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Title: The Man from the Bitter Roots
Author: Lockhart, Caroline, 1870-1962
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "The Man from the Bitter Roots" ***

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THE MAN FROM THE BITTER ROOTS

by

Caroline Lockhart

Author of
"The Fighting Shepherdess," "The Lady Doc," etc.



[Illustration: "You've got to tell the truth before she stops! Why did
you burn out this plant?"]


[Illustration]

Frontispiece by
Gayle Hoskins

A. L. Burt Company
Publishers New York

Published by arrangement with J. B. Lippincott Company

Copyright, 1915, by Street & Smith
Copyright, 1915, by J. B. Lippincott Company
Published October, 1915

Printed By J. B. Lippincott Company
at the Washington Square Press
Philadelphia, U. S. A.



To
MY GOOD FRIEND
MRS. LOUIS HOWE
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED WITH
ALL GRATITUDE AND AFFECTION



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                                     PAGE

     I. Before He Grew Up                                     11
    II. "Pardners"                                            20
   III. The Game Butchers                                     32
    IV. Self-Defence                                          39
     V. The Jack-Pot                                          54
    VI. The Returned Hero                                     73
   VII. Sprudell Goes East                                    78
  VIII. Uncle Bill Finds News in the "Try-Bune"               89
    IX. The Yellow-Leg                                       103
     X. "Capital Takes Holt"                                 119
    XI. The Ghost at the Banquet                             128
   XII. Thorns--and a Few Roses                              140
  XIII. "Off His Range"                                      147
   XIV. His Only Asset                                       157
    XV. Millions!                                            169
   XVI. "Slim's Sister"                                      182
  XVII. A Practical Man                                      202
 XVIII. Prophets of Evil                                     214
   XIX. At the Big Mallard                                   221
    XX. "The Forlorn Hope"                                   231
   XXI. Toy                                                  237
  XXII. The General Manager                                  244
 XXIII. "Good Enough"                                        252
  XXIV. The Midnight Visitor                                 260
   XXV. The Clean-Up                                         269
  XXVI. Failure                                              288
 XXVII. Uncle Bill Is Ostracized                             301
XXVIII. "Annie's Boy"                                        314



THE MAN FROM THE BITTER ROOTS

I.

BEFORE HE GREW UP.


The little white "digger," galloping with the stiff, short-legged jumps
of the broken-down cow pony, stopped short as the boy riding him pulled
sharply on the reins, and after looking hard at something which lay in a
bare spot in the grass, slid from its fat back.

He picked up the rock which had attracted his eye, and turned it over
and over in his hand. His pockets bulged with colored pebbles and
odd-looking stones he had found in washouts and ravines. There was no
great variety on the Iowa prairie, and he thought he knew them all, but
he had never seen a rock like this.

He crossed his bare, tanned legs, and sat down to examine it more
closely, while the lazy cow pony immediately went to sleep. The stone
was heavy and black, with a pitted surface as polished as though some
one had laboriously rubbed it smooth. Where did it come from? How did it
get there? Involuntarily he looked up at the sky. Perhaps God had thrown
it down to surprise him--to make him wonder. He smiled a little. God was
a very real person to Bruce Burt. He had a notion that He kept close
watch upon his movements through a large crack somewhere in the sky.

Yes, God must have tossed it down, for how else could a rock so
different from every other rock be lying there as though it had just
dropped? He wished he had not so long to wait before he could show it to
his mother. He was tempted to say he saw it fall, but she might ask him
"Honest Injun?" and he decided not. However, if God made crawfish go
into their holes backward just to make boys laugh, and grasshoppers chew
tobacco, why wouldn't He----

The sound of prairie grass swishing about the legs of a galloping horse
made him jump, startled, to his feet and thrust the strange rock into
the front of his shirt. His father reined in, and demanded angrily:

"What you here for? Why didn't you do as I told you?"

"I--I forgot. I got off to look at a funny rock. See, papa!" His black
eye sparkled as he took it from his shirt front and held it up eagerly.

His father did not look at it.

"Get on your horse!" he said harshly. "I can't trust you to do anything.
We're late as it is, and women don't like people coming in on 'em at
meal-time without warning." He kicked his horse in the ribs, and
galloped off.

The abashed look in the boy's face changed to sullenness. He jumped on
his pony and followed his father, but shortly he lowered his black
lashes, and the tears slipped down his cheeks.

Why had he shown that rock, anyhow? he asked himself in chagrin. He
might have known that his father wouldn't look at it, that he didn't
look at anything or care about anything but horses and cattle. Certainly
his father did not care about _him_. He could not remember when the
stern man had given him a pat on the head, or a good-night kiss. The
thought of his father kissing anybody startled him. It seemed to him
that his father seldom spoke to him except to reprimand or ridicule him,
and the latter was by far the worse.

His eyes were still red when he sat down at the table, but the discovery
that there was chicken helped assuage his injured feelings, and when the
farmer's wife deliberately speared the gizzard from the platter and laid
it on his plate the world looked almost bright. How did she know that he
liked gizzard, he wondered? The look of gratitude he shyly flashed her
brought a smile to her tired face. There were mashed potatoes, too, and
gravy, pickled peaches, and he thought he smelled a lemon pie. He
wondered if they had these things all the time. If it wasn't for his
mother he believed he'd like to live with Mrs. Mosher, and golly! wasn't
he hungry! He hoped they wouldn't stop to talk, so he'd dare begin.

He tried to regard his mother's frequent admonitions concerning
"manners"--that one about stirring up your potatoes as though you were
mixing mortar, and biting into one big slab of bread. He did his best,
but his cheek protruded with half a pickled peach when he heard his
father say:

"I sent Bruce on ahead to tell you that we'd be here, but he didn't mind
me. I found him out there on the prairie, looking at a rock."

All eyes turned smilingly upon the boy, and he reddened to the roots of
his hair, while the half peach in his cheek felt suddenly like a whole
one.

"It was a funny kind of rock," he mumbled in self-defence when he could
speak.

"The rock doesn't have to be very funny to make you forget what you're
told to do," his father said curtly, and added to the others: "His
mother can't keep pockets in his clothes for the rocks he packs around
in them, and they're piled all over the house. He wants her to send away
and get him a book about rocks."

"Perhaps he'll be one of these rock-sharps when he gets big," suggested
Mr. Mosher humorously. "Wouldn't it be kinda nice to have a perfesser in
the family--with long hair and goggles? I come acrost one once that
hunted bugs. He called a chinch bug a Rhyparochromus, but he saddled his
horse without a blanket and put bakin' powder in the sour-dough."

In the same way that the farmer's wife knew that boys liked gizzards,
she knew that Bruce was writhing under the attention and the ridicule.

"He'll be a cattleman like his dad," and she smiled upon him.

His father shook his head.

"No, he doesn't take hold right. Why, even when I was his age I could
tell a stray in the bunch as far as I could see it, and he don't know
the milk cow when she gets outside of the barn. I tell his mother I'm
goin' to work him over again with a trace strap----"

The sensitive boy could bear no more. He gave one regretful glance at
his heaping plate, a shamed look at Mrs. Mosher, then sprang to his feet
and faced his father.

"I won't learn cattle, and _you_ can't make me!" he cried, with blazing
eyes. "And you _won't_ work me over with a trace strap! You've licked me
all I'll stand. I'll go away! I'll _run_ away, and I won't come home
till I'm white as a darned sheep!"

"Bruce!" His father reached for his collar, but the boy was gone. His
chair tipped over, and his precious rock dropped from his shirt front
and bounced on the floor. It _was_ a precious rock, too, a fragment of
meteorite, one which fell perhaps in the shower of meteoric stones in
Iowa in '79.

"He's the touchiest child I ever saw," said Burt apologetically, "and
stubborn as a mule; but you'd better set his plate away. I guess the
gentleman will return, since he's twenty-five miles from home."

The farmer's wife called after the boy from the doorway, but he did not
stop. Hatless, with his head thrown back and his fists clenched tight
against his sides, he ran with all his might, his bare feet kicking up
the soft, deep dust. There was something pathetic to her in the lonely
little figure vanishing down the long, straight road. She wished it had
not happened.

"It isn't right to tease a child," she said, going back to her seat.

"Well, there's no sense in his acting like that," Burt answered. "I've
tried to thrash some of that stubbornness out of him, but his will is
hard to break."

"I don't believe in so much whipping," the woman defended. "Traits that
children are punished for sometimes are the makin' of them when they're
grown. I think that's why grandparents are usually easier with their
grandchildren than they were with their own--because they've lived long
enough to see the faults they whipped their children for grow into
virtues. Bruce's stubbornness may be perseverance when he's a man, and
to my way of thinking too much pride is far better than too little."

"Pride or no pride, he'll do as I say," Burt answered, with an
obstinacy of tone which made the farmer's wife comment mentally that it
was not difficult to see from whom the boy had inherited _that_ trait.

But it was the only one, since, save in coloring and features, they were
totally dissimilar, and Burt seemed to have no understanding of his
passionate, warm-hearted, imaginative son. Perhaps, unknown to himself,
he harbored a secret resentment that Bruce had not been the little girl
whose picture had been as fixed and clear in his mind before Bruce came
as though she were already an actuality. She was to have had flaxen
hair, with blue ribbons in it, and teeth like tiny, sharp pearls. She
was to have come dancing to meet him on her toes, and to have snuggled
contentedly on his lap when he returned from long rides on the range.
Boys were all right, but he had a vague notion that they belonged to
their mothers. Bruce was distinctly "his mother's boy," and this was
tacitly understood. It was to her he went with his hurts for caresses,
and with his confidences for sympathy and understanding.

Now there was nothing in Bruce's mind but to get to his mother. While
his breath lasted and he burned with outraged pride and humiliation, the
boy ran, his thought a confused jumble of mortification that Mrs. Mosher
should know that he got "lickings," of regret for the gizzard and mashed
potatoes and lemon pie, of wonder as to what his mother would say when
he came home in the middle of the night and told her that he had walked
all the way alone.

He dropped to a trot, and then to a walk, for it was hot, and even a
hurt and angry boy cannot run forever. The tears dried to grimy streaks
on his cheeks, and the sun blistered his face and neck, while he
discovered that stretches of stony road were mighty hard on the soles of
the feet. But he walked on purposefully, with no thought of going back,
thinking of the comforting arms and shoulder that awaited him at the
other end. After all, nobody took any interest in rocks, except mother;
nobody cared about the things he really liked, except mother.

Toward the end of the afternoon his footsteps lagged, and sunset found
him resting by the roadside. He was so hungry! He felt so little, so
alone, and the coming darkness brought disturbing thoughts of coyotes
and prairie wolves, of robbers and ghosts that the hired man said he had
seen when he had stayed out too late o' nights.

Ravines, with their still, eloquent darkness, are fearsome places for
imaginative boys to pass alone. Hobgoblins--the very name sent chills up
and down Bruce's spine--would be most apt to lurk in some such place,
waiting, waiting to jump on his back! He broke and ran.

The stars came out, and a late moon found him trudging still. He limped
and his sturdy shoulders sagged. He was tired, and, oh, so sleepy, but
the prolonged howl of a wolf, coming from somewhere a long way off, kept
him from dropping to the ground. Who would have believed that
twenty-five miles was such a distance? He stopped short, and how hard
his heart pumped blood! Stock-still and listening, he heard the clatter
of hoofs coming down the road ahead of him. Who would be out this time
of night but robbers? He looked about him; there was no place on the
flat prairie to hide except a particularly dark ravine some little way
back which had taken all his courage to go through without running.

Between robbers and hobgoblins there seemed small choice, but he chose
robbers. With his fists clenched and the cold sweat on his forehead, he
waited by the roadside for the dark rider, who was coming like the wind.

"Hello!" The puffing horse was pulled sharply to a standstill.

"Oh, Wess!" His determination to die without a sound ended in a broken
cry of gladness, and he wrapped an arm around the hired man's leg to
hold him.

"Bruce! What you doin' here?"

"They plagued me. I'm going home."

"You keep on goin', boy. I'm after you and your father." There was
something queer in the hired man's voice--something that frightened him.
"Your mother's taken awful sick. Don't waste no time; it's four miles
yet; you hustle!" The big horse jumped into the air and was gone.

It was not so much what the hired man said that scared him so, but the
way he said it. Bruce had never known him not to laugh and joke, or seen
him run his horse like that.

"Oh, mamma, mamma!" he panted as he stumbled on, wishing that he could
fly.

When he dragged himself into the room, she was lying on her bed, raised
high among the pillows. Her eyes were closed, and the face which was so
beautiful to him looked heavy with the strange stupor in which she lay.

"Mamma, I'm here! Mamma, I've come!" He flung himself upon the soft,
warm shoulder, but it was still, and the comforting arms lay limp upon
the counterpane.

"Mamma, what's the matter? Say something! Look at me!" he cried. But the
gray eyes that always beamed upon him with such glad welcome did not
open, and the parted lips were unresponsive to his own. There was no
movement of her chest to tell him that she even breathed.

A fearful chill struck to his heart. What if she was dying--dead! Other
boys' mothers sometimes died, he knew, but his mother--_his_ mother! He
tugged gently at one long, silken braid of hair that lay in his grimy
hand like a golden rope, calling her in a voice that shook with fright.

The cry penetrated her dulled senses. It brought her back from the
borderland of that far country into which she had almost slipped.
Slowly, painfully, with the last faint remnant of her will power, she
tried to speak--to answer that beloved, boyish voice.

"My--little boy----" The words came thickly, and her lips did not seem
to move.

But it was her voice; she had spoken; she was not dead! He hugged her
hard in wild ecstasy and relief.

"I'm glad--you came. I--can't stay--long. I've had--such hopes--for
you--little boy. I've dreamed--such dreams--for you--I wanted to
see--them all come true. If I can--I'll help you--from--the other side.
There's so much--more I want to say--if only--I had known---- Oh,
Bruce--my--li--ttle boy----" Her voice ended in a breath, and stopped.



II

"PARDNERS"


"Looks like you'd say somethin' about them pancakes instead of settin'
there shovelin'."

"Haven't I told you regular every morning for six months that they was
great pancakes? Couldn't you let me off for once?"

The two partners glared at each other across the clumsy table of hewn
pine. They looked like two wild men, as black eyes flashed anger, even
hate, into black eyes. Their hair was long and uneven, their features
disguised by black beards of many weeks' growth. Their miners' boots
were but ludicrous remnants tied on with buckskin thongs. Their clothes
hung in rags, and they ate with the animal-like haste and carelessness
of those who live alone.

The smaller of the two men rose abruptly, and, with a vicious kick at
the box upon which he had been sitting, landed it halfway across the
room. His cheeks and nose were pallid above his beard, his thin nostrils
dilated, and his hand shook as he reached for his rifle in the gun rack
made of deer horns nailed above the kitchen door. He was slender and
wiry of build, quick and nervous in his movements, yet they were almost
noiseless, and he walked with the padded soft-footedness of the preying
animal.

Bruce Burt lounged to the cabin door and looked after "Slim" Naudain as
he went to the river. Then he stepped outside, stooping to avoid
striking his head. He leaned his broad shoulder against the door jamb
and watched "Slim" bail the leaky boat and untie it from the willows.
While he filled and lighted his pipe, Bruce's eyes followed his partner
as he seated himself upon the rotten thwart and shoved into the river
with home-made oars that were little more than paddles. The river caught
him with the strength of a hundred eager hands, and whirled him,
paddling like a madman, broadside to the current. It bore him swiftly to
the roaring white rapids some fifty yards below, and the fire died in
Bruce's pipe as, breathless, he watched the bobbing boat.

"Slim'll cross in that water-coffin once too often," he muttered, and
Bruce himself was the best boatman the length of the dangerous river.

There were times when he felt that he almost hated Slim Naudain, and
this was one of them, yet fine lines of anxiety drew about his eyes as
he watched the first lolling tongue of the rapids reach for the tiny
boat. If it filled, Slim was gone, for no human being could swim in the
roaring, white stretch where the great, green river reared, curled back,
and broke into iridescent foam. The boat went out of sight, rose, bobbed
for an instant on a crest, then disappeared.

Bruce said finally, in relief:

"He's made it again."

He watched Slim make a noose in the painter, throw it over a bowlder,
wipe the water from his rifle with his shirt sleeve, and start to
scramble up the steep mountainside.

"The runt of something good--that feller," Bruce added, with somber
eyes. "I ought to pull out of here. It's no use, we can't hit it off any
more."

He closed the cabin door against thieving pack rats, and went down to
the river, where his old-fashioned California rocker stood at the
water's edge. He started to work, still thinking of Slim.

Invariably he injected the same comment into his speculations regarding
his partner: "The runt of something good." It was the "something good"
in Slim, the ear-marks of good breeding, and the peculiar fascination of
blue blood run riot, which had first attracted him in Meadows, the
mountain town one hundred and fifty miles above. This prospecting trip
had been Bruce's own proposal, and he tried to remember this when the
friction was greatest.

Slim, however, had jumped at his suggestion that they build a barge and
work the small sand bars along the river which were enriched with fine
gold from some mysterious source above by each high water. They were to
labor together and share and share alike. This was understood between
them before they left Meadows, but the plan did not work out because
Slim failed to do his part. Save for an occasional day of desultory
work, he spent his time in the mountains, killing game for which they
had no use, trapping animals whose pelts were worthless during the
summer months. He seemed to kill for the pleasure he found in killing.
Protests from Bruce were useless, and this wanton slaughter added day by
day to the dislike he felt for his partner, to the resentment which now
was ever smoldering in his heart.

Bruce wondered often at his own self-control. He carried scars of knife
and bullet which bore mute testimony to the fact that with his childhood
he had not outgrown his quick and violent temper. In mining camps, from
Mexico to the Stikine and Alaska in the North, he was known as a
"scrapper," with any weapon of his opponent's choice.

Perhaps it was because he could have throttled Slim with his thumb and
finger, have shaken the life out of him with one hand, that Bruce
forbore; perhaps it was because he saw in Slim's erratic, surly moods a
something not quite normal, a something which made him sometimes wonder
if his partner was well balanced. At any rate, he bore his shirking, his
insults, and his deliberate selfishness with a patience that would have
made his old companions stare.

The bar of sand and gravel upon which their cabin stood, and where Bruce
now was working, was half a mile in width and a mile and a half or so in
length. He had followed a pay streak into the bank, timbering the tunnel
as he went, and he wheeled his dirt from this tunnel to his rocker in a
crude wheelbarrow of his own make.

He filled his gold pan from the wheelbarrow, and dumped it into the
grizzly, taking from each pan the brightest-colored pebble he could find
to place on the pile with others so that when the day's work was done he
could tell how many pans he had washed and so form some idea as to how
the dirt was running per cubic yard.

His dipper was a ten-pound lard can with a handle ingeniously attached,
and as he dipped water from the river into the grizzly, the steady,
mechanical motion of the rocker and dipper had the regularity of a
machine. If he touched the dirt with so much as his finger tips he
washed them carefully over the grizzly lest some tiny particle be lost.
Bruce was as good a rocker as a Chinaman, and than that there is no
higher praise.

When the black sand began to coat the Brussels-carpet apron, Bruce
stooped over the rocker frequently and looked at the shining yellow
specks.

"She's looking fine to-day! She's running five dollars to the cubic yard
if she's running a cent!" he ejaculated each time that he straightened
up after an inspection of the sand, and the fire of hope and enthusiasm,
which is close to the surface in every true miner and prospector, shone
in his eyes. Sometimes he frowned at the rocker and expressed his
disapproval aloud, for years in isolated places had given him the habit
of loneliness, and he talked often to himself. "It hasn't got slope
enough, and I knew it when I was making it. I don't believe I'm saving
more than seventy per cent. I'll tell you, hombre, grade is everything
with this fine gold and heavy sand."

While he rocked he lifted his eyes and searched the sides of the
mountains across the river. It seemed a trifle less lonely if
occasionally he caught a glimpse of Slim, no bigger than an insect,
crawling over the rocks and around the peaks. Yet each time that he saw
him Bruce's heavy black eyebrows came together in a troubled frown, for
the sight reminded him of the increasing frequency of their quarrels.

"If he hadn't soldiered," he muttered as he saw Slim climbing out of a
gulch, "he could have had a good little grub-stake for winter. Winter's
going to come quick, the way the willows are turning black. Let it come.
I've got to pull out, anyhow, as things are going. But"--his eyes
kindled as he looked at the high bank into which his tunnel ran--"I
certainly am getting into great dirt."

It was obvious that the sand bar where he was placering had once been
the river bed, but when the mighty stream, in the course of centuries,
cut into the mountain opposite it changed the channel, leaving bed rock
and bowlders, which eventually were covered by sand and gravel deposited
by the spring floods. In this deposit there was enough flour-gold to
enable any good placer miner to make days' wages by rocking the rich
streaks along the bars and banks.

This particular sand bar rose from a depth of five feet near the water's
edge to a height of two hundred feet or more against the mountain at the
back. There was enough of it carrying fine gold to inflame the
imagination of the most conservative and set the least speculative to
calculating. A dozen times a day Bruce looked at it and said to himself:

"If only there was some way of getting water on it!"

For many miles on that side of the river there was no mountain stream to
flume, no possibility of bringing it, even from a long distance, through
a ditch, so the slow and laborious process he was employing seemed the
only method of recovering the gold that was but an infinitesimal
proportion of what he believed the big bar contained.

While he worked, the sun came up warm, and then grew dim with a kind of
haze.

"A storm's brewing," he told himself. "The first big snow is long
overdue, so we'll get it right when it comes."

His friends, the kingfishers, who had lived all summer in a hole at the
top of the bank, had long since gone, and the camp-robbers, who scolded
him incessantly, sat silent in the tall pine trees near the cabin. He
noticed that the eagle that nested in an inaccessible peak across the
river swooped for home and stayed there. The redsides and the bull
trout in the river would no longer bite, and he remembered now that the
coyote who denned among the rocks well up the mountain had howled last
night as if possessed: all signs of storm and winter.

By noon a penetrating chill had crept into the air, and Bruce looked
oftener across the river.

"It's just like him to stay out and sleep under a rock all night with a
storm coming," he told himself uneasily.

