The Ranch Girls at Rainbow Lodge

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THE RANCH GIRLS SERIES

The Ranch Girls at Rainbow Lodge

BOOKS BY MARGARET VANDERCOOK

THE RANCH GIRLS SERIES

THE RANCH GIRLS AT RAINBOW LODGE THE RANCH GIRLS' POT OF GOLD THE RANCH GIRLS AT BOARDING SCHOOL THE RANCH GIRLS IN EUROPE THE RANCH GIRLS AT HOME AGAIN THE RANCH GIRLS AND THEIR GREAT ADVENTURE

THE RED CROSS GIRLS SERIES

THE RED CROSS GIRLS IN THE BRITISH TRENCHES THE RED CROSS GIRLS ON THE FRENCH FIRING LINE THE RED CROSS GIRLS IN BELGIUM THE RED CROSS GIRLS WITH THE RUSSIAN ARMY THE RED CROSS GIRLS WITH THE ITALIAN ARMY THE RED CROSS GIRLS UNDER THE STARS AND STRIPES

STORIES ABOUT CAMP FIRE GIRLS

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT SUNRISE HILL THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AMID THE SNOWS THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ACROSS THE SEA THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS' CAREERS THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN AFTER YEARS THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN THE DESERT THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT THE END OF THE TRAIL

SHE WAVED HER WONDERFUL PAPER BEFORE HER FRIENDS]

THE RANCH GIRLS SERIES

The Ranch Girls

AT

Rainbow Lodge

BY

MARGARET VANDERCOOK

ILLUSTRATED BY HUGH A. BODINE

THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY PHILADELPHIA

Copyright, 1911, by THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO.

PRINTED IN U. S. A.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE I. THE LOST TRAIL 9 II. IN THE SHADOW OF THE GIANT'S FACE 27 III. FRIEDA AND THE OTHER GIRL 39 IV. THE RESCUE 54 V. SEEKING ADVICE 66 VI. THE ARRIVAL AT THE HOUSE PARTY 78 VII. A VISIT TO OLD LASKA 86 VIII. THE ESCAPE FROM THE DANCE 99 IX. JACQUELINE'S MISFORTUNE 108 X. BACK TO RAINBOW LODGE 122 XI. BREAKING THE NEWS 132 XII. ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DIVIDE 147 XIII. THE WET BLANKET 160 XIV. AN UNFORTUNATE ARRIVAL 172 XV. ALL SAVE, JACK! 181 XVI. WHEN GREEK MEETS GREEK 193 XVII. THE ROUND-UP 202 XVIII. A RACE FOR LIFE 218 XIX. NO NEWS 227 XX. OLIVE 243 XXI. THE WAY OF ESCAPE 258 XXII. A VOICE IN THE NIGHT 266 XXIII. JACK IS HAPPY 275 XXIV. CHRISTMAS EVE 282

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

SHE WAVED HER WONDERFUL PAPER BEFORE HER FRIENDS _Frontispiece_

PAGE FRIEDA FLUNG HERSELF VALIANTLY IN THE PATH OF THE INDIAN WOMAN 40

”CAN I DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, MA'AM?” 173

SOMEONE CREPT UP BEHIND HER WITH THE STEALTHINESS POSSIBLE ONLY TO AN INDIAN 243

The Ranch Girls at Rainbow Lodge.

CHAPTER I.

THE LOST TRAIL.

OVER the brown plain a shaggy broncho trotted slowly, with its headdrooping.

A girl stood up in her saddle with one hand to her lips. ”Halloo!Halloo!” she cried. ”I wonder where on earth I am? I thought I knewevery inch of this country, yet here I am lost and I can't be but a fewmiles from our ranch. I must have missed the trail somewhere. Jim! JimColter! If there is anybody near, please answer me.”

Jacqueline Ralston rode astride. Her eyes and cheeks were glowing andher gold brown hair, deep grey eyes and brilliant color, formed anunusually attractive picture.

She leaned over and gave her pony a penitent hug. ”Poor little Hotspur,you shall have a rest pretty soon, even if I have to spend the night outof doors. But won't Jean and Frieda be frightened? Jim will scour theprairies for me.”

