Peak and Prairie
by Anna Fuller
[Illustration: THE PEAK WAS SUPERB THAT MORNING, BIG AND STRONG AND
GLITTERING WITH SNOW.]
PEAK AND PRAIRIE
From a Colorado Sketch Book
By ANNA FULLER
Author of A Literary Courtship Pratt Portraits, Etc.
Illustrated by Emma G. Moore
New York and London G. P. Putnam's Sons
Copyright, 1894 BY ANNA FULLER
The Knickerbocker Press, New York
I. A PILGRIM IN
THE FAR WEST.
II. BRIAN BORU.
IV. AT THE KEITH
V. THE RUMPETY
VI. THE LAME
VII. THE BOSS OF
IX. AN AMATEUR
X. A ROCKY
XI. A STROKE IN
XIII. A GOLDEN
TO ONE TO WHOM I OWE COLORADO AND MUCH BESIDES THIS BOOK IS
The sketches of Colorado life which make up this volume are little
more than hints and suggestions caught from time to time by a single
observer in a comparatively narrow field of observation. Narrow as the
field is, however, it offers a somewhat unusual diversity of scene; for
that most charming of health resorts known in these pages as
Springtown, is the chance centre of many varying interests. In its
immediate vicinity exists the life of the prairie ranch on the one hand
and that of the mining-camp on the other; while dominating all as it
weretown, prairie, and mountain fastnessrises the great Peak which
has now for so many years been the goal of pilgrimage to men and women
from the Eastern States in pursuit of health, of fortune, or of the
free, open-air life of the prairie. If, from acquaintance with these
fictitious characters set in a very real environment, the reader be led
to form some slight impression of the stirring little drama which is
going forward to-day in that pleasant Land of Promise, he will have
incidentally endorsed the claim of these disconnected sketches to be
regarded as a single picture.
Note.Of the thirteen sketches included in this volume six have
previously appeared in periodicals, as follows:
A Pilgrim in the Far West in Harper's Weekly; Brian
Boru in Worthington's Magazine; Jake Stanwood's Gal
and At the Keith Ranch in The Century Magazine; The
Rumpety Case in Lippincott's Magazine; and An Amateur
Gamble in Scribner's Magazine. They were, however, all
prepared with reference to their final use as a consecutive series.
PEAK AND PRAIRIE
I. A PILGRIM IN THE FAR WEST.
The Peak was superb that morning, big and strong, and glittering
with snow. Little Mrs. Nancy Tarbell turned, after shutting and locking
the door of her cottage, and looked down the street, at the end of
which the friendly giant stood out against a clear blue sky. The
cottonwood trees on either side of the road were just coming into leaf,
and their extended branches framed in her mighty neighbor in a most
becoming manner. The water in the irrigating ditch beneath the trees
was running merrily. The sound of it brought a wistful look into the
cheerful old face. It made Mrs. Nancy think of the gay little brook in
the pasture behind the house at homeat home, in far New England.
Surely it must have been a strange wind of destiny that wafted this
unadventurous little woman across half a continent to the very foot of
the Rocky Mountainsa long and weary journey for the young and
vigorous. Yet it was something no stranger than a mother's love for her
only child. For Willie's sake the widow Tarbell had turned her back
upon the dear New England woods and meadows, upon the tidy village
where every man and woman was her friend; for his sake she had come to
dwell among strangers in a strange and barren land. The old homestead
had been sold, and with the meagre proceeds she had paid their way
across the prairies, and had bought a little house and a lot of land on
the outskirts of Springtown, while Willie looked about him for
something to do. But the enemy before whom they had fled followed them
to the high pure altitude it loves not, and before poor Willie had
found anything to do, he had been called up higher. This was the
phrase the minister used at Willie's funeral, and it had been
peculiarly comforting to the bereaved mother. She had known well that
her boy needed higher air, for that she had come to live six thousand
feet above the level of the New England pastures. But the Lord saw that
she, with her poor human wisdom, could not lead him to the needed
height, and He had called him up higher yet, where are blessing and
healing forever. With this abiding consolation in her heart, Willie's
mother could face the shining Peak day after day and month after month
with a countenance as brave and cheerful as his own. It was only when
she listened to the sound of running waters, or some other voice of the
past, that the wistful look came into her face.
Meanwhile it was good life-giving air that she breathed, and good
warm sunshine that rested upon her, as she stepped briskly on her way.
Her little cottage was no longer on the outskirts of the town. Stately
mansions had risen up about her, and a long procession of houses now
stretched far up to the northward. The people idly looking forth from
the windows of the stately mansions, did not realize how much a part of
the landscape the little black figure had become, passing and repassing
their doors. A small meek figure it was, with little indication of the
bright spirit within. It was her best dress of ten years ago that she
now wore common. The folds of the skirt, cut in the fashion of a
by-gone day, offered ample accommodation for bustle and steels, and in
the absence of these props the gown had a collapsed, inconsequent air.
But little Mrs. Nancy had never seen her own back, and she wore the
gown with a pleased consciousness of being well dressed. Then there was
the thin cashmere shoulder cape, with the long slimpsy fringe, which
Willie, in his pride and fondness, had persuaded her to buy, and which
had a curiously jaunty and inapt appearance on the narrow shoulders.
The close black felt bonnet was rusty and of antiquated shape. And
since few ever thought of looking within these prosaic externals to
note the delicacy of the soft old cheek, and the sweet innocence of the
faded blue eyes beneath the thin gray locks, it is perhaps no wonder
that the dwellers in the stately mansions quite overlooked their modest
Mrs. Nancy was expecting to bring back her marketing in the flat
twine bag she carried, and she was also thinking of calling at the
milliner's and inquiring the cost of having her old black straw bonnet
pressed over and retrimmed. She held her purse tightly between her
fingers, encased in loose black cotton gloves, as she tried to estimate
the sum of such an unwonted outlay. Her means were very, very slender,
yet she could not bear that Willie's mother should look too shabby.
And was that all? Who knows but that the spring instinct of renewal
and rejuvenation played a part in her resolve quite independent of the
perennial thought of Willie? The drama of life does not cease even in
the most unobtrusive consciousness. It was going on in little Mrs.
Nancy's brain at every step of her morning walk. As the shriek of a
locomotive rent the air, a bright smile suddenly crossed her face. Her
thoughts had taken a different and more inspiring turn.
Who knows, she said to herself. Maybe that is the very engine
that will take me home some daywhen Atchison begins to pay again.
The noisy engines had always a reassuring sound to her ears. She
would sometimes lie in bed listening with rapture to their discordant
cries. They were the willing servants that would one day carry her
eastward, miles upon miles, hours upon hourseastward to the old home,
within smell of the salt air, where there were familiar faces to
welcome her, familiar voices to speak of Willie.
The people here, the few she knew, were very kind, but they seemed
to have forgotten Willie, and she was shy of speaking of him. But all
the home folks would flock to meet her, and to hear of his last brave
hours. How glad they would be to know that he had lacked nothing!
Atchison had given them all they needed while Willie was alive. She
blessed Heaven for that.
She had arrived in the business part of the town, where wagons and
foot-passengers thronged at this hour of the morning. She willingly let
them divert her thoughts. She liked the bustle and hurry of the scene.
The well-dressed men and women in their trim turnouts little guessed
what pleasure their high-stepping horses and silver-mounted harnesses
gave to the modest little woman threading her way among the people on
Suddenly Mrs. Nancy's pleased survey of the scene was interrupted.
Glancing down a side street, she beheld a sight which made her heart
beat hard. A big, rough-looking man was striding along the sidewalk,
dragging at the end of a long pole a frightened white dog. The dog was
pulling back with might and main, scarcely using its unwilling legs in
its enforced progress over the ground. What could it mean? Was the dog
mad? He looked harmless enough. They were only a few rods off, and Mrs.
Nancy soon overtook them. The dog proved to be a small white collie,
and as she came up with him he gave her an appealing look out of his
great brown eyes, which filled her with compassion and indignation.
What are you doing with that dog? she demanded, in a peremptory
tone of voice quite out of keeping with the rusty black bonnet.
Doin'? repeated the man, somewhat surprised. I'm takin' him to
the City Hall.
He ain't got no license on.
And what are you going to do with him when you get him there?
I ain't goin' to do nothin' more with him.
Will they put a license on him?
Not much! He won't need no license after to-morrow morning. The
man's grin seemed perfectly diabolical.
You don't mean they'll kill him?
I reckon that's about the size of it.
But suppose the owner would rather pay the license? she urged.
Then he'd better step round lively and pay it. There ain't no time
to lose. The law was on the 1st of May, and the owner'd ought to have
attended to it before now.
The unutterable tragedy of the situation was heightened by the
needless humiliation and terror of the victim, and once again Mrs.
What makes you drag him at the end of that pole?
I ain't goin' to give him a chance at my breeches, not if I knows
myself, replied the man, defiantly.
He wouldn't hurt your pantaloons. See how gentle he is! and the
little woman pulled off her glove to pat the pretty white head. As the
grateful creature licked her hand she felt a thrill of new pity and
tenderness. By this time they were at the City Hall. What do you have
to pay for a license? she asked.
Two good solid dollars, said the man. I never seen a dog yet that
was worth that money, did you? And dog and persecutor disappeared
together within a sinister-looking basement door.
Mrs. Nancy Tarbell stood for a moment irresolute, and then she
slowly wended her way along the sidewalk, pondering the thing she had
seen. Two dollars! That was a large sum of money in these hard times.
Could she possibly spare it? She did not know yet what her tax bill
would be, but for some unexplained reason it turned out to be larger
every year. She supposed it was owing to the improvements they were
making in the town, and she had too much self-respect to protest. But
it was really getting to be a serious matter.
In her perplexity and absorption the little lady had turned
eastward, and presently she found herself close upon a railroad track
over which a freight train was slowly passing. It was the Atchison
road, and she watched with interest the long, slow train.
They appear to be doing a good business, she said to herself.
Seems as though they might make out to pay something or other.
When the train had passed she stepped across the track, looking with
interest at the well-laid rails and the solid ties. Queer, isn't it?
she thought. Now I own six thousand dollars worth of that track, and
yet I can't squeeze out of it enough to pay a poor little dog's
She never could think without a feeling of awe of the magnitude of
the sum left her by her thrifty husband, the bulk of which sum was
represented by those unfruitful certificates. She stooped and felt the
rails, looking cautiously up and down the road to be sure no train was
coming. After all, it was consoling to think that that good honest
steel and timber was partly her property. It was not her first visit to
Queer, isn't it, she reflected, as she had often done before,
that there isn't any way that I can think of to make my own road take
me home? Anyhow I'll buy that license just to spite 'em, she
exclaimed, with sudden decision; and shaking the dust of Atchison from
her feet, and the far more bewildering dust of financial perplexities
from her mind, she walked quickly back to the town.
It took a certain amount of resolution to turn the handle of the
sinister-looking door, and the group of men lounging in the
smoking-room, and turning upon her inquisitive glances as she entered,
might even then have daunted her, had not her eye fallen upon a
dejected bunch of whitish hair in one corner.
As she stepped into the room, a white tail disengaged itself from
the round hairy bundle, and began pathetically to beat the floor, while
two very beautiful and beseeching eyes were fixed upon her face. Had
she still been irresolute this mute appeal would have been
irresistible, and suddenly feeling as bold as a lion she stepped up to
the desk where the city marshal was throned, and demanded a license for
the white dog. The two great silver dollars which she drew from her
purse looked very large to the widow Tarbell, yet it was with a feeling
of exultation that she paid them as ransom for the white dog. In return
for the money she received a small, round piece of metal with a hole
bored through it, bearing a certain mystic legend which was to act as a
talisman to the wearer. Her name and address were duly entered on the
books. Then her agitated little beneficiary was untied from the chair
leg, the rope which bound him was put into her hands, and with a polite
courtesy Mrs. Tarbell turned to go.
By a sudden impulse one of the rough-looking men got up from his
chair, and, taking his hat off, opened the door. A light flush crossed
the little woman's cheek as she accepted the attention, and then the
two small figures, the black and the white, passed out into the
delicious Colorado sunshine.
She looked 'most too small to handle that big door, said the tall
fellow, apologetically, as he re-established his wide sombrero on the
back of his head, and, resuming his seat, tilted his chair once more
against the wall. The other men smoked on in silence. No one felt
inclined to chaff this shamefaced Bayard. Mrs. Tarbell, meanwhile, led
her willing captive along, delighting in his cheerful aspect and
expressive tail. He was dirty, to be sure, and he was presumably
hungry. Who could tell what hardships he had suffered before falling
into the brutal hands of the law? She stopped to buy her dinner, to
which she added five cents' worth of dog's-meat, but the milliner's
door was passed coldly by. The old straw would have to serve her
Before they had gone two blocks, Mrs. Nancy had named the collie
David. She had no question whatever about the name, for had he not been
delivered out of the hands of the Philistines? She was patient with him
when he paused to make the acquaintance of other dogs, and even once
when he succeeded in winding the cord tightly about her ankles.
Nevertheless it was a relief to get him home, and to tie him to the
post of her front porch, where he established himself with entire
willingness, and promptly dropping asleep, forgot alike his perils and
his great escape.
The first care of his new friend on arriving home was to secure the
license upon him. He was collarless, and she was a good deal put to
it to supply the lack. At last she resolved to sacrifice her
shawl-strap in the emergency. She might miss it, to be sure, when she
came to go home, but then, she reflected, if she were once on her way
home, she would not care about any little inconvenience. So as soon as
she and David had had a good dinner, she got down the old strap, which
had hung on a certain nail for five long years, and taking a kitchen
knife, ruthlessly chopped it off to the right length. Then she bored a
new hole with her scissors for the tongue of the buckle to pass
through, and, going to Willie's tool box, found a short piece of wire
with whichit seemed but the other dayhe had been tinkering
something about the house. With the wire she fastened the license
securely to the collar. But before David could be found worthy of such
decoration, he was subjected to a pretty severe bath in an old tub out
in the back yard.
Poor David! This was a novel and painful dispensation, and he
submitted only under protest. But his new mistress was firm, and
arrayed in her oldest calico gown, with spectacles on her nose, she
applied herself, with the energy and determination of all her New
England grandmothers, to the task of scrubbing and soaping and
squeezing and combing the dirt out of the long, thick hair. Three tubs
of water were barely sufficient for the process, but finally David
emerged, subdued but clean, looking very limp and draggled, and so much
smaller because of his wet, close-clinging coat, that for a moment Mrs.
Nancy thought, with a pang, that she might have washed away a part of
the original dog. Later, however, when the sun had dried the fluffy
hair, and when she fastened the new collar about the neck of the
spotless animal, she let him lick her very face, so delighted were they
both with the result of her labors. The rest of the afternoon they
passed amicably together on the sunny porch. She would look up
occasionally from her sewing, and say, Good doggy! and David would
immediately wag his tail in delighted response. He was extremely
mannerly and appreciative of the slightest attentionalways excepting
his enforced ablutionsand he seemed to approve of the kind eyes of
his little protectress as warmly as she approved of his cool leather
nose and speaking ears. As often as he moved, his license, hitting
against the collar buckle, made a safe, cheerful sound, and Mrs. Nancy
felt quite overcome with joy and gratitude at having been the chosen
instrument of his preservation. When she lighted the lamp in the
evening and began her regular game of backgammon, David curled himself
up at her feet in a most companionable manner, and pricked his ears
with interest at the fall of the dice.
But for her backgammon it would be difficult to imagine what Mrs.
Tarbell would have done with her evenings, for her eyes were not strong
enough for reading or sewing. She had got the habit of playing
backgammon with Willie, after he became too weak for more active
occupations, and they had kept the score in a little green blank-book.
After he died she had missed the game, and she had found it pleasant to
take it up again, and to play for both herself and Willie. The score,
too, had been continued in the old book. At the top of each new page
she wrote in her precise old-fashioned hand, Mother, Willie, and
under her name all the victories of the whites were scored, while
those of the blacks were still recorded to Willie's credit. After a
while her eyesight began to fail still more, and it became necessary to
lift the dice and examine them near to. Then gradually she found that
the black checkers occasionally eluded her, and that she was straining
her eyes in her efforts to see them in the shadowy corners of the
board. When at last she found that by an oversight she had committed a
flagrant injustice to Willie's interests, she felt that something must
be done. Being fertile in resource, she presently bethought herself of
the bright colored wafers she had played with in her childhood, and to
her joy she found they were still to be bought. Having possessed
herself of a box of them, she proceeded to stick a glittering gilt star
upon each side of each checker, both black and white, after which the
checkerboard took on a showy theatrical appearance.
Mrs. Nancy rarely felt lonely when playing backgammon. The click of
the dice sounded cheerful and sociable; the checkers, with their
shining eyes, seemed to take a real interest in the game; and when she
scored the result to Willie or to Mother, the old familiar
every-day relation seemed restored between them.
To-night Willie was having all the luck, and that was sure to put
his mother in the best of spirits. She played on and on, much later
than her custom was, till at last the luck turned, and looking at her
flat, gold-faced watch, she found, with a shock, that it was ten
minutes after ten o'clock.
My sakes! she cried. I ought to be ashamed of myself! Come,
David, come right along to bed. You're going to sleep on the mat at the
David, who was nothing if not amenable, cheerfully acceded to this
arrangement. Even before his new mistress had finished tying him to the
railing, he had curled himself up on the mat and was fast asleep. When
she patted him on the head, however, by way of good-night, his tail
gave a responsive wag, and little Mrs. Nancy left him with the
The next morning the dog was gone. Yes, incredible as it seems, that
graceless dog was gonegone without a word of farewell.
Mrs. Nancy was standing gazing in dejected mood at the fragment of
string he had left behind him, when the milkman, one of her special
cronies, arrived. The good-natured Sam was full of sympathy.
I reckon he came in with some ranchman yesterday, and got lost in
the town. Like as not he's gone home. Good Lord! I'd just like to see
that 'ere ranchman when his dog gits back with a locket round his
I washed him too, Sam, Mrs. Nancy lamented, as she accompanied her
visitor to the gate. She was too conscientious to detain the man from
the performance of his duty.
You washed him! he cried, as he got into his cart. Jerusalem! I
guess that's the first time a ranch dog ever got a taste of a bath.
And the cart rattled off, leaving David's little friend standing at
the gate. It was just after sunrise, and she looked down the street to
the mountains, which were bathed in a flood of translucent crimson
reflected from the east.
I wonder if the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem look very different
from that! she mused, as she gazed into the deepening color. When she
turned back to the house, she had almost forgotten the ungrateful
runaway in thoughts of her boy and his heavenly abiding place.
The next afternoon Mrs. Tarbell was sitting on her front porch
endeavoring to readjust the bows upon the old straw bonnet. She had
taken them off, and sponged both ribbon and straw, and she was now
trying her best to make the bows hold up their heads with the spirit
and grace which distinguish a milliner's trimming. She looked up from
time to time to enjoy the reflection of the trees in the lake
surrounding the house. For her grass was being flooded to-day, and that
was always a pretty sight. It looks almost as pretty as Watkins' pond
out on the Goodham turnpike, she reflected, as the water glistened in
a broad expanse. She owned a good piece of land, a hundred feet front.
Willie had meant to have a vegetable garden when he had got strong
enough to work in it.
A horseman had turned into the street, and came cantering toward the
house. But horsemen were part of the landscape in Colorado, and she
scarcely noticed his approach till a joyful bark caused her to look up,
just in time to see David take a flying leap over the gate and come
dashing up to her.
Why, David! she cried; and then she stopped, abashed, for the
horseman was already tying his pony to the post.
Mrs. Tarbell? he questioned, as he opened the gate; and without
waiting for an answer, he went on: I've come to thank you for getting
my dog away from those scoundrels at the City Hall. They had the
decency to tell me where to look for you.
Oh, pray don't mention it! said little Mrs. Nancy, with
Not mention it! cried her visitor. It was the kindest thing I
ever heard of. I don't see what made you do it.
Oh, I couldn't help it. David looked so miserable being dragged
along at the end of a pole.
The cowards! he cried. Don't get a chair, ma'am. I like the steps
better. Did you call him David? he asked, with a twinkle of amusement
in his kind gray eyes, as he seated himself on the low step, with his
long legs trailing off over the walk.
Well, yes. I didn't know what else to call him, and as he'd been
delivered out of the hands of the Philistines
That's a good one! cried the ranchman. Come here, David. You've
got a name now as well as a locket. Do you hear that?
David had established himself between his master and his rescuer,
and looked from one to the other with evident satisfaction. They were
soon engaged in an amicable conversation, quite unconscious of the
picture they were forming. The tall ranchman, clad in full cowboy
paraphernalia, his extended legs encased in leathern shaps decorated
with long fringes, his belt of rattlesnake-skin, his loose shirt
showing a triangle of bronzed throat, in his hand the broad sombrero
clasped about with a silver band.
Little Mrs. Nancy sitting upright in her chair, in her neat old
black gown, holding the forgotten bonnet in her lap, watched her
picturesque visitor with the greatest interest. And looking up into the
delicate little old face, he noted all the sweetness and brightness
which had so long been lost upon the world. To make a clean breast of
it, the two fell frankly in love with each other upon the spot, and
before the stranger had departed, he had persuaded her to visit his
ranch with him the very next Sunday.
But I don't know what to call you, she said, after having agreed
upon this wild escapade.
That's so, said he. I go by the name of Wat Warren out here, but
they used to call me Walter at home. I wish you would call me Walter.
It's a pretty name, she said. I thought some of calling my boy
Walter at first.
Warren was on the point of departure, and a sudden embarrassment
seemed to seize him. He had his hand in his trousers' pocket. I 'most
forgot the money for the license, he stammered, as he pulled out a
couple of silver dollars.
Nobody knows what came over Mrs. Nancy, but she suddenly found she
could not take the money.
Oh, that's of no consequence, she said, quite as though she had
had at her command the whole treasury surplus of a few years ago. I
should like to make David a present of the license; and as her two
visitors departed at full gallop, she sat down in a flutter of
How surprising it all was! She looked back upon the last hour quite
incredulous. She felt as though she had known this strange young man
all her life. Not that he had told her much about his own concerns. On
the contrary, after complimenting her on the subject of David's collar
and David's bath, he had got her talking about herself; and she had
told him about Willie, and about Atchison, and about her desire to go
home to New England.
My sakes! said she to herself; what a chatterbox I'm getting to
be in my old age! What must he have thought of me? But in her heart
she knew he had not thought any harm of her confidence. There had been
no mistaking the sympathy in that sunburnt face, and if there had been
any doubt remaining, the hearty grip of the rough hand, which she still
felt upon her palm, would have set her mind quite at rest.
But if Mrs. Nancy wondered at herself on Tuesday, she had fairly
lost all track of her own identity when, on Sunday, she found herself
seated beside her broad-shouldered friend in a light wagon, bowling
over the prairies behind a pair of frisky four-year-olds, while David
bounded beside them or scampered about in the vain pursuit of
Do you feel afraid? asked her host, looking protectingly down upon
the tiny figure at his side.
Not a mite, she declared. I never was one of the scary kind.
They had left the mountains behind them and were speeding to the
eastward. It seemed to her that a few hours of this rapid progress
would bring them to the very shores of the Atlantic. On and on they
went over the undulating yellow plains. As they neared the top of each
rise of ground Mrs. Nancy's heart stood still in a strange fantastic
suspense. Would there be trees over beyond, or lakes, or rivers, or
perhaps a green New England meadow?
Isn't it like sailing? said her companion as they bowled along.
I never went sailing, Mrs. Nancy replied. I've only been out in a
boat on the pond, and I think this is pleasanter.
They did little talking on that drive. Mrs. Nancy was too entirely
absorbed in her new experience to have much to say. But when at last
they reached the ranch, lying like an oasis in the vast barren, with
young corn sprouting in the wide fields, and a handful of cottonwood
trees clustered about the house, the tears fairly started to the little
woman's eyes, so much did this bit of rural landscape remind her of her
own far-away New England. And when the master of the house led the way
into a neat little room, with a south window looking across the plains,
it came his turn for confidences.
This room was built on for my mother, he said.
Did she live here with you?
No; she died before she could get here.
Oh dear! said his little visitor.
The two small words were eloquent with sympathy.
That was a red-letter day for Mrs. Nancy Tarbell. She felt as though
she were getting a glimpse of the great West for the first time in all
these years. When her host casually informed her that he owned about
seven square miles of land and two hundred head of cattle, she gave a
little gasp of amazement.
[Illustration: A HANDFUL OF COTTONWOOD TREES CLUSTERED ABOUT THE
I always wanted to see a cattle ranch, she said.
Oh, this is no cattle ranch. It's only a dairy. And he took her
about through the many sheds and barns, which were hidden in a hollow a
few rods away. Here he showed her his ice-houses, his huge churns, and
his mammoth separator that went whirling around, dividing the cream
from hundreds of gallons of milk in the time it would have taken her to
skim a couple of three-pint pans.
Sakes alive! she exclaimed again and again, as these wonders were
explained to hersakes alive! what would our folks say to that?
You'll have a great deal to tell them when you go back, said
Warren, studying her animated face.
If I ever go, she said, with a little sigh.
This was after dinner, which had been a savory meal served by a man
Do you want very much to go?
Oh yes! I shall go just as soon as ever Atchison begins to pay
again. I hope I haven't any false pride, she added, deprecatingly,
but I can live cheaper here than I should be willing to there, where
I've seen better days.
Brave little Mrs. Nancy! It was not indeed false pride that deterred
her, but the fear of being a burden to others.
They were sitting in the big living-room, which on this great
occasion had been made as neat as her own little parlor. Antlers and
other strange trophies ornamented the walls, where also guns and spurs
and lassos hung. The little woman did not seem in the least out of
place among these warlike objects. She sat in an old leathern chair,
her feet on a coyote-skin, looking about her with quick bright motions
that made the big fellow think of the shy field creatures that
sometimes strayed over his thresholdground squirrels, rabbits, and
the like. David lay curled up close beside her, and half a dozen
less-favored dogs looked wistfully in from time to time. Warren was
wondering whether she could possibly fit in naturally to the stiff,
scant New England life which he had fled away from when a boy.
Presently he said:
Have you any idea how much your house and land are worth?
Oh yes! We paid ten hundred and fifty dollars for it when the house
was new, but it's a good deal out of repair now.
But you know real estate is pretty high here just now.
Struck by the peculiar emphasis with which he spoke, Mrs. Nancy gave
him a startled look. Whywhywhat do you mean?
Well, I was talking with a real-estate man about the value of land
the other day, and he said you could realize six thousand dollars on
your place any day.
Yes, six thousand dollars.
Why, that's just what we had in Atchison!
Well, I guess there's no question but that you could get that for
your land to-morrow.
It had indeed been an eventful day, and it was followed by a
sleepless night. For years little Mrs. Nancy had had one great wish,
and suddenly it was to be fulfilled. She could go homehome to New
England, to the village where she was born, to the village where
everybody knew her, where they would talk of Willie. Through the hours
of the night, which sped fast, she thought and thought of the
home-coming. She passed in review all her old neighbors, forgetting for
the moment how many would be found missing; she wandered in spirit
through the familiar pastures, beneath the green trees, beside the pond
at the foot of the hill. Suddenly a strange suggestion intruded itself
upon her thoughts. Must it not be kind o' damp with all that swamp
land so near by, and the great elm-trees so close about the house? Her
house no longer, however. It had passed into the hands of
strangerscity people, whom she did not know. She wondered where she
should live. She should want to be independent, and she should hate to
But with the alloy of perplexity her radiant visions faded, and she
fell asleep. For the first time in all these years the milkman found
locked doors. He would not disturb the little widdy, but when he had
left the can upon the back steps he turned away, feeling somewhat
The next morning, after her house was set in order and her marketing
done, Mrs. Nancy sat herself down in her porch to darn her stockings.
She had formed the habit, for Willie's sake, of doing all the work
possible out in the air and sunshine, and she still clung to all the
habits that were associated with him. Her weekly darning was a trifling
piece of work, for every hole which ventured to make its appearance in
those little gray stockings was promptly nipped in the bud.
The water was merrily flowing in the irrigating ditch, a light
breeze was rustling in the cotton woods before the door, while the
passing seemed particularly brisk. Two small boys went cantering by on
one bareback horse; a drove of cattle passed the end of the street two
or three rods away, driven by mounted cow-boys; a collection of small
children in a donkey cart halted just before her door, not of their own
free will, but in obedience to a caprice of the donkey's. They did not
hurt Mrs. Nancy's feelings by cudgelling the fat little beast, but sat
laughing and whistling and coaxing him until, of his own accord, he put
his big flapping ears forward as though they had been sails, and ambled
on. There were pretty turnouts to watch, and spirited horses, and Mrs.
Nancy found her mind constantly wandering from what she meant should be
the subject of her thoughts.
When the postman appeared around the corner he came to her gate and
lifted the latch. It was not time for her small bank dividend. The
letter must be from her husband's sister-in-law, who wrote to her about
twice a year. As Mrs. Nancy sat down to read the letter her eyes rested
for a moment upon the mountains.
If Almira could have come with the letter she'd have thought those
snowy peaks well worth the journey, she said to herself. And then she
read the letter.
Here it is:
DEAR NANCY,Excuse my long silence, but I've been suffering
rheumatism dreadfully, and haven't had the spirit to write to
anybody but my Almira. It's been so kind of lonesome since she
away that I guess that's why the rheumatism got such a hold of
When you ain't got anybody belonging to you, you get kind of
low-spirited. Then the weatherit's been about as bad as I
seen it. Not a good hard rain, but a steady drizzle-drozzle
after day. You can't put your foot out of doors without
your petticoats draggled. But you'll want to hear the news.
Joshua he died last month, and the place was sold to auction.
Deacon Stebbins bought it low. He's getting harder-fisted
year. Eliza Stebbins she's pretty far gone with lung trouble,
living in that damp old place; but he won't hear to making any
change, and she ain't got life enough left to ask for it. Both
boys is off to Boston. Does seem as though you couldn't hold
young folks here with ropes, and I don't know who's going to
the farms and the corner store when we're gone. Going pretty
we be too. They've been eight deaths in the parish since last
ThanksgivingMary Jane Evans and me was counting them up last
sewing circle. Mr. Williams, the new minister, made out as
better find a more cheerful subject; but we told him old
Edwards before him had given us to understand that it was
profitable and edifying to the spiritual man to dwell on
of death and eternity. They do say that Parson Williams would
glad to get another parish. He's a stirring kind of man, and
ain't overmuch to stir, round here. I sometimes wish I could
away myself. I'd like to go down to Boston and board for a
jest to see somebody passing by; but they say board's high
there and living's poor; and, after all, it's about as easy to
stick it out here. I don't know though's I wonder that you
you do about coming home. 'T ain't what you're used to out
and I don't suppose you ever feel real easy in your mind from
cow-boys and Indians and wild animals. I was reading only
about a grizzly-bear that killed a man right there in the
Mountains, and I'm glad you feel 's you do about coming home.
should like to think that you'd be here to close my eyes at
But no more at present. This is quite a letter for me. Your
P.S.You remember my old tabby that I set such store by? She
along in March, and I buried her under the sugar-maple side of
barn. The maples didn't do as well this year.
Poor Almira, said the little widow, folding the letter with a
sigh; she's having a real hard time. I do feel for her, I declare.
An hour after, when her new friends Warren and David came to inquire
how she had borne the fatigues of her yesterday's drive, they found her
sitting with the letter in her hands. There was a bright flush on her
cheeks, and a look of perplexity in her blue eyes.
Fine day, isn't it? said Warren, while David wagged his tail till
it almost touched his ears.
Yes, it's a very fine day. 'Pears to me Colorado never did look so
nice as it does to-day.
That is because you are thinking of leaving us, Warren rejoined,
thoughtfully pulling the ears of David, who could scarcely contain
himself for joy at being the object of such a flattering attention.
I don't know 's I should be in such a hurry to go right straight
away, even if I could sell my land, said the widow, slipping the
letter into her pocket with a guilty air.
They chatted awhile in the bright sunshine, and Warren soon had an
inkling of the little woman's state of mind.
I don't suppose, now, you'd be willing to take a ground-rent on the
other half of your land if a desirable party should apply? A rent, say,
for five years, with the privilege of purchase at the expiration of the
The long words sounded very technical and business-like, yet rather
You mean somebody might like to build on my land?
That's the idea, said Warren. Fact is, he went on, after a
pause, I happen to know a nice, steady young fellow who is thinking of
getting married. He told me he would be willing to pay $300 and taxes.
Three hundred dollars! cried the wondering little land-owner.
Why, I should feel like a rich woman!
Well, the land's worth it, and the young man's able to pay.
The air was growing warmer and sweeter every minute, and the water
in the irrigating ditch sounded quite jubilant as it raced past the
house. Yes, Colorado was a pleasant place to live in, especially with
Walter Warren for a neighbor only ten miles away. The ranch did not
seem at all far off since that rapid drive across the prairies.
She sat so long silent that her visitor felt he must offer greater
inducements. He began pulling David's ears so vigorously that a dog of
a less refined perception might have howled remonstrance, and then,
while the color deepened in the sunburnt face and an engaging shyness
possessed him, Warren said, Perhaps you'd take more kindly to the
arrangement if you knew who the young man was?
My dear, are you going to get married? cried Mrs. Nancy,
forgetting alike her perplexities and her dreams of opulence.
Well, yes, I am; some time next fall. She lives back East; and I
thought it would be nice to have a little place in town where we could
stay through the off seasons. You'll let us come, won't you? he cried,
with a look of boyish beseeching. I know you would if you could see
Jenny. She's so sweet!
The momentous visit was over; Warren had had his turn at
confidences, and was now striding down the street, with David at his
The little widow stood at the gate, her heart feeling bigger and
warmer than for many a long day. Once more she looked down under the
row of cotton woods, which had come into full leaf during the past
week, looked to where her giant mountain neighbor stood, strong and
constant as an old friend. The air seemed clearer, the sunshine
brighter, than ever before. The running stream was singing its own gay
song, and for once it waked no longing in her breast. As Mrs. Nancy
turned to walk up the path, she drew forth Almira's letter, not without
a momentary pang of remorse. With the letter in her hand she paused
again, and looked and listened as though she would drink in the whole
of Colorado at one draught. Suddenly a gleam of roguish wilfulness came
into the sweet old face, and speaking half aloud, she murmured,
I don't know but I'm getting to be a heartless old woman, butI'm
afraid I'd full as lief somebody else closed Almira's eyes for her!
And with this revolutionary sentiment the faithless little New
Englander passed into the house that had at last taken on the dignity
and the preciousness of a home.
II. BRIAN BORU.
Sir Bryan Parkhurst, a young Irish sportsman just over from the old
country, was rather disappointed in Colorado; and that was a pity,
considering that he had crossed an ocean and half a continent to get
there. The climate, to be sure, was beyond praise, and climate is what
Colorado is for, as any resident of Springtown will tell you. Nature,
too, was very satisfactory. He liked the way the great mass of Rocky
Mountains thrust itself up, a mighty barrier against the west,
perfectly regardless of scenic conventionalities. There was something
refreshingly democratic about the long procession of peaks, seeming to
be all of about the same height. In that third week of September not a
single one of them all wore the ermine, though their claim to that
distinction, measured by their altitude, equalled that of their
snow-clad cousins of another hemisphere. On the other hand, Sir Bryan
pleased himself with fancying that the splashes of golden aspen and
crimson sumac on the mountain sides, contrasting with the brilliant,
unalterable blue of the sky, had a Star-Spangled-Banner effecta thing
which the British tourist is always delighted to discover.
Truth to tell, it was the people that bothered Sir Bryan. In dress,
in manners,he sometimes feared in morals, they lacked the strong
flavor which he had confidently looked for. They did not wear flannel
shirts in general society; they did not ask impertinent questions; a
whiskey cocktail did not seem to play a necessary part in the ceremony
of introduction; the almighty dollar itself did not stalk through every
conversation, putting the refinements of life to the blush. In short,
Sir Bryan found himself forced to base his regard for his new
acquaintances upon such qualities as good breeding, intelligence, and a
cordial yet discriminating hospitality,qualities which he was
perfectly familiar with at home.
He sometimes wondered whether the taint of civilization might not
already have attached itself to the grizzly bear and the mountain lion,
for whose inspiring acquaintance he had ardently pined since boyhood.
He was on the eve of going to pay his respects to these worthies in
their own mountain fastnesses, and, meanwhile, was getting himself in
training by walking great distances with a rifle over his shoulder.
In the course of the last of his extended trampsfor he was due to
join that inveterate sportsman, Lord Longshot, at Denver, on the
following day,he found himself passing through a wilderness of
loveliness. He had entered what he would have termed, with the genial
inaccuracy of his race, a boundless enclosure, and having crossed a
vast, yellowish field, populous with scrawny cattle and self-important
prairie-dogs, he was following a well-marked road, which led alluringly
up hill. Thousands of scrub-oaks, in every shade of bronze and russet,
massed themselves on either hand, and in among them tufts of yellow
asters shone, and here and there a belated gilia tossed its feathery
plume. Scattered groups of pine trees that scorn the arid plains were
lording it over the bolder slopes of the mountain side. The steep road
went on its winding way, after the manner of its kind, dipping
occasionally to meet a bridge of planks, beneath which flowed a stream
of autumn colors. After a while Sir Bryan found the ascent too gradual
for his ambition, and, leaving the road to make its way as it would, he
pushed upwards through the bushes. Every step brought him nearer the
gigantic crags which formed the buttresses of the mountain, and looked
wild and impregnable enough to be the haunt of the grizzly himself.
The young man's thoughts were dwelling fondly upon the grizzly of
his dreams, when he beheld a sight that sent the blood back to his
heart with a rush. Not fifty yards away, in a sunny opening, lay a mass
of brownish fur which could belong to nobody but a bear in propria
persona. Great Cæsar! Could it be possible? Almost too agitated to
breathe, Sir Bryan moved cautiously toward the creature, covering it
with his rifle. The bear, with the politeness which appeared to cling
to all classes of society in this effetely civilized West, rose up and
sat on his haunches, facing his visitor. Sir Bryan fired and the bear
tumbled over like a ninepin.
Sir Bryan Parkhurst, as became a young Irish baronet, had enjoyed
his share of sensations in life. A year previous he had almost broken
his neck riding across country, and had won the brush into the bargain.
He had once saved a man from drowning on the coast of Cornwall. He had
come into his title unexpectedly, and made his new tenantry adore him.
To crown all, he had, at a still poignantly recent date, practically
refused the hand of an English heiress. But he had never before shot a
bear, nor indeed had he ever seen one outside the Zoo. As he
steadfastly regarded the heap of brown fur, a sinister doubt invaded
his mind. Might it be a cow, after all? Forgetful of the
well-established fact in natural history that cows never sit on their
haunches, even with a view to serving as target to an ambitious
sportsman, he cautiously approached his victim.
It was unquestionably a bear, though not of a terrific aspect. Sir
Bryan examined the lifeless body with the keenest interest. He had seen
a domestic pig which would have weighed more; he had encountered more
than one dog of a more dangerous appearance; yet, when all was said, a
bear was a bear.
Sir Bryan seated himself upon a rock to reflect upon his next step.
It was close upon midday. He thought he must be some eight miles from
town. When he had enjoyed his bear for a few minutes, he would return
there and get some men to come and cart the carcass to town. He would
have the skin removed and cured, and the meat
Brian! Brian Boru!
The words came ringing up the mountain slope in a bell-like soprano.
Why should a bell-like soprano call the name of the old Irish king in
this remote wilderness? Was there witchery at work? Was the bear merely
a part of the phantasmagoria of an enchanted region?
Sir Bryan, undeterred by these suggestions of his fancy, lifted up
his voice and shouted Hulloo! and behold! a few minutes later, a
horse came pushing through the scrub-oaks, bearing upon his back an
enchanted princess. As was to be expected of a Colorado princess,
enchanted or otherwise, she had not quite the traditional appearance.
In lieu of a flowing robe of spotless white, she was clad in a plain
black skirt and a shirt waist of striped cambric, while the golden
fillet, if such she wore, was quite concealed by a very jaunty
sailor-hat, than which no fillet could have been more becoming. In
short, the pleasing vision which Sir Bryan beheld was far more to his
taste than any princess of fairy lore could have been. As he sprang to
his feet and lifted his hat he wondered whether the expression
nut-brown maid was poetry. If so, he had performed an unprecedented
feat in recalling it so aptly.
There is a difference in the way men lift their hats, and Sir
Bryan's way was a charming one.
Did you call? asked the nut-brown maid.
No; I only answered when I heard you call my name.
Is your name Brian Boru? she inquired, with animation.
I am an Irishman, and my name is Bryan, so they used to call me
How very curious! That is the name of my bear!
Of your bear? he repeated in blank amazement.
Yes. Have you seen anything of him? I'm a little near-sighted
Sir Bryan Parkhurst never shirked a dilemma.
I've just shot a bear, he blurted out, but I hope, with all my
heart, it wasn't yours!
Shot a bear? cried the girl, in consternation. Oh! how could
Before Sir Bryan could reach out a helping hand, her feet were on
Where is he? Oh! where is he? she cried in tragic accents.
Sir Bryan pointed to the prostrate form of the murdered bear. Alas!
It must have been her bear, for she knelt down beside him, and gazed
upon him long and mournfully.
And truly there was something pathetic about the victim, viewed from
this new standpoint. He lay on his side, exposing the wound, which was
clotted with blood. His small eyes were open, and a red tongue just
visible between his parted teeth. One short, rigid, foreleg was
stretched out as though in remonstrance, and just within its embrace a
fading spray of gilia lifted its fragile blossoms.
Sir Bryan stood lost in contemplation of this singular scene; the
graceful figure of the kneeling girl, bending over the mass of coarse
brown fur; the flower, standing unscathed close beside the long,
destructive claws. A few yards away, the horse lazily whisked his tail,
while to the right the frowning crags rose, so near and steep that they
seemed about to topple over and make an end of the improbable
At last the girl lifted her head, murmuring, Straight through the
The sportsman's vanity gave a little throb. It was a pretty shot, by
Jove! He moved nearer.
I'm no end sorry about it, he declared.
Alas, for that throb of vanity! His contrition did not have the true
The girl turned upon him with quick distrust. No, he was more glad
If we were in England, she cried, with withering scorn, you would
have to be more than sorry.
Yes, in England, or in Ireland, or anywhere round there. If I'd
shot so much as a miserable pheasant on your land you'd haveyou'd
have had me up before the bailey!
Clearly the girl's reading of English fiction had confused her ideas
of British magistracy. But Sir Bryan was generous, and overlooked side
Is this your land? he asked, gazing at the wild mountain side, and
then at the flaming cheeks of the girl. She stood there like an
animated bit of autumn coloring.
Of course it's my land, she declared.
But I didn't know it was your land.
You knew it wasn't yours! she cried vehemently.
Poor Sir Bryan was hopelessly bewildered. The great West was, after
all, not quite like the rest of the world, if charming young ladies
owned the mountain sides, danced attendance upon by bears of dangerous
aspect and polished manners. He blushed violently, but he did not look
in the least awkward.
I wish you would tell me your name, he said, feeling that if this
remarkable young lady possessed anything so commonplace as a name, the
knowledge of it might place him on a more equal footing with her.
Certainly, Mr. Bryan, she replied. My name is Merriman; Kathleen
Merriman, and she looked at him with great dignity but with no
Well, Miss Merriman, I don't suppose there's any good in talking
about it. My being awfully sorry doesn't help matters any. I don't see
that there's anything to be done about it, but to have the carcass
carted off your land as soon as may be.
Carted off my land! the girl cried, with kindling indignation.
You need not trouble yourself to do anything of the kind. Then, with
a sudden change to the elegiac, she fixed her mournful gaze upon her
departed friend and said, I shall bury him where he lies!
In this softened mood she seemed less formidable, and Sir Bryan so
far plucked up his spirit as to make a suggestion.
Perhaps I could help you, he said. If I had a shovel, or
something, I think I could dig a first-rate grave.
The fair mourner looked at him doubtfully, and then she looked at
his namesake, and apparently the poetic justice of the thing appealed
There's a spade over at the house, she said, and I don't know
that it's any more than fair that you should bury him.
Sir Bryan's spirits rose still higher at the hope of partial
expiation of his crime; but with his rising spirits came a premonition
of a good healthy appetite which would soon be due, and he asked
meekly: Would you mind, then, if I were to go back to town first, to
get something to eat? A person doesn't dig so well, I suppose, on an
No, you'd better stay and get your dinner with me. It will take you
pretty much all day to bury Brian. You probably never buried a bear
before, she added, as patronizingly as if she herself had been a
professional grave-digger, and you don't know what a piece of work
it's going to be.
They started to push their way through the scrub-oaks.
Shall I lead your horse for you? Sir Bryan asked.
[Illustration: THE VAST SEA OF THE PRAIRIE.]
No, thank you. Comrag will follow, all right; and Comrag did
follow, so close upon their heels, that Sir Bryan was in momentary
expectation of being trampled upon.
Comrag was an unbeautiful beast, and he permitted himself startling
liberties; crowding himself in between his mistress and her companion,
helping himself without ceremony to a bunch of asters which Sir Bryan
had in his hand, and neighing straight into the young baronet's ear as
they came in sight of the house.