This would be no new thing for Slim in one of his ugly moods, and
ordinarily it did not matter, for he kept his pockets well filled with
strips of jerked elk and venison, while in the rags of his heavy flannel
shirt he seemed as impervious to cold as he was to heat.

Chancing to glance over his shoulder and raise his eyes to the side of
the mountain, which was separated from the one at the back of the bar by
a cañon, a smile of pleasure suddenly lighted Bruce's dark face, and he
stopped rocking.

"Old Felix and his family!" he chuckled. Whimsically he raised both arms
aloft in a gesture of welcome. "Ha--they see me!"

The band of mountain sheep picking their way down the rough side stopped
short and looked.

"It's all of a month since they've been down for salt." Then his face
fell. "By George, we're shy on salt!"

He turned to his rocker, and the sheep started down again, with Old
Felix in the lead, and behind him two yearlings, two ewes, and the
spring lamb.

Their visits were events in Bruce's uneventful life. He felt as
flattered by their confidence as one feels by the preference of a
child. His liking for animals amounted to a passion, and he had been
absurdly elated the first time he had enticed them to the salt, which he
had placed on a flat rock not far from the cabin door. For the first few
visits their soft black eyes, with their amber rims, had followed him
timorously, and they were ready to run at any unusual movement. Then,
one afternoon, they unexpectedly lay down in the soft dirt which banked
the cabin, and he was so pleased that he chuckled softly to himself all
the time they stayed.

Now he laid down his dipper, and started toward the house.

"I'll just take a look, anyhow, and see how much there is."

He eyed uncertainly the small bag of table salt which he took from the
soap-box cupboard nailed to the wall.

"There isn't much of it, that's a fact. I guess they'll have to wait."
He slammed the door of the improvised cupboard hard upon its leather
hinges made of a boot-top, and turned away.

"Aw, dog-gone it!" he cried, stopping short. "I haven't got the heart to
disappoint the poor little devils." He turned back and took the salt.

The sheep were just coming out of the cañon between the mountains when
Bruce stepped through the cabin door. Old Felix stopped and stood like a
statue--Old Felix, the Methuselah of the Bitter Roots, who wore the most
magnificent pair of horns that ever grew on a mountain sheep. Solid and
perfect they were, all of nineteen and three-quarters inches at the base
and tapering to needle points. Of incredible weight and size, he carried
them as lightly on his powerful neck as though they were but the shells
of horns. Now, as he stood with his tremulous nozzle outstretched,
sniffing, cautious, wily, old patriarch that he was, he made a picture
which, often as Bruce had seen it, thrilled him through and through.
Behind Old Felix were the frisking lamb and the mild-eyed ewes. They
would not come any closer, but they did not run.

"It wouldn't have lasted but a few days longer anyhow," Bruce murmured
half apologetically as he divided the salt and spread it on the rock. He
added: "I suppose Slim will be sore."

He returned to his work at the river, and the sheep licked the rock
bare; then they lay down in leisurely fashion beside the cabin, their
narrow jaws wagging ludicrously, their eyelids drooping sleepily, secure
in their feeling that all was well.

Bruce had thrust a cold biscuit in the pocket of his shirt, and this he
crumbled for the little bush birds that twittered and chirped in the
thicket of rosebushes which had pushed up through the rocks near the
sand bank.

They perked their heads and looked at him inquiringly when it was gone.

"My Gawd, fellers," he demanded humorously, "don't you ever get filled
up?"

As he rocked he watched the water ouzel teetering on a rock in the
river, joyously shaking from its back the spray which deluged it at
intervals. Bruce observed.

"I'd rather you'd be doing that than me, with the water as cold as it is
and," with a glance at the fast-clouding sky, "getting colder every
minute."

The sheep sensed the approaching storm, and started up the gulch to
their place of shelter under a protecting rim rock close to the peak.

When they were no longer there to watch and think about, Bruce's
thoughts rambled from one subject to another, as do the minds of lonely
persons.

While the water and sand were flowing evenly over the apron he fell to
wishing he had a potato. How long had it been--he threw back his head to
calculate--how many weeks since he had looked a potato in the eye?
Ha!--not a bad joke at that. He wished he might have said that aloud to
some one. He never joked with Slim any more.

He frowned a little as he bent over the grizzly and crushed a small lump
between his thumb and finger. He wandered if there was clay coming into
the pay streak. Clay gathered up the "colors" it touched like so much
quicksilver. Dog-gone, if it wasn't one thing it was another. If the
tunnel wasn't caving in, he struck a bowlder, and if there wasn't a
bowlder there was----

"Bang! bang! Bang! bang!" Then a fusillade of shots. Bruce straightened
up in astonishment and stared at the mountainside.

"Boom! boom!" The shots were muffled. They were shooting in the cañon.
Who was it? What was it? Suddenly he understood. The _sheep_! _His_
sheep! They were killing Old Felix and the rest! Magnificent Old
Felix--the placid ewes--the frisking lamb! What a bombardment! That
wasn't sport; 'twas slaughter!

His dark skin reddened, and his eyes blazed in excitement. He flung the
dipper from him and started toward the cabin on a run. They were killing
tame sheep--sheep that he had taught to lose their fear of man. Then
his footsteps slackened and he felt half sick as he remembered that the
big-game season was open and he had no legal right to interfere.

Bruce had not seen a human face save Slim's since the end of May, and it
now was late in October, but he had no desire to meet the hunters and
hear them boast of their achievement. Heavy-hearted, he wondered which
ones they got.

The hunters must have come over the old trail of the Sheep-eater
Indians--the one which wound along the backbone of the ridge. Rough
going, that. They were camped up there, and they must have a big pack
outfit, he reasoned, to get so far from supplies at this season of the
year.

He tried to work again, but found himself upset.

"Dog-gone," he said finally. "I'll slip up the cañon and see what
they've done. They may have left a wounded sheep for the cougars to
finish--if they did I can pack it down."

Bruce climbed for an hour or more up the bowlder-choked cañon before his
experienced eye saw signs of the hunters in two furrows where a pair of
heels had plowed down a bank of dirt. The cañon, as he knew, ended
abruptly in a perpendicular wall, and he soon saw that the frightened
sheep must have run headlong into the trap. He found the prints of their
tiny, flying hoofs, the indentations where the sharp points had dug deep
as they leaped. Empty shells, more shells--they must have been bum
shots--and then a drop of blood upon a rock. The drops came thicker, a
stream of blood, and then the slaughter pen. They had been shot down
against the wall without a single chance for their lives. The entire
band, save Old Felix, had been exterminated. Their limp and
still-bleeding carcasses, riddled and torn by soft-nosed bullets, lay
among the rocks. Wanton slaughter it was, without even the excuse of the
necessity of meat, since only a yearling's hind quarters were gone. Not
even the plea of killing for trophies could be offered, since the heads
of the ewes were valueless.

Bruce straightened the neck of a ewe as she lay with her head doubled
under her. It hurt him to see her so. He looked into her dull, glazed
eyes which had been so soft and bright as they had followed him at work
a little more than an hour before. He ran his hand over a sheep's white
"blanket," now red with blood, and stood staring down into the innocent
face of the diminutive lamb.

Then he raised his eyes in the direction in which he fancied the hunters
had gone. They shone black and vindictive through the mist of tears
which blinded him as he cried in a shaking voice:

"You butchers! You game hogs! I hope you starve and freeze back there in
the hills, as you deserve!"

A snow cloud, drab, thick, sagging ominously, moved slowly from the
northeast, and on a jutting point, sharply outlined against the sky,
motionless as the rock beneath him, stood Old Felix, splendid, solitary,
looking off across the sea of peaks in which he was alone.



III

"THE GAME BUTCHERS"


"Ain't this an awful world!" By this observation Uncle Bill Griswold,
standing on a narrow shelf of rock, with the sheep's hind quarters on
his back, meant merely to convey the opinion that there was a great deal
of it.

The panting sportsman did not answer. T. Victor Sprudell was looking for
some place to put his toe.

"There's a hundred square miles over there that I reckon there never was
a white man's foot on, and they say that the West has been went over
with a fine-tooth comb. Wouldn't it make you laugh?"

Mr. Sprudell looked far from laughter as, by placing a foot directly in
front of the other, he advanced a few inches at a time until he reached
the side of his guide. It _was_ an awful world, and the swift glance he
had of it as he raised his eyes from the toes of his boots and looked
off across the ocean of peaks gave him the feeling that he was about to
fall over the edge of it. His pink, cherubic face turned saffron, and he
shrank back against the wall. He had been in perilous places before, but
this was the worst yet.

"There might be somethin' good over yonder if 'twas looked into right,"
went on Uncle Bill easily, as he stood with the ball of his feet hanging
over a precipice, staring speculatively. "But it'll be like to stay
there for a while, with these young bucks doin' all their prospectin'
around some sheet-iron stove. There's nobody around the camps these
days that ain't afraid of work, of gittin' lost, of sleepin' out of
their beds of nights. Prospectin' in underbrush and down timber is no
cinch, but it never stopped me when I was a young feller around sixty or
sixty-five." A dry, clicking sound as Sprudell swallowed made the old
man look around. "Hey--what's the matter? Aire you dizzy?"

Dizzy! Sprudell felt he was going to die. If his shaking knees should
suddenly give way beneath him he could see, by craning his neck
slightly, the exact spot where he was going to land. His chest, plump
and high like a woman's, rose and fell quickly with his hard breathing,
and the barrel of his rifle where he clasped it was damp with nervous
perspiration. His small mouth, with its full, red lips shaped like the
traditional cupid's bow, was colorless, and there was abject terror in
his infantile blue eyes. Yet superficially, T. Victor Sprudell was a
brave figure--picturesque as the drawing for a gunpowder "ad," a man of
fifty, yet excellently well preserved.

A plaid cap with a visor fore and aft matched his roomy knickerbockers,
and canvas leggings encased his rounded calves. His hob-nailed shoes were
the latest thing in "field boots," and his hunting coat was a credit to
the sporting house that had turned it out. His cartridge belt was new
and squeaky, and he had the last patents in waterproof match safes and
skinning knives. That goneness at his stomach, and the strange
sensations up and down his spine, seemed incongruous in such valorous
trappings. But he had them unmistakably, and they kept him cringing
close against the wall as though he had been glued.

It was not entirely the thought of standing there that paralyzed him; it
was the thought of going on. If accidentally he should step on a
rolling rock what a gap there would be in the social, financial, and
political life of Bartlesville, Indiana! It was at this point in his
vision of the things that _might_ happen to him that he had gulped.

"Don't look down; look up; look acrost," Uncle Bill advised. "You're
liable to bounce off this hill if you don't take care. Hello," he said
to himself, staring at the river which lay like a great, green snake at
the base of the mountains, "must be some feller down there placerin'.
That's a new cabin, and there's a rocker--looks like."

"Gold?" Sprudell's eyes became a shade less infantile.

"Gold a-plenty; but it takes a lard can full to make a cent and there's
no way to get water on the ground."

Uncle Bill stood conjecturing as to who it might be, as though it were
of importance that he should know before he left. Interest in his
neighbor and his neighbor's business is a strong characteristic of the
miner and prospector in these, our United States, and Uncle Bill
Griswold in this respect was no exception. It troubled him for hours
that he could not guess who was placering below.

"Looks like it's gittin' ready for a storm," he said finally. "We'd
better sift along. Foller clost to me and keep a-comin', for we don't
want to get caught out 'way off from camp. We've stayed too long in the
mountains for that matter, with the little grub that's left. We'll pull
out to-morrow."

"Which way you going?" Sprudell asked plaintively.

"We gotta work our way around this mountain to that ridge." Uncle Bill
shifted the meat to the other shoulder, and travelled along the steep
side with the sure-footed swiftness of a venerable mountain goat.

Sprudell shut his trembling lips together and followed as best he could.
He was paying high, he felt, for the privilege of entertaining the
Bartlesville Commercial Club with stories of his prowess. He doubted if
he would get over the nervous strain in months, for, after all, Sprudell
was fifty, and such experiences told. Never--never, he said to himself
when a rolling rock started by his feet bounded from point to point to
remind him how easily he could do the same, never would he take such
chances again! It wasn't worth it. His life was too valuable. Inwardly
he was furious that Uncle Bill should have brought him by such a way.
His heart turned over and lay down with a flop when he saw that person
stop and heard him say:

"Here's kind of a bad place; you'd better let me take your gun."

Kind of a bad place! When he'd been frisking on the edge of eternity.

Uncle Bill waited near a bank of slide rock that extended from the
mountain top to a third of the way down the side, after which it went
off sheer.

"'Tain't no picnic, crossin' slide rock, but I reckon if I kin make it
with a gun and half a sheep on my back you can make it empty-handed.
Step easy, and don't start it slippin' or you'll slide to kingdom come.
Watch me!"

Sprudell watched with all his eyes. The little old man, who boasted that
he weighed only one hundred and thirty with his winter tallow on,
skimmed the surface like a water spider, scarcely jarring loose a rock.
Sprudell knew that he could never get across like that. Fear would make
him heavy-footed if nothing else.

"Hurry up!" the old man shouted impatiently. "We've no time to lose.
Dark's goin' to ketch us sure as shootin', and it's blowin' up plumb
cold."

Sprudell nerved himself and started, stepping as gingerly as he could;
but in spite of his best efforts his feet came down like pile drivers,
disturbing rocks each time he moved.

Griswold watched him anxiously, and finally called:

"You're makin' more fuss than a cow elk! Step easy er you're goin' to
start the whole darn works. Onct it gits to movin', half that bank'll
go."

Sprudell was nearly a third of the way across when the shale began to
move, slowly at first, with a gentle rattle, then faster. He gave a
shout of terror and floundered, panic-stricken, where he stood.

The old man danced in frenzy:

"Job in your heels and run like hell!"

But the mass had started, and was moving faster. Sprudell's feet went
from under him, and he collapsed in a limp heap. Then he turned over and
scrabbled madly with hands and feet for something that would hold.
Everything loosened at his touch and joined the sliding bank of shale.
He could as easily have stopped his progress down a steep slate roof.

"Oh, Lord! There goes my dude!" Uncle Bill wrung his hands and swore.

Sprudell felt faint, nauseated, and his neck seemed unable to hold his
heavy head. He laid his cheek on the cold shale, and, with his arms and
legs outstretched like a giant starfish, he weakly slid. His body,
moving slower than the mass, acted as a kind of wedge, his head serving
as a separator to divide the moving bank. He was conscious, too, of a
curious sensation in his spine--a feeling as though some invisible power
were pulling backward, backward until it hurt. He wanted to scream, to
hear his own voice once more, but his vocal cords would not respond; he
could not make a sound.

Griswold was shouting something; it did not matter what. He heard it
faintly above the clatter of the rocks. He must be close to the edge
now--Bartlesville--the Commercial Club--Abe Cone--and then Mr. Sprudell
hit something with a bump! He had a sensation as of a hatpin--many
hatpins--penetrating his tender flesh, but that was nothing compared to
the fact that he had stopped, while the slide of shale was rushing by.
He was not dead! but he was too astonished and relieved to immediately
wonder why.

Then he weakly raised his head and looked cautiously over his shoulder
lest the slightest movement start him travelling again. What miracle had
saved his life? The answer was before him. When he came down the slide
in the fortunate attitude of a clothespin, the Fates, who had other
plans for him, it seemed, steered him for a small tree of the stout
mountain mahogany, which has a way of pushing up in most surprising
places.

"Don't move!" called Griswold. "I'll come and get ye!"

Unnecessary admonition. Although Sprudell was impaled on the thick,
sharp thorns like a naturalist's captive butterfly, he scarcely
breathed, much less attempted to get up.

"Bill, I was near the gates," said Sprudell solemnly when Griswold, at
no small risk to himself, had snaked him back to solid ground. "_Fortuna
audaces juvat!_"

"If that's Siwash for 'close squeak,' it were; and," with an anxious
glance at the ominous sky, "'tain't over."



IV

SELF-DEFENCE


When Bruce came out of the cañon, where he had a wider view of the sky,
he saw that wicked-looking clouds were piling thick upon one another in
the northeast, and he wondered whether the month was the first of
November or late October, as Slim insisted. They had lost track somehow,
and of the day of the week they had not the faintest notion.

There was always the first big snowstorm to be counted on in the Bitter
Root Mountains, after which it sometimes cleared and was open weather
for weeks. But this was when it came early in September; the snow that
fell now would in all probability lie until spring.

At any rate, there was wood to be cut, enough to last out a week's
storm. But, first, Bruce told himself, he must clean up the rocker, else
he would lose nearly the entire proceeds of his day's work. The gold was
so light that much of it floated and went off with the water when the
sand was wet again, after it had once dried upon the apron.

Bruce placed a gold pan at the end of the rocker, and, with a clean
scrubbing brush, carefully worked the sand over the Brussels-carpet
apron, pouring water into the grizzly the while.

"That trip up the cañon cost me half a day's wages," he thought as he
saw the thin yellow scum floating on the top of the pan.

Sitting on his heel by the river's edge, where he had made a quiet pool
by building a breakwater of pebbles, he agitated and swirled the sand
in the gold pan until only a small quantity remained, and while he
watched carefully lest some of the precious specks and flakes which
followed in a thick, yellow string behind the sand slip around the
corners and over the edge, he also cast frequent glances at the peaks
that became each moment more densely enveloped in the clouds.

"When she cuts loose she's going to be a twister," and he added grimly,
as instinctively his eyes sought the saddleback or pass over which the
ancient trail of the Sheep-eater Indians ran: "Those game hogs better
pull their freight if they count on going out as they came in."

His fingers were numb when he stood up and shook the cold river water
from them, turning now to look across for a sight of Slim.

"I've cut his share of wood all summer, so I guess there's no use
quitting now. Turning pancakes is about the hardest work he's done since
we landed on the bar. Oh, well"--he raised one big shoulder in a shrug
of resignation--"we'll split this partnership when we get out of here.
By rights I ought to dig out now."

The chips flew as he swung the ax with blows that tested the tough oak
handle. Bruce Burt was a giant in his strength, and as unconscious of
the greatness of it as a bear. He could not remember that he had ever
fully tried it. He never had lifted a weight when he had not known that,
if necessary, he could lift a little more. His physique had fulfilled
the promise of his sturdy youth, and he was as little aware that it,
too, was remarkable as he was of the fact that men and women turned in
admiration to look again at his dark, unsmiling face upon the rare
occasions when he had walked the streets of the towns.

He was as splendid a specimen of his kind as Old Felix, as primitive
nearly, and as shy. His tastes had led him into the wilderness, and he
had followed the gold strikes and the rumors of gold strikes from
Sonora, in Old Mexico, to the Siberian coast, on Behring Sea, in search
of a new Klondike. He had lived hard, endured much in the adventurous
life of which he seldom talked. His few intimates had been men like
himself--the miners and prospectors who built their cabins in the
fastnesses with Hope their one companion, to eat and sleep and work
with. He was self-educated and well informed along such lines as his
tastes led him. He read voraciously all that pertained to Nature, to her
rocks and minerals, and he knew the habits of wild animals as he knew
his own. Of the people and that vague place they called "the outside,"
he knew little or nothing.

He had acquaintances and he had enemies in the mining camps which
necessity compelled him to visit at long intervals for the purchase of
supplies. Agreeable and ingratiating storekeepers who sold him
groceries, picks, shovels, powder, drills, at fifty per cent. profit,
neat, smooth-shaven gamblers, bartenders, who welcomed him with
boisterous camaraderie, tired and respectable women who "run" boarding
houses, painted, highly-perfumed ladies of the dance hall, enigmatic
Chinamen, all were types with which he was familiar. But he called none
of them "friend." Their tastes, their interests, their standards of
conduct were different from his own. They had nothing in common, yet he
could not have explained exactly why. He told himself vaguely that he
did not "cotton" to them, and thought the fault was with himself.

Bruce was twenty-seven, and his mother was still his ideal of womanhood.
He doubted if there were another like her in all the world. Certainly he
never had seen one who in the least approached her. He remembered her
vividly, the grave, gray, comprehending eyes, the long braids of hair
which lay like thick new hempen rope upon the white counterpane.

His lack of a substantial education--a college education--was a sore
spot with him which did not become less sore with time. If she had lived
he was sure it would have been different. With his mother to intercede
for him he knew that he would have had it. After her death his father
grew more taciturn, more impatient, more bent on preparing him to follow
in his footsteps, regardless of his inclinations. The "lickings" became
more frequent, for he seemed only to see his mistakes and childish
faults.

The culmination had come when he had asked to be allowed to leave the
country school where he rode daily, and attend the better one in the
nearest village, which necessitated boarding. After nerving himself for
days to ask permission, he had been refused flatly.

"What do you think I'm made of--money?" his father had demanded. "You'll
stay where you are until you've learned to read, and write, and figure:
then you'll help me with the cattle. Next thing you'll be wantin' to
play a flute or the piano."

He thought of his father always with hardness and unforgiveness, for he
realized now, as he had not at the time he ran away from home, what the
thousands of acres, the great herd of sleek cattle, meant--the fortune
that they represented.

"He could have so well afforded it," Bruce often mused bitterly. "And
it's all I would have asked of him. I didn't come into the world because
I wanted to come, and he owed it to me--my chance!"

The flakes of snow which fell at first and clung tenaciously to Bruce's
dark-blue flannel shirt were soft and wet, so much so that they were
almost drops of rain, but soon they hardened and bounced and rattled as
they began to fall faster.

As he threw an armful of wood behind the sheet-iron camp stove, Bruce
gave a disparaging poke at a pan of yeast bread set to rise.

"Slim and I will have to take this dough to bed with us to keep it warm
if it turns much colder. Everything's going to freeze up stiff as a
snake. Never remember it as cold as this the first storm. Well, I'll get
a pail of water, then let her come." He added uneasily: "I wish Slim
would get in."

His simple preparations were soon complete, and when he closed the heavy
door of whip-sawed lumber it was necessary to light the small kerosene
lamp, although the dollar watch ticking on its nail said the hour was
but four-thirty.

He eyed a pile of soiled dishes in disgust, then set a lard bucket of
water to heat.