The pony was treading through a vast field of purple clover fading tobrown in the autumn sun. It was just before sunset. Away to the right,Jacqueline could see a group of slow moving objects, which she knew tobe cattle. Half a mile on the opposite side was a sparse group ofevergreen trees and low bushes. But there was nothing else that brokethe vision of a long line of level country, until the snow-capped peaksof the distant mountains shone like gold in the rays of the setting sun.

”We will try the trees, Hotspur,” Jacqueline urged coaxingly. ”Perhapswe may find a trail over there. Anyhow I believe I would rather be asolitary babe in the woods, than to wander around here in the alfalfafields until to-morrow morning.”

The girl wore a short, brown corduroy jacket and skirt, leather leggingsand riding boots. Over the pommel of her saddle hung a bunch of silvergrouse and a smart little rifle was suspended at her side.

”I am desperately hungry,” she announced aloud. ”I do wish I had a matchso I could light a fire. Jolly good advice that of Jim's for a ranchgirl, 'never try to find your match, always carry it with you.'”

Jacqueline laughed. She was not willing to confess that she was tired,although she had been riding since eight o'clock that morning. Againstthe wishes of her sister Frieda, her cousin Jean, and the overseer oftheir ranch, Jim Colter, she had gone off alone to inspect the corralwhich had been recently built to protect their sheep for the winter.

Inside the woods the way was darker and there was no sign of a road.Jacqueline let the reins slacken on her pony's neck. Really Hotspurwould have to find the right trail home, if they were to reach the ranchhouse that night. She could hear the rabbits and squirrels scurryingback into their retreats. They were not accustomed to being disturbed attheir supper time and at first there was no other sound.

”Who goes there?” suddenly a rough voice demanded, and a horse cameplunging through an opening in the trees.

Jacqueline's color paled. She recognized the rider, a boy of aboutsixteen, nearly her own age. ”I am Jacqueline Ralston,” she answeredquietly. ”I have lost the trail. Will you please show me the way to theRainbow Ranch?”

The young fellow laughed rudely. ”Miss Ralston, is it?” he sneered.”Don't tell me you are lost on our ranch. You have been over here spyingat our cattle. Just you trot along home as fast as you can. I shallreport to my father what I caught you doing.” The boy's light blue eyesblazed angrily.

Jacqueline had reined in her pony and waited. Her temper was not herstrong point, but she replied politely: ”I am not spying, Dan Norton; Iwonder why you should think it necessary. I will leave your ranch assoon as I can get away from it. Will you please show me the trail?”

Jacqueline held her head very high. ”Won't you tell me?” she askedagain. ”Because we happen to be enemies is no reason why you shouldn'tbelieve my word.” The young girl's tones were gentle, but her face waswhite with anger in the gathering dusk. Her firm red lips were pressedtight together to keep her from saying the things she really felt.

Dan Norton rode closer toward her and for reply struck her pony sharplywith his short riding whip. Tired little Hotspur quivered with pain,but stood still under his mistress' gentle words.

”Don't do that again, Dan,” Jacqueline protested, feeling the hot bloodrush to her face and then leave her cold and still with anger. ”There isnot another person in Wyoming who would be so rude to me. But there hasbeen trouble enough between you and us. I shall not speak of this, but Ishall never be able to forgive you to the longest day I live;” andJacqueline's grey eyes looked so proudly and so scornfully into theboy's that his own dropped.

”Your way's to the left,” he muttered. ”If you ride quick, you will soonbe on the boundary of your own ranch. Hurry, there is some one elsecoming this way.”

Jacqueline did not stir. A few minutes before, she would have trottedoff gladly. Now nothing would have induced her to go. She would not runaway from her enemy. Indeed she preferred to explain her presence on hisranch to Mr. Norton.

In the silence between the two young people another voice entered, butit was not Mr. Norton's. Some one was singing.

Dan Norton rode hurriedly out of sight and Jacqueline lifted her rifle,letting it rest in her arm.

