Read CHAPTER XXI - CRAB MAKES HIS DEMAND of Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point Nita / The Girl Castaway, free online book, by Alice B. Emerson, on

Bill Hicks beckoned the girl from the Red Mill forward.  “You come right here, Miss,” he said, “and let’s hear all about it.  I’m a-honin’ for my Jane Ann somethin’ awful ­ye don’t know what a loss she is to me.  And Silver Ranch don’t seem the same no more since she went away.”

“Tell me,” said Ruth, curiously, as she came forward, “was what the paper said about it all true?”

“Why, Ruth, what paper is this?  What do you know about this matter that I don’t know?” cried Miss Kate.

“I’m sorry, Miss Kate,” said the girl; “but it wasn’t my secret and I didn’t feel I could tell you ­”

“I know what you mean, little Miss,” Hicks interrupted.  “That New York newspaper ­with the picter of Jane Ann on a pony what looked like one o’ these horsecar horses?  Most ev’rythin’ they said in that paper was true about her ­and the ranch.”

“And she has had to live out there without any decent woman, and no girls to play with, and all that?”

“Wal!” exclaimed Mr. Hicks.  “That ain’t sech a great crime; is it?”

“I don’t wonder so much she ran away,” Ruth said, softly.  “But I am sorry she did not stay here until you came, sir.”

“But where is she?” chorused both the ranchman and Miss Kate, and the latter added:  “Tell what you know about her departure, Ruth.”

So Ruth repeated all that she had heard and seen on the night Nita disappeared from the Stone bungalow.

“And this man, Crab, can be found down yonder at the lighthouse?” demanded the ranchman, rising at the end of Ruth’s story.

“He is there part of the time, sir,” Miss Kate said.  “He is a rather notorious character around here ­a man of bad temper, I believe.  Perhaps you had better go to the authorities first ­”

“What authorities?” demanded the Westerner in surprise.

“The Sokennet police.”

Bill Hicks snorted.  “I don’t need police in this case, ma’am,” he said.  “I know what to do with this here Crab when I find him.  And if harm’s come to my Jane Ann, so much the worse for him.”

“Oh, I hope you will be patient, sir,” said Miss Kate.

“Nita was not a bit afraid of him, I am sure,” Ruth hastened to add.  “He would not hurt her.”

“No.  I reckon he wants to make money out of me,” grunted Bill Hicks, who did not lack shrewdness.  “He sent the letter that told me she was here, and then he decoyed her away somewhere so’s to hold her till I came and paid him the reward.  Wal! let me git my Jane Ann back, safe and sound, and he’s welcome to the five hundred dollars I offered for news of her.”

“But first, Mr. Hicks,” said Miss Kate, rising briskly, “you’ll come to breakfast.  You have been traveling all night ­”

“That’s right, ma’am.  No chance for more than a peck at a railroad sandwich ­tough critters, them!”

“Ah! here is Tom Cameron,” she said, having parted the portieres and found Tom just passing through the hall.  “Mr. Hicks, Tom.  Nita’s uncle.”

“Er ­Mr. Bill Hicks, of the Silver Ranch!” ejaculated Tom.

“So you’ve hearn tell of me, too, have you, younker?” quoth the ranchman, good-naturedly.  “Well, my fame’s spreadin’.”

“And it seems that I am the only person here who did not know all about your niece,” said Miss Kate Stone, drily.

“Oh, no, ma’am!” cried Tom.  “It was only Ruth and Helen and I who knew anything about it.  And we only suspected.  You see, we found the newspaper article which told about that bully ranch, and the fun that girl had ­”

“Jane Ann didn’t think ’twas nice enough for her,” grunted the ranchman.  “She wanted high-heeled slippers ­and shift ­shift-on hats ­and a pianner!  Common things warn’t good enough for Jane Ann.”

Ruth laughed, for she wasn’t at all afraid of the big Westerner.  “If chiffon hats and French heeled slippers would have kept Nita ­I mean, Jane Ann ­at home, wouldn’t it have been cheaper for you to have bought ’em?” she asked.

“It shore would!” declared the cattleman, emphatically.  “But when the little girl threatened to run away I didn’t think she meant it.”

Meanwhile Miss Kate had asked Tom to take the big man up stairs where he could remove the marks of travel.  In half an hour he was at the table putting away a breakfast that made even Mammy Laura open her eyes in wonder.

“I’m a heavy feeder, Miss,” he said apologetically, to Ruth.  “Since I been East I often have taken my breakfast in two restaurants, them air waiters stare so.  I git it in relays, as ye might say.  Them restaurant people ain’t used to seeing a man eat.  And great cats! how they do charge for vittles!”

But ugly as he was, and big and rude as he was, there was a simplicity and open-heartedness about Mr. Hicks that attracted more than Ruth Fielding.  The boys, because Tom was enthusiastic about the old fellow, came in first.  But the girls were not far behind, and by the time Mr. Hicks had finished breakfast the whole party was in the room, listening to his talk of his lost niece, and stories of Silver Ranch and the growing and wonderful West.

