The Gold Girl
James B. Hendryx
Author of "The Promise," "The Gun-Brand," "The Texan," etc.
G. P. Putnam's Sons
New York and London
The Knickerbocker Press
JAMES B. HENDRYX
* * * * *
I.—A HORSEMAN OF THE HILLS 1
II.—AT THE WATTS RANCH 10
III.—PATTY GOES TO TOWN 30
IV.—MONK BETHUNE 47
V.—SHEEP CAMP 65
VI.—BETHUNE PAYS A CALL 81
VII.—IN THE CABIN 98
IX.—PATTY TAKES PRECAUTIONS 129
X.—THE BISHOP OF ALL OUTDOORS 146
XI.—LORD CLENDENNING GETS A DUCKING 162
XII.—BETHUNE TRIES AGAIN 180
XIII.—PATTY DRAWS A MAP 198
XIV.—THE SAMUELSONS 219
XV.—THE HORSE RAID 239
XVI.—PATTY FINDS A GLOVE 263
XVIII.—PATTY MAKES HER STRIKE 308
XIX.—THE RACE FOR THE REGISTER 327
* * * * *
The Gold Girl
A HORSEMAN OF THE HILLS
Patty Sinclair reined in her horse at the top of a low divide and gazed helplessly around her. The trail that had grown fainter and fainter with its ascent of the creek bed disappeared entirely at the slope of loose rock and bunch grass that slanted steeply to the divide. In vain she scanned the deeply gored valley that lay before her and the timbered slopes of the mountains for sign of human habitation. Her horse lowered his head and snipped at the bunch grass. Stiffly the girl dismounted. She had been in the saddle since early noon with only two short intervals of rest when she had stopped to drink and to bathe her fare in the deliciously cold waters of mountain streams—and now the trail had melted into the hills, and the broad shadows of mountains were lengthening. Every muscle of her body ached at the unaccustomed strain, and she was very hungry. She envied her horse his enjoyment of the bunch grass which he munched with much tongueing of the bit and impatient shaking of the head. With bridle reins gripped tightly she leaned wearily against the saddle.
"I'm lost," she murmured. "Just plain lost. Surely I must have come fifty miles, and I followed their directions exactly, and now I'm tired, and stiff, and sore, and hungry, and lost." A grim little smile tightened the corners of her mouth. "But I'm glad I came. If Aunt Rebecca could see me now! Wouldn't she just gloat? 'I told you so, my dear, just as I often told your poor father, to have nothing whatever to do with that horrible country of wild Indians, and ferocious beasts, and desperate characters.'" Hot tears blurred her eyes at the thought of her father. "This is the country he loved, with its mountains and its woods and its deep mysterious valleys—and I want to love it, too. And I will love it! I'll find his mine if it takes me all the rest of my life. And I'll show the people back home that he was right, that he did know that the gold was here, and that he wasn't just a visionary and a ne'er-do-well!"
A rattle of loose stones set her heart thumping wildly and caused her to peer down the back trail where a horseman was slowly ascending the slope. The man sat loosely in his saddle with the easy grace of the slack rein rider. A roll-brim Stetson with its crown boxed into a peak was pushed slightly back upon his head, and his legs were encased to the thighs in battered leather chaps whose lacings were studded with silver chonchas as large as trade dollars. A coiled rope hung from a strap upon the right side of his saddle, while a leather-covered jug was swung upon the opposite side by a thong looped over the horn. All this the girl took in at a glance as the rangy buckskin picked his way easily up the slope. She noted, also, the white butt-plates of the revolver that protruded from its leather holster. Her first impulse was to mount and fly, but the futility of the attempt was apparent. If the man followed she could hardly hope to elude him upon a horse that was far from fresh, and even if she did it would be only to plunge deeper into the hills—become more hopelessly lost. Aunt Rebecca's words "desperate character" seemed suddenly to assume significance. The man was very close now. She could distinctly hear the breathing of his horse, and the soft rattle of bit-chains. Despite her defiant declaration that she was glad she had come, she knew that deep down in her heart, she fervidly wished herself elsewhere. "Maybe he's a ranchman," she thought, "but why should any honest man be threading unfrequented hill trails armed with a revolver and a brown leather jug?" No answer suggested itself, and summoning her haughtiest, coldest look, she met the glance of the man who drew rein beside her. His features were clean-cut, bronzed, and lean—with the sinewy leanness of health. His gray flannel shirt rolled open at the throat, about which was loosely drawn a silk scarf of robin's-egg blue, held in place by the tip of a buffalo horn polished to an onyx luster. The hand holding the bridle reins rested carelessly upon the horn of his saddle. With the other he raised the Stetson from his head.
"Good evenin', Miss," he greeted, pleasantly. "Lost?"
"No," she lied brazenly, "I came here on purpose—I—I like it here." She felt the lameness of the lie and her cheeks flushed. But the man showed no surprise at the statement, neither did he smile. Instead, he raised his head and gravely inspected the endless succession of mountains and valleys and timbered ridges.
"It's a right nice place," he agreed. To her surprise the girl could find no hint of sarcasm in the words, nor was there anything to indicate the "desperate character" in the way he leaned forward to stroke his horse's mane, and remove a wisp of hair from beneath the headstall. It was hard to maintain her air of cold reserve with this soft-voiced, grave-eyed young stranger. She wondered whether a "desperate character" could love his horse, and felt a wild desire to tell him of her plight. But as her eyes rested upon the brown leather jug she frowned.
The man shifted himself in the saddle. "Well, I must be goin'," he said. "Good evenin'."
Patty bowed ever so slightly, as he replaced the Stetson upon his head and touched his horse lightly with a spur. "Come along, you Buck, you!"
As the horse started down the steep descent on the other side of the divide a feeling of loneliness that was very akin to terror gripped the girl. The sunlight showed only upon the higher levels, and the prospect of spending the night alone in the hills without food or shelter produced a sudden chilling sensation in the pit of her stomach.
The buckskin turned in his tracks, and once more the man was beside her upon the ridge.
"I am lost," she faltered. "Only, I hated to admit it."
"Folks always do. I've be'n lost a hundred times, an' I never would admit it."
"I started for the Watts's ranch. Do you know where it is?"
"Yes, it's over on Monte's Creek."
Patty smiled. "I could have told you that. The trouble is, someone seems to have removed all the signs."
"They ought to put 'em up again," opined the stranger in the same grave tone with which he had bid her good evening.
"They told me in town that I was to take the left hand trail where it forked at the first creek beyond the canyon."
The man nodded. "Yes, that about fits the case."
"But I did take the trail that turned to the left up the first creek beyond the canyon, and I haven't seen the slightest intimation of a ranch."
"No, you see, this little creek don't count, because most of the time it's dry; an' this ain't a regular trail. It's an' old winter road that was used to haul out cord wood an' timber. Monte's Creek is two miles farther on. It's a heap bigger creek than this, an' the trail's better, too. Watts's is about three mile up from the fork. You can't miss it. It's the only ranch there."
"How far is it back to the trail?" asked the girl wearily.
"About two mile. It's about seven mile to Watts's that way around. There's a short cut, through the hills, but I couldn't tell you so you'd find it. There's no trail, an' it's up one coulee an' down another till you get there. I'm goin' through that way; if you'd like to come along you're welcome to."
For a moment Patty hesitated but her eyes returned to the jug and she declined, a trifle stiffly. "No, thank you. I—I think I will go around by the trail."
Either the man did not notice the curtness of the reply, or he chose to ignore it, for the next instant, noting the gasp of pain and the sudden tightening of the lips that accompanied her attempt to raise her foot to the stirrup, he swung lightly to the ground, and before she divined what he was about, had lifted her gently into the saddle and pressed the reins into her hand. Without a word he returned to his horse, and with face flushed scarlet, the girl glared at the powerful gray shoulders as he picked up his reins from the ground. The next moment she headed her own horse down the back trail and rode into the deepening shadows. Gaining the main trail she urged her horse into a run.
"He—he's awfully strong," she panted, "and just horrid!"
From the top of the divide the man watched until she disappeared, then he stroked softly the velvet nose that nuzzled against his cheek.
"What d'you reckon, Buck? Are they goin' to start a school for that litter of young Wattses? There ain't another kid within twenty mile—must be." As he swung into the saddle the leather covered jug bumped lightly against his knee. There was a merry twinkle of laughter in his blue eyes as, with lips solemn as an exhorter's, he addressed the offending object. "You brown rascal, you! If it hadn't be'n for you, me an' Buck might of made a hit with the lady, mightn't we, Buck? Scratch gravel, now you old reprobate, or we won't get to camp till midnight."
"Anyway, she ain't no kin to the Wattses," he added reflectively, "not an' that clean, she ain't."
AT THE WATTS RANCH
It was with a decided feeling of depression that Patty Sinclair approached the Watts ranch. Long before she reached the buildings an air of shiftless dilapidation was manifest in the ill-lined barbed wire fences whose rotting posts sagged drunkenly upon loosely strung wire. A dry weed-choked irrigation ditch paralleled the trail, its wooden flumes, like the fence posts, rotting where they stood, and its walls all but obliterated by the wash of spring freshets. The depression increased as she passed close beside the ramshackle log stable, where her horse sank to his ankles in a filthy brown seepage of mud and rotting straw before the door. Two small, slouchily built stacks of weather-stained hay occupied a fenced-off enclosure, beside which, with no attempt to protect them from the weather, stood a dish-wheeled hay rake, and a rusty mowing machine, its cutter-bar buried in weeds.
Passing through a small clump of cottonwoods, in which three or four raw-boned horses had taken refuge from the mosquitoes, she came suddenly upon the ranch house, a squat, dirt-roofed cabin of unpeeled logs. So, this was the Watts ranch! Again and again in the delirium that preceded her father's death, he had muttered of Monte's Creek and the Watts ranch, until she had come to think of it as a place of cool halls and broad verandahs situated at the head of some wide mountain valley in which sleek cattle grazed belly-deep in lush grasses.
