RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
THE INDIAN GIRL STAR OF THE MOVIES
ALICE B. EMERSON
AUTHOR OF "RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL," "RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE," "RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST," ETC.
NEW YORK CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY PUBLISHERS
BOOKS FOR GIRLS
BY ALICE B. EMERSON
RUTH FIELDING SERIES
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.
* * * * *
RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL
RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL
RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP
RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT
RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH
RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND
RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM
RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES
RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES
RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE
RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE
RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE
RUTH FIELDING IN THE RED CROSS
RUTH FIELDING AT THE WAR FRONT
RUTH FIELDING HOMEWARD BOUND
RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST
RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
* * * * *
BETTY GORDON SERIES
BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM
BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON
BETTY GORDON IN THE LAND OF OIL
BETTY GORDON AT BOARDING SCHOOL
CUPPLES & LEON CO., PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK.
COPYRIGHT, 1921, BY CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
* * * * *
RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
Printed in U.S.A.
I. RUTH IN PERIL 1 II. A PERFECT SHOT 10 III. IN THE RING 18 IV. SMOKING THE PEACE PIPE 26 V. INSPIRATION 34 VI. EVERYBODY AGREES BUT DAKOTA JOE 43 VII. DAKOTA JOE'S WRATH 50 VIII. A WONDERFUL EVENT 59 IX. THE PLOT DEVELOPS 65 X. ONE NEW YORK DAY 75 XI. EVADING THE TRAFFIC POLICE 89 XII. BOUND FOR THE NORTHWEST 96 XIII. DAKOTA JOE MAKES A DEMAND 104 XIV. THE HUBBELL RANCH 112 XV. PURSUING DANGER 122 XVI. NEWS AND A THREAT 130 XVII. THE PROLOGUE IS FINISHED 138 XVIII. AN ACCIDENT THREATENING 146 XIX. IN DEADLY PERIL 154 XX. GOOD NEWS 160 XXI. A BULL AND A BEAR 168 XXII. IN THE CANYON 175 XXIII. REALITY 183 XXIV. WONOTA'S SURPRISE 192 XXV. OTHER SURPRISES 198
RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
RUTH IN PERIL
The gray dust, spurting from beneath the treads of the rapidly turning wheels, drifted across the country road to settle on the wayside hedges. The purring of the engine of Helen Cameron's car betrayed the fact that it was tuned to perfection. If there were any rough spots in the road being traveled, the shock absorbers took care of them.
"Dear me! I always do love to ride in Nell's car," said the plump and pretty girl who occupied more than her share of the rear seat. "Even if Tom isn't here to take care of it, it always is so comfy."
"Only one thing would suit you better, Heavy," declared the sharp-featured and sharp-tongued girl sitting next to Jennie Stone. "If only a motor could be connected to a rocking-chair—"
"Right-o!" agreed the cheerful plump girl. "And have it on a nice shady porch. I'd like to travel that way just as well. After our experience in France we ought to be allowed to travel in comfort for the rest of our lives. Isn't that so, Nell? And you agree, Ruthie?"
The girl at the wheel of the flying automobile nodded only, for she needed to keep her gaze fixed ahead. But the brown-haired, brown-eyed girl, whose quiet face seemed rather wistful, turned to smile upon the volatile—and voluble—Heavy Stone, so nicknamed during their early school days at Briarwood Hall.
"Don't let's talk about it, honey," she said. "I try not to think of what we all went through."
"And the soup I tasted!" groaned the plump one. "That diet kitchen in Paris! I'll never get over it—never!"
"I guess that's right," agreed Mercy Curtis, the sharp-featured girl. "How that really nice Frenchman can stand for such a fat girl—"
"Why," explained Heavy calmly, "the more there is of me the more there is for him to like." Then she giggled. "There were so few fat people left in Europe after four years of war that everybody liked to look at me."
"You certainly are a sight for sore eyes," Helen Cameron shot over her shoulder, but without losing sight of the road ahead. She was a careful, if rapid, driver. "And for any other eyes! One couldn't very well miss you, Heavy."
"Let's not talk any more about France—or the war—or anything like that," proposed Ruth Fielding, the shadow on her face deepening. "Both your Henri and Helen's Tom have had to go back—"
"Helen's Tom?" repeated Mercy Curtis softly. But Jennie Stone pinched her. She would not allow anybody to tease Ruth, although they all knew well enough that the absence of Helen's twin brother meant as much to Ruth Fielding as it did to his sister.
This was strictly a girl's party, this ride in Helen Cameron's automobile. Aside from Mercy, who was the daughter of the Cheslow railroad station agent, and therefore lived in Cheslow all the year around, the girls were not native to the place. They had just left that pretty town behind them. It appeared that Ruth, Helen, and surely Jennie Stone, knew very few of the young men of Cheslow. So this jaunt was, as Jennie saucily said, entirely "poulette".
"Which she thinks is French for 'old hen,'" scoffed the tart Mercy.
"I do not know which is worse," Ruth Fielding said with a sigh, as Helen slowed down for a railroad crossing at which stood a flagman. "Heavy's French or her slang."
"Slang! Never!" cried the plump girl, tossing her head "Far be it from me and et cetera. I never use slang. I am quite as much of a purist as that professor at Ardmore—what was his name?—that they tell the story about. The dear dean told him that some of the undergrads complained that his language was 'too pedantic and unintelligible.'"
"'Never, Madam! Impossible! Why,' said the prof, 'to employ a vulgarism, perspicuity is my penultimate appellative.'"
"Ow! Ow!" groaned Helen at the wheel "I bet that hurt your vocal cords, Heavy."
She let in the clutch again as the party broke into laughter, and they darted across the tracks behind the passing train.
"Just the same," added Helen, "I wish some of the boys we used to play around with were with us. Those fellows Tom went to Seven Oaks with were all nice boys. Dear me!"
"Most of them went into the war," Ruth reminded her. "Nothing is as it used to be. Oh, dear!"
"I must say you are all very cheerful—not!" exclaimed Jennie. "Ruth is a regular Grandmother Grimalkin, and the rest of you are little better. I for one just won't think of my dear Henri as being food for cannon. I just won't! Why! before he and Tom can get into the nasty business again the war may be over. Just see the reports in the papers of what our boys are doing. They really have the Heinies on the run."
"Ye-as," murmured Mercy. "Running which way?"
"Treason!" cried Jennie. "The only way the Germans have ever run forward is by crawling."
"Oh! Oh! Listen to the Irish bull!" cried Helen.
"Oh, is it?" exclaimed Jennie. "Maybe there is a bit of Irish in the McStones, or O'Stones. I don't know."
She certainly was the life of the party. Helen and Ruth had too recently bidden Tom Cameron good-bye to feel like joining with Jennie in repartee. Though it might have been that even the fat girl's repartee was more a matter of repertoire. She was expected to be funny, and so forced herself to make good her reputation.
This trip by automobile in fact was a forced attempt to cheer each other up on the part of the chums. At the Outlook, the Cameron's handsome country home, matters had become quite too awful to contemplate with calm, now that Tom had gone back to France. At least, so Helen stated. At the Red Mill Ruth had been (she admitted it) ready to "fly to pieces." For naturally poor Aunt Alvirah and Jabez Potter, the miller, were pot cheerful companions. And the two chums had Jennie Stone as their guest, for she had returned from New York with them, where they had all gone to bid Tom and Henri Marchand farewell.
The three college friends had picked Mercy Curtis up (she had been with them at boarding-school "years and years before," to quote Jennie) and started on this trip from Cheslow to Longhaven. On the outskirts of Longhaven a Wild West Show was advertised as having pitched its tents.
"And, of course, if there is anything about the Wild West close at hand our movie writer must see it," said Jennie. "Give you local color, Ruth, for another western screen masterpiece."
"I suppose it is one of these little fly-by-night shows!" scoffed Mercy. "Let's see that bill. Dakota Joe's Wild West and Frontier Round-Up' Mm! Sounds big. But the bigger they sound the smaller they are, as a rule."
"I am glad I am not a pessimist," sighed Jennie Stone. "It must be an awfully uncomfortable feeling inside one to wear such a cloak."
"Ow! Ow!" cried Helen again. "Another Hibernianism, without a doubt."
She turned the car into a much-traveled road just then. Not a mile ahead loomed the "big top." A band was playing, and what it lacked in sweetness it certainly made up in noise.
"Look at the cars!" exclaimed Ruth, becoming interested. "We shall have to park before long, Helen, and walk to the show lot."
"Right here!" returned Helen, with vigor, and turned her car into a field where already a dozen automobiles were parked. A man with a whisp of whisker on his chin, and actually chewing a straw, motioned the young girl where to run her car. He was evidently the farmer who owned the field, and he was surely "making hay while the sun shone," for he was collecting a quarter from every automobile owner who wished to get his car off the public road.
"Your car'll be all right here, young ladies," he said, reaching for the quarter Ruth offered him. "I'm going to stay here myself and watch 'em until the show's over. Cal'late to stay here anyway till them wild Injuns and wilder cowboys air off Peleg Swift's land yonder. No knowing what they'll do if they ain't watched."
"Listen to the opinion our friend has of your old Wild West Show," hissed Jennie, as Ruth hopped out of the seat beside Helen.
Ruth laughed. The other girls, getting out of the car on the other side, were startled by hearing her laugh change to a sudden ejaculation.
"Dear me! has that thing broken loose from the show?"
Jennie was the first to speak, and she stepped behind the high car in order to catch sight of what had caused Ruth's exclamation. Instantly the plump girl emitted a most unseemly shout:
"Oh! Oh! Look at the bull!"
"What is the matter with you, Heavy?" demanded Mercy snappishly.
But when she and Helen followed the plump girl behind the automobile, they were stricken dumb with amazement, if not with fear. Tearing down the field toward the row of automobiles was a big black bull—head down, strings of foam flying from his mouth, and with every other indication of extreme wrath.
"Run!" shrieked Jennie, and turned to do so.
She bumped into Mercy and Helen, who clung to her and really retarded the plump girl's escape. But plowing right on to the shelter of the automobile, Jennie actually swept her two friends with her.
