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AUNT JANE'S NIECES ON THE RANCH
EDITH VAN DYNE
AUTHOR OF AUNT JANE'S NIECES SERIES THE FLYING GIRL SERIES, ETC., ETC.
The Reilly & Lee Co. Chicago
_Copyright_, 1913 _BY_ _The Reilly & Britton Co._
AUNT JANE'S NIECES ON THE RANCH
- CHAPTER I--UNCLE JOHN DECIDES
- CHAPTER II--EL CAJON RANCH
- CHAPTER III--THAT BLESSED BABY!
- CHAPTER IV--LITTLE JANE'S TWO NURSES
- CHAPTER V--INEZ THREATENS
- CHAPTER VI--A DINNER WITH THE NEIGHBORS
- CHAPTER VII--GONE!
- CHAPTER VIII--VERY MYSTERIOUS
- CHAPTER IX--A FRUITLESS SEARCH
- CHAPTER X--CONJECTURES AND ABSURDITIES
- CHAPTER XI--THE MAJOR ENCOUNTERS THE GHOST
- CHAPTER XII--ANOTHER DISAPPEARANCE
- CHAPTER XIII--THE WAY IT HAPPENED
- CHAPTER XIV--PRISONERS OF THE WALL
- CHAPTER XV--MILDRED CONFIDES IN INEZ
- CHAPTER XVI--AN UNEXPECTED ARRIVAL
- CHAPTER XVII--THE PRODIGAL SON
- CHAPTER XVIII--LACES AND GOLD
- CHAPTER XIX--INEZ AND MIGUEL
- CHAPTER XX--MR. RUNYON'S DISCOVERY
- CHAPTER XXI--A FORTUNE IN TATTERS
- CHAPTER XXII--FAITHFUL AND TRUE
Aunt Jane's Nieces on the Ranch
CHAPTER I--UNCLE JOHN DECIDES
"And now," said Major Doyle, rubbing his hands together as he halfreclined in his big chair in a corner of the sitting room, "now we shallenjoy a nice cosy winter in dear New York."
"Cosy?" said his young daughter, Miss Patricia Doyle, raising her headfrom her sewing to cast a glance through the window at the whirlingsnowflakes.
"Ab-so-lute-ly cosy, Patsy, my dear," responded the major. "Here we arein our own steam-heated flat--seven rooms and a bath, not counting theclosets--hot water any time you turn the faucet; a telephone call bringsthe butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker; latest editions of thepapers chucked into the passage! What more do you want?"
This scornful ejaculation came from a little bald-headed man seated inthe opposite corner, who had been calmly smoking his pipe and dreamilyeyeing the flickering gas-log in the grate. The major gave a start andturned to stare fixedly at the little man. Patsy, scenting mischief,indulged in a little laugh as she threaded her needle.
"Sir! what am I to understand from that brutal interruption?" demandedMajor Doyle sternly.
"You're talking nonsense," was the reply, uttered in a tone of cheeryindifference. "New York in winter is a nightmare. Blizzards, thaws,hurricanes, ice, la grippe, shivers--grouches."
"Drumsticks!" cried the major indignantly. "It's the finest climate inthe world--bar none. We've the finest restaurants, the best theatres,the biggest stores and--and the stock exchange. And then, there'sBroadway! What more can mortal desire, John Merrick?"
The little man laughed, but filled his pipe without reply.
"Uncle John is getting uneasy," observed Patsy. "I've noticed it forsome time. This is the first snowstorm that has caught him in New Yorkfor several years."
"The blizzard came unusually early," said Mr. Merrick apologetically."It took me by surprise. But I imagine there will be a few days more ofdecent weather before winter finally sets in. By that time--"
"Well, what then?" asked the major in defiant accents, as hisbrother-in-law hesitated.
"By that time we shall be out of it, of course," was the quiet reply.
Patsy looked at her uncle reflectively, while the major grunted andshifted uneasily in his chair. Father and daughter were alike devoted toJohn Merrick, whose generosity and kindliness had rescued them frompoverty and thrust upon them all the comforts they now enjoyed. Eventhis pretty flat building in Willing Square, close to the fashionableNew York residence district, belonged in fee to Miss Doyle, it havingbeen a gift from her wealthy uncle. And Uncle John made his home withthem, quite content in a seven-room-flat when his millions might havepurchased the handsomest establishment in the metropolis. Down in WallStreet and throughout the financial districts the name of the great JohnMerrick was mentioned with awe; here in Willing Square he smoked a pipein his corner of the modest sitting room and cheerfully argued with hisirascible brother-in-law, Major Doyle, whose business it was to lookafter Mr. Merrick's investments and so allow the democratic littlemillionaire the opportunity to come and go as he pleased.
