Read CHAPTER IX of The Merriweather Girls in Quest of Treasure , free online book, by Lizette M. Edholm, on ReadCentral.com.

LOST CANYON

The four girls at Casa Grande were hardly awake that first morning, when a shout brought them to the window.

It was Kit, seated on her spirited pony, that pawed the ground as she drew him up by the wall.

“Wake up, lazy girls!” cried Kit. “The Judge has been out for a ride before breakfast, and here you are missing the best part of the day. Come to the window and meet my friend, Powder.”

“Oh, Kit,” called Bet excitedly, “is that Powder? Do wait and let me ride him.”

Kit laughed. “As I told you before, if you want to ride Powder after seeing how he acts with me, you can take a chance. He’s trying to show me how much he loves me. Hurry up and get a bite to eat. I see Tommy getting the horses ready.”

Much to the disgust of Tang, the girls hurried through their breakfast, hardly knowing what they were eating, so excited were they over the prospect of a ride in Lost Canyon.

“Are your western horses very wild?” asked Joy as she joined Kit in the courtyard. “II don’t know how to ride very well.”

“Don’t worry, Joy! I brought you a safe one. We always give Dolly to people who can’t ride well. She’s as safe as a rocking chair.”

Even Joy could feel no apprehension when she got into the saddle. Dolly was decidedly safe. On the least upgrade she puffed and stopped short to rest.

“Poor thing! She’s all tired out!” exclaimed Bet, watching Joy’s horse lumber up a heavy grade. “I think it’s a shame, Tommy Sharpe, to let an old horse like that carry a load.”

“I do sort of feel sorry for that horse, Dolly,” drawled Kit. “Joy is such a heavy-weight that Dolly just has to puff. Why, she tips the scales at ninety-two pounds.”

Everybody laughed and Tommy drew in his horse and waited until Joy came abreast on a level stretch. Then he reached over and dug into the horse’s side.

Dolly leaped forward as Joy gave a cry of fright, but this only lasted for a moment. Dolly’s speed was soon over and she settled back into her usually lazy pace.

“That horse is a cheat. If I were riding her she’d step along lively without urging. But she has a lot of sense and knows who is on her back,” laughed Kit, offering Joy her quirt, which she carried only because it looked pretty. Powder never needed a quirt.

“Dolly isn’t so very old. She’s lazy!” said Tommy.

“Don’t say that, Tommy. She isn’t lazy, she was born tired,” reproved Bet.

Joy refused the quirt. “Oh, I just couldn’t use a whip, Kit. I just couldn’t. Dolly’s a nice horse and I wouldn’t think of hurting her. I think you people are terribly hard-hearted and cruel.” And as if Dolly understood just what was being said, she made for the shade of a large tree and stood still, and no amount of coaxing on Joy’s part would make her budge.

“She won’t do as I tell her, at all,” pouted Joy.

“Then maybe you’ll accept a quirt now and say ’thank you’,” and Kit extended the quirt once more.

“I hate to use it,” Joy looked bewildered, but the others were going on and would soon be far ahead. She brought the braided leather down on the side of the horse. Dolly sprang into action, galloped for a few minutes, then settled down to a jog trot. But by this time Joy was getting impatient. Again and again the quirt descended, and for a full minute at a time the horse trotted.

“Why you cruel, hard-hearted girl!” Bet shouted over her shoulder. “How can you bear to hit that gentle creature?”

Joy wrinkled up her nose at Bet and motioned her to go on.

“Keep up the good work,” called Tommy Sharpe. “We’ll never get over to Sombrero Butte to-day, if you let Dolly set the pace. I wish I had given you Oso. That’s a mean little imp of a burro. But at that I believe he’d have gone faster than Dolly.”

“Oh, Tommy, I’d love to ride a burro. Will you let me, truly?” begged Joy.

“And so do I want to ride a burro, Tommy. I’m always thrilled to pieces when I see the picture of one.” Bet had a sudden inspiration. “Let’s have a burro party some day and all ride burros. I think that would be fun.”

“That’s O.K. for me, if you ride them, Bet. As for me, I’ll ride Powder,” spoke Kit contemptuously. “Why should anyone want to ride one of those contrary little beasts? I think they are horrid.”

They had suddenly followed a trail into a canyon, which brought them down into the bed of a stream.

“This is Lost Canyon!” Kit called to the girls.

“I wonder how places get their names?” asked Bet. “Why did they call this Lost Canyon?”

“Nobody knows,” responded Kit. “When I was a very little girl I always felt sorry for it. I truly thought it was lost and in my childish mind I planned to have the canyon find itself someday. Wasn’t that silly?”

