom said. “That’s what the
reward is for. I don’t want any money. You can have every bit--to find
some new adventures with,” he added laughingly.

By the time the others arrived home some semblance of order had been
restored but much of the furniture still showed signs of rough usage.

“It was all a wild goose chase,” Janet greeted them, sinking into the
first convenient chair. “I wish I had stayed home with you. Is there any
fudge left?”

“Plenty,” Valerie said. “Didn’t you have any excitement?” she asked
sweetly.

“Nary a crumb,” Carol declared. “For once Janet’s sixth sense was
totally wrong.”

“You mean it led in the wrong direction,” Phyllis said. “You didn’t need
to chase off after the excitement. It came to the ranch.”

“What are you talking about?” demanded Madge.

“What happened to Tom?” Virginia continued as her brother and the
Sheriff and Mr. Wilson left the ranch house and walked toward the
bunkhouse.

“Did he fall off his horse?” added Janet.

“He was shot,” Phyllis said innocently, gleefully noting the sensation
her words created.

“What’s this?” Carol asked, rousing herself from a comfortable position.
“Did I hear aright? Shot? How? By whom? And why?”

“Haven’t you noticed the living room is slightly awry?” Gale demanded.

“We thought maybe you were having football practice or something with
the lamp,” Carol commented. “What happened?”

“Well, you see it was this way,” Valerie began mischievously, to keep
them in suspense. “I was making fudge in the kitchen and you know how
fussy Loo Wong is about his kitchen.”

“Don’t we!” Virginia agreed. “Did he catch you?”

“Yes, he did,” Gale laughed.

“And asked me to teach him to make fudge,” Valerie added.

“But what has that to do with mussing the living room?” Janet demanded.
“I don’t see the point.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you, it was after that that the bank robbers
called on us,” Valerie said nonchalantly.

“The bank robbers called on you,” Carol said slowly. “Are you joking?”

“No,” Gale assured her. “You’ll find three of them carefully subdued and
locked in the bunkhouse.”

“One of them shot Tom,” Virginia said rather than asked.

“Exactly,” Phyllis agreed. “That was during the fight.”

“Fight? Don’t be so aggravating!” stormed Janet. “Give us the details!”

“All right,” Valerie said laughingly, “we’ll tell you, and maybe next
time you will stay with us for your excitement.”

Phyllis told of her and Tom’s arrival at the ranch house and Gale and
Valerie took turns describing what had happened at the ranch house. The
other girls were half glad and half sorry that they had been absent.
They were glad they had not had to face the two bandits, but at the same
time sorry because they had missed the excitement.

“Gosh,” mourned Janet, “nothing happens when we are around.”

“Never mind,” consoled Valerie, “Tom says we will get a reward and you
can help us spend it.”

“Hurrah! How much do you get?” demanded Carol brightly.

“I don’t know,” Gale answered. “Anyway, we shall probably have to wait
until the prisoners are safely in jail. That means we won’t be able to
go home day after tomorrow.”

“Oh well, if we stay another day or two it doesn’t make any difference,”
Madge said, dismissing that subject abruptly. “What do you propose to do
with your reward?”

“We hadn’t thought about it,” Valerie said. “We shall all have to put
our heads together and think of something--not anything crazy!” she said
with a glance at Janet and Carol.

“Do you insinuate that anything crazy might come from our heads?” the
latter two demanded crisply.

“I have known such times,” Val laughed.

“My friend, you wound me deeply,” Janet said with mock tears. “My
thoughts are always for the betterment of humanity.”

Carol coughed loudly over a smothered giggle. “Quite so,” she agreed.
“But that doesn’t settle the question of what to do with the reward.”

“Perhaps we better wait and see if there really is a reward,” Gale
suggested dryly.

“Meanwhile, let’s eat,” Carol proposed and the rest were unanimous in
agreement.

They all trooped to the kitchen, but there found Loo Wong already in the
throes of making a late lunch and there was nothing they could do to
help him so they went back to the living room to wait and to talk.



                               Chapter XX

                                 REWARD


The sun was warm and dazzling. Gale felt uncomfortably hot as she rode
along. The creak of saddle leather and the clop clop of her horse’s
hoofs were all the sounds that disturbed the stillness. Somehow she had
lost the others when she stopped some distance back and now she rode
alone.