"Two days' gatherings! After I've eaten four meals off the same plate it
begins to go against me. Slim would scrape the grub off with a stick and
eat for a year without washing a dish. Seems like the better raised some
fellers are the dirtier they are when they're out like this. Guess I'll
wash me a shirt or two while I'm holed up. Now where did I put my
dishrag?"

His work and his huge masculinity looked ludicrously incongruous as he
bent over the low table and scraped at the tin plates with his thumb
nail or squinted into the lard buckets, of which there seemed an endless
array.

The lard bucket is to the prospector what baling wire is to the
freighter on the plains, and Bruce, from long experience, knew its
every use. A lard bucket was his coffee-pot, his stewing kettle, his
sour-dough can. He made mulligan in one lard bucket and boiled beans in
another. The outside cover made a good soap dish, and the inside cover
answered well enough for a mirror when he shaved.

He wrung out his dishcloth now and hung it on a nail, then eyed the bed
in the end of the cabin disapprovingly.

"That's a tough-looking bunk for white men to sleep in! Wonder how
'twould seem if 'twas made?"

While he shook and straightened the blankets, and smote the bear-grass
pillows with his fists, he told himself that he would cut some fresh
pine boughs to soften it a little as soon as the weather cleared.

"I'm a tidy little housewife," he said sardonically as he tucked away
the blankets at the edge. "I've had enough inside work to do since I
took in a star boarder to be first-class help around some lady's home."
A dead tree crashed outside. "Wow! Listen to that wind! Sounds like a
bunch of squaws wailing; maybe it's a war party lost in the Nez Perce
Spirit Land. Wish Slim would come." He walked to the door and listened,
but he could hear nothing save the howling of the wind.

He was poking aimlessly at the bread dough with his finger, wondering if
it ever meant to rise, wondering if his partner would come home in a
better humor, wondering if he should tell him about the salt, when Slim
burst in with a swirl of snow and wind which extinguished the tiny lamp.
In the glimpse Bruce had of his face he saw that it was scowling and
ugly.

Slim placed his rifle on the deer-horn gun rack without speaking and
stamped the mud and snow from his feet in the middle of the freshly
swept floor.

"I was kind of worried about you," Bruce said, endeavoring to speak
naturally. "I'm glad you got in."

"Don't know what you'd worry about me for," was the snarling answer.
"I'm as well able to take care of myself as you are."

"It's a bad night for anybody to be roaming around the hills." Bruce was
adjusting the lamp chimney and putting it back on the shelf, but he
noticed that Slim's face was working as it did in his rages, and he
sighed; they were in for another row.

"You think you're so almighty wise; I don't need _you_ to tell me when
it's fit to be out."

Bruce did not answer, but his black eyes began to shine. Slim noticed it
with seeming satisfaction, and went on:

"I saw them pet sheep of yourn comin' down. Did you give 'em salt?"

Bruce hesitated.

"Yes, Slim, I did. I suppose I shouldn't have done it, but the poor
little devils----"

"And I'm to go without! Who the ---- do you think you are to give away my
salt?"

"_Your_ salt----" Bruce began savagely, then stopped. "Look here, Slim!"
His deep voice had an appealing note. "It wasn't right when there was
so little, I'll admit that, but what's the use of being so onery? I
wouldn't have made a fuss if you had done the same thing. Let's try and
get along peaceable the few days we'll be cooped up in here, and when
the storm lets up I'll pull out. I should have gone before. But I don't
want to wrangle and quarrel with you, Slim; honest I don't."

"You _bet_ you don't!" Slim answered, with ugly significance.

Bruce's strong, brown fingers tightened as he leaned against the window
casement with folded arms. His silence seemed to madden Slim.

"You bet you don't!" he reiterated, and added in shrill venom: "I might
'a' knowd how 'twould be when I throwed in with a mucker like you."

"Careful, Slim--go slow!" Bruce's eyes were blazing now between their
narrowed lids, but he did not move. His voice was a whisper.

"That's what I said! I'll bet your father toted mortar for a plasterer
and your mother washed for a dance hall!"

Slim's taunting, devilish face, corpse-like in its pallor above his
black beard, was all Bruce saw as he sprang for his throat. He backed
him against the door and held him there.

"You miserable dog--I ought to kill you!" The words came from between
his set teeth. He drew back his hand and slapped him first on the right
cheek, then on the left. He flung Slim from him the length of the cabin,
where he struck against the bunk.

Slim got to his feet and rushed headlong toward the door. Bruce thought
he meant to snatch his rifle from the rack, and was ready, but he tore
at the fastening and ran outside. Bruce watched the blackness swallow
him, and wondered where he meant to go, what he meant to do on such a
night. He was not left long in doubt.

He heard Slim coming back, running, cursing vilely as he came. The shaft
of yellow light which shot into the darkness fell upon the gleaming
blade of the ax that he bore uplifted in his hand.

"Slim!"

The answer was a scream that was not human. Slim was a madman! Bruce saw
it clearly now. Insanity blazed in his black eyes. There was no
mistaking the look; Slim was violently, murderously insane!

"I'm goin' to get you!" His scream was like a woman's screech. "I've
meant to get you all along, and I'm goin' to do it now!"

"Drop it, Slim! Drop that ax!"

But Slim came on.

Instinctively Bruce reached for the heavy, old-fashioned revolver
hanging on its nail.

Slim half turned his body to get a longer, harder swing, aiming as
deliberately for Bruce's head as though he meant to split a stick of
wood.

Bruce saw one desperate chance and took it. He could not bring himself
to stop Slim with a gun. He flung it from him. Swift and sure he swooped
and caught Slim by the ankles in the instant that he paused. Exerting
his great strength, he hurled him over his shoulder, ax and all, where
he fell hard, in a heap, in the corner, between the bunk and wall. The
sharp blade of the ax cut the carotid artery.

Bruce turned to see a spurt of blood. Slim rolled over on his back, and
it gushed like a crimson fountain. Bruce knelt beside him, trying
frantically to bring together the severed ends, to stop somehow the
ghastly flow that was draining the madman's veins.

But he did not know how, his fingers were clumsy, and Slim would not lie
still. He threshed about like a dying animal, trying to rise and stagger
around the room. Finally his chest heaved, and his contracted leg
dropped with a thud. Bruce stared at the awful pallor of Slim's face,
then he got up and washed his hands.

He looked at the watch ticking steadily through it all; it was barely a
quarter to five. He spread his slicker on the bunk and laid Slim on it
and tried to wash the blood from the floor and the logs of the cabin
wall, but it left a stain. He changed his shirt--murderers always
changed their shirts and burned them.

Slim was dead; he wouldn't have to get supper for Slim--ever again. And
he had killed him! Mechanically he poked his finger into the dough. It
was rising. He could work it out pretty soon. Slim was dead; he need not
get supper for Slim; he kept looking at him to see if he had moved. How
sinister, how "onery" Slim looked even in death. He closed his mouth and
drew the corner of a blanket over the cruel, narrow face. How still it
seemed after the commotion and Slim's maniacal screams!

He had joined the army of men who have killed their partners. What
trifles bring on quarrels in the hills; what mountains molehills become
when men are alone in the wilderness! That cook in the Buffalo Hump who
tried to knife him because he stubbed his toe against the coffee-pot,
and "Packsaddle Pete," who meant to brain him when they differed over
throwing the diamond hitch; and now Slim was dead because he had given a
handful of salt to the mountain sheep.

It did not seem to matter that Slim had said he meant to kill him,
anyhow, or that the way in which his malignant eyes had followed his
every movement took on new significance in the light of what had
happened. He blamed himself. He should have quit long ago. He should
have seen that Slim's ill-balanced mind needed only a trifle to shove it
over the edge. It had never seemed so still in the cabin even when Slim
was gone as it did now. Mechanically he set about getting supper, making
as much noise as he could.

But he was unable to eat after it was on the table before him. He drank
his coffee and stared at the bacon and cold biscuit a while, then washed
the dishes again. Slim seemed to be getting farther and farther away.

The storm outside had become a blizzard. Old Mother Westwind took to her
heels and the Boss of the Arctic raged. It occurred to Bruce that it
would be hard to bury Slim if the ground froze, and that reminded him
that perhaps Slim had "folks" who ought to know.

Bruce filled the stove, and shoved his bread in the oven; then he pulled
Slim's war bag from under the bunk and dumped the contents on the table,
hoping with all his heart that he would not find an address. He could
not imagine how his should find the words in which to tell them that he
had killed Slim.

There were neckties, samples of ore, a pair of silk suspenders, and a
miner's candlestick, one silk sock, a weasel skin, a copy of "The
Gadfly," and a box of quinine pills. No papers, no letters, not a single
clew to his identity. Bruce felt relief. Wait--what was this? He took
the bag by the corners, and a photographer's mailing case fell out. It
was addressed to Slim in Silver City, New Mexico, in a childish,
unformed hand.

He took out the picture and found himself smiling into the eyes that
smiled up into his. He knew intuitively that it was Slim's sister, yet
the resemblance was the faintest, and there was not a trace of his
meanness in her look.

He had been right in his conjecture, Slim _was_ "the runt of something
good." There was no mistaking the refinement and good breeding in the
girl's sweet face.

Slim had known better, yet nearly always he had talked in the language
of the uneducated Westerner, in the jargon of yeggmen, and the
vernacular of the professional tramps with whom he had hoboed over the
West--a "gay cat," as he was pleased to call himself, when boasting of
the "toughness" of his life. He had affected uncleanliness, uncouthness;
but in spite of his efforts the glimmer of the "something good" of which
he was the runt had shown through.

Slim had had specific knowledge of a world which Bruce knew only by
hearsay; and when it had suited his purpose, as when Bruce had first met
him in Meadows, he had talked correctly, even brilliantly, and he had
had an undeniable charm of manner for men and women alike. But, once
well started down the river, he had thrown off all restraint, ignoring
completely the silent code which exists between partners in the hills.

Such fellows were well named "black sheep," Bruce thought, as he looked
at the picture.

A letter had been wrapped around the photograph, with an address and a
date line twelve years old. The letter read:

    DEAR BROTHER: We have just heard that you were working in a mine
    down there and so I thought I would write and tell you that I
    hope you are well and make a lot of money. I hope you do and
    come home because we are awful poor and mother says if I don't
    marry well she don't know what we will do because there are
    mortgages on everything and we don't keep horses any more and
    only one servant which is pretty hard for mother. The girl is
    sassy sometimes but mother can't let her go because she can't
    pay her yet. Please, Freddie, come home and help us. Everything
    dreadful has happened to us since father died. Mother will
    forgive you for being bad and so do I although it was not nice
    to see our names and pictures in the papers all the time. Write
    to me, Freddie, as soon as you get this. Your loving sister,

                                                             HELEN.

    P. S.--I am thirteen to-day and this is my picture. I wish I
    could go West too, but don't mention this when you write.

Bruce wondered if Slim had answered. He would wager his buckskin bag of
dust that he had not. The marvel was that he had even kept the letter.
He looked again at the date line--twelve years--the mortgages had long
since been foreclosed, if it had depended upon Slim to pay them--and she
was twenty-five. He wondered if she'd "married well."

Slim was a failure; he stood for nothing in the world of achievement;
for all the difference that his going made, he might never have been
born. Then a thought as startling as the tangible appearance of some
ironic, grinning imp flashed to his mind. Who was he, Bruce Burt, to
criticise his partner, Slim? What more had he accomplished? How much
more difference would his own death make in anybody's life? His mother's
labored words came back with painful distinctness: "I've had such hopes
for you, my little boy. I've dreamed such dreams for you--I wanted to
see them all come true." An inarticulate sound came from him that was
both pain and self-disgust. He was close to twenty-eight--almost
thirty--and he'd spent the precious years "just bumming round." Nothing
to show for them but a little gold dust and the clothes he wore. He
wondered if his mother knew.

Her wedding ring was still in a faded velvet case that he kept among his
treasures. He never had seen a woman who had suggested ever so faintly
the thought that he should like to place it on her finger. There had
been women, of a kind--"Peroxide Louise," in Meadows, with her bovine
coquetry and loud-mouthed vivacity, yapping scandal up and down the
town, the transplanted product of a city's slums, not even loyal to the
man who had tried to raise her to his level.

Bruce never had considered marrying; the thought of it for himself
always made him smile. But why couldn't he--the thought now came
gradually, and grew--why _shouldn't_ he assume the responsibilities Slim
shirked if conditions were the same and help was still needed? In
expiation, perhaps, he could halfway make amends.

He'd write and mail the letter in Ore City as soon as he could snowshoe
out. He'd express them half the dust and tell them that 'twas Slim's.
He'd----"OO--oo--ough!" he shivered--he'd forgotten to stoke the fire.
Oh, well, a soogan would do him well enough.

He pulled a quilt from under Slim and wrapped it about his own
shoulders. Then he sat down again by the fireless stove and laid his
head on his folded arms upon the rough pine table. The still body on
the bunk grew stark while he slept, the swift-running river froze from
shore to shore, the snow piled in drifts, obliterating trails and
blocking passes, weighting the pines to the breaking point, while the
intense cold struck the chill of death into the balls of feathers
huddled for shelter under the flat branches of the spruces.



V

"THE JACK-POT"


As Uncle Bill Griswold came breathless from the raging whiteness outside
with an armful of bark and wood, the two long icicles hanging from the
ends of his mustache made him look like an industrious walrus. He drew
the fuel beside the tiny, sheet-iron camp stove, and tied fast the flap
of the canvas tent.

"We're in a jack-pot, all right."

He delivered the commonplace pronunciamento in a tone which would have
conveyed much to a mountain man. To Mr. Sprudell it meant only that he
might expect further annoyance. He demanded querulously:

"Did you find my shirt?"

Uncle Bill rolled his eyes with a droll grimace of despair toward the
mound of blankets in the corner whence came the muffled voice. The
innocence of a dude was almost pitiful. He answered dryly:

"I wouldn't swear to it--I wouldn't go so far as to make my affadavvy to
it, but I think I seen your shirt wavin' from a p'int a rock about
seventy mile to the south'ard--over t'ward the Thunder Mountain
country."

"Gone?"

"Gone"--mournfully--"where the woodbine twineth."

"And my trousers?"

"Where the wangdoodle mourneth fer his lost love. Blowed off. I got your
union suit out'n the top of a pine tree. You've no more pants than a
rabbit, feller. Everything went when the guy-ropes busted--I warned you
to sleep in your clothes."

"But what'll I do?" Sprudell quavered.

"Nothin'." His tone was as dry as punk. "You kin jest as well die in
them pink pajammers as anything else."

"Huh?" excitedly. The mound began to heave.

"I say we're in for it. There's a feel in the air like what the Injuns
call 'The White Death.' It hurt my lungs like I was breathin' darnin'
needles when I cut this wood. The drifts is ten feet high and gittin'
higher." Laconically: "The horses have quit us; we're afoot."

"Is that so? Well, we've got to get out of here--I refuse to put in
another such night. Lie still!" he commanded ferociously. "You're letting
in a lot of cold air. Quit rampin' round!" From which it may be gathered
that Mr. Sprudell, for purposes of warmth and protection, was sleeping
with the Chinese cook.

"Three in a bed _is_ crowded," Uncle Bill admitted, with a grin.
"To-night you might try settin' up."

A head of tousled white hair appeared above the edge of the blankets,
then a pair of gleaming eyes. "I propose to get out of here to-day," Mr.
Sprudell announced, with hauteur.

"Indeed?" inquired Uncle Bill calmly. "Where do you aim to go?"

"I'm going back to Ore City--on foot, if need be--I'll walk!"

Uncle Bill explained patiently:

"The trail's wiped out, the pass is drifted full of snow, and the cold's
a fright. You'd be lost inside of fifteen yards. That's loco talk."

"I'm going to get up." There was offended dignity in Mr. Sprudell's
tone.

"You can't," said the old man shortly. "You ain't got no pants, and your
shoes is full of snow. I doubts if you has socks till I takes a stick
and digs around where your tepee was."

"Tsch! Tsch!" Mr. Sprudell's tongue clicked against his teeth in the
extreme of exasperation at Uncle Bill. By some process of reasoning he
blamed him for their present plight.

"I'm hungry!" he snapped, in a voice which implied that the fact was a
matter of moment.

"So am I," said Uncle Bill; "I'm holler to my toes."

"I presume"--in cold sarcasm--"there's no reason why we shouldn't
breakfast, since it's after ten."

"None at all," Uncle Bill answered easily, "except we're out of grub."

"What!"

"I explained that to you four days ago, but you said you'd got to get a
sheep. I thought I could eat snowballs as long as you could. But I
didn't look for such a storm as this."

"There's nothing?" demanded Sprudell, aghast.

"Oh, yes, there's _somethin'_," grimly. "I kin take the ax and break up
a couple of them doughnuts and bile the coffee grounds again. To-night
we'll gorge ourselves on a can of froze tomatoes, though I hates to eat
so hearty and go right to bed. There's a pint of beans, too, that by
cookin' steady in this altitude ought to be done by spring. We'd 'a' had
that sheep meat, only it blowed out of the tree last night and
somethin' drug it off. Here's your doughnut."

Mr. Sprudell snatched eagerly at it and retired under the covers, where
a loud scrunching told of his efforts to masticate the frozen tidbit.

"Can you eat a little somethin', Toy? Is your rheumatiz a-hurtin' pretty
bad?"

"Hiyu lumatiz," a faint voice answered, "plitty bad."

The look of gravity on the man's face deepened as he stood rubbing his
hands over the red-hot stove, which gave out little or no heat in the
intense cold.

The long hours of that day dragged somehow, and the next. When the third
day dawned, the tent was buried nearly to the ridgepole under snow.
Outside, the storm was roaring with unabated fury, and Uncle Bill's
emergency supply of wood was almost gone. He crept from under the
blankets and boiled some water, making a few tasteless pancakes with a
teacupful of flour.

Sprudell sat up suddenly and said, with savage energy:

"Look here--I'll give you a thousand dollars to get me out of this!"

Uncle Bill looked at him curiously. A thousand dollars! Wasn't that like
a dude? Dudes thought money could do anything, buy anything.

Uncle Bill would rather have had a sack of flour just then than all the
money Sprudell owned.

"Your check's no more good than a bunch of dried leaves. It's endurance
that's countin' from now on. We're up against it right, I tell you, with
Toy down sick and all."

Sprudell stared.

"Toy?" Was that why Griswold would not leave? "What's Toy got to do with
it?" he demanded.

It was the old man's turn to stare.

"What's Toy got to do with it?" He looked intently at Sprudell's small
round eyes--hard as agate--at his selfish, Cupid's mouth. "You don't
think I'd quit him, do you, when he's sick--leave him here to die
alone?" Griswold flopped a pancake in the skillet and added, in a
somewhat milder voice: "I've no special love for Chinks, but I've known
Toy since '79. He wouldn't pull out and leave me if I was down."

"But what about me?" Sprudell demanded furiously.

"You'll have to take your chances along with us. It may let up in a day
or two, and then again it mayn't. Anyway, the game goes; we stop eatin'
altogether before to-morry night."

"You got me into this fix! And what am I paying you five dollars a day
for, except to get me out and do as you are told?"

"_I_ got you into this fix? _I_ did?" The stove lids danced with the
vigor with which Uncle Bill banged down the frying pan. The mild old man
was stirred at last. "I sure like your nerve! And, say, when you talk to
me, jest try and remember that I don't wear brass buttons and a
uniform." His blue eyes blazed. "It's your infernal meanness that's to
blame, and nothin' else. I warned you--I told you half a dozen times
that you wasn't gittin' grub enough to come into the hills this time of
year. But you was so afraid of havin' six bits' worth left over that you
wouldn't listen to what I said. I don't like you anyhow. You're the
kind of galoot that ought never to git out of sight of a railroad. Now,
blast you--you starve!"

Incredible as the sensation was, Sprudell felt small. He had to remind
himself repeatedly who he was before he quite got back his poise, and no
suitable retort came to him, for his guide had told the truth. But the
thought that blanched his pink face until it was only a shade less white
than his thick, white hair was that he, T. Victor Sprudell, president of
the Bartlesville Tool Works, of Bartlesville, Indiana, was going to
starve! To freeze! To die in the pitiless hills like any penniless
prospector! His check-book was as useless as a bent weapon in his hand,
and his importance in the world counted for no more than that of the
Chinaman, by his side. Mr. Sprudell lay down again, weak from an
overwhelming sense of helplessness.

Sprudell had not realized it before; but now he knew that always in the
back of his head there had been a picture of an imposing cortège, blocks
long, following a wreath-covered coffin in which he reposed. And later,
an afternoon extra in which his demise was featured and his delicate,
unostentatious charities described--not that he could think of any, but
he presumed that that was the usual thing.

But this--this miserable finality! Unconsciously Sprudell groaned. To
die bravely in the sight of a crowd was sublime; but to perish alone,
unnoted, side by side with the Chinese cook and chiefly for want of
trousers in which to escape, was ignominious. He snatched his cold feet
from the middle of the cook's back.

Another wretched day passed, the event of which was the uncovering of
Sprudell's fine field boots in a drift outside. That night he did not
close his eyes. His nervousness became panic, and his panic like unto
hysteria. He ached with cold and his cramped position, and he was now
getting in earnest the gnawing pangs of hunger. What was a Chinaman's
life compared to his? There were millions like him left--and there was
only one Sprudell! In the faint, gray light of the fourth day, Griswold
felt him crawling out.

Griswold watched him while he kneaded the hard leather of his boots to
soften it, and listened to the chattering of his teeth while he went
through the Chinaman's war bag for an extra pair of socks.

"The sizes in them Levi Strauss' allus run too small," Uncle Bill
observed suddenly, after Sprudell had squeezed into Toy's one pair of
overalls.

"There's no sense in us all staying here to starve," said Sprudell
defiantly, as though he had been accused. "I'm going to Ore City before
I get too weak to start."

"I won't stop you if you're set on goin'; but, as I told you once,
you'll be lost in fifteen yards. There's just one chance I see,
Sprudell, and I'll take it if you'll say you'll stay with Toy. I'll try
to get down to that cabin on the river. The feller may be there, and
again he may have gone for grub. I won't say that I can make it, but
I'll do my best."

Sprudell said stubbornly:

"I won't be left behind! It's every man for himself now."

