THE CLAIM JUMPERS
STEWART EDWARD WHITE
I.—JIM LESLIE WRITES A LETTER II.—THE STORY-BOOK WEST III.—BENNINGTON HUNTS FOR GOLD AND FINDS A KISS IV.—THE SUN FAIRY V.—THE SPIRIT MOUNTAIN VI.—BENNINGTON AS A MAN OF BUSINESS VII.—THE MEETING AT THE ROCK VIII.—AN ADVENTURE IN THE NIGHT IX.—THE HEAVENS OPENED X.—THE WORLD MADE YOUNG XI.—AND HE DID EAT XII.—OLD MIZZOU RESIGNS XIII.—THE SPIRES OF STONE XIV.—THE PIONEER'S PICNIC XV.—THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN XVI.—A NOON DINNER XVII.—NOBLESSE OBLIGE XVIII.—THE CLAIM JUMPERS XIX.—BENNINGTON PROVES GAME XX.—MASKS OFF XXI.—THE LAND OF VISIONS XXII.—FLOWER O' THE WORLD
JIM LESLIE WRITES A LETTER
In a fifth-story sitting room of a New York boarding house four youths were holding a discussion. The sitting room was large and square, and in the wildest disorder, which was, however, sublimated into a certain system by an illuminated device to the effect that one should "Have a Place for Everything, and then there'll be one Place you won't have to look." Easels and artists' materials thrust back to the wall sufficiently advertised the art student, and perhaps explained the untidiness.
Two of the occupants of the room, curled up on elevated window ledges, were emitting clouds of tobacco smoke and nursing their knees; the other two, naked to the waist, sat on a couple of ordinary bedroom mattresses deposited carefully in the vacant centre of the apartment. They were eager, alert-looking young men, well-muscled, curly of hair, and possessing in common an unabashed carriage of the head which, more plainly than any mere facial resemblance, proved them brothers. They, too, were nursing their knees.
"He must be an unadorned ass," remarked one of the occupants of the window seats, in answer to some previous statement.
"He is not," categorically denied a youth of the mattresses. "My dear Hench, you make no distinctions. I've been talking about the boy's people and his bringing up and the way he acts, whereupon you fly off on a tangent and coolly conclude things about the boy himself. It is not only unkind, but stupid."
Hench laughed. "You amuse me, Jeems," said he; "elucidate."
Jeems let go his knees. The upper part of his body, thus deprived of support, fell backward on the mattress. He then clasped his hands behind his head, and stared at the ceiling.
"Listen, ye multitude," he began; "I'm an artist. So are you. I'm also a philosopher. You are not. Therefore, I'll deign to instruct you. Ben de Laney has a father and a mother. The father is pompous, conceited, and a bore. The mother is pompous, conceited, and a bore. The father uses language of whose absolutely vapid correctness Addison would have been proud. So does the mother, unless she forgets, in which case the old man calls her down hard. They, are rich and of a good social position. The latter worries them, because they have to keep up its dignity."
"They succeed," interrupted the other brother fervently, "they succeed. I dined there once. After that I went around to the waxworks to get cheered up a bit."
"Quite so, Bertie," replied the philosopher; "but you interrupted me just before I got to my point. The poor old creatures had been married many years before Bennie came to cheer them up. Naturally, Bennie has been the whole thing ever since. He is allowed a few privileges, but always under the best auspices. The rest of the time he stays at home, is told what or what not a gentleman should do, and is instructed in the genealogy of the de Laneys."
"The mother is always impressing him with the fact that he is a de Laney on both sides," interpolated Bert.
"Important, if true, as the newspapers say," remarked the other young man on the window ledge. "What constitutes a de Laney?"
"Hereditary lack of humour, Beck, my boy. Well, the result is that poor Bennie is a sort of——" the speaker hesitated for his word.
"'Willy boy,'" suggested Beck, mildly.
"Something of the sort, but not exactly. A 'willy boy' never has ideas. Bennie has."
"Well, for one thing, he wants to get away. He doesn't seem quite content with his job of idle aristocrat. I believe he's been pestering the old man to send him West. Old man doesn't approve."
"'That the fine bloom of culture will become rubbed off in the contact with rude, rough men, seems to me inevitable,'" mimicked Bert in pedantic tones, "'unless a firm sense of personal dignity and an equally firm sense of our obligations to more refined though absent friends hedges us about with adequate safeguards.'"
The four laughed. "That's his style, sure enough," Jim agreed.
"What does he want to do West?" asked Hench.
"He doesn't know. Write a book, I believe, or something of that sort. But he isn't an ass. He has a lot of good stuff in him, only it will never get a chance, fixed the way he is now."
A silence fell, which was broken at last by Bert.
"Come, Jeems," he suggested; "here we've taken up Hench's valuable idea, but are no farther with it."
"True," said Jeems.
He rolled over on his hands and knees. Bert took up a similar position by his side.
"Go!" shouted Hench from the window ledge.
At the word, the two on the mattress turned and grappled each other fiercely, half rising to their feet in the strenuousness of endeavour. Jeems tried frantically for a half-Nelson. While preventing it the wily Bert awaited his chance for a hammer-lock. In the moment of indecision as to which would succeed in his charitable design, a knock on the door put an end to hostilities. The gladiators sat upright and panted.
A young man stepped bashfully into the room and closed the door behind him.
The newcomer was a clean-cut young fellow, of perhaps twenty-two years of age, with regular features, brown eyes, straight hair, and sensitive lips. He was exceedingly well-dressed. A moment's pause followed his appearance. Then:
"Why, it's our old friend, the kid!" cried Jeems.
"Don't let me interrupt," begged the youth diffidently.
"No interruption. End of round one," panted Jeems. "Glad you came. Bertie, here, was twisting my delicate clavicle most cruelly. Know Hench and Beck there?"
De Laney bowed to the young men in the window, who removed their pipes from their mouths and grinned amiably.
"This, gentlemen," explained Jeems, without changing his position, "is Mr. Bennie de Laney on both sides. It is extremely fortunate for Mr. de Laney that he is a de Laney on both sides, for otherwise he would be lop-sided."
"You will find a seat, Mr. de Laney, in the adjoining bedroom," said the first, with great politeness; "and if you don't care to go in there, you will stand yourself in the corner by that easel until the conclusion of this little discussion between Jeems and myself.—Jeems, will you kindly state the merits of the discussion to the gentleman? I'm out of breath."
Jeems kindly would.
"Bert and I have, for the last few weeks, been obeying the parting commands of our dear mother. 'Boys,' said she, with tears in her eyes, 'Boys, always take care of one another.' So each evening I have tried to tuck Bertie in his little bed, and Bertie, with equal enthusiasm, has attempted to tuck me in. It has been hard on pyjamas, bed springs, and the temper of the Lady with the Piano who resides in the apartments immediately beneath; so, at the wise suggestion of our friends in the windows"—he waved a graceful hand toward them, and they gravely bowed acknowledgment—"we are now engaged in deciding the matter Graeco-Roman. The winner 'tucks.' Come on, Bertie."
The two again took position side by side, on their hands and knees, while Mr. Hench explained to de Laney that this method of beginning the bout was necessary, because the limited area of the mat precluded flying falls. At a signal from Mr. Beck, they turned and grappled, Jeems, by the grace of Providence, on top. In the course of the combat it often happened that the two mattresses would slide apart. The contestants, suspending their struggles, would then try to kick them together again without releasing the advantage of their holds. The noise was beautiful. To de Laney, strong in maternal admonitions as to proper deportment, it was all new and stirring, and quite without precedent. He applauded excitedly, and made as much racket as the rest.
A sudden and vigorous knock for the second time put an end to hostilities. The wrestlers again sat bolt upright on the mattresses, and listened.
"Gentlemen," cried an irritated German voice, "there is a lady schleeping on the next floor!"
"Karl, Karl!" called one of the irrepressibles, "can I never teach you to be accurate! No lady could possibly be sleeping anywhere in the building."
He arose from the mattress and shook himself.
"Jeems," he continued sadly, "the world is against true virtue. Our dear mother's wishes can not be respected."
De Laney came out of his corner.
"Fellows," he cried with enthusiasm, "I want you to come up and stay all night with me some time, so mother can see that gentlemen can make a noise!"
Bertie sat down suddenly and shrieked. Jeems rolled over and over, clutching small feathers from the mattress in the agony of his delight, while the clothed youths contented themselves with amused but gurgling chuckles.
"Bennie, my boy," gasped Jeems, at last, "you'll be the death of me! O Lord! O Lord! You unfortunate infant! You shall come here and have a drum to pound; yes, you shall." He tottered weakly to his feet. "Come, Bertie, let us go get dressed."
The two disappeared into the bedroom, leaving de Laney uncomfortably alone with the occupants of the window ledge.
The young fellow walked awkwardly across the room and sat down on a partly empty chair, not because he preferred sitting to standing, but in order to give himself time to recover from his embarrassment.
The sort of chaffing to which he had just been subjected was direct and brutal; it touched all his tender spots—the very spots wherein he realized the intensest soreness of his deficiencies, and about which, therefore, he was the most sensitive—yet, somehow, he liked it. This was because the Leslie boys meant to him everything free and young that he had missed in the precise atmosphere of his own home, and so he admired them and stood in delightful inferiority to them in spite of his wealth and position. He would have given anything he owned to have felt himself one of their sort; but, failing that, the next best thing was to possess their intimacy. Of this intimacy chaffing was a gauge. Bennington Clarence de Laney always glowed at heart when they rubbed his fur the wrong way, for it showed that they felt they knew him well enough to do so. And in this there was something just a little pathetic.
Bennington held to the society standpoint with men, so he thought he must keep up a conversation. He did so. It was laboured. Bennington thought of things to say about Art, the Theatre, and Books. Hench and Beck looked at each other from time to time.
Finally the door opened, and, to the relief of all, two sweatered and white-ducked individuals appeared.
"And now, Jeems, we'll smoke the pipe of peace," suggested Bert, diving for the mantel and the pipe rack.
"Correct, my boy," responded Jeems, doing likewise. They lit up, and turned with simultaneous interest to their latest caller.
"And how is the proud plutocrat?" inquired Bert; "and how did he contrive to get leave to visit us rude and vulgar persons?"