A rabble of nondescript curs came snapping and yapping about her horse's legs until dispersed by a harsh command from the dark interior of the cabin.
"Yere, yo' git out o' thet!"
The dogs slunk away and their places were immediately taken by a half-dozen ill-kempt, bedraggled children. A tousled head was thrust from the doorway, and after a moment of inspection a man stepped out upon the hard-trodden earth of the dooryard. He was bootless and a great toe protruded from a hole in the point of his sock. He wore a faded hickory shirt, and the knees of his bleached-out overalls were patched with blue gingham.
"Howdy," he greeted, in a not unkindly tone, and paused awkwardly while the protruding toe tried vainly to burrow from sight in the hard earth.
"Is—is this the Watts ranch?" The girl suppressed a wild desire to burst into tears.
"Yes, mom, this is hit—what they is of hit." His fingers picked vaguely at his scraggly beard. An idea seemed suddenly to strike him, and turning, he thrust his head in at the door. "Ma!" he called, loudly, and again "Ma! Ma!"
The opening of a door within was followed by the sound of a harsh voice. "Lawzie me, John Watts, what's ailin' yo' now—got a burr in under yo' gallus?" A tall woman with a broad, kindly face pushed past the man, wiping suds upon her apron from a pair of very large and very red hands.
"Sakes alive, if hit hain't a lady! Hain't yo' done tol' her to git off an' come in? Looks like yer manners, what little yo' ever hed of 'em, fell in the crick an' got drownded. Jest yo' climb right down offen thet cayuse, dearie, an' come on in the house. John, yo' oncinch thet saddle, an' then, Horatius Ezek'l, yo' an' David Golieth, taken the hoss to the barn an' see't he's hayed an' watered 'fore yo' come back. Microby Dandeline, yo' git a pot o' tea abilin' an' fry up a bate o' bacon, an' cut some bread, an' warm up the rest o' thet pone, an' yo', Lillian Russell, yo' finish dryin' them dishes an' set 'em back on the table. An' Abraham Lincoln Wirt, yo' fetch a pail o' water, an' wrinch out the worsh dish, an' set a piece o' soap by, an' a clean towel, an' light up the lamp."
Under Ma Watts's volley of orders, issued without pause for breath, things began to happen with admirable promptitude.
"Land sakes!" cried the woman, as Patty climbed painfully to the ground, "hain't yo' that sore an' stiff! Yo' must a-rode clean from town, an' hits fifty mile, an' yo' not use to ridin' neither, to tell by the whiteness of yo' face. I'll help yo' git off them hat an' gloves, an' thar sets the worsh dish on the bench beside the do'. Microby Dandeline 'll hev a bite for ye d'rec'ly an' I'll fix yo' up a shake-down. Horatius Ezek'l an' David Golieth kin go out an' crawl in the hay an' yo' c'n hev theirn." Words flowed from Ma Watts naturally and continuously without effort, as water flows from a spring. Patty who had made several unsuccessful attempts to speak, interrupted abruptly.
"Oh, I couldn't think of depriving the boys of their bed. I——"
"Now, honey, just yo' quit pesterin' 'bout thet. Them young-uns 'druther sleep out'n in, any time. Ef I'd let 'em they'd grow up plumb wild. When yo've got worshed up come on right in the kitchen an' set by. Us Wattses is plain folks an' don't pile on no dog. We've et an' got through, but yo' take all the time yo're a mind to, an' me an' Microby Dandeline 'll set by an' yo' c'n tell us who yo' be, ef yo're a mind to, an' ef not hit don't make no difference. We hain't partic'lar out here, nohow—we've hed preachers an' horse-thieves, an' never asked no odds of neither. I says to Watts——"
Again the girl made forcible entry into the conversation. "My name is Sinclair. Patty Sinclair, of Middleton, Connecticut. My father——"
"Land o' love! So yo're Mr. Sinclair's darter! Yo' do favor him a mite about the eyes, come to look; but yer nose is diff'rnt to hisn, an' so's yer mouth—must a be'n yer ma's was like that. But sometimes they don't favor neither one. Take Microby Dandeline, here, 'tain't no one could say she hain't Watts's, an' Horatius Ezek'l, he favors me, but fer's the rest of 'em goes, they mightn't b'long to neither one of us." Microby Dandeline placed the food upon the table and sank, quiet as a mouse into a chair beneath the glass bracket-lamp with her large dark eyes fixed upon Patty, who devoured the unappetizing food with an enthusiasm born of real hunger, while the older woman analyzed volubly the characteristics, facial and temperamental, of each and several of the numerous Watts progeny.
Having exhausted the subject of offspring, Ma Watts flashed a direct question. "How's yer pa, an' where's he at?"
"My father died last month," answered the girl without raising her eyes from her plate.
"Fer the land sakes, child! I want to know!"
"Watts! Watts!" The lank form appeared in the doorway. "This here's Mr. Sinclair's darter, an' he's up an' died."
The man's fingers fumbled uncertainly at his beard, as his wife paused for the intelligence to strike home. "Folks does," he opined, judiciously after a profound interval.
"That's so, when yo' come to think 'bout hit," admitted Ma Watts. "What did he die of?"
"My goodness sakes! I should think he would! When my pa died—back in Tennessee, hit wus, the doctor 'lowed hit wus the eetch, but sho', he'd hed thet fer hit wus goin' on seven year. 'Bout a week 'fore he come to die, he got so's 't he couldn't eat nothin', an' he wus thet het up with the fever he like to burnt up, an' his head ached him fit to bust, an' he wus out of hit fer four days, an' I mistrust thet-all mought of hed somethin' to do with his dyin'. The doctor, he come an' bled him every day, but he died on him, an' then he claimed hit was the eetch, or mebbe hit wus jest his time hed come, he couldn't tell which. I've wondered sence if mebbe we'd got a town doctor he mought of lived. But Doctor Swanky wus a mountain man an' we wus, too, so we taken him. But, he wus more of a hoss doctor, an' seems like, he never did hev no luck, much, with folks."
Her nerves all a-jangle from trail-strain and the depressing atmosphere of the Watts ranch, it seemed to Patty she must shriek aloud if the woman persisted in her ceaseless gabble.
"Yer pa wus a nice man, an' well thought of. We-all know'd him well. It wus goin' on three year he prospected 'round here in the hills, an' many a time he's sot right where yo're settin' now, an' et his meal o' vittles. Some said las' fall 'fore he went back East how he'd made his strike, an' hit wus quartz gold, an' how he'd gone back to git money to work hit. Mr. Bethune thought so, an' Lord Clendenning. They must of be'n thicker'n thieves with yer pa, 'cordin' to their tell." The woman paused and eyed the girl inquisitively. "Did he make his strike, an' why didn't he record hit?"
"I don't know," answered the girl wearily.
"An' don't yo' tell no one ef yo' do know. I b'lieve in folks bein' close-mouthed. Like I'm allus a-tellin' Watts. But yo' must be plumb wore out, what with ridin' all day, an' a-tellin' me all about yo'se'f. I'll slip in an' turn them blankets an' yo' kin jest crawl right into 'em an' sleep 'til yo' slep' out."
Ma Watts bustled away, and Microby Dandeline began to clear away the dishes.
"Can't I help?" offered Patty.
The large, wistful eyes regarded her seriously.
"No. I like yo'. Yo' hain't to worsh no dishes. Yo're purty. I like Mr. Bethune, an' Lord Clendenning, an' that Vil Holland. I like everybody. Folks is nice, hain't they?"
"Why—yes," agreed Patty, smiling into the big serious eyes. "How old are you?"
"I'm seventeen, goin' on eighteen. Yo' come to live with us-uns?"
"No—that is—I don't know exactly where I am going to live."
"That Vil Holland, he's got a nice camp, an' 'tain't only him there. Why don't yo' live there? I want to live there an' I go to his camp on Gee Dot, but he chases me away, an' sometimes he gits mad."
"What is Gee Dot?" Patty stared in amazement at this girl with the mind of a child.
"Oh, he's my pony. I reckon Mr. Bethune wouldn't git mad, but I don't know where he lives."
"I think you had better stay right here," advised Patty, seriously. "This is your home, you know."
"Yes, but they hain't much room. Me, an' Lillian Russell, an' David Golieth sleeps on a shake-down, an' they-all shoves an' kicks, an' sometimes when I want to sleep, Chattenoogy Tennessee sets up a squarkin' an' I cain't. Babies is a lot of bother. An' they's a lot of dishes an' chores an' things. Wisht I hed a dress like yo'n!" The girl passed a timid finger over the fabric of Patty's moleskin riding coat. Ma Watts appeared in the doorway connecting the two rooms.
"Well, fer the lands sakes! Listen at that! Microby Dandeline Watts, where's yo' manners?" She turned to Patty. "Don't mind her, she's kind o' simple, an' don't mean no harm. Yo' shake-down's ready fer yo' an' I reckon yo' glad, bein' that wore out. Hit's agin the east wall. Jest go on right in, don't mind Watts. Hit's dark in thar, an' he's rolled in. We hain't only one bed an' me an' Watts an' the baby sleeps in hit, on 'tother side the room. Watts, he aims to put up some bunks when he gits time."
