Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 20
"WHAR'S MY JANE ANN?"
Three of Heavy's listeners knew in an instant what the telegram meant—who it was from, and who was mentioned in it—Ruth, Helen and Tom. But how, or why the telegram had been sent was as great a mystery to them as to the others; therefore their surprise was quite as unfeigned as that of the remaining girls and boys.
"Why, somebody's made a mistake," said Heavy. "Such a telegram couldn't be meant for me."
"And addressed only to 'Stone,' said her aunt. "It is, of course, a mistake."
"And who are we to hold on to?" laughed Mary Cox, prepared to run into the house again.
"Wait!" cried Mercy, who had come leaning upon Madge's arm from the shore. "Don't you see who that message refers to?"
"No!" they chorused.
"To that runaway girl, of course," said the cripple. "That's plain enough, I hope."
"To Nita!" gasped Heavy.
"But who is it that's coming here for her? And how did 'W. Hicks' know she was here?" demanded Ruth.
"Maybe Captain and Mrs. Kirby told all about her when they got to Boston. News of her, and where she was staying, got to her friends," said Mercy Curtis. "That's the 'why and wherefore' of it—believe me!"
"That sounds very reasonable," admitted Aunt Kate. "The Kirbys would only know our last name and would not know how to properly address either Jennie or me. Come, now! get in on the rubber mats in your rooms and rub down well. The suits will be collected and rinsed out and hung to dry before Mammy Laura goes to bed. If any of you feel the least chill, let me know."
But it was so warm and delightful a night that there was no danger of colds. The girls were so excited by the telegram and had so much to say about the mystery of Nita, the castaway, that it was midnight before any of them were asleep.
However, they had figured out that the writer of the telegram, leaving New York, from which it was sent at half after eight, would be able to take a train that would bring him to Sandtown very early in the morning; and so the excited young folks were all awake by five o'clock.
It was a hazy morning, but there was a good breeze from the land. Tom declared he heard the train whistle for the Sandtown station, and everybody dressed in a hurry, believing that "W. Hicks" would soon be at the bungalow.
There were no public carriages at the station to meet that early train, and Miss Kate had doubted about sending anybody to meet the person who had telegraphed. In something like an hour, however, they saw a tall man, all in black, striding along the sandy road toward the house.
As he came nearer he was seen to be a big-boned man, with broad shoulders, long arms, and a huge reddish mustache, the ends of which drooped almost to his collar. Such a mustache none of them had ever seen before. His black clothes would have fitted a man who weighed a good fifty pounds more than he did, and so the garments hung baggily upon him. He wore a huge, black slouched hat, with immensely broad brim.
He strode immediately to the back door—that being the nearest to the road by which he came—and the boys and girls in the breakfast room crowded to the windows to see him. He looked neither to right nor left, however, but walked right into the kitchen, where they at once heard a thunderous voice demand:
"Whar's my Jane Ann? Whar's my Jane Ann, I say?"
Mammy Laura evidently took his appearance and demand in no good part. She began to sputter, but his heavy voice rode over hers and quenched it:
"Keep still, ol' woman! I want to see your betters. Whar's my Jane Ann?"
"Lawsy massy! what kine ob a man is yo'?" squealed the fat old colored woman. "T' come combustucatin' inter a pusson's kitchen in disher way——"
"Be still, ol' woman!" roared the visitor again. "Whar's my Jane Ann?"
The butler appeared then and took the strange visitor in hand.
"Come this way, sir. Miss Kate will see you," he said, and led the big man into the front of the house.
"I don't want none o' your 'Miss Kates,'" growled the stranger. "I want my Jane Ann."
Heavy's little Aunt looked very dainty indeed when she appeared before this gigantic Westerner. The moment he saw her, off came his big hat, displaying a red, freckled face, and a head as bald as an egg. He was a very ugly man, saving when he smiled; then innumerable humorous wrinkles appeared about his eyes and the pale blue eyes themselves twinkled confidingly.
"Your sarvent, ma'am," he said. "Your name Stone?"
"It is, sir. I presume you are 'W. Hicks'?" she said.
"That's me—Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks, of Bullhide, Montanny."
"I hope you have not come here, Mr. Hicks, to be disappointed. But I must tell you at the start," said Miss Kate, "that I never heard o you before I received your very remarkable telegram."
"Huh! that can well be, ma'am—that can well be. But they got your letter at the ranch, and Jib, he took it into Colonel Penhampton, and the Colonel telegraphed me to New York, where I'd come a-hunting her——"
"Wait, wait, wait!" cried Miss Kate, eagerly. "I don't understand at all what you are talking about."