The Leslies had called at the de Laneys', and, as Bert said, had dined there once. They recognised their status, and rejoiced therein.
"He is calling on the minister," explained Jeems for him. "Bennington, my son, you'll get caught at that some day, as sure as shooting. If your mamma ever found out that, instead of talking society-religion to old Garnett, you were revelling in this awful dissipation, you'd have to go abroad again."
"What did you call him?" inquired Bert.
"Him—Bennie—what was that full name?"
"Great Scott! and here I've been thinking all the time he was plain Benjamin! Tell us about it, my boy. What is it? It sounds like a battle of the Revolution. Is it a battle of the Revolution? Just to think that all this time we have been entertaining unawares a real live battle!"
De Laney grinned, half-embarrassed as usual.
"It's a family name," said he. "It's the name of an ancestor."
He never knew whether or not these vivacious youths really desired the varied information they demanded.
The Leslies looked upon him with awe.
"You don't mean to tell me," said Bertie, "that you are a Bennington! Well, well! This is a small world! We will celebrate the discovery." He walked to the door and touched a bell five times. "Beautiful system," he explained. "In a moment Karl will appear with five beers. This arrangement is possible because never, in any circumstances, do we ring for anything but beer."
The beer came. Two steins, two glasses, and a carefully scrubbed shaving mug were pressed into service. After the excitement of finding all these things had died, and the five men were grouped about the place in ungraceful but comfortable attitudes, Bennington bid for the sympathy he had sought in this visit.
"Fellows," said he, "I've something to tell you."
"Let her flicker," said Jim.
"I'm going away next week. It's all settled."
"Bar Harbour, Trouville, Paris, or Berlin?"
"None of them. I'm going West."
"Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, or Monterey?"
"None of them. I'm going to the real West. I'm going to a mining camp."
The Leslies straightened their backbones.
"Don't spring things on us that way," reproved Bertie severely; "you'll give us heart disease. Now repeat softly."
"I am going to a mining camp," obeyed Bennington, a little shamefacedly.
This time the Leslies sprang quite to their feet.
"By the Great Horn Spoon, man!" cried Jim. "Alone! No chaperon! Good Lord!"
"Yes," said Bennington, "I've always wanted to go West. I want to write, and I'm sure, in that great, free country, I'll get a chance for development. I had to work hard to induce father and mother to consent, but it's done now, and I leave next week. Father procured me a position out there in one of the camps. I'm to be local treasurer, or something like that; I'm not quite sure, you see, for I haven't talked with Bishop yet. I go to his office for directions to-morrow."
At the mention of Bishop the Leslies glanced at each other behind the young man's back.
"Bishop?" repeated Jim. "Where's your job located?"
"In the Black Hills of South Dakota, somewhere near a little place called Spanish Gulch."
This time the Leslies winked at each other.
"It's a nice country," commented Bert vaguely; "I've been there."
"Oh, have you?" cried the young man. "What's it like?"
"Hills, pines, log houses, good hunting—oh, it's Western enough."
A clock struck in a church tower outside. In spite of himself, Bennington started.
"Better run along home," laughed Jim; "your mamma will be angry."
To prove that this consideration carried no weight, Bennington stayed ten minutes longer. Then he descended the five flights of stairs deliberately enough, but once out of earshot of his friends, he ran several blocks. Before going into the house he took off his shoes. In spite of the precaution, his mother called to him as he passed her room. It was half past ten.
Beck and Hench kicked de Laney's chair aside, and drew up more comfortably before the fire; but James would have none of it. He seemed to be excited.
"No," he vetoed decidedly. "You fellows have got to get out! I've got something to do, and I can't be bothered."
The visitors grumbled. "There's true hospitality for you," objected they; "turn your best friends out into the cold world! I like that!"
"Sorry, boys," insisted James, unmoved. "Got an inspiration. Get out! Vamoose!"
They went, grumbling loudly down the length of the stairs, to the disgust of the Lady with the Piano on the floor below.
"What're you up to, anyway, Jimmie?" inquired the brother with some curiosity.
James had swept a space clear on the table, and was arranging some stationery.
"Don't you care," he replied; "you just sit down and read your little Omar for a while."
He plunged into the labours of composition, and Bert sat smoking meditatively. After some moments the writer passed a letter over to the smoker.
"Think it'll do?" he inquired.
Bert read the letter through carefully.
"Jeems," said he, after due deliberation, "Jeems, you're a blooming genius."
James stamped the envelope.
"I'll mail it for you when I go out in the morning," Bert suggested.
"Not on your daily bread, sonny. It is posted now by my own hand. We won't take any chances on this layout, and that I can tell you."
He tramped down four flights and to the corner, although it was midnight and bitter cold. Then, with a seraphic grin on his countenance, he went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.
The envelope was addressed to a Mr. James Fay, Spanish Gulch, South Dakota.
THE STORY-BOOK WEST
When a man is twenty-one, and has had no experience, and graduates from a small college where he roomed alone in splendour, and possesses a gift of words and a certain delight in reading, and is thrown into new and, to him, romantic surroundings—when all these stars of chance cross their orbits, he begins to write a novel. The novel never has anything to do with the aforesaid new and romantic surroundings; neither has it the faintest connection with anything the author has ever seen. That would limit his imagination.
Once he was well settled in his new home, and the first excitement of novel impressions had worn off, Bennington de Laney began to write regularly three hours a day. He did his scribbling with a fountain pen, on typewriter paper, and left a broad right-hand margin, just as he had seen Brooks do. In it he experienced, above all, a delightful feeling of power. He enjoyed to the full his ability to swing gorgeous involved sentences, phrase after phrase, down the long arc of rhetoric, without a pause, without a quiver, until they rushed unhasting up the other slope to end in beautiful words, polysyllabic, but with just the right number of syllables. Interspersed were short sentences. He counted the words in one or the other of these two sorts, carefully noting the relations they bore to each other. On occasions he despaired because they did not bear the right relations. And he also dragged out, squirming, the Anglo-Saxon and Latin derivations, and set them up in a row that he might observe their respective numbers. He was uneasily conscious that he ought, in the dread of college anathema, to use the former, but he loved the many-syllabled crash or modulated music of the latter. Also, there was the question of getting variety into his paragraph lengths. It was all excellent practice.
And yet this technique, absorbing as it was, counted as nothing in comparison with the subject-matter.
The method was talent; the subject-matter was Genius; and Genius had evolved an Idea which no one had ever thought of before—something brand new under the sun. It goes without saying that the Idea symbolized a great Truth. One department, the more impersonal, of Bennington's critical faculty, assured him that the Idea would take rank with the Ideas of Plato and Emerson. Emerson, Bennington worshipped. Plato he also worshipped—because Emerson told him to. He had never read Plato himself. The other, the more personal and modest, however, had perforce to doubt this, not because it doubted the Idea, but because Bennington was not naturally conceited.
To settle the discrepancy he began to write. He laid the scene in Arabia and decided to call it Aliris: A Romance of all Time, because he liked the smooth, easy flow of the syllables.
The consciousness that he could do all this sugar-coated his Wild Western experiences, which otherwise might have been a little disagreeable. He could comfort himself with the reflection that he was superior, if ridiculous.
In spots, he was certainly the latter. The locality into which his destinies had led him lay in the tumultuous centre of the Hills, about thirty miles from Custer and ten from Hill City. Spanish Gulch was three miles down the draw. The Holy Smoke mine, to which Bennington was accredited, he found to consist of a hole in the ground, of unsounded depth, two log structures, and a chicken coop. The log structures resembled those he had read about. In one of them lived Arthur and his wife. The wife did the cooking. Arthur did nothing at all but sit in the shade and smoke a pipe, and this in spite of the fact that he did not look like a loafer. He had no official connection with the place, except that of husband to Mrs. Arthur. The other member of the community was Davidson, alias Old Mizzou.
The latter was cordial and voluble. As he was blessed with a long white beard of the patriarchal type, he inspired confidence. He used exclusively the present tense and chewed tobacco. He also played interminable cribbage. Likewise he talked. The latter was his strong point. Bennington found that within two days of his arrival he knew all about the company's business without having proved the necessity of stirring foot on his own behalf. The claims were not worth much, according to Old Mizzou. The company had been cheated. They would find it out some day. None of the ore assayed very high. For his part he did not see why they even did assessment work. Bennington was to look after the latter? All in good time. You know you had until the end of the year to do it. What else was there to do? Nothing much; The present holders had come into the property on a foreclosed mortgage, and weren't doing anything to develop it yet. Did Bennington know of their plans? No? Well, it looked as though the two of them were to have a pretty easy time of it, didn't it?
Old Mizzou tried, by adroit questioning, to find out just why de Laney had been sent West. There was, in reality, not enough to keep one man busy, and surely Old Mizzou considered himself quite competent to attend to that. Finally, he concluded that it must be to watch him—Old Mizzou. Acting on that supposition, he tried a new tack.
For two delicious hours he showed up, to his own satisfaction, Bennington's ignorance of mining. That was an easy enough task. Bennington did not even know what country-rock was. All he succeeded in eliciting confirmed him in the impression that de Laney was sent to spy on him. But why de Laney? Old Mizzou wagged his gray beard. And why spy on him? What could the company want to know? He gave it up. One thing alone was clear: this young man's understanding of his duties was very simple. Bennington imagined he was expected to see certain assessment work done (whatever that was), and was to find out what he could about the value of the property.
As a matter of sedulously concealed truth, he was really expected to do nothing at all. The place had been made for him through Mr. de Laney's influence, because he wanted to go West.
"Now, my boy," Bishop, the mining capitalist, had said, when Bennington had visited him in his New York office, "do you know anything about mining?"
"No, sir," Bennington replied.
"Well, that doesn't matter much. We don't expect to do anything in the way of development. The case, briefly, is this: We've bought this busted proposition of the people who were handling it, and have assumed their debt. They didn't run it right. They had a sort of a wildcat individual in charge of the thing, and he got contracts for sinking shafts with all the turtlebacks out there, and then didn't pay for them. Now, what we want you to do is this: First of all, you're to take charge financially at that end of the line. That means paying the local debts as we send you the money, and looking after whatever expenditures may become necessary. Then you'll have to attend to the assessment work. Do you know what assessment work is?"