Sick at heart, and too tired and sore of body to protest against any arrangement that would allow her to sleep the girl murmured her thanks and crossed to the door of the bedroom. Not at all sure of her bearings she paused uncertainly in the doorway until a sound of heavy breathing located the slumbering Watts, and turning toward the opposite side of the room, proceeded cautiously through the blackness until her feet came in contact with her "shake-down," which consisted of a pair of blankets placed upon a hay tick. The odor of the blankets was anything but fresh, but she sank to the floor, and with much effort and torturing of strained muscles, succeeded in removing her boots and jacket and throwing herself upon the bed. Almost at the moment her head touched the coarse, unslipped pillow, she fell into a deep sleep, from which hours later she was awakened by an insistent tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap. "Someone has forgotten to pull up the canoe and the waves are slapping it against the side of the dock," she thought drowsily. "Did I have it last?" She stirred uneasily and the pain of movement caused her to gasp. She opened her eyes, and instead of her great airy chamber in Aunt Rebecca's mansion by the sea, she was greeted by the sight of the hot, stuffy room of the Watts cabin. A rumpled pile of blankets was mounded upon the bed against the opposite wall, and a shake-down similar to her own occupied a space beside the open door through which hot, bright sunlight streamed.
Several hens pecked assiduously at some crumbs, and Patty realized that it was the sound of their bills upon the wooden floor that had awakened her. She succeeded after several painful attempts in pulling on her boots, and as she rose to her feet, Ma Watts thrust her head in at the door.
"Lawzie! Honey, did them hens wake yo' up? Sho'! ef I'd a thought o' thet, I'd o' fed 'em outside, an' yo' could of kep' on sleepin'. 'They ain't nothin' like a good long sleep when yo' tired,' Watts says, an' he ort to know. He aims to build a house fer them hens when he gits time. Yo' know where the worsh dish is, jest make yo'se'f to home, dinner'll be ready d'rec'ly." The feel of the cold water was grateful as the girl dashed it over her face and hands from the little tin wash-basin on the bench beside the door. Watts sat with his chair resting upon its rear legs and its back against the shady west wall of the cabin.
"Mo'nin'," he greeted. "Hit's right hot; I be'n studyin' 'bout fixin' them thar arrigation ditches."
Patty smiled brightly. "All they need is cleaning out, isn't it?"
"Yas, mom. Thet an' riggin' up them flumes. But it's a right smart o' work, an' then the resevoy's busted, too. I be'n aimin' to fix 'em when I git time. They hain't had no water in 'em fer three year. Yo' see, two year ago hit looked like rain mos' every day. Hit didn't rain none to speak, but hit kep' a body hatin' to start workin' fer fear it would. An' las' year hit never looked like rain none, so hit wasn't no use fixin' 'em. An' this year I don't know jest what to do, hit might, an' then agin hit mightn't. Drat thet sun! Here hit is dinner time. Seems like hit never lets a body set in one place long 'nough to study out whut he'd ort to do." Watts rose slowly to his feet, and picking up his chair, walked deliberately around to the east side of the house, where he planted it with the precision born of long practice in the exact spot that the shadow would be longest at the conclusion of the midday meal.
Patty entered the cabin and a few minutes later the sound of voices reached her ears. Ma Watts hurried to the window.
"Well, if hit ain't Mr. Bethune an' Lord Clendenning! Ef you see one you know the other hain't fer off. Hain't he good lookin' though—Mr. Bethune? Lord hain't so much fer looks, but he's some high up nobility like over to England where he come from, only over yere they call 'em remittance men, an' they don't do nothin' much but ride around an' drink whisky, an' they git paid for hit, too. Folks says how Mr. Bethune's gran'ma wus a squaw, but I don't believe 'em. Anyways, I allus like him. He's got manners, an' hit don't stan' to reason no breed would have manners."
Patty could distinctly see the two riders as they lounged in their saddles. The larger, whose bulging blue eyes and drooping blond mustache gave him a peculiar walrus-like expression, she swept at a glance. The other was talking to Watts and the girl noted the slender figure with its almost feminine delicacy of mold, and the finely chiseled features dominated by eyes black as jet—eyes that glowed with a velvety softness as he spoke.
"We have been looking over your upper pasture," he said. "A fellow named Schmidt over in the Blackfoot country will be delivering some horses across the line this summer and he wants to rent some pastures at different points along the trail. How about it?"
Watts rubbed his beard uncertainly. "Them fences hain't hoss tight. I be'n studyin' 'bout fixin' 'em."
"Why don't you get at it?"
"Well they's the resevoy, an' the ditches——"
"Never mind the ditches. All that fence needs is a few posts and some staples."
"My ax hain't fitten to chop with no mo', an' I druv over the spade an' bruk the handle. I hain't got no luck."
Reaching into his pocket, Bethune withdrew a gold piece which he tossed to Watts. "Maybe this will change your luck," he smiled. "The fact is I want that pasture—or, rather, Schultz does."
"Thought yo' said Schmidt."
"Did I? Those kraut names all sound alike to me. But his name is Schultz. The point is, he'll pay you five dollars a month to hold the pasture, and five dollars for every day or night he uses it. That ten spot pays for the first two months. Better buy a new ax and spade and some staples and get to work. The exercise will do you good, and Schultz may want to use that pasture in a couple of weeks or so."
"Well, I reckon I kin. Hit's powerful hot fer to work much, but that's a sight o' money. As I wus sayin' to Mr. Sinclair's darter——"
"Sinclair's daughter! What do you mean? Is Sinclair back?"
Patty noted the sudden flash of the jet black eyes at the mention of her father's name. It was as though a point of polished steel had split their velvet softness. Yet there was no hostility in the glance; rather, it was a gleam of intense interest. The girl's own interest in the quarter-breed had been casual at most, hardly more than that accorded by a passing glance until she had chanced to hear him refer to the man in the Blackfoot country in one breath as Schmidt, and in the next as Schultz. She wondered at that and so had remained standing beside Mrs. Watts, screened from the outside by the morning-glory vines that served as a curtain for the window. The trifling incident of the changed name was forgotten in the speculation as to why her father's return to the hill country should be a matter of evident import to this sagebrush cavalier. So intent had she become that she hardly noticed the cruel bluntness of Watts's reply.
"Yas, he died back East an' his darter's come."
"Does she know he made a strike?" Patty noted the look of eagerness that accompanied the words.
"I do'no." Watts wagged his head slowly. "Mebbe so; mebbe not."
"Because, if she doesn't," Bethune hastened to add, "she should be told. Rod Sinclair was one of the best friends I had, and if he has gone I'm right here to see that his daughter gets a square deal. Of course if she has the location, she's all right." Patty wondered whether the man had purposely raised his voice, or was it her imagination?
Ma Watts had started for the door. "Come on out, honey, an' I'll make yo' acquainted with Mr. Bethune. He wus a friend of yo' pa, an' Lord too." As she followed the woman to the door, the girl was conscious of an indefinable feeling of distrust for the man. Somehow, his words had not rung true.
As the two women stepped from the house the horsemen swung from their saddles and stood with uncovered heads.
"This yere's Mr. Sinclair's darter, Mr. Bethune," beamed Ma Watts. "An' I'd take hit proud ef yo'd all stay to dinner."
"Ah, Miss Sinclair, I am most happy to know you. Permit me to present my friend Lord Clendenning."
The Englishman bowed low. "The prefix is merely a euphonism Miss Sinclair. What you really behold in me is the decayed part of a decaying aristocracy."
Patty laughed. "My goodness, what frankness!"
"Come on, now, an' set by 'fore the vittles gits cold on us. Yere yo' Horatius Ezek'l an' David Golieth, yo' hay them hosses!"
"No, no! Really, Mrs. Watts, we must not presume on your hospitality. Important business demands our presence elsewhere."
"Lawzie, Mr. Bethune, there yo' go with them big words agin. Which I s'pose yo' mean yo' cain't stay. But they's a plenty, an' yo' welcome." Again Bethune declined and as the woman re-entered the house, he turned to the girl.
"I only just learned of your father's untimely death. Permit me to express my sincerest sympathy, and to assure you that if I can be of service to you in any way I am yours to command."
"Thank you," answered Patty, flushing slightly under the scrutiny of the black eyes. "I am here to locate my father's claim. I want to do it alone, but if I can't I shall certainly ask assistance of his friends."
"Exactly. But, my dear Miss Sinclair, let me warn you. There are men in these hills who suspected that your father made a strike, who would stop at nothing to wrest your secret from you." The girl nodded. "I suppose so. But forewarned is forearmed, isn't it? I thank you."
"Thet Vil Holland wus by yeste'day," said Watts.
Bethune frowned. "What did he want?"
"Didn't want nothin'. Jest come a-ridin' by."
"I should think you'd had enough of him after the way he ran your sheep man off."
Watts rubbed his beard. "Well, I do'no. The cattlemen pays me same as that sheep man done. Vil Holland tended to that."
"That isn't the point. What right has Vil Holland and others of his ilk to tell you, or me, or anybody else who we shall, or shall not rent to? It is the principle of the thing. The running off of those sheep was a lawless act, and the sooner lawlessness, as exemplified by Vil Holland is stamped out of these hills, the better it will be for the community. He better not try to bulldoze me." Bethune turned to Patty. "That Vil Holland is the man I had in mind, Miss Sinclair, when I warned you to choose your friends wisely. He would stop at nothing to gain an end, even to posing as a friend of your father. In all probability he will offer to assist you, but if you have any map or description of your father's location do not under any circumstances show it to him."
Patty smiled. "If any such paper exists I shall keep it to myself."
Bethune returned the smile. "Good-by," he said. "I shall look forward to meeting you again. Shall you remain here?"
"I have made no plans," she answered, and as she watched the two riders disappear down the creek trail her lips twisted into a smile. "May pose as a friend of your father ... and probably will offer to assist you;" she repeated under her breath. "Well, Mr. Bethune, I thank you again for the warning."
PATTY GOES TO TOWN
Ma Watts called loudly from the doorway and numerous small Wattses appeared as if by magic from the direction of the creek and the cottonwood thicket. Dinner consisted of flabby salt pork, swimming in its own grease, into which were dipped by means of fingers or forks, huge misshapen slices of sour white bread. There was also an abundance of corn pone, black molasses, and a vile concoction that Ma Watts called coffee. Flies swarmed above the table and settled upon the food from which they arose in clouds at each repetition of the dipping process.
