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Title: Dorothy Dale in the West
Author: Penrose, Margaret
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: SHE WALKED RIGHT UP TO THE PONY’S HEAD. _Dorothy Dale in
the West Page 61_]



  DOROTHY DALE
  IN THE WEST

  BY
  MARGARET PENROSE

  AUTHOR OF “DOROTHY DALE: A GIRL OF TO-DAY,” “DOROTHY
  DALE AT GLENWOOD SCHOOL,” “THE MOTOR
  GIRLS SERIES,” ETC.

  ILLUSTRATED

  NEW YORK
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY



BOOKS BY MARGARET PENROSE


THE DOROTHY DALE SERIES

  DOROTHY DALE: A GIRL OF TO-DAY
  DOROTHY DALE AT GLENWOOD SCHOOL
  DOROTHY DALE’S GREAT SECRET
  DOROTHY DALE AND HER CHUMS
  DOROTHY DALE’S QUEER HOLIDAYS
  DOROTHY DALE’S CAMPING DAYS
  DOROTHY DALE’S SCHOOL RIVALS
  DOROTHY DALE IN THE CITY
  DOROTHY DALE’S PROMISE
  DOROTHY DALE IN THE WEST


THE MOTOR GIRLS SERIES

12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.

Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid.

  THE MOTOR GIRLS
  THE MOTOR GIRLS ON A TOUR
  THE MOTOR GIRLS AT LOOKOUT BEACH
  THE MOTOR GIRLS THROUGH NEW ENGLAND
  THE MOTOR GIRLS ON CEDAR LAKE
  THE MOTOR GIRLS ON THE COAST
  THE MOTOR GIRLS ON CRYSTAL BAY
  THE MOTOR GIRLS ON WATERS BLUE


  _Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York_



  Copyright, 1915, by
  CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

  DOROTHY DALE IN THE WEST



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                            PAGE

      I. A SURPRISE IS COMING                           1

     II. “HOORAY FOR THE WILD WEST!”                   10

    III. THE “TWO-FACED” MAN                           17

     IV. TO CATCH THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS                 24

      V. THE OLD LADY WITH THE BASKET                  33

     VI. “THE BREATH OF THE NIGHT”                     44

    VII. A NIGHT WITH A KNIGHT                         57

   VIII. THE NIGHT ADVENTURE CONTINUED                 72

     IX. WHAT FOLLOWED AN ELOPEMENT                    82

      X. THE MAN WHO WOULD HAVE DIED INDOORS           91

     XI. AT DUGONNE AT LAST                           101

    XII. ON THE ROAD TO HARDIN’S                      109

   XIII. AT THE RANCH-HOUSE                           123

    XIV. “THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS”                     133

     XV. EXPLORING                                    141

    XVI. IN THE GORGE                                 147

   XVII. FLORES                                       154

  XVIII. OPHELIA COMES VISITING                       162

    XIX. “’WAY UP IN THE MOUNTAIN-TOP, TIP-TOP!”      172

     XX. TWO EYES IN THE DARK                         182

    XXI. DOROTHY’S COURAGE                            192

   XXII. DOROTHY HEARS SOMETHING IMPORTANT            199

  XXIII. “WHERE IS AUNT WINNIE?”                      207

   XXIV. THE CHASE                                    220

    XXV. A LITTLE MORE EXCITEMENT                     227

   XXVI. SAYING GOOD-BYE ALL AROUND                   238



DOROTHY DALE IN THE WEST

CHAPTER I

A SURPRISE IS COMING


“He, he, he!” giggled Tavia.

“What _is_ the matter now, child?” demanded Dorothy Dale, haughtily.
“There are no ‘hes’ in this lane. The road is empty before us----”

“And the world would be, too, if it wasn’t for the possible ‘hes’ that
are to come into our lives,” quoth Tavia, with shocking frankness.

“You talk like a cave girl,” declared her chum. “Is there nothing on
your mind but _boys_?”

“Yes’m! More boys!” chuckled Tavia. “It is June. The bridal-wreath is
in bloom. If ‘In spring the young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts
of love,’ can’t our girls’ fancies turn in June to thoughts of white
lace veils, shoes that pinch your feet horribly--and can’t we dream of
hobbling up to the altar to the sound of Mendelssohn’s march?”

“Hobble to the _haltar_, you mean,” sniffed Dorothy, with her best
suffragette air.

“How smart!” crowed her chum. “But you mustn’t blame me for giggling
_this_ morning--you mustn’t!”

“Why not? What particular excuse have you?”

“That shad we had for breakfast. Shad is as full of bones as Cologne’s
shoes are of feet. I always manage to swallow some of them--the bones,
I mean, not dear Florida Water--Rosemary’s tootsies--and those said
bones are tickling me right now.”

“How absurd,” said Dorothy Dale, as Tavia went off in another “spasm.”
“Do you realize that you are growing up, Tavia--or, pretty near?”

“‘Pretty near,’ or ‘near pretty’?” asked Tavia, making a little face at
her.

“Baiting your hook for a compliment, I see,” laughed Dorothy. “Well,
you get none, Miss. I want you to behave. Think!”

Tavia immediately struck an attitude that seemed possible for only a
jointed doll to get into. “Business of thinking,” she said.

“Suppose anybody _should_ see you?” pursued Dorothy, admonishingly.

“Then you _do_ expect the boys to motor in by this road?” cried Tavia.
“Sly Puss!”

“No, Ma’am. I am not thinking of Ned and Nat--or even of Bob Niles.”

Tavia made another little face at mention of Bob’s name. “Poor Bob!”
she sighed. “No fun for him this summer. His father says he must go to
work and begin to learn the business--whatever that may mean. Bob wrote
me a dreadfully mournful letter. It almost tempted me to go to the same
town and get a job in his father’s office, and so alleviate the poor
boy’s misery.”

“You wouldn’t!” gasped Dorothy.

“Got to go to work somewhere,” decided Tavia. “And I _hate_ housework
and cleaning up after a lot of children.”

“But just think! how proud your father will be to have you at the head
of the household. And remember, too, how much your brothers and sisters
need you.”

“Goodness, Doro! You talk like the back end of the spelling-book--where
all the hard words are. And the hardest word in the whole vocabulary
is ‘duty.’ Don’t remind me of it while I am here with you at North
Birchlands.”

“And think!” cried Dorothy, giving a little skip as they walked on.
“Think! we are not a week away from dear old Glenwood School yet,
and to-day Aunt Winnie’s surprise is coming. Gracious, Tavia! I can
scarcely wait for ten o’clock.”

“I know--I know,” said Tavia. “If your Aunt Winnie wasn’t the very
dearest little gray-haired, pink-cheeked woman who ever lived, I’d
have shaken the secret out of her long ago. I just would! And we can’t
even guess what the surprise is going to be like.”

“Goodness! No!” gasped Dorothy. “I’ve given up guessing. I know it is
something perfectly scrumptious, but nothing like anything we ever had
before.”

“I hope, whatever it is, that I’ll be in it,” groaned Tavia.

“I am sure you will be, or Aunt Winnie wouldn’t have invited you here
to her home at just this time,” declared Dorothy.

They were walking down the shady road toward the railroad station
“killing time,” before the family conference which had been called for
ten o’clock.

Nat and Ned White, Dorothy’s cousins, had gone off in their auto, the
_Fire Bird_, on an errand, and the girls had an idea they might come
home by this route, and so pick them up.

“Hush!” cried Tavia, suddenly. “Methinks I hear footsteps approaching
on horseback.”

“That’s no horse you hear,” Dorothy said. “It is somebody walking on
the bridge over the brook.”

There was a turn in the road just ahead and the girls could not see the
bridge. But in a moment they could descry the figure of a man striding
toward them.

“This must have been what you were he-heing for,” whispered Dorothy.

“How romantic!” was Tavia’s utterance.

“What is romantic about a man coming up from the station?”

“Don’t you see his long, silky black mustache? And his long hair and
broad hat? Goodness! he’s a picture.”

“Yes. The stage picture of a villain--_Simon Legree_ type,” scoffed
Dorothy. “That red silk handkerchief sticking out of his pocket--and
the big diamond in his shirt front--and another flashing on his
finger----”

“My!” gasped Tavia, clasping her hands. “He might have stepped right
out of Bret Harte. Ah-ha! ah-ha! Jack Dalton! unhand me!”

“Hush, Tavia!” begged her chum. “He will hear you.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Tavia, suddenly disturbed. “He’s looking at us--and
he’s crossing over to this side of the road.”

“Well, don’t you look at him any more and--_we’ll_ cross the road, too.”

“Do you suppose he eats little girls?” queried Tavia, with a most
ridiculous air.

Dorothy felt as though she wanted to shake her chum. But then, she
frequently felt _that_ desire. The man was too near for her to speak
again, but the girls crossed the road suddenly.

The man stopped, half turned as though to approach them, and leered
at Dorothy and Tavia. He was not a large man, but he was remarkably
dressed. His black suit was rather wrinkled, as though he had been
traveling some time in it. The broad-brimmed hat gave him the air of
a Westerner, or Southerner. And his flashy appearance made him very
distasteful to Dorothy.

She made Tavia hurry on, and soon they reached the bridge themselves.
Tavia was “raving” again:

“Those wonderful eyes! Did you see them? Deep brown pools of
light--only one was green? Did you notice it, Doro?”

“No, I didn’t. I told you not to look at him again. You might have
encouraged him to follow us.”

“I wonder how it would feel to be a gambler’s bride. I just _feel_
that he’s from the West and is a gambler, or a cowpuncher--or a
maverick--or----”

“You don’t even know what a maverick is,” scoffed Dorothy.

“Yes, I do! A maverick steals cattle,” declared Tavia, quite soberly.

“You ridiculous thing! It’s ‘rustlers’ that steal cattle--or used to. A
‘maverick’ is a stray calf without a brand.”

“Well! he looked as though he had strayed---- Oh, Doro!” gasped Tavia,
suddenly. “He’s coming back.”

The girls had reached the bridge and had stopped upon it. The brown
water was gurgling over the stones, the birds were twittering in the
bushes, and the scent of the wild roses was wafted to them as they
leaned upon the bridge-rail.

It was a lovely picture, and Dorothy and Tavia fitted right into it.
But the picture did not suit Dorothy and Tavia at all when they saw the
black-hatted man round the turn in the road.

They felt just as though the picture needed some action. An automobile
with Ned and Nat in it, would have furnished just the life the girls
thought would improve the scene.

“Come on!” whispered Dorothy. “Don’t let him speak.”

But it was too late to escape that. “Little ladies!” exclaimed the man.
“You’re not going to run away from me, are you?”

Tavia _would_ have run; only, as she confessed to Dorothy later, her
skirt “was not built that way.” Now, however, Dorothy had to face the
man.

“What do you want?” she asked, just as sternly as she could speak.

“Oh, now, little lady,” began the fellow, “you mustn’t be angry.”

Dorothy turned her back and seized Tavia’s arm. “Come on,” she said,
with much more confidence in her voice than she actually felt.

“Ned and Nat will soon be along. Come!”

The girls began walking briskly. “Is--is he going to follow us?”
whispered Tavia.

“Don’t you _dare_ look back to see,” commanded Dorothy, fiercely.

Either the black-hatted man was not very bold and bad, after all, or
Dorothy’s remark about expecting the boys fulfilled its duty. He did
not follow them beyond the bridge.

“Oh, Doro! You can’t blame me this time,” urged Tavia, as they hurried
on.

“I do not believe the fellow would have dared speak to us if you had
not rolled your big eyes at him,” declared Dorothy, rather sharply.

“Oh, Doro! I didn’t!” Then she began giggling again. “It is your fatal
beauty that gets us into such scrapes--you know it is.”

It was little use scolding Tavia. Dorothy was well aware of that.
She had “summered and wintered” her chum too long not to know how
incorrigible she was.

For fear the man might still follow them, Dorothy insisted upon taking
the first side road and so walking back to Aunt Winnie White’s home,
the Cedars, by another way. When they arrived the boys were there
before them.

“Hi, girls! where were you?” shouted Nat. “We looked for you along the
station road.”

“Did you come right up from the station?” demanded Tavia, eagerly.

“Sure!”

“Did you see a black-mustached pirate down there by the bridge, with a
yellow diamond in his bosom----”

“In the bridge’s bosom?” demanded Nat.

“Of the pirate’s shirt,” finished Tavia. “Such a mustache! He looked
deliciously villainous.”

“Another conquest?” grunted Nat, who never liked to see any fellow
“tagging about after Tavia,” as he expressed it, unless it was a
gallant of his own choosing.

“He followed Dorothy--and spoke to her,” declared Tavia, with
effrontery. “And she spoke to him.”

“Soft pedal! soft pedal, there, Tavia!” urged Ned, who had overheard.
“We know Dorothy.”

“And we know _you_,” added his brother. “You’ll have to unwind a better
string than that, Tavia. There’s a ‘knot’ in it--Dorothy did _not_.”

“Ask her!” snapped Tavia, quite offended, and marched away toward the
house.

Dorothy at that moment appeared on the side porch. “Come in, boys, do,”
she urged. “It’s ten o’clock and everybody else is in the library. Your
mother is all ready to unveil the Great Surprise.”



CHAPTER II

“HOORAY FOR THE WILD WEST!”


The family gathered in the library. Major Dale, Dorothy’s father, sat
forward in his armchair, leaning his crossed hands and chin upon his
cane. Joe and Roger, Dorothy’s brothers, fidgetted side by side upon
the leather couch.

Mrs. Winnie White, Major Dale’s sister, and her two big sons, Ned and
Nat, occupied chairs at the table. Dorothy and Tavia, their arms about
each others’ waists, were on a narrow settee in the fireplace, that was
banked with green, odorous Balsam boughs.

“Now, children, I have a great announcement to make--two, in fact,”
said Aunt Winnie, playing with her lorgnette and smiling about at the
expectant faces. “The Major tells me to ‘go ahead,’ and I am going to
do so.

“First of all, the Dale and White families have come in for a
considerable increase in this world’s goods. In other words, the Major
and I have been left in partnership, the great Hardin Ranch and game
park, in Colorado.”

“Game! Shooting! Wow!” ejaculated Nat.

“Ranch! Cattle! Ah!” added his brother.

“Sounds like a new college yell,” muttered Tavia in Dorothy’s ear.

“I was well aware,” continued Aunt Winnie, “that old Colonel Hardin
contemplated making the Major a beneficiary of his will. The Colonel
was my brother’s companion in arms during the war----”

“And a right good fellow, too,” interposed Dorothy’s father, heartily.

“When Colonel Hardin came East several years ago, he spoke to me about
this intended disposition of his estate. He knew he could not live for
long. The doctors had already pronounced upon his case, and he had
no family, you will remember,” Aunt Winnie said. “I had no idea he
proposed making _me_ a legatee, as well. But he has done so. The Hardin
property is a great estate--one of the largest in Colorado.”

“Hooray for the Wild West!” murmured Tavia, waving a handkerchief, yet
evidently suffering under some emotion beside extravagant joy!

“The Hardin property was first of all a quarter section of Government
land--one hundred and sixty acres--that the Colonel took up and proved
upon when he obtained his discharge from the army. Then he bought up
neighboring sections and finally obtained control of a vast, wild park
in the foothills adjoining his cattle range.

“Of late years cattle have gone out and farming has come in. All
between the Hardin land and Desert City are farms. They need irrigation
for their developement.

“Colonel Hardin told me he held the water supply for the whole region
in his hands. It would cost a large sum, he said, to make the water
available for Desert City and the dry farming lands.”

“How is that, mother?” asked Ned, interested.

“I do not just know?”

“Can’t they dig wells and get water?” demanded Roger Dale.

“It strikes me,” said the Major, chuckling, “that in some of those
desert lands, they say it is easier to pipe it in fifty miles than to
dig for it. It’s just as far under the surface, or overhead, as it is
latitudinally!”

“I suppose it must be something like that,” agreed Aunt Winnie. “I only
know that Colonel Hardin said when the City and the farmers could raise
the money necessary he stood ready to lease the water rights to them.
Such lease would add vastly to the income from his property.

“Now, his lawyers have informed us that the will giving all this great
estate to the Major and me, has been probated, and that somebody must
come out there and look over the property and meet the people who want
the water, and all that.”

“And somebody means _us_, mother?” cried Nat, joyfully.

“Us young folks--yes,” said Mrs. White, smiling. “That is my second
announcement--and the larger part of the surprise, I warrant. We are
going to celebrate Dorothy’s graduation by taking a trip West.

“The Major does not feel equal to the journey, because of his lameness;
I am to take over the property jointly in our names. I shall need you
four young people, of course, to advise me,” and she laughed.

“Say! Say! what four young people?” demanded Roger and Joe in chorus.

“Why,” said their Aunt, “you know somebody must remain to look after
the Major. _That_ duty, Joe, devolves upon you and Roger. Ned and Nat
are going with me, and of course Dorothy can’t go without Tavia.”

“Hold me, somebody!” begged Tavia. “I am going to faint with joy,” and
she fell weakly into Dorothy’s arms. “I was afraid I was going to be
left out,” she muttered.

Nat ran with an ink bottle in lieu of smelling salts, but Tavia waved
him away.

“Keep your distance, sir!” she cried. “This is a brand new frock--and
they don’t grow on bushes; at least, they don’t in Dalton.”

“You bet they don’t,” commented Ned. “If the present-day girl’s frocks
grew in the woods all the wild animals certainly _would_ run wild. The
bite of a chipmunk would give one hydrophobia.”

“Every knock’s a boost,” sniffed Tavia, who was very proud indeed of
her narrow skirt. “I notice the boys are just as much interested in us
as ever, no matter what we wear. Why! Dorothy and I had a perfectly
scandalous adventure this morning----”

The maid appeared in the doorway at that moment and looked at Mrs.
White. “What is it, Marie?” asked the lady.

“A--a gentleman, Madam,” said the maid. “At least, it’s a man, Mrs.
White. And he wants to see you particular, so he says. He says he’s
come all the way from Colorado about getting some water. I don’t
understand what he means.”

“Crickey!” exclaimed the irreverent Nat. “What a long way to come for a
drink.”

“It must be about this very thing we are speaking of,” said the Major,
starting.

The two girls had risen and gone to a window. They could see out upon
the porch.

“Goodness, Doro!” gasped Tavia, grabbing her chum tightly. “That’s the
very man we met on the road this morning.”

We began to get acquainted with Dorothy Dale, and Tavia Travers, and
their friends in the first volume of this series, entitled “Dorothy
Dale: A Girl of To-day.” At that time Dorothy was more than three years
younger than she is to-day. Nevertheless, when her father was taken
ill, she undertook the regular publication of his weekly paper, _The
Dalton Bugle_, which was the family’s main dependence at that time.

Later the family received an uplift in the world and went to live at
the Cedars, Aunt Winnie’s beautiful home, while Dorothy and Tavia
went to Glenwood School where, through “Dorothy Dale at Glenwood
School,” “Dorothy Dale’s Great Secret,” “Dorothy Dale and Her Chums,”
“Dorothy Dale’s Queer Holidays,” “Dorothy Dale’s Camping Days” and
“Dorothy Dale’s School Rivals” our heroine and her friends enjoyed many
pleasures, had adventures galore, worked hard at their studies, had
many schoolgirl rivalries, troubles, secrets, and learned many things
besides what was contained in their textbooks.

In the eighth volume of the series, entitled, “Dorothy Dale in the
City,” Dorothy and Tavia spent the holidays with Aunt Winnie and her
sons, in New York. Aunt Winnie had taken an apartment in the city, on
Riverside Drive, and the girls had many gay times, likewise helping
Mrs. White very materially in the untangling of a business matter that
had troubled her.

“Dorothy Dale’s Promise,” the volume preceding our present story, deals
with Dorothy’s last semester at Glenwood School, and her graduation.
Tavia, who is a perfect flyaway, but one with a heart of gold, is close
to her chum all the time, and the two inseparables had now, but the
week before, bidden the beautiful old school good-bye.

Dorothy Dale was a bright and quick-witted girl; the impulsive Tavia
was apt to get them both into little scrapes of which Dorothy was
usually obliged to find the door of escape.

Now, when the maid announced the black-mustached man, and the boys
departed by another door, Tavia drew Dorothy into the embrasure of a
curtained window, whispering:

“Let’s wait. I’m _crazy_ to know what has brought such a brigandish
looking fellow here.”

“But it is not nice to listen,” objected Dorothy.

“But your aunt doesn’t mind.”

Mrs. White smiled at the two girls as she saw them pop behind the
draperies. There was nothing private about the proposed interview.

The Major sat back in his chair while Aunt Winnie arose to meet the
stranger as the maid ushered him into the library.



CHAPTER III

THE “TWO-FACED” MAN


The boys were discussing the extent of Colonel Hardin’s great estate
when Dorothy and Tavia joined them at the garage an hour later. The
possibilities of the vast cattle pastures and game preserves, walled in
by the natural boundary of the higher Rockies, appealed strongly to Ned
and Nat, and even to Dorothy’s younger brothers.

“And it was all begun by Colonel Hardin taking advantage of the
Homestead Law when he came out of the army. Too bad your father didn’t
do that, Dorothy,” said Ned.

“What _is_ the Homestead Law?” asked Dorothy.

“I can tell you,” interposed Nat, quickly. “Not just in the wording
of the law--the legal phraseology, you know,” he added, his eyes
twinkling. “But the upshot of it is, that the Government is willing to
bet you one hundred and sixty acres of land against fourteen dollars
that you can’t live on it five years without starving to death!”

“How ridiculous!” scoffed Dorothy.

“What is the use of asking these boys anything?” demanded Tavia, her
nose in the air. “They’re like all other college freshmen.”

“Don’t say that, Miss,” urged Ned, easily. “Remember that we’re
freshmen no longer, but sophs. Or, we will be so rated next fall.”

“Then perhaps you’ll know a little less than you have appeared to know
this past year,” said the sharp-tongued Tavia. “As juniors you will
know a little less. And when you’re seniors, you’ll probably be still
more human--less like Olympic Joves, you know.”

“Compliments fly when quality meets,” quoth Dorothy. “Don’t let’s
scrap, children. We can tell the boys something they _don’t_ know.
We’ve got to get a hustle on, to quote the provincialism of the
locality for which we are bound--the wild and woolly West. A telegram
has been already sent to Tavia’s folks. We start West to-morrow.”

“To-morrow!” cried Ned and Nat, in surprise.

“The Mater must have changed her mind mighty sudden,” added Ned.

“She did,” said Tavia, nodding. “Or, rather, we changed it for her.”

“How was that?” asked Nat. “And say! what did the fellow want who came
so far for a drink?” and he grinned. “What’s his name?”

“Mr. Philo Marsh,” said Dorothy, gravely. “And a very shrewd, if not
an out-and-out _bad_ man.”

“Hul-lo!” exclaimed Ned. “What’s happened? Let’s hear about it.”

“You should have stayed and seen the visitor,” said Dorothy.

“He’s a two-faced scamp!” declared Tavia, with emphasis.

“Right out of Barnum & Bailey’s--eh?” asked Nat. “One of the greatest
freaks of the age. Two faces, no less!”

But Ned saw that something serious had happened. “What is it, Dorothy?”
he asked.

“I wish you had remained and seen that Philo Marsh,” said Dorothy Dale.
“I--I think he is a bad man. I do not trust him at all.”

“And good reason!” broke in Tavia, forgetting that she had first
exclaimed over the romantic appearance of the man with the silky black
mustache and the yellow diamond.

Then, eagerly, she went on to tell the boys of what had happened to her
and Dorothy on the road that morning.

“Why! the scamp!” ejaculated Nat, quite savagely.

“But that isn’t _all_ the story?” queried Ned, turning to Dorothy.
“What were you going to say about Philo Marsh?”

Dorothy at once told them how she and Tavia had hidden behind the
window draperies when Mr. Philo Marsh was announced, having recognized
him as he stood waiting on the porch.

“And you should have heard him talk!” interrupted Tavia.

“He is a very smooth talking man,” went on Dorothy, seriously, “and we
could see father and Aunt Winnie were impressed.”

“But what did he _want_?” Ned demanded.

“He says he represents a committee of citizens of Desert City and the
farmers on that side of the Hardin estate. He had papers all drawn up,
ready to sign, leasing to him and his fellow-committeemen the water
rights on the Hardin place, and he wants father and Aunt Winnie to sign
up right now.”

“But they didn’t?” cried Ned and Nat.

“He urged them to. He claims haste is necessary.”

“Why?” asked the older cousin.

“He wasn’t just clear about _that_. I guess that is what made father
doubtful. But he was very persuasive.”

“Say!” interrupted Nat. “What about this water? If there is so much of
it on the Hardin place, doesn’t it flow somewhere?”

“That’s a curious thing,” Dorothy said, quickly. “It seems this
water-supply is a stream called Lost River.”

“Lost River?” ejaculated Ned.

“Yes. There’s more than one like it out there, too. I guess this
particular Lost River has its rise on the estate somewhere. And without
flowing beyond the boundaries of the land Colonel Hardin has left to
us, it dives right down into a crack in the earth again.”

“Crickey!” exclaimed Nat. “Some river! I want to see that.”

“I’ve read of such things,” said his brother.

“It must be wonderful,” Dorothy said. “You see, they want father and
Aunt Winnie to let them turn the water into another channel. From that
channel they will pipe water to Desert City, while the surplus will be
carried by open ditches to the irrigated farms.”

“And how about the water supply for the cattle pastures?” demanded Ned,
who, from the first, had shown a deep interest in the cattle end of the
business in hand.

“Oh, they say there is water in abundance,” Dorothy answered.

“Well,” asked Ned, “did that fellow get mother to sign up? _That’s_ the
important question.”

“Do you think we would let her, after what we know about the fellow?”
retorted Tavia, indignantly.

“I don’t see how you girls knew much about him,” chuckled Nat. “You
simply did not like the cut of his jib, as the sailors say.”

“What did you do to stop them?” asked Joe Dale, round-eyed. “Walk right
in and give him away?”

“That would have been melodramatic, wouldn’t it?” laughed Dorothy.

“But what did you do?” insisted Joe.

“Why,” said Tavia, “we climbed out of the window--and I ripped my
skirt, of course!--and we ran around to the hall and sent the maid
in to call Mrs. White out. Then we told her about Philo Marsh--the
two-faced scamp! Why, to hear and see him in that library, you’d think
butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth!”

“Well, wouldn’t it?” grunted Nat.

“I guess the Major was suspicious, anyway,” chuckled Tavia, ignoring
Master Nat. “And Mrs. White declared she would have to look over the
ground personally before she could make any decision.”

“He was in an awful hurry,” said Dorothy.

“Who’s in a hurry?” asked Ned, quickly.

“That Philo Marsh, as he calls himself. So we are going to start for
the West to-morrow, instead of next week.”

“And what is this fellow who’s come East here going to do?” asked Ned.

“Going back. Says he’ll meet us at Dugonne. That is where we leave
the train. Oh, Aunt Winnie has already looked up our route, and the
time-tables, and all that,” Dorothy said.

“Well, we’ll be on hand to look out for Little Mum, and see that this
fellow doesn’t ‘double cross’ her in any way,” said Nat, with assurance.

“We girls shall watch him, too,” Tavia declared. “I believe he’s a
regular ‘bad man’--like you read about.”

“Shouldn’t read about such things,” advised Dorothy, laughing.

“I guess we four can hedge Little Mum about so that no wild and woolly
Westerner will trouble her,” Ned said, with gravity.

But only time could prove whether that was so, or not.



CHAPTER IV

TO CATCH THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS


The _Fire Bird_ looked like an express truck--or so Nat said. They had
loaded up the boys’ auto with more than a fair share of the baggage.

“But just the same, you girls have got to find room in here,” declared
Ned. “Nat and I must have somebody to chin to while we’re driving over
Hominy Ridge. They say there are ‘ha’nts’ in the woods, and we’d be
afraid to go alone.”

“Poor ’ittle sing!” crooned Tavia. “Doro and I know just how scared you
are. But we’ll go with you--providing you can find us room.”

“We’ll make room,” said Nat. “Mother will have to carry some of the
baggage in her car. There is no use in putting the last camel on the
straw’s back!”

“Joe and Roger have begged to go along,” Dorothy said.

“Well, they’re excess baggage, too,” answered Nat. “They’ll have to go
in the other car.”

It was the evening following the June day on which Aunt Winnie had
divulged her Great Surprise. The intervening hours had been very, very
busy for the girls.

It was arranged that the party should go by auto to Portersburg to
catch the midnight express on the P. B. & O.

Dorothy and Tavia--as well as Mrs. White--had made exceedingly swift
preparations for this journey. Of course, Ned and Nat did not have much
to get ready.

“Wish I were a boy,” groaned Tavia.

“I’ve heard you express that wish a thousand times,” declared Dorothy.

“This is the thousand-and-wunth time then! Look at how easy they have
it, Doro! All they have to do is put a clean collar and a toothbrush in
their pockets, and start for a tour of Europe!”

It was a long journey over the forest-covered ridge to Portersburg.
They started at nine o’clock so as to be sure to be on time at the
railway station. The chauffeur who drove Mrs. White’s machine would
chain the cars together and bring them--with Joe and Roger--back to the
Cedars, after seeing the tourists off for the West.

Dorothy kissed the Major good-bye. “My little Captain” he still called
her. Major Dale was very proud of his daughter.

They got away at last, the _Fire Bird_ in the lead. There would be no
moon until after midnight, so they had to depend entirely upon the
headlights for the discovery of any obstruction in the road.

Nat was under the wheel and he had insisted upon Tavia sitting beside
him. Naturally Ned was glad to get Dorothy to himself in the tonneau.
It was a tight squeeze for the latter couple, for the motor car _was_
overburdened with baggage.

“Are you comfortable, Doro?” shouted Tavia, turning to look at her chum.

“Just as comfortable as I can be with the end of Nat’s dress-suit case
poking me in the back, and a bundle of umbrellas right across my poor
shins. Oh! I did not dream it would be so uncomfortable.”

“Our dreams seldom come true,” declared Tavia, sentimentally.

“Don’t know about that,” said Nat. “You know, a couple of tramps were
talking about the same thing. One says: ‘Isn’t it strange how few of
our youthful dreams come true?’ And the other fellow answers back: ‘Oh,
I dunno. I remember when I used to dream of wearing long pants, and now
I guess I wear ’em longer than anybody else in the country.’”

“Better ’tend to your business, boy, and stop cracking jokes,” advised
Ned.

“I’ll see that he doesn’t run us up a tree,” promised Tavia,
confidently.

The _Fire Bird_ swiftly passed out of the neighborhood with which
the young people were familiar and struck into the road leading to
Portersburg. It was a fairly good auto track, but had never been oiled.
Therefore, there were “hills and hummocks,” as Tavia said, “in great
profusion.”

“Oh! _oh!_ OH!” she gasped, in crescendo, as the car bounced and jarred
over some of these “thank-you-ma’ams.” “Did you _ever_ see such a
hubbly road, Doro?”

“I don’t see much of this one,” confessed Dorothy.

The forest shut the road about so thickly that beyond the headlights’
glare the way looked like a tunnel. Occasionally, some small, night
wandering animal, scurried across the track.

“There’s a rabbit!” ejaculated Tavia. “I wonder what he thinks this
auto is?”

“The Car of Juggernaut,” said Dorothy. “Lucky he escaped.”

They were going down a hill. Suddenly Nat threw out the clutch and
braked hard. The horn likewise uttered a stuttering warning.

A ray of light flickered upon some object directly in the path of the
flying car. It was impossible to stop and the road was too narrow for
Nat to swerve aside and in this way escape the collision.

“Low Bridge!” he shouted, and they all crouched down. The next instant
the car struck the creature standing in its path.

“A deer!” yelled Ned, as the car came to a jarring stop, some yards
beyond the point of collision.

He hopped out and ran back to see if the poor animal was really dead.
His mother’s car meanwhile halted where the deer lay beside the road.
The _Fire Bird_ had thrown the creature some distance away, and it was
quite dead, its neck being broken.

“Killing game out of season is a misdemeanor, Nat,” said his brother,
returning to the automobile. “Lucky you are going to get out of the
state to-night. The game warden might be after you.”

“I don’t think it is a thing to laugh over,” said Tavia. “The poor
deer!”

“Thank you,” Nat said. “I never expected to hear you call me by such a
tender name.----”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Mr. Nat!” snapped Tavia, scrambling out of the
front seat and joining Dorothy in the tonneau. “I don’t want to risk
being in front if you are going to run down all the livestock in the
country.”

“It’s too bad to leave perfectly good venison behind,” Ned said. “I
suppose he was dazzled by the lights. You must have a care how you
drive, Nathaniel. Mother says so.”

“Huh! I couldn’t see the deer until we were right on top of it.”

“I know Nat didn’t mean to,” said Dorothy, the peacemaker. “It _is_
awfully dark.”

Nat only grunted, but he drove more slowly. The deer had been actually
hypnotized by the lamps; Nat did not want to play the same rough joke
on another.

“Huh!” he muttered to his brother. “If the law had been off and we’d
come up this way hunting deer, we wouldn’t have gotten within a mile of
one!”

“Life is full of disappointments--just like that,” chuckled Ned,
turning so that the two girls could hear him. “There was the old farmer
who saw something in the clothing store window that kept him marching
up and down before it for an hour, looking frequently at his watch.

“Finally he went inside and demanded of a salesman: ‘What’s your time?’
‘Twenty minutes past five,’ says the salesman. ‘That’s what I make
it,’ says the farmer, ‘and I’ll take them pants,’ and he pointed to a
ticket in the window which read: ‘Given Away at 5.20.’ But _he_ was
disappointed, too.” concluded Ned.

“How ridiculous,” said Dorothy. “Oh! here’s the end of the woods. I’m
so glad.”

“It’s the end of this piece,” said Ned. “But there’s more ahead.”

It was much lighter when they came out into the farming lands, and Nat
could speed up his engine a little. Behind the _Fire Bird_ coughed the
other car. They met nobody, nor overtook any vehicle. This was a lonely
road by night. They were still a long distance from Portersburg, and it
was after eleven o’clock.

