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Title: Peak and Prairie - From a Colorado Sketch-book
Author: Fuller, Anna
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Peak and Prairie - From a Colorado Sketch-book" ***

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By ANNA FULLER

A Literary Courtship: Under the Auspices of
Pike's Peak. 28th thousand. 16°                $1.25

A Venetian June. Illustrated. 15th thousand.
16°                                            $1.25

Peak and Prairie: From a Colorado Sketch-Book.
Illustrated. 7th thousand. 16°
New Edition. 12°                               $1.50

Pratt Portraits: Sketched in a New England
Suburb. Illustrated, 12th thousand. 12°        $1.50

One of the Pilgrims. A Bank Story. 6th
thousand. 12°                                  $1.25

Katherine Day. 8th thousand. 12°               $1.50

A Bookful of Girls. 4th thousand. Illustrated.
12°                                            $1.50

Later Pratt Portraits. Illustrated $1.50 net

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

[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

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

TO ONE
TO WHOM I OWE
COLORADO
AND MUCH BESIDES
THIS BOOK IS INSCRIBED

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PREFACE.

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 were--town,
prairie, and mountain fastness--rises 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.

May, 1894.

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CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                                  PAGE

PREFACE                                                     v
I.--A PILGRIM IN THE FAR WEST                               1
II.--BRIAN BORU                                            36
III.--JAKE STANWOOD'S GAL                                  60
IV.--AT THE KEITH RANCH                                   101
V.--THE RUMPETY CASE                                      123
VI.--THE LAME GULCH PROFESSOR                             151
VII.--THE BOSS OF THE WHEEL                               187
VIII.--MR. FETHERBEE'S ADVENTURE                          217
IX.--AN AMATEUR GAMBLE                                    240
X.--A ROCKY MOUNTAIN SHIPWRECK                            266
XI.--A STROKE IN THE GAME                                 301
XII.--THE BLIZZARD PICNIC                                 335
XIII.--A GOLDEN VISTA                                     369

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.

A. F.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

ILLUSTRATIONS.

                                                         PAGE

"The Peak was Superb that Morning, Big and
Strong and Glittering with Snow"               _Frontispiece_

"A Handful of Cottonwood Trees Clustered about
the House"                                                 24

"The Vast Sea of the Prairie"                              46

"Between his Cabin Door and 'The Range'
Stretched Twenty Miles of Arid Prairie"                    60

The Keith Ranch                                           104

"A Half-Hearted Stream Known as 'The Creek'"              122

"The Great Dome of Snow Towered in All its Grandeur"      142

"A Town of Rude Frame Huts had Sprung up in
the Hollow below"                                         156

"On the Edge of a Dead Forest"                            212

"It's a Kind of Double Back-Action Slant we've
Got to Tackle this Time"                                  228

Pine Bluff                                                258

"They Looked out at the Peak"                             289

"The Brook, Which Came Dashing Down From The
Cañon, Still Rioting on Its Way"                          324

"The Ranch Gate, Which Had Swung Half To On
Its Hinges"                                               360

"The Wild and Beautiful Gorge"                            378

A Golden Vista                                            388

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



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 home--at 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 Mountains--a 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 little neighbor.

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 day--when 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 hours--eastward 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
the sidewalk.

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."

"What for?"

"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. Nancy
protested.

"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
license."

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 the
spot.

"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 another season.

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 which--it
seemed but the other day--he 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
attention--always excepting his enforced ablutions--and 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 back
door."

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 friendliest
feelings.

The next morning the dog was gone. Yes, incredible as it seems, that
graceless dog was gone--gone 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 neck!"

"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 old-fashioned
courtesy.

"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 pleasurable
excitement.

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 prairie-dogs.

"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
HOUSE."]

"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 her--"sakes 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
cook.

"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 threshold--ground 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. "Why--why--what 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."

"Six--thousand--dollars?"

"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 home--home 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 strangers--city people, whom she did not know.
She wondered where she should live. She should want to be independent,
and she should hate to "board out."

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 aggrieved.