How she got through the meal Patty did not know, but to her surprise and disgust, realized that she had actually consumed a considerable portion of the unappetizing mess. Watts arose, stretched prodigiously, and sauntered to his chair which, true to calculation was already just within the shadow of the east side of the house.
Baby on hip, Ma Watts, assisted by Microby Dandeline and Lillian Russell, attacked the dishes. All offers of help from Patty were declined.
"Yo' welcome to stay yere jest as long as yo' want to, honey, an' yo' hain't got to work none neither. They's a old piece o' stack-cover somewheres around an' them young-uns kin rig 'em up a tent an' sleep in hit all summer, an' yo' kin hev their shake-down like yo' done las' night. I s'pose yo're yere about yo' pa's claim?"
"Yes," answered the girl, "and I certainly appreciate your hospitality. I hope I can repay you some day, but I cannot think of settling myself upon you this way. My work will take me out into the hills and——"
"Jest like yo' pa usta say. He wus that fond o' rale home cookin' thet he'd come 'long every onct in a month 'er so, an' git him a squr meal, an' then away he'd go out to his camp."
"Where was his camp?" asked the girl eagerly.
"Lawzie, his camp wus a tent, an' he moved hit around so they couldn't no one tell from one day to 'nother where he'd be at. But, he never wus no great ways from here, gen'ally within ten mile, one way er 'nother. Hits out yonder in the barn—his tent an' outfit—pick an' pan an' shovel an' dishes, all ready to throw onto his pack hoss which hits a mewl an' runnin' in the hills with them hosses of ourn. If hit wusn't fer the fences they'd be in the pasture. Watts aims to fix 'em when he gits time."
"I don't know much about tents, but I guess I'll have to use it, that is, if there isn't another ranch, or a—a house, or something, where I can rent a room all to myself."
"Great sakes, child! They hain't another ranch within twenty-five mile, an' thet's towards town." As if suddenly smitten with an idea, she paused with her hand full of dishes and called loudly to her spouse:
The chair was eased to its four legs, and the lank form appeared in the doorway. "Yeh?"
"How about the sheep camp?"
The man's fingers fumbled at his beard and he appeared plunged into deep thought. "What yo' mean, how 'bout hit?"
"Why not we-all leave Mr. Sinclair's darter live up there?"
Again the thoughtful silence. At length the man spoke: "Why, shore, she kin stay there long as she likes, an' welcome."
"Hit's a cabin four mile up the crick," explained Ma Watts, "what we built on our upper desert fer a man thet wanted to run a band o' sheep. He wus rentin' the range offen us, till they druv him off—the cattlemen claimed they wouldn't 'low no sheep in the hill country. They warned him an' pestered him a spell, an' then they jest up an' druv him off—thet Vil Holland wus into hit, an' some more."
"Who is this Vil Holland you speak of, and why did he want to drive off the sheep?"
"Oh, he's a cowpuncher—they say they hain't a better cowpuncher in Montany, when he'll work. But he won't work only when he takes a notion—'druther hang around the hills an' prospeck. He hain't never made no strike, but he allus aims to, like all the rest. Ef he'd settle down, he could draw his forty dollars a month the year 'round, 'stead of which, he works on the round-up, an' gits him a stake, an' then quits an' strikes out fer the hills."
"I couldn't think of occupying your cabin without paying for it. How much will you rent it to me for?"
"'Tain't wuth nothin' at all," said Watts. "'Tain't doin' no good settin' wher' it's at, an' yo' won't hurt hit none a-livin' in hit. Jest move in, an' welcome."
"No, indeed! Now, you tell me, is ten dollars a month enough rent?"
"Ten dollars a month!" exclaimed Watts. "Why, we-all only got fifteen fo' a herder an' a dog an' a band o' sheep! No, ef yo' bound to pay, I'll take two dollars a month. We-all might be po' but we hain't no robbers."
"I'll take it," said Patty. "And now I'll have to have a lot of things from town—food and blankets, and furniture, and——"
"Hit's all furnished," broke in Ma Watts. "They's a bunk, an' a table, an' a stove, an a couple o' wooden chairs."
"Oh, that's fine!" cried the girl, becoming really enthusiastic over the prospect of having a cabin all her very own. "But, about the other things: Mr. Watts can you haul them from town?"
Watts tugged at his beard and stared out across the hills. "Yes, mom, I reckon I kin. Le's see, the work's a-pilin' up on me right smart." He cast his eye skyward, where the sun shone hot from the cloudless blue. "Hit mought rain to-morrow, an' hit moughtn't. The front ex on the wagon needs fixin'—le's see, this here's a Wednesday. How'd next Sunday, a week do?"
The girl stared at him in dismay. Ten days of Ma Watts's "home cooking" loomed before her.
"Oh, couldn't you possibly go before that?" she pleaded.
"Well, there's them fences. I'd orter hev' time to study 'bout how many steeples hit's a-goin' to tak' to fix 'em. An' besides, Ferd Rowe 'lowed he wus comin' 'long some day to trade hosses an' I'd hate to miss him."
"Why can't I go to town. I know the way. Will you rent me your horses and wagon? I can drive and I can bring out your tools and things, too." As she awaited Watts's reply her eyes met the wistful gaze of Microby Dandeline. She turned to Ma Watts. "And maybe you would let Microby Dandeline go with me. It would be loads of fun."
"Lawzie, honey, yo' wouldn't want to be pestered with her."
"Yes, I would really. Please let her go with me, that is, if Mr. Watts will let me have the team."
"Why, shore, yo' welcome to 'em. They hain't sich a good span o' hosses, but they'll git yo' there, an' back, give 'em time."
"And can we start in the morning?"
"My! Yo' in a sight o' hurry. They's thet front ex——"
"Is it anything very serious? Maybe I could help fix it. Do let me try."
Watts rubbed his beard reflectively. "Well, no, I reckon it's mebbe the wheels needs greasin'. 'Twouldn't take no sight o' time to do, if a body could only git at hit. Reckon I mought grease 'em all 'round, onct I git started. The young-uns kin help, yo' jest stay here with Ma. Ef yo' so plumb sot on goin' we'll see't yo' git off."
"I kin go, cain't I, Ma?" Microby Dandeline's eyes were big with excitement, as she wrung out her dish towel and hung it to dry in the sun.
"Why, yas, I reckon yo' mought's well—but seem's like yo' allus a-wantin' to gad. Yo' be'n to town twict a'ready."
"Twice!" cried Patty. "In how long?"
"She's goin' on eighteen. Four years, come July she wus to town. They wus a circust."
"I know Mr. Christie. He lives to town."
"He's the preacher. He's a 'piscopalium preacher, an' one time that Vil Holland an' him come ridin' 'long, an' they stopped in fer dinner, an' that Vil Holland, he's allus up to some kind o' devilment er 'nother, he says: 'Ma Watts, why don't yo' hev the kids all babitized?' I hadn't never thought much 'bout hit, but thar wus the preacher, an' he seemed to think mighty proud of hit, an' hit didn't cost nothin', so I tol' him to go ahead. He started in on Microby Dandeline—we jest called her Dandeline furst, bein' thet yallar with janders when she wus a baby, but when she got about two year, I wus a readin' a piece in a paper a man left, 'bout these yere little microbys thet gits into everywheres they shouldn't ort to, jest like she done, so I says to Watts how she'd ort to had two names anyways, only I couldn't think of none but common ones when we give her hern. I says, we'll name her Microby Dandeline Watts an' Watts, he didn't care one way er t'other." Ma Watts shifted the baby to the other hip. "Babitizin' is nice, but hit works both ways, too. Take the baby, yere. When we'd got down to the bottom of the batch it come her turn, an', lawzie, I wus that flustered, comin' so sudden, thet way, I couldn't think of no name fer her 'cept Chattenoogy Tennessee, where I come from near, an' the very nex' day I wus readin' in the almanac an' I found one I liked better. Watts, he hain't no help to a body, he hain't no aggucation to speak of, an' don't never read none, an' would as soon I'd name his children John, like his ma done him. As I was sayin' there hit wus in the almanac the name 'twould of fitten the baby to a T. Vernal Esquimaux, hit said, March 21, 5:26 A.M. The baby was borned March the 21st, 'tween five an' six in the mornin'. Nex' time I wus to town I hunted up preacher Christie, but he said he couldn't onbabitize her, an' he reckoned Chatenoogy Tennessee wus as good as Vernal Esquimaux, anyhow, an' we could save Vernal Esquimaux fer the next one—jest's ef yo' could hev 'em like a time table!"
The afternoon was assiduously devoted to overhauling the contents of a huge tin trunk in an effort to find a frock suitable for the momentous occasion of Microby Dandeline's journey. The one that had served for the previous visit, a tight little affair of pink gingham, proved entirely inadequate in its important dimensions, and automatically became the property of the younger and smaller Lillian Russell. Patty's suggestion of a simple white lawn that reposed upon the very bottom of the trunk was overruled in favor of a betucked and beflounced creation of red calico in which Ma Watts had beamed upon the gay panoply of the long remembered "circust." An hour's work with scissors and needle reduced the dress to approximately the required size. When the task was completed Watts appeared with the information that he reckoned the wagon would run, and that the "young-uns" were out in the hills hunting the "hosses."
At early dawn the following morning Patty was awakened by a timid hand upon her shoulder.
"Hit's daylight, an' Pa's hitchin' up the hosses." Arrayed in the red dress, her eyes round with excitement and anticipation, Microby Dandeline was bending over her whispering excitedly, "An' breakfus's ready, an' me an' Ma's got the lunch putten up, an' hit's a pow'ful long ways to town, an' we better git a-goin'."
