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   Chapter 10 THE LANDSLIDE

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 10107

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

After their perilous adventure, the Outdoor Girls shunned the forest unless they were accompanied by one or more of the cowboys at the ranch. Andy Rawlinson escorted them whenever he could, but his duties as foreman of the ranch kept him very busy and he sometimes appointed one of the ranch hands to take his place.

However, these excursions became less and less frequent as the girls became more interested in the booming mining town of Gold Run.

This they had visited with Mr. and Mrs. Nelson and Andy, and the whole thing made them feel more than ever as if they were living some motion picture drama.

There was the regulation general store and the inevitable dance hall where the lucky miners came to spend their golden nuggets and the unlucky tried to drown their misery in the companionship of others.

Their eyes wide with interest and pleasure and their tongues busy with questions, the girls cantered down the narrow, crooked wagon road called "Main Street." They read the names over the doors of the dingy little shops, commenting gayly upon their queerness.

"Peter Levine, Attorney," read Betty aloud from a sign just a little dingier than the rest. Then she drew rein and waited for her mother, who was riding more slowly with Mr. Nelson. The other girls, who had ridden on ahead, suddenly missed her, saw that she had stopped, and came back curiously.

"Look, Mother," Betty was saying as they came up. "This is where dear Peter Levine hails from. His checked suit and loud tie must look funny in that dingy little shop," she added, with a chuckle.

"Well, let's ride along," suggested Mrs. Nelson nervously. "He might see us and take it into his head to come out. And I don't want to have anything more to do with him until Allen comes."

"Allen," thought Betty, as they turned and cantered on again. "I wish he would hurry a little. He seems an awfully long time coming."

After they had seen all that there was to see of the town itself, Andy led them to some of the important mines on the outskirts. They listened with lively interest while the young fellow explained to them how the ore was extracted from the mountain side where it had lain unmolested for thousands of years.

"It almost seems a shame to disturb it," said Amy at this point, and the girls laughed at her.

"Just give me a chance at it, that's all," said Mollie longingly.

At one of these mines they met the old man and his daughter, Meggy, whose timely arrival a few days before had saved their lives. The two were in the midst of their work, the girl lifting and hauling with all the strength of a man, and they scarcely looked up as the party passed them, although the old man responded with a wave of his hand when Andy Rawlinson called to him.

"How's it goin', Dan?" asked the former.

"Oh, well enough, well enough," responded the man, with what seemed to the girls enforced cheerfulness. "We'll strike gold afore to-morrow, sure."

"Poor old Dan Higgins," said Andy, with a sobering of his good-natured face. "He's always goin' to strike gold 'to-morrow.' Sure, there's no one I'd rather see strike it rich than Dan an' that girl of his. But I'm 'fraid they're jest plumb unlucky. Funny thing, luck-and gold," he went on to soliloquize. "Some young fellers they come out here, thinkin' they can get back to the girl at home in a couple o' years with their pockets plumb full o' nuggets, an' instead, they toil their lives away till their hair grows white an' their skin gets crackly like parchment, an' never even a glimpse o' yellow. An' mebbe the feller next to him drills a hole three feet deep and he strikes a vein. Yes siree, if ever there was a real thing in this world, that thing is luck."

The girls were impressed and their hearts ached for Dan Higgins, his years of hope and work and his profitless mine. As for the girl, his daughter, Meggy--

"Are you sure Dan Higgins hasn't any chance of striking gold?" asked Betty, gravely.

"Not a bit of it," returned Andy Rawlinson quickly. "There's gold all around here-everybody thought Dan was mighty lucky when he staked out his claim. He may find gold yet. But," he added, and there was a fatalistic quality in his tone that chilled the girls, "you always have to reckon on luck."

In the days that followed it became quite the usual thing to see the Outdoor Girls, mounted on their splendid horses, galloping along the open road or cantering through the town of Gold Run. It was not long before they became general favorites in this country where girls of their type were scarce, and the girls knew most of the rough but good-hearted miners by name. But perhaps of them all, their best and staunchest friends were old Dan Higgins and his daughter, Meggy.

The girls often visited the mine and were always greeted with the utmost heartiness by its owners. Once Betty had caught Meggy looking longingly at Nigger as he was trying his best to get some nourishment from the stubbly grass, and with the quick impulsiveness that was hers, she asked the girl if

she would like a ride.

