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 “And just to think!” Tavia , as the two girls rode slowly down the riverside an hour after sunrise. “We hadn’t any business having an adventure at all.”  
“I—don’t—know,” responded Dorothy, slowly.
“Well, I do! The boys will tease us to death about it. There the were, tied where we left them, just in another opening in the woods, not a hundred yards away from where we spent the night. But when I first heard them whinnying for water at daybreak, I was scared into fits—weren’t you, Doro?”
Dorothy admitted her fright. Tavia’s whole statement was not far from correct. The entire adventure had been preventable. Dorothy considered herself seriously to blame.
If she and her chum had marked their path up the steep hillside beyond the spot where the ponies had been abandoned, they would have had no difficulty in finding their mounts again.
 So, had they recovered the ponies they could easily have returned to the -house by dark. Aunt Winnie, Dorothy knew, must have been dreadfully worried over their .
Indeed, the whole country round about had been roused, as the girls quickly learned. Half a dozen search parties were out after them. While they still followed the course of Lost River they heard , and rifle shots, ahead.
“Come on!” cried Tavia, “they are searching for us.”
Both girls hurried their ponies, rounded a turn in the path, and were hailed with delight by Ned, Nat and half a dozen cowpunchers, who had started into the hills for a second search for the lost girls.
They had ridden over the ranges and lower country all night, searching for the , and after breakfasting at the bunkhouse, had started again.
Dorothy and Tavia were warmly welcomed—and scolded just as warmly by Ned and Nat, too! When Mrs. White had kissed and hugged them, she, too, turned upon them and threatened to take away their ponies if they ever rode more than two miles from the ranch-house again without a guide.
Dorothy knew she had no right to complain about this . It had been a reckless201 thing to do—that trip to the mountain-top. And she could not get over the fact that her own had caused her and Tavia to remain out in the open all night.
There had been no serious results, however, and in a day or two the escapade was forgotten. The girls had agreed not to tell of their awful fright caused by the bits of shining in the rock. If Ned and Nat had gotten hold of that tale the girls never would have heard the last of it.
It was about this time that Dorothy heard from Major Dale regarding the Lincoln letter that John Dempsey had found among Colonel Hardin’s discarded papers. Dorothy had told her father the whole story—of Philo ’s desire to purchase the letter, and all. She had likewise expressed herself as being more than ever to the Dugonne lawyer.
“Don’t your pretty head, Little Captain, about matters that do not concern you,” Major Dale wrote. “I have confidence in Winifred’s good sense, and she will be a match for a man like Marsh. As for the old soldier and his famous letter—tell him not to put any great trust in the validity of the letter, and if he can sell it for a good round sum, to do so.”
Major Dale went on to tell his daughter of a test by which she could assure herself and Dempsey as to the actual value of the letter. This202 amazed Dorothy, and she ran off to tell the old soldier and to follow her father’s suggestion.
The letter to the Massachusetts widow proved to be . It really was a very interesting document. After Dorothy and John Dempsey had talked it over, the old man changed his mind about selling it.
“If that snake in the grass raises his offer to me much higher, I’ll jest natcherly be obleeged to sell,” he said, grimly. “Let it be on his own head.”
Philo Marsh was at the ranch-house almost every day. Aunt Winnie wondered why some of the other interested parties had not called to get her views upon the water-rights question; but not a person from the farming land to the south or from Desert City, came to the Hardin ranch.
“It must be,” she told the boys and Dorothy, “that these Desert people have left the whole matter—as he says—in Mr. Marsh’s hands. I would have felt better about it had I talked with others—to make sure that this agreement Philo Marsh offers suits all hands. I believe I shall sign the preliminary papers the next time Mr. Marsh calls.”
“I guess it’s all right, mother,” said big Ned, carelessly. “And the fellow is getting to be a nuisance hanging about here.”
Dorothy was to tell her aunt of the conversation she had overheard between Marsh and the foreman, Hank , despite the fact that the conference seemed to have led to nothing. The foreman was a good sort, and Dorothy liked Mrs. Ledger, so the girl did not wish to make her aunt suspicious of Hank.
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