E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE FREEBOOTERS OF THE WILDERNESS
AGNES C. LAUT
Author of "The Conquest of the Great Northwest," "Lords of the North," etc.
New York Moffat, Yard and Company 1913 Copyright, 1910, by Moffat, Yard and Company New York Published September, 1910 Second Printing, October, 1910
I TO STRADDLE OR FIGHT II AN INTERLUDE THAT CAME UNANNOUNCED III THE CHALLENGE TO A LOSING FIGHT IV STACKING THE CARDS V THE CHOICE THAT COMES TO ALL MEN VI WHEREIN ONE PLAYS AN UNCONSCIOUS PART VII WHILE LAW MARKS TIME, CRIME SCORES VIII A VICTIM OF LAW'S DELAY IX EIGHT INTO MIGHT X THE HANDY MAN GETS BUSY XI SETTING OUT ON THE LONG TRAIL XII THE MAJESTY OF THE LAW VEILS ITSELF XIII THE MAN ON THE JOB XIV ON THE GAME TRAIL XV THE DESERT XVI BITTER WATERS XVII WHERE THE TRACKS ALL POINT ONE WAY
XVIII WITHOUT MALICE XIX BALLOTS TOR BULLETS XX A FAITH WORKABLE FOR MEN ON THE JOB XXI THE HAPPY AND TRIUMPHANT HOME-COMING XXII A DOWNY-LIPPED YOUTH IN GRAY FLANNELS XXIII IT AIN'T THE TRUTH I'M TELLIN' YOU: IT'S ONLY WHAT I'VE HEERD XXIV I AM UNCLE SAM XXV THE QUESTION IS—WHICH UNCLE SAM? XXVI THE AWAKENING XXVII THE AWAKENING CONTINUED XXVIII THE UNITED STATES OF THE WORLD
I have been asked how much of this tale of modern freebooters is true? In exactly which States have such episodes occurred? Have vast herds of sheep been run over battlements? Have animals been bludgeoned to death; have men been burned alive; have the criminals not only gone unpunished but been protected by the law-makers? Have sheriffs "hidden under the bed" and "handy men" bluffed the press? Have vast domains of timber lands been stolen in blocks of thousands and hundreds of thousands of acres through "dummy" entrymen? Have the federal law officers been shot to death above stolen coal mines? Have Reclamation Engineers, and Land Office field men, and Forest Rangers undergone such hardships in Desert and Mountain, as portrayed here? Have they not only undergone the hardship, but been crucified by the Government which they served for carrying out the laws of that Government? In a word, are latter day freebooters of our Western Wilderness playing the same game in the great transmontane domain as the old-time pirates played on the high seas? Is this a true story of "the Man on the Job" and "the Man on the Firing Line" and "the Man Higher Up" and the Looters?
I answer first that I am not writing of twenty years ago, or yesterday, or the day before yesterday, but to-day, the Year of our Lord 1909-1910 in the most highly civilized country the world has ever known; in a country where self-government has reached a perfection of prosperity and power not dreamed by poet or prophet. The menace to self-government from such national influences at work need not be described. The triumph of such factors in national life means the wresting of self-government from the people into the hands of the few, a repetition of the struggle between the Robber Barons of the Middle Ages and the Commoners.
It seems almost incredible that such lawlessness and outrage and chicanery can exist in America—many of the outrages would disgrace Russia or Turkey—yet every episode related here has ten prototypes in Life, in Fact; not of twenty years ago, or yesterday, or the day before yesterday, but to-day. For instance, the number of sheep destroyed is given as fifteen thousand. The number destroyed in two counties which I had in mind when I wrote that chapter, by actual tally of the Stock Association for the past six years, is sixty thousand. Last year alone, five thousand in one State suffered every form of hideous mutilation—backs broken, entrails torn out; fifteen hundred in an adjoining State had their throats cut; three men were burned to death; one herder in a still more Northern State was riddled to death with bullets.
Or to take the case of the timber thefts, I refer to two hundred thousand acres in California. I might have referred to a million and a half in Washington and Oregon.
Or referring to the mineral lands, I mention two thousand acres of coal. I might have told another story of fifty thousand acres, or yet another of three hundred thousand acres of gold and silver lands. When I narrate the shooting of a man at the head of a coal shaft, the stealing of Government timber by the half million dollars a year through "the hatchet" trick, or the theft of two thousand acres by "dummies," I am stating facts known to every Westerner out on the spot.
In which States have these episodes occurred? Take an imaginary point anywhere in Central Utah. Describe a circle round that point to include the timber and grazing sections of all the Rocky Mountain States from Northern Arizona to Montana and Washington. The episodes related here could be true of any State inside that circle except (in part) one. Such forces are at work in all the Mountain States except (in part) one. That one exception is Utah. Utah has had and is having tribulations of her own in the working out of self-government; but, for reasons that need not be given here, she has kept comparatively free of recent range wars and timber steals.
This story was suggested to me by a Land Office man—one of the men on the firing line—who has stood the brunt of the fight against the freebooters for twenty years and wrested many a victory. I may state that he is still in the Service and will, I hope, remain in it for many a year; but these episodes are hinged round the Ranger, rather than the Land Office or Reclamation men, because, though the latter are fighting the same splendid fight, their work is of its very nature transitory—dealing with the beginning of things; while the Ranger is the man out on the job who remains on the firing line; unless—as my Land Office friend suggested—unless "he gets fired." As to the hardships suffered by the fighters, to quote one of them, "You bet: only more so."
Just as this volume goes to press, comes word of fires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, destroying dozens of villages, hundreds of lives and millions of dollars worth of property in the National Forests; and it is added—"the fires are incendiary." Why this incendiarism? The story narrated here endeavors to answer that question.
The international incidents thinly disguised are equally founded on fact and will be recognized by the dear but fast dwindling fraternity of good old-timers. The mother of the boy still lives her steadfast beautiful creed on the Upper Missouri; and the old frontiersman still lives on the Saskatchewan, one of the most picturesque and heroic figures in the West to-day. I may say that both missionaries support their schools as incidentally revealed here, without Government aid through their own efforts. Also, it was the stalwart man from Saskatchewan who was sent searching the heirs to the estate of an embittered Jacobite of 1745; and those heirs refused to accept either the wealth or the position for the very reasons set forth here. Calamity's story, too, is true—tragically true, though this is not all, not a fraction of her life story; but her name was not Calamity.
THE MAN ON THE JOB
FREEBOOTERS OF THE WILDERNESS
TO STRADDLE OR FIGHT
"Well," she asked, "are you going to straddle or fight?"
How like a woman, how like a child, how typical of the outsider's shallow view of any struggle! As if all one had to do—was stand up and fight! Mere fighting—that was easy; but to fight to the last ditch only to find yourself beaten! That gave a fellow pause about bucking the challenge of everyday life.
Wayland punched both fists in the jacket pockets of his sage-green Service suit, and kicked a log back to the camp fire that smouldered in front of his cabin. If she had been his wife he would have explained what a fool-thing it was to argue that all a man had to do was fight. Or if she had belonged to the general class—women—he could have met her with the condescending silence of the general class—man; but for him, she had never belonged to any general class.
She savored of his own Eastern World, he knew that, though he had met her in this Western Back of Beyond half way between sky and earth on the Holy Cross Mountain. Wayland could never quite analyze his own feelings. Her presence had piqued his interest from the first. When we can measure a character, we can forfend against surprises—discount virtues, exaggerate faults, strike a balance to our own ego; but when what you know is only a faint margin of what you don't know, a siren of the unknown beckons and lures and retreats.
She had all of what he used to regard as culture in the old Eastern life, the jargon of the colleges, the smattering of things talked about, the tricks and turns of trained motions and emotions; but there was a difference. There was no pretence. There was none of the fire-proof self-complacency—Self-sufficiency, she had, but not self-righteousness. Then, most striking contra-distinction of all to the old-land culture, there was unconsciousness of self—face to sunlight, radiant of the joy of life, not anaemic and putrid of its own egoism. She didn't talk in phrases thread-bare from use. She had all the naked unashamed directness of the West that thinks in terms of life and speaks without gloze. She never side-stepped the facts of life that she might not wish to know. Yet her intrusion on such facts gave the impression of the touch that heals.
The Forest Ranger had heard the Valley talk of MacDonald, the Canadian sheep rancher, belonging to some famous fur-trade clans that had intermarried with the Indians generations before; and Wayland used to wonder if it could be that strain of life from the outdoors that never pretends nor lies that had given her Eastern culture the red-blooded directness of the West. To be sure, such a character study was not less interesting because he read it through eyes glossy as an Indian's, under lashes with the curve of the Celt, with black hair that blew changing curls to every wind. Indian and Celt—was that it, he wondered?—reserve and passion, self-control and yet the abandonment of force that bursts its own barriers?
She had not wormed under the surface for some indirect answer that would betray what he intended to do. She had asked exactly what she wanted to know, with a slight accent on the—you.
"Are you going to straddle or fight?"
Wayland flicked pine needles from his mountaineering boots. He answered his own thoughts more than her question.
"All very well to say—fight; fight for all the fellows in the Land and Forest Service when they see a steal being sneaked and jobbed! But suppose you do fight, and get licked, and get yourself chucked out of the job? Suppose the follow who takes your place sells out to the enemy—well, then; where are you? Lost everything; gained nothing!" She laid her panama sunshade on the timbered seat that spanned between two stumps.
"Men must decide that sort of thing every day I suppose."
"You bet they must," agreed the Ranger with a burst of boyishness through his old-man air, "and the Lord pity the chap who has wife and kiddies in the balance—"
"Do you think women tip the scale wrong?"
"Of course not! They'd advise right—right—right; fight—fight—fight, just as you do; but the point is—can a fellow do right by them if he chucks his job in a losing fight?"
The old-mannish air had returned. She followed the Ranger's glance over the edge of the Ridge into the Valley where the smoke-stacks of the distant Smelter City belched inky clouds against an evening sky.
"Smelters need timber," Wayland waved his hand towards the pall of smoke over the River. "Smelters need coal. These men plan to take theirs free. Yet the law arrests a man for stealing a scuttle of coal or a cord of wood. One law for the rich, another for the poor; and who makes the law?"
They could see the Valley below encircled by the Rim-Rocks round as a half-hoop, terra-cotta red in the sunset. Where the river leaped down a white fume, stood the ranch houses—the Missionary's and her Father's on the near side, the Senator's across the stream. Sounds of mouth organs and concertinas and a wheezing gramaphone came from the Valley where the Senator's cow-boys camped with drovers come up from Arizona.
