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   Chapter 6 AT THE RANCH

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 11475

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

To the girls, that jolting ride was like an adventure straight from the Arabian Nights. The fact that they were squeezed four in a seat which was meant to accommodate only three, served to dampen their enthusiasm not a trifle. Mrs. Nelson, riding in front with the bashful driver, vainly sought to engage him in conversation. After repeated failures she settled down to enjoy the ride in silence.

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

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

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

"Of course they do; only this happens to be the dry season," said Mollie, instructively, from the heights of her superior intelligence. At least, that is what she called it.

"I'll say it's dry," grumbled Grace.

"Ooh, look," Amy interrupted ecstatically. "Isn't that a cactus over there? Oh, I've wanted all my life to see some real cacti. Now I know we're in the West."

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

"The mountains!" murmured Betty, half to herself. "How I love them. The plains are fascinating in a cruelly romantic way, but somehow the mountains make one think of hidden springs rushing swiftly into noisy foolish 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 woodsy smell of camp fires-but there," she broke off confusedly, as she realized the girls were regarding her with fond amusement. "I didn't mean to wax so poetic."

"It's all right, honey," said Mollie, giving her hand a warm little squeeze. "You rave right along. I know just how you feel, for I get that way myself sometimes."

"There is something mighty wonderful about the mountains," added Grace softly.

"Oh, I love them, too," broke in Amy, adding with such earnestness that the girls looked at her wonderingly. "They are everything that Betty has said. And yet when Betty spoke of the plains as being cruel I couldn't help 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 not seem so kind to one who was lost in them-without a gun perhaps. I have heard Will say that a person who had no knowledge of woodcraft would find it almost impossible to recover his path, once he had lost it. And," she added, with a shudder, her eyes fixed steadily on the distant mountain range, "there are wild animals in those forests."

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

A minute later the girls lost interest in everything but the immediate present. For, in the distance, but distinctly visible, loomed a long low ranch house which the silent driver beside Mrs. Nelson deigned to admit was on Gold Run Ranch.

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

"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 turning off 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 two horsemen, and since the new road proved to be nothing but two deep ruts worn in the grass and as the ponies attached to the buckboard showed considerable excitement at coming near home, the girls found themselves holding on to each other convulsively to keep from being thrown out on the stubbly grass at the side of the road.

"Whew, I'm glad that's over!" exclaimed Mollie, as the driver drew in the rearing horses and spoke to them soothingly. "Come on, girls," she added, making ready to jump out. "I'm going to remove myself from this buckboard 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 happened to 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 with excitement. "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 that seemed little more than glorified sheds and which the girls decided must be the "bunk houses" for the ranch hands.

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

"It's nearly supper time," he informed them smiling. "And Andy here," he indicated young Rawlinson,

who grinned an acknowledgment, "says that everybody has supper sharp on the minute of six. So what do you say if we go up to the house and have a little refreshment?"

The girls were not altogether reluctant to obey, much as they desired a closer look at the bronchos, for they realized that they were pretty hungry.

The ranch house was one of those quaint old structures which had begun as a tiny, one-story frame cottage and had gradually been added to until now it seemed, Betty said, to "spread all over the landscape." It had porches and doors in the most unexpected places, but the whole house was painted such an immaculate white and the shutters were such a friendly green that the effect of the place was indescribably charming.

"If the house is as clean inside as it looks outside," whispered Grace to 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, and then 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 supper preparations were going on at one end of it. Rough picturesque looking chairs were scattered about, and over near the windows a long table was invitingly set for six. And oh, the delicious odor of cooking things that was wafted on the air!

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

"Go long with you, Andy Rawlinson," she cried as the youth lingered rather awkwardly in the doorway. "There's no need for you to tell me who these folks are, for I already know them for the new master and his lady and the young ladies, bless their pretty sweet faces. Come right in, all of you, and Lizzie here," turning to a wholesome-looking, mouse-haired girl who had come in from the other room, "Lizzie will take you to see the 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 pan on 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 old house 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 were three low steps leading to such a series of rooms as the girls had never seen before, each furnished neatly but plainly, the only touch of color being the gay cretonne curtains at the windows. The rooms all seemed to be connected by doors and to reach these doors one was obliged to go up two steps or down three or up one, as the case might be.

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

"Yes, miss," said Lizzie, halting and speaking unexpectedly. "They was a time when these rooms wuz all filled. Old Mr. Barcolm"-this being the name of Mrs. Nelson's great uncle-"had a many children and grandchildren an' seemed like he was sot on 'em all livin' with him. But they 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 by the intent look of her listeners that she had said more than she had intended to, "that's what they says. But mebbe it ain't the truth, fer all I knows."

Then she led them on again through the maze of rooms while the girls thought amazedly of what she had told them. Finally she came to a stop in a room, larger than the rest, and turned her rather stolid gaze upon Mr. and Mrs. Nelson.

"Miz Cummins," she announced, dully-the girls were afterward to find out that Cummins was the name of the rosy-faced woman who had met them so cordially at the door and who seemed to be general housekeeper for the place-"Miz Cummins thought as how this would be a good room fer the mister and missus. They is some nice rooms back of these fer the young ladies. She sed, if you liked any of the other rooms better, to take your pick. They's fresh water in the pitchers," indicating a washstand with a bowl and two pitchers of gleaming water upon it, "an' if you want anythin' else, you wuz please to tell me." And with these words, uttered so precisely that it sounded like a rehearsed speech, which, in fact, it was, Lizzie disappeared, leaving the travelers to themselves.

"Come on, girls," cried Betty, pushing them before her into the next room. "Let's see what kind of rooms 'Miz Cummins' has picked out for us."

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

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

"Don't those beds look heavenly?" sighed Grace, as she pulled off her hat 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, and pushed 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 Betty disappeared into the adjoining room. "I can smell 'Miz Cummins'' cooking clear in here!"

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