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 from
     rheumatism dreadfully, and haven't had the spirit to write to
     anybody but my Almira. It's been so kind of lonesome since she went
     away that I guess that's why the rheumatism got such a hold of me.
     When you ain't got anybody belonging to you, you get kind of
     low-spirited. Then the weather--it's been about as bad as I ever
     seen it. Not a good hard rain, but a steady drizzle-drozzle day
     after day. You can't put your foot out of doors without getting
     your petticoats draggled. But you'll want to hear the news. Cousin
     Joshua he died last month, and the place was sold to auction.
     Deacon Stebbins bought it low. He's getting harder-fisted every
     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 her
     boys is off to Boston. Does seem as though you couldn't hold the
     young folks here with ropes, and I don't know who's going to run
     the farms and the corner store when we're gone. Going pretty fast
     we be too. They've been eight deaths in the parish since last
     Thanksgiving--Mary Jane Evans and me was counting them up last
     sewing circle. Mr. Williams, the new minister, made out as we'd
     better find a more cheerful subject; but we told him old Parson
     Edwards before him had given us to understand that it was
     profitable and edifying to the spiritual man to dwell on thoughts
     of death and eternity. They do say that Parson Williams would be
     glad to get another parish. He's a stirring kind of man, and there
     ain't overmuch to stir, round here. I sometimes wish I could get
     away myself. I'd like to go down to Boston and board for a spell,
     jest to see somebody passing by; but they say board's high down
     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 feel 's
     you do about coming home. 'T ain't what you're used to out West,
     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 yesterday
     about a grizzly-bear that killed a man right there in the Rocky
     Mountains, and I'm glad you feel 's you do about coming home. I
     should like to think that you'd be here to close my eyes at the
     last.

     "But no more at present. This is quite a letter for me. Your true
     friend,
                                                       "ALMIRA TARBELL.

     "P.S.--You remember my old tabby that I set such store by? She died
     along in March, and I buried her under the sugar-maple side of the
     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
term?"

The long words sounded very technical and business-like, yet rather
agreeable too.

"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 heels.

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, but--I'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 effect--a 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 tramps--for 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 Brian
Boru."

"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 and----"

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 you?"

Before Sir Bryan could reach out a helping hand, her feet were on the
ground.

"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 situation.

At last the girl lifted her head, murmuring, "Straight through the
heart!"

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
ring.

The girl turned upon him with quick distrust. No, he was more glad than
sorry.

"If we were in England," she cried, with withering scorn, "you would
have to be more than sorry."

"In England?"

"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 have--you'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
issues.

"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
relenting.

"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 to
her.

"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 empty stomach."

"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
it's ready."

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 after all.

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 again--all 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
for more.

"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, and--and"--with a little catch in her breath--"he 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 his work.

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 vindictive."

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
the horizon.

"Do you never feel afraid?" he asked, as they walked back to the house.

"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 and
indistinct.

"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
compunction.

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 impregnable shadow.

"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
      Brian Boru,
   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 lost.



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 miles--no 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 concealed.

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
to establish.

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
gorgeous display.

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 her.

Somewhat mystified by this apparition, Stanwood approached, and said;
"Good-evening, madam."

"Good-evening," came the reply, in a rather agitated voice. "I'm
Elizabeth."

"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
situation.

"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 somewhere--some school friend, you know, or--or--yes--some
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 see--this
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. But"--with a praiseworthy if not
altogether successful effort--"I 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 museum"--and 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
escaped her.

"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
apology.

"Yes," he replied grimly. "I have the honor to fill that office myself."

"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 thoughtfully.

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, always--uncomfortable 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 seemed
uncomfortable.

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.

"For instance?"

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
this year."

"You make your plans a long way ahead. What is the next step on the
program?"

"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."

"Such as?"

"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?"

"Hardly."

"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" with himself.

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 what?"

"A swap. That's what we call it when we pay back one compliment with
another."

He turned and looked at her with an amused approval which was almost
paternal.

"It is most refreshing," he said, "to have the vocabulary of the effete
West enlivened with these breezy expressions from the growing East."

"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?"

"Heaven forbid!"

"Well, then! Miss Hunniman--you 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
manner:

"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 Nick."

"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
than--Miss Hunniman."

"But, papa!"

"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 another
channel.

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 autumn?"

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
anywhere."

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 of
us_!"

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
my share."

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 thing--a 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 questioning look.

"What can I do for you, papa? Tell me if there is anything I can do for
you."

"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 insinuatingly.

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
frightened.

"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 and
deep.

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 train.

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 prove it.

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 doctor--it 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 you?"

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 get
it?"

"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!"

Elizabeth beamed.

"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 swing--a 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 caller-out.

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 arms.

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 narrow.

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 commotion.

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 him--Bub 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 was
rising.