"Dick," she asked, "exactly what is the Senator's brand?"
"A circle with an X in it?"
The Ranger stubbornly permitted the suspicion of a smile.
"So if the cattle from Arizona have only a circle, all a new owner has to do is put an X inside?"
"And pay for the cattle," amplified Wayland.
"Or a circle with a line, put another line across?"
"And hand over the cash," added the Ranger.
"Or a circle dot, just put an X on top of the dot?"
"And fix the sheriff," explained the irrelevant [Transcriber's note: irreverent?] Ranger.
"And the Senator has all the appointments to the Service out here?"
"No—disappointments," corrected Wayland.
They were both watching the grotesque antics of a squirrel negotiating the fresh tips of a young spruce. The squirrel sat up on his hind legs and chittered, whether at the Senator's brands or their heresy it would be hard to tell; but they both laughed.
"Have you room on the Grazing Range for so many cattle?"
"Not without crowding—"
"You mean crowding the sheepmen, off," she said.
"What is the use of talking?" demanded Wayland petulantly. "Neither you nor I dare open our mouths about it! Tell the sheriff; your ranch houses will be burnt over your ears some night! Everybody knows what has happened when a sheep herder has been killed in an accident, or hustled back to foreign parts; but speak of it—you had better have cut your tongue out! Fight it: you know what happened to my predecessors! One had a sudden transfer. Another got what is known as the bounce—you English people would call it the sack. The third got a job at three times bigger salary—down in the Smelter.
"It's all very well to preach right—right—right, Eleanor; and fight—fight—fight; and 'He who fights and runs away, May live to fight another day'; but what are you going to do about it? I sweat till I lay the dust thinking about it; but we never seem to get anywhere. When we had Wild Bills in the old days, we formed Vigilant Committees, and went out after the law breakers with a gun; but now, we are a law-abiding people. We are a law-abiding age, don't you forget that! When you skin a skunk now days, you do it according to law, slowly, judiciously, no matter what the skunk does to you meantime, even tho' it get away with the chickens. Fact is, we're so busy straining at legal gnats just now that we're swallowing a whole generation of camels. We don't risk our necks any more to put things right—not we; we get in behind the skirts of law, and yap, yap, yap, about law like a rat terrier, when we should be bull dogs getting our teeth in the burglar's leg.
"You know whose drovers are rustling cattle up North from Arizona? You know who pays the gang? So do I! You don't know whose cattle those are: so don't I! To-morrow when they are branded fresh, they'll be the Senator's; and what are you sheep people going to do with this crowd coming in from the outside? The law says—equal rights to all; and you say—fight; but who is going to see that the law is carried out, unless the people awaken and become a Vigilant Committee for the Nation? Tell Sheriff Flood to go out and round up those rustlers: he'll hide under the bed for a week, or 'allow he don't like the job.' Senator Moyese got him that berth. He's going to hang on like a leech to blood.
"Now, look down this side! Do you know a quarter section of that big timber is worth from $10,000 to $40,000 to its owners, the people of the United States? Do you know you can build a cottage of six rooms out of one tree, the very size a workman needs? The workmen who vote own those trees! Do you know the Smelter Lumber Company takes all for nothing, half a million of it a year? Do you know that Smelter, itself, is built on two-thousand acres of coal lands—stolen—stolen from the Government as clearly as if the Smelter teams had hauled it from a Government coal pit? Do you know there isn't a man in the Land Office who hasn't urged and urged and urged the Government to sue for restitution of that steal, and headquarters pretend to be doubtful so that the Statute of Limitations will intervene?"
On the inner side, the Ridge dropped to an Alpine meadow that billowed up another slope through mossed forests to the snow line of the Holy Cross Mountains. What the girl saw was a sylvan world of spruce, then the dark green pointed larches where the jubilant rivers rioted down from the snow. What the man saw was—a Challenge.
"See those settlers' cabins at an angle of forty-five? Need a sheet anchor to keep 'em from sliding down the mountain! Fine farm land, isn't it? Makes good timber chutes for the land looters! We've to pass and approve all homesteads in the National Forests. You may not know it; but those are homesteads. You ask Senator Moyese when he weeps crocodile tears 'bout the poor, poor homesteader run off by the Forest Rangers! If the homesteader got the profits, there'd be some excuse; but he doesn't. He gets a hired man's wages while he sits on the homestead; and when he perjures himself as to date of filing, he may get a five or ten extra, while your $40,000 claim goes to Mr. Fat-Man at a couple of hundreds from Uncle Sam's timber limits; and the Smelter City Herald thunders about the citizen's right to homestead free land, about the Federal Government putting up a fence to keep the settler off. That fellow—that fellow in the first shack can't speak a word of English. Smelter brought a train load of 'em in here; and they've all homesteaded the big timbers, a thousand of 'em, foreigners, given homesteads in the name of the free American citizen. Have you seen anything about it in the newspaper? Well—I guess not. It isn't a news feature. We're all full up about the great migration to Canada. We like to be given a gold brick and the glad hand. Of course, they'll farm that land. One man couldn't clear that big timber for a homestead in a hundred years. Of course, they are not homesteading free timber for the big Smelter. Of course not! They didn't loot the redwoods of California that way—two hundred thousand acres of 'em—seventy-five millions of a steal. Hm!'" muttered Wayland. "Calls himself Moyese—Moses! Senator Smelter! Senator Thief! Senator Beef Steer—"
She laughed. "I like your rage! Look! What's that mountain behind the cabin doing?"
"Shine on pale moon, don't mind me," laughed Wayland; but suddenly he stopped storming.
The slant sunlight struck the Holy Cross Mountain turning the snow gullies pure gold against the luminous peak. Just for a moment the white cornice of snow forming the bar of the apparent cross flushed to the Alpine glow, flushed blood-red and quivering like a cross poised in mid-air. An invisible hand of silence touched them both. The sunset became a topaz gate curtained by clouds of fire and lilac mist; while overhead across the indigo blue of the high rare mountain zenith slowly spread and faded a light—ashes of roses on the sun altar of the dead day.
AN INTERLUDE THAT CAME UNANNOUNCED
Wayland stopped storming. His cynical laugh came back an echo hard to his own hearing. Was It speaking the same mute language to her It had spoken to him since first he came to the Holy Cross? The violet shadows of twilight slowly filled with a primrose mist, with a rapt hush as of the day's vespers. The great quiet of the mountain world wrapped them round as in an invisible robe of worship.
Always, as the red flush ran the spectrum gamut of the yellows and oranges and greens and blues and purples to the solitary star above the opaline peak, he had wanted to wait and see—what? He did not know. It had always seemed, if he watched, the primrose veil would lift and release some phantom with noiseless tread on a ripple of night wind. In his lonely vigils he used to listen for all the little bells of the nodding purple heather to begin ringing some sort of pixie music, or for the flaming tongues of the painter's flower to take voice in some chorus that would beat time to the rhythm of woodland life fluting the age-old melodies of Pan.
You would look and look at the winged flames of light swimming and shimmering and melting outlines in the opal clouds there, till almost it became a sort of Mount of Transfiguration, of free uncabined roofless night-dreams camped beneath the sheen of a million stars.
You would listen and listen to the mountain silence—rare, hushed, silver silence—till almost you could hear; but until to-night it had always been like the fall of the snow flake. You could never be quite sure you heard, though there was no mistaking a mass of several million years of snow flakes when they thundered down in avalanche or broke a ledge with the boom of artillery.
Now, at last—was it the end of a million years of pre-existence waiting for this thing? Now, at last, Wayland realized that the quiet fellowship, the common interests, the satisfaction of her presence, the aptitude their minds had of always rushing to meet halfway on the same subject, had somehow massed to a something within himself that set his blood coursing with jubilant swiftness.
He looked at the rancher's daughter. What had happened? She was the same, yet not the same. Her eyes were awaiting his. They did not flinch. They were wells of light; a strange new light; depth of light. Had the veil lifted at last? The welter of sullen anger subsided within him. The wrapped mystery of the mountain twilight hushed speech. What folly it all was—that far off clamor of greed in the Outer World, that wolfish war of self-interest down in the Valley, that clack of the wordsters darkening wisdom without knowledge! As if one man, as if one generation of men, could stay the workings of the laws of eternal righteousness by refusing to heed, any more than one man's will could stop an avalanche by refusing to heed the law of the snowflake!
Calamity, the little withered half-breed woman, slipped in and out of the Forester's cabin tidying up bachelor confusion. The wind suffed through the evergreens in dream voices, pansy-soft to the touch. The slow-swaying evergreens rocked to a rhythm old as Eternity, Druid priests standing guard over the sacrament of love and night. From the purpling Valley came the sibilant hush of the River. Somewhere, from the branches below the Ridge, a water thrush gurgled a last joyous note that rippled liquid gold through the twilight.
Life might have become the tent of a night in an Eternity—a tent of sky hung with stars; the after-glow a topaz gate ajar into some infinite life. Then Love and Silence and Eternity had wrapped them round as in a robe of prayer. He was standing above the dead camp-fire. She was leaning forward from the slab seat, her face between her hands. With a catch of breath, she withdrew her eyes from his and watched the long shadows creep like ghosts across the Valley.
What he said aloud in the nonchalant voice of twentieth century youth keeping hold of himself was—
"Not bad, is it?" nodding at the opal flame-winged peak. "Pretty good show turned on free every night?"
A meadow lark went lifting above the Ridge dropping silver arrows of song; and a little flutter of phantom wind came rustling through the pine needles.
"I don't suppose," she was saying—he had never heard those notes in her voice before: they were gold, gold flute notes to melt rock-hard self-control and touch the timbre of unknown chords within—"I don't suppose anything ever was accomplished without somebody being willing to fight a losing battle. Do you?" Wayland stretched out on the ground at her feet.
"Eleanor, do you know, do you realize—?"
"Yes I know," she whispered.
And somehow, unpremeditated and half way, their hands met.
"Something wonderful has happened to us both to-night."
The sheen of the stars had come to her eyes. She could not trust her glance to meet his. A compulsion was sweeping over her in waves, drawing her to him—her free hand lay on his hair; her averted face flushed to the warmth of his nearness.
"I don't suppose, Dick, that right ever did triumph till somebody was willing to be crucified. Men die of vices every day; women snuff out like candles. What's so heroic about a man more or less going down in a good game fight—?"