“You’d better get a wiggle on, boy,” declared Ned. “We don’t want to
miss that train.”

“And I _do_ want to miss any other deer that may be loafing about this
right of way,” grumbled his brother.

They flew past a farmhouse where a dog tugged at his chain and almost
barked his head off at the two automobiles. A wall of forest loomed
up before them again. It was fortunate that the darkness beyond the
lamplight made Nat reduce speed.

Up heaved a disturbing figure beside the road. Nat applied the brakes
in a hurry once more. The beast stepped right into the radiance of the
lamplight and then--the automobile struck it!

Everybody screamed--including the object battle-rammed! “Another deer!”
shrieked Tavia. But the bellow that replied made her realize at once
that she was wrong. No deer ever bawled like that!

“It’s a cow,” said Ned. “Crickey, boy! you’ll slaughter all the animals
in the state.”

“That cow isn’t hurt,” growled Nat, “or she wouldn’t bawl so.”

The other automobile stopped in the rear and Aunt Winnie was anxious to
know what had happened. Ned was already out of the _Fire Bird_, trying
to discover the whereabouts of the cow and the extent of her injuries.

“Something doing back there at the farmhouse,” warned the chauffeur of
Mrs. White’s car. “You boys will be deep in trouble in a minute.”

They could see lights in the windows, and now heard a banging of
doors. A harsh voice began to shout commands, and a waggling lantern
approached across the fields.

Ned had found the cow. She was leaning up against the roadside fence,
and one horn was hanging by a thread of tissue, in a drunken looking
manner over her eye. Otherwise she seemed to be unhurt--only surprised.
The varnish of the car had suffered more than the cow.

When the farmer arrived he was very angry.

“I’ll fix you city fellers fer this. I’m a constable. Ye air all
arrested!”

His dress was haphazard. Over his coarse nightshirt he had drawn his
trousers, and he was barefooted. But he had not forgotten his star of
office, and he carried a locust club as well as the lantern. He fixed
himself in the road directly in front of the _Fire Bird_ and demanded
fifty dollars.

“I could buy cows like that skinny old thing for fifty dollars a
dozen,” grumbled Ned.

“You’ll pay me fifty for this here caow, or th’ whole on ye will march
ter jail at Hacktown.”

“Your cow is perfectly good,” suggested Tavia, “all except one horn.
And that horn serves no good purpose on a domestic animal. Most farmers
dehorn their cattle anyway. I think this man owes us about fifty cents.”

Nat began to chuckle at that, and the farmer was not at all pleased.

“Ye gotter fork over fifty dollars, or go to Hacktown an’ see the
Jestice of the Peace.”

“But we’re in a hurry,” said Ned.

“That’s what they all say,” chuckled the farmer.

“You had no business to allow your cattle to run loose in the road,”
cried Ned.

“Think not, eh, young man?” retorted the man. “You’d better read aour
county ord’nance on cattle. Don’t hafter fence aour farms no more.”

“I bet,” growled Ned to the girls, “that the old scoundrel just set
this crow-bait of a cow like a trap for any automobilist who might come
by. Goodness! I hate to pay that fifty dollars.”



CHAPTER V

THE OLD LADY WITH THE BASKET


Time was flying and Mrs. White was becoming anxious. “Do pay the man,
Ned, and let us go on. Of course, the cow is not worth so much----”

“Why, mother, it’s a miserable little thing,” began Nat; but the farmer
burst in with a lot of threats as to what he would do if the money was
not immediately forthcoming, and Nat subsided.

“It is an imposition, Mrs. White,” warned her chauffeur. “I’ll go with
him, if he likes, and tell the judge about it.”

“I’ll pull you all,” threatened the farmer, boisterously, “if you don’t
fork over the money for my caow--yes, I will, by Jo!”

“If he talks fresh to mother,” growled Nat to Ned, “we ought to take
away his tin star and club and throw him into the ditch.”

“No use making a bad matter worse,” said Ned.

“It is unfair,” Dorothy said, warmly. “Fifty dollars is a lot of
money. Can’t we postpone our trip and go to court with this man?”

“Goodness, Dot!” exclaimed her aunt, who heard this. “Our berths are
engaged upon that train. We positively cannot wait here. Of course the
cow isn’t worth so much as this man asks----”

At that moment a dilapidated figure shuffled into the radiance of the
automobile lights. It was an ancient darkey, with kinky gray wool, and
he took off his ragged hat as he asked:

“Ebenin’, genmen an’ ladies. Is yo’ seed anythin’ ob my cow? She done
strayed erway ag’in, an’ I’s powerful anxious ter recover her--ya-as,
suh!”

“Another cow!” groaned Nat. “The owner of that pet deer will be around
next.”

“What kind of a cow was it?” asked Tavia, giggling.

“Jes’ a cow, Ma’am,” said the old darkey. “Jes’ a ord’nary ornery cow,
Ma’am. Ebenin’, Mars’ Judson,” he added, seeing the farmer for the
first time. “Has _you_ seed my cow?”

“Naw, I ain’t,” snapped the farmer.

Here Dorothy Dale suddenly broke into the inquiry meeting. “Did your
cow have a big white patch on her left shoulder, and is she otherwise a
red cow?” asked the girl.

“Ya-as’m. That suah is my cow.”

“Turn your light on that one against the fence, Ned,” commanded
Dorothy. “Now look, sir,” she added, to the old negro. “Is that your
cow?”

“Suah is!” declared the darkey, gladly. “Das my Sookey-cow. Law-see!
She done broke her horn. I wisht she bruk two on ’em; den she couldn’t
hook herself t’rough de parstur fence no mo’.”

“Well! what do you know about that?” demanded Tavia.

“This constable ought to have his badge taken away,” grumbled Nat.

Aunt Winnie was a most timid lady, but she was angry now. “You shall
be reported for this, sir, just as soon as I get back from the West,”
she promised the farmer. “Give the colored man five dollars, Ned. He
deserves something for showing us what this other man is.”

The old darkey was tickled enough to accept a five dollar note for the
loss of the cow’s horn. The creature was not really hurt, and everybody
was satisfied save the constable-farmer who had over-reached himself.
He dared say nothing more about arresting the automobile party, and
the two cars soon got under way again and shot off along the road to
Portersburg station.

There was no further adventure on the way. They arrived at the station
with five good minutes to spare. The town was asleep, but the agent
was in his office with the tickets for Mrs. White’s party and the
coupons for the Pullman berths.

They were to have a section to themselves, and an extra berth besides.
Dorothy was to occupy this extra berth, which proved to be an upper.

Everybody else aboard the car was asleep and the porter made up their
berths at once. “I _do_ so hate to half undress in the corridor of a
car,” grumbled Tavia. “It’s as bad as camping out.”

“But we pay good money for the privilege,” said Dorothy. “I wonder why
we are always so easy--we Americans?”

“Our fatal good nature. That’s it!” cried Tavia.

Dorothy had a hazy idea that somebody in the berth beneath her was
restless. Then she fell asleep, roused only now and then by the
stopping and starting of the train. At seven she was wide awake,
however, and as the train was still going at full speed, she crept down
from her high perch and started for the ladies’ room at the end of the
car.

But suddenly a hand was stretched out for her and the person in the
lower berth whispered:

“I say, Miss! I say!”

Dorothy turned to see a little old lady, in a close, black bonnet with
the strings untied, but otherwise fully dressed. It was plain she had
gone to bed in all her clothing the night before.

“Can a body git up, Miss?” whispered the worried old creature. “My
goodness me! I been useter gittin’ up when the fust rooster crows; this
has been the longest night I ever remember.”

“Why, you poor dear!” returned Dorothy, warmly. “Of course you can get
up. Come with me and I’ll help you tidy yourself for the day. You must
feel all mussed up.”

“I do,” admitted the old lady, feelingly.

She came after Dorothy, but the latter saw that she bore with her a
covered basket, the cover being tied close with bits of string.

“You need not be afraid of leaving your lunch basket in the berth.
Nobody will take it,” Dorothy said.

“I--I guess I’ll keep it by me,” said the old lady, with a timid smile.

Dorothy was able to make the old lady comfortable, and she found out
several things about her while the porter arranged their berths. She
was a Mrs. Petterby, and had lived all her life long (she was over
sixty) in the little mill town of Rand’s Falls, in Massachusetts.

This was the very first time the old lady had ever been ten miles from
the house where she was born. She had lived alone in her own house for
the last few years, her husband and all her children but one being dead.

“My baby, he’s out West. I’m a-going to see him,” declared Mrs.
Petterby. “He sent me money for ticket and all, long ago; he told me to
put it in the bottom of the old teapot, where I’d be sure to know where
it was, and then I could start for Colorado any time the fit tuk me.

“Did seem day b’fore yisterday, as though I’d got to see my baby again.
He was dif’rent from the other children--sort o’ wild and hard to
manage. He had a flare-up with his dad and went West.

“But there ain’t a mite o’ harm in my baby--no, Ma’am! An’ so I tell
’em. His father said so himself b’fore he died. He warn’t like the rest
o’ the children, so his father didn’t understand him.

“He’s doin’ well, he writes. Gets his forty-five dollars ev’ry month,
and sends me part. Of course, I don’t need it; I got it all in the
Rand’s Falls Bank. But I kep’ out this ticket money, like he said;
and--here I be!” and she cackled a soft little laugh, and smiled a
transfiguring smile as she thought of the surprise she was going to
give “her baby.”

She was going to Dugonne, the very town where Dorothy and her friends
were to leave the train. So the girls sort of adopted the little old
lady. But they could not find out what was in her basket.

Tavia was enormously curious. “I saw her dropping something through a
crack into the basket,” she whispered to Dorothy. “She was feeding it.”

“Nonsense!” exclaimed her chum.

“You see. It’s no lunch basket. It’s something alive.”

“A dog?” suggested Dorothy.

“Maybe a cat.”

“Or a parrot?” again said Dorothy.

“Or a rabbit.”

“It couldn’t be a canary, I s’pose?” asked Dorothy.

“Or a pet goldfish?” giggled Tavia.

“How ridiculous!” returned the other girl.

Everybody went to breakfast when it was announced, save Mrs. White. She
had a “railroad headache,” and lay back in her seat with closed eyes
and an ice-pack upon her forehead. But Dorothy thought she ought to
have something to “stay her stomach.”

“You know,” she said to Tavia, “this car will be taken off and we will
not be able to get even a glass of milk for her before noon.”

Mrs. Petterby overheard this, and she blushed and whispered: “I got one
o’ them bottles that keeps things hot or cold, as you want ’em. You get
some milk off the ice, and then it will be all ready to have the egg
broke into and shaken up when your auntie wants it, by and by.”

“That’s nice of you!” cried Dorothy, and proceeded to call the waiter
and order the cold milk.

“But where’ll you get an egg--a real fresh egg, I mean?” sniffed Tavia.
“Not on a dining-car.”

“That’s so!” groaned Dorothy. “And Aunt Winnie is _so_ particular about
her eggs. She can always tell if an egg is the least bit stale.”

The old lady leaned forward again, and once more the pretty pink flush
suffused her withered cheek. She was a keen-eyed, birdlike person, and
her manner was timid like a bird’s.

“If--if you don’t mind waiting about an hour, I shouldn’t be surprised
if I--I could supply the fresh egg,” she said.

“You?” gasped Tavia, amazed.

“You know where we can buy one, you mean?” queried Dorothy.

“Oh, you won’t have to buy one,” declared Mrs. Petterby. “I’d be glad
enough to give it to you.”

“But who has fresh eggs on this train?” demanded Tavia.

“I guess nobody has them to sell, dearie,” said the little old lady,
smiling. “But in about an hour I can get one.”

“Do--do you think she’s just right, Doro?” whispered Tavia, on the sly.

Dorothy did not know. It sounded very peculiar to her. But the little
old lady seemed quite in her right mind, and she went back to the
Pullman, still clinging to her basket.

That mystery furnished the girls and Ned and Nat with subject matter
for an endless discussion. They guessed at its contents as everything
from a white rat to a jewel-box, or a root of horseradish that Nat
declared he believed she was taking with her from her garden, to
transplant on her son’s ranch. “His horses will like it, you know,”
said Nat, seriously.

“Yes,” agreed his brother, “on their oysters. Horseradish is very good
as a relish with raw oysters.”

“And of course they rake oysters right out of the streams and ponds
in Colorado,” sniffed Tavia, with a superior air. “Was anything ever
crazier?”

Dorothy went to sit beside Mrs. Petterby again. The old lady was
smiling contentedly. “I guess I’ll stay as much as a week with my
baby,” she declared to Dorothy. “I hope I won’t be homesick before the
week’s up.”

“But it will take you almost a week to get there, and a week to
return--and you intend to stay in Colorado only a week?”

“I declare, child! I don’t believe I could stand it longer. I don’t
think I could stand furrin’ parts--not at all. Rand’s Falls,
Massachusetts, is good enough for me.”

There was a movement in the basket. Dorothy was sure of it. And a sort
of crooning noise. Dorothy looked her amazement and curiosity--she
could not help it.

“There! there!” said the old lady, softly, and tapping the basket. Then
she looked aside at the girl and whispered:

“Don’t you tell that conductor. They told me that I couldn’t take her
with me unless I crated her and put her in the baggage car. But I’ll
show ’em!”

“What is it?” breathed Dorothy. “Oh! I won’t tell.”

“There! your auntie can have her fresh egg in a minute or two now. I
know Ophelia.”

“Ophelia?” gasped Dorothy.

“Yes. That’s her name. I gave it to her when she was a little bit of a
chicken.”

“A hen!” exclaimed the amazed Dorothy.

“Yes. She’s a regular pet--and not much more than a year old. She was
the only one left of a brood that my old Blackie brought off last May
was a year ago,” said Mrs. Petterby.

“I couldn’t afford to have old Blackie nussin’ just one chicken,” she
pursued, calmly. “So I brought Ophelia up by hand. She was just as
cunning as she could be.

“She sat on my shoulder when I ate breakfast, and she’d eat her share
of johnny-cake and sausages, too--yes, Ma’am! Then she’d take a nap
sometimes, in my lap, when I sot down in my rocker by the kitchen
window.

“And when she got to be a good sized pullet and I was lookin’ for her
to begin to lay pretty quick, I declare if she didn’t hop up into my
lap and lay her first egg.”

“My!” exclaimed Dorothy, in appreciative wonder.

“I left my flock in the care of my next door neighbor; but I knowed
Ophelia would be lonesome for me.

“So,” concluded the little old lady, “I’m a-takin’ her through
unbeknownst to the conductor. Don’t you tell! And now--there!”

She thrust her hand under one flap of the covered basket. There was a
little rustling sound, a seemingly objecting croak, and out came the
old lady’s hand with a white, clean and warm egg.

“I expect she’s gettin’ sort of broody,” said Mrs. Petterby, dropping
the egg into Dorothy’s hand. “She’s beginnin’ to think of settin’ an’
tryin’ to raise a famb’ly. That’s all _she_ knows about it--poor thing!

“Well, there’s your aunt’s egg, child.”



CHAPTER VI

“THE BREATH OF THE NIGHT”


The girls and Mrs. White’s sons were vastly amused by the egg incident.
Aunt Winnie thankfully drank her egg and milk, but her boys joked about
the production of “Ophelia” being so quickly “swallowed up.”

“And why didn’t the old lady bring along Hamlet?” demanded Nat. “The
Prince of Denmark would have found life in a Pullman endurable, I
fancy. He was a philosophical old shark.”

“Speaking of eggs,” Ned said, ignoring his brother’s irreverent
observation about the Melancholy Dane, “speaking of eggs----”

“Well! speak, I prithee!” said Tavia.

“Why, there was a chap performing tricks of legerdermain one night, and
he took eggs from a high hat, as usual. In his ‘patter’ he interpolated
a remark to a wide-eyed small boy who sat down front.

“‘Say, sonny, your mother can’t get eggs without hens, can she?’ he
said to the kid.

“‘Yes, she can,’ replied the boy.

“‘How does she do it?’ chuckles the conjurer.

“‘She keeps ducks,’ says the kid.”

“Good! good!” quoth Nat, applauding. “If you hadn’t told it, Ned, I
would.”

“Ah-ha!” cried Tavia. “You boys have been reading the same joke-book,
and have gotten your wires crossed.”

“Goodness, Tavia! Don’t. Such slang as you use!”

The train was bearing them rapidly and smoothly toward the West. The
girls and Ned and Nat enjoyed this sort of traveling immensely. At the
rear of the train was a fine observation platform, and the four young
folk got more benefit of the chairs there than any of the travelers.

The prospect in part was lovely. They liked, too, to sit there as the
train roared through the smaller towns where there was no stop. And
it was nice when they swept over the rolling prairies and crossed the
mid-western rivers on the long bridges.

The stops at the larger cities were never long; then the train would
fly on again, reeling off the miles at top-speed. The second night they
did not mind sleeping in the berths. And Dorothy helped Mrs. Petterby
get ready for bed so that she felt more comfortable.

“But it does seem awful resky,” she sighed. “Suppose there should be a
smash-up--an’ me without my skirt on!”

There _was_ a smash-up the next day, but fortunately the train in which
Dorothy Dale rode was not in the accident. Two freight trains went into
each other some ways ahead of the express, and spread themselves all
over the right of way. It would take some time to clear the mess up so
that the express could pass; therefore the latter was stopped at a very
pleasant Illinois town and the conductor told the young folk they would
have at least two hours to wait.

“Goody-good!” exclaimed Tavia. “Let’s run and see if we can get some
candy at a decent price, Doro. The candy-butcher aboard this train is a
highway-robber.”

“I can beat that for a suggestion,” Nat said. “Why not find a place
where we can get something beside this buffet stuff to eat. I haven’t
the heart to eat all I want to in the dining-car.”

“Why not?” asked Dorothy.

“It costs so much.”

“Come on,” agreed Ned. “We’ll go foraging.”

“Be sure you get back in time, children,” ordered Aunt Winnie.

But she expected Dorothy to keep her wits about her, whether the rest
of them did or not. Near the railroad station there was nothing that
appealed to Dorothy and Tavia--no restaurant, at least. But up a clean,
bright little side street from the public square they saw a small,
white painted house, with green doors and green window frames. Over the
one big window beside the open door was a sign that read:

  ORIENTAL LUNCH ROOM

“That looks nice,” said Dorothy.

“And look at that dear, old, _clean_ colored Mammy!” gasped Tavia.

On the platform before the little restaurant was a large colored woman
with a crimson bandana on her head, a spotless dress and white apron,
and her sleeves rolled up to her fat elbows.

“I bet she can cook,” quoth Ned, with assurance.

“We’ll give the Oriental a whirl,” agreed Nat.

But just as they were crossing the street to go to the place, Tavia
suddenly exclaimed: “Oh! there’s somebody in there.”

“Well, what of it?” asked Ned.

“It’s hardly big enough for us. Let’s wait till that man comes out. I
don’t like his looks, anyway. He has his hat on,” declared Tavia.

They all saw the man in question. He was a black-browed and
broad-hatted stranger, and he sat at a table in the little eating
place, staring out through the window with a frown on his brow. He was
not an attractive looking man at all.

“I bet he has a bad conscience!” exclaimed Nat.

“Or indigestion,” chimed in his brother.

“He won’t eat us,” said Dorothy, doubtfully. “If we do go in----”

“I say, Mammy!” cried Tavia, to the smiling colored woman. “Do you do
the cooking?”

“’Deed an’ I do, Missie,” declared the woman. “An’ I got de freshes’
catfish dat eber come out o’ de ribber. An’ light beaten’ biscuit--an’
co’npone, an’ all de odder fixin’s.”

“Sounds good to me,” said Nat, smacking his lips.

“But can’t we have the place to ourselves?” complained Tavia. “If that
man was only gone!”

“Yo’ mean Cunnel Pike?” whispered the colored woman. “He comes yere
befo’. He’s er-gwine out on dat train wot’s stalled down yander----”

“That’s the train we’re going out on,” Tavia declared. “Like enough
he’ll stay here till it goes.”

“But we can eat in there if he is present,” said Dorothy, again. She
knew just how stubborn Tavia was when she got an idea in her head.

“We’ll get him out! I’ll tell you,” gasped Tavia, suddenly.

“How?” demanded the others, in chorus.

“No, I won’t. Only Nat. I’ll tell _him_. You can order the meal, Ned,
and while it is being cooked we’ll fix it so that horrid man will
leave. Come on, Nat.”

Nat went off with her. The others were doubtful of her scheme, but they
were hungry. So Ned instructed the colored woman as to the repast and
then he and Dorothy sat down on the steps to wait for developments.

Meanwhile Tavia led Nat back to the main square of the village. “Run,
get me a telegraph blank from the station,” she ordered, and Nat,
without question, did as he was bade.

Tavia quickly wrote a message and addressed it to “Colonel Pike,
Oriental Lunch Room,” with the name of the town appended. “Now,” she
said to Nat, “I dare you to send this message,” and her eyes danced.

Nat read it through once, looked puzzled, and then read it twice and
grinned--the grin expanding as the full significance of the joke
penetrated his mind.

“Crickey-Jiminy!” he exclaimed. “But if they tell him?”

“Telegraph operators are not supposed to tell. Instruct this one not to
do so, Nat. Now, I dare you!”

“You can’t dare me,” boasted Nat, and hurried back to the station. When
he returned they strolled on to the Oriental Lunch Room once more and
rejoined Ned and Dorothy.

“Now! whatever have you been doing, Tavia?” demanded Dorothy.

Tavia could not help giggling. “Just you wait and see,” she said.

“I hope you didn’t let her do anything very bad,” Dorothy said to Nat.

“I helped her do something mighty smart,” returned her cousin, looking
with admiration at pretty Tavia.

Just then a boy with a Western Union cap came up and went into the
little restaurant. “Say!” he demanded of the black-browed man. “Are you
Pike?”

“Am I _what_?” asked the man, in a hoarse voice.

“Cunnel Pike’s the name,” said the boy. “And right at this restaurant.”

“Oh! a telegram?” demanded the man, in surprise. “Well, that’s my
name,” and he put his hand out for the envelope.

“Sign here,” said the boy, and after he had gotten the signature in his
book he gave up the message and went out.

“Look!” gasped Tavia, clinging to Dorothy’s hand.

All four of the young people watched covertly the man behind the
window. They saw him tear open the envelope and read the message
curiously. Then his heavy, dark face changed and curiosity was blended
first with amazement and then with something very like fear.

He started to tear the message up. Then he got to his feet and his face
began to pale. Dorothy and the others watched him in wonder and some
alarm.

Finally the man grabbed his hat brim and pulled it down over his eyes.
He strode out of the place and down the steps, without looking at the
boys and girls, and started straight for the railroad station.

As he went his trembling fingers relaxed and the telegraph message
dropped at Dorothy’s feet.

“What do you know about that?” whispered Nat. “We sent him that
message.”

“What?” demanded Dorothy, and snatched it up.

She uncrumpled the sheet of yellow paper and read in the crooked
letters of the old typewriter which the local operator used:

  “Come home at once. All is forgiven.”

“Tavia Travers!” cried Dorothy. Then she burst into laughter, and so
did Ned when he had read the slip of paper.

“I believe I have done a very good thing,” claimed Tavia, quite
seriously. “No wonder that old Colonel Pike looked like a ‘grouch.’
He had trouble on his mind, and now we’ve sent him home to get it all
straightened out.”

“Oh, Tavia!” groaned Dorothy again.

“I’d give a good bit to be at his home--if he goes there--and see what
happens,” Ned said, when he had ceased laughing.

“Anyway,” grinned Nat, “the ‘bogey man’ is gone and we can take
possession of the Oriental Lunch Room.”

Which they forthwith proceeded to do. The old colored woman served them
a delicious meal, and added to their enjoyment of it by her comments
upon many things, not the least of which was her wonder as to “what tuk
Cunnel Pike out o’ yere so suddent like.”

The gay little party left the restaurant in good season and rejoined
Aunt Winnie aboard the train. They saw nothing more of the man called
“Cunnel” Pike. Another train had just gotten away for the East and
Tavia said:

“I tell you he has gone home. We did a very good action--probably have
changed the current of his whole life.”

“Like to peek over the shoulder of the Recording Angel, Tavia, and see
what’s marked down against you for that telegram--eh?” chuckled Ned.

“Well!” declared Dorothy, “I hope when he gets home they will be as
glad to see him as that message intimated.”

“Well, I shouldn’t worry and get wrinkled!” shrugged Tavia.

“I guess we’ll never know about that,” said Ned.

“It’s like one of those serial stories in the papers, ‘continued in our
next’--and you always miss your copy of the next number,” said Nat.
“I’ve a dozen different plots ‘hanging fire’ in my mind that I never
will get to know how they finish up.”

“Learn to read books, then,” advised his brother, “and stop littering
up your mind with such useless stuff.”

“Wow!” exclaimed Nat. “You talk like Professor Grubber. Oh, I say! Did
you hear of that one they had on Old Grubs in class one day? He was
discussing organic and inorganic kingdoms. Says he:

“‘Now, if I should shut my eyes--so--and drop my head--so--and remain
perfectly still, you would say I was a clod. But I move. I leap. Then
what do you call me?’

“And Poley Gray says, quite solemnly, ‘A clodhopper, sir.’ It got them
all,” concluded the slangy Nat. “Even Old Grubs himself had to laugh.”

After that two-hour hold-up of their train the party found that the
speed at which they traveled was greatly increased. Each engineer in
turn tried to make up a bit of that handicap, and the travelers were
tossed about in their berths that night in rather a disturbing manner.

Mrs. Petterby would not have gone to bed at all had it not been for
Dorothy’s encouragement; she would have sat up with her pullet in her
lap, and her bonnet firmly tied under her chin.

“I’m ever expectin’ to have this train crash right into another,” said
the old lady. “And I want to be ready for it.”

“Do you think you’ll be any more ready sitting up than you will be
lying down, dear Mrs. Petterby?” Dorothy asked.

“Seems as if I would,” returned the old lady. “I tell you what! I
sha’n’t come out to see my baby no more. I shall tell him that. And I
dread the going back.”

“Perhaps you will like Colorado so much that you will want to stay.”

“What? And never see Rand’s Falls, Massachusetts, again?” exclaimed
Mrs. Petterby, in horror. “I--guess--not.”

“I hope we shall see her baby when she meets him,” Doro said, tenderly.
“And I hope he’s all she expects him to be.”

“A cow-puncher at forty-five a month,” sniffed Nat.

“Oh! but cowboys are awfully romantic,” said Tavia, quickly.

“Look out for her, Dot,” begged Ned. “You’ll have to blindfold her to
get her past any cow-punching outfit we may meet. I can see that.”

On the following day when the train crossed the first ranges and
they beheld little bunches of five hundred or a thousand head of
“longhorns,” Tavia went into raptures.

The four young folk from the East remained upon the observation
platform most of the time. Even after supper the girls went back there
to view the prairies in the gloaming.

There was a distant light here and there, like a low-hung star; but
there were few towns, or even settlements. Suddenly the train slowed
down and they saw several switch-targets. Then they passed the ghostly
fence of a large corral, and they ran by a barn-like, darkened station
and freight sheds.

The train stopped altogether. The girls saw the flagman seize his
lantern and run back to set his signal. “Come on!” exclaimed Tavia.
“He’s left the gate open.”

She gave Dorothy no time to decide, but ran lightly down the steps
herself and sprang onto the cinder path. Dorothy followed.

“Listen!” whispered Tavia, seizing her chum’s hand, tightly. “Hear the
night breathe.”

There did seem to be a vast, curious sound to the inhalation of breath.

Dorothy listened to the sound with a wonder that grew. It was not the
engine exhaust. It was a sound like nothing she had ever heard before.

“See! there’s another big corral beyond the station,” Tavia said. “Come
on!”

She led Dorothy down the platform, and out upon the softly giving earth.

The headstrong Tavia went directly toward the high fence. The regular,
rhythmic breathing seemed to surround them.

Of a sudden, something scrambled against the fence before them. There
was a bump against the bars, and two shining eyes transfixed them.

The engine gave a single long-drawn shriek. Instantly the car wheels
began to turn, while from the creature inside the corral fence came a
bellow.

“Goodness me!” shrieked Tavia. “It’s cattle--the corral’s full of
cattle.”

“That isn’t the worst of it!” returned Dorothy, grabbing her hand and
starting to run. “We’re being left behind, Tavia Travers!”



CHAPTER VII

A NIGHT WITH A KNIGHT


“Well! I wouldn’t talk as though it had never happened before to
anybody,” said Tavia, at last. “Why! even we, Doro, have been left
behind before.

“Still, I grant you, we were never left before behind a fast express,
which was speeding your aunt and the boys away from us so rapidly that
we will be miles and miles behind before they discover our absence.”

“If, however, they learn that we are behind before they reach----”

“_Stop!_” commanded Dorothy, dropping down beside the track and
covering her ears. “If you say that again, I’ll certainly do something
to you.”

They had followed the train down the long platform, screaming to the
flagman to pull the signal cord. He had not heard them. He had merely
closed the gate and gone into the car.

Here Dorothy Dale and Tavia Travers were, deserted at this un-named
prairie station, where--to all appearances--there was not a soul.

“And if anyone _is_ here, I expect I shall be scared to death,”
admitted Tavia, sitting down beside her chum.

It was so dark that only the vastness of the earth and sky was made
known to them--and that but vaguely. Stars twinkled above their heads,
but seemingly so high that, as Tavia complained, they did not seem like
“the stars at home, back East!”

Sitting facing the railroad tracks, they saw no lights but the switch
targets. There was no tower here, nor did there seem to be any life
at all about the railroad property. Why the express train had stopped
here, to tempt them to disembark, the girls could not imagine.

They were sitting close up against the great corral fence. The deep
breathing of the herd was like the distant, low notes of an organ; the
girls were not now interested in the manifestation of the presence of
such a great number of cattle. But the cattle were curious.

Another came and snorted behind them, and Dorothy and Tavia scrambled
up in a hurry. “They sound just as savage as bears,” declared Tavia.

“I don’t see why they have all deserted the cattle,” murmured Dorothy.
“I should think there would be a night watch.”

“And all the railroad people have deserted, too.”

“Oh, dear!” said Dorothy. “We can’t even send a telegram after the
train to tell Aunt Winnie we are all right.”

“But that wouldn’t be true,” said Tavia, shivering. “We are _not_ all
right.”

“We-ell,” said her friend, slowly. “I don’t expect there is anything
here to hurt us.”

“That’s all right. Maybe there isn’t. But I never _did_ like to be
alone in a strange place. I want to be introduced to folks.”

“Maybe there is a cowboy camp near----”

“Bully! let’s find it!” ejaculated Tavia.

“But you wouldn’t know the cowboys. They’d all be strange men.”

“Well! Cowboys are so romantic,” urged Tavia. “Let’s look.”

“You can use your eyes as well as I can,” sighed Dorothy. “But I must
say the prospect for finding anybody in this half darkness is not very
alluring.”

They started, following the line of the corral fence away from the
station. Dorothy was convinced there was no telegraph operator there,
and the barn-like building looked more dreary and threatening than did
the open prairie. So they were glad to get away from it.

The fence seemed unending. Occasionally a beast faced them, glaring
with eyes like hot coals, and pawing the earth. But the fence looked
strong.

They were not booted for walking, however, and the ground was uneven.
So they hobbled on very slowly.

Tavia seized Dorothy’s arm. “Oh! what’s that?”

“Now, don’t you begin scaring me,” commanded Dorothy. “Oh!”

“Didn’t I tell you?”

“A man on horseback.”

They could see him between them and the skyline. He was riding slowly,
and riding toward them. The girls hugged close to the fence and their
dark traveling frocks were not noticeable.

The horseman drew nearer. The girls, clinging together, saw that he
wore a wide hat and sheepskin chaps that looked like a woman’s divided
skirt, they were so wide.

His pony pranced and snorted, doubtless scenting the girls. But the man
spoke a soothing word and did not even gather up the reins that lay
loose on the animal’s neck.

His voice had a pleasant, drawling tone to it. “Easy, there, Gaby--yuh
shore ain’t gettin’ no thousand plunks er night for dancing yere--no,
Ma’am! Stan’ still a moment, Gaby.”

Then a spark flared up and the girls knew the cowboy had been rolling
a cigarette and was now lighting it.

“Sh!” breathed Dorothy. “Watch his face.”

The match flared up, held in the hollow of his hand. The yellow glare
of it fell full upon the cowboy’s face.

That was what Dorothy had waited for. She wanted to see what manner of
face it was before she spoke--_if_ she spoke at all.

It was a bronzed, beardless, rather reckless countenance; but there was
nothing bad in its expression, and if the features were not strikingly
handsome they were pleasant. The mouth and eyes laughed too easily,
perhaps; but Dorothy risked it. She walked right up to the pony’s
surprised head.

“Please!” she said.

The match went out. So did the spark of the cigarette, as it dropped
from the man’s fingers.

“Jerusha Juniper!” gasped the man. “I got ’em!”

“Will you please listen?” asked Dorothy.

“A gal--and a gal from back East--shore! Why, yes, Ma’am! I’ll listen
tuh yuh,” said the amazed cowboy.

Just then Tavia joined her chum and the man muttered: “There’s two on
’em--Jerusha Juniper!”

“Please help us, sir,” pleaded Dorothy again.

“I shore will, Miss,” declared the cowboy. “But yuh did tee-totally
sup-prise me--yes, Ma’am!”

Tavia began to giggle. “I guess you’re not used to meeting ladies
around here?” she questioned, saucily.

“Jerusha Juniper! I reckon we ain’t; not around here.”

“I didn’t know, for sure,” said the wicked Tavia; “hearing you take a
lady’s name in vain so frequently, you know. Is she a friend of yours?”

“Who, Ma’am?” asked the puzzled cowboy, while Dorothy tugged at Tavia’s
sleeve.

“‘Miss Jerusha Juniper’--or is she a ‘Mrs.’?”

The man laughed heartily at that and urged his pony nearer to the two
girls.

“We see so few females out here we hafter talk about ’em, and name
critters after ’em, and all that.”

“I see,” said Tavia, quite assured of herself now.