"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 ham."

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.

"Why not?"

"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
had departed.

"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 ramper.

As Lem stepped out into the other room, the caller-out was shouting,
"Promen-_ade_ all--you 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
window."

"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 dance.

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 ghostly.

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 with
bitterness.

If Lemuel Keith had not adored his brother, he would have hated
him--hated 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 _stor-my
day_!"

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 Aggy--no one
knew her last name--sat 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 cucumber
pickle.

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 thunder-cloud.

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 d---- please." 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 be--hark! 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
drawling voice.

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 forehead--"if 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 this--like 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
brother's voice.

"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 swooned.

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
coward."

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
truth.



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
thought.

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 legal
advice?"

"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 go."

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 Victor--poor 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
potatoes."

"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 incisive.

"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?"

"Yes, sorr."

"And this ingenious tumble took place before the racket in the cellar?"

"Yes, sorr."

"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 him?"

"I knew they would." Rankin answered, with a jerk which betokened
suppressed emotion.

"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 question.

"Why not?"

"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 ain't
likely."

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 tied.

"I say, Dolliber, did they say it was fourteen miles to their ranch?"

"Yes."

"South, wasn't it?"

"Yes."

"They'll have the wind in their faces."

"You bet!"

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 way
home."

"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 ranch."

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 every minute.

"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
rate.

"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
warm.

"If I wasn't so all-fired mad, Pincher, I believe 't would seem kind o'
cold."

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 breath.

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 GRANDEUR."]

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
with him."

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.

"_You cur!_"

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 teeth.

But the figure hung there like a log. The spectral horse sniffed
strangely.

A swift horror seized upon Rankin. He grasped the heavy shoulder and
shook it roughly. It was like shaking--hush! 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
head.

"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 with--_it_. 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 squeak.

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 labor.

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 sudden removal.

"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 lightly appeased.

"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"
again. "Disapp'inted?"

"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 with.

"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 HOLLOW
BELOW."]

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
own price!"

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 Bossie, 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
along."

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 familiar
fashion.

"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 stimulant.

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.

"Simon Amberley."

"Same's the calf," she commented. "Was either of you named for the
other?"

"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
white-nosed gourmand.

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
unruffled tranquillity.

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
irrelevance.

"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 another."

"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 _I_."

"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
_Scholar_!

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 calf--but 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 with her?

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 course--and 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
Simon!"

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 pleased.

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
molested.

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?"

"No."

"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
often so."

"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?"

"Yes."

"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.

"Yes."

"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 portal.

The new-comer stepped up to the bar-tender.

"Do you know whether a miner named Conrad Christie is in there?" he
asked.

"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 silk
gown.

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 Conrad
Christie?"

"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
with me?"

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 ear.

"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
listening to.

"It's the Lame Gulch Professor," the black-haired man remarked, taking a
look at his cards, before turning to his glass for refreshment.

"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 for appearances.

Simon breathed deep and hard, and again there was an exasperating tremor
in his low-pitched voice, which drawled more than usual, as he said:

"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
"lamb."

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
shot!"

"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 style."

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
pine needles.

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 and--_I 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 outset.

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 warranted.

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 path.

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 to--if 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 new-comer.

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 eager--so 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
itself.

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 present
scene.

"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 had won!

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 of
day.

"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
purchaser?"

"No!"

The rudely spoken monosyllable put an abrupt period to the conversation.

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 tone:

"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
behind me."

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 understand--that you are not aware--that--Monsieur! The ring
which you are pleased to wear so--so--conspicuously is the property
of--The 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
is--unconventional, 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 self-control.

"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 so?"

"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
at hand.

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 was--a
message--to--the stars."

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
going--in--for astronomy!"



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 journey's
end.

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 doctor's orders!"

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
circus!"

"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
manner.

"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 ever---- I 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 concerned.

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 other
day."

"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 to
prevent?"

"Why, no; not if you're up to that kind of thing. They're doing it every
day."

"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 boards.

"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 they--arrived! 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 all!

"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 companionable.

"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
soul.

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 good fortune!

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 it?"

"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 tone.

"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 as--"An adventure I
once had!"



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
securities.

"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 was--an 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
Hillerton's own.

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 superiors--namely,
Hillerton and Fate--it 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 composer--a
composer of symphonies and operas--the 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 "struck."

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 rooms--panes 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 hungry wolf."

"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 says he:

"'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 Gulch."