The house was a mere hut, painted red, entirely dwarfed by an
ungainly chimney of rough stone. The little hut was built against a
huge boulder, which towered above the chimney itself, and looked as
though it had stood there since the foundation of the earth. There was
a rustic veranda along the front of this diminutive dwelling, which
stood on a slight eminence; and, as Sir Bryan stepped upon the veranda,
he drew a long breath of amazement and delight. Looking down over the
broad, oak-clad slope of the mountain, he beheld the vast sea of the
prairie, stretching for leagues upon leagues away to the low horizon.
From that height the view seemed limitless, and the illusion of the
sea, which always hovers over the prairies, was complete.
As his hostess came out with a long-handled spade in her hand, he
cried, That is the most magnificent thing I ever saw!
She did not answer immediately, but stood leaning upon the spade,
and gazing forth as intently as if it had been to her too a revelation.
Then she drew a long breath and said, in a rapt tone, as though the
words came to her one by one: Yes, it makes you feel sometimes as if
your soul would get away from you.
They stood there for a while, watching the cloud-shadows swimming
upon that mystic sea. The smoke of an express train on the horizon
seemed fairly to crawl, so great was the distance.
That looks like the smoke of a steamer, Sir Bryan observed.
Then you think it seems like the sea, as everybody else does, she
answered. I never saw the sea, myself, but I don't believe it can be
finer than this.
There was another pause, and then, with a sudden change of mood, to
which she seemed subject, the rapt worshipper turned her thoughts to
practical things, saying briskly: Here's your spade, Mr. Bryan. You
had better go and begin, while I get the dinner. I'll fire a shot when
Sir Bryan obediently took the spade.
How am I to find my way to the bear? he asked.
All about the little clearing was an unbroken wilderness of
scrub-oaks, gorgeous but bewildering.
Why, you can just follow Comrag's tracks, she said, pointing
toward the spot where the hoof-prints emerged from the brush. You'd
better leave your rifle here, she added with some asperity, You might
take a fancy to shoot Comrag if he strayed your way.
It was Sir Bryan Parkhurst's first attempt at digging, and he
devoutly hoped it might be his last. He thought at first that he should
never get his spade inserted into the earth at all, so numerous and
exasperating were the hindrances it met with. The hardest and grittiest
of stones, tangled roots, and solid cakes of earth, which seemed to
cohere by means of some subterranean cement, offered a complicated
resistance, which was not what he had expected of Mother Earth. He
began to fear that that much bepraised dame was something of a vixen
The other Brian lay, meanwhile, in all the dignity and solemnity of
funeral state, awaiting burial. As Sir Bryan toiled at his thankless
task he found himself becoming strangely impressed. There seemed to be
a weird and awesome significance in the scene. He did not know why it
was, but the beetling crags above him, the consciousness of the
marvellous plains below, the rhythmic murmur of the wind in the pine
trees near at hand, the curious impenetrableness of the old earth, the
kingship of death asserting itself in the motionless brute which he had
killed, but which he was powerless to make alive againall these weird
and unaccustomed influences seemed to be clutching at his imagination,
taking liberties with his sense of identity. He had just about reached
the conclusion that it was all a mistake about his being anybody in
particular, when a shot rang out and reminded him that he was, at any
rate, ravenously hungry.
Five minutes later he had washed his hands at the toy sink of a toy
kitchen and was seated at a snowy table on the little veranda,
partaking of a mutton stew which seemed a dish fit for the gods.
It had been something of a shock to Sir Bryan to find places laid
for only two. He had never before enjoyed a tête-à-tête meal
with a young lady, and it was some minutes before he could rid his mind
of the impression that an irate chaperon was about to appear from
behind the boulder, or, for the matter of that, from the depths of the
earth itself. His recent experience of the difficulty of penetrating
the surface of the earth might have given him a sense of security in
that direction, had he not cherished an exaggerated opinion of the
prowess of the traditional chaperon in thwarting the pleasures of the
young. The comeliness, too, of his hostess led him, by inference, to
suppose that the chaperon in question would prove to be of a peculiarly
vicious and aggressive type. No such apparition came, however, to
disturb his satisfaction, and he gradually came to believe in the
lawfulness of the situation. His face may have betrayed something of
the questionings which were racking his mind, for the self-possessed
Kathleen, after heaping his plate with stew for the second time, gave
him an elder-sisterly look, and said: Mr. Bryan, you are such a very
discreet young man, that I believe I will answer all the questions you
are dying to ask.
Sir Bryan blushed, as he always hated himself for doing, and the
nut-brown maid continued:
Yes, I live here all alone. I am taking up a claim. No. Nobody
molests me, and I get on beautifully. Sometimes my friends come up and
spend a few days with me, but not often. Comrag and I do the marketing
once or twice a week. I've got a lovely cool cellar up against the
boulder under the house.
All this she said like a child repeating a lesson she has learned by
rote, which the teacher wants to hear, but which the child finds rather
uninteresting. But Sir Bryan listened as if it had been the most
exciting tale he had ever heard. Thus encouraged she proceeded with the
dry statement of facts.
I've only got to stay here a month longer to secure the claim. I've
got three hundred acres, and it has cost me just three hundred dollars
to take it up and to build my house and Comrag's stall. I could sell
out to-morrow for five hundred dollars, but I don't know that I would
sell for five thousand. Because I have such a beautiful time here. I
feel somehow as if I had struck root.
Sir Bryan knew exactly what she meant. In spite of the sailor hat
and shirt waist, she had the air of having grown up among the rocks and
glowing oak leaves. He said nothing, but his attentive attitude asked
Oh, yes! and about Brian Boru, she proceeded. I found him last
June, lying up against a tree with his leg broken. I fed him until his
leg was mended, andandwith a little catch in her breathhe
adored me! See how green it looks off to the south, she hastened to
add, brushing her hand across her eyes.
An hour after dinner, as Sir Bryan still labored at that
contumacious grave, his hostess came and seated herself upon the rock,
whence he, in the first flush of triumph, had surveyed the dead bear.
Sir Bryan could not but feel flattered by this kind attention, and,
being particularly anxious to acquit himself creditably before so
distinguished a spectator, he naturally became more and more awkward at
The young lady considerately divided her attention between the
futile efforts of the amateur grave-digger and the flippant behavior of
a black and white magpie, which was perched on the branch of a dead
pine near by, derisively jerking its long tail. She wondered whether
the magpie perhaps shared her astonishment, that an able-bodied son of
Erin should not take more naturally to a spade. She had supposed that,
if there was one weapon that an Irishman thoroughly understood, it was
that which her new acquaintance was struggling with. She cocked her
head on one side, with something of a magpie air, while a little crease
appeared between her eyebrows.
Why don't you coax it a little more? she suggested.
Sir Bryan straightened himself up and stood there, very red in the
face, trying to make out whether she was laughing at him. Then he
laughed at himself and said, I believe you are right. I was getting
After that he seemed to get on better.
They buried the bear just as the heavy shadow of the mountain fell
across their feet. By the time the last clod of earth had fallen upon
the grave, the mountain shadow had found its way a hundred miles across
the plains, and a narrow golden rim, like a magic circlet, glimmered on
Do you never feel afraid? he asked, as they walked back to the
No. I suppose I ought to, but I don't. I was a little disappointed
the first summer I was here, because nothing happened. It seemed such a
chance. But somehow things don't happen very often. Do you think they
do? And now I'm a good deal older and more experienced, and I don't
expect adventures. I'm almost twenty-five, she declared, with the
pardonable pride of advancing years.
There was that in Sir Bryan's face as well as in his character which
had always invited confidence. Consequently it did not seem to him in
the least degree unnatural that this charming girl should tell him
about herself, as they walked side by side along the lonely mountain
slope, in the fading light.
I forgot to tell you, she was saying, that I am a trained nurse.
I came out West from Iowa with a sick lady who died very soon, and I
liked the mountains, and so I stayed.
And you've given up nursing?
Oh, no. In the winter season I am always busy. I couldn't afford to
give up nursing, and I don't believe I should want to. It's lovely to
help people when they are suffering. You get almost to feel as though
they belonged to you, and I haven't anybody belonging to me.
All this was said in a tone of soliloquy, without a trace of
self-consciousness. Miss Kathleen Merriman seemed to find it quite
natural that she should stand alone and unprotected in the world. But
somehow it conflicted with all Sir Bryan's articles of faith. Women
were intended to be taken care of, especially young and pretty women. A
feeling of genuine tenderness came over him and a longing to protect
this brave young creature. There was, to be sure, something about the
way her head was set upon her shoulders, that made him doubt whether it
would be easy to acquire the right to take care of her. But that made
the task all the more tempting. The old song that every Irishman loves
was in his thoughts. He felt an impulse, such as others had felt in
this young lady's presence, to whisper: Kathleen Mavourneen. He tried
to fancy the consequences of such a bold step, but he did not venture
to face them. He therefore contented himself with observing that the
air had grown very chilly.
They had reached the little veranda once more, and Sir Bryan was not
invited to tarry. The girl stood there in the deepening twilight, a
step above him, leaning upon the spade he had delivered up, and looking
out across the shadowy plains, and Sir Bryan could think of no possible
excuse for staying any longer. As he flung his rifle over his shoulder
and made a motion to go, she held out her hand, with a sudden friendly
impulse, and said: I was very unjust this morning. You couldn't
possibly have known, and it was very kind of you to bury him.
Sir Bryan murmured a remorseful word or two, and then he started
down the mountain side.
Good-bye, he cried, across the scrub-oaks that were growing dark
Good-bye, Mr. Bryan, came the answer, sounding shrill and near
through the intervening distance.
As he looked back, a huge, ungainly form thrust itself before the
slender figure. A great dark head stood out against the light
shirtwaist the girl wore, and he perceived that Comrag had strolled
from his stall for a friendly good-night.
The only friend she has left now, Sir Bryan reflected in sorrowful
He strode down the mountain at a good pace. Now and then a startled
rabbit crossed his path, and once his imagination turned a scrub-oak
into the semblance of a bear. But he gave no heed to these apparitions.
His sportsman's instinct had suffered a check.
By the time Sir Bryan had reached the outskirts of the town, the
stars were out. He looked up at the great mountain giant that closed
the range at the south. Wrapped in darkness and in silence it stood
against the starry sky. He tried to imagine that he could perceive a
twinkling light from the little cabin, but none was visible. The
enchantment of the mountain-side had already withdrawn itself into
Jove! he said to himself, as he turned into the prosaic town. If
I were an American, or something of that sort, I'd go up there again.
Being, however, a young Irish baronet, as shy of entanglements with
his own kind as he was eager for encounters with wild beasts, he very
wisely went his way the next morning, and up to this time has never
beheld mountain or maiden again.
Over the grave which Sir Bryan dug, there stands to-day a stout pine
board, upon which may be read the following legend:
Here lies the body of
shot through the heart
and subsequently buried
by an agreeable Paddy
of the same name.
Every year, however, the inscription becomes somewhat less legible
and it is to be feared that all record of the poor bear will soon be
III. JAKE STANWOOD'S GAL.
Jacob Stanwood was not the only college-bred man, stranded more or
less like a disabled hull, upon the prairie sea of Colorado. Within the
radius of a hundred milesno great distance as prairie miles are
reckoned,there were known to be some half dozen of the fraternity,
putting their superior equipment to the test, opposing trained minds
and muscles to the stubborn resistance of an ungenial nature. The
varying result of the struggle in different cases would seem to
indicate that it is moral fibre which nature respects and submits to,
rather than any acquired advantages.
[Illustration: BETWEEN HIS CABIN DOOR AND 'THE RANGE' STRETCHED
TWENTY MILES OF ARID PRAIRIE.]
In Jacob Stanwood's case there was no such test applied, for there
was absolutely no struggle. He would have found it much easier to send
a bullet through his brain than to put that organ to any violent
exertion. Up to him, but he sometimes fancied that he saw it coming. At
such times he would philosophize over himself and fate, until he had
exhausted those two great subjects, and then, in a quiet and
gentlemanly way, he would drown speculation in the traditional dram. He
never drank anything but Old Rye, and he flattered himself that he
did so only when he pleased. If he somewhat misapprehended his relation
with old rye, it was perhaps no wonder; for in his semi-occasional
encounters with this gentlemanly intoxicant, his only witnesses and
commentators were his collie dogs, and they never ventured upon an
opinion in the matter.
When he was in a good mood Stanwood would sit in his doorway of a
summer evening, with the collies at his feet, and commune with nature
as amicably as if she had been his best friend. Between his cabin door
and the range stretched twenty miles of arid prairie; but when the
sun was in the west, the wide expanse took on all the mystic hues that
the Orientals love and seek to imitate, and he gazed across it to the
towering peaks with a sense of ownership which no paternal acres, no
velvet lawns, nor stately trees, could have awakened in him. A row of
telegraph-poles, which had doubtless once been trees, straggled along
the line of the railroad, a few miles to the north, and his own
windmill indicated the presence of water underground. But as far as the
eye could reach not a living tree could be seen, not a glimmer of a
lake or rivulet; only the palpitating plain and the soaring peaks, and
at his feet the cluster of faithful friends, gazing, from time to time,
with rapt devotion into his face.
On these meditative evenings Stanwood found a leisurely
companionship in reminiscences of better days; reminiscences more
varied and brilliant than most men have for solace. But it was part of
his philosophy never to dwell on painful contrasts. Even in the memory
of his wife, whom he had adored and lost, even into that memory he
allowed no poignant element to enter. He thought of her strong and gay
and happy, making a joy of life. He never permitted the recollection of
her illness and death, nor of his own grief, to intrude itself. Indeed
he had succeeded in reality, as well as in retrospect, in evading his
grief. There had been a little daughter of six, who had formed part of
the painful association which his temperament rebelled against.
Foregoing, in her favor, the life-interest in her mother's estate to
which he was entitled, he had placed the child under the guardianship
of an uncle whom he equally disliked and trusted, and, having thus
disposed of his last responsibility, he had gone forth into what proved
to be the very diverting world of Europe. The havoc which some ten
years' sojourn wrought in his very considerable fortune would force one
to the conclusion that he had amused himself with gambling; but whether
in stocks, or at faro tables, or in some more subtle wise, was known
only to himself.
He had returned to his own country by way of Japan and San
Francisco, and then he had set his face to the East, with an idea that
he must repair his shattered fortunes. When once the Rocky Mountains
were crossed, however, and no longer stood as a bulwark between him and
unpleasant realities, he suddenly concluded to go no farther. It struck
him that he was hardly prepared for the hand-to-hand struggle with
fortune which he had supposed himself destined to; it would be more in
his line to take up a claim and live there as master, though it were
only master of a desert.
The little daughter, with whom he kept up a desultory
correspondence, had expressed her regret in a letter written in the
stiff, carefully worded style of sweet sixteen, and he had never
guessed the passion of disappointment which the prim little letter
This had happened five years ago. He had taken up his claim
successfully, but there success ended. After four years or more of
rather futile ranching, he sold most of his stock to his men, who
promptly departed with it, and proceeded to locate a claim a few miles
distant. The incident amused him as illustrating the dignity of labor,
and kindred philosophical theories which the present age seems invented
One horse, a couple of cows, and his six collie dogs of assorted
ages and sizes, he still retained, and with their assistance he was
rapidly making away with the few hundreds accruing from the sale of his
stock and farming implements. He had placed the money in the bank at
Cameron City, a small railroad-station in a hollow five miles north of
him, and it was when his eyes fell upon the rapidly diminishing monthly
balance that he thought he saw coming that unpleasant alternative of
which mention has been made.
He found no little entertainment, after the departure of his men, in
converting their late sleeping-apartment into what he was pleased to
call a museum. To this end nothing further was necessary, after
removing all traces of their late occupancy, than that two old
sole-leather trunks should render up their contents, consisting of
half-forgotten souvenirs of travel. The change was magic. Unmounted
photographs appeared upon the wall, an ivory Faust and Gretchen from
Nuremberg stood, self-centred and unobservant, upon the chimney-shelf
among trophies from Turkey, and Japan, Spain, and Norway. A gorgeous
kimono served as curtain at the south window, a Persian altar-cloth
at the west; and through the west window, the great Peak gazed with
stolid indifference upon all that splendor, while the generous Colorado
sunshine poured itself in at the south in unstinted measure, just as
lavishly as if its one mission had been to illuminate the already
And then, when all was done, Stanwood found to his surprise, that he
still liked best to sit at his cabin-door, and watch the play of light
on peak and prairie.
Late one afternoon, as he sat in the doorway, at peace with himself,
and in agreeable harmony with the world as he beheld it, his eye was
caught by an indistinguishable object moving across the plain from the
direction of Cameron City. He regarded it as he might have regarded the
progress of a coyote or prairie-dog, till it stopped at his own gate,
half a mile to the northward. A vague feeling of dissatisfaction came
over him at the sight, but he did not disturb himself, nor make any
remarks to the dogs on the subject. They however soon pricked up their
ears, and sprang to their feet, excited and pleased. They were
hospitable souls and welcomed the diversion of a visitor. As the wagon
drew nearer, Stanwood observed that there was a woman sitting beside
the driver; whereupon he repaired to his own room to give himself a
hasty polish. The dogs began to bark in a friendly manner, and, under
cover of their noise, the wagon came up and stopped before the door.
Suddenly a rap resounded, and in acknowledgment of this unusual
ceremony, the master of the house went so far as to pull on his best
coat before stepping out into the main room. There in the doorway,
cutting off the view of the Peak, stood a tall, well-dressed young
woman, patting one of the dogs, while the others leaped, barking, about
Somewhat mystified by this apparition, Stanwood approached, and
said; Good-evening, madam.
Good-evening, came the reply, in a rather agitated voice. I'm
The deuce you are!
Struck, not by the unfatherly, but by the ungentlemanly nature of
his response, Stanwood promptly gathered himself together, to meet the
Pray come in and take a seat, he said; and then, falling into the
prairie speech: Where are you stopping?
The tall young lady, who had entered, but who had not taken the
proffered seat, looked at him a moment, and then she came toward him
with a swift, impulsive movement, and said: Why, papa, I don't believe
you know me! I'm Elizabeth!
Yes, yes, oh, yes! I understand. But I thought perhaps you were
paying a visit somewheresome school friend, you know,
ororyessome school friend.
The girl was looking at him half bewildered, half solicitous. It was
not the reception she had anticipated at the end of her
two-thousand-mile journey. But then, this was not the man she had
expected to seethis gaunt, ill-clad figure, with the worn,
hollow-eyed face, and the gray hair. Why, her father was only fifty
years old, yet the lines she saw were lines of age and suffering.
Suddenly all her feeling of perplexity and chagrin and wounded pride
was merged in a profound tenderness. She drew nearer, extending both
her hands, placed them gently upon his shoulders and said: Will you
please to give me a kiss?
Stanwood, much abashed, bent his head toward the blooming young
face, and imprinted a perfunctory kiss upon the waiting lips. This
unaccustomed exercise completed his discomfiture. For the first time in
his life he felt himself unequal to a social emergency.
A curious sensation went over Elizabeth. Somehow she felt as if she
had been kissed by a total stranger. She drew back and picked up her
small belongings. For a moment Stanwood thought she was going.
Don't you get your mail out here any more? she asked.
Not very regularly, he replied, guiltily conscious of possessing
two or three illegible letters from his daughter which he had not yet
had the enterprise to decipher.
Then you did not expect me?
Well, no, I can't say I did. Butwith a praiseworthy if not
altogether successful effortI am very glad to see you, my dear.
The first half of this speech was so much more convincing than the
last, that the girl felt an unpleasant stricture about her throat, and
knew herself to be on the verge of tears.
I could go back, she said, with a pathetic little air of dignity.
Perhaps you would not have any place to put me if I should stay.
Oh, yes; I can put you in the museumand he looked at her with
the first glimmer of appreciation, feeling that she would be a
creditable addition to his collection of curiosities.
Elizabeth met his look with one of quick comprehension, and then she
broke into a laugh which saved the day. It was a pleasant laugh in
itself, and furthermore, if she had not laughed just at that juncture
she would surely have disgraced herself forever by a burst of tears.
Cy Willows, meanwhile, believing that the gal and her pa would
rather not be observed at their first meeting, had discreetly busied
himself with the two neat trunks which his passenger had brought.
Hullo, Jake! he remarked, as the ranchman appeared at the door;
this is a great day for you, ain't it?
The two men took hold of one of the trunks together, and carried it
into the museum. When the door opened, Willows almost dropped his end
from sheer amazement. He stood in the middle of the room, staring from
Venus to altar-cloth, from altar-cloth to censer.
Gosh! he remarked at last. Your gal's struck it rich!
The gal took it more quietly. To her, the master of this fine
apartment was not Jake Stanwood, the needy ranchman, but Jacob
Stanwood, Esq., gentleman and scholar, to the manor born. She stepped
to the window, and looked out across the shimmering plain to the rugged
peaks and the warm blue slopes of the range, and a sigh of admiration
Oh, papa! she cried, how beautiful it is!
And I'll be durned if 't wa' n't the mountings the gal was looking
at all the time! Cy Willows declared, when reporting upon the
astonishing situation at the ranch.
Stanwood himself was somewhat impressed by the girl's attitude. The
museum had come to seem to his long unaccustomed mind a very splendid
apartment indeed. When, a few minutes later, Elizabeth joined him in
the rudely furnished living-room of the cabin, he felt something very
like chagrin at her first observation.
Oh, papa! she cried. I'm so glad the rest of it is a real ranch
house! I've always wanted to see just how a real ranchman lives!
He thought ruefully that she would soon learn, to her cost, how a
very poverty-stricken ranchman lived. His examination of the larder had
not been encouraging.
I am afraid we shall have rather poor pickings for supper, my
dear, he said apologetically. He called her my dear from the first;
it seemed more non-committal and impersonal than the use of her name.
He had not called a young lady by her first name for fifteen years.
I have my dinner in the middle of the day, he went on, and I seem
to have run short of provisions this evening.
I suppose you have a man-cook, she remarked, quite ignoring his
Yes, he replied grimly. I have the honor to fill that office
Why; isn't there anybody else about the place?
No. I'm 'out of help' just now, as old Madam Gallup used to say. I
don't suppose you remember old Madam Gallup.
Oh, yes, I do! Mama used to have her to dinner every Sunday. She
looked like a duchess, but when she died people said she died of
starvation. That was the year after you went away, she added
It seemed very odd to hear this tall young woman say mama, and to
realize that it was that other Elizabeth that she was laying claim to.
Why, the girl seemed almost as much of a woman as her mother. Fifteen
years! A long time to be sure. He ought to have known better than to
have slipped into reminiscences at the very outset. Uncomfortable
things, alwaysuncomfortable things!
He would not let her help him get the supper, and with a subtle
perception of the irritation which he was at such pains to conceal, she
forbore to press the point, and went, instead, and sat in the doorway,
looking dreamily across the prairie.
Stanwood noted her choice of a seat, with a curious mixture of
jealousy and satisfaction. He should be obliged either to give up his
seat, or to share it for awhile; but then it was gratifying to know
that the girl had a heart for that view.
And the girl sat there wondering vaguely why she was not homesick.
Everything had been different from her anticipations. No one to meet
her at Springtown; no letter, no message at the hotel. She had had some
difficulty in learning how to reach Cameron City, and when, at last,
she had found herself in the forlorn little prairie train, steaming
eastward across the strange yellow expanse, unbroken by the smallest
landmark, she had been assailed by strange doubts and questionings. At
Cameron City, again, no longed-for, familiar face had appeared among
the loungers at the station, and the situation and her part in it
seemed most uncomfortable. When, however, she had made known her
identity, and word was passed that this was Jake Stanwood's gal,
there were prompt offers of help, and she had soon secured the services
of Cy Willows and his team.
As she sat in the doorway, watching the glowing light, the sun
dropped behind the Peak. She remembered how Cy had said he hadn't
never heard Jake Stanwood speak of havin' a gal of his own. The shadow
of the great mountain had fallen upon the plain, and a chill, half
imaginary, half real, possessed itself of her. Was she homesick after
all? She stood up and stepped out upon the prairie, which had never
yielded an inch of space before the cabin door. Off to the southward
was a field of half-grown alfalfa that had taken on a weird, uncanny
green in the first sunless light. She looked across to the remote
prairie, and there, on the far horizon, the sunlight still shone, a
golden circlet. No. She was not homesick; anything but that! She had
been homesick almost ever since she could remember, but now she was in
her father's house and everything must be well.
When Stanwood came to look for her he found her surrounded by the
assiduous collies, examining with much interest the tall, ungainly
windmill, with its broad wooden flaps.
On the whole, their first evening together was a pleasant one.
Stanwood listened with amused appreciation to the account of her
journey. She would be a credit to his name, he thought, out there in
the old familiar world which he should never see again.
He had relinquished to her the seat on the door-step, and himself
sat on a saw-horse outside the door, where the lamp-light struck his
face. Her head and figure presented themselves to him as a silhouette,
and somehow that suited him better than to see her features distinctly;
it seemed to keep their relation back where it had always been, a sort
of impersonal outline.
Elizabeth, for her part, thought that, for all his shabby clothes
and thin, sunburnt face, her father was more manifestly a gentleman
than any man she had ever seen.
She learned several things in the course of that conversation. She
found that when she touched upon her reasons for coming to him, her
feeling that they were only two and that they ought to be together, his
eyes wandered and he looked bored; when she spoke of her mother he
Was she like her mother? No, he said, she was not in the least like
her mother; he did not see that she took after anybody in particular.
Then, as if to escape the subject, was her Uncle Nicholas as rabid a
teetotaller as ever?
He liked best to hear about her school days and of the gay doings of
the past year, her first year of society.
And you don't like society? he asked at last, with a quizzical
glance at her pretty profile. She had turned her eyes from the
contemplation of his face, and seemed to be conjuring up interesting
visions out of the darkness.
Yes, I do! she said with decision.
You won't get much society out here, he remarked, and his spirits
rose again. Of course she would be bored to death without it.
I like some things better than society, she replied.
She turned her face full upon him, and boldly said, You.
The deuce you do! he cried, and was instantly conscious that it
was the second time that he had forgotten himself.
A little crinkle appeared in the silhouette of a cheek, and she
said, I do like to hear you say 'the deuce.' I don't believe Uncle
Nicholas ever said 'the deuce' in his life.
Nick was always a bore, Stanwood rejoined, more pleased with the
implied disparagement of his pet aversion than with the very out-spoken
compliment to himself.
I think Uncle Nicholas has done his duty by me, Elizabeth remarked
demurely, but I am glad he has got through. I came of age last Monday,
the day I started for Colorado.
When did you decide to come?
About five years ago. I always meant to start on the 7th of June of
You make your plans a long way ahead. What is the next step on the
I haven't the least idea.
For such a very decided young lady, isn't that rather odd?
There are some things one can't decide all by one's self.
The next step.
Perhaps you will find it easier after a week or two of ranching.
You don't think I am going to like ranching?
Don't you like it?
Oh, I'm an old man, with my life behind me.
The lamp-light on his face was stronger than he was aware; Elizabeth
saw a good deal in it which he was not in the habit of displaying to
his fellow-creatures. She stooped, and patted one of the collies, and
told him she thought she really ought to go to bed; upon which Stanwood
rose with alacrity, and conducted her to the museum, which had been
turned into a very habitable sleeping-room.
Having closed the door upon his latest curiosity, Stanwood
proceeded to perform a solemn rite in the light of the stars. He took
his demijohn of old rye, and, followed by the six collies, he carried
it out a few rods back of the cabin, where he gravely emptied its
contents upon the sandy soil. At the first remonstrating gulp of the
demijohn, which seemed to be doing its best to arrest the flow, a
strong penetrating aroma assailed his nostrils, but he never flinched.
Great as his confidence was in his own supremacy in his peculiarly
intimate relations with old rye, he did not wish to take any chances
The dogs stood around in an admiring circle, and sniffed perplexedly
at the strange libation which was clearly not intended for their kind.
Did they realize that it was poured before the altar of parental
devotion? They stood there wagging their tails with great vigor, and
never taking their eyes off their master's countenance. Perhaps they
appreciated the odd, half-deprecating, half-satirical expression of the
face they knew so well. It would have been a pity if somebody had not
done so. It is to be feared, however, that the remark with which
Stanwood finally turned away from the odorous pool and walked toward
the house was beyond the comprehension of the canine intellect. To
himself, at least, the remorseful pang was very real with which he
said, half aloud, Pity to waste good liquor like that! Some poor
wretch might have enjoyed it.
The morning following his visitor's arrival, the two drove together
in the rattling old ranch wagon to Cameron City. Elizabeth was
enchanted with the ingenious introduction of odd bits of rope into the
harness, by means of which the whole establishment was kept from
falling apart. She thought the gait of the lazy old nag the most
amusing exhibition possible, and as for the erratic jolts and groans of
the wagon, it struck her that this was a new form of exercise, the
pleasurable excitement and unexpectedness of which surpassed all former
experiences. At Cameron City she made purchase of a saddle-horse, a
very well-made bronco with dramatic possibilities in his eye.
I don't know where you will get a sidesaddle, Stanwood had
demurred when the purchase was first proposed.
A sidesaddle? I have it in my trunk.
You don't say so! I should think it would jam your bonnets.
Oh, I packed it with my ranch outfit.
So they jogged and rattled over to Cameron City, where Elizabeth had
made the acquisition, not only of a saddle-horse, but of two or three
most interesting new acquaintances.
I do like the people so much, papa, she declared as they drove out
of town, having left the new horse to be shod.
You don't mind their calling you 'Jake Stanwood's gal'?
No, indeed! I think it's perfectly lovely!
It cannot but be gratifying to me, Stanwood remarked, in the
half-satirical tone he found easiest in conversation with this near
relative; in fact, I may say it is gratifying to me, to find
that the impression is mutually favorable. Halstead, the ruffianly
looking sheep-raiser who called you 'Madam,' confided to me that you
were the first woman he had ever met who knew the difference between a
horse and a cow; and Simmons, the light-haired man who looks like a
deacon, but who is probably the worst thief in four counties, told me I
ought to be proud of 'that gal'!
Oh, papa, what gorgeous compliments! Don't you want a swap?
A swap. That's what we call it when we pay back one compliment with
He turned and looked at her with an amused approval which was almost
It is most refreshing, he said, to have the vocabulary of the
effete West enlivened with these breezy expressions from the growing
But, papa, you must really like slang, now really! Uncle Nicholas
could never tolerate it.
There you strike a chord! I desire you to speak nothing but slang
if Nick objects.
Agreeable badinage had always been a favorite pastime with Jacob
Stanwood. If Elizabeth had but guessed it, a taste of it was worth more
to him than all the filial devotion she held in reserve.
And now for the swap, she said. You are not modest, I hope?
Well, then! Miss Hunnimanyou remember Miss Hunniman? She used to
make mama's dresses, and now she makes mine. She told me only a year
ago that whenever she read about Sir Galahad or the Chevalier Bayard or
Richard the Lion-hearted, she always thought of you; which was very
inconvenient, because it made her mix them up, and she never could
remember which of them went to the Crusades and which of them did not!
Anything in the nature of a reminiscence was sure to jar upon
Stanwood. He preferred to consider the charming young person beside him
as an agreeable episode; he half resented any reminder of the
permanence of their relation. Therefore, in response to this little
confidence, which caused the quaint figure of Miss Hunniman to present
itself with a hundred small, thronging associations of the past, he
only remarked drily:
I suppose you know that if you stay out here any length of time you
will spoil your complexion.
Elizabeth was impressionable enough to feel the full significance of
such hints and side-thrusts as were cautiously administered to her. She
was quite aware that she and her father were totally at odds on the
main point at issue, that he had as yet no intention of sharing his
solitude with her for any length of time. As the days went by she
perceived something else. She was not long in discovering that he was
extremely poor, and she became aware in some indefinable wise that he
held existence very cheap. Had her penetration been guided by a form of
experience which she happily lacked, she might have suspected still
another factor in the situation which had an unacknowledged influence
upon Stanwood's attitude.
Meanwhile their relation continued to be a friendly one. They were,
in fact, peculiarly congenial, and they could not well live together
without discovering it.
They rode together, they cooked together, they set up a target, and
had famous shooting-matches. Elizabeth learned to milk the cows and
make butter, to saddle her bronco and mount him from the ground. They
taught the pups tricks, they tamed a family of prairie-dogs, they had a
plan for painting the windmill. By the end of a week Stanwood was in
such good humor, that he made a marked concession.
One of the glowing, glimmering sunsets they both delighted in was
going on, beautifying the prairie as warmly as the sky. Stanwood came
from the shed where he had been feeding the horses, and found his
visitor seated in the doorway. He stood observing her critically for a
few moments. She made an attractive picture there in the warm sunset
light. Before he could check himself he found himself wishing that her
mother could see her. Ah! If her mother were here too, it would be
almost worth while to begin life over again.
The girl, unconscious of his scrutiny, sat gazing at the view he
loved. As he watched her tranquil happy face he felt reconciled and
softened. Her hands lay palm downward on her lap. They were shapely
hands, large and generous; a good deal tanned and freckled now. There
was something about them which he had not noticed before; and almost
involuntarily his thoughts got themselves spoken.
Do you know, Elizabeth, your thumbs are like your mother's!
Elizabeth felt that it was a concession, but she had learned wisdom.
She did not turn her eyes from the range, and she only said quietly, I
am glad of that, papa.
Emboldened by the consciousness of her own discretion, she ventured,
later in the evening, to broach a subject fraught with risks. Having
armed herself with a piece of embroidery, and placed the lamp between
herself and the object of her diplomacy, she remarked in a casual
I suppose, papa, that Uncle Nicholas has told you how rich we are.
Nick wrote me with his usual consciousness of virtue that his
investments for you had turned out well.
Our income is twice what it was ten years ago.
I congratulate you, my dear. I only regret the moral effect upon
And I congratulate you, papa. Of course it's really yours as
long as you live.
I think you have been misinformed, my dear. It was your mother's
property, and is now yours.
Oh, no, papa! You have a life-interest in it. I am surprised that
you did not know that.
And I am surprised that you should be, or pretend to be, ignorant
that the property stands in your name. I have no more concern in it
We won't discuss the matter, if you please, my dear. We can gain
nothing by discussion.
I don't want to discuss it, papa, taking a critical survey of her
embroidery; but if you won't go snacks, I won't. Uncle Nicholas told
me never to say 'go snacks,' she added, with a side glance around the
edge of the lamp-shade.
His face relaxed so far that she ventured to add: Uncle Nicholas
would be furious if we were to go snacks.
Stanwood smiled appreciatively.
Nothing could be more painful to me than to miss an opportunity of
making Nick furious, he said; but I have not lived fifty years
without having learned to immolate myself and my dearest ambitions upon
the appropriate altars.
After which eloquent summing-up, he turned the conversation into
It was not long after this that Stanwood found himself experiencing
a peculiar depression of spirits, which he positively refused to trace
to its true source. He told himself that he wanted his freedom; he was
getting tired of Elizabeth; he must send her home. It was nonsense for
her to stay any longer, spoiling her complexion and his temper; it was
really out of the question to have this thing go on any longer. Having
come to which conclusion, it annoyed him very much to find himself
enjoying her society. His depression of spirits was intermittent.
One morning, when he found her sitting on the saw-horse, with the
new bronco taking his breakfast from a bag she held in her lap, the sun
shining full in her clear young face, health and happiness in every
line of her figure, a positive thrill of fatherly pride and affection
seized him. But the reaction was immediate.
He turned on his heel, disgusted at this refutation of his theories.
He was wretched and uncomfortable as he had never been before, and if
it was not this intruding presence that made him so, what was it? Of
course he was getting tired of her; what could be more natural? For
fifteen years he had not known the pressure of a bond. Of course it was
irksome to him! He really must get rid of it.
His moodiness did not escape Elizabeth, nor did she fail to note the
recent accentuating of those lines in his face, which had at first
struck her painfully, but which she had gradually become accustomed to.
In her own mind she concluded that her father had lived too long at
this high altitude, and that she must persuade him to leave it.
Papa, she said, as they stood for a moment in the doorway after
supper, don't you think it would be good fun to go abroad this
His drooping spirit revived; she was getting tired of ranching.
A capital plan, my dear. Just what you need, he replied, with more
animation than he had shown since morning.
Let us start pretty soon, she went on persuasively, deceived by
his ready acquiescence.
Us? My dear, what are you thinking of? I' m tired to death of
Europe! Nothing would induce me to go.
Oh, well. Then I don't care anything about it, she said. We'll
stay where we are, of course. I am as happy and contented as I could be
Stanwood turned upon her with a sudden, fierce irritation.
This is nonsense! he cried. You are not to bury yourself alive
out here! I won't permit it! The sooner you go, the better for both
His voice was harsh and strained; it was the tone of it more than
the words themselves that cut her to the heart. He did not want her; it
had all been a miserable failure. She controlled herself with a strong
effort. Her voice did not tremble; there was only the pathos of
repression in it as she answered: Very well, papa; perhaps I have had
Stanwood thought, and rebelled against the thought, that he had
never seen a finer thing than her manner of replying. For himself, he
felt as if he had come to the dregs of life and should like to fling
the cup away.
They occupied themselves that evening a good deal with the collies,
and they parted early; and then it was that Stanwood was brought face
to face with himself.
For half an hour or more he made a pretence of reading the papers,
and looking at the pictures in a stray magazine, thus keeping himself
at arm's length, as it were. But after a while even that restraint
became unendurable. He went to the back door of the house and opened
it. The collies appeared in a delighted group to rush into the house.
He suffered them to do so, and then, stepping out, he closed the door
upon them and stood outside. There was a strong north wind, and, for a
moment, its breath refreshed him like a dash of cold water. Only for a
moment, however. The sense of oppression returned upon him, and he felt
powerless to shake it off. With the uncertain, wavering step of a
sleep-walker, he moved across to the spot where he had poured his
libation three weeks ago. He stood there, strangely fascinated,
glancing once or twice, furtively over his shoulder. Then, hardly
knowing what he did, he got down on his knees and put his face to the
ground. Was it the taste or the smell that he craved? He could not have
told. He only knew that he knelt there and pressed his face to the
earth, and that a sickening sense of disappointment came over him at
finding all trace of it gone.
He got up from his knees, very shaky and weak, and then it was that
he looked himself in the face and knew what the ignominious craving
meant. He slunk into the house, cowed and shamed. The sight of the
dogs, huddled about the door inside, gave him a guilty start, and he
drove them angrily out. Then he got himself to bed in the dark. He lay
there in the dark, wondering foolishly what Jacob Stanwood would say if
he knew what had happened; till, suddenly, he became aware that his
mind was wandering, upon which he laughed harshly. Elizabeth heard the
laugh, and a vague fear seized upon her. She got up and listened at her
door, but the noise was not repeated. Perhaps it was a coyote outside;
they sometimes made strange noises.
She went to the window and drew back the Persian altar-cloth. The
wind came from the other side of the house; she had been too
preoccupied to notice it before. Now it shook the house rudely, and
then went howling and roaring across the plains. It was strange to hear
it and to feel its force, and yet to see no evidence of it: not a tree
to wave its branches, not a cloud to scurry through the sky; only the
vast level prairie and the immovable hills, and up above them a sky,
liquid and serene, with steady stars shining in its depths, all
unconcerned with the raving wind. She felt comforted and strengthened,
and when she went back to bed she rested in the sense of comfort. But
she did not sleep.
She was hardly aware that she was not sleeping, as the hours passed
unmarked, until, in a sudden lull of the wind, a voice struck her ear;
a voice speaking rapidly and eagerly. She sprang to her feet. The voice
came from her father's room. Had some one lost his way in the night,
and had her father taken him in? It did not sound like a conversation;
it was monotonous, unvarying, unnatural. She hastily threw on a
dressing-gown, and crept to her father's door. She recognized his voice
now, but the words were incoherent. He was ill, he was delirious. There
was no light within. She opened the door and whispered Papa, but he
did not hear her. In a moment she had lighted a lamp; another moment,
and she stood beside him. He was sitting straight up in his bed,
talking and gesticulating violently; his eyes glittered in the
lamp-light, his face showed haggard and intense.
Elizabeth placed the lamp upon a stand close at hand.
Papa, she said, don't you know me? I'm Elizabeth.
He caught at the name.
You lie! he cried shrilly. Elizabeth's dead! I won't have her
talked about! She's dead, I say! Hush-sh! Hush-sh! Don't wake her up.
Sleep's a good thinga good thing.
On the table where she had placed the lamp was a tiny bottle marked
chloral. There was also a glass of water upset upon the table.
Stanwood's clothing and other belongings lay scattered upon the floor.
She had never before seen his room disordered. Well! he was ill, and
here she was to take care of him.
He was not talking so fast now, but what he said was even more
incoherent. The light and the presence of another person in the room
seemed to confuse and trouble him. She took his hand and felt the
pulse. The hand was hot, and grasped hers convulsively. She put his
coat over his shoulders, and then she sat with her arm about him, and
gradually he stopped talking, and turned his face to hers with a
What can I do for you, papa? Tell me if there is anything I can do
Do for me? he repeated.
Yes, dear. Is there nothing I can do, nothing I can get for you?
Get for me?
He drew off from her a little, and a crafty look, utterly foreign to
the man's nature, came into the tense face.
I don't suppose you've got a drop of whisky! he said
The sound of the word upon his own lips seemed to bring the
excitement back on him. Whisky! Yes, that's it! I don't care who knows
it! Whisky! Whisky! He fairly hissed the words.
For the first time since she came into the room Elizabeth was
I think you ought to have a doctor, she said.
She felt him lean against her again, and she gently lowered him to
the pillow. His head sank back, and he lay there with white lips and
closed lids. She knelt beside him, watching his every breath. After a
few minutes he opened his eyes. They were dull, but no longer wild.
Ought you not to have a doctor, papa dear? she asked.
Intelligence came struggling back into his face.
No, my dear, he said, gathering himself for a strong effort. I
have had attacks like this before.
And a stimulant is all you need?
All I need, he muttered. His eyes closed, and his breath came even
Elizabeth knelt there, thankful that he slept. How white his lips
were! How spent he looked! He had asked for whisky. Perhaps even in his
delirium he knew what he wanted; perhaps a stimulant was all he needed.
Of course it was! How stupid not to have understood!
She hurried to her room and got a small brandy-flask that had been
given her for the journey. She had emptied it for a sick man on the
She went back to her father. He was sleeping heavily. She glanced at
his watch lying upon the table beside the chloral bottle. One o'clock!
She wondered whether the store would be open. She should hate to go
to a saloon. But then, that was no matter. If her father needed a
stimulant he must have it. She dressed herself quickly, and put her
purse and the brandy-flask into her pocket. Then she hurried to the
shed, where she saddled the bronco. Her father had once told her that
she would have made a first-rate cowboy. Well, now was her chance to
The collies, who had taken refuge from the wind on the south side of
the shed, came trotting in at the open door, and assembled, a curious
little shadowy group, about her. But they soon dropped off to sleep,
and when she led the bronco out and closed the door upon them, a feeble
wag of a tail or two was all the evidence of interest they gave.
She twisted the bridle round a post and slipped into the house for
one more look at her patient. He was sleeping profoundly. She placed
the lamp upon the floor in a corner, so that the bed was in shadow.
Then she came back to the bedside and watched the sleeper again for a
moment. She touched his forehead and found it damp and cool. The fever
was past. Perhaps he was right; there was no need of a doctorit was
nothing serious. Perhaps the stuff in that little bottle had done
something queer to him. A stimulant was all he needed. But he needed
that, for his face was pitifully pallid and drawn.
A moment later the bronco was bearing her swiftly through the night,
his hoof-falls echoing in a dull rhythm. The wind still came in gusts,
blowing straight into her face, but it was warm and pleasant. When she
had passed through the gate of the ranch the road went between wire
fences, straight north to Cameron City. Now and then a group of horses,
roused, perhaps, by her approach, stood with their heads over the fence
watching her pass, while the wind stretched their manes and tails out
straight to one side. She wished she could stop and make friends with
them, but there was no time for that. Her father might wake up and call
for her. So on they sped, she and the bronco, waking the cattle on
either side of the road, startling more than one prowling coyote,
invisible to them, causing more than one prairie-dog, snug in his hole,
to fancy it must be morning. And the great night, encompassing the
world, gleaming in the heavens, brooding upon the earth, made itself
known to her for the first time. Elizabeth never forgot that ride
through the beautiful brooding night. Nature seemed larger and deeper
and grander to her ever after.
As they came among the houses of the town she reined in the bronco
and went quietly, lest she should wake the people. There was a light
burning in the room over the store, and the window was open. A woman
answered her summons. It was the wife of the storekeeper. Her husband
was absent, she said, and she was up with a sick baby. She readily
filled the little flask, and was sympathetic and eager to help.
Shouldn't she send somebody over to the ranch? There wasn't any doctor
in Cameron City, but Cy Willows knew a heap about physic.
No. Elizabeth said her father was better already, only he seemed in
need of a stimulant. No, she did not want an escort. The night was
lovely, and she wouldn't miss her solitary ride home for anything. She
was so glad Mrs. Stiles had the whisky. It would be just what her
father needed when he waked up.
And when, some hours later, Jacob Stanwood awoke, he found his
daughter sitting beside him in the gray dawn.
Why, Elizabeth! he said, is anything the matter? Did I disturb
She leaned toward him, and laid her hand on his.