Their cries and evident fright attracted the notice of the farmer before he really knew what was happening. Then he saw the bull and gave tongue to his own immediate excitement:
"Look at that critter! He's broke out of the barnyard—drat him! Don't let him see you, gals, for he's as vicious as sin!"
He started forward with a stick in his hand to attack the enraged bull. But the animal paid no attention to him. It had set its eyes upon something which excited its rage—Ruth Fielding's red sweater!
"Oh, Ruth! Ruth!" shrieked Helen, suddenly seeing her chum cornered on the other side of the car.
Ruth tried to open the car door again. But it stuck. Nor was there time for the girl of the Red Mill to vault the door and so escape the charge of the maddened bull. The brute was upon her.
A PERFECT SHOT
One may endure dangers of divers kinds (and Ruth Fielding had done so by land and sea) and be struck down unhappily by an apparently ordinary peril. The threat of that black bull's charge was as poignant as anything that had heretofore happened to the girl of the Red Mill.
After that first outcry, Ruth did not raise her voice at all. She tugged at the fouled handle of the automobile door, looking back over her shoulder at the forefront of the bull. He bellowed, and the very sound seemed to weaken her knees. Had she not been clinging to that handle she must have dropped to the earth.
And then, Crack! It was unmistakably a rifle shot.
The bull plowed up several yards of sod, swerved, shook his great head, bellowing again, and then started off at a tangent across the field with the farmer, brandishing a stick, close on his heels.
Saved, Ruth Fielding did sink to the earth now, and when the other girls ran clamorously around the motor-car she was scarcely possessed of her senses. Truly, however, she had been through too many exciting events to be long overcome by this one.
Many queer experiences and perilous adventures had come into Ruth Fielding's life since the time when, as an orphan of twelve years, she had come to the Red Mill, just outside the town of Cheslow, to live with her Great Uncle Jabez and his queer little old housekeeper, Aunt Alvirah.
The miller was not the man generously to offer Ruth the advantages she craved. Had it not been for her dearest friend, Helen Cameron, at first Ruth would not have been dressed well enough to enter the local school. But if Jabez Potter was a miser, he was a just man after his fashion. Ruth saved him a considerable sum of money during the first few months of her sojourn at the Red Mill, and in payment for this Uncle Jabez allowed her to accompany Helen Cameron to that famous boarding school, Briarwood Hall.
While at school at Briarwood, and during the vacations between semesters, Ruth Fielding's career actually began, as the volumes following "Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill" show. The girl had numerous adventures at Briarwood Hall, at Snow Camp, at Lighthouse Point, at Silver Ranch, on Cliff Island, at Sunrise Farm, among the gypsies, in moving pictures, down in Dixie, at college, in the saddle, in the Red Cross in France, at the war front, and when homeward bound. The volume just previous to this present story related Ruth's adventures "Down East," where she went with Helen and Tom Cameron, as well as Jennie Stone, Jennie's fiance, Henri Marchand, and her Aunt Kate, who was their chaperon.
The girl of the Red Mill had long before the time of the present narrative proved her talent as a scenario writer, and working for Mr. Hammond, president of the Alectrion Film Corporation, had already made several very successful pictures. It seemed that her work in life was to be connected with the silver sheet.
Even Uncle Jabez had acknowledged Ruth's ability as a scenario writer, and was immensely proud of her work when he learned how much money she was making out of the pictures. For the old miller judged everything by a monetary standard.
Aunt Alvirah was, of course, very proud of her "pretty" as she called Ruth Fielding. Indeed, all Ruth's friends considered her success in picture-making as only going to show just how smart Ruth Fielding was. But the girl of the Red Mill was far too sensible to have her head turned by such praise. Even Tom Cameron's pride in her pictures only made the girl glad that she succeeded in delighting him.
For Ruth and Tom were closer friends now than ever before—and for years they had been "chummy." The adventures which had thrown them so much together in France while Tom was a captain in the American Expeditionary Forces and Ruth was working with the American Red Cross, had welded their confidence in and liking for each other until it seemed that nothing but their youth and Tom's duties in the army kept them from announcing their engagement.
"Do finish the war quickly, Tom," she had said to him whimsically, not long before Tom had gone back to France. "I do not feel as though I could return to college, or write another scenario, or do another single solitary thing until peace is declared."
"And then?" Tom had asked significantly, and Ruth had given him an understanding smile.
The uncertainty of that time—the whole nation waited and listened breathlessly for news from abroad—seemed to Ruth more than she could bear. She had entered upon this pleasure jaunt to the Wild West Show with the other girls because she knew that anything to take their minds off the more serious thoughts of the war was a good thing.
Now, as she felt herself in peril of being gored by that black bull a tiny thought flashed into her mind:
"What terrible peril may be facing Tom Cameron at this identical moment?"
When the bull was gone, wounded by that unexpected rifle shot, and her three chums gathered about her, this thought of Tom's danger was still uppermost in Ruth's mind.
"Dear me, how silly of me!" she murmured. "There are lots worse things happening every moment over there than being gored by a bull."
"What an idea!" ejaculated Helen. "Are you crazy? What has that to do with you being pitched over that fence, for instance?"
She glanced at the fence which divided the field in which the automobiles stood from that where the two great tents of the Wild West Show were pitched. A broad-hatted man was standing at the bars. He drawled:
"Gal ain't hurt none, is she? That was a close shave—closer, a pile, than I'd want to have myself. Some savage critter, that bull. And if Dakota Joe's gal wasn't a crack shot that young lady would sure been throwed higher than Haman."
Ruth had now struggled to her feet with the aid of Jenny and Mercy.
"Do find out who it was shot the bull!" she cried.
Jennie, although still white-faced, grinned broadly again. "Now who is guilty of the most atrocious slang? 'Shot the bull,' indeed!"
"Thar she is," answered the broad-hatted man, pointing to a figure approaching the fence. Helen fairly gasped at sight of her.
"Right out of a Remington black-and-white," she shrilled in Ruth Fielding's ear.
The sight actually jolted Ruth's mind away from the fright which had overwhelmed it. She stared at the person indicated with growing interest as well as appreciation of the picturesque figure she made. She was an Indian girl in the gala costume of her tribe, feather head-dress and all. Or, perhaps, one would better say she was dressed as the white man expects an Indian to dress when on exhibition.
But aside from her dress, which was most attractive, the girl herself held Ruth's keen interest. Despite her high cheekbones and the dusky copper color of her skin, this strange girl's features were handsome. There was pride expressed in them—pride and firmness and, withal, a certain sadness that added not a little to the charm of the Indian girl's visage.
"What a strange person!" murmured Helen Cameron.
"She is pretty," announced the assured Mercy Curtis, who always held her own opinion to be right on any subject. "One brunette never does like another," and she made a little face at Helen.
"Listen!" commanded Jennie Stone. "What does she say?"
The Indian girl spoke again, and this time they all heard her.
"Is the white lady injured, Conlon?"
"No, ma'am!" declared the broad-hatted man. "She'll be as chipper as a blue-jay in a minute. That was a near shot, Wonota. For an Injun you're some shot, I'll tell the world."
An expression of disdain passed over the Indian girl's face. She looked away from the man and Ruth's glance caught her attention.
"I thank you very much, Miss—Miss—"
"I am called Wonota in the Osage tongue," interposed the Indian maiden composedly enough.
"She's Dakota Joe's Injun sharpshooter," put in the man at the fence. "And she ain't no business out here in her play-actin' costume—or with her gun loaded that-a-way. Aginst the law. That gun she uses is for shootin' glass balls and clay pigeons in the show."
"Well, Miss Wonota," said Ruth, trying to ignore the officious man who evidently annoyed the Indian maiden, "I am very thankful you did have your rifle with you at this particular juncture." She approached the fence and reached over it to clasp the Indian girl's hand warmly.
"We are going in to see you shoot at the glass balls, for I see the show is about to start. But afterward, Wonota, can't we see you again?"
The Indian girl's expression betrayed some faint surprise. But she bowed gravely.
"If the white ladies desire," she said. "I must appear now in the tent. The boss is strict."
"You bet he is," added the broad-hatted man, who seemed offensively determined to push himself forward.
"After the show, then," said Ruth promptly to the girl. "I will tell you then just how much obliged to you I am," and she smiled in a most friendly fashion.
Wonota's smile was faint, but her black eyes seemed suddenly to sparkle. The man at the fence looked suspiciously from the white girls to the Indian maid, but he made no further comment as Wonota hastened away.
IN THE RING
"What do you know about that Indian girl?" demanded Jennie Stone excitedly. "She was just as cool as a cucumber. Think of her shooting that bull just in the nick of time and saving our Ruth!"
"It does seem," remarked Mercy Curtis in her sharp way, "that Ruthie Fielding cannot venture abroad without getting into trouble."
"And getting out of it, I thank you," rejoined Helen, somewhat offended by Mercy's remark.
"Certainly I have not been killed yet," was Ruth's mild observation, pinching Helen's arm to warn her that she was not to quarrel with the rather caustic lame girl. Mercy's affliction, which still somewhat troubled her, had never improved her naturally crabbed disposition, and few of her girl friends had Ruth's patience with her.
"I don't know that I feel much like seeing cowboys rope steers and all that after seeing that horrid black bull charge our Ruthie," complained Helen. "Shall we really go to the show?"
"Why! Ruth just told that girl we would," said Jennie.
"I wouldn't miss seeing that Wonota shoot for anything," Ruth declared.
"But there is nobody here to watch the automobile now," went on Helen, who was more nervous than her chum.
"Yes," Jennie remarked. "Here comes 'Silas Simpkins, the straw-chewing rube,'" and she giggled.
The farmer was at hand, puffing and blowing. He assured them that "that critter" was tightly housed and would do no more harm.
"Hope none o' you warn't hurt," he added. "By jinks! that bull is jest as much excited by this here Wild West Show as I be. Did you pay me for your ortymobile, young ladies?"
"I most certainly did," said Ruth. "Your bull did not drive all memory away."
"All right. All right," said the farmer hastily. "I thought you did, but I wasn't positive you'd remember it."
With which frank confession he turned away to meet another motor-car party that was attempting to park their machine on his land.
