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   Chapter 7 A SUDDEN STORM

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 11353

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


The girls spent the rest of that day getting acquainted, at which agreeable task Andy Rawlinson, the head cowboy, assisted pleasantly. The latter introduced them to several others of the ranch hands, all of whom were as picturesque and good-natured as Andy himself.

Escorted by Rawlinson and followed by the admiring glances of the other cowboys, the girls were introduced to the interior of the bunk houses which, with their rude wooden cots built into the side of the walls, their scanty and rather severe furniture, and the romantic looking trophies fastened to the bare boards of the walls, filled the girls with curiosity and interest.

Then on to the corrals, where some spectacular broncho busting was staged for the sole benefit of the visitors. In this dangerous business Andy himself took a part, and the girls gasped with dismay and later with admiration as the boy ran alongside a vicious looking animal for a few paces, then flung himself recklessly upon the beast's back and clung there, seemingly defying all the laws of gravitation.

"Oh, he surely will be killed!" cried Amy, clutching Betty in terror. "That horse will throw him--"

"Keep quiet, can't you, Amy?" cried Mollie impatiently, beside herself with excitement. "Don't you suppose he has ever done this sort of thing before?"

Then followed such an exhibition of sheer grit and skill and dauntless courage as none of the girls would ever forget.

The vicious brute raced madly around and around the corrals, cruel head upflung, nostrils dilated, but still the man upon his back clung with maddening persistence. Then he stopped so suddenly that the man was almost flung over his lowered head and the girls held their breath, but Andy recovered himself and touching the spurs to the beast's belly, sent it flying round the corral once more. There was sweat on its body and the flaring nostrils were blood red with the effort, but the spirit of the beast was still unbroken.

Around and around the ring he plunged, the other horses galloping wildly from his path, then suddenly as though the thing on his back had maddened him past bearing, he began to buck and to plunge and to rear himself on his hind legs in a desperate effort to throw himself backward, until it seemed to the fascinated, terrified girls that Andy Rawlinson surely must be killed.

HE CLUNG TO THE HORSE'S BACK AS THOUGH HE HAD BEEN A PART OF HIM.

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle. Page 64

But Andy Rawlinson had not spent his twenty-eight years in the saddle for nothing. He clung to that horse's back as though he had been a part of him, and when the outraged beast tried to throw himself over backward for the second time, Andy evidently decided that he had played enough.

A cruel blow of his spurred heel brought the beast almost to its knees with a whinny of pain. Then it jumped high in the air, and once more began its furious race with this mysterious and horrible being that clung so tenaciously to his back.

Andy rode him hard, cruelly hard, and when the beast, panting, sweating, beaten, would have stopped he dug the spurs in and drove him on, on, until the broncho's breath came in sobbing gasps and his legs trembled under him.

Betty, who could never bear to see anything hurt, shouted to Andy Rawlinson as man and beast came abreast of her:

"Isn't that enough?" she cried. "You've beaten him. Stop! Please stop!"

And Andy Rawlinson, flashing his pleasant smile, flung himself from his mount, while the beautiful horse stood there, quivering, head hung in shame--

"Game hoss, that," said Andy, as he vaulted the low railing and approached the girls. "Fought like a thoroughbred."

"And you were wonderful," cried Betty, with her warm impulsiveness. "I never saw finer riding. We were all afraid you were going to be killed."

Andy was pleased, but he looked at Betty rather quizzically.

"Strange," he drawled, with a smile on his face, "strange what impressions you get sometimes. Now I kind o' thought you was mad at me, the way you called out to stop. Anyways, you looked mad."

"I was only sorry for the horse," Betty explained gravely. "He was game, as you say, and I hated to see his spirit entirely broken."

Andy Rawlinson looked at her with admiring approval in his nice eyes.

"There speaks the real lover of animals," he cried enthusiastically. "I hate to break a good hoss myself, but you see it has to be done-for the sake of the hoss. A hoss that's a bad actor is mighty like a mad dog. It has to be killed-or broke. So we break 'em. But now," he said, glancing toward the corrals, "I reckon you young ladies would like to pick out some nice gentle hosses to ride while you're here."

The girls nodded and crowded forward eagerly while Andy called to some of the cowboys who had been lingering enviously near.

"Bring out the sorrel and Nigger, will you, Jake?" he said to one of them. "I'll corral Lady and Nabob."

The girls watched with interest while the boys corraled the four horses Andy had selected and led them forth for the visitors' inspection.

They were splendid specimens of horse flesh, and for a moment the girls were simply lost in admiration. Nigger, as his name implied, was a magnificent coal-black animal without a speck of white upon him anywhere. He and Betty seemed to form a mutual admiration society on the instant, for with a gentle whinny he cantered up to the girl and began nosing inquisitively in her pocket in search of sugar. Luckily Betty had brought some with her, and she fed a couple of lumps to the beautiful animal, thereby definitely sealing their pact of friendship.