You were ill in the night, papa, and asked for a stimulant, and I
got it for you.
A stimulant? he repeated vaguely. What stimulant? Where did you
I got it at the store. It's whisky.
Whisky? he cried, with a sudden, eager gleam.
Elizabeth was enchanted to find that she had done the right thing.
Here it is, papa, she said, drawing the flask from her pocket, and
pouring a little of the contents into a glass that stood ready.
He watched her with that intense, eager gleam.
Fill it up! Fill it up! he cried impatiently. A drop like that is
no good to a man.
He was sitting straight up again, just as she found him in the
night. He reached his thin hand for the glass, which he clutched
tightly. The smell of the liquor was strong in the room. His eyes were
glittering with excitement.
The girl stood beside him, contemplating with affectionate delight
the success of her experiment. Her utter innocence and unsuspiciousness
smote him to the heart. Something stayed his hand so that he did not
even lift the glass to his lips. Slowly, with his eyes fixed upon the
sweet, young face, he extended his arm out over the side of the bed,
the glass shaking plainly in his hold. She did not notice it; she was
looking into his face which had softened strangely.
Elizabeth, he said.
There was a sound of breaking glass, and a strong smell of liquor
pouring out upon the floor.
O papa! she cried, distressed.
He had sunk back against the pillows, pale with exhaustion. But when
she lifted the fragments of the glass, saying: Isn't it a pity, papa?
he only answered in his usual tone, There's no harm done, my dear. I
don't believe it was just what I needed, after all.
He smiled with a new, indescribable sweetness and weariness.
I think I could sleep, now, he said.
At noon Stanwood was quite himself again; himself and more, he
thought, with some surprise. He would not have owned that it was a
sense of victory that had put new life into his veins. Victory over a
vulgar passion must partake somewhat of the vulgarity of the passion
itself. No, Stanwood was not the man to glory in such a conquest. But
he could, at last, glory in this daughter of his.
As she told him with sparkling eyes of her beautiful ride through
the night, through the beautiful brooding night, her courage and her
innocence seemed to him like a fair, beneficent miracle. But he made no
comment upon her story. He only sat in the doorway, looking down the
road where he had watched her approach a few weeks ago, and when she
said, noting his abstraction, A penny for your thoughts, papa! he
asked, in a purely conversational tone, Elizabeth,she always loved
to hear him say Elizabeth,Elizabeth, do you think it would make
Nick very mad indeed if we were to go snacks?
Mad as hops! she cried.
Then let's do it!
And Elizabeth, there's no place like Switzerland in summer. Let's
pack up and go!
Let us! she answered, very softly, with only a little exultant
tremor on the words.
She never guessed all that she had won that day; she only knew that
life stretched on before her, a long, sunny pathway, where she and her
father might walk together in the daily and hourly good-comradeship
that she loved.
IV. AT THE KEITH RANCH.
The dance was in full swinga vehement, rhythmic, dead-in-earnest
ranch dance. Eight couples on the floor tramped or tiptoed, as the case
might be, but always in perfect time with the two unmelodious fiddles.
The tune, if tune it might be called, went over and over and over
again, with the monotonous persistency of a sawmill, dominating the
rhythmic tread of the dancers, but not subduing the fancy of the
The caller-out for the moment was a curly-headed lad of twenty, with
a shrewd, good-humored face. He stood in a slouching attitude, one
shoulder much higher than the other, and as he gave forth, in a
singsong voice, his emphatic rhymed directions, his fingers played idly
with the red-silk lacings of his brown flannel shirt. To an imaginative
looker-on those idly toying fingers had an indefinable air of being
very much at home with the trigger of the six-shooter at the lad's
belt. So, at least, it struck Lem Keith.
Swing him round for old Mother Flannigan!
You've swung him so nice, now swing him again, again!
On to the next, and swing that gent!
Now straight back, and swing your own man again!
Tramp, tramp, tramp went the rhythmic feet; diddle-diddle-dee went
the fiddles. There was not much talking among either dancers or
sitters-out. Occasionally one of the babies in the adjoining bedroom
waked and wailed, but on the whole they were well-behaved babies. There
they lay on the bed, six in a row, while their mothers eagerly snatched
their bit of pleasure at the cost of a night's sleep.
Lemuel Keith, joint host with his brother on this occasion, sat on a
bench against the wall, contemplating with wonder the energy of these
overworked women. Beside him sat the husband of one of them, a tall,
gaunt ranchman, with his legs crossed, poising upon a bony knee an atom
of humanity in a short plaided woollen frock.
How old is your baby? asked Lem, mindful of his duties as host.
Four months, was the laconic reply; and as though embarrassed by
the personal nature of the inquiry, the man rose and repaired to a
remote corner, where he began a solemn waltz with his offspring in his
It was an April evening, and the windows were open to the south. A
cool night-breeze came in, grateful alike to dancers and lookers-on.
Lem sat watching his twin brother Joe, who was taking his turn at the
dance. Lem usually watched Joe when he had the chance; for if the
brothers were bewilderingly alike in appearance, they were animated by
a spirit so unlike, that Joe's every look and action was a source of
interest to Lem. Indeed, it was his taste for Joe's society that had
made a Colorado ranchman of him. Nature had intended Lemuel Keith for a
student, and then, by a strange oversight, had made him the
twin-brother of a fascinating daredevil for whom the East was too
Lem sat and watched Joe, and observed the progress of the dance,
philosophizing over the scene in a way peculiar to himself. For his own
part, he never danced if he could help himself, but he found the
dancing human being a fruitful subject of contemplation. Joe's partner,
in particular, amused and interested him. She was a rather dressy young
person, with a rose-leaf complexion and a simpering mouth. Rose-leaf
complexions are rare on the sun-drenched, wind-swept prairies, and the
more effective for that. The possessor of this one, fully aware of her
advantage, was displaying, for her partner's delectation, the most
wonderful airs and graces. She glided about upon the points of her
toes; she gave him her delicately poised finger-tips with a birdlike
coyness which the glance of her beady black eyes belied. Joe was in his
element, playing the bold yet insinuating cavalier.
Lem Keith found a fascination in this first ranch dance of his. He
liked the heartiness of the whole performance; he enjoyed the sharp-cut
individuality of the people, their eccentricities of costume and
deportment; he was of too sensitive a fibre not to feel the dramatic
possibilities of the occasion. Tenderfoot as he was, the fact could
not escape him that a man in a flannel shirt, with a pistol at his
belt,and most of the men were thus equipped,was more than likely to
have a touch of lawlessness about him.
[Illustration: THE KEITH RANCH.]
There was a pause between the two figures of the dance. Joe had
taken his partner's fan, which he was gently waving to and fro before
her face. She stood panting with affected exhaustion, glancing archly
at her new young man from under studiously fluttering eyelids. The
gaunt father, having stopped waltzing, had discovered that the
woollen-clad baby was fast asleep on his shoulder. Over in another
corner, under a window, was a red-faced cowboy, slumbering as
tranquilly as the baby, his head sunk on his breast, a genial forelock
waving lightly in the breeze. The fiddlers resumed their function.
Swing your pards! cried the curly-headed boy; and once more all was
The room seemed hot and crowded. Lem had shifted his position, and
was standing opposite the windows. He looked toward them, and his
glance was arrested. In the square of light cast outside by the lamps
within was a sinister, malignant face. It was the face of a man whom
the Keith boys had seen to-night for the first time. He had paid his
seventy-five cents, and had received his numbered ticket like the
others, by which simple ceremony all the requirements of ranch
etiquette were fulfilled. Bub Quinn they called himBub Quinn from the
Divide. Rather a nice-looking fellow, the brothers had agreed,
attracted by his brilliant smile and hearty hand-shake. It was Bub
Quinn who had brought the girl that Joe was dancing with, and now that
Lem came to think of it, he could not remember having seen her dance
with any one else, besides Quinn himself. Lem's heart gave a heavy
thump almost before his brain had grasped the situation. Yet the
situation was very plain. It was Joe and his little fool of a partner
that those malignant eyes were following.
They were light eyes, looking out from under level light eyebrows,
and Lem frankly quaked at sight of them. The man's face was
clean-shaven, showing high cheekbones and a firm, handsome mouth. He
stood in an indolent attitude, with his hands in his pockets; but all
the reckless passion of the desperado was concentrated in the level
glance of those menacing eyes.
Meet your partner with a double sashay, cried the
curly-headed boy. Diddle-diddle-dee squeaked the fiddles. Lem looked
again at his brother. He was flirting outrageously.
A door opened behind Lem, and a woman called him by name. He stepped
into the kitchen, where two of his prairie neighbors were busy with the
supper. It was Mrs. Luella Jenkins who had summoned him, kind, queer,
warm-hearted Mrs. Luella. The Keith boys were giving their first
dance, and she had undertaken to engineer the supper.
We've got the coffee on, she remarked, pointing over her shoulder
at a couple of gallon-cans on the stove, from which an agreeable aroma
That's first-rate, said Lem, who had a much more distinct vision
of Bub Quinn's eyes than of the mammoth tin cans. Is there anything I
can do to help?
Well, I dunno, Mrs. Luella ruminated. Her speech was as slow as
her movements were quick. I was thinkin' 't was 'most a pity you
hadn't had bun sandwiches. She looked regretfully at the rapidly
growing pile of the ordinary kind with which the table was being
loaded. The buns taste kind o' sweet and pleasant, mixed up with the
Through the closed door came the scraping of the indefatigable
fiddles. Hold her tight, and run her down the middle! shouted the
voice of the caller-out.
Over to Watts's last fall, Mrs. Luella rambled on, slicing ham the
while at a great rate, they had bun sandwiches, and in the top of ary
bun there was a toothpick stickin' up. If you've got toothpicks enough
about the place, we might try it. It looks real tasty.
Mrs. Jenkins, Lem broke in, do you know Bub Quinn?
No; nor I don't want to, Luella answered curtly.
He's too handy with his shooting-irons to suit my taste.
Then, resuming the thread of her discourse: You don't think, now,
you've got toothpicks enough? They'd set things off real nice. But Lem
I s'pose he's kind o' flustered with givin' their first dance, she
said apologetically to her coadjutor among the sandwiches.
Lem was a great favorite with Mrs. Luella. She liked him better than
she did Joe. She was one of the few people who could, at a glance, tell
the two brothers apart. She always spoke of Lem as the little chap,
though he was in fact precisely of a height with his brother; and she
gave as the reason for the preference, that the little chap wasn't a
ramper. Unfortunately for Lem, perhaps, she was right. He was not a
As Lem stepped out into the other room, the caller-out was shouting,
Promen-ade allyou know where! The sets were breaking up, and
Joe with his best manner was leading his partner to a seat. The face
had vanished from the window. Bub Quinn was striding across the room,
and now planted himself in front of the recreant pair.
You're to come with me, Aggy, he growled.
Pray don't mention it! cried Joe, relinquishing the girl to Quinn
with a mocking reverence.
Shrugging her shoulders, and pouting, Aggy moved away with her
captor; not, however, without a parting glance over her shoulder at
Joe. The two brothers met at the kitchen-door.
I say, Joe, Lem begged, don't dance with that girl again.
And why not!
You wouldn't ask why not if you had seen that ruffian's face at the
Didn't I see it, though? scoffed Joe, in high spirits, and Lem
knew that he had blundered.
A new caller-out had taken the floor, and was shouting, Seventeen
to twenty-four, get on the floor and dance!
The pauses are short at a ranch dance, for each man, having a right
in only one dance out of three or four, is eager for his turn. The
women on this particular occasion might have been glad of a rest, for
there were only ten of them to satisfy the demands of all the men, and
steady dancing from eight o'clock to three is no light task.
Nevertheless, each one rose with sufficient alacrity in response to the
polite inquiry, Will you assist me with this dance? and in a few
minutes the same many-colored woollen gowns, and much befrizzled heads,
which had diversified the last sets, were lending lustre to the present
Neither Bub Quinn nor Joe Keith was included this time among those
admonished to get on the floor and dance, and Lem, thankful for the
respite, stepped out on the piazza, where a group of men were lounging
and smoking. The air outside was sharp and invigorating; the moon was
full, and in its cold, clear light the Peak glimmered white and
Lem strolled off the piazza, and over to the group of sorry-looking
broncos, in saddle or harness, standing hitched to the fence. He pushed
in among them, patting their heads, or righting the blankets of the few
that were fortunate enough to have such luxuries. He felt as though he
should like to enter into confidential relations with them. They
seemed, somehow, more of his own kind than the rough, jostling,
pugnacious beings passing themselves off as men and brothers within
there. He poked about from one to the other of the sturdy, plush-coated
little beasts, till he came to a great white plow-horse harnessed to a
sulky, and looking like a giant in contrast with the scrubby broncos.
The amiability which is supposed to wait upon generous proportions
proved to be a characteristic of this equine Goliath, for at Lem's
approach he cocked his ears and turned his head with marked
friendliness. Lem looked across the creature's rough neck to the firm,
strong outlines of the range, showing clearly in the moonlight; he
drew his lungs full of the keen, thin air. But neither the strength of
the hills, nor the elixir of the air, could restore his equanimity. He
could not throw off the weight that oppressed him. There was no
shirking the truth. He was deadly afraid of Bub Quinn; the sight of
that lowering face at the window had caused in him a horrible physical
shrinking; the dread of an undefined mischief brewing weighed upon his
spirit like a nightmare.
Great heavens! What a coward I am! he groaned aloud.
The white horse rubbed his velvet nose in mute sympathy against the
young man's shoulder; but there was no solace that the white horse
could give. Lem leaned against the friendly neck, and shut his teeth
hard together. A lifelong chagrin welled up in him, flooding his soul
If Lemuel Keith had not adored his brother, he would have hated
himhated him for possessing that one quality of rash courage beside
which every other virtue seemed mean and worthless.
Presently he found himself looking in at the window again. Joe had
disappeared from the scene. Bub Quinn and his Aggy were sitting side by
side in stony silence. The fiddles had fallen into a more sentimental
strain; hints of The Mocking Bird might be heard struggling for
utterance in the strings. In this ambitious attempt the pitch would get
lower and lower, and then recover itself with a queer falsetto effect.
Charley Leroy, the crack bronco-buster of the region, was caller-out
this time. He was less inventive than the curly-headed boy, but he gave
out his commands in the same chanting measure, and the tramp, tramp of
the feet was as rhythmic as ever. The curly-headed boy was having his
turn at the dance, assisted by a sallow, middle-aged woman in a brown
woollen dress, who made frequent dashes into the adjoining room to
quiet her baby. Lem noticed that the hands of the curly-headed boy were
so tanned that the finger-nails showed white by contrast. He also
observed that Aggy's neck was as pink as her cheeks, which had not been
the case half an hour before. In his effort not to look at Bub Quinn,
Lem's attention had become vague and scattered. He fixed his eyes upon
an elderly man of an anxious countenance, with a shock of tow-colored
hair sticking straight out in all directions. The man was having some
difficulty in steering his partner through an intricate figure; he was
the only person on the floor who did not keep step, and his movements
became at every moment more vague and undecided. When, at last, the
wiry, determined-looking bronco-buster sprang upon the company the
somewhat abstruse direction:
Lady round the gent, and the gent don't go;
Lady round the lady, and the gent so-lo!
the gent in question became hopelessly bewildered, and stood stock
still in the middle of the floor. By the time the set was disentangled,
the dance seemed to be over, and the bronco-buster dismissed the
dancers with the cynical prophecy, You'll all get married on a
At this juncture, midnight being well passed, supper was announced.
The kitchen door swung open, and the fragrant smell of the coffee took
possession of the room, and floated out through the open window. As
some one closed the window in his face, Lem followed the other loungers
into the house. The men had all made a stampede for the kitchen; the
women sat on chairs and benches against the wall, some of them leaning
their heads back wearily, while others fanned themselves and their
neighbors with vigor, not relaxing for a moment the somewhat strained
vivacity which they felt that the occasion demanded. Bub Quinn's
Aggyno one knew her last namesat a little apart from the others.
She was apparently absorbed in the contemplation of her
pocket-handkerchief, a piece of coarse finery, which she held by the
exact middle, flirting it across her face in lieu of the fan, which had
slid to the floor.
Lem paused on his way to the kitchen, and observed her closely. He
saw the pink of her neck take on a deeper tinge, and at the same moment
Bub Quinn and Joe brushed past him and stood before the girl, each
offering her a plate on which reposed two sandwiches and a section of
This was Aggy's opportunity. She shrugged her shoulders, which were
encased in red velveteen; she lifted and then dropped her eyes, poising
her head first on one side and then on the other; she clasped her hands
and wrinkled her forehead. Lem felt as though he were watching the
capricious sparks which mark the progress of a slow match toward a
powder-train. Bub Quinn, meanwhile, stood rooted before the girl, while
Joe, having possessed himself of the fallen fan, met her coquetry with
blandishments of the most undisguised nature. At length, hesitatingly,
deprecatingly, she took Quinn's plate, but at the same time she moved
along on the bench and offered Joe a seat. He promptly took it, and
Quinn went away with the calmness of a silently gathering
Quinn did not dance again that night; he withdrew to the piazza,
where he kept guard at the window hour after hour. Joe danced with no
one but Aggy, and sat beside her between whiles. Lem wandered about,
trying not to watch Quinn. He knew his brother too well to remonstrate
with him again by so much as a look.
As the night wore on, the hilarity of the company increased, nothing
daunted by the sight of a man lying here and there under a bench with a
telltale black bottle protruding from his pocket. When the favorite
figure of the Bird in the Cage was danced, and the caller-out
shouted, Bird flies out, and the crow flies in, everybody in the
room, cried Caw! caw! in excellent imitation of the sable-hued fowl
thereby typified, and the dancers, conscious of an admiring public,
swung and sashayed with increased vehemence. Toward three o'clock
Joe was again dancing with Quinn's Aggy, and as the caller-out chanted:
Swing that girl, that pretty little girl,
That girl you left behind you!
he advanced toward her with an air of mock gallantry. At the same
moment Bub Quinn stalked into the middle of the set, a sombrero planted
firmly on his head, a long cowhide whip in his hand. He seized Aggy by
the arm with a grip that must have hurt her, and said, I'm going home
now; you can do as you dplease. A pistol-shot could not have made
half the sensation caused by this breach of etiquette; indeed, it would
not have been half so unprecedented. Aggy turned with a startled
defiance, but at sight of Quinn's face she recoiled.
I'm all ready to go, she said sullenly; and too thoroughly cowed
to cast even a parting glance at Joe, she hurried away to get ready for
her twenty-mile drive. Joe, meanwhile, with perfect composure, provided
himself with another partner, and the dance went on. And so the
thunder-cloud had withdrawn, and the bolt had not fallen.
It was not until the gray dawn was in the sky that the last of the
revellers drove through the cow-yard, and out across the prairie to
meet the rising sun.
* * * * *
By the time a second dawn had come the daily routine at the Keith
ranch was running in its accustomed grooves. The cows had already been
milked, yesterday's butter already packed for shipment, and Joe,
surrounded by bustling men and barking dogs, was attending to the
departure of the milk-carts for the town. The Keith brothers had a
young but thriving dairy-trade, and Joe was a great success in his
character of boss.
In a field bordering upon the highway, a mile away from the
ranch-house, Lem Keith was plowing. There was something about this
pastoral labor which was peculiarly congenial to Lem; perhaps because
he did it well. Not one of the ranch hands could guide the plow with
such precision through the loose prairie soil. Certainly, very few of
them would have taken the trouble to set up a stake at the end of the
furrow with a flying bit of red flannel to steer by. Lem had the habit
of plowing with his eyes fixed upon the stake, his shoulders slightly
stooping. Yet the sense of what was going on in the sky and on the
prairie was never lost. To-day the sun rose as clear as a bell,
flooding the fields with gold. Lem was plowing from east to west, a
quarter-mile furrow. Whether he faced the mountains, answering the
sunrise with a crimson glow, or the yellow prairie sea, with bold
buttes standing out upon it like rock-bound islands, he could not go
amiss. His eye met nothing, his thoughts touched upon nothing, which
could jar upon his peaceful mood. The horses plodded steadily on with
hanging heads; the plow responded like a live thing to his guidance; he
knew that the long narrow furrow he was leaving behind him was as
straight as the wake of a boat in still water. After all, ranch life
was a fine thing. A man must be the better for breathing such air; a
man must be the wiser for living so close to good old Mother Earth; a
man must behark! Was that Joe's pony galloping across the field? Lem
turned. No; the pony was a strange one. And the rider?
Bub Quinn had leaped to the ground not ten feet from him. He had
flung the rein over the neck of his steaming bronco; but he himself was
as calm and as cool as though he had not ridden twenty miles before
sunrise at a break-neck gallop.
I've come to settle accounts with you, mister, Quinn remarked in a
If the fellow had raged and cursed, if he had seemed to be in a
passion, if his fists had been clenched, or the muscles of his face
set, it would not have been so appalling. But this deadly composure,
the careless indifference with which he held his pistol in his right
hand, while his left hung loosely at his side, was more than
terrifying; it was fairly blood-curdling.
Lem's hands had let the reins drop, and the horses had gone plodding
on, the plow lurching and swaying at their heels.
For an instant Lem's brain whirled.
Swing that girl, that pretty little girl,
That girl you left behind you!
His brain seemed to be whirling to the tune of that jingle.
If you've got anything to say, drawled Quinn, fingering the
trigger, the pistol pointed at Lem's foreheadif you've got anything
to say, now's your chance. Sorry I can't allow you time to make a
will, he added facetiously, but I've got to get back to my work.
Lem's brain was clear now. There were no more jingles in it. Nothing
was there but an overwhelming conviction that, if the man did not shoot
quickly, Joe might arrive, and show Quinn his mistake. That must not
be. Joe was too fine a fellow to end like thislike this!
Lem Keith was shuddering from head to foot, and his lips were stiff
and blue, yet there was an odd, masterful ring in his voice as he
cried, Make haste, will you, and shoot!
A shot rang out, and Lem fell, pierced, not by Bub Quinn's bullet,
but by the living horror of death. On the furrows beside him Bub Quinn
lay stretched, with blood oozing from his right shoulder.
That shot of Joe Keith's, as his pony tore across the plowed field,
was long talked of on the prairie. The echo was still ringing in his
ears when he sprang to the ground, and knelt beside his brother,
searching for a wound. He could find none. He pressed his hand to Lem's
heart; his own pulse was pounding so that he could feel no other
motion. He lifted his brother's head and laid it against his own
breast; he loosened his shirt and chafed his hands. The sun shone
straight into the white face, and the eyelids moved.
Lem! Dear old pal! Speak! Do speak!
Lem's consciousness returned slowly, reluctantly; but he knew his
Joe! he muttered; Joe!
He made an effort to look about him; and first his eyes followed
vaguely the wanderings of Quinn's bronco, which had strayed far afield,
and he strove feebly to account for the pang that the sight gave him.
Suddenly his consciousness adjusted itself, as a lock falls into place.
He turned his eyes on Quinn, lying where he had fallen, the blood still
flowing from his wound; and then he knew that he himself had only
He sat upright, clasping his knees with his two hands, and Joe stood
over him, tenderly brushing the earth from his shoulder. At last Lem
spoke, while a dark flush mounted slowly up into his temples.
Joe! he said, I'm not hurt. You may as well despise me. I am
A look went across Joe's face, half-assenting, half-indulgent.
Never mind, old boy, he said, with patronizing good-will; we
can't all be cut after the same pattern.
He extended his hand to help his brother to his feet. A movement
caused him to turn. Quinn had gathered strength to speak. He was
leaning on his left elbow, staring at the two brothers. His face was
ghastly, but his voice had lost none of its drawling scorn as he said
to Joe, slowly and distinctly, You in-fernal idiot!
Then a great light broke in upon Joe Keith's mind, and he knew the
V. THE RUMPETY CASE.
When Sandoria is snowbound it is not so very much quieter, even in
its outer aspect, than at any other time; for the monotony of snow is
no more complete than the monotony of yellow-gray prairie. Even when,
at rare intervals, the snow covers the fences, it is no characteristic
landmark which is thus obliterated; no picturesque rustic bars are thus
lost to the landscape, no irregular and venerable stone walls. At the
best a prairie fence offers nothing more distinctive to the view than a
succession of scrawny upright stakes connected by wires invisible at a
few rods' distance.
One feature Sandoria boasts, to be sure, which lends a certain
distinction to the landscape at every season: namely, a long line of
cottonwood-trees following the course of a halfhearted stream known as
the creek. The water-supply is but a grudging one, yet it has proved
sufficient not only to induce the growth of cottonwoods, but to raise
the tiny collection of houses known as Sandoria to the rank and dignity
of a county-seat. For who could doubt the future growth and prosperity
of a prairie town rejoicing in the unique advantage of a watercourse?
There is, however, in the modern scheme of things, one agent more
potent than running water, and that is the arbitrary, omnipotent,
indispensable railroad; and the railroad in its erratic course saw fit
to give the cold shoulder to the ambitious little county-seat, left it
ten miles to the eastward, and then went zigzagging up to Denver with a
conscience as dead as that of the corporation whose creature it was.
[Illustration: A HALF-HEARTED STREAM KNOWN AS 'THE CREEK.']
Sandoria, unable to retaliate, took its reverses philosophically,
and straightway fell into a profound slumber, from which it is
thoroughly aroused but once a year. Once a year, in the depth of
winter, the much-injured county-seat asserts its rightful dignity; for
once a year the court convenes within its borders, and then the whole
county becomes a meek tributary to its proper head. With indisputable
authority the citizens of the two upstart railroad towns are summoned
as jurors; ranchman and cowboy from all the countryside make daily
trips in the service of the law to the neglected little county-seat,
leaving, as is but just, many a ponderous silver dollar in
sample-room or store. At such times the visitors admit that
Sandoria is a snug little place, and the new frame court-house a credit
to the county, only why did they build a town where you can't see the
mountains? Then the Sandorians reply that from the slight elevation
west of the town there is a view of the Peak itself,neither critic
nor apologist taking into consideration how rarely men and women ascend
their little hills to contemplate the wider glories of life.
To-day the court was sitting, and the town rejoiced. Every man,
woman, and child felt the pleasing exhilaration of knowing that
something was going forward. The square two-story false fronts of the
peak-roofed buildings looked with one-eyed approval upon the thronging
men and women, horses and dogs, enlivening the single street of the
town. A fervent sun shone gratefully upon the loungers in front of the
court-house, where the snow was trodden to the solid consistency of a
pavement. The noon recess was nearly over, and all were waiting for the
judge and his galaxy of legal lights.
Ed Rankin, a young ranchman from over beyond Emmaville, finding
himself among strangers, and being as shy as a coyote, turned in at the
court-house door, and was making his way toward the big air-tight
stove, when he observed that the room was not empty, as he supposed it
would be. In a remote corner sat a sorry-looking group, a woman and
three children, their shrinking figures thinly clad, their eyes, red
with crying or exposure, glancing apprehensively from side to side. The
youngest of the group was a boy of ten; he, like all the others, had
the look of a hunted creature.
Rankin walked across the room, his footsteps muffled by the sawdust
with which the floor was plentifully strewn. Yet, soft as his tread
was, the four shivering creatures were visibly startled by it. The
young ranchman passed within the bar and stood with his back to the
stove. He tried to whistle, but he could not do it. He looked about the
room, seeking some object to divert his thoughts. Bare walls and rows
of empty benches outside the bar; within that mystic boundary all the
usual furnishings of the immediate precincts of justice. Three days'
steadfast contemplation of these humble stage-properties had pretty
well exhausted their interest, and Rankin's attention again wandered to
the group in the corner. The more the dry scorching heat of the stove
penetrated his own person the colder the woman and children looked. At
last he blurted out, in the manner peculiar to him when suffering from
embarrassment, Say, ma'am, why don't you come and get warm?
The woman started and looked over her shoulder before she answered.
I guess we'd rather stay where we are, she said.
Incapable of withstanding such a rebuff, Rankin slouched across the
room and stood in the open doorway. A three-seated ranch-wagon, drawn
by a pair of ill-matched but brisk little broncos, was just coming
along the street. The heavy wheels creaked and groaned over the snow,
and then stopped before the court-house. The whole court, which was
sojourning with a well-to-do ranchman a couple of miles out of town,
had arrived, plentifully wrapped up in mufflers of every color of the
rainbow. As judge and lawyers descended before the temple of justice,
it was curious to observe how, in spite of bemufflered heads and
crimson noses, these representatives of a different civilization
contrasted with the prairie people. There was the grave, keen-eyed
judge, of humane and dignified bearing; there was the district
attorney, shrewd and alert, a rising man; and there were lawyers from
the city of Springtown: all this ability and training placed at the
service of the remote little prairie community.
What's on this afternoon, judge? asked Merriam the storekeeper,
with the well-bred familiarity of a prominent citizen.
The Rumpety case, I believe.
Not much good, I suppose.
I'm afraid not, said the judge, glancing as he passed at the
shivering woman and children. I wonder if they have had any dinner,
he queried, with sudden solicitude.
Yes. My wife looked after that. She took 'em over a mess of stuff.
They looked scared of their lives to eat it, but it's safe inside of
'em now. And the kind, red-faced storekeeper hugged himself visibly at
The court assembled.
Within the bar a group of chairs had already been taken possession
of by the dames and belles of Sandoria and the neighboring ranches, to
whom court-week is the equivalent of carnival, opera, or races in more
favored regions; and where, indeed, could a more striking drama be
presented for their delectation than here, where friends and neighbors
played the leading parts?
The court assembled; lawyers and stenographer took their places; the
clerk stood in readiness; the judge mounted the bench; and lo! the
historic dignity of a court of justice had descended upon that rude
stage, and all was ready for whatever comedy or tragedy might be to
enact upon it.
The judge, referring to the list, announced that the next case would
be The people of the State of Colorado against Dennis Rumpety. Then,
being called, Dennis Rumpety walked down the court-room and passed
within the bar.
The man looked fifty or thereabouts; a short, thick-set figure, with
a large head covered with thick iron-gray hair. The smooth-shaven face
was a peculiar one, being broad in its outline, with the features,
especially the eyes, small and close together. The short, bushy
eyebrows met above a fine, clean-cut nose; the jaws were heavy and
brutal; yet the menace of the face was not in these, but in the thin
straight lips which closed like the shears of Fate. A cruel smile
gathered about the lips as he answered the questions of the court.
There was something peculiarly incongruous in the jovial,
happy-go-lucky name to which this man answered.
Mr. Rumpety, the judge asked, have you provided yourself with
No, your honor, the man replied, with a strong north-country
brogue. No, sorr! I've got no use for the laryers.
You are prepared, then, to argue your own case?
I lave me case in the hands of me fahmily. Their testimony will
clear me from the false accusations of me innimies. If thim as
That will do, Mr. Rumpety.
If thim as are
Mr. Rumpety, that will do.
The judge invariably spoke in a low tone of voice, but it was not
often that he had to repeat himself; the voice of authority has a way
of making itself heard.
Rumpety locked his lips again and took his seat. The jury was
called, Ed Rankin's name among the first.
Rankin had not heard a word about the Rumpety case, yet the nature
of it was as clear to him as daylight. This brute was up for cruelty to
those four shivering creatures on the bench in the corner, and they
would never dare testify against their persecutor. In all those abject
countenances there was not one ray of courage visible.
Now began the process of weeding out the jury, which, when it came
his turn, Rumpety performed with a free hand. The prosecution having
dismissed some half-dozen men and passed the jury, the defendant
began his inquisition. He asked no unnecessary questions, gave no
reasons for his prejudices, but with unalterable decision declared, I
won't have that man on the jury at all! or, I don't want him: he may
Rankin was among the first to be thus summarily rejected, and he
joined the crowd outside the bar, only half contented with his release.
He would have liked to convict that beast.
It was not much of a compliment to be retained on Rumpety's jury. As
often as, in his cursory examination, he came upon an ignorant or
brutish face, a complacent smile played about the thin lips, and he
said, That man 'll do. He 'll do.
And now the trial began. People from the town of Wolverton testified
that the boy Victorpoor little defeated Victor!had appeared in the
street fleeing from his home, four miles away, crying that his father
was going to kill him. The child's ear had been frightfully bruised and
swollen, and there were unmistakable marks of ill usage upon him. The
man Rumpety's barbarity was notorious on all the countryside, and this
was the third successive year he had been up before the court. It had
never been possible to secure a conviction, owing to the dogged
persistence of his victims in perjuring themselves in his favor.
As one after another of the trembling family shuffled up to the
witness-seat and swore, with hanging head and furtive eyes, that Dennis
Rumpety was a kind husband and father, who never punished them more
than was just, this model parent sat with gleaming eyes and an evil
smirk, resting his case upon the testimony of his fahmily. If,
occasionally, the witness hesitated, Rumpety would lift his eyebrows or
make a slight movement which sent the blood into the pale cheek of
woman or child and an added tremor into the faint voice. More than once
the district attorney sprang to his feet and cried, Your honor, I
object to this man's intimidating the people's witnesses; but the
intimidation was too subtle to seize hold upon.
Ed Rankin wondered what would happen if somebody should hit the
wretch a whack over the head every time he raised an eyebrow. Somehow
it struck him that the law was hardly equal to tackling that kind.
The cross-examination brought out no new evidence.
The district attorney was especially persistent with the boy, the
immediate victim in this instance.
Victor, he said, state to the jury why you accused your father of
abusing you and wanting to kill you, if it wasn't true.
The boy hesitated.
Don't be afraid to speak the truth. He sha' n't hurt you.
But the boy knew better.
Sure I lied, he said.
And what did you lie for?
Because I was mad.
But what made you get mad with such a kind father?
Because he came into the cellar and found fault wid me about the
Had he reason to find fault with you?
The boy looked at his father: one look was enough.
Yes, sorr. I had an ugly fit on.
Poor little shrinking shivering wretch, with his cowed figure and
trembling lips! It is safe to say that an ugly fit seized upon every
person listening to that futile confession.
Ed Rankin felt the blood boil in his veins. He glanced at Myra
Beckwith, sitting among the audience within the bar. She was leaning
forward with her hands clasped tightly, watching the boy. There were
tears in her eyes, and Rankin blessed her for them.
It was clear that the district attorney himself was a good deal
wrought upon, for his manner grew quieter every minute. He sat with his
head slightly forward, looking out from under his brows straight into
the miserable little face before him. His questions came short and
State to the jury again how you hurt your ear.
Sure I fell off a horse.
Hm! You fell off a horse and lit on your ear?
And this ingenious tumble took place before the racket in the
How long before?
I guess about a week.
Your mother testified that it happened the same morning.
Yes, sorr. It was the same marning.
The poor little chap's answers were getting almost inaudible. He
looked spent with misery and apprehension. He gave no sign of tears.
His wan, pinched little face looked as if he had cried so much in his
short life that there was no longer any relief in it. He was soon
dismissed, and went shuffling back to his cold corner.
The woman and girls proved no more available for purposes of justice
than the boy. Their testimony was perfectly consistent and absolutely
unshakable; it had been thoroughly beaten into them, that was clear.
When it came time for Rumpety to plead his own cause before the jury
he proved quite equal to the situation. He planted himself before them
and harangued them like any third-rate criminal lawyer.
I tell you, gen'lemen, he declared, it's no small b'y's job to
keep that fahmily in arder! and he proceeded to describe them as a
cantankerous lot, to be ruled only by that ideal justice tempered by
mercy which he was apparently a master in dispensing.
At the last he waxed pathetic, and, in a tearful voice, somewhat at
odds with his dry, wicked little eyes, he cried, I've got a row to
hoe, that if there was a lot of men in it they'd have hanged themselves
from a rafter!
With which magnificent climax and a profound bow and flourish, he
took his seat, and assumed a pose of invulnerable righteousness from
which no invectives nor innuendoes of the prosecuting attorney could
move him. He had rested his case on the testimony of his fahmily, and
he knew his jury too well to have much anxiety about their verdict.
The lamps had been lighted long ago, and the early winter evening
had set in. The court took a recess, waiting the verdict of the jury.
This was the last case on the trial docket for that day.
Rumpety was standing, broad and unblushing, before the stove,
whither, in obedience to his commands, his wife and children had also
repaired. With true prairie courtesy the men had placed chairs for the
Rumpety fahmily, and an unsuccessful attempt was made to converse
with them on indifferent topics.
Rumpety stood, plainly gloating over his victims, the queer gleam in
his eyes growing more intense every minute.
Mrs. Rumpety did not share her husband's confidence in the issue.
Once, when the judge spoke a kind word to her, she muttered, Ach, your
honor! don't let 'em put the costs on us! Don't let 'em put the costs
on us! and Rankin, standing by, realized with a pang that even this
misery could be increased.
The situation was oppressive. Rankin sauntered out of the room and
out of the court-house, closing the door behind him. The air was
intensely cold; the stars glittered sharply. He liked it outside; he
felt the same relief and exhilaration which he had experienced when he
first took possession of his claim, three years before, and felt
himself lord over the barren sweep of prairie. There had been hardship
in it; the homely comforts of his father's little down-east farm were
lacking,but it was freedom. Freedom! It used to seem to Rankin,
before he knew Myra Beckwith, that freedom was all he wanted in life.
This shy, awkward, longlimbed fellow had desired nothing so much as
room enough, and he had wrested it from Fate.
He wondered, as he stood out under the stars, why Mrs. Rumpety and
her children did not run away. The world was big enough and to spare.
They would probably starve, to be sure; but starvation was infinitely
better than bondage.
The door at his elbow closed sharply, and a voice cried,
Hullo, Rank! did you know that those blamed idiots had acquitted
I knew they would. Rankin answered, with a jerk which betokened
There's nothing left now but lynching, his friend continued. It
was Ray Dolliber, one of the more reckless spirits.
Rankin grunted in a non-committal manner.
Say, Rank, would you lend a hand?
I guess not, Rankin replied slowly, as if deliberating the
I never did believe in lynching.
What's the matter with lynching?
'T ain't fair play. Masked men, and a lot of 'em, onto one feller.
Dolliber waxed sarcastic.
P'raps you think it's fair play for a great brute of a man to bully
a woman and six children.
P'raps I do, said Rankin, still deliberating, but I guess 't
Another man came out of the court-house, leaving the door open
behind him. They could see Rumpety pulling on a thick overcoat and
winding his ears and throat in a heavy muffler. Come along, he
swaggered, with a flourish of the arms; and woman and children,
unencumbered by other wraps than those they had worn all day, followed
abjectly and made their way after him to the shed where the team was
I say, Dolliber, did they say it was fourteen miles to their
South, wasn't it?
They'll have the wind in their faces.
A few minutes later the Rumpety wagon went creaking and groaning
past the court-house.
Ed Rankin stepped inside and got his leather jacket and woollen
muffler. He met the jury straggling out with the crestfallen air of men
conscious of an inglorious performance. The judge and the district
attorney stood just within the door, waiting for the ranch-wagon.
They say, said the district attorney, that Rumpety never does a
stroke of work.
Saves up his strength for bullying his family, the judge rejoined.
He takes good care of himself. Did you see how warmly he was dressed?
Yes, curse him!
It would be a mercy if the others were to freeze to death on the
Seems likely enough, too; but it would be rather hard on the three
little brats waiting at the ranch for their mother.
Rankin, meanwhile, had got himself equipped for his long ride.
There was to be a dance in the court-house that evening, and some
men were sweeping the sawdust into a corner and setting the benches
against the wall.
Ain't you goin' to stay for the dance, Ed? one of them asked. The
girls are all coming.
Rankin felt himself blush ignominiously.
No, he growled. I've got some work to do to-night.
What, at the ranch?
Rankin paused to take account with his conscience. Being a
downeaster, he liked to keep on good terms with that monitor. But
conscience had no fault to find as he presently answered, Yes, at the
He strode out of the court-house with a tread very different from
his usual slouching gait. Out in the shed he found his bronco sniffing
ruefully at an empty dinner-bag. But she whinnied pleasantly at his
approach. Five minutes later horse and rider were off at a swinging
pace, headed, not for their own ranch, which lay twelve miles to the
northward. Straight in the teeth of the wind they travelled; in the
teeth of the south wind, that stung their faces like a whiplash.
Before very long they sighted the Rumpety wagon showing plainly
against the snow in the starlight. The road went most of the way
down-hill, and wagon and bronco made good speed. The air grew colder
About ten below, shouldn't you say, Pincher?
Pincher tossed her tousled mane affirmatively.
They kept about forty yards behind the team, which went at a steady
I say, Pincher, the old beast must be laying it onto them horses,
to make 'em go like that.
This time Pincher merely laid an ear back in token of sympathy.
We'll give him a worse trouncing than that, though. Eh, Pincher?
And Rankin fumbled with cold fingers at the whip-handle in his
pocket. The reins lay across Pincher's neck. Rankin did not want his
hands to get too cold for business.
On and on they pounded through the snow; colder and colder it grew.
There was a shiver in the stars themselves, and only the snow looked
If I wasn't so all-fired mad, Pincher, I believe 't would seem kind
At these words Pincher took a spurt and had to be held in, lest they
should overtake the wagon.
They had crossed the railroad, leaving Wolverton with its handful of
twinkling lights to the eastward, and now a line of the Peak was
gleaming, a narrow white crescent, above the long, low rise of ground
to the west. Once they passed a depression through which the great dome
of snow towered in all its grandeur; but that was only for a moment.
Rankin's heart beat high at sight of it.
There's a way out of 'most every place, he muttered, below his
The last three miles of the way the cold had got such a grip on him
that he desisted from further social amenities. Pincher quite
understood his silence, though she, with her furry coat and hard
exercise, was not as near freezing as he.
[Illustration: THE GREAT DOME OF SNOW TOWERED IN ALL ITS
At length they perceived, close to the road, a dim light shining
from a single point in a huddled group of buildings. The wagon turned
into a corral, close to a tumble-down shanty, and as Rankin rode up to
the opening the children were just disappearing in at the door, while
the woman slowly and painfully climbed down over the wheel. Rumpety
stood by, jeering at her slow progress.
Come, horry a little, me foine lady, Rankin heard him say. Horry,
or I'll come and give ye a lift ye'll not thank me for!
The poor creature's dress had caught in something, and she stood an
instant on the hub.
With a sudden movement the brute raised the long whip he held in his
hand and gave her a stinging blow across the shoulders. There was a
faint moan, a sound of tearing cotton, and the woman fell in a heap to
the ground. In another instant she had scrambled to her feet and fled
limping into the house.
Ed Rankin felt the blood rush to his heart and then go tingling down
into his finger-tips; but he made no sound nor sudden movement. With
his teeth set hard, his hand clutching his cowhide whip, he got off his
horse and stood on the ground.
I guess I'll wait till he's given the critters their supper, he
muttered in Pincher's ear. He might forget to do it after I'm done
He stood looking into the enclosure while Rumpety unharnessed the
critters and put them up in an open shed.
The corral was a comfortless, tumble-down place. The outlines of the
crazy huts and sheds which enclosed it on three sides showed clear in
the starlight. A gaunt plough-horse stood motionless in the cold
shelter of a skeleton haywagon; in one corner a drinking-trough
gleamed, one solid mass of ice. And now across this dreary,
God-forsaken stage passed the warmly clad, stalwart figure that Fate
was waiting for. Rankin noted that he held the whip still in his hand
as he made for the door of the cabin.
Suddenly Rankin blocked his path.
The words were flung like a missile into the face of the brute.
With a cry of inarticulate rage Rumpety raised his long whip, and
then, coward that he was, let it fall.
Rankin never had a very clear idea of what happened next. Somehow or
other he had torn the coat off the man's back, had bound him with the
lasso to a corner of the haywagon, and was standing over him, cowhide
in hand, panting with rage and the desire for vengeance. The gaunt
horse had moved off a few paces, and stood like an apparition, gazing
with spectral indifference at the scene.
Rankin raised his arm and brought the whiplash whistling down upon
the broad shoulders. There was a strange guttural sound, and the figure
before him seemed to collapse and sink, a dead weight, down into the
encircling rope. Rankin's arm was arrested in mid-air.
Stand up, you hound, or I'll murder you! he hissed between his
But the figure hung there like a log. The spectral horse sniffed
A swift horror seized upon Rankin. He grasped the heavy shoulder and
shook it roughly. It was like shakinghush! he dared not think what!
Rankin flung his whip to the ground, and wildly, feverishly, untied
the rope. It was a difficult thing to do, the sinking of the body
having tightened the knots. At last they yielded, and the dead weight
tumbled in a heap before him. Even in his wild horror Rankin thought
how the woman had fallen just so in a heap on the ground a few minutes
before. The thought put life into his heart.
The gaunt horse had taken a step forward and was sniffing at that
heap on the ground, mouthing the limp trousers: a few wisps of hay had
clung to them. Rankin watched the weird scene. He knew that that was a
dead man before him; nothing could make that surer.
He tried to lift the body and carry it toward the house; he could
not do it. It was not the weight, it was the repulsion that lamed him.
He stalked to the cabin and flung open the door. The woman crouched
in a corner with her six children about her; seven pitiful scared faces
were lifted to his. He stepped in and closed the door behind him.
Dennis Rumpety is dead, he stated, in a hard, unnatural voice. It
seemed to him as if those awful words must echo round the globe,
rousing all the powers of the land against him, striking terror to the
hearts at home.