"Well, in order to hold the various claims legally, the owners have to do one hundred dollars' worth of work a year on each claim. If the work isn't done, the claims can be 'jumped.' You'll have to hire the men, buy the supplies, and see that the full amount is done. We have a man out there named Davidson. You can rely on him, and he'll help you out in all practical matters. He's a good enough practical miner, but he's useless in bossing a job or handling money. Between you, you ought to get along."
"I'll try, anyway."
"That's right. Then, another thing. You can put in your spare time investigating what the thing is worth. I don't expect much from you in that respect, for you haven't had enough experience; but do the best you can. It'll be good practice, anyway. Hunt up Davidson; go over all the claims; find out how the lead runs, and how it holds out; get samples and ship them to me; investigate everything you can, and don't be afraid to write when you're stuck."
In other words, Bennington was to hold the ends of the reins while some one else drove. But he did not know that. He felt his responsibility.
As to the assessment work, Old Mizzou had already assured him there was no immediate hurry; men were cheaper in the fall. As to investigating, he started in on that at once. He and Davidson climbed down shafts, and broke off ore, and worked the gold pan. It was fun.
In the morning Bennington decided to work from seven until ten on Aliris. Then for three hours he and Old Mizzou prospected. In the afternoon the young man took a vacation and hunted Wild Western adventures.
It may as well be remarked here that Bennington knew all about the West before he left home. Until this excursion he had never even crossed the Alleghanies, but he thought he appreciated the conditions thoroughly. This was because he was young. He could close his eyes and see the cowboys scouring the plain. As a parenthesis it should be noted that cowboys always scour the plain, just as sailors always scan the horizon. He knew how the cowboys looked, because he had seen Buffalo Bill's show; and he knew how they talked, because he had read accurate authors of the school of Bret Harte. He could even imagine the romantic mountain maidens.
With his preconceived notions the country, in most particulars, tallied interestingly. At first Bennington frequented the little town down the draw. It answered fairly well to the story-book descriptions, but proved a bit lively for him. The first day they lent him a horse. The horse looked sleepy. It took him twenty minutes to get on the animal and twenty seconds to fall off. There was an audience. They made him purchase strange drinks at outlandish prices. After that they shot holes all around his feet to induce him to dance. He had inherited an obstinate streak from some of his forebears, and declined when it went that far. They then did other things to him which were not pleasant. Most of these pranks seemed to have been instigated by a laughing, curly-haired young man named Fay. Fay had clear blue eyes, which seemed always to mock you. He could think up more diabolical schemes in ten minutes than the rest of the men in as many hours. Bennington came shortly to hate this man Fay. His attentions had so much of the gratuitous! For a number of days, even after the enjoyment of novelty had worn off, the Easterner returned bravely to Spanish Gulch every afternoon for the mail. It was a matter of pride with him. He did not like to be bluffed out. But Fay was always there.
"Tender foot!" the latter would shriek joyously, and bear down on the shrinking de Laney.
That would bring out the loafers. It all had to happen over again.
Bennington hoped that this performance would cease in time. It never did.
By a mental process, unnecessary to trace here, he modified his first views, and permitted Old Mizzou to get the mail. Spanish Gulch saw him no more.
After all, it was quite as good Western experience to wander in the hills. He did not regret the other. In fact, as he cast in review his research in Wild West literature, he perceived that the incidents of his town visits were the proper thing. He would not have had them different—to look back on. They were inspiring—to write home about. He recognised all the types—the miner, the gambler, the saloon-keeper, the bad man, the cowboy, the prospector—just as though they had stepped living from the pages of his classics. They had the true slouch; they used the picturesque language. The log cabins squared with his ideas. The broncos even exceeded them.
But now he had seen it all. There is no sense in draining an agreeable cup to satiety. He was quite content to enjoy his rambles in the hills, like the healthy youngster he was. But had he seen it all? On reflection, he acknowledged he could not make this statement to himself with a full consciousness of sincerity. One thing was lacking from the preconceived picture his imagination had drawn. There had been no Mountain Flowers. By that he meant girls.
Every one knows what a Western girl is. She is a beautiful creature, always, with clear, tanned skin, bright eyes, and curly hair. She wears a Tam o' Shanter. She rides a horse. Also, she talks deliciously, in a silver voice, about "old pards." Altogether a charming vision—in books.
This vision Bennington had not yet realized. The rest of the West came up to specifications, but this one essential failed. In Spanish Gulch he had, to be sure, encountered a number of girls. But they were red-handed, big-boned, freckled-faced, rough-skinned, and there wasn't a Tam o' Shanter in the lot. Plainly servants, Bennington thought. The Mountain Flower must have gone on a visit. Come to think of it, there never was more than one Mountain Flower to a town.
BENNINGTON HUNTS FOR GOLD AND FINDS A KISS
One day Old Mizzou brought him a blue-print map.
"This y'ar map," said he, spreading it out under his stubby fingers, "shows the deestrict. I gets it of Fay, so you gains an idee of th' lay of the land a whole lot. Them claims marked with a crost belongs to th' Company. You kin take her and explore."
This struck Bennington as an excellent idea. He sat down at the table and counted the crosses. There were fourteen of them. The different lodes were laid off in mathematically exact rectangles, running in many directions. A few joined one another, but most lay isolated. Their relative positions were a trifle confusing at first, but, after a little earnest study, Bennington thought he understood them. He could start with the Holy Smoke, just outside the door. The John Logan lay beyond, at an obtuse angle. Then a jump of a hundred yards or so to the southwest would bring him to the Crazy Horse. This he resolved to locate, for it was said to be on the same "lode" as a big strike some one had recently made. He picked up his rifle and set out.
Now, a blue-print map maker has undoubtedly accurate ideas as to points of the compass, and faultless proficiency in depicting bird's-eye views, but he neglects entirely the putting in of various ups and down, slants and windings of the country, which apparently twist the north pole around to the east-south-east. You start due west on a bee line, according to directions; after about ten feet you scramble over a fallen tree, skirt a boulder, dip into a ravine, and climb a ledge. Your starting point is out of sight behind you; your destination is, Heaven knows where, in front. By the time you have walked six thousand actual feet, which is as near as you can guess to fifteen hundred theoretical level ones, your little blazed stake in a pile of stones is likely to be almost anywhere within a liberal quarter of a mile. Then it is guess-work. If the hill is pretty thickly staked out, the chase becomes exciting. In the middle distance you see a post. You clamber eagerly to it, only to find that it marks your neighbour's claim. You have lost your standpoint of a moment ago, and must start afresh. In an hour's time you have discovered every stake on the hill but the one you want. In two hours' time you are staggering homeward a gibbering idiot. Then you are brought back to profane sanity by falling at full length over the very object of your search.
Bennington was treated to full measure of this experience. He found the John Logan lode without much difficulty, and followed its length with less, for the simple reason that its course lay over the round brow of a hill bare of trees. He also discovered the "Northeast Corner of the Crazy Horse Lode" plainly marked on the white surface of a pine stake braced upright in a pile of rocks. Thence he confidently paced south, and found nothing. Next trip he came across pencilled directions concerning the "Miner's Dream Lode." The time after he ran against the "Golden Ball" and the "Golden Chain Lodes." Bennington reflected; his mind was becoming a little heated.
"It's because I went around those ledges and boulders," he said to himself; "I got off the straight line. This time I'll take the straight line and keep it."
So he addressed himself to the surmounting of obstructions. Work of that sort is not easy. At one point he lost his hold on a broad, steep rock, and slid ungracefully to the foot of it, his elbows digging frantically into the moss, and his legs straddled apart. As he struck bottom, he imagined he heard a most delicious little laugh. So real was the illusion that he gripped two handfuls of moss and looked about sharply, but of course saw nothing. The laugh was repeated.
He looked again, and so became aware of a Vision in pink, standing just in front of a big pine above him on the hill and surveying him with mischievous eyes.
Surprise froze him, his legs straddled, his hat on one side, his mouth open. The Vision began to pick its way down the hill, eyeing him the while.
That dancing scrutiny seemed to mesmerize him. He was enchanted to perfect stillness, but he was graciously permitted to take in the particulars of the girl's appearance. She was dainty. Every posture of her slight figure was of an airy grace, as light and delicate as that of a rose tendril swaying in the wind. Even when she tripped over a loose rock, she caught her balance again with a pretty little uplift of the hand. As she approached, slowly, and evidently not unwilling to allow her charms full time in which to work, Bennington could see that her face was delicately made; but as to the details he could not judge clearly because of her mischievous eyes. They were large and wide and clear, and of a most peculiar colour—a purple-violet, of the shade one sometimes finds in flowers, but only in the flowers of a deep and shady wood. In this wonderful colour—which seemed to borrow the richness of its hue rather from its depth than from any pigment of its own, just as beyond soundings the ocean changes from green to blue—an hundred moods seem to rise slowly from within, to swim visible, even though the mere expression of her face gave no sign of them. For instance, at the present moment her features were composed to the utmost gravity. Yet in her eyes bubbled gaiety and fun, as successive up-swellings of a spring; or, rather, as the riffles of sunlight and wind, or the pictured flight of birds across a pool whose surface alone is stirred.
Bennington realized suddenly, with overwhelming fervency, that he preferred to slide in solitude.
The Vision in the starched pink gingham now poised above him like a humming-bird over a flower. From behind her back she withdrew one hand. In the hand was the missing claim stake.
"Is this what you are looking for?" she inquired demurely.
The mesmeric spell broke, and Bennington was permitted to babble incoherencies.
She stamped her foot.
"Is this what you're looking for?" she persisted.
Bennington's chaos had not yet crystallized to relevancy.
"Wh-where did you get it?" he stammered again.
"IS THIS WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?" she demanded in very large capitals.
The young man regained control of his faculties with an effort.
"Yes, it is!" he rejoined sharply; and then, with the instinct that bids us appreciate the extent of our relief by passing an annoyance along, "Don't you know it's a penal offence to disturb claim stakes?"
He had suddenly discovered that he preferred to find claim stakes on claims.
The Vision's eyes opened wider.