The four girls got out into the dusty road and marched to the ticket wagon that was gaily painted with the sign of "Dakota Joe's Wild West and Frontier Round-Up."
"This is my treat," declared Ruth, going ahead to the ticket window with the crowd. "I certainly should pay for all this excitement I have got you girls into."
"Go as far as you like," said Jennie. "But to tell the truth, I think the owner of the black bull should be taxed for this treat."
Dakota Joe's show was apparently very popular, for people were coming to it not only from Longhaven and Cheslow, but from many other towns and hamlets. This afternoon performance attracted many women and children, and when the four young women from Cheslow got into their reserved seats they found that they were right in the midst of a lot of little folks.
The big ring, separated from the plank seats by a board fence put up in sections, offered a large enough tanbark-covered course to enable steers to be roped, bucking broncos exhibited, Indian riding races, and various other events dear to the heart of the Wild West Show fans. And the program of Dakota Joe's show was much like that of similar exhibitions. He had some "real cowboys" and "sure-enough Indians," as well as employees who were not thus advertised. The steers turned loose for the cowboys to "bulldog" were rather tame animals, for they were used to the employment. The "bronco busters" rode trick horses so well trained that they really acted better than their masters. Some of the roping and riding—especially by the Indians—was really good.
And then came a number on the program that the four girls from Cheslow had impatiently awaited. The announcer (Dakota Joe himself, on horseback and wearing hair to his shoulders a la Buffalo Bill) rode into the center of the ring and held up a gauntleted hand for attention.
"We now offer you, ladies and gentlemen, an exhibition in rifle shooting second to none on any program of any show in America to-day. The men of the old West were most wonderful shots with rifle or six-gun. To-day the new West produces a rifle shot that equals Wild Bill Hickok, Colonel Cody himself, or Major Lillie. And to show that the new West, ladies and gentlemen, is right up to the minute in this as in every other pertic'lar, we offer Wonota, daughter of Chief Totantora, princess of the Osage Indians, in a rifle-shooting act that, ladies and gentlemen, is simply marv'lous—simply marv'lous!"
He waved a lordly hand, the band struck up a strident tune, and on a "perfect love of a white pony," as Helen declared, Wonota rode into the ring.
She looked just as calm as she had when she had shot the bull which threatened Ruth. Nothing seemed to flutter the Indian girl's pulse or to change her staid expression. Yet the girls noticed that Dakota Joe spurred his big horse to the white pony's side, and, unless they were mistaken, the man said something to Wonota in no pleasant manner.
"Look at that fellow!" exclaimed Helen. "Hasn't he an ugly look?"
"I guess he didn't say anything pleasant to her," Ruth rejoined, for she was a keen observer. "I shouldn't wonder if that girl was far from happy."
"I shouldn't want to work for that Dakota Joe," added Mercy Curtis. "Look at him!"
Unable to make Wonota's expression of countenance change, the man, who was evidently angry with the Indian girl, struck the white pony sharply with his whip. The pony jumped, and some of the spectators, thinking it a part of the program, laughed.
Unexpecting Dakota Joe's act, Wonota was not prepared for her mount's jump. She was almost thrown from the saddle. But the next instant she had tightened the pony's rein, hauled it back on its haunches with a strong hand, and wheeled the animal to face Dakota Joe.
What she said to the man certainly Ruth and her friends could not understand. It was said in the Osage tongue in any case. But with the words the Indian girl thrust forward the light rifle which she carried. For a moment its blue muzzle was set full against the white man's chest.
"Oh!" gasped Jennie. And she was not alone in thus giving vent to her excitement. "Oh!"
"Why doesn't she shoot him?" drawled Mercy Curtis.
"I—I guess It was only in fun," said Helen rather shakingly, as the Indian girl wheeled her mount again and rode away from Dakota Joe.
"I wouldn't want her to be that funny with me," gasped Jennie Stone. "She must be a regular wild Indian, after all."
"I am sure, at least, that this Dakota Joe person would have deserved little sympathy if she had shot him," declared Mercy, with confidence.
"Dear me," admitted Ruth herself, "I want to meet that girl more than ever now. There must be some mystery regarding her connection with the owner of the show. They certainly are not in accord."
"You've said something!" agreed Jennie, likewise with conviction.
If Wonota had been at all flurried because of her treatment by her employer, she no longer showed it. Having ridden to the proper spot, she wheeled the white pony again and faced the place where there was a steel shield against which the objects she was to shoot at were thrown.
Dakota Joe rode forward as though to affix the first clay ball to the string. Then he pulled in his horse, scowled across the ring at Wonota, and beckoned one of the cowboys to approach. This man took up the duty of affixing the targets for the Indian girl.
"Do you see that?" chuckled Jennie Stone. "He's afraid she might change her mind and shoot him after all."
"Sh!" cautioned Ruth. "Somebody might hear you. Now look."
The swinging targets were shattered by Wonota as fast as the man could hook them to the string and set the string to swinging. Then he threw glass balls filled with feathers into the air for the Indian girl to explode.
It was evident that she was not doing as well as usual, for she missed several shots. But this was not because of her own nervousness. Since the pony had been cut with Dakota Joe's whip it would not stand still, and its nervousness was plainly the cause of Wonota's misses.
The owner of the show was, however, the last person to admit this. He showed more than annoyance as the act progressed.
Perhaps it was the strained relations so evident between the owner of the show and Wonota that affected the man attending to the targets, for he became rather wild. He threw a glass ball so far to one side that to have shot at it would have endangered the spectators, and the Indian girl dropped the muzzle of her rifle and shook her head. The curving ball came within Dakota Joe's reach.
"Some baseball player, I'll say!" ejaculated Jennie Stone slangily.
For the owner of the show caught the flying ball. He wheeled his spirited horse, and, holding the ball at arm's length, he spurred down the field toward the Indian girl.
"Oh!" cried Ruth under her breath. "He is going to throw it at her!"
"The villain!" ejaculated Mercy Curtis, her eyes flashing.
But if that was his intention, Dakota Joe did not fulfill it. The Indian girl whipped up the muzzle of her rifle and seemed to take deliberate aim at the angry man. Evidently this act was not on the bill!
SMOKING THE PEACE PIPE
Ruth Fielding almost screamed aloud. She rose in her seat, clinging to Helen Cameron's arm.
"Oh! what will she do?" gasped the girl of the Red Mill, just as the rifle in the Indian sharp-shooter's hands spat its brief tongue of flame.
The glass ball in Dakota Joe's fingers was shattered and he went through a cloud of feathers as he turned his horse at a tangent and rode away from the Indian girl. It was a good shot, but one that the proprietor of the Wild West Show did not approve of!
"Oh!" exclaimed Mercy Curtis, bitterly, "why didn't she shoot him instead of the ball? He deserves it, I know."
"Dear me, Mercy," drawled Jennie Stone, "you most certainly are a blood-thirsty person!"
"I just know that man is a villain, and the Indian girl is in his power."
"Next reel!" giggled Helen. "It is a regular Western cinema drama, isn't it?"
"I certainly want to become better acquainted with that Wonota," declared Ruth, not at all sure but that Mercy Curtis was right in her opinion. "There! Wonota is going off."
The applause the Indian girl received was vociferous. Most of the spectators believed that the shooting of the glass ball out of the man's hand had been rehearsed and was one of Wonota's chief feats. Ruth and her friends had watched what had gone before too closely to make that mistake. There was plainly a serious schism between Dakota Joe and the girl whom he had called the Indian princess.
The girls settled back in their seats after Wonota had replied to the applause with a stiff little bow from the entrance to the dressing-tent. The usual representation of "Pioneer Days" was then put on, and while the "stage" was being set for the attack on the emigrant train and Indian massacre, the fellow who had stood at the pasture fence and talked to the girls when the black bull had done his turn, suddenly appeared in the aisle between the plank seats and gestured to Ruth.
"What?" asked the girl of the Red Mill "You want me?"
"You're the lady," he said, grinning. "Won't keep you a minute. You can git back and see the rest of the show all right."
"It must be that Wonota has sent him for me," explained Ruth, seeing no other possible reason for this call. Refusing to let even Helen go with her, she followed the man up the aisle and down a narrow flight of steps to the ground.
"What is the matter with her? What does she want me for?" Ruth asked him when she could get within earshot and away from the audience.
"Yes. You come from Wonota, don't you?"
The man chuckled, but still kept on. "You'll see her in a minute. Right this way, Miss," he said.
They came to a canvas-enclosed place with a flap pinned back as though it were the entrance to a tent. The guide flourished a hamlike hand, holding back the canvas flap.
"Just step in and you'll find her," he said, again chuckling.
Ruth was one not easily alarmed. But the fellow seemed impudent. She gave him a reproving look and marched into what appeared to be an office, for there was a desk and a chair in view.
There, to her surprise, was Dakota Joe, the long-haired proprietor of the Wild West Show! He stood leaning against a post, his arms folded and smoking a very long and very black cigar. He did not remove his hat as Ruth entered, but rolled his cigar from one corner of his mouth to the other and demanded harshly:
"You know this Injun girl I got with the show?"
"Certainly I know her!" Ruth exclaimed without hesitation, "She saved my life."
"Huh! I heard about that, ma'am. And I don't mean it just that way. I'm talking about her—drat her! She says she has got a date with you and your friends between the afternoon and night shows."
"Yes," Ruth said wonderingly. "We are to meet—and talk."
"That's just it, ma'am," said the man, rolling the cigar again in an offensive way. "That's just it. When you come to talk with that Injun girl, I want you to steer her proper on one p'int. We're white, you an' me, and I reckon white folks will stick together when it comes to a game against reds. Get me?"
"I do not think I do—yet," answered Ruth hesitatingly.
"Why, see here, now," Dakota Joe went on. "It's easy to see you're a lady—a white lady. I'm a white gent. This Injun wench has got it in for me. Did you see what she come near doin' to me right out there in the ring?"
Ruth restrained a strong wish to tell him exactly what she had seen. But somehow she felt that caution in the handling of this rough man would be the wiser part.
"I saw that she made a very clever shot in breaking that ball in your hand, Mr. Dakota Joe," the girl of the Red Mill said.