The woman glanced about her with wandering eyes. Then she shook her
Dinnis Rumpety? Sure he'll niver be dead!
I tell you Dennis Rumpety is dead. I have killed him!
You! she shrieked. The saints preserve ye!
It was a ghastly work to get that dishonored body across the corral
while the spectral horse came sniffing after. Rankin wondered whether
the dishonored soul could be far away. He wondered that the woman and
children did not seem to dread being left alone withit. He did
not know how futile ghostly horrors seemed, as compared with those
horrors they had thrust out.
As Pincher bore him back over the fourteen miles thither where
justice awaited him, Rankin was a prey to two alternating regrets. At
one moment he wished he had not said, I'll murder you! In the next
turn of thought he wished it had been murder in the first degree, that
the penalty might have been death rather than imprisonment.
He did not allow himself to think of Myra Beckwith; his mind felt
blood-stained, no fit place for the thought of her. There, where the
thought of her had shone for months, a steady, heart-warming flame, was
only a dull desolation which he dared not face.
As he rode up the deserted street of Sandoria a strong desire
possessed him to keep on to the north and have one more night of
freedom on his own ranch; but that would have been a cruelty to
Pincher. He put her up in the shed and gave her the next day's dinner
which he had brought with him that morning in case there should be a
dance to keep him over-night. Then he took a long, deep breath of the
icy air and passed into the court-house.
Inside, the atmosphere seemed suffocating. The room was so crowded
that he did not find Myra's face anywhere. The sheriff was among the
dancers, but the fiddles were winding up the set with a last prolonged
As the scraping ceased, Rankin stood before the sheriff. In the
sudden pause of sound and motion his voice sounded distinctly
throughout the room.
I have just killed Dennis Rumpety, he said.
For ten seconds there was absolute silence; then a rough voice
growled, Thunder! But you done a good job!
Upon that everybody began talking at once, and in the midst of the
clamor Ed Rankin, the man who loved freedom better than life, was
formally placed under arrest.
His trial came off the next day but one. The coroner's inquest had
shown death by apoplexy, caused probably by a paroxysm of rage. The
jury rendered a verdict of involuntary manslaughter. The sentence was
the lowest the law allows: namely, one day's imprisonment with hard
This unlooked-for clemency staggered the prisoner. Oblivious of
every fact but the terrible one that Dennis Rumpety had died by his
hand, he had nerved himself for what he believed would be his
death-blow. The tension had been too great; he could not bear its
Say, your honor, he cried, regardless of court etiquette,say,
your honor, couldn't you lay it on a little heavier?
The court sees no reason for altering its decision, his honor
replied, gravely, passing on to the delivery of the next sentence.
But after the court had adjourned, the judge stepped up to the
prisoner and said, kindly, I wouldn't take it too hard, if I were you,
Rankin. We all know that there was no murder in your heart.
Yes, there was, your honor. Yes, there was.
At any rate, the man's death was clearly not your deed. It was the
hand of the Lord that did it.
I don't know, your honor, Rankin persisted. It feels to me as
though it was me that done it.
The judge and the lookers-on were puzzled by this persistency. It
did not seem in character. For the first time in his life, Rankin felt
the need of words. The moral perplexity was too great for him to deal
with; he was reaching out for something to take hold of, a thing which
his self-contained, crudely disciplined nature had never craved before.
It's an awful thing to send a soul to hell, he muttered.
Then, in his extremity, he felt a soft touch upon his arm. Myra
Beckwith stood beside him.
Ed, she said, with the sweet seriousness which had first attracted
him, and now at last there was the tone in her voice which he would
have given his life to hear,Ed, think of the seven souls you have
delivered out of hell! I was over to see them yesterday.
The consolation of that voice and touch calmed his troubled spirit,
restored him to himself; the nightmare of the last two days faded and
slid away. He stood a moment in awkward silence, while Myra's hand
rested upon his arm; then, before them all, he laid his hand upon it,
and, with the solemnity of a priest before the altar, he said, I guess
it was the Lord that done it, after all!
VI. THE LAME GULCH PROFESSOR.
Simon Amberley had never been able to strike root in life, until,
some ten years since, he found a congenial soil in that remote fastness
of the Rocky Mountains known as Lame Gulch. From the first moment of
his arrival there it was borne in upon him that this was the goal of
his long, apparently aimless pilgrimage, and he lost no time in
securing to himself a foothold, by the simple and inexpensive method of
taking up a ranch.
The land he chose was higher up the Gulch than any of the
neighboring ranches, and all that it was rich in was views. It ran up
the side of a hill, seen from the top of which, the whole Rocky
Mountain Range had the appearance of marshalling itself in one grand,
exhaustive cyclorama. On every hand were snowy summits forming a
titanic ring which seemed to concentrate upon Lame Gulch; and much of
the sense of aloofness and security which was the chief element in
Amberley's content came from the illusion which he carefully guarded,
that that wall of giants really was impenetrable. He liked, too, to
feel himself at a great altitude above the lower world where he had so
long and vainly toiled.
Nine thousand feet above sea-level! he would assure himself in
self-congratulatory mood. When I come to quit, I sha' n't hev fur to
go! which confidence in the direction his spirit was destined to take,
may fairly be accepted as indication of a good conscience.
Amberley had not married, and although he felt the omission to be
matter for regret, he had never, as far as his recollection served him,
found his wish to do so particularized in favor of any one woman.
No, I ain't never married, he reluctantly admitted, when Enoch
Baker, his next-door neighbor at Lame Gulch, pressed the point.
Enoch lived with his wife just round on the other side of Bear
Mountain, only three miles away, and although his now elderly consort
was reputed to be unamiable,not to say cantankerous,yet her
existence, and the existence in the world outside, of many children and
grandchildren, conferred upon him the enviable dignity of a man of
family. He was a Yankee, and his thirst for information was not to be
Disapp'inted? he asked, knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and
pulling out a venerable tobacco-pouch, with a view to fillin' her up
Yes; ruther,bein' as I was always fond of children.
Amberley was himself a tall, limp-looking downeaster, with pleasant,
unsuspicious eyes, and a guileless spirit. He used to hand his cattle
over to Baker once a year, and let him drive them with his own down the
long mountain road to Springtown, and it was understood than he did not
inquire too curiously in the matter of commissions. The stores and
fodder which Enoch delivered over to him in exchange, together with a
plausibly varying amount of hard cash, seemed to Simon an ample return
for the scrawny cattle he sent to market. And Enoch, for his part, was
always willing to testify that Amberley was a pleasant man to deal
What was she like? Enoch inquired, in the tone of a connoisseur,
transfixing Amberley with his shrewd eyes.
Don't know's I could tell you, neighbor, I kind o' fancied the ones
with the snappin' black eyes. But I ruther guess some other kind would
ha' done's well, when it come to the pint.
Enoch raised his eyebrows inquiringly.
Wouldn't ary one on 'em hev you? he asked.
Never asked 'em, was the reply. It was this way, Amberley went
on, gathering himself together for the unaccustomed effort of
expounding a situation. I never seemed to feel to hev gumption
enough to raise a family.
Enoch's countenance took on a judicial look. Yet you've got a good
eddication, he remarked, after thoughtful consideration of the case.
You've got book larnin' enough to make your way.
Wall, yes; the eddication's stayed by me. I ruther guess 'twas the
gumption that got knocked out. That was at Antietam.
Didn't know you was in the war, Enoch exclaimed, with a visible
accession of respect. Was you hit?
Wall, yes; in the head. I wa' n't much more 'n a youngster, and
when they let me loose the doctors said I was good 's new; 'n I ruther
guess I was, all except the gumption. 'T was kind o' curous, too, he
went on, warming to his subject, and fumbling at something on the side
of his head. When the bullet ploughed through here, the settin' sun
was in my eyes; 'n soon's I got on my feet agin I wanted to go West. I
was let go there in Virginia, 'n though I hankered after my own folks
as bad as anybody, there was nothin' for it, but to turn toward the
settin' sun. 'N fust I went to Ohio, 'n then to Illinois, 'n then to
Missouri, 'n so on here. Never could manage to stop more 'n a few years
in one place till I come up agin the Rocky Mountings. Since then I've
felt kind o' settled and satisfied.
But Simon's satisfaction was destined to be rudely broken in upon.
One pleasant September day somebody picked up something in the Gulch
that looked like a dingy bit of quartz, and carried it down to
Springtown, and shortly after that a squad of men appeared upon the
scene. The mountains, faithless to their trust, had let them in. They
gathered together along the Gulch and on the side of Bear Mountain,
where Amberley could see them, little remote groups, sometimes losing
themselves among the pine-trees, sometimes showing plain against the
sky on the exposed comb of the mountain-side. By and by more men came
and rougher ones, bringing mules and oxen with them, and camping in
tents which they deserted by day. When the early snow came, Amberley
could see, more plainly than before, the doings of the encroaching
enemy. Great black scars were made in the snow; sledges, laden with
weird, ungainly masses of wood and iron, were hauled up the
mountain-side. Here and there a structure appeared, that had a
grotesque resemblance to a gallows. The uncouth monsters planted
themselves along the hillside, where they breathed forth smoke and
emitted strange noises. Amberley could hear the rattling of chains, the
creaking of timbers; a hoarse shout would sometimes come ringing across
the Gulch through the thin frosty air, if the wind was that way.
[Illustration. A TOWN OF RUDE FRAME HUTS HAD SPRUNG UP IN THE
In September it was that the bit of quartz was carried down to
Springtown; before the winter snows had thought of melting, a town of
rude frame huts had sprung up in the hollow below, and Lame Gulch was a
flourishing mining-camp. All the rough-scuff of the countryside
promptly gathered there, and elbowed, with equal indifference, the
honest miner, the less honest saloon-keeper, and the capitalist, the
degree of whose claim to that laudatory adjective was not to be so
easily fixed. No one seemed out of place in the crazy, zigzag streets,
no sound seemed foreign to this new, conglomerate atmosphere. The
fluent profanity of the mule-driver, the shrill laugh of the
dance-hall; the prolonged rattle and final roar of the ore-chute, the
steady pick of the laborer at the prospect-hole;each played its part
to burden and stain the pure, high air that had seemed so like the air
of Heaven itself.
Amberley stayed on in his lonely lean-to, or roamed over his
desecrated acres, bewildered and aggrieved. What were the mountains
thinking of to admit these savage hordes! Whither should he go, where
should he find a refuge, since his trusted allies had played him false?
He loathed it all, loathed most of all Enoch's exultant suggestion that
there might be gold on their land.
But we'll lay low for a while, Enoch said, with an air of profound
cunning. We'll wait till they're plumb crazy, and then we kin git our
And Amberley stayed on all through that trying winter, simply
because he knew of no better place to go to, and the spring came and
found him there, unreconciled, to be sure, but leading his usual life.
And so it happened that one day, when the snow had disappeared from all
the southerly slopes, and the wind was toward the Camp, so that the
sounds he hated came dulled and hushed to his ear, Amberley ventured a
few rods down the hillside in search of a missing calf. The truant was
a pretty, white-nosed creature, a special pet of his master's, with
great brown, confiding eyes, and ample ears, and Amberley had named him
Simon. Not a usual name for a calf, as Simon was well aware, but
somehow it gave the lonely man a peculiar pleasure to know that his
name was borne by a cheerful young thing, with frisky tail and active
legs, and everything to live for.
As the elder Simon strolled down the hillside on this particular
spring day, calling and peering from side to side, his eye fell upon
the first daisy of the season, nestling close at his feet,a single
blossom among a crowded group of little short-stemmed scrubby buds. He
stooped to pick it, and was standing, lost in wonder over its frailty
and its hardihood, when a child's voice struck his ear, calling, Come
Stepping around a projecting rock close at hand, Amberley came upon
a pretty scene. On a wide level sunny space, where young grass was
already springing, stood a little figure in blue, with yellow hair
flying about in the breeze; a tiny hand filled with grass, held out
toward the doubtful yet covetous Simon Jr. The child stood perfectly
still, her square little back turned to her new observer, while the
calf stumped cautiously toward her. At a safe distance he stopped and
sniffed at the tiny hand, then kicked up his heels and pranced away
again. The little drama repeated itself several times, the child
standing always motionless, with extended arm, and calling upon
Bossie in enticing tones to come.
Won over at last by her constancy,or by his own greed,Bossie
ventured near enough to snatch the proffered tidbit; then off he
scampered, in ungrateful haste, mouthing the delicate morsel.
A sigh of relief and satisfaction went up from the little figure,
while one small hand gravely rubbed and kneaded the arm which had so
pluckily maintained its uncomfortable position. Amberley approached
with his short-stemmed daisy.
How do you do, little girl? he inquired in his most polite manner.
Would you like a daisy?
Yes, was the reply, spoken with a slight lisp.
You are very good to feed Simon, Amberley proceeded, quite set at
ease by the gracious acceptance of his offering.
Yes; said the child once more, this time with a rising inflection.
Simon is my calf, you know, Amberley went on. Here, Simon, come
Simon Jr., was already approaching, with an eye to business, and
even as his master spoke, he had got his nose into a certain wide,
baggy pocket in the old army trousers, and was poking it about in very
Wait a minute, Simon, said Amberley, drawing himself gently away.
Here, little girl, you take a bit of the salt in your hand and he'll
come for it.
Yes, came the assenting voice; and Simon Jr., once convinced that
the pocket was closed to him, approached the child with easy
confidence, and not only devoured the proffered salt, but continued to
lick the grimy little palm when it was quite bare of that pleasing
Then the child laughed, a queer little short, grown-up laugh, and
declared: I like Simon.
So do I, said Amberley, casting about for some new blandishment.
Let's come up to the shanty and draw a picture of him.
Yes, the little sphinx replied.
Amberley held out his hand, with a poignant dread lest she should
refuse to take it; a thrill of pleasure, almost as poignant, went up
his arm and so on to his heart, as the tiny hand rested in his own.
What is your name? he asked. They were rounding the big boulder
and beginning the short ascent to the cabin.
Eliza Christie, and I'm six years old, she replied, tugging the
while at his hand, to help herself over a rough place. Then,What's
yours? she asked.
Same's the calf, she commented. Was either of you named for the
Yes; the calf was.
I was named for my sainted grandmother. Bella Jones says Eliza's an
ugly name, but Ma says if 't was good enough for my sainted grandmother
it's good enough for me.
I think Eliza's a real pretty name, Amberley declared in a
tone of conviction, as he warded off the renewed advances of Simon. If
ever I have another calf I shall call it Eliza.
I like both the Simons, Eliza announced, with flattering openness.
To such a declaration as this, modesty forbade any reply, and the
two went on in silence to the cabin door, closely followed by the
Outside the lean-to was a bench, roughly modelled on Amberley's
recollection of the settle outside his mother's kitchen door.
You'd better set there, Eliza, he said; It's prettier outside
than in; and he lifted her to the seat, and left her there, with her
fat little legs sticking straight out in front of her.
She seemed to take very naturally to the situation, and indeed her
small, sturdy person looked as much a part of the homely scene as the
stubby little daisy she held in her hand. As she sat there in the
sunshine, placid and self-contained, a mysterious trampling and
crackling began among the trees close at hand, and one after another,
three solemn-eyed cows emerged into the clearing and fixed a wondering
gaze upon the little visitor. She, nothing daunted, calmly returned
their gaze, only holding the daisy a little more tightly, lest one of
the new-comers should take it into her head to dispute the prize; and
Simon found her, upon his return, confronting the horned monsters with
Acknowledging the presence of the cows only by a friendly Shoo,
there! he established himself beside his waiting guest upon the
settle, his long legs crossed, by way of a table.
Can you draw? he asked.
No; I don't know my letters, she replied, with unconscious
How would you like to have me learn you?
I'd like it.
Well; I'll learn you O first. That's the first letter I
learned; and he made a phenomenally large and round O in the
upper left-hand corner of the sheet. The paper, finding insufficient
resting-place upon the bony knee, took occasion to flap idly in the
gentle southerly breeze; upon which the child took hold of it with a
quaint air of helpfulness which was singularly womanly.
Now I've learned O, she remarked, I'd like to learn
Well, there's an I; see, there?
The other one looks more like an eye, she observed critically.
So it does, so it does! Amberley admitted, much impressed by the
discovery. But then it's an O all the same, and this one is an
Yes; well, I've learned that. Now, make another.
Thus unheralded and unawares come the great moments of life. When
little Eliza mounted that wooden settle, her mind was innocent of
artificial accomplishments; before she again stood on her round fat
legs, she had begun the ascent of that path which leads away up to the
heights of human knowledge. It is a long ascent and few accomplish it,
but the first essential steps had been taken: little Eliza had become a
Not only had she learned to recognize an O and an I,
an S, an M, and an N, but she had laboriously made
each one of them with her own hand. And, furthermore, she had seen them
combined in a wonderful group which, if her teacher was to be credited,
stood for Simon! It was better than drawing, infinitely better!
Anybody could make a round thing with four crooked legs and a thin
tail, and call it a calfbut only a scholar could put five letters
together and make them stand for a man and a calf beside; a man with a
kind voice and a big beard, and a calf that would lick a person's hand!
Oh, but life had grown a wonderful thing to little Eliza, when she
trotted down the hillside, clinging to the fingers of her new friend,
and holding the sturdy little daisy in the other sturdy little hand.
And life had grown even more wonderful to Simon Amberley. He had not
passed such a pleasant day since he could remember, and he had
certainly never in his life had so much to look forward to; for had not
Eliza promised to come again the next day, and to bring Bella Jones
He went into the cabin after his chores were done, and pulled out an
old cowhide trunk with the hair pretty well worn off it, and there,
inside, he found the battered family Bible which had been sent out, at
his request, when his mother died; and a copy of Shakespeare's Plays
in one volume which he had got as a prize at school. There, too, were
Miss Edgeworth's Rosamond, and Nathaniel P. Willis' Poems, and one volume of Dr. Kane's Explorations at the North Pole.
Quite a library, he said to himself, with conscious pride. He had not
read in a book for twenty years; not since the time, back in Ohio, when
he had bought Scott's complete Works at auction, and had to sell them
again to pay his way to Missouri, whither he had gone in obedience to
that mysterious prompting of the setting sun.
By and by he strolled up the hill to get the sunset light. It was
very splendid on the glittering snow of the heights over yonder. After
all, he reflected, the mountains knew pretty well what they were about.
If they had not let the enemy through, those little girls would not
have got in, and he should not have felt as if he were beginning life
all over again.
Before a month had passed, Simon found himself established in the
new character of Lame Gulch Professor. So, at least, Enoch called him,
and it was not displeasing to the subject of Enoch's pleasantry to know
that others had adopted the suggestion and bestowed upon him that
honorable title. His little class numbered fifteen or twenty children
of assorted ages and dispositions, who came, lured by rumors of
pleasant things, and remained to imbibe learning with more or less
avidity. There was an absence of restraint about this novel school
which appealed strongly to the childish heart. The scholars were free
to come and go as they pleased, a privilege which, once established,
they were not inclined to take undue advantage of. They sat on the most
amusing seats, improvised from fallen tree trunks, or small wood-piles,
or cocks of hay. They called their teacher what they pleased: sometimes
Simon, sometimes Teacher, sometimes Mister! Bella Jones always said
Perfessor. They studied from whatever book they liked best, each
child bringing the Reader or Speller he could most easily lay hands
on. But they learned more from Simon's books than from their own. That
book of William Shakespeare's stood easily first in their estimation,
for when the perfessor read from it, they somehow understood the
story, in spite of the hard words which, taken by themselves, seemed to
mean nothing at all.
If a ground squirrel scuttled across the clearing, no one was so
quick to observe him as the teacher himself, and before Fritz Meyer
could seize a stone to fire at the tame little chap, the young
sportsman had become so interested in something Simon was saying about
its ways and nature, that he forgot what he wanted of the stone.
How do you spell squirrel? asked a sharp-featured boy one day, as
he watched the twinkling eyes of one of the tiny creatures.
Simon drew his brows together over his mild eyes, with a mighty
effort at thinking.
How do you spell squirrel? he repeated. How do you spell it?
Well; you begin with an sk, of courseand then there's a w.I don't know, Tim, but that's too hard a word to spell until you're
growed up. But I'll learn you to spell woodchuck! We used to go after
woodchucks when I was a youngster.
What boy could insist upon the spelling of a paltry little ground
squirrel, with beady eyes and nervous, inconsequent motions, when there
was talk of a woodchuck, lowering in his black hole, ready to fix his
sharp teeth in the nose of the first intruding terrier? If they learned
in after years that the spelling-books knew nought of a k or a
w in squirrel,and some of them never did!we may be very sure
that it was not Simon Amberley that fell in their estimation!
Sometimes Simon Jr. came to school, and there was a sudden,
exhilarating scramble in pursuit of his tail; now and then a
hard-worked mother would bring her baby and sit as guest of honor in
Simon's solitary cane-bottom, where she would inadvertently learn
items of interest with regard to yon Cassius, or bluff Harry, or a
certain young lady who was described as being little but fierce,a
good deal like Molly Tinker whose man kept the Golden Glory Saloon.
On one occasion a rattlesnake lifted its head drowzily from behind a
rock near by, and was despatched offhand by Simon. It was this exploit
which filled the measure of Simon's fame.
Any fool kin learn readin' an' writin', said Patsy Linders, the
eldest of the band, who, by the way, had yet to prove himself fool
enough to do so. But I'll be durned if I ever seen a stun fired
as neat as that!
Simon's smarter 'n anybody, little Eliza declared in reply. He's
smarter 'n you nor me, 'n he's smarter 'n David an' Goliath, 'n he's my
No one was disposed to question Eliza's prior claim to Simon. She
always sat beside him on the original settle against the lean-to. She
would not abdicate the seat even when the ground grew hot and pleasant
and she saw half her mates lying on the short sparse grass with their
heels in the air, conning their books, or falling asleep over them, as
the case might be. She felt it her prerogative to sit right there, with
her chubby legs sticking out in front of her; there, where she could
pull at Simon's sleeve and interrupt his discourse as often as she
And so it came about, that by the time spring had passed into
summer, sumptuous wildflowers succeeding the first little scrubby
daisy, a blessèd idyl of quaint child life, dear to Simon's heart, had
grown out of the chance meeting on the hillside. It was as if Simon's
clearing were a charmed circle into which no evil could enter, to which
no echo of the greed and brutality of the mining-camp could make its
way. When his permission was respectfully asked to sink a few prospect
holes on his land, Simon unhesitatingly rejected the proposal, with all
its glittering possibilities. As soon would the President and Fellows
of Harvard College permit the sinking of prospect holes in the sacred
yard itself, as the Lame Gulch Professor allow his school to be
But, alas! it is written in the books that no earthly circle shall
be forever charmed, no human enterprise exempt from evil. And it was
little Eliza herself, Simon's champion and dictator, faithful, plucky
little Eliza, by whom the evil entered in.
She came, one hot July day, and planted herself quite unconcernedly
beside the professor, and he, looking down into the funny little round
face, beheld a great black-and-blue bump on the forehead. The sight
grieved him to the soul, even before he knew its tragic meaning.
Did you tumble down, Eliza? he asked with great concern.
No, said Eliza.
Did you bump your head agin something?
Did anybody hurt you? and already the professor was casting
wrathful glances from boy to boy, well calculated to strike terror to
the heart of the culprit.
Not much; said the matter-of-fact little voice.
I guess 't was her pa done it, spoke up Patsy Linders. He's a
bloomin' terror when he's drunk.
Without a word, Simon rose and led the little creature into the
lean-to, where he tenderly bathed the bruise in cold water, giving no
voice to the swelling indignation that tore through him. His tone and
touch were but the gentler for that, as he sought to soothe the
self-contained little victim, who, truth to tell, seemed not much in
need of his ministrations.
My lamb! he murmured. My little lamb!
Ma said to never mind, the plucky little lamb remarked. He ain't
Do you love your father? asked Simon, seeking to fathom the blue
eyes for the truth.
The blue eyes were, for the moment, intent upon a swarm of flies
disporting themselves upon the window-pane.
Do you love your father? Simon asked again.
No; quoth Eliza, I wish he was dead.
Now Simon Amberley was slow to anger; indeed it may be doubted
whether he had ever in all his life before been thoroughly roused; and
perhaps for that very reason, the surging flood of indignation, so new
to his experience, seemed to him like a call from heaven. All day he
fed his wrath on the deeds of Scripture warriors, reading aloud from
the sacred records, till Patsy Linders exclaimed, enraptured, that the
Bible was a durned good book, by Jiminy!
Little Eliza stayed on, as she often did after the school was
dispersed, sure that her Simon, would find some new and agreeable
entertainment for her.
Did your father ever hit you before? Amberley asked casually, as
they strung a handful of painter's-brush into a garland, which it was
thought might prove becoming to Simon Jr.'s complexion.
Yes, said Eliza.
More than once?
Where did he hit you last time?
Here. And Eliza pulled up the blue calico sleeve, and displayed a
pretty bad bruise on the arm.
Simon paused a moment in his cross-examination.
And you wish he was dead? he asked at last, between his set teeth.
What does he look like?
Something like you, was the startling response; only different.
The amendment was, at first blush, more gratifying to Simon than the
original statement. Yet, when Eliza was gone, he went and looked in his
bit of a looking-glass, half hoping to find some touch of the latent
ruffian in his face. All he saw there was a kindly, unalarming
countenance, with a full blond beard, and thick blond hair. The eyes
had a look of bewilderment which did not lessen their habitual
mildness. He straightened his tall form, and threw his shoulders back,
and he set his mouth in a very firm, determined line; but, somehow, the
mild eyes would not flash, and a profound misgiving penetrated his
soul. Was he the man after all, to terrorize a ruffian? The ruffian in
question was an unknown quantity to his would-be intimidator, who
boasted but a calling acquaintance with Eliza's mother,a pale,
consumptive creature, with that better-days air about her, which
gives the last touch of pitifulness to poverty and hardship.
Little as he had frequented the now thriving metropolis of Lame
Gulch, Amberley knew pretty well where to look for his man, and as he
sallied forth that same evening, with the purpose of investigating the
unknown quantity, he bent his steps, not in the direction of the
rickety cabin in the hollow there, but toward the Lame Gulch Opera
House. This temple of the muses was easily discoverable, being
situated in the main street of the town, and marked by a long
transparency projecting above the door, upon which the luminous
inscription, Opera House, was visible from afar.
Upon entering beneath this alluring sign, Amberley found himself in
a full-blown sample room, the presence of whose glittering pyramids
of bottles was still further emphasized by the following legend,
Patronize the bar and walk in! which was inscribed above an inner
The new-comer stepped up to the bar-tender.
Do you know whether a miner named Conrad Christie is in there? he
I guess likely enough, was the reply. Mr. Christie is one of our
regular patrons. Won't you take a drink, Mister?
No; said Simon, shortly.
No? Ain't that ruther a pity? But pass right in, Sir. Any friend of
Mr. Christie's is welcome here.
Whereupon Mr. Christie's friend passed through the door, into the
long, narrow Opera House. It was a dirty, cheerless hole, in spite of
the brilliance of many oil lamps, shining among the flimsy decorations.
At the end of the tunnel-shaped room was a rude stage, festooned with
gaudy, squalid hangings, beneath which a painted siren was singing a
song which Simon did not listen to. The floor of the auditorium was
filled with chairs and tables in disorderly array, the occupants of
which seemed to be paying more attention to their liquor and their
cards than to the cracked voice of the songstress. There was a rattling
of glasses, the occasional clink of money, frequent shrill laughs and
deeper-chested oaths and guffaws; the fumes of beer and whisky mingled
with the heavy canopy of smoke which gave to the flaring lights a lurid
aspect, only too well befitting the place and the occasion.
Wal, I swan! exclaimed a familiar voice close at Simon's elbow:
and, turning, he beheld the doughty Enoch, seated at a table close to
the door, imbibing beer at the hands of a gaudy young woman in a red
Simon looked at the elderly transgressor in speechless astonishment.
Yas, here I be, said Enoch, jauntily, consortin' with the hosts
of Belial. Take a cheer, Simon, take a cheer.
I guess not, said Simon, slowly; I don't have no special
hankerin' after Belial, myself. Do you happen to know a man named
Him's the gentleman, the red-silk Hebe volunteered. Him in the
yeller beard and the red necktie, rakin' in the chips.
Amberley took a critical survey of his adversary. He was a man of
forty, or thereabouts, singularly like Simon himself in build and
coloring, with enough of the ruffian in his aspect to give the
professor an envious sense of inferiority. He was playing cards with a
fierce-looking fellow in a black beard, who seemed to be getting the
worst of it.
Simon was conscious afterwards of having turned his back on Enoch
rather abruptly; of having interrupted, by his departure, an outpouring
of confidence in regard to Mis' Baker's tantrums. At the time,
however, he had but one thought and that was to strike while the iron
was hot. He felt that the iron was becoming very hot indeed, as he
stepped up to the yellow-haired gambler, who was again engaged in the
satisfactory ceremony of rakin' 'em in.
Mr. Christie, Simon said, and hot as the iron was, he could not
control a slight tremor in his voice, not of fear, but of excitement.
Mr. Christie, I've got something to say to you. Will you step outside
Christie measured his interlocutor from head to foot, till Simon
felt himself insulted in every inch of his person. The peace-loving
hermit had time for blood-thirsty thoughts before the answer struck his
Not much! came the reply at last, while the speaker gathered up
the cards and began dealing. If this place is good enough for me, I
reckon it's good enough for a blasted Sissy of your description!
No one would do Mr. Christie the injustice to suppose that his
remark was unembellished by more forcible expressions than are hereby
recorded. Yet, somehow, the worst of them lacked the sting that Simon
managed to get into his reply, as he said, in a suppressed voice: This
place ain't good enough, as far's that goes, for the meanest skunk God
ever created! But it'll do for what we've got to settle between us.
Have a seat, Mister?
A sick-looking girl, with blazing cheeks, had placed a chair for
him. Have a
The words died on her lips before the solemn, reproachful look the
professor turned upon her.
And Jinny looked smart
As a cranberry tart!
sang the discordant voice from the stage, which nobody thought of
It's the Lame Gulch Professor, the black-haired man remarked,
taking a look at his cards, before turning to his glass for
Damn the Lame Gulch Professor! Christie retorted, by way of
acknowledging the introduction.
Then Simon spoke again.
Mr. Christie, you've got the prettiest and smartest little girl in
Lame Gulch, he declared, laying down his proposition in a tone of
extreme deliberation; and you hit her over the head last night, and 't
ain't the first time neither.
Is that the latest news you've got to give us? asked Christie,
passing his hand caressingly over his pistol, which lay like a lap-dog
on his knees.
Better let that alone, said the black-haired gambler,
persuasively. The professor's ben good to my kids.
The threat was so very covert that the sensitive Christie did not
feel himself called upon to recognize it as such.
He ain't no target, Christie declared, with unutterable
contempt. I'd as soon shoot a door-mat! whereupon he proceeded, in a
disengaged manner, to empty the contents of the black bottle into a
glass, flinging the bottle under the table, with a praiseworthy regard
Simon breathed deep and hard, and again there was an exasperating
tremor in his low-pitched voice, which drawled more than usual, as he
No; 't ain't the latest news! What I specially come to tell you
was, that if you ever lay hands on that child agin, I'll shoot you
deader 'n any door-mat you ever wiped your great cowardly boots on!
Each word of this speech seemed to cleave its separate, individual
way with a slow, ponderous significance. Christie passed his hand
absently down the barrel of the pistol on his knees, till his fingers
rested on the trigger. If he had had any murderous intention, however,
he seemed to think better of it, for he contented himself with a shrug
and an oath, and the supercilious inquiry: What are you givin' us,
anyway? The man of the black beard eyed his movements with a furtive
interest. Amberley stood a moment, to give a still more deliberate
emphasis to his words, thinking, the while, that in spite of the
unvarnished frankness on either side, neither he nor his adversary had
quite made each other out. Then he turned and threaded his way among
the tables to the door, as quietly and composedly as he had come; while
the girl on the stage repeated the assertion in regard to Jinny's
smart looks, in which she seemed still unable to awaken the slightest
interest in those who should have been her auditors. Before he had
passed Enoch's chair, which was placed discreetly near the exit, the
pair of gamblers were at it again. Not even the luck had been turned by
the interruption. Christie was sweeping in the chips to the same
refrain of the cranberry tarts.
When, to Simon's infinite relief, little Eliza appeared at school
the next morning, the teacher scrutinized her jealously in search of
bumps and bruises. There was nothing to be seen but the original bump,
and that was reduced in size, though somewhat intensified in color,
since the day before.
I wonder how I should feel when I had shot him! thought Simon, and
his mind reverted to the rattlesnake, and to a sneaking compunction
which had seized him when the tail gave its death-quiver. The
possibility of missing his mark when once obliged to shoot did not
enter his mind. He was fighting on the side of right and justice, and
possessing, as he did, but small knowledge of the world and its ways,
he had implicit faith in the triumphant outcome of all such encounters.
He took small credit to himself for any temerity he had shown.
Somehow it seemed to him that the thing had been made very easy. He
felt moderately sure that he owed his safety to the villainous-looking
man in the black beard; and, indeed, that was quite in order, for he
had been given to understand that Providence was not above making use
of the meanest instruments to the accomplishment of a good end. There
were times when he was even constrained to hope that, by the same Great
Influence, a spark of magnanimity had been awakened in Christie's
abandoned soul; and once, when Eliza reported that her pa had given
her a nickle, he almost believed that those seemingly ineffective words
of his had, thanks to that same all-powerful intervention, made an
impression. He became positively hopeful that this might be the case,
when nearly a month had passed, and no further harm had come to his
One morning Bella Jones, who ordinarily kept rather fashionable
hours, came panting up the hill, the first to arrive. She was a dressy
young person, whose father kept a sample-room. Looking hastily about,
to make sure that no one was there to have forestalled her, she cried,
still quite out of breath:
Eliza Christie, she's lost her ma! Died in the night of a hemorag!
Eliza ain't cried a drop, 'n her pa he's just settin' there like he was
Like he was shot! Simon shivered at the words as if a cold wind
had passed, striking a chill through the intense August day.
The professor kept school that morning as usual, but he did not sit
on the settle against the lean-to, and when Patsy Lenders undertook to
hoist himself up on it, the boy got his ears boxed. Patsy stated
afterwards, in maintenance of the justifiable pride of ten years goin'
on eleven, that he wouldn't ha' took it from anybody but the
perfessor, and he wouldn't ha' took it from him, if 't hadn't a ben
for that snake!
It was high noon. The sun was pouring down upon the group of
children in the clearing in front of the lop-sided cabin, and upon the
empty settle up against it; upon the brooding heights that spanned the
horizon beyond the Gulch, upon the fragrant pine-trees close at hand.
Simon Jr. had just strayed along with a blossoming yucca protruding
from his mouth, and the professor had driven him farther up the slope.
Returning from this short excursion, Simon beheld two figures coming up
the Gulch; a blond-bearded man, and a little girl in blue. He hurried
toward them in real trepidation. He could not bear to see the lamb
actually in the company of the wolf. The three met on the edge of the
clearing; Christie was the first to speak.
I've brought you Eliza, he said, in a steady, matter-of-fact
voice, something like Eliza's own. Her ma's dead, 'n you can have her
'f you want her. She thinks you'd like her.
What do you mean? asked Simon, his voice clouding over, so that it
was hardly audible. Can I hev her for my own?
Yes; that's the proposition! 'N there's a hundred dollars in her
pocket which is all the capital I can raise to-day. I can do the
funeral on tick. No; I won't try to get her away from you. She ain't my
Simon was stooping down with his eyes on a level with Eliza's.
Say, Eliza, he asked, would you like to be my little girl?
Yes, quoth Eliza.
And come and live with me all the time?
Yes! and she put out a little hand and touched his face.
She won't be no great expense to you, said Christie.
Simon stood up and cast a significant glance about him.
I guess if I let them prospectors in on my land, he said, there
won't be no great call for economizing!
The two men stood a moment facing each other with the same
half-defiant, half-puzzled look they had exchanged at that other
meeting, not so long ago. Christie was the first to break the silence.
There wa' n't never much love lost between Eliza and me, he
remarked, as if pursuing a train of thought that had been interrupted.
After the two boys died of the shakes, down in the Missouri Bottoms,
both in one week, I kind o' lost my interest in kids. But I'd like to
know she was in better hands than mine, for her mother's sake.
Eliza, said Simon, in a tone of gentle authority which the Lame
Gulch Professor rarely assumed. Eliza, give your pa that money, and
tell him to bury your ma decent.
Christie took the money.
Well, said he, I guess you're correct about the prospectors.
They're right after your claim!Good-bye Eliza.
Good-bye, said Eliza, digging the heel of her boot into the bed of
Yet Christie did not go.
I'll send her duds up after the funeral, he said. And her ma's
things along with them. And, say! he added with a sort of gulp of
determination, while a dark flush went over his face. About that
door-mat, you know. It wasn't respectful andI apologize!
With that, Christie strode down the hill to his dead wife, and Simon
and the child turned and walked hand in hand toward the lean-to. Half
way across the clearing Simon Jr. unabashed by his late ejection,
joined the pair.
She's our little girl now, Simon, said the professor, gravely.
Yes, quoth Eliza, with equal gravity.
Upon which Simon Jr. kicked up his heels in the most intelligent
manner, and pranced off in pursuit of the succulent yucca.
VII. THE BOSS OF THE WHEEL.
When contrasted with the ordinary grog-shop and gambling den of Lame
Gulch, the barroom of the Mountain Lion has an air of comfort
and propriety which is almost a justification of its existence. If men
must drink and gamble,and no one acquainted with a mining-camp would
think of doubting the necessity,here, at least, is a place where they
may do so with comparative decency and decorum. The Mountain Lion, which is in every respect a well-conducted hostelry, tolerates no
disorderly persons, and it is therefore the chosen resort, not only of
the better class of transient visitors, but of the resident aristocracy
as well. In the spacious office are gathered together each evening,
mining-engineer and real-estate broker, experts and prospectors from
Denver, men from Springtown in search of business and diversion, to say
nothing of visitors from the eastern and western seaboards; and hither,
to the more secluded and less pretentious barroom, at least, come the
better class of miners, those who have no special taste for bloodshed
and other deviltry, and who occasionally go so far as to leave their
firearms at home. Some slight prejudice, to be sure, was created among
the independent Sons of Toil, when it was found that the Mountain
Lion did not permit its waiters to smoke cigarettes while on duty;
but such cavillers were much soothed upon learning that a bust dude
had been quite as summarily dealt with when he broke forth into song at
the dinner-table. This latter victim of severity and repression was a
certain Mr. Newcastle, a gent gone to seed as he was subsequently
described, and he had protested against unkind restrictions by
declaring that such exhibitions of talent were typ-sical of a
mining-camp. He pronounced typ-sical with an almost audible
hyphen, as if his voice had stubbed its toe. But Mr. Newcastle's
involuntary wit was of no avail, and he was forced to curb his songful
spirit until a more fitting season.
So it came about that the Mountain Lion had not been in
existence ten days before it had gone on record as a thoroughly
first-class establishment. No wonder, then, that an air of peculiar
respectability attached itself to the wheel itself which revolved in
a corner of the barroom night after night, whirling into opulence or
penury, such as entrusted their fortunes to its revolutions. Despite
its high-toned patronage, however, the terms roulette and croupier
found small favor with the devotees at that particular shrine of the
fickle goddess, and Dabney Dirke, its presiding genius, was familiarly
known among the boys, as the boss of the wheel. Waxey
Smithers,he who was supposed to have precipitated Jimmy Dolan's exit
from a disappointing world,had been heard to say that that feller
Dirke was too (profanely) high-toned for the job. Nevertheless, the
wheel went round at Dirke's bidding as swiftly and uncompromisingly as
heart could wish, and to most of those gathered about that centre of
attraction the boss seemed an integral part of the machine.
Dabney Dirke was an ideal figure for the part he had to play. He was
tall and thin and Mephistophelian, though not of the dark complexion
which is commonly associated with Mephistopheles. His clean-shaven face
got its marked character, not from its coloring but from its cut;
Nature's chisel would seem to have been more freely used than her brush
in this particular production. The face was long and thin and severe,
the nose almost painfully sensitive, the mouth thin and firmly closed
rather than strong. The chin did not support the intention of the lips,
nor did the brows quite do their duty by the eyes, which had a steely
light, and might have gleamed with more effect if they had been
somewhat more deeply set. The hair was sparse and light, and the
complexion of that kind of paleness which takes on no deeper tinge from
exposure to sun or wind or from passing emotion.
There were two indications that the boss of the wheel was also a
gentleman;he put on a clean collar every day, and he did not oil his
hair. It would have been strange indeed if two such glaring
peculiarities had escaped the subtle perception of Mr. Smithers, and it
was rather to be wondered at that such inexcusable pretensions did not
militate against the boss in his chosen calling.That the calling
was in this case deliberately chosen, may as well be admitted at the
Dabney Dirke had once, in a very grievous moment, sworn that he
would go to the devil, and had afterwards found himself so ill-suited
to that hasty enterprise, that he had been somewhat put to it to get
started on the downward path.
He was the only son of a Wall Street magnate who had had the
misfortune to let his transactions get the better of him. Dirke often
thought of his father when he watched the faces of the men about the
wheel. There was little in the outer aspect, even of the men of
civilized traditions who stood among the gamblers, to remind him of the
well-dressed, well-groomed person of his once prosperous parent. But in
their faces, when the luck went against them, was a look that he was
poignantly familiar with; a look which had first dawned in his father's
face, flickeringly, intermittently, and which had grown and
intensified, week after week, month after month, till it had gone out
in the blankness of despair. That was when the elder Dirke heard his
sentence of imprisonment. For Aaron Dirke's failure had involved moral
as well as financial ruin.
He had died of the shock, as some of his creditors thought it
behooved him to do,died in prison after one week's durance. His son
envied him; but dying is difficult in early youth, and Dabney Dirke did
not quite know how to set about.
Sometimes when he gave the wheel the fateful turn, he tried to cheat
himself with an idea that it obeyed his will, this wonderful, dizzying,
maddening wheel, with its circle of helpless victims. But there were
moments when he felt himself more at the mercy of the wheel than any
wretched gambler of them all. As he stood, with his curiously rigid
countenance, performing his monotonous functions in the peculiar
silence which characterizes the group around a gaming table, he
sometimes felt himself in the tangible grasp of Fate; as if the figures
surrounding the table had been but pictures on his brain, and he, the
puppet impersonating Fate to them, the real and only victim of chance.
At such times he could get free from this imaginary bondage only by a
deliberate summoning up of those facts of his previous existence which
alone seemed convincingly real. They marshalled themselves readily
enough at his bidding, those ruthless invaders of an easy, indolent
life;penury and disgrace, wounded pride and disappointed love, and,
bringing up the rear, that firm yet futile resolve of his to go to the
devil. Dabney Dirke, with his tragic intensity, had often been the
occasion of humor in other men, but it is safe to say that his own mind
had never been crossed by a single gleam of that illumining,
revivifying flame. For that reason he took his fate and himself more
seriously, Heaven help him!than even his peculiar ill-fortune
At the time of his father's failure and disgrace he had been the
accepted suitor of a girl whom he idealized and adored, and in his
extremity she had failed him. She had weakly done as she was bid, and
broken faith with him. It was on this occasion that he laid upon
himself the burdensome task of which mention has been made.
Frances, he had said, with the solemnity of a Capuchin friar
taking his vows; Frances, if you cast me off I shall go to the devil!
Frances was very sorry, and very reproachful, and withal, not a
little nattered by this evidence of her negative influence; but she
gave him her blessing and let him go, whither he would; and he, with
the inconsequent obstinacy of his nature, carried with him a perfectly
unimpaired ideal of her, sustained by her tearful assurance that she
should always love him and pray for him. Even when he heard within the
year that she was about to make a brilliant marriage with a titled
Frenchman whom she had met at Newport, he persisted in thinking of her
as the victim, not of her own inconstancy, but of parental sternness.
He sometimes saw her pretty face quite distinctly before his eyes, as
he looked out across the swiftly spinning wheel, into the smoke-hung
barroom,the pretty face with the tearful eyes and the quivering lip
of shallow feeling, the sincerity of which nothing could have made him
doubt,and somehow that pictured face had always the look of loving
and praying for him.
There was a certain little ring, bearing a design of a four-leaved
clover done in diamonds, a trinket of her girlhood days, which she used
to let him wear for luck. He had it on his little finger the day his
father was sentenced. Its potency might fairly have been questioned
after that, yet when she took it back he felt as if the act must have a
blighting influence upon his destinies, quite apart from the broken
engagement which it marked.
He had accepted for the nonce a place at the foot of the ladder in a
bankers' and brokers' office which was offered him by one of the
partners, an old friend of his father's. He held the place for some
months, and, being quite devoid of ambition, he soon came to loathe the
daily grind. Through that, as through, the later vicissitudes of his
career, his mind clung, with a curious, mechanical persistency, to that
troublesome vow which he had made.
