The Young Runaway - Zane Grey - ebook
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Zane Grey was one of the first millionaire authors. With his veracity and emotional intensity, he connected with millions of readers worldwide, during peacetime and war, and inspired many Western writers who followed him. That work is widely considered the greatest Western ever written, and Grey remains one of the most famous authors of the genre. Cattle rustling was on the rise in the town of Randall, Wyoming and the new people Martha and Andrew join the ranchers in their fight to protect their livestock. This novel is especially rich in Grey’s masterful description of, and feelings for, the beauty and strength of the Wyoming countryside.

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Contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER I

WHEN Martha Ann Dixon found herself on the open Nebraska road she realized with a shock that at last her innate propensity for running away from home had definitely materialized. She pinched herself…It was true. She was here, and her face was turned to the West!

Her first yielding to this strange wanderlust had occurred at the age of five when she ran off from her aunt’s home on the shore of Lake Michigan and was found strolling about in the woods as naked and unashamed as any little savage. The second excursion, a flight from school, had come somewhat later; and then there had followed other occasions not so vividly remembered.

But this one, in the last year of her teens, was vastly different. This adventure was the result of long planning and deliberation to make a dream come true, a dream of lovely roads and bright-colored hills, of dim horizons and purple ranges, and at last the longed-for goal–the West.

The rattle of a slowing Ford swerved Martha Ann off the road.

“Hello, kid. Want a lift?” called out a cheery voice. A red-headed, freckle-faced youth accommodated the speed of his car to her brisk stop.

“No, thanks,” she replied, “I’d rather walk.”

“Cripes! If youse ain’t a girl! ‘Scuse me,” the driver ejaculated with a grin. “Come on. It ain’t every day a dame gets a chance to ride with me.”

“I’ll leave that golden opportunity for someone more appreciative.”

“Aw–awright. I jest thought mebbe you was tired. What you doin’?”

“Hitchhiking.”

“Say, you ain’t hitchin’ on very well this mornin’.”

“I’ll hike every day till I’m tired.”

“Where you goin’?”

“Wyoming!” exclaimed Martha Ann, belligerently. It was the first time she had spoken that magic word aloud.

“Whew!…Well, I’ll be dogged!” the redhead exclaimed. Then with an incredulous glance at the diminutive figure on the highway he started up his ancient car and was soon lost in clouds of dust.

Martha Ann giggled softly to herself. So she finally had nerve enough to speak it! “Wyoming!” How sweet it sounded! What untold promise the word held! What did it matter that her destination was some unknown town in Wyoming–what difference did it make that she had only fifty dollars in her pocket which would have to last indefinitely?

She walked on happily. Spring was in the air. The fields were golden and the trees and fence rows showed freshly green; swamp blackbirds and meadowlarks sang melodiously from the roadside; a fragrance of burning leaves was carried on the soft breeze. From beyond where the white road disappeared over the horizon something beckoned imperiously.

To the girl it still seemed like a miracle that she should be here. Again she reviewed the events that had led her to this open road which she hoped would take her to Wyoming.

There had been sufficient money to put Martha Ann through high school. That had satisfied her mother, but Martha wanted to go on. Mrs. Dixon was making too many references to Martha Ann’s chances of marriage. She argued that Martha at eighteen had grown into an attractive girl who could marry well. But Martha Ann had ideas of her own which had nothing at all to do with marriage.

She wanted to go to the university for a while, and then work, and above all to see something of the world. The world to her meant the West. A twofold reason accounted for Martha’s obsession. As a child she had heard all about her grandmother’s only brother, who had run away from home to seek his fortune in the West. And it had helped to make her a rabid reader of Western romances.

For thirty years Uncle Nick Bligh had not been heard from. But when Martha Ann was seventeen, her grandmother had received a letter from the missing brother, explaining that as he had failed to make his fortune he had never troubled himself to write. But age and poor health, together with a realization of the false pride that had motivated his silence, had prompted him at last to write for news of his family. The letter bore a postmark of Randall, Wyoming.

