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   Chapter 9 DANGER AHEAD

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 7801

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Coming toward the girls through the trees, crouched low, sinister eyes fixed upon them, were two great timber wolves. The girls, terrified as they were, saw at a glance that it would be of no use to run, the movement would only infuriate the beasts and precipitate their attack.

"The trees!" gasped Betty, feeling herself in the grip of the deadly inertia that one experiences sometimes in a nightmare. "Make for the trees, girls; they are our only chance."

Luckily, the branches of the trees swung low to the ground, or the girls could never have saved themselves. As it was, they had barely time to swing themselves free of the ground when the great beasts darted into the open, fangs bared, snarling hideously. Then--

Bang! Bang! Two sharp reports from the direction of the woodland and one of the wolves sprang clear of the ground, then slunk into the underbrush, while the other staggered, fell, struggled to its feet, fell again, and after one convulsive movement, lay still.

While the girls stared, unable to follow this swift turn of events, there was the sound of running feet coming in their direction and the next moment two figures broke through into the cleared space.

One was a little wizened man who seemed, for all his apparent age, extremely agile. The other was a girl, a splendid, big creature, who stood as tall as the man, and who, like him, carried a rifle.

The two ran to the fallen animal, talking excitedly, and turned it over to be sure it was dead. They were so absorbed that they did not notice the girls, who dropped down quietly from their perches in the trees. The sight of the guns carried by the newcomers had had a tremendously reassuring effect upon them. The wonderful sensation of relief that swept over them as they realized their almost miraculous escape, was so keen as to be almost pain.

Still, they were not quite free from fear as they approached the prostrate body of the big beast, over which their rescuers were still bending. It was the girl who first discovered them.

"Hello!" she cried, straightening up and turning upon the girls a frank regard. "You was the ones this old boy was after, eh? Look, Dad," she added, pointing to where the four horses were still bucking and snorting in fright. "There's the hosses we heard, but I reckon 'twas these gals the wolves was after."

"I guess you're right," said Betty, trying to smile through a shiver. "It wasn't very much fun while it lasted, either."

At this the old man, who had very kindly, keen blue eyes in his seamed and wrinkled face, turned and spat upon the ground meditatively.

"You don't mean to tell me," he said, looking from one to the other of the girls, "that you purty young girls was out hyar all alone, without even a gun to protect yourselves with?"

"I guess we were." It was Mollie who spoke this time, and her tone was rueful. "We aren't used to this part of the world, you see, and so we didn't know what a risky thing we were doing."

"They are most as bad as the Hermit of Gold Run, aren't they, Dad?" asked the big girl, her eyes twinkling. "He goes about everywhere through the woods without a gun and only his violin for company; and, somehow or other, the beasts never molest him. Some says he charms 'em with his violin, but I think it's just luck," she added, with a wise shake of her head.

The girls, whose curiosity had revived as their fears subsided, listened with interest to this rather long speech of the mountain girl.

"Has this-er-hermit, as you call him--" Betty interrogated eagerly, "has he long curly hair and is he tall--"

"With stooped shoulders?" finished Amy.

The mountain girl looked amazed.

"Why yes. Do you know him?" she asked, adding, as though to explain her surprise: "He doesn't like to see people, you know, and folks round here don't know much about him 'cept that he plays the violin. That's wh

y they calls him the hermit, 'cause he lives alone an' hates everybody."

"All except Meggy, here," interposed the old man, a look of pride in his eyes as he gazed at his daughter. "He likes her fust rate. She says it's 'cause she takes him grub an' good things to eat. But I know better."

"Pshaw, Dad," cried the girl, flushing with embarrassment. "It's jest one of your idees that people like me better'n most when they don't at all." As though to change the subject, she touched the stiff animal at her feet with the toe of her stout boot.

"What you aim to do with this one, Dad?" she asked. "It was your bullet got him. Mine went wild, an' I jest injured the other feller."

"Waal," said the old man, his gaze fixed speculatively on the big beast, "he's not wuth the trouble o' skinning an' his meat ain't much good, so I reckon we'd better leave him, daughter. Time I was gettin' back to the mine."

He turned to go, but Betty was before him, hand outstretched impulsively.

"Oh, but you must let us thank you," she cried. "If you and your daughter hadn't happened along just then I don't know what we should have done."

"Oh, thet's all right, thet's all right," said the old miner, too embarrassed to meet her eye. "Glad we could be some use to you, ma'am. But ef you'll take an old man's advice," he added, as he and his daughter started through the woods in the direction of Gold Run, "you won't go roaming around in these parts without a gun onto you. 'Tain't safe, noways."

"We won't," they promised.

Once their protectors were gone they were wild with impatience to get out of this place of dangers. Their fingers trembled as they untied the horses, and it was as much as they could do to get the animals to stand still long enough to mount them.

However, once in the saddle, they galloped along that narrow trail at full speed, regardless of rocks and old stumps of trees and treacherous holes, their one thought to reach the open road-and safety.

When at last the plain stretched before them, level and red hot in the blazing afternoon sun, they all uttered a silent prayer of thankfulness.

"You were right, Amy," said Betty suddenly, as Amy came up abreast of her, "when you said the mountains could be cruel too."

"We'll not ever dare tell the folks," said Grace, shuddering at the memory of their close escape. "They would never let us out of their sight again."

"It was mighty lucky for us that Meggy and her father happened along just as they did," said Mollie. "I know I couldn't have held on very long where I was, and once on the ground I'd have made a lovely tender morsel for the little wolves."

"You flatter yourself," retorted Grace, and Amy shivered.

"I don't know how you girls can joke about such a thing," she said. "I was about frightened to death."

"I suppose you think the rest of us enjoyed it," said Mollie, and at this point Betty thought it was about time to interfere.

"Wasn't it odd-Meggy's speaking of our friend the musician and calling him the Hermit of Gold Run?" she said. "I'm glad the poor lonely fellow has a nice girl like Meggy to befriend him."

"Huh, he didn't seem to want befriending very much when we saw him," said Mollie. "We couldn't have been frozen more completely if we had dropped on an iceberg."

"Oh, well, he has 'ze temperament,'" said Grace, with an elaborate gesture.

"Seems kind of strange, his living up there all alone," said Amy thoughtfully. "You would think any one who could play the way he can would hate to bury himself in the wilderness. Unless--" she paused, and Mollie jumped joyfully into the opening.

"Unless there is some reason why he has to," said the latter, adding with an I-told-you-so air, "I thought there was some mystery about that man, and now you are beginning to think so yourselves. You just keep your eyes open and watch for a surprise!"

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