The difficulty lay in his entire constitutional lack of vicious
tendencies. He had no taste for drink and none for bad company; highway
robbery was played out, and the modern substitutes for it were too
ignoble to be thought of. Had that not been the case his perplexities
might have found an easy solution, for more than one golden opportunity
offered for bald, barefaced breach of trust. One day in particular, he
found himself in the street with thirty thousand dollars in his
trousers' pocket. This not unprecedented situation derived its special
significance from the fact that the day was the one fixed for Frances
Lester's marriage. As Dirke walked up the street he saw, in fact, the
carriages drawn up before Trinity Church, and he knew that the ceremony
was going forward. He was struck with the dramatic possibilities of the
moment. Were he to decamp on the spot, he might be in time to get into
the morning papers, and Frances would know with what éclat he
had celebrated her wedding day. He raised his hand to signal a cab, but
the driver did not see him, and ten minutes later the money had gone to
swell his employers' bank-account. He had often questioned what would
have been his next step, supposing that particular cab-driver had had
his wits about him and seen the signal. He was loath to admit that he
would merely have been at the expense of driving the few blocks to the
same destination which he had reached more economically on foot!
He had returned in time to stand among the crowd on the sidewalk and
see the bridal party issue from the church. When bride and bridegroom
crossed the narrow space between the awning and the carriage door,
Dirke had his first opportunity of seeing the Count de Lys. He could
not but perceive that the man was the possessor of a high-bred,
handsome face, but perhaps it was, under the circumstances, not
altogether surprising that he found the handsome face detestable. The
mere sight of the black moustache and imperial which the Frenchman wore
so jauntily was enough to make the unhappy broker's clerk forswear all
kindred ornaments to the end of his days.
A broker's clerk he did not long remain, however. He was too
restless for that, too much at odds with the particular sort of life
his situation forced him into. Within a month of the day on which he
had proved himself so signally unfitted for the rôle of rascal,
he had thrown up his position and cut himself loose from all his old
moorings. It was in a spirit of fantastic knight-errantry that he
turned his face westward, a spirit that gave him no rest until, at the
end of many months, he finally dropped anchor in the riotous little
harbor of Lame Gulch. This turbulent haven seemed to promise every
facility for the shipwreck on which he had so perversely set his heart,
and he was content to wait there for whatever storm or collision should
bring matters to a crisis. Perhaps the mere steady under-tow would suck
him down to destruction. The under-tow is not inconsiderable among the
seething currents of life in a two-year-old mining-camp.
Dirke had not been long in the camp, before his indefeasible air of
integrity and respectability had attracted the attention of no less a
personage than the proprietor of the roulette wheel, who invited him to
run the wheel on a salary. It was now some three months since he had
entered upon this vocation, and it had, on the whole, been a
disappointment to him. He had accepted the position with an idea that
he should be playing the sinister rôle of tempter, that he
should feel himself at last acting a very evil part. To his surprise
and chagrin he found that he was conscious of no moral relation
whatever with the victims of the wheel. It was not he who enticed them;
it was not he who impoverished them. On the contrary, given his
contract with the bank, he was doing his duty as simply and
scrupulously here as in the Wall Street office, performing a certain
function for certain pay, accountable to an employer now as hitherto.
And, indeed, when he reflected upon the glimpses of Wall Street methods
he had got, and upon the incalculable turns of the Wall Street wheel,
whirling its creatures into opulence or penury as capriciously as the
roulette wheel itself, he could not but feel that he was serving the
same master now as heretofore, and to very much the same ends. And now,
as heretofore, he had no reassuring sense of being on the downward
He used to amuse himself during the day,for his time was his own
from dawn to dark,in trying to work out the law of averages,
following out the hints he gathered from the working of the wheel. He
had always had a taste for mathematics, having rather gone in for
that branch at college. Fleeting visions of becoming an astronomer had
visited him from time to time; but the paralysis of wealth had deterred
him while he was yet ostensible master of his own fate, and now the
same inherent weakness of character which had made him a slave to
wealth, made him a slave to poverty, and he regarded whatever latent
ambition he had ever cherished as a dead issue. His mind sometimes
recurred to those neglected promptings of happier days, as he went
forth under the stars after hours, and cleared his brain by a walk in
the pure night air. It was his habit to make for the hills outside the
camp, and his solitary wanderings were much cheered by the light of
those heavenly lamps. At this high altitude they had a peculiar
brilliance that seemed to give them a nearer, more urgent significance
than elsewhere. He felt that it was inconsistent in him to look at the
stars and to inquire into the law of averages. It would be more in
character, he told himself,that is, more in the character he aspired
toif he were to embrace the exceptional advantages Lame Gulch offered
for doing something disreputable. Yet the stars shone down, undaunted
and serene, upon the squalid camp, and into the bewildered soul of
Dabney Dirke, so fantastically pledged to do violence to its own
nature. Sometimes they twinkled shrewdly, comprehendingly; sometimes
they glowed with a steady splendor that seemed to dominate the world.
There were nights when the separate stars were blended, to his
apprehension, in one great symphony of meaning; again certain ones
stood out among the others, individual and apart. There was Jupiter up
there. He did not look as if he were revolving with lightning speed
about the sun, and the moons revolving about him were not even visible.
That was the kind of roulette wheel a man might really take an interest
in! And while he dallied with the stars and with those higher
promptings which their radiance symbolized, he yet clung persistently
to the purely artificial bonds he had put upon himself.
Poor Dabney Dirke! If he had possessed the saving grace of humor he
could not have dedicated the golden years of youth to anything so
hopelessly chimerical and absurd. He would have perceived that he was
enacting the part of an inverted Don Quixote; a character grotesque
enough when planted on its own erratic legs, but hopelessly ridiculous
when made to stand on its head and defy its windmills up-side-down. As
it was, he continued to take himself seriously, and to argue with
himself on every concession made to a nature at bottom sound and
well-inclined, if not well-balanced; and he was still standing at his
incongruous post, performing its duties with dogged industry, when
something happened which created a commotion within him. The man who
had married Frances Lester came to Lame Gulch and gravitated, as every
guest of the Mountain Lion is sure to do, for the passing moment
at least, to the barroom of the house. The count was a member of a
French syndicate engaged in the erection of a stamp-mill at Lame
Gulch, and he was making a flying trip from the East with one of his
compatriots, to take a look at the property. He was a man of medium
height whose nationality and rank were equally unmistakable, and his
air of distinction attracted no little attention upon his entrance.
Dirke, however, did not see him. There was a throng of men about the
wheel, and the boss was regarding their movements with the
perfunctory attention which his duties required, when a hand, whiter
than the others, was thrust forward. As it placed a silver dollar on
the board a flash of diamonds caught Dirke's eye, and he recognized the
lucky ring he had once worn. It was a closer fit for the little
finger of the present wearer than it had been for his own. There was
little need of further investigation to establish the identity of the
The wheel went round and the ball dropped in the stranger's favor.
Dirke glanced at him as he pocketed his winnings. The handsome face
antagonized him even more strongly than it had six months ago.
M. de Lys did not play again immediately. He watched the wheel with
a quiet intentness, as if he were establishing some subtle, occult
influence over it. Then the white hand was quietly extended, and a gold
piece glittered where it had touched. Again the ball declared itself in
favor of the Frenchman.
He played at intervals for more than an hour, with unvarying
success. Eager, inexperienced boys rashly staked and often lost;
laborers with haggard faces saw their earnings swept away; but the
count, always calm and deliberate, won,won repeatedly, invariably. He
rarely risked more than ten dollars on a single turn; he never placed
his money on a number. He played red or black, and the ball followed
his color as the needle follows the magnet. Dirke began to dread the
sight of that white hand; the gleam of the diamonds seemed to pierce
and pain him like sharp steel.
An hour had passed and Dirke estimated that de Lys must have won
several hundred dollars. Other men had begun to choose his color, and
the bank was feeling the drain. Yet the machine itself was not more
unconcerned than the boss appeared, as he paid out the money lost,
and set the wheel spinning to new issues. Black, red,red, black; so
the ball fell, but always in favor of the white hand with the flashing
brilliants. The group about the table was becoming excited; Dirke knew
very well that if the thing went on much longer the bank would have
to close down.
There was a moment's pause, while all waited to follow the
stranger's lead. Then the white hand reached forward and placed four
five-dollar gold pieces upon the red. A dozen gnarled and grimy hands
swarmed like a flock of dingy birds above the board, and each one laid
its coin upon the red. Round went the wheel; the ball sped swiftly in
its groove. Then the speed slackened, the ball seemed to hesitate and
waver like a sentient thing making choice; there was the light click of
the drop; the bank had won.
After that the white hand played with varying luck, sometimes
winning, sometimes losing. The other players began staking on their own
account again. And then, some time after midnight, de Lys began losing,
as persistently, as uninterruptedly as he had won. He played as
deliberately as before, with a something more of calculating
intentness, but the charm was broken; the wheel seemed to whirl with an
intelligent revolt. Just as surely as the white hand placed a coin upon
the black, the red had it; just as certainly as the diamonds flashed
above the red, the ball found its way into the black. The handsome face
grew slightly strained and eagerso slightly that the change would
have escaped the ordinary observer. For the first time Dirke found a
satisfaction in the contemplation of those high-bred features. Silver,
gold, banknotes,each and all were swept into the coffers of the
bank. His losses must already exceed his winnings, Dirke thought. The
thought animated him with a malignant joy. For the first time he felt
an interest in the fall of the ball; for the first time too, he felt
the evil in his nature vibrate into life.
Three turns of the wheel had taken place with no appearance of the
white hand upon the board. Busted, had been the laconic comment of a
by-stander. Dirke glanced at the count and their eyes met. The gambler
was fingering the lucky ring. As he caught Dirke's eye he drew the
ring from his finger.
What will you place against that? he asked, handing it over to the
boss. His English was careful and correct, yet as Gallic as his face
Dirke examined the ring judicially, wondering, the while, that it
did not burn his fingers. The moment in which he last held it thus was
far more vivid to his consciousness than the present instant and the
Twenty-five dollars, he said, in his most official tone, as he
returned the ring to its owner.
The wheel spun, the ring glittered on the red. The count leaned
slightly forward. Dirke watched only the wheel. He had a wild notion
that the result was life or death to him, yet why, he could not tell.
Then the wheel slackened, the ball hesitated, paused, dropped. Black
M. de Lys turned on his heel and left the table. An hour later the
room was empty and the lights were out.
When Dirke passed through the office of the Mountain Lion and
stepped out on the veranda, the night was far spent, but the deep June
sky was still spangled with stars. He stood for an instant at the top
of the steps, hardly aware of the delicious wash of the night air on
his face, which yet he paused to enjoy. There was a foot-fall close at
hand and a voice.
M. le croupier? the voice queried.
He turned sharp about. The Frenchman stood there with his hat
raised, a gentleman to the finger-tips. Involuntarily Dirke lifted his
own hat, and lifted it after the manner of a gentleman. The manner was
not lost upon the Frenchman.
Monsieur, said the latter, courteously; I had the misfortune to
lose a ring this evening. I shall redeem it on the morrow, when I can
command my resources.
The boss looked him full in the face. They could not distinguish
one another's features in the starlight, yet the two personalities were
as plainly in evidence as could have been the case in the broad light
No, you won't! Dirke retorted, coolly, planting his hat firmly on
his head again. He was angry with himself for having removed it.
May I ask Monsieur why not?
Because the ring is sold!
The Frenchman started visibly.
And the purchaser? Would you have the courtesy to indicate to me
The rudely spoken monosyllable put an abrupt period to the
Dirke passed down the steps and along the deserted street. As he
paced the length of the board sidewalk, which helped itself over the
ups and downs of the ungraded thoroughfare by means of short, erratic
flights of steps at certain points, he distinctly heard footsteps
following. They sounded plainly on the plank walk, and he did not for a
moment doubt whose they were. His hands were in his coat-pockets. On
the little finger of his left hand was the ring.
He paused, opposite the brightly lighted windows of the last saloon
in the row. The town ended there, the street lapsing into a rough and
trackless barren. Here he waited for the Frenchman to come up with him.
He watched his progress with a curious interest, noting how the figure
was at one moment lost in the shadow, only to emerge, the next instant,
into the full light that streamed from some nocturnal haunt. As he came
up with Dirke, the electric light over the entrance to the saloon shone
full upon them both.
Dirke waited for him to speak. Again he raised his hat, but this
time Dirke was on his guard and was not to be betrayed into any
concession to courtesy. There was a slight shrug of the shoulders as
the Frenchman replaced his hat. He spoke, however, in a conciliatory
It is a fine evening, he observed. I have followed your example.
I go for a walk.
You have followed me, you mean, said Dirke, bluntly. I heard you
Then, moved by a sudden impulse to precipitate matters, he drew his
left hand from his pocket. The diamonds flashed in the light.
M. de Lys's eyes flashed in response. With all his unabated
elegance, he had something the look of a tiger ready to spring upon his
prey. But he held himself in check.
Monsieur! he cried, and there was a savage note in his voice,
which Dirke would not have credited him with. Monsieur! If you decline
to permit me to pay for that ring to-morrow, I am ready to fight
for it to-night! He pronounced the word fight with a
peculiar, hissing emphasis.
Not to-night, Dirke rejoined quietly.
And why not to-night, Monsieur, may I ask?
Because I am armed, and you are not.
At the word Dirke had drawn his right hand from his pocket; the
barrel of a pistol gleamed white between them.
The Frenchman recoiled. His face was not pleasant to look upon, yet
his antagonist would have been sorry to lose the sight of it.
Dirke stood, tall and slim and commanding, his face set in the
accustomed lines. No emotion whatever was to be seen there, not even
contempt for the man who shrank from sure death in such a cause. For
fully twenty seconds they faced each other in the glaring light of the
saloon, pent up passion visible in the one, invisible in the other. In
Dirke's face, and bearing, however, devoid as it was of any emotion,
one quality was but the more recognizable for that, and the count knew
that the man before him was available as an antagonist.
Monsieur, he said, with strong self-control, it is possible that
you do not understandthat you are not awarethatMonsieur! The ring
which you are pleased to wear sosoconspicuously is the property
ofThe ring, Monsieur, is sacred to me!
Sacred! Dirke repeated. Sacred! The word was an arraignment, not
to be overlooked.
Monsieur! the count cried.
I was merely struck by your peculiar treatment of sacred things,
Dirke replied, his tone dropping to the level of absolute indifference.
It isunconventional, to say the least.
He lifted his hand and examined the ring with an air of newly
aroused interest. He wondered, half-contemptuously, at the man's
Monsieur, he heard him say. You are a gentleman; I perceive it
beneath the disguise of your vocation,of your conduct. When I say to
you that the sight of that ring upon your finger compromises my
honor,that it is an insult to me,you comprehend; is it not
Quite so, Dirke replied, with carefully studied offensiveness.
Then, Monsieur, it will perhaps be possible at another time to
correct the inequality in point of arms to which you have called my
attention. The challenge was admirably delivered.
I should think nothing could be simpler, Dirke rejoined, and he
deliberately put his pistol in his pocket.
They parted without more words, de Lys stumbling once as he made his
way along the uneven sidewalk, Dirke keeping on across the barren
upland, sure-footed and serene.
It had come at last, his great opportunity; all the evil in his
nature was roused at last; jealousy, vindictiveness, unscrupulousness.
He gloated over his own iniquity; every feature of it rejoiced him. He
had no moral right to that ring,all the dearer his possession of it!
This man had never injured him;the more delicious his hatred of him.
The Frenchman with his exasperating air of success was to him the
insolent embodiment of that which had been wrongfully wrested from him,
Dabney Dirke, who had as good a right to success as another. Some
philanthropists, made such by prosperity and ease, spent their lives in
trying to even things off by raising the condition of their
fellow-creatures to their own. Well, he had the same object to be
attained, by different means. He would even things off by grading to
his own level. Was not that a perfectly logical aim, given the
circumstances which induced it?
He lifted his hand and moved it to and fro, that he might catch the
gleam of the stones in the faint starlight. In the mere joy of seeing
the ring there upon his finger he almost forgot for the moment what its
significance was. It scarcely reminded him just then of the girl with
the tearful eyes, usually so present with him. Her face seemed to be
receding from his memory; the whole story of his life seemed to grow
dim and ill-defined. His mind was curiously elate with a sense of
achievement, a certainty that he was near the goal, that fulfilment was
He was still pursuing his way up the hill, walking slowly, with bent
head, like a philosopher in revery, when he became aware that the day
was dawning. The stars were growing dim and vanishing one by one, in
the pale light which came like a veil across their radiance. A dull,
creeping regret invaded his mind. He had loved the stars, he could have
studied them with joy; under a happier fate he might have been high in
their counsels. As he watched their obliteration in the dawn of a day
deliberately dedicated to evil, a profound yearning for their pure
tranquil eternal light came upon him, and as Jupiter himself withdrew
into the impenetrable spaces, Dirke turned his eyes downward with a
long, shuddering sigh. His downcast gaze fell upon the poor earthly
brilliance of the diamonds.
[Illustration: ON THE EDGE OF A DEAD FOREST.]
It was not until he heard from the count, a few hours later, that
Dirke found himself restored to the state of mind which he was pleased
to consider natural. The call for action dissipated his misgivings,
carried him beyond the reach of doubts and regrets, gave him an
assurance that Fate had at last ranged itself on his side. For even if
duelling were not a peculiarly un-American institution, it is a mode of
warfare of such refinement and elaborateness, as to be utterly foreign
to the atmosphere of a mining-camp, and Dirke could only regard the
challenge which came to him in due form and order that morning, as a
special interposition of those darker powers which he had so long, and
hitherto so vainly invoked. He went about his preparations for the
meeting in an exaltation of spirit, such as he had never before
experienced. Paradoxical as it may seem, absurd as it really was, he
was sustained, uplifted, by the sense of immolating himself upon the
altar of an ideal cause. He was about to do an ideally evil thing, to
the accomplishment of an ideally evil end. Insane as this feeling was,
it was his inspiration, and he felt himself, for the first time in his
life, acting consistently, courageously, confidently.
The meeting took place on a remote, barren hillside, on the edge of
a dead forest whose gaunt stems stood upright, or leaned against each
other, a weird, unearthly company. As Dirke arrived with his second,a
saturnine Kentuckian, with a duelling record of his own,he glanced
about the desolate spot thinking it well chosen. Only one feature of
the scene struck him as incongruous. It was a prickly poppy standing
there, erect and stiff, its coarse, harsh stem and leaves repellent
enough, yet bearing on its crest a single flower, a wide white silken
wonder, curiously at variance with the spirit of the scene. Dirke
impatiently turned away from the contemplation of it, which had for an
instant fascinated him, and faced, instead, the count, who was
approaching from below, accompanied by his friend and countryman.
Shots were to be exchanged but once, and though the principals were
both good shots, the seconds anticipated nothing serious. The count,
for his part, was not desirous of killing his adversary, and he had no
reason to suppose that the latter thirsted for his blood. He considered
the incident which had led to this unpleasant situation as a mere freak
on the part of this morose individual whom he had unfortunately run
afoul of. He had, indeed, moments of wondering whether the man were
quite in his right mind.
Dirke wore the ring, and he gloried in wearing it, as he took his
place, elate, exultant, yet perfectly self-contained.
Are you ready? the Kentuckian asked, and the sense of being
ready thrilled him through every nerve.
At the given signal, Dirke raised his pistol in deliberate, deadly
aim. De Lys saw it, and a subtle change swept his face, while he
instantly readjusted his own aim. In Dirke's countenance there was no
change, no slightest trace of any emotion whatever. Yet both seconds
perceived, in the flash of time allowed, that the combat was to be a
mortal one, and that it was Dirke who had thus decreed it.
And then it was, in that crucial moment, that Dirke's groping soul
came out into the light,even as the wide white flower over yonder had
come out into the light, springing from its grim, unsightly stem. In
that flashing instant of time his true nature, which he had so long
sought to belie, took final command. All that was false, fantastic,
artificial, loosed its hold and fell away. For the first time in two
years Dabney Dirke was perfectly sane.
At the word to fire, he did the one thing possible to the man he
was; his pistol flashed straight upwards.
The two shots rang out simultaneously, setting the echoes roaring
among the hills. Dirke staggered, but recovered his foothold again and
stood an instant, swaying slightly, while he slowly, with an absent
look in his face and in his eyes, drew the ring from his finger. As de
Lys came up, he dropped the trinket at his feet. Then, slowly, heavily,
he sank back, and the men gently lowered him to the ground.
De Lys knelt beside him, white with consternation.
Monsieur! he cried; Monsieur! It was a misunderstanding! I
mistook you wholly! And you, you were magnanimous! Ah, mon Dieu!
And then a wonder came to pass, for Dabney Dirke's lips parted in a
smile. The smile was faint, yet indescribably sweet, and the voice was
faint, and far-away, in which he murmured brokenly; It wasa
The horror in the faces bending over him was lost in a look of awe.
There was an influence mystically soothing in the dying man's words.
The dry, soft air played about the group, rustling the short, sparse
grass. It seemed the only motion left in a hushed and reverent world.
Then, as the smile deepened upon his face, fixed there by the hand
of death, the lips parted for the last time, and Dirke whispered; I am
VIII. MR. FETHERBEE'S ADVENTURE.
Mr. Fetherbee was in his element,a fact which the casual observer
would have found it hard to believe; for he was a dapper little
gentleman, dainty in his attire and presumably fastidious as to his
surroundings, and these last were, in the present instance, hardly
calculated to suit a fastidious taste. In a word, Mr. Fetherbee was
doing Lame Gulch, doing it from the tourist's standpoint, delighting
in every distinctive feature of the rough-and-ready, sordid,
picturesque, rustling young mining-camp.
He was a popular little man, and he had been received with open
arms, so to speak, by the Springtown contingent, when he had put in an
appearance the day before at the Mountain Lion. He had arrived
in a state of high good humor, induced by the stage ride from the
railroad terminus, which he had accomplished, perched upon the topmost
seat of the big Concord, scraping acquaintance with a miscellaneous
lot of pilgrims, all bound to the same conglomerate Mecca. Indeed, so
charmed had he been with the manners and language of his
fellow-passengers, that it is to be feared that he did but scant
justice to the superb scenery spread out for the delectation of the
traveller. There were moments, to be sure, when a line of gleaming
snow-caps visible through the interstices of a tract of starveling
trees would arrest his attention; yet the more moving and dramatic
interest of some chance utterance in his immediate vicinity, was sure
to recall him to a delighted contemplation of a rakish sombrero or of a
doubtfully diamond scarf-pin. When, at last, the stage reached the
edge of the sort of basin in which the camp lies, and began the descent
of the last declivity, he could scarcely contain himself for sheer joy.
What, to him, were the glories of the encircling peaks, the unfolding
wonders of this heart of the Rockies, compared with the actual sight of
the mushroom growth of pine huts and canvas tents, straggling sparsely
up the hill, centring closely in the valley? Children and dogs tumbled
over each other on the barren slope which looked like one vast back
yard; donkeys grazed there, apparently fattening upon a rich diet of
tin cans and shavings. Over yonder was a charred heap which had once
been a building of some pretension, as was evident from the rude stone
foundation which the blackened timbers leaned against. So Lame Gulch
had its history, its traditions, its ruin. The charred timbers already
looked older than the everlasting hills that towered on every hand,
wrapped in the garment of eternal youth.
What a lot of houses there are here, Mr. Fetherbee remarked to his
next neighbor, a seamy old reprobate with an evil eye.
Hm! was the reply, the articulate profanity of which was lost in a
cloud of the thickest, vilest tobacco smoke. Ever seen a mining-camp
when the stuff's given out?
No; what does it look like?
Like a heap of bloomin' peanut-shells chucked in a corner.
At the Mountain Lion were Allery Jones, Harry de Luce, Dick
Dayton the mascot, and half a dozen other Springtown men, and they
pounced upon the new-comer with every flattering indication of delight.
Mr. Fetherbee had been but six months a resident of Springtown, but
it had hardly taken as many days for Springtown to make the discovery
that he was the king of story-tellers. He and his wife had taken up
their residence in that most delightful of health resorts, and, having
definitively closed up his affairs in the East, he had entered upon the
Western life with keen zest. In one particular only he was apparently
destined here as elsewhere to the disappointment which had dogged his
footsteps from childhood up. Fortune had treated him kindly in many
respects; she had given him health and prosperity, she had bestowed
upon him a host of friends, and the wife of his choice,a choice which
fifteen years of rather exceptional happiness had amply
justified,best of all, he was endowed with an unfailing relish for
these blessings: yet in the one burning desire of his heart he had been
persistently frustrated. He had never had an adventure.
Men he knew had found this crowning bliss ready to their hand. There
was his old chum, Jack Somers, who had been actually shipwrecked among
the Azores; there was Caleb Fitz who had once stopped a runaway horse
and saved the lives of two beauteous ladies, getting a corresponding
number of his own ribs broken into the bargain; lucky dog! There was
that miserable little cad, Sandy Seakum, who had been in Boston at the
big fire of '72, and had done something he was forever bragging about
in the way of saving a lot of bonds and other securities belonging to
his father-in-law. But for Mr. Fetherbee there had been no such honors.
He had never met so much as a savage dog; the very burglars had
declined to concern themselves with his house; and once when the top
story of a hotel he was sleeping in had caught fire, and prodigies of
valor were performed in the rescue of the inmates under the roof, he
had disgraced himself irretrievably in his own eyes by sleeping through
the night unconscious of any disturbance. It was perhaps this
unsatisfied craving for adventures of his own which gave such a vivid
coloring to his anecdotes of other men's exploits; possibly too, his
sense of humor, which had an entirely individual flavor, had been
quickened by a sly appreciation of his own oddities.
On the evening of his arrival at Lame Gulch, Mr. Fetherbee had
outdone himself. He had sat, the centre of an appreciative group, in
the corner of the big office, well away from the roaring wood fire, his
chair tilted back against the wall, his hat on the back of his head,
spouting entertainment in an uninterrupted stream. Not that Mr.
Fetherbee was in the habit of tilting his chair back, or, for the
matter of that, of wearing his hat on the back of his head. But here,
at Lame Gulch, he felt it incumbent upon him to enter as far as was
practicable into the spirit of the piece. As he sat, enveloped in smoke
and surrounded by the familiar forms of his Springtown cronies, he was
obliged to admit that the piece in question had not yet developed
much action. Yet the atmosphere was electric with possibilities, and
the stage was well peopled with characters, not one of which escaped
the watchful eye of Mr. Fetherbee. A character he would have defined
as a picturesque and lawless being, given to claim-jumping, murder, and
all ungodliness; these qualities finding expression in a countenance at
once fascinating and forbidding, a bearing at once stealthy and
imperious. If no single one of the slouching, dark-browed apparitions
that crossed his vision could be said to fulfil all these requirements,
the indications scattered among them were sufficiently suggestive to
have an exhilarating effect upon the genial little story-teller.
And now it was morning and the serious business of the day had
begun. He was off for the mines with Dick Dayton, Allery Jones, and
Frank Discombe,a young mining engineer who was far more proud of his
attainments as Jehu, than of his really brilliant professional
reputation. They rattled noisily along the main street of the camp in a
loose-jointed vehicle drawn by two ambitious steeds which Allery Jones
characterized as fiery skeletons. It was a glorious September
morning, and though there had been a heavy frost in the night, the
sensitive mountain air was already, two or three hours after sunrise,
warmed and mellowed through and through. The road soon began to rise,
taking a fine sweep about the shoulder of Bear Mountain, and then
making its way over obstacles of a pronounced nature, through a very
poor and peaked virgin forest. The wood-cutter had hacked his way
right and left, combining a quest for firewood with his efforts in the
service of the road-builder, scorning to remove stumps and roots,
delighting in sharp corners and meaningless digressions. The horses
struggled gallantly on, sometimes marching like a sculptor's creation,
elevated on a huge pedestal of rock above the wagon which grovelled
behind, its wheels sunk to their hubs in the ruts on either
side;sometimes plunging into unexpected depressions, which brought
their backs below the level of the dasher. The wheels made their
individual way as best they could, without the slightest reference to
one another. At one moment Mr. Fetherbee perched with Dayton on the
larboard end of the rear axle-tree; a moment later he found himself
obliterated beneath the burly form of the latter, whom the exigencies
of mountain travel had flung to the starboard side. Released from
Dayton's crushing weight, his small person jounced freely about, or
came butting against Discombe's back in the most spontaneous manner
possible. The threatened dislocation of his joints, the imminent
cracking of all his bones, the squeezing of his small person between
the upper and the nether millstones of Dayton's portly form and the
adamantine seat-cushions; each and every incident of the transit Mr.
Fetherbee took in perfectly good part. Yet it may be questioned whether
he would have arrived at the goal intact, had it not been for the
timely splitting of an under-pinning of the wagon, which caused a
sudden collapse in the bows of the storm-tossed bark, and obliged the
travellers to descend while yet half a mile distant from their
The drive had been a silent function, each man having been
preoccupied with the effort to preserve the integrity of his physical
structure. Once on their feet, a splashed and battered company, they
observed one another critically, bursting into shouts of unrestrained
mirth over the astonishing hieroglyphics of mud which had inscribed
themselves upon their respective countenances. Mr. Fetherbee himself
looked like an Indian brave in full war-paint.
The day thus pleasantly begun was one of divers experiences, any one
of which seemed to contain within itself all the essential elements of
an adventure. More than once Mr. Fetherbee felt, as he jocosely
expressed it, as if every minute would be the next! Thanks to
Discombe's commanding position as superintendent of several of the
mines, they were able to investigate the situation pretty thoroughly.
They climbed up and down ladders, regardless of the wear and tear upon
their breathing apparatus, they hailed the discovery of free gold in
a bit of ore with as much enthusiasm as if they had been able to
distinguish the microscopic speck which was agitating the minds of
foreman and superintendent. Into one mine they descended, two
passengers at a time, standing on the edge of a huge ore-bucket, which
was gently lowered down the shaft. It was a treat to see the gnomelike
figure of Mr. Fetherbee poking about among the rocky ribs of Mother
Earth, closely attended by the flickering lights and weird shadows cast
by the tallow-dip with which he had prudently provided himself early in
the day. Emerging into the light of heaven they all rested for a while,
sprawling there upon the sun-baked hillside, looking down into a quiet
wooded valley full of brooding sunshine and heavenly shadows, while
their ears were filled with the din of the ore-bucket, restored to its
legitimate function, rattling up the shaft and sending its contents
crashing down into the dump.
There was but one moment of the day when Mr. Fetherbee's spirit
quailed. His kind friends, anxious that he should miss no feature of
local coloring had thoughtfully conducted him to the very worst of
the miner's boarding-houses, where they all cheerfully partook of
strange and direful viands for his sake. Mr. Fetherbee, shrewdly
suspecting the true state of the case, had unflinchingly devoured
everything that was set before him, topping off his gastronomic
martyrdom with a section of apricot pie, of a peculiar consistency and
a really poignant flavor. Just as he had swallowed the last mouthful,
the proprietor of The Jolly Delvers came up, and Mr. Fetherbee, in
the first flush of victory, remarked: Well, sir! That is a pie,
and no mistake! Upon which the host, charmed with this spontaneous
tribute, hastened to set before his guest another slice. And then it
was that Mr. Fetherbee, but now so unflinching, so imperturbable, laid
down his weapons and struck his colors. He eyed the pie, he eyed his
delighted fellow-sufferers, and then, in a voice grown suddenly
plaintive, he said: Don't tempt me, sir! It would be against my
But even the memory of his discomfiture could not long check the
flow of Mr. Fetherbee's spirits, and ten minutes later the valiant
little trencher-man was climbing with cheerful alacrity into the wagon,
which had been, in the interim, subjected to a judicious application of
ropes and wires.
Think she's quite seaworthy? he asked, as the structure groaned
and gave under his light weight.
Guess she'll weather it, Discombe growled between his teeth which
were closed upon the stem of his pipe. If she doesn't, there'll be a
Waves likely to be as high as they were this morning?
No; it's a kind of a double back-action slant we've got to tackle
this time, and off they rattled, even more musically than before, by
reason of the late repairs.
Over the brow of the mountain they went, and down on the other side.
For some fifteen minutes they rumbled along so smoothly that the
insatiate Mr. Fetherbee experienced a gnawing sense of disappointment
and feared that the fun was really over. But presently, without much
warning, the road made a sharp curve and began pitching downward in the
most headlong manner, taking on at the same time a sharp lateral slant.
The brake creaked, and screamed, the wheels scraped and wabbled in
their loose-jointed fashion, the horses, almost on their haunches, gave
up their usual mode of locomotion, and coasted unceremoniously along,
their four feet gathered together in a rigid protest.
Do you often come this way? asked Mr. Fetherbee, in a disengaged
Well, no; Discombe replied, composedly. This is my first trip.
They sometimes haul the ore down here on a sort of drag, but I guess
these are the first wheels that everI say, fellows, you'd better
get out and hang on. She's slipping!
[Illustration: IT'S A KIND OF DOUBLE BACK-ACTION SLANT WE'VE GOT TO
TACKLE THIS TIME.]
In an instant all but Discombe had sprung out, and seizing the side
of the wagon, or the spokes of the stiff front, wheel, in fact anything
they could lay hands on, hung on to the endangered craft like grim
fate, while Discombe, standing on the step, held the horses up by main
force. There were moments when the longed-for adventure seemed
imminent, and Mr. Fetherbee's spirits rose. He had quite made up his
mind that if the wagon went over he should go with it, go with it into
kingdom come rather than let go! He wondered whether he should be
able to do the situation justice when he got home. It was a pity that
Louisa could not see them with her own eyes! Though, on second
thoughts, he was afraid he did not present a very dignified appearance,
and if Louisa had a weakness, it consisted in the fact that she made a
fetich of dignity, especially where her vivacious husband was
Meanwhile the ground was receding more and more rapidly under his
sliding, stumbling feet, and his eyes were full of sand. Dayton and
Allery Jones were frankly puffing and groaning, but Mr. Fetherbee
scorned to make any such concession to circumstances. He was wondering
whether his gait would be permanently out of kilter after this
complicated and violent scramble, when he became aware that the lateral
slant was gradually lessening. A moment later he and his two companions
had loosed their hold and stood stretching and rubbing themselves,
while the wagon, under Discombe's pilotage, continued on its way,
scooping the horses down the hill at an increasing rate of speed. Just
above where they were standing, was a shed-like structure which looked
much the worse for wind and weather.
That's the old shaft of the 'Coreopsis,' Dayton remarked.
So it is, said Jones. Harry de Luce went down on the rope the
How do you do it? asked Mr. Fetherbee, much interested.
Hand over hand, I suppose; or else you just let her slide. De Luce
went down like a monkey.
He must have come up like a monkey! I don't see how he did it!
He didn't come up; he went out by the tunnel. It would take more
than a monkey to go up three hundred feet on a slack rope, or thirty
feet either, for the matter of that.
As Mr. Fetherbee stood mopping his brow, thereby spreading a cake of
mud which he had unsuspectingly worn since morning, in a genial pattern
over his right temple, a consuming ambition seized him.
Now that's something I should like to do, he declared. Anything
Why, no; not if you're up to that kind of thing. They're doing it
Why don't you go down that way now? Dayton asked. We shall be
driving right by the tunnel in an hour or two, and can pick you up.
By this time they had effected an entrance into the shed, the door
of which was securely locked, while the boards of one entire side of
the tumble-down structure swung in at a touch. The three men stood
looking down the pitch black hole into which the rope disappeared.
Looks kind of pokey, doesn't it? said Allery Jones. Think you'd
better try it, Fetherbee?
For answer, Mr. Fetherbee seized the lightly swinging rope with both
hands, twisted one leg about it and slid gaily from sight.
Bon voyage! called Dayton, down the inky shaft.
Yage! came a hollow voice from the reverberating depths.
They felt of the rope which was taut and firm.
He's all right, said Dayton. There's not enough of him to get
hurt, and he squeezed his portly person out between the flapping
All the same, I shall be glad to see him again, Jones declared,
with an anxious frown upon his usually nonchalant countenance;
and the two men started briskly down the hill in pursuit of the team.
Meanwhile, Mr. Fetherbee was making his way slowly and cautiously
down the rope. It was a good stout one and he had no real misgivings.
Yet the situation was unusual enough to have a piquant flavor. In the
first place the darkness was more than inky in character, the kind of
blackness in comparison with which the blackest night seems luminous.
Then there was the peculiar quality of the air, so different from
anything above ground, that the words chill, and dampness, had no
special relation to it. In the strange, tomb-like silence, his own
breath, his own movements, waked a ghostly, whispering echo which was
extremely weird and suggestive. Mr. Fetherbee was enchanted. He felt
that he was getting down into the mysterious heart of things; that he
was having something which came within an ace of being an adventure.
Then, as he felt his way down, farther and farther below the vain
surface of things, that intervening ace vanished, and he came up
against his adventure with a suddenness that sent a knife-like thrill
to his heart. His foot had lost its hold of the rope; he was hanging by
his hands only.
Startled into what he condemned as an unreasoning agitation, he
began describing a circle with his leg, searching for the lost rope. It
must be there, of course; why, of course it must! He had certainly not
gone more than fifty or sixty feet, and they had said something about
three hundred feet? Where could the rope be? It must have got caught
somehow on his coat! Or perhaps his right leg was getting numb and he
could not feel anything with it. But no! His leg was all right. He felt
out with his left leg. It did not even touch the wall of the shaft.
There seemed to be nothing there, nothing at all! Nothing there?
Nothing in all the universe, but this bit of rope he was clutching, and
himself, a miserable little lump of quivering, straining nerves.
Mr. Fetherbee told himself that this would never do. He loosed the
grip of his left hand, and it felt its way slowly down the rope
gathering it up inch by inch. He knew by the lightness of the rope that
the end was there, yet when he touched it a shiver went through him. A
second later the left hand was clutching the rope beside the right, and
he had taken a long breath of,was it relief? Relief from uncertainty,
at least. He knew with a positive knowledge that there was but one
outcome for the situation. It would be an hour at the very least before
his friends reached the tunnel, for Discombe had business to attend to
on the way. Even then they might not conclude immediately that anything
was amiss. The break in the rope must be recent. It was possible that
no one in the mine had discovered it. The old shaft was never used
now-a-days, except for just such chance excursions as his. One thing
was sure,he could never hold out an hour. Already his wrists were
weakening; he was getting chilled too, now that motion had ceased. He
gave himself twenty minutes at the most, and then?Hm! He wondered
what it would be like! He had heard that people falling from a great
height had the breath knocked out of them before theyarrived! He was
afraid three hundred feet was not high enough for that! What a pity the
shaft was not a thousand feet deep! What a pity it had any bottom at
I should have liked a chance to tell Louisa, he said aloud, with a
short, nervous laugh, and then,he was himself again.
To say that Mr. Fetherbee was himself again is to say that he was a
self-possessed and plucky little gentleman,the same gallant little
gentleman, dangling here at the end of a rope, with the steady,
irresistible force of gravitation pulling him to his doom, as he had
ever been in his gay, debonair progress through a safe and friendly
world. He forced his thoughts away from the horror to come. His
imagination could be kept out of that yawning horror, though his body
must be inevitably drawn down into it as by a thousand clutching hands.
He forced his thoughts back to the pleasant, prosperous life he had
led; to the agreeable people he had known; and most tenderly, most
warmly, he thought of Louisa,Louisa, so kind, so sympathetic, so
Louisa, he had said to her one day, I not only love you, but I
like you. Well, so it had been with his life, that pleasant life of
his. He not only loved it but he liked it! As he looked back over its
course, in a spirit of calm contemplation, the achievement of which he
did not consider in the least heroic, he came to the deliberate
conclusion that he had had his share. After a little more consideration
his mind, with but a quickly suppressed recoil, adopted the conviction
that it was perhaps better to go suddenly like this, than to have been
subjected to a long, lingering illness.
His wrists were becoming more and more weak and shaky, and there was
a sense of emptiness within him, natural perhaps, considering the
quality of his noon-day meal. His thoughts began to hover, with a
curious bitterness over the memory of that apricot pie. It was the one
thing that interfered with the even tenor of his philosophical
reflections. The most singular resentment toward it had taken
possession of his mind.
Look here, he said to himself; I'll get my mind clear of that
confounded pie, and then I'll drop and have done with it. He knew very
well that he could not keep his hold two minutes longer, and he was
determined to die game.
For a few seconds Mr. Fetherbee very nearly lost his mental grip. It
seemed to be loosening, loosening, just as his fingers were doing.
Then, as in a sort of trance, there rose before him a visible picture
of the pleasant, kindly face he had so warmly loved, so heartily liked.
Still in a trance-like condition, he became aware that that was the
impression he would like to carry with him into eternity. He let it
sink quietly into his soul, a soothing, fortifying draught; then,
unconscious of philosophy, of heroism, of whatever we may choose to
call the calm acceptance of the inevitable, he loosed his hold.
He fell of course only three inches. Anybody might have foreseen it,
anybody, that is, who had not been suspended at the end of a rope in a
pitch black hole. There is, however, something more convincing in
experience than in anything else, and, as we have seen, Mr. Fetherbee
had not once thought of the possibility of a friendly platform close
beneath his feet. The discovery of it was none the less exhilarating.
He did not in the least understand it, but he was entirely ready to
believe in it.
He promptly pulled out his match-box and the bit of candle he was
provided with. The dim, uncertain light cheered and warmed his very
He found himself standing on a broad stout plank, built securely
across the shaft. From the under side of this plank hung a rope like
the one gently swaying before his eyes. He was saved; and as he
breathed something very like a prayer of thanksgiving, it suddenly
struck him that he had escaped not only an untimely, but an undignified
end. I'm glad I haven't done anything to mortify Louisa, he said to
himself, and he felt that he had not until that moment appreciated his
He looked at his watch. It was nearly half-an-hour since he had
entered the mine. He stamped his feet on the plank and rubbed his hands
together to get up the circulation, and then he pulled out a cigar and
lighted it. The first whiff permeated his being with a sense as of food
and drink, sunshine and sweet air.
The rest of the descent was accomplished by means of a succession of
ropes suspended from a succession of platforms.
An hour later, when the wagon drove up to the mouth of the tunnel,
Mr. Fetherbee was found standing serenely there, with a half finished
cigar between his lips, gazing abstractedly at the landscape.
Hullo, Fetherbee! Dayton sung out, as they approached. How was
First rate! came the answer, in a voice of suppressed elation,
which Allery Jones noted and was at something of a loss to interpret.
Was it all your fancy pictured? he asked, in rather a sceptical
All and more! Mr. Fetherbee declared.
He mounted into the wagon, and the horses started on the
home-stretch, not more joyful in the near prospect of their well-earned
orgie of oats and hay than Mr. Fetherbee in the feast of narration
which was spread for him. Finding it impossible to contain himself
another moment, he cried, with an exultant ring in his voice: But I
say, you fellows! I've had an adventure!
Then, as they bowled along through a winding valley in which the
early September twilight was fast deepening, Mr. Fetherbee gave his
initial version of what has since become a classic, known among the
ever-increasing circle of Mr. Fetherbee's friends asAn adventure I
IX. AN AMATEUR GAMBLE.
The mining boom was on, and Springtown, that famous Colorado
health-resort and paradise of idlers, was wide awake to the situation.
The few rods of sidewalk which might fairly be called the street, was
thronged all day with eager speculators. Everybody was in it, from
the pillars of society down to the slenderest reed of an errand boy who
could scrape together ten dollars for a ten-cent stock. As a natural
consequence real estate was, for the moment, as flat as a poor joke,
and people who had put their money into town additions were beginning
to think seriously of planting potatoes where they had once dreamed of
rearing marketable dwelling-houses.
Hillerton, the oldest real-estate man in town, was one of the few
among the fraternity who had not branched out into stock brokerage. For
that reason an air of leisure pervaded his office, and men liked to
gather there and discuss the prospects of Lame Gulch. Lame Gulch, as
everybody knows, is the new Colorado mining-camp, which is destined
eventually to make gold a drug in the market. The camp is just on the
other side of the Peak, easily accessible to any Springtown man who is
not afraid of roughing it. And to do them justice, there proved to be
scarcely an invalid or a college-graduate among them all who did not
make his way up there, and take his first taste of hardship like a man.
Hillerton used to sit behind the balustrade which divided his
sanctum from the main office, and listen with an astute expression, and
just the glimmer of a smile, to the talk of the incipient millionaires,
who bragged with such ease and fluency of this or that Bonanza. When
all declared with one accord that if Lame Gulch panned out as it was
dead sure to do, Springtown would be the biggest little town in
all creation, Hillerton's smile became slightly accentuated, but a
wintry chill of incredulity had a neutralizing effect upon it. As the
excitement increased, and his fellow-townsmen manifested a willingness
to mortgage every inch of wood and plaster in their possession,
Hillerton merely became, if possible, more stringent in the matter of
We might as well take a mortgage on the town, and done with it, he
remarked to his confidential clerk one Saturday evening. We shall own
it all in six months, anyhow!
Peckham, the confidential clerk, shrugged his shoulders, and said he
guessed it was about so.
Hillerton's confidential clerk usually assented to the dictum of his
principal. It saved trouble and hurt nobody. Not that Lewis Peckham was
without opinions of his own; but he took no special interest in them,
and rarely put himself to the trouble of defending them.