“Oh, dear!” interrupted Dorothy, anxiously. “All this isn’t getting us
anywhere.”

“Jeru---- Well!” said the man. “Where do yuh want tuh go?”

“Why, we’ve been left behind,” said Dorothy, and then she fully
explained their predicament.

The cowboy, who was a young fellow, grasped the situation at once.

“You won’t git even a slow train out o’ yere before noon to-morrer,” he
said. “And ’twixt now and then you’d be mighty uncomfortable, I reckon.
There ain’t nawthin’ yere but a boardin’ shack, an’ there ain’t a woman
ever stops thar only Miz’ Little, whose old man runs the shack and
keeps the corral yere.”

“Goodness!” gasped Dorothy.

“Gracious!” gasped Tavia.

“Oh, they’re nice folks, but they ain’t fixed right to entertain
ladies,” said the man.

“And we don’t want to be entertained,” wailed Dorothy. “We want to get
on.”

“Shore you do,” granted the cowboy. “No other good train on this
road, as I say. If you follered by slow trains you’d never catch that
flyer--not in a dawg’s age.”

“What _can_ we do, then?” demanded Dorothy. “Can’t we even telegraph?”

“Now, I’ll fix that for yuh, first of all,” declared the man. “The
operator lives at Little’s shack. We’ll rout him out and make him tell
your folks on that train that you’ll overtake ’em at Sessions.”

“But how can we?” asked Dorothy.

“Sessions is a junction of this line and the old D. & C. Yuh see, I
know this country pretty well. I’m over yere for the Double Chain
Outfit right now, shipping cows, and I was startin’ back to-morrer,
anyway. I’ll git you ladies ponies, and we’ll start for Killock
to-night.”

“Where’s Killock?” asked Dorothy, doubtfully.

The cowboy pointed vaguely across the prairie. “Right over
thar--that-a-way,” he said. “It’s on the D. & C. There’s a fast train
stops thar at five in the morning. If we make a pretty quick get-away
we’ll easy make it in time, and you’ll ketch your folks at Sessions.”

“Oh, that will be jolly!” cried Tavia.

“But, Tavia!” gasped Dorothy. “How can we ride--in these frocks?”

“Side saddle?” queried her chum, doubtfully. “Why not?”

“We’d never be able to hang on,” groaned Dorothy, “without a proper
riding habit!”

Here the cowboy interrupted. “There isn’t a lady’s saddle in this neck
o’ woods. But I can find easy mounts and easy saddles for you. An’ Miz’
Little will let you have skirts. You can send them back with the ponies
from Killock.”

“You think of everything!” exclaimed Tavia, gratefully.

Dorothy Dale was doubtful. She had trusted the man’s face and his
manner, still----

“Come on, now, to Miz’ Little,” said the cowboy, frankly. “I’ll rout
’em out and we’ll be on the jog in half an hour, ladies.”

The man’s free and familiar way troubled Dorothy more than anything
else. Yet, she knew that this was the West and that western ways were
not eastern ways. And there was a woman they could talk to, at least!

So she and Tavia, hand in hand, followed behind the cowboy. He had
dismounted, but the track would not allow of their walking abreast. And
he made as slow progress in his high-heeled riding boots as the girls
did, over the rough way.

Their eyes were more accustomed to the path now, or else it was not so
dark. However, they could not have mistaken the bulk of the cowboy and
that of the pony, before them.

It certainly was a strange experience. Two eastern girls thrown
suddenly into a situation of this character! An unknown protector, an
unknown locality, and unknown adventures before them.

“What an experience!” breathed the delighted Tavia. “And he’s a regular
knight.”

“Is he?”

“A knight of the lariat,” whispered Tavia. “It’s so romantic.”

“I am glad you like it,” said Dorothy, grimly.

“Why! don’t you, Dorothy Dale?”

“I would give a good deal to be back aboard that train with Aunt
Winnie.”

“Never!” cried Tavia.

“All right there, ladies?” threw back the “knight” over his shoulder.
“There’s the light ahead.”

“Oh! we are perfectly all right,” said Tavia, with assurance.

Dorothy was not at all sure, so she said nothing.

In a few minutes they came to a long, low building. There was a dim
light shining through a window in the end of the shack.

The cowboy dropped his pony’s bridle-rein upon the ground and the
well-trained animal stood still. The “knight” knocked on the door and
at once a fierce voice asked:

“Who’s thar?”

“Lance,” said the man.

“Well. I told you Number Eight was empty, Lance.”

“I ain’t goin’ to stay, Miz’ Little.”

“Aw-right,” pursued the same gruff voice, which the girls could
scarcely believe was a woman’s. “I’ll let the nex’ pilgrim thet comes
erlong have it.”

“I gotter see yuh,” said the cowboy. “Git up, will yuh?”

“What yuh want, Lance?”

“Come yere. Land’s sake! S’pose I’m talkin’ for pleasure?”

A couch squeaked. There was immediately a heavy footstep on the
creaking plank floor. The girls were rather startled. They wondered if
the savage sounding female was coming to the door just as she got out
of bed?

But “Miz’ Little” had evidently been lying down dressed. When the door
opened she was revealed in a shapeless dark gown. Only, her head and
feet were bare.

She was a gigantic creature--a good deal bigger than the cowboy who had
befriended the girls. Dorothy saw at once that she had a very kindly
face, despite her masculine appearance.

“I vow!” she said, starting. “Ladies with you, Lance?”

“Yep. And they want to git on to Killock to-night. They’ll tell you all
about it. I’m goin’ to rout out that thar key-pusher.”

“He’s in Number Six,” said Mrs. Little. Then to the girls: “Come in.
Gals are yere erbout as often as angels--an’ I ain’t never hearn
_their_ wings yit.”

Dorothy and Tavia entered--yet not without some hesitancy. The room was
large, and almost bare of furnishings. There was a broad bed, and on it
Mrs. Little had been lying. But there was no other occupant of it, or
of the room.

There was a small cookstove, a chest of drawers, a clock on the shelf,
and a picture of Washington crossing the Delaware on the wall. One
rocker had a tidy on the back of it, but the other plain deal chairs
were entirely undecorated.

The woman herself, however, drew Dorothy Dale’s attention. She was very
curious as to what manner of creature she could be--this masculine and
gruff spoken female.

In the lamplight Dorothy had a better view of Mrs. Little’s face. Mrs.
Little did not have a single pretty or attractive feature, but the girl
from the East would have trusted her with anything she possessed!

Mrs. Little looked closely into the faces of both girls. She saw
something shining in Dorothy’s eyes.

“Why, chile!” she gasped. “You ain’t re’lly afraid, be yuh?”

Dorothy seized the big, hard hand the woman put out to her. There was
help in that hand--and comfort. Tavia appeared not to care, but Dorothy
Dale knew that her chum was just as much disturbed in secret over the
situation as she was herself.

In rather a breathless way Dorothy told Mrs. Little of the
circumstances leading up to their predicament, and her new friend
listened sympathetically. “Don’t that beat all?” was her comment. “And
I expect your folks is scaret, too. But you do like Lance says----”

“Is Lance to be trusted, Mrs. Little?” asked Dorothy, eagerly.

“Lance? Shore! Ef you was both my darters I’d trust yuh with Lance.
Men is tuh be trusted with gals out yere. They hafter be. Wimmen is
scurce--homes air far apart--a lone woman has a claim on a man in the
wild places that she don’t have in cities. Shore!

“That’s what it is, Miss. It takes an out an’ out vilyun to be mean
to a woman or a gal w’en there ain’t a mite of protection for her
otherwise. Shore! Most western men, I ’low, air to be trusted.”

But Dorothy and Tavia thought of Philo Marsh, and took this broad
statement with a grain of salt. Or was it, that Mr. Marsh, even, would
have been chivalrous under the present conditions?

Dorothy was satisfied that the cowboy called Lance was a man to be
depended upon. She had really believed in him from the start; now she
believed even more in Mrs. Little, who stood sponsor for him.

Almost at once Lance reappeared with a sleepy man whom he had evidently
gotten out of bed.

“Write your message, Ma’am,” said the cowboy, “and this man will
send it. Make it re’l strong. We’ll ketch ’em at Sessions by noon
to-morrer. They kin stop over an’ wait a while for yuh.

“Their tickets will be good on the D. & C. I’ve often done it myself.
And yuh’ll all be in Dugonne to-morrer night, anyway, so it won’t
matter erbout your berth coupons.”

It was evident that Lance had traveled some and knew his way about. Now
he hurried away for the horses while Dorothy wrote the message to be
sent after the flying train. It was not yet an hour since Dorothy and
Tavia had left the observation car.

Fortunately Dorothy had her handbag with her, and the purse in it was
well supplied with money. She asked the operator to count the words of
the message, and paid him for it on the spot.

Meanwhile Mrs. Little had made coffee and she insisted upon the girls
having some and sampling her cake. When Lance came with the mounts he
was likewise regaled, standing in the doorway.

A chill wind was blowing off the prairie, but not a cloud was to be
seen. The sky was thickly speckled with stars.

“You’re going to have a right pleasant ride,” prophesied Mrs. Little,
producing two of her own voluminous skirts for the girls.

She helped them tuck up their own frocks neatly and arranged the skirts
about them after they were mounted.

“Everybody rides a-straddle out yere,” said the good lady, laughing.
“An’ yuh kin cling on better. Yuh got some ridin’ tuh do b’fore yuh
reach Killock. It’s fifty mile.

“Now, Lance, don’t yuh be reckless. Ef anythin’ happens tuh these gals
I’ll be in yuh wool, an’ no mistake!”

“Huh! nawthin’s goin’ tuh happen to them,” laughed Lance. “How erbout
_me_? I eat two slabs of that cake o’ yourn, Miz’ Little, an’ I expect
Gaby will bog right down with me inside of a mile, I’ll be so heavy.”

“Git erlong with yuh!” retorted Mrs. Little, used to the cowboys’ rough
jokes. “It’s better cake than that Chinaman makes you at the Double
Chain Outfit, I vow!”

After that they rode off into the night, with the “knight of the
lariat.”



CHAPTER VIII

THE NIGHT ADVENTURE CONTINUED


The little cavalcade had to cross the tracks and the crossing was
beside the telegraph office.

“I wonder if he has caught Aunt Winnie’s train yet?” said Dorothy,
aloud.

“We’ll see about that, Miss,” said Lance, the cowboy, and he pulled in
and shouted for the operator:

“Hey, Bill!”

The window opened and the frowsy head of the telegraph man appeared.

“Ketch Number Seventy yet?” asked the cowboy.

“Just. At Massapeke. Your folks has got your message by this time,
ladies.”

“Oh, thank you!” cried Dorothy.

“A thousand times,” added Tavia.

“Come on,” said Lance. “Goo’night, Bill!”

“Goo’night!” responded the operator, and slammed down the window.

They rattled over the crossing and then the ponies set into an easy
trot, led by the cowboy’s Gaby.

Dorothy Dale and Tavia Travers had both learned to ride when they were
much younger. Indeed, Tavia had learned to ride bareback upon the
horses left out to pasture around Dalton, in the days when she was a
regular tomboy.

The action of these cow ponies was easy, and the girls enjoyed the
strange ride during the first few miles, at least. They had ridden with
divided skirts at home; therefore their present position in the saddle
was not as strange to them as it might have been.

But there were fifty miles to travel when they left Mrs. Little’s. “It
looks like an awfully big contract,” admitted Tavia.

“Yuh ain’t got tuh look at it all tuh once, Miss,” said Lance,
good-naturedly. “Yuh take it mile by mile, an’ it ain’t so far.”

“That’s so,” declared Tavia. “I never thought of that.” Then to Dorothy
she whispered. “Isn’t he just splendid? And how sweetly he drawls his
words?”

“Now, Tavia!” gasped Dorothy. “If you don’t behave yourself----”

“Why, I am!” cried Tavia. “I think you are too particular for anything,
Doro. Didn’t that large _Little_ lady tell us he was perfectly all
right?”

Dorothy was being jounced around too much just then to make reply. But
she saw that Tavia had recovered completely from her “scare” and was
looking for mischief.

Out on the open prairie the stars gave light enough for the girls to
see Lance better. The track was broader, too, and the trio continued
on, side by side, the cowboy riding between the two girls.

Lance was not a bad looking young man at all. Dorothy began to realize,
too, that he was nowhere near as old as she had at first supposed. His
out of door life had given him that air of maturity.

So, it troubled Dorothy when she saw that Tavia was determined to
“buzz” the cowboy.

“Are you a really, truly cowboy?” the irrepressible asked, demurely.

“Well, yuh might call me that, Ma’am, though I wasn’t borned to it like
some of these old-timers yuh’ll meet out yere.”

“Then you are not a native of the West?”

“Now you’ve said something, Ma’am. I come from back East; but t’was
quite some time ago--believe me!”

“You must have been very young when you came out here--to seek your
fortune, I suppose?” pursued Tavia.

“Tuh git cl’ar of my old man’s strap,” chuckled Lance. “He and I didn’t
hitch wuth a cent. But he was a good old feller at that.”

“And you never went back?” asked Dorothy, becoming interested herself.

“Never got the time for it. Yuh see, Miss, it does seem as though a man
never gets caught up with his work. That’s so!”

“I should think you’d be homesick--want to see your folks,” the
insistent Tavia said.

“Jerusha Juniper! My fam’bly was right glad to git shet of me, I
reckon; all but my mother. But I reckon she’s too old to travel out
yere, an’, as I say, it’s hard for a man like me to git time and money
both together for a vacation. I ’low I’d like to see the ol’ lady right
well,” he concluded.

Scarcely had he spoken when a rattle of ponies’ hoofs behind them
startled their own spirited mounts. The ponies tried to “break” and
run, too, as they heard the rat-tat-tat of the hoofs approaching.

“Whoa, thar, Gaby!” commanded Lance. “Ain’t yuh got a bit o’ sense?”
Then to Dorothy and Tavia he shouted: “Pull hard on them bits, ladies.
They got mouths like sheet-iron--an’ that ain’t no dream!”

The girls pulled their ponies in, as instructed. As they did so two
other ponies appeared beside them in the trail. The girls from the East
could identify the riders as a man and a girl.

“Jerusha Juniper!” yelled Lance, stopping Gaby from bolting with some
difficulty and swinging her across the path of the eastern girls’
mounts, so as to halt them. “Jerusha Juniper! what yuh tryin’ tuh do?
Comin’ cavortin’ along the trail this a-way?”

“Is that you, Lance?” asked the man.

“It shore is--an’ two ladies,” said the cow-puncher, proudly.

“Don’t tell ’em we come this way, Lance,” called a shriller voice,
which Dorothy knew must belong to the girl, as the couple passed and
urged their ponies to a gallop.

“Jerusha Juniper! is it you, Colt--and you, Molly Crater? I’ll be
blessed! Tell on yuh? Reckon not--ef Colt’s fin’lly got up his spunk
tuh take yuh right from under the ol’ man’s nose, Molly.”

“Oh! what is it?” cried Tavia.

Lance began to laugh--and he laughed loudly, sagging from side to side
in his saddle.

“’Scuse me, Ma’am!” he finally got breath to say. “But ef that ain’t
th’ beatenes’!”

“Maybe it is,” said Tavia, with sarcasm. “But until you are a little
more explicit, Mr. Lance, I don’t see how we can join in your hilarity.”

“Ain’t it so?” drawled Lance, still bubbling over with laughter.

“Do be still, Tavia!” exclaimed Dorothy, admonishingly. “Give Mr.
Lance a chance to tell us.”

“And that I shore will do,” chuckled the cowboy, as they jogged on
again. “I plumb believe the whole county will laugh to-morrer--that is,
if Colt carries it through.”

“Carries _what_ through?” demanded Tavia, sharply.

“Did yuh see that feller an’ gal?” began Lance, in his slow drawl.
“That thar is Jim Colt and Peleg Crater’s darter, Molly. Peleg’s a
pizen critter as ever was; but Molly’s jest as sweet an’ purty as a May
mawnin’--an’ that’s goin’ _some_.

“Wal, this here Jim Colt has been sparkin’ on Molly for a dawg’s
age--yes, Ma’am! That pizen critter, Peleg, done drove him off his
farm--Peleg’s a nestor--time an’ time ag’in. Ain’t a single livin’
thing the matter with the boy; but Peleg don’t wanter lose his
housekeeper. Works that Molly gal like a reg’lar slave.

“Wal! the last time, I hear, Peleg chased Colt with a shotgun, and
purt’ nigh blowed the boy as full of holes as a colander.”

“How awful!” gasped Dorothy.

“What larks!” was Tavia’s comment.

“Guess the smell o’ powder sort o’ put spunk intuh Colt. He’s got th’
gal tuh-night and they’re racin’ for a parson.”

“To get married?” cried Dorothy.

“An elopement?” was Tavia’s delighted cry.

“Shorest thing you know,” agreed Lance.

“My! I’d like to see them married,” cried Tavia.

“And is her father following them, do you suppose, Mr. Lance?” asked
Dorothy Dale, anxiously.

“Ef he knows they’ve started you kin bet he’s after ’em--hot foot!
Unless Colt throwed an’ tied him fust,” added Lance.

“Mercy! is that somebody coming behind us now?” asked Tavia, delighted
at this entirely new source of interest.

But this was a false alarm. The three did ride faster, however,
although Lance warned the girls that the distance to Killock was too
far for them to hurry the ponies much.

“These yere cayuses air all tuh th’ good,” declared the cowboy. “But
there ain’t no use in runnin’ their leetle legs off right now. Somebody
else may wanter use ’em after we git through.”

“But that eloping couple were tearing away as fast as they could go,”
complained Tavia.

“I ’low a shotgun in the rear will make a man ride fast,” chuckled
Lance.

“Aren’t they going to the same town we are?” asked Tavia.

“Killock? No, Ma’am! There’s Parson Hedwith at Branch Coulie--Jerusha
Juniper! I bet they ain’t even goin’ thar,” ejaculated Lance, with
revived interest. “Hop erlong, Gaby! Push on, ladies. Ef yuh wanter see
thet thar marriage, mebbe we kin make it, after all. I bet they air
bound for Bill Whistler’s.”

“Who is he?” asked Tavia. “Somebody like the blacksmith at Gretna
Green?”

“Never hearn tell of _him_, Ma’am; an’ a blacksmith ain’t qualified
tuh marry in this state. But Bill Whistler is. He’s just been made a
Justice of the Peace.”

“A ‘Squire’!” cried Tavia. “So’s my father.”

“Wal, then, Ma’am; you know he kin marry as slick as airy parson,” said
Lance. “It’s for his house Colt and Molly air aimin’, I ’low.”

“Oh, Mr. Lance!” cried Dorothy Dale, enthusiastic herself now, “is Mr.
Whistler’s house on this road?”

“It shore is.”

“Can’t we stop and see them married?”

“That’s what I was thinkin’ on,” declared the cowboy. “I was ’lowin’ to
give the ponies a rest there, anyway. And we’ll need it ourselves.”

“Let’s hurry!” cried Tavia. “Maybe we can catch up with that girl.”

The trio hastened forward. The girls were somewhat tired of riding, for
they had already been in the saddle two hours, but this new topic of
interest made them forget their weariness for the time.

A light suddenly flashed up on the prairie ahead. “That’s in Bill’s
winder,” declared Lance. “Colt and the gal have got thar.”

“Oh, _do_ let’s hurry!” cried Tavia.

In their enthusiasm the girls urged on their little steeds. The ponies
quite took the bits away from Dorothy and Tavia during the last half
mile of the run, and they tore up to the low, slab-built house at a
rattling pace.

There was some disturbance in the house, and the door opened but a
crack. The window had already been shuttered.

“Who’s thar?” demanded a falsetto voice.

“It’s Lance, tell ’em, Bill,” called out the cowboy. “Hold back the
ceremony a minute. These yere young ladies from the East wants ter
stand up with Molly, and if Colt wants a best man, why, I reckon I kin
fill the bill. That’ll make a grand, proper weddin’.”

“Come in,” said the falsetto voice. “And bar the door behind yuh. I
un’erstan’ this yere is a hasty job. They say Peleg’s on the trail
behind ’em.”

Lance was already helping Dorothy and Tavia to dismount. They were as
excited as they could be.

“It’s just as though we were being chased by Indians, and this was a
blockhouse,” whispered Tavia to her chum.

The cowboy hustled the three ponies around to the shed back of the
house. Then he ran back and followed the girls into the open door,
shutting it quickly and dropping the bar into place.

“Shoot, Bill!” exclaimed the cowboy. “We’re all ready, I reckon.”

The girls were amazed at the appearance of the Justice of the Peace.
He was a huge man with bushy red whiskers which looked as though they
would fill a half-bushel measure. And the tiny, shrill, falsetto voice
that came from his mouth when he opened it, almost set Tavia into
hysterics.

“Stand up yere--git in line,” said the Justice, fishing out a book from
behind a littered couch. “I’ll marry yuh as tight and fast as airy
parson in the county.”

At the very moment he was beginning there came from without the thunder
of advancing hoofs. Everybody heard it. Molly Crater grabbed the
bridegroom (who was a good-looking young fellow) by the arm, and sang
out:

“It’s pap and the sheriff!”

The next moment the horses arrived, and there came a thunderous knock
on the door of the slab house.



CHAPTER IX

WHAT FOLLOWED AN ELOPEMENT


“Take my gun, Lance, and stand at the door,” commanded the solemn,
bewhiskered Justice. “Ain’t nobody gwine tuh disturb this court while
in th’ puffawmance of its duty. No, sir!

“Git busy, folks! Ketch holt of han’s,” and he proceeded to read
through the form made and provided for such occasions by the State
Judiciary, while Mr. Peleg Crater continued to hammer at the door.

Dorothy and Tavia marveled at the courage of Molly Crater, who actually
responded to the questions in unshaken voice while her angry father
shouted threats outside.

“Now, by jinks!” exclaimed the Justice, throwing down the book and
saluting the bride with a kiss like the crack of a bullwhip, “yuh air
tied hard an’ fast. Le’s see ol’ Peleg untie yuh.”

“He’s got a gun,” said the cowpuncher warningly, at the door. “Ef he
blows Colt’s head off the knot will be purty well busted--what?”

“Wal, I’ll lend Jim my gun,” said the philosophic Justice. “Then let
’em go to it.”

“No, sir-ree!” exclaimed the newly made Mrs. Colt. “I won’t have my
husband and my father a-shooting at one another.”

“Peleg means business, Molly,” said Lance.

“So do I,” declared the bride. “I’d leave Jim right now ef he aimed a
gun at pap. Just as I left pap ’cause he shot at Jim.”

Dorothy and Tavia were badly frightened. These people talked of the use
of lethal weapons in a most barbarous way. Even Tavia began to think
the West was more uncivilized than it was romantic.

“That’s a good, strong door,” squealed the bewhiskered Whistler. “And
the window shutters are bullet-proof. We kin stand a siege. I got a
cyclone cellar, too.”

“But _we_ can’t stay here!” cried Dorothy, in great distress.

“That is so, Doro. We have to catch that train,” agreed Tavia.

“There’s more’n one train stops at Killock, Miss,” said Molly Colt,
_nee_ Crater, to Dorothy Dale. “And pap will git tired and go away.”

“Nop,” said Lance, the cowboy. “I promised to git these ladies to
Killock in time for the mawnin’ train, an’ I’m goin’ ter do it, or bust
er leg!”

“And it’s after midnight now,” said Dorothy, looking at her watch.

“Yuh’ll hafter slip out the back way, git yuh ponies, an’ scoot,”
advised Whistler through his whiskers.

“We’ll all light out that way,” said young Colt.

“But we don’t wanter get these girls in any trouble,” said Mrs. Colt.

“We’ll leave ’em at once. Make for Branch Coulie. That’ll toll your pap
off _their_ trail,” said her husband of five minutes.

Dorothy Dale, although she was much frightened by the situation, did
not lose her presence of mind. “Why don’t you and your husband stay
here, Mrs. Colt?” she said, clinging to the older girl’s hand. “_You_
remain in the house--or in this cellar Mr. Whistler speaks of, while
Mr. Lance and Tavia and I slip out at the back and get away. Your
father will think we are you.”

“That idea is as good as gold,” declared Lance, admiringly. “What the
little lady says goes, Bill. You agreed, Jim?”

“And me, too,” said Molly Colt, when her husband nodded.

“Go to it,” squealed Whistler in his funny voice.

Tavia nudged Dorothy, and whispered: “You’re crazy! you’ll get us
shot.”

“Not a bit,” said Lance, quickly, hearing her. “Our ponies are as fresh
as can be now, while Peleg’s is clean tuckered out. He’s traveled
already three times as fur as we have--and he ain’t been savin’
horseflesh, nuther, the state of mind he’s in. Believe me!”

“But the sheriff?” asked Tavia. “Won’t he arrest us?”

“If he wants my vote nex’ year,” shrilled Whistler, “he won’t
interfere. He’s only along to see fair play, I reckon.”

“Come on, then,” cried Lance.

“I’ll keep Peleg at the door. Colt, you an’ Molly slip inter the
cellar,” commanded the Justice of the Peace. “Peleg will hear Lance and
these young ladies after they git started, and I’ll sick him ontuh yuh.
He wouldn’t ketch yuh in a week o’ Sundays--an’ I never seed that week
come around yit.”

The girls from the East had only time to kiss Molly Colt good-bye and
wish her happiness, when Lance hurried them out of the back door of the
slab house. They were both keyed up with excitement, but Lance did not
realize how troubled they were as he lifted them onto their respective
ponies, after cinching the saddles again.

“All ready?” whispered the cowboy. “Then we’ll start. I’ll ride behind.
If the old goose does any shooting he’ll aim at me, anyway--and none
o’ these nestors kin shoot wuth a hang. You can see the trail, ladies?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Dorothy.

They rode out quietly, skirting a group of sheds, and struck into the
trail. The ponies were well under way before the angry farmer heard
them.

“He’s fell for it!” cried the cowboy. “Jerusha Juniper! Here he comes.
Let ’em out, ladies. The ponies is fresh as jackrabbits.”

For perhaps two miles they heard the farmer hooting and yelling behind
them. But he did not shoot. Then the sounds of his pursuit abruptly
ended. The ‘nestor’ had given up the chase.

“I hope he’ll not find his daughter and her husband until he gets over
his mad fit,” said Dorothy, anxiously.

“That mean man would never be decent,” said Tavia. “But wasn’t it
exciting?”

“Colt’s goin’ to take Molly a fur ways off,” said the cowboy. “Old
Peleg will have plenty of time to simmer down afore he sees airy of ’em
again.”

They rode on through the night and after a time Lance left the regular
trail. Dorothy was a bit worried by this move and asked him why.

“Isn’t there a chance of our getting lost, Mr. Lance?”

“No, Ma’am. This trail goes a roundabout way, and we can cut off nigh
ten miles by striking right ’cross country. If there was high water we
couldn’t do it, but the streams are nigh dry.”

“It looks so dark,” said Tavia. “How can you ever find the way?”

Then he showed them the North Star and other planets and combinations
of stars by which the plainsman casts his course at night, as the
sailor does at sea.

They came to several water-courses, unbridged; the ponies splashed
through the shallow water, and then broke into their easy gallop again.

Dawn came, tripping over the prairie behind them, soon catching and
passing the three riders, and rushing on to lighten the deep shadows of
the mountains far, far in advance. All night these mountains had masked
the western horizon like a threatening cloud.

Dorothy had dreamed of sunrise on the prairie; but she had not supposed
it half so wonderful as it was!

The hem of Dawn’s garment was tinged with opal light, which quickly
changed to faint pink--then deep rose--then an angry saffron which
spread like a prairie fire all along the eastern horizon.

She could not help looking back at it to the detriment of her riding.
But her pony was surefooted, and she came to no harm.

The glow increased. They were bathed in the light, and quickly the
first level rays of the sun chased their own elongated shadows over the
ground. There sprang into view ahead, as they cantered over a small
rise, several sharply sparkling objects.

“What _are_ they?” cried Tavia.

“Them’s winders in Killock,” said Lance. “We’ll soon be there--and in
plenty of time for your train, Miss.”

“Oh, Mr. Lance,” Dorothy said, gratefully, “I don’t know how we can
thank you for your kindness.”

“Don’t say a word--don’t say a word,” urged their knight of the lariat.
“We know how to treat ladies out yere, I reckon. An’ I ain’t done a
thing tuh be thanked for.”

“Are you going on with us to Sessions?” Dorothy asked him.

“I can’t rightly do so,” said the cowboy. “I got to ’tend to some
business for my boss here in Killock.”

“Oh! I am so sorry,” said Dorothy. “I want you to meet my Aunt Winnie
and my cousins.”

“Mebbe I’ll see yuh at Dugonne--later,” said Lance, bashfully. “The
Double Chain Outfit ain’t far from there.”

Dorothy had money enough left to buy tickets to Sessions for herself
and Tavia. Lance refused to take anything for the use of the ponies.
As the train hooted in the distance for its brief stop at Killock, the
girls hugged the ponies, and Tavia kissed Gaby plumb upon her soft nose.

“She’s a dear, Mr. Lance!” she cried. “I hope I shall see her again.”

“You’ll see her if yuh see me,” declared the cowpuncher. “Where I go
Gaby goes, too, you bet!”

They shook hands with the good-natured man and scurried aboard the
cars. As they found a seat on the side away from the station, Dorothy
clutched Tavia’s arm.

“Look at that man, Tavia!” she whispered, pointing through the window.

The person to whom Dorothy drew her chum’s attention was stealing out
of the bushes beside the tracks. He was a gray-haired man, with a Grand
Army hat, although the head-covering was battered and torn. He wore a
ragged blue coat, too, and Dorothy had identified the button he wore on
the lapel of the disreputable coat.

He was an unshaven and altogether unhappy looking object; but that
button assured Major Dale’s bright eyed daughter, that the poor old
creature was a Veteran.

“What do you suppose he is doing here?” gasped Dorothy. “Oh! the poor
old man!”

The car wheels began to turn again. The train had halted for only
a minute. They saw the man hobble across the tracks, and seize the
railing as their car passed him. It was plain to the girls that he
meant to steal a ride upon the fast train.

“Oh! he’ll be killed,” gasped Dorothy, half rising from her seat.

“Sit down, Doro Dale!” exclaimed Tavia. “If you tell anybody, he’ll be
put off.”

Dorothy was greatly troubled. She never saw a Grand Army man without
being interested in him. And she had never seen one before who so
looked like a tramp.

“That worries me,” said Dorothy Dale, the tears standing in her
beautiful eyes. “I fear that poor man will fall off the steps of the
car.”

“I am afraid the brakeman will see him and put him off at the first
stop,” retorted Tavia. “And we haven’t money enough to pay his fare.”

“Goodness! No!” cried Dorothy. “I have less than a dollar left in my
purse.”

“And of course, I have no money at all. I never _do_ have,” groaned the
reckless Tavia.

“After the conductor goes through the car,” whispered Dorothy, seeing
the man in question coming down the aisle, “I am going to steal back
there and see if the poor old creature really _did_ get upon the steps
outside the vestibule door.”



CHAPTER X

THE MAN WHO WOULD HAVE DIED INDOORS


The conductor seemed a jolly man, and he took a fatherly interest in
Dorothy and Tavia, having a daughter about their age at home, so he
said. Yet Dorothy did not feel like telling him about the old tramp
whom she and Tavia had seen attempting to board the train.

“You see, the conductor has his rules to go by,” explained Dorothy,
“and we couldn’t expect him to break them for _us_. I wish we had money
to pay the fare of the poor old creature.”

“You don’t really know, Dorothy Dale, whether the man is on the step,
or not,” urged Tavia.

“I’m going to find out,” pronounced her chum, with decision.

She left her seat, following the conductor slowly to the end of the
car. Ostensibly she went for a drink, but the moment the blue-coated
official had passed through to the next car, Dorothy went out into the
vestibule. The brakeman chanced to be out of sight at the moment.

The doors on the “off” side of the vestibule were locked, but Dorothy
could peer through the glass. Directly beneath her she could see the
broken top of the old army hat.

“He’s there!” gasped Dorothy, running back to Tavia. “Whatever shall we
do about it?”

“I wish Lance was here,” said her friend. “He’d know what to do.”

“We can’t have men-folk around to help us out of all our troubles,”
sniffed Dorothy.

“This isn’t trouble,” declared Tavia. “It’s really nothing to us----”

“But suppose the poor man should fall off?”

“We’re anxious for nothing, I wager,” said Tavia. “He is probably used
to riding on car steps.”

“It’s such a narrow place,” groaned Dorothy. “He can’t more than cling
to it. Oh! here’s a curve!”

They whirled around this corner and then over a long trestle that
crossed a placid river. When the train _did_ stop the girls did not see
the tramp get off. All the stations chanced to be on the other side, as
Killock had been.

The peril of the man whom Dorothy believed to be a fellow-soldier with
her own father, Major Dale, was the uppermost topic in Dorothy’s mind
and conversation. Tavia began to have another, and more personal,
worry.

“I could eat a planked steak--plank and all!--right now,” said the
flyaway. “Dear me, Doro! I wish your purse was like the widow’s cruse,
and never gave out. There’s a buffet car on, too.”

They had to satisfy their appetites for the time being by buying some
fruit from the train boy. But this was a poor substitute for planked
steak--or any other hearty viand.

“I hope Aunt Winnie and Ned and Nat will wait for us at Sessions, as I
asked them,” sighed Dorothy.

“If they don’t, _we’ll_ have to steal a ride,” said Tavia, quickly.
“Ned has our tickets, you know.”

But _that_ was not a real worry. Dorothy was pretty sure her aunt and
the boys would do just as she had asked them to do. What was happening
outside that car, on the rear step, was a matter (so she thought) for
real anxiety!

A dozen times she went back to peer through the window in the vestibule
door and caught a glimpse of the top of the battered Grand Army hat.

Perhaps she went once too often--for the contentment of the old man
who was cheating the railroad company of a fare. Or, it may have been
in some other manner that the brakeman’s attention was called to the
presence of the stowaway on the step. For he was discovered before the
train reached the junction, at eleven o’clock, where Dorothy and Tavia
were to leave the train.