It was the day the Adventure Girls had planned to leave for home, but
they hadn’t carried out their plans. Yesterday the notorious bandits
had, under heavy guard, left for a federal prison. The Sheriff had
bestowed the reward, one thousand dollars, upon the Adventure Girls. Now
the question was, what were they to do with it? They had all agreed upon
using it for some worthy cause rather than keeping it for themselves,
but they couldn’t find a worthy cause.

Dismounting from her horse, Gale let him drink from a tiny brooklet. A
low, cheerily whistled tune caught her attention and she looked about
for the whistler. Several yards from her, industriously whittling a
wooden twig, sat a small boy, with ragged clothes and tangled curly
hair. His eyes, when he looked up at Gale, were as blue as the skies
overhead.

“’Lo,” he said with an engaging grin.

“Hello,” she replied smilingly, dropping down beside him.

“Fine horse, that,” he declared. “You’re from the K Bar O, aintcha?”

“That’s right,” she answered. “Who are you?”

“I’m Bobby,” he answered brightly.

She accepted this wondering who in the world Bobby might be. “You live
around here?” she asked.

“On t’other side of the hill,” he replied. “You’re just visitin’, huh?”

“Yes, I live in the East.”

“Where?”

“In Marchton, that’s a little town near the Atlantic Ocean,” she
replied.

“What’s an ocean?” he wanted to know.

“Why an ocean is a--um--a big body of water,” she said.

“Somethin’ like a lake, huh?”

“Something like it, only much bigger,” she assured him. “Don’t you learn
about oceans in school?”

“I don’t go to school,” he replied.

“Why not?” Gale asked.

“Cause my Mother hasn’t any money for my clothes or books,” he answered
brightly. “Anyway, I’m goin’ to be a cowboy when I get big and I don’t
haveta know much for that.”

“Wouldn’t you like to go to school?” she persisted.

He bent over his knife and the wood he was whittling. “Aw, shucks,” he
said. “Course I would. But I can’t. I talk to the riders a lot an’ Tom
and Virginia too. They tell me stories and Virginia teaches me
’rithmetic sometimes.”

Gale wondered why Virginia had never mentioned the little boy to the
Adventure Girls. Then she remembered when they had first arrived
Virginia had casually talked about him, but the girls had gone off on
their camping trip and he had not been mentioned again. Gale liked him,
he seemed a bright little fellow, quick to learn and to imitate.

“I can ride an’ fish an’ shoot,” he bragged. “Course I don’t know much
outa books, but I’ll get along.”

Gale marveled that a youngster, scarcely eight, could be so optimistic
and have such a cheerful acceptance of his destiny. She felt a trifle
guilty that she didn’t have such philosophy about the things she wanted
but couldn’t have.

“Do you have a horse of your own?” she asked.

“No,” he admitted, “but Tom loans me one lots of times.”

“Want to take a ride on mine?” she asked.

His eyes sparkled joyfully at the suggestion and he murmured a bashful
“Gee!”

“Go ahead,” she invited. “I’ll wait here for you.”

His legs didn’t reach to the stirrups, but horse and rider seemed welded
together as Bobby urged the roan across the valley. At first Gale was
afraid he might be unseated, but she soon discovered she need have no
fear. Bobby was a born rider, and knew as much about sticking in the
saddle as Gale herself.

“He sure can run,” Bobby panted as he jumped off beside Gale and handed
her the reins.

“He sure can,” she replied with a smile. She held out her hand and Bobby
placed his in it. “Goodbye, Bobby,” she said cheerfully. “Maybe I’ll see
you again before I go home.”

“I live in the cabin over by the creek,” he said. “Ma an’ me’ll be glad
to see ya,” he declared.

“Oh, and Bobby,” she said, pausing, one foot in the stirrup. “If a fairy
gave you a wish what would you wish?”

“I’d wish to go to school,” he answered promptly. “Are you a fairy?” he
added.

“Hardly,” Gale said, “but I might meet one and I’ll tell her about you.”

As she rode away she looked back at the sturdy little figure standing
gazing after her. He was such an oldish little chap for his years. What
a pity he had to waste his active little brain because his mother had no
money to send him to the country school. What Gale admired was his
fortitude and readiness to accept the little good things that did come
his way.

She had an idea in her head and all the way back to the ranch house it
persisted in teasing her. But what would the other girls think of her
idea? That she meant to find out as soon as possible. She dismounted at
the corral and Jim came forward to take her horse. On the porch of the
ranch house were gathered the Adventure Girls with Virginia.

