The outdoor girls in the.., p.9
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       The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run, p.9

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  Betty's knock had to be repeated twice before the occupant of the cabinresponded.

  "Knock harder, Betty, if----" Mollie was beginning when the door openedat last and a very strange person stood upon the threshold. Tall, withstooped shoulders and a head bent a little as though he had spentcountless hours over his violin, with long, curly hair, and with thevisioned eyes of the musician, the man was a figure that would have madepeople turn to stare at him anywhere.

  "I--we--we are very sorry to trouble you," said Betty hesitatingly, asthe musician made no effort to break the silence. "But it is raininghard, as you see, and we thought----"

  The man started and frowned.

  "Ah yes, of course," he said, moving aside and motioning them into theroom. "You will find shelter here, but very little else, I fear."

  As the girls entered rather hesitantly the man turned from themabruptly and, lifting the violin that lay upon the rough board table, hebegan with the utmost gentleness to put it in its case. The girls hadthe rather uncomfortable impression that the man was forcing himself tobe polite to them--that if he had been any other than a gentleman hewould have refused them admittance.

  They looked uneasily at each other and then toward the one window in theroom, and one thought was in the minds of all of them--to escape fromthe enforced hospitality of this man.

  "I think the rain is letting up a little," said Grace softly.

  "I reckon we won't have to stay more than a few minutes," agreed Betty,then, as their long-haired host put down his case and turned towardthem, she ventured a shy compliment.

  "We heard you playing as we came along," she said. "It was verywonderful."

  "Thank you," said the man gruffly, and turned away so abruptly thatBetty felt as if some one had struck her.

  Mollie looked indignant and Amy put an arm about Betty as she whispered:

  "The rain has nearly stopped, honey. Don't you think we had better go?"

  So, with half-hearted expressions of thanks from the girls and noexpression of regret at all from the man, the new acquaintances parted,the girls hurrying down the dripping path to where their horses weretethered.

  Once Mollie looked back toward the cabin, and her indignation burstforth.

  "Look, he could hardly wait for us to get outside to shut the door," shesaid. "Of all the ill-mannered----"

  "Oh, I don't think he meant to be ill-mannered," interposed Bettymildly, as she reached Nigger and he whinnied a welcome. "He was justdistantly polite, that's all. He didn't want to be bothered, probably,and he had a hard time to keep from showing it."

  "Huh," grunted Mollie, as she flung herself upon Old Nick's back andpatted him soothingly. "I'm sure he has some real reason for not wantingfolks around. He acted mighty funny to me," she said.

  "Goodness, hear the child!" cried Grace, as they rode swiftly back theway they had come through the fine drizzle. "She never can resist makinga thief or something out of a perfectly ordinary person."

  "Seems to me he is anything but ordinary," interposed Amy thoughtfully."No ordinary person could play the violin the way he was playing itwhen we came up to the house. That sounded like the work of a master."

  "Yes," agreed Betty, a faraway look in her eyes. "He plays exquisitely,if he does live in a little house away up in the woods. And I can'tshake off the impression that I have heard that same selection played injust that same way somewhere before."

  Though this first excursion had been somewhat of a failure, the girlswere by no means discouraged and in the days that followed they rodealmost constantly. Finally they began to know their way about like thenatives.

  Their rides were taken mostly in the open country, however, for in thewoods they knew lurked very real dangers. But these they avoided more tosave Mrs. Nelson worry than from any personal fears.

  But one day, feeling more than usually adventurous and growing more andmore confident of their ability to find their way around alone, theydared venture along a rocky trail that offered wonderful romanticopportunities.

  "Oh, this is the life!" cried Grace, as Nabob stepped daintily over therocks and underbrush that almost completely overgrew the narrow path. "Apeach of a horse under you, the whole day before you, and nothing to dobut enjoy yourself. Whoa-up there, Nabob. What's the matter with you?"for the horse had whinnied softly and shied almost imperceptibly to theside of the trail.

  At the same time the other horses seemed to catch some of Nabob'suneasiness, and the girls were kept busy for the next few minutessoothing them and coaxing them back into a normal mode of progress.

  "Something scared them," said Amy nervously. "Don't you think we hadbetter go back, girls? This trail seems to be getting narrower andnarrower. I don't believe anybody comes along here very often."

  "Well, what of it?" cried Mollie sharply. "That's what we are here for,isn't it? If we wanted people, we could have plenty of them right backon the ranch."