"It must be nice to know so much!" said she, in reverent admiration.
Bennington flushed. As a de Laney, the girls he had known had always taken him seriously. He disliked being made fun of.
"This is nonsense," he objected, with some impatience. "I must know where it came from."
In the background of his consciousness still whirled the moil of his wonder and bewilderment. He clung to the claim stake as a stable object.
The Vision looked straight at him without winking, and those wonderful eyes filled with tears. Yet underneath their mist seemed to sparkle little points of light, as wavelets through a vapour which veils the surface of the sea. Bennington became conscious-stricken because of the tears, and still he owned an uneasy suspicion that they were not real.
"I'm so sorry!" she said contritely, after a moment; "I thought I was helping you so much! I found that stake just streaking it over the top of the hill. It had got loose and was running away." The mist had cleared up very suddenly, and the light-tipped sparkles of fun were chasing each other rapidly, as though impelled by a lively breeze. "I thought you'd be ever so grateful, and, instead of that, you scold me! I don't believe I like you a bit!"
She looked him over reflectively, as though making up her mind.
Bennington laughed outright, and scrambled to his feet. "You are absolutely incorrigible!" he exclaimed, to cover his confusion at his change of face.
Her eyes fairly danced.
"Oh, what a lovely word!" she cried rapturously. "What does it mean? Something nice, or I'm sure you wouldn't have said it about me. Would you?" The eyes suddenly became grave. "Oh, please tell me!" she begged appealingly.
Bennington was thrown into confusion at this, for he did not know whether she was serious or not. He could do nothing but stammer and get red, and think what a ridiculous ass he was making of himself. He might have considered the help he was getting in that.
"Well, then, you needn't," she conceded, magnanimously, after a moment. "Only, you ought not to say things about girls that you don't dare tell them in plain language. If you will say nice things about me, you might as well say them so I can understand them; only, I do think it's a little early in our acquaintance."
This cast Bennington still more in perplexity. He had a pretty-well-defined notion that he was being ridiculed, but concerning this, just a last grain of doubt remained. She rattled on.
"Well!" said she impatiently, "why don't you say something? Why don't you take this stick? I don't want it. Men are so stupid!"
That last remark has been made many, many times, and yet it never fails of its effect, which is at once to invest the speaker with daintiness indescribable, and to thrust the man addressed into nether inferiority. Bennington fell to its charm. He took the stake.
"Where does it belong?" he asked.
She pointed silently to a pile of stones. He deposited the stake in its proper place, and returned to find her seated on the ground, plucking a handful of the leaves of a little erect herb that grew abundantly in the hollow. These she rubbed together and held to her face inside the sunbonnet.
"Who are you, anyway?" asked Bennington abruptly, as he returned.
"D' you ever see this before?" she inquired irrelevantly, looking up with her eyes as she leaned over the handful. "Good for colds. Makes your nose feel all funny and prickly."
She turned her hands over and began to drop the leaves one by one. Bennington caught himself watching her with fascinated interest in silence. He began to find this one of her most potent charms—the faculty of translating into a grace so exquisite as almost to realize the fabled poetry of motion, the least shrug of her shoulders, the smallest crook of her finger, the slightest toss of her small, well-balanced head. She looked up.
"Want to smell?" she inquired, and held out her hands with a pretty gesture.
Not knowing what else to do, Bennington stepped forward obediently and stooped over. The two little palms held a single crushed bit of the herb in their cup. They were soft, pink little palms, all wrinkled, like crumpled rose leaves. Bennington stooped to smell the herb; instead, he kissed the palms.
The girl sprang to her feet with one indignant motion and faced him. The eyes now flashed blue flame, and Bennington for the first time noticed what had escaped him before—that the forehead was broad and thoughtful, and that above it the hair, instead of being blonde and curly and sparkling with golden radiance, was of a peculiar wavy brown that seemed sometimes full of light and sometimes lustreless and black, according as it caught the direct rays of the sun or not. Then he appreciated his offence.
"Sir!" she exclaimed, and turned away with a haughty shoulder.
"And we've never been introduced!" she said, half to herself, but her face was now concealed, so that Bennington could not see she laughed. She marched stiffly down the hill. Bennington turned to follow her, although the action was entirely mechanical, and he had no definite idea in doing so.
"Don't you dare, sir!" she cried.
So he did not dare.
This vexed her for a moment. Then, having gone quite out of sight, she sank down and laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks.
"I didn't think he knew enough!" she said, with a final hysterical chuckle.
This first impression of the Mountain Flower, Bennington would have been willing to acknowledge, was quite complicated enough, but he was destined to further surprises.
When he returned to the Holy Smoke camp he found Old Mizzou in earnest conversation with a peculiar-looking stranger, whose hand he was promptly requested to shake.
The stranger was a tall, scraggly individual, dressed in the usual flannel shirt and blue jeans, the latter tucked into rusty cowhide boots. Bennington was interested in him because he was so phenomenally ugly. From the collar of his shirt projected a lean, sinewy neck, on which the too-abundant skin rolled and wrinkled in a dark red, wind-roughened manner particularly disagreeable to behold. The neck supported a small head. The face was wizened and tanned to a dark mahogany colour. It was ornamented with a grizzled goatee.
The man smoked a stub pipe. His remarks were emphasized by the gestures of a huge and gnarled pair of hands.
"Mr. Lawton is from Old Mizzou, too, afore he moved to Illinoy," commented Davidson. One became aware, from the loving tones in which he pronounced the two words, whence he derived his sobriquet.
Lawton expressed the opinion that Chillicothe, of that State, was the finest town on top of earth.
Bennington presumed it might be, and then opportunely bethought him of a bottle of Canadian Club, which, among other necessary articles, he had brought with him from New York. This he produced. The old Missourians brightened; Davidson went into the cabin after glasses and a corkscrew. He found the corkscrew all right, but apparently had some difficulty in regard to the glasses. They could hear him calling vociferously for Mrs. Arthur. Mrs. Arthur had gone to the spring for water. In a few moments Old Mizzou appeared in the doorway exceedingly red of face.
"Consarn them women folks!" he grumbled, depositing the tin cups on the porch. "They locks up an' conceals things most damnable. Ain't a tumbler in th' place."
"These yar is all right," assured Lawton consolingly, picking up one of the cups and examining the bottom of it with great care.
"I reckon they'll hold the likker, anyhow," agreed Davidson.
They passed the bottle politely to de Laney, and the latter helped himself. For his part, he was glad the tin cups had been necessary, for it enabled him to conceal the smallness of his dose. Lawton filled his own up to the brim; Davidson followed suit.
"Here's how!" observed the latter, and the two old turtlebacks drank the raw whisky down, near a half pint of it, as though it had been so much milk.
Bennington fairly gasped with astonishment. "Don't you ever take any water?" he asked.
They turned slowly. Old Mizzou looked him in the eye with glimmering reproach.
"Not, if th' whisky's good, sonny," said he impressively.
"Wall," commented Lawton, after a pause, "that is a good drink. Reckon I must be goin'."
"Stay t' grub!" urged Old Mizzou heartily.
"Folks waitin'. Remember!"
They looked at Bennington and chuckled a little, to that young man's discomfort.
"Lawton's a damn fine fella'," said Old Mizzou with emphasis. Bennington thought, with a shudder, of the loose-skinned, turkey-red neck, and was silent.
After supper Bennington and Old Mizzou played cribbage by the light of a kerosene lamp.
"While I was hunting claims this afternoon," said the Easterner suddenly, "I ran across a mighty pretty girl."
"Yas?" observed Old Mizzou with indifference. "What fer a gal was it?"
"She didn't look as if she belonged around here. She was a slender girl, very pretty, with a pink dress on."
"Ain't no female strangers yar-abouts. Blue eyes?"
"An' ha'r that sometimes looks black an' sometimes yaller-brown?"
"Yes, that's the one all right. Who is she?"
"Oh, that!" said Old Mizzou with slight interest, "that's Bill Lawton's girl. Live's down th' gulch. He's th' fella' that was yar afore grub," he explained.
For a full minute Bennington stared at the cards in his hand. The patriarch became impatient.
"Yore play, sonny," he suggested.
"I don't believe you know the one I mean," returned Bennington slowly. "She's a girl with a little mouth and a nose that is tipped up just a trifle——"
"Snub!" interrupted Old Mizzou, with some impatience. "Yas, I knows. Same critter. Only one like her in th' Hills. Sasshays all over th' scenery, an' don't do nothin' but sit on rocks."
"So she's the daughter of that man!" said Bennington, still more slowly.
"Wall, so Mis' Lawton sez," chuckled Mizzou.
That night Bennington lay awake for some time. He had discovered the Mountain Flower; the story-book West was complete at last. But he had offended his discovery. What was the etiquette in such a case? Back East he would have felt called upon to apologize for being rude. Then, at the thought of apologizing to a daughter of that turkey-necked old whisky-guzzler he had to laugh.
THE SUN FAIRY
The next afternoon, after the day's writing and prospecting were finished, Bennington resolved to go deer hunting. He had skipped thirteen chapters of his work to describe the heroine, Rhoda. She had wonderful eyes, and was, I believe, dressed in a garment whose colour was pink.
"Keep yore moccasins greased," Old Mizzou advised at parting; by which he meant that the young man was to step softly.
This he found to be difficult. His course lay along the top of the ridge where the obstructions were many. There were outcrops, boulders, ravines, broken twigs, old leaves, and dikes, all of which had to be surmounted or avoided. They were all aggravating, but the dikes possessed some intellectual interest which the others lacked.
A dike, be it understood, is a hole in the earth made visible. That is to say, in old days, when mountains were much loftier than they are now, various agencies brought it to pass that they split and cracked and yawned down to the innermost cores of their being in such hideous fashion that chasms and holes of great depth and perpendicularity were opened in them. Thereupon the interior fires were released, and these, vomiting up a vast supply of molten material, filled said chasms and holes to the very brim. The molten material cooled into fire-hardened rock. The rains descended and the snows melted. Under their erosive influence the original mountains were cut down somewhat, but the erstwhile molten material, being, as we have said, fire-hardened, wasted very little, or not at all, and, as a consequence, stands forth above its present surroundings in exact mould of the ancient cracks or holes.