"Heh? Well, didn't you see she aimed straight at me? Them reds ain't got no morals. They'd jest as lief shoot a feller they didn't like as not. We have to keep 'em down all the time. I know. I been handling 'em for years."
"Well, sir?" asked Ruth impatiently.
"Why, this Wonota—drat her!—is under contract with me. She's a drawin' card, I will say. But she's been writin' back to the agency where I got her and making me trouble. She means to leave me flat if she can—-and a good winter season coming on."
"What do you expect me to do about it, Mr.—er—Dakota Joe?" asked Ruth.
"Fenbrook. Fenbrook's my name, ma'am," tardily explained the showman. "Now, see here. She's nothin' but an ignorant redskin. Yep. She's daughter of old Totantora, hereditary chief of the Osages. But he's out of the way and her guardian is the Indian Agent at Three Rivers Station in Oklahoma where the Osages have their reservation. As I say, this gal has writ to the agent and told him a pack o' lies about how bad she is treated. And she ain't treated bad a mite."
"Well, Mr. Fenbrook?" demanded Ruth again.
"Why, see now. This Injun gal thinks well of you. I know what she's told the other performers. And I see her looking at you. Naturally, being nothin' but a redskin, she'll look up to a white lady like you. You tell her she's mighty well off here, all things considered—will you? Just tell her how hard some gals of her age have to work, while all she does is to ride and shoot in a show. All them Injuns is crazy to be play-actors, you know. Even old Chief Totantora was till he got mixed up with them Germans when the war come on.
"Huh? You savvy my idee, Miss? Jest tell her she's better off with the show than she would be anywhere else. Will you? Do as I say, Miss, and I'll slip you a bunch of tickets for all your friends. We're showin' at Great Forks on Friday, at Perryville Saturday, and at Lymansburg fust of the week. You can take your friends in and have fust-class seats to all them places."
"Thank you very much, Mr. Fenbrook," said Ruth, having difficulty to keep from laughing. "But owing to other engagements I could not possibly accept your kind offer. However, I will speak to the girl and advise her to the best of my ability."
Which was exactly what Ruth did when, later, she and her friends were met by the Princess Wonota at the exit of the big tent. The girl of the Red Mill had had no opportunity to explain to Helen and Jennie and Mercy in full about her interview with Dakota Joe. But she was quite decided as to what she proposed to do.
"Let us go on to the automobile, girls," Ruth said, taking Wonota's hand. "We want to talk where nobody will overhear us."
It was Mercy, when they arrived at Helen's car, who put the first question to the Indian maid:
"Why didn't you shoot that man? I would have done so!"
"Oh, hush, Mercy!" ejaculated Jennie Stone. "She will think you are quite a savage."
Helen laughed gaily and helped Wonota into the tonneau.
"Come on!" she cried. "Let us smoke the peace-pipe and tell each other all our past lives."
But Ruth remained rather grave, looking steadily at the Indian girl. When they were seated, she said:
"If you care to confide in us, Wonota, perhaps we can advise you, or even help you. I know that you are unhappy and unkindly treated at this show. I owe you so much that I would be glad to feel that I had done something for you in return."
The grave face of the Indian girl broke into a slow smile. When she did smile, Ruth thought her very winsome indeed. Now that she had removed her headdress and wore her black hair in two glossy plaits over her shoulders, she was even more attractive.
"You are very kind," Wonota said. "But perhaps I should not trouble you with any of my difficulties."
"If you have troubles," interposed Jennie, "you've come to the right shop. We all have 'em and a few more won't hurt us a bit. We're just dying to know why that man treats you so mean."
"He wouldn't treat me that way!" put in Mercy vigorously.
"But you see I—I am quite alone," explained Wonota. "Since Father Totantora went away I have been without any kin and almost without friends in our nation."
"That is it," said Ruth. "Begin at the beginning. Tell us how the chief came to leave you, and how you got mixed up with this Dakota Joe. I have a very small opinion of that man," added the girl of the Red Mill, "and I do not think you should remain in his care."
It was on the verge of evening, and a keen and searching wind was blowing across the ruffled Lumano, when Helen Cameron's car and its three occupants came in sight of the old Red Mill. Mercy Curtis had been dropped at the Cheslow railway station, where she had the "second trick" as telegraph operator.
For the last few miles of the journey from the Wild West Show there had been a good-natured, wordy battle between Ruth and Helen as to which of the twain was to have Jennie Stone for the night.
"Her trunk is at my house," Helen declared. "So now!"
"But her toilet bag is at the farmhouse. And, anyway, I could easily lend her pajamas."
"She could never get into a suit of yours, you know very well, Ruth Fielding!" exclaimed Helen.
"I'd get one of Uncle Jabez's long flannel nightgowns for her, then," giggled Ruth.
"Look here! I don't seem to be in such great favor with either of you, after all," interposed the plump girl. "One would think I was a freak. And I prefer my own night apparel in any case."
"Then you'll come home with me," Helen announced.
"But I have things at Ruth's house, just as she says," said Jennie.
At the moment the car wheeled around the turn in the road and Helen stopped it at the gate before the old, shingled farmhouse which was connected by a passage with the grist mill. A light flashed in the window and at once the place looked very inviting. A door opened upon the side porch, and to the girls' nostrils was wafted a most delicious odor of frying cakes.
"That settles it!" ejaculated Jennie Stone, and immediately sprang out of the car. "I'm as hungry as a bear. I'll see you to-morrow, Nell, if you'll ride over. But don't come too near mealtime. I never could withstand Aunt Alvirah's cooking. M-mm! Griddle-cakes—with lashin's of butter and sugar on 'em, I wager."
"Dear me!" sighed Helen, as Ruth, too, got out, laughing. "You are incurable, Jennie. Your goddess is your tummy."
But the plump girl was not at all abashed. She ran up the walk on to the porch and warmly greeted the little old woman who stood in the doorway.
"How-do, Jennie. Oh, my back and oh, my bones! Be careful, child! I'm kinder tottery to-day, and no mistake. Coming in, Helen Cameron?"
"Not to-night, Aunt Alvirah," replied the girl, starting the car again. "Good-night, all."
"And here's my pretty!" crooned Aunt Alvirah, putting up her thin arms to encircle Ruth's neck as the girl came in. "It does seem good to have you home again. Your Uncle Jabez (who is softer-hearted than you would suppose) is just as glad to have you home as I am, to be sure."
They had a merry supper in the wide, home-like kitchen, for even the miller when he came in was cheerful. He had had a good day at the grist mill. The cash-box was heavy that night, but he did not retire to his room to count his receipts as early as usual. The chatter of the two girls kept the old man interested.
"It is a shame that the Indian agent should let a girl like Wonota sign a contract with that Dakota Joe. Anybody might see, to look at him, that he was a bad man," Jennie Stone said with vehemence at one point in the discussion.
"I am not much troubled over that point for the girl," said Ruth. "She says she has already written to the agent at the Three Rivers Station, Oklahoma, telling him how badly Fenbrook treats her. That will soon be over. She will get her release."
"I shouldn't wonder," said Uncle Jabez, "that if a gal can fire a gun like you say she can, there ain't much reason to worry about her. She can take care of herself with that showman."
"But suppose she should be tempted to do something really desperate!" cried Ruth. "I hope nothing like that will happen. She is really a savage by instinct."
"And a pretty one," agreed Jennie, thoughtfully.
"Shucks! Pretty is as pretty does," said Aunt Alvirah. "I didn't s'pose there was any real wild Injuns left."
"You'd think she was wild," chuckled Jennie, "if you'd seen her draw bead on that Dakota Joe person."
"All that is not so much to the point," pursued Ruth. "I know that the girl wants to earn money—not alone for her mere living. She could go back to the reservation and live very comfortably without working—much. The Osage Nation is not at all poverty stricken and it holds its property ill community fashion."
"What makes her travel around in such a foolish way, then?" Aunt Alvirah asked.
"She wants ready cash. She wants it for a good purpose, too," explained Ruth thoughtfully. "You see, this girl's father is Chief Totantora, a leading figure in the Osage Nation. The year before Germany began the war he was traveling with a Wild West Show in Europe. The show was in the interior of Germany when war came and the frontiers were closed.
"Once only did Wonota hear from her father. He was then in a detention camp, for, being a good American, he refused to bow down to Hun gods—"
"I should say he had a right to call himself an American, if anybody has," said Jennie quickly.
"And he is not the only Indian who proved his loyalty to a Government that, perhaps, has not always treated the original Americans justly," Ruth remarked.
"I dunno," grumbled Uncle Jabez. "Injuns is Injuns. You say yourself this gal is pretty wild."
"She is independent, at any rate. She wishes to earn enough money to set afoot a private inquiry for Chief Totantora. For she does not believe he is dead."
"Well, the poor dear," Aunt Alvirah said, "she'd ought to be helped, I haven't a doubt."
"Now, now!" exclaimed the miller, suspiciously. "Charity begins at home. I hope you ain't figgerin' on any foolish waste of money, Niece Ruth."
The latter laughed. "I don't think Wonota would accept charity," she said. "And I have no intention of offering it to her in any case. But I should like to help the girl find her father—indeed I should."
"You'd oughtn't to think you have to help everybody you come 'cross in the world, gal," advised Uncle Jabez, finally picking up the cash-box to retire to his room. "Every tub ought to stand on its own bottom, as I've allus told ye."
When he was gone Aunt Alvirah shook her head sadly.
"Ain't much brotherhood of man in Jabez Potter's idees of life," she said. "He says nobody ever helped him get up in the world, so why should he help others?"
"Of all things!" exclaimed Ruth, with some warmth. "I wonder what he would have done all these years without you to make a home for him here!"
"Tut, tut!" objected the old woman. "'Tain't me that's done for him. I was a poor lone creeter in the poorhouse when Jabez Potter came and took me out. I know that deep down in his old heart there's a flame of charity. Who should know it better?"
"Oh, dear!" cried Ruth. "He keeps it wonderfully well hidden—that flame. He certainly does."
Jennie laughed. "Well, why shouldn't he be cautious? See how many times you have been charitable, Ruth, and seen no gratitude in return."
"Well!" gasped the girl of the Red Mill, in disgust, "is that what we are to be charitable for? For shame!"