“Aha, run away from us, will you?” accused Janet.

“You lost me,” Gale replied.

“We have been discussing ways of spending your reward,” Carol informed
her. “We have about decided to save it for another trip out here next
summer.”

“To meet some more bandits,” interposed Valerie dryly.

“That might not happen in another hundred years,” Virginia declared.
“You would have to pick the summer that we were having trouble. Other
years all is peaceful and serene.”

“Look,” Phyllis said laughingly, “if we hadn’t come out you might still
be having trouble. We cleared everything up.”

“Of course,” Virginia laughed teasingly. “You’re good!”

“What do you think, Gale?” Madge asked.

“Hm?” Gale brought her gaze back from the tops of the far pine trees on
the horizon. “About what?”

“You weren’t listening,” Janet accused.

Gale laughed. “No, I wasn’t,” she confessed. “What were you saying?”

“Don’t listen to them,” Val interrupted. “Each one has a worse idea how
to spend the thousand dollars.”

“Haven’t you an idea that will put our minds at rest?” Phyllis demanded
of Gale. “We really have to do something, you know. We start for home
tomorrow and we haven’t much time.”

“Don’t you have a plan, Gale?” Janet demanded. “You must have, everybody
else does. Come now, confess!”

“Yes,” Gale said, “I have a plan, and I’m wondering what you would think
of it.”

“Well, we can’t think a thing unless you tell us what it is,” Carol said
practically.

“Yes, Gale, tell us,” Phyllis agreed. “Yours will probably be the best.
The rest of these weak minded people will soon suggest buying an
airplane.”

“I resent that!” Janet said loudly. “What is the matter with an
airplane?”

“Not a thing,” Phyllis consoled her. “I just----”

“Suppose we let Gale talk?” Madge cut in.

“This afternoon when I lost you girls I met a little boy. A cute little
chap. About eight, I should say. He has the most trusting blue eyes and
curliest hair----”

“Are you going to adopt him?” interposed Carol.

“Silly,” Gale said. “Let me finish. I talked to him quite a while. He is
awf’ly cunning and smart--as smart as any of you,” she added wickedly.

“He must be smart to compare with us,” Janet declared modestly.

“Hush!” Valerie commanded. “Go on, Gale.”

“He asked me where I lived and I told him a little town on the coast of
the Atlantic Ocean. He wanted to know what an ocean was.”

“I hope you could tell him,” Carol murmured mischievously.

“I wish you could have seen him, girls. He is positively thirsting for
knowledge. But he can’t go to school because his mother has no money
with which to send him. It is a shame because an education would
certainly not be lost on him. It made my heart ache just to see him and
to hear him tell about how fortunate he was that Tom and Virginia and
the other cowboys told him stories and taught him a little of arithmetic
and spelling. He is so cheerful with what he has, his riding and fishing
and hunting. He could be such a fine man because he has an insatiable
ambition.

“I thought we might give him the thousand dollars. It would see him
through the little country school here and by the time he is older he
might be able to earn more. It would be such a good use to which to put
our money. We could always remember how happy we made one little boy. It
is something he wants more than anything else in the world. Just to look
at him made me want it, too.

“Of course all you girls have a share in the reward and it is up to you
to do as you please, but I can tell you if you should agree with me
Bobby would love it--and you,” she finished.

“Hurrah for Bobby!” Carol said loudly. “I want to meet him.”

“Didn’t I say Gale’s plan would be the best?” Phyllis demanded, hugging
Gale affectionately. “You always seem to know just what we’d like,” she
told her chum.

Virginia hugged Gale too. “You’re a darling, Gale, to think of Bobby. I
know he’ll be tickled pink. Let’s go tell him now.”

With one accord the girls ran to the corral and saddled their horses.
Virginia, who had been to see Bobby often before, led the way to the
broken down little cabin.

Gale had the check for the thousand dollars and the girls all agreed
that she should be the one to present their gift to the little boy.

Before the cabin, its door hanging ajar on one rusty hinge, the girls
dismounted. Virginia sent a ringing halloo into the interior and Bobby
soon appeared. He gravely informed his visitors that his mother wasn’t
home. He greeted Gale with a wide grin and smiled shyly at the other
girls, who were all delighted with the appearance of their little
protégé.

“Bobby, honey,” Virginia said, “Gale has something to tell you.”