The old man replied, with equal obstinacy:

"Then you'll start alone." He added grimly: "I reckon you've never
wallered snow neck deep."

For the first time the Chinaman stirred, and raising himself painfully
to his elbow, turned to Uncle Bill.

"You go, I think."

Griswold shook his head.

"That 'every-man-for-himself' talk aint the law we know, Toy."

The Chinaman reiterated, in monotone:

"You go, I think."

"You heard what I said."

"You take my watch, give him Chiny Charley. He savvy my grandson, the
little Sun Loon. Tell Chiny Charley he write the bank in Spokane for
send money to Chiny to pay on lice lanch. Tell Chiny Charley--he savvy
all. I stay here. You come back--all light. You no come back--all light.
I no care. You go now." He lay down. The matter was quite settled in
Toy's mind.

While Sprudell stamped around trying to get feeling into his numb feet
and making his preparations to leave, Uncle Bill lay still. He knew that
Toy was sincere in urging him to go, and finally he said:

"I'll take you at your word, Toy; I'll make the break. If there's nobody
in the cabin, I don't believe I'll have the strength to waller back
alone; but if there is, we'll get some grub together and come as soon as
we can start. I'll do my best."

The glimmer of a smile lighted old Toy's broad, Mongolian face when
Griswold was ready to go, and he laid his chiefest treasure in
Griswold's hand.

"For the little Sun Loon." His oblique, black eyes softened with
affectionate pride. "Plitty fine kid, Bill, hiyu wawa."

"For the little Sun Loon," repeated Uncle Bill gravely. "And hang on as
long as you can." Then he shook hands with Toy and divided the matches.

The old Chinaman turned his face to the wall of the tent and lay quite
still as the two went out and tied the flap securely behind them.

It did not take Sprudell long to realize that Uncle Bill was correct in
his assertion that he would have been lost alone in fifteen yards. He
would have been lost in less than that, or as soon as the full force of
the howling storm had struck him and the wind-driven snow shut out the
tent. He had not gone far before he wished that he had done as Uncle
Bill had told him and wrapped his feet in "Californy socks." The strips
of gunny sacking which he had refused because they looked bunglesome he
could see now were an immense protection against cold and wet. Sprudell
almost admitted, as he felt the dampness beginning to penetrate his
waterproof field boots, that there might still be some things he could
learn.

He gasped like a person taking a long, hard dive into icy water when
they plunged into the swirling world which shut out the tent they had
called home. And the wind that took his breath had a curious, piercing
quality that hurt, as Uncle Bill had said, like breathing darning
needles. "The White Death!" Literally it was that. Panting and quickly
exhausted, as he "wallered snow to his neck," T. Victor Sprudell began
seriously to doubt if he could make it.

"Aire you comin'?" There was no sympathy, only impatience, in the call
which kept coming back with increasing frequency, and Sprudell was
longing mightily for sympathy. He had a quaint conceit concerning his
toes, not being able to rid himself of the notion that when he removed
his socks they would rattle in the ends like bits of broken glass; and
soon he was so cold that he felt a mild wonder as to how his heart
could go on pumping congealed blood through the auricles and ventricles.
It had annoyed him at first when chunks of snow dropped from overhanging
branches and lodged between his neck and collar, to trickle down his
spine; but shortly he ceased to notice so small a matter. In the start,
when he had inadvertently slipped off a buried log and found himself
entangled in a network of down timber, he had struggled frantically to
get out, but now he experienced not even a glimmer of surprise when he
stepped off the edge of something into nothing. He merely floundered
like a fallen stage horse to get back, without excitement or any sense
of irritation. After three exhausting hours or so of fighting snow, his
frenzy lest he lose sight of Uncle Bill gave place to apathy. When he
fell, he even lay there--resting.

Generally he responded to Griswold's call; if the effort was too great,
he did not answer, knowing the old man would come back. That he came
back swearing made no difference, so long as he came back. He had
learned that Griswold would not leave him.

When he stumbled into a drift and settled back in the snow, it felt
exactly like his favorite leather chair by the fire-place in the
Bartlesville Commercial Club. He had the same cozy sensation of
contentment. He could almost feel the crackling fire warming his knees
and shins, and it required no great stretch of the imagination to
believe that by simply extending his hand he could grasp a glass of
whisky and seltzer on the wide arm-rest.

"What's the matter? Aire you down ag'in?"

How different the suave deference of his friends Abe Cone and Y. Fred
Smart to the rude tone and manner of this irascible guide! Mr. Sprudell
fancied that by way of reply he smiled a tolerant smile, but as a matter
of fact the expression of his white, set face did not change.

"Great cats! Have I got to go back and git that dude?" The intervening
feet looked like miles to the tired old man.

Wiry and seasoned as he was, he was nearly exhausted by the extra steps
he had taken and the effort he had put forth to coax and bully, somehow
to drag Sprudell along. The situation was desperate. The bitter cold
grew worse as night came on. He knew that they had worked their way down
toward the river, but how far down? Was the deep cañon he had tried to
follow the right one? Somewhere he had lost the "squaw ax," and dry wood
was inaccessible under snow. If it were not for Sprudell, he knew that
he could still plod on.

His deep breath of exhaustion was a groan as he floundered back and
shook the inert figure with all his might.

"Git up!" he shouted. "You must keep movin'! Do you want to lay right
down and die?"

"Lemme be!" The words came thickly, and Sprudell did not lift his eyes.

"He's goin' to freeze on me sure!" Uncle Bill tried to lift him, to
carry him, to drag him somehow--a dead weight--farther down the cañon.

It was hopeless. He let him fall and yelled. Again and again he yelled
into the empty world about him. Not so much that he expected an answer
as to give vent to his despair. There was not a chance in a million that
the miner in the cabin would hear him, even if he were there. But he
kept on yelling, whooping, yodling with all his might.

His heart leaped, and he stopped in the midst of a breath. He listened,
with his mouth wide open. Surely he heard an answering cry! Faint it
was--far off--as though it came through thicknesses of blankets--but it
_was_ a cry! A human voice!

"Hello! Hello!"

He was not mistaken. From somewhere in the white world of desolation,
the answer came again:

"Hello! Hello!"

Uncle Bill was not much given to religious allusions except as a matter
of emphasis, but he told himself that that far-off cry of reassurance
sounded like the voice of God.

"Help!" he called desperately, sunk to his armpits in the snow. "Help!
Come quick!"

Night was so near that it had just about closed down when Bruce came
fighting his way up the cañon through the drifts to Griswold's side.
They wasted no time in words, but between them dragged and carried the
unresisting sportsman to the cabin.

The lethargy which had been so nearly fatal was without sensation, but
after an hour or so of work his saviors had the satisfaction of hearing
him begin to groan with the pain of returning circulation.

"Git up and stomp around!" Uncle Bill advised, when Sprudell could
stand. "But," sharply, as he stumbled, "look where you're goin'--that's
a corp' over there."

The admonition revived Sprudell as applications of snow and ice water
had not done. He looked in wide-mouthed inquiry at Bruce.

Bruce's somber eyes darkened as he explained briefly:

"We had a fuss, and he went crazy. He tried to get me with the ax."

There was no need to warn Sprudell again to "look where he was goin',"
as he existed from that moment with his gaze alternating between the
gruesome bundle and the gloomy face of his black-browed host.
Incredulity and suspicion shone plainly in his eyes. Sprudell's
imagination was a winged thing, and now it spread its startled pinions.
Penned up with a murderer--what a tale to tell in Bartlesville, if by
chance he returned alive! The fellow had him at his mercy, and what,
after all, did he know of Uncle Bill? Even fairly honest men sometimes
took desperate chances for so fat a purse as his.

Sprudell saw to it that neither of them got behind him as they moved
about the room.

Casting surreptitious glances at the bookshelf, where he looked to see
the life of Jesse James, he was astonished and somewhat reassured to
discover a title like "Fossil Fishes of the Old Red Sandstone of the
British Isles." It was unlikely, he reasoned, that a man who voluntarily
read, for instance, "Contributions to the Natural History of the United
States," would split his skull when his back was turned. Yet they
smacked of affectation to Sprudell, who associated good reading with
good clothes.

"These are your books--you _read_ them?" There was skepticism, a covert
sneer in Sprudell's tone.

"I'd hardly pack them into a place like this if I didn't," Bruce
answered curtly.

"I suppose not," he hastened to admit, and added, patronizingly; "Who
_is_ this fellow Agassiz?"

Bruce turned as sharply as if he had attacked a personal friend. The
famous, many-sided scientist was his hero, occupying a pedestal that no
other celebrity approached. Sprudell had touched him on a tender spot.

"That 'fellow Agassiz,'" he answered in cold mimicry, "was one of the
greatest men who ever lived. Where do you stop when you're home that you
never heard of Alexander Agassiz? I'd rather have been Alexander Agassiz
than the richest man in America--than any king. He was a great
scientist, a great mining engineer, a successful business man. He
developed and put the Calumet and Hecla on a paying basis. He made the
University Museum in Cambridge what it is. He knew more about sea
urchins and coral reefs than men who specialize, and they were only side
issues with him. I met him once when I was a kid, in Old Mexico; he
talked to me a little, and it was the honor of my life. I'd rather walk
behind and pack his suitcase like a porter than ride with the president
of the road!"

"Is that so?" Sprudell murmured, temporarily abashed.

"Great cats!" ejaculated Uncle Bill, with bulging eyes. "My head would
git a hot-box if I knowed jest half of that."

When Sprudell stretched his stiff muscles and turned his head upon the
bear-grass pillow at daybreak, Bruce was writing a letter on the corner
of the table and Uncle Bill was stowing away provisions in a small
canvas sack. He gathered, from the signs of preparation, that the miner
was going to try and find the Chinaman. Outside, the wind was still
sweeping the stinging snow before it like powder-driven shot. What a
fool he was to attempt it--to risk his life--and for what?

It was with immeasurable satisfaction that Sprudell told himself that
but for his initiative they would have been there yet. These fellows
needed a leader, a strong man--the ignorant always did. His eyes caught
the suggestive outlines of the blanket on the floor, and, with a start,
he remembered what was under it. They had no sensibilities, these
Westerners--they lacked fineness; certainly no one would suspect from
the matter-of-factness of their manner that they were rooming with a
corpse. For himself, he doubted if he could even eat.

"Oh, you awake?" Uncle Bill glanced at him casually.

"My feet hurt."

Uncle Bill ignored his plaintive tone.

"They're good and froze. They'll itch like forty thousand fleabites
atter while--like as not you'll haf to have them took off. Lay still and
don't clutter up the cabin till Burt gits gone. I'll cook you somethin'
bimeby."

Sprudell writhed under the indifferent familiarity of his tone. He
wished old Griswold had a wife and ten small children and was on the pay
roll of the Bartlesville Tool Works some hard winter. He'd----Sprudell's
resentment found an outlet in devising a variety of situations conducive
to the disciplining of Uncle Bill.

Bruce finished his letter and re-read it, revising a little here and
there. He looked at Sprudell while he folded it reflectively, as though
he were weighing something pro and con.

Sprudell was conscious that he was being measured, and, egotist though
he was, he was equally aware that Bruce's observations still left him in
some doubt.

Bruce walked to the window undecidedly, and then seemed finally to make
up his mind.

"I'm going to ask you to do me a favor, stranger, but only in case I
don't come back. I intend to, but"--he glanced instinctively out of the
window--"it's no sure thing I will.

"My partner has a mother and a sister--here's the address, though it's
twelve years old. If anything happens to me, I want you to promise that
you'll hunt them up. Give them this old letter and the picture and this
letter, here, of mine. This is half the gold dust--our season's work."
He placed a heavy canvas sample sack in Sprudell's hand. "Say that Slim
sent it; that although they might not think it because he did not write,
that just the same he thought an awful lot of them.

"I've told them in my letter about the placer here--it's theirs, the
whole of it, if I don't come back. See that it's recorded; women don't
understand about such things. And be sure the assessment work's kept up.
In the letter, there, I've given them my figures as to how the samples
run. Some day there'll be found a way to work it on a big scale, and
it'll pay them to hold on. That's all, I guess." He looked deep into
Sprudell's eyes. "You'll do it?"

"As soon as I get out."

"I'd just about come back and haunt you if you lied."

There were no heroics when he left them; he simply fastened on his pack
and went.

"Don't try to hunt me if I stay too long," was all he said to Uncle Bill
at parting. "If there's any way of getting there, I can make it just as
well alone."

It was disappointing to Sprudell--nothing like the Western plays at
tragic moments; no long handshakes and heart-breaking speeches of
farewell from the "rough diamonds."

"S' long," said Uncle Bill.

He polished a place on the window-pane with his elbow and watched Burt's
struggle with the cold and wind and snow begin.

"Pure grit, that feller," when, working like a snowplow, Bruce had
disappeared. "He's man all through." The old voice trembled. "Say!" He
turned ferociously. "Git up and eat!"

Uncle Bill grew older, grayer, grimmer in the days of waiting, days
which he spent principally moving between window and door, watching,
listening, saying to himself monotonously: It _can't_ storm forever;
some time it's _got_ to stop.

But in this he seemed mistaken, for the snow fell with only brief
cessation, and in such intervals the curious fog hung over the silent
mountains with the malignant persistency of an evil spirit.

He scraped the snow away from beside the cabin, and Sprudell helped him
bury Slim. Then, against the day of their going, he fashioned crude
snow-shoes of material he found about the cabin and built a rough hand
sled.

"If only 'twould thaw a little, and come a crust, he'd stand a whole lot
better show of gittin' down." Uncle Bill scanned the sky regularly for a
break somewhere each noon.

"Lord, yes, if it only would!" Sprudell always answered fretfully.
"There are business reasons why I ought to be at home."

The day came when the old man calculated that even with the utmost
economy Bruce must have been two days without food. He looked pinched
and shrivelled as he stared vacantly at the mouth of the cañon into
which Bruce had disappeared.

"He might kill somethin', if 'twould lift a little, but there's nothin'
stirrin' in such a storm as this. I feel like a murderer settin' here."

Sprudell watched him fearfully lest the irresolution he read in his face
change to resolve, and urged:

"There's nothing we can do but wait."

Days after the most sanguine would have abandoned hope, Uncle Bill hung
on. Sprudell paced the cabin like a captive panther, and his broad hints
became demands.

"A month of this, and there would be another killin'; I aches to choke
the windpipe off that dude," the old man told himself, and ignored the
peremptory commands.

The crust that he prayed for came at last, but no sign of Bruce; then a
gale blowing down the river swept it fairly clear of snow.

"Git ready!" Griswold said one morning. "We'll start." And Sprudell
jumped on his frosted feet for joy. "We'll take it on the ice to Long's
Crossin'," he vouchsafed shortly. "Ore City's closest, but I've no heart
to pack you up that hill."

He left a note on the kitchen table, though he had the sensation of
writing to the dead; and when he closed the door he did so reverently,
as he would have left a mausoleum. Then, dragging blankets and
provision behind them on the sled, they started for the river, past the
broken snow and the shallow grave where the dead madman lay, past the
clump of snow-laden willows where the starving horses that had worked
their way down huddled for shelter, too weak to move. Leaden-hearted,
Uncle Bill went with reluctant feet. Before a bend of the river shut
from sight the white-roofed cabin from which a tiny thread of smoke
still rose, he looked over his shoulder, wagging his head.

"I don't feel right about goin'. I shorely don't."



VI

THE RETURNED HERO


It is said that no two persons see another in exactly the same light. Be
that as it may, it is extremely doubtful if Uncle Bill Griswold would
have immediately recognized in the debonair raconteur who held a circle
breathless in the Bartlesville Commercial Club the saffron-colored,
wild-eyed dude whom he had fished off the slide rock with a pair of
"galluses" attached to a stout pole.

The account of Sprudell's adventure had leaked out and even gotten into
print, but it was not until some time after that his special cronies
succeeded in getting the story from his own lips.

There was not a dry eye when he was done. That touch about thinking of
them and the Yawning Jaws, and grappling hand to hand with The White
Death--why, the man was a poet, no matter what his enemies said; and, as
though to prove it, Abe Cone sniffled so everybody looked at him.

"We're proud of you! But you musn't take such a chance again, old man."

A chorus echoed Y. Fred Smart's friendly protest. "'Tain't right to
tempt Providence."

But Sprudell laughed lightly, and they regarded him in
admiration--danger was the breath of life to some.

But this reckless, peril-courting side was only one side of the
many-sided T. Victor Sprudell. From nine in the morning until four in
the afternoon, he was the man of business, occupied with facts and
figures and the ever-interesting problem of how to extract the maximum
of labor for the minimum of wage. That "there is no sentiment in
business" is a doctrine he practised to the letter. He was hard,
uncompromising, exact.

Rather than the gratifying cortège which he pictured in his dreams, a
hansom cab or a motorcycle could quite easily have conveyed all the
sorrowing employees of the Bartlesville Tool Works who voluntarily would
have followed its president to his grave.

But when Sprudell closed his office door, he locked this adamantine,
quibbling, frankly penurious, tyrannical man of business inside, and the
chameleon does not change its color with greater ease than Sprudell took
on another and distinct personality. On the instant he became the "good
fellow," his pink face and beaming eyes radiating affability,
conviviality, an all-embracing fondness for mankind, also a susceptible
Don Juan keenly on the alert for adventure of a sentimental nature.

In appearance, too, he was a credit to the Bartlesville Commercial Club,
when, with his pink face glowing above a glimpse of crimson neck scarf,
dressed in pearl-gray spats, gray topcoat, gray business clothes
indistinctly barred with black, and suède gloves of London smoke, he
bounded up the clubhouse steps with the elasticity of well-preserved
fifty, lightly swinging a slender stick. His jauntily-placed hat was a
trifle, a mere suspicion, too small, and always he wore a dewy
boutonnière of violets, while his thick, gray hair had a slight part
behind which it pleased him to think gave the touch of distinction and
originality he coveted.

This was the lighter side of T. Victor Sprudell. The side of himself
which he took most seriously was his intellectual side. When he was the
scholar, the scientist, the philosopher, he demanded and received the
strictest attention and consideration from his immediate coterie of
friends. So long as he was merely _le bon diable_, the jovial clubman,
it was safe to banter and even to contradict him; but when the
conversation drifted into the higher realms of thought, it was tacitly
understood that the privileges of friendship were revoked. At such
moments it was as though the oracle of Delphi spoke.

This ambition to shine as a man of learning was the natural outcome of
his disproportionate vanity, his abnormal egotism, his craving for
prominence and power. Sprudell was a man who had had meager youthful
advantages, but through life he had observed the tremendous impression
which scholarly attainments made upon the superficially educated--which
they made upon him.

So he set about acquiring knowledge.

He dabbled in the languages, and a few useful words and phrases stuck.
He plunged into the sciences, and arose from the immersion dripping with
a smattering of astronomy, chemistry, biology, archæology, and what not.
The occult was to him an open book, and he was wont temporarily to
paralyze the small talk of social gatherings with dissertations upon the
teachings of the ancients which he had swallowed at a gulp. He
criticised the schools of modern painting in impressive art terms, while
he himself dashed off half-column poems at a sitting for the _Courier_,
in which he had acquired controlling stock.

In other words, by a certain amount of industry, T. Victor Sprudell had
become a walking encyclopædia of misinformation with small danger of
being found out so long as he stayed in Bartlesville.

Certainly Abe Cone--born Cohen--who had made his "barrel" in ready-made
clothing, felt in no position to contradict him when he stated his
belief in the theory of transmigration as expounded by Pythagoras, and
expressed the opinion that by chance the soul of Cleopatra might be
occupying the graceful body of the club cat. Abe was not acquainted with
the doctrine of Pythagoras, though he had heard somewhere that the lady
was a huzzy; so he discreetly kept his mouth closed and avoided the cat.
Intellectually Sprudell's other associates were of Abe's caliber, so he
shone among them, the one bright, particular star--too vain, too
fundamentally deficient to know how little he really knew.

Nevertheless he was the most thoroughly detested, the most hated man in
Bartlesville. And those who hated feared him as they hated and feared
the incendiary, the creeping thief, the midnight assassin; for he used
their methods to attain his ends, along with a despot's power.

No man or woman who pricked his vanity, who incurred his displeasure,
was safe from his vengeance. No person who wounded his self-esteem was
too obscure to escape his vindictive malice, and no means that he could
employ, providing it was legally safe, was too unscrupulous, too petty,
to use to punish the offender. Hounding somebody was his recreation, his
one extravagance. He exhumed the buried pasts of political candidates
who had crossed him; he rattled family skeletons in revenge for social
slights; he published musty prison records, and over night blasted
reputations which had been years in the building. His enmity cost
salaried men positions through pressure which sooner or later he always
found the way to bring to bear, and even mere "day's jobs" were not
beneath his notice. Yet his triumphs cost him dear. Merry groups had a
way of dissolving at his coming. He read dislike in many a hostess's
eye, and, save for the small coterie of inferior satellites, Sprudell in
his own club was as lonely as a leper. But so strong was this dominating
trait that he preferred the sweetness of revenge to any tie of
fellowship or hope of popularity. The ivy of friendship did not grow for
him.

By a secret ballot, Sprudell in his own town could not have been elected
dog-catcher, yet his money and his newspaper made him dangerous and a
power.

When he regaled his fellow members with the dramatic story of his
sufferings, he said nothing of Bruce Burt. Bruce Burt was dead, of that
he had not the faintest doubt. He intended to keep the promise he had
made to hunt the Naudain fellow's relatives, but for the present he felt
that his frosted feet were paramount.



VII

SPRUDELL GOES EAST


With an air of being late for many important engagements, T. Victor
Sprudell bustled into the Hotel Strathmore in the Eastern city that had
been Slim's home and inscribed his artistic signature upon the register;
and as a consequence Peters, city editor of the _Evening Dispatch_,
while glancing casually over the proofs that had just come from the
composing room, some hours later, paused at the name of T. Victor
Sprudell, Bartlesville, Indiana, among the list of hotel arrivals.

Mr. Peters shoved back his green shade, closed one eye, and with the
other stared fixedly at the ceiling. One of the chief reasons why he
occupied the particular chair in which he sat was because he had a
memory like an Edison record, and now he asked himself where and in what
connection he had seen this name in print before.

