"Why, Bet Baxter!" exclaimed Kit Patten. "You say you've had no romance! What do you call it when you stand off a couple of western bad men, and recapture the tunnel all by yourself?"
"Did you do that, Bet?" asked her father, turning on his daughter with a frown.
"Please don't think I intended to keep it from you, Dad. I was waiting until we went back to Lynnwood," Bet answered penitently.
Her father laughed. "Oh, Bet, girl, when will you learn to be cautious? And when are you going to grow up and be ladylike?"
"Not yet, Dad. There will be time enough to grow up when I get to be thirty. Until then, I want to be just a girl and have lots of fun and adventure."
"You seem to be getting your wish, as you always do," Enid said as she tried to pat Bet's tousled locks into place.
"I didn't get my wish this time. Far from it. I wished for heaps of treasure, and I get nothing but a brass-bound chest."
Tommy Sharpe was gazing at the mud-crusted box with interest and suddenly burst out; "Say, Judge, if Kie Wicks gets an idea that the chest is worth more than a dollar and a half, he'll try to take it away from the girls. Don't you think we'd better take it back to the ranch?"
"You're right, Tommy. It may not be what we planned for, but just the same, the professor and the girls put up a fight for it and it belongs to them."
"And I love it, Dad!" exclaimed Enid, examining the carving on the box.
"Well, what are we going to do now?" asked the business-like Shirley. "Will we abandon the tunnel and claims and let Kie Wicks have them?"
"No!" cried Bet decidedly. "I won't let him have anything! Not even the worthless old tunnel."
"That's the way I feel about it," said the professor. "Kie didn't treat me fairly and I don't wish him to be near my camp. On the other hand, we shouldn't be a burden to Judge Breckenridge, who has supplied men to guard the tunnel and help do the digging."
Bob interrupted with a shout. "Let us live here and guard the tunnel part of the time. What about it, Paul, can you think of any more interesting way to spend a vacation? To cook and live out like this?"
"I'm with you, Bob, if Dad says it's O. K." answered Paul Breckenridge.
"It's all right if you want to," agreed the Judge. "You could change your camp down to the creek-bed if you wish."
"I'd rather stay on top of the mountain," answered Phil. "This just suits me."
So it was agreed that the boys would camp with the professor and keep Kie Wicks at a safe distance.
But Kie had had enough. Word leaked out that they had not found any treasure. Kie did not want the claims. He was not a mining man by temperament and hated the toil and privation that went into the working of claims in the hills.
Day after day now Professor Gillette went in search of the Indian ruins, hoping to find something that would give him credit in his college. A few bits of broken pottery, some arrowheads and a foot of crumbling wall were not the things that would bring him fame as an explorer.
The vacation was almost over.
Only once did the girls get the old man away from his search. Before returning home they wanted to visit the summer range where the large herd of cattle grazed, that belonged to Judge Breckenridge. It was five miles over the Cayuga Range.
It was Joy's first outing after her accident and she mounted the broad back of Dolly with the same fear that she always felt with a horse.
"I'll never get used to it," she sighed, as the other girls leaped gaily into their saddles.
But Paul Breckenridge was at her side encouraging her. Joy's sweet helplessness appealed to the boy. The other girls often annoyed him by their self confidence and efficiency. The gay but child-like Joy amused and pleased him.
He liked the way Joy looked to him for protection when they rode out on the broad flat where the cattle were grazing. There were hundreds of cattle on that range. Joy shivered. There was no pretense in her terror. She did not like cattle.
"Oh, look at Tommy Sharpe. He'll be killed," she cried.
"He's all right, Joy. He understands the game. Just watch and you'll see what he is going to do," returned Paul.
Tommy had spurred his horse forward and was now riding straight toward the herd. It seemed to the girls that he was right in the midst of that stamping, struggling mass.
The boy was after a certain cow with her calf and as he kept his eye on the animal he wanted, he untied the rope fastened about the saddle horn, and held the other end ready to throw when he had a chance.
The girls watched proudly as the boy rode confidently into the herd, divided it and then singling out the animal he was after, threw the loop.
No sooner did the loop twirl through the air than the trained cowpony braced itself backward. There was a swirl of dust in the air. The herd raced madly across the flat to the safety of the canyon beyond and the girls saw that Tommy had succeeded. A cow was scrambling to her feet, bellowing with rage.
Twice the animal was thrown down before she gave up the struggle, and the reason for that was the appearance of a calf that answered her hoarse call.
Tommy led the animal toward the trail and the calf followed. Tommy had won.
"Do you like being a cowboy, Tommy?" asked Enid as she spurred her horse to have a word with the boy.