“Yes, Bobby,” Gale said smiling broadly, “remember me telling you I
might meet a fairy when I was riding back to the ranch?”

“Did you?” he demanded eagerly.

“I did,” Gale said gravely. “I told her all about you and how fine a man
you are. I told her you wanted more than anything in the world to go to
school and what do you think?”

“What?” Bobby asked, his wide, earnest gaze fixed on Gale’s face.

“She gave me this.” Gale handed Bobby the check and at his puzzled
expression continued: “It is worth a whole lot of money, enough to send
you to school for a couple of years.”

He looked dazedly from one smiling face to the other and back at Gale.
“I’m goin’ to school?” he said in a dazed voice.

“Yes, darling, as soon as it opens for the term,” Gale said.

To their surprise his lip puckered and he flung himself on Gale, hiding
his face on her shoulder with a smothered sob. Across his blond head,
Gale and Virginia exchanged a smiling glance, tears not far from the
surface of either pair of clear eyes.

“Bobby,” Gale murmured, “aren’t you glad? Don’t you want to go to
school?”

“Course I do,” he said, choking, “t-that’s why I’m cryin’.”

“Gosh,” Carol said when the girls rode away, leaving an ecstatic,
beaming Bobby behind them. “I never knew it was so nice to play Santa
Claus. We’ll have to do it often,” she said slyly tucking her
handkerchief back into her pocket.

“I’m so glad you suggested giving the money to Bobby, Gale,” Val said, a
suspicious thickness in her voice.

“So am I,” Janet declared, “but hang it all, I almost cried with him.”

“I guess we never realized before how fortunate we were,” Phyllis said,
contemplating the blue sky overhead. “Didn’t it do something to you just
now? I feel all sort of big inside. Like--like I wanted to be nice to
everybody in the world.”

“It does make you happy just to make somebody else happy,” Madge agreed.
“He is such a cunning little chap.”

“And worthy of anything we might do for him,” Virginia declared. “His
mother has raised him with the best manners of any youngster in
Arizona.”

“What happened to his father?” Valerie asked.

“He used to work in a silver mine,” Virginia said. “He and several other
men owned it in partnership. Bobby’s father was killed trying to rescue
one of the other men from a cave-in or something. I don’t know the exact
facts. Bobby’s mother is wonderful with sewing and my mother and some
other ladies from Coxton keep her supplied. That is the only way they
get along.”

“I wish we had had two thousand dollars,” Janet said.

“But if Bobby’s father owned a silver mine why don’t they have money?”
Madge asked.

“The mine never amounted to much,” Virginia answered. “It was only a
small vein of silver and it didn’t last very long.”

The girls returned to the ranch house, each with a little warm glow in
her heart. Making Bobby happy as they had done, had shown each one how
much happiness there is in giving joy to some one else.

The Wilsons had prepared a festive program for their guests’ last night
at the ranch. There were music and dancing and chatter and laughter. The
hilarity kept up for hours.

“You know,” Janet said, “I feel like celebrating tonight--for Bobby.”

“Strange as it may seem, I was thinking the same thing,” Phyllis
declared.

“I used to get the jitters every time I thought of Pedro and his knife,”
Val confided to Gale in a secluded dark corner of the porch where they
had gone for a breath of air between spurts of gaiety. “Now I’m glad we
did meet them as we did.”

“Why?” Gale wanted to know.

“Well, look what we did with the money,” Val said. “It was worth all our
adventures to see that little boy’s face this afternoon.”

“He was just about overwhelmed,” Gale smiled softly. “It is amazing that
he could be so starved for knowledge and contact with other youngsters
his age.”

“Tomorrow we shall leave all this,” Val said, motioning to the trees and
sky, lit by the giant yellow moon and sparkling stars, and the ranch
house and the corral.

“Wasn’t it a worth while summer, though?” Gale asked. “We’re all so much
better able to cope with the studies and struggles we’ll have this, our
last term, in high school.”

“Where are you going to college?” Val asked suddenly.

“Why--I don’t know----” Gale said vaguely. “I want to go to Briarhurst.
I don’t know if I shall, though.”

“That’s my aim, too. I shall probably----”

“Say, aren’t you having a good time?” Carol demanded through the window.

“Sure we are,” Val declared.

“Then come in and join the party,” Carol commanded.

“The queen commands,” laughed Gale. “We have to obey.”

