The outdoor girls in the.., p.2
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       The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run, p.2

          Laura Lee Hope / Actions & Adventure
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CHAPTER I


A SUMMER IN THE SADDLE


"Hello, hello! Oh, what is the matter with central!"


The dark-haired, pink-cheeked girl at the telephone jiggled the receiverimpatiently while a straight line of impatience marred her pretty mouth.


"Oh dear, oh dear!"


"At last! Is that you, Mollie Billette? I've been trying to get you forthe last half hour. What's that? You've been home all morning twiddlingyour thumbs and wondering what to do with yourself? Of course! I knew itwas central's fault all the time! Now listen! Goodness, what are youhaving over at your house? A jazz dance or something? I can hardly hearyou speak for the noise."


"No, it isn't a dance," came back Mollie's voice wearily from the otherend of the wire. "It's just the twins. They want to talk to you. Holdthe wire a minute while I shut them in the other room."


Followed a silence during which Betty Nelson could distinctly hear thewails of Mollie's little brother and sister as they were usheredforcibly into an adjoining room. Then Mollie's voice again at the phone.


"Hello," she said. "Still there, Betty? Guess I can hear you a littlebetter now. Mother's out, and I've been taking care of the twins. Justrescued the cat from being dumped head down in the flour barrel."


"Sounds natural," laughed the dark-haired, pink-cheeked one, as shevisualized Mollie's little brother and sister, Dodo and Paul. They weretwins, and always in trouble.


"Anything special you called up about?" asked Mollie's voice from theother end of the wire. "Want to go for a ride or something?"


"Not the kind of ride you mean," said the brown-eyed, pink-cheeked one,with a knowing little smile on her lips.


At the lilt in her voice Mollie, at her end of the wire, sat up andstared inquiringly into the black mouth of the telephone.


"Betty," she said hopefully, "you are hiding something from me. Youhave something up your sleeve."


"You're right and wrong," giggled Betty. "I'm hiding something from you,but I can't get it up my sleeve, it's too big!"


"Hurry up!" commanded Mollie in terrific accents. "Are you going to tellme what's on your mind, Betty Nelson?"


"When will you be around?" countered Betty.


"In five minutes."


"Good!"


"Betty, wait! Is it good news?"


"The best ever," and Betty rang off.


She twinkled at the telephone for a minute, then called another number.


"That you, Gracie?"


The fair-haired, tall, and very graceful girl at the other end of thewire acknowledged that it was.


"Please suggest something interesting, Betty," she added plaintively, asshe took a chocolate from the ever-present candy box and nibbled on itdiscontentedly. "I woke up with the most awful attack of the blues thismorning."


"What, with a whole summer full of blessed idleness before you?" mockedBetty.


"Too much idleness," grumbled Grace. "That's the trouble."


"Enter," said Betty drolly, "Doctor Elizabeth Nelson."


Grace digested this remark for a moment, staring at the telephone inmuch the same manner as Mollie had done a few minutes before. Then sheswallowed the last of her chocolate in such haste that it almost chokedher.


"Betty," she said, "I have heard you use that tone before. Is therereally something in the wind?"


"Come and see," said Betty and a click at the other end of the wire toldGrace that the conversation was over.


"Oh bother!" she cried, her pretty forehead drawn into a frown. "Now Isuppose I've got to get dressed and go over there before I can find outwhat she meant."


In the hall she nearly ran into her mother, who was dressed to go out.Mrs. Ford was a handsome woman, prominent in the social circles ofDeepdale. She was kindly and sympathetic, and all who knew her lovedher.


So now, as she regarded her mother, a loving smile erased the frown fromGrace's forehead.


"I declare, Mother, you look younger than I do," she said fondly."Whither away so early?"


"The art club, this morning," replied Mrs. Ford, her eyes approving thefair prettiness of her daughter. "Are you going out? I thought you weredeep in that new book."