This communication from the long-lost uncle had fixed in Martha Ann’s mind a secret and daring idea. She would go west to find Uncle Nick. That was incentive and excuse enough to crystallize what had been only a vague purpose.

Ways and means to attend the university and at the same time save money enough to start her trip kept Martha Ann wide-eyed for many long hours at night, as well as pensive by day. But she had solved the problem. She obtained work as an assistant in a dentist’s office, and in addition to after classes she worked on Saturdays, Sunday mornings, and during all vacations.

More than a year and a half of this intensive strain had told upon Martha Ann’s mental and physical wellbeing. But nothing daunted her. As time went on her secret purpose grew more and more alluring. It satisfied her longing for happiness. But strange to discover, the busier she became the greater grew the masculine demands upon her leisure. To their persistent requests for dates she remained indifferent.

Martha Ann had long wondered about her attitude toward men. Perhaps, as her mother and some of her friends claimed, she was abnormal. But she could not willingly admit this charge, and from distress she passed to impatience and finally to disgust. Yet she liked boys. She admired young men who were making good in life. She could at times have great fun with them–in the earlier stages of friendship–and could by intense inward pressure wring some sort of romantic emotion out of her heart for them. But to her dismay, almost every friendship led to one of two sad conclusions–a proposal of marriage or a fumbling pass which disgusted her. Why couldn’t they just be friends? As for those few bolder young men who attempted to be free with their hands–Martha Ann despised them.

The time came when the strain of study and outside work, the importunities of her admirers and the constant nagging of her mother had changed Martha Ann, even in her own eyes. She wanted to get far away from the dirty, noisy, crowded city. Open spaces beckoned her. Into her dreams came more and more lovely green places, where flowers and birds abounded. From feeling stiffed and weary she gradually sank into a state of real melancholy. The terrific burden on the slender shoulders had at last become too heavy; her flesh was not the equal of her spirit. Also, her mother, anxiously regarding Martha’s future, was now urging her marry young Bob Worth; “who can take care of you nicely so you won’t have to worry about a little money or a new dress.” But worry had become part of Martha’s very existence–worry about school credits, about making her little earnings go a long way, about the dissatisfaction and nagging at home, about the pressing fact of the increasing demands of the young men. The proms, the formals, the movies, all had become stale and unprofitable to her. She longed for something to happen–something unforseen and tremendous.

Finally, the pressure had become too great. Even though she had not finished her semester at college she realized with the coming of spring that the time to leave had come. Martha Ann caught her breath as she recalled the day of her decision.

Deceiving her father had not hurt her conscience. He had never appeared to care whether Martha came or went, and outwardly at least he had evinced little interest in her pursuit of happiness. But to deceive her mother! That had hurt. Suddenly faced with the enormity of what she was about to do, she was filled with the remorse. Never in all her life had she told her mother a deliberate lie. She now thought to excuse herself on the basis that the glorious end justified almost any means. But a still, accusing voice kept calling at the gate of her consciousness. Lie to mother–who had always been so good, so faithful, so forgiving! It gave Martha Ann a painful twinge. But she had launched her canoe on the current of this great adventure. She could not turn back.

And yet, how simple and easy it all had been to accomplish! Martha Ann had calmly announced at dinner one evening that a girl friend at the university had asked her to drive with her to Omaha, and she wanted to go. Her father and brother made the usual perfunctory murmurs. Her mother, however, had anxiously asked how long she would be gone. Martha could give only a vague answer.

“Dear, you’re sure you are going to Omaha?” asked Mrs. Dixon.

“Mother!…Yes, of course,” she had replied hastily. At least that was no out-and-out falsehood!

“I was afraid you might be remembering your old madness to go out West,” concluded Mrs. Dixon.