Who was this Sprudell? What had he done? Had he run away with somebody,
embezzled, explored--explored, that was more like it! Ah, now he
remembered--Sprudell was a hero. Two "sticks" in the Associated Press
had informed the world how nobly he had saved somebody from something.

Peters scanned the city room. The bright young cub who leaps to fame in
a single story was not present. The city editor had no hallucinations
regarding such members of his staff as he saw at leisure, but thought
again, as he had often thought before, that the world had lost some good
plumbers and gasfitters when they turned to newspaper work. He said
abruptly to the office boy:

"Tell Miss Dunbar to come here."

In a general way, Mr. Peters did not approve of women in journalism, but
he did disapprove very particularly of making any distinction between
the sexes in the office. Yet frequently he found himself gripping the
chair arm to prevent himself from rising when she entered; and in his
secret soul he knew that he looked out of the window to note the weather
before giving her an out-of-town assignment. When she came into the city
room now he conquered this annoying impulse of politeness by not
immediately looking up.

"You sent for me?"

"Go up to the hotel and see this man" (he underscored the name and
handed her the proof); "there might be a story in him. He saved
somebody's life out West--his guide's, as I recall it. Noble-hero
story--brave tenderfoot rescuing seasoned Westerner--reversal of the
usual picture. Might use his photograph."

"I'll try," as she took the slip. It was characteristic of her not to
ask questions, which was one of the several reasons why the city editor
approved of her.

"In that event I know we can count on it." Mr. Peters waited expectantly
and was not disappointed.

She was walking away but turned her head and looked back at him over her
shoulder. The sudden, sparkling smile changed her face like some
wizard's magic from that of a sober young woman very much in earnest to
a laughing, rather mischievous looking little girl of ten or twelve.

There are a few women who even at middle-age have moments when it seems
as though the inexorable hand of Time were forced back to childhood by
the youthfulness of their spirit. For a minute, or perhaps a second
merely, the observer receives a vivid impression of them as they looked
before the anxieties and sorrows which come with living had left their
imprint.

Helen Dunbar had this trick of expression to a marked degree and for a
fleeting second she always looked like a little girl in shoe-top frocks
and pigtails. Mr. Peters had noticed it often, and as a student of
physiognomy he had found the transformation so fascinating that he had
not only watched for it but sometimes endeavored to provoke it. He also
reflected now as he looked after her, that her appearance was a credit
to the sheet--a comment he was not always able to make upon the
transitory ladies of his staff.

The unconscious object of the newspaper's attention was seated at a desk
in the sitting-room of his suite in the Hotel Strathmore, alternately
frowning and smiling in the effort of composition.

Mr. Sprudell had a jaunty, colloquial style when he stooped to prose.

"Easy of access, pay dirt from the grass roots, and a cinch to save," he
was writing, when a knock upon the door interrupted him.

"Come in!" He scowled at the uniformed intruder.

"A card, sir." It was Miss Dunbar's, of the _Evening Dispatch_.

"What the dickens!" Mr. Sprudell looked puzzled. "Ah yes, of course!"
For a second, an instant merely, Mr. Sprudell had quite forgotten that
he was a hero.

"These people _will_ find you out." His tone was bored. "Tell her I'll
be down presently."

When the door closed, he walked to the glass.

He twitched at his crimson neck scarf and whisked his pearl-gray spats;
he made a pass or two with his military brushes at his cherished part,
and took his violets from a glass of water to squeeze them dry on a
towel. While he adjusted his boutonnière, he gazed at his smiling image
and twisted his neck to look for wrinkles in his coat. "T. Victor
Sprudell, Wealthy Sportsman and Hero, Reluctantly Consents to Be
Interviewed" was a headline which occurred to him as he went down in the
elevator.

The girl from the _Dispatch_ awaited him in the parlor. Mr. Sprudell's
genial countenance glowed as he advanced with outstretched hand.

Miss Dunbar noted that the hand was warm and soft and chubby; nor was
this dapper, middle-aged beau exactly the man she had pictured as the
hero of a thrilling rescue. He looked too self-satisfied and fat.

"Now what can I do for you, my dear young lady?" Mr. Sprudell drew up a
chair with amiable alacrity.

"We have heard of you, you know," she began smilingly.

"Oh, really!" Mr. Sprudell lifted one astonished brow. "I cannot
imagine----" He was thinking that Miss Dunbar had remarkably good teeth.

"And we want you to tell us something of your adventure in the West."

"Which one?"

"Er--the _last_ one."

"Oh, that little affair of the blizzard?" Mr. Sprudell laughed
inconsequently. "Tut, tut! There's really nothing to tell."

"_We_ know better than that." She looked at him archly.

It was then he discovered that she had especially fine eyes.

"I couldn't have done less than I did, under the circumstances." Mr.
Sprudell closed a hand and regarded the polished nails modestly.
"But--er--frankly, I would rather not talk for publication."

"People who have actually done something worth telling will never talk,"
declared Miss Dunbar, in mock despair, "while those----"

"But you can understand," interrupted Mr. Sprudell, with a gesture of
depreciation, "how a man feels to seem to"--he all but achieved a
blush--"to toot his own horn."

"I can understand your reluctance perfectly" Miss Dunbar admitted
sympathetically, and it was then he noticed how low and pleasant her
voice was. She felt that she did understand perfectly--she had a notion
that nothing short of total paralysis of the vocal cords would stop him
after he had gone through the "modest hero's" usual preamble.

"But," she urged, "there is so much crime and cowardice, so many
dreadful things, printed, that I think stories of self-sacrifice and
brave deeds like yours should be given the widest publicity--a kind of
antidote--you know what I mean?"

"Exactly," Mr. Sprudell acquiesced eagerly. "Moral effect upon the youth
of the land. Establishes standards of conduct, raises high ideals in the
mind of the reader. Of course, looking at it from that point of
view----" Obviously Mr. Sprudell was weakening.

"That's the view you must take of it," insisted Miss Dunbar sweetly.

Mr. Sprudell regarded his toe. Charming as she was, he wondered if she
could do the interview--him--justice. A hint of his interesting
personality would make an effective preface, he thought, and a short
sketch of his childhood culminating in his successful business career.

"Out there in the silences, where the peaks pierce the blue----" began
Mr. Sprudell dreamily.

"Where?" Miss Dunbar felt for a pencil.

"Er--Bitter Root Mountains." The business-like question and tone
disconcerted him slightly.

Mr. Sprudell backed up and started again:

"Out there in the silence, where the peaks pierce the blue, we pitched
our tents in the wilderness--in the forest primeval. We pillowed our
heads upon nature's heart, and lay at night watching the cold stars
shivering in their firmament." That was good! Mr. Sprudell wondered if
it was original or had he read it somewhere? "By day, like primordial
man, we crept around beetling crags and scaled inaccessible peaks in
pursuit of the wild things----"

"Who crept with you?" inquired Miss Dunbar prosaically. "How far were
you from a railroad?"

A shade of irritation replaced the look of poetic exaltation upon
Sprudell's face. It would have been far better if they had sent a man. A
man would undoubtedly have taken the interview verbatim.

"An old prospector and mountain man named Griswold--Uncle Bill they call
him--was my guide, and we were--let me see--yes, all of a hundred miles
from a railroad."

"What you were saying was--a--beautiful," declared Miss Dunbar, noting
his injured tone, "but, you see, unfortunately in a newspaper we must
have facts. Besides"--she glanced at the wrist watch beneath the frill
of her coat sleeve--"the first edition goes to press at
eleven-forty-five, and I would like to have time to do your story
justice."

Mr. Sprudell reluctantly folded his oratorical pinions and dived to
earth.

Beginning with the moment when he had emerged from the cañon where he
had done some remarkable shooting at a band of mountain sheep--he
doubted if ever he would be able to repeat the performance--and first
sensed danger in the leaden clouds, to the last desperate struggle
through the snowdrifts in the paralyzing cold of forty below, with poor
old Uncle Bill Griswold on his back, he told the story graphically, with
great minuteness of detail. And when divine Providence led him at last
to the lonely miner's cabin on the wild tributary of the Snake, and he
had sunk, fainting and exhausted, to the floor with his inert burden on
his back, Mr. Sprudell's eyes filled, touched to tears by the story of
his own bravery.

Miss Dunbar's wide, intent eyes and parted lips inspired him to go
further. Under the stimulus of her flattering attention and the thought
that through her he was talking to an audience of at least two hundred
thousand people, he forgot the caution which was always stronger than
any rash impulse. The circulation of the _Dispatch_ was local; and
besides, Bruce Burt was dead, he reasoned swiftly.

He told her of the tragedy in the lonely cabin, and described to her
the scene into which he had stumbled, getting into the telling something
of his own feeling of shock. In imagination she could see the big,
silent, black-browed miner cooking, baking, deftly doing a woman's work,
scrubbing at the stains on logs and flooring, wiping away the black
splashes like a tidy housewife. "_This_ is my story," she thought.

"Why did they quarrel?"

"It began with a row over pancakes, and wound up with a fight over
salt."

She stared incredulously.

"Fact--he said so."

"And what was the brute's name?"

He answered, not too readily:

"Why--Bruce Burt."

"And the man he murdered?"

"They called him Slim Naudain."

"Naudain!" Her startled cry made him look at her in wonder. "Naudain!
What did they call him beside Slim?"

"Frederick was his given name."

"Freddie!" she whispered, aghast.

Sprudell stared at her, puzzled.

"It _must_ be! The name is too uncommon."

"I don't understand."

"He must have been my brother--my half-brother--my mother was married
twice. It is too dreadful!" She stared at Sprudell with wide, shocked
eyes.

Sprudell was staring, too, but he seemed more disconcerted than amazed.

"It's hardly likely," he said, reassuringly. "When did you hear from him
last?"

"It has been all of twelve years since we heard from him even
indirectly. I wrote to him in Silver City, New Mexico, where we were
told he was working in a mine. Perhaps he did not get my letter; at
least I've tried to think so, for he did not answer."

Indecision, uncertainty, were uppermost among the expressions on
Sprudell's face, but the girl did not see them, for her downcast eyes
were filled with tears. Finally he said slowly and in a voice curiously
restrained.

"Yes, he did receive it and I have it here. It's a very strange
coincidence, Miss Dunbar, the most remarkable I have ever known; you
will agree when I tell you that my object in coming East was to find you
and your mother for the purpose of turning over his belongings--this
letter you mention, an old photograph of you and some five hundred
dollars in money he left."

"It's something to remember, that at least he kept my letter and my
picture." She swallowed hard and bit her lips for self-control. "He was
not a good son or a good brother, Mr. Sprudell," she continued with an
effort, "but since my father and mother died he's been all I had. And
I've made myself believe that at heart he was all right and that when he
was older he would think enough of us some time to come home. I've
counted on it--on him--more than I realized until now. It is"--she
clenched her hands tightly and swallowed hard again--"a blow."

Sprudell replied soothingly

"This fellow Burt said his partner thought a lot of you."

"It's strange," Helen looked up reflectively, "that a cold-blooded
murderer like that would have turned over my brother's things--would
have sent anything back at all."

"I _made_ him," said Sprudell.

"I'm too shocked yet to thank you properly," she said, rising and giving
him her hand, "but, believe me, I do appreciate your disinterested
kindness in making this long trip from Bartlesville, and for total
strangers, too."

"Tut! tut!" Mr. Sprudell interrupted. "It's nothing--nothing at all; and
now I wish you'd promise to dine with me this evening. I'll call for you
if I may and bring the money and the letter and picture. From now on I
want you to feel that I am a friend who is always at your service. Tut!
tut! don't embarrass me with thanks."

He accompanied her to the door, then stepped back into the parlor to
watch her pass the window and cross the street. He liked her brisk,
alert step, her erect carriage, and the straight lines of the dark
clothes she wore mightily became her slender figure. "Wouldn't a girl
like that"--his full, red lips puckered in a whistle--"wouldn't _she_
make a stir in Bartlesville!"

Sprudell returned to his task, but with abated enthusiasm. A vague
uneasiness, which may have been his conscience, disturbed him. He would
write furiously, then stop and read what he had written with an
expression of dissatisfaction.

"Hang it all." He threw his work down finally, and, thrusting his hands
in the pockets of his trousers, paced up and down the floor to "have it
out." What could the girl do with the place if she had it? It was a
property which required money and experience and brains to handle.
Besides, he had committed himself to his friends, talked of it,
promoted it partially, and they shared his enthusiasm. It was something
which appealed intensely to the strong vein of sensationalism in him.
What a pill it would be for his enemies to swallow if he went West and
made another fortune! They might hate him, but they would have to admit
his brains. To emerge, Midaslike, from the romantic West with bags of
yellow gold was the one touch needed to make him an envied, a unique and
picturesque, figure. He _could not_ give it up. He meant to be
honest--he _would_ be honest--but in his own way.

He would see that the girl profited by the development of the ground. He
would find a way. Already there was a hazy purpose in his head which, if
it crystallized, would prove a most satisfactory way. Sprudell sat down
again and wrote until the prospectus of the Bitter Root Placer Mining
Company was ready for the printer.



VIII

UNCLE BILL FINDS NEWS IN THE "TRY-BUNE"


When anybody remained in Ore City through the winter it was a tacit
confession that he had not money enough to get away; and this winter the
unfortunates were somewhat more numerous than usual. Those who remained
complained that they saw the sun so seldom that when it did come out it
hurt their eyes, and certain it is that owing to the altitude there were
always two months more of winter in Ore City than in any other camp in
the State.

After the first few falls of snow a transcontinental aeroplane might
have crossed the clearing in the thick timber without suspecting any
settlement there, unless perchance the aeronaut was flying low enough to
see the tunnels which led like the spokes of a wheel from the
snow-buried cabins to the front door of the Hinds House.

When the rigid cold of forty below froze everything that would freeze,
and the wind drove the powdery snow up and down the Main street, there
would not be a single sign of life for hours; but at the least cessation
the inhabitants came out like prairie dogs from their holes and scuttled
through their tunnels, generally on borrowing expeditions: that is, if
they were not engaged at the time in conversation, cribbage, piute or
poker in the comfortable office of the Hinds House. In which event they
all came out together.

In winter the chief topic was a continual wonder as to whether the stage
would be able to get in, and in summer as to whether when it did get in
it would bring a "live one." No one ever looked for a "live one" later
than September or earlier than June.

There had been a time when the hotel was full of "live ones," and nearly
every mine owner had one of his own in tow, but this was when the
Mascot was working three shifts and a big California outfit had bonded
the Goldbug.

But a "fault" had come into the vein on the Mascot and they had never
been able to pick up the ore-shoot again. So the grass grew ankle-deep
on the Mascot hill because there were no longer three shifts of
hob-nailed boots to keep it down. The California outfit dropped the
Goldbug as though it had been stung, and a one-lunger stamp-mill chugged
where the camp had dreamed of forty.

In the halcyon days, the sound that issued from "The Bucket o' Blood"
suggested wild animals at feeding time; but the nightly roar from the
saloon even in summer had sunk to a plaintive whine and ceased
altogether in winter. Machinery rusted and timbers rotted while the roof
of the Hinds House sagged like a sway-backed horse; so did the beds, so
also did "Old Man" Hinds' spirits, and there was a hole in the
dining-room floor where the unwary sometimes dropped to their
hip-joints.

But the Hinds House continued to be, as it always had been, the social
centre, the news bureau, the scene where large deals were constantly
being conceived and promulgated--although they got no further. Each
inhabitant of Ore City had his set time for arriving and departing, and
he abided as closely by his schedule as though he kept office hours.

There was a generous box of saw-dust near the round sheet-iron stove
which set in the middle of the office, and there were many
straight-backed wooden chairs whose legs were steadied with baling wire
and whose seats had been highly polished by the overalls of countless
embryo mining magnates. On one side of the room was a small pine table
where Old Man Hinds walloped himself at solitaire, and on the other side
of the room was a larger table, felt-covered, kept sacred to the games
of piute and poker, where as much as three dollars sometimes changed
hands in a single night.

At the extreme end of the long office was a plush barber chair, and a
row of gilt mugs beneath a gilt mirror gave the place a metropolitan
air, although there was little doing in winter when whiskers and long
hair became assets.

Selected samples of ore laid in rows on the window-sills; there were
neat piles heaped in the corners, along the walls, and on every shelf,
while the cabinet-organ, of Jersey manufacture, with its ornamental rows
of false stops and keys, which was the distinguishing feature of the
office, had "spec'mins" on the bristling array of stands which stood out
from it in unexpected places like wooden stalagmites.

The cabinet-organ setting "catty-cornered" beside the roller-towel
indicated the presence of womankind, and it indicated correctly, for out
in the kitchen was Mrs. Alonzo Snow, and elsewhere about the hotel were
her two lovely daughters, the Misses Violet and Rosie Snow,--facetiously
known as "the Snowbirds."

Second to the stove in the office, the Snow family was the attraction in
the Hinds House, for the entertainment they frequently furnished was as
free as the wood that the _habitués_ fed so liberally to the sheet-iron
stove.

A psychological writer has asserted that when an extremely sensitive
person meets for the first time one who is to figure prominently in his
life, he experiences an inward tremor. Whether it was that Old Man Hinds
was not sufficiently sensitive or was too busy at the time to be
cognizant of inward tremors, the fact is he was not conscious of any
such sensation when the "Musical Snows" alighted stiffly from the Beaver
Creek stage; yet they were to fill not only his best rooms but his whole
horizon.

"Nightingales and Prodigies," the handbills said, and after the concert
nobody questioned their claims. The "Musical Snows" liked the people,
the food, the scenery--and the climate which was doing Mr. Snow such a
lot of good--so well that they stayed on. There were so many of them and
they rested so long that their board-bill became too hopelessly large to
pay, so they did not dishearten themselves by trying.

Then while freight was seven cents a pound from the railroad terminus
and Old Man Hinds was staring at the ceiling in the tortured watches of
the night trying to figure out how he could make three hams last until
another wagon got in, a solution came to him which seemed the answer to
all his problems. He would turn the hotel over to the "Musical Snows"
and board with them! It was the only way he could ever hope to catch up.
To board them meant ruin.

So the Snow family abandoned their musical careers and consented to
assume the responsibility temporarily--at least while Pa was "poahly."
This was four years ago, and "Pa" was still poahly.

He spent most of his time in a rocking chair upstairs by the stove-pipe
hole where he could hear conveniently. When the stove-pipe parted at the
joint, as it sometimes did, those below knew that Mr. Snow had
inadvertently clasped the stove-pipe too tightly between his stockinged
feet, though there were those who held that it happened because he did
not like the turn the talk was taking. At any rate the Snow family
spread themselves around most advantageously. Mr. Will Snow, the tenor
of the "Plantation Quartette," appeared behind the office desk, while
Mr. Claude Snow, the baritone, turned hostler for the stage-line and
sold oats to the freighters. And "Ma" Snow developed such a taste for
discipline and executive ability that while she was only five feet four
and her outline had the gentle outward slope of a churn, Ore City spoke
of her fearfully as "SHE."

Her shoulders were narrow, her chest was flat, and the corrugated puffs
under her eyes with which she arose each morning looked like the
half-shell of an English walnut. By noon these puffs had sunk as far the
other way, so it was almost possible to tell the time of day by Ma
Snow's eyes; but she could beat the world on "The Last Rose of Summer,"
and she still took high C.

Regular food and four years in the mountain air had done wonders for
"The Infant Prodigies," Miss Rosie and Miss Vi, who now weighed close to
two hundred pounds, tempting an ungallant freighter to observe that they
must be "throw-backs" to Percheron stock and adding that "they ought to
work great on the wheel." Their hips stood out like well-filled saddle
pockets and they still wore their hair down their backs in thin braids,
but, as the only girls within fifty miles, the "Prodigies" were
undisputed belles.

One dull day in early December, when the sky had not lightened even at
noon, a monotonous day in the Hinds House, since there had been no
impromptu concert and the cards had been running with unsensational
evenness, while every thread-bare topic seemed completely talked out,
Uncle Bill walked restlessly to the window and by the waning light
turned a bit of "rock" over in his hand.

The sight was too much for Yankee Sam, who hastily joined him.

"Think you got anything, Bill?"

"I got a hell-uv-a-lot of somethin' or a hell-uv-a-lot of nothin'. It's
forty feet across the face."

"Shoo!" Sam took it from him and picked at it with a knife-point,
screwing a glass into his eye to inspect the particle which he laid out
carefully in his palm.

"Looks like somethin' good."

"When I run a fifty foot tunnel into a ledge of antimony over on the
Skookumchuck it _looked_ like somethin' good." Uncle Bill added drily:
"I ain't excited."

"It might be one of them rar' minerals." Yankee Sam hefted it
judicially. "What do you hold it at?"

"Anything I can git."

"You ought to git ten thousand dollars easy when Capital takes holt."

"I'd take a hundred and think I'd stuck the feller, if I could git
cash."

"A hundred!" Yankee Sam flared up in instant wrath. "It's cheap fellers
like you that's killin' this camp!"

"Mortification had set in on this camp 'fore I ever saw it, Samuel,"
replied Uncle Bill calmly. "I was over in the Buffalo Hump Country doin'
assessment work fifteen hundred feet above timber-line when the last
Live One pulled out of Ore City. They ain't been one in since to my
knowledge. The town's so quiet you can hear the fish come up to breathe
in Lemon Crick and I ain't lookin' for a change soon."

"You wait till spring."

"I wore out the bosoms of two pair of Levi Strauss's every winter since
1910 waitin' for spring, and I ain't seen nothin' yet except Capital
makin' wide circles around Ore City. This here camp's got a black eye."

"And who give it a black eye?" demanded Yankee Sam wrathfully. "Who done
it but knockers like you? I 'spose if Capital was settin' right
alongside you'd up and tell 'em you never saw a ledge yet in this camp
hold out below a hundred feet?"

Uncle Bill replied tranquilly:

"Would if they ast me."

"You'd rather see us all starve than boost."

"Jest as lief as to lie."

"Well, that's what we're goin' to do if somethin' don't happen this
Spring. She'll own this camp. Porcupine Jim turned over 'the Underdog'
yesterday and Lannigan's finished eatin' on 'The Gold-dust Twins'." He
moved away disconsolately. "Lord, I wish the stage would get in."