The conductor had been through again and talked to them, and they had
learned when and where to look for the station. Other passengers were
already getting their baggage out of the racks, and putting on their
light wraps.

Suddenly the two friends heard a disturbance at the end of the car.
Tavia jumped up and looked back.

“Oh, Doro!” she cried, in a horrified tone, “they have him!”

Dorothy turned quickly and saw the brakeman drag the old tramp into the
car and fling him into an end seat.

“How rough he is!” gasped Tavia, referring to the railroad employee.

Dorothy darted down the aisle. She would have interfered had the
conductor not come at once and taken charge.

“On the step, eh? Well! he took his life in his hands,” grumbled the
conductor. “Give him a drink of water, John. I expect he’s famished for
it--chewing grit as he has been since we started.”

“Oh! what will you do with him?” cried Dorothy, clutching at the
conductor’s sleeve.

“Nothing very bad, little lady,” assured the conductor, smiling at her.
“We’ll hand him over to the railroad police at Sessions. They’ll take
him to court.”

“Oh! must he be punished?”

“I am afraid so. The company’s pretty strict. He’s been stealing a ride
and the magistrate will send him to the rockpile for that.”

“But he’s such an old man--and he’s a soldier,” whispered Dorothy,
pointing to the button on the lapel of the old coat.

The conductor started and looked more closely. “It’s a Grand Army
button--sure enough,” he muttered. Then he looked into the soot-lined
face of the man and shook his head.

“Stole it, most likely,” was his comment, and went on through the car.

Dorothy did not believe that. The man’s eyes were dull, and it was
evident that he was much exhausted. A traveling-man came up and offered
him a drink from his pocket-flask. Dorothy was sorry to see how eagerly
the trembling old hands went out for the spirits.

Soon color returned to the flabby cheeks, and a certain look of
confidence to the old eyes, after the tramp had imbibed the liquor.

He was kept in the seat until the train stopped at the Sessions
platform. Then, as the girls hurried out to find their friends, Dorothy
saw the old man with the Grand Army button being taken off the car by
two policemen in plain clothes.

“Dorothy Dale!”

“Tavia Travers!”

Two lusty shouts greeted the girls the moment they showed themselves
upon the steps of the car. Ned and Nat White burst through the crowd
outside and seized upon the two girls as they descended.

“Glory!” yelled Nat. “I could pound you girls, I’m so glad to see you.
You had us scared stiff. And Little Mum will never get over it.”

“Not so bad as that,” rejoined his brother. “But you girls certainly
managed to give us all a scare. I’d just as soon travel with two kids
as with you graduates of Glenwood School.”

“Now, Neddie,” advised Tavia, “don’t put on airs.”

“We’re real sorry, boys,” admitted Dorothy. “But that old train went
off and left us without saying one word!”

“I should think it did,” answered Ned. “And what business had you off
of it?”

“It wasn’t we that went off,” declared Tavia. “It was the train that
went off.”

“Where have you been all this time?” asked Nat. “How did you get _here_
by an entirely different road? And who helped you?”

“Oh, there! now you’ve said something,” cried Tavia. “Just the very
nicest young man. A cattle puncher by trade, and we rode fifty miles
with him, and saw a Mrs. Little of gigantic size, and helped a young
woman and her lover elope, and witnessed the ceremony while her father
battered at the door and threatened to blow all our heads off--and were
chased by the angry father thinking _we_ were the elopers, and----”

“Stop her! stop her!” shouted Nat. “I know you girls can collect
adventures as a magnet does steel filings, but you are going too far
now. An elopement! and an angry father with a gun----”

“And our Grand Army man!” cried Dorothy, suddenly. “Where is he? We
must do something to help him.”

“That’s so, Doro,” agreed Tavia. “We must find him.”

“Now they’re off again!” groaned Nat, looking helplessly at his brother.

“Where is Aunt Winnie?” demanded Dorothy, suddenly.

“She is at the hotel. And she’s gone to bed,” said Ned, gloomily. “You
girls will give Little Mum the conniptions, if you’re not careful. She
was awfully worried.”

“But you got our telegram?” cried Dorothy.

“Sure. But it read a good deal like the Irish foreman’s message to the
widow of his fellow-countryman suddenly killed in the stone quarry:
‘Don’t worry about Pat. He’s only lost both legs and one arm; and if it
wasn’t that his head was cut off, too, he’d be as good as ever.’ Your
telegram gave just enough particulars to worry mother.”

“We’ll run and show her we are all right,” cried Tavia.

But Dorothy held back. Her eyes were fixed upon the ragged figure of
the old tramp being led out of the station by the two policemen.

“Do you see that poor fellow, Ned?” she whispered. “He wears a Grand
Army button--like father.”

“That tramp?” gasped Ned.

“Yes. But maybe he isn’t really a tramp. Only he stole a ride clear
from Killock,” and she hastily told her cousins about the stowaway
on the steps of the car. “And Ned!” added Dorothy Dale, “I want to
save him from punishment. They are going to take him before the
magistrate--and the conductor says the magistrate will send him to
jail.”

“I expect so,” said Ned, slowly.

“Come, Ned!” exclaimed the girl, anxiously, shaking him by the sleeve.
“Let Nat take Tavia to Aunt Winnie, and you come to court with me.
Maybe we can help the poor old man. A Grand Army man, Ned!”

Ned White knew that there was no stopping his cousin when she had
“taken the bit in her teeth.” And here was a case where she was
greatly moved.

Nobody could gain Dorothy Dale’s sympathy like a Grand Army man. Ned
merely shrugged his shoulders and went with her, while Nat and Tavia
started in the other direction.

“Remember we go on the one o’clock train,” shouted Nat after them.

Dorothy and her cousin quickly caught up with the railroad police and
their captive.

“Oh, please, sir!” cried Dorothy, to one of the officers, who had a
very kind face, “where are you taking him?”

“Hello, Miss!” exclaimed the policeman, taking off his hat. “Are you
interested in this old chap?”

Dorothy told him why, and how. “Oh!” said the railroad man, “I didn’t
know but you knew him. He’s got to go to court, anyway.”

“Right away?” asked the girl, breathlessly.

“That’s where we are taking him, Miss,” said the other officer.

“May we go with you?”

“Of course you may. And if you want to say a good word for the old
fellow to Judge Abbott, I’ll fix it so you can,” he added.

“That is _so_ kind of you!” Dorothy said. “You see, he is a Grand Army
man.”

“Mebbe he stole the button, Miss,” growled one of the police.

Dorothy turned swiftly to the prisoner. His old face was drawn and
haggard. Dorothy put her finger upon the button on the frayed lapel of
his coat.

“Where did you get that, sir?” she asked.

Almost instantly the dull eyes brightened. The sagging chin came up and
the old shoulders were squared.

“It belongs to me, Miss,” he said, in a broken voice. “I am an army
man--oh, yes! Thank you. I--I been in the Home; but I couldn’t stay
indoor. So--so I ran away.”

“Ran away!” gasped Dorothy. “And where were you running to?”

“To the great out-of-doors,” whispered the old man. “I always lived in
the open. I prospected, and I hunted, and I worked--all through these
hills,” and he pointed westward.

“I suppose I did wrong in beating my way on the cars. But I’ve often
done it,” confessed the old man. “I had no money for carfare. My
pension’s turned over to the Home as is only right, I s’pose. But I got
to get out into the open, or die!”

The two railroad police looked at each other, grimly. “What do you know
about that?” one muttered. Dorothy was frankly crying.

[Illustration: “OUGHT HE TO BE A PRISONER WITH THAT BUTTON ON HIS
COAT?” CRIED DOROTHY. _Dorothy Dale in the West Page 101_]



CHAPTER XI

AT DUGONNE AT LAST


“You see, Miss,” said one of the officers, “we got to take him to
court. It’s as much as our job’s worth to let him go.”

“We’ll all go along,” said Ned, firmly. “Maybe the judge will be kind
to him.”

“But they’ve got a bad law in this town,” said the other officer,
shaking his head.

“What kind of a law?” asked Ned, quickly.

“In regard to vagrants. It’s three months on the stone pile, or with
ball and chain. No getting out of it, unless the prisoner has money
enough to buy a ticket that will take him fifty miles away, on one road
or the other.”

“Why! that is barbarous!” exclaimed Dorothy.

“Dunno about that, Ma’am; but it’s the municipal ordinance.”

“Oh! the judge of the court must have _some_ power,” cried Dorothy. “Do
let me talk to him.”

The magistrate’s court was not far distant. Ned felt rather peculiar
as he climbed the stairs in company with the prisoner and officers,
holding Dorothy’s hand in the crook of his arm. There were some pretty
rough looking characters on the stairs and hanging about the door of
the magistrate’s court. But Ned and Dorothy pushed on in the wake of
the railroad police and their prisoner.

Dorothy sympathized so deeply with the old man who had escaped from
the discipline and routine of the Soldiers’ Home, that she paid little
attention to her surroundings.

The courtroom was long, and ugly, and bare. The man sitting at the high
desk at the end of the room, Dorothy knew, must be the magistrate. He
was a young, smoothly shaven man, dressed very fashionably, and with a
flower in his buttonhole. That flower was the single bright spot in all
the somber place.

The railroad policeman looked knowingly at Dorothy, and she went
forward with Ned. They were both allowed inside the railing. One of the
officers spoke in a low tone to the magistrate, and the latter glanced
interestedly at Dorothy.

Although Dorothy Dale had been traveling night and day for some time,
she was too attractive a girl to lose all her bonny appearance under
_any_ circumstances.

The magistrate listened to the railroad detective. Then he called the
poor old man to the bar.

“What is your name?” asked the magistrate.

“John Dempsey, your honor.”

“Without a home in this county, and no visible means of support, the
officer says--is that right?”

“I--I--Yes, your honor.”

“And found riding on the train without a ticket?”

“I was, your honor.”

“Why? Why did you do it?”

“Sure, your honor, they treat me well enough at the Home; but I want to
get out in the open. It’s stifled I am become by four walls.”

“But that does not explain away the fact that you stole a ride upon the
complainant’s train?” said the magistrate, sternly.

Dorothy looked up at him pleadingly. John Dempsey was silent; he could
not plead his own cause in speech as eloquent as Dorothy’s eyes pleaded
for him! Judge Abbott beckoned the young girl to step up beside him.

“I understand you wish to speak in the prisoner’s behalf?” said the
magistrate.

“Oh, Judge! ought he to be a prisoner with that button on his coat?”
cried Dorothy Dale, impulsively. “He is an old Veteran--a man who
fought for our country. I am sure Mr. Dempsey is a good man. _Don’t_
punish him, Judge!”

“But, my dear young lady, how can I help it? He has committed a
misdemeanor. He must either be sent to jail, or he must produce his
fare out of town--and fifty miles out of town, at that!”

“Oh, sir! can’t somebody else pay his fare?” asked Dorothy, anxiously.

“Surely, Miss. Are you prepared to do so?”

“No, sir, not now. But I will take him away on the one o’clock train--I
will indeed.”

“Very well. Sentence suspended. Paroled in _your_ care,” added the
judge to one of the railroad officers. “You have him at the station in
season for the train, and the young lady will be responsible for his
fare.”

Dorothy thanked him, but went eagerly to the prisoner.

“Where do you want to go, sir?” she asked.

“I--I--Well, Miss, it don’t so much matter as long as I git to _go_. I
want to reach the hills.”

“You shall go with us as far as Dugonne, at least,” said Dorothy,
impulsively. “I’m sure we can find something for him to do at the
Hardin place, Ned?” she added, turning to her cousin.

Ned was more than a little startled by this. Things were moving rather
too fast for him. But he managed to say:

“You--you’ll have to settle that with the mater, Dot.” But then he
whispered: “What can an old fellow like him do on a ranch?”

“That’s all right,” Dorothy returned. “We’ll make him _think_ he can do
something.”

“You do beat all!” gasped her cousin, with astonishment.

Dorothy shook hands with the judge, and with the railroad officers, and
with John Dempsey. She scattered the sunshine of her smiles all about
the dingy court room, and things seemed to brighten up for everybody.

Then she hurried with Ned to the hotel where Aunt Winnie was waiting.

“My dear girl!” said that good lady. “How you have worried me. And
Tavia’s account of your adventures have not served to relieve our
anxiety--much. Going to court with a tramp----”

“Not a tramp, Auntie!” interposed Dorothy Dale. “He is one of father’s
old comrades. He is a Veteran.”

“I hope so. I hope you have not been imposed upon. But it will cost
money----”

“You told me,” said Dorothy, earnestly, “that when we got to the Hardin
place you’d buy a pony for my very own use. Take that money and pay
John Dempsey’s fare. I don’t need a pony.”

Aunt Winnie kissed her. “My dear girl! I am afraid your sympathy will
often lead you astray,” she said. “But you will stray in kindly paths.
I do not believe there will be much serious harm for you that way.”

“What do you think of _me_?” broke in Tavia. “I am always going astray,
too. At least, so they all tell me.”

“Your heart is all right, my dear Octavia,” said Mrs. White, smiling,
“but it is your head that leads _you_ astray,” she added, not unkindly.

They all went to the railroad station in good season, and there found
the policeman and old John Dempsey waiting for them. The good-natured
officer had improved the old man’s appearance considerably by having
his clothing brushed and finding him the means for washing. Dempsey had
likewise been fed.

He was a brown-faced, blue-eyed man of nearly seventy. The blue eyes
had, perhaps, a wandering look, and the muscles about the old man’s
mouth had weakened, but otherwise he was sturdy looking.

He saluted Dorothy when she hurried toward him, but took off his hat to
Mrs. White.

“’Tis a pity, Ma’am,” he said, to the lady, “that you do be troubled by
such as me. But I’m fair desp’rit! I’d take charity from anybody to git
back into the open once more.

“They’ve hived me up in four walls till it’s fair mad they’ve made me.
I might strike it rich yet, out in the hills, an’ pay ye for----”

“Oh, don’t you worry about that,” said Mrs. White, kindly. “I am sure
we can find something for you to do out of doors on our big place that
will make you self-supporting.”

“God bless ye for saying that, Ma’am,” said John Dempsey, gratefully,
and followed on behind the party to the train, where the policeman bade
them good-bye.

The boys took charge of John Dempsey and saw him comfortably seated in
the day coach. It was a long run to Dugonne, where the party arrived at
nine o’clock that evening.

Dorothy was so anxiously looking forward to the end of the train
journey that she had quite forgotten some of the circumstances
connected with this sudden trip. There, on the lighted platform, as the
train rolled in, appeared the stocky, black mustached man for whom she
and Tavia had taken such a dislike.

“Philo Marsh!” ejaculated Dorothy to her chum.

“He got here ahead of us.”

“He had no intention of letting Aunt Winnie get here first,” declared
Dorothy. “Now, Tavia, we must watch that man; he means Aunt Winnie no
good, I’m sure.”

Philo Marsh rushed forward to greet Mrs. White, with both hands
extended, when the party from the East left the train.

“I certainly made good connections,” he said, with enthusiasm,
insisting upon shaking hands with the two boys as well as the lady
herself. The girls kept away from him, and it was evident that the man
did not recognize them, but he swept off his hat and bowed deeply to
Dorothy and Tavia, when Mrs. White presented them as “my niece, and her
friend.”

“I’ve the best suite in the best hotel in Dugonne saved for you,” Philo
Marsh declared. “I’ve ordered supper for you, too. They’ll serve it
just as soon as you arrive, in your sitting room. Oh, we can do things
in good style out yere if we put our minds to it,” and the man laughed
heartily.

“And in the morning I’ll come and talk with you, Mrs. White. If you
want to see some of the other men interested in this water-right
business, I’ll bring them.”

“Oh, mercy, sir!” cried Aunt Winnie. “Let us get rested and look
about a little before we rush into business. But I will let you call
to-morrow afternoon, Mr. Marsh.”

With this, Philo Marsh had to be content. The party of tourists were
driven away in a depot wagon for the Commonwealth Hotel.



CHAPTER XII

ON THE ROAD TO HARDIN’S


“Goodness gracious, grumpy gree!” yawned Tavia. “Isn’t a really-truly
bed the greatest invention known to civilized man, Doro?”

“I don’t know about its being the first on the list; but it certainly
_is_ a delight after sleeping on a shelf in that car,” agreed Dorothy
Dale, stretching luxuriously.

“I hate to get up.”

“You can stay here all day alone, then,” said her chum, briskly. “Aunt
Winnie means to get to the Hardin ranch-house before night.”

“Then what about Philo Marsh?” cried Tavia.

“She confided to me,” chuckled Dorothy, “that that is why she told him
not to come around until afternoon. She will see him just before we
start for Hardin’s.”

“He’ll be mad as fury.”

“Let him be. Auntie says she is determined to look over the estate, and
see the water supply herself, and survey the proposed new channel,
before she signs a paper.”

“Bully for her!” cried the slangy Tavia. “I bet that pirate, Philo
Marsh, has something up his sleeve beside his arm.”

Bang! bang! bang! A knock at the girls’ door.

“Oh! is the house afire?” shrieked Tavia, leaping out of bed. “Or is it
Papa Crater again, trying to find Molly and her bridegroom?”

“What are you girls waiting for?” demanded Nat, on the other side of
the door. “Come on! Ned and I have been up for hours, and have hired a
four-horse stage-coach--a regular old timer out of a show, I bet--to
cart us and the baggage to Hardin’s.”

“Oh!” cried Dorothy. “You’re not starting at once?”

“Guess you’ll have time to dress and eat breakfast first--if you
hurry,” chuckled Nat, as he went off down the hotel corridor.

This was only Nat’s fun. He and Ned were lonely and wanted to show the
girls the town. Not that the sprawling western metropolis was much of a
sight, after all!

Dugonne was a rambling, raw, uninviting place. The junction of the two
railroads made its existence here possible, for there were neither
cattle interests, farms, or mines very near.

Aunt Winnie remained in her room, but Ned and Nat took the girls
down to the breakfast table and proved that the Commonwealth Hotel of
Dugonne could cater to the taste of touring Easterners.

They saw a small bunch of steers being driven through a back street of
the town and learned that they were from the Double Chain Outfit.

“That is a big concern, they tell me,” said Ned White, who was much
interested in cattle--or seemed to be since his mother had become part
owner of a range and ranch. “Colonel Hardin sold most of his herd
before he died.”

“But the Double Chain isn’t very near this town?” asked Tavia. “That
Mr. Lance told me it was a day’s ride--and you can ride a long way in a
day on these cow ponies--can’t you, Doro?”

“Those dear little things!” cried Dorothy. “They just fly.”

“And you’re not going to have a pony, after all,” said Ned, solemnly.
“Aren’t you sorry you picked that tramp up, Dot?”

“He’s not a tramp, Ned White!” exclaimed Dorothy. “Don’t call him that,
please. And where is Mr. Dempsey?”

“He went with us to hire the stage-coach,” said Nat. “And believe me,
he has his wits about him. He has lived out this way ever since the
war, he says, and he knows all about everything,” added the younger
boy, with some admiration.

“We left him at the corral where we engaged the wagon and team and
driver,” Ned said. “He is going with us--never you fear, my dear coz.”

Dorothy did not mind their poking fun at her because of her protégé.

The quartette of young folks came back to the hotel before noon and
found Aunt Winnie at a late breakfast.

“I have seen one of the lawyers who had charge of Colonel Hardin’s
affairs,” she said. “He will be back here in half an hour with certain
papers, and I shall go to court with him.

“My intention is to go on to the ranch to-day, as I said last evening,”
continued Aunt Winnie. “So don’t go far away from the hotel, children.
What time did you tell the man to have the conveyance here, Edward?”

“Two o’clock.”

“And you ought to see it!” cried Nat. “Looks just like the one the
Indians chase and capture in the Buffalo Bill show.”

“Is that the best conveyance you could find, Edward?” asked Mrs. White,
with some suspicion.

These mischievous young people were forever playing jokes, and she was
doubtful. But Ned was serious.

“Best I could find, Mother--believe me! All the carriages they have
in this man’s town are buckboards--and we’d have to hire a caravan of
those to pile all the baggage on--and us, too. This old coach with four
mustangs to draw it, will take ‘all hands and the cook.’”

“I hope you have done the right thing, my son,” said Aunt Winnie. “Take
care of yourselves, children, till I come back from the court with Mr.
Jermyn.”

There was not much going on in the business part of Dugonne that the
four young Easterners did not see. They came to the dinner table with
ravenous appetites and a whole lot to chatter about.

Mrs. White’s business with the lawyers, and with the court, was
finished for the time being. Just before two o’clock a great,
staggering old coach, on four rattling wheels, drew up at the door of
the hotel. At a former day, mail and passengers had been transported
between Dugonne and various outlying mining camps in all directions in
this vehicle.

“And the mud of twenty years ago is still clinging to the wheels,” said
Dorothy. “Oh, Ned! it is a most disgraceful looking affair.”

“I couldn’t find anything better,” answered the young man.

“He is making a regular show of us,” said Tavia. “I suppose we ought
to dress in short skirts, and buckskin blouses, Doro, and wear fringed
leggins and sombreros. Be regular ‘cowgirls.’”

“Well, Tavia,” drawled Nat. “You have a cowboy on the string they tell
me----”

“Nathaniel!” admonished Mrs. White. “What language!” and she bustled
forward to see the outfit.

Four spirited mustangs drew the coach--and those mustangs looked as
though they had never known currycomb and brush--which was probably
the fact! Old John Dempsey was sitting beside the driver, who was a
broad-hatted, smiling Mexican, with gleaming teeth, beadlike black
eyes, and gold rings in his ears.

“It _is_ an awful looking thing,” gasped Aunt Winnie, when she saw the
old coach.

“It is a whole lot better than it looks, mother,” urged Ned.

“And only think!” cried Nat, “the man that owns it says that that stage
was held up by ‘Billy, the Kid,’ a famous road agent in these parts,
who got the registered mail-sack after shooting the driver, and all the
passengers’ money and jewelry.”

“How deliciously horrid!” said Tavia. “Do you suppose Mr. Billy, the
Kid will hold _us_ up?”

“Not unless his ghost comes back to do it,” chuckled Ned. “They hanged
Billy, the Kid, years ago, so the man told me.”

“It would be just too romantic for anything to meet a real highwayman,”
said Tavia.

“Why, this town has mounted police that patrol the suburbs--I saw a
couple,” laughed Ned. “Romance is dead, Miss Tavia, in these parts.”

“You wouldn’t say so if you’d seen our cowboy--would he, Doro?”

“A cowpuncher!” sniffed Nat. “Like that ‘baby’ old Mrs. Petterby is
going to visit.”

“I wonder where the old lady is?” said Dorothy. “She arrived at Dugonne
ahead of us, of course.”

“Sure,” said her cousin Ned. “She stayed on the train when we left it
at Sessions. But she was just as worried about you girls as any of us
when she learned you had been left behind.”

“We shall look her up later,” pronounced Dorothy. “And I’m awfully
anxious to see her son.”

“Wonder if he works for the same outfit Tavia’s new beau works for?”
queried Ned. “You know, the Double Chain Outfit is the only sizable one
left in this part of the country. Its ranges adjoin Colonel Hardin’s
on the north. On the south of this land we are going to see, lies the
farming country and Desert City.”

“I should think we would have gone right to Desert City by train,”
said Dorothy, “if that is where these people want the water.”

“But you can’t get to Desert City by rail,” her cousin explained.
“North of the Hardin place are the Double Chain ranges, and the mining
properties in the hills belonging to the Consolidated Ackron Company--a
big concern. South of Desert City, the map shows nothing but desert for
hundreds of miles.”

“There’s that Marsh man,” said Tavia, suddenly, to Dorothy. “I don’t
want to see him again.”

“He doesn’t remember that he met us in the road near home----”

“But _I_ haven’t forgotten it,” finished Tavia.

“Neither have I,” sighed Dorothy. “And I am really afraid for Aunt
Winnie to have anything to do with him.”

Mrs. White kept them waiting while she conferred with Mr. Philo
Marsh, for whom she had telephoned when she knew the stagecoach was
in waiting. The gentleman was not pleased by the brevity of the
conference, as his face very plainly showed when he came out. His
piratical mustache seemed to droop more than ever and he had completely
lost his suave manner.

“I shall ride out to see you very soon, Mrs. White,” he said--rather,
he threatened! “And I shall bring the committee with me. We’ve got to
have this thing settled up.”

“Not until I am quite ready to settle it, Mr. Marsh,” said Aunt Winnie,
firmly. “I think you must forget that it is within the power of Major
Dale and myself to refuse to lease the water-rights entirely.”

“Say! that was a stiff jolt Little Mum gave him,” whispered Ned to
Dorothy.

“And did you see his face?” returned Dorothy. “I--I am really afraid of
that man.”

“Ah, pshaw! no reason for being afraid,” returned Ned, confidently. “I
guess nothing will ever happen to mother, with me and Nat along.”

The trunks and bags had been strapped on the rack behind the coach,
or thrown into its interior. The whole party--even Aunt Winnie--had
elected to ride on the roof of the vehicle.

There was room beside the driver for only John Dempsey, but in two
wide, low seats fastened to the roof behind the driver, was room for
the remainder of the party. Aunt Winnie, with Dorothy and Tavia on
either side of her, sat on the more forward of these seats, while Ned
and Nat lolled on the one behind.

“If we only had a horn now, we’d be fixed for this tallyho ride,” said
Nat.

“But, goodness gracious!” gasped Tavia, peering down over the iron arm
of her seat. “Suppose we should fall off?”

“That isn’t what you climbed up here for,” advised Dorothy. “Do be
careful, Tavia.”

At that moment the Mexican saw that all was free and clear, and he
lifted the reins. His long whiplash writhed over the leaders’ ears, and
cracked like a pistol shot. The half-wild mustangs leaped against their
collars.

“Oh--dear--me!” gasped Aunt Winnie. “We shall certainly be shaken off.”

“It will be easier riding, Ma’am,” said John Dempsey, turning and
touching his hat respectfully, “when we get out of town. Don’t you be
afraid, Ma’am.”

But the old coach did dip, and wiggle, and threaten to toss the girls
and Mrs. White off at every turn. Tavia squealed, and then saw that
people on the sidewalks were quietly enjoying her discomfort.

“Do let’s be dignified,” she said to Dorothy. “There! there’s a man
staring---- Oh!”

“It’s Mr. Lance!” cried Dorothy, recognizing their friend, the cowboy
from the Double Chain Outfit.

“My goodness! so it is,” agreed Tavia, and smiled upon the knight of
the lariat ravishingly.

Dorothy would have been glad to introduce Lance to Aunt Winnie and the
boys, but the time did not seem opportune. The Mexican twisted his
team into a side street, and the coach took the corner on two wheels
only!

As Dorothy caught at the rail and hung on for dear life, she looked
back and saw Lance hailed by another man. She could not mistake this
second individual; it was Mr. Philo Marsh. As their coach plunged
around the corner Dorothy saw Marsh seize the cowboy by the arm and
lead him confidentially away.

There was too much happening to her personally just then for Dorothy
Dale to wonder much about this association of the cowpuncher and Philo
Marsh. The mustangs settled into a gallop and the stagecoach was
whirled out of town in a cloud of dust. But when the cobbles were left
behind, the vehicle jounced less, and they could get their breath.

“Don’t ever ask me to sit upon such a thing again, Edward,” exclaimed
Mrs. White, with some exasperation.

“But if you had gone inside, you’d have been shaken about like a loose
pea in a pod,” declared her son. “I fancy you are better off up here,
mother.”

The sweep of the road that lay before them was gray and dusty. The
trees were scrub, and there was rather a deserted look to the country
immediately outside of Dugonne.

Wheeling southwest, they quickly lost the railroad lines, and low hills
surrounded them. There was not a house in sight, and the last few they
had seen were merely slab shacks--some with corrugated iron roofs.

But within two miles of the edge of the town they descried a moving
figure ahead, even if no human habitation appeared. It was a woman,
trudging along, at the bottom of an arroyo, or dry water-course, which
here was the trail.

She did not look around at them, but the young folks on top of the
coach got a clear view of the lonely figure. She wore a close black
bonnet, and she carried a basket in one hand. Her decent black dress
was gray with dust.

“Do you see who that is, Tavia Travers!” gasped Dorothy, suddenly.
“It’s Mrs. Petterby!”

“Never!” ejaculated Tavia.

The mustangs began to prick up their ears as they approached the lone
pedestrian. Dorothy bent forward and seized the Mexican’s shoulder.

“Stop them--do stop them, sir!” she cried. “We know that old lady and
we’ll give her a ride if she’s going our way.”

The Mexican yelled at the mustangs, and dragged them down to a slower
pace. They did not want to stop, but by the time they came abreast of
the little old lady from Rand’s Falls, Massachusetts, they were merely
trotting.

“Mrs. Petterby!” cried Dorothy, leaning down from the seat and waving
her hand. “Wherever are you going--and with Ophelia?”

“Bless us!” exclaimed Mrs. Petterby. “If it ain’t that nice Dale
gal--and all her folks. I was re’l worrited about you, my dear--and
your pretty friend. I see you caught up all right,” and she nodded and
smiled at them all, while the mustangs impatiently shook their heads
and stamped with all their sixteen hoofs.

“We are all right, surely, Mrs. Petterby,” said Dorothy’s aunt. “But
what are you doing on this road?”

“Why, Ma’am, I expect to meet my son out this a-way. They told me he
often stops with a man named Nicholson, just beyond here. I didn’t feel
like payin’ for a ride; and I’m spry. But Ophelia’s gittin’ cross.”

There was a flutter inside the basket and the nearest horse pricked up
his ears and rolled his eyes at it.

“Is Nicholson’s on our road?” Dorothy asked the Mexican driver.

“Si, si!” said the man. “She not far.”

“You will ride with us, won’t you, Mrs. Petterby?” cried Dorothy.

“Wal, child, that’s pretty high for me to climb, ain’t it?”

But she was tired and warm, and the chance to ride tempted her. Spry
as she was, back in Rand’s Falls, this dust and sun of Colorado were
different.

“We’ll give her a hand up,” exclaimed Ned.

Before he or Nat could descend, the driver did so. He thrust the reins
into the hands of old John Dempsey, and went over the wheel in a flash.
Smiling and bowing he put out his hand for the basket, and turned
swiftly to hand it up before aiding the old lady herself.

It was at this very moment that the sensitive Ophelia decided to make a
break for liberty. She squawked, pushed up one of the basket lids, and
flopped right out over the Mexican’s head.

“Oh! stop her!” cried Mrs. Petterby.

But there was no stopping Ophelia just then. She struck the nearest
mustang and he plunged ahead, snorting. On the instant all four of the
beasts were off at a gallop, leaving the Mexican, Mrs. Petterby, and
Ophelia herself, behind.



CHAPTER XIII

AT THE RANCH HOUSE


“I thought I was in an airship!” Tavia declared.

That was after the excitement was all over, however. At the moment the
mustangs started, all she did was to scream!

The four half-wild little beasts leaped forward with one accord when
the frightened pullet flew squawking over them. The coach lurched
horribly; but the wheels remained in the ruts.

Old John Dempsey held the ribbons, and held them firmly; but he was
not on the driver’s side of the seat. There was both a foot-break and
a half-lever-break; but he was unable to reach either. And in his old
arms was no longer the strength to pull the beasts in.

Ned and Nat were shut off from the front seat by their mother and the
two girls. Tavia, beside screaming, seized the railing of the seat.
Aunt Winnie clung to her, and would have seized Dorothy as well, but
the latter flung off her aunt’s hand and plunged over the back of the
driver’s seat.

Frightened as she was, brave Dorothy knew that it was her chance, and
her chance only. As the mustangs gathered their feet under them and
whipped the tottering old coach up the side of the arroyo, Dorothy slid
into the place the Mexican had deserted.

Fortunately she had watched him manipulate the brakes. And the mustangs
had the drag of the coach behind them going up hill. Going down it
might have been a very different story. True it was, that when the
panting, straining horses came out upon the level at the top of the
rise, they were glad to stop to breathe. With Dorothy giving them the
brakes and the old Grand Army Veteran on the lines, the four rascals
were glad to stop.

Up came José Morale, having left the excited old lady, and the excited
hen, at the bottom of the hill. What he said in his own language to the
horses was a plenty! But in the next breath he praised Dorothy for her
pluck in most extravagant terms.

As for that matter, they all praised her; but Dorothy would not listen.

“Somebody had to do it--why not me?” she demanded. “Now, Ned and Nat,
you run back there and help Mrs. Petterby catch that hen, and then
bring them both on. We’ll wait here for you.”

It was then that Tavia had a slight attack of hysterics. “That hen will
be the death of me! she will! she will!” gasped the girl. “Did you ever
hear of anything so ridiculous in all your life?”

“Now, don’t laugh and make Mrs. Petterby feel as though you were
laughing at her,” admonished Dorothy.

“But if we take her to ride with us, and Ophelia lays an egg in this
stage, and the egg hatches out a chicken,” gasped Tavia, “that chicken
will be a nervous wreck from the start. At least, it will be afflicted
with St. Vitus Dance.”

“Do be reasonable!” exclaimed Dorothy. “There! the boys have caught
Ophelia.” She was standing up on the stage roof, looking back at the
little group below. Suddenly a man on pony-back appeared over the last
rise the coach had crossed, and headed down into the hollow.

“Who’s that coming?” demanded Tavia, from whose bright eyes little
escaped.

“Why--why----”

“It’s our knight of the lariat!” exclaimed Tavia, excitedly. “It’s Mr.
Lance.”

“I believe you are right. That is Gaby he is riding.”

“Of course it is Gaby,” said Tavia. “_Now_ we can introduce him to your
aunt. And oh! Mrs. White! he is just the loveliest thing!”

“How recklessly you talk about the young men, Octavia,” said Mrs.
White. “I believe he was very kind to you girls, however. I shall be
glad to thank him.”

Ned was helping Mrs. Petterby along on his arm, while Nat carried the
basket, with Ophelia safely fastened within, when Lance overtook them.