"Stay right clost an' don't go gittin' lost," admonished Ma watts, as she stood in the doorway and surveyed her daughter with approval born of motherly pride. The pink gingham sunbonnet that matched the tight little dress had required only a slight "letting out" to make it "do," and taken in conjunction with the flaming red dress, made a study in color that would have delighted the heart of a Gros Ventre squaw. Thick, home-knit stockings, and a pair of stiff cow-hide shoes completed the costume, and made Microby Dandeline the center of an admiring semi-circle of Wattses.
"Yo' shore look right pert an' briggity, darter," admitted Watts. "Don't yo' give the lady no trouble, keep offen the railroad car tracks, an' don't go talkin' to strangers yo' don't know, an' ef yo' see preacher Christie tell him howdy, an' how's he gittin' 'long, an' we're doin' the same, an' stop in nex' time he's out in the hills." He handed Patty the reins. "An' mom, yo' won't fergit them steeples, an' a ax, an' a spade?"
"I won't forget," Patty assured him, and as Microby Dandeline was saying good-by to the small brothers and sisters, the man leaned closer. "Ef they's any change left over I wisht yo'd give her about ten cents to spend jest as she pleases."
The girl nodded, and as Microby Dandeline scrambled up over the wheel and settled herself beside her upon the board that served as a seat, she called a cheery good-by, and clucked to the horses.
The trail down Monte's Creek was a fearsome road that sidled dangerously along narrow rock ledges, and plunged by steep pitches into the creek bed and out again. Partly by sheer luck, partly by bits of really skillful driving, but mostly because the horses, themselves knew every foot of the tortuous trail, the descent of the creek was made without serious mishap. It was with a sigh of relief that Patty turned into the smoother trail that lead down through the canyon toward town. In comparison with the bumping and jolting of the springless lumber wagon, she realized that the saddle that had racked and tortured her upon her outward trip had been a thing of ease and comfort. Released from her post at the brake-rope, Microby Dandeline immediately proceeded to remove her shoes and stockings. Patty ventured remonstrance.
"Hit's hot an' them stockin's scratches. 'Tain't no good to wear 'em in the summer, nohow, 'cept in town, an' I kin put 'em on when we git there. Why does folks wear 'em in town?"
"Why, because it is nicer, and—and people couldn't very well go around barefooted."
"I kin. I like to 'cept fer the prickly pears. Is they prickly pears in town?" Without waiting far a reply the girl chattered on, as she placed the offending stockings within her shoes and tossed them back upon the hay with which the wagon-box was filled. "I like to ride, don't you? We've got to ride all day an' then we'll git to town. We goin' to sleep in under the wagon?"
"Certainly not! We will go to the hotel."
"The hotel," breathed the girl, rapturously. "An' kin we eat there too?"
"Yes, we will eat there, too."
"An' kin I go to the store with yo'?"
Patty's answers became shorter as her attention centered upon a horseman who was negotiating the descent of what looked like an impossibly steep ridge.
"That's Buck!" exclaimed Microby Dandeline, as she followed the girl's gaze. The rider completed the descent of the ridge with an abrupt slide that obscured him in a cloud of dust from which he emerged to approach the trail at a swinging trot. Long before he was near enough for Patty to distinguish his features, she recognized him as her lone horseman of the hills. "If it is his intention to presume upon our chance meeting," she thought, "I'll——" The threat was unexpressed even in thought, but her lips tightened and she flushed hotly as she remembered how he had picked her up as though she had been a child and placed her in the saddle.
"Who did you say he is?" she asked, with a glance toward the girl at her side.
"He's Vil Holland, an' his hoss's name is Buck. I like him, only sometimes he chases me home."
"Vil Holland!" she exclaimed aloud, and her lips pressed tighter. So this man was Vil Holland—that Vil Holland, everybody called him. The man who had chased an inoffensive sheep herder from the range, and whose name stood for lawlessness in the hill country! So Aunt Rebecca's allusion to desperate characters had not been so far-fetched, after all. He looked the part. Patty's glance took in the vivid blue scarf with its fastening of polished buffalo horn, the huge revolver that swung in its holster, and the brown leather jug that dangled from the horn of his saddle.
"Good-mornin'!" He drew up beside the trail, and the girl reined in her horses, flushing slightly as she did so—she had meant to drive past without speaking. She acknowledged the greeting with a formal bow. The man ignored the frigidity.
"I see you found Watts's all right."
"Yes, thank you."
"Well, if there ain't Microby Dandeline! An' rigged out for who throw'd the chunk! Goin' to town to take in the picture show, an all the sights, I expect."
"We're goin' to the hotel," explained the girl proudly.
"My ain't that fine!"
"I got a red dress."
"Why so you have. Seein' you mentioned it, I can notice a shade of red to it. An' that bonnet just sets it off right. That'll make folks set up an' take notice, I'll bet."
"I'm a-goin' to the store, too."
"What do you think of that!" the man drew a half-dollar from his pockets. "Here, get you some candy an' take some home to the kids."
Microby reached for the coin, but Patty drew back her arm.
"Don't touch that!" she commanded sharply, then, with a withering look that encompassed both the man and his jug, she struck the horses with her whip and started down the trail.
"I could of boughten some candies," complained Microby Dandeline.
"I will buy you all the candy you want, but you must promise me never to take any money from men—and especially from that man."
Microby glanced back wistfully, and as the wagon rumbled on her eyes closed and her head began to nod.
"Why, child, you are sleepy!" exclaimed Patty, in surprise.
"Yes, mom. I reckon I laid awake all night a-thinkin' about goin' to town."
"If I were you I would lie down on the hay and take a nap."
The girl eyed the hay longingly and shook her head. "I like to ride," she objected, sleepily.
"You will be riding just the same."
"Yes but we might see somethin'. Onct we seen a nortymobile without no hosses an' hit squarked louder'n a settin' hen an' went faster'n what a hoss kin run."
"You go to sleep and if there is anything to see I'll wake you up. If you don't sleep now you'll have to sleep when you get to town and I'm sure you don't want to do that."
"No, mom. Mebbe ef I hurry up an' sleep fast they won't no nortymobiles come, but if they does, you wake me."
"I will," promised Patty, and thus assured the girl curled up in the hay and in a moment was fast asleep.
Hour after hour as the horses plodded along the interminable trail, Patty Sinclair sat upon the hard wooden seat, while her thoughts ranged from plans for locating her father's lost claim, to the arrangement of her cabin; and from Vil Holland to the welfare of the girl, a pathetic figure as she lay sprawled upon the hay, with her bare legs, and the gray dust settling thickly upon her red dress and vivid pink sunbonnet.
"When the devil was sick, the devil a monk would be, When the devil got well, the devil a monk was he."
Pippin Larue chanted tipsily, as he strummed softly the strings of a muffled banjo. And Raoul Bethune, with the flush of liquor upon his pale cheeks, joined in the laugh that followed, and replenished his glass from the black bottle he had contrived to smuggle from the hospital stores when he had been returned to his room in the dormitory. And "Monk" Bethune he was solemnly rechristened by the half-dozen admiring satellites who had foregathered to celebrate his recovery from an illness. All this was long ago. Monk Bethune's dormitory life had terminated abruptly—for the good of the school, but the name had fastened itself upon him after the manner of names that fit. It followed him to far places, and certain red-coated policemen, who knew and respected his father, the Hudson Bay Company's old factor on Lake o' God's Wrath, hated him for what he had become. They knew him for an inveterate gambler who spent money freely and boasted openly of his winnings. He was soft of voice and mild of manner and aside from his passion for gambling, his conduct so far as was known was irreproachable. But, there were wise and knowing ones among the officers of the law, who deemed it worth their while to make careful and unobtrusive comparison between the man's winnings and his expenditures. These were the men who knew that certain Indians were being systematically supplied with whisky, and that there were certain horses in Canada whose brands, upon close inspection, showed signs of having been skillfully "doctored," and which bore unmistakable evidence of having come from the ranges to the southward of the international boundary.
But, try as they might, no slightest circumstance of evidence could they unearth against Bethune, who was wont to disappear from his usual haunts for days and weeks at a time, to reappear smiling and debonaire, as unexpectedly as he had gone. Knowing that the men of the Mounted suspected him, he laughed at them openly. Once, upon a street in Regina, Corporal Downey lost his temper.
"You'll make a mistake sometime, Monk, and then it will be our turn to laugh."
"Oh-ho! So until I make a mistake, I am safe, eh? That is good news, Downey—good news! Skill and luck—luck and skill—the tools of the gamblers' trade! But, granted that sometime I shall make a mistake—shall lose for the moment, my skill; I shall still have my luck—and your mistakes. You are a good boy, Downey, but you'll be a glum one if you wait to laugh at my mistakes. If I were a chicken thief instead of a—gambler, I should fear you greatly."
Downey recounted this jibe in the barracks, and the officers redoubled their vigilance, but the Indians still got their whisky, and new horses appeared from the southward.
When Monk Bethune refused Ma Watts's invitation to dinner, and rode off down the creek followed by Lord Clendenning, the refusal did not meet the Englishman's unqualified approval, a fact that he was not slow in imparting when, a short time later, they made noonday camp at a little spring in the shelter of the hills.
"I say, Monk, what's this bally important business we've got on hand?" he asked, as he adjusted a refractory hobble strap. "Seems to me you threw away an excellent opportunity."
Bethune grinned. "Anything that involves the loss of a square meal, is a lost opportunity. You're too beefy, Clen, a couple of weeks on pilot bread and tea always does you good."
"I was thinking more of the lady."
"La, la, the ladies! A gay dog in your day—but, you've had your day. Forget 'em, Clen, you're fifty, and fat."
"I'm forty-eight, and I weigh only fifteen stone as I stand," corrected the Englishman solemnly. "But layin' your bloody jokes aside, this particular lady ought to be worth our while."