The major's greatest objection to Uncle John's frequent absences fromNew York--especially during the winter months--was due to the fact thathis beloved Patsy, whom he worshiped with a species of idolatry, usuallyaccompanied her uncle. It was quite natural for the major to resentbeing left alone, and equally natural for Patsy to enjoy these travelexperiences, which in Uncle John's company were always delightful.
Patsy Doyle was an unprepossessing little thing, at first sight. She wasshort of stature and a bit plump; freckled and red-haired; neat andwholesome in appearance but lacking "style" in either form or apparel.But to her friends Patricia was beautiful. Her big blue eyes,mischievous and laughing, won hearts without effort, and the girl was sogenuine--so natural and unaffected--that she attracted old and youngalike and boasted a host of admiring friends.
This girl was Uncle John's favorite niece, but not the only one. Beth DeGraf, a year younger than her cousin Patsy, was a ward of Mr. Merrickand lived with the others in the little flat at Willing Square. Beth wasnot an orphan, but her father and mother, residents of an Ohio town, hadtreated the girl so selfishly and inconsiderately that she had passed avery unhappy life until Uncle John took her under his wing and removedBeth from her depressing environment. This niece was as beautiful inform and feature as Patsy Doyle was plain, but she did not possessPatsy's cheerful and uniform temperament and was by nature reserved anddiffident in the presence of strangers.
Yet Beth had many good qualities, among them a heart-felt sympathy foryoung girls who were not so fortunate as herself. On this disagreeablewinter's day she had set out to visit a settlement school where she hadlong since proved herself the good angel of a score of struggling girls.The blizzard had developed since she left home, but no one worried abouther, for Beth was very resourceful.
There was another niece, likewise dear to John Merrick's heart, who hadbeen Louise Merrick before she married a youth named Arthur Weldon, sometwo years before this story begins. A few months ago Arthur had takenhis young wife to California, where he had purchased a fruit ranch, andthere a baby was born to them which they named "Jane Merrick Weldon"--arather big name for what was admitted to be a very small person.
This baby, now five months old and reported to be thriving, had beenfrom its birth of tremendous interest to every inhabitant of the WillingSquare flat. It had been discussed morning, noon and night by Uncle Johnand the girls, while even the grizzled major was not ashamed to admitthat "that Weldon infant" was an important addition to the family.Perhaps little Jane acquired an added interest by being so far away fromall her relatives, as well as from the fact that Louise wrote suchglowing accounts of the baby's beauty and witcheries that to believe atithe of what she asserted was to establish the child as an infantilemarvel.
Now, Patsy Doyle knew in her heart that Uncle John was eager to seeLouise's baby, and long ago she had confided to Beth her belief that thewinter would find Mr. Merrick at Arthur Weldon's California ranch, withall his three nieces gathered around him and the infantile marvel in hisarms. The same suspicion had crept into Major Doyle's mind, and that iswhy he so promptly resented the suggestion that New York was not anideal winter resort. Somehow, the old major "felt in his bones" that hisbeloved Patsy would be whisked away to California, leaving her father toface the tedious winter without her; for he believed his business dutieswould not allow him to get away to accompany her.
Yet so far Uncle John, in planning for the winter, had not mentionedCalifornia as even a remote possibility. It was understood he would gosomewhere, but up to the moment when he declared "we will be out of it,of course, when the bad weather sets in," he had kept his own counseland forborne to express a preference or a decision.
But now the major, being aroused, decided to "have it out" with hiselusive brother-in-law.
"Where will ye go to find a better place?" he demanded.
"We're going to Bermuda," said Uncle John.
"For onions?" asked the major sarcastically.
"They have other things in Bermuda besides onions. A delightful climate,I'm told, is one of them."
The major sniffed. He was surprised, it is true, and rather pleased,because Bermuda is so much nearer New York than is California; but itwas his custom to object.
"Patsy can't go," he declared, as if that settled the question for goodand all. "The sea voyage would kill her. I'm told by truthful personsthat the voyage to Bermuda is the most terrible experience known tomortals. Those who don't die on the way over positively refuse ever tocome back again, and so remain forever exiled from their homes andfamilies--until they have the good luck to die from continually eatingonions."
Mr. Merrick smiled as he glanced at the major's severe countenance.
"It can't be as bad as that," said he. "I know a man who has taken hisfamily to Bermuda for five winters, in succession."
"And brought 'em back alive each time?"
"Certainly. Otherwise, you will admit he couldn't take them again."
"That family," asserted the major seriously, "must be made of cast-iron,with clockwork stomachs."
Patsy gave one of her low, musical laughs.
"I think I would like Bermuda," she said. "Anyhow, whatever pleasesUncle John will please me, so long as we get away from New York."
"Why, ye female traitor!" cried the major; and added, for Uncle John'sbenefit: "New York is admitted by men of discretion to be the modernGarden of Eden. It's the one desideratum of--"
Here the door opened abruptly and Beth came in. Her cheeks were glowingred from contact with the wind and her dark tailor-suit glistened withtiny drops left by the melted snow. In her mittened hand she waved aletter.