”If a body meet a body, Comin' through the rye; If a body kiss a body, Need a body cry? Every lassie has her laddie, Nane they say have--

”Oh!” the song stopped abruptly. The singer threw up both hands andburst into a merry boyish laugh. ”I surrender in the name of--in thename of most anything, if you will only put down that gun,” he declared.”Who would have thought of meeting a girl in these woods? Whatever areyou doing here? Poaching? No, I believe you don't have game preserves inthis country, so poaching isn't against your law.” The stranger laughed,though he had taken off his hat and bowed courteously to his fellowtraveler. ”Please tell me, are you Rosalind in the forest of Arden? Youlook like her, although I never heard of her on horseback,” he endedmerrily.

Jacqueline bit her lips. The young man was evidently a newcomer in theneighborhood and at any other time Jacqueline would have liked him. Hemust have been about seventeen and was tall and slender, with lightbrown hair and clever brown eyes. His dress was that of a cowboy, butJacqueline saw with a feeling of instant disdain that his clothes weretoo new and his face too white for him to have lived long in hercountry. Besides he did not ride or talk like a Westerner.

”I am Frank Kent, at your service,” he explained, puzzled byJacqueline's haughty silence. ”I am an Englishman and I don't quite knowwhat I ought to do or say out in Wyoming. But may I be of any service toyou?”

Jacqueline's feeling of hurt and anger began to subside and she smiledin a more friendly fashion. Frank Kent decided that he had never seensuch a pretty girl before in his life. Had she been a city girl, herskin would have been fair, but from her outdoor life it had becomeexquisitely darkened by the wind and sun of the prairies. Her hair waslike bronze and her color a deep rose.

”I ought not to be asking favors of you,” Jacqueline replied in herusual manner. ”You are a stranger in a strange land, while I have livedout West since I was a baby. But can you show me the trail to theRainbow Ranch? Anyhow tell me how to get off of this place. I havenever been on it before, and--” To save her life Jacqueline could notkeep her voice from trembling.

”Surely I can show you,” Frank answered. He spoke with such a funnyEnglish accent, that Jacqueline would have liked to have made fun ofhim, if she had known him better.

”I have heard a lot about the girls who run Rainbow Ranch,” he went onquickly. ”They sound like such an awfully good sort that I have made DanNorton tell me a lot about them. I am visiting him, surely you must knowhim,” the young fellow concluded eagerly.

What in the world had he said? Frank Kent was startled. The girl he hadjust met seemed quite friendly a moment before. Now she stiffened up onher pony, her cheeks turned scarlet and her eyes flashed.

”I won't trouble you any further,” she announced. ”I will find my ownway home from here.” Without another word or a backward glance,Jacqueline gave her pony a gentle cut and Hotspur galloped quickly away.

”Whew,” Frank Kent whistled, ”methinks some one told me that the peopleone met out West were awfully friendly and informal. That girl was astouchy as you find them. But I wonder who she is? I think I will rideafter her and show her the trail, even if she is so high and mighty.”

Jacqueline pretended not to hear the young man trotting along behindher, and did not turn her head. She rode faster and faster until a soundlike a stifled moan arrested her. Jacqueline paused and saw that theyoung fellow who had been so polite to her a few minutes before wasghastly white. He was swaying so in his saddle that he had not thestrength to stop his horse.

Jacqueline caught his bridle. ”Rest a minute,” she urged gently. ”Youwill soon be all right. You have ridden too far and you are not used toit. People always do too much, when they first come to Wyoming. My nameis Jacqueline Ralston and I am one of the girls at the Rainbow Ranch. Iam sorry I was rude to you a little while ago, but the Nortons are notour friends.” Jacqueline was talking so that the young man could get hisbreath. She could not help admiring the brave fight he made. He seemedto be dreadfully ashamed of his own weakness.

”You will let me show you the right trail, won't you?” he asked. ”I amsorry you are not friendly with my hosts. I thought I heard you talkingto Dan, when I rode up to you, but that won't matter about me, will it?I don't know anything about your quarrel and if we were properlyintroduced, don't you think we could be friends? I can't tell you howplucky I think it is for you three girls to be managing your own ranch.Don't you think you might tell me a thing or two about it? It is prettylonely out here for a stranger.”