The two went back to the living room and danced some more. The noise
kept up until the wee hours of the morning when, out of sheer necessity,
the girls went off to bed. Each had a vague suspicion that they would
not be able to get up the next morning and get the early start on which
they had planned.



                              Chapter XXI

                                 ADIOS


Their fears were confirmed. About ten o’clock the next morning Gale and
Valerie managed to leave their beds for breakfast. But when they
appeared in the dining room they discovered that they were the first and
only ones to make their appearance. Mrs. Wilson despatched Valerie to
bestir Phyllis and Madge and Gale departed to rouse Carol and Janet.

She knocked loudly on their door but all remained blissfully quiet. She
peeped around the corner of the door and beheld her two friends curled
like kittens, enjoying their nap.

“Hey!” she yelled. “Last call for breakfast.”

“Huh?” Carol cocked one sleepy eye in her direction while Janet remained
in dreamland.

“I said,” Gale repeated painstakingly, “it is the last call for
breakfast.”

“I don’t want any,” Carol said, turning over and burying her head in the
covers.

“Come on, get up,” Gale urged, shaking her friend, “we want to get an
early start.”

“Let’s go home tomorrow,” Carol begged. “I wanta sleep.”

“We have to leave today,” Gale insisted. “There can be no more putting
it off. Come on, turn out, or I’ll pour cold water on you!” she
threatened.

At that declaration Carol managed to sit up, but she was half asleep as
she tried to struggle out of her pajamas.

“Lazy bones, get out of there,” Gale demanded of Janet.

The latter squinted frowningly at Gale. “Must you bother me?” she
demanded. “Go away!”

“Not until you get up and dress,” Gale said calmly. “We’ve got to get
started.”

“I want my breakfast,” Janet said.

“Well, you won’t get a bite unless you get up this minute!” Gale
declared vigorously.

“In that case,” Janet yawned, “I reckon I’ll do without it. Good night.”

Gale went to the door. “Virginia,” she called, “bring me a bucket of
cold water. The colder the better!”

“What’s that for?” Janet demanded.

“To pour on you,” Gale said calmly.

“I’m up!” Janet declared, tossing back the covers and jumping out of
bed.

She was up, but it took her and Carol at least another half an hour to
complete their dressing. When finally they appeared for breakfast, it
was lunch time. After lunch there was frantic last minute scrambling to
collect baggage.

The old car in which they had arrived at the K Bar O was brought to the
front of the ranch house and there the girls viewed it with frowns.

“That tire is certainly flat,” Carol declared. “It looks like a deflated
pancake.”

“Jim and I’ll have it fixed in no time,” Tom offered.

“Brothers are good for something,” Janet murmured satisfactorily to
Virginia.

“Where’s Phyllis?” Gale asked.

“I don’t know,” Janet said. “Isn’t she in the house with Val?”

Gale went into the living room and called but neither Phyllis nor
Valerie answered.

“Perhaps she is down at the corral kissing her horse goodbye,” suggested
Carol brightly.

“Go see,” Janet said.

“Go yourself,” Carol murmured lazily.

“I have it,” Janet said. “We’ll both go. Maybe Loo Wong has an extra
piece of cake,” she whispered in Carol’s ear.

“The way those two departed I’ll bet they were thinking of food,” Madge
commented.

“Phyllis isn’t down at the corral and neither is Val,” Janet informed
them when, after a lengthy absence, she and Carol returned.

“Were you eating anything?” Madge demanded suspiciously.

“Of course not,” Carol said with dignity. “Didn’t we just have lunch?”

“Then wipe that chocolate icing off your tie,” Madge said laughingly.

“Look. Here they come. What in the world is Phyllis carrying?” Carol
demanded wonderingly.

“A cactus,” Janet giggled. “What are you going to do with that?” she
asked.

“Take it home with me,” Phyllis grinned, “for a souvenir. You can sit on
it in the car,” she invited.

“Thoughtful of you,” Janet grimaced.

“There’s your tire all fixed,” Tom said, dusting himself off as he
straightened up from his work.

“Gee, I’m glad it went flat here and not ten miles away,” Phyllis
sighed. “Just think, we might have had to fix it.”

“I hope the old thing holds together until we reach Phoenix,” Janet
said, looking the car over. “I wouldn’t want to walk.”

“Why that car is good for years yet,” Carol declared, a twinkle in her
eye.

“Sure, if it just sits in the garage,” agreed Phyllis.

“It’s getting rusty already,” Janet said.