"Right you are, my pretty," said Aunt Alvirah. "Doin' one's duty for duty's sake is the way the good Lord intended. And if Jabez Potter is charitable without knowin' it—and he is—all the better. It's charged up to his credit in heaven, I have no doubt."
The girls were tired after their long ride in the keen evening air and they were ready for bed at a comparatively early hour. But after Ruth had got into bed she could not sleep.
Thoughts rioted in her brain. For a week she had felt the inspiration of creative work milling in her mind—that is what she called it. She had promised the president of the Alectrion Film Corporation to think up some unusual story—preferably an outdoor plot—for their next picture. And thus far nothing had formed in her mind that suggested the thing desired.
Outdoor stories had the call on the screen. They had but lately made one on the coast of Maine, the details of which are given in "Ruth Fielding Down East." Earlier in her career as a screen writer the girl of the Red Mill had made a success of a subject which was photographed in the mining country of the West. "Ruth Fielding in the Saddle" tells the story of this venture.
There spun through her half-drowsing brain scenes of the Wild West Show they had attended this day. That was surely "outdoor stuff." Was there anything in what she had seen to-day to suggest a novel scheme for a moving picture?
She turned and tossed. Her eyes would not remain closed. The program of Dakota Joe's Wild West and Frontier Round-Up marched in sequence through her memory. She did not want anything like that in her picture. It was all "old stuff," and the crying need of the film producer is "something new under the sun."
Yet there was color and action in much of the afternoon's performance. Even Dakota Joe himself—as the figure of a villain, for instance—was not to be scorned. And Princess Wonota herself—
If the story was up to date, showing the modern, full-blooded Indian princess in love and action! Ruth suddenly bounded out of bed. She grabbed a warm robe, wrapped herself in it and ran across to Jennie's room.
"Jennie! Jennie! I've got it!" Ruth cried in a loud whisper.
Jennie's only answer was a prolonged and pronounced snore! She was lying on her back.
"Jennie Stone!" exclaimed Ruth, shaking the plump girl by the shoulder.
"Wo—wow—ough! Is it fire?" gasped Jennie, finally aroused.
"No, no! I've got it!" repeated Ruth.
"Well—ell—I hope it isn't catching," said the other rather crossly. "You've spoiled—ow!—my beauty sleep, Ruthie Fielding."
"Listen!" commanded her friend. "I've the greatest idea for a picture. I know Mr. Hammond will be delighted. I am going to get Wonota on contract when she breaks with Dakota Joe. I'll make her the central figure of a big picture. She shall be the leading lady."
"Why, Ruthie Fielding! that's something you have never yet done for me, and I have been your friend for years and years."
"Never mind. When it seems that the time is ripe to screen a story about a pretty, plump girl, you shall have an important part in the production," promised Ruth. "But listen to me—do! I am going to make Princess Wonota an Indian star—"
"I believe you," drawled the plump girl. "I suppose you might call her a 'shooting star'?"
EVERYBODY AGREES BUT DAKOTA JOE
An inspiration is all right—even when it strikes one in the middle of the night. So Jennie Stone remarked. But there had to be something practical behind such a venture as Ruth Fielding had suggested to the sleepy girl.
Her thought regarding Princess Wonota of the Osage Tribe was partly due to her wish to help the Indian girl, and partly due to her desire to furnish Mr. Hammond and the Alectrion Film Corporation with another big feature picture.
Ruth and Jennie (who became enthusiastic when she was awake in the morning) chattered about the idea like magpies from breakfast to lunch. Then Helen drove over from The Outlook, and she had to hear it all explained while Ruth and Jennie were making ready to go out in the car with her.
"You must drive us right to Cheslow," Ruth said, "where I can get Mr. Hammond on the long-distance 'phone. This is important. I feel that I have a really good idea."
"But what do you suppose that Dakota Joe will say?" drawled Helen. "He won't love you, I fear."
"Has he got to know?" demanded Jennie. "Don't be a goose, Helen. This is all going to be done on the q.t."
"Very well," sniffed the other girl. "Guess you'll find it difficult to take Wonota away from the Wild West Show without Joe's knowing anything about it."
"Of course!" laughed Ruth. "But until the fatal break occurs we must not let him suspect anything."
"I see. It is a fell conspiracy," remarked Helen. "Well, come on! The chariot awaits, my lady. If I am to drive a bunch of conspirators, let's be at it."
"Helen would hustle one around," complained Jennie, "if she were in the plot to kill Caesar."
"Your tense is bad, little lady," said Helen. "Caesar, according to the books, has been dead some years now. Right-o?"
The girls sped away from the old mill, and in a little while Ruth was shut into a telephone booth talking with Mr. Hammond in a distant city. She told him a good deal more than she had the girls. It was his due. Besides, she had already got the skeleton of a story in her mind and she repeated the important points of this to the picture producer.
"Sounds good, Miss Ruth," he declared. "But it all depends upon the girl. If you think she has the looks, is amenable to discipline, and has some natural ability, we might safely go ahead with it, I will get into communication by telegraph with the Department of Indian Affairs at Washington and with the agent at Three Rivers Station, Oklahoma, as well. We can afford to invest some money in the chance that this Wonota is a find."
"Fifty-fifty, Mr. Hammond," Ruth told him. "On whatever it costs, remember, I am just as good a sport as you are when it comes to taking a chance in business."
He laughed. "I have often doubted your blood relationship to Uncle Jabez," Mr. Hammond declared "He has no gambler's blood in his old veins."
"He was born too long before the moving picture came into existence," she laughingly returned. "Now I mean to see Wonota again and try to encourage her to throw in her fortunes with us. At least, I hope to get her away from that disgusting Dakota Joe."
Later Jennie teasingly suggested: "You should have taken up with his offer, Ruthie. You could have had free passes to the show in several towns."
"I don't much wish to see the show again," Ruth declared.
"I bet Mercy Curtis would like to see it," giggled Helen, "if Wonota was sure to shoot Joe. What a bloodthirsty child that Mercy continues to be."
"She has changed a lot since we were all children together," Ruth said reflectively. "And I never did blame Mercy much for being so scrappy. Because of her lameness she missed a lot that we other girls had. I am so glad she has practically gotten over her affliction."
"But not her failings of temper," suggested Jennie. "Still, as long as she takes it out on Dakota Joe, for instance, I don't know but I agree with her expressions of savage feeling."
"Hear! Hear!" cried Helen.
Despite their expressed dislike for Fenbrook, Helen and Jennie Stone accompanied Ruth the next day to the afternoon performance of the Wild West Show at a town much farther away than that at which they had first met Wonota, the Indian princess.
Wonota was glad to see them—especially glad to see Ruth Fielding. For Ruth had given her hope for a change. The Indian girl was utterly disillusioned about traveling with a tent show; and even the promises Fenbrook had made her of improved conditions during the winter, when they would show for week-runs in the bigger cities, did not encourage Wonota to continue with him.
"Yet I would very much like to earn money to spend in searching for the great Chief Totantora," she confessed to the three white girls. "The Great Father at Washington can do nothing now to find my father—and I do not blame the White Father. The whole world is at war and those peoples in Europe are sick with the fever of war. It is sad, but it cannot be helped."
"And if you had money how would you go about looking for Chief Totantora?" Helen asked her curiously.
"I must go over there myself. I must search through that German country."
"Plucky girl!" ejaculated Jennie. "But not a chance!"
"You think not, lady?" asked Wonota, anxiously.
"We three have been to Europe—to France. We know something about the difficulties," said Ruth, quietly. "I understand how you feel, Wonota. And conditions may soon change. We believe the war will end. Then you can make a proper search for your father."
"But not unless I have much money," said Wonota quickly. "The Osage people have valuable oil lands on their reservation. But it will be some years before money from them will be available, so the agent tells me. That is why I came with this show."
"And that is why you wish to keep on earning money?" suggested Ruth reflectively.
"That is why," Wonota returned, nodding.
At this point in the conversation the showman himself came up. He smirked in an oily manner at the white girls and tried to act kindly toward his pretty employee. Wonota scarcely looked in the man's direction, but Ruth of course was polite in her treatment of Dakota Joe.
"I see you're doin' like I asked you, ma'am," he hoarsely whispered behind his hairy hand to the girl of the Red Mill. "What's the prospect?"
"I could scarcely tell you yet, Mr. Fenbrook," Ruth said decidedly. "Wonota must decide for herself, of course."
"Humph! Wal, if she knows what's best for her she'll aim to stay right with old Dakota Joe. I'm her best friend."
Ruth left the girl at this time with some encouraging words. She had told her that if she, Wonota, could get a release from her contract with the showman there would be an opportunity for her to earn much more money, and under better conditions, in the moving picture business.
"Oh!" cried Wonota with sparkling eyes, "do you think I could act for the movies? I have often wanted to try."
"There it is," said Helen, as the girls drove home. "Even the Red Indian is crazy to act in the movies. Can you beat it?"
"Well," Ruth asked soberly, "who is there that is not interested in getting his or her picture taken? Not very many. And when it comes to appearing on the silver sheet—well, even kings and potentates fall for that!"
Ruth was so sure that Wonota could be got into the moving pictures and that Mr. Hammond would be successful in making a star of the Indian girl, that that very night she sat up until the wee small hours laying out the plot of her picture story—the story which she hoped to make into a really inspirational film.
There was coming, however, an unexpected obstacle to this achievement—an obstacle which at first seemed to threaten utter failure to her own and to Mr. Hammond's plans.
DAKOTA JOE'S WRATH
It was a crisp day with that tang of frost in the air that makes the old shiver and the young feel a tingling in the blood. Aunt Alvirah drew her chair closer to the stove in the sitting-room. She had a capable housework helper now, and even Jabez Potter made no audible objection, for Ruth paid the bill, and the dear old woman had time to sit and talk to "her pretty" as she loved to do.
"Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" she murmured, as she settled into her rocking-chair. "I am a leetle afraid, my pretty, that you will have your hands full if you write pictures for red savages to act. It does seem to me they air dangerous folks to have anything to do with.