But Martha had been impatient, too, even with her mother. Why could she not understand how wonderful it would be to go out West? If Mrs. Dixon had ever had any adventurous desires of her own they had long ago become atrophied.

Every moment that Martha had had to herself in the apartment, she had spent getting her belongings into readiness. What to take and what to leave? How impossible to remember that she had to carry everything, and therefore the less she took the easier would be her burden! Finally she had decided on her brother’s packsack! She was agreeably surprised to find that it held so much. Still she wondered how she could ever manage with anything so small.

As the day of departure had drawn nearer, her feeling of anticipation had become mixed with other emotions. What might not happen to her on the way! She elevated her chin and smiled oftener to reassure herself. Nevertheless there lurked the shadow of panic in her consciousness. Once while kneeling in the middle of her bedroom, trying to find a place in her pack for a precious book, she had found herself murmuring aloud: “Oh dear Lord–I want to go so terribly. I must go…please don’t let anything happen!” and the very next moment her hoydenish nature had asserted itself, and cried with Topsy-like simplicity: “Can’t you heah me, God?”

At length Martha Ann had her packsack ready. It could hold no more. Besides a few infinitesimal underthings, it contained one pair of pajamas, two toothbrushes, soap, towel and wash cloth, comb and brush, two pairs of heavy woolen hose, three pairs of cotton socks, an emergency kit containing tape, mercurochrome, bandages, cotton, a bottle of disinfectant, a few threaded needles, a tiny pair of scissors, a fountain pen and some sheets of paper and stamped envelopes, and three clean shirts. She had pondered a long while on the possibility of ever having an occasion to dress up, and at last had put in her navy blue crepe with the flat pleats. This would fold easily and flat. In the end she had found room for her patent leather slippers and two pairs of silk stockings. Her short suede jacket, her hiking boots, and corduroy breeches she would carry in a box, ready to don when she started on the road.

Then had come, finally, the day of parting, the tears, the incoherent farewell, the precipitate flight to meet the mythical girl friend, the station and the train. She could scarcely clamber to the Pullman platform. Her eyes were so dim that she could not see the steps. A voice had whispered: “Running away!…Leaving home, mother, brother, Bob–all of them–forever!” It was the “forever” that had appalled Martha Ann.  

And now, after a night on the sleeper, Martha Ann was on the road outside of Omaha, hitchhiking toward the next town.

She still felt self-conscious and queer in the soft corduroy riding breeches and high-topped boots that she had donned in the dressing room of the station. She had rolled her heavy woolen socks down over her hiking boots; and the sleeves of her white shirt over slim round arms that she hoped would soon get tanned.

As Martha Ann swung along the road her mind seemed both busy and absent. How good it was just to be alive and free on a morning like this! She had a heavenly sense of having been newly born. Would it not be wonderful to walk on like this forever? There was no need of hurry. Even the goal of Wyoming failed to seem so far away and unattainable.

For a while Martha Ann strode rhythmically along, her feet light, her heart dancing, her thoughts at peace. She stopped at the first gas station she came to on the road, where she was favored with amused glances and deluged with maps. A few cars passed her, and as one of them seemed about to stop, she waved it on. Martha wanted to prolong the enchantment of these first hours of freedom.

The sun rose high in the sky. It was beginning to get hot. After a time the road began to slope uphill, necessitating a change in her gait. Near the summit, a Ford coupé came puffing up behind her and stopped. A sandy-haired young man put his head out of the window.

“Hey, pigeon, where do you think you’re flyin’?” he called, in a good-natured voice.

Long had Martha Ann schooled herself in the replies that would have to be made. Always it would be diplomatic to name the nearest town as her destination, which subterfuge would enable her to take her leave of any undesirable who might offer her a lift. Accordingly she named the first village she had read on the road map.

“Hop in. I’m going within half a mile of there.”

Martha slid off the packsack, the weight of which she had not fully appreciated until relieved of it, and climbed into the car.