Mercy Curtis, who had a sharp tongue and a sharper insight into character, knew just how to draw Bill Hicks out.  And the ranchman, as soon as he understood that Mercy was a cripple, paid her the most gallant attentions.  And he took the lame girl’s sharp criticisms in good part, too.

“So you thought you could bring up a girl baby from the time she could crawl till she was old enough to get married ­eh?” demanded Mercy, in her whimsical way.  “What a smart man you are, Mr. Bill Hicks!”

“Ya-as ­ain’t I?” he groaned.  “I see now I didn’t know nothin’.”

“Not a living thing!” agreed Mercy.  “Bringing up a girl among a lot of cow ­cow ­what do you call ’em?”

“Punchers,” he finished, wagging his head.

“That’s it.  Nice society for a girl.  Likely to make her ladylike and real happy, too.”

“Great cats!” ejaculated the ranchman, “I thought I was doin’ the square thing by Jane Ann ­”

“And giving her a name like that, too!” broke in Mercy.  “How dared you?”

“Why ­why ­” stammered Mr. Hicks.  “It was my grandmother’s name ­and she was as spry a woman as ever I see.”

“Your grandmother’s name!” gasped Mercy.  “Then, what right had you to give it to your niece?  And when she way a helpless baby, too!  Wasn’t she good enough to have a name of her own ­and one a little more modern?”

“Miss, you stump me ­you sure do!” declared Mr. Hicks, with a sigh.  “I never thought a gal cared so much for them sort o’ things.  They’re surprisin’ different from boys; ain’t they?”

“Hope you haven’t found it out too late, Mister Wild and Woolly,” said Mercy, biting her speech off in her sharp way.  “You had better take a fashion magazine and buy Nita ­or whatever she wants to call herself ­clothes and hats like other girls wear.  Maybe you’ll be able to keep her on a ranch, then.”

“Wal, Miss!  I’m bound to believe you’ve got the rights of it.  I ain’t never had much knowledge of women-folks, and that’s a fact ­”

He was interrupted by the maid coming to the door.  “There’s a boy here, Miss Kate,” she said, “who is asking for the gentleman.”

“Asking for the gentleman?” repeated Miss Kate.

“Yes, ma’am.  The gentleman who has just came.  The gentleman from the West.”

“Axing for me?” cried the ranchman, getting up quickly.

“It must be for you, sir,” said Aunt Kate.  “Let the boy come in, Sally.”

In a minute a shuffling, tow-headed, bare-footed lad of ten years or so entered bashfully.  He was a son of one of the fishermen living along the Sokennet shore.

“You wanter see me, son?” demanded the Westerner.  “Bill Hicks, of Bullhide?”

“Dunno wot yer name is, Mister,” said the boy.  “But air you lookin’ for a gal that was brought ashore from the wreck of that lumber schooner?”

“That’s me!” cried Mr. Hicks.

“Then I got suthin’ for ye,” said the boy, and thrust a soiled envelope toward him.  “Jack Crab give it to me last night.  He said I was to come over this morning an’ wait for you to come.  Phin says you had come, w’en I got here.  That’s all.”

“Hold on!” cried Tom Cameron, as the boy started to go out, and Mr. Hicks ripped open the envelope.  “Say, where is this Crab man?”


“Where did he go after giving you the note?”


Just then Mr. Hicks uttered an exclamation that drew all attention to him and the fisherman’s boy slipped out.

“Great cats!” roared Bill Hicks.  “Listen to this, folks!  What d’ye make of it?

    “’Now I got you right.  Whoever you be, you are wanting to get
    hold of the girl.  I know where she is.  You won’t never know
    unless I get that five hundred dols.  The paper talked about. 
    You leave it at the lighthouse.  Mis Purling will take care of
    it and I reckon on getting it from her when I want it.  When
    she has got the five hundred dols.  I will let you know how to
    find the girl.  So, no more at present, from
                                                       “‘J.  Crab.’

“Listen here to it, will ye?  Why, if once I get my paws on this here Crab ­”

“You want to get the girl most; don’t you?” interrupted Mercy, sharply.

“Of course!”

“Then you’d better see if paying the money to him ­just as he says ­won’t bring her to you.  You offered the reward, you know.”

“But maybe he doesn’t really know anything about Nita!” cried Heavy.

“And maybe he knows just where she is,” said Ruth.

“Wal! he seems like a mighty sharp feller,” admitted the cattleman, seriously.  “I want my Jane Ann back.  I don’t begredge no five hundred dollars.  I’m a-goin’ over to that lighthouse and see what this Missus Purling ­you say she’s the keeper? ­knows about it.  That’s what I’m going to do!” finished Hicks with emphasis.