He felt the tremor in her voice and her hands, in her deep breathing; and his manhood came to rescue their balance in words that sounded foolish enough:
"So my old mountain talks to you, too? I'll think of that when I'm up here in my hammock alone. Oh, you bet, I'll think of that hard! What does the old mountain lady say to you, anyway? Look—when the light's on that long precipice, you can sometimes see a snow slide come over the edge in a puff of spray. They are worst at mid-day when the heat sends 'em down; and they're bigger on the back of the mountain where she shelves straight up and down—"
And her thought met his poise half way.
"What does the old mountain say? Don't you know what science says—how the snow flakes fall to the same music of law as the snow slide, and it's the snow flake makes the snow slide that sets the mountain free, the gentle, quiet, beautiful snow flake that sculptures the granite—"
"The gentle, quiet—beautiful thing," slowly repeated the Ranger in a dream. "That sounds pretty good to me."
He said no more; for he knew that the veil had lifted, and the voiceless voices of the night were shouting riotously. The wind came suffing through the swaying arms of the bearded waving hemlocks—Druid priests officiating at some age-old sacrament. Then a night-hawk swerved past with a hum of wings like the twang of a harp string.
"Look," she said, poking at the sod with her foot. "All the little clover leaves have folded their wings to sleep."
Old Calamity passed in and out of the Range cabin. Wayland couldn't remember how from the first they had slipped into the habit of calling each other by Christian names. It was the old half-breed woman, who had first told him that the Canadian, Donald MacDonald, the rich sheep man, had a daughter travelling in Europe. One day when he had been signing grazing permits in the MacDonald ranch house, he had caught a glimpse of a piano, that had been packed up the mountains on mules, standing in an inner sitting room; and the walls were decorated with long-necked swan-necked Gibson girls and Watts' photogravures and Turner color prints and naked Sorolla boys bathing in Spanish seas. That was the beginning. She had come in suddenly, introduced herself and shaken hands.
And now Wayland felt a dazed wonder how in the world they two in the course of half an hour—the first half hour they had ever been alone in their lives—had come to deciding "straddle or fight"; but that was the unusual thing about her. She got under surfaces; but, until to-night on the Holy Cross Mountain, he had been able to laugh at his own new sensations, to laugh even at an occasional sense of his tongue turning to dough in the roof of his mouth.
"Look, what is that behind your shoulder, Dick?"
"Oh, that," said the Forest Ranger, "that is a well known, game old elderly spinster lady commonly called the Moon; and that other on the branch chittering swear words is nothing in the world but a Douglas squirrel hunting—I think he is really hunting—a flea to mix in his spruce tips as salad."
"Do you know what he is saying?"
"Of course! Cheer up! Cheer up! Chirrup! He's our Master Forester—caches the best seed cones for us to steal."
But when he turned back, she had freed her hands, and slipped to the other side of the slab seat; and Wayland—inconsistent fellow—went all abash when they had both got hold of themselves and were once more back to life with feet on solid earth.
"And is it straddle or—fight?"
She had put on her panama sunshade and was looking straight and steadily in his eyes. The Ranger met the look, the eager look slowly and deliberately giving place to determined masterdom.
"If that is a challenge, I'll take it!" Then he added; and his face went hot as her own: "As to the freebooters of the Western Wilderness ripping the bowels out of public property out here, I'll accept that challenge, too! We'll put up a bluff of a fight, anyway!"
"I didn't mean that, Dick." She was looking over the edge of the Ridge. "I couldn't give a precious gift conditionally if I wanted to, Dick. It would surely give itself before I could stop it. Isn't that always the way? I wanted you to feel I would be with you in the fight if I could. They are late. Father and the missionary, Mr. Williams, and his boy were to have been here an hour ago. I heard them talking of your struggle against the big steals, and came up here before them to wait. They are coming to see about changing the sheep from the Holy Cross Range to the Rim Rocks."
"I can hear 'em coming," Wayland leaned over the precipice. "They are coming up the switch back now. They have a turn or two to take—we have a few minutes yet—Eleanor, best gifts come unasked: perhaps, also, they go unsent. Listen, I couldn't Hope to keep the gift unless I jumped in this fight for right; but it's a man's job! I mustn't desert because of the gift! I mustn't take the prize before I finish the job! I want you to see that—always that I mind my p's and q's and don't swerve from that resolution. If I deserted and went down from the Ridge to the Valley, from hard to easy, I wouldn't be worthy of—do you understand what I am trying to say to you?"
"Not in the least. You wouldn't be worthy of what?"
"Of you," said Wayland.
"Gifts?" It was the falsetto of a boy's voice from the trail below the Ridge. "Who's talkin' of gifts and things?"
They heard the others ascending. Her woman instinct caught at the first straw to hand. "Photogravures, Fordie, three more to-day. They are Watts—"
"He has to round the next turn! Never mind! He didn't hear," interjected Wayland irritably.
"All the same," she said, "I'm going to send one of those pictures up to you for the cabin. There is Hope sitting on top of the World, eyes bandaged, harp strings broken—"
"Don't send that one! Jim-jams enough of my own up here! I want my Hope clear-eyed even if she has to go it blind for a bit as to you—"
"Then there's Faith sheathing her sword—"
"Not putting away the Big-Stick," interrupted Wayland.
"Then you'll have to take the Happy Warrior—"
"I forget that one: I've been up here four years, you know?"
"It's the Soldier asleep on the Battle-Field—"
"You mean the picture of the girl kissing the man in his sleep—Yes, that will do all right for me. You can send that one—"
And the Missionary's boy came over the edge of the Ridge trail in a hand spring.
THE CHALLENGE TO A LOSING FIGHT
"Hullo, Dick! Who is talking of pictures and things?" The high falsetto announced the Missionary's boy of twelve, who promptly turned a hand spring over the slab bench, never pausing in a running fire of exuberant comment. "Get on y'r bib and tucker, Dickie! You're goin' t' have a s'prise party—right away! Senator Moses and Battle Brydges, handy-andy-dandy, comin' up with Dad and MacDonald! Oh, hullo, Miss Eleanor, how d' y' get here ahead? Did y' climb? We met His Royal High Mightiness and His Nibs goin' to the cow-camp. Say, Miss Eleanor, I don't care what they say, I'm goin' to take sheep all by my lonesome this time, sure; goin' t' ride Pinto 'cause he's got a big tummy t' keep him from sinking when he swims. You needn't laugh, it's so! You ask Dad if a tum-jack don't keep a horse from sinkin'! Say—" sticking forward his face in a whisper—"Senator oughtn't to sink—eh?"
"You don't swim sheep unless you're a pilgrim," admonished Wayland; but at that moment, the Senator himself came over the edge of the Ridge, bloused and white-vested and out of breath, a bunch of mountain flowers in one hand, his felt hat in the other; and three men bobbed up behind, Indian file, over the crest of the trail, the Missionary, Williams, stepping lightly, MacDonald swarthy and close-lipped, taking the climb with the ease of a mountaineer, Bat Brydges, the Senator's newspaper man, hat on the back of his head, coat and vest and collar in hand, blowing with the zest of a puffing locomotive.
"Whew!" The Senator dilated expansively and sank again. "Here we are at last! You here, Miss Eleanor? Evening—Wayland! Night to you, Calamity! How is the world using you since you stopped tramping over the hills?" Calamity shrank back to the cabin. "I thought this trail hard as a climb to Paradise. Now, I know it was," and the gentleman wheezed a bow to Eleanor that sent his neck creasing to his flowing collar and set his vest chortling.
"What! No flowers—either of you? You leave an old fellow like me to gather flowers and quote 'What so rare as a day in June' and all that? What's that lazy rascal of a Forest fellow doing? I would have spouted yards of good poetry when I was his age a night like this. Hasn't Wayland told you the flowers are the best part of the mountains in June? Pshaw! Like all the rest of them from the East—stuffed full of college chuck—can't tell a daisy from an aster! Takes an old stager who never had your dude Service suits on his back to know the secrets of these hills, Miss Eleanor. Has he told you about the echo? No, I'll bet you, not; nor the gorge in behind this old Holy Cross; nor the cave? Pshaw! See here,"—showing his bunch of wild flowers—"if you want to know what a sly old sphinx Dame Nature is and how she's up to tricks and wiles and ways, snow or shine, you get these little flower people to whisper their secrets! Whenever I find a new kind on the hills, I mark the place and have roots brought down in the fall. Now this little mountain anemone is still blooming on upper slopes. Little fool of a thing thinks it's April 'stead of June, paints her cheeks, see?—like an old girl trying to look young—"
"But she has a royal white heart," interposed Eleanor.
The Senator looked up to the face of the rancher's daughter and laughed, a big soft noiseless laugh that shook down inside the white vest.
"Typical of a woman, eh? Here, take 'em! Why am I an old bachelor? Now, here's the wind flower; opens to touch o' the wind like woman to love; find 'em like stars on the bleakest slopes—that's like a woman, too, eh? And like a woman, they wither when you pick 'em, eh? And see these little cheats—pale people—catch flies—know why they call 'em that? Stuck all over with false honey to snare the moths—stew the poor devils to death in sweetness—eh, now, isn't that a woman for you?" Spreading his broad palms, the Senator shook noiselessly at his own facetiousness.
"They keep the real honey for the royal butterflies," suggested Eleanor.
"Exactly! What chance on earth for an old bumble bee of a drudge like me without any wings and frills and things, all weighted down with cares of state?" And Moyese mopped the moisture from a good natured red face, that looked anything but weighted down by the cares of state. "You know, don't you," he added, "that the flies actually do prefer white flowers; bees t' th' blue; butterflies, red; and the moths, white?"
So this was the manner of man representing the forces challenging to the great national fight, a lover of flowers paying tribute to all things beautiful; good-natured, smiling, easy-going, soft-speaking; the embodiment of vested rights done up in a white waist-coat. Soldiers of the firing line had fought dragons in the shape of savages and white bandits in the early days; but this dragon had neither horns nor hoofs. It was a courtly glossy-faced pursuer of gainful occupations according to a limited light and very much according to a belief that freedom meant freedom to make and take and break independent of the other fellow's rights. In fact, as Eleanor looked over the dragon with its wide strong jaw and plausible eyes and big gripping hand she very much doubted whether the conception had ever dawned on the big dome head that the other fellow had any rights. The man was not the baby-eating monster of the muck-rakers. Neither was he a gentleman—he had had a narrow escape from that—the next generation of him would probably be one. He gave the impression of a passion for only one thing—getting. If people or things or laws came in the way of that getting, so much the worse for them.
Strident laughter blew up on the wind from the cow camp of the Arizona drovers in the Valley.