The young fellow looked so nice, and so ill, in spite of his efforts tohide it, that Jacqueline almost relented. Then the thought of DanNorton's rudeness and the long feud between them swept over her, andJacqueline shook her head firmly.

”I am sorry,” she returned. ”With any one else it would not matter, butwe can't be friendly with any guest of the Norton's.” Jacquelinehesitated, ”I can't explain it to you, there isn't time. Good-bye. Iknow the way home from here.”

Frank Kent watched Jacqueline ride out of sight, sitting on her pony asthough she had been made on it, like a figure cut from bronze, all insoft tones of gold and brown.

It was quite dark when Jacqueline at last spied the lights of her ownranch house twinkling at her warmly through the open windows and doors.

The broncho hurried faster, forgetting his hard day and Jacquelinetalked low in his ear.

”Home and supper, Hotspur! See the lights of home ahead. Soon they willhear us coming. Suppose I give our call and relieve the suspense.” Threetimes in rapid succession, Jacqueline touched her red lips with herslender fingers and gave a shrill, clear whistle like an Indian's call.

Instantly figures moved about in the ranch house. A dark lantern wasswung off its place over the front door and a man and two girls hurrieddown the drive. Jacqueline was lifted off her horse. Her sister, Frieda,seized her by one arm, her cousin, Jean, by the other.

”What has kept you so long?” Frieda demanded anxiously.

”If you have had an adventure and wouldn't let me go with you to-day, Ishall never get over it,” Jean insisted. ”Come into the house thisminute. Do tell us where you have been. Jim telephoned over to the otherside of the ranch three hours back, but the sheep herders said youstarted for home long ago. We have been frightened to death ever since.”

Frieda pulled at her sister's jacket. Jean, although she kept up herscolding, got a pair of soft, red felt slippers and placed theminvitingly in front of the big, living-room fire.

Rainbow Lodge was built of pine logs. The great sitting-room was fortyfeet long and two-thirds as wide and it looked like a man's room, butthe three ranch girls did not know it. The floor was covered withbuffalo robes and beautiful bright Navajo blankets made by the Indiansin the nearby villages, and the head of an elk thrusting forth giantantlers dominated the scene from above the stone fireplace. An AndrewJackson table made of hewn logs, with a smooth polished top, occupiedone side of the fireplace, holding a reading lamp and some half-openedbooks.

In another corner the home-made book shelves were filled with much-readnovels and books of travel. There were low, comfortable chairs abouteverywhere. It was an odd room to be occupied by three young girls, buta very noble one. The ranch girls had kept it just as their father hadleft it when he died, six months before.

Jacqueline gave a comfy sigh. ”I _am_ glad to be at home,” she murmured.”I haven't had any special adventure. Jean, I know you will be disgustedwith me, but I got lost and wandered over on the Norton ranch. I met DanNorton and he was horrid to me. Oh, Frieda darling, hasn't Aunt Ellensaved me anything to eat? I am simply starving,” Jacqueline ended,anxious to change the subject.

Aunt Ellen came in at this moment bearing a waiter. She was nearly sixfeet tall, part Indian and part colored, and she had lived with theRalstons ever since Mr. and Mrs. Ralston came to Wyoming from the East,bringing Jack, who was then only two years old.

The old woman was frowning and shaking her head, as she put down Jack'ssupper. ”Ought never to have ridden off across the ranch alone, oughtnot to be coming back home way after dark. I am sure the master neverwould have liked you chilluns living here and trying to run things foryourself,” she muttered.

Jack flushed, although she patted the old woman's hand affectionatelyand said nothing. Jack knew she deserved the scolding and that she wouldhave another from Jim Colter, the manager of their ranch, in themorning. To-night he had led Hotspur away without a word and retired tohis own quarters.

No one, excepting strangers, ever called Jacqueline Ralston anything butJack. She never thought of herself by her pretty French name, exceptwhen she wished to appear very grown up and impressive. As for littleFrieda, she had been born at Rainbow Ranch house thirteen years beforeon Christmas eve. She was such a fair little German-looking baby, withher blue eyes and flaxen hair, that her mother gave her the prettyGerman name of Frieda, which means peace. Mrs. Ralston died when Friedawas only a few months old, but the little girl had fairly earned hername all her life. Peace and War, Jean used to call the two sisters,when she wanted to tease Jack, for Jacqueline was as high-tempered anddetermined as Frieda was gentle and serene.