"I was," said Grace, with a sigh for what might have been. "But Bettycalled up and said she wanted me to come over. There's something in thewind, that's sure, but she wouldn't give me even the teeniest littlehint of what it was. I wasn't going at first, but I----"


"Thought better of it," finished Mrs. Ford, with a smile. "Better go,"she added, as she opened the door. "My experience with Betty Nelson isthat she usually has something interesting to say. Good-by, dear. If anyone should 'phone while you are here, will you tell them that I shan'tbe back till late afternoon?"


Grace promised that she would and moved slowly up the stairs.


Meanwhile Amy Blackford, the last of the trio to whom the dark-haired,pink-cheeked little person who was Betty Nelson had telephoned, hadstopped merely to remove the apron from in front of her pink-checkedgingham dress and was now flying along the two short blocks thatseparated her house from the Nelsons'.


As for poor Mollie Billette, she was nearly distracted. Torn withcuriosity, as that young person very often was, to know the facts thathad prompted Betty's early call, she yet could not satisfy thatcuriosity. When she had told Betty that she would be around in fiveminutes she had fully meant to make that promise good. But--she hadforgotten the twins!


Upon entering the room where she had locked them while she talked toBetty, she found a sight that fairly took her breath away.


Unfortunately, some one had left an open bottle of ink on the table. Oneof the twins, deciding to play "savages," had pounced upon the inkbottle as a means of making the play more realistic!


"Oh, Dodo! Oh, Paul! How could you be so naughty?" moaned Mollie,sinking to the floor, while the tears of exasperation rolled down herface.


"Paul did it," accused Dodo, waving a pudgy, ink-stained little fist inthe direction of her brother. "He said, 'let's use this ink and playwe're savagers----'"


It was upon this scene that Mollie's little French-American mother, Mrs.Billette, came a moment later.


"Oh! Oh!" she cried, raising her hands in the French gesture all Frenchpeople know so well. "What is this? Mollie, have you gone quite mad?"


Whereupon Mollie shook the tears of woe from her eyes and explained toher mother just what had happened.


"And I was in such a hurry to get to Betty's," she finished dismally. "Ijust know she has something exciting to tell us. And now I don't supposeI will get there for hours."


"Oh yes, you will," said Mrs. Billette, with the delicious, almostimperceptible, accent she had. "The ink has not yet dried, and luckilythere is not much about the room. Run along, dear. I fully realize," sheadded, with the smile that made Mollie adore her, "that this, with you,is a very important occasion."


"And you are the most precious mother in the world!" cried Mollie,flinging young arms about her mother and giving her a joyful hug. "Imight have known you would understand." And before the words were fairlyout of her mouth she was flying up the stairs.


When she reached Betty's house at last, out of breath but happy, shefound that Grace and Amy were there before her. She found them all,including Betty, up in Betty's room, a pretty place done in ivory andblue, awaiting her coming as patiently as they could.


"Betty wouldn't tell us a thing until you came," was the greeting Graceflung at her.


"So don't be surprised if you aren't very popular around here," laughedBetty, sitting very straight in her wicker chair, feet stretched out andcrossed in front of her, hands tightly clasped in her lap. Her face wasa pretty picture of animation.


"Who cares for popularity?" cried Mollie, as she flung her sport hat onthe bed and turned to face Betty. "Betty Nelson, bring out thatsurprise."


"Who said it was a surprise?" asked Betty tantalizingly, but the nextminute her face sobered and she regarded the girls gravely.


"Girls," she said, "I think I see a chance for the most glorious outingwe have had yet. How would you like----" she paused and regarded theexpectant girls thoughtfully. "How would you like a summer _in thesaddle_?"


"In the saddle?" repeated Grace wonderingly, but Mollie broke in with aquick:


"Betty, do you mean on horseback?"


"Real horses?" breathed Amy Blackford.


"Yes," said Betty, nodding. "That's just exactly what I mean."



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