"Rough rascals," ejaculated Moyese fanning himself with his hat. "I wish you wouldn't wander round too much alone when these drover fellows are here from Arizona. Birds of passage, you know? Sheriff can't pursue 'em into another State! When it's pay day, whiskey flows pretty free—pretty free! Wish you wouldn't wander alone too much when they're up this way."
"Mr. Senator, I move we come to business, and leave poetry and flowers and palaver out of it—"
The Senator turned suavely and faced the impatient sheep-rancher.
"To be sure! Let us get down to business, MacDonald, by all means; but before we go any farther, let me ask you a straight question! Clearing the field before action, Miss Eleanor! Bat come over here and entertain Miss Eleanor. Miss MacDonald, this is my man Friday—Brydges, Miss MacDonald: it's Brydges, you know, sets us all down fools to posterity by reporting our speeches for the newspapers."
Brydges winked as he got his limp collar back to his neck. It wasn't his part to tell how many speeches came in reported before delivered; how many were never delivered at all.
The Senator had stopped fanning himself. He was caressing his shaven chin and taking the measure of the rancher; a tall man, straight and lithe as a whip, lean and clean-limbed and swarthy.
"MacDonald, why don't you take out your naturalization papers so you can vote at election? In the eyes of the law, you're still an alien."
"Alien? What has that to do with paying grazing fees for sheep on the Forest Range?" MacDonald's black eyes closed to a tiny slit of shiny light. "Mr. Senator," he said tersely, "how much do you want?"
Mr. Senator refused to be perturbed by the edge of that question.
"You ask Wayland how much the grazing fee is. You know it's my belief there ought to be no grazing fee. We stockmen can take care of ourselves without Washington worrying—"
"Yes," interrupted Williams, "you took such good care of the sheep herders last spring, some of you put them to eternal sleep."
"We're not living in Paradise or Utopia," assented Moyese. "We can take care of our own. Men who won't listen to warning must look out for stronger arguments; and it's a great deal quicker than carrying long-drawn legal cases up to the Supreme Court. You sheepmen are asking us to take care of you. I'm asking MacDonald to vote so he can take care of us. Majority rules. What I'm trying to get at is which side you are on! We're not taking care of neutrals and aliens—"
"Aliens." The low tense voice bit into the word like acid. "And I suppose you're not taking care of pea-nut politicians either. My ancestors have lived in this country since 1759. Mr. Senator, how many generations have your people lived in this country?"
Eleanor became conscious that a question had been asked fraught with explosion; but the Senator smiled the big soft voiceless smile down in his waist-coat as if not one of the group knew that memories of the ghetto had not faded from his own generation.
"We're not strong on ancestry out West," he rubbed his whiskerless chin. "It goes back too often to—" he looked up quietly at MacDonald, "to bow and arrow aristocracy, scalps, in fact; but as for myself," if a little oily, still the smile remained genial, "for myself, from what my name means in French, I should judge we were Hugenots—what do you call 'em?—Psalm singing lot that came over in that big boat, growing bigger every year; boat that brought all the true blues over here; Mayflower—that's what I'm trying to say—all our ancestors came over in the Mayflower—"
The sheep rancher's thin lips slowly curled in a contemptuous smile. "Then I guess my ancestors on one side of the house were chanting war whoops to welcome you—"
Bat Brydges uttered a snort. Eleanor puckered her brows as at news. The Senator was fanning himself again with his hat. Even Wayland was smiling. He had heard political opponents of Moyese say that dynamite wouldn't disturb the Senator. "Only way you could raise him was yeast cake stamped with S: two sticks through it."
Certainly—Eleanor was thinking—there was some good in the worst of dragons. St. George had put his foot on one ancient beast. Wasn't it possible to tame this one, to tame all modern dragons, put a bit in their mouths and harness them to good nation building?
"Girt round with mine enemies, Miss Eleanor," he laughed, "and I slay them with the jaw bone of an ass."
The white waist-coat chortled; and she laughed. This dragon didn't spout flame but gentle ridicule, which was elusive as quicksilver slipping through your fingers.
"The point is," explained the Ranger, coming forward, "the sheep have almost grazed off up here; at least, far as we allow them to graze—"
"Besides, it's too cold for the lambs," effervesced the Missionary's boy, bouncing out of the woods.
"Shut up, Fordie," ordered Williams, holding aloof.
"Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Williams want to transfer from this Divide to the Mesas above the Rim Rocks," continued Wayland.
"Well, Mr. Forest Ranger, that is your business! The Rim Rocks are National Forest, tho' to save my life, I have never seen one tree on those Mesas. What in the world they are in the National Forest for, I don't know! You know very well I think there oughtn't to be any National Forests—each State look after its own job. Have you issued the grazing permits, Wayland? I don't see that it's any of my business."
The Senator had leisurely seated himself on the slab. Eleanor knew now why he wielded such power in the Valley. He was human: he was the man in the street: something with red blood giving and taking in a game of win and lose among men. In a word, she had to acknowledge, the Dragon of the Valley was decidedly likable; and behind the genial front were the big hands that would crush; behind the plausible eyes, the craft that would undermine what the hands could not crush. Anaemic teachers and preachers might as well throw paper wads at a wall as attempt to dislodge this man with argument. Right was an empty term to him. Might he understood; not right.
He sat waiting for them to go on. She remembered afterwards how he made them play down from the first; and how, all the time that he was watching them, plans of his own were busy as shuttles in behind the plausible eyes.
"The point," continued Wayland, "is to get fifteen-thousand sheep up there."
"Fifteen-thousand." It was the number, not the getting there that touched him.
"A deep stone gully runs between the Holy Cross and the bench of the Rim Rocks," explained the Missionary. "Look—behind the cabin—you can see where the cut runs through the timber, a notch right in the saddle of the sky line."
"How many of those fifteen-thousand are yours, Mr. Missionary?"
The Senator was gazing down in the Valley. Just for a second, Eleanor thought the genial look hardened and centred.
"About two-thousand, Senator! I've just brought a thousand angoras in to see if we can't teach weaving to the Indians. It would mean a good deal if we could teach them to be self-supporting—"
"It would mean the loss of a lot of possible patronage to this Valley," said the Senator absently. "Are you still determined not to accept Government aid?"
"Absolutely sir: my work is to Christianize these Indians, not just leave them educated savages."
"Hm," from the Senator. "What do you suppose they think we are?"
"I don't see very well how I can train them to be honest men if, out of every dollar assigned to aid the Indian school, sixty cents goes to Government contracts and party heelers?"
"Hm!" Moyese was stroking his bare chin with a crookt forefinger. "I suppose if I were the story-book villain, I'd say 'yes, you must teach 'em to be honest'; but I don't. Fact is, Mr. Missionary, if you go into the ethics of things, you're stumped the first bat: who gave us their land, in the first place? This whole business isn't a golden rule job: it's an iron proposition; and if I were an under-dog beaten in the game by the law that rules all life, I'd take half a bone rather than no meat. I make a point of never quarreling with the conditions that existed when I came into the world. I accept 'em and make the best of 'em; and I advise you to do the same."
"You can't take the contracts of a bargain-counter to regulate the things of the spirit, Mr. Senator."
"Oh, as for things of the spirit," deprecated the Senator, smiling the big soft smile that lost itself down in his vest; and he spread his broad palms in suave protest, "don't please quote spirit to me! I have all I can do managing things right here on earth. To put it briefly, far as this sheep business is concerned, if you can't get the sheep across the saddle between the Holy Cross and the Rim Rocks, you want to bring 'em along the trail through my ranch?"
"That's it," assented Wayland. "I've issued grazing permits for the Upper Range: and it only remains to get your permission to drive them across the land that is not Forest Range."
The Senator crossed his legs and hung his hat on one knee.
"As I make it out, here's our situation! I ask MacDonald here, who is the richest sheepman west of the Mississippi, what's he willing to do for the party. Far as I can see without a telescope or microscope, he doesn't raise a finger—won't even take out papers so he can vote! I ask Parson Williams here what he is willing to do for the party; and he objects to his copper-gentry taking a free-for-all forty cents on the dollar. Then, you both come asking me to pass fifteen-thousand sheep across my ranch to the Rim Rocks, though they ruin the pasture and there isn't room enough for all the cattle, let alone sheep. I hate 'em! I'm free to say I hate 'em! Every cattleman hates the sheep business. We haven't Range enough for our cattle, let alone sheep and this fool business of fencing off free pasturage in Forest Reserves. And your sheep herders never make settlers. You know how it is. We'd run your sheep to Hades if we could! We aren't all in the missionary business like Williams. We are in for what we can get; and this nation is the biggest nation on earth because all men are free to go in for all they can get. The sheep destroy the Range: and I'm cattle! You neither of you raise a hand to help the party; and I'm a plain party man; yes, I guess, Miss Eleanor—I'm a spoilsman, all right; and you come asking favors of me. It isn't reasonable; but I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll show you that I'm ready to meet you in a fair half-way! MacDonald, you and Williams and the Kid, there, go along and see if that saddle can be crossed, here to the Rim Rocks. If it can't, you can come down through the Valley and pass your sheep up through my ranch. I guess it's light enough yet for you to see. The gully is not five minutes away. Bat, you go off and entertain Miss Eleanor. I want to talk to Wayland here."
Wayland was in no mood for straddling, for palaver, for "carrying water on both shoulders." He was weary to death of talk and compromise and temporize and discretionize and all the other "izes" by which the politicians were hedging right and wrong and somehow euchring the many in the interests of the few and transforming democracy into plutocracy. Besides, memory that merged to conscious realization was playing in lambent flames through his whole being round the form of the figure against the skyline of the Ridge.
The light of the cow-boy camp blinked through the lilac mist of the Valley. A veil impalpable as dreams hovered over the River. The boom and roll of a snow cornice falling somewhere in the Gorge behind the Holy Cross came in dull rolling muffled thunder through the spruce forests. Had her eyes flashed it in that recognition of love; or had she said it; or had the thought been born of the peace that had come? It kept coming back and back to Wayland as the boom of falling snow faded, as if one man or generation of men, could stay the workings of the laws of eternal righteousness by refusing to heed, any more than a man could stop an avalanche by refusing to heed the law of the snowflake!
He heard the wordless chant that the suff of the evening wind sang; that the storm wind of the mountains shouted in spring as from a million trumpets; that the dream winds of the ghost mornings forerunner of fresh life for the sons of men whispered, singing, chanting, trumpeting the message that snowflake and avalanche told: yet beside him on the slab seat sat a man who heard none of those voices, and knew no law but the law of his own desire to get.