The cowboy raised his hat in salute and would have ridden on, but Mrs.
Petterby suddenly manifested much excitement. She screamed aloud and
even Dorothy, on top of the hill, heard her:

“Lance Petterby! for the good land’s sake! if it ain’t my baby!”

The cowboy swung in his saddle, pulled the pony up short, and instantly
leaped to the ground.

“Jerusha Juniper!” he yelled. “MOTHER!”

The little old lady ran straight into his arms. The big cowpuncher
caught her up and hugged her tightly. Even at that distance Dorothy
could see the surprise and delight depicted upon his countenance.

“And we never dreamed,” murmured Tavia, “that ‘Lance’ was his _first_
name.”

“She has found him; isn’t it delightful?” cried Dorothy, and she
insisted upon climbing down and running to meet the little old lady
from Rand’s Falls, Massachusetts, and her stalwart son.

“Mr. Lance!” she cried, “I am so delighted to see you. And to think
we know your mother, and were just about to give her a ride when those
horrid ponies ran away!”

“Jerusha Juniper, Miss!” said the cowboy. “However this old lady got
clean out yere, I dunno. But maybe I ain’t glad to see her!”

He caught her up again in his arms, and Mrs. Petterby laughed and
flushed like a girl. “Stop your silliness, Lance Petterby,” she
ordered. “Set me down. Miss Dale will think ye ain’t got the sense ye
was born with. And don’t let that boy drop Ophelia.”

It took some minutes to explain to the cowboy the present
situation--and especially how his mother came to be on this lonely
trail, afoot.

It seemed that he was often at the squatter--Nicholson’s--house and
that was why people in Dugonne had advised Mrs. Petterby to look for
Lance there.

They got the old lady into the coach and seated her with the chicken’s
basket in her lap, and Mrs. White elected to get down and ride with
her. The mustangs started on; Lance Petterby rode beside the stage.
Dorothy noticed that the cowboy kept close to Tavia’s side.

Tavia was talking “nineteen to the dozen,” as Nat disgustedly said;
“and the use she’s making of her eyes is a shame!” he added, in an
aside, to Dorothy. But Dorothy could not stop her chum. The reckless
girl had “taken the bit in her teeth.”

Lance was fairly bowled over by the batteries of Tavia’s speech and
glances. After all, to the unsophisticated cowboy, Tavia was quite a
grown-up young lady. Dorothy knew that if he lost his head it would not
be his fault, but her chum’s.

“I’m ashamed of you, Tavia Travers,” she whispered, fiercely, in the
black-eyed girl’s ear. “How dare you? If Aunt Winnie was up here with
us now she’d put a stop to this, young lady.”

“Oh, Doro! you’re just killing!” cried Tavia, wickedly, and giggled,
and bridled, just as though her friend had said something very funny to
her. After that Dorothy held her peace grimly.

She was glad that Lance was going no further with them than Nicholson’s
place. There he and Mrs. Petterby were to stay for a day or two before
going on to the headquarters of the Double Chain Outfit, where Lance
worked.

Mrs. White invited them both to come over to Hardin’s, where she
decided that she and the young folk would remain for six weeks, at
least. She was especially gracious to Lance, and thanked him again for
his kindness to the two girls when they had been left behind by the
train; she might not have asked him so cordially to visit Hardin’s had
she known how Tavia had been acting.

“We sartain sure’ll come to see ye,” Mrs. Petterby said, briskly,
“pervidin’ Lance kin find something a mite more steady for me to ride
in. I shall want to see ye all again before I start back East.”

“Oh, yuh won’t want tuh start back yet awhile, mother,” drawled Lance.

“I dunno,” said Mrs. Petterby. “I ain’t seen nothin’ yet in Colorado
the ekal of Rand’s Falls, Massachusetts.”

“We’ll fix _that_,” grunted Lance, waving his hat again, as the old
coach lumbered away along the track.

The sun was sinking when the now wearied mustangs drew the coach up
the round flank of the hill on which the Hardin ranch house was set.
Like most dwellings in the cattle country, the house was sprawling, one
story only in height, and rather picturesque.

“I just love the look of it,” Dorothy declared, standing up to see it
better. “Don’t you, Tavia?”

“I would if I could think of the scene long enough,” admitted her chum.
“But, oh, me! oh, my! I am wondering if there will be anything in the
line of supper forthcoming? I’m so hungry it takes my mind off the
scenery.”

“How ridiculous! of course there will be something to eat.”

“But will there be enough?” cried Tavia.

Mrs. White assured her there would be supper. The lawyers at Dugonne
had told her that there were Colonel Hardin’s foreman and his family on
the place, as well as several herdsmen.

Dorothy continued to gaze wonderingly at the rolling green and brown
pastures, wire-fenced and evidently carefully kept up, rising in
high terraces from beyond the ranch house into the wooded and rugged
foothills to the west.

“I expect,” said Aunt Winnie, “up in that rugged country yonder lies
the wonderful Lost River they tell me about--the water supply. It may
increase the value of the great estate enormously, as the lawyers say,
but I fear it is going to make me a lot of trouble.”

“Do you think so, Aunt Winnie?” asked Dorothy, earnestly.

“Yes. I spoke of the matter to Mr. Jermyn, and he advised me to go
slowly. There are other people after the water beside Desert City and
some farmers to whom Colonel Hardin promised it.”

“Who else?”

“Some big mining syndicate.”

“That must be the Consolidated Ackron Company,” Ned broke in. “But what
do _they_ want of water?”

“Hydraulic mining, I understand,” said his mother. “It would greatly
cheapen their process of extracting gold from the soil. I do not
understand much about it, I must admit.”

“Maybe the mining syndicate would give you more for the water than the
desert people?” suggested Nat.

“That would make no difference to us,” said his mother, firmly. “If
Colonel Hardin promised Desert City and the farmers, that Lost River
would flow south, south it shall flow, if they keep their part of the
bargain, and the thing can be done.”

“But,” cried Dorothy, “can it be made to flow either way? How
wonderful! It must have a natural channel, mustn’t it?”

“So I suppose,” replied Aunt Winnie. “There seems to be more to the
matter than we know about--yet. Mr. Philo Marsh gave us very few
particulars.”

“I am sure that _he_ is not a very trustworthy informant,” declared
Dorothy, obstinately, to Tavia. “We must watch Mr. Philo Marsh.”

“And you objected before because I just looked at him!” breathed Tavia,
making very big eyes at her chum.

While they were indulging in these surmises the rattling old stagecoach
had been mounting the rise toward the Hardin ranch-house. Finally José
shouted to the mustangs again and they sprang forward in what Nat
called “a grandstand finish,” stopping with a flourish before the
front of the house.

There was nobody on the wide veranda to greet them, but beyond was a
group of less important buildings, and from these came running several
people.

First came Hank Ledger, the foreman of the ranch, to whom Mrs. White
had a letter of introduction from the lawyers. With him was his wife--a
handsome, buxom woman, who came with floury arms and an apron on, being
in the midst of preparations for supper for her husband and the hands.

Two Mexicans appeared, too, who greeted José Morale, the stage driver,
in his own language. Last of all came a very pretty, dark and rosy
girl, younger than Dorothy and Tavia in years, yet with something
indefinably “grown-up” about her. The girl cast alternately shy looks
at the visitors and at José Morale, with whom, later, Dorothy saw her
talking very intimately in a secluded corner.

Just then, however, Dorothy was more interested in seeing the interior
of the ranch-house that was to be their home for the next few weeks.
The door was open and with Tavia she entered, while Mrs. White talked
with Mr. and Mrs. Ledger on the veranda.



CHAPTER XIV

“THE SNAKE IN THE GRASS”


“Goodness me, Doro! did you ever see so much out-of-doors before in all
your life? Isn’t the world awfully _big_?”

Tavia was at the window of the large room in which the girls slept, on
the second morning of their stay at the ranch-house and she had not
begun to dress. This big world that she was looking out at, seemed just
now deserted.

There were miles upon miles of rolling country to north, east, and
south. In the early light this vast expanse of out-of-doors was colored
in many hues--and the hues were ever changing. The wall of mountains to
the west, which shut off their view seemed so near that Tavia declared
she could run over to them before breakfast!

“You might before breakfast, but not before breakfast time!” laughed
Dorothy. “Mr. Ledger says it’s two days’ ride on a good pony to that
huge rock that we see standing up there so clearly.”

“I suppose so. Lost River is over that way, too. The foreman says that
most of this rolling country we see belongs to the Hardin estate.”

“What a huge, huge place it is!” sighed Dorothy. “And what will we ever
do with it all?”

“Ned wants to raise cattle on it,” chuckled Tavia, “but I believe Nat
would rather raise mischief.”

Dorothy did not pay attention to this. She was gazing afar, and said
very quietly:

“Mr. Ledger says the land is rich enough to raise anything.”

“Don’t you believe all your hear--and not more than half of what you
_see_,” said her chum, philosophically. “Appearances are deceitful.
That’s like the little girl who lost her penny.”

“What little girl?” demanded Dorothy, dreamily.

“Oh! it might have been _any_ little girl--who was sharp,” chuckled
Tavia. “At any rate a fine, handsome, benevolent old party comes along
the street and finds the ragged little girl crying, and asked in that
benevolent tone that goes with a white vest and gold-headed cane:

“‘What’s the matter, my little dear? What are you crying for?’

“‘I’ve lost my penny,’ says the kid.

“‘Never mind! never mind!’ says the old gentleman, reaching into his
pocket. ‘Here is a penny,’ and he hands her one. The kid looks up at
him and sees right through the game. Says she:

“‘Why! you horrid man! you had it all the time, didn’t you?’ And the
next time,” chuckled Tavia, “he will go right along about his business
and not try to play Santa Claus to young ladies to whom he has not been
introduced.”

Dorothy laughed at her chum’s little story, and said: “I guess most
appearances are deceitful. At least, Aunt Winnie says you mustn’t form
an opinion upon mere looks--so that gives _me_ a chance to point a
moral, and adorn a tale.”

“There was Pat, who was a coal heaver, coming home and finding that the
children had been using his Ancient Order of Hibernian regalia-hat to
bring home coals in. ‘Mary Ann! Mary Ann! Phy do youse let thim kids do
that?’ holding up the maltreated high hat. ‘I’ve told youse before--I
don’t like it!’

“‘Shure, Pat,’ says she, ‘phat harm does it be doin’? A little more
coaldust won’t hurt yez.’

“‘That may be thrue, woman,’ says Pat, ‘but yez don’t see the point.
When I wear the hat out, shure, an’ take it off, it laves a black
mar-r-k around me forehead. An’ wot’s th’ consekences?’ demands Pat,
warmly. ‘Shure it gits me accused of washin’ me face with me hat on!’”

Tavia ran out of the room. Both girls were well acquainted with the
house now. It had most modern improvements and Colonel Hardin,
although he was a man of no family, had entertained largely and
believed in having all the comforts attainable. A huge windmill pumped
water for the house and stables, for _this_ was not the desert, and a
vein of water could be tapped something like a hundred and fifty feet
below the surface.

Hank Ledger had told the girls when they inquired that this vein of
water was supposed to be a branch of Lost River, which plunged into the
earth so many miles away in the low hills to the west.

“Tell yuh what!” croaked the foreman, who seemed to be a bird of
ill-omen, “ef that thar river is ever turned out onto the desert, as I
tol’ the old Kern” (Colonel) “when he was alive, ye air goin’ tuh shut
off yuh own water supply right yere. Now! yuh hear me shoutin’!”

“Do you suppose that is so?” asked Tavia of Dorothy.

“Mrs. Ledger says Hank doesn’t know. She’s a real jolly woman,
and declares that Hank can’t see anything but worry and trouble
ahead of him. She says he’d prophesy another Deluge if there was a
summer shower, and a seven-year drouth if the sun shone two days in
succession!”

“But we’re going to know something about Lost River to-day--hooray!”
cried Tavia.

It had been decided that the party would explore the wilder part of
the estate--some of it, at least--on this day. Hank was to be their
leader, and the young folk and Mrs. White were to mount ponies and see
all that there was to be seen between an early breakfast and suppertime.

The boys were already--early as was the hour--down in the corral
picking out the ponies they were to ride. Neither Nat nor Ned wanted
“hobby horses”; but as big Hank let them have their own choice in the
matter, the boys got several falls before they selected ponies that
were both spirited and well trained. Naturally the foreman selected the
mounts for the girls and Mrs. White, himself.

Mrs. Ledger had undertaken the cooking for the party at the big house,
for it was hard to get even Mexican women at short notice. The girls
dusted and ridded up the house every morning, early.

As for old John Dempsey, he came out strong! He proved to be just the
person needed about the Hardin ranch. He was general handy man, indoors
and out, and was on this morning engaged in cleaning up the rooms that
Colonel Hardin had used as his office. In the corner was a great heap
of papers and rubbish that had been cleared out of the old Colonel’s
desk after his death, and which the lawyers had examined.

As Dorothy came through the hall she peered in and saw the old man
sorting this rubbish. He turned with a shining face and held out a
yellowed paper towards her.

“Miss Dorothy! Miss Dorothy! see here, will ye? Be my eyes deceivin’
me? Shure, I feel like a fairy had led me by the hand into this place.”

Dorothy was both amazed and anxious at his earnestness. She ran forward
and took the paper which he put reverently into her hand.

It was a letter, and written in a peculiarly long, angular hand. At the
bottom was the unforgettable signature, “A. Lincoln.”

Dorothy gasped, looked back at the old man with shining eyes, and then
devoured the letter:

                                              “EXECUTIVE MANSION,
                                      “Washington, Nov. 21, 1864.

  “TO MRS. BIXBY,
      “Boston, Mass.

  “Dear Madam: I have been shown in the files of the War Department
  a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are
  the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of
  battle.

  “I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which
  would attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so
  overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the
  consolation that may be found in the thanks of the Republic
  they died to save. I pray that Our Heavenly Father may assuage
  the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished
  memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must
  be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of
  freedom.

                        “Yours very sincerely and respectfully,
                                                    “A. LINCOLN.”

“Oh, Mr. Dempsey! is it real?” cried Dorothy.

“It is that, Ma’am,” he said, confidently. “He that was President--and
the finest gentleman that ever lived--wrote that letter to a poor
widow. How it come in Colonel Hardin’s papers, I dunno----”

“And the lawyers threw it aside. How awful! They were looking only for
stocks, and bonds, and wills, and such,” cried Dorothy, eagerly. “Yet
that letter from President Lincoln, Mr. Dempsey, must be worth a lot of
money, too. And you found it, Mr. Dempsey! It’s yours.”

“Oh, no, Ma’am. Your aunt----”

“Would never lay claim to it, I am sure. And if the letter is worth
money----”

“What’s this that’s worth money, Miss?” asked a suave voice behind her.
Dorothy Dale turned to see the smiling Mr. Philo Marsh in dusty riding
clothes standing, hat in hand, behind her.

“Good morning, Miss!” he said, with a sweeping bow. “I chanced to
overhear you. What’s the old fellow found?” and he stretched forth a
bold hand and took the letter.

“It belongs to Mr. Dempsey,” said Dorothy, with chilling directness. “I
shall tell Aunt Winnie you are here, sir.”

“Oh! don’t let me hurry her,” said the man.

His sharp eyes were fixed upon the letter as Dorothy turned away to go
to her aunt’s room. When she returned a little later, Mr. Philo Marsh
had settled himself in a chair on the veranda to await Mrs. White. John
Dempsey beckoned her into the office and closed the door.

“Have a care of that fellow, Miss,” he whispered. “He’s a snake in the
grass.”

“Why do you say so?” asked the girl.

“The rascal offered me fifty dollars for the letter from President
Lincoln.”

“Oh, Mr. Dempsey! that is a lot of money.”

“Why, Miss Dale! if the letter was mine to sell, I wouldn’t part wi’
it for a fortune. Poor I may be,” said old John Dempsey, reverently,
“but never poor enough to sell a scrap of writin’ in the hand of the
greatest hearted and tenderest man this country ever seen--no, Ma’am!”



CHAPTER XV

EXPLORING


There was double excitement at the breakfast table that morning. Not
only were the young folk eager to get away on the trip of exploration
planned the day before; but old John Dempsey’s find among the discarded
papers in the office excited them.

The letter written in Lincoln’s angular hand was passed from one to
the other. Mrs. White of course agreed with Dorothy that the letter
belonged to the Grand Army man.

“He shall certainly have it--to keep, or to sell,” she said.

“Your protégé is turning out pretty well, Dot,” said Ned. “And if he
keeps on finding valuable letters like that, he’ll soon be as rich as
the other ‘John D.’ Some collectors would give a round sum for this
letter.”

“He’s already had one offer,” Dorothy said, hesitatingly.

“What!” cried Tavia. “You never offered to buy it?”

“Certainly not. And Mr. Dempsey says he wouldn’t sell.” Then she
related what the old man had said regarding Philo Marsh.

“‘Snake in the grass!’” exclaimed Tavia. “That’s just what he is.”

“Hush,” said Aunt Winnie. “The man is really bothering me a good deal.
He has gone off with Mr. Ledger to breakfast. I did not care to invite
him in here----”

“I should hope not!” exclaimed Ned.

“Well, I am free to confess,” said his mother, thoughtfully, “that I do
not know just how to treat Mr. Marsh. He tried to have me invite him to
ride with us to-day; but I do not want him.”

“You say the word, mother,” said Nat, belligerently, “and Ned and I
will send him to the right-about-face.”

Mrs. White laughed. “Oh, I fancy he is not very dangerous, my boy.”

“Then, if that’s the case,” added Nat, grinning, “why not sick Tavia
onto him?”

“Nathaniel!”

“You horrid thing!” exclaimed Tavia, perfectly able to fight her own
battles with the boys. “You talk as though I might be a bulldog.”

“You’re a sight more dangerous,” chuckled Nat. “If you once rolled
those big eyes of yours at Philo--as you did at that cowboy, Lance, for
instance----”

“Nathaniel!” exclaimed his mother again. “I am ashamed of you.”

“You’d have been ashamed of Tavia if you’d seen her,” grunted the young
fellow.

That was the beginning of a tiff between Tavia and Nat. “You wait, Mr.
Smartie!” she whispered, giving him a vicious pinch as he passed her
chair. “I’ll get square with you for saying that.”

But afterward, when she and Dorothy were together, the latter spoke
seriously to her chum.

“You must have a care, my dear. Aunt Winnie would be horrified if she
knew you were in the least flirtatious with these men----”

“What men?” demanded Tavia, with some anger.

“Lance Petterby, we’ll say. If he comes here with his mother, you
behave.”

“Oh, you’re a regular Grandmother Grunt. And I’ll fix Nat for saying
that to his mother, see if I don’t.”

Tavia was, indeed, quite vexed, and they were several miles from the
ranch house that forenoon before she became her jolly irresponsible
self.

Before noon the exploring party had seen much of the range and
pasturage. Hank Ledger said even after this drouth the pasture could
well support ten thousand steers.

“But we ain’t had that many critters on the ranch for ten year. Cattle
ain’t what they was--no sir! We’ve got a couple of thousand, and
that’s full and plenty. I reckon, Miz White, you won’t want to increase
the number much?”

“We shall talk about that later,” said the lady. “At present I want to
see about this water privilege.”

“All right, Ma’am. I’ll take you right up there, and we can eat our
snack beside Lost River.”

“That sounds very romantic,” said Tavia.

“Especially the eating part,” laughed Dorothy. “Riding _does_ give one
such an appetite.”

Ledger escorted them into the low hills. Soon they were riding up a
sharply inclined gully, and reached higher land. The woods grew denser.
Ahead the murmur of falling water soon rose to a steady volume of sound
which, although it did not deafen them, made a background for all other
noises.

Huge boulders cropped out of the thin soil. The trees were not tall,
but were standing in very thick groups. In some places the ponies
pushed through thickets that seemed to be almost impassable.

At last a plateau was reached--several hundred feet higher than the
knoll upon which the ranch-house stood--and at once, when they came
into the clear, Dorothy and Tavia broke into a simultaneous cry of
surprise and delight.

Sweeping across this level plain, directly toward them, came a broad,
silver stream. Small groves of soft-barked trees fringed its banks.
Here and there a boulder intruded, around the base of which the
otherwise peaceful river boiled and sprayed the rock with foam.

All the surface of the stream was sparkling as though the banks
actually brimmed with molten silver. Such a refreshing looking mountain
stream Dorothy had never before seen--or one-half so beautiful.

Just in front of the cavalcade a veil of mist rose some twenty feet
into the air. In this mist the sunshine played delightfully, lending
itself to a dozen different rainbows.

The almost impalpable moisture drifted across a stretch of grass, as
green as it could be--a veritable fairy lawn. The curtain of mist hid
from them what appeared to be the abrupt ending of the river.

“What a marvel!” gasped Dorothy. “Why! Mr. Ledger! where does the water
go?”

Ledger grinned and wheeled his horse aside, following a distinct path
which approached the nearer bank of the stream. The spray swept over
them for a moment, and then they came out above it, and upon the steep
bank.

Right beside them was a narrow chasm in the rock--a yawning gulf the
full width of the stream which was here all of twenty yards across.
Into this opening in the earth the river plunged.

“Lost River, indeed!” cried Dorothy, looking back at the others, with
shining eyes. “Did you ever see anything so wonderful, Aunt Winnie?”

A deep, thunderous murmur, like the bass notes of a great organ, came
up from the depths. The perfectly clear water advanced to the lip of
rock over which it flowed, falling into the chasm with scarcely a
ripple. But the spray rising in so thick a cloud showed that the volume
of water must strike some ledge not far below the surface of the plain,
from which it caromed against the wall of the crevice.

“Say! this is some river,” said Nat, in awe.

“How beautiful!” repeated Dorothy.

The foreman told them that the stream was fed above by numberless
mountain springs, and had never been known to go dry.

“Such a waste of good water!” exclaimed Tavia. “No wonder those people
in the desert want it. Why, it ought to make the desert blossom like
the rose! That’s poetry, I want you to notice. But goodness! I won’t
do a thing to those sandwiches and the coffee--when Mr. Ledger gets it
made.”



CHAPTER XVI

IN THE GORGE


They went up the bank of the river afoot after luncheon. Ledger walked
with Aunt Winnie, explaining as they went the scheme of changing the
river’s course. The young folk ran on ahead.

They came to a narrow reef of rock which hemmed in the river on this
westerly side. On the left hand they looked down into a deep gorge.
Here, by blowing out the rock-wall which was not more than ten yards
across, the river would plunge into the gorge which cut through the
plateau toward the south.

This was the natural channel that had been spoken of. At the mouth of
the gorge, the foreman said, a dam could be built at a comparatively
small expense, which would hold an enormous amount of water in reserve.

The tentative agreement between Colonel Hardin and the Desert people
included the building of this dam at the expense of the subscribers for
the water. The intention was to dig a great ditch from the mouth of the
gorge across the plain, with branch ditches and gates for the farmers,
the main ditch carrying the water to the outskirts of Desert City.

There a pumping station was to be established and the water piped into
the town. The irrigation work and all would occupy at least two years,
and cost a good deal of money, but the result, as Tavia had suggested,
would be to “make the desert blossom like the rose.”

Mrs. White would travel no farther than this reef at the head of the
gorge, but the young folk were bent upon a real exploring expedition.
She gave her consent for them to go on, and Ned and Nat found a path
which led down the nigh bank of the deep hollow.

The trees that had struck root into this rocky soil were scrubby
looking things and there were not many of them, but there was a deal of
brush and briers.

“Suppose this was an old Indian path?” proposed Nat to his brother,
when they were at the bottom of the steep descent.

“More likely made by wild animals,” was the reply.

“Whew!” exclaimed Nat, his eyes twinkling. “Maybe it leads to a bear’s
den.”

“Now stop, Nat White!” commanded Tavia. “You are trying to scare us.”

[Illustration: OUT OF THE CREVICE PROTRUDED THE UPPER LENGTH OF A
RATTLESNAKE. _Dorothy Dale in the West Page 150_]

“Don’t listen to him, Tavia,” said Dorothy. “There are no wild animals
near here. Mr. Ledger didn’t even bring a gun.”

“It’s supposed to be a game preserve, isn’t it?” demanded Nat. “And
aren’t bears game?”

“If you should see one you’d be the bear’s game,” sniffed Dorothy.
“You’d run.”

“Sure I would,” admitted Nat. “I’d rather a good deal folks would say
of me, ‘See him run!’ than ‘Here he lies.’”

“I suppose there _are_ some wild beasts deeper in these hills--and on
Colonel Hardin’s property,” Ned said, thoughtfully.

“What kind of beasts?” demanded Tavia, sharply.

“Oh--bears, and wolves, and panthers, and the like.”

“That’s enough!” declared Tavia, stopping short. “I’ve gone far enough.
Let’s climb up again, Doro.”

“But I want to see what the gulch looks like,” objected Dorothy, who
had little belief in Nat’s wild animal scare.

“’Fraid-cat!” sing-songed Nat, grinning.

“No. I’ve gone far enough. I’m tired,” said Tavia, decisively. “I’m
going to sit right down here on this rock. I’ll wait for you if a wild
bear doesn’t come along and chase me back up the hill.”

“Wild bear, your grandmother!” said Nat, with disgust.

“Come on, Dot,” Ned said to his cousin. “I’m glad you haven’t lost your
pluck.”

“You’ll lose more than that if you see a bear,” advised Tavia.

“I don’t believe there’s a thing to hurt us in this place, and I want
to see,” repeated Dorothy Dale.

The trio went on, but they did not really believe Tavia would remain
far behind them. “She’s up to some trick,” Nat announced.

“I believe you’re right,” agreed Dorothy, but when they had gone at
least half a mile down the gorge, and the irrepressible Tavia had not
overtaken them, Dorothy began frequently to look back.

“_What_ do you suppose she is doing?” she repeated, greatly puzzled.

“Oh, she is up to something. You know Tavia,” responded Ned, carelessly.

At last Dorothy said: “I’m going back. I am worried about Tavia.”

“Nonsense!” cried Nat. “She’s gone back to join mother, I bet you.”

“Betting never proved anything yet, little boy,” laughed Dorothy. “You
boys can go on if you like. But it’s no fun without Tavia.”

She started back briskly; the boys started more slowly. “Huh!” grunted
Nat, “Tavia isn’t often a ‘spoil sport.’ I don’t see what’s gotten
into her to-day.”

Dorothy did not run, but she lost no time and was some distance ahead
of her cousins when she came in sight of the rocks where Tavia had
seated herself.

Her chum was still there. When Dorothy shouted to her Tavia did not
look her way. The rock was a low, flat-topped boulder with a crack
across the middle of it. Tavia seemed to be looking at something before
her on the rock.

“What have you found there, Tavia?” cried Dorothy. “It must be
something tremendously interesting.”

Still her chum did not move--nor make reply. As though she were posing
for her picture, the young girl sat motionless. Dorothy could not see
her face at the angle from which she was advancing. But something about
Tavia’s attitude finally startled her.

“What is the matter?” screamed Dorothy Dale, suddenly bounding forward.

She could run as well as any boy. Her gymnasium work at Glenwood, and
her vacations out-of-doors, had made Dorothy hardy and strong. She
dashed forward over the rough way, crying out again and again as she
saw that her chum still sat stonily.

Dorothy leaped up beside her and would have--the next moment--seized
Tavia by the shoulder. But there, with her hand outstretched, she
halted. The intake of her breath sounded harsh in her own ears. She saw
what had paralyzed Tavia--and the horrid object nearly froze Dorothy,
too, in her tracks.

Out of the crevice in the rock protruded the arrow-headed upper length
of a rattlesnake. It was coiled less than two feet below the level of
Tavia’s face, and its tail was a-quiver. The whir of the rattles is a
dreaded sound that, once heard, is never to be forgotten.

There the reptile stretched itself, its eyes fairly holding Tavia
charmed. Of course, it was the girl’s own nerves that held her
motionless and speechless--her nerves affected by fear.

Tavia could neither rise to escape the threatened stroke of the
rattler, nor do aught to defend herself from it. The immediate neck of
the creature was curved back, and the pointed head, with the swiftly
shooting tongue, threatened instant attack.

Dorothy felt a dreadful tightening about her heart--just as though a
savage hand had gripped it. She felt as though she would faint--yet she
knew she must not give way to such weakness.

On her depended her chum’s very life!

She glanced about for some weapon. There was no stick within her reach
of sufficient weight to be of use. But there were pebbles and broken
bits of rock scattered over the ground.

She seized the nearest heavy piece of rock. She dared not pitch it at
the snake--the chance of missing the target was too great. But with the
dornick in both hands she crept one--two--three steps toward the rock.
The missile was poised over her head. It was all that Dorothy Dale
could hold steadily.

Down came the heavy piece of rock, just as the rattlesnake darted its
head forward. Its diamond pointed head had been on a level with Tavia’s
chin, for it was a huge fellow.

Dorothy had stopped it in midflight. Scared she most certainly was--her
very soul seemed filled with horror of the poisonous creature. But
Dorothy Dale could not fail her chum in this time of awful peril.

She struck the snake down. Its head and the upper part of its writhing
body was smashed under the rock Dorothy held. She had put her whole
force into the blow and she fell across the rock and the coiling and
uncoiling snake just as the boys came whooping and yelling into view.

As for Tavia, she went quietly off into a faint, and she did not revive
until Ned and Nat carried her up the steep path and laid her down
beside Lost River, from which water was taken to bathe her wrists and
brow.



CHAPTER XVII

FLORES


“I never want to hear even a baby’s rattle again,” sobbed Tavia, after
she and Dorothy were alone in their room at the ranch house. “Anything
from the rattle of a dry seed in a pod to a load of bricks being dumped
on a cement walk, will remind me of that dreadful snake.

“Why, I had a little stick in my hand, and I poked it into that crack
in the rock to see if there was anything there, and up darted that
rattler’s head!

“Oh, dear, me, Doro! if you hadn’t come as you did, I would have been
bitten all to pieces!”

“Nonsense!” laughed Dorothy. “A snake isn’t a bulldog. It wouldn’t have
chewed you up. But they _are_ dangerous.”

“Poisonous! And I didn’t have the strength to move, I was so
frightened. You’ve always helped me out of messes, Doro Doodlebug! but
this time you saved my life,” and Tavia seized her chum in her arms. “I
hope I’ll be able to do something _big_ for you some day to pay you up
a little, wee mite!”

“You poor child!” Dorothy said, tenderly. “Don’t talk such perfectly
nonsensical stuff. I did no more for you than you would have done for
me in like circumstances.”

“I know all about _that_,” said Tavia, wiping her eyes. “But you’d
never get into such a silly scrape, and so give me a chance. I _do_ get
into such perfect bunches of trouble, Doro. Life, for me, seems to be
just one silly scrape after another!”

By morning, however, Tavia had put the lesson of her adventure into the
background. There was so much to do and see on the ranch that she could
not really spend the time in thinking of a rattlesnake that was already
dead!

The four young folk rode hard with one of the Mexicans that day.
Dorothy and Tavia were rather shy of the long, wicked looking horns and
the tossing heads and flashing eyes of the cattle, so gave them a wide
berth. Ned and Nat began practising throwing the rope, and displayed a
deeper interest in the cattle business than the girls could possibly
feel.

Dorothy and Tavia thought the Mexican rather a villainous looking
fellow, too--not at all like the handsome José Morale, who had driven
them over from Dugonne, so after a while they rode back toward the home
corral, leaving Ned and Nat to go on to the second herd without them.

The girls had, by this time, no fear of the ponies they bestrode. Both
were well broken steeds without any vicious characteristics. As they
drew near the end of the first shed, Dorothy’s mount “side-stepped”
unexpectedly and the girl was almost thrown.

“Did you see it?” demanded Tavia, hastily.

“I didn’t see anything, but the pony evidently did,” laughed Dorothy,
fearlessly. “What was it, Tavia?”

“That Mexican girl popped right out from behind that shed, and then
popped back again. No wonder your pony jumped. She dresses like a
Fourth of July celebration. I never did see such gay colors combined in
a girl’s dress in all my life.”

“Flores, you mean?”

“Is that her name?” asked Tavia.

“So Mrs. Ledger told me,” said Dorothy. “Flores helps the foreman’s
wife. She is an orphan. Her parents died of smallpox in a squatter’s
cabin a few miles out in the desert, last year.”

“Goodness, Doro! how much you know about her already. Is she going to
be your next protégée?” demanded Tavia.

“Well,” confessed Dorothy, “I was interested in her at once. And do you
know why?”

“Just because you are always interested in everybody and everything,
Doro Doodlekins. I never did see such a girl,” repeated Tavia.

“Oh! I had a real reason,” rejoined Dorothy, laughing. “You see,
she is not as old as you and I, Tavia, yet I saw her talking very
confidentially with that Mexican driver, José.”

“Oh, _him_? Do you blame her?” chuckled Tavia. “What wonderfully white
teeth he has--and just a _love_ of a mustache!”

Dorothy made a little face at her. “You are incorrigible, Tavia,” she
groaned. “I am interested in Flores, not in that driver.”

“Well, you spoke of him,” insisted Tavia. “_I_ didn’t bring him--and
his mustache--into the conversation.”

“I wondered if Flores’ folks--if she had any--approved of her talking
with the man,” continued Dorothy, ignoring her chum’s flippancy. “And
what do you think?”

“She is going to run away with him like Molly Crater did with _her_
young man!” ejaculated the romantic Tavia.

“Do be sensible!” exclaimed Dorothy, with disgust. “Molly Crater is
nineteen--she was of age in this state. I wish you’d listen----”

“Officer! she’s in again!” interrupted Tavia. “See! that Mex. girl is
beckoning to you, Doro.”

“No! she can’t mean _me_?”

“I’m sure she isn’t after me,” said Tavia. “I’ve never said ten words
to her, for she can’t speak English. I found _that_ out.”

Flores had appeared again at the far corner of the long shed they were
passing. She _did_ gesture for Dorothy to come to her.

“I’m going!” declared Dorothy. “You take my pony on to the corral,
Tavia.”

She was out of the saddle as soon as she had spoken and tossed the
bridle-reins to her friend. Flores popped out of sight again, but
Dorothy followed her around the corner of the shed.