Bethune nodded, as he scraped the burning ends of the little sticks closer about the teapot. "Yes, decidedly worth while, my dear Clen, and that's where the important business comes in. Those who live by their wits must use their wits or they will cease to live. I live by my wits, and you by your ability to follow out my directions. In the present instance, we had no plan. We could only have sat and talked, but talk is dangerous—when you have no plan. Even little mistakes are costly, and big ones are fatal. Let us go over the ground, now and check off our facts, and then we can lay our plans." As he talked, Bethune munched at his pilot bread, pausing at intervals for a swallow of scalding tea.
"In the first place, we know that Rod Sinclair made a strike. And we know that he didn't file any claim. Why? Because he knew that people would guess he had made a strike, and that the minute he placed his location on record, there would be a stampede to stake the adjoining claims—and he was saving those claims for his friends."
"His strike may be only a pocket," ventured Clendenning.
"It is no pocket! Rod Sinclair was a mining man—he knows rock. If he had struck a pocket he would have staked and filed at once—and taken no chances. I tell you he went back East to let his friends in. The fool!"
The Englishman finished his tea, rinsed out his tin cup in the spring, and filled his pipe. "And you think the girl has got the description?"
Bethune shook his head. "No. A map, perhaps, or some photographs. If she had the description she would not have come alone. The friends of her father would have been with her, and they would have filed the minute they hit the country. It's either a map, or nothing but his word."
"And in either case we've got a chance."
"Yes," answered Bethune, viciously. "And this time we are not going to throw away our chance!" He glanced meaningly at the Englishman, who puffed contentedly at his pipe.
"Sinclair was too shrewd to have carried anything of importance, and there would have been blood on our hands. As it is, we sleep good of nights."
Bethune gave a shrug of impatience. "And the gold is still in the hills, and we are no nearer to it than we were last fall."
"Yes, we are nearer. This girl will not be as shrewd as her father was in guarding the secret, if she has it. If she hasn't it our chance is as good as hers."
"And so is Vil Holland's! He believes Sinclair made a strike, and now that Sinclair is out of the way, you may be sure he will leave no stone unturned to horn in on it. The gold is in these hills and I'm going to get it. If I can't get it one way, I will get it another." The quarter-breed glanced about him and unconsciously lowered his voice. "However, one could wish the girl had delayed her visit for a couple of weeks. A person slipped me the word he could handle about twenty head of horses."
The Englishman's face lighted. "I thought so when you began to dicker with Watts for his pasture. We'll get him his bally horses, then. This horse game I like, it's a sportin' game, and so is the whisky runnin'. But I couldn't lay in the hills and shoot a man, cold blooded."
"And you've never been a success," sneered Bethune. "You never had a dollar, except your remittance, until you threw in with me. And we'd have been rich now, if it hadn't been for you. I tell you I know Sinclair carried a map!"
"If he had, we'll get it. And we can sleep good of nights!"
"You're a fool, Clen, with your 'sleep good of nights!' I sleep good of nights, and I've—" he halted abruptly, and when he spoke again his words grated harsh. "I tell you this is a fang and claw existence—all life is fang and claw. The strong rip the flesh from the bones of the weak. And the rich rip their wealth from the clutch of a thousand poor. What a man has is his only so long as he can hold it. One man's gain is another man's loss, and that is life. And it makes no difference in the end whether it was got at the point of the pistol in defiance of law, or whether it was got within the law under the guise of business. And I don't need you to preach to me about what is wrong, either."
The Englishman laughed. "I'm not preaching, Monk. Anyone engaged in the business we're in has got no call to preach."
"We're no worse than most of the preachers. They peddle out, for money, what they don't believe."
"Heigh-ho! What a good old world you've painted it! I hope you're right, and I'm not as bad as I think I am."
Bethune interrupted, speaking rapidly in the outlining of a plan of procedure, and it was well toward the middle of the afternoon when the two saddled up and struck off into the hills in the direction of their camp.
* * * * *
Twilight had deepened to dusk as Patty Sinclair pulled her team to a standstill upon the rim of the bench and looked down upon the twinkling lights of the little town that straggled uncertainly along the sandy bank of the shallow river.
"Hain't it grand lookin'?" breathed Microby Dandeline who sat decorously booted and stockinged upon the very edge of the board seat. "You wouldn't think they wus so many folks, less'n you seen 'em yers'f. Wisht I lived to town, an' I wisht they'd be a circust."
Patty guided the horses down the trail that slanted into the valley and crossed the half-mile of "flats" whose wire fences and long, clean-cut irrigation ditches marked the passing of the cattle country. A billion mosquitoes filled the air with an unceasing low-pitched drone, and settled upon the horses in a close-fitting blanket of gray. The girls tried to fight off the stinging pests that attacked their faces and necks in whirring clouds. But they fought in vain and in vain they endeavored to urge the horses to a quickening of their pace, for impervious alike to the sting of the insects and the blows of the whip, the animals plodded along in the unvarying walk they had maintained since early morning.
"This yere's the skeeter flats," imparted Microby, between slaps. "They hain't no skeeters in the mountains, mebbe it's too fer, an' mebbe they hain't 'nough folks fer 'em to bite out there, they's only us-uns an' a few more." As the girl talked the horses splashed into the shallow water of the ford and despite all effort to urge them forward, halted in mid-stream, and sucked greedily of the crystal-clear water. It seemed an hour before they moved on and assayed a leisurely ascent of the opposite bank. The air became pungent with the smell of smoke. They were in town, now, and as the wagon wheels sank deeply into the soft sand of the principal street, Patty noted that in front of the doors of most of the houses, slow fires were burning—fires that threw off a heavy, stifling smudge of smoke that spread lazily upon the motionless air and hung thick and low to the ground.
"Skeeter smudges," explained Microby proud of being the purveyor of information, "towns has 'em, an' then the skeeters don't bite. Oh, look at the folks! Lest hurry up! They might be a fight! Las' time they wus a fight an' a breed cut a man Pap know'd an' the man got the breed down an' stomped on his face an' the marshal come an' sp'ilt hit, an' the man says if he'd of be'n let be he'd of et the breed up."
"My, what a shame! And now you may never see a man eat a breed, whatever a breed is."
"A breed's half a Injun." Microby was standing up on the seat at the imminent risk of her neck, peering over the heads of the crowd that thronged the sidewalk.
"Sit down!" commanded Patty, sharply, as she noted the amused glances with which those on the outskirts of the crowd viewed the ridiculous figure in the red dress and the pink sunbonnet. "They are waiting for the movie to open.
"Whut's a movie? Is hit like the circust? Kin I go?" The questions crowded each other, as the girl scrambled to her seat, her eyes were big with excitement.
"Looky, there's Buck!" Patty's eyes followed the pointing finger, and she frowned at sight of the rangy buckskin tied with half a dozen other horses to the hitching rail before the door of a saloon. It seemed as she glanced along the street that nearly every building in town was a saloon. Half a block farther on she drew to the sidewalk and stopped before the door of a two-story wooden building that flaunted across its front the words "MONTANA HOTEL." As Patty climbed stiffly to the sidewalk each separate joint and muscle shrieked its aching protest at the fifteen-hour ride in the springless, jolting wagon. Microby placed her foot upon the sideboard and jumped, her cow-hide boots thudding loudly upon the wooden planking.
"Oughtn't you stay with the horses while I make the arrangements?"
Microby shook her head in vigorous protest. "They-all hain't a-goin' nowheres less'n they has to. An' I want to go 'long."
A thick-set man, collarless and coatless, who tilted back in his chair with his feet upon the window ledge, glanced up indifferently as they entered and crossed to the desk, and returned his gaze to the window, beyond which objects showed dimly in the gathering darkness. After a moment of awkward silence Patty addressed him. "Is the proprietor anywhere about?"
"I'm him," grunted the man, without looking around.
The girl's face flushed angrily. "I want a room and supper for two."
"Nawthin' doin'. Full up."
"Is there another hotel in this town?" she flashed angrily.
"Do you mean to say that there is no place where we can get accommodation for the night?"
"That's about the size of it."
"Can't we get anything to eat, either?" It was with difficulty Patty concealed her rage at the man's insolence. "If you knew how hungry we are—we've been driving since daylight with only a cold lunch for food." She did not add that the cold lunch had been so unappetizing she had not touched it.
"Supper's over a couple hours, an' the help's gone out."
"I'll pay you well if you can only manage to get us something—we're starved." The girl's rage increased as she noticed the gleam that lighted the heavy eyes. That, evidently was what he had been waiting for.
"Well," he began, but she cut him short.
"And a room, too."
"I'm full up, I told you. The only way might be to pay someone to double up. An' with these here cowpunchers that comes high. I might—" The opening of the screen door drew all eyes toward the man who entered and stood just within the room. As Patty glanced at the soft-brimmed hat, the brilliant scarf, and noticed that the yellow lamplight glinted upon the tip of polished buffalo horn, and the ivory butt of the revolver, her lips tightened. But the man was not looking at her—seemed hardly aware of her presence. The burly proprietor smiled.
"Hello, Vil. Somethin' I kin do fer you?"
"Yes," answered the man. He spoke quietly, but there was that in his voice that caused the other to glance at him sharply. "You can stand up."
The man complied without taking his eyes from the cowboy's face.
"I happened to be goin' by an' thought I'd stop an' see if I could take the team over to the livery barn for my—neighbors, yonder. The door bein' open, I couldn't help hearin' what you said." He paused, and the proprietor grinned.
"Business is business, an' a man's into it fer all he kin git."
"I suppose that's so. I suppose it's good business to lie an' cheat women, an'——"
"I hain't lied, an' I hain't cheated no one. An' what business is it of yourn if I did? All my rooms is full up, an' the help's all gone to the pitcher show."