The Ranger drew a deep breath of the pervading fragrance, a tang of resin and balsam, a barky smell of clean earth-mould and moss, an odor as of some illusive frankincense proffered from the vesper chalices and censer cups of the flower world.
"Great thing to be alive night like this," opened the Senator. Then he pulled down his waist coat and pulled up his limp spine and wheeled on the slab seat facing the Ranger. Very quietly, in a soft even voice he was reasoning—
"We have been fighting each other for four years now?"
"We certainly have, Mr. Senator."
"You're a good fighter, Wayland! I like the way you fight! You fight square; and you fight hard; and you never let up."
No answer from the Forest Ranger.
"I wouldn't really have enough respect for you to say what I am going to say, if you hadn't fought exactly as you have fought—"
What Wayland was saying to himself was what Moyese would not have understood: it was a foolish, quotation about the Greeks when they come bearing gifts.
"But my dear fellow, we differ on fundamentals. You are for Federal authority. I am for the Federal authority everlastingly minding its own business most severely, and the States managing their own business! I am for States Rights. The Federal Government is an expensive luxury, Wayland. It wastes two dollars for every dollar it gives back to the country. There's an army of petty grafters and party heelers to be paid off at every turn! All the States want is to be let alone.
"For three years, Wayland, you have been fighting over those two-thousand acres of coal land where the Smelter stands. You say it was taken illegally. I know that; but they didn't take it! It was jugged through by an English promoter—"
"Just as foreign immigrants are jugging through timber steals to-day," thought Wayland; but he answered; "I acknowledge all that, Senator; but when goods are stolen, the owner has the right to take them back where found; and that land was stolen from the U. S. Reserves—ninety-million dollars worth of it."
"I know! I know! But what have you gained? That is what I ask! Federal Government has blocked every move you have made to take action for these lands, hasn't it? Very soon, the Statute of Limitations will block you altogether."
The Senator shifted a knee. Wayland waited.
"You have gained nothing—less than nothing: you have laid up a lot of ill will for yourself that will block your promotion. Been four years here, haven't you, at seventy-five dollars a month? I pay my cow men more; and they haven't spent five years at Yale. Now take the timber cases. You hold the Smelter shouldn't take free timber from the Forests?"
"No more than the poorest thief who steals a stick of wood from a yard—"
"Pah! Poor man! Dismiss that piffle from your brain! What does the poor man do for the Valley? Why does any man stay poor in this land? Because he is no good! We've brought in thousands of workmen. We've built up a city. We have developed this State."
"All for your own profit—"
"Exactly! What else does the poor man work for? But I'm not going to argue that kindergarten twaddle of the college highbrows, Wayland. I'm out for all I can make; so is the Smelter; so are you; but the point is you've fought this timber thing; you have filed and filed and filed your recommendations for suit to be instituted; so have the Land Office men; have they done any good, Wayland? Has your boasted Federal Government, so superior to the State, taken any action?"
"No," answered Wayland, "somebody has monkeyed with the wheels of justice."
"Then, why do you distress yourself? You have played a losing game for four years, cut your fingers on those same wheels of justice. Quit it, Wayland! What good does it do? Come over to the right side and build up big industries, big development! I've watched you fighting for four years, Wayland! You are the squarest, pluckiest fighter I've ever known. But you can't do a thing! You can't get anywhere! You're wasting the best years of your life mouthing up here in the Mountains at the moon; and who of all the public you are fighting for, my boy, who of all the public gives one damn for right or wrong? If we turn you down, who is going to raise a finger for you? Answer that my boy! They are paying you poorer wages now than we pay any ignorant foreigner down in the Smelter; that's a way the dear people have of caring for their ownest! Chuck it, Wayland! Chuck it! Waken up, man; look out for number one; and, in the words of the illustrious Vanderbilticus, let the public be d—ee—d! Come down to my ranch where you'll have a chance to carry out your fine ideas of Range and Forest! Hell, what are you gaining here, man? A sort o' moral hysterics—that's all! It's all very well for those Down Easterners, who have lots of money and are keen on the lime light, to go spouting all over the country about running the Government the way you'd run a Sunday School." The Senator had become so tense that he had raised his voice. "Chuck those damfool theories, Wayland! Chuck them, I tell you! Get down to business, man! What are you howling about timber for posterity for? If you don't look alive, you'll go lean frying fat for posterity! Oh, rot, the thing makes me so tired I can't talk about it! Come down to my ranch. I want a thorough man! I want a man who can fight like the devil if he has to and handle that gang in the cow camp with branding irons! I want 'em run out, do you hear? They're blackguards! I want a man that's a man; and, for pay, you can name your own price. I'll want a partner as I grow older. And don't you do any fool rash thing that I'll have to fight and down you for! I like you, Wayland—"
Then three things happened instantaneously. Wayland glanced up. Eleanor MacDonald was looking straight into his eyes. And the sheep rancher's choppy voice was saying to the Missionary, "Some men go up in the mountains to fish for trout; but others stay right down in the Valley and grow rich catching suckers."
"We can't cross that gully," shouted the boy. "We, can't cross it nohow! We got to cross the ranch trail to go up to them Rim Rocks."
"Why, all right, Fordie," the Senator rose, kicking the folds from the knees of his trousers, "if you boss the job, Fordie, I'll let you cross the ranch! You'll take a few of the herders up with you? And you'll not let the sheep spread over the fields? Better do it towards evening when it's cool for the climb! All right, we'll call that a bargain! Fordie's on the job to pass the sheep up the trail; and just to show you I'm fair, here is Miss Eleanor for my witness, you can drive the whole bunch over my ranch! Good night, all! Everybody coming now? Come on! We'll lead the way, Miss Eleanor. It's getting dark. I'll pad the fall if anybody behind trips. Good night, Wayland; think that offer of mine over? Not coming, Brydges? All right, give Wayland a piece of your mind, as a newspaper man, about this business! Night! Good night, Calamity!"
STACKING THE CARDS
Bat straddled the slab and lighted his pipe.
"Old man been giving you some good advice?"
"I don't know whether you'd call it good or not. Let's heap the logs on, Brydges, and make the shadows dance."
Brydges did some hard thinking and let the Ranger do the heaping.
"Sort of razzle-dazzler, MacDonald's daughter; she's a winner; but you can't get at her! Sort of feel when she's talking to you as if her other self was 'way down East. Wonder what the old curmudgeon brought her back here for? If she'd let down her high airs a peg, she'd have every fellow in the Valley on a string. She could have Moyese's scalp now if she wanted it—all that's left of it?"
"You can bunk inside! I'll take the hammock." Wayland emerged from the cabin trailing a gray blanket and a lynx skin robe. Bat continued to emit smoke in puffs and curls and wreaths at the top of the trees.
"How many acres do you patrol, Dickie?"
"About a hundred-thousand."
"Is that all? How many horses does the Govment allow?"
"None! Buy our own!"
"Great Guns! And you're loyal to that kind of Service? It's bally loyal I'd be! Why, Moyese allows me the use of any bronch on his ranch; and, when there's a quick turn to be made, it's a motor car. Why don't you let me send you up a couple of Moyese's nags? You could pasture 'em here and get their use for nothing. I could do that right off my own responsibility. Need be no connection with the old man."
"Bat," said the Ranger, "did you stay up here to say that to me?"
"I don't know whether I did or not; but, now that I am here, I say it anyway; and I say a whole lot more—don't be a bally fool and buck into a buzz-saw! Why don't you take the Senator's offer? Holy Smoke! What are you gaining stuck up here in a hole of a shack that's snowed ten feet deep all winter? What's the use of fighting the Smelter thieves, and the Timber thieves, and the Dummy homesteaders, and all that? You can't buck the combination, Dick! It isn't only Moyese! He's a mere tool himself in this game. It's the Ring you're up against, and you can chase yourself all your life round that Ring, and never get anywhere. The big dubs at Washington, the politicians, they are only spokes themselves in that wheel. If you buck into that wheel, you get yourself tangled into a pulp; and if any of those dubs down in Washington thinks he won't fit into the Ring, why he'll find himself broken and jerked out so quick he won't know what has happened till he sees the Wheel going round again with a new spoke in his place."
"Bat, did you stay up here to say that to me?"
"No, I did not." With a twig Bat pushed down the tobacco in his pipe. "I stayed up here, if you want to know, because we were on our way to the cow camp when the parson and his kid joined us. I guess every man has his limit. That cow-camp gang is mine. I want to live a little longer; and I don't want to know things that might make it useful for me to die. When Moyese wants to deal with that gang, he can go it alone."
"Brydges," said Wayland, "you have given me some frank advice. I'm going to reciprocate. You know what is going on out here. You know why that Arizona gang comes up here. You know why we can't touch them—they are off the Range of the Forest. You know about the stolen coal for the Smelter Ring, thousands of acres of it; and the stolen timber limits for the Lumber Ring, millions of acres of them. If the public knew, Bat, we'd win our fight. It would be a walk over. Every man jack of them would lie down, and stay put. Why don't you tell in your paper? Why don't you tell the truth when you send the dispatches East? If you did, Bat, we could clean out the gang in a month. Why don't you play the game a man should play? Every newspaper man likes a clean sporty fight; and no knifing in the back. Why don't you put up that fight for us, now, Brydges, and stop giving us side jabs?"
Brydges' pipe fell from his teeth.
"Wayland—what in hell—do you think—I'm working for?"
There was a big silence.
The look of masterdom came back to Wayland's face; but he paused, looking straight ahead in space. Perhaps he was looking for the hard grip of the next grapple. He had a curious trick at such times of clinching his teeth very tight behind open lips; and the pupil of his eye became a blank.
"You are at least sincere, Brydges," he said. Bat gathered up his shattered pipe.
"I'm not a past-master, yet," he said. "I haven't reached the point where I can believe my own lies; so I don't tell 'em and get caught. I've dug down in the mortuaries of other men too often—long as a man doesn 't believe his own lies, he's on guard and doesn't get caught. It's when he comes ping against a buzz-saw and finds it's a fact that he has to pay or back down or lose out. You can't budge a fact, damn it! Thing always shows the same!"
Bat had found the pieces of his pipe. Fitting the meerschaum to the wood, he had gained confidence and was going ahead full steam.