Now, some dikes are long and narrow, others are short and wide, and still others are nearly round. All, however, are highest points, and, head and shoulders above the trees, look abroad over the land.
When Bennington came to one of these dikes he was forced to pick his way carefully in a detour around its base. Between times he found hobnails much inclined to click against unforeseen stones. The broken twig came to possess other than literary importance. After a little his nerves asserted themselves. Unconsciously he relaxed his attention and began to think.
The subject of his thoughts was the girl he had seen just twenty-four hours before. He caught himself remembering little things he had not consciously noticed at the time, as, for instance, the strange contrast between the mischief in her eyes and the austerity of her brow, or the queer little fashion she had of winking rapidly four or five times, and then opening her eyes wide and looking straight into the depths of his own. He considered it quite a coincidence that he had unconsciously returned to the spot on which they had met the day before—the rich Crazy Horse lode.
As though in answer to his recognition of this fact, her voice suddenly called to him from above.
"Hullo, little boy!" it cried.
He felt at once that he was pleased at the encounter.
"Hullo!" he answered; "where are you?"
He looked up, and then still up, until, at the flat top of the castellated dike that stood over him, he caught a gleam of pink. The contrast between it, the blue of the sky, and the dark green of the trees, was most beautiful and unusual. Nature rarely uses pink, except in sunsets and in flowers. Bennington thought pleasedly how every impression this girl made upon him was one of grace or beauty or bright colour. The gleam of pink disappeared, and a great pine cone, heavy with pitch, came buzzing through the air to fall at his feet.
"That's to show you where I am," came the clear voice. "You ought to feel honoured. I've only three cones left."
The dike before which Bennington had paused was one of the round variety. It rose perhaps twenty feet above the debris at its base, sheer, gray, its surface almost intact except for an insignificant number of frost fissures. From its base the hill fell rapidly, so that, even from his own inferior elevation, he was enabled to look over the tops of trees standing but a few rods away from him. He could see that the summit of this dike was probably nearly flat, and he surmised that, once up there, one would become master of a pretty enough little plateau on which to sit; but his careful circumvallation could discover no possible method of ascent. The walls afforded no chance for a squirrel's foothold even. He began to doubt whether he had guessed aright as to the girl's whereabouts, and began carefully to examine the tops of the trees. Discovering nothing in them, he cast another puzzled glance at the top of the dike. A pair of violet eyes was scrutinizing him gravely over the edge of it.
"How in the world did you get up there?" he cried.
"Flew," she explained, with great succinctness.
"Look out you don't fall," he warned hastily; her attitude was alarming.
"I am lying flat," said she, "and I can't fall."
"You haven't told me how you got up. I want to come up, too."
"How do you know I want you?"
"I have such a lot of things to say!" cried Bennington, rather at a loss for a valid reason, but feeling the necessity keenly.
"Well, sit down and say them. There's a big flat rock just behind you."
This did not suit him in the least. "I wish you'd let me up," he begged petulantly. "I can't say what I want from here."
"I can hear you quite well. You'll have to talk from there, or else keep still."
"That isn't fair!" persisted the young man, adopting a tone of argument. "You're a girl——"
"Stop there! You are wrong to start with. Did you think that a creature who could fly to the tops of the rocks was a mere girl? Not at all."
"What do you mean?" asked the easily bewildered Bennington.
"What I say. I'm not a girl."
"What are you then?"
"A sun fairy."
"A sun fairy?"
"Yes; a real live one. See that cloud over toward the sun? The nice downy one, I mean. That's my couch. I sleep on it all night. I've got it near the sun so that it will warm up, you see."
"I see," cried Bennington. He could recognise foolery—provided it were ticketed plainly enough. He sat down on the flat rock before indicated, and clasped his knee with his hands, prepared to enjoy more. "Is that your throne up there, Sun Fairy?" he asked. She had withdrawn her head from sight.
"It is," her voice came down to him in grave tones.
"It must be a very nice one."
"The nicest throne you ever saw."
"I never saw one, but I've often heard that thrones were unpleasant things."
"I am sitting, foolish mortal," said she, in tones of deep commiseration, "on a soft, thick cushion of moss—much more comfortable, I imagine, than hard, flat rocks. And the nice warm sun is shining on me—it must be rather chilly in the woods to-day. And there is a breeze blowing from the Big Horn—old rocks are always damp and stuffy in the shade. And I am looking away out over the Hills—I hope some people enjoy the sight of piles of quartzite."
"Cruel sun fairy!" cried Bennington. "Why do you tantalize me so with the delights from which you debar me? What have I done?"
There was a short silence.
"Can't you think of anything you've done?" asked the voice, insinuatingly.
Bennington's conscience-stricken memory stirred. It did not seem so ridiculous, under the direct charm of the fresh young voice that came down through the summer air from above, like a dove's note from a treetop, to apologize to Lawton's girl. The incongruity now was in forcing into this Arcadian incident anything savouring of conventionality at all. It had been so idyllic, this talk of the sun fairy and the cloud; so like a passage from an old book of legends, this dainty episode in the great, strong, Western breezes, under the great, strong, Western sky. Everything should be perfect, not to be blamed.
"Do sun fairies accept apologies?" he asked presently, in a subdued voice.
"This particular sun fairy is offered one by a man who is sorry."
"Is it a good big one?"
The head appeared over the edge of the rock, inspected him gravely for a moment, and was withdrawn.
"Then it is accepted," said the voice.
"Thank you!" he replied sincerely. "And now are you going to let down your rope ladder, or whatever it is? I really want to talk to you."
"You are so persistent!" cried the petulant voice, "and so foolish! It is like a man to spoil things by questionings!"
He suddenly felt the truth of this. One can not talk every day to a sun fairy, and the experience can never be repeated. He settled back on the rock.
"Pardon me, Sun Fairy!" he cried again. "Rope ladders, indeed, to one who has but to close her eyes and she finds herself on a downy cloud near the sun. My mortality blinded me!"
"Now you are a nice boy," she approved more contentedly, "and as a reward you may ask me one question."
"All right," he agreed; and then, with instinctive tact, "What do you see up there?"
He could hear her clap her hands with delight, and he felt glad that he had followed his impulse to ask just this question instead of one more personal and more in line with his curiosity.
"Listen!" she began. "I see pines, many pines, just the tops of them, and they are all waving in the breeze. Did you ever see trees from on top? They are quite different. And out from the pines come great round hills made all of stone. I think they look like skulls. Then there are breathless descents where the pines fall away. Once in a while a little white road flashes out."
"Yes," urged Bennington, as the voice paused. "And what else do you see?"
"I see the prairie, too," she went on half dreamily. "It is brown now, but the green is beginning to shine through it just a very little. And out beyond there is a sparkle. That is the Cheyenne. And beyond that there is something white, and that is the Bad Lands."
The voice broke off with a happy little laugh.
Bennington saw the scene as though it lay actually spread out before him. There was something in the choice of the words, clearcut, decisive, and descriptive; but more in the exquisite modulations of the voice, adding here a tint, there a shade to the picture, and casting over the whole that poetic glamour which, rarely, is imitated in grosser materials by Nature herself, when, just following sunset, she suffuses the landscape with a mellow afterglow.
The head, sunbonneted, reappeared perked inquiringly sideways.
"Hello, stranger!" it called with a nasal inflection, "how air ye? Do y' think minin' is goin' t' pan out well this yar spring?" Then she caught sight of his weapon. "What are you going to shoot?" she asked with sudden interest.
"I thought I might see a deer."
"Deer! hoh!" she cried in lofty scorn, reassuming her nasal tone. "You is shore a tenderfoot! Don' you-all know that blastin' scares all th' deer away from a minin' camp?"
Bennington looked confused. "No, I hadn't thought of that," he confessed stoutly enough.
"I kind of like to shoot!" said she, a little wistfully. "What sort of a gun is it?"
"A Savage smokeless," answered Bennington perfunctorily.
"One of the thirty-calibres?" inquired the sunbonnet with new interest.
"Yes," gasped Bennington, astonished at so much feminine knowledge of firearms.
"Oh! I'd like to see it. I never saw any of those. May I shoot it, just once?"
"Of course you may. More than once. Shall I come up?"
"No. I'll come down. You sit right still on that rock."
The sunbonnet disappeared, and there ensued a momentary commotion on the other side of the dike. In an instant the girl came around the corner, picking her way over the loose blocks of stone. With the finger-tips of either hand she held the pink starched skirt up, displaying a neat little foot in a heavy little shoe. Diagonally across the skirt ran two irregular brown stains. She caught him looking at them.
"Naughty, naughty!" said she, glancing down at them with a grimace.
She dropped her skirt, and stood up beside him with a pretty shake of the shoulders.
"Now let's see it," she begged.
She examined the weapon with much interest, throwing down and back the lever in a manner that showed she was accustomed at least to the old-style arm.
"How light it is!" she commented, squinting through the sights. "Doesn't it kick awfully?"
"Not a bit. Smokeless powder, you know."
"Of course. What'll we shoot at?"
Bennington fumbled in his pockets and produced an envelope.
"How's this?" he asked.
She seized it and ran like an antelope—with the same gliding motion—to a tree about thirty paces distant, on which she pinned the bit of paper. They shot. Bennington hit the paper every time. The girl missed it once. At this she looked a little vexed.
"You are either very rude or very sincere," was her comment.
"You're the best shot I ever saw——"
"Now don't dare say 'for a girl!'" she interrupted quickly. "What's the prize?"
"Was this a match?"
"Of course it was, and I insist on paying up."
"I think I would like to go to the top of the rock there, and see the pines, and the skull-stones, and the prairies."
She glanced toward him, knitting her brows. "It is my very own," she said doubtfully. "I've never let anybody go up there before."
One of the diminutive chipmunks of the hills scampered out from a cleft in the rocks and perched on a moss-covered log, chattering eagerly and jerking his tail in the well-known manner of chipmunks.
"Oh, see! see!" she cried, all excitement in a moment. She seized the rifle, and taking careful aim, fired. The chattering ceased; the chipmunk disappeared.
Bennington ran to the log. Behind it lay the little animal. The long steel-jacketed bullet had just grazed the base of its brain. He picked it up gently in the palm of his hand and contemplated it.
