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   Chapter 22 THE PLAN

The Outdoor Girls in the Saddle; Or, The Girl Miner of Gold Run By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 11004

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02

Certainly the girls had never expected such startling developments from Mollie's simple little ruse to find out who the mysterious Hermit of Gold Run was. In the beginning it had been something of a lark, and they never dreamed that their interest and curiosity would uncover such a tragedy.

However, they were not at all in sympathy with Betty's conviction that Paul Loup had not really killed his brother.

"I don't see how you get that way, Betty," Grace argued hotly. "We all feel as sorry for the hermit as you do, but we have his own word for it that he really killed his brother."

"He did seem to be pretty sure of it," said Amy, with a quaver in her voice. "When the wind rose last night and wailed around the house, I got all creepy thinking of him alone up in that dreary little shack, living that whole horrible thing over again."

It was the next day, and the girls were in the saddle, as usual. They had visited the new gold diggings and found everybody excited and optimistic, though no gold had been uncovered as yet. And now they were trotting slowly along the open road, their thoughts busy with the startling happenings of the day before.

"It's a wonder he doesn't go crazy," shuddered Mollie, taking up the thread where Amy had dropped it. "I know I would. What was it he said about being 'ghost-ridden?'"

"I don't believe he is ghost-ridden at all, except by his imagination," said Betty positively. "I think if he had taken the trouble to look at the newspapers before he decided that he was a hunted man he might have saved himself a lot of trouble and unhappiness."

"Goodness, how do you get that way, Betty?" Grace said irritably. "The man ought to be the best judge of whether he killed anybody or not."

"Well," said the Little Captain stubbornly, "it seems to me it would have had to be a pretty heavy bottle with a pretty strong arm behind it to kill a man with one blow. And a scalp wound bleeds horribly, you know."

The girls looked a little thoughtful, and for the first time since Betty had advanced her theory they began to think that there might possibly be something in it after all.

"That's right," said Amy, and then went on to relate an experience she had had when skylarking with Sarah Stonington.

"She had hold of that heavy rocking chair we have in the library," Amy said. "She was trying to pull it away from me, and I was hanging on to it for dear life.

"Then suddenly I let go, and Aunt Sarah-she's pretty heavy, you know-lost her balance as the chair swung forward, and fell over backward, striking her head on the sharp edge of the piano."

"Goodness, you must have been scared," commented Mollie.

"'Scared!'" echoed Amy. "Why, I was struck dumb with terror. I thought I had killed her. She lay there all white and funny, and her head was bleeding dreadfully--"

"There's your scalp wound for you," Betty pointed out. "Just a little scratch will make the whole place look like a shambles."

"But what happened to your aunt Sarah, Amy," pursued Mollie interestedly. "We know she didn't die."

"Well, I should say she didn't!" said Amy roundly. "She was as good as ever in ten minutes and laughing at me for being so frightened. But we had to have the rug sent away to get the stain out," she added significantly.

"Huh," said the girls, and once more became thoughtful.

"But suppose you were right, Betty?" said Mollie, after a while. "Suppose our poor musician is torturing himself by thinking he has committed a crime that he hasn't? What could you possibly do about it?"

"I don't just know," Betty admitted truthfully.

"We might ask your father," Grace hazarded, but Betty turned on her, startled.

"That's just the thing I don't want to do!" she said hurriedly. "Dad is just the best and most easy-going father in the world, but he has a terribly stern sense of justice. I'm not sure he wouldn't think we were making ourselves-oh, what do you call it--"

"Accessories after the fact?" suggested Mollie, helpfully.

"That's it," said Betty. "He might argue that we were committing a crime ourselves by helping to hide a criminal--"

"Well, maybe we are, at that," said Grace, uncomfortably.

"They can put you in jail for that sort of thing, can't they?" added Amy, a suggestion which certainly did not add to the cheerfulness of the atmosphere.

"I don't care," said Betty stoutly. "I'd rather go to jail than deliver a man to a doubtful justice-especially when he may really be innocent. Anyway," she added, reasonably: "who is there to know that we went to Paul Loup's cabin the other day? I'm very sure no one saw us go in or come out, and if we keep quiet no one will have to know. That's why I didn't even want to take dad into our confidence."

"But if our musician is, as you think, innocent," Grace insisted, "then your father could do more for him than we."

"But we don't know that he is innocent. That's only my idea," said Betty. "And dad would probably think it was a very foolish one. Maybe it is, for all I know," she added dubiously.

"How about Allen?" said Grace suddenly after another rather long silence. "He would certainly sympathize with our poor hermit and, being a lawyer, he would probably be able to think up some way that we might establish the man's innocence or guilt without giving away his whereabouts. There, how's that for a brilliant idea?" she finished proudly.