"Saw 'Macbeth' in Smelter City Theatre last night. 'Member the place where he says 'Thou canst not say I did it?' Well, that's the beginning of the end for that old boy; fooled himself that time. If he'd remembered that, though he didn't do it with his own hand, he did do it all the same, he wouldn't have believed his own lie and got all tangled up. One of the first things Moyese told me when I went on his paper was never to monkey with the dee-fool who wastes time justifying himself: do it and go ahead! Fact is, Dick, I look on a newspaper man same as I do a lawyer: he has his price; and he finds his market for his wares; and it's none of his business what his private convictions are of the right or wrong. He's paid to defend or attack like a lawyer; and he goes ahead—"
"And doesn't pretend he's fooling the public by giving news, eh, Bat? Brydges, if you argue that fashion, you must excuse me if I grin."
"Who's the old party talking to your road gang down by the white tent?" asked Brydges, pointing where the Range sloped down to the Homestead Settlement and a long canvass bunk house marked the domicile of the road hands for the Forests.
"Oh, no, you don't get away from the argument so easily, Bat! You make the Senator's job and your job and public service all round a bunco game, a bunco game with marked cards; while we Service and Land fellows act the decent sign for a blind pig—"
"Hullo, he's coming up," interrupted Brydges. "Seems your night for deputations, Wayland! Looks like a parson! By George, I didn't know Senator had his drag net out for parsons as dummy entrymen! Nothing like imparting quality! By George, hanged if I know—he looks like a peddler—has a pack horse—"
"Peddler o' th' Gospel, Son! Good ee-vening to you, Gentlemen."
The newcomer sang out greeting in a high thin falsetto that belied the ruddy youth of shaven cheeks and accorded more with his masses of white hair.
"Is this the Ranger place perched on top o' th' warld? Y'r workmen in the white tent told me A'd find a short trail here-by t' th' next Valley. 'Tis y'r Missionary Williams A'm seekin'; A thought if A'd push on, push on, an' cat-er-corner y'r mountain here, A'd strike y'r River by moonlight! So A have! So A have! But it's Satan's own waste o' windfall 'mong these big trees! Such a leg-breakin' trail A have na' beaten since A peddled Texas tickler done up in Gospel hymn books filled wi' whiskey—"
"Well—I'll—be—hanged," slowly ejaculated Mr. Bat Brydges. "Come far?" he asked aloud, fumbling his brain for a clue.
The old man, emerging from the timbers, took off his hat and swabbed the sweat from his brow. Then he righted the saddle on his broncho.
"Eh, woman, do A scare y'?" This to Calamity, just turning down the Ridge trail with a dun gray blanket filled with odds and ends on her shoulders, when the padded thud of the pack horse coming through the heavy timber was followed by the stalwart form of the newcomer. Face and form were frontiersman; vesture, clerical; but Old Calamity trotted back to the Range cabin.
"Come far, did y' ask? More or less, more or less. A've come farther on unholier missions. We'd call it a nice bit snow-shoe run in the old days. Two months since A left Saskatchewan! We've taken our time, Bessie an' me—" caressing the mare with resounding slaps. "We're not so young as we were, Bessie an' me, when we sarved Satan hot-foot back an' forth these same trails till by the Grace o' God we broke halter from Hell for holier trail—"
"Better loosen up and berth here for to-night," suggested the Ranger. "The Ridge trail is steep going, down grade, after dark for a stranger—"
"Stranger?" The old man trumpeted a laugh that would have done credit to a megaphone. "Stranger, my kiddie boy? A've known these Rocky Mountain States when, if ye owned these pairts an' had a homestead in Hell, y'd rent y'r residence here and take up quiet life the other place! A knew these trails before y' were born, from Mexico to MacKenzie River, wherever men had a thirst. A've travelled these trails wi' cook stoves packed full o' Scotch dew, an' the Mounted Police hangin' t' m' tail till A scuttled the Boundary. Good days—rip roaring days for the makin' of strong men! We were none o' y'r cold blooded reptile calculatin' kind! May we fight valiant for God now as we wrestled for the Devil then! Oh, to be young again an' not spill life in wassail! to give the blows for right instead of wrong! Man, what a view y' have here—what a view! Minds me of the days A was bridge building in the Rockies—"
"Then you've been in these mountains before?" asked Brydges; but the old frontiersman refused to take the bait and rambled on in his reverie.
"What a view! Th' vera kingdom of earth at y'r feet! The river wimplin'—wimplin'—wimplin' wi' a silver laugh over the stones, an' the light violet as a Scotch lass's eye! An' the green fields of alfalfa—Have y' ever noticed how th' light above the alfalfa turns purple? An' y'r Rim Rocks roasted fire red by the heat. 'Tis the same view A've gazed on many a time when A was young." He drew a deep sigh of the longing that only the passing frontiersman knows. "'Tis like if the Devil came tempting to-day, 't would be such a place as this! Many's the time He came to us in them old days, lawless days! 'Tis different to-day. He'd not bait men savage naked now. The kingdoms of the earth, he'd offer—wealth an' success—wealth an' success—the fetish o' sons o' men to-day. 'Twould not be simple cards for drink y'd play! Bigger stakes—bigger stakes, boys! He'd bait men's souls wi' bigger stakes! If I were young I'd take his bet an' play for the biggest stakes outside o' Hell—"
"Hey? What is that?" queried Brydges; and he winked at Wayland. "We'd been talking of a bunco game when you came up."
"Y' had, had you?" The old frontiersman measured Brydges through and through. "Well, judging from y'r brass an' the up-and-coming kind of it, A'm thinking y'r stakes would be pea-nuts under little shells! 'Tis bigger stakes I'd play for if I had m' life to live over—"
"What?" asked Wayland curiously.
Mr. Bat Brydges was revising his inventory of the old "duffer." Wayland was laughing openly. The old man had become oblivious of both, with a triangling of sharply intersected lines between his brows and tense compression of the lips—
"The—fate—o'—this—land," he ripped out in hammer raps, "the fate of this land, boys, with all time lookin' on since ever Time began! Y're the fiery furnace of all the world's hopes and fears, of all earth's people, of all poets' dreams; an' God only knows what a mess o' slag y're turning out! Y'r muck rakers are belching y'r failures to the four corners of earth! Justice perverted! Courts in fee to the highest bidder! More murders—murders in this fresh new clean land than all the stew pots o' filth the old nations have brewed in a thousand years; and murders unpunished! Y'r Government—the great world experiment—is it the wull o' the people, or the wull of a gilded clique o' tricksters?"
The old man stretched out his hands above the Valley. "What are ye doing with y'r freedom, the freedom that the children o' light prayed for and fought for and died for? When there's one law for the rich and another for the poor, when ye have to bribe y'r own self-elected rulers to do y'r wull, where is y'r freedom different from the freedom in France before the Revolution? Is it not written 'my house shall be for all nations; but ye have made it a den of thieves?' Ye have what all the nations of the earth have bled for, what prophets have prayed for, and patriots died for; and all the world is looking on asking, sneering, scoffing, saying ye pervert the Ark o' the Covenant of God, saying lawlessness stalks under y'r banners, saying y' wrest the judgment to the highest bidder, aye to the supreme fountain head o' y'r courts! The fate o' this land, boys! Them's the stakes I'd play for, if I had lusty blows to spare. I'd up—I'd up—I'd strip me naked of every back-thought and expediency and self-interest and hold-back! I'd hurl the lie—in the teeth—of a scoffing world—I'd show all nations o' time that the people, the plain common good people, can keep the law sound as the Ark o' the Covenant of God; and—and—I'd hurl y'r traitor leaders—y'r Judas Iscariots huckstering the land's good for paltry silver—I'd hurl y'r grafters an' y'r heelers an' y'r bosses an' y'r strumpet justices, who sell a verdict like a harlot, I'd hurl them to the bottom of Hell! An' may Hell be both deep and hot—old fashioned extra for the pack of them!"
He shook his trembling fist at the vacuous air. "Fight—right—might! I'd paint the words in letters o' blood till they awakened this land like the fiery cross of old! I'd fight—fight—fight till they had to kill every man o' my kind before I'd down! Before I'd see y'r law outraged, y'r courts perverted, y'r justice bartered and hawked and peddled from huckster to trickster, from heeler to headman, from blackmailer to high judge—but A didna mean to break loose. Y'r fair scene stirred m' blood; and A'm an old man; and A love the land. A was born West. A'm none of y'r immigration boomsters who goes in a Pullman car, then tells the world all about—Now, which way to y'r Missionary Williams?"
Bat flushed; but he did not laugh. Oddly enough, he forgot the feature-story. Wayland rose and came forward and involuntarily held out his hand.
"I wish you'd stay for the night," he said. "A good many of us feel the way you do; but like you, we're all up in air. Sawing the air doesn't saw wood. A good many of us are in the fight right now; but, unless we get somewhere, we're going to feel as if we were carving wind mills. Suppose you put up here for the night? Besides, it's pretty late to go down. Trail switches sharply—"
The old frontiersman heard absently.
"An old man's broodings," he ruminated.
"I'd call 'em D. T.'s," muttered Brydges.
"Don't fear for my bones on the trail." He came back from his reverie as from a journey. "A'm the old breed that doesn't break. 'Tis you young brittle fellows all bred to pace and speed and style needs look to y'r goin's. Which way do A turn at the foot of the Ridge? One—two—three—A see four lights. Which is the Mission?"
"If you insist on leaving, Sir, there is an Indian woman here going down to the MacDonald ranch—"
"MacDonald, did you say?"
"The next place along the River is the Mission. Here, Calamity, show this stranger which way to go, will you?"
But Calamity had already bolted for the Ridge trail.
"Stranger? She doesn't look to me exactly like a stranger. Looks precious like one of our Saskatchewan half-breeds! Haven't A seen you before, my good woman? A'm Jack Matthews, who carried the mail for the Company at the Big House; by an' by contractor, then by the Grace o' God missionary to the Cree! Haven't A seen you, girl? Was it '85 at the Agency House when Wandering Spirit—"
"Non sabe," snapped Calamity, setting off down the trail at a run paced to keep the reverend traveller behind till she reached the last loop. Drawing her shawl over her face, she paused with her back to the frontiersman. To the left blinked the lights of the sheep ranch house and the Mission, to the right the cow-boy camp and the dead glare of the white buildings belonging to the Senator.
"Viola! dat vay!" The woman deliberately pointed to the cow-boy camp; then vanished in the darkness.
"Mighty quick wench! A have seen you before, my sly minx, and A'll see you some more," he said staring after the fading form.
Then he headed his mare for the cow-boy camp below the cliff. Half a dozen men lounged round a smudge fire. The old man paused to sort out the scene; the box of a gramaphone laid out for a card table, a bottle of whiskey in the centre, two empty bottles with candles stuck in the necks for lights, a dull smudge fire, four rough fellows sprawling on the ground, one with corduroy velveteen trousers, an old white pack horse nosing windward of the smoke; one figure with sheepskin chaps to his waist, thumbs in his belt, standing erect with back to the trail; and face in light, a shaven face with a strong jaw and oily geniality, a corpulent form in a white vest, putting a pocket book in a breast pocket.