"Why—why, I'm aimin' to talk about my Jane Ann," exclaimed the cattle man.
"Jane Ann who?" she gasped.
"Jane Ann Hicks. My little gal what you've got her and what you wrote about——"
"You are misinformed, sir," declared Miss Kate. "I have never written to you—or to anybody else—about any person named Jane Ann Hicks."
"Oh, mebbe you don't know her by that name. She had some hifalutin' idee before she vamoosed about not likin' her name—an' I give her that thar name myself!" added Bill Hicks, in an aggrieved tone.
"Nor have I written about any other little girl, or by any other name," rejoined Miss Kate. "I have written no letter at all."
"You didn't write to Silver Ranch to tell us that my little Jane Ann was found?" gasped the man.
"Somebody else wrote, then?'
"I do not know it, if they did," Miss Kate declared.
"Then somebody's been a-stringin' of me?" he roared, punching his big hat with a clenched, freckled fist in a way that made Miss Kate jump.
"Oh!" she cried.
"Don't you be afeared, ma'am," said the big man, more gently. "But I'm mighty cast down—I sure am! Some miser'ble coyote has fooled me. That letter said as how my little niece was wrecked on a boat here and that a party named Stone had taken her into their house at Lighthouse Point——"
"It's Nita!" cried Miss Kate.
"What's that?" he demanded.
"You're speaking of Nita, the castaway!"
"I'm talkin' of my niece, Jane Ann Hicks," declared the rancher. "That's who I'm talking of."
"But she called herself Nita, and would not tell us anything about herself."
"It might be, ma'am. The little skeezicks!" chuckled the Westerner, his eyes twinkling suddenly. "That's a mighty fancy name—'Nita.' And so she is here with you, after all?"
"Not here?" he exclaimed, his big, bony face reddening again.
"No, sir. I believe she has been here—your niece."
"And where'd she go? What you done with her?" he demanded, his overhanging reddish eyebrows coming together in a threatening scowl.
"Hadn't you better sit down, Mr. Hicks, and let me tell you all about it?" suggested Miss Kate.
"Say, Miss!" he ejaculated. "I'm anxious, I be. When Jane Ann first run away from Silver Ranch, I thought she was just a-playin' off some of her tricks on me. I never supposed she was in earnest 'bout it—no, ma'am!
"I rid into Bullhide arter two days. And instead of findin' her knockin' around there, I finds her pony at the greaser's corral, and learns that she's took the train East. That did beat me. I didn't know she had any money, but she'd bought a ticket to Denver, and it took a right smart of money to do it.
"I went to Colonel Penhampton, I did," went on Hicks, "and told him about it. He heated up the wires some 'twixt Bullhide and Denver; but she'd fell out o' sight there the minute she'd landed. Denver's some city, ma'am. I finds that out when I lit out arter Jane Ann and struck that place myself.
"Wall 'twould be teejious to you, ma'am, if I told whar I have chased arter that gal these endurin' two months. Had to let the ranch an' ev'rythin' else go to loose ends while I follered news of her all over. My gosh, ma'am! how many gals there is runs away from their homes! Ye wouldn't believe the number 'nless ye was huntin' for a pertic'lar one an' got yer rope on many that warn't her!"
"You have had many disappointments, sir?" said Miss Kate, beginning to feel a great sympathy for this uncouth man.
He nodded his great, bald, shining head. "I hope you ain't going to tell me thar's another in store for me right yere," he said, in a much milder voice.
"I cannot tell you where Nita—if she is your niece—is now," said Miss Kate, firmly.
"She's left you?"
"She went away some time during the night—night before last."
"What for?" he asked, suspiciously.
"I don't know. We none of us knew. We made her welcome and said nothing about sending her away, or looking for her friends. I did not wish to frighten her away, for she is a strangely independent girl——"
"You bet she is!" declared Mr. Hicks, emphatically.
"I hoped she would gradually become confiding, and then we could really do something for her. But when we got up yesterday morning she had stolen out of the house in the night and was gone."
"And ye don't know whar Jane Ann went?" he said, with a sort of groan.
Miss Kate shook her head; but suddenly a voice interrupted them. Ruth Fielding parted the curtains and came into the room.
"I hope you will pardon me, Miss Kate," she said softly,. "And this gentleman, too. I believe I can tell him how Nita went away—and perhaps through what I know he may be able to find her again."