"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
spoke.

"Wonder what the claim was worth?" said the man with a mortgage on him.

"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 respect--every 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 them--great, 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 to.

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 the distance.

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
bitten."

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,
held firm.

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
first-comer.

"They were bidding forty cents at the club last night, with no takers."

"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 money
to-day."

"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
minutes later.

"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 following
telegram:

     "Leitmann Orchestra engaged for Springtown, May 19th. Five thousand
     dollars deposited in First National Bank. Particulars by letter.

                                         (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 body.

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 the
new-comer.

"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
with.

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 the
doorway.

"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
"business."

"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 venture it.

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
second visit.

"Oh, just an idea they've got that it's going higher," Inches answered
indifferently.

"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
much-travestied mountain.

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?"

"Yes."

"What did you buy?"

"H. O. P."

"What did you pay?"

"Twenty cents."

"Sold yet?"

"No."

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 then."

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 noticed
before.

"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 all?

"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 Heaven."

"I suppose when we get there, you and I, Springtown will seem very far
away."

"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 day!"

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 her
leisure.

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 a
fellow-conspirator.

This was what she wrote:

     "DEAR MR. DAYTON,

     "I want to go into the 'Horn of Plenty' again, and I can't get away
     to attend to it. I enclose your check, and one of my own for $400.
     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 don't
     care what you pay; get what you can for the money.

                                                    "Yours truly,
                                                             "M. BIXBY."

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
profoundly.

"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 letter.

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 dared--Heaven? Was it Heaven she was
defying? Ah! she must not lose her soul, Heaven knew she would not lose
her soul--for 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.

        JAMES BIXBY,
          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
past.

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 gone.

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 the
board,--namely:

     "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
management."

"Think so?"

"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 way?"

"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!"

"How much?"

"_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 it.

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
insufficient now.

"Snubbing? I thought I made you a very pretty compliment," she answered,
with a little caressing tone that he found illogically comforting.

"You haven't told me why you like this gentlemanlike boor," he
persisted.

"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 waltz.

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:

     "DEAR DOROTHY,

     "You were right; I wasn't half good enough for you. No fellow is,
     as far as that goes! Don't you let them fool you on that score! It
     makes me mad when I think about it. You always knew the worst of
     me, but you don't really know the first thing about any other man.
     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 you
     like of me--that's the rubbish the rest will talk. I'm going to
     make something of myself first! And if I don't do it in a year, I
     am ready to work seven years,--or seventy,--or seventy-seven years;
     if you'll only have me in the end! That would have to be in Heaven,
     though, wouldn't it? Well, it would come to the same thing in the
     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 it it
     will be your ruin. I did not suppose that circumstances could ruin
     anybody,--anybody that had any backbone, I mean. But I do wish you
     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 of
them?"

"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 answer.

"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?"

"Why, nat'rally!"

"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 to
him?"

"No."

"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 Gulch."

"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 stuff?"

"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'
accordin'."

"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 workin'
it."

"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 at
all."

"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 from him!

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
this.

"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
anybody else!"

"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
care about!"

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
Colorado weather!"

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
perfection."

The new-comer laughed appreciatively as he drew rein close beside the
girl, who sat her part-thoroughbred with the ease and grace of lifelong
habit.

"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 over-significant.

The girl flushed, whether from pleasure or annoyance, it was impossible
for the looker-on to decide. The looker-on--and 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 front.

"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 day.

"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 usual pattern?

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 preserve.

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 somebody
laughed.

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 sharp
descent.

"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
blizzard_!"

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 then--the storm came!

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 he spoke.

"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
breathe now.

"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 grasp.

"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
lengths.

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 shot.

"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
rivals!

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 the
"remnants."

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 big ark.

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
conviction.

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
light."

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
HINGES."]

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
Stephen's.

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
the snow.

A moment later she had dismounted and was standing within the rickety
hut, looking down upon another shadowy form that moved and spoke.

"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 all?"

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
shelter."

"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 them."

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
asked abruptly.

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
outrageously."

"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 you--go out of the world,
believing--what 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
melts."

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 was--_my 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 way?

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 and meat.

"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 specimens.

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 gruffly.

"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 worth!"

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?"

"Waldo Kean."

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
self-consciousness vanished.

"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 complimented
before.

"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
name.

[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 _you_--up in the pass this afternoon!"

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 called--_the 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!

THE END.

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About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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