At this juncture Judge George Petty turned in from the street, hitting
both sides of the snow tunnel as he came. He fumbled at the door-knob in
a suspicious manner and then stumbled joyously inside.

"Boys," he announced exuberantly, "I think I heerd the stage."

The group about the red-hot stove regarded him coldly and no one moved.
It was like him, the ingrate, to get drunk alone. When he tried to wedge
a chair into the circle they made no effort to give him room.

"You don't believe me!" The Judge's mouth, which had been upturned at
the corners like a "dry" new moon, as promptly became a "wet" one and
drooped as far the other way.

"Somethin' you been takin' must a quickened your hearin'," said Yankee
Sam sourly. "She's an hour and a half yet from bein' due."

"'Twere nothin'," he answered on the defensive, "but a few drops of
vaniller and some arnicy left over from that sprain. You oughtn't to
feel hard toward me," he quavered, wilting under the unfriendly eyes.
"I'd a passed it if there'd been enough to go aroun'."

"An' after all we've done fer ye," said Lannigan, "makin' ye Jestice of
the Peace to keep ye off the town."

"Jedge," said Uncle Bill deliberately, "you're gittin' almost no-account
enough to be a Forest Ranger. I aims to write to Washington when your
term is out and git you in the Service."

The Judge jumped up as though he had been stung.

"Bill, we been friends for twenty year, an' I'll take considerable off
you, but I want you to understan' they'r a _limit_. You kin call me a
wolf, er a Mormon, er a son-of-a-gun, but, Bill, you can't call me no
Forest Ranger! Bill," pleadingly, and his face crumpled in sudden tears,
"you didn't mean that, did you? You wouldn't insult an ol', ol' frien'?"

"You got the ear-marks," Uncle Bill replied unmoved. "For a year now
you've walked forty feet around that tree that fell across the trail to
your cabin rather than stop and chop it out. You sleeps fourteen hours a
day and eats the rest. The hardest work you ever do is to draw your
money. Hell's catoots! It's a crime to keep a born Ranger like you off
the Department's pay-roll."

"You think I'm drunk now and I'll forgit. Well--I won't." The Judge
shook a tremulous but belligerent fist. "I'll remember what you said to
me the longest day I live, and you've turned an ol', ol' frien' into an
enemy. Whur's that waumbat coat what was hangin' here day 'fore
yistiday?"

In offended dignity the Judge took the waumbat coat and retreated to the
furthermost end of the office, where he covered himself and went to
sleep in the plush barber-chair.

In the silence which followed, Miss Vi doing belated chamberwork
upstairs sounded like six on an ore-wagon as she walked up and down the
uncarpeted hall.

"Wisht they'd sing somethin'," said Porcupine Jim wistfully.

As though his desire had been communicated by mental telepathy Ma Snow's
soprano came faintly from the kitchen--"We all like she-e-e--p-." Miss
Rosie's alto was heard above the clatter of the dishes she was placing
on the table in the dining-room--"We all like she-e-e--p-." Miss Vi's
throaty contralto was wafted down the stairs--"We all like she-e-e-p."
"Have gone" sang the tenor. "Have gone astray--astray"--Mr. Snow's
booming bass came through the stove-pipe hole. The baritone arrived from
the stable in time to lend his voice as they all chorded.

"The stage's comin'," the musical hostler announced when the strains
died away. The entranced audience dashed abruptly for the door.

A combination of arnica and vanilla seemed indeed to have sharpened the
Judge's hearing for the stage was fully an hour earlier than any one had
reason to expect.

"Don't see how he can make such good time over them roads loaded down
like he is with Mungummery-Ward Catalogues and nails comin' by passel
post." Yankee Sam turned up his coat collar and shivered.

"Them leaders is turrible good snow-horses; they sabe snow-shoes like a
man." Lannigan stretched his neck to catch a glimpse of them through the
pines before they made the turn into the Main street.

There was a slightly acid edge to Uncle Bill's tone as he observed:

"I ought to git my Try-bune to-night if the postmistress at Beaver Crick
is done with it."

"Git-ep! Eagle! Git-ep, Nig!" They could hear the stage driver urging
his horses before they caught sight of the leader's ears turning the
corner.

Then Porcupine Jim, who had the physical endowment of being able to
elongate his neck like a turtle, cried excitedly before anyone else
could see the rear of the stage: "They's somebudy on!"

A passenger? They looked at each other inquiringly. Who could be coming
into Ore City at this time of year? But there he sat--a visible fact--in
the back seat--wearing a coon-skin cap and snuggled down into a
coon-skin overcoat looking the embodiment of ready money! A Live One--in
winter! They experienced something of the awe which the Children of
Israel must have felt when manna fell in the wilderness. Even Uncle Bill
tingled with curiosity.

When the steaming stage horses stopped before the snow tunnel, the
population of Ore City was waiting like a reception committee, their
attitudes of nonchalance belied by their gleaming, intent eyes.

The stranger was dark and hatchet-faced, with sharp, quick-moving eyes.
He nodded curtly in a general way and throwing aside the robes sprang
out nimbly.

A pang so sharp and violent that it was nearly audible passed through
the expectant group. Hope died a sudden death when they saw his legs. It
vanished like the effervescence from charged water, likewise their
smile. He wore puttees! He was the prospectors' ancient enemy. He was a
Yellow Leg! A mining expert--but who was he representing? Without
knowing, they suspected "the Guggenheimers"--when in doubt they always
suspected the Guggenheimers.

They stood aside to let him pass, their cold eyes following his legs
down the tunnel, waiting in the freezing atmosphere to avoid the
appearance of indecent haste, though they burned to make a bee-line for
the register.

"Wilbur Dill,--Spokane" was the name he inscribed upon the spotless page
with many curlicues, while Ma Snow waited with a graceful word of
greeting, bringing with her the fragrant odors of the kitchen.

"Welcome to our mountain home."

As Mr. Dill bowed gallantly over her extended hand he became aware that
there was to be fried ham for supper.

He was shown to his room but came down again with considerable celerity,
rubbing his knuckles, and breaking the highly charged silence of the
office with a caustic comment upon the inconvenience of sleeping in cold
storage.

There was a polite murmur of assent but nothing further, as his hearers
knew what he did not--that Pa Snow upstairs was listening. Yankee Sam
however tactfully diverted his thoughts to the weather, hoping thus
indirectly to draw out his reason for undertaking the hardship of such a
trip in winter. But whatever Mr. Dill's business it appeared to be of a
nature which would keep, although they sat expectantly till Miss Rosie
coyly announced supper.

"Don't you aim to set down, Uncle Bill?" she asked kindly as the rest
filed in.

"Thanks, no, I et late and quite hearty, an' I see the Try-bune's come."

"I should think you'd want to eat every chance you got after all you
went through out hunting."

"It's that, I reckon, what's took my appetite," the old man answered
soberly, as he produced his steel-rimmed spectacles and started to read
what the Beaver Creek postmistress had left him of his newspaper.

Inside, Mr. Dill seated himself at the end of the long table which a
placard braced against the castor proclaimed as sacred to the
"transient." A white tablecloth served as a kind of dead-line over
which the most audacious regular dared not reach for special delicacies
when Ma Snow hovered in the vicinity.

"Let me he'p yoah plate to some Oregon-grape jell," Ma Snow was urging
in her honied North Carolina accent, when, by that mysterious sixth
sense which she seemed to possess, or the eye which it was believed she
concealed by the arrangement of her back hair, she became suddenly aware
of the condition of Mr. Lannigan's hands.

She whirled upon him like a catamount and her weak blue eyes watered in
a way they had when she was about to show the hardness of a Lucretia
Borgia. Her voice, too, that quivered as though on the verge of tears,
had a quality in it which sent shivers up and down the spines of those
who were familiar with it.

"Lannigan, what did I tell you?"

It was obvious enough that Lannigan knew what she had told him for he
immediately jerked his hands off the oilcloth, and hid them under the
table.

He answered with a look of innocence:

"Why, I don't know ma'am."

"Go out and wash them hands!"

Hands, like murder, will out. Concealment was no longer possible, since
it was a well-known fact that Lannigan had hands, so he held them in
front of him and regarded them in well-feigned surprise.

"I declare I never noticed!"

It was difficult to imagine how such hands could have escaped
observation, even by their owner, as they looked as though he had used
them for scoops to remove soot from a choked chimney. Also the
demarcation lines of various high tides were plainly visible on his
wrists and well up his arms. He arose with a wistful look at the platter
of ham which had started on its first and perhaps only lap around the
table.

Uncle Bill glanced up and commented affably:

"You got ran out, I see. I thought _she'd_ flag them hands when I saw
you goin' in with 'em."

Lannigan grunted as he splashed at the wash basin in the corner.

"I notice by the Try-bune," went on Uncle Bill with a chuckle, "that one
of them English suffragettes throwed flour on the Primeer and--" His
mouth opened as a fresh headline caught his eye, and when he had
finished perusing it his jaw had lengthened until it was resting well
down the bosom of his flannel shirt . . . The headline read:

                    BRAVE TENDERFOOT SAVES HIS GUIDE
                         FROM DEATH IN BLIZZARD
              T. VICTOR SPRUDELL CARRIES EXHAUSTED OLD MAN
                     THROUGH DEEP DRIFTS TO SAFETY
                             A MODEST HERO

Uncle Bill removed his spectacles and polished them deliberately. Then
he readjusted them and read the last paragraph again:

"The rough old mountain man, Bill Griswold, grasped my hand at parting,
and tears of gratitude rolled down his withered cheeks as he said
good-bye. But, tut! tut!" declared Mr. Sprudell modestly: "I had done
nothing."

Uncle Bill made a sound that was somewhere between his favorite
ejaculation and a gurgle, while his face wore an expression which was a
droll mixture of amazement and wrath.

"Oh, Lannigan!" he called, then changed his mind and, instead, laid the
paper on his knee and carefully cut out the story, which had been copied
from an Eastern exchange, and placed it in his worn leather wallet.



IX

THE YELLOW-LEG


While seated in the office of the Hinds House, with his eyes rolled to
the ceiling, listening in well-feigned rapture to "Rippling Waves" on
the cabinet organ, and other numbers rendered singly and ensemble by the
Musical Snows, Mr. Dill in reality was wondering by what miracle he was
going to carry out Sprudell's specific instructions to keep his errand a
secret.

"The great, white light which plays upon a throne" is not more searching
than that which follows the movements of a possible Live One in a
moribund mining camp, and, in spite of his puttees, Ore City hoped
against hope that some benefit might be derived from the stranger's
presence.

Dill's orders were to get upon the ground which had been worked in a
primitive way by a fellow named Bruce Burt--now deceased he was
told--and relocate it in Sprudell's name together with seven other
contiguous claims, using the name of dummy locators which would give
Sprudell control of one hundred and sixty acres by doing the assessment
work upon one. Also Dill was instructed to run preliminary survey lines
if possible and lose no time in submitting estimates upon the most
feasible means of washing the ground.

Seated in his comfortable office in Spokane, Mr. Dill had foreseen no
great difficulties in the way of earning his ample fee, but it seemed
less ample after one hundred miles by stage over three summits, and a
better understanding of conditions. Between the stage-driver's sweeping
denunciations of road-supervisors in general and long and picturesque
castigations of the local road supervisor in particular, Mr. Dill had
adroitly extracted the information that the twenty-mile trail to the
river was the worst known, and snow-line blazes left by "Porcupine Jim"
were, in summer, thirty feet in the air.

Mr. Dill learned enough en route to satisfy himself that he was going to
earn every dollar of his money, and when he reached Ore City he was sure
of it. The problem before him was one to sleep on, or rather, thinking
with forebodings of the clammy sheets upstairs, to lie awake on.
However, something would perhaps suggest itself and Mr. Dill was
resourceful as well as unhampered by any restrictions regarding the
truth.

The Snow family were at their best that evening, and Ma Snow's rendition
of "The Gypsy's Warning" was received with such favor that she was
forced to sing the six verses twice and for a third encore the entire
family responded with "The Washington Post March" which enabled Mr.
Snow, who had tottered down from his aerie, to again demonstrate his
versatility by playing the concertina with long, yellow fingers, beating
the cymbals and working the snare-drum with his feet.

Ma Snow wore her coral-rose breast-pin, and a tortoise-shell comb thrust
through her knob of ginger-colored hair added to her dignity and height;
while Miss Vi and Miss Rosie Snow were buttoned into their stylish
princess gowns, with large red bows sprouting back of each ear. In
truth, the dress of each member of the family bore some little touch
which hinted delicately at the fact that with them it had not been
always thus.

All Ore City was present. Those who "bached" had stacked their dishes
and hurried from the supper-table to the Hinds House, where the regular
boarders were already tilted on the rear legs of their chairs with
their heads resting comfortably on the particular oily spot on the
unbleached muslin sheeting, which each recognized as having been made by
weeks of contact with his own back hair.

A little apart and preoccupied sat Uncle Bill with the clipping in his
wallet burning like a red-hot coal. He could have swallowed being
"carried down the mountain side," but the paragraph wherein "tears of
gratitude rained down his withered cheeks" stuck, as he phrased it, in
his craw. It set him thinking hard of Bruce Burt and the young fellow's
deliberate sacrifice of his life for one old "Chink." Somehow he could
not rid himself of blame that he had let him go alone. As soon as he
could get back to Ore City he had headed a search party that had failed
to locate even the tent under the unusual fall of snow. Well, if Burt
had taken a life, even accidentally, he had in expiation given his own.

As he brooded, occasionally the old man glanced at Wilbur Dill. He had
seen him before--but where? The sharp-faced, sharp-eyed Yellow-Leg was
associated in the older man's mind with something shady, but what it was
he could not for the time recall.

"Rosie, perhaps Mr. Dill would like to hear 'When the Robins Nest
Again,'" Ma Snow suggested in the sweet, ingratiating tones of a mother
with two unattached daughters.

Mr. Dill declared that it was one of his favorite compositions, so Miss
Rosie obligingly stood forth with the dog-eared music.

"When the Robins Nest Again, and the flower-r-rs--" she was warbling,
but they never bloomed, for Mrs. Snow started for the door, explaining:
"I'm sure I heard a scrunching." She threw it open and the yellow light
fell upon a gaunt figure leaning against the entrance of the snow
tunnel. The man was covered with frost and icicles where his breath had
frozen on his cap and upturned collar, while it was obvious from his
snow-caked knees and elbows that he had fallen often. He stood staring
dumbly at the light and warmth and at Ma Snow, then he stooped and began
fumbling clumsily at the strappings of his snow-shoes.

"Won't you-all come in?" Ma Snow, recovering a little from her surprise,
asked hospitably.

He pitched forward and would again have gone down but that he threw out
his hand and caught the door-jamb.

"Bruce Burt! Hell's catoots! Bruce Burt!" Uncle Bill was on his knees
outside in an instant, jerking and tugging at the snow-clogged buckles.

Chairs came down on their forelegs with a thump and Ore City shambled
forward in curiosity and awkward congratulation. Mr. Dill did not move.
He was gazing at the scene in mingled resentment and consternation. Was
this the Bruce Burt whose claims he was sent to survey? It was plain
enough that Bruce Burt "now deceased" was very much alive, and he, Dill,
had crossed three summits on a wild goose chase, since it was obvious he
could not relocate a man's ground while he was actually living upon it.
Why didn't Sprudell find out that he was deceased before he sent a busy
engineer on such a trip in winter? Mr. Dill sat frowning at Bruce, while
willing hands helped him out of the coat his fingers were too stiff to
unbutton.

"I've been coming since daylight." He spoke thickly, as though even his
tongue were cold. "I played out on the last big hill and sat so long I
chilled."

"And I guess you're hungry," Uncle Bill suggested.

Hungry! The word stabbed Ma Snow to the heart and her heels went
clickity-click as she flew for the kitchen.

Divested of his coat Bruce looked a big, starved skeleton. The cords of
his neck were visible when he turned his head, his cheeks were hollow,
his wrist-bones were prominent like those of a fever convalescent.

"You're some ga'nted up," Uncle Bill commented as he eyed him
critically. "Don't hardly look as though you'd winter."

The shadow of a smile crossed Bruce's dark face.

"Toy and I proved just about the length of time a man can go without
eating, and live."

"You made it then? You got to Toy--he's all right?"

"Yes," briefly, "but none too soon. The snow had broken the tent down,
so we made it over the ridge to an old tunnel . . . I killed a porcupine
but we ran out of matches and there was no dry wood or sticks to make a
fire."

"I et raw wolf onct in Alasky," Yankee Sam interjected reminiscently.
"'Tain't a dish you'd call for in a restauraw, and I reckon procupine's
got much the same flavor of damp dog. How did you get the Chinaman
down?"

"I rigged up a travois when he could travel and hauled him to the cabin,
where's he's waiting now. We are nearly out of grub, so I had to come."

Of the fierce hunger, the wearing, unceasing fight against Arctic cold,
and, when weakened and exhausted by both, the dumb, instinctive struggle
for life against the combination, Bruce said nothing; but in a dozen
commonplace sentences described physical sufferings sufficient for a
lifetime--which is the western way.

He walked to the desk, where the gifted tenor, clerk and post-master
stood pleased and expectant, pen in hand, waiting for him to register.

"Is there any mail for me?" He tried to speak casually but, to himself
the eager note in his voice seemed to shriek and vibrate. Making every
allowance for delays and changed addresses he had calculated that by now
he should have an answer from Slim's mother or sister. He did not
realize how positively he had counted on a letter until the clerk shook
his head.

"Nothing?" Bruce looked at him blankly.

"Nothing." The answer seemed to take the last scrap of his vitality. He
moved to the nearest chair and sat down heavily.

The thought of assuming Slim's responsibilities, of making up for his
own futile years, and bringing to pass at least a few of his mother's
dreams for him, had become a kind of obsession since that first night of
horror after his quarrel with Slim. It had kept him going, hanging on
doggedly, when, as he since believed, he might have given up. It seemed
to have needed the ghastly, unexpected happening in the lonely cabin to
have aroused in him the ambition which was his inheritance from his
mother. But it was awake at last, the stronger perhaps for having lain
so long dormant.

Failures, humiliating moments, hasty, ungenerous words, heartless deeds,
have a way of coming back with startling vividness in the still solitude
of mountains, and out of the passing of painful panoramas had grown
Bruce's desire to "make good." Now, in the first shock of his intense
disappointment he felt that without a tangible incentive he was done
before he had started.

"Mistah Bruce, if you'll jest step out and take what they is," announced
Ma Snow from the doorway. "And watch out foah yoah laig in this hole
heah." She called over her shoulder: "Mistah Hinds, I want you should
get to work and fix that place to-morrow or I'll turn yoah ol' hotel back
on yoah hands. You heah me?"

The threat always made Old Man Hinds jump like the close explosion of a
stick of giant powder.

Bruce looked at the "light" bread and the Oregon-grape "jell," the
steaming coffee and the first butter he had seen in months, while before
his plate on the white tablecloth at the "transient" end of the table,
sat a slice of ham with an egg! like a jewel--its crowning glory.

Ma Snow whispered confidentially:

"One of the hins laid day 'fore yistiddy." The prize had been filched
from Mr. Snow, one of whose diversions was listening for a hen to
cackle.

From his height Bruce looked down upon the work-stooped little woman and
he saw, not her churn-like contour nor her wrinkled face, but the light
of a kind heart shining in her pale eyes. He wanted to cry--he--Bruce
Burt! He fought the inclination furiously. It was too ridiculous--weak,
sentimental, to be so sensitive to kindness. But he was so tired, so
lonely, so disappointed. He touched Ma Snow's ginger-colored hair
caressingly with his finger tips and the impulsive, boyish action made
for Bruce a loyal friend.

In the office, Mr. Dill was noticeably abstracted. His smiling suavity,
his gracious manner, had given place to taciturnity and Ore City's
choicest _bon mots_, its time-tested pleasantries, fell upon inattentive
ears. As a matter of fact, his bones ached like a tooth from three long,
hard days in the mail-carrier's sledges, and also he recognized certain
symptoms which told him that he was in for an attack of dyspepsia due to
his enforced diet en route, of soda-biscuit, ham, and bacon. But these
were minor troubles as compared to the loss of the fee which in his mind
he had already spent. The most he could hope for, he supposed, was
compensation for his time and his expenses.

He sat in a grumpy silence until Bruce came out of the dining-room, then
he stated his intention of going to bed and asked for a lamp. As he said
good-night curtly he noticed Uncle Bill eyeing him hard, as he had
observed him doing before, but this time there was distinct hostility in
the look.

"What's the matter with that old rooster?" he asked himself crossly as
he clumped upstairs to bed.

"I know that young duck now," said Uncle Bill in an undertone, as Bruce
sat down beside him. "He's a mining and civil engineer--a good one,
too--but crooked as they come. He's a beat."

"He's an engineer?" Bruce asked in quick interest.

"He's anything that suits, when it comes to pulling off a mining deal.
He'd 'salt' his own mother, he'd sell out his grandmother, but in his
profession there's none better if he'd stay straight. I knowed him down
in Southern Oregon--he was run out."

"Have you heard yet from Sprudell?"

"Yes," Uncle Bill answered grimly. "As you might say, indirectly. I want
you should take a look at this."

He felt for his leather wallet and handed Bruce the clipping.

"Don't skip any," he said acidly. "It's worth a careful peruse."

There was a little likelihood of that after Bruce had read the
headlines.

"I hopes you takes special note of tears of gratitude rainin' down my
withered cheeks," said Uncle Bill savagely, "I relishes bein' published
over the world as a sobbin' infant."

Bruce folded the clipping mechanically many times before he handed it
back. There was more in it to him than the withholding of credit which
belonged to an obscure old man, or the self-aggrandizement of a pompous
braggart. To Bruce it was indicative of a man with a moral screw loose,
it denoted a laxity of principle. With his own direct standards of
conduct it was equivalent to dishonesty.

"You didn't git no answer to your letter, I notice," Griswold commented,
following Bruce's thoughts.

"No."