"An' there's about a dozen or so cowmen stoppin' here to-night—the ones you talked of payin' to double up—an' there ain't one of 'em that wouldn't be glad to double up, or go out an' sleep on the street if he couldn't get nowhere else to sleep, if you even whispered that there was a lady needed his room. The boys is right touchy when it comes to bein' lied about."
The proprietor's face became suddenly serious. "Aw looky here, Vil, I didn't know these parties was friends of yourn. I'll see't they gits 'em a room, an' I expect I kin dig 'em out some cold meat an' trimmin's. I was only kiddin'. Can't you take a joke?"
"Yes, I can take a joke. I'm only kiddin', too—an' so'll the boys be, after I tell 'em——"
"They hain't no use rilin' the boys up. I——"
"An' about that supper," continued the cowboy, ignoring the protest, "I guess that cold meat'll keep over. What these ladies needs is a good hot supper. Plenty of ham and, hot Java, potatoes, an' whatever you got."
"But the help's——"
"Get it yourself, then. It ain't so long since you was runnin' a short order dump. You ain't forgot how to get up a quick feed, an' to give the devil his due, a pretty good one."
The other started surlily toward the rear. "I'll do it, if——"
"You won't do it if nothin'. You'll do it—that's all. An' you'll do it at the regular price, too."
"Say, who's runnin' this here hotel?"
"You're runnin' it, an' I'm tellin you how," answered the tall hillman, without taking his eyes from the other's face.
The man disappeared, muttering incoherently, and Vil Holland turned to the door.
"I want to thank you," ventured Patty. "Evidently your word carries weight with mine host."
"It better," replied the cowpuncher, dryly. "An' you're welcome. I'll take the team across to the livery barn." He spoke impersonally, with scarcely a glance in her direction, and as the screen door banged behind him the girl flushed, remembering her own rudeness upon the trail.
"Lawless he may be, and he certainly looks and acts the part," she murmured to herself as the wagon rattled away from the sidewalk, "but his propensity for turning up at the right time and the right place is rapidly becoming a matter of habit." A door beside the desk stood ajar, and above it, Patty read the words "WASH ROOM." Pushing it open she glanced into the interior which was dimly lighted by a murky oil lamp that occupied a sagging bracket beside a distorted mirror. Two tin wash basins occupied a sink-like contrivance above which a single iron faucet protruded from the wall. Beside the faucet was tacked a broad piece of wrapping paper upon which were printed in a laborious scrawl the following appeals:
Ples DoNT LEEv THE WaTTer RUN ITS hAN Pumpt. PLes DONT Waist THE ToWL. Kome AN BREsh AN TOOTH BResH IS INto THR Rak BESIDS THE MiRRoW. PLeS PUT EM baCK. THes IS hoUSE RULes AN WANts TO be OBayD KINLY.
F. RuMMEL, PROP.
Removing the trail dust from their faces and hands, the girls returned to the office and after an interminable wait the proprietor appeared, red-faced and surly. "Grub's on, an' yer room'll be ready agin you've et," he growled, and waddled to his place at the window.
A generous supply of ham and eggs, fried potatoes, bread and butter, and hot coffee awaited them in the dining-room, and it seemed to Patty that never before had food tasted so good. Twenty minutes later, when they returned to the office the landlord indicated the stairway with a jerk of his thumb. "First door to the right from the top of the stairs, lamp's lit, extry blankets in the closet, breakfast from five 'till half-past-seven." The words rattled from his lips in a single breath as he sat staring into the outer darkness.
"If Aunt Rebecca could see me, now," smiled Patty to herself, as she led the way up the uncarpeted stairs, with Microby Dandeline's cow-hide boots clattering noisily in her wake.
If Patty Sinclair had anticipated annoyance from the forced attention of her tall horseman of the hills, she was disappointed, for neither at meals, nor during the shopping tour that occupied the whole of the following day, nor yet upon the long homeward drive, did he appear. The return trip was slower and more monotonous even than the journey to town. The horses crawled along the interminable treeless trail with the heavily loaded wagon bumping and rattling in the choking cloud of its own dust.
The expedition had been a disappointing one to Microby. The "pitcher show" did not compare in interest with the never forgotten "circust." There had been no "fight" to break the monotony of purchasing supplies. And they had encountered no "nortymobiles."
Despite the fact that they had started from town at daylight, darkness overtook them at the canyon and it was with fear and misgiving that Patty contemplated the devious trail up Monte's Creek. The descent of this trail by daylight had taxed the girl's knowledge of horsemanship to the limit, and now to attempt its ascent with a heavily loaded wagon in the darkness—Microby Dandeline seemed to read her thoughts.
"We-all cain't git up the crick, I don't reckon," she hazarded, but even as she spoke there was a flicker of light flashed through the darkness and, lantern in hand, Watts rose from his comfortable seat in a niche of rock near the fork of the trail and greeted them with his kindly drawl. "I 'lowed yo' all ort to be 'long d'rec'ly. I'll take 'em now, Miss; the trail's kind of roughish like, but ef yo'll jist take the lantern an' foller 'long ahead I reckon we'll make hit all right. I've druv hit afore in the dark, an' no lantern, neither." Taking turns with the lantern, the girls led the way, and an hour and a half later halted before the door of the Watts cabin, where they became the center of an admiring group of young Wattses who munched their candy soberly as they gazed in reverent awe at the homing argonauts.
The three mile walk up the rough trail did wonders for Patty's stiffened muscles, and it was with a feeling of agreeable surprise that she rose from her shake-down the following morning with scarcely an ache or a pain in her body.
"Yer gittin' bruk in to hit," smiled Ma Watts, approvingly, as the girl sat down to her belated breakfast. But the surprise at her fit condition was nothing to the surprise of Ma Watts's next words. "Pa, he taken yer stuff on up to the sheep camp. He 'lowed yo'd want to git settled like. They taken yer pa's outfit along, too, an' when they git yo' onloaded they're a-goin' to work on the upper pasture fence. When Pa gits sot on a thing he goes right ahead an' does hit. Some thinks he's lazy, but hit hain't thet. He's easy goin'—all the Wattses wus—but when they git sot on a thing all kingdom come cain't stop 'em a-doin' hit. Trouble with Pa is he's got sot on settin'." Ma Watts talked on and on, and at the conclusion of the meal Patty drew a bill from her purse. But the woman would have none of it. "No siree, we-all hain't a-runnin' no hotel. Folks is welcome to come when they like an' stay as long as they want to, an' we're glad to hev 'em. Yer cayuse is a-waitin' out yender. The boys saddled him up fer yo'. Come down an' take pot luck whenever yo're a mind. Microby Dandeline, she ketched up Gee Dot an' went a-taggin' 'long fer to help yo' git settled. Ef she gits in the way jist send her home. Foller up the crick," she called, as Patty mounted her horse. "Yo' cain't miss the sheep camp, hit's about a mild 'bove the upper pasture."
Watts and the boys were just finishing the unloading of her supplies when Patty slipped from her horse and surveyed the little cabin with its dark background of pines.
"Hit hain't so big as some," apologized the man, as he climbed into the wagon and gathered up the reins. "But the chinkin's tol'ble, an' the roof's middlin' tight 'cept a couple places wher' it leaks."
The girl's glance strayed from the little log building to the untidy litter of rusty tin cans and broken bottles that ornamented its dooryard, and the warped and broken panels of the abandoned corral that showed upon the weed-choked flat across the creek. Stepping to the door, she peered into the interior where Microby was industriously sweeping the musty hay from the bunk with the brand-new broom. Thumbed and torn magazines littered the floor, a few discarded garments hung dejectedly from nails driven into the wall, while from the sagging door of the rough board cupboard bulged a miscellaneous collection of rubbish. A sense of depression obsessed her; this was to be her home! She sneezed and drew back hastily from the cloud of dust raised by Microby's broom. As she dabbed at her eyes and nose with a small and ridiculously inadequate handkerchief, she was conscious of an uncomfortable lump in her throat, and the moisture that dampened the handkerchief could not all be accredited to the sneeze tears. "What if I have trouble locating the mine and have to stay here all summer?" she was thinking, and instantly recalling the Watts ranch with its air of shiftless decay, the smelly Watts blankets in the overcrowded sleeping room, the soggy meals, the tapping of chickens' bills upon the floor, and the never ending voice of Ma Watts, she smiled. It was a weak, forced little smile, at first, but it gradually widened into a real smile as her eyes swept the little valley with its long vista of pine-clad hills that reached upward to the sky, their mighty sides and shoulders gored by innumerable rock-rimmed coulees and ravines. Somewhere amid the silence of those mighty slopes and high-flung peaks her father had found Eldorado—had wrested nature's secret from the guardianship of the everlasting hills. Her heart swelled with the pride of him. She was ashamed of that sudden welling of tears. The feeling of depression vanished and her heart throbbed to the lure of the land of gold. The two small Wattses had scrambled into the wagon-box.
"Yo' goin' to like hit," announced Watts, noticing the smile. "I 'lowed, fust-off yo'——"
"I'm going to love it!" interrupted the girl vehemently. "My father loved these hills, and I shall love them. And, as for the cabin! When Microby and I get through with it, it's going to be the dearest little place imaginable."
"Hit wus a good sheep camp," admitted Watts, his fingers fumbling judiciously at his head. "An' they's a heap o' good feed goin' to waste in this yere valley. But ef the cattlemen wants to pay fer what they hain't gittin' hit hain't none o' my business, I reckon."
"Why did they drive the sheep out? Surely, there is room for all here in the hills."
"Vil Holland, he claimed they cain't no sheeps stay in the hill country. He claims sheeps is like small-poxt. Onct they git a-goin' they spread, an' like's not, the hull country's ruint fer cattle range."
"It seems that Vil Holland runs this little corner of Montana."
"He kind o' looks after things fer the cattlemen, but the prospectin's got into his blood, an' he won't stick to the cattle, only on the round-up, 'til he gits him a grub-stake. He's a good man—Vil is—ef it wusn't fer foolin' 'round with the prospectin'."