“Got relatives there?” inquired the driver, as he put the Ford into motion.

“Yes,” replied Martha, warily.

“Where you from?”

“Chicago.”

He whistled his surprise. “Hike all the way from there?”

“No. I came as far as Omaha by train.” she replied, feeling that she liked this not overly curious driver. He glanced at her packsack.

“Nice army pack. That leather bottom keeps your stuff dry.”

“Yes, Colonel Brinkerhoff gave it to my brother.”

“That so,” he said, and flashed a keen glance at her. Then he attended to the road ahead. The car was speeding between fields of winter grain and pastureland. Farmhouses stood among groves of trees rapidly turning green.

Suddenly he launched a query: “Do your folks know you’re out here alone like this?”

“No,” rejoined Martha Ann, caught unawares.

“Ahuh. Well, why don’t they?”

“Why?…I–I suppose–because if I’d told them–I wouldn’t be here,” she replied, haltingly. It annoyed her to be quizzed but his directness had momentarily confused her.

“Does anyone know you’re hitchhiking?”

“Yes, our family lawyer. I bound him to secrecy. He promised, provided I’d keep in touch with him. If I didn’t he threatened to have the police on my trail.”

“Not a bad idea. How old are you?”

“Nineteen.”

“Humph! You look more like fifteen.”

Martha Ann glared at him.

“Listen, kid,” he said, ignoring her look of disdain, “you can’t lie worth a hoot! Some girls are like that. Just where are you headed for?”

“I’m going to Randall, Wyoming, but I can’t see where it’s any concern of yours,” retorted Martha.

“Good Lord!…Say, do you know how far that is? To hitchhike?”

“I’ve a pretty good idea.”

“And do you know you’ll have to go through the Black Hills?”

“N–no-o, I didn’t…Are they as awful as they sound?”

“You’ll never come out alive. A few tourists motor through the Hills. But for the most part they’re darned lonely and deserted. A refuge for fugitives and criminals. Believe me, kid, you’ll get yours!”

“Gracious!…Oh, you’re just trying to scare me.”

“Not a chance! Look here. I belong to the armory. I know Colonel Brinkerhoff, whose packsack you’re carrying. I’m going to take you to the armory with me while I wire the Colonel to find out if he really approves of this crazy hike you’re on.”

Martha Ann sat back stunned. What if this assertive young man were to make good his threat? What would her mother say? And do! Martha could see what a disgrace it would be to be sent home just when she had such a fine start. But she simply must not let this terrible thing happen.

“Wiring Colonel Brinkerhoff won’t be any use now,” she spoke up, her wit reasserting itself.

“Why won’t it?”

“Because he isn’t in Chicago now.”

“Where is he?”

“Fishing in northern Canada.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because he went with a friend of my uncle.”

Plainly the sandy-haired young man was at a loss as far as proceeding along the line he had adopted was concerned.

“I’ll bet you haven’t any money?”

“Indeed I have.”

“Enough to get home to Chicago?” he queried doubtfully.

“Yes. And then some.”

“What on earth put this crazy idea in your head?”

That for Martha was waving a red flag of battle.

“Crazy! Sure I’m crazy. But it’s to see the West. Why, I’ve never been away from home in my life. I’ve never seen any places but Chicago and Lake Michigan. This is my chance. I must go on…Besides, I’ve never seen my uncle. I wrote him…He–he’s expecting me.”

This last was far from the truth, but Martha Ann had become desperate.

“Uncle, uh? That’s different. Still my duty to Brinkerhoff is to hold you till some of your people are communicated with.”

“Hold me! How?” burst out Martha. If she ever got away from this armory person she would never accept another ride.

“Well, you can’t jump out while we’re going forty-five,” he declared, grimly. “I’ll drive straight to the armory and hold you till Captain Stevens can be notified.”

