The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run

       Laura Lee Hope / Actions & Adventure
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CHAPTER VI

AT THE RANCH

To the girls, that jolting ride was like an adventure straight from theArabian Nights. The fact that they were squeezed four in a seat whichwas meant to accommodate only three, served to dampen their enthusiasmnot a trifle. Mrs. Nelson, riding in front with the bashful driver,vainly sought to engage him in conversation. After repeated failures shesettled down to enjoy the ride in silence.

A dozen yards or so ahead of them Andy Rawlinson and Mr. Nelson canteredup the dusty road, their horses' hoofs making the dust fly in a whitecloud.

”Goodness!” sneezed Betty, extracting a small handkerchief from herpocket and applying it to her nose, ”I do hope those two keep theirdistance. We'll be simply choked with dust.”

”I wonder,” said Grace, as she rubbed her dust-filled eyes, ”if theydon't have any rain in this part of the world.”

”Of course they do; only this happens to be the dry season,” saidMollie, instructively, from the heights of her superior intelligence. Atleast, that is what she called it.

”I'll say it's dry,” grumbled Grace.

”Ooh, look,” Amy interrupted ecstatically. ”Isn't that a cactus overthere? Oh, I've wanted all my life to see some real cacti. Now I knowwe're in the West.”

The girls were silent for a moment, gazing out over the rolling plain--aplain studded with stunted trees and sickly-looking bushes with here andthere a cactus plant for variety's sake--out to the hazy mountainsbeyond, serene, calm, majestic, jutting jaggedly into the dazzling blueof a cloudless sky.

”The mountains!” murmured Betty, half to herself. ”How I love them. Theplains are fascinating in a cruelly romantic way, but somehow themountains make one think of hidden springs rushing swiftly into noisyfoolish little brooks, of bird songs, and the smell of cool damp earth,of the crackling of dry twigs under one's feet, and the pungent woodsysmell of camp fires--but there,” she broke off confusedly, as sherealized the girls were regarding her with fond amusement. ”I didn'tmean to wax so poetic.”

”It's all right, honey,” said Mollie, giving her hand a warm littlesqueeze. ”You rave right along. I know just how you feel, for I get thatway myself sometimes.”

”There _is_ something mighty wonderful about the mountains,” added Gracesoftly.

”Oh, I love them, too,” broke in Amy, adding with such earnestness thatthe girls looked at her wonderingly. ”They are everything that Betty hassaid. And yet when Betty spoke of the plains as being cruel I couldn'thelp wondering if the mountains weren't sometimes like that, too.”

”What do you mean?” they queried, with quick interest.

”I was thinking,” Amy continued slowly, ”that the mountains might notseem so kind to one who was lost in them--without a gun perhaps. I haveheard Will say that a person who had no knowledge of woodcraft wouldfind it almost impossible to recover his path, once he had lost it.And,” she added, with a shudder, her eyes fixed steadily on the distantmountain range, ”there are wild animals in those forests.”

”Of course there are,” agreed Betty lightly, as she saw how serious thegirls' faces had become. ”Oodles of foxes and bears and raccoons andthings. Why, how would you expect to get pretty furs when you wantedthem if those things didn't exist? Cheer up, Amy dear. We're a long wayfrom being lost in the woods without a gun!”

A minute later the girls lost interest in everything but the immediatepresent. For, in the distance, but distinctly visible, loomed a long lowranch house which the silent driver beside Mrs. Nelson deigned to admitwas on Gold Run Ranch.

”You see it, girls?” cried the lady, turning a beaming face to thegirls. ”You know, I feel just like a little girl with a beautiful newtoy.”

”And we're awfully glad you've got the toy, Mrs. Nelson,” said Grace,fervently.

”Look,” cried Mollie suddenly. ”Your father and that cowboy are turningoff from the main road. That must be where the ranch begins. Oh, girls,oh, girls, I'm glad I came!”

A few minutes later their jolting buckboard turned in after the twohorsemen, and since the new road proved to be nothing but two deep rutsworn in the grass and as the ponies attached to the buckboard showedconsiderable excitement at coming near home, the girls found themselvesholding on to each other convulsively to keep from being thrown out onthe stubbly grass at the side of the road.

”Whew, I'm glad that's over!” exclaimed Mollie, as the driver drew inthe rearing horses and spoke to them soothingly. ”Come on, girls,” sheadded, making ready to jump out. ”I'm going to remove myself from thisbuckboard before one of those horses decides to sit in my lap.”

The girls laughed and followed her with alacrity.

”Oh,” cried Betty, hugging Amy ecstatically, simply because she happenedto be the nearest one to hug. ”There are the horse corrals over there!And, oh, girls! look at the cows, dozens and dozens and dozens of 'em.Mother,” she cried, turning wide-eyed to the latter, ”do all those'anymiles' really belong to you?”

”I presume they do, dear,” said Mrs. Nelson, her own face flushed withexcitement. ”I can't quite take in the amazing truth of it yet.”

They were standing beside the first of a long line of low buildings thatseemed little more than glorified sheds and which the girls decided mustbe the ”bunk houses” for the ranch hands.

And while they were wondering if it would be possible to slip over tothe corrals for a closer look at the horses, Mr. Nelson sauntered up tothem, with handsome Andy Rawlinson keeping diffidently a little in therear.