"Why, when I was a mite of a girl, I heard my great-grandmother tell that when she was a girl she went with her folks clean acrosst the continent—or, leastways, beyond the Mississippi, and they drove in a big wagon drawed by oxen."
"Goodness! They went in an emigrant train?" cried Ruth.
"Not at all. 'Twarn't no train," objected Aunt Alvirah. "Trains warn't heard of then. Why, I can remember when the first railroad went through this part of the country and it cut right through Silas Bassett's farm. They told him he could go down to the tracks any time he felt like going to town, wave his hat, and the train would stop for him."
"Well, wasn't that handy?" cried the girl.
"It sounded good. But Silas didn't have it on paper. First off they did stop for him if he hailed the train. He didn't go to town more'n three or four times a year. Then the railroad changed hands. 'There arose up a new king over Egypt which knew not Joseph'—you know, like it says in the Bible. And when Silas Bassett waved his hat, the train didn't even hesitate!"
Ruth laughed, but reminded her that they were talking about her great-grandmother's adventures in the Indian country years and years before.
"Yes, that's a fact," said Aunt Alvirah Boggs. "She did have exciting times. Why, when they was traveling acrosst them Western prairies one day, what should pop up but a band of Indians, with tall feathers in their hair, and guns—mebbe bow and arrows, too. Anyway, they scare't the white people something tremendous," and the old woman nodded vigorously.
"Well, the neighbors who were traveling together hastened to turn their wagons so as to make a fortress sort of, of the wagon-bodies, with the horses and the cattle and the humans in the center. You understand?"
"Yes," Ruth agreed. "I have seen pictures of such a camp, with the Indians attacking."
"Yes. Well, but you see," cackled the old woman suddenly, "them, Indians didn't attack at all. They rode down at a gallop, I expect, and scared the white folks a lot But what they come for was to see if there was a doctor in the party. Those Indians had heard of white doctors and knowed what they could do. The chief of the tribe had a favorite child that was very sick, and he come to see if a white doctor could save his child's life."
"Oh!" cried Ruth, her eyes sparkling. "What an idea!"
"Well, my pretty, I dunno," said Aunt Alvirah. "'Twas sensible enough, I should say, for that Indian chief to want the best doctoring there was for his child. The medicine men had tried to cure the poor little thing and failed. I expect even Red Indians sometimes love their children."
"Why, of course, Aunt Alvirah. And you ought to see how lovable this girl Wonota is."
"Mm—well, mebbe. Anyway, there was a doctor in that party my great-grandmother traveled with, and he rode to the Indian village and cured the sick child. And for the rest of their journey across them plains Indians, first of one tribe, then of another, rode with the party of whites. And they never had no trouble."
"Isn't that great!" cried Ruth.
And when she told Helen and Jennie about it—and the idea it had given Ruth for a screen story—her two chums agreed that it was "perfectly great."
So Ruth was hard at work on a scenario, or detailed plot, even before Mr. Hammond made his arrangements with the Indian Department for the transferring of the services of Princess Wonota from Dakota Joe's Wild West Show to the Alectrion Film Corporation for a certain number of months.
The matter had now gone so far that it could not be kept from Dakota Joe. He had spent money and pulled all the wires he could at the reservation to keep "Dead-Shot" Wonota in his employ. At first he did not realize that any outside agency was at work against him and for die girl's benefit.
Ruth and her friends drove to a distant town to see the Indian girl when the Wild West Show played for two days. They attended the matinee and saw Wonota between the two performances and had dinner with her at the local hotel. After dinner they all went to an attorney's office, where the papers in the case were ready, and Wonota signed her new contract and Helen and Jennie were two of the witnesses thereto. Mr. Hammond could not be present, but he had trusted to Ruth's good sense and business acumen.
In a week—giving Dakota Joe due notice—the old contract would be dead and Wonota would be at liberty under permission from the Indian Agent to leave the show. As Helen stopped the car before the torch-lighted entrance to the show for Wonota to step out, Dakota Joe strode out to the side of the road. He was scowling viciously.
"What's the matter with you, Wonota?" he demanded. "You trying to queer the show? You ain't got no more'n enough time to dress for your act. Get on in there, like I tell you."
Instead of propitiating Ruth now, he showed her the ugly side of his character.
"I guess you been playin' two-faced, ain't you, ma'am?" he growled as Wonota fled toward the dressing tent "I thought you was a friend of mine. But I believe you been cuttin' the sand right out from under my feet. Ain't you?"
"I do not know what you mean, Mr. Fenbrook," said Ruth sharply.
"You're Ruth Fielding, ain't you?" he demanded.
"Yes. That is my name."
"So they tell me," growled Dakota Joe. "And you are coupled up with this Hammond feller that they tell me has put in a bid for Wonota over and above what she's wuth, and what I can pay. Ain't that so?"
"If you wish to discuss the matter with Mr. Hammond I will give you his address," Ruth said with dignity. "I am not prepared to discuss the matter with you, Mr. Fenbrook."
"Is that so?" he snarled. "Well, ma'am, whether you want to talk or don't want to talk, things ain't goin' all your way. No, ma'am! I got some rights. The courts will give me my rights to Wonota. I'm her guardian, I am. Her father, Totantora, is dead, and I'll show you folks—and that Injun agent—just where you get off in this business!"
"Go on," said Ruth to Helen, without answering the angry man. But when the car had gone a little way along the road, the girl of the Red Mill exclaimed:
"Dear me! I fear that man will make trouble. I—I wish Tom were here."
"Don't say a word!" gasped Helen. "But not only because he could handle this Western bully do I wish Tommy-boy was home and the war was over."
"Why don't you offer Dakota Joe a job in your picture company, too?" drawled Jennie Stone.
"He'd make such a fine 'bad man.'"
"He certainly would," agreed Helen.
Just how bad the proprietor of the Wild West Show could be was proved the following day. Mr. Hammond sent Ruth a telegram In the morning intimating that something had gone wrong with their plans to get Wonota into their employ.
* * * * *
"The Court has given Fenbrook an injunction. What do you know about it?"
* * * * *
Now, of course, Ruth Fielding did not know anything at all about it. And after what she had seen of Dakota Joe she had no mind to go to him on behalf of Mr. Hammond and herself. If the Westerner was balking the attempt to get Wonota out of his clutches, nothing would beat him, Ruth believed, but legal proceedings.
She telegraphed Mr. Hammond to this effect, advising that he put the matter in the hands of the attorney that had drawn the new contract with the Indian girl.
"The goodness knows," she told Aunt Alvirah and Uncle Jabez, "I don't want to have anything personally to do with that rough man. He is just as ugly as he can be."
"Wal," snorted the miller, "he better not come around here cutting up his didoes! Me and Ben will tend to him!"
Ruth could not help being somewhat fearful of the proprietor of the Wild West Show. If the man really made up his mind to make trouble, Ruth hoped that he would not come to the Red Mill.
Helen and Jennie drove over to the mill to get Ruth that afternoon, and they planned to take Aunt Alvirah out with them. She had lost her fear of the automobile and had even begun to hint to the miller that she wished he would buy a small car.
"Land o' Goshen!" grumbled Uncle Jabez, "what next? I s'pose you'd want to learn to run the dratted thing, Alvirah Boggs?"
"Well, Jabez Potter, I don't see why not?" she had confessed. "Other women learns."
"Huh! You with one foot in the grave and the other on the gas, eh?" he snorted.
However, Aunt Alvirah did not go out in Helen's car on this afternoon. While the girls were waiting for her to be made ready, Helen looked back, up the road, down which she and Jennie had just come.
"What's this?" she wanted to know. "A runaway horse?"
Jennie stood up to look over the back of the car. She uttered an excited squeal.
"Helen! Ruthie!" she declared. "It's that Indian girl—in all her war-togs, too. She is riding like the wind. And, yes! There is somebody after her! Talk about your moving picture chases—this is the real thing!"
"It's Dakota Joe!" shrieked Helen. "Goodness! He must have gone mad. See him beating that horse he rides. Why—"
"He surely has blown up," stated Jennie Stone with conviction. "Ruthie! what are you going to do?"
A WONDERFUL EVENT
Wonota was a long way ahead of the Westerner. She was light and she bestrode a horse with much more speed than the one Dakota Joe rode. She lay far along her horse's neck and urged it with her voice rather than a cruel goad.
The plucky pony was responding nobly, although it was plain, as it came nearer to the girls before the old mill farmhouse, that it had traveled hard. It was thirty miles from the town where the Wild West Show was performing to the Red Mill.
"Oh, Wonota!" cried Jennie Stone, beckoning the Indian girl on. "What is the matter?"
Ruth had not waited to get any report from Wonota. She turned and dashed for the house. Already Sarah, the maid-of-all-work, had started through the covered passage to the mill, shrieking for Ben, the hired man.
Ben and the miller ran down the long walk to roadside. Jabez Potter was no weakling despite his age, while Ben was a giant of a fellow, able to handle two ordinary men.
Wonota pulled her pony in behind Helen's car, whirling to face her pursuer. She did not carry the light rifle she used in her act. Perhaps it would have been better had she been armed, for Dakota Joe was quite beside himself with wrath. He came pounding along, swinging his whip and yelling at the top of his voice.
"What's the matter with that crazy feller?" demanded the old miller in amazement. "He chasin' that colored girl?"
"She's not colored. She is my Indian princess, Uncle Jabez," Ruth explained.
"I swanny, you don't mean it! Hi, Ben!" But nobody had to tell Ben what to do. As Fenbrook drew in his horse abruptly, the mill-hand jumped into the road, grabbed Dakota Joe's whip-hand, broke his hold on the reins, and dragged the Westerner out of the saddle. It was a feat requiring no little strength, and it surprised Dakota Joe as much as it did anybody.
"Hey, you! What you doin'?" bawled Dakota Joe, when he found himself sitting on the hard ground, staring up at the group.
"Ain't doing nothing," drawled Ben. "It's done. Better sit where you be, Mister, and cool off."
"What sort o' tomfoolishness is this?" asked the miller again. "Makin' one o' them picture-shows right here on the public road? I want to know!"