The young man's countenance had never been an expressive one, and
during the three years he had spent in Hillerton's employ, his face had
lost what little mobility it had ever possessed. He was a pale,
hollow-chested individual, with a bulging forehead, curiously marked
eyebrows, and a prominent and sensitive nose. A gentleman, too, as
anybody could see, but a gentleman of a singularly unsocial
disposition. He looked ten years older than he wasan advantage which
Hillerton recognized. His grave, unencouraging manner had a restraining
effect upon too exacting tenants; while his actual youthfulness gave
Hillerton the advantage over him of thirty years' seniority. Altogether
Hillerton placed a high value upon his confidential clerk, and it was
with a very genuine good-will that he followed up the last recorded
observation, by saying, carelessly:
I hope you've kept out of the thing yourself, Peckham.
Oh, yes! Peckham answered, in a tone of indifference, copied after
Peckham spoke the truth, as it happened, but he would probably have
made the same answer whether it had been true or not. He was of the
opinion that he was not accountable to Hillerton nor to any one else in
the disposition he might make of his legitimate earnings. In fact, it
was largely owing to Hillerton's inquiry and the hint of resentment it
excited, that Peckham put a hundred dollars into the Yankee Doodle
Mining and Milling Co. that very day. To be sure, he acted on a
straight tip, but straight tips were as thick as huckleberries in
Springtown, and this was the first time he had availed himself of one.
It would be difficult to imagine why Peckham should not have
thoroughly liked Hillerton; difficult, that is, to any one not aware of
the unusual criterion by which he measured his fellow men. He was
himself conscious that he had ceased to take any stock in his
employer, since the day on which he had discovered that that excellent
man of business did not know the Ninth Symphony from Hail Columbia.
Against Fate, on the other hand, Peckham had several grudges. He was
inconveniently poor, he was ill, and he was in exile. With so many hard
feelings to cherish against his two immediate superiorsnamely,
Hillerton and Fateit is no wonder that Peckham had the reputation of
being of a morose disposition.
He was perhaps the most solitary man in Springtown. Not only did he
live in lodgings, and pick up his meals at cheap restaurants; he had
wilfully denied himself the compensations which club life offers.
Living, too, in a singularly hospitable community, he never put himself
in the way of receiving invitations, and he consequently was allowed to
do without them. He did not keep a horse; he thought a lodging-house no
place for dogs, and he entertained serious thoughts of shooting his
landlady's cat. He had always refrained from burdening himself with
correspondents, and would have thought it a nuisance to write to his
own brother, if so be he had had such a relative to bless himself with.
Lewis Peckham did not complain of his lot in detail, and he never
made the least effort to better it. There was only one thing he really
wanted, and that thing he could not have. He wanted to be something
big in the way of a musician. Not merely to be master of this or that
instrument; certainly not to teach reluctant young people their scales
and arpeggios. What he had intended to become was a great composera
composer of symphonies and operasthe First Great American Composer,
spelled, be it observed, with capital letters. He was not destined to
the disillusionment of direct failure, which in all human probability
would have been his. Fate spared him that by visiting him in the
beginning of his career with an attack of pneumonia which sent him
fleeing for his life to the sunshine and high air of the Rocky Mountain
region. Peckham was always rather ashamed of having fled for his life,
which, as he repeatedly assured himself, was by no means worth the
purchase. Yet with him as with most men, even when thwarted in what
they believe to be a great ambition, the instinct of life is as
imperative as that of hunger. And Lewis Peckham found himself wooing
health at the cost of music, and earning his living as prosaically as
any mere bread-winner of them all.
The straight tip on the Yankee Doodle proved to be an exception
among its kind. The Y. D. which he had bought at ten cents, ran up in a
week to twenty-five cents. Peckham sold out just before it dropped
back, and then he put his profits into the Libby Carew.
It happened that about that time he read in the local paper that the
great Leitmann Orchestra would close its season with a concert in
Chicago on May 16th. This concert Peckham was determined to hear, cost
what it would. Hence the prudence which led him to reserve his original
hundred dollars; a prudence which would otherwise have deprived the
speculation of half its savor. The Libby Carew was as yet a mere hole
in the ground, but if he did not have the excitement of making money,
it might prove equally stirring to lose it. Besides that, Hillerton's
tone was getting more and more lofty on the subject of stock gambling,
and the idea of acting contrary to such unquestioned sagacity had more
relish than most ideas possessed.
Meanwhile the excitement grew. Lame Gulch was panning out with
startling results. One after another the Springtown men went up to
investigate matters for themselves, and the most sceptical came back a
convert. The railroad folks began to talk of building a branch in.
Eastern capitalists pricked up their ears and sent out experts.
One morning the last of February, half-a-dozen men, among them a
couple who had just come down from the camp, stood about Hillerton's
office or sat on the railing of the sanctum, giving rough but graphic
accounts of the sights to be seen at Lame Gulch. The company was not a
typical Western crowd. The men were nearly all well dressed and
exhibited evidences of good breeding. The refinement of the
tenderfoot was still discernible, and excepting for the riding boots
which they wore and the silk hats and derbys which they did not wear,
and for an air of cheerful alertness which prevailed among them, one
might have taken them for a group of Eastern club men. The reason of
this was not far to seek. Most of them were, in fact, Eastern club men,
who had sought Springtown as a health-resort, and had discovered, to
their surprise, that it was about the pleasantest place they had yet
Peckham sat somewhat apart from the others on his high revolving
stool, sometimes listening, without a sign of interest in his face,
sometimes twirling his stool around and sitting with his back to the
company, apparently immersed in figures.
Allery Jones, the Springtown wag, had once remarked that Peckham's
back was more expressive than his face. On this occasion he nudged
Dicky Simmons, with a view to reminding him of the fact; but Dicky, a
handsome youth with a sanguine light in his blue eyes, was intent on
what Harry de Luce was saying.
Tell you what! cried de Luce, who had only recently discovered
that there were other interests in life besides the three P's, polo,
poker, and pigeon-shooting. Tell you what, those fellows up there are
a rustling lot. Take the Cosmopolitan Hotel now! They're getting things
down to a fine point in that tavern. There was a man put up there night
before last, one of those rich-as-thunder New York capitalists. You
could see it by the hang of his coat-tails. He came sniffing round on
his own hook, as those cautious cusses do. Well, Rumsey gave him one of
his crack roomspanes of glass in the window, imitation mahogany
chamber-set, pitcher of water on the washstand, all complete. Do you
suppose that was good enough for old Money-Bags? Not by a jug-full. He
owned the earth, he'd have you to know, and he wasn't going to put up
with anything short of the Murray Hill! Nothing suited. There wasn't
any paper on the walls, there wasn't any carpet on the floor, there
wasn't any window-shade, and I'll be blowed if the old chap didn't
object to finding the water frozen solid in the pitcher. He came down
to the bar roaring-mad, and said he wouldn't stand it; he'd rather camp
out and done with it; if they couldn't give him a better room than
that, he'd be out of this quicker 'n he came in! Well, fellers! You
never saw anything half so sweet as that old halibut Rumsey. If the
gentleman would just step in to supper and have a little patience, he
thought he'd find everything to his satisfaction. And by the living
Jingo, boys! when old Money-Bags went up to his room in the middle of
the evening, I'm blessed if there wasn't a paper on the wall, an
ingrain carpet on the floor, and a red-hot stove over in the corner!
Same room, too! Like to have seen the old boy when the grand
transformation scene burst upon his astonished optics! Guess he thought
Lame Gulch could give New York City points!
Did the old cove seem likely to put any money in? asked a man with
high cheekbones, who had the worried look of a person who has given a
mortgage on his peace of mind.
Yes, he bought up some claims dirt cheap, and they say he's going
to form a company.
That's the talk! cried the sanguine Dicky.
Speaking of picking up claims dirt cheap, began a new orator, an
ex-ranchman, who was soon to make the discovery that there was as much
money to be lost in mines as in cattle, if a fellow only had the knack;
I saw a tidy little deal when I was up at the camp last week. We were
sitting round in the barroom of the Cosmopolitan, trying to keep warm.
I guess it was the only place in Lame Gulch that night where the
thermometer was above zero. There was a lot of drinking going on, and
the men that were playing were playing high. I wasn't in it myself. I
was pleasantly occupied with feeling warm after having fooled round the
Libby Carew all day. I got interested in a man standing outside, who
kept looking in at the window and going off again. The light struck the
face in a queer sort of way, and I guess there was something wrong
about the window-pane. They don't do much business in the way of
plate-glass at Lame Gulch. Anyhow, I couldn't seem to get a fair sight
of anything but the man's eyes, and they looked like the eyes of a
Ever meet a hungry wolf, Phil?
Scores of 'em. You're one yourself, Jim, when you look at the
stock-boards. Well! The fellow came and went like an angel visitant,
and after awhile I got tired of watching for him, and found myself
admiring the vocabulary of the boys as they got excited. Gad! It's a
liberal education to listen to that sort of a crowd. The worst you can
do yourself sounds like a Sunday-school address by comparison. Suddenly
the door opened and in walked the man with the eyes. He hadn't any
overcoat on and his feet and legs were tied up in gunny sacks. His
teeth were chattering and his face looked like a blue print! He
shuffled up to Rumsey, who was sipping a cocktail behind the bar, and
'Evenin', pard; I want a drink.'
'All right, stranger. Just show us the color of your money.'
'Ain't got any money,' says he, 'but I've got a claim over 'long
side of the Yankee Doodle, and I'm ready to swap a half interest in it
for all the liquor I can drink between now and morning.' There was a
kind of a desperate look about the man that meant business. Rumsey
stepped out among the boys and got a pointer or two on that claim, and
they made the deal.
There was a pause in the narrative, to allow the listeners to take
in the situation, and then the speaker went on: It was a sight to see
that chap pour the stuff down his throat. He was drinking, off and on,
pretty much all night. Didn't come to till late the next afternoon.
Rumsey was so pleased with the deal next morning, that he let the
fellow lie behind the stove all day and sleep it off. Not sure but that
he gave him a drink of water when he woke up, and water's high at Lame
Kind of a shame, I call it, to let him do it. Wasn't there anybody
to stand treat? It was Dicky, the lad of the sanguine countenance that
Wonder what the claim was worth? said the man with a mortgage on
Wonder how he felt next morning? queried another.
Felt like an infernal donkey! Hillerton declared, flinging away a
cigar-stump and taking his legs down from the desk.
Then Peckham turned himself round to face the crowd, and said, in a
tone of quiet conviction:
The man was all right. If you only want anything bad enough, no
price is too high to pay for it.
This was a sentiment which every one was bound to respectevery
one, at least, excepting Hillerton.
Sounds very well, Peckham, he said, but it won't hold water.
The most surprising thing about Peckham's little speculations was
that they all succeeded. It made the other men rather mad because he
did not care more.
But that's always the way, Freddy Dillingham remarked, with an air
of profound philosophy. It's the fellers that don't care a darn that
have all the luck.
When Peckham sold out of the Libby Carew, he doubled his money, and
the moment he touched the Trailing Arbutus, up she went. By the first
of May he found himself the possessor of nearly three thousand dollars'
worth of stuff distributed among several ventures. Of course, he was
credited with five times as much, and the other men began to think that
if he did not set up a dogcart pretty soon, or at least a yellow
buckboard, they should have their opinion of him. If the truth must be
known, Peckham would not have given a nickle for a dozen dog-carts. It
was all very well to make a little money; it was the first time he had
discovered a taste for anything in the nature of a game, and the higher
the stakes came to be, the more worth while it seemed. Nevertheless,
his mind, in those days of early May, when he was steadily rising in
the esteem of his associates, was very little occupied with the
calculation of his profits.
He had long since arranged with Hillerton to take part of his
vacation the middle of May, and the anticipation of that concert was
more inspiring to him than all the gold mines in Colorado. As the time
drew near, a consuming thirst took possession of him, and not a gambler
of them all was the prey to a more feverish impatience than he. He
tormented himself with thoughts of every possible disaster which might
come to thwart him at the last minute. Visions of a railroad accident
which should result in the wholesale destruction of the entire
orchestra, haunted his mind. Another great fire might wipe Chicago out
of existence. The one thing which his imagination failed to conceive,
was the possibility that he, Lewis Peckham, might be deterred from
hearing the concert when once it should take place. In the interim he
made repeated calculations of the number of hours that must be lived
through before May 16th. Hillerton came across a half sheet of paper
covered with such calculations, and was somewhat puzzled by the
prominence of the figure 24. An odd price to pay for a mining stock. He
was afraid it was the Adeline Maria, a notorious swindle. Well,
Peckham might as well get his lesson at the hands of the faithless
Adeline Maria as by any other means. He was bound to come to grief
sooner or later, but that was no business of Hillerton's.
On May 7th, Hillerton came down with pleurisy and Peckham suddenly
found himself at the head of affairs. Hillerton had no partner; no one
but Peckham could take his place. And in Peckham's moral constitution
was a substratum of unshakable fidelity upon which the astute Hillerton
had built. Cursing his own unimpeachable sense of duty, Peckham could
see but one straw of hope to clutch at. It might be a light case.
He went directly to the doctor's office, and with a feverish anxiety
apparent in his voice and bearing, he asked how long Hillerton was
likely to be laid up.
Curious, thought the doctor during that carefully calculated pause
which your experienced practitioner so well knows the value of.
Curious how fond folks get of James Hillerton. The fellow looks as
though his own brother were at death's door.
I think there is nothing serious to apprehend, he answered
soothingly. Hillerton has a good constitution. I've no doubt he will
be about again by the end of the month.
Peckham went white to the lips.
I suppose that's the best you can promise, he said.
Yes, but I can promise that safely.
The confidential clerk went back to the office filled with a
profound loathing of life.
If liquor wasn't so nasty, I'd take to drink, he said to himself
as he sat down at Hillerton's desk and set to work.
The next day was Sunday, and Peckham was at something of a loss what
to do with it. He hated the sight of his room. The odor of the straw
matting and the pattern of the wallpaper were inextricably associated
with those anticipations which he had been rudely cheated out of. To
escape such associations he took an electric car to the Bluffs, those
rock-bound islands in the prairie sea which lie a couple of miles to
the east of the town. There was only one other passenger besides
himself, a man with a gun, who softly whistled a popular air, very much
out of tune. Peckham came perilously near kicking the offender, but,
happily, the fellow got off just in time, and went strolling across the
open with the gun over his shoulder. Once he stooped to pick a flower
which he stuck in his buttonhole. Queer, thought Peckham, that a man
should go picking flowers and whistling out of tune! There were the
mountains, too. Some people made a great deal of themgreat, stupid
masses of dumb earth! He remembered he had thought them fine himself
the other day when there were shadows on them. But to-day! How the sun
glared on their ugly reddish sides! And what was it that had gone wrong
anyhow? He could not seem to remember, and on the whole he did not wish
Now Lewis Peckham was neither losing his mind, nor had he been
drowning his sorrows in the conventional dram. The simple fact of the
matter was that he had not slept fifteen minutes consecutively all
night long, and his brain was not likely to clear up until he had given
it a chance to recuperate. By the time he had left the car and climbed
the castellated side of Pine Bluff he was still miserably unhappy, but
he had altogether lost track of the cause of his unhappiness. He
strayed aimlessly along the grassy top of the Bluff, away from the
road, and down a slight incline, into a sheltered hollow. At the foot
of a strange, salmon-colored column of rock was a little group of
budding scrub-oaks. Peckham crawled in among them, and in about thirty
seconds he was fast asleep. There he lay for hours. A blue jay,
chattering in a pine-tree near at hand, made no impression upon his
sleep-deadened ear; a pair of ground squirrels scuttled in and out
among the scrub-oaks, peering shyly at the motionless intruder, and
squeaked faintly to one another, with vivacious action of nose and
tail. They were, perhaps, discussing the availability of a certain
inviting coat-pocket for purposes of domestic architecture. An
occasional rumble of wheels on the road, a dozen rods away, startled
the birds and squirrels, but Peckham slept tranquilly on, and dreamed
that the Leitmann Orchestra was playing in the Springtown Opera House,
and that he, by reason of his being an early Christian martyr, was
forced to roast at the stake just out of hearing of the music.
[Illustration: PINE BLUFF.]
It was well on in the afternoon when he came to himself, to find his
boots scorched almost to a crisp in the sun which had been pouring upon
them. He pulled himself out from among the scrub-oaks, and got his feet
out of the sun. Then he looked at his watch; and after that he looked
at the view.
The view was well worth looking at in the mellow afternoon light.
Peckham gazed across the shimmering gold of the plain, to the
mountains, which stood hushed into a palpitating blue; the Peak alone,
white and ethereal, floating above the foot hills in the sun. Peckham
was impressed in spite of himself. It made him think of a weird,
mystical strain of music that had sometimes haunted his brain and yet
which he had never been able to seize and capture. As he gazed on the
soaring, mystical Peak, he remembered his dream, and slowly, but very
surely, he perceived that a purpose was forming in his mind, almost
without the connivance of his will. He got upon his feet and laughed
aloud. A sudden youthful intoxication of delight welled up within him
and rang forth in that laugh. Life, for the first time in three years,
seemed to him like a glorious thing; an irresistible, a soul-stirring
purpose had taken possession of him, and he knew that no obstacle could
stand against it.
He started for the town almost on a run, scorning the prosaic cars
which harbored passengers who whistled out of tune. He struck directly
across the intercepting plain, and though he soon had to slacken his
pace, his winged thoughts went on before him, and he took no note of
That evening Peckham sent off a telegram of one hundred and eleven
words to Heinrich Leitmann, of the Leitmann Orchestra, and Monday
afternoon the following answer came:
Full Leitmann Orchestra can engage for Springtown, evening of
19th. Terms, five thousand dollars, expenses included. Answer
before 13th. Buffalo, N. Y.
(Signed) H. LEITMANN.
And now Lewis Peckham came out a full-fledged speculator. He sold
out of four mines and bought into six; he changed his ventures three
times in twenty-four hours, each time on a slight rise. He haunted the
stockbroker's offices, watching out for pointers; he button-holed
every third man on the street; he drank in every hint that was dropped
in his hearing. On Tuesday afternoon he cleaned up his capital and
found himself in possession of three thousand five hundred dollars.
Peckham's going it hard, men said at the club. He must be awfully
All day Wednesday he could not muster courage to put his money into
anything, though stocks were booming on every hand. And yet on
Wednesday, as on Monday and on Tuesday, he did his office work and
superintended that of his subordinates methodically and exactly. The
substratum of character which the long-headed Hillerton had built upon,
On Wednesday evening Peckham stood, wild-eyed and haggard, in the
light of Estabrook's drug-store and scanned the faces of the
foot-passengers. Early in the evening Elliot Chittenden came along with
a grip-sack in his hand, just down from Lame Gulch. Peckham fell upon
him like a footpad, whispering hoarsely:
For God's sake give me a pointer.
Jove! said Chittenden, afterward, I thought it was a hold-up,
sure as trumps.
At the moment, however, he maintained his composure and only said:
The smelter returns from the Boa Constrictor are down to-day. Two
hundred and seventeen dollars to the ton. I've got all the stuff I can
carry, so I don't mind letting you in. The papers will have it
to-morrow, though they're doing their best to keep it back.
Into the Boa Constrictor Peckham plunged the next morning, for all
he was worth. His money brought him ten thousand shares. The morning
papers did not have it, and all that day the Boa Constrictor lay as
torpid as any other snake in cold weather. Peckham's face had taken on
the tense, wild look of the gambler. He left the office half a dozen
times during the day to look at the stock-boards. He had a hundred
minds about taking his money out and putting it into something else.
But nothing else promised anything definite, and he held on.
The evening papers gave the smelter returns, precisely as Chittenden
had stated them. Now would the public catch on quick enough, or would
they take ten days to do what they might as well come to on the spot?
At nine o'clock the next morning, Peckham was on the street lying in
wait for an early broker. It was not until half-past nine that they
began to arrive.
Any bids for Boa Constrictor? Peckham inquired of Macdugal, the
They were bidding forty cents at the club last night, with no
Let me know if you get fifty cents bid.
How much do you offer?
Ten thousand shares.
Oh! see here, Peckham! I wouldn't sell out at such a price. The
thing's sure to go to a dollar inside of thirty days.
I don't care a hang where it goes in thirty days. I want the
Whew! Do you know anything better to put it into?
I know something a million times better! cried Peckham, in
a voice sharp with excitement.
The fellow's clean daft, Macdugal remarked to his partner, a few
I should say so! was the reply. Queer, too, how suddenly it takes
'em. A week ago I should have said that was the coolest head of the
lot. He didn't seem to care a chuck for the whole business. Wonder if
he's gone off his base since Hillerton was laid up. Hope he isn't in
for a swindle. He'd be just game for a sharper to-day.
At noon Peckham sold his ten thousand shares of B. C. for five
thousand dollars. He could have got six thousand the next morning, but
then, as he reflected, what good would it have done him? His first act
after depositing the check received for his stock, was to send the
Leitmann Orchestra engaged for Springtown, May 19th. Five
dollars deposited in First National Bank. Particulars by
(Signed) LEWIS PECKHAM.
It is not a usual thing for an impecunious young man to invest five
thousand dollars in a single symphony concert, but there was one
feature of the affair which was more unusual still; namely, the fact
that the consummation of that same young man's hopes was complete. For
two beatific hours on the evening of the memorable 19th of May, Lewis
Peckham's cup was full. He sat among the people in the balcony, quiet
and intent, taking no part in the applause, looking neither to the
right nor to the left. But if he gave no outward sign, perhaps it was
because his spirit was so far uplifted as to be out of touch with his
The money which he had expended in the gratification of what the
uninitiated would call a whim, seemed to him the paltriest detail,
quite unworthy of consideration. When he thought of it at all it was to
recall the story of the gaunt customer who paid so handsomely for his
whisky, and to note the confirmation of his theory, that if you only
want anything bad enough no price is too high to pay for it.
And in still another particular Lewis Peckham's experience was
unique. He never gambled again. He had a feeling that he had got all he
was entitled to from the fickle goddess. When pressed to try his luck
once more he would only say, with his old, indifferent shrug: No,
thanks. I've had my fling and now I've got through.
X. A ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHIPWRECK.
Bixby's Art Emporium was a temple of such modest exterior that
visitors were conscious of no special disappointment upon finding that
there was, if possible, less of art than of emporium within. A
couple of show-cases filled with agate and tiger-eye articles,
questionable looking gems, and the like; a table in the centre of the
shop piled high with Colorado views of every description; here and
there on the walls a poor water-color or a worse oil-painting; a
desultory Navajo rug on a chair: these humble objects constituted the
nearest approach to art that the establishment could boast. The
distinctive feature of the little shop was the show-case at the rear,
filled with books of pressed wildflowers; these, at least, were the
chief source of income in the business, and therefore Marietta spent
every odd half-hour in the manufacture of them. A visitor, when he
entered, was apt to suppose that the shop was empty; for the black,
curly head bent over the work at the window behind the back counter was
not immediately discernible. It was a fascinating head, as the most
unimpressionable visitor could not fail to observe when the tall figure
rose from behind the counter,fascinating by reason of the beautiful
hair, escaping in soft tendrils from the confining knot; fascinating
still more by reason of the perfect grace of poise. The face was
somewhat sallow and very thin; care and privation had left their marks
upon it. The mouth was finely modelled, shrewd and humorous; but it was
the eyes, dark, and darkly fringed as those of a wood-nymph, that
dominated the face; one had a feeling that here was where the soul
looked out. To hear Marietta speak, however, was something of a
disenchantment; her tone was so very matter-of-fact, her words so
startlingly to the point. If the soul looked out at the eyes, the lips
at least had little to say of it.
The visitor, if a stranger, had an excellent opportunity of making
his observations on these points, for Marietta usually remained
standing, in a skeptical attitude, behind the distant counter until he
had shown signs of business intentions. She was very ready to stand
up and rest her back, but she had no idea of coming forward to indulge
an aimless curiosity as to the origin and price of her art treasures.
An old customer, on the other hand, was treated with an easy
good-fellowship so marked that only those who liked that sort of
thing ever became old customers.
Well, how's everything? was the usual form of greeting, as the
tall willowy figure passed round behind the counters and came opposite
Did your folks like the frame? would come next, if the customer
chanced to have had a frame sent home recently. Marietta was agent for
a Denver art firm, which framed pictures at a reasonable figure; or
rather, Jim was the agent, and Jim being Marietta's husband, and too
sick a man of late to conduct his business, did not have to be reckoned
In spite of the fact that she was generally known as Mrs. Jim,
many people forgot that Marietta had a husband, for he was never
visible now-a-days. But Marietta never forgot, never for one single
instant, the wasted figure in the easy chair at the window above the
shop, the pale sunken face with the shining eyes, turned always toward
the stairway the instant her foot touched the lower step. The look of
radiant welcome that greeted her as often as her head appeared above
the opening on a level with the uneven deal floor, that look was always
worth coming up for.
She did not bring her work and sit upstairs with Jim, because there
was but one small window in the dingy, slant-roofed loft, that served
as bed-chamber, kitchen, and parlor, and she knew he liked to sit at
the window and watch the panorama of the street below. The broad, sunny
Springtown thoroughfare, with its low, irregular wooden structures,
likely, at any moment, to give place to ambitious business blocks;
with its general air of incompleteness and transitoriness brought into
strong relief against the near background of the Rocky Mountains, was
alive with human interest. Yet, singularly enough, it was not the
cowboy, mounted on his half-broken bronco that interested Jim; not the
ranch wagon, piled high with farm produce, women, and children; not
even the Lame Gulch stage,a four-seated wagon, so crowded with
rough-looking men that their legs dangled outside like fringe on a
cowboy's shaps,none of these sights made much impression on the
sick man at his upper window. The work-a-day side of life was far too
familiar to Jim to impress him as being picturesque or dramatic. What
he did care for, what roused and satisfied his imagination, was what
was known in his vocabulary as style. It was to the gilded youth of
Springtown that he looked for his entertainment. He liked the yellow
fore-and-aft buckboards, he enjoyed the shining buggies, especially
when their wheels were painted red; dog-carts and victorias ranked high
in his esteem. He knew, to be sure, very little about horses; their
most salient points escaped him: he gave indiscriminate approval to
every well-groomed animal attached to a stylish vehicle, and the more
the merrier! It is safe to declare that he was a distinctly happier man
from that day forward on which Mr. Richard Dayton first dazzled the
eyes of Springtown with his four-in-hand.
This happened early in February and the day chanced to be a warm
one, so that Jim's window was open. He was sitting there, gazing
abstractedly at the Peak which rose, a great snowy dome, above Tang
Ling's shop across the way. Jim seldom spoke of the mountains, nor was
he aware of paying any special attention to them. I ain't much on
Nature, he had always maintained; and since Marietta admitted the same
lack in herself there seemed to be nothing in that to regret. Yet it is
nevertheless true that Jim had his thoughts, as he sat, abstractedly
gazing at those shining heights, thoughts of high and solemn things
which his condition brought near to him, thoughts which he rarely said
anything about. To-day, as he watched the deep blue shadows brooding
upon the Peak, he was wondering in a child-like way what Heaven would
be like. Suddenly the musical clink of silver chains struck his ear,
and the look of abstraction vanished. He had never heard those bridle
chains before. Somebody had got something new! A moment more, and, with
a fine rush and jingle, and a clear blast from the horn, the
four-in-hand dashed by.
Hurrah! Jim cried huskily, as Marietta's foot trod the stair.
I say, Jim! You seen 'em?
She came up panting, for the stairs were very steep and narrow.
Seen 'em? I rather guess! Wasn't it bully? Do you reckon they'll
come back this way?
Course they will! Don't you s'pose they like to show themselves
off? And the horn! did you hear the horn, Jim? I wonder if that's the
way they sound in Switzerland!
She came up and stood with her hand on Jim's shoulder, looking down
into the street.
And just to think of it, Jim! she said, a moment later. They say
he's made lots of money right here in mines! If we was in mines we
might have made some.
More likely to lose it, Jim answered. He was not of the stuff that
speculators are made of.
The shop-bell rang, and Marietta hurried downstairs, to spend ten
minutes in selling a ten-cent Easter card; while Jim sat on, forgetting
his burden of weakness and pain, and all his far-away dreams, in
anticipation of the returning four-in-hand.
In Marietta, too, the jingle of the four-in-hand had struck a new
key-note; her thoughts had taken a new turn. If Mr. Dayton had made
money in mines why should not she and Jim do the same? They needed it
far more than he did. To him it only meant driving four horses instead
of one; to them it might mean driving one horse once in a while. It
might even mean giving up the tiresome, profitless shop, and going to
live in a snug little house of their own, where there should be a porch
for Jim in pleasant weather and, for cold days, a sitting-room with two
windows instead of one where she could work at her flower-books, while
they planned what they should do when Jim got well. She sat over her
pressed flowers, which she handled with much skill, while she revolved
these thoughts in her mind. She was busy with her columbines, a large
folio of which lay on a table near by. At her left hand was a pile of
square cards with scalloped edges, upon which the columbines were to be
affixed; at her right was a small glass window-pane smeared with what
she called stickum. As she deftly lifted the flowers, one by one,
without ever breaking a fragile petal, she laid each first upon the
stickum"-covered square of glass and then upon the Bristol-board. She
was skilful in always placing the flower precisely where it was to
remain upon the page, so that the white surface was kept unstained.
Then she further secured each brittle stem with a tiny strip of paper
pasted across the end. She lifted a card and surveyed her work
critically, thinking the while, not of the wonderful golden and purple
flower, holding its beautiful head with as stately a grace as if it
were still swaying upon its stem, but of the great mining-boom that
was upon the town, and of the chances of a fortune.
Half-an-hour had passed since the shop-bell had last tinkled, and
Marietta was beginning to think of making Jim a flying call, when she
heard his cane rapturously banging the floor above. This was the signal
for her to look out into the street, which she promptly did, and,
behold! the four-in-hand had stopped before the door, a groom was
standing at the leaders' heads, and the master of this splendid
equipage was just coming in, his figure looming large and imposing in
Good morning, Mrs. Jim, he called before he was well inside the
shop. I want one of your ten-dollar flower-books.
Quite unmoved by the lavishness of her customer, Marietta rose in
her stately way, and drew forth several specimens of her most expensive
flower-book. Dayton examined them with an attempt to be discriminating,
remarking that the book was for some California friends of his wife who
were inclined to be snifty about Colorado flowers.
That's the best of the lot, Marietta volunteered, singling out one
which her customer had overlooked.
So it is, he replied; do it up for me, please.
This Marietta proceeded to do in a very leisurely manner. She was
making up her mind to a bold step.
Say, Mr. Dayton, she queried, as she took the last fold in the
wrapping paper; what's the best mine to go into?
The best mine? Oh, I wouldn't touch one of them if I were you!
Yes, you would, if you were me! So you might as well tell me a good
one or I might make a mistake.
She held her head with the air of a princess, while the look of a
wood-nymph still dwelt in her shadowy eyes, but words and tone meant
How much money have you got to lose?
Oh, fifty or a hundred dollars, she said carelessly.
Dayton strolled to the door and back again before he answered. He
was annoyed with Mrs. Jim for placing him in such a position, but he
did not see his way out of it. The next man she asked might be a
sharper. His ideas of woman's sphere were almost mediæval, but
somehow they did not seem to fit Mrs. Jim's case.
Well, he said at last with evident reluctance; the 'Horn of
Plenty' doesn't seem to be any worse than the others, and it may be a
grain better. But it's all a gamble, just like roulette or faro, and I
should think you had better keep out of it altogether.
The Horn of Plenty! It was a name to appeal to the most sluggish
imagination; the mere sound of it filled Marietta with a joyful
confidence. Within the hour she had hailed a passing broker and
negotiated with him for five hundred shares of the stock at twenty
cents a share.
It was not without a strange pang, to be sure, that she wrote out
her check for the amount; for just as she was signing her name the
unwelcome thought crossed her mind that the person who was selling that
amount of stock for a hundred dollars must believe that sum of money to
be a more desirable possession than the stock! She felt the meaning of
the situation very keenly, but she did not betray her misgivings. As
she finished the scrawling signature she only lifted her head with a
defiant look, and said: If anybody tells Jim, I'll chew 'em up!
Inches, the broker, thus admonished, only laughed. Indeed, the thing
Inches admired most in Mrs. Jim was her forcible manner of expressing
herself. He admired and liked her well enough, for that and for other
reasons, to take a very disinterested pleasure in putting her in the
way of turning an honest penny.
The broker's faith in the Horn of Plenty was almost as implicit as
Marietta's own, and it was with no little pride that he brought the
certificate in to her the following day, and unfolded it to her dazzled
contemplation. It was a very beauteous production done in green and
gold, the design being suggestive and encouraging. It represented a
woman clad in green, pointing with a magic golden wand in her left hand
toward a group of toiling green miners, while from a golden cornucopia
in her right she poured a shower of gold upon an already portentous
pyramid of that valuable metal, planted upon a green field.
As Marietta refolded the crisply rustling paper, Inches bent his
head toward her and said, confidentially: She's bound to touch fifty
cents inside of thirty days; and Marietta, still thinking of the
bountiful lady of the golden cornucopia, believed him.
Inside of thirty days the H. O. P., as it was familiarly called,
was selling at forty-five cents, and the world was very much agog on
the subject. There had been fluctuations in the meanwhile, fluctuations
which Marietta watched with eager intentness. Once, on the strength of
disquieting rumors about the management, the stock dropped to sixteen
cents and Marietta's hopes sank accordingly; she felt as if she had
picked Jim's pocket. But the H. O. P. soon rallied, and day by day it
crept upwards while Marietta's spirits crept upwards with it,
cautiously, questioningly. Should she sell? Should she hold on? If only
she might talk it over with Jim! That was something she poignantly
missed; she had never had a secret from Jim before. To make up for her
reticence on this point she used to tell him more minutely than ever of
all that went on in the shop below. Jim thought he had never known
Marietta so entertaining.
I say, Marietta, it's a shame you're nothing but a shop-keeper's
wife! he said to her one evening as she sat darning stockings by the
lamp-light in the dingy attic room. You'd ought to have been a duchess
or a governor's wife or something like that, so's folks would have
found out how smart you was.
Listen at him! cried Marietta.
The words might have offended the taste of the governor who had
failed to secure this valuable matrimonial alliance, but the poise of
the pretty head, as she cast an affectionate look upon Jim, lying on
the old sofa, would have graced the proudest duchess of them all.
Now the Horn of Plenty was a Lame Gulch stock, and, since the
mining-camp of Lame Gulch had been in existence less than a year, the
value of any mine up there was a very doubtful quantity. It was perhaps
the proximity of the camp to Springtown, that fired the imagination of
the Springtown public, perhaps the daily coming and going of people
between the two points. Be that as it may, the head must have been a
very level one indeed that could keep its balance through the
excitement of that winter's boom. There were many residents of
Springtown who had a sentiment for the Peak, more intelligent and more
imaginative than any Marietta could boast, yet it is probable that the
best nature-lover of them all shared something of her feeling, now that
she had come to regard the Peak as the mountain on the other side of
which the Lame Gulch treasures lay awaiting their resurrection.
Just the other side of the Peak! What magic in those words, spoken
from time to time by one and another of the Springtown people. Just
the other side of the Peak! Marietta would say to herself, lifting to
the noble mountain eyes bright with an interest such as he in his
grandest mood had never awakened there before.
Suppose the Horn of Plenty should go to a dollar!to five
dollars,to ten dollars,to twenty-five dollars! Her mind took the
leap with ease and confidence. Had not Bill Sanders said that there
were forty millions in it, and had he not seen the mine with his own
eyes? Marietta had a mental picture of a huge mountain of solid gold,
and when, to complete the splendor of the impression, men talked of
free gold, the term seemed to her to signify a buoyant quality, the
quality of pouring itself out in spontaneous plenty. She heard much
talk of this kind, for the H. O. P. was the topic of the hour, and
her customers discussed it among themselves. Forty millions almost in
plain sight! That was forty dollars a share, and she had five hundred
shares! And all this time she was thinking, not of wealth and luxury,
but only of a snug cottage in a side street, where there should be two
windows in the sitting-room, where she might sit and chat with Jim
while she made her flower-books, planning what they should do when he
got well. How little she asked; how reasonable it was, how fair! And if
only the H. O. P. were to go to five dollars a share she would
Meanwhile people were bidding forty-five cents, and Inches had
called twice in one morning to ask if she would not sell at that price.
What makes them want it so much? she asked on the occasion of his
Oh, just an idea they've got that it's going higher, Inches
Well, s'posing it is; why should I want to sell?
Why, you'd have made a pretty good thing in it, and you might like
to have your bird in hand, don't you know?
Marietta sat down to her flower-books and worked on composedly,
while Inches still lingered.
That's a real pretty painting of the Peak over there, he remarked
presently, nodding his head toward a crude representation of that
Marietta knew better, but she said nothing.
What do you ask for that now? he persisted.
Oh, I guess about a hundred dollars, she returned facetiously.
The Peak comes high now-a-days, 'cause Lame Gulch is right round on
the other side.
There was another pause before the broker spoke again.
Then, s'posing I could get you forty-six cents for your stock,
would you take it? That's rather above the market price, you know.
'Taint up to my price, said Marietta, trying to make a group of
painter's brush look artistic.
What would you take for it then? asked Inches.
Marietta put down her work and drew herself up, to rest her back,
and make an end of the interview at a blow.
Look here, Mr. Inches, she said, with decision; seeing you want
the stock so bad, I guess I'll hold on to it!
She was still holding on with unwavering persistence when, a few
days after that, Dayton came into the shop. He wondered, as he entered
the door, what could be the unpleasant association that was aroused in
him by the familiar atmosphere of skins and dried flowers and general
stock in trade which pervaded the place. No sooner did his eye fall
upon Marietta coming towards him, however, than he recalled the
distasteful part of adviser which had been forced upon him on the
occasion of his last visit. He tried to think that he had washed his
hands of the whole matter, but, Mrs. Jim, he found himself saying;
did you go into mines the other day?
What did you buy?
H. O. P.
What did you pay?
Dayton took the little parcel she was handing him. He had come in
for a lead-pencil and had bought, in addition, a stamp-box, a
buttonhook, and a plated silver photograph frame, not one of which
newly acquired treasures he had the slightest use for. They were very
neatly tied up, however. He wished Mrs. Jim would stick to her
legitimate business which she did uncommonly well.
I think I would sell out my 'H. O. P.' if I were you, he said.
Isn't it going any higher? she asked.
Very likely; but it's a swindle.
What do you mean?
Well, I mean that the management's bad, and they don't know the
first thing about what they've got, any way. Honestly, Mrs. Jim, it
isn't safe to hold.
Marietta's heart sank; if she sold her stock what was to become of
the little house with the two windows in the sitting-room? She did not
reply, and Dayton went on:
Of course, he said; I can't tell that the thing won't go to a
dollar, but there is really no basis for it. I've sold out every share
I held, and I don't regret it, though it has gone up ten points since
Marietta regarded him attentively. There was no mistaking his
sincerity,and he probably knew what he was talking about.
Well, she said at last, with a profound sigh; I guess I'll do as
you say. It worked pretty well the other time.
That's right, Mrs. Jim, and supposing you let me have your stock. I
can probably get you fifty cents for it in the course of the day.
She took the certificate from a drawer close at hand, and having
signed it, she gave one lingering farewell look at the green lady and
her golden horn.
I may as well write a check for the amount now, Dayton said.
But maybe you can't get it.
More likely to get a little over. If I do I'll bring it in.
Dayton looked into her face as he spoke, and its beauty struck him
as pathetic. There were lines and shadows there which he had not
I wish, Mrs. Jim, he said, that you wouldn't do anything more in
mines; it's an awfully risky business at the best. There isn't one of
us that knows the first thing about it.
She gave him a sceptical look; was he so entirely sincere, after
Some of you know enough about it to make an awful lot of money in
it, she answered quietly.
That isn't knowledge, he declared; it's luck!
Comes to the same thing in the end, said Marietta.
If it had not been for those pathetic lines and shadows, Dayton
would have turned on his heel then and there, disgusted with what
seemed to him unfeminine shrewdness. As it was, he said: Well, then,
why not let me be your broker? I'm on the street half the time, and I
could attend to your business a great deal better than you could.
Marietta did not commit herself to any agreement. She put her check
away, still too regretful about the dreams she had relinquished, to
rejoice in the mere doubling of her money.
Late in the afternoon she was paying a visit to Jim. In spite of the
brilliant sunshine that flooded the little garret, at this hour, the
place seemed dingier and drearier than ever. Jim, too, she thought, was
not looking quite as well as usual; his hand as she took it was hot and
dry. She knelt down beside him and they looked out at the Peak, rising
grand and imposing beyond the low roofs. Marietta was thinking of the
gold, just round on the other side, but Jim's thoughts had wandered
farther still; or was it, after all, nearer to the sick man with the
wistful light in his eyes?
I say, Marietta, he said, I wonder what Heaven's like.
She had never heard him speak like that, and the words went to her
heart like a knife. But she answered, gently:
I guess we don't know much about it, Jim; only that it'll be
I suppose when we get there, you and I, Springtown will seem very
I don't know, Jim, Marietta said, looking still out toward the
Peak, but thinking no longer of the gold on the other side. I
shouldn't like any of our life together ever to seem very far away.
Just then the sound of the horn rang musically down the street and a
moment later the brake went by. The horses' heads were toward home and
they knew it; the harness jingled and glittered. On the brake were
half-a-dozen well-dressed people laughing and talking gaily; health and
prosperity seemed visibly in attendance upon that little company of
fortunates. They passed like a vision, and again the sound of the horn
came ringing down the street.
Jim turned and looked at Marietta who had been almost as excited as
he. A thousand thoughts had chased themselves through her brain as the
brake went by. She sighed in the energetic manner peculiar to her, and
then she said: O Jim! If you could only be like that for just one
Perhaps he had had the same thought but her words dispelled it.
Never mind, Etta, he said. I wouldn't change with him; and
Marietta shut away the little speech in her heart to be happy over at
The next day the invalid was not as well as usual and Mrs. Jim spent
half her time running up and down stairs. Inches came in in the course
of the day and offered her sixty cents for her Horn of Plenty, and
she thought with a pang how fast it was going up. The thought haunted
her all day long, but she could not leave Jim to take any steps toward
retrieving her opportunity, and after that first visit Inches did not
come in again. She took out her big check once or twice in the course
of the day and looked at it resentfully; and as she brooded upon the
matter, it was borne in upon her with peculiar force that she had made
a fatal blunder in exchanging her chances for that fixed, inexpansive
sum. Had it not been cowardly in her to yield so easily? Supposing
Dayton himself had lacked courage at the critical moment; where would
his four-in-hand have been to-day? She was sure that no timid
speculator had ever made a fortune; on the contrary, she had often
heard it said that a flash of courage at the right moment was the very
essence of success in speculation. She remembered the expression
essence of success.
[Illustration: THEY LOOKED OUT AT THE PEAK.]
By the time evening came the fever of speculation was high in her
veins, and urged on by her own brooding fancies, uncontradicted from
without, unexposed to the light of day, she did an incredible thing.
As she drew forth her writing materials in order to put her new and
startling resolution into execution, she paused and looked about the
familiar little shop with a feeling of estrangement. There was an
incongruity between the boldness of the thing she was about to do, and
the hard and fast limitations of her lot, which the sight of those
humble properties brought sharply home to her. The first pen she took
up was stiff and scratchy; the sound of it was like a challenge to the
outer world to come and pass judgment upon her. She flung the pen to
one side in nervous trepidation, and then she searched until she found
one that was soft and pliable, and went whispering over the paper like
This was what she wrote:
DEAR MR. DAYTON,
I want to go into the 'Horn of Plenty' again, and I can't get
to attend to it. I enclose your check, and one of my own for
Please buy me what the money will bring. They say it isn't a
swindle, and any way I want some. You said to come to you, and
that was the same as saying you'd do it, if I asked you to. I
care what you pay; get what you can for the money.
Another morning found Jim so ill that they sent for the doctor. On
the same day Inches came in and offered seventy-five cents for the
stock. Marietta had not told him that it was sold and she did not
propose to do so. In the afternoon the price had jumped to ninety
cents, but by that time she was too anxious about Jim to care.
For five weeks the Art Emporium was closed, and in that time the
face of the world had changed for Marietta. She realized the change
when she came downstairs and opened the shop again. It was impossible
to feel that life was restored to its old basis. There was a change too
in her, which was patent to the most casual observer. It was, indeed, a
very wan and thin Marietta that at last came forward to meet her
customers; her eyes looked alarmingly big, and though nothing could
disturb the pose of the beautiful head, there was a droop in the
figure, that betokened bodily and mental exhaustion.
A good many customers came in to make Easter purchases,for the
following Sunday was Easter,and many others to inquire for Jim. As
the old, familiar life began to reassert itself, as she began to feel
at home again in the old, accustomed surroundings, her mind recurred,
in a half-dazed way, to her speculation. She did not herself know much
about it, for Dayton had never sent her her certificate. Probably he
had come with it when the shop was closed. She supposed she must be too
tired to have much courage; that must be why her heart sank at the
thought of what she had done. She was sitting by the work-table, her
head in her hands, pondering dully. At the sound of the shop-bell she
looked up, mechanically, and saw Inches coming in.
Good morning, Mrs. Jim, he said. How's your husband?
Jim's better, thank you, she replied, and the sound of her own
confident words dispelled the clouds.
Inches looked at her narrowly, and then he began pulling the ears of
a mounted fox-skin that was lying on the counter, as he remarked
casually: Hope you got rid of your 'H. O. P.' in time.
In time? she asked. In time? What do you mean?