"It's the best sport in the world, Enid. I wouldn't ask for nothing better."
Whether it was the long ride over the mountain, or something that the professor had eaten; that night he was a sick man.
"Go for Mrs. Patten," he gasped. "She knows what to do."
And the girls, hearing about it from Kit, soon followed her to the camp. They found the professor tossing uneasily on his cot, holding his head to try and stop the pain. Even after Ma Patten's treatment it was an hour before he quieted down.
The girls had been wandering about the camp and Bet suddenly exclaimed, "Come on girls, let's be sports and visit the site of our fondest hopes, and of our bitter disappointment."
"Aw, why rub it in?" said Kit with a shrug, as she followed Bet into the tunnel.
"I never even looked to see where that old chest came from, and I want to see," Bet let herself down into the hole. "I can't believe that anyone found the treasure, stole it, then sealed the tunnel up again. That doesn't spell sense, at all."
"I think those old Spaniards showed very little sense anyway," remarked Kit. "Why didn't they hide their treasure in some easier place?"
Bet laughed. But at that moment her foot scraped against something hard. There was a metallic ring. Stooping she dug away the dirt and crumbled rock with her hands.
"Kit!" she gasped. "It's the treasure! Call the professor! Hurry!" Bet's voice rang out.
There was no need to call the professor. Forgetting his weariness and headache, he leaped from the cot at Bet's cry, and ran to the tunnel.
Bet appeared, carrying a small metal box, held tightly in her arms.
"Call the girls!" she said, and disappeared into the shelter of the professor's tent.
When the box was pried open, the girls had all the thrill they had ever planned. Old coins, nuggets and jewels were scrambled together in the casket. Enid's fingers closed about a long gold chain, tarnished and stained with the years.
"That's what I've dreamed about!" she said with a gasp. "Isn't it wonderful!"
A loud "Hullo" came to them from the hill above. Bet shut the box with a snap and placing it on the cot, sat down upon it.
"Anyone who gets this box, has to take me along!" she said in a tense voice. "No one shall have it! No one!"
A moment later there was a scramble from the trail and Bob, Phil and Paul rushed into the tent. They started back as they saw the frightened faces of the girls.
Then Bet laughed.
"We thought it was robbers! After the treasure!" she exclaimed, jumping to her feet and displaying the precious box.
"Three cheers for The Merriweather Girls!" shouted Bob.
The professor was delighted. He had forgotten his sickness. "It shows how one should keep at a thing long after it seems useless," he told the girls. "Why, I may even find my Indian village, yet."
"Of course you will. This is just the beginning of our good luck!" cried Bet excitedly.
"And we'll all help you hunt for your village," promised Phil Gordon. "That will be the next adventure!"
"What about your claims?" asked Tommy. "Aren't you going to work them?" He cast a longing look over the flat-topped summit.
"Dad says we'd be foolish to go on with them!" replied Enid. "If we were going to be out here to look after the work it would be different."
"Will you sell them?" Tommy's eager face expressed more than the simple question. Tommy wanted those claims.
"You can have them, Tommy!" began Enid.
Bet burst out with a decided "No!" and the girls looked at the impulsive, generous girl in surprise. They had never known Bet to act like this.
"We'll sell Tommy the claims," she said in her decided way. "We'll sell Tommy the claims—for that treasure map!"
The boy looked relieved. "It's a bargain!" he laughed.
"Nothing for nothing!" smiled Joy contemptuously.
"No such thing!" protested Bet. "That map was worth a lot to us. If we hadn't seen it on Tommy's wall, I'd never have thought of those carvings on the rock meaning anything."
"And who knows? Maybe there'll be a big mine on this mountain some day!" Tommy looked around with the pride of possession. "I'm going to get the assessment work done on my claims right away," he added.
Kit came close to him. "Look here, Tommy Sharpe. You keep your eyes open after we go, and if Kie Wicks doesn't do his assessment work, jump his claims. They belong to us, anyway, and they're included in the sale."
Bet carried the treasure to the ranch. The others acted as escort for the safe transfer of the box.
"All gone crazy!" said Tang to his boys, as the young people rushed in and all began to talk at once to the Judge and Colonel Baxter.
There was excitement and happiness on the ranch. Everybody had been interested in the adventure. But it was only the favored ones who ever saw the treasure. Bet gladly gave it to Judge Breckenridge for safe keeping.
"Now the tunnel doesn't have to be guarded any more," exclaimed Bob. And even the professor agreed that it would be better to stay at the ranch. Kie Wicks might try to get back at them, if he found out about the treasure.