At that, and without rising from his seat in the road, Dakota Joe Fenbrook lifted up his voice and gave his opinion of all moving picture people, and especially those that would steal "that Injun gal" from a hard-working man like himself. He stated that the efforts of a "shark named Hammond" and this girl here that he thought was a lady an' friendly to him were about to ruin his show.
"They'll crab the whole business if they git Wonota away from me. That's what will happen! And I ought to give her a blame' good lickin'—"
"We won't hear nothing more about that," interrupted the old miller, advancing a stride or two toward the angry Westerner. "Whether the gal's got blue blood or red blood, or what color, she ain't going to be mishandled none by you. Understand? You git up and git!"
"But what has happened, Wonota?" the puzzled Ruth asked the Indian girl.
Wonota pointed scornfully at Fenbrook, just then struggling to his feet.
"Joe, heap smart white man. Wuh!" She really was grimly chuckling. "He go get a talking paper from the court. Call it injunction, eh?"
"I heard about the injunction," admitted Ruth interestedly.
"All right Wonota can't leave Joe to work for you, eh? But the paleface law-man say to me that that talking paper good only In that county. You see? I not in that county now."
"Oh, Jerry!" gasped Jennie Stone. "Isn't that cute? She is outside the jurisdiction of the court."
"Sho!" exclaimed Jabez Potter, much amused by this outcome of the matter. "It is a fact. Go on back to your show, mister. The gal's here, and she's with friends, and that's all there is to it."
Dakota Joe had already realized this situation. He climbed slowly into his saddle and eyed them all—especially Ruth and Wonota—with a savage glare.
"Wait!" he growled. "Wait—that's all. I'll fix you movie people yet—the whole of you! It's the sorriest day's job you ever done to get Wonota away from me. Wait!"
He rode away. When he was some rods up the road, down which he had galloped, he set spurs to his horse again and dashed on and out of sight. For a little while nobody spoke. It was Jennie who, as usual, light-hearted and unafraid, broke the silence.
"Well, all right, we'll wait," she said. "But we needn't do it right here, I suppose. We can sit down and wait just as easily."
Helen laughed. But Ruth and Wonota were sober, and even Uncle Jabez Potter saw something to take note of in the threat of the proprietor of the Wild West Show.
"That man is a coward. That's as plain as the nose on your face. And a coward when he gits mad and threatens you is more to be feared than a really brave man. That man's a coward. He's mean. He's p'ison mean! You want to look out for him, Niece Ruth. I wouldn't wonder if he tried, some time, to do you and Mr. Hammond some trick that won't bring you in no money, to say the least."
The old miller went off with that statement on his lips. Ben, the hired man, followed him, shaking his head. The girls looked at each other, then at the rapidly disappearing cloud of dust raised by Dakota Joe's pony. Jennie said:
"Well, goodness! why so serious? Guess that man won't do such a much! Don't be scared, Wonota. We won't let anybody hurt you."
"I wish Tom were here," Ruth Fielding repeated.
And in less than forty-eight hours this wish of the girl of the Red Mill seemed to her almost prophetical. Tom Cameron was coming home!
The whole land rejoiced over that fact. The whole world, indeed, gave thanks that it was possible for a young captain in the American Expeditionary Forces to look forward to his release and return to his home.
The armistice had been declared. Cheslow, like every town and city in the Union, celebrated the great occasion. It was not merely a day's celebration. The war was over (or so it seemed) and the boys who were so much missed would be coming home again. It took some time for Ruth and her friends to realize that this return must be, because of the nature of things, postponed for many tiresome months.
Before Tom Cameron was likely to be freed from the army, the matter of the Indian girl's engagement with the moving picture corporation must be completely settled—at least, as far as Dakota Joe's claim upon Wonota's services went.
THE PLOT DEVELOPS
Ruth had insisted upon Wonota's remaining at the Red Mill from the hour she had ridden there for protection. Not that they believed Fenbrook would actually harm the Indian girl after he had cooled down. But it was better that she should be in Ruth's care as long as she was to work somewhat under the latter's tutelage.
Besides, it gave the picture writer a chance to study her subject. It would be too much to expect that Wonota could play a difficult part. She had had no experience in acting. Ruth knew that she must fit a part to Wonota, not the girl to a part. In other words, the Indian girl was merely a type for screen exploitation, and the picture Ruth wrote must be fitted to her capabilities.
Grasping, like any talented writer does, at any straw of novelty, Ruth had seen possibilities in the little incident Aunt Alvirah had told about her ancestor who had crossed the Western plains in the early emigrant days. She meant to open her story with a similar incident, as a prologue to the actual play.
Ruth made her heroine (the part she wished to fit to Wonota, the Osage Indian girl) repay in part the debt her family owed the white physician by saving a descendant of the physician from peril in the Indian country. This young man, the hero, is attracted by the Indian maid who has saved his life; but he is under the influence of a New York girl, one of the tourist party, to whom he is tentatively engaged.
But the New York girl deserts the hero when he gets into difficulty in New York. He is accused of a crime that may send him to the penitentiary for a long term and there seems no way to disprove the crime. Word of his peril comes to the Indian maid in her Western home. She knows and suspects the honesty of the timber men with whom the hero is connected in business. She discovers these villains are the guilty ones, and she travels to New York to testify for him and to clear him of the charge. The end of the story, as well as the beginning, was to be filmed in the wilds.
With the incidents of her plot gradually taking form in her mind and being jotted down on paper, Ruth's hours began to be very full. She was with Wonota as much as possible, and the Indian girl began to show an almost doglike devotion to the girl of the Red Mill.
"That is not to be wondered at, of course," Jennie Stone said, as she was about to return to her New York home. "Everybody falls for our Ruth. It's a wonder to me that she has not been elected to the presidency."
"Wait till we women get the vote," declared Helen. "Then we'll send Ruth to the chair."
"Goodness!" ejaculated Jennie. "That sounds terrible, Nell! One might think you mean the electric chair."
"Is there much difference, after all, between that and the presidential chair?" Helen demanded, chuckling. "The way some people talk about a president!"
"We are a loose-talking people," Ruth interrupted gravely, "and I think you girls talk almost as irresponsibly as anybody I ever heard."
"List to the stern and uncompromising Ruthie," scoffed Jennie. "I am glad I am going back to Aunt Kate. She is a spinster, I admit; but she isn't anywhere near as old-maid-like as Ruth Fielding."
"I'll tell Tom about that," said Tom's sister wickedly.
"Spinsters are the balance-wheel of the universe machinery," declared Ruth, laughing. "I always have admired them. But, joking aside, at this time when the whole world should be so grateful and so much in earnest because of the end of a terrible war, trivial matters and trivial talk somehow seems to jar."
"Not so! Not so!" cried Helen vigorously. "We have been holding in and trying to keep cheerful with the fear at our hearts that some loved one would suddenly be taken. It was not lightness of heart that made people dance and act as though rattled-pated during the war. It was an attempt to hide that awful fear in their hearts. See how the people in Cheslow acted as though they were crazy the night of the armistice. And did you read what the papers said about the times in New York? It was only a natural outbreak."
"Well," remarked. Ruth, shrugging her shoulders, "you certainly have got off the subject of old maids—bless 'em! Give my love to your Aunt Kate, Jennie, and when we come to the city to take the shots for this picture, I'll surely see her."
"Hi!" cried Miss Stone energetically. "I guess you will! You'll come right to the house and stay with us during that time!"
"Oh, no. I shall have Wonota with me. We will stay at a hotel. Our hours are always so uncertain when we shoot a picture that I could not undertake to be at any private house."
There was some discussion over this. Ruth did not intend to let Wonota out of her sight much while the picture was being made. Nor did she propose to let the script of the picture out of her sight until copies could be made of it, and the continuity man had made his version for the director. Ruth was not going to run the risk of losing another scenario, as she had once while Down East.
Ruth put in two weeks' hard work on the new story. As she laughingly said, she ate, slept, and talked movies all the time. Wonota had to amuse herself; but that did not seem hard for the Indian girl to do. She was naturally of a very quiet disposition. She sat by Aunt Alvirah for hours doing beadwork while the old woman darned or knitted.
"You wouldn't ever suspect she was a Red Indian unless you looked at her," Aunt Alvirah confessed to the rest of the family. "She's a very nice girl."
As for Wonota, she said:
"I used to sit beside my grandmother and work like this. Yes, Chief Totantora taught me to shoot and paddle a canoe, and to do many other things out-of-doors. But my grandmother was the head woman of our tribe, and her beadwork and dyed porcupine-quill work was the finest you ever saw, Ruth Fielding. I was sorry to leave my war-bag with Dakota Joe. It had in it many keepsakes my grandmother gave me before she passed to the Land of the Spirits."
A demand had been made upon the proprietor of the Wild West Show for Wonota's possessions, but the man had refused to give them up. The girl had not brought away with her even the rifle she had used so successfully in the show. But her pony, West Wind, was stabled in the Red Mill barn. Indeed, Uncle Jabez had begun to hint that the animal was "eating its head off." The miller could not help showing what Aunt Alvirah called "his stingy streak" in spite of the fact that he truly was interested in the Indian maid and liked her.
"That redskin gal," he confessed in private to Ruth, "is a pretty shrewd and sensible gal. She got to telling me the other day how her folks ground grist in a stone pan, or the like, using a hard-wood club to pound it with. Right slow process of makin' flour or meal, I do allow.
"But what do you think she said when I put that up to her—about it's being a slow job?" and the miller chuckled. "Why, she told me that all her folks had was time, and they'd got to spend it somehow. They'd better be grinding corn by hand than making war on their neighbors or the whites, like they used to. She ain't so slow."
Ruth quite agreed with this. The Osage maiden was more than ordinarily intelligent, and she began to take a deep interest in the development of the story that Ruth was making for screen use.
"Am I to be that girl?" she asked doubtfully. "How can I play that I am in love when I have never seen a man I cared for—in that way?"
"Can't you imagine admiring a nice young man?" asked Ruth in return.
"Not a white man like this one in your story," Wonota said soberly. "It should be that he did more for himself—that he was more of a—a brave. We Indians do not expect our men to be saved from disgrace by women. Squaws are not counted of great value among the possessions of a chief."
"So you could not really respect such a man as I describe here if he allowed a girl to help him?" Ruth asked reflectively, for Wonota's criticism was giving her some thought.