It was such a diminutive beast, not as large as a good-sized rat, quite smaller than our own fence-corner chipmunks of the East. It's little sides were daintily striped, its little whiskers were as perfect as those of the great squirrels in the timber bottom. In its pouches were the roots of pine cones. Bennington was not a sentimentalist, but the incident, against the background of the light-hearted day, seemed to him just a little pathetic. Something of the feeling showed in his eyes.
The girl, who had drawn near, looked from him to the dead chipmunk, and back again. Then she burst suddenly into tears.
"Oh, cruel, cruel!" she sobbed. "What did I do it for? What did you let me do it for?"
Her distress was so keen that the young man hastened to relieve it.
"There," he reassured her lightly, "don't do that! Why, you are a great hunter. You got your game. And it was a splendid shot. We'll have him skinned when we get back home, and we'll cure the skin, and you can make something out of it—a spectacle case," he suggested at random. "I know how you feel," he went on, to give her time to recover, "but all hunters feel that way occasionally. See, I'll put him just here until we get ready to go home, where nothing can get him."
He deposited the squirrel in the cleft of a rock, quite out of sight, and stood back as though pleased. "There, that's fine!" he concluded.
With one of those instantaneous transitions, which seemed so natural to her, and yet which appeared to reach not at all to her real nature, she had changed from an aspect of passionate grief to one of solemn inquiry. Bennington found her looking at him with the soul brimming to the very surface of her great eyes.
"I think you may come up on my rock," she said simply after a moment.
They skirted the base of the dike together until they had reached the westernmost side. There Bennington was shown the means of ascent, which he had overlooked before because of his too close examination of the cliff itself. At a distance of about twenty feet from the dike grew a large pine tree, the lowest branch of which extended directly over the little plateau and about a foot above it. Next to the large pine stood two smaller saplings side by side and a few inches apart. These had been converted into a ladder by the nailing across of rustic rounds.
"That's how I get up," explained the girl. "Now you go back around the corner again, and when I'm ready I'll call."
Bennington obeyed. In a few moments he heard again the voice in the air summoning him to approach and climb.
He ascended the natural ladder easily, but when within six or eight feet of the large branch that reached across to the dike, the smaller of the two saplings ceased, and so, naturally, the ladder terminated.
"Hi!" he called, "how did you get up this?"
He looked across the intervening space expectantly, and then, to his surprise, he observed that the girl was blushing furiously.
"I—I," stammered a small voice after a moment's hesitation, "I guess I—shinned!"
A light broke across Bennington's mind as to the origin of the two dark streaks on the gown, and he laughed. The girl eyed him reproachfully for a moment or so; then she too began to laugh in an embarrassed manner. Whereupon Bennington laughed the harder. He shinned up the tree, to find that an ingenious hand rope had been fitted above the bridge limb, so that the crossing of the short interval to the rock was a matter of no great difficulty. In another instant he stood upon the top of the dike.
It was, as he had anticipated, nearly flat. Under the pine branch, which might make a very good chair back, grew a thick cushion of moss. The one tree broke the freedom of the eye's sweep toward the west, but in all other directions it was uninterrupted. As the girl had said, the tops of pines alone met the view, miles on miles of them, undulating, rising, swelling, breaking against the barrier of a dike, or lapping the foot of a great round boulder-mountain. Here and there a darker spot suggested a break for a mountain peak; rarely a fleck of white marked a mountain road. Back of them all—ridge, mountain, cavernous valley—towered old Harney, sun-browned, rock-diademed, a few wisps of cloud streaming down the wind from his brow, locks heavy with the age of the great Manitou whom he was supposed to represent. Eastward, the prairie like a peaceful sea. Above, the alert sky of the west. And through all the air a humming—vast, murmurous, swelling—as the mountain breeze touched simultaneously with strong hand the chords, not of one, but a thousand pine harps.
Bennington drew in a deep breath, and looked about in all directions. The girl watched him.
"Ah! it is beautiful!" he murmured at last with a half sigh, and looked again.
She seized his hand eagerly.
"Oh, I'm so glad you said that—and no more than that!" she cried. "I feel the sun fairy can make you welcome now."
THE SPIRIT MOUNTAIN
"From now on," said the girl, shaking out her skirts before sitting down, "I am going to be a mystery."
"You are already," replied Bennington, for the first time aware that such was the fact.
"No fencing. I have a plain business proposition to make. You and I are going to be great friends. I can see that now."
"I hope so."
"And you, being a—well, an open-minded young man" (Now what does she mean by that? thought Bennington), "will be asking all about myself. I am going to tell you nothing. I am going to be a mystery."
"No, you're not sure of anything, young man. Now I'll tell you this: that I am living down the gulch with my people."
"I know—Mr. Lawton's."
She looked at him a moment. "Exactly. If you were to walk straight ahead—not out in the air, of course—you could see the roof of the house. Now, after we know each other better, the natural thing for you to do will be to come and see me at my house, won't it?"
Bennington agreed that it would.
"Well, you mustn't."
Bennington expressed his astonishment.
"I will explain a very little. In a month occurs the Pioneer's Picnic at Rapid. You don't know what the Pioneer's Picnic is? Ignorant boy! It's our most important event of the year. Well, until that time I am going to try an experiment. I am going to see if—well, I'll tell you; I am going to try an experiment on a man, and the man is you, and I'll explain the whole thing to you after the Pioneer's Picnic, and not a moment before. Aren't you curious?"
"I am indeed," Bennington assured her sincerely.
She took on a small air of tyranny. "Now understand me. I mean what I say. If you want to see me again, you must do as I tell you. You must take me as I am, and you must mind me."
Bennington cast a fleeting wonder over the sublime self-confidence which made this girl so certain he would care to see her again. Then, with a grip at the heart, he owned that the self-confidence was well founded.
"All right," he assented meekly.
"Good!" she cried, with a gleam of mischief. "Behold me! Old Bill Lawton's gal! If you want to be pards, put her thar!"
"And so you are a girl after all, and no sun fairy," smiled Bennington as he "put her thar."
"My cloud has melted," she replied quietly, pointing toward the brow of Harney.
They chatted of small things for a time. Bennington felt intuitively that there was something a little strange about this girl, something a little out of the ordinary, something he had never been conscious of in any other girl. Yet he could never seize the impression and examine it. It was always just escaping; just taking shape to the point of visibility, and then melting away again; just rising in the modulations of her voice to a murmur that the ear thought to seize as a definite chord, and then dying into a hundred other cadences. He tried to catch it in her eyes, where so much else was to be seen. Sometimes he perceived its influence, but never itself. It passed as a shadow in the lower deeps, as though the feather mass of a great sea growth had lifted slowly on an undercurrent, and then as slowly had sunk back to its bed, leaving but the haunting impression of something shapeless that had darkened the hue of the waters. It was most like a sadness that had passed. Perhaps it was merely an unconscious trick of thought or manner.
After a time she asked him his first name, and he told her.
"I'd like to know your's too, Miss Lawton," he suggested.
"I wish you wouldn't call me Miss Lawton," she cried with sudden petulance.
"Why, certainly not, if you don't want me to, but what am I to call you?"
"Do you know," she confided with a pretty little gesture, "I have always disliked my real name. It's ugly and horrid. I've often wished I were a heroine in a book, and then I could have a name I really liked. Now here's a chance. I'm going to let you get up one for me, but it must be pretty, and we'll have it all for our very own."
"I don't quite see——" objected the still conventional de Laney.
"Your wits, your wits, haven't you any wits at all?" she cried with impatience over his unresponsiveness.
"Well, let me see. It isn't easy to do a thing like that on the spur of the moment, Sun Fairy. A fairy's a fay, isn't it? I might call you Fay."
"Fay," she repeated in a startled tone.
Bennington remembered that this was the name of the curly-haired young man who had lent him the bucking horse, and frowned.
"No, I don't believe I like that," he recanted hastily.
"Take time and think about it," she suggested.
"I think of one that would be appropriate," he said after some little time. "It is suggested by that little bird there. It is Phoebe."
"Do you think it is appropriate," she objected. "A Phoebe bird or a Phoebe girl always seemed to me to be demure and quiet and thoughtful and sweet-voiced and fond of dim forests, while I am a frivolous, laughing, sunny individual who likes the open air and doesn't care for shadows at all."
"Yet I feel it is appropriate," he insisted. He paused and went on a little timidly in the face of his new experience in giving expression to the more subtle feelings. "I don't know whether I can express it or not. You are laughing and sunny, as you say, but there is something in you like the Phoebe bird just the same. It is like those cloud shadows." He pointed out over the mountains. Overhead a number of summer clouds were winging their way from the west, casting on the earth those huge irregular shadows which sweep across it so swiftly, yet with such dignity; so rushingly, and yet so harmlessly. "The hills are sunny and bright enough, and all at once one of the shadows crosses them, and it is dark. Then in another moment it is bright again."
"And do you really see that in me?" she asked curiously. "You are a dear boy," she continued, looking at him for some moments with reflective eyes. "It won't do though," she said, rising at last. "It's too 'fancy.'"
"I don't know then," he confessed with some helplessness.
"I'll tell you what I've always wanted to be called," said she, "ever since I was a little girl. It is 'Mary.'"
"Mary!" he cried, astonished. "Why, it is such a common name."
"It is a beautiful name," she asserted. "Say it over. Aren't the syllables soft and musical and caressing? It is a lovely name. Why I remember," she went on vivaciously, "a girl who was named Mary, and who didn't like it. When she came to our school she changed it, but she didn't dare to break it to the family all at once. The first letter home she signed herself 'Mae.' Her father wrote back, 'My dear daughter, if the name of the mother of Jesus isn't good enough for you, come home.'" She laughed at the recollection.
"Then you have been away to school?" asked the young man.
"Yes," she replied shortly.
She adroitly led him to talk of himself. He told her naively of New York and tennis, of brake parties and clubs, and even afternoon teas and balls, all of which, of course, interested a Western girl exceedingly. In this it so happened that his immaturity showed more plainly than before. He did not boast openly, but he introduced extraneous details important in themselves. He mentioned knowing Pennington the painter, and Brookes the writer, merely in a casual fashion, but with just the faintest flourish. It somehow became known that his family had a crest, that his position was high; in short, that he was a de Laney on both sides. He liked to tell it to this girl, because it was evidently fresh and new to her, and because in the presence of her inexperience in these matters he gained a confidence in himself which he had never dared assume before.