So the camp on the summit was broken up. As the professor urged the burro through the canyon, loaded down with his tent and supplies, the contrary animal made a rush toward the flat where the Indians were camped, and nothing could turn him from his purpose.
The professor had a sudden inspiration. He signalled Mapia who was sitting by the stream, smoking his pipe as usual. Unstrapping the tent, the old man presented it to the Indian. And while Mapia's face did not change expression, somehow the professor knew that he was pleased.
As he turned to go, the Indian rose and followed. "Wait! I show you! Come!" he said, and mounting his bony horse, he headed it up Lost Canyon. It was slow travelling, the burro had to be brought back to the trail many times with prods from a heavy stick that the Indian had given the old man.
After a mile they left the creek and followed a smaller stream that had no visible trail. They clambered over slippery rocks for another mile and still another and then the Indian brought him out to a broad shelf of rock. And there hidden by the hills, was the extensive ruins of the ancient town.
"The village!" said Mapia with a sweep of his hand.
The professor could only stare. He had no words to express his joy. Wall after wall of adobe ruins had withstood the weather in this sheltered spot. And from these walls he could picture the village as it had once been.
Mapia interrupted his thoughts. "Be careful! The Old Chief's daughter walks!"
"Are you afraid of the ghost, Mapia?" the professor asked him, looking steadily into his eyes.
"No, I don't believe! But bad men believe and that is good."
The professor laughed. Years seemed to have dropped from him. He felt like a boy.
Mapia was talking. "The Old Chief, he's buried there—or maybe over there. Who knows? It is not good to disturb the bones of the dead!" he added in a warning voice.
"COMPLIMENTS OF KIE WICKS"
The last week in the hills was a busy one for The Merriweather Girls and their friends.
Professor Gillette worked from early morning until late at night. The few excavations he made proved beyond doubt that he had found the ancient village that so many men had tried to locate.
His job was secure. And with his share of the treasure he would be able to realize his hopes in regard to the invalid daughter. There was no happier man in the world these days than the old professor.
His time was spent in making a careful map of the village. The ruins were photographed from every angle by Shirley Williams. Everyone had a hand in helping their old friend in the realization of his undertaking.
Bet was quiet. Something seemed to be troubling here these days.
"What is it, Bet?" asked Colonel Baxter one morning after his daughter had been following him around for an hour, with a question in her eyes.
"There is just one thing I want to do more than I anything else in all the world," she answered.
"Speak, child!" smiled the Colonel indulgently. "What is it that your heart desires?" he added playfully.
"Let me fly back with you to New York! I've never been up in an airplane."
"I'm sorry, Bet. I can't do it this time. Not yet," he answered.
Bet looked disappointed. "Oh it's all right, Dad, I won't whimper. I've had a wonderful time this summer."
"And what's more, you will have your chance this year."
"Oh, what do you mean, Dad?"
"Up at Rockhill School, where you are going this winter, they have a class in aviation for the girls," said her father.
"Do you mean it? Is it really true? Will you let me learn to fly?"
"Yes daughter, I want you to. I believe in modern sports for young people. It's a great game and the earlier you get into it, the more chance you have of becoming an expert."
"Dad, you're wonderful!" exclaimed Bet.
With this promise Bet was satisfied and not unhappy when her father and the boys left the next day for Benito, where the airplane was guarded in a barn.
In fact Bet was too busy during the next few days to be unhappy. The girls were sorting over all the collections they had made in the hills. It would have needed a special train if Bet had taken all the things she had brought to the ranch so it was necessary for her to go over the lot and take only the treasures that she could not give up.
"You'd better get an old trunk that's out in the garage and fill it up. Then we can send it by express," suggested Judge Breckenridge.
But Bet objected. "Some of my things are too precious to put in that trunk," she said.
"For instance, what?" asked Kit.
"My arrowheads and my turquoise specimens. I'll carry them in my small suitcase. The ore samples, from those copper claims are heavy. They can go in the trunk. And what say we put our hiking and riding shoes in that."
"Sure, that's an idea! All the heavy things that we don't care for can go into the old trunk."
Judge Breckenridge took the small casket of treasure in his car. He started out a full hour before the others, as he still felt the necessity of driving slowly with his invalid wife. The genial little professor entertained her on the way with details of his village.
Bet sighed as the last good-bye was said and she settled down in the car.
"We've had a marvelous time! We never dreamed we'd have such an adventure."
"Maybe it's just as well we couldn't forsee the struggle with Kie Wicks over that treasure," Shirley said with a happy smile. "Isn't it good to win out, no matter what you are doing?"