"He should not be such a man—to need the help of a squaw," declared the Indian maid confidently. "But, of course, it does not matter if only palefaces are to see the picture."
But Ruth could not get the thought out of her mind. It might be that the Indian girl had suggested a real fault in the play she was making, and she took Mr. Hammond into her confidence about it when she sent him the first draft of the story. Her whole idea of the principal male character in "Brighteyes" might need recasting, and she awaited the picture producer's verdict with some misgiving.
While she waited a red-letter day occurred—-so marked both for herself and for Helen Cameron. The chums had hoped—oh, how fondly!—that they would hear that Tom Cameron was on his way home. But gradually the fact that demobilization would take a long time was becoming a fixed idea in the girls' minds.
Letters came from Tom Cameron—one each for the two girls and one for Mr. Cameron. Instead of being on his way home, Captain Cameron had been sent even farther from the French port to which he had originally sailed in the huge transport from New York.
* * * * *
"I am now settled on the Rhine—one of the 'watches,' I suppose, that the Germans used to sing about, now stamped 'Made in America,' however," he wrote to Ruth. "We watch a bridge-head and see that the Germans don't carry away anything that might be needed on this side of the most over-rated river in the world. I have come to the conclusion, since seeing a good bit of Europe, that most of the scenery is over-rated and does not begin to compare with the natural beauties of America. So many foreigners come to our shores and talk about the beauty-spots of their own countries, and so few Americans have in the past seen much of their own land, that we accept the opinions of homesick foreigners as to the superiority of the beauties of their father-and-mother-lands. After this war I guess there will be more fellows determined to give the States the 'once over.'"
* * * * *
Tom always wrote an Interesting letter; but aside from that, of course Ruth was eager to hear from him. And now, as soon as she could, she sat down and replied to his communication. She had, too, a particular topic on which she wished to write her friend.
Now that embattled Germany would no longer hold its prisoners incommunicado, Ruth hoped that news about the imprisoned performers of the Wild West Show might percolate through the lines. Chief Totantora had been able but once to get a message to his daughter.
This message had reached America long before the United States had got into the war. Although the Osage chieftain was an American (who could claim such proud estate if Totantora could not?), the show by which he was employed had gone direct to Germany from England, and anything English had, from the first, been taboo in Germany. Now, of course, the Indian girl had no idea as to where her father was.
"See if you can hear anything about those performers," Ruth wrote to Tom. "Get word if you can to the Chief of the Osage Indians and tell him that his daughter is with me, and that she longs for his return.
"I should love to make her happy by aiding in Chief Totantora's reappearance in his native land. She is so sad, indeed, that I wonder if she is going to be able to register, for the screen, the happiness that she should finally show when my picture is brought to its conclusion."
ONE NEW YORK DAY
That "happy ending" became a matter of much thought on Ruth's part, and the cause of not a little argument between her and Mr. Hammond when he came up to Cheslow and the Red Mill to discuss "Brighteyes" with its youthful author. He had come, too, to get a glimpse of Wonota in the flesh.
One of the first things Ruth had done when the Indian girl came under her care was to take Wonota to Cheslow and have the best photographer of the town take several "stills" of the Indian girl. Copies of these she had sent to the Alectrion Film Corporation, and word had come back from both Mr. Hammond and his chief director that the photographs of Wonota were satisfactory.
The president of the film company, however, was interested in talking with Wonota and judging as far as possible through cursory examination just how much there was to the girl.
"What has she got in her? That is what we want to know," he said to Ruth. "Can she get expression into her face? Can she put over feeling? We want something besides mere looks, Miss Ruth, as you very well know."
"I realize all that," the girl of the Red Mill told him earnestly. "But remember, Mr. Hammond, you cannot judge this Osage girl by exactly the same standards as you would a white girl!"
"Why not? She's got to be able to show on the screen the deepest feelings of her nature—"
"Not if you would have my 'Brighteyes' true to life," interrupted Ruth anxiously. "You must not expect it."
"Why not?" he demanded again, with some asperity. "We don't want to show the people a dummy. I tell you the public is getting more and more critical. They won't stand for just pretty pictures. The actors In them must express their thoughts and feelings as they do in real life."
"Exactly!" Ruth hastened to say. "That is what I mean. My 'Brighteyes' is a full-blooded Indian maiden just like Wonota. Now, you talk with Wonota—try to get to the very heart of the girl. Then you will see."
"See what?" he demanded, staring.
"What you will see," returned Ruth, with a laugh. "Go ahead and get acquainted with Wonota. Meanwhile I will be getting this condensed plot of the story into shape for us to talk over. I must rewrite that street scene again, I fear. And, of course, we are in a hurry?"
"Always," grumbled the producer. "We must start for our Western location as soon as possible; but the New York scenes must be shot first."
It was a fine day, and the shore of the Lumano River offered a pleasant prospect for out-of-door exercise, and after he had spent more than an hour walking about with Wonota, the canny Mr. Hammond obtained, he said, a "good line" on the character and capabilities of the Indian girl.
"You had me guessing for a time, Miss Ruth," he laughingly said to the girl of the Red Mill. "I did not know what you were hinting at I see it now. Wonota is a true redskin. We read about the stoicism of her race, but we do not realize what that means until we try to fathom an Indian's deeper feelings.
"I talked with her about her father. She is very proud of him, this Totantora, as she calls him. But only now and then does she express (and that in a flash) her real love and admiration for him.
"She is deeply, and justly, angered at that Dakota Joe Fenbrook. But she scarcely expresses that feeling in her face or voice. She speaks of his cruelty to her with sadness in her voice merely, and scarcely a flicker of expression in her countenance."
"Ah!" Ruth said. "Now you see what I see. It is impossible for her to register changing expressions and feelings as a white girl would. Nor would she be natural as 'Brighteyes' if she easily showed emotion. Yet she mustn't be stolid, for if she does the audience will never get what we are trying to put over."
"The director has got to have judgment—I agree to that," said Mr. Hammond, nodding. "Wonota must be handled with care. But she's got it in her to be a real star in time. She photographs like a million dollars!" and he laughed. "Now if we can teach her to be expressive enough—well, I am more than ever willing to take the chance with her, provided you, Miss Ruth, will agree to supply the vehicles of expression."
"You flatter me, Mr. Hammond," returned Ruth, flushing faintly. "I shall of course be glad to do my best in the writing line."
"That's it. Between us we ought to make a lot of money. And incidentally to make an Indian star who will make 'em all sit up and take notice."
Ruth was so much interested in "Brighteyes" by this time that she "ate, slept, walked and talked" little else—to quote Helen. But Tom's sister grew much interested in the production, too.
"I'm going with you—to New York, anyway," she announced. "I might as well. Father is so busy with his business now that I scarcely see him from week end to week end. Dear me, if Tommy only would come home!"
"I guess he'd be delighted," rejoined Ruth, smiling. "But if you go with me, honey, you're likely to be dragged around a good deal. I expect to jump from New York to somewhere in the Northwest. Mr. Hammond has not exactly decided. The weather is very promising, and if we can shoot the outdoor scenes before Christmas we'll be all right."
"Well, I do love to travel. Maybe we could get Jennie to go, too," Helen said reflectively.
"She certainly would help," laughed Ruth. "I would rather laugh with Jennie than grouch with anybody else."
"The wisdom of Mrs. Socrates," scoffed Helen. "Anyway, Ruthie, I'll write her at once and tell her to begin pulling wires. You know, Mr. Stone is as 'sot as the everlasting hills'—and it takes something to move the hills, you know. He will have to be convinced, maybe, that Jennie's health demands a change of climate at just this time."
"She looks it."
"Well, one might expect her to fade away a bit because of Henri's absence. I wonder if she's heard from him since the armistice?"
"If she hasn't she'll need something besides a change of climate, I assure you," laughed Ruth again. "She hates ocean voyaging, does Jennie; but she wouldn't wait till she could go in an ox-cart to get back to France if Henri forgot to write."
There was one thing sure: Jennie Stone was a delighted host when Helen arrived in New York a few days ahead of Ruth and Wonota. Ruth had not intended to go to the Stones; she would have felt more independent at a hotel. She did not know what engagements Mr. Hammond or the director of the picture might make for her. So she tried to dodge Jennie's invitation.
When the train got in from New England, however, and Ruth and the Indian girl, following a red-capped porter with their bags, walked through the gateway of entrance to the concourse of the Grand Central Terminal, there were both Jennie and Helen waiting to spy them.
"Mr. Hammond told me to come to the Borneaux. He has made reservations there," Ruth said.
"That's all right for to-morrow," declared Jennie bruskly. "Hotel rooms are all right to make up in, or anything like that. But you are both going to my house for to-night"
"No buts or ands about it!" exclaimed her friend. "If you don't come, Ruthie Fielding, I'll never speak to you again. And if Wonota doesn't come I declare I'll tell Dakota Joe where she is, and he'll come after her and steal her. In fact," Jennie added, wickedly smiling, "his old Wild West Show is playing right here in the Big Town this week."
"You don't mean it!" exclaimed Ruth, while the Indian girl shrank a little closer to her friend.
"Sure do. In Brooklyn. A three-day stand in one of the big armories over there, I believe. So a telephone call—"
"Shucks!" exclaimed Helen. "Don't you believe her, Wonota. Just the same you folks had better come to the Stone house. Mr. Stone has taken a whole box to-night for one of the very best musical shows that ever was!"
Ruth could see that the Indian girl was eager to agree. She did show some small emotions which paleface girls displayed. She laughed more than at first, too. But she was often downright gloomy when thinking of Chief Totantora.
However, seeing Wonota wished to accept the invitation, and desiring herself to please Helen and Jennie, Ruth agreed. They telephoned a message to the Hotel Borneaux and then went off to dinner at the Stone house. It was a very nice party indeed, and even busy Mr. Stone did his best to put Wonota at her ease.
"Some wigwam this, isn't it, Wonata?" said Helen, smiling, as the girls went upstairs after dinner to prepare for the theatre.
"The Osage nation does not live in wigwams, Miss Cameron," said Wonota quietly. "We are not blanket Indians and have not been for two generations."