Read CHAPTER XVII - WHAT WAS IN THE NEWSPAPER of Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point Nita / The Girl Castaway, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

“Whatever have you got there, Tom?” asked Ruth, curiously.

“Hush!  I reckon Crab lost it when you fell in the water and stirred us all up so,” returned the boy, with a grin.

“Lost that paper?”

“Yes.  You see, it’s a page torn from the Sunday edition of a New York daily.  On this side is a story of some professor’s discoveries in ancient Babylon.”

“Couldn’t have interested Jack Crab much,” remarked Ruth, smiling.

“That’s what I said myself,” declared Tom, hastily.  “Therefore, I turned it over.  And this is what Crab was showing that Nita girl, I am sure.”

Ruth looked at the illustrated sheet that Tom spread before her.  There was a girl on a very spirited cow pony, swinging a lariat, the loop of which was about to settle over the broadly spreading horns of a Texas steer.  The girl was dressed in a very fancy “cow-girl” costume, and the picture was most spirited indeed.  In one corner, too, was a reproduction of a photograph of the girl described in the newspaper article.

“Why! it doesn’t look anything like Nita,” gasped Ruth, understanding immediately why Tom had brought the paper to her.

“Nope.  You needn’t expect it to.  Those papers use any old photograph to make illustrations from.  But read the story.”

It was all about the niece of a very rich cattle man in Montana who had run away from the ranch on which she had lived all her life.  It was called Silver Ranch, and was a very noted cattle range in that part of the West.  The girl’s uncle raised both horses and cattle, was very wealthy, had given her what attention a single man could in such a situation, and was now having a countrywide search made for the runaway.

“Jane Ann Hicks Has Run Away From a Fortune” was the way the paper put it in a big “scare head” across the top of the page; and the text went on to tell of rough Bill Hicks, of Bullhide, and how he had begun in the early cattle days as a puncher himself and had now risen to the sole proprietorship of Silver Ranch.

“Bill’s one possession besides his cattle and horses that he took any joy in was his younger brother’s daughter, Jane Ann.  She is an orphan and came to Bill and he has taken sole care of her (for a woman has never been at Silver Ranch, save Indian squaws and a Mexican cook woman) since she could creep.  Jane Ann is certainly the apple of Old Bill’s eye.

“But, as Old Bill has told the Bullhide chief of police, who is sending the pictures and description of the lost girl all over the country, ‘Jane Ann got some powerful hifalutin’ notions.’  She is now a well-grown girl, smart as a whip, pretty, afraid of nothing on four legs, and just as ignorant as a girl brought up in such an environment would be.  Jane Ann has been reading novels, perhaps.  As the Eastern youth used to fill up on cheap stories of the Far West, and start for that wild and woolly section with the intention of wiping from the face of Nature the last remnant of the Red Tribes, so it may be that Jane Ann Hicks has read of the Eastern millionaire and has started for the Atlantic seaboard for the purpose of lassoing one ­or more ­of those elusive creatures.

“However, Old Bill wants Jane Ann to come home.  Silver Ranch will be hers some day, when Old Bill passes over the Great Divide, and he believes that if she is to be Montana’s coming Cattle Queen his niece would better not know too much about the effete East.”

And in this style the newspaper writer had spread before his readers a semi-humorous account (perhaps fictitious) of the daily life of the missing heiress of Silver Ranch, her rides over the prairies and hills on half-wild ponies, the round-ups, calf-brandings, horse-breakings, and all other activities supposed to be part and parcel of ranch life.

“My goodness me!” gasped Ruth, when she had hastily scanned all this, “do you suppose that any sane girl would have run away from all that for just a foolish whim?”

“Just what I say,” returned Tom.  “Cracky! wouldn’t it be great to ride over that range, and help herd the cattle, and trail wild horses, and ­and ­”

“Well, that’s just what one girl got sick of, it seems,” finished Ruth, her eyes dancing.  “Now! whether this same girl is the one we know ­”

“I bet she is,” declared Tom.

“Betting isn’t proof, you know,” returned Ruth, demurely.

“No.  But Jane Ann Hicks is this young lady who wants to be called ’Nita’ ­Oh, glory! what a name!”

“If it is so,” Ruth rejoined, slowly, “I don’t so much wonder that she wanted a fancy name.  ‘Jane Ann Hicks’!  It sounds ugly; but an ugly name can stand for a truly beautiful character.”

“That fact doesn’t appeal to this runaway girl, I guess,” said Tom.  “But the question is:  What shall we do about it?”

“I don’t know as we can do anything about it,” Ruth said, slowly.  “Of course we don’t know that this Hicks girl and Nita are the same.”

“What was Crab showing her the paper for?”

“What can Crab have to do with it, anyway?” returned Ruth, although she had not forgotten the interest the assistant lighthouse keeper had shown in Nita from the first.

“Don’t know.  But if he recognized her ­”

“From the picture?” asked Ruth.