"Yes, we have the treasure and had the fun of the contest, but what did Kie Wicks get out of it?" demanded Bet.
"Nothing at all!" chirruped Joy. "He's just out of luck. And he deserves it for kidnapping our professor."
"Atta boy, Joy! Dad says to be generous to your enemies, but I'm afraid I haven't one little generous thought for Kie Wicks. Isn't it good that he didn't hear about us finding the treasure? He knows about the chest but not a word about the other."
But Kie Wicks knew more than the girls realized. He had heard more and seen more than they had any idea of. He suspected that treasure had been found and at that moment he was giving instructions to his hired men.
He had formed a gang of ruffians from the hills and they were collected now in a ravine through which the automobiles must pass. Without any suspicion that the treasure was safely stowed away in a car that had passed fully half an hour before, the storekeeper huddled his men behind the rock and waited.
As the car driven by Matt Larkin came out on the main road, Kie ordered his men and his voice was hard:
"There's the chest of treasure. Go get it! Don't fail!"
A shot rang out! Matt Larkin tried to put on speed and get away from the small car that had suddenly sprung into the road, and having a higher-powered engine he succeeded for a while. But the pursuing machine had only two men in it and the five girls and their luggage was a drag on the big car.
Joy became hysterical with fright. She crouched low in the car, but Bet was excited. Her head bobbed up every minute to see what was taking place.
Matt caught her as she peered through the back window and spoke angrily. "Get down there! Are you crazy? You'll be shot if you don't look out."
Bet sighed as she obeyed. "Just my luck! To miss all the fun! Now if I were a boy...." The sentence was jerked out as Matt Larkin took a bump without easing it.
"Ouch!" screamed Joy. "My head!"
"Keep quiet, Joy Evans! It serves you right for being such a cry-baby," snapped Bet.
But Shirley comforted her. Joy was trembling as her friend clasped her in her arms.
"I wish the boys were here," sobbed Joy.
"Well, I don't!" said Kit. "They'd think it was their duty to put up a fight, and it doesn't pay."
Another burst of speed that shook the car.
Then Matt slowed down. There was nothing else to do. The men were gaining and it was foolish to try to out-speed them.
Matt turned. "Keep perfectly quiet," said the man. "They won't hurt you. They're only after the treasure."
"But that's in the car ahead," protested Bet.
"You'd better yell it loud enough for them to hear," suggested Enid from the depths of the tonneau.
Matt once more warned them to be quiet. "Put up your hands if they tell you to. Don't take any chances. Don't speak unless they ask you a question. I'll do the talking."
With a gun pointed in their direction, they lost no time in putting up their hands. Bet hesitated, her defiant nature rebelled at the idea of such surrender. But a second command from Matt, brought the girl's hands toward her head.
"The chest! Off with it!" commanded Ramon Salazar to the man by his side. "And here, Jake, you hold the gun on them!"
"Not that chest, Ramon," cried Bet. "You can't have that chest!"
"What's to stop us," sneered the Mexican with an ugly scowl.
"My ore samples! My birds' nests. They're in that chest."
"Ha, ha, that's a good joke. Birds' nests!"
"Keep quiet, Bet, not another word!" Matt Larkin spoke with decision. And Bet slumped down in the seat, her arms still extended above her head.
Ramon did not wait to untie the rope that held the huge trunk. He slashed the strings with his knife. Then bringing his gun once more toward the car, he ordered:
"Now get along out of here as fast as you can. You are covered until you are out of sight." As Matt started his car the Mexican called. "Kie Wicks sends his compliments!"
As the car got under way, Bet suddenly began to scream. It was something between a laugh and a cry. The girls looked at her in astonishment. Bet hysterical! They could hardly believe it.
When a safe distance was reached Bet tried to speak. "That old trunk! They think it's the treasure chest! And they've stolen my riding shoes and my birds nests and some copper ore. Oh, girls, isn't it funny?" And Bet was once more convulsed with laughter.
"To think of Bet getting hysterical!" exclaimed Enid.
"I wasn't hysterical. I just had to laugh, and I thought they'd catch on so I screamed."
"That explains everything, Bet," came Joy's voice from the floor of the car. "I'll remember that excuse myself and use it sometime."
Bet glared but said nothing. Then she started to laugh once more:
"What wouldn't I give to see Kie Wicks' face when he opens that chest?"
Back in the ravine, the men had carried the trunk to a cave and Kie grabbed it.
"Fine!" he said. "Those folks will learn who's boss here."
"You're clever, Kie. You let those greenies do the hard work while you watched and then you grab the treasure. I call that smart!"