"From Louise, Patsy!" she exclaimed, tossing it toward her cousin; "butdon't you dare read it till I've changed my things."
Then she disappeared into an inner room and Patsy, disregarding theinjunction, caught up the epistle and tore open the envelope.
Uncle John refilled his pipe and looked at Patsy's tense faceinquiringly. The major stiffened, but could not wholly repress hiscuriosity. After a moment he said:
"All well, Patsy?"
"How's the baby?" asked Uncle John.
"Dear me!" cried Patsy, with a distressed face; "and no doctor nearerthan five miles!"
Both men leaped from their chairs.
"Why don't they keep a doctor in the house?" roared the major.
"Suppose we send Dr. Lawson, right away!" suggested Uncle John.
Patsy, still holding up the letter, turned her eyes upon themreproachfully.
"It's all over," she said with a sigh.
The major dropped into a chair, limp and inert. Uncle John paled.
"The--the baby isn't--dead!" he gasped.
"No, indeed," returned Patsy, again reading. "But it had colic mostdreadfully, and Louise was in despair. But the nurse, a dark-skinnedMexican creature, gave it a dose of some horrid hot stuff--"
"Chile con carne, most likely!" ejaculated the major.
"Horrible!" cried Uncle John.
"And that cured the colic but almost burned poor little Jane's insidesout."
"However, Louise says the dear baby is now quite well again," continuedthe girl.
"Perhaps so, when she wrote," commented the major, wiping his foreheadwith a handkerchief; "but that's a week ago, at least. A thousand thingsmight have happened to that child since then. Why was Arthur Weldon sucha fool as to settle in a desert place, far away from all civilization?He ought to be prosecuted for cruelty."
"The baby's all right," said Patsy, soothingly. "If anything serioushappened, Louise would telegraph."
"I doubt it," said the major, walking the floor. "I doubt if there'ssuch a thing as a telegraph in all that forsaken country."
Uncle John frowned.
"You are getting imbecile, Major. They've a lot more comforts andconveniences on that ranch than we have here in New York."
"Name 'em!" shouted the Major. "I challenge ye to mention one thing wehaven't right here in this flat."
"Chickens!" said Beth, re-entering the room in time to hear thischallenge. "How's the baby, Patsy?"
"Growing like a weed, dear, and getting more lovely and cunning everysecond. Here--read the letter yourself."
While Beth devoured the news from California Uncle John replied to themajor.
"At El Cajon Ranch," said he, "there's a fine big house where thesunshine peeps in and floods the rooms every day in the year. Hear thatblizzard howl outside, and think of the roses blooming this instant onthe trellis of Louise's window. Arthur has two automobiles and can getto town in twenty minutes. They've a long-distance telephone and I'vetalked with 'em over the line several times."
"You have!" This in a surprised chorus.
"I have. Only last week I called Louise up."
"An expensive amusement, John," said the major grimly.
"Yes; but I figured I could afford it. I own some telephone stock, youknow, so I may get part of that investment back. They have their owncows, and chickens--as Beth truly says--and any morning they can pickoranges and grapefruit from their own trees for breakfast."
"I'd like to see that precious baby," remarked Beth, laying the letteron her lap to glance pleadingly at her uncle.
"Uncle John is going to take us to Bermuda," said Patsy in a seriousvoice.
The little man flushed and sat down abruptly. The major, noting hisattitude, became disturbed.
"You've all made the California trip," said he. "It doesn't pay to seeany country twice."
"But we haven't seen Arthur's ranch," Beth reminded him.
"Nor the baby," added Patsy, regarding the back of Uncle John's headsomewhat wistfully.
The silence that followed was broken only by the major's low growls. Thepoor man already knew his fate.
"That chile-con-carne nurse ought to be discharged," mumbled Uncle John,half audibly. "Mexicans are stupid creatures to have around. I think weought to take with us an experienced nurse, who is intelligent andup-to-date."
"Oh, I know the very one!" exclaimed Beth. "Mildred Travers. She'sperfectly splendid. I've watched her with that poor girl who was hurt atthe school, and she's as gentle and skillful as she is refined. Mildredwould bring up that baby to be as hearty and healthful as a youngsavage."
"How soon could she go?" asked Uncle John.
"At an hour's notice, I'm sure. Trained nurses are used to sudden calls,you know. I'll see her to-morrow--if it's better weather."
"Do," said Uncle John. "I suppose you girls can get ready by Saturday?"
"Of course!" cried Patsy and Beth in one voice.
"Then I'll make the reservations. Major Doyle, you will arrange yourbusiness to accompany us."
"You will, or
I'll discharge you. You're working for me, aren't you?"
"I am, sir."
"Then obey orders."