The old frontiersman took hold of his mare's bridle.
"'Tis hardly what you'd look for in a Missionary outfit, Bessie."
"You'll leave for the South at once?"
The question commanded. The old frontiersman listened.
"Hoof express, Sir," promised the sheep-skin leggings.
"And mind you I know nothing about it, Jim. I'm not to be told. I take care of you without you knowing about it. I expect you to take care of us—" the white waist coat became at once impressive and anxious.
"That's all right, Colonel. I understand! We'll crowd 'em to beat Hell; and they'll go it blind. If it's coming dark, they'll shut their eyes and go over blind. I defy Sheriff Flood, himself, if he's standing on the spot to make a case—"
"You need have no fear of Sheriff Flood ever being on the spot. He'll be busy under his bed that night; but look out for these Federal puppy-boy Forest Ranger fellows! Finish up off the confounded National Range. Finish up before they reach the National Range."
"And the Mexican herders?" asked the sheep skin chaps with a flourish of his band above the fire that showed the flash of a diamond on the little finger.
The white vest spread deprecating hands.
"That's your business, Jim! Make a clean sweep of the herd; but see that no harm comes to the boy."
The old frontiersman headed his broncho silently back on the trail.
"Night birds hatching snake eggs. A'm really between two minds to go back and crack their addled heads."
THE CHOICE THAT COMES TO ALL MEN
"Did you notice anything?" demanded Brydges, as the old stranger went down the Ridge trail. "She knows English as well as you do; and she is a French breed. Why did she put on to be Mexican? What did she sneak for? Whole thing cussed queer. What do you make of it? Matthews? Matthews? I recall that name. Fellow by that name wrote our paper to know if any Canadian settlers had come here! Say, Wayland, the old man pricked up his ears at MacDonald's name—spoke of Rebellion Days."
"Oh, shut it off, Bat! What in the world has a travelling half-cracked ranting old evangelist to do with the MacDonald family? He'll land on the Mission for a week or two free like the rest of 'em! He'll likely preach Hell-fire to Indians, who'll not know a word of what he says till Mr. Williams gives him a call to move on—"
"All the same," retorted Bat, disappearing inside the cabin.
Wayland passed a bad night, the worst he had known on the Holy Cross, contending with what comes to all lives, and to many lives many times.
The Ranger had absorbed the average amount of Sunday school pabulum that floats round in the mental atmosphere of all youth, that, if you keep on doing right and doing it hard, things will turn out all right in the end. Well, he told himself bluntly, he had been doing right and doing it hard, just as hundreds of the Land Office field men and Land Office attorneys had been doing right in their vain endeavour to stop public loot;—and things had turned out all wrong. What did his four years' fight stand for, anyway? Marking time, that was all. Nothing accomplished except the wasting of four years of his own life; and, while that may be small enough in the sum total of things, where a thousand seeds go to waste for one that bears fruit, it is overwhelmingly big to the individual man. If he had been the one and only failure of the Civil Service workers, he could have accused himself and taken the Senator's advice to "chuck" the fool-theory of men in public service fighting for right; but he was only one of a multitude of men, paid public money to prevent the looting of public property; whose work was blocked, non-suited, pigeon-holed, bluffed, hampered, or, worst of all, carried up to investigating committees whose sole purpose was to conceal and wear the public out with interminable wrangles over technicalities that were irrelevant.
Better men than he had fought doggedly only to be downed. There was the Land Office man in Oregon dismissed for the slip of a wrong entry in his field book because he had quite unintentionally unearthed the frauds of a member of the land-loot ring who happened to be a congressman. There was the Federal attorney hounded from his home city because he prosecuted bribe-givers and objected to being shot while on duty in the court room. There was that other Federal Law man, shot at the shaft of a coal mine stolen from public lands. There was the Army Engineer demoted from his life work because he fought for a free harbor for a great city and offended the railroad fighting to keep that harbor closed. There were the two Forest Service men dismissed for giving facts to the public. Then, there was the Alaska Case—Wayland laughed; and the laugh was a little bitter. Surely the crowning farce of all: that had gone up easily to investigation with a blare of trumpets and a flare of news headlines. That was the easiest of all.
It made good politics, yet—it was so involved in technicalities, while it offered a bit of by-play to the gallery, that there had never from the first, even for the fraction of an instant, been the faintest hope of anything but confusion emerging from the investigation; but it played into the game without hurting anybody. If they had really wanted to investigate, why didn't they take a case in which there were no technicalities of law, the looted red-lands of California, for instance; or the half-million of timber openly stolen each year for a certain smelting ring; or the two thousand acres of coal where Smelter City itself was built; or the shooting of the Federal Law Officer down at that other coal mine? These cases involved no "twilight zone" of dispute as to law, in which the "system" and the "ring" could hide. Every Government man knew the evidence was plain and complete in these cases: yet they were pigeon-holed, let lapse for the Statute of Limitations to bar action. Why?
Wayland sat down on the slab seat, and the personal reasons came trooping against his resolutions like the scouts of an oncoming host.
To begin with, he could make more money outside the Service. The Government men were paid less than foreign ditch-diggers; but then, which of the men remained in the Service for money? He ran his mind over half a dozen fellows in the Agricultural Department who had increased the nation's wealth by hundreds of millions a year. They were working at salaries less than a Wall Street Junior clerk or office girl. The question of salary didn't come in as an argument. That could be dismissed. But there was the bitter fact, he was accomplishing absolutely nothing by continuing the struggle, nothing more than a woman yoked to a Silenus hoping to reform him when he daily grew worse under her eyes. The Government had blocked him. The party had blocked him. What was the pith of it all, anyway? Should those who had the power be given the legal right to take what they cared to seize? It was the same old question that had split every country up into revolution. And closest of all, keenest of all arguments, the new influence that had come into his life, possessing it, obsessing it. He might put her out of his thoughts as a possibility. That would not dull the edge of his own hunger. By staying on he barred all possibility of ultimate happiness, perhaps her happiness: yet, if he abandoned the fight for right, he would be unworthy of her. Sooner or later she would know, and, though she might remain mute, was she the one to make semblance of what she did not feel? If the light died from her eye, it would die from his life. He was not a Silenus to guzzle hog-like over husks when the life had gone. Besides—Wayland laughed aloud—the idea of her nature permitting a Silenus near enough to breathe the same atmosphere that she breathed was inconceivable. There was one chance—one chance only—Get the issue before the People, squarely, fairly, openly before the People; awaken the People; mass the law of the snow flake to the mighty rush of the avalanche; let the People know, force the People to pronounce the verdict. Wayland thought of Bat inside the cabin—, and laughed bitterly. He rose and began pacing the edge of the Ridge. There he was, back in the old hopeless circle.
Her touch had wrapped him in a vision world; but across the clearness of the vision now somehow obtruded the quiet cynicism, the genial scoff of the Senator's arguments, leaving fierce physical unrest and confused cross-currents of desire. A mist seemed to blurr all life. The hemlocks no longer chanted riotous gladness. There was a dirge to-night of futility, monotonous age-old eons of useless effort, the useless fall of the forest giant to the dry rot of slug and insect. It was as if Wayland's spirit stood back and listened to the conflicting contentions of two other men, the one who wanted to breast the stream and the one who wanted to go with the current; one full of blind, red-blood courage, the other full of cold white-corpuscled argument; one a zealous sportsman playing the game for the game's zest, the other a quitter because he foresaw no gain.
Not a doubt of it; it was a doleful business, this being stuck half-way up between heaven and earth cut off from everything but renunciation. Why, was he doing it? What was to be gained? It would have surprised Wayland if he had disentangled out of his own weltering thoughts the fact that he had never weighed gain as an argument before Moyese talked. He had never known the coward's fear of loss. What was it they had said to him? 'Blocked at every turn,'—'Has your boasted Federal Government taken any action?'—'This is the Service you are loyal to,'—'Who of the public gives one damn for right or wrong?' Had it really come to that? Was that the seat of the trouble? Did the public care? 'Go lean frying fat for posterity?' All those voices strident, scoffing; then, part of the night's voiceless voices, that other undertone—'Nothing accomplished without somebody fighting a losing battle,'—'What so heroic about a fighter more or less going down beaten?' It was nothing heroic at all unless you happened to be the fighter. And what was the sense of accepting a challenge to a losing battle? 'I want a man who can fight like the Devil.' Well, that was what the whole world wanted—always had needed and wanted; and he and hundreds of other Government fellows were applicants for just such a fighting job. What was it that comical old sermonizing duffer had ranted about? Oh, yes! If the Devil (of course, there wasn't a Devil), if the Devil came tempting to-day 'twould be such a place as this.' 'Etches, he would proffer as of old,' 'the biggest gamble of all,' 'play for the biggest stake outside of Hell,' 'The Fate . . . of the Land . . . with all Time looking on . . . since ever Time began,' 'all the World looking on . . . asking . . . keep sacred as the Covenant of God . . . The stakes I'd play for . . . if I were young . . . I'd up . . . I'd up . . . I'd up . . . stripped naked of very hold-back . . . I'd hurl the lie in the teeth of a scoffing world. I'd hurl y'r traitor leaders huckstering the land's good for silver. . . . Fight . . . right . . . might . . . I'd paint the words in letters of blood till they awakened the land. . . . I'd fight . . . fight . . . fight till they had to kill every man of my kind before I'd down . . .'
The old man had been like the storm wind of the mountains hurling off the dead leaves of thought. Wayland paused in his pacing. The opal peak emerged from pearl gray cloud wrack; a silver cross, translucent, unreal, luminous, a thing of dreams winged with silver light beneath a solitary star, eternal as God. And the night wind through the pines, that had sounded so doleful but a moment before, became the jubilant clicking of countless castanets, the castanets of the long pine needles, sounding a triumphant chant to the touch of invisible hands.
Wayland stopped pacing. He almost stopped thinking. The consciousness, the realizing sense of her presence, of her touch, of a something more than her touch, of her being enveloping his in some ethereal fire, went over the Ranger in fiercely tender flood tides; this time, not in tumultuous confused desire, but in waves of strength, in visions from which the mists had vanished, daring that laughed with gladness over life. There were no longer two Waylands in conflict, with one sneering and looking on. "A house divided against itself shall fall." There was only one, with the blood of mothers in his veins, whelmed by a consciousness that reached back far as the consciousness of the race. Somehow, his simple manhood, the inheritance in his blood of men and women, who had loved, fused the conflict of his nature to a singleness of purpose and won peace now.