Why, before they closed down. You sold out, I hope?
There was a sudden catch in her breath.
Yes, I sold out some time ago.
Glad of that, he declared, with very evident relief, suddenly
losing interest in the fox's ears. Inches had none of Dayton's
prejudices in regard to woman's sphere, but he was none the less
rejoiced to know that this particular woman, with the tired-looking
eyes, had not got hurt, as he would have put it.
It's been a bad business all round, he went on, waxing
confidential as he was prone to do. Why, I knew a man that bought
twenty thousand shares at a dollar-ten three weeks ago, just before she
closed down, and he's never had the sand to sell.
What could he get to-day? Marietta asked. Her voice sounded in her
ears strange and far away.
Well, I don't know. I was offered some at six cents, but I don't
know anybody that wants it.
Marietta's throat felt parched and dry, and now there was a singing
in her ears; but she gave no outward sign.
Pretty hard on some folks, she remarked.
I should say so!
There was a din in her ears all that afternoon, which was perhaps a
fortunate circumstance, for it shut out all possibility of thought. It
was not until night came that the din stopped, and her brain became
clear again,cruelly, pitilessly clear.
Deep into the night she lay awake tormenting herself with figures.
How hideous, how intolerable they were! They passed and repassed in her
brain in the uncompromising search-light of conscience, like malicious,
mouthing imps. They were her debts and losses, they stood for disgrace
and penury, they menaced the very foundation of her life and happiness.
Doubtless the man who had put many thousands into the Horn of
Plenty, and had lacked the sand to sell, would have wondered greatly
that a fellow-creature should be suffering agony on account of a few
hundred dollars. Yet he, in his keenest pang of disappointment, knew
nothing whatever of the awful word ruin; while Marietta, staring up
into the darkness, was getting that lesson by heart.
The town-clock striking three seemed to pierce her consciousness and
relieve the strain. She wished the sofa she was lying upon were not so
hard and narrow; perhaps if she were more comfortable she might be able
to sleep, and then, in the morning, she might see light. Of course
there was light, somewhere, if she could only find it; but who ever
found the light, lying on a hard sofa, in pitchy darkness? Perhaps if
she were to get up and move about things would seem less intolerable.
And with the mere thought of action the tired frame relaxed, the
straining eyes were sealed with sleep, the curtain of unconsciousness
had fallen upon the troubled stage of her mind.
And when, at dawn, Jim opened frightened eyes, and struggled with a
terrible oppression to speak her name, Marietta was still sleeping
Etta! he gasped. O, Etta!
And Marietta heard the whispered name, and thrusting out her hands,
as if to tear away a physical bond, broke through the torpor that
possessed her, and stood upon her feet. She staggered, white and
trembling, to Jim's bedside, and there, in the faint light, she saw
that he was dying.
Etta, Etta, he whispered, I want you!
She sank upon her knees beside him, but the hand she folded in her
own was already lifeless.
Slowly the light increased in that dingy garret, until the sun shone
full upon the face of the Peak, fronting the single window of the
chamber in uncompassionate splendor. Occasional sounds of traffic came
up from the street below; the day had begun. And still Marietta knelt
beside the bed, clasping the hand she loved, with a passionate purpose
to prolong the mere moment of possession that was all that was left her
now, all it was worth being alive for. He wanted her, he wanted
her,and oh, the years and years that he must wait for her, in that
strange, lonely, far-away heaven!
Jim, Jim, she muttered from time to time, with a dry gasp in her
throat, that almost choked her; Jim, O Jim!
By-and-by, when the sun was high in the heavens, and all the world
was abroad, she got upon her feet, and went about the strange new
business that death puts upon the broken-hearted.
The day after the funeral was the third of April, and Marietta knew
that all her April bills were lying in the letterbox, the silent menace
which had seemed so terrible to her the other day. Well,that at least
was nothing to her now. So much her heart-break had done for her, that
all the lesson of ruin she had conned through those horrible black
hours, when Jim was dying and she did not know it,that lesson at
least had lost its meaning. Ruin could not hurt Jim now, and she?she
might even find distraction in it,find relief.
She went down into the dimly lighted shop, where the shades were
closely drawn in the door and in the broad show-window. In that strange
midday twilight, she gathered up her mail, and then she seated herself
in her old place behind the counter, and began the examination of it.
There were all the bills, just as she had anticipated; bills for
food and bills for medicine; bills for all those useless odds and ends
which made up her stock in trade, which she and Jim had been so proud
of a few years ago when they first came to Springtown. She wrote out
the various sums in a long column, just to look at them all together,
and to feel how little harm they could do her; and in the midst of the
dull, lifeless work, she came upon a letter which did not look like a
bill. As she drew it from the envelope, two slips of paper fell out of
it, two slips of paper which she picked up and read, with but a dazed,
bewildered attention. They were the checks she had sent to Dayton a
month ago; his own check for $250; hers for $400.
Marietta, in her humble joys and sorrows, had never known the irony
of Fate, and hence she could not understand about those checks. The
meaning of the letter was blurred as she read it. It was from Dayton.
He could not know that Jim was dead, for he said nothing of it. But if
there was any one who did not know that Jim was dead, could it be true?
Her heart gave a wild leap, and she half rose to her feet. What if she
were to run up those stairs, quickly, breathlessly? Oh, what then?
But the stillness of the closed shop, the strange half-light that
came through the drawn shades, her own black dress, recalled her from
that swift and cruel hope, and again she set herself to read the
The words all seemed straight enough, if she could only make sense
of them. He had but just read her letter, being returned that morning
from the East. The letter had come the day he left town, and thinking
that it was a receipted bill, he had locked it up, unopened, in his
desk. He feared that Mrs. Jim had been anxious about the matter, and he
hastened to relieve her mind. While he apologized for his own
carelessness, he congratulated her upon her escape.
He congratulates me, he congratulates me! she whispered hoarsely;
O my God!
She did not yet comprehend the letter nor the checks which had
fluttered to the floor. It was only the last sentence that she took
note of, because of its jarring sense.
Suddenly the meaning of it all broke upon her. Those were her
checks! Ruin had evaded her! She could not prove upon it her loyalty to
Jim, her loyalty to grief. Fate had shipwrecked her, and now it was
decreed that the sun should shine and the sea subside in smiling peace.
It was more than she could bear. She flung the letter from her, and,
stooping, she picked up the checks and crushed them in her clenched
hands. How dared they come back to mock at her! How dared Fate take her
all, and toss her what she did not value! How daredHeaven? Was it
Heaven she was defying? Ah! she must not lose her soul, Heaven knew she
would not lose her soulfor Jim's sake!
She opened her clenched hands and smoothed out the checks,
patiently, meekly; and then she went on with the bills, a strange calm
in her mind, different from the calm of the last three days.
And then, for the first time, it struck her that the bills were all
made out to Jim.
to HIRAM ROGERS, Dr.
to JAMES WILKINS, Dr.
to FIELDS &LYMAN, Dr.
It was his name that would have been disgraced, not hers; his memory
would have been stained. She turned white with terror of the danger
After a while she put the bills aside, and drew out her folios of
pressed flowers. It seemed a hundred years since she had worked upon
them. How exquisite they were, those delicate ghosts of flowers;the
regal columbine, the graceful gilia, coreopsis gleaming golden,
anemones, pale and soft. How they kept their loveliness when life was
past! They were only flower memories, but how fair they were, and how
lasting! No frost to blight them, no winds to tear their silken petals
any more! Well might they outlast the hand that pressed them!
And soon Marietta found herself doing the old, accustomed work with
all the old skill, and with a new grace and delicacy of touch. And when
the friends in her old home which she had left for Jim's sake, urged
her to come back to them, she answered, no;she would rather stay in
Colorado and do her flower-books;adding, in a hand that scrawled more
than usual with the effort for composure:
They are my consolation.
XI. A STROKE IN THE GAME.
The mining boom was off, and Springtown was feeling the reaction as
severely as so sanguine and sunny a little place was capable of doing.
To one who had witnessed, a year or more previous, the rising of the
tide of speculation, whose tossing crest had flung its glittering drops
upon the loftiest and firmest rocks of the business community, the
streets of the little Rocky Mountain town had something the aspect of
the shore at low tide. Such a witness was Harry Wakefield, if, indeed,
a man may be said to have witnessed a commotion which has swept him
off his feet and whirled him about like a piece of driftwood. It was,
to be sure, quite in the character of a piece of driftwood that
Wakefield had let himself be drawn into the whirlpool, and he could not
escape the feeling that, tossed as he was, high and dry upon the shore,
he was getting quite as good as he deserved.
Yes, I'm busted! he remarked to his friend Chittenden, the
stock-broker, as the two men paused before the office-door of the
latter. It was the Race-Horse that finished me up. No, thanks, I won't
come in. A burnt child dreads the fire!
We're all cool enough now-a-days, Chittenden replied, shrugging
his shoulders. Couldn't get up a blaze to heat a flat-iron! and he
passed in to the office, with the air of a man whose occupation is
As Wakefield turned down the street, his eye fell upon a stock-board
across the way, a board upon which had once been jotted down from day
to day, a record of his varying fortunes. He remembered how, a few
months ago, that same board showed white with Lame Gulch quotations. He
reflected that, while the price set against each stock had made but a
modest showing, running from ten cents up into the second dollar, a man
of sense,supposing such a phenomenon to have weathered the
boom,would have been impressed with the fact that the valuation
thus placed upon the infant camp aggregated something like twenty
millions of dollars. The absurdity of the whole thing struck Wakefield
with added force, as he read the solitary announcement which now graced
To exchange: 1000 Race-Horse for a bull-terrier pup.
Kind o' funny; ain't it? said a voice close beside him.
It was Dicky Simmons, a youth of seedy aspect, but a cheerful
countenance, who had come up with him, and was engaged in the perusal
of the same announcement.
Hullo, Simmons! Where do you hail from?
From Barnaby's ranch. I'm trying my hand at agriculture until this
thing's blown over!
Think it's going to?
Oh, yes! When the tide's dead low it's sure to turn! and the old
hopeful look glistened in the boy's face.
That's the case in Nature, Wakefield objected. Nature hadn't
anything to do with the boom. It was contrary to all the laws.
Oh, I guess Nature has a hand in most things, Dicky replied with
cheerful assurance. Anyhow she's made a big deal up at Lame Gulch, and
those of us who've got the sand to hold on will find that she's in the
Sure of it!
Hope you're right. Anyhow, though, I'd try the old girl on
agriculture for a while, if I were you. How's Barnaby doing, by the
Holding on by the skin of his teeth.
What's wrong there?
Can't collect; was the laconic reply.
The two companions in adversity were walking toward the post-office,
moved, perhaps, by the subtle attraction which that institution
exercises over the man who is down on his luck. There was no mail
due, yet they turned, with one accord, in at the door, and repaired to
their respective boxes. As Wakefield looked up from the inspection of
his empty one, he saw Simmons, with an open letter or circular in his
hand. Catching Wakefield's eye he laughed.
Well? Wakefield queried.
You know, Wake, said Dicky, in a confidential tone. The thing's
too funny to be serious. Here's the Trailing Arbutus (you're not in
that, I believe), capitalization a million and a half shares, calls a
meeting of stockholders to consider how to raise money to get the mine
out of the hands of a receiver. Now, guess how much money they want!
Five hundred dollars! Five hundred dollars on a million and
a half shares! I say, Wake, they couldn't be funnier if they tried!
Agreeable as Dicky's company usually was, Wakefield was glad when
the boy hailed the Barnaby milk-cart, and betook himself and his
insistent brightness under its canvas shelter. The white covered wagon
went rattling out of town, and Wakefield, somewhat to his surprise,
found himself striding after it.
Anyhow, he's hit it off better than I have, he said to himself;
and as he perceived how rapidly the cart was disappearing, he had a
sense of being distanced, and he involuntarily quickened his pace.
The street he was following was one that he strongly approved of,
because it had the originality to cut diagonally across the rectangular
plan of the town. The houses on either hand were small and
unpretentious, but tidy little homesteads, and he did not like to think
of the mortgages with which, according to Chittenden, the boom had
weighted more than one modest roof. In the strong sense of general
disaster which he was struggling under, those mortgages seemed almost
visible to the eye. He was glad when he had left the town behind him,
and was marching on between stretches of uncultivated prairie and bare
reddish hillocks. They, at least, stood for what they were,and see,
how the wildflowers had thrust themselves up through the harsh gritty
sand; that great tract of yellow vetches, for instance, that had
brought up out of the earth a glory of gold that might well put all
Lame Gulch to the blush! Over yonder stood the Range, not beautiful, in
the uncompromising noon light, but strong and steadfast, with an almost
moral vigor in its outlines.
He had lost sight of the milk-cart altogether, and was plodding on,
simply because there seemed to be nothing better to do with himself. He
presently came opposite a low, conical hill which he recognized as Mt.
Washington,a hill whose elevation above sea-level was said to be
precisely that of New England's loftiest peak. Wakefield reflected that
he was never likely to reach that classic altitude with less exertion
than to-day, and that on the whole it would be rather pleasant than
otherwise to find himself at that particular height. There was a
barbed-wire fence intervening, and it pleased him to take it on the
fly. He had undoubtedly been going down-hill of late, but his legs, at
least, had held their own, he assured himself, with some satisfaction,
as he alighted, right side up, within the enclosure. He thought, with a
whimsical turn, of Pheidippides, the youth who used his legs to such
good purpose; who ran like fire,shouted, Rejoice, we
conquer!then died in the shout for his meed. How simple life once
was, according to Browning and the rest! What a muddle it was to-day,
according to Harry Wakefield! And all because a girl had refused him!
He had been trying all along not to think of Dorothy Ray, but by the
time he had reached the summit of the hill,that little round of red
sand, where only a single yellow cactus had had the courage to precede
him,he knew that his hour of reckoning had come. He had gambled, yes;
but it was for her sake he had gambled; he had lost, yes, but it was
she he had lost.
He flung himself down on the bare red hilltop, and with his chin in
his hands, gazed across irrigated meadows and parched foothills to the
grim slope of the mountains. And stretched there, with his elbows
digging into the sandy soil, his mind bracing itself against the
everlasting hills, he let the past draw near.
There was an atmosphere about that past, a play of light and shadow,
a mist of poetry and romance, that made the Colorado landscape in the
searching noon light seem typical of the life he had led there:a
crude, prosaic, metallic sort of life. And after the first
shrinking from the past, his mind began to feel deliciously at home in
How he had loved Dorothy Ray! How the thought of her had pervaded
his life, as the sunshine pervades a landscape! Yet not like the
sunshine; for sunshine is fructifying, and his life had been singularly
fruitless. There was no shirking the truth, that the year he had spent
reading law in her father's office, the year he had discovered that his
old friend and playmate was the girl of his choice, had been a wasted
year. In all that did not directly concern her he had dawdled, and
Dorothy knew and resented it.
He remembered how, on one occasion, she had openly preferred Aleck
Dorr to himself; Aleck Dorr, with his ugly face and boorish manners,
who was cutting a dash with a newly acquired fortune.
Dorothy, Wakefield asked abruptly, the next time he got speech of
her,it was at the Assembly and she had only vouchsafed him two
dances,Dorothy, what do you like about that boor?
In the first place he isn't a boor, she answered. He's as
gentlemanlike as possible.
Supposing he is, then! That's a recommendation most of us possess.
She gave him a scrutinizing, almost wistful look. How dear she was,
standing there in the brilliant gas-light, fresh and natural in her
ball-dress and sparkling jewels as she had been when her hair hung down
in a big braid over her gingham frock.
You gentlemanlike? That's something you could never be,
Harry,because you are a gentleman. But that's all you are, she
added, with a sudden impatience that checked his rising elation.
I don't see that there was any call for snubbing, he retorted
angrily. He was often angry with Dorothy; that was part of the old
good-fellowship he had used to value so much, but which seemed so
Snubbing? I thought I made you a very pretty compliment, she
answered, with a little caressing tone that he found illogically
You haven't told me why you like this gentlemanlike boor, he
I should think anybody might see that! I like him because he
amounts to something; because he has made a fortune, if you insist. It
takes a man to do that!
Upon which, before Wakefield had succeeded in framing a suitable
retort, Dorr came up, with a ponderous joke, and claimed a promised
Well! Dorr need not be in such thundering spirits! He had no chance
with her at any rate!
And only a few months later it turned out that he, Harry Wakefield,
had as little chance as Dorr.
At this point in his reflections Wakefield's elbows began to feel
rough and gritty. He turned himself round and sat with his back to the
mountains, looking eastward, his hands clasping one knee. He was glad
the prairie was broken up into mounds and hillocks over there, and had
not the look of the sea that it took on from some points of view. There
was a group of pines off to the left; he had been too preoccupied to
observe them as he came along the road,strangely enough too, for a
group of trees is an unusual sight out on the prairie. What a lot of
trees there were in the East though, and how wofully he had come to
grief among them up there on the North Shore! Only a year ago it had
happened, only a year ago, in the fragrant New England June! His
married sister had had Dorothy and himself visiting her at the same
time. Well, Fanny had done her best for him, though it was no good. He
wondered, in passing, how it happened that a fellow could come to care
more for anybody else than for a sister like Fanny!
He had found Dorothy sitting in perfect idleness under a big
pine-tree that lovely June morning. There were robins hopping about the
lawn; the voices of his sister's children came, shrill and sweet,
calling to one another as they dug in the garden by the house. The tide
was coming in; he could hear it break against the rocks over yonder,
while the far stretches of sea glimmered softly in the sunshine.
Dorothy looked so sweet and beneficent as she sat under the big
pine-tree in the summer sunshine, that all his misgivings vanished.
Before he knew what he was about he had asked her.
And here the little drama was blurred and muffled in his memory. He
wondered, as he clasped his knees and studied the tops of the
pine-trees, how he had put the question; whether he had perhaps put it
wrong. He could not recall a word he had said; but her words in reply
fell as distinct on his ear, as the note of the meadow-lark, down there
by the roadside. How the note of the meadow-lark shot a thrill through
the thin Colorado air,informed with a soul the dazzling day! How
cruelly sweet Dorothy's voice had been, as she said:
No, Harry, I couldn't!
It had made him so angry that he hardly knew how deep his hurt was.
You have no right to say no! he had heard himself say.
He could not remember whether that was immediately, or after an
interval of discussion. She had stood up and turned away, not deigning
to reply. And then the memory of that talk at the ball had struck him
like a blow.
Wait, Dorothy! You must wait! he had cried, aware that his
imperative words clutched her like a detaining hand. Then, while his
breath came fast, almost chokingly, he had said: Tell me, Dorothy, is
it because you don't call me a man that you won't have me?
The angry challenge in his voice hardened her.
I don't know anything about how much of a man you are, Harry
Wakefield, she had declared, with freezing indifference. I only know
you are not the man for me.
That had been practically the end of it. They had got through the
day very creditably he believed, and the next morning they had departed
on their several ways.
Wakefield had read law like mad for a week, and then he had started
for Colorado. He had a favorite cousin out there whose husband was
making a fortune in Lame Gulch stocks, and he thought that even prosaic
fortune-hunting in a new world would be better than the gnawing chagrin
that monopolized things in the old. Better be active than passive, on
any terms. By the time he was well on his westward way, the sting of
that refusal had yielded somewhat, and he began to take courage again.
Perhaps when he had made a fortune! It takes a man to do that, she
had said. Well, he had four times the money to start with that Dick
Dayton had had, and look, what chances there were!
Once fairly launched in the stirring, out-of-door Colorado life, his
spirits had so far recovered their tone that he could afford to be
magnanimous. Accordingly he wrote the following letter to Dorothy:
You were right; I wasn't half good enough for you. No fellow
as far as that goes! Don't you let them fool you on that
makes me mad when I think about it. You always knew the worst
me, but you don't really know the first thing about any other
I'm coming back next year to try again. Do give me the chance,
Dorothy! Remember, I don't tell you you could make anything
like of methat's the rubbish the rest will talk. I'm going
make something of myself first! And if I don't do it in a
am ready to work seven years,or seventy,or seventy-seven
if you'll only have me in the end! That would have to be in
though, wouldn't it? Well, it would come to the same thing in
end! It would be Heaven for me, wherever it was!
Wakefield had the habit of saying to Dorothy whatever came into his
head; and so he had written his letter without any thought of effect.
But the answer he got was so carefully worded that he could make
nothing of it. At the end of three non-committal pages she wrote:
I ought not to wish you good luck, for Papa says if you have
will be your ruin. I did not suppose that circumstances could
anybody,anybody that had any backbone, I mean. But I do wish
good luck all the same, and if you're the kind of person to be
ruined by it, why, I'm sorry for you!
There was something in that letter, non-committal as it was, that
gave Wakefield the impression that a correspondence would be no
furtherance to his interests. He did not write again, and he only knew,
from his sister Fanny, that Dorothy was a greater favorite than ever
that season; a fact from which he could gather little encouragement. He
had flung himself like a piece of driftwood into the whirl of
speculation; he had lost more thousands than he cared to think about,
the bulk of his patrimony in fact, and his last chance was gone of
making the fortune that was to have been the winning of Dorothy. It
takes a man to do that! she had said.
Well, that was the end of it! As far as he was concerned, Dorothy
Ray had ceased to exist; the past had ceased to exist, the pleasant
past, with its deceitful mists and bewildering sunbeams. Things out
here were crude, but they were real! He got on his feet and turned
about once more. Between Mt. Washington and the range was a fertile
ranch; broad fields of vivid alfalfa, big barns, pastures dotted with
cattle; a line of light-green cottonwoods ran along the borders of the
creek. What was that about the wilderness blossoming like the rose? He
turned again and looked toward the barren hillocks. Even they, dead and
inhospitable as they appeared at a little distance, afforded
nourishment for cactus and painter's-brush, prickly poppy and hardy
vetches. Dorothy Ray might do as she pleased,his fortune might go
where it would! That need not be the end of all things. Life, to be
sure, might seem a little like a game of chess after the loss of the
Queen! Pretty tough work it was likely to be to save the game, but none
the less worth while for all that. He wondered what his next move would
be,and meanwhile, before recommencing the game, why not seize the
most obvious outlet for his newly roused energies, by tearing down the
hill at a break-neck gallop and clearing the wire fence at a bound!
Took you for a jack-rabbit! said a gruff voice close at hand, as
he landed on his two feet by the dusty roadside.
Not a bad thing to be, Wakefield panted, falling in step with the
speaker, who was walking toward the town at a brisk pace.
Not unless the dogs are round, the stranger demurred.
Dogs! A jack-rabbit would never know how game he was, if it wasn't
for the dogs!
Any on your track? asked the man with a grin. Looked like it when
you come walluping down the mounting!
A whole pack of them, Wakefield answered. Didn't you see anything
Can't say I did.
You're not so smart as you look, then; and they went jogging on
like comrades of a year's standing.
The new acquaintance appeared to be a man of sixty or thereabouts. A
crowbar and shovel which he carried over his shoulder seemed a part of
his rough laborer's costume. He had a shrewd, good sort of face, and a
Yankee twang to his speech.
You carry those things as easy as a walking-stick, Wakefield
observed, ready to reciprocate in point of compliments. What do you
use them for?
Ben mendin' the bit o' codderoy down yonder, was the
Is that your trade?
No, not partic'larly. I make a trade of most anything I kin work
at. Happened to be out of a job last week, so I took up with this.
Got through with it?
Yes; stopped off to-day. Got done just in time. They start in on
the road next week, 'n they've took me on.
What road's that?
The new branch in.
Oh! In to Lame Gulch. I heard they were going to start in on that.
Yes; the 'Rocky Mounting' are doin' it. They say there'll be trains
runnin' in from the Divide inside of six months.
Wakefield looked sceptical; he had heard that sort of talk before.
Do you like railroad work? he asked.
Not so well's this. I like my own job better, only 'taint so
stayin'. Might 've had another month's work, on the road to the
cañon over there; but that would ha' ben the end on 't. So I'm goin' to
throw up that job this afternoon.
What's wanted on the cañon road?
Wal, it wants widenin', an' it wants bracin' up here 'n there, 'n
there's a power of big stuns to be weeded out. A reel purty job it's
goin' to be, too, in there by the runnin' water, among the fars
'n the birds 'n the squirrels.
I suppose you could hardly have managed that all by yourself?
Oh, yes! It's an easy job.
And you think you could have done it with just your two hands and a
shovel and a crowbar?
Wal, yes,'n a pinch o' powder now and then, 'n somethin' to drill
a hole with,an' a little nat'ral gumption.
Wakefield liked the sound of it all uncommonly well. For a man who
had come to a rough place in his own road,a jumping-off place he had
once thought it might prove to be,would it not be rather a pleasant
thing, to smooth off a road for the general public? It would be a
stroke in the game, at least, and that was his main concern just now.
Such a good, downright, genuine sort of work too! He had an idea that
if he could once get his grip on a crowbar, and feel a big rock come
off its bottom at his instigation, he should have a stirring of
self-respect. After all, of all that he had lost, that was perhaps the
most important thing to get back.
Just as he had arrived at this sensible conclusion his companion
came to a halt.
Here's my shanty; where's yours? he asked.
Haven't got any!
I'd ask you in if we wasn't packin' up to go.
Does your wife go with you?
Say, Wakefield queried, as the man turned in at the gate. How did
you go to work to get that job up in the cañon?
Went to 'Bijah Lang, the street-commissioner.
You haven't got any friend who would like you to pass the job over
Think I could do it?
Wal, yes,if you've got the gumption! Your arms and legs 'pear to
be all right! Ever see any work of the kind?
Yes; I used to watch them on the road up Bear Mountain, at Lame
Know how to drill a hole in a rock?
Learned that when I was a boy.
Know the difference between joint powder and the black
Yes; though I never handled giant powder myself.
Wal, don't be too free with it, that's all. And, say! he called,
as Wakefield in his turn made as if to go. Look's like as though you'd
got somethin' up to Lame Gulch. Wal, you hold on to it, that's all!
You believe in Lame Gulch, then?
Lame Gulch is all right. It's chockfull of stuff, now I tell ye!
Only folks thought they was goin' to fish it out with a rod 'n line.
Then you really think there 's something in it?
Somethin' in it? I tell ye, it's chockfull o' stuff! Only folks
have got it into their heads that the one thing in this world they kin
git without workin' for it, is gold! If that was so, what would
it be wuth? Less than pig-iron! I tell ye, there ain't nothin' in this
world that's to be got without workin' for it, 'n the more work it
takes, the more it's wuth! 'N the reason gold's wuth more 'n most
things, is because it takes more work 'n most things; more diggin' 'n
more calc'latin'. Why! he went on, waxing more and more emphatic. Ef
diggin' gold wa' n't no harder 'n mendin' roads, 't wouldn't pay
any better,now I tell ye!
Perhaps you're right, Wakefield admitted, but that's not what
we're brought up to think.
That's what my boys was brought up to think, 'n they're actin'
Have you got some boys up at Lame Gulch?
Yes, four on 'em. 'N I've got a claim up there too, 'n they're
Why don't you go up and work your claim yourself? asked Wakefield.
A humorous twinkle came into the man's eyes.
Wal, now I tell ye! and his voice dropped to a confidential level.
Railroadin' pays better, so far!
Do your boys get a living out of the mine?
Not yet, not yet. But they're skilled miners. 'N when they git hard
up, a couple on 'em put in a month's work for some skalliwag 'company'
or other, 'n so they keep agoin'. The three married ones ain't up there
So you've got seven sons?
Yes; seven boys, all told. We lost a girl, he added, with an
indefinable change in his voice. Her name was Loretty.
With that, Loretty's father passed up the path and disappeared
within the house.
Nice old chap, Wakefield thought, as he walked on, past the little
houses with the presumable mortgages on them. Nice of him to go on
caring for Loretty after he had lost her.
He wondered whether, after all, he had better make such a point of
forgetting about Dorothy! Up there on the red hilltop, hobnobbing with
the yellow cactus, he had resolved never to think of her again; but
down here among human habitations, fresh from the good human
intercourse of the last ten minutes, he did not feel so sure about it.
He thought that, on the whole, it might be as well to decide that
question later. Meanwhile, here was the street-commissioner's door, and
here was a decision that must be come to on the spot.
Harry Wakefield always looked back upon the day when he first pried
a big rock off its base, as a turning-point in his career; a move that
put the game in his own hands. The sensation was different from what he
had anticipated. He had fancied that he was about to engage in a
single-handed struggle, but no sooner had his grip closed upon the
crowbar, no sooner had he felt the mass of rock yield to its pressure,
than he found that he was not working single-handed. On the contrary,
he had the feeling of having got right down among the forces of nature
and of finding them ranged on his side. It was gravitation that gave
the rock its weight, but, look there! how some other law, which he did
not know the name of, dwelt in the resisting strength of the iron,
worked in the action of his muscles. His legs trembled, as he braced
himself to the effort; the veins of his neck throbbed hard; but the
muscles of his arms and chest held firm as the crowbar they guided, and
slowly, reluctantly, sullenly, the rock went over on its side. He
dropped the crowbar from his stiffening grasp and drew himself up,
flinging his shoulders back and panting deep and strong.
It was between six and seven o'clock in the morning, a radiant June
morning, which seemed alive with pleasant things. As he stood with his
head thrown back, taking a good draught of the delicious mountain air,
a bluebird shot, like a bit of the sky, in and out among the solemn
pines and delicate aspens. He looked down on the tangle of blossoming
vines and bushes that latticed the borders of the brook, which came
dashing down from the cañon, still rioting on its way. The water would
soon have another cause for clamor, in the big stone that had so long
cumbered the road. He should presently have the fun of rolling it over
the bank and seeing it settle with a splash in the bed of the stream
where it belonged by rights. After that there was a fallen tree to be
tackled, a couple of rods farther on, and then he should take a rest
with his shovel and fill in some holes near by.
[Illustration: THE BROOK, WHICH CAME DASHING DOWN FROM THE CAÑON,
STILL RIOTING ON ITS WAY.]
He had found a deserted lean-to, half way up the cañon, where he had
arranged to camp while the work went on. As he thought of Chittenden
and Allery Jones and the rest, cooped up there in the town, still
anxiously watching the fluctuations of the stock-market, he was filled
with compassion for them, and he determined to have them out now and
then and give them a camp stew.
Of course the exultation of that first hour's work did not last.
Before the day was out, Wakefield had found out what he was in for.
An aching back and blistered hands were providing him with sensations
of a less exhilarating order than those of the early morning. At one
time, soon after his nooning as he liked to call it, the sun blazed
so fiercely that he had ignominiously fled before it and taken refuge
for an hour or more among the trees. That was the episode which he
least liked to remember. He did not quite see why mending a road in the
sun should be so much more dangerous than playing polo at high noon,
but, somehow, it hurt more; and he recollected that his late father,
who was a physician, had once told him that pain was Nature's warning.
Having, then, entered into a close alliance with Nature, he thought it
well to take her hints.
Before many days his apprenticeship was over and he was working like
a born day-laborer. After the first week he was well rid of aches and
pains; the muscles of his back were strengthened, the palms of his
hands were hardened, his skull, he thought to himself, must have
thickened. In all things, too, he was tuned to a lower key. But if the
exhilaration of that first morning was gone, it had only given place to
something better; namely, a solid sense of satisfaction. He knew it was
all an episode, this form of work at least; he knew that when his job
was done he should go back into the world and take up the life he had
once made a failure of; but he knew also that he should not fail again.
A sense of power had come into him; he had made friends with work for
its own sake. He believed that his brain was as good as his muscles,
that it would respond as readily to the demands he should put upon it.
And he had learned to be strenuous with himself.
Wakefield was in correspondence with a friend in San Francisco who
wanted him to come out there and practise law. He decided, rather
suddenly, to do so, coming to his decision the day after he was told
that Dorothy Ray was engaged to be married.
It was Dick Dayton who brought him the news. As he listened, he felt
something as he did that first day in the cañon when the sun got too
strong for him. He thought, after Dayton left him, that he should have
given up the game then and there, if it had not been for some blasting
he was to do in the morning. The holes were all drilled, and it would
be a day's job to clear away the pieces and straighten things out at
that point. He should hate to have another man go on with the job. They
might cut him out with Dorothy,that was sure to come, sooner or
later,but, by the Great Horn Spoon! they should not get his job away
It was not until he had turned in for the night that it occurred to
him that he had not asked whom Dorothy was engaged to. What did he
care, any way? he said to himself. He had gambled away his chances long
ago. Yet, Good Heavens, how dear she was! As he lay on the ground,
outside the little lean-to, staring up at the stars that glittered in
the thin air with what is called, at lower altitudes, a frosty
brilliance, he seemed to see her before him more plainly than he had
ever done in the old days when they had stood face to face. He had been
too self-absorbed, too blinded and bewildered with the urgency of his
own case, to see her as she really was. He remembered now,something
that he had never thought about before,the little toss of her hair,
up from her forehead, which was different from the way other girls wore
their hair. It made a little billow there, that was like her free
spirit. Yes, she had always had a free spirit. Perhaps it was the claim
of ownership he had made, which had repelled her so strongly. As well
set up a claim of ownership over those stars up there!
He tried to hope that the other fellow was man enough to deserve
her; but that was beyond his magnanimity. The only way to bear it, for
the present at least, was to leave the other fellow out of the
question. He was glad he did not know his name. And all night long, as
he watched the stars, their slow, imperceptible progress marked only by
the intervening tree-twigs, Dorothy's face was fairly visible to him,
her voice came to him distinct as an echo; her sweet, free nature
unfolded itself to his awakened consciousness.
Since then he had worked as if his life had depended upon it, and
now, after those ten days of fierce labor, his job was almost done.
He had worked his way well up into the cañon, quite to the end of the
distance contracted for. A few days more would complete the job. He
thought, with a pang of regret, that his lines would never again fall
in such glorious places. He knew the cañon by heart; he had seen it in
every phase of its summer beauty, by day and by night, in sunshine and
in storm, and now the autumn had come and the sensitive green of the
aspens had turned to yellow. They gleamed along the brook-side; they
showed like an outcrop of gold on the wall of rock over there, and in
among the blue-green pines; their yellow leaves strewed the ground on
which he stood. It was eight o'clock in the morning, and he was about
to do his last blasting. There was nobody up the cañon, and nobody was
likely to come from below for an hour yet. The big boulder was not to
thrust itself into the road any more; another minute, and all that
protruding side of it would be blown off and there would be room for
two teams to pass each other. Hark! Was not that a horse's hoofs down
below? He was already in the act of touching her off, holding the
lighted match in the hollow of his two hands. As he turned his head to
listen, the fuse ignited with a sharp spit! scorching and
blackening the palms of his hands, and causing him to jump as violently
as he used to do before his nerves were trained to the business.
Somewhat disgusted with his want of nerve, he picked up his tools in a
particularly leisurely manner, and deposited them at a safe distance
from the coming crash. Then, to make up for this bit of bravado, he ran
swiftly down the road,walluped he said to himself, thinking of
Loretty's father,and when he espied the horse, he shouted and waved
his arms in warning.
The horse stopped, and Wakefield slackened his pace. The moment he
had done so he recognized the rider. He was not conscious of any
surprise at seeing Dorothy Ray riding, all by herself, up the cañon. He
did not pause to question as to how she got there, to wonder what she
would think of him, turned day-laborer. He felt nothing but an absolute
content and satisfaction in having her there before him; it seemed so
natural and so right that he did not see how it could have been
otherwise! He strode down the road to where she stood, and as she
dropped the bridle and held out both hands to him, he flung his old hat
away and clasped them in his powder-blackened palms.
O Harry! she cried with a joyful ring in her voice; I never was
so glad to see anybody in my life!
He did not say one word, but as he stood there, bareheaded, there
was a look in his face that gave her pause. Had she been too forward?
Was he so changed? She drew her hands away, and taking up the bridle,
looked uncertainly from side to side.
Aren't we friends any more, Harry? Aren't you glad to see me? she
asked. Her voice was unsteady like her look. He had never seen her like
Glad to see you, Dorothy? he cried. You seem like an angel
straight from Heaven, only a hundred thousand million times better!
A sudden explosion boomed out, putting a period to this emphatic
declaration. Wakefield seized the rein of the startled horse, that
sprang shivering to one side; but Dorothy only said, quite composedly:
I suppose you were blasting up there. Will there be another?
No; but how did you know it was I?
Why, I knew all about it, of course. Fanny told me, and Mrs. Dick
Dayton wrote home, and,well, I knew about it a great deal better than
And you knew I was up here?
Of course I did! Why, else, should I have come up at daybreak?
But, Dorothy, Wakefield persisted, determined to make a clean
breast of it at the outset. Did you know I had made a fizzle of
everything out here?
I knew you had lost your money, she replied, with an air of
misprizing such sordid considerations. And Fanny told me you were
going to California, and,I just thought I would come out with the
Dennimans! she added irrelevantly.
He was walking beside her horse up the broad clean road he had once
taken such pride in;ages ago he thought it must have been. On either
hand, the solemn cliffs, familiars of the past three months, stood
decked with gleaming bits of color; the brook went careering in their
shadow, calling and crooning its little tale. What was that over yonder
under the big pine-tree? Only a pair of bright eyes, that twinkled
curiously, then vanished in a whisking bit of fur! On a sudden he had
become estranged and disassociated from these intimate surroundings,
these sights and sounds which had so long been his companions. What had
they to do with Dorothy!
She was telling him of her journey out and of the friends she was
travelling with. She would have given him the home news, but, Don't
talk about anybody but yourself, Dorothy, he said. That's all that I
At last they stood fronting the big boulder, whose side had been
blasted off. Dorothy looked at the fragments of stone strewing the
road, and at the massive granite surface, now withdrawn among the
pine-trees. One huge branch, broken by a flying rock, hung down across
its face. The whole scene told of the play of tremendous forces, and
Wakefield's was the hand that had controlled and directed them.
Obedient to long habit, he stooped, and lifting a good-sized fragment,
sent it crashing down the bank into the brook.
How strong you are, Harry! she said.
There was something in the way she said it, that made him feel that
he must break the spell, then and there, or he should be playing the
mischief with his own peace of mind. Yet he was conscious of a strange
absence of conviction, as he asked abruptly: Dorothy, whom are you
going to marry?
So he had heard that foolish gossip, and that was why there was that
look in his face!
She was too generous to think of herself, too sure, indeed, of him
and of herself, to weigh her words. With the little, half-defiant toss
of the head he knew so well, yet gathering up the reins as if for
instant flight, she said:
I should think that was for you to say, Harry!
XII. THE BLIZZARD PICNIC.
Ah, there, Mr. Burns! Glad to see you! This is what we call real
The speaker, a mercurial youth of two and twenty, was one of a group
of young people assembled, some on horseback, some in yellow
buckboards, in front of a stately Springtown mansion.
Nothing conceited about us! a girlish voice retorted. I am sure
you understand by this time, Mr. Burns, that Colorado is a synonym for
The new-comer laughed appreciatively as he drew rein close beside
the girl, who sat her part-thoroughbred with the ease and grace of
I had learned my lesson pretty well before I came out, thanks to
you, the young man answered, in a tone that was a trifle
The girl flushed, whether from pleasure or annoyance, it was
impossible for the looker-on to decide. The looker-onand his name, as
usual, was legion,had found no lack of occupation since the arrival
on the field, some two weeks previous, of the Rev. Stephen Burns.
Although the young minister was staying at the hotel, like any other
chance tourist, there could be no question as to the object of his
visit, for he passed most of his waking hours, either under Dr.
Lovejoy's roof, or in the society of the doctor's daughter. The fact
that Amy Lovejoy tolerated such assiduous attendance boded ill for
Springtown, yet so cheerful is the atmosphere of the sunny-hearted
little community, that foregone conclusions of an unwelcome character
carry but scant conviction to its mind. Springtown could not spare Amy
Lovejoy, therefore Springtown would not be called upon to do so.
By this time the group was twenty strong, a truly gala assemblage,
which might have blocked the way on a less generous thoroughfare. On
the broad expanse of Western Avenue, however, no picnic party, however
numerous, was likely to interfere with traffic.
They were all young people, the chaperone of the occasion, a bride
of twenty, looking, as she was, one of the very youngest. The brilliant
February day gleamed like a jewel upon the proud and grateful earth.
The sky was one glorious arch of tingling blue, beneath which the snowy
peaks shone with a joyful glitter. The air had the keen, dry sparkle
that is sometimes compared to champagne, greatly to the advantage of
that pleasant beverage. In short, it was a real Colorado day, and these
young people were off on a real Colorado picnic. How exceptionally
characteristic the occasion might prove to be, no one suspected, simply
because no one payed sufficient heed to a shred of gray vapor that
hovered on the brow of the Peak. Amy Lovejoy, to be sure, remarked that
there would be wind before night, and another old resident driving by,
waved his hat toward the Peak, and cried, Look out for hurricanes!
But no one was the wiser for that.
The last packages of good things, the last overcoat and extra wrap,
were stowed away under the seats of the yellow buckboards; the
mercurial youth, Jack Hersey by name, had cried, for the last time,
Are we ready,say, are we ready? Elliot Chittenden's restive
bronco, known as my nag, had cut its last impatient caper; and off
they started, a gay holiday throng, passing down the Avenue to the tune
of jingling harness and chattering voices and ringing hoofs. From a
south porch on the one hand, and a swinging gate on the other, friends
called a cheery greeting; elderly people jogging past in slow buggies,
met the pleasure-seekers with a benignant smile; foot-passengers turned
and waved their wide sombreros, and over yonder the Peak beamed upon
them, with never a hint of warning; for the gray vapor hovering there
was far too slight a film to cast a shadow upon that broad and radiant
It makes one think of the new Jerusalem, and the walls of Walhalla,
and every sort of brilliant vision, Stephen Burns remarked, as his
horse and Amy's cantered side by side, a little apart from the others.
Yes, said Amy, looking absently before her; I suppose it does.
And she wondered, as she had done more than once in the past two weeks,
why she could not enter more responsively into the spirit of his
conversation. She knew, and she would once have considered it a fact of
the first importance, that to Stephen Burns the New Jerusalem was not
more sacred than the abode of the ancient gods,or, to be more
accurate, Walhalla was not less beautiful and real than the sacred city
of the Hebrews. Each had its own significance and value in his
estimation, as a dream, an aspiration of the human mind.
It was what seemed to Amy Lovejoy the originality and daring of the
young minister's views of things high and low, which had at first
fascinated the girl. She had never before met with just that type of
thinker,indeed she had never before associated on equal terms with
any thinker of any type whatever!and it was perhaps no wonder that
she had been inclined to identify the priest with his gospel, that she
had been ready to accept both with equal trust. In fact, nothing but
her father's cautious reluctance had deterred her from pledging
herself, four months ago, to this grave-eyed cavalier, riding now so
confidently by her side.
She was her father's only child, and since the death of her mother,
some ten years previous to this, she had been called upon to fill the
important position of apple of the eye to a secretly adoring, if
somewhat sarcastic parent.
Your parson may be all very well, the doctor had written, but if
he is worth having he will keep! He must have the advantage of extreme
youth, to be taken with a callow chick like yourself, but that shall
not injure him in my eyes. Tell him to wait a while, and then come and
show himself. Two heads are better than one in most of the exigencies
of life, and when he comes, you and I can make up our minds about him
at our leisure.
The girl's mind had reverted, à propos of nothing, to that
concluding sentence of her father's letter, which she had read at the
time with an indulgent but incredulous smile. Presently she became
aware that her companion was speaking again.
It is all one, he was saying. What we see and what we imagine;
what we aspire to, and what has been the aspiration of other men in
other ages. And how good it all is!
This he added with a certain turn and gesture which made the words
intensely personal. Why did they repel her so strongly, she wondered,
and wondering, she failed to answer. Involuntarily she had slackened
her horse's pace, and fallen in line with the others, and when Jack
Hersey rode up at that moment, she gave him a look of welcome which had
the effect of making him more mercurial than ever for the rest of the
I say, Amy, he cried; isn't this a dandy day? and Amy felt
herself on good, homely, familiar ground, and she answered him with a
heart grown suddenly light as his own.
Stephen Burns, meanwhile, rode on beside her, with no very distinct
misgiving in his mind. He had, to be sure, been somewhat daunted once
or twice before, by a curious, intermittent asperity in her, which he
could not quite account for. Yet why should he expect to account for
every changing mood in this uniquely charming being? Had he not
perceived from the beginning that she was not fashioned quite after the
They had met, the previous autumn, in the quaint old New England
town where his people lived. She had come like a bit of the young West
into the staid, old-fashioned setting of the place, and he had rejoiced
in every trait that distinguished her from the conventional young lady
of his acquaintance. To-day, as they rode side by side toward the
broad-bosomed mountain to the southward, he told himself once more that
her nature was like this Colorado atmosphere, in its absolute clearness
and crispness. Such an air,bracing, stinging, as it sometimes
was,could never turn really harsh and easterly; neither, perhaps,
could it ever take on the soft languor of the summer sea. And Amy
Lovejoy's nature would always have the finer, more individual quality
of the high, pure altitude in which she had been reared. Possibly
Stephen Burns had yet something to learn about that agreeable climate
with which he was so ready to compare his love. The weather had been
perfect since he came to Colorado. How could he suspect the meaning of
a tiny wisp of vapor too slight to cast a visible shadow?