"I had already thought of that," admitted Betty, while the girls turned amused

eyes upon her. "But I was almost afraid to suggest it."

"Maybe Allen would agree with your father that we, ought to turn him over to justice," said Mollie, but Betty shook her head vigorously.

"Never! Not Allen!" she declared fervently. "He believes the other fellow innocent until he is proved guilty."

"So does the law," said Amy wisely.

"Yes, but the law has sent many an innocent man to prison nevertheless," retorted Mollie. "We don't always find justice in the courts."

"Hear, hear," cried Grace. "Get a soap box, Mollie."

"Then it is settled that we are to tell Allen, is it?" said Betty eagerly. "I'm sure he will find some way to help us."

"If we can pry him loose from the mining outfit," laughed Mollie. "He seems to have gold fever worse than any of them."

But Allen had been busy, during the intervals when he could tear himself away from the fascination of the mining operations, on some legal matters.

Mrs. Nelson, and her husband also, had feared that these numerous relatives of her great uncle, of whose existence she herself had scarcely been aware, might see fit to contest the old man's will especially when it became apparent that his property at this time was far more valuable than it had been at the time of his death.

Allen, after considerable investigation, was able to set their fears at rest upon this point, however, by asserting that the old gentleman had made only one will and that he thought it very doubtful under the circumstances that the relatives would take the case into the courts. They were not Mr. Barcolm's children and grandchildren, as Lizzie had supposed, but distant relatives whom at one time and another the old man had befriended and gathered about him, but who had later quarreled with their benefactor.

"Anyway," Mrs. Nelson decided happily, "if we really do find some gold I will give each one of them a share of it, even to the littlest."

On this particular afternoon the girls found Allen, not at the mines as they supposed they would, but at the ranch house busy with some papers.

When they besought him to come out for a ride, he hesitated at first, saying that he ought to get his work done before night. But they finally persuaded him not to let duty interfere with pleasure.

"All right," he surrendered at last. "If you will get one of the boys to saddle Lightning for me I will be with you in ten minutes."

He kept his promise, and in a short time was listening to the strangest tale he had ever heard. As he listened his face became more and more serious.

"But, girls, this thing sounds impossible!" he burst forth, finally. "Are you telling me that you, alone and unprotected, managed to inveigle this murderer into confessing his crime to you? Gee, it's-it's unbelievable! The four of you would be a great help to me in my profession," he added, with a chuckle.

"I didn't think you would take it as a joke," said Betty, reproachfully.

"It isn't a joke," returned Allen, his face grave again. "It's a mighty serious business, if you will excuse my saying so. It makes me sick when I think of the chance you took." He was speaking to all the girls, but his look of concern was for Betty.

"Oh, we don't want to think about ourselves," said the latter, impatiently. "We've done a good deal more dangerous things than that in our lives. We thought-we hoped-you might help us to prove his innocence--"

"But the man's guilty," said Allen, surprised. "We have that by his own confession--"

With a glance of despair at the others, Betty interrupted him.

"Listen to me, Allen," she said. "This is what I think--" And she went on to tell him her idea while he listened, at first with a smile of faint amusement on his lips which gradually changed to grave admiration as he realized Betty's unfailing faith in the basic goodness of human nature.

"I hope you are right, little girl," he said at last, when she had finished and was looking at him earnestly. "I'd like to believe you were right--"

"But you can't?" she finished for him, trying to stifle the disappointment in her heart.

"No, I can't," he answered truthfully. "When a man is so sure of his crime that he flees his own country, gives up money and fame to escape the law, you may be pretty sure that his crime was a real one."

"But, Allen, you don't know the man," Betty pleaded, pretty close to tears in the bitterness of her disappointment. "No one could make the kind of music he does and be truly wicked. I wish you could have met him. I think you would have tried a little harder to help him."

"I'm willing to help him, if I can," Allen answered gently, feeling that he would be almost willing to step into this poor musician's place if he might have Betty plead for him as she had just done for the other. "What is it you would like me to do?"

Then suddenly the great idea popped full grown into Betty's head.

"I have it!" she cried. "Why not write to Paul Loup's manager in New York and ask him for particulars?"

"Capital!" replied Allen approvingly, while the girls looked at their Little Captain admiringly. "If anybody ought to be able to give us information, he surely is the one."

"And, Allen," begged Betty, reining her horse close to Allen and laying a timid hand on his arm, "you won't even whisper a word of what we've told you-not for your foolish old law, or anything else?"

"Of course not," said Allen, smiling at her. "We have to give the poor fellow his chance."

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