At this corner Dorothy saw the Mexican girl dodging around the next
corner, but quickly Flores led her to an empty shed and there turned,
waiting for her. All the sheds appeared to be empty, for the horse
wrangler had driven all the ponies out to pasture, and there was no
cattle here save a few calves bawling their heads off in a pen.

“You wish to talk to me?” asked Dorothy, puzzled, but smiling at the
younger girl.

“I no sp’ak mooch Inglese,” said Flores, softly. “You come?”

She seized Dorothy’s hand and drew her gently away. “Come where?” asked
the Eastern girl.

“Wiz me,” and Flores pointed to herself. “I no sp’ak, but I leeston.
You leeston, too.”

“Listen?”

Flores nodded her head vigorously. “They talk--you leeston.”

She still dragged at Dorothy’s hand. The fact that the Mexican girl
wished her to play eavesdropper did not at first enter Dorothy’s mind.
She went with Flores wonderingly.

Her guide led the way surely between the rows of sheds. Keeping well
away from the bunkhouse and paddock, where there were likely to be
loiterers, Flores skillfully chose a way in which Mrs. Ledger could not
possibly see them from her doorway.

When Colonel Hardin had really made cattle raising a business, there
were often ten thousand steers at the home corral, besides hundreds of
ponies. Corrals and sheds occupied several hundred acres.

With a finger on her lip, Flores looked back to see that the American
girl was following closely. Dorothy heard voices--men’s voices. At
first she did not recognize them.

The Mexican girl led her close behind a slab wall and silently pointed
to a crevice. At the moment there was not a sound beyond the wall, and
Dorothy tiptoed to it and peered through the crack.

There sat Hank Ledger, the foreman of the ranch, and Philo Marsh. Both
were smoking and they were evidently having an earnest conference.

Dorothy looked back at Flores questioningly, and the Mexican girl
nodded with emphasis. She had brought Dorothy here that the latter
might “leeston” to these two men. But Dorothy had no intention of doing
such a thing.

Of course, Flores knew no better. The puzzling fact that Flores wished
Dorothy to listen to Hank and Marsh was a secondary consideration in
the Glenwood girl’s mind in the first flush of her discovery. She
turned swiftly again to shake her head angrily at the girl, when Philo
Marsh spoke:

“Why, you know very well what will happen here, Hank. This woman is
just a plain fool. She’ll get to sticking her nose into everything,
and you’ll soon be hunting another job. And it won’t be at a hundred a
month, neither!

“You might as well pad your pocket a little against your fall. It’s
comin’ tuh yuh--and a good, hard bump it will be, too.”

“I dunno that,” growled Hank.

“Then you’re the only one around here who _don’t_ know it. It’s comin’
tuh yuh,” he repeated.

“I kalkerlate this Mrs. White is a mighty able lady,” said Hank, slowly.

“Pah!” sneered Philo Marsh. “She’s nawthin’ of the kind. And her
brother-in-law is all crippled up and can’t git out yere. Anyway, no
two ways about it, we’re goin’ to beat ’em. You better come in with us,
_pronto_. You don’t have to do nawthin’ but keep your mouth shut. We
want the water, and we’re goin’ to have it--that’s all.”

Before Philo Marsh had spoken a dozen words Dorothy had a change of
heart! The scoundrel’s coarse remark about Aunt Winnie was sufficient
to hold the girl at her post and fix her attention, and her anger and
interest both grew exceedingly as the talk between the two men
continued.

Just what Philo Marsh meant--why he should speak as he did--what
advantage he proposed to take of her father and Aunt Winnie--Dorothy
did not know. But she proposed to stay right there until she heard all
that they said upon the subject, hoping that such eavesdropping would
repay her--and believing that it was excusable in such a cause.



CHAPTER XVIII

OPHELIA COMES VISITING


“Will you please tell me, Doro Doodlekins, just why everything in my
trunk is mismates? I believe I have half a pair of everything I own in
the world with me, and the other half is at home!”

Dorothy giggled, deep in the mysteries of her own toilette.

“If I wore spectacles,” pursued the complaining Tavia. “I’d have only
half a pair with me. And half a pair of scissors would be my fate if
I owned scissors. If I wore false teeth, I’d be able to find only the
upper set.”

“You packed the trunk yourself,” mumbled Dorothy, with pins in her
mouth.

“I never!” denied Tavia. “I was so excited over the prospect of coming
West that I just threw the first things that came handy into my trunk.
When it was overflowing I jumped on the lid to make it lock, and--there
you are! At least, it looks as though I did just that when it comes to
finding things.”

“Poor Tavia Trouble-ty-bubble!” cooed Dorothy.

“Yes,” admitted her chum. “Look!” with desperation.

She held up two stockings--they never could have made a pair of “hose,”
for one was white while the other was flesh color.

“See what I am reduced to,” continued the irrepressible. “If I wear
them with pumps folks will think I’m mismated, too! Whatever shall I
do, Doro?”

There was company expected at the Hardin ranch-house and the girls were
“dolling up,” as Nat called it, in honor of old Mrs. Petterby and Lance.

“Wear black ones,” answered the practical Dorothy.

“Oh, but black isn’t fashionable--and certainly not with white pumps,”
said Tavia, sadly.

“I cannot advise you, then,” said Dorothy. “And, anyway, Tavia, you
always talk so fast that nobody ever looks at your feet.”

“But--when I’m silent?” demanded Tavia.

“When is that?” demanded her friend, laughing.

“The unkindest cut of all! But I tell you what I’ll do,” added Tavia,
slowly. “I will bind an emergency bandage around one ankle, and put the
flesh colored stocking on that foot. Then it will look the same color
as the white one. ‘Ah-ha!’ says the villain. ‘I am avenged! Down to
your doom, Jack Dalton!’”

And she sat right down on the floor and proceeded to do this, to
Dorothy’s vast amusement.

The girls were scarcely dressed when a buckboard, drawn by a pair of
half broken ponies, came into view over the break of the knoll, coming
from the Dugonne trail.

“Here comes Lance!” exclaimed Tavia.

“And dear old Mrs. Petterby,” agreed Dorothy.

“Hi!” ejaculated Nat, whom the girls had joined on the big front porch.
“What has the old lady in her lap, I want to know?”

“Oh!” gasped Dorothy. “How the ponies gallop. And look at the carriage
hop and bounce. She was nearly thrown out that time. I wish Mr. Lance
wasn’t so reckless.”

“But she’s hanging to that thing in her lap----”

“It’s Ophelia, of course,” said Tavia. “She’s brought her on a visit,
too.”

“Why not?” demanded Dorothy, as the others laughed. “It’s the one thing
that connects her with Rand’s Falls, Massachusetts. I expect without
Ophelia Mrs. Petterby would be very homesick out here in Colorado.”

Lance drove up with a flourish. Like most people out in the Colorado
mountains, he seemed to be a very reckless driver. His mother was
quite calm, however; she evidently had perfect confidence in her son’s
ability to handle the ponies, and at the same time take care of her.

The girls ran down the steps to help Mrs. Petterby out of the
buckboard. “So delighted to see you, dear Mrs. Petterby,” cried Dorothy.

“And Ophelia,” giggled Tavia, reaching out her hands for the basket,
but making big eyes at the cowboy.

“Howdy! howdy!” Lance was exclaiming, his face very red under Tavia’s
wicked scrutiny. He would not let the girl take the basket, but removed
it from his mother’s lap himself. “Don’t you mind, Miss,” he urged.
“I’ll take this yere along to the bunkhouse, mother. Yuh don’t want
thet thar little hen with you in Miz White’s nice house.”

“Quite right, Lance,” agreed the old lady, hopping out. “But you see
that nothing happens to her, son.”

“I’ll take keer of her like she was eggs instead o’ a chicken,” he
assured her, and then gave the impatient ponies their heads. They
dashed away toward the sheds.

Aunt Winnie appeared at the door to welcome the old lady from
Massachusetts, and they bore her into the house and showed her the
room she was to occupy. Lance would bunk with the Ledgers, but he was
coming up to supper.

As Dorothy came back through the wide central hall a little later,
old John Dempsey appeared from the office. He had gotten everything
cleaned up in there, and kept it tidy. Mrs. White was now using Colonel
Hardin’s old desk as her own.

“Miss Dorothy,” whispered the veteran, “what do you think? That snake
in the grass was after me agin yesterday about that old letter.”

Dorothy looked very grave at the mention of Philo Marsh. “What does he
want now?” she asked.

“He’s after that letter, I tell ye. He offered me sixty dollars for it.
He’s the most persistent critter I ever see. I told him I couldn’t sell
at no price.”

“Wait, Mr. Dempsey,” said Dorothy. “I wrote father about that letter
the day you found it. I expect to hear from him soon.”

“But I wouldn’t sell--if ’tis mine _to_ sell, belike,” said John
Dempsey, earnestly.

“It may be worth a lot of money.”

“Sure, an’ I don’t need a lot of money,” declared the old soldier. “I’m
contint right as I be--as long as your aunt will let me stay.”

“And you may rest assured that she will let you stay,” said Dorothy,
cheerfully. “Why, Mr. Dempsey, she says you are a lot of help around
the ranch-house.”

“’Tis kind of her to say so,” said he, gratefully. “But I feel mighty
beholden to ye all.”

It was because of this brief conversation that Dorothy went down toward
the bunk-house to meet Lance Petterby coming up to supper. Had Tavia
done this, Dorothy would have been scandalized, but Dorothy considered
that she had a good and sufficient reason for what she did.

What old John Dempsey had said reminded Dorothy Dale of the
conversation she had overheard between Philo Marsh and Hank Ledger,
the foreman of the ranch. She had discussed this with nobody--not even
with her chums. It was a secret between the Mexican girl, Flores, and
herself.

Dorothy did not understand what if all meant. Aunt Winnie had not
refused to lease the water-right to the Desert people, and the girl
could not see why Philo Marsh was so anxious to close up the matter and
get Mrs. White’s signature to the papers he had prepared.

Nor did his evident attempt to bribe Hank Ledger serve to illuminate
Dorothy’s mind to any degree. This was a mystery. Philo Marsh--well
named “a snake in the grass” by old John Dempsey--was up to some shrewd
trick.

Dorothy believed Flores knew what it was, but the Mexican girl could
not explain. She understood spoken English well enough, but she could
not speak more than a dozen words herself. Dorothy had, therefore,
determined to talk with Lance Petterby. She remembered seeing Philo
Marsh speak familiarly with Lance in Dugonne--just as Dorothy and her
friends were leaving town on the old stagecoach. Dorothy believed he
was kindly disposed toward her and her aunt. She thought she could
trust him--to a degree. At any rate, she was sure he would tell her
the truth about Marsh.

Lance had unharnessed the ponies and turned them into one of the horse
corrals with a bunch of the Hardin stock. Neither Hank nor the wrangler
was at hand to tell him that the particular bunch in that corral had
just been gathered in off the range and were wilder than his own broncs.

Dorothy saw the cowpuncher from the Double Chain Outfit close the
corral gate and she hurried down to speak to him.

“Mr. Petterby,” she said, “what do you know of Mr. Philo Marsh?”

“Philo Marsh, Ma’am? He’s a left-handed lawyer in Dugonne,” drawled the
big cowboy, with a wondering look.

“Yes. But what _kind_ of a lawyer? and what kind of a man?”

Lance was smiling broadly. “I done told yuh that, Miss Dale, when I
first answered yuh.”

“Left handed?” exclaimed Dorothy.

“Now you done said something, Ma’am.”

“You mean he’s not to be trusted?”

“Not too fur, Ma’am--not too fur.”

“Then, why have the Desert people who want water from this ranch put
their business into his hands?” demanded the girl.

“Have they, Miss Dale?” returned Lance, with surprise.

“Yes. He comes here and bothers Aunt Winnie a great deal. He came ’way
East to see her and my father, about these water rights. He was very
anxious then, and is extremely anxious now, to have the papers signed.”

“Wal, I hear tell Desert City, and them thereabout, are anxious to
git water. But I wouldn’t have looked for Philo Marsh to lead ’em to
it--not much. That air is surprising,” admitted the cowpuncher.

“Why does it so surprise you?” Dorothy asked, quickly.

“Why, tuh tell the truth,” drawled Lance, “I reckoned Philo would
represent other int’rests--if any.”

“What interests?”

“Other people that’s honin’ for that Lost River supply.”

“_Are_ there other people who want it?” queried Dorothy, earnestly. “I
know Aunt Winnie has been approached by nobody but Mr. Marsh.”

“Not by the Ackron Company? The mine people?”

“Nobody but Mr. Marsh,” reiterated Dorothy.

Lance nodded slowly. “That might be. That might be. It’s well known, I
reckon, that your A’nt favors the Desert City folks, just as Colonel
Hardin did?”

“I suppose so,” Dorothy said. “And nobody but Mr. Marsh has come to see
her. He wants to pay down money to bind the bargain.”

“Wal, Miss Dale,” Lance drawled, “if Philo Marsh is willing tuh pay out
re’l money, he expects tuh git somethin’ in exchange. He must want the
Lost River water mighty bad.”

“And in such haste!”

“Wal,” Lance added, “I dunno what they air in a hurry about. The
desert’s been thar a right smart o’ years, an’ Lost River’s been
rollin’ on for an ekal number, it’s likely. Tell yuh A’nt tuh take her
time,” advised Lance, wisely. “When a man’s in sech an itch tuh close a
deal, more’n likely he has his reasons, an’ it’s jest as well tuh wait
an’ find out what them reasons air.”

He had been approaching the buckboard as he spoke and now lifted down
Ophelia’s basket. A hound pup came running from the bunk-house door
and sniffed inquiringly around the basket. Ophelia uttered a squawk of
objection.

The pup started back, sniffed curiously again, and then rolled the
basket over. There was a sudden thunder of hoofs from the far side of
the corral, and raucous squeals rose from the ponies. Dorothy turned,
startled, to see the herd charging straight toward her.

“Don’t be scart, Miss Dale,” shouted Lance Petterby. “They won’t hit
the fence.”

The pup had been busy worrying the basket. He broke the string that
held the cover and Ophelia immediately wriggled out. With another
affrighted squawk she scuttled under the lower rail of the fence, into
the corral. Down upon the scared hen came the charging gang of ponies.
She flew right up into the faces of the leaders.

Instead of breaking evenly and swinging either way to escape collision
with the fence, the forefront of the charging herd went up into the air
to escape the fluttering Ophelia and--the next instant--the full weight
of the mob of ponies dashed against the fence!

Strong as the fence was, two lengths went down before the charge and,
squealing with rage and pain, the stampede of ponies burst through.

Dorothy Dale stood, stricken with amazement and horror, directly in the
path of the stampede.



CHAPTER XIX

“‘WAY UP IN THE MOUNTAIN-TOP, TIP-TOP!”


Dorothy realized her peril as the fence crashed. She saw the mad
bronchos boil out of the opening like water bursting through a dam, but
she could not escape.

She found her limbs powerless, and would have sunk to the ground when
she attempted to move, had not Lance leaped forward and swept her
into the crook of his left arm. His yell--and the throwing of his
wide-brimmed hat into the faces of the charging beasts--did not turn
them, but the cowpuncher never for an instant lost his presence of mind.

With Dorothy he leaped to the far side of the buckboard, after having
flung his hat. One heave of his shoulder sent the lightly built wagon
over upon its side. Against this frail barrier the maddened horses
came--but not so recklessly as they had charged the fence.

They were spreading out, too, and thus thinned, the mob was not likely
to do much damage. Only one horse came over the overturned buckboard.
He smashed several spokes of two wheels, and knocked the back seat awry.

The peril to the girl was over in half a minute, but the trouble for
the ranch hands lasted all night and the next day. They were until the
next evening collecting all the ponies again.

Lance Petterby helped them, for he considered that his mother’s pet hen
was one cause of the stampede. “Though, if thet thar miser’ble little
houn’ dawg had kep’ his nose out o’ thet thar basket, thar wouldn’t
have been no combobberation,” drawled Lance. “That’s as sure as kin be.”

They made much of Lance at the ranch-house the evening of the stampede,
for the adventure lost nothing in Dorothy’s telling. Tavia undertook to
“play tricks with her eyes,” as Dorothy accused, and was taken firmly
to task for it by her chum.

“Now, Tavia, you are not going to act like a grown-up society girl with
Lance Petterby. I won’t have it,” Dorothy said. “He’s a fine fellow,
and you shan’t try to make him look silly. He helped us, that time we
were left behind, to follow Aunt Winnie and the boys, and now he’s
actually saved my life.”

“It wouldn’t be _my_ luck, of course, to be snatched from beneath the
hoofs of a whole pack of wild horses,” pouted Tavia.

“If you think it was fun, Miss----”

“Well! it was dreadfully romantic,” declared Tavia, using her well-worn
expression. “You don’t half appreciate your adventure.”

“Adventure! And have your heart almost jump out of your mouth?”

“But that’s only for the moment,” sighed Tavia. “You’re all right now.”

“I thank Heaven I escaped death,” Dorothy said, reverently. “And you
let Lance alone.”

But Lance Petterby had already had his attention strongly drawn to
Tavia Travers, and even had she so wished, she could not have easily
avoided him while he remained at the ranch.

Lance stayed for only two nights. Then he had to return to duty, but
his mother remained. Ophelia was not easily caught after her last
escapade. She had joined Mrs. Ledger’s half-wild flock of fowl, and
thus far nobody had been able to catch the little hen from Rand’s
Falls, Massachusetts.

When Hank and his wife had a chicken for dinner, Mrs. Ledger took the
shotgun and got near enough to the flock to blow the head off of the
chicken she selected.

So, as Mrs. Petterby could not think of being parted from Ophelia for
any length of time, she agreed to remain at the Hardin Ranch. The
lively old lady was some company for Aunt Winnie, so Dorothy and Tavia
decided to roam a little after Lance went away.

There was no hope of the girls getting Ned and Nat for companions these
days. They were both in the saddle from morning till night. They had
helped run down the wild ponies that had stampeded.

Hank declared the boys were wearing out all the cow ponies, they rode
so hard. But there were a couple of more or less quiet mounts for the
girls’ use, and Flores was always about to help Dorothy and Tavia catch
and saddle them. Flores could handle horses like any man, could throw
the lariat, and otherwise displayed achievements natural to a girl in
the West, but strange to those from the East.

“There!” complained Tavia, as she and her chum rode away from the
corral. “You never finished telling me about that girl and the handsome
stage driver, Doro. Aren’t they planning to run away and get married?”

“I don’t think so,” said Dorothy, with a little smile.

“But you don’t know for sure?” said the eager Tavia.

“I’m pretty sure,” admitted her chum gravely. “Not unless each is going
to elope with another party.”

“Why, have they quarreled?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Doro Doodlebugs! You tell me at once. You’re every bit as mysterious
as a baker’s mincepie.”

“But what do you want me to tell you?” asked Dorothy.

“Aren’t Flores and José sweethearts?”

“Certainly not!”

“Why not?”

“Because they happen to be brother and sister!” cried Dorothy, with a
burst of laughter. For once one of Tavia’s romances was punctured!

The girls had started for the hills, but they followed a trail which
led them farther north than the path they had followed under Hank
Ledger’s guidance.

“Perhaps we shall find the source of Lost River,” Dorothy said.

They had taken nobody into their confidence upon setting out, nor did
anybody at the ranch-house see them go save Flores Morale. In ten
minutes after the girls started they were completely out of sight of
the home buildings, the country was so rolling.

The ponies were good travelers. Long before noon Dorothy and Tavia were
deep in the wooded hills.

“I’d love to go to the top of that mountain, Tavia,” said Dorothy,
pointing to a green hill that rose right before them.

“Let’s!” cried Tavia. “From that height we ought to be able to see
far--miles and miles!”

“Do you suppose we can get there and back by suppertime?”

“Why not?” returned the cheerfully reckless Tavia. “Hurrah for the
mountain-top!

  “‘Hark! I hear a voice
     ’Way up in the mountain-top, tip-top,
   Resounding down below--
     Re-sound-ing down be-low!’

and I almost choked getting the last low note,” croaked Tavia, coughing
spasmodically.

They began mounting a shoulder of the hill almost at once. An hour
later they were on the level of the plateau where the beautiful Lost
River rolled. The sound of its terrific fall was only a murmur in the
girl’s ears, for they were some distance above the spot to which they
had explored on that other day.

The reef of rock which was to be blown out to let the waters of the
stream into the forge was upon the other side of the river. Dorothy and
Tavia pursued the eastern bank, and in a northerly direction.

This led them around to the far side of the mountain, to the top of
which they had determined to ascend. Their sturdy little ponies carried
them on at a good pace, for the way was easy.

They finally reached a sharp, short rise, over which the river tumbled
in a beautiful cascade. Above these rapids the stream was spread out in
sort of a lake, bordered by rocky shores. The character of the country
suddenly became more rugged. A rude prospect opened beside them as the
girls turned their ponies’ heads up the steeper hillside.

On their left the ground fell away into another gulch, quite as deep
and rugged as that gorge on the other side of the river, in which Tavia
had had her awful experience with the rattlesnake.

Suddenly Dorothy pulled in her pony and pointed down the steep incline.

“What is that, Tavia?” she asked, startled.

“What--for goodness’ sake, don’t say you see one of Nat’s bears,
Dorothy Dale!”

“Hush! not so loud.”

“_Is_ it a bear?”

“It’s a man. I can see him plainly now. He’s coming this way--up the
gorge.”

“Well, that’s a mercy! For if there should be a bear, maybe the man has
a gun.”

“Crowd in here beside me, Tavia,” commanded Dorothy. “I don’t want him
to see you.”

“Why not?” asked Tavia, in surprise. “Do you think a sight of me would
scare him?”

A clump of low bushes hid the ponies, and probably the girls themselves
could not have been observed from the bottom of the gulch. They peered
through a fringe of greenery into the hollow and observed the stranger
advancing up the rock-strewn bottom.

“What under the sun, Doro, is he doing?” gasped Tavia, after a moment.

“That’s what I want to know,” returned her chum, seriously.

The man turned then and shouted down the gorge. A faint echo of his
voice reached the girls, but what he said they could not distinguish.

“He’s dragging something. Is it a rope?” murmured Dorothy.

“Maybe they are measuring the gorge----”

“That is about what they are doing, Tavia Travers!” exclaimed Dorothy.
“It is a surveyor’s chain. There is the man with the trident.”

A second stranger had appeared. He set up his instrument quickly and
the chain-bearer followed his chief’s gestures in placing a stake.

“Do let’s go on, Dorothy!” Tavia exclaimed, with immediate loss of
interest in this seemingly prosaic matter. “We’ll never get to the top.”

“But what are those men doing here?”

“Can’t you see? Surveying, of course.”

“What for?”

“Oh, for a railroad, perhaps. For something or other. What does it
matter?”

“This is within the boundaries of the Hardin Ranch,” Dorothy said,
reflectively. “I don’t understand surveyors being here. I am sure Aunt
Winnie knows nothing about it.”

“Tell her when we get back. Come on, Doro,” said the impatient Tavia.

They urged the ponies on again and Tavia put the surveyors out of her
mind--quite. Not so Dorothy Dale. She could not solve the puzzle of
their presence on the Hardin estate, and she was troubled.

It was almost two o’clock when the girls reached a little lawn hidden
on the mountainside. It was quite surrounded by the forest, both above
and below, and they had had hard work pushing through the brush to it.
There seemed to be no practicable path for the ponies, leading upward.

“Let’s leave them and go on afoot,” cried the eager Tavia. “We _must_
reach the top.”

“Suppose the ponies run away?”

“They won’t. Can’t we hobble them?”

“Mercy! I wouldn’t go so near their heels for a fortune.”

“Tie them to trees, then,” said the resourceful--and obstinate--Tavia.

It was hard work, for although the top of the mountain was quite
covered with trees and brush, the ground was rocky.

Panting, but triumphant, the two girls reached the summit. The opening
in the forest here was very tiny--scarcely larger than a good-sized
dining-room table. The trees hedged them in and at once Tavia voiced
her disappointment.

“It’s a shame!” she exclaimed. “Why, Doro, we can’t even see the
ranch-house from here.”

“Isn’t that too bad?” agreed her chum. “Never mind. We got here.”

“I wanted to see all over the range.”

“We can see up into the mountains--how near the peaks seem now,” said
Dorothy. “And, oh, Tavia! the sun is setting.”

“Well! goodness! you’d give one a conniption----”

“But we must hurry right down the hill. Suppose we should be caught up
here all night?”

“Up in the ‘mountain-top, tip-top!’ Not so much fun,” admitted her
chum. “But it must be early yet. You see, the sun goes down behind
those peaks so soon. There will be a long twilight.”

“I don’t want to be in these hills in the twilight,” said Dorothy. “We
must go back.”



CHAPTER XX

TWO EYES IN THE DARK


Now, although there had been no path up the mountain from the dell
where the girls had tied their ponies, both Dorothy and Tavia were
sure they could retrace their steps easily enough. And as the sun was
already nearing the tops of the higher peaks to the westward, neither
of the girls cared to linger longer on the height.

“It’s all a fizzle,” grumbled Tavia. “That’s what I call it. Why! I
thought we would be able to look right down into the dooryard at the
ranch.”

“It did look so from below. And if we could climb the trees here, I
expect we would be able to see much of the range between the mountain
and the ranch-house,” agreed Dorothy.

“Well! let us spend no time in vain repinings,” quoth Tavia, briskly.
“We’ll tumble down and get into the saddle again. Guess we’re poor
mountain climbers, Doro.”

“Oh, I think we have done very well.”

“Not a bit of it. Regular mountain climbers would have known from the
start that nothing could be seen from the top of _this_ mountain.”

“Every one to his trade,” laughed Dorothy.

“And mountain climbing is a trade like everything else. Of course,”
added Tavia, whimsically, “to learn any trade, you have to begin at the
bottom and work up.”

“Oh, I don’t know. How about parachute jumping?” chuckled Dorothy.

“Dear me! how smart you are,” said Tavia. “That reminds me of one my
brother Johnny got off--because it is so different! It was when he was
going to the little old school in Dalton.”

“What fun _we_ had there,” sighed Dorothy.

“Yea, verily! Ages and ages ago--when we were young,” sniffed Tavia.
“Anyhow, the teacher asked Johnny to tell what an anecdote was. ‘A
short, funny tale,’ says Johnny.

“‘True,’ says the teacher. ‘Go to the blackboard and write a sentence
containing the word.’

“So Johnny did so,” chuckled Tavia. “He wrote: ‘A rabbit has four legs
and one anecdote.’”

“Now, Tavia!” cried Dorothy, panting and laughing, too. “You know that
is a made-up story. And I bet you stole it from somewhere.”

“Pshaw!” returned Tavia. “Where do you suppose all the funny people
since Noah got their jokes?”

“Out of a joke-book published just before the Flood,” giggled Dorothy.
“And you certainly must have a copy that you read on the sly.”

Just then the two girls, who had been all this time descending the
hill, burst through a screen of bushes into an opening.

“Here we are!” cried Dorothy, with satisfaction.

“Hi! is this the place?” queried Tavia. “Of course it is!” she added,
answering her own question. “There’s that scarred tree,” pointing to a
lightning-riven pine across the glade.

“Oh, that is so,” admitted Dorothy. Then she suddenly screamed: “Tavia
Travers! where are the ponies?”

“Dorothy!” shrieked Tavia, in return. “They’ve gone.”

“Goodness!” said Dorothy Dale. “Have they run away--or been stolen?”

“It’s plain to be seen they are not to be seen,” said Tavia.
“It’s--it’s dreadfully unfortunate, Doro.”

“And we can’t walk home!” wailed Dorothy.

“All right, Miss. We’ll fly.”

“We’ll find the ponies,” declared the practical Dorothy, recovering to
a degree from her panic. “Come on.”

But the two girls from the East were not familiar with the wilds. As
for trailing horses through the woods, they did not know one single
thing about that business. They could not even find the spot where the
ponies had been tied, side by side.

“My goodness me, Doro,” asked Tavia, at length, “whatever shall we do?
The ponies are lost. What will your Aunt Winnie say to that?”

“I guess she won’t trouble much about the loss of the ponies--and I’m
not going to,” declared Dorothy. “But _we_ don’t want to get lost.”

“Why! we can’t. We know our way back--perfectly.”

“Do we?”

“Right down the hill to the brink of that gorge where we saw the
surveyors; then south to that water-fall. From that point there is a
regular trail--you know there is, Doro!”

“Ye--es,” admitted Dorothy, doubtfully. “It _sounds_ simple enough.”

“It’s perfectly all right,” declared Tavia, again. “Come on.”

“Well, dear, I’ll let you lead,” said Dorothy, quietly.

While they had searched about the dell, and discussed the situation,
time had been flying. Already the red globe of the sun was disappearing
behind a western peak.

All the sky there was shrouded in rolling clouds. The sun plunging
into these wreaths of mist turned them all to gold and crimson. Such a
gorgeous sunset would have transfixed the girls with delight at another
time.

But, as Tavia said, this was no moment to “worship at the shrine of
beauty.” “Oh, Doro! I’m thinking of Mrs. Ledger’s hot biscuit, and ham,
and potato chips. Goodness! how hungry I am. Never mind the sunset.”

“I am not minding it,” Dorothy said, quietly. “But you suggested
leading the way down this ‘bad eminence’ to which we were reckless
enough to climb. Go on.”

Tavia started, and stared about the opening in the trees. It would seem
to be a simple matter to leave this place, descend through the woods to
the plateau, and so down the riverside.

But there was not a landmark to guide them. They had not thought to
take note of the trees and rocks, in relation to each other, while they
made the ascent. Their knowledge of the points of the compass were
somewhat vague, despite the view they had of the setting sun.

“Oh, Doro!” wailed Tavia, suddenly. “I’m afraid! I’m afraid of these
woods. I’m afraid we’ll get down into that deep gorge where those men
were. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! let’s not move from this spot.”

Tavia was almost hysterical. That was the way it was with her--always.
If she was startled she lost her self-possession entirely.

But with Dorothy it was different. A situation like this brought
her better sense to the surface. She was determined to keep
cool--especially when her chum showed the white feather.

“Now, Tavia! do be sensible,” begged Dorothy Dale. “We’ve got to face
the thing squarely. Of course, without the horses we could not get home
to-night. And to wander around in the dark, seeking a way that is none
too clear by daylight, would be a perfectly ridiculous thing to do,
under any circumstances.”

“Well, Doro! do you mean to stay here?”

“Why not?”

“The bears--wolves--cat-o’-mountains----”

“Are probably creations of Nat’s vivid imagination,” interposed
Dorothy, with decision.

“Well, there _was_ a snake,” murmured Tavia.

“We’ll build a fire. That will keep away snakes, at least,” Dorothy
said, cheerfully.

“Oh, Doro!” shrieked Tavia. “You don’t mean to stay in this awful place
all night?”

“Do you know a better? It is open. There is shelter beside that big
boulder. There’s a little rill that must be sweet water---- By the way!
I didn’t notice that stream when we came here first. Did you, Tavia?”

“Oh, I don’t know!” wailed Tavia.

“Do you suppose we _have_ found the place where we left the ponies
tied?” asked Dorothy, anxiously.

“Of course. And the nasty things have run away. I’ll never trust one of
those broncs again.”

“Don’t be foolish, dear. It must have been our own fault. We did not
tie them properly.”

“I know I tied _mine_ tight enough,” grumbled Tavia. “And say! how you
going to build a fire?”

“Just the same as anybody else would build one,” Dorothy declared.

“But you can’t.”

“Why not?” asked Dorothy, in surprise.

“By rubbing two sticks together?” scoffed Tavia.

“By rubbing one stick upon a stone,” chuckled Dorothy. “I have matches.”

“I’m glad you find it such a joke, Dorothy Dale.”

“You talk as though you had never been out in the open all night
before.”

“But it wasn’t like this, you know very well. This isn’t like our woods
at home. This is the West----”

“The wild and woolly West, eh?” laughed Dorothy. “Come! don’t be a
goose, dear. Let’s gather plenty of fuel before it grows too dark.”

They did this, breaking off the dead branches of the trees which
skirted the glade and gathering sticks already fallen on the ground.
But Tavia cast fearful glances into the now darkening forest and would
not venture beneath the trees at all.

“We don’t know what’s in there,” she said.

“Well! we haven’t got to know,” her chum said, cheerfully. “We’ll keep
out of the woods to-night.”

“Maybe something will come out of them after us.”

“Not if we keep a fire burning. And in the morning, as soon as it’s
light, we’ll start for home. We can walk it by noon.”

“If we are alive,” sighed Tavia.

Dorothy refused to be depressed by her friend’s melancholy. She
proposed making a couch of leaves and branches, and they did this. When
it really grew dark and the stars came out, she produced matches and
lit the fire.

She did not make a big blaze. Really, there was no need of it at all,
for the evening was warm enough and a spark of light on this hillside
would never be seen by any party looking for them.

By this time, of course, word had gone over the ranch that the girls
were lost. Aunt Winnie would be worried. Ned and Nat would be out after
them with all the men who could be spared.

“And in all probability,” Dorothy said, gravely, “nobody--not even
Flores--noticed in which direction we headed on leaving the corral.”

“Well! We should worry about _their_ worries. It’s our worries that
worry me.”

Dorothy laughed. “You speak quite as intelligibly,” she said, “as the
old catch question and answer: ‘What sort of a noise annoys an oyster?
Why, a noisy noise annoys an oyster!’”

“My goodness! I wouldn’t mind being an oyster right now.”

“Mercy! What for?”

“’Cause I could close my shell tight and nothing could get at me. Oh,
Doro! what is that?”

A belated bird flew overhead and its cry had startled Tavia. Dorothy
laughed at her again.

“Let’s be brave, Tavia.”

“What for? There’s nobody to see us. It’s other folks looking on that
makes people brave. I know you so well, Doro, that I don’t care if you
_do_ know I’m afraid.”

The sky arched them like a dome of dark blue velvet on which silver
spangles had been sewn. The woods were filled with deep shadows.

A breathless silence seemed to have fallen over the hillside. The
girls, huddled together on their rude couch, could distinguish the
faint tinkle of the little rill at which they had quenched their
thirst.

