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   Chapter 3 ENTER PETER LEVINE

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 12109

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


It is to be feared that the boys did not have as pleasant a time on that Saturday afternoon motor drive as they had hoped to have. For, whereas the girls should have showered their attentions upon them, the boys, they insisted upon talking about nothing but Gold Run Ranch, which was the name of the property left to Mrs. Nelson by her great uncle.

"You aren't very complimentary to us," Frank grumbled, as he hunched himself over the wheel of Mollie's car. "You seem mighty glad to go out to this forsaken old ranch where you won't see us for the whole summer."

"I guess we can stand it if you can," Mollie responded lightly, which only caused him to glower the more.

"Now I'll say Allen knew what he was doing when he studied law," remarked Roy Anderson gloomily, as he glanced over his shoulder at young Allen Washburn, who was driving Betty's neat little roadster with Betty herself beside him. "He sure falls in soft on this job."

"Meaning, I suppose," drawled Grace, "that he will have the pleasure of our company at Gold Run Ranch. Never mind, old boy, you needn't look so dreadfully gloomy. Have a chocolate and brace up."

"You give it to me," said Roy, laughing. Grace obediently popped a large juicy one into his mouth. It may be remarked that after this performance he really did look more cheerful.

"Anyway, we'll be back sometime, I suppose," said Mollie, continuing on the subject that was uppermost in her mind.

"Yes, if we don't run away with some of those handsome cowboys," put in Amy, with a chuckle. "Betty says they abound around Gold Run Ranch."

The girls giggled, but Will looked fierce.

"You had better not," he said, and though his look was for all the girls, Amy knew that the words were for her. She colored prettily and promised with her eyes that she wouldn't.

Grace caught this by-play as she munched a chocolate grumpily. Adoring her brother Will as she did, she had always been a little jealous of his fancy for Amy.

"Anyway, they don't have to be so silly in public," she told herself resentfully. As she roused herself from her musing, she heard Mollie say, with a laugh:

"Don't be surprised if we come home with our pockets full of gold. Mrs. Nelson thinks there is some of it about there."

"Oh, are you still talking about that silly old ranch?" Grace broke in petulantly. "I don't know why you are getting so excited about it when there is more than a chance that we sha'n't go at all."

"Hooray!" cried Frank, and stepped on the accelerator.

Mollie, beside him, turned to look at him coldly.

"I'm glad you feel that way about it, Frank Haley," she said primly. "But I'm very sorry to say we don't."

"Now, I have put my foot in it," cried Frank ruefully, turning his irresistible smile full upon her. "What shall I do to make up, Mollie? Hold your hand or something?"

His free hand closed over hers, but she snatched her own away with indignation that ended in a chuckle.

"Tend to your knitting," she warned him. "Didn't you see that we almost ran over that dog?"

But however much they might joke about the possibility of their not realizing their dreams for the summer, the Outdoor Girls were really worried about it, and the next few days were anxious ones for them.

Suppose Mrs. Nelson should yield to her husband's arguments and resolve to sell the ranch after all? For awhile it almost seemed as though she were about to do this very thing, and the suspense nearly drove the girls frantic.

Then something happened to turn the tide in their direction. And how the girls afterwards blessed that loud-necktied, check-suited man!

It was Betty who came to the door to admit this angel in disguise, it being the hired girl's day out. Her first glance at the stranger served to stamp him as one of those loud-voiced, flashily dressed persons commonly referred to as "sports," and at this first glance Betty took a violent dislike to him.

However, being accustomed to treat every one with kindliness, she asked him gravely whom he wished to see.

"Is Mrs. Nelson at home?" he asked ingratiatingly.

"Why, yes," hesitated Betty, then her natural courtesy getting the better of the dislike she felt for this person, she added politely: "Won't you come in? I will call mother."

With blandly murmured thanks the owner of the checked suit stepped over the threshold, his eyes still on Betty to such an extent that she was glad to be able to slip upstairs out of his sight.

"Mother," she explained hurriedly, finding that lady in her pretty dressing room, "there's a horrid person downstairs who wants to see you. I don't like his looks, and if you don't want to see him I can tell him you aren't at home--"

"Heavens, Betty, is he as bad as all that?" asked Mrs. Nelson, as she rose hastily and gave an automatic pat to her hair. "I hope he doesn't steal the silver. You shouldn't have left him alone, dear--" and with these words she swept out of the room and down the stairs.

Betty heard her greet the man, and then slipped off to her own room and picked up some half-finished embroidery.

"I hope he doesn't bother mother too much," she mused aloud. "I never saw a more unpleasant looking person in my life. I wonder what he can want, anyway."

It was fully half an hour later that she heard the closing door downstairs that told her their unwelcome visitor had left. A minute later her mother herself opened the door of Betty's room, looking so troubled and unsettled that Betty jumped to her feet in quick alarm.

"Mother, did that man say anything to make you feel bad?" she cried. "Because, if he did--"

"No, no, dear," said Mrs. Nelson, sinking into a chair, while her eyes sought the window thoughtfully. "I am worried, that's all."

Betty drew a low chair over beside her mother, and, sitting down, took Mrs. Nelson's hand in both her own.

"Tell me, dear," she urged.

Mrs. Nelson drew her troubled gaze away from the window and looked at the Little Captain intently.