“Hold me–by force?” faltered Martha. She realized that he was in the right and it gave her a sense of guilt. What could she do? She must fall back upon feminine wiles, a procedure she usually scorned. Whereupon she made a frantic pretense of escaping from the car.

“Hold you? I should smile I will,” he said, suiting his action to the word. “If necessary, I’ll hold on to you with one arm. But, heck, I’ll bet you wouldn’t make too much fuss.”

Martha Ann resorted to tears, which were so near the surface that weeping was hardly any dissimulation.

“Say, I give up, young lady. I can’t stand for bawling,” he said irritably. “I’ll let you go if you promise to watch your step. Don’t get in cars where there’s more than one man, and be sure you’re never in any car after dark.”

Martha promised eagerly.

“And look each driver over before you accept a ride?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Martha, demurely.

“I’ve got a kid sister. And I’d have a fit if I caught her hitchhiking alone. But she has queer ideas, too. Girls are sure beyond understanding these days…Well, here’s where I turn off. And there’s the village.”

Martha got out and thanked him.

“Would you mind dropping me a post card–if you get by the Black Hills? I’ll be sort of worried. My name’s Arthur Anderson. And I live here.”

“Mine’s Martha Ann Dixon. I’ll send you a card. Thank you–and good-by!”

She started down the road, and after a little turned to look back. The car was still there at the turn-off. And the young man was waving his cap. Martha went on, a considerably sobered and thoughtful girl.

In the village she stopped at a little hot-dog stand to rest and eat lunch. From there a farmer and two small boys gave her a lift that took her thirty-five miles to another crossroad settlement, where she decided to call it a day. And upon being directed to a tourist home, she found pleasant accommodations for the night.

The twittering and fluttering of birds in the vines outside Martha’s window aroused her at five-thirty. She bounded up, eager and refreshed. Another day–the second! What would the day bring forth? How beautiful the rosy sunrise over the rolling eastern Nebraska hills! At breakfast she was informed that if she did not mind riding in a truck, she could accompany her host as far as the next town.

“Oh, fine! That will be fun,” she exclaimed.

But that anticipated lift turned out to be all too short, and therefore not such fun after all. Halfway up a steep hill the engine stalled. The driver had to begin tinkering with obstinate machinery. Martha got out and began to walk.

The truck never caught up with her. After several cars had passed she accepted a ride with a merry family of five, who cheerfully made room for her, and welcomed her without curiosity. Martha liked this plain man and his fat spouse, and the dirty, bright-eyed children. It was noon when their village was reached. Martha had lunch and once more went on her way.

It occurred to her that she was now traveling through the Nebraska plains and that towns would be few and far between. Farms seemed to spread out. Anyway, there were fewer farmhouses. Cars passed her. She had learned by now that her solitary, unusual, little figure would not escape notice on the road. The afternoon sun grew hot. She rested, and hoped an acceptable lift soon would happen along. Then she started hiking again. She walked on and on, and in two hours’ time not a single automobile passed in her direction. Then came a string of cars, so close together that Martha could not get a good look at their occupants. She found, presently, that when she was tired and impatient, as she grew to be by late afternoon, she was likely to forget the good advice she had been given, and to accept any ride that was offered. She began to wonder–was she being erratic, irresponsible? Was this unheard-of adventure for a girl of nineteen who looked fifteen a proof of an unstable character? She defended herself stoutly, but somehow the buoyant spirit of the morning had vanished.

A lengthy hill invited a long rest. When she resumed her hike and had surmounted the grade the sun was setting red and glorious in the west. The rolling plains began to disappear in the purple haze of the horizon. In this scene, still dominated by the habitations of man, Martha imagined she saw a semblance to the western range. And this thought so thrilled and delighted her that she forgot her hot tired feet and aching limbs, and trudged on, almost her old self once more.