Jean was a slender, graceful maiden, with hair and eyes of the same nutbrown color. She had come to live at the ranch ten years before, whenher mother, Mr. Ralston's sister, died, and Mr. Ralston decided it wouldbe better to bring up three motherless girls than two. Jean had agentle, far-away expression, though Jack always asserted that Jean waspresent when she wanted to be. She only dreamed dreams and wore heraloof expression when people bored her, or when she felt sad and thoughtshe needed sympathy. Jack and Frieda knew no difference in their feelingfor Jean and for each other.

When Jacqueline finished supper, she curled herself in a big armchair infront of the fire. Frieda sat on a low stool at her feet while Jean,with an open book, was not far away. Jean was the reader of the threegirls, but to-night her book was neglected.

”Out with it, Jack,” Jean insisted calmly. ”You know perfectly well thatyou haven't told us all that happened to you this afternoon. Fire awayand get it over with, I want to finish my book to-night.”

After much urging, Jack told her story in full and Jean flung her bookdown and danced about the room on her tip-toes, she was so angry, whenshe heard how Dan Norton had treated her. But she had a differentfeeling about the young English fellow.

”I really think you were rather horrid, Jacqueline Ralston,” sheannounced coolly. ”Of course we can't be having visitors or makingfriends with any one visiting those hateful Nortons, but I think youmight have told that young fellow we would be nice to him when we methim other places. He is a far-off cousin of the Nortons, whose healthbroke down while he was at college in England and his people sent himover here to recover. His father is a Lord, or a Sir or something, Ican't remember which. But Mrs. Simpson says he is awfully nice and--”

Jack put both fingers in her ears. ”For goodness sake, hush, JeanBruce,” she protested. ”You are such a snob. What difference can it maketo us, whether this Frank Kent is a lord or a prizefighter? We certainlycan't have anything to do with him. I shan't even speak to him again ifI can help it. For the life of me, Jean, I don't see how you happen tofind out the gossip in Wyoming with our ranches five miles apart.”

Jean's brown eyes sparkled. She and Jack had many differences ofopinion, but to-night Jack was tired and her cousin decided not toanswer back.

”Have you gotten your lessons, Frieda?” Jack asked gently a momentlater, kissing her hand apologetically to Jean.

Frieda shook her head. She had two long blonde plaits, like a littleGerman girl, with a curl at the end of each one of them. Her cheeks werea faint pink, and her nose tilted just enough to curl her lips up into asmile.

”No,” she replied calmly. ”Jean offered to hear me recite, but I didn'tfeel like it. You and Jean haven't studied your French for threeevenings. I don't see why I have to do all the studying, because I amthe youngest. When we planned to live by ourselves this winter, you andJean declared that you were going to study three or four hours everyday.”

Jack pulled Frieda's hair and Jean had just picked up her French grammarwith a sigh when there came the noise of some one riding up to the ranchhouse.

The three girls flew to the window. It was too dark to recognize thefigure on horseback. But a few moments later, Aunt Ellen brought in anenvelope addressed to ”Miss Jacqueline Ralston.”

It was a surly note of apology from Dan Norton for his rudeness to herin the afternoon. The girls wondered what in the world had induced himto write it.

Long after Jean and Frieda were asleep, Jacqueline lay awake. She wasthe oldest and most responsible member of the ranch girl family ofthree. Frieda was right, she and Jean had been neglecting their studiesshamefully. Now and then Jack could not help thinking that perhaps itwas not wise for them to live without a teacher or a chaperon. They didnot want to grow up perfect greenhorns, yet how they hated the idea ofintroducing a stranger into their home at Rainbow Ranch. Jack was stillpuzzling, when she fell asleep, with the familiar sound in her ears ofthe far-off lowing of the wild cattle across the prairie and the distantbark of the faithful sheep dogs.