And Amy chatted gaily on with Jack Hersey, as they cantered
southward, while Stephen Burns, riding beside them, told himself with
needless reiteration, that he was well content. One reason for content
he certainly had at that moment, for he was a good horseman, as an
accomplished gentleman is bound to be, and he was never quite
insensible to the exhilaration of that delicious, rhythmic motion.
They had passed through a gate which signified that the rolling
acres of prairie on either hand, the winding road that lost itself in
the distance, the pine-clad slope to the right, were all but a part of
a great ranch. Herds of cattle were doubtless pastured within that
enclosure, though nowhere visible to the holiday party riding and
driving over their domain. Hundreds of prairie-dog holes dotted the
vast field on either hand, and here and there one of the odd little
fraternity scampered like a ball of gray cotton across the field, or
sat erect beside his hole, barking shrilly, before vanishing, with a
whisk of the tail, from sight. Stephen took so kindly to the little
show, and made such commonplace exclamations of pleasure, that Amy felt
a sudden relieved compunction and smiled upon him very graciously.
They are not a bit like what I expected, he said; but they are
such self-important, conceited little chaps that you can't help having
a fellow-feeling with them!
Hullo! There's a give-away! Jack Hersey shouted; and he turned and
repeated the remark for the benefit of a buckboard in the rear. Amy
thought Jack very stupid and silly, and in her own heart, she promptly
ranged herself on the side of her young minister. There was nothing
subtle or elusive about her changes of mood, and Stephen profited by
each relenting. For a few blissful moments, accordingly, he now basked
in the full consciousness of her favor.
They continued for half an hour on the ranch road, rising and
dipping from point to point, yet mounting always higher above the great
plain below. There the prairie stretched away, a hundred miles to the
East and South, with never a lake nor a forest to catch the light, with
not a cloud in the sky to cast a shadow. Yet over the broad, undulating
expanse were lines and patches of varying color, changing and wavering
from moment to moment, like mystic currents and eddies upon a heaving,
tide-swept sea. Amy watched her companion furtively, ready to take
umbrage at any lack of proper appreciation on his part; for this was
what she liked best in all Colorado, this vast, mysterious prairie sea.
Yet when she saw by Stephen's face that the spell had touched him too,
when she noted the rapt gaze he sent forth, as he left his horse to
choose his own way, she felt annoyed, unreasoningly, perversely
annoyed. Somehow his look was too rapt, he was taking it too solemnly,
he was too much in earnest! She had a longing to touch up her horse and
gallop off to some spot where she might be unmolested, where she might
think her own thoughts and receive her own impressions without seeing
them accentuated, exaggerated in another person. There had never been
any one before who seemed to feel just as she did about that view, and
somehow she resented this intrusion upon what seemed like her own
Of course there was but one explanation of all this high-strung
sensitiveness in a healthy, natural girl like Amy Lovejoy. She had made
a mistake, and she was finding it out. In those autumn days in the
little New England town, she had fallen captive to an idea, a theory of
life, a certain poetical incentive and aspiration; for months she had
fed her imagination upon this new experience, and suddenly Stephen
Burns had come, and by his personal presence asserted a personal claim.
She had been unconsciously ignoring the personal element in their
relation, which had, in the months of separation, become very
indefinite and unreal to her. She had told her father that Stephen's
eyes were brown, and she found that they were blue; she had described
him as being tall, and he had turned out to be rather below the medium
height; she had forgotten what his voice was like, and it seemed
oppressively rich and full.
Better look out for your horse, Mr. Burns! she said curtly. He
almost took a header a minute ago.
Did he? said Stephen. I did not notice. This is the view you told
me about, is it not?
Very likely, she returned, with affected indifference. We
Colorado people always do a good deal of bragging when we are in the
East. We wear all our little descriptions and enthusiasms threadbare.
There was nothing threadbare about your account, Stephen
protested. It was almost as vivid as the sight itself.
We take things more naturally when we get back to them. Come, Jack,
let's go faster!
There was a level stretch of road before them, and the two young
people were off with a rush. Stephen knew that the livery horse he rode
could never keep up with them, even had his pride allowed him to follow
uninvited. He had a dazed, hurt feeling, which was not more than half
dispelled when, a few minutes later he came up with the truants,
resting their horses at the top of a sudden dip in the road.
Who got there first? called a voice from one of the buckboards.
Amy, of course. You don't suppose Cigarette would pass a lady!
Jacky wouldn't 'cause he couldn't! Amy quoted. Poor Cigarette,
she added, descending to prose again, and tapping Cigarette's nose with
the butt of her riding-crop. How he did heave and pant when he caught
up with us! And Sunbeam never turned a hair!
What made you call him Sunbeam? Stephen asked, with an effort to
appear undisturbed, as he watched her stroking the glossy black neck.
Because he wasn't yellow, she answered shortly; upon which
They picknicked in a sunny opening among the scrub-oaks, on the edge
of a hollow through which a mountain brook had made its way. There was
snow in the hollow, and a thin coating of ice on the brook. A few rods
away, the horses, relieved of their bridles, were enjoying their
dinners, switching their sides with their tails from time to time, as
if the warm sun had wakened recollections of summer flies. Amy sat on
the outskirts of the company, where Sunbeam could eat from her hand; a
privilege he was accustomed to on such occasions. One of the men had
brought a camera, and he took a snap-shot at the entire company, just
as they had grouped themselves on the sunny slope. Amy and Sunbeam were
conspicuous in the group, but when, some days later, the plate was
developed, it was found that Mr. Stephen Burns did not appear in the
photograph. Amy was the only one not surprised at the omission. He had
been sitting beside her, and she was aware that he leaned on his elbow
and got out of sight, just as the snap-shot was taken. She wondered at
the time why he did so, but she found that she did not greatly care to
know the reason.
A few minutes later, just as the girls of the party were busy
dipping the cups and spoons into the edge of the snow,the sun so hot
on their shoulders that they quite longed to get into the shade, Elliot
Chittenden came hurrying back from a short excursion out to the edge of
the slope, to tell them of a wicked-looking cloud in the north. The
brow of the hill had shut off the view in that direction, the faithful
barometer, the Peak, having long since been lost sight of.
There was a sudden hurry and commotion, for all knew the menace of a
storm from the north, and that its coming is often as swift as it is
sharp. No one was better aware of the situation than Amy.
Put your overcoat on to begin with, she said to Burns; and get
your horse. I'll see to Sunbeam. The bridle was already fast on the
pretty black head as she spoke, but it was some time before Burns came
up. He had mislaid his bridle, and when he found it he fumbled
unaccountably. His fingers apparently shared the agitation of his mind;
an agitation which was something new in his experience, and which made
him feel singularly at odds with everything, even with impersonal
straps and buckles! When at last he came, she put her foot in his hand
and went up like a bird to a perch.
Everybody has got ahead of us, she said, as they put their horses
into a canter.
The sun was still hot upon them, but down below, the plains were
obscured as with a fog.
What is that? he asked.
A dust-storm. Can you make your horse go faster?
Not and keep the wind in him.
Never mind, we shall do very well.
They had come about the brow of the mountain now, and could see the
great black cloud to the north. It looked pretty ugly, even to Stephen
Burns's unaccustomed eyes.
What do you expect? he asked, as they walked their horses down a
It may be only wind, but there is likely to be snow at this season.
If we can only get out of the ranch we're all right; the prairie-dog
holes make it bad when you can't see.
Can't see? he repeated.
Yes, she answered impatiently. Of course you can't see in a
A moment later a blinding cloud of sand struck them with such force
that both the horses slewed sharp about and stood an instant, trembling
with the shock. As they turned to the north again, a few flakes of snow
came flying almost horizontally in their faces and thenthe storm
Horses and riders bent their heads to the blast, and on they went.
It had suddenly grown bitterly cold.
I wish you would take my coat, said Stephen, fumbling at the
buttons as he had fumbled at the bridle. His teeth were chattering as
Nonsense! Amy answered sharply. You'll feel this ten times as
much as I.
The snow was collecting in Stephen's beard, freezing as it fell, and
making fantastic shapes there; the top of Amy's hat was a white cone,
stiff and sharp as if it were carved in stone.
They could not see a rod before them, but they found it easier to
Isn't it splendid, the way one rouses to it! Amy exclaimed. I'm
getting all heated up from the effort of breathing!
There was no answer.
Don't you like it? she asked, taking a look at his set face.
Like it? With you out in it!
That was all he said, but Amy felt her cheeks tingle under the dash
of snow that clung to them. The answer came like a rude check to the
exultant thrill which had prompted her words.
He doesn't understand in the least! she thought, impatiently, and
it was all she could do to refrain from spurring on her horse and
leaving him in the lurch as she had done once before, that day. He was
faint-hearted, pusillanimous! What if it were only for her sake that he
feared? All the worse for him! She did not want his solicitude; it was
an offence to her!
The wind whistled past them, and the snow beat in their faces; the
shapes in his beard grew more and more fantastic, the white cone on her
hat grew taller, and then broke and tumbled into her lap; the horses
bent their heads, all caked with snow, and cantered pluckily on.
They had passed the gate of the ranch, leaving it open behind them,
and now there were but a couple of miles between them and the town. The
snow was so blinding that they did not see a group of buckboards and
saddle-horses under a shed close at hand, nor guess that some of the
party had found shelter in a house near by. They rode swiftly on,
gaining in speed as they approached the town. The horses were very
close together, straining, side by side, toward the goal. Amy's right
hand lay upon her knee, the stiff fingers closed about the riding-crop.
If she had thought about it at all, she would have said that her hand
was absolutely numb. Suddenly, with a shock, she felt another hand
close upon it, while the words, my darling! vibrated upon her
ear; the voice was so close that it seemed to touch her cheek. She
started as if she had been stung.
Oh, my riding-crop! she cried, letting the handle slip from her
I beg your pardon, Stephen gasped, in a low, pained tone. If you
will wait an instant, I will get it for you!
He turned his horse about, for they had passed the spot by several
Sunbeam stood for a moment, obedient to his rider's hand, while Amy
watched the storm close in about her departing cavalier. As he vanished
from view, a sudden, overpowering impulse of flight seized her. Without
daring to think of what she was doing, she bent down and whispered
go! in the low sharp tone that Sunbeam knew. He was off like a
I don't care, I don't care, the girl said to herself, over and
over again, as they bounded forward in the teeth of the storm. Better
now than later!
She wondered whether Stephen would kill his horse endeavoring to
overtake her; she wondered whether he would ever overtake her again!
Somehow it seemed to her as if the storm had caught her up bodily and
were bearing her away from a very perplexing world. After all, what an
amenable, unexacting sort of thing a blizzard was! How very easy to
deal with! You had only to duck your head, and screw up your eyes, and
cleave your way through it, and on it went, quite unconcerned with your
moods and tenses! If Stephen Burns were only more like that, she
thought to herself! But, alas! poor Stephen, with all his strong claims
to affection and esteem, could not assert the remotest kinship with the
whistling winds and blinding snow which were proving such formidable
A narrow lane appeared at her right. Almost before she was aware
that it was there, she had swung Sunbeam about; in another moment they
were standing, with two other saddle-horses, in a little grove of
trees, further protected by a small house close at hand. It seemed
almost warm in that sheltered nook. Amy recognized the horses and knew
that Harry de Luce and one of the girls must have taken refuge within.
The lane was a short one, and she and Sunbeam stood, trembling with
excitement, until they saw the shadow of a horse and rider speeding
along the road toward the town. Then Amy drew a long breath of relief.
It was all nothing but a shadow, she said to herself, and I went and
thought it was real!
She slid stiffly down from the saddle and hobbled into the house,
all the exultation gone from her bounding veins. It made her a bit
dizzy to think of the rush of tumultuous emotions which had outvied the
storm of the elements but now. By the time the friendly hostess had
established her before the kitchen stove and taken away her dripping
hat and coat, she felt too limp and spent to answer the eager questions
that were asked.
Do something for Sunbeam, she murmured weakly to Harry de Luce, in
answer to his ready offers of help.
They're going to send out a 'bus with four horses to pick up the
remnants, de Luce assured her. If you girls will go in the 'bus I
will lead Sunbeam and Paddy home. And somehow it seemed so pleasant to
be taken care of, just in a group with another girl and two horses,
that Amy, with a faint, assenting smile, submitted to be classed with
She felt as if she were half asleep when, an hour or more later, she
sat in the corner of the great omnibus, that went lurching along
through the snow, like a mudscow gone astray among ocean waves. She had
an idea that everybody was talking at once, but that was just as well,
since not a syllable was audible above the creaking and rattling of the
Arrived at home she found the riding-crop, but no Stephen. He had
called an hour ago, to ask if she had arrived safely, but he had said
nothing about coming again.
If he has an atom of spirit he will never come near me again, Amy
thought to herself. And then; Oh, that dear blizzard! she exclaimed
under her breath.
Sunbeam, she learned, had arrived before her. Thomas Jefferson, the
black stable-man, reported him as partaking of a sumptuous supper with
unimpaired relish. The thought of her favorite, crunching his feed in
the stall close at hand, gave her a sense of companionship as she ate
her own solitary meal. Her father had been called in consultation to a
neighboring town and would not return until the following day.
After supper Amy curled herself up in an easy-chair under the
drop-light, and opened a new novel which she had been longing to read,
ever since Stephen Burns's arrival. She thought with strong disapproval
of the manner in which he had been taking possession of her time for
two weeks past. She looked at the clock; it was half-past-eight.
Well! that's over with! she thought, with a half guilty pang of
Somehow the novel was not as absorbing as she had anticipated. She
let it drop on her lap, and sat for awhile listening to the storm
outside, as she reviewed this strange, unnatural episode of
half-betrothal which had turned out so queerly.
A sharp ring at the telephone in the adjoining room broke in upon
her revery. She hastened to answer it. It was an inquiry from the
livery-stable for Mr. Stephen Burns. He had not brought the horse back,
nor had he returned to his hotel. Did Miss Lovejoy perhaps know of his
whereabouts? Did she think they had better send out a search-party?
Miss Lovejoy knew nothing of his whereabouts, and she was strongly
of the opinion that he had better be looked up. As she still stood
listening at the telephone, her heart knocking her ribs in a fierce
fright, she heard a voice in the distant stable, not intended for her
ears, say: Not much use to search! If he ain't under cover he ain't
alive. Upon which the heart ceased, for several seconds, its knocking
at the ribs, and Amy Lovejoy knew how novel-heroines feel, when they
are described as growing gray about the lips.
She could not seem to make the telephone tube fit in its ring, and
after trying to do so once or twice, she left it hanging by the cord,
and went and opened the front door and stood on the veranda. It did not
seem to her especially cold, but over there, in the light that streamed
from the parlor window, the snow lay drifted into a singular shape,
that looked as if it might cover a human form. She shuddered sharply
and went into the house again. From time to time she telephoned to the
stable. They had sent a close carriage out with a doctor and two other
passengers, and Elliot Chittenden had gone in an open buckboard with a
driver. By and by the buckboard had come back and another party had
gone out in it. Then the carriage had returned and gone forth again
with fresh horses and a fresh driver.
She played a good deal with the riding-crop during the evening, and
now and then she went outside the door and took a look at the weird,
shroud-like shape, there in the light of the window. Once she stepped
up to it and pushed the riding-crop in, to its full length, just to
make sure that there was nothing under the snow. After that she took
the riding-crop in and dried it carefully on a towel.
Before she knew it the evening was far gone, and all but one
carriage had returned.
Guess Jim's turned in at some ranch, came the word from the
livery-stable. He'll be ready to start out again as soon as it's
If the evening had not seemed so miraculously short, Amy could not
have forgiven herself for having been so slow in arriving at her own
plan of action. As it was, the clock had struck twelve, before she
found herself, clothed in two or three knit and wadded jackets under a
loose old seal-skin sack, crossing the yard to the stable door. The
maids had long since gone to bed, and Thomas Jefferson was a mile away,
under his own modest roof.
Presently, with a clatter of hoofs, Sunbeam came forth from the
stable door, bearing on his back, a funny, round, dumpy figure, very
unlike in its outlines to the slender form which usually graced that
seat. The gallant steed was still further encumbered by a fur-lined
great coat of the doctor's, strapped on behind, its pockets well
stocked with brandy flask and biscuits.
The storm had much abated, and there was already a break in the
clouds over yonder. The air was intensely cold, but the wind had quite
died down. Sunbeam took the road at a good pace, for he had a valiant
spirit and would have scorned to remember the day's fatigues. His rider
sat, a funny little ball of fur, looking neither to the right nor to
the left. Stephen was nowhere on the open road; that was sure, for he
was far too good a horseman to come to grief out there. There was but
one place to look for him, and that was among the prairie-dog holes.
She had told him of the danger there was among them, and he would have
hastened there the moment he believed that she was lost.
Amy did not do very much thinking as she rode along; she did not
analyze the feeling that drove her forth to the rescue. She only knew
that she and she alone was responsible for any harm that might have
come to one whose only fault was that he had taken her at her word; and
that she would cheerfully break her own neck and Sunbeam's,even
Sunbeam's! for the sake of rescuing him.
The storm had ceased entirely now, and just as she reached the ranch
gate, which had swung half to on its hinges and was stuck there in the
snow, the moon came out and revealed the wide white expanse, unbroken
by any sign of the road. She felt sure that the search-parties would
have followed the road as closely as possible and that they would have
tried not to stray off into the field. But that was just where Stephen
Burns, mindful of the perils she had described to him, would naturally
have turned. She blew the whistle in the end of her riding-crop, once,
twice, three times. The sound died away in the wide echoless spaces.
Then cautiously, slowly, she made Sunbeam feel his way across the snow.
The moon was still riding among heavy clouds, but now and then it shone
forth and flooded with light the broad white field, casting a
sharp-cut, distorted shadow of horse and rider upon the snow.
[Illustration: THE RANCH GATE, WHICH HAD SWUNG HALF TO ON ITS
Once or twice she stopped, and blew the whistle and hallooed, and
each time the weird silence closed in again like an impenetrable veil.
Sometimes she became impatient of her slow progress, but she knew too
well the dangers of a misstep to risk the chance of success by any lack
of caution. Even in her anxiety and distress of mind, she marked the
intelligence with which Sunbeam picked his way, testing the firmness of
each spot on which he trod, as if he had known the danger.
Presently they began the ascent of a long narrow ridge beyond which
she knew there were no holes. As they paused for a moment on the crest,
looking down into the moonlit hollow, she raised the riding-crop to her
lips, and blew a long, shrill whistle; and promptly as an echo a voice
returned the signal. Following the direction of the sound, her eyes
discerned a dark shadow in the hollow forty rods away. She put Sunbeam
into a canter, and as she approached the shadow, the outline defined
itself, and she saw that it was a ruinous shed or hut.
Hulloo! came the voice again, and this time it was unmistakeably
A hundred yards from the shed, Sunbeam shied violently. Looking to
one side, she beheld in the shadow of a mass of scrub-oaks the body of
a horse lying stark and still. Close beside the head was a dark spot in
A moment later she had dismounted and was standing within the
rickety hut, looking down upon another shadowy form that moved and
Are you hurt? she asked.
Not much. I believe I have sprained my ankle. But the poor nag is
done for, he added sorrowfully.
Which foot have you hurt?
The right one.
That's good. Then you can ride sidesaddle. Are you sure that is
He was already consuming brandy and biscuit at a rate to dissipate
all immediate anxiety.
Yes; and I declare it's worth it! he cried with enthusiasm; a
statement which, if slightly ambiguous, conveyed a cheerful impression.
Did the fall kill the horse? Amy asked, with a little quiver in
her voice, of pity for the poor beast.
No; I thought it best to cut an artery for him. Poor boy! He
floundered terribly before he went down.
What threw him?
Something in the way of a branch or a piece of timber. Lucky it
happened where it did, he added. I couldn't have gone far looking for
Poor old nag! said Amy. Then, perceiving that she had not been
altogether polite: Aren't you nearly frozen? she asked.
No, it's very snug in here. Some other tramp must have been here
before me, and got these leaves together. There's lots of warmth in
By this time Stephen had crawled out from among the oak-leaves and,
having got himself into the doctor's fur-lined coat, stood on one foot,
leaning heavily against the door-frame.
A splendid night, isn't it? he remarked in a conversational tone.
Amy, who was just leading Sunbeam up to the doorway, glanced at the
young man, standing there in the bright moonlight,at his sensitive,
intelligent face, his finely-modelled head and brow,and somehow she
felt reinstated with herself. She had been fatally wrong in making
choice so lightly, but at least the choice was, in itself, nothing to
be ashamed of! As she helped Stephen in his painful transit to the
saddle, she wondered if she were really a heartless person to take
comfort in such a thought. But, in truth, since she had come to
question the genuineness of her own part in their relation, she had
lost faith in his share as well. There must have been something wrong
about it from the beginning, and certainly, she reasoned, if she had
lost interest in so admirable a being as he, it was not to be expected
that he would be more constant to a trifling sort of person like
herself. There was only a little awkwardness to be got over at first,
but sooner or later he would bless her for his escape.
Stephen, meanwhile, was submitting to all her arrangements with
neither protest nor suggestion. She had undertaken to rescue him, and
she must do it in her own way. If he hated to see her ploughing through
the snow by the side of the horse, he made no sign. If he would rather
have been left to his fate than to have subjected her to exposure and
fatigue, he was too wise to say so. Her wilfulness had been so
thoroughly demonstrated in the course of that day that he merely
observed her with an appreciation half amused, half admiring.
There is a house just beyond the gate where we can go, she said;
and then she did not speak again for many minutes.
As for her companion, he seemed inclined at first to be as taciturn
as she. Whether or not he was suffering agony from his foot, she had no
means of knowing, nor could she guess how he interpreted her own
action. At last he broke the silence.
Of course you meant to give me the slip, he said. I half knew it
all the time. I suppose that was the very reason why I persisted in
acting as if I thought you had ridden back for me. One clings all the
harder to one's illusions when,well, when it's all up with them.
Amy could not seem to think of any suitable remark to make in reply.
They had reached the ranch road now. She knew the general lay of the
land well enough to recognize it, and she could trust Sunbeam to keep
it. A dense black cloud, the rearguard of the storm, had covered the
moon, but there were stars enough to light the way somewhat.
Would you mind telling me why you risked your life for me? Stephen
Some seconds went by before she answered. Then: I think there was
reason enough in my being to blame for it all, she said; I behaved
And the other reason? There was another reason, I take it.
His voice was not eager, not lover-like; there was more curiosity
than anything else in the tone. Again the moon shone out, and lighted
up her face distinctly, as she answered him, looking straight before
her along the snowy road.
I think, she said, speaking with a slow consideration of her
words; I think it was because I could not bear to have yougo out of
the world, believingwhat was not true! It seemed like a deceit going
over into eternity!
Would he say something very dreadful in reply, she wondered;
something that would haunt her for the rest of her days?
She was still bracing herself for the worst,for he had not yet
broken the silence,when they came to the gate, fixed there, half
closed. There was just room for Sunbeam to pass out, and Amy fell
behind for a moment. Stephen drew rein and waited for her, while she
vainly tried to close the gate.
Don't mind that, he said. It will close of itself when the snow
She came obediently and walked beside him. They had turned aside
from the direction of Springtown, toward a little house a few rods
away. They were almost there when Stephen spoke again.
You must be sorry about it all, he said, though you very wisely
leave that to be understood. You have made a mistake and you think you
have caused another person great and lasting unhappiness. I can't tell
to-night whether that is so or not, but there is one thing that I think
you have a right to know.
And that is? She felt that she must fill in the pause, for he
evidently found it difficult to go on.
I think I know you well enough, he said; to be sure of your
feeling about it, though it is different from what some people would
have under the circumstances. But somehow I am sure that you will be
glad to know, that when I thought I was going to perish in the
storm,after I was thrown, and before I had seen that there was
shelter near by,it was not you my thoughts were running on.
Again he paused while she lifted the latch of the little gate. Then,
as Sunbeam passed through, and Amy walked by his side up the snowy
path, Stephen said:
I think it must have been a good many minutes that I lay there,
thinking that the end was coming, and the only person in the world that
I seemed to care about wasmy mother!
At the word, the bond that had irked her was gently loosed, and he,
for his part, could only wonder that he felt no pain. The great cold
moonlit calm of the night seemed to enter into their hearts, swept
clean by the storm. They looked into one another's faces in the solemn
white light, with a fine new unconcern. Where were all their
perplexities? What had it all been about?
It was as if the snow had melted, and the great gate had closed
itself. Was it Paradise or Purgatory they had shut themselves out from?
XIII. A GOLDEN VISTA.
Tramp, tramp, tramp,the heavy boots had sounded on the
road,tramp, tramp, tramp! since Sunday morning, and now it was
Tuesday noon. Often for hours together there had been no witness to the
steady march, save the lordly pine-trees, standing straight and grand
in the mountain parks, or scaling boldly the precipitate sides of the
encroaching cliffs; the cliffs themselves, frowning sternly above the
path; and always somewhere on the horizon, towering above the nearer
hills or closing in the end of the valley, a snowy peak gleaming like a
transcendent promise against the sky. Waldo Kean, as he strode steadily
down from his father's mountain ranch toward a wonderful new future
whose door was about to be flung wide to him, felt the inspiration of
those rugged mountain influences, the like of which had been his
familiars all the seventeen years of his life. The chattering brooks
had nothing to say to him as they came dashing down from the hills to
join the rollicking stream whose course his path followed; the
sunflowers, gilding the edge of the road, were but frills and furbelows
to his thinking. But in the pine-trees there was a perfectly clear
significance,in those hardy growths, finding a foothold among the
rocks, drawing sustenance from Heaven knew where, yet ever growing
skyward, straight and tall and strong. As he passed among them,
standing at gracious intervals in the broad parks, they seemed to
flush with understanding and sympathy. His way led from north to south
and as often as he turned and looked back among the trees, the stems
glowed ruddily and his heart warmed to them. He knew that it was merely
the southern exposure that had tinged their bark and caused that
friendly glow, but he liked it all the same.
Now and then the solitude was relieved by the appearance of a
horseman riding with flapping arms and jingling spurs up the pass; or
again the silence was broken by the inconsequent bleating of a flock of
sheep wandering in search of their scant pasturage or huddling
together, an agitated mass of grimy wool, its outskirts painfully
exposed to the sharp but well-intentioned admonitions of a somewhat
irascible collie. Neither man nor beast took special note of the
overgrown boy striding so confidently on his way, nor was one observer
more likely than the other to guess what inspiring thoughts were
animating the roughly clad, uncouth form. The boy's clothes were shabby
and travel-stained, and over his shoulders was slung a canvas bag, its
miscellaneous contents making sharp, angular protuberances on its
surface. He had left the ranch with clothes and books enough to give
the bag a pretty weight, and this he had unconcernedly increased by the
insertion into the straining receptacle of many a specimen picked up
by the way. For the eyes were keen and observant that looked out from
under the strongly marked brows, and bits of fluorite and fool's
gold, and of rarer minerals as well, which had lain for years beside
the road, noted as little by cowboy and ranchman and mountain tourist
as by the redman whose feet first trod the pass, were destined to-day
to start on their travels, enlisted in the service of Science.
It must have been a daring specimen indeed that should have thought
of resisting its fate when it came at the hands of Waldo Kean. There
was a certain rough strength not only in the muscular frame, but in the
face itself, with its rude features, its determined outlines, its heavy
under-lip; and in the stiff black hair roughly clipped on the ample
skull, growing in a bushy thatch above the keen dark eyes. It seemed
but natural that just that type of boy should feel himself drawn to the
study of the rocky foundation of things.
Four years ago Waldo Kean had found out that he wanted to be a
geologist, and that to this end he must go to college. Yet though the
college was in Springtown, and though Springtown lies close to the foot
of the range, it had taken him four years to get there. During that
enforced interval he had done his full share of the heavy ranch work,
he had found one and another means of accumulating a little capital of
his own; at off hours and off seasons he had cudgelled his brain over
books with ugly difficult titles and anything but tractable contents.
In short he had fairly earned his passport, and now, at last, on this
radiant October morning, he was striding over the few intervening miles
that separated him from that wonderful Land of Promise, where Latin and
Greek grew on every tree, and the air was electric with the secrets of
Science itself. What wonder that he was unconscious of hardship and
fatigue, that he counted as nothing the three days' tramp; the icy
nights spent out under the chill stars; the only half-satisfied hunger
of a healthy boy, living on food which the dry mountain air was rapidly
reducing to a powdery consistency! He was going to College; he was
going to be a Geologist. What did he care for any paltry details by the
He seated himself for his noon meal, the last crumbling sandwich of
his store, at the foot of a big pine-tree, just where the pass narrows
to a wild ravine. As he took out the slice of bread and meat neatly
wrapped about with brown paper, his thoughts reverted with a certain
sore compunction to the hand that had prepared it for him. It had been
his mother's farewell service, and he somehow realized now as he had
not realized at the time, how much all those careful preparations
meant, to her and to himself. He remembered how, late Saturday night,
she had sat mending a new rip in his best coat, and that when she
pricked her finger, and a little bead of red blood had to be disposed
of before she could go on with the work, he had wondered why women were
always pricking their fingers when there was no need. It was not until
the very moment of departure that the pain of it seized him. His mother
was a quiet, undemonstrative woman of the New England race, and if
mother and son loved each other,as it now transpired that they
did,no mention had ever been made of the fact on either side. The
consequence was, that when, at parting, an iron hand seemed to be
gripping the boy's throat, he had been so taken at unawares, that he
had found it impossible to articulate a single word. On the mother's
part there had been one little, half-suppressed sob that sounded in his
ears yet. It left an ache in him that he did not at first know what to
do with, but which clearly called for heroic treatment. Accordingly,
after much pondering the situation, he had adopted a great
resolution,a resolution which involved no less arduous a task than
that of writing a letter to his mother and telling her that he loved
her. He thought it possible that the confession might give her
pleasure, coming from a safe distance and involving no immediate
consequences, and in any case he did not feel justified in keeping to
himself a discovery which so nearly concerned another person. He had
thought a good deal about the letter and of how he should approach the
subject, and he had about decided to make the momentous statement in a
postscript down in one corner and to sign it Waldy.
He was so near his journey's end that he allowed himself rather a
longer nooning than usual. He stretched himself on his back on the pine
needles, and with his hands clasped behind his head, he gazed up
through the spreading branches to the marvellous blue of the sky. When
he should be a scientific man and know all sorts of things besides
geology,meteorology and chemistry and the like,perhaps he should
find out why the sky looked so particularly deep and palpitating when
you were lying flat on your back and there were some pine branches in
between. He meant, one of these days, to know everything there was to
be known, and to discover a little something new besides.
A train of cars thundered by on the other side of the brook not
thirty yards from his feet. He did not change his position, but looking
down the long length of his legs, he saw the roaring, snorting beast of
an engine rush by, trailing its tail of cars behind it.
And yet the power isn't in the steam, he thought to himself, but
in the brain that controls it. Just the brain. That's all. At the
thought a sudden impatience seized him to arrive at that goal where the
brain takes command, and he sprang to his feet, and shouldering his
pack, strode on down the pass. Tramp, tramp, tramp! went the heavy
boots; the great bag weighed like lead across his shoulders; a gnawing
hunger had somehow got into him since he swallowed the crumbling bread
The water was good, at any rate, he said to himself, glancing more
appreciatively than before at the crystal stream that still raced on a
level with the road. The way led across both brook and railroad just
there, and there was a sharp turn in the walls of the cañon. He looked
back and saw a train rushing down the pass, swiftly,surreptitiously,
it seemed, so curiously little noise did it make on the down-grade. An
instant later he had turned the corner, and found himself face to face
with a pair of horses harnessed to a buggy, trotting rapidly up the
pass, straight toward that railroad crossing. They were already close
upon him and he could see a man and woman seated in the buggy. He had
only time to fling his pack to one side and wave his arms in warning,
and then, his warning being unheeded, he sprang at the horses' heads
and seized the bridles. The horses reared and plunged, there was the
sharp whistle of a whiplash, a stinging blow cut him across the face.
The blood rushed to his head in a sudden fury, but instinctively he
kept his hold upon the plunging horses. They had all but dragged him to
the track when the train rushed by. The whole thing had happened in
twenty seconds of time.
He dropped his hold and sprang to one side while the horses dashed
on and tore round the projecting corner of rock, the buggy slewing
wildly after them.
Waldo Kean stood an instant with clenched hands and crimson face, a
straight welt standing out white and angry across his cheek.
Then,Pooh! he muttered, I'm going to college all the same!and he
picked up his hat which the horses had trampled out of shape,
shouldered his pack and strode on down the pass. His cheek was smarting
with pain, but he was hardly aware of that; there was a yawning rip in
the arm-hole of his coat, but that was of still less consequence. He
had all he could do to attend to the conflicting emotions of the
moment; the sense of outraged dignity contending, not very
successfully, with a lively concern for the fate of those people he had
tried to rescue. He thought it more than likely that they would both
get killed, for the horses were quite unmanageable when they
disappeared around the corner, and he remembered an ugly bit of road
just above that point. He was not a little disgusted with himself when
he caught himself hoping that they might get out of the scrape alive.
Well, if he could not stay mad longer than that, he told himself, he
might as well forget the whole business and be on the look-out for
Meanwhile the pass was getting grander every moment; the brook was
working its way deeper below the level of the road, while here and
there in this sombre defile a splash of yellow aspen gleamed like
living gold on the face of the precipice. The wild and beautiful gorge
interested him in spite of himself; it disengaged his thoughts alike
from his personal grievance, and from his dissatisfied contemplation of
his own lack of proper vindictiveness. There was nothing grand like
this in the neighborhood of the ranch. It was more like his father's
description of the Flume and the Notch, those natural wonders of
the White Hills which Waldo Kean the elder liked to talk about. When I
was a boy over in New Hampshire, he used to say; and to the children
it seemed as if over in New Hampshire could not be more than a day's
journey from the ranch.
[Illustration: THE WILD AND BEAUTIFUL GORGE.]
When I was a boy over in New Hampshire, he would say, I got it
into my head that if I could only get away to a new place I sh'd get to
be something big; and the farther away I got, the bigger I expected to
be. Colorado was a territory then, 'n I thought, 'f I could only get
out here they'd make me gov'nor's like 's not. 'N I do' know but what
I'd have looked to be made President of the United States 'f I'd
sighted the Pacific Ocean!
Then the shaggy, keen-eyed mountaineer who made so light of boyish
expectations would knock the logs together and take a puff or two at
his pipe before coming to the climax of his remarks, which varied
according to the lesson he wished to inculcate.
It took me several years of wrastling with life, he was fond of
saying, to find out that it ain't so much matter whar you be,
as what you be. 'N if I was you, Waldy,here was the
application,I'd contrive to learn a little something on my own hook,
before I aspired to go consorting with them as knows it all!
When, however, the time was ripe, and Waldy, having fulfilled
these conditions, was fairly off for college, the ranchman had
signified his approval of his son's course by escorting him a few miles
on his way. The boy had felt himself highly honored by the attention,
yet when the time of parting came, it was with no such stricture about
his throat as had taken him at unawares in the early morning, that he
watched the tall form disappearing among the pine-trees. There was a
certain self-sufficiency about the old man,aged forty-five,that
precluded any embarrassing tenderness in one's relations with him.
Waldo was thinking of his father as he strode down the pass with
that welt on his cheek. He had an idea that his father would not make
so much of the affair as he was taking himself to task for not doing.
And up to this time his father had been his standard. He not only had a
very high opinion of him as he was, but he had a boyish faith in what
he might have been, a belief that if he had had half a chance he would
have made his mark in the world. He was glad that he bore his father's
name, and he was quite determined to make it stand for something in the
minds of men before he got through with it. It sounded like a name that
was to be made to mean something.
Suddenly the sound of wheels coming down the pass struck his ear.
They were the wheels of a buggy, he thought, and of a buggy drawn by a
pair of horses. The suggestion was distasteful to Waldo Kean just at
that moment, and he quickened his pace somewhat. Presently the wheels
stopped close behind him, a firm step sounded on the road, he felt a
heavy hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and his worst forebodings
were realized. It was the face he had caught sight of in that
particular buggy which he did not like to think about, and the hand
that rested on his shoulder was the one which had swung the whip to
such good purpose.
A very hearty and pleasant voice was saying; Do you know, I never
did anything in all my life I was so sorry for! but the boy strode on
as stolidly as if he had been stone-deaf.
The other, though a man of heavy build, kept pace with him easily.
You see, he remarked, after waiting a reasonable time for a reply;
I never knew what it was to owe any one so much as I owe you!
Not being, in fact, stone-deaf, Waldo found himself obliged to make
some response. As much from embarrassment as from anger, he spoke
That's nothing, he said. I'd have done as much for a stray
dog,and like as not I'd have got bit all the same!
His companion was making a study of him rather than of his
words;of the defiant pose of the head above the shabby, uncouth
figure,of the stormy eyes set in the fiery crimson of the face. He
could not resent the rough words, but neither could he help being
amused at the tragic exaggeration of the figure.
Do you know, you do look like a brigand! he said, in an
easy tone, that had a curious effect upon the excited boy. I don't so
much wonder that I took you for a footpad!
No one but Dick Dayton,for it was the Springtown Mascot himself
who was trying to make friends with the ranch boy,could have hit
off the situation so easily. The brigand's face had already relaxed
somewhat, though his tongue was not to be so lightly loosed.
The fact is, Dayton went on, following up his advantage; The fact
is, there was a hold-up here in the pass last week, and my wife and I
were just saying what a jolly good place it was for that kind of thing,
when you flung yourself at the horses' heads. I don't know what you
would have done under the circumstances, but I know you'd have been
either a fool or a prophet if you hadn't let fly for all you were
The boy looked up at the friendly, humorous face, and pleasant
relentings stole upon him.
Well, then, he said, with a sudden, flashing smile, which
illuminated his harsh countenance, very much as the gold of the aspens
lit up the wall of frowning rock over there. That's all right, and I'm
glad I did it.
All right! cried Dayton, with a sudden rising emotion in his
voice,I should think it was all right! It isn't every day
that a man and his wife get their lives saved in that offhand way! Why!
I'm all balled up every time I think of it!
Oh, well; I don't know! said Waldo, relapsing into embarrassment
again; I guess it was the horses I thought of as much as anything!
Dayton was still too sincerely moved to laugh outright at this
unexpected turn, as he would have done in spite of himself under
ordinary circumstances, but he found it a relief to slip back into his
tone of easy banter.
If that's the case, he said; would you mind coming back and being
introduced to the horses? They are just behind us, and I think they
ought to have a chance to make their acknowledgments.
The boy, very much aware that he had said the wrong thing, yet
attracted, in spite of himself and his own blunders, to the
good-natured giant, yielded, awkwardly enough, and retraced his steps.
They were soon face to face with the horses, making their way at a slow
walk down the road, driven by the woman whose face Waldo had had a
confused glimpse of in the heat of that fateful encounter.
This is my wife, Mrs. Dayton, said the big man; and you are?
For the first time in his life the boy had taken his hat off as a
matter of ceremony. He had done so in unconscious imitation of Dayton,
who had lifted his own as he mentioned his wife's name. Waldo Kean did
not perhaps realize that the education he was so ambitious of achieving
was begun then and there.
The shapeless old hat once off, he did not find it easy to put it on
again, and, as Mrs. Dayton leaned forward with extended hand, he
stopped to tuck the battered bundle of felt into his pocket before
clasping the bit of dainty kid she held out to him.
She was already speaking, and, strangely enough, there was something
in her voice which made him think of his mother's as it had sounded
just before it broke into that pathetic little sob.
There is so little good in talking about what a person feels, she
was saying; that I'm not going to try. Yes, the little break in the
voice was something he had heard but once in his life before; yet
nothing could have been less like his mother than the expressive young
face bending toward him.
The great half-civilized boy took one look at the face, and all his
I guess anybody 'd like to do you a good turn! he declared boldly,
as he loosed the small gloved hand from the big clutch he had given it.
The charming face flushed as warmly as if it had never been
Are you going to stay in Springtown? its owner asked.
I'm going to the college, the young geologist answered proudly.
Then you'd better let us have your pack, said Dayton. We can do
that much for you! There's lots of room in back here.
Waldo hesitated; he was used to carrying his own burdens. But Dayton
had hold of the pack, and it seemed to find its own way into the buggy.
There! That will ride nicely, said Dayton. Now I suppose we may
call ourselves quits? and he glanced quizzically at the boy who had
clearly missed the amiable satire of the suggestion.
The two walked on together for some time, keeping close beside the
buggy. The horses were perfectly docile now that no one seemed disposed
to fly at their heads. Waldo began to feel that he had really been
needlessly violent with them in that first encounter. He pulled out his
hat and put it on again.
They had come to the narrowest and most stupendous part of the pass,
and Waldo, now wonderfully at his ease, had broached the subject of the
Notch. He was astonished to find how conversible these new
acquaintances were. They proved much easier to talk with than his ranch
neighbors whom he had known all his life. And, better still, they knew
a surprising lot about minerals and flowers and things of that sort,
that were but sticks and stones to his small world at home.
When, at last, these very remarkable and well-informed people drove
away, and he watched their buggy disappearing down the pass, he found
himself possessed of a new and inspiring faith in the approachableness
of the great world he was about to confront. He had rather expected to
deal with it with hammer and pick,to wrest the gold of experience
from the hardest and flintiest bedrock; and all at once he felt as if
he had struck a great placer with nuggets of the most agreeable
description lying about, ready to his hand!
As he reflected upon these things, the pass was opening out into a
curious, cup-shaped valley, crowded with huge hotels and diminutive
cottages of more or less fantastic architecture, clustering in the
valley, climbing the hills, perching on jutting rocks and overhanging
terraces. Waldo knew the secret of this startling outcrop of human
enterprise. He knew that here, in this populous nook, were hidden
springs of mineral waters, bubbling and sparkling up from the caverns
of the earth. He found his way to one of the springs, where he took a
long, deep draught of the tingling elixir, speculating the while, as to
its nature and source. Then on he went, refreshed and exhilarated.
A few miles of dusty highway brought him at last within the borders
of classic Springtown, classic in its significance to him, as the
elm-embowered shades of Cambridge or New Haven to the New England boy
at home. As he entered upon the broad Western Avenue, the declining sun
had nearly touched the great Peak, its long, level rays striking a
perfect glory across the boughs of the cottonwood trees shining in the
height of their yellow autumn splendor. They arched the walk he trod,
and stretched to the northward, a marvellous golden vista, as brilliant
as the promise of the future itself. There were fine residences on
either side of the avenue, finer than anything the ranch boy had ever
dreamed of, while off to the west stretched the line of mountains,
transfigured in the warm afternoon light. But all the boy could see or
think of was that golden vista, stretching before him to the very
portals of the house of learning.
And presently, along this glorified path, a man approached, and as
the two came face to face, he stopped before the boy and called him by
[Illustration: A GOLDEN VISTA.]
The whole situation was so wonderful,so magical it seemed to Waldo
in the exaltation of the moment,that he did not pause to consider how
his name should be known to a chance passer-by; and when the stranger
went on to give his own name, and it was the name of the college
president, the boy accepted the fact that dreams come true, and only
held his head a little higher and trod the path a little more firmly,
as he walked beside the president under the yellow cottonwoods.
I came out to meet you, the president was saying, in a big,
friendly voice. I heard you were coming, and I thought we might talk
things over a bit on the way.
They chatted a little of the boy's plans and resources, of the
classes he was to enter, and of what he might accomplish in his college
course; and then they came out from under the trees, and found
themselves upon the college campus. A game of football was going on
there, the figures of the players fairly irradiated in the golden light
which fell aslant the great open space, touching the scant yellowish
grass into a play of shimmering color. They stood a moment, while the
president pointed out to Waldo the different college buildings. Then:
I have something pleasant to tell you, his companion remarked,
with a glance at the strong eager face of the boy. The college has
just had the gift of a scholarship.
I'm glad of that, said Waldo, heartily, finding a cheerful omen in
the fact that the day was an auspicious one for others beside himself.
The gift is a sort of thank-offering, he heard his new friend say;
from a man who fell in with youup in the pass this
The boy's face went crimson at the words, but he only fixed his eyes
the more intently upon the football players, as if his destiny had
depended upon the outcome of the game.
The scholarship is the largest we have;he heard the words
distinctly, but they struck him as coming from quite a long distance.
It is to be calledthe Waldo Kean Scholarship!
The Waldo Kean Scholarship! How well that sounded! What a good,
convincing ring it had, as if it had been intended from the very
beginning of things!
He stood silent a moment, pondering it, while the president waited
for him to speak; and as he watched the field the football players
seemed to mingle and vanish from sight like shadows in a dream, while
in their place a certain tall angular form stood out, loose-jointed,
somewhat bent, yet full of character and power. All the splendor of the
setting sun centred upon that rugged vision, that yet did not bate one
jot of its homely reality.
And the boy, lifting his head with a proud gesture, and with a
straightening of the whole figure, looked the president in the face and
said: That is my father's name!
They started to cross the campus, where the football players were
once more in possession. The sun had dropped behind the Peak, and the
glory was fading from the face of the earth; but to Waldo Kean, walking
side by side with the college president, the world was alight with the
rays of a sun whose setting was yet a long way off; and the golden
vista he beheld before him was nothing less than the splendid
illimitable future,the future of the New West, which was to be his by
right of conquest!