At the sudden radiance that flooded Meggy's face, Betty turned away abashed. She felt as though she had been given a glimpse of the girl's soul.

Meggy had her ride, and in the days that followed she had many others and the girl's fondness for Betty became almost worship. She liked the other girls, for they were always kind to her, but Betty was her idol.

"I have wanted all my life to own a horse," she confided to the Little Captain one day, as she stroked Nigger's shining coat with almost reverent fingers. "It would be the first thing I would buy for myself if dad should strike it rich." Her tone was brave, but the eyes that sought her father's toiling figure were sad. "Poor old dad," she said softly, "I don't think he would keep on any longer, if it wasn't for me."

On one of their visits to the mine the girls were astonished to find their mysterious musician there ahead of them. He seemed to be trying to help, but from where the girls watched unobserved, it looked as though he were more in the way than anything else.

Meggy was the first to discover them, and as she called out a greeting, the Hermit of Gold Run rose quickly to his feet and disappeared into the woods.

"Poor fellow," said Meggy, looking pityingly after him. "We let him try to help us because it seems to amuse him, but he really doesn't know how to work with his hands. His fingers were made for the fiddle."

"I certainly would like to find out more about that man," said Mollie, her forehead puckered into a puzzled frown. "He sure does act pretty funny."

"We'll have to visit him again some day," said Betty lightly, and then turned to question Meggy on the progress of the mine.

On their way home they took up the subject of the strange musician whose queer comings and goings had begun to be of more than usual interest to them.

"He acts-in a-a stealthy way," said Grace, striving for the exact words to express her meaning. "He positively sneaked away from us this morning. It seems to me people don't act like that unless they are afraid of something."

"He might just be afraid of people," Betty reminded her. "Or he may dislike people and want to be left alone. That would account for the name of 'hermit' that the natives around here have given him."

"But an ordinary hermit wouldn't be able to play like a virtuoso," objected Amy.

"Well, nobody said he was an ordinary hermit," retorted Mollie.

"To change the subject before you girls get to the hair-pulling stage," laughed Betty, as she turned Nigger's head toward the ranch, "I wish we could do something for Dan Higgins and Meggy. It's a shame for that splendid, loyal girl to have to spend all her youth, when she might be having good times like other girls, in doing the kind of work that's only fit for a man to do."

"And she's so brave about it, too," added Grace admiringly. "She keeps her head up like a thoroughbred."

"I've asked her to come over to the ranch," Betty went on thoughtfully. "She has a passion for horses, you know, and I told her we'd have Andy Rawlinson pick her out a beauty from the corrals. I could see that she was awfully tempted, but she said no, she couldn't leave her father."

"Probably the real reason she refused was because she hadn't decent clothes to wear," said Mollie sagaciously. "The poor girl is almost in rags."

"I wish we could help," sighed Betty. "But she and her father are proud, like most of the other people around here. They just have to stand on their own feet."

"I wonder if they have enough to eat," mused Amy. "It would be dreadful to think of them actually hungry."

"Oh, I guess there's no danger of that," said Mollie. "As long as there are wild animals in the woods and Dan Higgins and Meggy have guns they won't starve to death."

"And maybe they really will find gold, anyway," said Grace hopefully.

They rode along silently for a while. In their abstraction they had taken the long way home, instead of cutting directly across the ranch in the direction of the house. They were on a rather narrow trail, so narrow, that they could not ride two abreast but were strung out in single file, Indian fashion. On one side of them rose the mountain, huge and majestic, and on the other was a sheer drop of a hundred feet or so into a rocky canyon.

The girls had always loved this ride because of the wonderful view it afforded them of the surrounding country. But that very morning Dan Higgins had warned them not to go that way.

"The mountain is pow'ful oncertain," the old man had told them. "Part of it is apt to fall on you any time if you get too close to it."

Betty thought of this warning, but too late. An ominous rumbling jerked her eyes upward and she saw a sight that almost froze the blood in her veins. It seemed indeed to her terrified fancy as if the whole mountain were falling upon them. A great mass of dirt and brush and rock was hurtling down upon them with sickening velocity. A landslide-and they were directly in its path!

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