Kie beamed with satisfaction.
"Here, lend a hand, Ramon, and help me pry open this chest. I know a man who says he'll give me a fancy price for this treasure. This is my lucky day."
The cover of the trunk was thrown back and the men stared down into the greatest array of old clothes and camping equipment they had ever seen.
"Ain't this wonderful!" said Ramon picking up a huge chunk of copper ore. "That's a valuable specimen. It will bring a fancy price."
Kie Wicks tried to speak, but a choking sound came in his throat.
The rough men beside him knew that for once they had Kie Wicks at their mercy. They roared with laughter.
"Compliments of Kie Wicks!" shouted Ramon.
Kie made as if to draw his gun, but instead he turned to his horse, mounted it and rode away.
"They've out-smarted me this time!" he muttered. "But they'd better watch out!"
As Kie Wicks spurred his horse along the canyon road, he knew that his days at Saugus were over. He had gone too far. The sheriff would never stand for a hold-up. Prison threatened him. What was more he would be the laughing stock of the whole country. Kie Wicks, the man who had boasted of his cleverness had been outdone by a bunch of girls.
"This place ain't healthy for me, no more," muttered the man. "Me and Maude will get away, to-night. We'll never stop till we get clear out of the state. Then we'll be safe."
And on Judge Breckenridge's private train that was taking The Merriweather Girls and their friend toward their home, Bet would burst into a peal of laughter from time to time.
"What now, Bet?" asked Enid.
"Oh, I'm thinking of all the fun we've had—and I'm wondering if Kie Wicks will keep my birds' nests and start a collection," she giggled.
Even the old professor, who had been invited to join the party, had to chuckle at the thought.
Shirley Williams was gazing from the car window. "Look at that sunset, girls. Did you ever see anything so beautiful?"
"I'd love to paint it," enthused Bet.
"Then why don't you?" Shirley reproached her. "You brought your color box and some canvases with you to Arizona and you haven't made a single picture. I'm ashamed of you!"
"Oh, I'll make up for it this winter at Rockhill School. I'll work hard. See if I don't."
"No, you won't, Bet Baxter. You get so interested in the sports, the motoring, the flying and all that outdoor science course, that you'll never take a brush in your hand. And you won't study either!" declared Joy.
"I'll have to," protested Bet. "Dad wouldn't like it if I failed to come up to the high standard of the school. Dr. Dale's idea is that modern sports develop the brain and make us wide awake and keen."
"Sounds fishy to me," returned Joy slangily. "I may be wrong but I have my doubt that it works. If I had to go up in an airplane I'd be so frightened I couldn't think straight for a year at least."
Suddenly Joy sprang up, her face white. "Say, Bet, does everyone at Rockhill have to fly?"
"Of course not, Joy. There probably won't be more than six in the whole school who will go in for aviation."
"Thank goodness! I wish The Merriweather Girls wouldn't go in for flying."
"Why, Joy Evans, I've already signed up for the aviation course. I wouldn't miss it for worlds."
"Personally, I'd be content to stay on the ground," spoke Shirley.
No one else spoke. Joy was staring at Kit.
Then Bet turned to Kit and the western girl replied to her unspoken question: Kit's bright eyes and daring smile told that she was game to ride anything that could run or fly. "I'm with you, Bet," she said heartily.
"We're all with you, Bet. We'll not be left behind. If you girls are going to fly, we will, too," Enid drew Shirley toward the two girls.
"I was just thinking," exclaimed Shirley Williams, "that I can make some wonderful photographs from the air."
"Well, since you're all going in for aviation, I suppose that includes me. But I'll not do a thing unless I can wear one of those lovely white leather costumes. I'm sure I'd look well in one!" This from Joy, the butterfly girl.
"Then The Merriweather Girls stand together!" laughed Enid Breckenridge.
"Of course, 'One for all and all for one!'" said Bet, with a happy smile on her face.
"And this year it will be THE MERRIWEATHER GIRLS—AT GOOD OLD ROCKHILL." Kit waved an imaginary hat in the air. "I wonder what adventures are in store for us there?"
"We've had so many wonderful experiences this summer that it seems as if there couldn't be any more adventures left," mused Enid.
But Bet Baxter's face was glowing with the promise of future joys. "Don't worry about that, girls! At Good Old Rockhill, we'll find lots of fun, new thrills, and something tells me that adventure is waiting for us there!"
"If we follow close on your heels, Bet, we're sure to find it!" laughed Kit.
"Three cheers for Good Old Rockhill!" Bet shouted as the train carried them nearer and nearer to the exciting experiences that were before them.