What he said was: "Come on, my friend, the enemy! I'm right here on the job; nailed, you bet, long as she does it! Just to come alive is worth being crucified."
"Hullo," bawled a towsled head through the cabin window. "Aren't you going to turn in? It's exactly twelve o'clock! Darn it all! Don't make a sleep-walking Lady Macbeth tragedy out of it! Chuck the bally thing and come on down to the Valley! Why do you waste your life pretending you are Providence steering the whole earth? Chuck it, Dickie! If you were in town, I'd give you a cocktail! Got anything up here?"
Wayland went to sleep to dream one of those dreams that envelop day with rain-bow mist. He dreamed that the amethyst gates of the sun had swung ajar flooding life with countless charioteers each carrying a golden spear, and as they advanced over the clouds to earth, all the little purple heather bells that had hung their heads during the night to keep out the dew, all the waxy chalices of the winter-greens pale and faint with passion, all the bells nodding to the wind, began ringing—ringing ten thousand golden bells; and the painter's brush, multicolored dazzling knee-deep in the Alpine meadows, flaunted countless torches of carmine flame to welcome back the day. Then, suddenly, it wasn't a sound of bells at all. It was her voice, her voice with the golden note and the liquid break that came when he had surprised Love in her eyes; and it wasn't the warmth of the Sun's fan-shaped shafts at all; it was the warmth of her lips in the face of the picture she had promised—the face above "the Warrior." When he awakened, a sprig of everlasting that he had stuck in the band of his Alpine hat had blown across his face.
WHEREIN ONE PLAYS AN UNCONSCIOUS PART
Watch a snow flake as it falls! Gentle is too rough a word for the motion. It floats, a crystal cob-web shot with the glint of sun-jewels; tangible but melting to your touch, evanescent and translucent as light; conceived of the wind that bloweth where it listeth and the gossamer clouds of a vague somewhere.
Waveringly, noiselessly, so noiselessly it comes that you do not catch the rustling flutter with your ear, but with a sixth sense of motion. And it transforms, bewitches, beautifies what it touches. I suppose if such an evanescent thing were told that it and it alone had been the age-old, time-immemorial sculptor of the granite rocks; that it and it alone—to paraphrase the words of the scientists—had rolled away the door from the sepulchers of the eternal rocks and turned a planet into a sensate earth pulsing with growth—I suppose if a snow flake were told such heresy, it would die of its own amaze.
This, apropos of nothing in particular, unless you happen to understand from the catagory of your own experiences.
It was her first love-letter; and, because she did not know she was writing a love-letter she wrote out of the fulness of an overflowing heart. Also the hour was the precise hour when consciousness of her presence had gone over Wayland in flood tides of fierce tenderness. That may have been a mere coincidence. I set it down because such coincidences daily touch life.
Here is the letter.
Are you a 'vision fugitive,' O Ranger Man? Do you know that I have seen you less than ten times and really known you less than a month? Is it a dream? What happened? I did not mean to do it. I did not want it. I did not ask it. Why has it come? You said 'best gifts came unasked; perhaps, they also go unsent!' This one can never go, Dick. I've been weaving it in and out for three whole hours, (no, not thinking, I think of other people,) weaving it in and out of every strand of me. I know now I have been waiting for it a billion years; ages and ages ago when you and I were cave people or desert runners like the 20,000 B. C. skeleton in the British Museum; and in the shuffle of atoms, we got apart. We shall never stray again; for I have locked last night in my heart. Yesterday I could look up at the Mountain, and what I saw was the snow cross, cold and far away. To-night I look up. The Mountain is still there but not the same—what I feel is—you; and you are not far away. I am warm with happiness, delirious when I let myself stop thinking.
I have tried to sleep but cannot. Your old Mountain has been talking again. I can see the Cross here from my window and the lone star above the peak; and I know that you see too. If I touched the telephone, I might speak to you; but I can write more frankly than I'd ever have courage to speak, and I must say it. It is all tumult. I do not understand, but Hope is strumming her strings—I hear them every time the wind comes down from the Ridge. Here is the Watts' 'Happy Warrior,' and Dick—listen—I didn't mean it as a token when I offered to send it up. I meant it as a rallying cry; but now that you take it as a token, I can't say that it isn't; only I really didn't mean to push you over the edge of things as I did. I didn't mean to go over the edge myself. If I had heard Senator Moyese talk, I couldn't have been so childish and ignorant. It was like urging you to jump a precipice and break your neck. I know now what the fight means. It isn't just the Valley. It's the Nation. I hadn't any right to let my (here a word was crossed and blotted) feeling shove you over. Yet if you jump yourself, I'll not pull a gossamer thread to draw back. I haven't any right.
You know how it has always been with me—whisked away to the convent at Quebec when I was four, sent to that New York finishing school to get what Father called 'world-sense knocked into my religion.' Well, they were knocks all right. Then England and Switzerland and my Father's orders to come back, and how lonely and apart he always seems. I don't understand. What did Moyese mean to-night when he spoke of 'bow-and-arrow aristocracy'? Will you believe me that is the first I have ever heard of it? Who is Calamity? Will you tell me if you know? Why are we so apart from all the people of the Valley? What is a 'squaw man'? When I think, I am afraid for having let you become so interwoven. I did not mean to. It is wholly my fault. The thoughts I hardly knew myself must have been weaving up into this. They often do. Father and Mr. Williams leave at daybreak for the Upper Pass. I did not mean to write so much, but our old Mountain has come from under a cloud. Anyway, I had to explain, no, I mean write. Explanations never do explain; but here's the picture of 'The Warrior.'
Going to the French window of her bedroom, Eleanor called down to old Calamity's room below. To her surprise, the half-breed woman on the instant poked her head above the balcony railing of the basement quarters.
"Going to the Ridge to-morrow, Calamity?"
"Oui, Mademoiselle, surement," pattered Calamity softly in that Cree patois which is neither French nor Indian.
"Then, take this up to Mr. Wayland, please!"
As she withdrew to her room, Eleanor became conscious that she could not remember a day since she had come back to the Valley when the Cree half-breed had not been within call or sight. The girl suddenly pressed both hands to her eyes. What had Moyese meant?
Once among the pillows, she fell into the life-bathing sleep of the great mountain ozone-world. Was it a dream; or had Calamity come stealing through the French window to stand at the foot of her bed? Waking to a burst of sunlight across her face, Eleanor could not tell in the least whether the memory of the half-breed woman standing in the shadows were dream or reality. The sun was coming over the Rim Rocks in a fan-shaped shield of spear shafts; and every single shaft wafted down thoughts that refused to lie quiet. Shafts that have a trick of turning your heart into a target can't be shut out by armor proof.
Daylight restored her poise. Her first instinct was to recall the letter; but Calamity had already set off for the Ridge. The thought hardly took form, but the shadow haunted her. If It were true, he would surely never let her work round the ranch houses of the Valley. Breakfast passed as usual, alone in the big raftered dining room after the ranch hands had gone, the lame German cook for the camp wagons hobbling in and out with the dishes. Stage had passed long since and the mail lay at her place, where the German had spread a white square above the oilcloth of the long bench table; but letters and papers remained unopened.
Perhaps, after all, those midnight thoughts had been morbid as midnight thoughts often are. It might be that the Valley was apart from them, not they apart from the Valley. Who were the neighbors from whom her father stood aside? There was the Senator in the white house across the River. Well, the Senator spent the most of his time in Smelter City forty miles away, and in Washington. Then, there were the Williams of the Mission House with their only boy and eighty or a hundred Indian children; gentlefolk keeping up the amenities of refined life, spreading the contagion of beautiful example like an irrigation plot widening slowly over arid sage brush. Surely her father was held in esteem by them; and they stood for all that was best in the Valley. Below the ranch houses came what was known as "the English Colony," a scattering of young bachelors playing at ranching, whose rendezvous was the pretty Swiss chalet known as "the Rookery," where a wonderful little young-old lady with red wig and hectic flush dispensed lavish hospitality and canned music and old port behind the eminent respectability of a stool-pigeon in the person of a card-loving husband. The lady's husband called himself "colonel." The Valley called him one of those "no-good Englishmen"; but the Valley may have been mistaken; for even to the ranch house had come tales of outraged honor in the person of the "no-good husband" bursting in on games of cards with wild charges which only the payment of big money could suppress—suppress you understand, purely for the sake of the lady: outraged honor could accept no atonement. Then the lady would flit for the winter to those beauty doctors of Paris and New York, who operate on wrinkles and lay up muniments for fresh campaigns; and the "colonel" would betake himself to resorts where balm is accorded wounded honour; while loose-mouthed, simple-eyed young fellows went East for the winter lighter as to purse, wiser as to the ways of paying for pleasure. Altogether, it was not surprising her father kept apart from "the English Colony," Eleanor reflected. She passed out to the piazza spanning all sides of the ranch house.
It was a sun-bathed, sun-kissed, sun-fused world. The River flowed liquid silver jubilant and singing. The morning mists rolled up primrose spangled with jewels, while over all lay such light as hypnotized the senses into a sort of dazzled dream world. Ashes of roses! There were no ashes here. It was the rose, itself; a world veiled in gold mist, wind-blown, flame-fired of joy, little cressets of fire edging every ridge. The sheep browsing in the Valley, the fleece-clouds herding mid the winds of the upper peaks, you hardly knew which shone whiter. The burnished mountain with its silver cross and wings of light, opal about the peaks, melting in fading lines about the base, with the middle distances lost in gashed purple shadows, might have been a thing of airy fancy. So might the dark forested Ridge where the evergreens stood sentinels among wisps of cloud. And everywhere, all pervasive, sifting through the shadows of silvered pine needles and trembling poplars, permeated the cinnamon smell of the barky forest world, resinous of balsam, spicy with the tang of life.
She could see the mountain streams where they laughed down the Ridge in wind-tattered spray. With the glass, too, she could see a little blue wreath of man-made smoke curling up from the evergreens; and waves of happiness, absurd warm glowing happiness, broke over her, the sheer gladness of being alive. Whatever sinister thing kept her father apart, it was here she belonged—she knew it now—to the great spacious life-stimulating West; to the world resinous with imprisoned sunbeams; not to the lands of sky shut out by twenty story roofs and pea-soup fogs and sickly anaemic views of life. Life was good. She drank of it and called it good as in creation's prime.