The girls laughed heartily, and the echo of their voices came back to them from the walls of the canyon.

But soon they left the large stream and rode up over the mountain. Tommy had his heart set on reaching Sombrero Butte, a high and inaccessible peak shaped like a huge cowboy hat, that rose above a flat-topped mountain. On reaching the foot of the butte, the young people drew rein and dismounted.

“I’m glad to be on the ground again!” Joy exclaimed with a heavy sigh. “I don’t care for horseback riding very much.”

“What do you like, Joy? I mean in the way of sports. What do you like to do more than anything else?” asked Enid Breckenridge.

“I like dancing. I’m not as much of an outdoor girl as the rest of you. I go along, not because I like it, but I like the company. Now it’s different with dancing, I could dance all day and all night.”

“She’s the ladylike member of The Merriweather Girls’ Club,” smiled Bet with an affectionate glance toward Joy. “She’s a butterfly. As for me, I can’t imagine why Fate played me such a mean trick as to send me into the world a girl, when I’d just love to have been a boy.” Bet shot out the words with a vicious snap.

“Say, you girls don’t know when you’re well off.” There was a wistful note in Tommy’s voice. “People expect so much more of boys and are never satisfied with what we do, while you girls have your paths strewn with roses.”

“Listen to him talk!” exclaimed Shirley. “I guess we girls have to struggle to live.”

“And what girl wants her path strewn with roses anyway?” demanded Bet in disgust. “I want to have to fight my way, I want to do worth-while things. Right now, if I were a boy, I’d try to climb Sombrero Butte.”

“Would you really do a silly thing like that, Bet Baxter?” asked Joy seriously. “I mean it. Tell me just why you’d do it?”

“I don’t know why, but I’d do it because it would seem like a big thing to do. It would be hard work and when I accomplished it, I could always say, ’I climbed Sombrero Butte’.”

“That’s not much of an ambition. I should call that simply foolhardy!” Joy could never understand such a desire. It was too far away from her own temperament.

“Then,” continued Bet, “I’d travel. I’d discover things, I’d find a new continent or a river or something. I’d like to go to South Africa and dig for diamonds. That would be romantic.”

Joy laughed. “Now I can half-way understand that. Diamonds are worth while. If you were a man, whom would you bestow those diamonds on?”

“Youmost likely. Men who do big things always fall hard for a handful of fluff like you,” returned Bet, her eyes flashing dangerously.

“And there you’d show your good sense,” Joy smiled in a provoking way. “I almost wish you were a man, Bet.”

As everybody laughed Bet soon regained her poise. Such flare-ups were frequent with Bet, a sudden flash of fire and then calm. The girls understood her and did not resent her bursts of impatience.

Tommy Sharpe leaned over and picked up a small stone from the ground, exclaiming: “Look here, girls, while you’re talking of discovering things, I find a treasure.”

“What is it?” cried Bet grasping Tommy’s closed hand. “Let me see?”

“An arrowhead!” Kit burst out contemptuously. “Not much of a discovery in that. I’m sick and tired of arrowheads.”

“Why, I think it’s wonderful to find one!” Bet examined the little sharpened piece of flint. “I wish I could find one.”

“I’ll let you have this one,” Tommy offered.

“No, that wouldn’t be the same. To make it a real treasure I must find one myself,” answered Bet as she looked longingly at the stone.

The girls began to search the ground for arrow-heads, but Shirley was the only successful one and even her find was a doubtful treasure as it had a large nick in it.

“You don’t need to worry, girls, you have all summer to find arrowheads, if that’s what you want,” laughed Kit.

“I have a cigar box full of them at home,” said Tommy. “I’d like to give you some. But now we’d better be going. It will be dinner time before we get back to the ranch.”

“Let’s go!” Kit swung herself into the saddle and as Powder’s spirit had returned he gave an exhibition of bucking and rearing that made Joy scream for she was certain that Kit would be dashed against the rocks. At Joy’s scream, Powder took fright and madly raced down the steep trail with Kit clutching the saddle horn for dear life.

“Oh, Bet, she’s going to be killed, I know it!” sobbed Joy. “Oh, I hate horses. Bet, do something! Kit will be hurt!”

“Don’t worry about Kit. Just watch her and see how she sits in the saddle, for all the world as if she were part of the animal.” Bet was fascinated by the skill with which Kit handled her horse, and she urged her pony forward so as to watch Kit more closely. It took all of Enid’s and Shirley’s persuasions to get Joy into the saddle.

“Come on, Joy, don’t be a silly! Kit’s a trained cowgirl. That horse can’t unseat her.”