"Oh you, Nigger!" crooned Betty

joyfully, as she rubbed the velvet muzzle. "You and I are going to be great little pals, aren't we? You perfect old darling!" And Nigger whinnied again and nosed about for more sugar.

"Well, I like that," cried Grace, breaking the silence in which they had all been enjoyably regarding the little scene. "Betty doesn't have to choose her horse-it chooses her."

"Oh well, Betty always did have a way with her," laughed Mollie, and promptly turned her attention to the remaining three horses.

"Lady" was a lovely white filly with whom Amy fell in love immediately.

"This one's mine," she cried, putting a possessive hand on Lady's flank while the latter turned her dainty head and regarded the girl out of softly-wistful brown eyes. "I wanted her as soon as I saw her."

Her claim was not disputed, for Grace was raving over the horse called Nabob, who was, by a strange coincidence, that very light tan color which she most adored.

"How did you know I always wanted a horse just like this?" she cried, turning joyfully to Andy Rawlinson who, with the other "boys" had been looking on amusedly.

"Well," drawled Andy, with a grin, "seems like you are all suited pretty well."

For Mollie, whose adventurous spirit craved a spice of the dangerous in everything, had taken immediately to the sorrel, who had apparently been given no name. He was a skittish horse, gentle, as Andy explained, but "pow'ful nervous-had to be sort o' coaxed along."

"You're my horse, all right," Mollie declared, stroking the animal's muzzle fearlessly, unmindful of rolling eyes and nervously twitching ears. "I don't like 'em too tame, old boy. And by the way," she added, struck by a sudden inspiration, "I've thought of just the name for you. I'm going to call you 'Old Nick.'"

And so, when the selection had been made, to everybody's satisfaction, nothing would do but the girls must try their mounts that very evening. They had brought their riding tags in preparation for their summer in the saddle, and when they had slipped into the tight breeches, and leather leggings, tailored coat, and snug fitting hat, they looked like what they were-four thoroughly modern and very pretty Outdoor Girls.

Later, when they rode proudly about the ranch on their splendid mounts, the ranch hands were lost in admiration of them.

"Gosh," said one, removing his hat and fanning himself with it, for the evening was warm, "when Andy said they was four girls comin' from the city to visit us I was plumb skeered. But these here girls, they ain't no ordinary kind, no siree. An' they sho' does know how to ride."

However, the girls were satisfied with a rather short ride that evening for they were out of practice and they knew that sore muscles would be the price of over-exertion.

In the days that followed they took longer and longer rides, even venturing along the rough forest trails when Andy Rawlinson was with them as guide and protector. Mr. and Mrs. Nelson rode, too, but, not being as strenuous as the girls, they were glad to have any one as capable as Andy Rawlinson to look out for their charges.

But one day, much as they liked him, the girls got a little tired of Andy's chaperonage, and at Mollie's suggestion they decided to "give him the slip."

"Anybody would think he was our granny, the way he dictates to us," she complained, as she flicked a fly from Old Nick's side, thereby causing him to shy wildly. "We know our way about all right now, and I'm sure we Outdoor Girls never needed anybody to look out for us, anyway."

"Hear, hear," laughed Betty, half way between conviction and protest. "I don't like to have Andy around all the time, any more than you do, Mollie, but I'm not sure that we know our way about as well as we might. If we should get lost--"

"Oh, don't be an old wet blanket," cried Mollie impatiently, and as Amy and Grace seemed for once to be of her mind, Betty had nothing to do but to surrender as gracefully as she could.

It was after lunch that the girls managed to slip away without being observed to where their mounts were tethered at the edge of the woodland. And oh, what a glorious sense of freedom when they were mounted and cantering down a cool forest trail-alone!

They had been this way with Andy before, so they had no fear of losing their path and they urged their horses to more and more speed, intoxicated by the sense of freedom.

What they did not notice was that the sun had disappeared behind an ominous bank of clouds and the wind was rising threateningly. And so they were caught fairly and squarely by the deluge that swept upon them with a bewildering suddenness.

Where to go? Where to turn for shelter from the driving rain and moaning wind? They checked their horses while they gazed at each other wildly.

Suddenly Betty's straining eyes made out what seemed to be the outline of a little shed or cabin, half hidden by surrounding foliage.

"There's a house over there," she cried, hastily dismounting and tying Nigger to a tree a little off the path. "Maybe whoever lives there will let us in till the rain stops."

The girls followed her example and hurriedly made their way on foot toward their one hope of refuge. When they reached the house Betty started to knock, then paused uncertainly, her hand uplifted. For above the beat of the rain and the shrill whine of the wind came a strain of music, mournful, yet exquisitely beautiful. Amazed, forgetful of their discomfort, the girls listened while the throbbing, haunting melody wailed itself to a close.

"I-I've heard that music before," Betty murmured, then rapped gently, almost timidly, on the door.

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