They smoked in silence for a time, the target of interested eyes, Bruce
unconscious that the stories of his feats of strength and his daring as
a boatman had somehow crossed the almost impassable spurs of mountain
between Ore City and Meadows to make a celebrity of him, not only in
Ore City but as far as the evil reputation of the river went.

"You'll hardly be startin' back to-morrow, will you, Burt?"

"To-morrow? No, nor the next day." There was a hard ring in Bruce's
voice. "I've changed my mind. I'm going outside! I'm going to
Bartlesville, Indiana, to see Sprudell!"

"Good!" enthusiastically. "And if you has cause to lick that pole kitty
hit him one for me."

Wilbur Dill, who had not expected to close his eyes, was sleeping
soundly, while Bruce in the adjoining room, who had looked forward to a
night of rest in a real bed, was lying wide awake staring into the dark.
His body was worn out, numb with exhaustion, but his mind was
unnaturally alert. It refused to be passive, though it desperately
needed sleep. It was active with plans for the future, with speculation
concerning Sprudell, with the rebuilding of the air castles which had
fallen with his failure to find mail. In the restless days of waiting
for Toy to get well enough to leave alone for a few days while he went
up to Ore City for mail and provisions, a vista of possibilities had
unexpectedly opened to Bruce. He was standing one morning at the tiny
window which overlooked the river, starting across at Big Squaw creek,
with its cascades of icicles pendant from its frozen mouth.

What a stream Big Squaw creek was, starting as it did all of thirty
miles back in the unknown hills, augmented as it came by trickling
rivulets from banks of perpetual snow and by mountain springs, until it
grew into a roaring torrent dashing itself to whiteness against the
green velvet boulders, which in ages past had crashed through the
underbrush down the mountainside to lie forever in the noisy stream!
And the unexpected fern-fringed pools darkened by overhanging boughs,
under which darted shadows of the trout at play--why he had thought, if
they had Big Squaw creek back in Iowa, or Nebraska, or Kansas, or any of
those dog-gone flat countries where you could look further and see less,
and there were more rivers with nothing in them than any other states in
the Union, they'd fence it off and charge admission. They'd--it was then
the idea had shot into his mind like an inspiration--they'd _harness_
Big Squaw creek if they had it back in Iowa, or Nebraska, or Kansas, and
make it work! They'd build a plant and develop power!

The method which had at once suggested itself to Sprudell was slow in
coming to Bruce because he was unfamiliar with electricity. In the
isolated districts where he had lived the simpler old-fashioned,
steam-power had been employed and his knowledge of water-power was
chiefly from reading and hearsay.

But he believed that it was feasible, that it was the solution of the
difficulty, if the expense were not too great. With a power-house at the
mouth of Squaw creek, a transmission wire across the river and a
pump-house down below, he could wash the whole sand-bar into the river
and all the sand-bars up and down as far as the current would carry! In
his excitement he had tried to outline the plan to Toy, who had more
that intimated that he was mad.

The Chinaman had said bluntly: "No can do."

Placer-mining was a subject upon which Toy felt qualified to speak,
since, after a cramped journey from Hong Kong, smuggled in his uncle's
clothes hamper, he had started life in America at fourteen, carrying
water to his countrymen placering in "Chiny" Gulch; after which he
became one of a company who, with the industry of ants, built a trestle
of green timber one hundred and fifty feet high to carry water to the
Beaver Creek diggings and had had his reward when he had seen the
sluice-box run yellow with gold and had taken his green rice bowl
heaping full upon the days of division.

Those times were quick to pass, for the white men had come, and with
their fists and six-shooters drove them from the ground, but the
eventful days surcharged with thrills were the only ones in which he
counted he lived. He laundered now, or cooked, but he had never left the
district and he loved placer-mining as he loved his life.

Bruce had found small comfort in discussing his idea with Toy, for Toy
knew only the flume and the ditch of the days of the 60's, so he was
eager to submit his plan to some one who knew about such things and he
wished that he had had an opportunity of talking to the "Yellow-Leg." If
it was practicable, he wanted to get an idea of the approximate cost.

Bruce was thinking of the "Yellow-Leg" and envying him his education and
knowledge when a new sound was added to the audible slumbers of the
guests of the Hinds House and of the Snow family, who were not so
musical when asleep. Accustomed to stillness, as he was, the chorus that
echoed through the corridor had helped to keep him awake, this and the
uncommon softness of a feather pillow and a cotton mattress that Mr.
Dill in carping criticism had likened unto a cement block.

This new disturbance which came through the thin partition separating
his room from Dill's was like the soft patter of feet--bare
feet--running around and around. Even a sudden desire for exercise
seemed an inadequate explanation in view of the frigid temperature of
the uncarpeted rooms. Bruce was still more mystified when he heard Dill
hurdling a chair, and utterly so when his neighbor began dragging a
wash-stand into the centre of the room. Making all due allowance for the
eccentricities of Yellow-Legs, Bruce concluded that something was amiss,
so, slipping into his shoes, he tapped upon the stranger's door.

The activity within continuing, he turned the knob and stepped inside
where Mr. Dill was working like a beaver trying to add a heavy home-made
bureau to the collection in the middle of the floor. Shivering in his
striped pajamas he was staring vacantly when Bruce lighted the lamp and
touched him on the shoulder.

"You'd better hop into bed, mister."

Mr. Dill mumbled as he swung his arms in the gesture of swimming.

"Got to keep movin'!"

"Wake up." Bruce shook him vigorously.

The suspected representative of the "Guggenheimers" whined plaintively:
"Itty tootsies awfy cold!"

"Itty tootsies will be colder if you don't get 'em off this floor,"
Bruce said with a grin, as he dipped his fingers in the pitcher and
flirted the ice water in his face.

"Oh--hello!" Intelligence returned to Mr. Dill's blank countenance.
"Why, I must have been walking in my sleep. I always do when I sleep in
a strange place, but I thought I'd locked myself in. I dreamed I was a
fish freezing up in a cake of ice."

"It's not surprising."

"Say." Mr. Dill looked at him wistfully as he stood on one foot curling
his purple toes around the other knee. "I wonder if you'd let me get in
with you? I'm liable to do it again--sleeping cold and all."

"Sure," said Bruce sociably, leading the way. "Come ahead."

The somnambulist chattered:

"I've been put out of four hotels already for walking into other
people's rooms, and once I got arrested. I've doctored for it."

While lamenting his inability to discuss his proposition with the
engineer, the last thing Bruce anticipated was to be engaged before
daylight in the humane and neighborly act of warming Wilbur Dill's back,
but so it is that Chance, that humorous old lady, thrusts Opportunity in
the way of those in whom she takes an interest.

Bruce was so full of his subject that he saw nothing unusual in
propounding his questions in Mr. Dill's ear under the covers in the
middle of the night.

"How many horse-power could you develop from a two-hundred-feet head
with a minimum flow of eight hundred miners' inches?"

"Hey?" Mr. Dill's muffled voice sounded startled.

Bruce repeated the question, and added:

"I'm going out on the stage in the morning and it leaves before you're
up. I'd like mightily to know a few things in your line if you don't
mind my asking."

He was leaving, was he? Going out on the stage? Figuratively, Mr. Dill
sat up.

"Certainly not." His tone was cordial. "Any information at all----"

As clearly as he could, Bruce outlined the situation, estimating that a
flume half a mile in length would be necessary to get this
two-hundred-foot head, with perhaps a trestle bridging the cañon of Big
Squaw creek. And Dill, wide awake enough now, asked practical, pertinent
questions, which made Bruce realize that, as Uncle Bill had said,
whatever doubt there might be about his honesty there could be none at
all concerning his ability.

He soon had learned all that Bruce could tell him of the situation, of
the obstacles and advantages. He knew his reason for wishing to locate
the pump-house at the extreme end of the bar, the best place to cross
the river with the transmission wire, of the proximity of saw-timber,
and of the serious drawback of the inaccessibility of the ground. Bruce
could think of no detail that Dill had overlooked when he was done.

"Transportation is your problem," the engineer said, finally. "With the
machinery on the ground the rest would be a cinch. But there's only the
river or an expensive wagon-road. A wagon-road through such country
might cost you the price of your plant or more. And the river with its
rapids, they tell me, is a terror; so with the water route eliminated,
there remains only your costly wagon-road."

"But," Bruce insisted anxiously, "what would be your rough estimate of
the cost of such a plant, including installation?"

"At a guess, I'd say $25,000, exclusive of freight, and as you know the
rates from the coast are almighty high."

"Twenty-five thousand dollars!" And five hundred, Bruce reminded
himself, was about the size of his pile.

"Much obliged."

"Don't mention it," Mr. Dill yawned. "One good turn deserves another,
and, thanks to you, I'm almost warm."

Because Mr. Dill yawned it did not follow that he slept. On the
contrary, he was as wide awake as Bruce himself and when Bruce gently
withdrew from the sociable proximity of a bed that sagged like a
hammock, and tiptoed about the room while dressing, going downstairs to
the office wash-basin when he discovered that there was skating in the
water-pitcher, lest the sound of breaking ice disturb his bed-fellow,
Dill was gratefully appreciative.

He really liked the fellow, he did for a fact--in spite of his first
prejudice against him for being alive. Besides, since he was going
outside, as he had told him, for an indefinite stay, he might not
interfere so much with his plans after all, for Mr. Dill, too, had had
an inspiration.



X

"CAPITAL TAKES HOLT"


It is a safe wager that where two or three prospectors meet in a mining
camp or cabin, the length of time which will elapse before the subject
of conversation reverts to food will not exceed ten minutes and in this
respect the inhabitants of Ore City who "bached" were no exception. The
topic was introduced in the office of the Hinds House this morning as
soon as there was a quorum.

"I declare, I doubts if I lives to see grass," said Yankee Sam
despondently as he manicured a rim of dough from his finger-nails with
the point of a savage-looking jack-knife. "I opened my next-to-the-last
sack of flour this mornin' and 'twas mouldy. I got to eat it though, and
like as not t'other's the same. I tell you," lugubriously, "the pickin's
is gittin' slim on this range!"

"I know one thing," declared Judge George Petty, who was sober and
irritable, "if N. K. Rippetoe sends me in any more of that dod-gasted
Injun bakin' powder, him and me is goin' to fall out. I warned him once
I'd take my trade away and now he's gone and done it again. It won't
raise nothin', not _nothin'_!"

"An' you can't _drink_ it," Lanningan observed pointedly.

"You remember them dried apples I bought off the half-breed lady down on
the Nez Perce Reserve? Well," said Porcupine Jim sourly, "they walked
off day 'fore yistiddy--worms. I weighed that lady out cash gold, and
look what she's done on me! I wouldn't wonder if them apples wa'nt three
to four year old."

"If only we could find out what that Yellow-Leg's after." Lannigan's
face was cross-lined with anxiety. "If some of us could only unload
somethin' on him, then the rest of us could borry till Capital took holt
in the spring."

"S-ss-sh! That's him," came a warning whisper.

"Good morning, gentlemen. I seem to have slept late."

It was apparent to all that Mr. Dill's spirits were decidedly better
than when he had retired.

Yankee Sam suggested humorously:

"I reckon they was a little slow gittin' around with the tea-kittle to
thaw you out, so you could git up."

Mr. Dill declared that he had been agreeably disappointed in his night;
that he really felt quite rested and refreshed.

"If it isn't too soon after breakfast, friends," he said tentatively, as
he produced a flask.

It was quickly made clear to him that it was never too soon, or too
late, for that matter, and a suggestion of force was necessary to tear
the flask from Yankee Sam's face.

"What? Teetotaler?" As Uncle Bill shook his head.

"Not exactly; sometimes I take a little gin for my kidnas."

Ore City looked at him in unfeigned surprise. Mr. Dill, however,
believed he understood. The old man either knew him or had taken a
personal dislike--maybe both--at any rate he ceased to urge.

"Gentlemen," impressively, and Ore City felt intuitively that its acute
sufferings, due to ungratified curiosity, were at an end, "no doubt
you've wondered why I'm here?"

Ore City murmured a hypocritical protest.

"That would be but natural," Mr. Dill spoke slowly, drawling his words,
animated perhaps by the spirit which prompts the cat to prolong the
struggles of the dying mouse, "but I have postponed making my mission
known until rejuvenated by a good night's sleep. Now, gentlemen, if I
can have your support, your hearty co-operation, I may tell you that I
am in a position--to make Ore City boom! In other words--Capital Is
Going to Take Hold!"

Porcupine Jim, who, through long practice and by bracing the ball of his
foot against the knob on the stove door, was able to balance himself on
one rear leg of his chair, lost his footing on the nickel knob and
crashed to the floor, but he "came up smiling," offering for inspection
a piece of ore in his extended hand.

"Straight cyanidin' proposition, averagin' $60 to the ton with a tunnel
cross-cuttin' the ore-shoot at forty feet that samples $80 where she
begins to widen--" Lack of breath prevented Porcupine Jim from saying
that the hanging wall was of schist and the foot wall of granite and he
would take $65,000 for it, if he could have 10 per cent. in cash.

The specimen which Yankee Sam waved in the face of Capital's
representative almost grazed his nose.

"This here rock is from the greatest low-grade proposition in Americy!
Porphery dike with a million tons in sight and runnin' $10 easy to the
ton and $40,000 buys it on easy terms. Ten thousand dollars down and
reg'lar payments every six months, takin' a mortgage--"

"I'm a s-showin' y-you the best f-free-millin' proposition outside of
C-California," Judge George Petty stammered in his eagerness. "That
there mine'll m-make ten m-men rich. They's stringers in that there
ledge that'll run $5,000--$10,000 to the ton. I t-tell you, sir, the
'B-Bouncin' B-Bess' ain't no m-mine--she's a _b-bonanza_! And, when you
git down to the secondary enrichment you'll take it out in c-c-chunks!"

Inwardly, Lannigan was cursing himself bitterly that he had eaten "The
Gold-Dust Twins," but, searching through his pockets, fortunately, he
found a sample from the "Prince o' Peace." He handed it to Mr. Dill,
together with a magnifying glass.

"Take a look at this, will you?" He indicated a minute speck with his
fingernail.

Mr. Dill lost the speck and was some time in finding it and, while he
searched, the stove pipe separated at the joint, calling attention to
the fact that the sufferer upstairs was nervous. Pa Snow's voice came so
distinctly down the stove-pipe hole that there was reason to believe he
was on his hands and knees.

"Befoah you should do anything definite, we-all should like if you would
look ovah 'The Bay Hoss.' It's makin' a fine showin', and 'The Under
Dawg' is on the market, too, suh."

In the excitement Uncle Bill sat puffing calmly on his pipe.

Mr. Dill with a gesture brushed aside the waving arms and eager hands:

"And haven't you anything to sell?" he asked him curiously. "Don't you
mine?"

"Very little," Uncle Bill drawled tranquilly: "I dudes."

"You what?"

"I keeps an 'ad' in the sportin' journals, and guides."

"Oh, yes, hunters--eastern sportsmen--" Mr. Dill nodded. "But I thought
I recognized an old-time prospector in you."

"They's no better in the hull West," Yankee Sam declared generously,
while Uncle Bill murmured that there was surer money in dudes. "Show
Dill that rar' mineral, Uncle Bill." To Dill in an aside: "He's got a
mountain of it and it's somethin' good."

Uncle Bill made no move.

"I aims to hold it for the boom."

"And what's your honest opinion of the country, Mr. Griswold?" Dill
asked conciliatingly. "What do you think well find when we reach the
secondary enrichment?"

A pin dropping would have sounded like a tin wash boiler rolling
downstairs in the silence which fell upon the office of the Hinds House.
Uncle Bill, looking serenely at the circle of tense faces, continued to
smoke while he took his own time to reply.

"I'm a thinkin',"--puff-puff--"that when you sink a hundred feet below
the surface,"--puff-puff--"you won't git a damn thing."

Involuntarily Yankee Sam reached for the poker and various eyes sought
the wood-box for a sizable stick of wood.

"Upon what do you base your opinion?" asked Mr. Dill, taken somewhat
aback. "What makes you think that?"

"Because we're in it now. The weatherin' away of the surface enrichment
made the placers we washed out in '61-'64."

Judge George Petty glowered and demanded contemptuously:

"Do you know what a mine _is_?"

"Well," replied Uncle Bill tranquilly, "not allus, but ginerally a mine
is a hole in the ground owned by a liar."

Yankee Sam half rose from his chair and pointed an accusing poker at
Uncle Bill.

"That old pin-head is the worst knocker that ever queered a camp. If
we'd a knowed you was comin'," turning to Mr. Dill, "we'd a put him in a
tunnel with ten days' rations and walled him up."

"They come clost to lynchin' me onct on Sucker Crick in Southern Oregon
for tellin' the truth," Uncle Bill said reminiscently, unperturbed.

Southern Oregon! Wilbur Dill looked startled. Ah, that was it! He looked
sharply at Griswold, but the old man's face was blank.

"We're all entitled to our opinions," he said lightly, though his
assurance had abated by a shade, "but, judging superficially, from the
topography of the country, I'm inclined to disagree."

Ore City's sigh of relief was audible.

Mr. Dill continued:

"And I--we are willing to back our confidence in your camp by the
expenditure of a reasonable amount, in order to find out; but,
gentlemen, you've raised your sights too high. Your figures'll have to
come down if we do business. A prospect isn't a mine, you know, and
there's not been much development work done, as I understand."

"How was you aimin' to work it," Uncle Bill asked mildly, "in case you
_did_ git anything? The Mascot burned its profits buyin' wood fer
steam."

"The riddles of yesterday are the commonplaces of to-day, my friend. The
world has moved since the arrastre was invented and steam is nearly as
obsolete. Hydro-electric is the only power to-day and that's what
I--we--propose to use."

Ore City's eyes widened and then they looked at Uncle Bill. What
drawback would he think of next? He never disappointed.

"There ain't water enough down there in Lemon Crick in August to run a
churn."

Mr. Dill laughed heartily: "Right you are--but how about the river down
below--there's water enough in that, if all I'm told is true."

For once he surprised the old man into an astonished stare.

"The river's all of twenty mile from here."

"They've transmitted power from Victoria Falls on the Zembesi River, in
Rhodesia, six hundred miles to the Rand."

Chortling, Ore City looked at the camp hoodoo in triumph.--_That_ should
hold him for a while.

"I wish you luck," said Uncle Bill, his complacency returning, "but Ore
City ain't the Rand. You'll never pull your money back."

"And in our own country they send 'juice' two hundred and forty-five
miles from Au Sable to Baltic Creek, Michigan."

                 *       *       *       *       *

Before his departure Bruce had arranged with Porcupine Jim to load a
toboggan with provisions and snowshoe down to Toy. Mr. Dill was
delighted when he learned this fortunate circumstance, for it enabled
him to make a trip to the river for the purpose, as he elaborately
explained, of "looking out a power-site, and the best route to string
the wires."

While he was gone, properties to the value of half a million in the
aggregate changed hands--but no cash. It was like the good old days to
come again, to see the embryo magnates whispering in corners, to feel
once more a delicious sense of mystery and plotting in the air. Real
estate advanced in leaps and bounds and "Lemonade Dan" overhauled the
bar fixtures in the Bucket o' Blood, and stuffed a gunny-sack into a
broken window pane with a view to opening up. In every shack there was
an undercurrent of excitement and after the dull days of monotony few
could calm themselves to a really good night's sleep. They talked in
thousands and the clerk's stock of Cincos, that had been dead money on
his hands for over three years, "moved" in three days--sold out to the
last cigar!

When the time arrived that they had calculated Dill should return, even
to the hour, the person who was coming back from the end of the snow
tunnel at the front door of the Hinds House, that commanded a good view
of the trail, always met someone going out to ask if there was "any
sight of 'em?" and he, in turn, took his stand at the mouth of the
tunnel, until driven in by the cold. In this way, there was nearly
always someone doing lookout duty.

Ore City's brow was corrugated with anxiety when Dill and Porcupine Jim
had exceeded by three days the time allotted them for their stay.
Wouldn't it be like the camp's confounded luck if Capital fell off of
something and broke its neck?

Their relief was almost hysterical when one evening at sunset Lannigan
shouted joyfully: "Here they come!"

They dashed through the tunnel to see Mr. Dill dragging one foot
painfully after the other to the hotel. He seemed indifferent to the
boisterous greeting, groaning merely:

"Oh-h-h, what a hill!"

"We been two days a makin' it," Jim vouchsafed cheerfully. "Last night
we slept out on the snow."

"You seem some stove up." Uncle Bill eyed Dill critically. "And looks
like you have fell off twenty pounds."

"Stove up!" exclaimed Dill plaintively. "Between Jim's cooking and that
hill I took up four notches in my belt. I wouldn't make that trip again
in winter if the Alaska Treadwell was awaiting me as a gift at the other
end."

"You'll git used to it," consoled Uncle Bill, "you'll learn to like it
when you're down there makin' that there 'juice.' I mind the time I went
to North Dakoty on a visit--I longed for one of these hills to climb to
rest myself. The first day they set me out on the level, I ran away--it
took four men to head me off."

"We found where we kin develop 250,000 jolts," Porcupine Jim announced.

"Volts, James," corrected Mr. Dill, and added, dryly, "Don't start in to
put up the plant until I get back."

He _was_ coming back then--he _was_! Figuratively, all Ore City fell at
his feet, though strictly only two scrambled for the privilege of
unbuckling his snow-shoes, and only three picked up his bag.



XI

THE GHOST AT THE BANQUET


T. Victor Sprudell's dinner guests were soon to arrive, and Mr.
Sprudell's pearl gray spats were twinkling up and down the corridor of
Bartlesville's best hotel, and back and forth between the private
dining-room and the Room of Mystery adjoining, where mechanics of
various kinds had been busy under his direction, for some days.

But now, so far as he could see, everything was in perfect working order
and he had only to sit back and enjoy his triumph and receive
congratulations; for once more Mr. Sprudell had demonstrated his
versatile genius!

The invited guests came, all of them--a few because they wanted to, and
the rest because they were afraid to stay away. Old Man "Gid" Rathburn,
who cherished for Sprudell the same warm feeling of regard that he had
for a rattlesnake, occupied the seat of honor, while John Z. Willetts, a
local financier, whose closet contained a skeleton that Sprudell by
industrious sleuthing had managed to unearth, was placed at his host's
left to enjoy himself as best he could. Adolph Gotts, who had the
contract for the city paving and hoped to renew it, was present for the
sole purpose, as he stated privately, of keeping the human catamount off
his back. Others in the merry party were Abram Cone and Y. Fred Smart.