"Betty," she said, "there is something str

ange about this Gold Run Ranch of ours. This man--"

"Yes?" prompted Betty, as her mother paused.

"This man who called this morning wanted to buy the ranch for a western client of his. It seems this client is willing to pay me my own price-within reasonable limits of course. He seemed so strangely eager to make a deal with me--"

"Yes?" prompted Betty again, beginning to look worried herself.

"Well," continued Mrs. Nelson, "I decided then and there that I wouldn't sell to anybody."

"Oh, Mother!" Betty was all eagerness now, "do you really mean it?"

"Yes, I do," said Mrs. Nelson, determination replacing uncertainty. "There must be something unusual about Gold Run or John Josephs and this man, too, wouldn't be so anxious to get it away from me. I am certainly not going to let them drive me into selling, until I see my property at least."

"Good for you, Mother!" cried Betty enthusiastically. "I've been fearfully worried for fear you wouldn't see it that way. Did you tell the man in the check suit that?"

"No, I didn't," said Mrs. Nelson, smiling as she pressed Betty's hand. "Now you will see what a schemer your mother is, my dear. I told him I hadn't definitely decided yet on any course, that I had already had a very good offer for my ranch, and that he would have to see Allen Washburn, our attorney. I wanted Allen to have a chance to size this man up and see if he has the same impression of him that I had."

"Mother," breathed Betty admiringly, "I think you are wonderful." Then after a little pause, she added shyly: "You really think a great deal of-of Allen's ability, don't you, Mother?"

"I do, dear," said Mrs. Nelson, stroking the brown head gently. Then she added with a hint of mischief in her voice: "Your father and I have come to feel toward him almost as if he were our son."

"Oh-" murmured Betty, very faintly.

Two days went by-anxious ones for the girls. In the Nelson home, this time in the pretty living room, Allen Washburn was now a guest.

"Well," Mrs. Nelson said, with more than a hint of eagerness in her voice, "what did you think of our loudly-dressed friend, Allen?"

"Was he as bad as Mrs. Nelson's description makes him out to be?" asked Mr. Nelson, smiling genially through a cloud of cigar smoke.

Betty, in a corner of the lounge, was trying her best to be calm while she waited eagerly for Allen's reply.

"I don't know just how Mrs. Nelson described this fellow to you, I'm sure," he answered, with a smiling glance toward Betty's mother. "But I'm quite sure that she didn't say anything bad enough."

"Then you didn't like him either?" asked Mrs. Nelson quickly.

"I neither liked him nor trusted him," Allen replied decidedly, adding with a wry smile: "He calls himself Peter Levine, but I'm willing to wager about anything I have that that isn't his real name."

"You think he's a sharper then?" Mr. Nelson interjected.

"Yes, sir," responded Allen, his young face earnestly intent. "He looks to me like one of these confidence men who abound in the western boom towns-men who can talk the other fellow into putting his last cent into some 'sure thing.' 'Sure thing,'" he repeated disgustedly. "The only sure thing about most of those schemes is the certainty of 'going bust' and losing every penny you have in the world."

"And yet," Mr. Nelson commented, "these sharpers, 'confidence men,' as you call them, often manage to keep just within the law."

"Oh yes," said Allen, "they manage to keep the letter of the law-sometimes. But that is just a caution to save their own necks. It's the spirit of the law that they violate. But we are getting away from the point," he added, pulling himself up short with an apologetic smile toward Mrs. Nelson. "We were speaking of this Peter Levine. My summing up of him is that he is entirely untrustworthy."

Mrs. Nelson shot a triumphant glance at her husband.

"You see?" she said. "I was sure Allen would agree with me."

"Of course I may be mistaken," Allen continued, rather hesitantly. "But I have a very distinct impression, a sort of seventh sense we fellows in the law game call it, that this Levine is in league with John Josephs, the man that offered you fifteen thousand for the ranch."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Nelson, startled. "How can you know that?"

"I don't know it," Allen told her. "I only suspect."

"Then what would you advise us to do?"

"Hold tight and not sell till you have had a chance to look matters over on the ground-not from a distance."

"Well," said Mr. Nelson rising resignedly and knocking the ashes from his cigar, "I suppose that settles it. I shall have to leave my business to go to smash," he added, with a chuckle, "while I take my family into a barbarous land where every second man you meet has designs on a well-filled pocketbook--"

But he got no further, for Betty had run over to him and turned him imperiously around till his smiling eyes looked down into her gleeful ones.

"Daddy," she cried, "do you really mean it? We can all go to Gold Run-you and mother and the girls? We'll have to have the girls, you know!" she ended on a pleading note.

"Oh yes, of course," said Mr. Nelson resignedly. "We will have to have the girls."

It was a very radiant Betty who, a few minutes later, saw Allen Washburn to the door.

"And to think," she murmured, while Allen smiled down at her, "that I didn't like that perfect angel, Peter Levine, at first. Why, I should have welcomed him with open arms!"

"Why?" asked Allen, taken by surprise.

"Don't you know?" asked Betty, mischievously wide-eyed. "If he hadn't happened along just when he did our glorious adventure would have dwindled into a might-have-been. Why, I could love him for it."

"Good-night, I'm going!" ejaculated Allen, and before Betty could gasp he had flung out of the door.

"Where are you going?" she called, laughter in her voice.

"To kill Peter Levine," growled a voice out of the darkness, and Betty, closing the door very softly, chuckled to herself.

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