“Well! you look at it.  That drawing of the girl on horseback looks more like her than the photographic half-tone,” said Tom.  “She looks just that wild and harum-scarum!”

Ruth laughed.  “There is a resemblance,” she admitted.  “But I don’t understand why Crab should have any interest in the girl, anyway.”

“Neither do I. Let’s keep still about it.  Of course, we’ll tell Nell,” said Tom.  “But nobody else.  If that old ranchman is her uncle he ought to be told where she is.”

“Maybe she was not happy with him, after all,” said Ruth, thoughtfully.

“My goodness!” Tom cried, preparing to go back to the other boys who were calling him.  “I don’t see how anybody could be unhappy under such conditions.”

“That’s all very well for a boy,” returned the girl, with a superior air.  “But think! she had no girls to associate with, and the only women were squaws and a Mexican cook!”

Ruth watched Nita, but did not see the assistant lighthouse keeper speak to the runaway during the passage home, and from the dock to the bungalow Ruth walked by Nita’s side.  She was tempted to show the page of the newspaper to the other girl, but hesitated.  What if Nita really was Jane Hicks?  Ruth asked herself how she would feel if she were burdened with that practical but unromantic name, and had to live on a lonely cattle ranch without a girl to speak to.

“Maybe I’d run away myself,” thought Ruth.  “I was almost tempted to run away from Uncle Jabez when I first went to live at the Red Mill.”

She had come to pity the strange girl since reading about the one who had run away from Silver Ranch.  Whether Nita had any connection with the newspaper article or not, Ruth had begun to see that there might be situations which a girl couldn’t stand another hour, and from which she was fairly forced to flee.

The fishing party arrived home in a very gay mood, despite the incident of Ruth’s involuntary bath.  Mary Cox kept away from the victim of the accident and when the others chaffed Ruth, and asked her how she came to topple over the rock, The Fox did not even change color.

Tom scolded in secret to Ruth about Mary.  “She ought to be sent home.  I’ll not feel that you’re safe any time she is in your company.  I’ve a mind to tell Miss Kate Stone,” he said.

“I’ll be dreadfully angry if you do such a thing, Tom,” Ruth assured him, and that promise was sufficient to keep the boy quiet.

They were all tired and not even Helen objected when bed was proposed that night.  In fact, Heavy went to sleep in her chair, and they had a dreadful time waking her up and keeping her awake long enough for her to undress, say her prayers, and get into bed.

In the other girls’ room Ruth and her companions spent little time in talking or frolicking.  Nita had begged to sleep with Mercy, with whom she had spent considerable time that day and evening; and the lame girl and the runaway were apparently both asleep before Ruth and Helen got settled for the night.

Then Helen dropped asleep between yawns and Ruth found herself lying wide-awake, staring at the faintly illuminated ceiling.  Of a sudden, sleep had fled from her eyelids.  The happenings of the day, the mystery of Nita, the meanness of Mary Cox, her own trouble at the mill, the impossibility of her going to Briarwood next term unless she found some way of raising money for her tuition and board, and many, many other thoughts, trooped through Ruth Fielding’s mind for more than an hour.

Mostly the troublesome thoughts were of her poverty and the seeming impossibility of her ever discovering any way to earn such a quantity of money as three hundred and fifty dollars.  Her chum, lying asleep beside her, did not dream of this problem that continually troubled Ruth’s mind.

The clock down stairs tolled eleven solemn strokes.  Ruth did not move.  She might have been sound asleep, save for her open eyes, their gaze fixed upon the ceiling.  Suddenly a beam of light flashed in at one window, swinging from right to left, like the blade of a phantom scythe, and back again.

Ruth did not move, but the beam of light took her attention immediately from her former thoughts.  Again and once again the flash of light was repeated.  Then she suddenly realized what it was.  Somebody was walking down the path toward the private dock, swinging a lantern.

She would have given it no further thought had not a door latch clicked.  Whether it was the latch of her room, or another of the bedrooms on this floor of the bungalow, Ruth could not tell.  But in a moment she heard the balustrade of the stair creak.

“It’s Izzy again!” thought Ruth, sitting up in bed.  “He’s walking in his sleep.  The boys did not tie him.”

She crept out of bed softly so as not to awaken Helen or the other girls and went to the door.  When she opened it and peered out, there was no ghostly figure “tight-roping it” on the balustrade.  But she heard a sound below ­in the lower hall.  Somebody was fumbling with the chain of the front door.

“He’s going out!  I declare, he’s going out!” thought Ruth and sped to the window.

She heard the jar of the big front door as it was opened, and then pulled shut again.  She heard no step on the porch, but a figure soon fluttered down the steps.  It was not Isadore Phelps, however.  Ruth knew that at first glance.  Indeed, it was not a boy who started away from the house, running on the grass beside the graveled walk.

Ruth turned back hastily and looked at the other bed ­at Mercy’s bed.  The place beside the lame girl was empty.  Nita had disappeared!