“Well, there is one consolation,” Carol murmured, “the horn can never
rust away.”

“Why not?” Janet wanted to know.

“Because it’ll break up in honks!” Carol answered.

Carol had been sitting on the porch step with Janet, but suddenly she
found herself catapulted into the dust.

“That’s for that terrible joke,” Janet said firmly. “Another one like
that and we will make you ride on the rear bumper.”

“We better get going,” Madge put in. “It is getting late.”

The girls had had such a good time and they had grown fond of Virginia.
It was hard to say goodbye.

“I wish you were coming East with us,” Gale said sadly.

“Couldn’t you?” Phyllis asked eagerly.

Virginia shook her head. “No can do. But maybe I can visit you some
time. I hope you can come out here again, too.”

“You will let us know how Bobby gets along in school?” Val asked. “We’ll
want to know.”

“Of course,” Virginia assured them. “I want you all to write to me, too.
Don’t forget.”

After their goodbyes were over the girls piled into the car, Gale at the
wheel. Ineffectively she pressed her foot on the starter. There was a
whirr but the engine refused to break into the longed-for roar. The
girls exchanged exasperated glances.

“I suppose we’ll have to get out and push,” Carol groaned.

“Nothing doing!” Janet balked at the suggestion. “What’s the matter with
the old thing anyway, Gale?”

Gale replied with a shrug of her shoulders and climbed out. She opened
the engine hood and looked at the complicated array of gadgets. She knew
a little, not much, about an automobile engine.

“Everything looks all right,” Tom declared. “I’ll get under and see
what’s what.”

“How’s it?” Phyllis asked, leaning over the door.

“A couple bolts loose,” Tom yelled back.

Several minutes later Tom reappeared, streaked with grease but
triumphant.

“Try it now,” he suggested.

But the car refused to obey the summons to action.

“Lizzie certainly isn’t a lady!” Janet declared impatiently. “Maybe she
wants to be coaxed.”

“I’ve got it!” Gale said suddenly with a snap of her fingers.

“Goodness, hold onto it whatever it is,” Phyllis begged.

Gale grinned sheepishly. “We should have thought of it, sooner. I’ll
wager we haven’t any gas.”

Tom looked at the tank and laughed. “Dry as the desert,” he declared.
“But there is a five-gallon can in the bunkhouse. I’ll get it.”

The gas tank was filled and the engine responded readily now to Gale’s
pressure on the starter. They said their goodbyes again.

“Goodbye, goodbye, parting is such sweet sorrow,” Janet said
sorrowfully, clinging to Virginia’s hand.

“Now I know it is time to go,” Carol said. “When Janet quotes
Shakespeare things will begin to happen.”

The car rattled and wheezed as it began to move.

“Hey, hold everything,” Phyllis called to Gale. “Here comes Loo Wong.”

Once more their departure was halted. Loo Wong had packed a lunch and he
proceeded to present it to Janet with a low bow and a wide grin.

“Loo Wong wish many happiness. Bid all tloubles goodbye fo’lever.”

“Same to you, Loo Wong, and many of ’em,” Janet declared. “Girls, what
would we have done without Loo Wong?”

“We couldn’t do without him,” Carol declared. “He makes the best
pancakes I’ve ever eaten.”

“Don’t forget how to make fudge, Loo Wong,” Valerie called.

The Chinaman bobbed up and down, hands hidden in wide sleeves and his
face wreathed in smiles.

“This time it is really goodbye,” Gale called. “Don’t forget to write,
Virginia!”

The car wheezed and rattled out of the ranch yard onto the dusty road.
Handkerchiefs fluttered until the car was swallowed up in a cloud of
dust and the ranch house was hidden from view. They had a long trip
ahead of them and they settled down comfortably for their last glimpse
of Arizona scenery.

“Ah, now let’s eat,” proposed Janet. “Ouch!” Unwittingly she had leaned
against the cactus plant Phyllis had stored in with the baggage.

“Get along, Liza,” Gale said, patting the steering wheel encouragingly
as the engine coughed. “Don’t let us down now,” she pleaded.

So, with the girls hoping that the old car would hold together until
they reached Phoenix where they would take the train to the East, let us
leave the Adventure Girls. Those who have enjoyed the six girls’
adventures may join them again in “The Adventure Girls in the Air,” when
they have some exciting times with airplanes and find themselves in new
and surprising situations.





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