Instantly, the girl's eyes flashed. "If it wasn't for the prospecting!" she exclaimed, in sudden anger. "My father was a prospector—and there was never a better man lived than he! Why is it that everyone looks askance at a prospector? You talk like the people back home! But, I'll show you all. My father made a strike. He told me of it on his death-bed, and he gave me the map, and the photographs and his samples. Maybe when I locate this mine and begin taking out more gold every day than most of you ever saw, you won't talk of people 'fooling around' prospecting. I tell you prospectors are the finest men in the world! They must have imagination, and unending patience, and the heart to withstand a thousand disappointments—" She broke off suddenly as the soft rattle of bit-chains sounded from behind her, and whirled to face Vil Holland. The man regarded her gravely, unsmiling. A gauntleted hand raised the Stetson from his head. As her eyes took in every detail, from the inevitable leather jug, to the tip of polished buffalo horn, she flushed. How long had he stood there, listening?
The cowpuncher seemed to divine her thoughts. "I just happened along," he said regarding her with his steady blue eyes. "I couldn't help hearin' what you said about the prospectors. You're right in the main."
"I was speaking of my father. I am Rodney Sinclair's daughter."
The man nodded. "Yes, I know."
Watts rubbed his chin apologetically. "We-all thought a right smart o' yo' pa, didn't we, Vil? I didn't aim to rile yo'."
"I know you didn't!" the girl smiled. "And thank you so much for bringing my things up so early." She turned to the cowboy who sat regarding the outfit indifferently. "I hope you'll overlook my lack of hospitality, but really I must get to work and help Microby or she'll have the whole house cleaned before I get started."
"I saw the team here, an' thought I'd swing down to find out if Watts was movin' in another sheep outfit."
"I've heard about your driving away the sheep man," returned Patty, with more than a trace of sarcasm in her tone. "I am moving into this cabin—am taking up my father's work where he left off. I suppose I should ask your permission to prospect in the hill country."
"No," replied the man, gravely. "Just help yourself, only don't get lost, an' remember yer dad knew enough to play a lone hand. I must be goin', now. Good day." He turned his horse to see Microby standing in the doorway. "Hello, Microby Dandeline! House cleanin', eh? I s'pect you took in the picture show in town?"
"Yes, but circusts is better. I got some yallar ribbon fer my hat, an' a awful lot o' candies."
"My, that's fine! How's ma an' the baby?"
"They stayed hum. The baby'd squall. Pa an' the boys is goin' to mend fence, an' I'm a-goin' to stay yere an' he'p her clean up the sheep camp."
The cowpuncher turned to Watts. "What's the big hurry about the fences, Watts? You goin' to take over a bunch of stock?"
"Hosses," answered Watts with an important jerk at his scraggly beard. "I done rented the upper pasture to a man name o' Schultz over in Blackfoot country. Five dollars a month, I git fer hit, an' five dollars fer every day er night they's hosses in hit. He done paid two months' rent a'ready."
Vil Holland's brows puckered slightly. "Schultz, you say? Over in the Blackfoot country?"
"Yas, he's aimin' to trail hosses from there over into Canady an' he wants some pastures handy."
"Did Schultz see you about it himself?" asked Vil, casually.
"No, Monk Bethune; he come by this way, an' he taken the pasture for Schultz."
Patty noted an almost imperceptible narrowing of the cowpuncher's eyes, an expression, slight as it was, that spoke disapproval. The man's attitude angered her. Here was poor Watts, about to undertake the first work he had done in years, judging by the condition of the ranch, under stimulus of the few dollars promised him by Bethune, and this cowboy disapproved. "Are horses under the ban, too?" she asked quickly. "Hasn't Mr. Watts the right to rent his land for a horse pasture?"
The man's answer seemed studiously rude in its direct brevity. "No, horses ain't under the ban. Yes, Watts can rent his land where he wants to. Good day." Before the girl could reply he reined his horse abruptly about, and disappeared in the timber upon the opposite side of the creek.
"Reckon I better be gittin' 'long, too," said Watts. "Microby's welcome to stay an' he'p yo'-all git moved in, but please mom, to see't she gits started fer hum 'fore dark. Hit takes thet ol' pinto 'bout a hour to make the trip."
Patty promised, and unsaddling, picketed her horse, and joined the girl in the dusty interior of the cabin. The musty hay, the discarded garments, and the two bushels or more of odds and ends with which the pack rats had filled the cupboard made a smudgy, smelly bonfire beside which Patty paused with an armful of discarded magazines. "Wouldn't you like to take these home?" she asked.
"Which?" inquired Microby, deftly picking a small stick from the ground with her bare toes and tossing it into the fire.
"These magazines. There are stories and pictures in them."
"No, I don't want none. We-alls cain't read, 'cept Ma, an' she's got a book—an' a bible, too," she added, with a touch of pride. "Davey, he kin mos' read, an' he kin drawer pitchers, too. Reckon he'll be a preacher when he's grow'd up, like Preacher Christie. He done read outen a book when he babitized us-uns. I don't like to read. Ma, she aimed to learn me onct, but I'd ruther shuck beans."
"Maybe you didn't keep at it long enough," suggested Patty.
"Yes, we did! We kep' at hit every night fer two nights 'til hit come bedtime. I cain't learn them letters—they's too many diffe'nt ones, an' all mixed up."
Patty smiled, but she did not toss the magazines into the fire. Instead she laid them aside with the resolve that when opportunity afforded, she would carry on the interrupted education.
Microby's literary delinquency in no wise impaired her willingness to work. She had inherited none of her father's predilection toward eternal rest, and all day, side by side with Patty, she scraped, and scoured, and scrubbed, and washed, until the little cabin and its contents fairly radiated cleanliness. The moving in was great fun for the mountain girl. Especially the unpacking of the two trunks that resisted all efforts to lift them until their contents had been removed. But at last the work was finished even to the arrangement of dishes and utensils, the stowing of supplies, and the blowing up of the air mattress that replaced the musty hay of the sheep herder. And as the long shadows of mountains crept slowly across the little valley and began to climb the opposite slope, Patty stood in the door of her cabin and watched Microby mount the superannuated Indian pony and proceed slowly down the creek, her bare feet swinging awkwardly in the loops of rope that served as stirrups of her dilapidated stock saddle.
When horse and rider disappeared into a grove of cottonwoods, Patty's gaze returned to her immediate surroundings—her saddle-horse contentedly snipping grass, the waters of the shallow creek burbling noisily over the stones, the untidy scattering of tin cans, and the leaning panels of the old sheep corral. She frowned at the panels. "I'll just use you for firewood," she muttered. "And that reminds me that I've got to wake up to my responsibility as head of the household—even if the household does only consist of one bay cayuse, named Dan, and a tiny one-room cabin, and two funny little squirrel-tailed pack rats, and me." She reached for her brand new ax, and picking her way from stone to stone, crossed the creek, and attacked a sagging panel.
Patty Sinclair was no hot-house flower, and the hand that gripped the ax was strong and brown and capable. Back home she had been known to the society reporters as "an out-door girl," by which it was understood that rather than afternoon auction at henfests, she affected tennis, golf, swimming, and cross-country riding. She could saddle her own horse, and paddle a canoe for hours on end. Even the ax was no stranger to her hand, for upon rare occasions when her father had returned during the summer months from his everlasting prospecting, he had taken her to camp in the mountains, and there from the quiet visionary whom she loved more than he ever knew, she learned the ax, and the compass, and a hundred tricks of camp lore that were to stand her well in hand. Partly inherited, partly acquired through association with her father upon those never-to-be-forgotten pilgrimages to the shrine of nature, her love of the vast solitudes shone from her uplifted eyes as she stood for a moment, ax in hand, and let her gaze travel slowly from the sun-gilded peaks of the mountains, down their darkening sides, to the dusk-enshrouded reaches of her valley. "He used to watch the sun go down, and he never wearied at the wonder of it," she breathed, softly. "And then, as the darkness deepened and the bull-bats came wheeling overhead, and the whip-poor-wills began calling from the thickets, he would light his pipe, and I would cuddle up close to him, and the firelight would grow redder and brighter and the soft warm dark would grow blacker. The pine trees would lose their shapes and blend into the formless night and mysterious shadow shapes would dance to the flicker of the little flames. It was then he would talk of the things he loved; of quartz, and drift, and the mother lode; of storms, and bears, and the scent of pines; of reeking craters, parched deserts, ice-locked barrens, and the wind-lashed waters of lakes. 'And some day, little daughter,' he would say, 'some day you are going with daddy and see all these things for yourself—things whose grandeur you have never dreamed. It won't be long, now—I'm on the right track at last—only till I've made my strike.' Always—'it won't be long now.' Always—'I'm on the right track, at last.' Always—'just ahead is the strike'—that lure, that mocking chimera that saps men's lives! And now, he is—gone, and I am chasing the chimera." Salt tears stung her eyes and blurred the timbered slopes. "They said he was a—a ne'er-do-well. He became almost a joke—" the words ended in a dry sob, as the bright blade of the ax crashed viciously into the rotting panel. A few moments later she picked up an armful of wood, and retracing her steps, piled it neatly behind the stove. She lighted the fire, fetched a pail of water from the spring, and moved the picketed cayuse to a spot beside the creek where the grass was green and lush. She had intended after supper to study her map and familiarize herself with the two small photographs that were pinned to it. But, when the meal was over and the dishes washed and put away she was too sleepy to do anything but drop the huge wooden bar that the sheep herder had contrived to insure himself against a possible night attack from his enemies into its place and crawl into her bunk. How good it felt, she thought, sleepily—the yielding air mattress, and the soft, clean blankets, after the straw tick on the floor, and the course sour blankets in the Wattses' stuffy room.