Knowing that she was headed toward home, Dolly kept up a steady trot that covered the miles rapidly. There was no more stopping to pant and blow. Dolly knew that food and drink was waiting at the ranch.

Just as they reached the end of the canyon and prepared to take the trail to the ranch house, a slouching figure rose from the side of the canyon.

It was Kie Wicks.

“Well, well, and what are you folks doing in the canyon this morning?” he asked, for all the world as if he owned the whole district and feared that they were stealing from him.

“I took them over to Sombrero Butte,” replied Tommy Sharpe. “I’m to show them all the interesting places in the mountains this summer.”

Kie Wicks smiled, but the girls could see that he resented their presence there.

“That’s a fine idea. I hope you’ll bring them over to Cayuga. Maude will show them around,” he invited cordially, yet as the girls turned their horses’ heads up grade, Bet turned suddenly and was surprised at the look of hatred and distrust that was in the face of the storekeeper.

“I wonder why he dislikes us so much,” thought Bet, but decided not to pass on her knowledge to the others. Joy would be sure to get nervous and Kit might get into an argument with Kie or Maude and Enid Breckenridge would certainly tell her father and he would insist on them having an escort, or not allowing them to go into the canyon again.

So Bet kept her secret, and the girls did not suspect that Kie was actively unfriendly, they thought him a brusque, ignorant desert dweller whose friendship they could depend on, if needed.

They had not yet learned that Kie Wicks could not be depended on for friendship or loyalty to anyone. He was a suspicious man, always believing the worst of people, and when The Merriweather Girls showed an interest in Lost Canyon, old Indian relics, and even the pleasure of finding arrowheads, Kie Wicks was certain that they had heard of the treasure of Lost Canyon and were going to hunt for it.

And Kie Wicks considered that to be his own special mission in life. He believed implicitly in the old legend that there was a treasure buried in the canyon, and all of his spare time was used up in a search that had continued for ten years. Twice he had formed a company to locate the treasure, he had spent all the money subscribed and had failed. Still his faith held that he would eventually find it.

Maude usually tended the store and Kie spent days at a time drifting around the canyons and hoping that he would stumble upon a clue that would reveal the hidden gold.

He watched the girls ascend the steep hill, gazed after them until they disappeared over the summit, then shook his fist toward the place where they had been.

“Let them take care not to cross me. I can only stand just so much,” he muttered.

Kie turned slowly away, mounted his horse and rode down the canyon toward Cayuga.

Ahead of him was a great hole in the rock, an undertaking of his dated some years before and financed by his friends. He frowned at the tunnel dug into the bank, then his frown became a scowl and a ferocious one, for a man was standing there studying the workings, so intent on it that he did not hear the approach of the rider.

“What you doing there?” roared Kie Wicks. And as the man turned he recognized the little professor whom he had met at Judge Breckenridge’s ranch the previous day. Kie laughed to himself. Here was one man he need never fear. Inefficiency and irresponsibility were stamped upon ever line of the little man’s figure.

“He’s childish and perhaps a bit off,” thought the mountaineer. He turned to the professor. “That’s a mining claim belonging to me. It has promise of wealth in it. You’re not by any chance looking for some likely claims, are you?”

“No,” replied the professor truthfully. “I’ve come out here to hunt for Indian relics.”

Kie eyed the professor distrustfully. To himself he said: “That’s a likely story! Indian relics! What would a grown man want with them?” Then he turned to the old man. “You are in the wrong district,” he asserted. “Who ever told you there were Indian relics in this section? Why, we don’t even find arrowheads in this part of the country. Now over on the San Pedro there’s lots of mounds and things. There’s where you ought to go.”

“That’s a great disappointment. I’ve come a long way to unearth an old village or something of the sort.”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, mister! There ain’t nothing around here.”

As the professor took leave and rode up the trail, his face was a puzzle. “That’s queer,” he sighed. “Judge Breckenridge certainly told me that he had made some very important discoveries himself. But this man who belongs here should know more about it. I can’t make it all out.”

Even Ma Patten’s good cooking and her cheerful chatter could not restore the old man’s optimism.

“He’s tired himself out the first morning,” whispered Kit to her mother, after the professor had left the table and seated himself on a large rock overlooking the canyon.

Then, as they watched, they saw him slap his knee vehemently as he arose with a smile.

“That fellow is a fraud! He’s trying to mislead me! I know his type now. He wants to keep everything for himself.”

He would have been certain of this if he had seen Kie Wicks emerging from the canyon. Kie shook his head decidedly. “There, I put a spike in the professor’s gun. He simply wilted. I’m rid of him all right.”

But, as the horse followed the well worn trail, he mused. “There’s treasure there, I know it! It’s my treasure! Mine!”