  "Stop quarreling, girls," said Betty, matter-of-factly. "We'll eatpretty soon and that will make everybody feel better." Kindly Mrs.Cummins had put up an appetizing lunch for the girls.

  "Look!" she cried a moment later, as the trail broadened out and theyreached a rather open space in the woods through which they could lookstraight down--for they were on a considerable elevation--into thethriving little mining town of Gold Run. "I didn't know you could seeGold Run from here."

  "Doesn't it look funny and tiny?" cried Mollie, reining in beside her."It must be an awfully long way off."

  "Wouldn't this be a good place to eat?" queried Amy hopefully, and thegirls laughed at her.

  "We aren't hungry enough yet," said Betty, as she turned her horse tocontinue down the trail.

  They rode on, following the trail as it wound deeper and deeper into thewoodland, catching glimpses now and then of the mining camp down in thehollow.

  It seemed as if they were really getting closer to Gold Run and,fascinated by the new game they were playing, forgetting their fears inthe new sights and sounds all about them, the girls rode farther andfarther into the heart of a forest, whose smiling face often served tohide some hideous danger.

  But to the girls all was beauty and sunshine and they conversed merrilyas they cantered along.

  "When is Allen coming, Betty?" asked Grace. "I had an idea he would behere before this."

  "Why, dad has written, asking him to come as soon as he can," answeredBetty, striving to look unconscious. "You know what that girl Lizziesaid about mother's relatives--she never knew she had them till she camehere--and dad thinks some of these people may make up their minds tocontest the will. They haven't made trouble yet--but you never can tell.Listen, girls," she added suddenly. "Will you promise not to breathe aword of it if I tell you a big secret?"

  "Hope to die," they chorused piously.

  "Well, our old friend Peter Levine has been around pestering motheragain."

  At this news, Grace, who was riding ahead, checked her mount so suddenlythat Betty had all she could do to keep Nigger from swallowing Nabob'stail.

  "For goodness' sake, put out your hand when you do that next time,"laughed Betty.

  "Well," said Grace as she gave Nabob a gentle slap that started him onagain, "Peter Levine must want that ranch very badly, to be following usall over the continent this way."

  "He seems to be rather anxious," said Betty dryly. "He has offeredmother twenty thousand for it this time."

  "Going up," cried Mollie, with a chuckle. "If your mother holds on muchlonger, Betty, she will be a millionaire."

  "Well, mother is more certain than ever that there is something unusualabout Gold Run Ranch," went on Betty, as she urged Nigger up a gentleslope. "She confidently expects to discover a gold mine, and so that'sanother reason why she thinks Allen ought to be here."

  "Goodness, let's all get out and dig," cried Mollie.

  "Can we have all we find, Betty?" called Amy, with a laugh.

  "Every last gold brick," a
nswered Betty happily, and then they came uponanother open space, and there, lying not more than half a mile belowthem, was the mining town of Gold Run.

  "Now here's the place to have some lunch," said Betty, slipping to theground and leading Nigger off a little way into the woods where shetethered him securely. "We can look right down into the town and eat ourlunch at the same time."

  The girls followed suit, and it did not take them long afterward todiscover that they were very hungry. So out came the lunch basket, andnever did biscuits and cheese and fried chicken taste more deliciousthan they did to the girls right there in that romantic little spot inthe woods.

  "I hope it doesn't rain the way it did the other day," said Mollie, asshe lazily surveyed a cloudless sky.

  "We haven't even a cabin in the woods to go to this time," said Grace,adding, as the thought brought up a picture of the long-haired musicianwho had been so painfully polite: "I wonder what our friend, Long Hair,lives on, anyway. Maybe he goes out and kills bears and things. They saybear meat is very good eating," she added reflectively.

  "Maybe we can catch one ourselves and take it home for dinner,"suggested Mollie, and the girls looked as if they did not like hersuggestion at all.

  "Methinks the bear would be more likely to catch us," Betty was sayingwhen a chorus of low whinnyings and stampings coming from where thehorses were tethered caused them to jump to their feet in alarm.Suddenly the nervousness of the animals changed to panic and they beganto rear and plunge, straining madly at the tethering straps, snortingand screaming with terror.

  "Look!" cried Mollie, her voice shrilling above the noise. "There! Inthe woods! Oh, run for your lives, girls! Run!"

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