“But our appetites!” groaned Tavia. “There’s nothing to quench them.
Oh, Doro! you are so nice and plump. I’d like to bite you.”

“You are the most savage animal in all this forest, I do believe,
Tavia,” laughed Dorothy.

Dorothy’s cheerfulness had its limits. As they huddled there in the
shelter of the overhanging boulder, the night seemed to drop down upon
them, and Tavia hid her eyes against Dorothy’s shoulder. With their
arms about each other they remained speechless for a while, and then
both girls must have dozed.

Suddenly Tavia tightened her grip upon her chum and uttered a terrified
gasp. It awoke Dorothy--her eyes opened wide. Tavia was pointing
straight out into the darkness before them, and she was trembling
hysterically.

The fire had died down to a little bed of embers, but one stick laid
across the coals suddenly snapped in two and the ends burst into flame.

The flickering light glittered upon two bright spots which were
seemingly across the glade, just at the edge of the forest.

Without a word passing between them the terrified girls knew what those
sparkling objects were. The firelight was reflected in the eyes of some
beast which was staring fixedly at them!



CHAPTER XXI

DOROTHY’S COURAGE


Not a sound did the prowling animal make, but its very silence seemed
to add to the terrifying effect it had upon Dorothy Dale and her chum.

As the feeble flames rose and fell, so the reflected glare of the eyes
increased and decreased. The pitiless, unwinking orbs displayed the
savage intent of the beast.

For half a minute Dorothy was helpless, as was her chum. She had not
partaken of Tavia’s panic before; she had really scouted the idea that
savage animals roamed these woods. But she must believe now!

However, to faint--to give up hope of escape--to helplessly await the
closer approach of the beast whose eyes they saw, did not once enter
Dorothy Dale’s mind.

She threw off Tavia’s clutching hands quickly, reached for some fuel,
and threw it on the flickering campfire. Almost at once the flames
burst out and mounted higher. Their glare revealed the immediate
surroundings of the rude encampment, but nothing of the strange
marauder but the glittering eyes was visible to the girls.

Dorothy was quite sure that while the fire burned brightly no wild
animal would throw itself upon them. Wolves, she knew, were cowardly
alone; only in the pack were they courageous enough to attack man. As
for its being a bear--those eyes never belonged to Bruin. He would not
remain still so long.

The unwinking nature of their observation forced Dorothy to determine
that the eyes belonged to a member of the cat tribe. A panther? No more
terrible beast, she was sure, roamed the Colorado wilderness.

Somewhere, when she was much younger, Dorothy had seen a picture in
a book of African adventure, in which a huge lion was shown leaping
over a line of fires around a hunter’s camp to get at the cattle.
Ordinarily, she was sure, the cat tribe was much afraid of the flames,
but suppose this individual that was watching her and Tavia was
particularly hungry?

Would the miserable little blaze prevent the beast from leaping upon
them? The same thought seemed to unlock the chains of Tavia’s speech,
for she whispered:

“Throw on more wood, Dorothy. Make a big blaze.”

“But we haven’t so _much_ wood,” objected Dorothy.

“Oh, do! Perhaps a big fire will drive it off.”

Dorothy recklessly heaped on more fuel. The flames leaped and crackled.
But their light did not show the outlines of the enemy. It seemed to be
crouching in the deep shadow at the edge of the forest. Nothing showed
of the creature but those terrible eyes.

“If we only had a gun,” whispered Dorothy, with longing.

“We’d be afraid to shoot at it,” gasped Tavia.

“Not I! I’d try to make a bullseye.”

“Can’t we try to scare it off in some way?”

“Let’s scream--both together!” cried Dorothy Dale. “Now!”

If fear-inspired shrieks ever issued from feminine throats, the
abandoned yell of Tavia was a triumphant specimen. Nor was Dorothy far
behind in the piercing quality of her cry.

It is doubtful if any mountain lion in all the wild places of the West
could have equalled the quality of the girls’ yells. And----

“The nasty beast never so much as winked an eye!” Tavia gasped,
horrified.

Dorothy was fully as much amazed as her chum. There was something
uncanny about the twinkling, glistening spots. She had never heard of
any creature with such unwinking eyes--save a serpent. And surely
these eyes did not belong to any reptile.

She threw more fuel on the fire. Again the flames leaped up. The heap
of wood they had gathered was fast being diminished. Dorothy looked at
her watch. Only half-past ten! The beast had been watching them--she
was sure--for an hour.

Suppose it remained all night? They had not fuel enough to last until
midnight at the reckless rate they were using it.

When it was all gone, and the fire died down--what then? The thought
was really terrifying. If the blaze was what kept the beast at bay,
once the fire was dead, the girls would be at the animal’s mercy.

Dorothy Dale did not lose her head and become hysterical, like Tavia.
She knew something must be done. Tavia was absolutely helpless. After
they had so uselessly screamed, she just sat hiding her eyes, and
trembling.

Dorothy knew that if anything was to be done to scare away the beast,
it devolved upon her to do it. Now! should she try to gather more fuel,
or should she rise up and attack the watchful brute?

The latter was the more desperate expediency, yet the wiser. A quick
dash might drive the animal away.

Without a word to Tavia of her intention, Dorothy gathered her feet
under her, reached for a blazing branch on the fire, and suddenly
sprang erect.

With a scream she leaped past the fire and, holding the flaming branch
straight out before her, ran across the glade toward the staring eyes!

Had she stopped to contemplate the desperate venture, she never would
have started. Almost as she determined on making the attack, she had
sprung into action.

She was half way to the edge of the woods ere she realized that her
charge did not seem to startle the enemy at all. _The eyes did not even
blink._

If ever in her life, Dorothy Dale showed desperate courage at this
moment. She kept straight on--whirling the burning branch to make the
sparks fly--and dashed up to the bulky object which had so terrified
her and her chum.

It was a good sized boulder imbedded in the earth at the edge of the
forest. Its face was split and scarred; two bits of mica in its front
had caught and reflected the firelight, and so looked like a pair of
staring eyes. _This_ was the dreadful beast of prey that had held them
in durance for an hour and a half!

The reaction of her discovery deprived Dorothy Dale’s limbs of their
strength. She fell to the ground, and the flaming branch sputtered
before her and flickered out. Tavia screamed again, but Dorothy was
laughing weakly--almost hysterically.

“Oh, Tavia Travers! What a perfect pair of dunces we are,” gasped
Dorothy. “It’s nothing--nothing, I tell you! Just some bright specks in
a rock. If the boys ever hear of this they will tease us to death about
it.”

“Let them,” cried Tavia, with recovered bravado. “I shall tell. You’re
just the very bravest girl I ever saw, Dorothy Dale! You believed that
was an awful, ravenous beast when you started for it with the torch. I
consider that you have saved me from being devoured by the most savage
creature that ever happened!”

“What shall we name it?” giggled Dorothy, climbing slowly to her feet
and coming back with Tavia to the fire.

“Oh, a Bhronosaurus--or a Dynosaura--or--or something. Maybe a
Pteryodactyl. Didn’t they all live in the Stone Age?”

“And you just from the scholastic halls of old Glenwood!” cried
Dorothy. “I am astounded, Tavia Travers.”

“You needn’t be,” said her chum, coolly. “There are a whole lot of
things I had to learn that I hope I have already forgotten. I guess
the history of a million years, or so, ago, is fading fast from my
overburdened mind. And I’ll certainly feel better when it is _all_
wiped out.”

The incident served to bring Tavia to a better condition of mind. She
shook off her foolish fears, and even assisted Dorothy in gathering a
larger supply of firewood.

“For although those eyes were those of a bogey,” said Dorothy, wisely,
“there may be creatures who would trouble us before morning if we had
no fire.”

“Who’s going to keep awake to feed the fire?” yawned Tavia.

“I’ll keep first watch,” agreed Dorothy.

“All right. Ow--yow! I can’t keep my eyes open and my mouth shut. If
a whole herd of bears ringed us, I should just have to sleep! Call me
when it’s time for my watch, Doro. Ow-_yow_!”

And the next moment her breathing showed that she slumbered.

Dorothy fell asleep herself after a time, trusting to the chill of the
night air to awaken her when the fire died down.

But what really woke her up was a shrill cry that echoed through the
forest in a most weird way, and startled both girls into an upright
position before their eyes were even open.

Again the strange cry rang out. Tavia broke off in a mighty yawn and
seized Dorothy’s hand.

“More trouble!” she gasped.



CHAPTER XXII

DOROTHY HEARS SOMETHING IMPORTANT


“And just to think!” Tavia groaned, as the two girls rode slowly down
the riverside an hour after sunrise. “We hadn’t any business having an
adventure at all.”

“I--don’t--know,” responded Dorothy, slowly.

“Well, _I_ do! The boys will tease us to death about it. There the
ponies were, tied where we left them, just in another opening in the
woods, not a hundred yards away from where we spent the night. But when
I first heard them whinnying for water at daybreak, I was scared into
fits--weren’t you, Doro?”

Dorothy admitted her fright. Tavia’s whole statement was not far from
correct. The entire adventure had been preventable. Dorothy considered
herself seriously to blame.

If she and her chum had marked their path up the steep hillside beyond
the spot where the ponies had been abandoned, they would have had no
difficulty in finding their mounts again.

So, had they recovered the ponies they could easily have returned to
the ranch-house by dark. Aunt Winnie, Dorothy knew, must have been
dreadfully worried over their disappearance.

Indeed, the whole country round about had been roused, as the girls
quickly learned. Half a dozen search parties were out after them. While
they still followed the course of Lost River they heard whooping, and
rifle shots, ahead.

“Come on!” cried Tavia, “they are searching for us.”

Both girls hurried their ponies, rounded a turn in the path, and were
hailed with delight by Ned, Nat and half a dozen cowpunchers, who had
started into the hills for a second search for the lost girls.

They had ridden over the ranges and lower country all night, searching
for the runaways, and after breakfasting at the bunkhouse, had started
forth again.

Dorothy and Tavia were warmly welcomed--and scolded just as warmly by
Ned and Nat, too! When Mrs. White had kissed and hugged them, she, too,
turned upon them and threatened to take away their ponies if they ever
rode more than two miles from the ranch-house again without a guide.

Dorothy knew she had no right to complain about this restriction. It
had been a reckless thing to do--that trip to the mountain-top. And
she could not get over the fact that her own oversight had caused her
and Tavia to remain out in the open all night.

There had been no serious results, however, and in a day or two the
escapade was forgotten. The girls had agreed not to tell of their awful
fright caused by the bits of mica shining in the rock. If Ned and Nat
had gotten hold of _that_ tale the girls never would have heard the
last of it.

It was about this time that Dorothy heard from Major Dale regarding
the Lincoln letter that John Dempsey had found among Colonel Hardin’s
discarded papers. Dorothy had told her father the whole story--of
Philo Marsh’s desire to purchase the letter, and all. She had likewise
expressed herself as being more than ever antagonistic to the Dugonne
lawyer.

“Don’t fret your pretty head, Little Captain, about matters that do not
concern you,” Major Dale wrote. “I have confidence in Winifred’s good
sense, and she will be a match for a man like Marsh. As for the old
soldier and his famous letter--tell him not to put any great trust in
the validity of the letter, and if he can sell it for a good round sum,
to do so.”

Major Dale went on to tell his daughter of a test by which she could
assure herself and Dempsey as to the actual value of the letter. This
amazed Dorothy, and she ran off to tell the old soldier and to follow
her father’s suggestion.

The letter to the Massachusetts widow proved to be valid. It really was
a very interesting document. After Dorothy and John Dempsey had talked
it over, the old man changed his mind about selling it.

“If that snake in the grass raises his offer to me much higher, I’ll
jest natcherly be obleeged to sell,” he said, grimly. “Let it be on his
own head.”

Philo Marsh was at the ranch-house almost every day. Aunt Winnie
wondered why some of the other interested parties had not called to get
her views upon the water-rights question; but not a person from the
farming land to the south or from Desert City, came to the Hardin ranch.

“It must be,” she told the boys and Dorothy, “that these Desert people
have left the whole matter--as he says--in Mr. Marsh’s hands. I would
have felt better about it had I talked with others--to make sure that
this agreement Philo Marsh offers suits all hands. I believe I shall
sign the preliminary papers the next time Mr. Marsh calls.”

“I guess it’s all right, mother,” said big Ned, carelessly. “And the
fellow _is_ getting to be a nuisance hanging about here.”

Dorothy was tempted to tell her aunt of the conversation she had
overheard between Marsh and the foreman, Hank Ledger, despite the fact
that the conference seemed to have led to nothing. The foreman was a
good sort, and Dorothy liked Mrs. Ledger, so the girl did not wish to
make her aunt suspicious of Hank.

She understood that this preliminary agreement between her aunt and
those who desired water from Lost River, was not a binding document.
Aunt Winnie said the lawyers in Dugonne would look after the estate’s
interest before the matter was concluded, and make everything legal and
shipshape.

Naturally, even Dorothy--with all her suspicion of Philo Marsh--did not
pay much attention to the business of the water-rights, only when the
subject was brought up in family conclave. The young folk were having
too good a time to think of much but their own pleasure--the boys in
their way, and the girls in theirs.

Old Mrs. Petterby had caught Ophelia and now was anxious to go back
to the Nicholson place, where she was to meet Lance again. She was to
drive over in a buckboard, one of the Mexican hands being employed as
driver, and of course there were two empty seats.

“Let’s go with her--you and I, Doro,” proposed Tavia, eagerly.

Dorothy suspected that her chum was just roguish enough to want to
plague Lance Petterby, and she tried to veto the proposal.

“All right for you, then!” said Tavia, coolly. “If you won’t go with
me, I’ll go anyway.”

That settled it. Dorothy did not want Tavia to go without her. So
they drove away in the buckboard with the old lady from Rand’s Falls,
Massachusetts.

It was a jolly ride, for Mrs. Petterby was good fun and both the girls
were fond of her. When they arrived at the squatter’s double cabin,
sure enough, there was Lance and his pony, Gaby.

“Sartain shore am glad tuh see yuh!” was the cowboy’s welcome, smiling
broadly upon the girls. But it was plain to Dorothy that his bold eyes
lingered longer upon Tavia’s brilliant face.

Tavia was at her best--sprightly, talkative, laughing--behaving indeed
in a most bewildering fashion. A much more sophisticated fellow than
Lance Petterby might have had his head turned over Tavia Travers on
that particular day.

Dorothy knew very well that it was only Tavia’s fun, but the cowboy did
not know. Even old Mrs. Petterby said:

“I declare for’t! I never did see sech a gal for runnin’ on as you do.
Can’t tell when ye air funnin’ an’ when ye air in earnest.”

Lance had something to say to Dorothy in private.

“Yuh axed me about Philo Marsh last time I seen yuh, Miss Dale. Has yuh
aunt signed up for them water-rights yet?”

“No. But she is about to.”

“Tell her to wait a bit longer. I got a line on something queer.”

“Oh, Mr. Lance! What is it? About Philo Marsh?”

“Yes, Ma’am. You say he’s workin’ for the Desert City folks?”

“Why--yes. He must be.”

“Then he’s got two strings to his bow. I got a straight tip that he’s
employed by the Consolidated Ackron Company.”

“The mining company?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“But what is he doing for them?”

“Why, they tell me he’s been in their pay for a long time. Does their
dirty work, Miss Dale. Meanin’ that he settles damage cases out o’
court. Man gits hurt in the shaft, or somehow. Before he kin git fixed
up by the doctor, ’round comes Philo and offers to pay bills and give
the man a small sum. Otherwise man loses his job--you see? If the poor
feller’s killed, Philo settles with the widder.”

“I understand,” said Dorothy. “But that would not keep him from taking
cases for other people?”

“No, Ma’am. But Philo wouldn’t be likely to take a job that might queer
him with the mining company. And them folks want the water jest as bad
as they want it out in the desert.”

“But how could they get it?” cried Dorothy, in wonder. “That gorge by
which Lost River can be drained off, runs to the edge of the desert. It
doesn’t slope north at all.”

“That’s shore an’ sartain, Miss,” declared Lance. “But thet thar ain’t
the only way Lost River kin be turned--don’t think it!”

Suddenly the thought of the surveyors she and Tavia had seen, flashed
into Dorothy’s mind.

Eagerly the girl told the cowpuncher of what she and Tavia had observed
behind the green mountain. He listened closely and nodded at the end.

“Shore as you air a foot high, them surveyors was runnin’ a line to
Lost River for the mining corporation. Once they git the water----
Well! good-_night_! They’ve got plenty of money to fight you folks in
the courts. Possession, in this case, I reckon, would be nine p’ints of
the law.

“Now, tell your a’nt tuh go slow. Don’t let her sign a paper that Philo
brings her. There’ll be some quirk about it that’ll tie her hands. Or
else, he is seeking to delay matters until the mining folks can put in
dynamite and blow out a channel for the river.”



CHAPTER XXIII

“WHERE IS AUNT WINNIE?”


Tavia declared Dorothy’s insisting upon going back to the ranch so
early “spoiled all her fun.”

“You can miss that fun, Miss,” said her chum, somewhat sharply.
“Teasing Mr. Petterby is a good deal like a cat playing with a mouse.
It’s fun for the cat, but tragic for the mouse.”

“Tragedy! Fancy!” responded Tavia, tossing her head. “As though my
innocent little conversations with Lance were tragic in any way.”

“He thinks you are in earnest when you show interest in his affairs,”
declared Dorothy.

“But you know, dear, he’s such fun!” pouted Tavia. “I can’t help
plaguing him. He is so very innocent--a big man like him!--that he’s
fair game. You are a regular spoil-sport.”

“I’ve another reason for going home,” said Dorothy, seriously. “Just
the same, you are not to be trusted, Tavia. I am ashamed of you.”

“You needn’t be. I wouldn’t harm poor little Lance Petterby for the
world!” giggled the black-eyed girl.

Dorothy was too worried over what the cowboy had told her about Philo
Marsh to keep on joking with her friend. The instant they reached the
ranch-house she ran to find Aunt Winnie.

“Oh, Auntie! you haven’t signed those horrid papers, have you?” Dorothy
cried.

“What do you mean, child?” asked Mrs. White.

“For that Marsh man.”

“Why, Dorothy! you are greatly excited. What _is_ the matter?”

“Then you _have_ signed?” wailed Dorothy.

“No. I told him I would to-morrow if he brought out a commissioner of
deeds with him. I cannot go to town now.”

“Don’t do it!” begged her niece, excitedly. “There’s something queer
about it. Let me tell you,” and there poured forth then all her
suspicions and her reasons for holding them. She told her aunt about
the strange talk she had overheard between the foreman of the ranch and
Philo Marsh, as well as about the surveying party she and Tavia had
seen back in the hills. She likewise repeated what Lance Petterby had
told her that very day.

“I cannot understand it,” Mrs. White said. “I have read the agreement
Mr. Marsh offers very carefully. It is between your father and me, as
party of the first part (that is the legal phrase), and Mr. Marsh, Mr.
Kendrick, and Mr. Stephen Goode, who jointly agree to take the water of
Lost River under certain conditions. There is no corporation formed as
yet, I am told, and these men constitute a committee.”

“A committee for whom?” asked Dorothy, briskly.

“Why--why, for the people who want the water.”

“But who _are_ they, Aunt Winnie? Philo Marsh says he is acting for the
Desert people; but you don’t really _know_ if it is so.”

“Child! it can’t be possible that the man would boldly conspire to gain
my signature for a different purpose from that Colonel Hardin intended?”

“That’s exactly what I believe Marsh is aiming to do,” cried Dorothy.
“Don’t you sign.”

“I won’t. A bad promise is better broken than kept. I shall write to
Mr. Jermyn. When I spoke to him in Dugonne he said he had had no reason
for looking into the matter, but he supposed that Mr. Marsh was acting
in good faith. Lawyers, I am afraid, are like doctors. The ethics of
the profession sometimes stand before their duty to a client.

“But Mr. Jermyn shall come out here and examine the papers and talk
with Mr. Marsh in my presence, before I sign,” added Mrs. White.
“Thank you, my dear, for being so helpful. Go tell Dempsey to find a
man to ride into Dugonne at once with a note.”

Dorothy ran to do as she was bid, while Mrs. White went to write the
letter. A man came to the ranch-house in a few minutes, a-straddle of
a vicious pony. He was a sullen, rough looking fellow, but Mrs. White
presumed he was to be trusted as a messenger.

However, had she known that the fellow carried her note to Philo Marsh
instead of to Mr. Jermyn--being in Marsh’s pay--the lady from the East
would not have been so tranquil in her mind. Having been unsuccessful
in wheedling Hank Ledger into aiding him, Marsh had hired this Mexican
to play the spy at the Hardin ranch.

Tavia and the boys were not informed of the new mystery regarding the
water-rights affair. Dorothy had promised Aunt Winnie not to speak of
it at present.

“After working as hard as we do all day,” quoth Ned at the supper table
that night, “a fellow needs a little recreation in the evening. You
girls aren’t at all entertaining. Why! you haven’t had even a ‘sing’
since we came out here to the ranch.”

“What will we do for music?” asked Dorothy. “There isn’t even a banjo
in the house.”

“There are mandolins, or guitars, or something, down to the
bunkhouse,” Nat broke in. “I heard somebody plunking one to-day. You
know, these Mexicans are great on music--of a kind.”

“I’ll ask Flores,” promised Dorothy, briskly. “Just as soon as supper
is over.”

“And we’ll all sing,” announced Ned, gravely.

Tavia immediately relinquished her knife and fork. “I object,” she
declared. “Perhaps I should say that I rise to a point of order.”

“What about, Miss?” demanded Ned.

“Are _you_ going to attempt to sing?” asked Tavia, point blank.

“What if I do?”

“Prithee, don’t, dear Neddie,” begged the teasing girl. “We’ve heard
you make the attempt before. You escaped with your life on that
occasion, but remember it was in a comparatively ‘tame’ country.

“This is the wild and woolly West. They hang people here for
horse-stealing--and perhaps for eating with their knives, I don’t know!
At any rate, Lance Petterby tells me that many of the ‘old-timers’
shoot from the hip, and without much provocation. Your sweet young life
may be snuffed out, Neddie, if you try to sing, by some native with an
ear for music.”

“Ha, ha!” cried Nat. “Old Ned’s like the minister they tell about who
was called to a new pastorate. One of the members of the new church
asked a friend of the minister if he was a good man.

“‘He is a very good man,’ agreed the minister’s friend.

“‘Well, what are his faults? He must have _some_ fault?’ said the
curious one.

“‘Since you press me,’ said the other, ‘I know of but one grave fault
in your new minister.’

“So the man asked him what that fault was. ‘He doesn’t know how to
sing,’ declared the candid friend.

“‘Well, that’s not a very serious fault,’ said the anxious one, much
relieved.

“‘No,’ was the reply; ‘but, you see, he sings just the same as if he
_did_ know.’”

“That settles it,” growled Ned, appearing to be much offended. “I’ll
not sing, no matter how much I am urged. I positively refuse.”

“I can go on with my supper, then,” said Tavia, calmly, “and with a
mind relieved of anxiety.”

“And while you are finishing,” laughed Dorothy, “I’ll go hunt up
Flores, and see if there is music to be had to soothe the savage
breasts of these amateur cowpunchers.”

She ran down to the shack where the foreman and his wife lived. The
twilight was falling, and Dorothy thought the country beautiful. Bare
as the ranges were, the vari-colored sky arching the rolling plain
lent a softness to the earth’s outline that pleased the eye.

By broad day she could see the boulders cropping out of the hillsides,
and the scars of ancient land-slips upon the faces of the higher
mountains, but now purple and saffron shadows mantled all these rude
outlines of the landscape, while the little valleys were pits of gray
mist and shadow.

Dorothy came, cheerfully singing, to the door of the foreman’s house.
“Where is Flores?” she asked Mrs. Ledger, who had hurried down from the
big house as soon as supper there was served to get the evening meal
for her husband and the hands.

“Drat the gal!” replied Mrs. Ledger, with some exasperation. “I wish I
knew. I left her here to get things started, and she’s run off.”

“Run away?” cried the startled Dorothy.

“Not fur, I reckon. She’s always buzzing some of the men. ’Druther play
than work, any time, that gal had.”

“I’ll find her,” promised the girl from the East, and went on toward
the horse sheds.

But she would have passed Flores in the dusk had she not heard excited
voices speaking Spanish. Dorothy could not understand Spanish, but she
recognized the tones of the Mexican girl’s voice.

“Flores!”

Instantly Dorothy saw one of the herdsmen dive into the deeper shadow
beside the shed, while Flores came swiftly toward her. The Mexican girl
had been crying, Dorothy knew, although it was too dark to see her face
but dimly.

“What is the matter, Flores?”

“I--I no can tell you, Señorita,” sobbed Flores.

“You won’t tell me?”

“I--I dare not. I no explain. Hush!” whispered the girl. “You take care
at beeg house. Bad mans about.”

This was anything but lucid, but try as she might Dorothy could get
nothing more explicit from Flores. The latter seemed not only unable to
explain herself in English, but she was afraid to speak at all!

Flores hurried back to the Ledger domicile and lent Dorothy a mandolin
of her own. Tavia could play the mandolin, and the young folk at the
big house had a nice “sing” that evening.

When Dorothy and her chum went to bed the former told Tavia about
Flores’ strange speech and actions.

“More mystery, Rudolpho!” cried Tavia. “What can she mean? ‘Bad mans,’
eh? Sounds awfully interesting. Almost _any_ male man with intelligence
would be a delightful change from these ignorant Mexican herdsmen.”

“Even a villain like Philo Marsh?”

“Oh! he is a disappointment, despite his mustache,” admitted Tavia.
“Even as a villain he proved second rate.”

“Perhaps we haven’t seen the last of his villainy,” said Dorothy,
darkly.

Tavia, her hearing momentarily impaired by a big yawn, did not catch
the drift of Dorothy’s prophecy. The next day there was more than the
usual stir about the Hardin ranch. Philo Marsh and a low-browed, greasy
looking man, whom the lawyer introduced as “Jedge Biggs”--a Justice of
the Peace and Notary Public--arrived early in the day.

The girls were by now deeply interested in the matter of the
water-rights. The boys had ridden away as usual, right after breakfast.
Dorothy had told Tavia enough about Aunt Winnie’s difficulties to
arouse the black-eyed girl’s interest and to excite her over this
morning visit of Marsh.

The chums remained on the veranda, within hearing of the discussion in
the office, when Aunt Winnie appeared to meet the two men from Dugonne.

“Mawnin’, Mrs. White,” said Philo Marsh, in his unctuous way. “We’re
all prepared this mawnin’ for business--loaded tuh the muzzle, as yuh
might say.”

“I have sent for Mr. Jermyn,” said Aunt Winnie, quietly. “I prefer to
have him here before I sign anything, Mr. Marsh.”

“Sufferin’ snakes, Ma’am! this ain’t another hold-up, I hope? Why, ye
agreed tuh sign----”

“Quite so. When Mr. Jermyn comes, if he does not advise against it, I
will sign.”

“But, Mrs. White! I have reason to know Jermyn is not in Dugonne at
present.”

“That is too bad,” said Mrs. White, with real disappointment. “I
thought it strange that he returned no reply to the note I sent him
last evening.”

It was not strange to Philo Marsh, but he gave no sign that he had ever
heard of the message.

“It seems a pity to hold the matter up again, Mr. Marsh,” said Aunt
Winnie, calmly. “But I feel that my lawyer should have an opportunity
to advise.”

“Mrs. White!” cried Philo Marsh, his wrath getting the better of his
judgment, “this is childish. It’s a joke for you, perhaps, but not for
me. You promised----”

“Mr. Marsh!” exclaimed Aunt Winnie. “I am not in the habit of being
spoken to in such a tone.”

She rose and passed to the door, leaving the two men standing, scowling
at each other.

“I am sorry for your disappointment, Mr. Marsh,” proceeded the lady,
“but I can no longer discuss this matter--or go on with it at
all--until I secure the advice of Mr. Jermyn. Good morning.”

“Bully for Aunt Winnie!” whispered Tavia, on the porch, squeezing
Dorothy’s arm.

“But I am afraid of what Philo Marsh will do,” returned Dorothy, in a
similar tone. “He looks like a thunder-cloud.”

Mrs. White had swept from the office, and the two men finally came out.
They did not notice the girls, and went off whispering together. A
little later they rode away from the ranch sheds, but did not take the
trail to Dugonne.

Ned and Nat had told the girls that some yearlings were to be branded
that morning, down in the far corral, and Dorothy and Tavia wanted to
see the work done--although they shrank from the idea of giving pain to
the helpless cattle.

“But I suppose that is the only way to keep run of the stock,” Dorothy
said, wisely.

“They couldn’t very well paste numbers on their horns,” rejoined Tavia,
whimsically.

When they told Aunt Winnie they were going, they found her looking very
grave, and she confessed to a headache. She suffered severely from that
affliction at times and she said the glare of the sun outside oppressed
her.

Dorothy knew that nervousness, enhanced by the argument with Philo
Marsh, was the real cause of her aunt’s illness. She offered to remain
at the house, but Aunt Winnie sent her out with Tavia.

“Go along and have a good time, child,” she said. “I shall be all right
alone here.”

For at this time of day there was not a soul else about the big house.
Mrs. Ledger and Flores were busy at their own quarters.

It was an hour later--after retiring in bad order because of the odor
of burning hair and flesh in their nostrils, and the sound of piteous
bawling in their ears--that the two girls approached the ranch-house.
The branding operations had been too much for their courage.

“I don’t want to be a ‘cattle queen,’” Tavia declared, with a shudder.
“One of those poor calves had blue eyes and he looked at me so pitiful!”

“Yet you have no tender feeling for the poor humans you plague--like
Lance Petterby,” chuckled Dorothy.

“Oh! they are fair game!” said Tavia, shaking her braids and running on
before.

Suddenly--right at the corner of the house--she halted, and wildly
beckoned Dorothy forward.

“Look! oh, look, Doro!” she gasped, as her friend came running.

Tavia, breathless, pointed off toward the west. A party of at least
six horsemen were riding at a gallop away from the front of the
ranch-house.

“Philo Marsh!” cried Dorothy. “I see him.”

“There is a woman with them--she is riding in the middle of the crowd,”
screamed Tavia. “Oh, Doro! she’s a prisoner! He’s carried her off.”

“Who’s carried whom off?” demanded the startled Dorothy, as the
cavalcade disappeared into a coulie.

“Your aunt! Philo Marsh has her. He’s kidnapped her--to make her sign
those papers--I _know_ he has,” cried Tavia, weakly sitting down on the
steps.

“Nonsense!” exclaimed Dorothy, and ran into the house to find her aunt.

But she could not find her. She called, and there came no answer. With
fast beating heart and trembling limbs Dorothy Dale returned to the
veranda. Tavia was talking to a man on horseback who had just arrived.
It was Lance Petterby.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE CHASE


“I tell you they’ve run away with her! Whatever shall we do?”

Tavia was quite familiar in her excitement. She had seized Lance
Petterby’s free hand and shook it with emphasis. But even at this
tragic moment Dorothy noticed the way the cowpuncher looked down at her
chum, and she was sorry that Tavia was not more dignified.

“Jerusha Juniper! do yuh mean it?” Lance said.

“We saw them riding away,” declared Tavia. “You _didn’t_ find your
aunt, did you, Doro?”

“She’s gone,” admitted Dorothy, feeling a little ill and faint.

“Jerusha Juniper! yuh don’t mean it?” repeated Lance. “’Tain’t possible
that she’s been run off against her will?”

“It’s that awful Philo Marsh,” said Tavia. “You don’t understand.
She had promised to sign the papers for him this morning, and then
she heard something, so she wouldn’t. He was here with a man named
Biggs----”

“I know the scamp,” growled Lance.

“Well! they were just as _mad_!” pursued Tavia.

“So Philo has shown his hand, has he?” said Lance Petterby, slowly.
“The ornery cur! I come over here to tell yuh aunt more thet I heard
last night. Philo’s been workin’ for the mining company all the time.”

“Don’t stop here talking!” urged Tavia. “We must go after them. Doro
and I will get our ponies.”

“Ain’t Hank here?” demanded Lance.

“Mr. Ledger has gone to see about something at the other end of the
range,” Dorothy said, in answer to this question.

“But there’s some of the Greasers here--and them boys?”

“Oh, yes!” cried Dorothy, and she told him where they were at work down
in the branding pen.

“We’d better go,” admitted the cowboy. “I understand there is going to
be something doing up in the hills this very day.”

“What do you mean, Mr. Lance?” cried Dorothy.

“Them minin’ people have got a gang to put in a few dynamite ca’tridges
where they’ll do the most good--for _them_. They intend to blow out
enough rock at the head of that gorge you seen the surveyors working
in, to drain the current of Lost River out of its bed.”

“Oh! the wicked things!” gasped Tavia.

“You don’t mean it?” was Dorothy’s comment.

“So it was give to me, Miss Dale,” said Lance. “Them surveyors was
workin’ for the Consolidated Ackron Company. I got it from the feller
that kerried the chain.”

“We saw him,” interrupted Tavia. “A bushy whiskered man.”

“Gil Patrick. That’s him,” said Lance, with emphasis. “When I got the
straight tip I reckoned you folks oughter know it. For once let them
mining people turn the river their way (they kin get it to their works
a sight easier than the Desert City folks kin handle it) and yuh aunt
would have a stiff fight on her hands in the courts. Possession is all
of nine p’ints of the law--specially in water-rights,” added Lance,
nodding vigorously.

“They must be very wicked men,” said Dorothy, “to wish to rob the poor
farmers down there in the desert of water. And they will be robbing us,
too.”

“I expect they’ll settle at a fair price--only yuh aunt won’t git Lost
River back intuh its banks--no, sir!”

[Illustration: THEY KEPT UP WITH THE WILD RIDING MEXICANS. _Dorothy Dale
in the West Page 223_]

“It must not be,” declared Dorothy Dale, vigorously. “And if they have
made auntie ride over to that place with them----”

“They have kidnapped her, I tell you!” cried Tavia, her excitement
growing.