”It's nearly supper time,” he informed them smiling. ”And Andy here,” heindicated young Rawlinson, who grinned an acknowledgment, ”says thateverybody has supper sharp on the minute of six. So what do you say ifwe go up to the house and have a little refreshment?”

The girls were not altogether reluctant to obey, much as they desired acloser look at the bronchos, for they realized that they were prettyhungry.

The ranch house was one of those quaint old structures which had begunas a tiny, one-story frame cottage and had gradually been added to untilnow it seemed, Betty said, to ”spread all over the landscape.” It hadporches and doors in the most unexpected places, but the whole house waspainted such an immaculate white and the shutters were such a friendlygreen that the effect of the place was indescribably charming.

”If the house is as clean inside as it looks outside,” whispered Graceto Betty as Andy Rawlinson led them up on to one of the many porches,”I'll never dare go in. I never felt so mussy and dirty in all my life.”

”Never mind, we're all in the same boat,” said Betty encouragingly, andthen they stepped into one of the pleasantest rooms they had ever seen.

It was big and cool and airy, in spite of the fact that supperpreparations were going on at one end of it. Rough picturesque lookingchairs were scattered about, and over near the windows a long table wasinvitingly set for six. And oh, the delicious odor of cooking thingsthat was wafted on the air!

At sight of them a stout but immaculately neat and rosy-faced woman leftwhatever she was doing with a frying pan on the stove and came over tothem, wiping her hands on her apron, her face wreathed in smiles.

”Go long with you, Andy Rawlinson,” she cried as the youth lingeredrather awkwardly in the doorway. ”There's no need for you to tell me whothese folks are, for I already know them for the new master and his ladyand the young ladies, bless their pretty sweet faces. Come right in, allof you, and Lizzie here,” turning to a wholesome-looking, mouse-hairedgirl who had come in from the other room, ”Lizzie will take you to seethe rooms and you can have your pick. But don't be long,” she cautioned,as they started to follow Lizzie and she turned back to her frying panon the stove, ”for supper is all ready and you must be nearly famished.”

If the girls had been impressed by the quaintness of this quaint oldhouse from the outside, they were even more delighted by its interior.

They passed down a rather dark and narrow hall at the end of which werethree low steps leading to such a series of rooms as the girls had neverseen before, each furnished neatly but plainly, the only touch of colorbeing the gay cretonne curtains at the windows. The rooms all seemed tobe connected by doors and to reach these doors one was obliged to go uptwo steps or down three or up one, as the case might be.

”Goodness,” cried Betty, when Lizzie had led the way through three ofthese quaint little rooms and the open doors seemed to reveal severalothers, ”I wonder if all these rooms were really occupied.”

”Yes, miss,” said Lizzie, halting and speaking unexpectedly. ”They was atime when these rooms wuz all filled. Old Mr. Barcolm”--this being thename of Mrs. Nelson's great uncle--”had a many children andgrandchildren an' seemed like he was sot on 'em all livin' with him. Butthey got to quarrelin' and all left th' old man an' he was so mad he cut'em all out o' his will. At least,” she finished, as though warned bythe intent look of her listeners that she had said more than she hadintended to, ”that's what they says. But mebbe it ain't the truth, ferall I knows.”

Then she led them on again through the maze of rooms while the girlsthought amazedly of what she had told them. Finally she came to a stopin a room, larger than the rest, and turned her rather stolid gaze uponMr. and Mrs. Nelson.

”Miz Cummins,” she announced, dully--the girls were afterward to findout that Cummins was the name of the rosy-faced woman who had met themso cordially at the door and who seemed to be general housekeeper forthe place--”Miz Cummins thought as how this would be a good room fer themister and missus. They is some nice rooms back of these fer the youngladies. She sed, if you liked any of the other rooms better, to takeyour pick. They's fresh water in the pitchers,” indicating a washstandwith a bowl and two pitchers of gleaming water upon it, ”an' if you wantanythin' else, you wuz please to tell me.” And with these words, utteredso precisely that it sounded like a rehearsed speech, which, in fact, itwas, Lizzie disappeared, leaving the travelers to themselves.

”Come on, girls,” cried Betty, pushing them before her into the nextroom. ”Let's see what kind of rooms 'Miz Cummins' has picked out forus.”

They were not at all unusual rooms, being both about the same size andnearly square and furnished about as simply as they could possibly be.

”If it weren't for the different colored cretonne at the windows,” saidMollie, with a chuckle, ”these rooms might be twins. You and Grace canhave the lavender cretonne, Amy, and Betty and I will take the blue.”

”Don't those beds look heavenly?” sighed Grace, as she pulled off herhat and threw herself upon the big, snowy-sheeted bed.

”Goodness!” cried Amy, in dismay. ”She's flopped. Get her up, somebody,before she gets the bed so dirty I can't sleep in it to-night.”

For answer Betty made a dash for Grace, pulled her to her feet, andpushed her over to the washstand.

”See that water, Grace Ford?” she cried sternly. ”Now use it!”

”And make it snappy,” added Mollie slangily, as she and Bettydisappeared into the adjoining room. ”I can smell 'Miz Cummins'' cookingclear in here!”


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