From the height she looked down upon lonelier country, which the road bisected to the next town, now visible in the clear evening light some few miles ahead. Martha thought that she could still make it before it became pitch dark. Downhill was easy and the air had cooled. At the foot of the incline the road turned abruptly. A brook gleamed under a dark patch of woods that shaded the road and there was a bridge to cross. Below the bridge Martha saw a little fire and two rough-looking men, sitting beside it. Could they be tramps?

Martha realized that she had to pass them. With bated breath she quickened her steps. Twilight was stealing out of the woods. She might get by without attracting notice. But when one of the men called out, her heart leaped wildly.

“Bill, stop thet boy, an’ see what he’s got in thet bag.”

Then Martha, who had been watching the two men beside the fire, was astounded to be confronted by a dark form that appeared to rise out of the earth. It belonged to a third man who evidently had been invisible against the background of the bridge.

“Hyar, sonny, what you totin’ there?” he queried, in brisk good humor.

Martha Ann, suddenly rendered weak by terror, made an ineffectual attempt to elude the man. He caught her with so violent a jerk that she would have fallen but for his hold. She dropped the small parcel she carried in her hand.

“Oh!–let me–go!” she cried out, fearfully.

The man swung her around to the westering light and peered closely down upon her. Martha got an impression of a hard, coarse face and a pair of wolfish eyes. She tried to wrench free from the iron grip which was hurting her wrist.

“Hey, fellars, it ain’t no boy. It’s a girl. Purtier’n a pitcher,” called the man to his associates.

“Haw! Haw! Wal, Bill, you know your weakness. But throw us the baggage,” came the hoarse reply.

“Come hyar, little one, an’ set–”

Martha struggled with what little strength she had left. A kind of paralysis had taken possession of her. It was a new and devastating numbness of will and flesh. All in a flash peril had leaped out of the dusk, and wit, nerve, energy deserted her to be replaced by a horrible sickening faintness.

“Hey, Bill, hyar’s a car!” hurriedly called one of the men beside the fire.

Martha Ann heard the puff and then the vibration of a car. Its presence revived her, and she jerked herself free, calling loudly at the same time.

“Let that boy go,” came a commanding voice from the car. Then the occupant stepped out to loom big and wide of shoulder before them. “What’s the idea?”

“Aw, nuthin’. Jest havin’ fun with the kid,” returned the tramp surlily, as he backed away.

“Oh–n-no sir,” quavered Martha Ann. “He meant to rob–me–and I don’t know what–when he saw I was a girl!”

“Girl!” The newcomer moved like a swift shadow. Martha heard a sudden crash. The tramp appeared lifted as by a catapult to go tottering against the bank with a sickening impact.

“Beat it, you hoboes, or I’ll come down there and mess you up,” called Martha’s rescuer. Then he turned to her.

“Are you really a girl?”

“Yes, sir…And sometimes I wish–I wasn’t,” replied Martha, picking up her parcel.

“Of course, you live along here somewhere?”

“No-o. My home’s–far away.”

“How’d you come to be caught on this lonely road?” he queried.

“I’m hitchhiking out West.”

“Hitchhiking?” he exclaimed.

“It’s a–a kind of sport. Sometimes I accept lifts–when I can–and hike between.”

“Sport! I admire your nerve,” he laughed. His voice had a pleasant depth, with an intonation that told Martha that he was quite different from the others she had met on this jaunt. She looked up. There was still light enough for her to discern the features of a young man in his early twenties. His eyes were intently on her face. They appeared to have a mocking look. Martha saw that again she was under suspicion, and the realization almost canceled the sweet warm sensation of gratitude and relief flooding over her.

“Thank you for saving me from I–I don’t know what,” she murmured, shyly. The strain of her struggle with the tramp, and the manner in which the stranger had accepted her explanation, or perhaps both together, had reacted strangely upon Martha Ann Dixon.

“Girls of today pay a price for the kick they try to get out of everything,” he replied, enigmatically. “You look faint. Get in. I’ll take you as far as Norfolk.”

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