She looked straight in front of her and listened, throwing in a comment now and then to assist the stream of his talk. At last, when he fell silent, she reached swiftly out and patted his cheek with her hand.
"You are a dear big boy," she said quietly. "But I like it—oh, so much!"
From the tree tops below the clear warble of the purple finch proclaimed that under the fronds twilight had fallen. The vast green surface of the hills was streaked here and there with irregular peaks of darkness dwindling eastward. The sun was nearly down.
A sudden gloom blotted out the fretwork of the pine shadows that had, during the latter part of the afternoon, lain athwart the rock. They looked up startled.
The shadow of Harney had crept out to them, and, even as they looked, it stole on, cat-like, across the lower ridges toward the East. One after another the rounded hills changed hue as it crossed them. For a moment it lingered in the tangle of woods at the outermost edge, and then without further pause glided out over the prairie. They watched it fascinated. The sparkle was quenched in the Cheyenne; the white gleam of the Bad Lands became a dull gray, scarce distinguishable from the gray of the twilight. Though a single mysterious cleft a long yellow bar pointed down across the plains, paused at the horizon, and slowly lifted into the air. The mountain shadow followed it steadily up into the sky, growing and growing against the dullness of the east, until at last over against them in the heavens was the huge phantom of a mountain, infinitely greater, infinitely grander than any mountain ever seen by mortal eyes, and lifting higher and higher, commanded upward by that single wand of golden light. Then suddenly the wand was withdrawn and the ghost mountain merged into the yellow afterglow of evening.
The girl had watched it breathless. At its dissolution she seized the young man excitedly by the arm.
"The Spirit Mountain!" she cried. "I have never seen it before; and now I see it—with you."
She looked at him with startled eyes.
"With you," she repeated.
"What is it? I don't understand."
She did not seem to hear his question.
"What is it?" he asked again.
"Why—nothing." She caught her breath and recovered command of herself somewhat. "That is, it is just an old legend that I have often heard, and it startled me for a minute."
"Will you tell me the legend?"
"Not now; some time. We must go now, for it will soon be dark."
They wandered along the ridge toward Deerfoot Gulch in silence. She had taken her sunbonnet off, and was enjoying the cool of the evening. He carried the rifle over the crook of his arm, and watched her pensive face. The poor little chipmunk lay stiffening in the cleft of the rock, forgotten. The next morning a prying jay discovered him and carried him away. He was only a little chipmunk after all—a very little chipmunk—and nobody and nothing missed him in all the wide world, not even his mate and his young, for mercifully grief in the animal world is generally short-lived where tragedies are frequent. His life meant little. His death——
At the dip of the gulch they paused.
"I live just down there," she said, "and now, good-night."
"Mayn't I take you home?"
"Remember your promise."
"Oh, very well."
She looked at him seriously. "I am going to ask you to do what I have never asked any man before," she said slowly—"to meet me. I want you to come to the rock to-morrow afternoon. I want to hear more about New York."
"Of course I'll come," he agreed delightedly. "I feel as if I had known you years already."
They said good-bye. She walked a few steps irresolutely down the hillside, and then, with a sudden impulsive movement, returned. She lifted her face gravely, searchingly to his.
"I like you," said she earnestly. "You have kind eyes," and was gone down through the graceful alder saplings.
Bennington stood and watched the swaying of the leaf tops that marked her progress until she emerged into the lower gulch. There she turned and looked back toward the ridge, but apparently could not see him, though he waved his hand. The next instant Jim Fay strolled into the "park" from the direction of Lawton's cabin. Bennington saw her spring to meet him, holding out both hands, and then the two strolled back down the gulch talking earnestly, their heads close together.
Why should he care? "Mary, Mary, Mary!" he cried within himself as he hurried home. And in remote burial grounds the ancient de Laneys on both sides turned over in their lead-lined coffins.
BENNINGTON AS A MAN OF BUSINESS
That evening Old Mizzou returned from town with a watery eye and a mind that ran to horses.
"He is shore a fine cayuse," he asserted with extreme impressiveness. "He is one of them broncs you jest loves. An' he's jes 's cheap! I likes you a lot, sonny; I deems you as a face-card shore, an' ef any one ever tries fer to climb yore hump, you jest calls on pore Old Mizzou an' he mingles in them troubles immediate. You must have that cayuse an' go scoutin' in th' hills, yo' shore must! Ol' man Davidson'll do th' work fer ye, but ye shore must scout. 'Taint healthy not t' git exercise on a cayuse. It shorely ain't! An' you must git t' know these yar hills, you must. They is beautiful an' picturesque, and is full of scenery. When you goes back East, you wants to know all about 'em. I wouldn't hev you go back East without knowin' all about 'em for anythin' in the worl', I likes ye thet much!"
Old Mizzou paused to wipe away a sympathetic tear with a rather uncertain hand.
"Y' wants to start right off too, thet's th' worst of it, so's t' see 'em all afore you goes, 'cause they is lots of hills and I'm 'feared you won't stay long, sonny; I am that! I has my ideas these yar claims is no good, I has fer a fact, and they won't need no one here long, and then we'll lose ye, sonny, so you mus' shore hev that cayuse."
Old Mizzou rambled on in like fashion most of the evening, to Bennington's great amusement, and, though next morning he was quite himself again, he still clung to the idea that Bennington should examine the pony.
"He is a fine bronc, fer shore," he claimed, "an' you'd better git arter him afore some one else gits him."
As Bennington had for some time tentatively revolved in his mind the desirability of something to ride, this struck him as being a good idea. All Westerners had horses—in the books. So he abandoned Aliris: A Romance of all Time, for the morning, and drove down to Spanish Gulch with Old Mizzou.
He was mentally braced for devilment, but his arch-enemy, Fay, was not in sight. To his surprise, he got to the post office quite without molestation. There he was handed two letters. One was from his parents. The other, his first business document, proved to be from the mining capitalist. The latter he found to inclose separate drafts for various amounts in favour of six men. Bishop wrote that the young man was to hand these drafts to their owners, and to take receipts for the amounts of each. He promised a further installment in a few weeks.
Bennington felt very important. He looked the letter all over again, and examined the envelope idly. The Spanish Gulch postmark bore date of the day before.
"That's funny," said Bennington to himself. "I wonder why Mizzou didn't bring it up with him last night?" Then he remembered the old man's watery eye and laughed. "I guess I know," he thought.
The next thing was to find the men named in the letter. He did not know them from Adam. Mizzou saw no difficulty, however, when the matter was laid before him.
"They're in th' Straight Flush!" he asserted positively.
This was astounding. How should Old Mizzou know that?
"I don't exactly know," the old man explained this discrepancy, "but they generally is!"
"Don't they ever work?"
"Work's purty slack," crawfished Davidson. "But I tells you I don't know. We has to find out," and he shuffled away toward the saloon.
Anybody but Bennington would have suspected something. There was the delayed letter, the supernatural knowledge of Old Mizzou, the absence of Fay. Even the Easterner might have been puzzled to account for the crowded condition of the Straight Flush at ten in the morning, if his attention had not been quite fully occupied in posing before himself as the man of business.
When Mizzou and his companion entered the room, the hum of talk died, and every one turned expectantly in the direction of the newcomers.
"Gents," said Old Mizzou, "this is Mr. de Laney, th' new sup'rintendent of th' Holy Smoke. Mr. de Laney, gents!"
There was a nodding of heads.
Every one looked eagerly expectant. The man behind the bar turned back his cuffs. De Laney, feeling himself the centre of observation, grew nervous. He drew from his pocket Bishop's letter, and read out the five names. "I'd like to see those men," he said.
The men designated came forward. After a moment's conversation, the six adjourned to the hotel, where paper and ink could be procured.
After their exit a silence fell, and the miners looked at each other with ludicrous faces.
"An' he never asked us to take a drink!" exclaimed one sorrowfully. "That settles it. It may not be fer th' good of th' camp, Jim Fay, but I reckons it ain't much fer th' harm of it. I goes you."
"Me to," "and me," "and me," shouted other voices.
Fay leaped on the bar and spread his arms abroad.
"Speech! Speech!" they cried.
"Gentlemen of the great and glorious West!" he began. "It rejoices me to observe this spirit animating your bosoms. Trampling down the finer feelings that you all possess to such an unlimited degree, putting aside all thought of merely material prosperity, you are now prepared, at whatever cost, to ally yourselves with that higher poetic justice which is above barter, above mere expediency, above even the ordinary this-for-that fairness which often passes as justice among the effete and unenlightened savages of the East. Gentlemen of the great and glorious West, I congratulate you!"
The miners stood close around the bar. Every man's face bore a broad grin. At this point they interrupted with howls and cat-calls of applause. "Ain't he a peach!" said one to another, and composed himself again to listen. At the conclusion of a long harangue they yelled enthusiastically, and immediately began the more informal discussion of what was evidently a popular proposition. When the five who had been paid off returned, everybody had a drink, while the newcomers were made acquainted with the subject. Old Mizzou, who had listened silently but with a twinkle in his eye, went to hunt up Bennington.
They examined the horse together. The owner named thirty dollars as his price. Old Mizzou said this was cheap. It was not. Bennington agreed to take the animal on trial for a day or two, so they hitched a lariat around its neck and led it over to the wagon. After despatching a few errands they returned to camp. Bennington got out his ledger and journal and made entries importantly. Old Mizzou disappeared in the direction of the corral, where he was joined presently by the man Arthur.
THE MEETING AT THE ROCK
On his way to keep the appointment of the afternoon, Bennington de Laney discovered within himself a new psychological experience. He found that, since the evening before, he had been observing things about him for the purpose of detailing them to his new friend. Little beauties of nature—as when a strange bird shone for an instant in vivid contrast to the mountain laurel near his window; an unusual effect of pine silhouettes near the sky; a weird, semi-poetic suggestion of one of Poe's stories implied in a contorted shadow cast by a gnarled little oak in the light of the moon—these he had noticed and remembered, and was now eager to tell his companion, with full assurance of her sympathy and understanding. Three days earlier he would have passed them by.