“I kyan’t believe it, gals,” said Lance Petterby. “But I’ll rout out
yuh hands.”

“And we’ll get our ponies. Come, Doro,” added Tavia, starting on a run
for the horse corral.

“Sorry Hank ain’t here,” said Lance, as he gave Gaby the rein. “But
I’ll git the hull bunch yuh say is down there to the brandin’ pen.”

“Oh, come on, Doro! Come on!” shouted Tavia, over her shoulder. “We
must go with them. It will be a regular cowboy chase--just like we see
in the movies.”

“Oh, Tavia! do be sensible.”

“How can I be? Your auntie is kidnapped. They’ll try to make her sign
the paper----”

Somehow Dorothy felt that this sounded awfully melodramatic. And Tavia
was bubbling over with excitement. It did not seem to Dorothy as though
Aunt Winnie could really have been carried off by a band of outlaws in
the employ of the big mining corporation. It “didn’t sound sensible.”

But the story that men in the employ of the corporation were to blow
out the bank of the river and turn the water into a new channel toward
the north, instead of toward the south, impressed the girl as being
eminently practical. And this dastardly scheme must be stopped.

Flores was not on hand to help the girls catch and saddle their ponies,
but by this time Dorothy and Tavia had made such friends and pets of
their mounts that the ponies trotted right up to the corral gate the
moment they saw the girls.

“Hurry! hurry!” gasped Tavia, pulling up the cinch with trembling
fingers. “_Do_ stand still Baby! I am so excited--Doro! isn’t it
romantic----”

“Stop!” commanded her friend. “You’ve worked that phrase to death,
Tavia Travers, since you started West. If you say it again before
Auntie is found I’ll--I’ll spank you.”

Lance came sweeping up from the distant corral as soon as the girls
were ready, bringing with him Ned and Nat White and all the Mexicans on
the job. There was one fellow missing who should have been there. That
was the man who had carried the message to Dugonne the night before for
Mrs. White.

But the pursuing party knew nothing of his treachery at this time. It
was merely remarked by the boys that the fellow had slipped away from
the work at the branding pen just before the girls themselves started
back to the ranch-house.

Naturally Ned and Nat were quite as excited over the report of their
mother’s disappearance as Tavia herself had been. The girls pointed out
the way in which the cavalcade they had seen disappeared, and without
going near the big house again the party, all mounted on fresh ponies,
drove straight away across the range toward the hills.

“We ain’t goin’ tuh do no trailin’,” said Lance, as they started. “We
kin pretty nigh guess whar they air aimin’ for. That’s the place where
they mean to blow up the river bank, and we’ll take a crow-line for it.”

There was not much said after they started--not for the first ten
miles, at least. The horses were eager, the Mexicans excited, Lance
grim, and Ned and Nat both mad and worried. Tavia was really the only
rider who thoroughly enjoyed the race.

Her eyes were brighter than ever; her hair was flying; she was hatless,
of course; and altogether she appeared to be in the spirit of the chase.

Up hill and down they dashed, the tireless ponies skimming the ground,
it seemed. Had the girls not been in the saddle so much during the
weeks they had been at Hardin, they certainly would have been shaken
off the ponies’ backs now.

But their mounts were sound and eager, and they kept up with the wild
riding Mexicans. There was no yelling, or whooping, as they rode;
nevertheless the whole cavalcade was in earnest.

Dorothy was very anxious. She could not really believe that Aunt Winnie
had been carried off against her will by Philo Marsh and his crew, yet
she could not understand why the lady should have gone of her own free
will, either! She surely would have let the girls know before starting.
And she was not even riding one of the Hardin horses.

Ned and Nat threatened condign punishment for Philo Marsh when they
caught him. When the pursuers overtook the party ahead there was likely
to be trouble, and that thought increased Dorothy Dale’s anxiety.

On and on they rode, perhaps not following the same trail as the party
which they pursued; but they were going quite as directly into the
hills (and to the head of that gorge where the girls had seen the
surveyors at work) as were Philo Marsh and his companions. Indeed, the
Mexicans with Dorothy knew the way more definitely; so the pursuers
might arrive at the goal first.



CHAPTER XXV

A LITTLE MORE EXCITEMENT


The party Dorothy Dale and her companions were following into the
wilder section of the great Hardin Ranch, had almost an hour’s start
of their pursuers. If they were ignorant of such pursuit they might
not ride at top speed; therefore the pace set by Lance Petterby on his
pony, Gaby, must bring the pursuers to the river at about the time
Philo Marsh struck it. Only Dorothy and her friends were bound to
strike the stream higher up and nearer the point where Lance believed
the dynamite was to be used by the men working for the big mining
corporation.

The puzzle was how Philo Marsh and his crowd could have traveled as
fast as they did, with Mrs. White in the party. Aunt Winnie was a
cautious rider and the boys and Dorothy were ever complaining of her
slowness when they were all out on the range together.

But when the pursuers chanced to cross the trail of the cavalcade they
pursued, the hoofmarks of the ponies showed that they were traveling
fast.

“Goodness!” exclaimed Nat. “She never would ride with us faster than a
toad funeral.”

“That shows she is forced to keep up with them,” Tavia declared, with
conviction.

“Don’t talk about it!” groaned Dorothy. “I only hope those awful men
can be punished for this.”

“Don’t you fret, Miss Dale,” broke in Lance Petterby, grimly. “If Philo
has offered Mrs. White any indignity I dunno but he’ll be hung for it.
The boys’ll be mighty sore--believe me!”

“_That_ would be dreadful, too,” sighed Dorothy.

“Serve him just right, I say!” said Tavia, shortly.

This conversation had been carried on while they were mounting the
steep rise to the plateau formerly described. In ten minutes they were
at the river bank. The ground was of such a nature here that at a
casual glance one could not tell whether horsemen had recently passed,
going up stream, or not.

“Come on!” commanded Lance, waving his hat. “Whether them hombres is
thar, or not, we’ll pull a hot finish.”

The ponies dashed on, following Gaby, as though perfectly fresh. They
thundered on up the very narrow trail the girls had followed that day
they had climbed to the mountain-top.

Suddenly, in a wide opening of the forest-clad plateau, they caught
sight of a number of horsemen ahead. It was Marsh and his companions,
but they got out of sight so quickly that Dorothy could not be sure
that Aunt Winnie was with them.

The cowboys broke into yells of excitement. The ponies dashed forward,
and whether the girls would, or no, they were borne at a desperate pace
right up the trail after the other flying squadron of horses.

“Isn’t it great?” yelled Tavia, as she rode knee to knee with Dorothy.

“I think it is dreadful,” gasped Dorothy.

But Tavia seemed to be enjoying the race to the full. And it _was_ a
race now. Philo Marsh had seen them coming, and without doubt he would
try to do what he had to do, and get it over with, before the pursuers
overtook him.

If the dynamite was ready set, and he could explode it before the
pursuers reached the spot, nothing could put Lost River back into its
course again.

Again and again Dorothy and her companions came in sight of the party
ahead, but the glimpses they obtained were for a moment only.

“They’ve got some hoss-flesh thar,” commented Lance Petterby. “And they
warn’t as fresh in the beginnin’ as ourn--that’s sartain. They been
punishin’ of ’em some, by Jerusha Juniper!”

“I--don’t--see--how--Aunt--ie--can ride so fast!” stammered Dorothy.

“She never did before,” repeated Nat.

The pursuers had not lost hope. The trail over the plateau was twisted,
but almost level. Their horses seemed quite as willing as when they had
started from the ranch-house.

They dashed up the little rise beside the noisy rapids and then the
prospect opened before them for some two miles. Philo Marsh and his
crowd were just ahead. The pursuers could see them quite plainly.

Lance began to yell and beat his pony with his hat. The Mexicans’ yelps
were as shrill as a dog’s howl. The boys and Tavia were caught up by
the excitement, and they shouted, too, but Dorothy remained silent.

She searched the cavalcade ahead for a glimpse of her aunt’s figure.
There _was_ a female in the crowd; but, was it Aunt Winnie?

Surely, that good lady could never have ridden with such abandon--not
even if she had been lashed to her saddle! And this person ahead wore
garments of much more brilliant color than Aunt Winnie had ever been
known to put on.

“That never in the world is Auntie!” cried Dorothy, at last.

Tavia heard her, and flashed her chum a broad smile. Then Tavia urged
her horse on, shouting as the boys shouted.

“You knew it all the time, Tavia Travers!” screamed Dorothy, in anger.

She crowded her own pony close to Tavia’s mount and shook that
irrepressible young person by the arm. Tavia would pay no attention to
her. The end of the race promised to be exciting, and Tavia’s attention
would not be coaxed aside.

They were in sight of the head of the gorge. The men in the lead began
to yell. Evidently they expected to find some of their own kind here.

One of the Mexicans in the party of pursuit whipped a long-barreled
revolver into sight. The herdsmen of Hardin Ranch were not supposed to
carry weapons save at night when riding herd. Lance Petterby saw the
gun and yelled at his follower:

“Put away that gat.! I’ll natcher’ly manhandle any feller that fires a
gun.”

The next moment Ned White uttered a shout. “Hi! that’s not mother with
those fellows. It’s--it’s that Mexican girl, Flores!”

Only a hundred yards separated the two parties. The girl who had ridden
in the midst of the leading crew, suddenly swung her pony to one side,
wheeled him about, and dashed back toward Dorothy and her friends.

“Flores! Flores!” cried Dorothy.

“They blow up! They blow up! Dynamite!” shrieked Flores, waving her
arms excitedly and letting her pony take his course.

Some of the Mexicans held in their ponies. At the warning more than one
desired to keep out of the danger zone. But Lance Petterby drove on,
yelling:

“Not much they won’t set off no dynamite. They ain’t gwine tuh be
_let_.”

Without doubt he would have flung himself the next minute, single
handed, upon the half dozen scoundrels had there not occurred something
quite unexpected. Philo Marsh and his henchmen had leaped from their
horses. They were almost at the head of the gorge. The rock between
where the ground fell away into the chasm, and the brink of the rushing
river, was narrow. It was plain to be seen that a properly set blast
must open a gap into the bank of the river and turn the latter’s course.

Once changed into this gorge which led to the north, it would be very
difficult to shut off the flow of water from the new channel.

Just as Lance was about to throw himself upon the men working for the
mining company, a figure lounged into view before the party. It was
that of a tall, slouching man, and he was heavily and prominently
armed, having a brace of pistols slung about his body outside his
coat. He was smoking a pipe.

“Hank Ledger!” ejaculated Philo Marsh.

“Yep,” drawled the foreman of the Hardin Ranch. “I run off your two
friends this mawnin’. They’d got them holes drilled and the dynamite
sticks set. All they waited for was that ’lectric battery you got thar
in that thar leetle box, Philo.

“But it ain’t no go. I’ve extracted them dynamite sticks an’ they
air soakin’ in the river right now. I tol’ yuh tuh let Miz White
erlone. She’s er mighty able lady and I don’t kalkerlate tuh let no
squirrel-faced, bald-headed feller, with a dyed mustache, interfere
with her consarns. D’ye get me?”

Lance Petterby led the cheering as the party from the Hardin Ranch
reached the scene and heard the foreman’s words. Lance rode right up to
Philo’s pony and knocked the electric battery off the saddle-bow, and
the box was smashed on the ground.

“What you doin’, Petterby?” yelled Marsh.

Lance leaned from his saddle and wagged a finger under the villain’s
nose. “Gimme another word and I’ll smash you like I done your play-toy
yonder. I’m achin’ tuh leave my mark on yuh,” whispered Lance, so that
the girls could not hear him--or, he thought they could not.

“Isn’t he splendid?” cried Tavia to Dorothy. “Lance is a regular
story-book hero.”

But Dorothy wanted to hear Flores’ story. “How did you come to be with
those men, Flores?” she asked the Mexican girl.

“Oh, Señorita! I know--I see--I no can sp’ak da Inglese well, you know,
Señorita. I know dey come here to blow up de river. I run to de beeg
house to tell. Dey ketch me--mak’ me ride wit’ dhem----”

“We get you, Flores,” said Lance, quickly. Then he said something to
the Mexicans in their own tongue and the fellows exchanged fierce
glances and scowled at Philo Marsh, who sneaked away from their
vicinity in quick retreat.

Flores was in tears; but Tavia was still widely smiling. “Oh, dear!”
she sighed. “Wasn’t it fun, Doro--as long as it lasted? I never do
expect to have such a ride again. It was just like one of those moving
picture chases we used to see.”

“Tavia Travers!” exclaimed Dorothy. “I believe you knew all the time
that it wasn’t Aunt Winnie these men had carried off.”

“Well! you might have seen all the colors of the rainbow in her frock,
too, before they first rode out of sight,” said Tavia, her eyes
wickedly dancing. “I never saw Mrs. White sporting very gay colors, my
dear.”

“_But where is Auntie?_”

“She went to lie down, you remember, before ever we went down to
see them burn those poor little calves,” Tavia replied. “She had a
headache. Like enough she fell asleep and did not hear us when we came
back. You called only once for her.”

If never before, Dorothy Dale felt a measure of exasperation at Tavia
which came near causing a falling-out between them. And yet, when
Dorothy stopped to think, she realized that she was at fault in that
she had not searched properly for Aunt Winnie before starting upon this
wild-goose chase.

Then she heard what Nat was saying to Tavia. Nat could always find
something to praise in the latter young person’s conduct, no matter
what she did:

“Say, Tavia! if you hadn’t started this riot about mother being
kidnapped, Hank would have had to face this gang alone. Maybe they
would have _got_ him. You’re all right, Tavia!”

“Thanks, Monsieur!” responded the elfish Tavia, bowing.

“And no knowing what Philo Marsh would have done, had his crowd been in
the majority,” growled Ned, from the other side of the girls. “He looks
ugly enough right now to chew nails.”

But Mr. Marsh had come to the end of his rope. He and his friends
conferred together for only a few moments and then rode slowly away.

“But they may be back with more dynamite, if this place isn’t watched,”
said Ned. “How about it, Mr. Ledger?”

“The boy’s right,” said Lance. “Philo is a regular snake in the grass.”

“That’s what John Dempsey calls him,” said Tavia to Dorothy; but
Dorothy would not speak to her chum just then, for she still felt
aggrieved.

“What yuh want,” said Lance to Hank Ledger, “is somebody tuh patrol
this here river till them Desert City people sign up an’ take charge of
things--if Miz White is goin’ tuh let ’em have the water.”

“Them’s the fellers that’s goin’ to git it,” agreed Hank. “She told
me so. And you air right, Lance--you bein’ the man for the job. I’ll
speak to Miz White about it--if yuh’ll sign on. Sixty a month an’
found--better’n you’re gittin’ now, old boy.”

“I’m on,” agreed the cowpuncher, looking at the two girls slily. But
Dorothy saw the glance, and she was again disturbed. “I got tired of
eatin’ that Chink’s cookin’ over at the Double Chain Outfit, anyhow.
B’sides, I believe I kin git my old lady tuh stay out yere with me for
a spell, an’ I’ll need a raise in wages, Hank.”

They left him there on guard and rode back to the ranch-house. Aunt
Winnie was placidly knitting on the veranda, for Mrs. Ledger had
assured her that her sons and the two girls had ridden off in company
with Lance Petterby and the Mexicans.

But she _was_ excited when she received the report of what had been
done over by Lost River. The way Philo Marsh and his henchmen had
treated Flores could not be overlooked.

Mrs. White wrote to Mr. Jermyn again and this time the lawyer received
the letter. He drove out the next day to the ranch, and after hearing
the particulars of Philo’s attempted raid upon the Lost River water
supply, he advised a settlement of the whole affair to be made at once.

It was discovered that Marsh had circulated the report in Desert
City and among the dry-farmers that the new owners of Colonel
Hardin’s property had already agreed to sell the water-rights to the
Consolidated Ackron Company. As soon as it was made known to the city’s
council that Mrs. White stood ready to carry out the dead Colonel’s
tentative agreement, the city fathers and the farmers came forward
with a proposition and a bond that Lawyer Jermyn advised Mrs. White to
accept.



CHAPTER XXVI

SAYING GOOD-BYE ALL AROUND


“He must be dreadfully lonesome over there,” said Tavia, with a sigh,
staring out of the window.

Dorothy was counting her handkerchiefs preparatory to storing away
those she would not need on the return journey, in the tray of her
trunk.

“Forty-five, forty-six, forty-seven----Tavia! I can’t find that
forty-eighth handkerchief. I know I had four dozen when we started from
North Birchlands. Where----”

  “There were forty and seven that safely lay
   In the shelter of the trunk,”

wailed Tavia. “Maybe even _you_, my dear Doro, could mislay a
handkerchief.”

“No. I most always never do. You know that, Tavia.”

Tavia’s interest in the missing handkerchief failed. “I wonder if he’s
thinking of us,” she said.

“I couldn’t have dropped it anywhere----”

“Why! if I had forty-seven handkerchiefs all at once--or even seven--I
wouldn’t worry my head over a single, measly little one. Maybe one of
the boys is keeping it for you, Doro.”

“Nonsense!”

“For a keepsake, you know. Lance borrowed one of mine and I’ll never
see it again, I s’pose.”

“Why, Tavia! don’t let Aunt Winnie hear of it.”

“Oh, pooh!” said the irresponsible girl, shrugging her shoulders.
“What’s a handkerchief?”

“But mine were all good ones,” complained Dorothy.

“Good or cheap, I wouldn’t trouble my head about them.”

“That’s why you have so few,” accused Dorothy.

“Oh, fudge!” quoth Tavia, turning to the window again. “It must be
terrible wearisome to be alone in the wilderness.”

“Whatever are you talking about?” snapped Dorothy, at last awaking to
the fact that Tavia’s mind was engaged in a mysterious line of thought.

“Why--poor Lance,” replied Tavia, in a most soulful tone of voice.

“Tavia Travers!” gasped Dorothy. “Won’t you _ever_ let that poor fellow
alone?”

“That’s exactly it,” said Tavia. “He is all, all alone, ’way up there
in the woods, watching that river flow by. Isn’t it awful?”

“Do behave!” snapped Dorothy. “He’s well out of your way----”

“But he doesn’t think so, I am sure. Even his mother says I’m a
‘monstrous interesting gal.’”

For Mrs. Petterby had come over to the Hardin Ranch again by Mrs.
White’s express invitation. The little old lady from Rand’s Falls,
Massachusetts, was actually getting cured of her prejudices against the
West.

“And Ophelia seems contented,” said she. “I got ter admit that there’s
some things about Colorado I like. I never _did_ eat sech melons. An’
the sky’s bluer than I ever see it before.

“My baby says I got ter stay out here and keep house for him--though
he’s off in them hills now and his home might’s well be an Injun
wigwam.”

Mrs. Petterby agreed, however, to be housekeeper and caretaker of the
ranch-house. Lance was going to stay on with the Hardin outfit, and his
mother was a spry old lady and was glad of the position Aunt Winnie
offered her.

“For we shall be coming out here often,” declared Mrs. White. “I know
my brother, Major Dale, will like it immensely, once he’s well enough
to visit the ranch. And the young folk are quite crazy over it.”

Ned was determined to go into the cattle business and stock
raising--when he was out of college.

“What’s the use of boning at books, then?” demanded Nat. “‘All Gaul is
divided into three parts’ isn’t going to help you raise longhorns for
the market.”

“How do you know?” asked his brother, coolly. “And the cattle business
will be a sideline.”

When old Mrs. Petterby took hold of affairs at the big house Aunt
Winnie began to have a better time. “Help” was hard to get in that
region and Mrs. White and the girls had done all but the kitchen work
since coming to the ranch.

Now she had time to ride with Dorothy and Tavia as far as Desert
City, and meet the men who were going to make possible the great
transformation scene in that part of the desert that was to be
irrigated with the water from Lost River.

Dorothy and Tavia enjoyed these jaunts immensely, too, but in between
they had found time to ride up into the hills occasionally to see the
tall young cowpuncher who guarded the river. Tavia _would_ go, and
Dorothy did not propose to let her go alone.

That was what Tavia was hinting at on the morning of the trunk packing
incident. The following afternoon they were to ride into Dugonne,
taking train next morning for the East.

“Well, I’ll go,” said Dorothy, rather displeased it must be confessed.
“But I wish we’d never seen Lance Petterby--that I do!”

“Why, Dorothy Doolittle Doodlebug! how you talk,” cried the
innocent-eyed Tavia. “And he’s been _such_ fun! Why, without Lance
my trip out here to the ‘wild and woolly’ would have been without a
particle of savor. And I’m going to send him a necktie for a Christmas
present. Going to knit it myself.”

“If Nat heard you say that, he would observe, ‘Yes, you are--_nit_!’”
chuckled Dorothy. “And Lance never wears a necktie. A red handkerchief
around his neck, and tied behind, is _his_ limit.”

A little later, in their chic riding habits, the girls ran down to the
corrals. The Mexican girl appeared from the Ledger shack to attend them.

“Flores is such a nice little thing,” Tavia said to Dorothy as Flores
caught and bridled the second pony. “Don’t you wish she was going back
East with us?”

“Perhaps she wouldn’t be happy there,” replied Dorothy. “Mrs. Petterby
is going to take her in hand and--so the old lady says--going to make a
thorough New England housewife of her.”

“And I wager you put her up to it,” retorted Tavia. “Why is it, Doro,
that you are forever thinking of other people, and doing things for
them?”

“Nonsense!” said Dorothy, blushing. “Flores ought to have a better
chance.”

“Oh, Mees!” cried the pretty, dark skinned girl, as she brought the
second pony up to the gate. “I am so ver’ sorree dhat you go ’way. We
shall be l-l-lonely here wit’out you. See! I soon dhe Ingleesh sp’ak
nice--no?”

“It’s fine, Flores,” declared Tavia, laughing. “Who has taught you so
much?”

The glowing eyes of the Mexican girl rested on Dorothy’s face. “_She_
teach me, Mees. She is so good!”

For some reason Tavia grew suddenly serious. At least, she did not tell
a joke or say a whimsical thing till they had ridden more than ten
miles over the now well-beaten trail to Lost River.

“Doro Doodledum!” exclaimed the irrepressible, suddenly. “Do you know
what you are?”

“Yes, Ma’am. American; white; single; age--not stated; no political
preferences, although leaning toward the suffragettes; attend the
Congregational church----”

“How smart! But you are something else,” declared Tavia, still quite
serious of countenance.

“Sure! A graduate of Glenwood School. Oh, Tavia! how I wish Ned Ebony,
and Cologne, and half a dozen of the other girls, were here. Wouldn’t
we have had fun?”

“Yes. But that is another story----”

“It’s the truth!”

“Ha! you do not know your Kipling,” cried Tavia. “But never mind.
The point is, Doro, that I have come to the conclusion that you are
something more than human.”

Dorothy looked at her in amazement. “How you talk! What is the joke?”

“It is no joke. Seriously,” said Tavia. “You see, Doro, I have been
thinking, and more deeply than you would believe.”

“Don’t do it,” laughed Dorothy. “It might grow upon you. Then you would
no longer be Terrible Tavia, thoughtlessly threading her way through
the thistles of this terrestrial life.”

“Goodness!” exclaimed her chum. “That must have hurt you.”

“Not much, but it was a strain,” confessed Dorothy.

“Now! listen to me,” commanded her chum. “I have been thinking it out.
You are forever helping people, Doro, while I go along having a good
time myself, and never thinking of a living soul but myself.”

“Why, Tavia! that is not so,” Dorothy said, gravely.

“Oh, yes, it is. Don’t contradict. Look at this trip. You began
helping people almost as soon as we started. There was old Lady
Petterby.”

“For pity’s sake! what did I do for her?” demanded Dorothy, in honest
amazement.

“You put yourself out to make her comfortable.”

“I did not.”

“Then you picked up old John Dempsey,” went on Tavia, accusingly. “You
have given that old boy a new lease of life, Doro.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said her friend. “Anybody would have done the
same. And it was really Aunt Winnie who helped him.”

“She’d never have heard of John Dempsey if it hadn’t been for you,”
said Tavia. “Then there is Flores. It never entered _my_ head to try
to teach her English. Why? Because all I can do--all I think of--is to
have a good time. I never thought of helping Lance Petterby, even,” and
she wickedly grinned again. “I’ve just been having fun with him.”

“And thank goodness! that’s got to stop now,” said Dorothy, with
confidence.

“You are super-human, Doro,” pursued Tavia, shaking her head. “While
I--well, I’m just an animal, I guess--a ‘featherless biped.’ Of course,
I have tastes similar to yours and other humans; but I don’t use my
intellect as a real human being ought--not even as a Boston bean
should,” added Tavia, making one of her very worst puns.

“You display many traits common to the human family,” said Dorothy, her
eyes twinkling.

“Don’t I?” responded Tavia, briskly. “That reminds me of the little
girl to whom the teacher was explaining about the friendship certain
animals have for man.

“‘Now, do animals ever possess sentiment or affection?’ she finally
asked the kid.

“‘Yes, Ma’am,’ says the embryo.

“‘Tell me,’ says the teacher, ‘what animal has the greatest affection
for man?’

“And the kid knew. ‘Woman!’ she exclaims, very promptly. You can laugh!
I think I have _that_ human trait very well developed. I _am_ fond of
the boys. They’re lots more fun than girls--present company excepted,
of course, Doro. But I’m never thoughtful about others, and you are.”

“Serious talk from Miss Flyaway Travers,” said Dorothy, lightly, yet
pleased that her chum should really display some gravity. “Don’t you
show too much fondness for Lance Petterby to-day--now mind!”

Tavia was lively and irresponsible enough when they came to the
cowpuncher’s camp. He had built a lean-to shelter and was comfortably
fixed--so he said. Once a week he was relieved for a day by one of
the Mexicans whom Hank could trust, and on that day Lance had always
appeared at the ranch-house.

“Why, ladies, I shore am glad tuh see yuh,” was the big cowpuncher’s
welcome.

“I know,” said Tavia, nodding. “If you suffered from ophthalmia you’d
be cured.”

“Huh? I reckon so,” agreed Lance, “though I ain’t jest next to that
‘opthmy’ word.”

“She means if your eyes were inflamed the sight of us would cure them,”
explained Dorothy, smilingly.

“Ain’t she the great little josher?” quoth Lance, admiringly. “I never
see a gal like her.”

“And you won’t want to again,” said Tavia, pertly. “Now! confess.”

“Yuh got me there, Miss,” said Lance. “One of yuh at a time is jest
enough. Two like yuh would drive a man plumb distracted.”

“You will not be plagued by my presence for long, sir,” said Tavia,
making a little face at him. “This is a real good-bye visit. You’ll
probably never see me again, Mr. Lance.”

“Hold on, now! Don’t say that,” cried the cowboy. “You folks will be
comin’ out yere frequent. Miz White Says so.”

“Dorothy will,” replied Tavia. “But I may not. You see, I have to be
specially invited to come.”

“I invite yuh right now,” said Lance, with emphasis. “Me and my old
lady will be mighty glad to see yuh.”

“I can’t promise,” Tavia said.

“Let a feller hear from yuh,” urged Lance, devouring her piquant face
with his bold eyes.

“Oh, yes! we’ll write Mrs. Petterby,” agreed Tavia.

“You will surely hear from us,” interposed Dorothy, before Lance could
say any more. “And we’ll hear about you, too. Mr. Lance, you have been
very kind to us all and we never shall forget you.”

She shook hands with the cowboy and then hastened Tavia into the saddle
again. Lance evidently wished them to linger and tried to keep Tavia
engaged in conversation.

Slily Dorothy touched the flank of Tavia’s pony with her heel. The
nervous little beast sprang away--almost unseating its rider; but
the movement broke up any “private confab” between her chum and the
cowpuncher.

“Good-bye, Mr. Lance!” cried Dorothy, spurring after Tavia.

Tavia was again her trifling self. She chuckled as they rode away.

“Poor Lance! He’ll wake up some day. Hope it will be a real nice
‘cowgirl’ who gets him. Meanwhile we’ll just slip back East, Dorothy,
leaving him nothing but fond recollections of us as he dreams over his
campfire at night.”

Aunt Winnie refused to send for the big stagecoach in which to ride
to town, so the young folk rode in the saddle to Dugonne the next
afternoon, where the ponies were left at a stable to be called for the
next time Hank Ledger had occasion to go to town. John Dempsey drove
Mrs. White in a single-seated buckboard.

Old John Dempsey had made a place for himself at the ranch and was to
be continued on the payroll. The veteran’s eyes overflowed when he bade
Dorothy Dale good-bye at the hotel.

“You was my salvation, Miss Dorothy, that’s what you was,” he said. “I
got a chance to live out o’ doors an’ work--and when I can’t work I
hope the good Lord’ll take me away, Miss.”

“That will be many, many years hence, Mr. Dempsey,” cried Dorothy,
smiling.

He drove away, but half an hour afterward the bellhop came to Mrs.
White’s suite and said that an old man wanted to see Dorothy. It was
John Dempsey. His wrinkled old face was twisted into a wry grin and
he thrust a handful of banknotes into the hand of the surprised girl
before he said a word.

“I done it,” he cackled. “Dunno as I’d oughter; but that snake in the
grass insisted. I sold him the letter. When he finds out it’s only
a lithograph copy of the original letter Old Abe wrote to that poor
widder woman, he’ll be hoppin’ like a hen on a hot griddle, I reckon.
A hundred dollars he give me,” added John Dempsey, “and ha’f of it
belongs to you, Miss.”

“Not a penny shall I take,” declared Dorothy. “You must put it all in
the bank against a rainy day, Mr. Dempsey.”

Dempsey then drove away, and the sight of his stooped shoulders as the
ponies turned the corner was the last glimpse Dorothy Dale had of the
Hardin Ranch folk for some time.

Ere she would see that great property again Dorothy was to have many
new adventures, and some of them will be related in “Dorothy Dale’s
Strange Discovery.”

Dugonne had faded from sight behind them when the girls went back to
the observation platform. The Great West was flying past them.

“It is a wonderfully interesting country,” said Dorothy, thoughtfully.
“And the people--most of them--are awfully nice.”

“Poor Lance!” sighed Tavia, in a most lugubrious tone; but she turned
her face away that Dorothy might not see her dancing eyes.


THE END



THE MOTOR GIRLS SERIES

By MARGARET PENROSE

Author of the highly successful “Dorothy Dale Series”

  12mo.  Illustrated.  Price per volume, 60 cents, postpaid.

[Illustration]

THE MOTOR GIRLS _or A Mystery of the Road_

  When Cora Kimball got her touring car she did not imagine so many
  adventures were in store for her. A tale all wide awake girls will
  appreciate.

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON A TOUR _or Keeping a Strange Promise_

  A great many things happen in this volume. A precious heirloom is
  missing, and how it was traced up is told with absorbing interest.

THE MOTOR GIRLS AT LOOKOUT BEACH _or In Quest of the Runaways_

  There was a great excitement when the Motor Girls decided to go to
  Lookout Beach for the summer.

THE MOTOR GIRLS THROUGH NEW ENGLAND _or Held by the Gypsies_

  A strong story and one which will make this series more popular than
  ever. The girls go on a motoring trip through New England.

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON CEDAR LAKE _or The Hermit of Fern Island_

  How Cora and her chums went camping on the lake shore and how they
  took trips in their motor boat, are told in a way all girls will
  enjoy.

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON THE COAST _or The Waif from the Sea_

  The scene is shifted to the sea coast where the girls pay a visit.
  They have their motor boat with them and go out for many good times.

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON CRYSTAL BAY _or The Secret of the Red Oar_

  More jolly times, on the water and at a cute little bungalow on the
  shore of the bay. A tale that will interest all girls.

THE MOTOR GIRLS ON WATERS BLUE _or The Strange Cruise of the Tartar_

  Before the girls started on a long cruise down to the West Indies,
  they fell in with a foreign girl and she informed them that her
  father was being held a political prisoner on one of the islands.
  A story that is full of fun as well as mystery.

  CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK



RUTH FIELDING SERIES

By ALICE B. EMERSON

  12mo.  Illustrated.  Price per volume, 40 cents, postpaid.

[Illustration]

RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL _or Jaspar Parloe’s Secret_

  Telling how Ruth, an orphan girl, came to live with her miserly
  uncle, and how the girl’s sunny disposition melted the old
  miller’s heart.

RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL _or Solving the Campus Mystery_

  Ruth was sent by her uncle to boarding school. She made many
  friends, also one enemy, who made much trouble for her.

RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP _or Lost in the Backwoods_

  A thrilling tale of adventures in the backwoods in winter, is
  told in a manner to interest every girl.

RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT _or Nita, the Girl Castaway_

  From boarding school the scene is shifted to the Atlantic Coast,
  where Ruth goes for a summer vacation with some chums.

RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH _or Schoolgirls Among the Cowboys_

  A story with a western flavor. How the girls came to the rescue
  of Bashful Ike, the cowboy, is told in a way that is most
  absorbing.

RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND _or The Old Hunter’s Treasure Box_

  Ruth and her friends go to Cliff Island, and there have many good
  times during the winter season.

RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM _or What Became of the Raby Orphans_

  Jolly good times at a farmhouse in the country, where Ruth
  rescues two orphan children who ran away.

RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES _or The Missing Pearl Necklace_

  This volume tells of stirring adventures at a Gypsy encampment,
  of a missing heirloom, and how Ruth has it restored to its owner.

  CUPPLES & LEON CO., Publishers, NEW YORK



Transcriber’s Note:

  Punctuation has been standardized. Spelling has been
  retained as it appears in the original publication
  except as follows:

  Page 34

    an ancient darky, with kinky _changed to_
    an ancient darkey, with kinky

  Page 141

    collectors woud give a round _changed to_
    collectors would give a round

  Page 161
    between the two men continud _changed to_
    between the two men continued

  Page 168

    rememberd seeing Philo Marsh speak _changed to_
    remembered seeing Philo Marsh speak

  Page 193

    but suopose this individual _changed to_
    but suppose this individual

  Page 198
    most wierd way _changed to_
    most weird way

  Page 217

    suffered severly from _changed to_
    suffered severely from

  Page 243

    quite serious of countetnance _changed to_
    quite serious of countenance





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