But stranger still was his discovery that he had always noticed such things, and had remembered them. Observations of the sort had heretofore been quite unconscious. Without knowing it he had always been a Nature lover, one who appreciated the poetry of her moods, one who saw the beauty of her smiles, or, what is more rare, the greater beauty of her frown. The influence had entered into his being, but had lain neglected. Now it stole forth as the odour of a dried balsam bough steals from the corner of a loft whither it has been thrown carelessly. It was all delightful and new, and he wanted to tell her of it.
He did so. After a little he told her about Aliris: A Romance of all Time, in which she appeared so interested that he detailed the main idea and the plot. At her request, he promised to read it to her. He was very young, you see, and very inexperienced; he threw himself generously, without reserve, on this girl's sympathies in a manner of which, assuredly, he should have been quite ashamed. Only the very young are not ashamed.
The girl listened, at first half amused. Then she was touched, for she saw that it was sincere, and youthful, and indicative of clear faith in what is beautiful, and in fine ideals of what is fitting. Perhaps, dimly, she perceived that this is good stuff of which to make a man, provided it springs from immaturity, and not from the sentimentalism of degeneracy. The loss of it is a price we pay for wisdom. Some think the price too high.
As he talked on in this moonshiny way, really believing his ridiculous abstractions the most important things in the world, gradually she too became young. She listened with parted lips, and in her great eyes the soul rose and rose within, clearing away the surface moods as twilight clears the land of everything but peace.
He was telling of the East again with a certain felicity of expression—have we not said he had the gift of words?—and an abandon of sentiment which showed how thoroughly he confided in the sympathy of his listener. When we are young we are apt to confide in the sympathy of every listener, and so we make fools of ourselves, and it takes us a long time to live down our reputations. As we grow older, we believe less and less in its reality. Perhaps by and by we do not trust to anybody's sympathy, not even our own.
"We have an old country place," he was saying; "it belonged to my grandfather. My grandfather came by it when the little town was very small indeed, so he built an old-fashioned stone house and surrounded it with large grounds." He was seeing the stone house and the large grounds with that new inner observation which he had just discovered, and he was trying to the best of his ability to tell what he saw. After a little he spoke more rhythmically. Many might have thought he spoke sentimentally, because with feeling; but in reality he was merely trying with great earnestness for expression. A jarring word would have brought him back to his everyday mood, but for the time being he was wrapt in what he saw. This is a condition which all writers, and some lovers, will recognise. "Now the place is empty—except in summer—except that we have an old woman who lives tucked away in one corner of it. I lived there one summer just after I finished college. Outside my window there was an apple tree that just brushed against the ledge; there were rose vines, the climbing sort, on the wall; and then, too, there was a hickory tree that towered 'way over the roof. In the front yard is what is known all over town as the 'big tree,' a silver maple, at least twice as tall as the house. It is so broad that its shade falls over the whole front of the place. In the back is an orchard of old apple trees, and trellises of big blue grapes. On one side is a broad lawn, at the back of which is one of the good old-fashioned flower gardens that does one good to look at. There are little pink primroses dotting the sod, sweet-william, lavender, nasturtiums, sweet peas, hollyhocks, bachelor's buttons, portulaca, and a row of tall sunflowers, the delight of a sleepy colony of hens. I learned all the flowers that summer." He clasped his hands comfortably back of his head and looked at her. She was gazing out over the Bad Lands to the East. "In the very centre, as a sort of protecting nurse to all the littler flowers," he went on, "is a big lilac bush, and there the bees and humming birds are thick on a warm spring day. There are plenty of birds too, but I didn't know so many of them. They nested everywhere—in the 'big tree,' the orchard, the evergreens, the hedges, and in the long row of maple trees with trunks as big as a barrel and limbs that touch across the street."
"It must be beautiful!" said the girl quietly without looking around.
Then he began to "suppose." This, as every woman knows, is dangerous business.
"It was beautiful," said he. "I can't tell you about it. The words don't seem to fit some way. I wish you could see it for yourself. I know you'd enjoy it. I always wanted some one with me to enjoy it too. Suppose some way we were placed so we could watch the year go by in those deep windows. First there is the spring and the birds and the flowers, all of which I've been talking about. Then there is the summer, when the shades are drawn, when the shadows of the roses wave slowly across the curtains, when the air outside quivers with heat, and the air inside tastes like a draught of cool water. All the bird songs are stilled except that one little fellow still warbles, swaying in the breeze on the tiptop of the 'big tree,' his notes sliding down the long sunbeams like beads on a golden thread. Then we would read together, in the half-darkened 'parlour,' something not very deep, but beautiful, like Hawthorne's stories; or we would together seek for these perfect lines of poetry which haunt the memory. In the evening we would go out to hear the crickets and the tree toads, to see the night breeze toss the leaves across the calm face of the moon, to be silenced in spirit by the peace of the stars. Then the autumn would come. We would taste the 'Concords' and the little red grapes and the big red grapes. We would take our choice of the yellow sweetings, the hard white snow apples, or the little red-cheeked fellows from the west tree. And then, of course, there are the russets! Then there are the pears, and all the hickory nuts which rattle down on us every time the wind blows. The leaves are everywhere. We would rake them up into big piles, and jump into them, and 'swish' about in them. How bracing the air is! How silvery the sun! How red your cheeks would get! And think of the bonfires!"
"And in winter?" murmured the girl. Her eyes were shining.
"In the winter the wind would howl through the 'big tree,' and everything would be bleak and cold out doors. We would be inside, of course, and we would sit on the fur rug in front of the fireplace, while the evening passed by, watching the 'geese in the chimney' flying slowly away."
"'Suppose' some more," she begged dreamily. "I love it. It rests me."
She clasped her hands back of her head and closed her eyes.
The young man looked quietly about him.
"This is a wild and beautiful country," said he, "but it lacks something. I think it is the soul. The little wood lots of the East have so much of it." He paused in surprise at his own thoughts. His only experiences in the woods East had been when out picnicking, or berrying, and he had never noticed these things. "I don't know as I ever thought of it there," he went on slowly, as though trying to be honest with her, "but here it comes to me somehow or another." A little fly-catcher shot up from the frond below, poised a moment, and dropped back with closed wings.
"Do you know the birds?" she asked.
"I'm afraid not," he admitted; "I don't really know much about Nature, but I love it, and I'm going to learn more. I know only the very common birds, and one other. Did you ever hear the hermit thrush sing?"
"Oh!" he cried in sudden enthusiasm, "then there is another 'suppose' for us, the best of all."
"I love the dear old house!" she objected doubtfully.
"But the hermit thrush is better. The old country minister took me to hear him one Sunday afternoon and I shall never forget it."
She glanced at his animated face through half-closed eyes.
"Tell me," she urged softly.
"'Suppose' we were back East," he began, "and in the country, just about this time of year. We would wait until the afternoon—why! just about this time, when the sun is getting low. We would push through the bushes at the edge of the woods where the little tinkling birds sing in the fence corners, and would enter the deep high woods where the trees are tall and still. The moss is thick and soft in there, and there are little pools lying calm and dark, and there is a kind of a hush in the air—not silence, you know, but like when a big crowd of people are keeping still. And then we would walk very carefully, and speak low, and we would sit by the side of a fallen log and wait. After a while the thrush would sing, a deep note, with a thrill in it, like a bell slow and solemn. When you hear it you too feel a thrill as though you had heard a great and noble thought. Why, it is almost holy!"
He turned to the girl. She was looking at him.
"Why, hullo!" he exclaimed, "what's the matter?"
Her eyes were brimming with tears.
"Nothing," she said. "I never heard a man talk as you have been talking, that is all. The rest of them are cynical and hard and cold. They would be ashamed to say the things you have said. No, no!" she cried, laying her hand on his arm as he made a little uneasy movement, "do not misunderstand me. I like it. I love it. It does me good. I had lost faith. It is not nice to know the other kind—well."
"You speak bitterly," he expostulated.
She laughed. "It is a common experience enough. Pray that you may never know it. I began as a little child, loving and trusting every one, and giving my full free heart and confidence to every one who offered his best to me. All I can say is, that I am thankful for you that you have escaped the suffering such blind trust leads to."
She laughed again, bitterly, and threw her arms out.
"I suppose I shall go on trusting people forever. It's in my nature, and I can't help it."
"I hope you will feel you can trust me," said he, troubled at this passion so much beyond his experience. "I would do anything for you."
"Do! do!" she cried with contempt. "Yes. Any number of people will do anything for me. I want some one to be for me!"
"I'm so sorry!" he said simply, but with great feeling.
"Don't pity me, don't believe in me!" she cried suddenly in a passion. "I am not worth it. I am cruel and hard and cold, and I'll never care for anybody in any way. My nature has been hardened. I can't be good. I can't care for people. I can't think of giving way to it. It frightens me."
She burst into sudden tears and sobbed convulsively. In a moment she became calm. Then she took her hands from her eyes and smiled. In the distress of his sympathy Bennington thought he had never seen anything more beautiful than this breaking forth of the light.
"You must think I am a very peculiar young person," she said, "but I told you I was a mystery. I am a little tired to-day, that's all."
The conversation took a lighter tone and ran on the subject of the new horse. She was much interested, inquiring of his colour, his size, his gaits, whether he had been tried.
"I'll tell you what we will do," she suggested; "we'll go on an expedition some day. I have a pony too. We will fill up our saddlebags and cook our own dinner. I know a nice little place over toward Blue Lead."
"I've one suggestion to add," put in Bennington, "and that is, that we go to-morrow."
She looked a trifle doubtful.
"I don't know. Aren't we seeing a good deal of each other?"
"Oh, if it is going to bore you, by all means put it off!" cried Bennington in genuine alarm.
She laughed contentedly over his way of looking at it. "I'm not tired then, so please you; and when I am, I'll let you know. To-morrow it is."
"Shall I come after you? What time shall I start?"
"No, I'd rather meet you somewhere. Let's see. You watch for me, and I'll ride by in the lower gulch about nine o'clock."