The dinner was the most elaborate the chef had been able to devise, the
domestic champagne was as free as the air, and Mr. Sprudell, stimulated
by the presence of the moneyed men of Bartlesville and his private
knowledge of the importance of the occasion, was keyed up to his best.
Genial, beaming, he quoted freely from his French and Latin phrase-book
and at every turn of the conversation was ready with appropriate
verse--his own, mostly.

This was Mr. Sprudell's only essay at promoting, but he knew how it was
done. A good dinner, wine, cigars; and he had gone the ingenious guild
of money-raisers one better by an actual, uncontrovertible demonstration
of the safety and value of his scheme.

His personal friends already had an outline of the proposition, with the
promise that they should hear more, and now, after a dash through
"Spurr's Geology Applied to Mining," he was prepared to tell them all
that their restricted intelligences could comprehend.

When the right moment arrived, Mr. Sprudell arose impressively. In an
attentive silence, he gave an instructive sketch of the history of
gold-mining, beginning with the plundering expeditions of Darius and
Alexander, touching lightly on the mines of Iberia which the Roman
wrestled from the Carthagenians, and not forgetting, of course, the
conquest of Mexico and Peru inspired by the desire for gold.

When his guests were properly impressed by the wide range of his
reading, he skillfully brought the subject down to modern mines and
methods, and at last to his own incredible good fortune, after hardships
of which perhaps they already had heard, in securing one hundred and
sixty acres of valuable placer-ground in the heart of a wild and
unexplored country--a country so dangerous and inaccessible that he
doubted very much if it had ever been trod by any white foot beside his
own and old "Bill" Griswold's.

The climax came when he dramatically announced his intention of making a
stock company of his acquisition and permitting Bartlesville's leading
citizens to subscribe!

Mr. Sprudell's guests received the news of the privilege which was to be
accorded them in an unenthusiastic silence. In fact his unselfish
kindness seemed to inspire uneasiness rather than gratitude in
Bartlesville's leading citizens. They could bring themselves to swallow
his dinners, but to be coerced into buying his mining stock was a
decidedly bitter dose.

Well-meaning but tactless, Abe Cone expressed the general feeling, when
he observed:

"I been stung once, already, and I ain't lookin' for it again."

To everyone's surprise Abe got off unscathed. In fact Mr. Sprudell
laughed good-naturedly.

"Stung, Abe--that's the word. And why?" He answered himself. "Because
you were investing in something you did not understand."

"It _looked_ all right," Abe defended. "You could see the gold stickin'
out all over the rock, but I was 'salted' so bad I never got enough to
drink since. I don't understand this placer-mining either, when it comes
to that."

Adolph Gotts, who had been a butcher, specializing in sausage, before he
became a city contractor, was about to say the same thing, when Sprudell
interrupted triumphantly:

"Ah, but you will before I'm done." It was the moment for which he had
waited. "Follow me, gentlemen."

He threw open the door of the adjoining room with a wide gesture, his
face radiant with elation.

The company stared, and well it might, for at a signal a miniature
placer mine started operation.

The hotel porter shovelled imported sand into a sluice-box through which
a stream of water ran and at the end was the gold-saving device invented
by Mr. Sprudell which was to revolutionize placer-mining!

The sand contained the gold-dust that represented half of Bruce's
laborious summer's working and when Sprudell finally removed his coat
and cleaned up the sluice boxes and the gold-saving machine, the residue
left in the gold-pan was enough to give even a "'49'er" heart failure.

His triumph was complete. There was a note of awe even in Old Man "Gid"
Rathburn's voice, while Abe Cone fairly grovelled as he inquired:

"Is it all like that? Where does it come from? How did it git into that
dirt?"

Mr. Sprudell removed his eyeglasses with great deliberation and pursed
his lips:

"In my opinion," he said weightily--he might have been an eminent
geologist giving his opinion of the conglomerate of the Rand banket, or
Agricola elucidating his theory of vein formation--"in my opinion the
gold found in this deposit was derived from the disintegration of
gold-bearing rocks and veins in the mountains above. Chemical and
mechanical processes are constantly freeing the gold from the rocks with
which it is associated and wind and water carry it to lower levels,
where, as in this instance, it concentrates and forms what we call
placers."

Mr. Sprudell spoke so slowly and chose his words with such care that the
company received the impression that this theory of placer deposit was
his own and in spite of their personal prejudice their admiration grew.

"As undoubtedly you know," continued Mr. Sprudell, tapping his glasses
judicially upon the edge of the sluice-box, "the richest gold in all
alluvial deposits--"

"What is an alluvial deposit?" inquired Abe Cone, eagerly.

Mr. Sprudell looked hard at Abram but did not answer, one reason being
that he wished to rebuke the interruption, and another that he did not
know. He reiterated: "The richest gold in all alluvial deposits is found
upon bed-rock. This placer, gentlemen, is no exception and while it is
pay-dirt from the grass roots and the intermediate sand and gravel
abundantly rich to justify their exploitation by Capital, it is upon
bed-rock that will be uncovered a fortune to dazzle the mind of man!

"Like myself, you are practical men--you want facts and figures, and
when you invest your money you want to be more than reasonably sure of
its return. Gentlemen, I have in the hands of a printer a prospectus
giving the values of the ground per cubic yard, and from this data I
have conservatively, very conservatively, calculated the profits which
we might reasonably anticipate. You will be startled, amazed, bewildered
by the magnitude of the returns upon the investment which I am giving
you the opportunity to make.

"I shall say no more at present, gentlemen, but when my prospectus is
off the press I shall place it in your hands--"

"Gemman to see you, suh."

"I'm engaged."

"Said it was important." The bell boy lingered.

Sprudell frowned.

"Did he give no name?"

"Yes, suh; he said to tell you Burt--Bruce Burt."

Sprudell grew a curious, chalky white and stood quite still. He felt his
color going and turned quickly lest it be observed.

Apologetically, to his guests:

"One moment, if you please."

He remembered that Bruce Burt had warned him that he would come back and
haunt him--he wished the corridor was one mile long.

There was nothing of the wraith, or phantom, however, in the
broad-shouldered figure in a wide-brimmed Stetson sitting in the office
watching Sprudell's approach with ominous intentness.

With a fair semblance of cordiality Sprudell hastened forward with
outstretched hand.

"I'm amazed! Astonished--"

"I thought you would be," Bruce answered grimly, ignoring Sprudell's
hand. "I came to see about that letter--what you've done."

"Everything within my power, my friend--they're gone."

"Gone! You could not find them?"

"Not a trace." Sprudell looked him squarely in the eye.

"You did your best?"

"Yes, Burt, I did my best."

"Well," Bruce got up slowly, "I guess I'll register." His voice and
face showed his disappointment. "You live here, they said, so I'll see
you in the morning and get the picture and the 'dust'."

"In the morning, then. You'll excuse me now, won't you? I have a little
dinner on."

He lingered a moment to watch Bruce walk across the office and he
noticed how he towered almost head and shoulders above the clerk at the
desk: and he saw also, how, in spite of his ill-fitting clothes so
obviously ready-made, he commanded, without effort, the attention and
consideration for which, in his heart, Sprudell knew that he himself had
to pay and pose and scheme.

A thought which was so strong, so like a conviction that it turned him
cold, flashed into his mind as he looked. If, by any whim of Fate, Helen
Dunbar and Bruce Burt should ever meet, all the material advantages
which he had to offer would not count a straw's weight with the girl he
had determined to marry.

But such a meeting was the most remote thing possible. There were nearer
bridges to be crossed, and Sprudell was anxious to be rid of his guests
that he might think.

When Bruce stepped out of the elevator the next morning, Sprudell
greeted him effusively and this time Bruce, though with no great
enthusiasm, took his plump, soft hand. From the first he had a feeling
which grew stronger, as the forenoon waned, that Sprudell was "riding
herd on him," guarding him, warding off chance acquaintances. It amused
him, when he was sure of it, for he thought that it was due to
Sprudell's fear lest he betray him in his rôle of hero, though it seemed
to Bruce that short as was their acquaintance Sprudell should know him
better than that. When he had the young man corralled in his office at
the Tool Works, he seemed distinctly relieved and his vigilance relaxed.
He handed Bruce his own letter and a roll of notes, saying with a smile
which was uncommonly gracious considering that the money was his own:

"I suppose it won't make any difference to you that your gold-dust has
taken on a different form."

"Why, no," Bruce answered. "It's all the same." Yet he felt a little
surprise. "But the letter from 'Slim's' sister, and the picture--I want
them, too."

"I'm sorry," Sprudell frowned in perplexity, "but they've been mislaid.
I can't think where I put them, to save my soul."

"How could you misplace them?" Bruce demanded sharply. "You kept them
all together, didn't you? I _wanted_ that picture."

"It'll turn up, of course," Sprudell replied soothingly. "And when it
does I'll get it to you by the first mail."

Bruce did not answer--there seemed nothing more to say--but there was
something in Sprudell's voice and eyes that was not convincing. Bruce
had the feeling strongly that he was holding back the letter and the
picture, but why? What could they possibly mean to a stranger? He was
wrong in his suspicions, of course, but nevertheless, he was intensely
irritated by the carelessness.

He arose, and Sprudell did likewise.

"You are going West from here?"

Bruce answered shortly:

"On the first train."

Sprudell lowered his lids that Bruce should not see the satisfaction in
his eyes.

"Good luck to you, and once more, congratulations on your safe return."

Bruce reluctantly took the hand he offered, wondering why it was that
Sprudell repelled him so.

"Good-bye," he answered indifferently, as he turned to go.

Abe Cone in his comparatively short career had done many impulsive and
ill-considered things but he never committed a worse _faux pas_ than
when he dashed unannounced into Sprudell's office, at this moment,
dragging an out-of-town customer by the arm.

"Excuse me for intrudin'," he apologized breathlessly, "but my friend
here, Mr. Herman Florsheim--shake hands with Mr. Sprudell, Herman--wants
to catch a train and he's interested in what I been tellin' him of that
placer ground you stumbled on this fall. He's got friends in that
country and wanted to know just where it is. I remember you said
something about Ore City bein' the nearest post-office, but what
railroad is it on? If we need any outside money, why, Herman here--"

Bruce's hand was on the door-knob, but he lingered, ignoring the most
urgent invitation to go that he ever had seen in any face.

"I'm busy, Abe," Sprudell said so sharply that his old friend stared.
"You _are_ intruding. You should have sent your name."

Bruce closed the door which he had partially opened and came back.

"Don't mind me," he said slowly, looking at Sprudell. "I'd like to hear
about that placer--the one you stumbled on last fall."

"We'll come another time," Abe said, crestfallen.

Bruce turned to him:

"No, don't go. I've just come from Ore City and I may be able to tell
your friend something that he wants to know. Where _is_ your placer
ground, Sprudell?"

Sprudell sat down in his office chair, toying with a desk-fixture, while
Bruce shoved both hands in his trousers' pockets and waited for him to
speak.

"Burt," he said finally, "I regret this unpleasantness, but the fact is
you did not comply with the law--you have never recorded and you are
located out."

"So you've taken advantage of the information with which I trusted you
to jump my ground?" Bruce's eyes blazed into Sprudell's.

"The heirs could not be found, you were given up for dead, and in any
event I've not exceeded my rights."

"You have no rights upon that ground!" Bruce answered hotly, "My
locations were properly made in 'Slim's' name and my own. The sampling
and the cabin and the tunnel count for assessment work. I had not
abandoned the claim."

"Nevertheless, my engineer informs me----"

"Your engineer?" A light dawned.

"Wilburt Dill--pity you did not meet him, a bright young chap--"

"I met him," Bruce answered grimly. "I shall hope to meet him again."

"No doubt you will," Sprudell taunted, "if you happen to be there when
we're putting up the plant. As I was saying, Mr. Dill's telegram, which
came last night, informs me that he has carried out my instructions, and
therefore, individually, and as the President of the Bitter Root Placer
Mining Company, I now control one hundred and sixty acres of ground up
and down the river, including the bar upon which your cabin stands."
Sprudell's small, red mouth curved in its tantalizing smile.

"You'll never hold it!" Bruce said furiously.

"The days of gun-plays have gone by," Sprudell reminded him. "And you
haven't got the price to fight me in the courts. You'd better lay down
before you start and save yourself the worry. What can you do? You have
no money, no influence, no brains to speak of," he sneered insultingly,
"or you wouldn't be down there doing what you are. You haven't a single
asset but your muscle, and in the open market that's worth about
three-fifty a day."

Bruce stood like a mute, the blood burning in his face. Even toward
"Slim" he never had felt such choking, speechless rage as this.

"You Judas Iscariot!" he said when he could speak. "You betrayed my
hospitality--my trust. Next to a cache robber you're the meanest kind of
a thief I've ever known. I've read your story in the newspaper, and so
has the old man who saved your rotten life. We know you for the lying
braggart that you are. You made yourself out a hero when you were a
weakling and a coward.

"You're right--you tell the truth when you twit me with the fact that I
have no money no influence, perhaps no brains--not a single asset, as
you say, but brute strength; yet somehow, I'll beat you!" He stepped
closer and looking deep into the infantile blue eyes that had grown as
hard as granite, reiterated--"_Somehow I'm going to win!_"

To say that Abe Cone and Mr. Herman Florsheim departed is not
enough--they faded, vanished, without a sound.

Sprudell's eyes quailed a little beneath the fierce intensity of Bruce's
gaze, but for a moment only.

"I've heard men talk like that before." He shrugged a shoulder and
looked Bruce up and down--at his coat too tight across the chest, at his
sleeves, too short for his length of arm, at his clumsy miner's shoes,
as though to emphasize the gulf which lay between Bruce's condition and
his own. Then with his eyes bright with vindictiveness and his hateful
smile of confidence upon his lips, he stood in his setting of affluence
and power waiting for Bruce to go, that he might close the door.



XII

THORNS--AND A FEW ROSES


Helen Dunbar was exercising that doubtful economy, walking to save
car-fare, when she saw Mae Smith with her eyes fixed upon her in deadly
purpose making a bee-line across the street. If there was any one thing
more needed to complete her depression it was a meeting with Mae Smith.

She stopped and waited, trying to think what it was Mae Smith resembled
when she hurried like that. A penguin! that was it--Mae Smith walked
exactly like a penguin. But Helen did not smile at the comparison,
instead, she continued to look somberly and critically at the woman who
approached. When Helen was low spirited, as now, Mae Smith always rose
before her like a spectre. She saw herself at forty another such passé
newspaper woman trudging from one indifferent editor to another peddling
"space." And why not? Mae Smith had been young and good-looking once,
also a local celebrity in her way when she had signed a column in a
daily. But she had grown stale with the grind, and having no special
talent or personality had been easily replaced when a new Managing
Editor came. Now, though chipper as a sparrow, she was always in need of
a small loan.

As Helen stood on the corner, in her tailor-made, which was the last
word in simplicity and good lines, the time looked very remote when she,
too, would be peddling space in a $15 gown, that had faded in streaks,
but Helen had no hallucinations concerning her own ability. She knew
that she had no great aptitude for her work and realized that her
success was due more often to the fact that she was young, well-dressed,
and attractive than to any special talent. This was all very well now,
while she got results, but what about the day when _her_ shoes spread
over the soles and turned over at the heels, and she bought _her_ blouse
"off the pile?" When her dollar gloves were shabby and would not button
at the wrist? What about the day when she was too dispirited to dress
her hair becomingly, but combed it straight up at the back, so that her
"scolding locks" hung down upon her coat-collar, and her home-trimmed
hat rode carelessly on one ear?

All these things were characteristic of Mae Smith, who personified
unsuccessful, anxious middle-age. But there was one thing, she told
herself as she returned Mae Smith's effusive greeting, that never,
never, no matter how sordid her lot became, should there emanate from
her that indefinable odor of poverty--cooking, cabbage, lack of
ventilation, bad air--not if she had to hang her clothing out the window
by a string!

"I've been over to the _Chronicle_ office," Mae Smith chattered. "Left
some fashion notes for the Sunday--good stuff--but I don't know whether
he'll use 'em; that kid that's holdin' down McGennigle's job don't buy
much space. He's got it in for me anyhow. I beat him on a convention
story when he was a cub. I was just goin' down to your office."

"Yes? I'm on the way to the doctor's."

"You don't look well, that's a fact. Sick?"

Helen smiled, faintly. "I do feel miserable. Like every one else I got
a drenching at the Thanksgiving Game."

"That's too bad," Mae Smith murmured absently. What was a cold compared
to the fact that she needed two dollars and a half? "Say, I wonder if I
could get a little loan for a few days? You know I bought this suit on
the installment plan and I'm two weeks behind on it. The collector was
around yesterday and said he'd have to take it back. I can't go around
gettin' fashion notes in my kimono, and the milkman wouldn't leave any
milk until I paid for the last ticket. I'm up against it and I thought
maybe--"

"How much do you want?"

"About two dollars and a half." The tense look faded instantly from Miss
Smith's face.

Helen did not mention, as she laid that amount in her eager hand, that
it was part of the money she had saved to buy a pair of long gloves.

"Thank you"--gaily--"ever so much obliged! I've got a corking idea in my
head for a Sunday special and just as soon as I write it and get paid--"

"No hurry," Helen answered with a quizzical smile, and she watched Mae
Smith clamber joyously on a street car to ride two blocks and spend the
fare that Helen had walked eight blocks to save.

The girl's spirits were low and her face showed depression when she
mounted the broad stone steps of the physician's city office and
residence, but when she came down the look had changed to a kind of
frozen fright.

She had not felt like herself for weeks, but she did not dream that it
was anything which time and a little medicine would not cure. Now, he
had told her that she must leave the city--stop her work at once.

He advised the South or West--particularly the West--some place where it
was high and dry. How lovely--and so simple! Just stop work and start!
Why didn't he say St. Petersburg or the Arctic circle. With no income
save what she earned from week to week they were equally impossible.

She had come in time, he had assured her, but she must not delay. Filled
with consternation, sick with dread and horror of what she saw before
her, Helen walked slowly to her hotel, the shabby place where she had
found board and lodging within her means. She loathed it, everything
about it--its faded tawdry splendor, the flashy, egotistical theatrical
folk who frequented it, the salaried mediocrities who were "permanent"
like herself, the pretentious, badly cooked food; but as she climbed the
yellowish marble steps she thought despairingly that even this would be
beyond her reach some day.

If only Freddie were alive! There was a lump in her throat as she
removed her hat and looked at her pale face in the old-fashioned bureau
mirror in her room. She might have gone to him in such an emergency as
this--she had saved money enough to have managed that. He had been a bad
son and an utterly indifferent brother, but surely he would not have
turned her out.

Her shoulders drooped and two tears slipped from beneath her lashes as
she sat on the edge of her narrow bed with her hands lying passively in
her lap. Tears were so weak and futile in a world where only action
counted that it was seldom they ever reached her eyes, though they
sometimes came close.

Practical as Helen's life had made her in most things, she was still
young enough to build high hopes on a romantic improbability. And
nothing was more improbable than that "Slim" Naudain, even if he had
lived, ever would have returned to make amends.

But she had thrown the glamour of romance about her scapegrace brother
from the day he had flung out of the house in ignominy, boasting with
the arrogance of inexperience that he would succeed and come back
triumphant, to fill them with envy and chagrin. She never had heard from
him directly since, but she had kept her childish, unreasoning faith
that he would make good his boast and compensate her for her share of
the fortune which it had cost to save him from his evil deeds.

She had not realized until Sprudell had told her of his death how
strongly she had counted upon him. He was the only one left to her of
her own blood, and had been the single means of escape that she could
see from the exhausting, uncongenial grind and the long, lonely hours in
the shabby hotel when her work was done. If the future had looked dark
and hopeless before, how much worse it seemed with illness staring her
in the face!

The money Freddie had left her would have gone a long way toward the
vacation after she had used the larger part of it to pay off a
long-standing obligation which her mother had incurred. The thought of
the money reminded her of the letter and photograph. She brushed her wet
cheeks with her hand and getting up took the soiled and yellowing
envelope from the bureau drawer, wondering again why his murderer had
sent it back.

The quick tears came once more as she read the ingenuous scrawl! What
centuries ago it seemed since she had written that! She bit her lip hard
but in spite of herself she cried--for her lost illusions--for her
mother--for that optimistic outlook upon life which never would come
back. She had learned much since that smiling "pitcher" was taken--what
"mortgages" mean, for instance--that poverty has more depressing depths
than the lack of servants and horses, and that "marrying well," as she
interpreted a successful marriage then, is seldom--outside of "fiction
and Pittsburgh"--for the girl who earns her own living. Young men who
inherit incomes or older men of affairs do not look in shops and offices
for their wives. Helen Dunbar had no hallucinations on this score.

Propinquity, clothes, social backing, the necessary adjuncts to
"marrying well," had not been among her advantages for many years. There
remained on her horizon only the friendly youths of mediocre attainments
that she met in her daily life. She liked them individually and
collectively in business, but socially, outside of the office, they made
no appeal.

Ill-health was a misfortune she never had considered. It was a new
spectre, the worst of all. If one were well one could always do
something even without much talent, but helpless, dependent--the dread
which filled her as she walked up and down the narrow confines of her
room was different from the vague fears of the inexperienced. Hers came
from actual knowledge and observation obtained in the wide scope of her
newspaper life. The sordid straits which reduce existence to a matter of
food and a roof, the ceaseless anxiety destroying every vestige of
personal charm, the necessity of asking for loans that both borrower
and lender know to be gifts--grudgingly given--accepted in mingled
bitterness and relief--Helen Dunbar had seen it all. The pictures which
rose before her were real. In her nervous state she imagined herself
some day envying even Mae Smith, who at least had health and
irrepressible spirits.

But there must be no more tears, she told herself at last. They were a
confession of weakness, they dissipated courage; and the handkerchief
which had been a moist ball dried in her hot hand. She said aloud to her
flushed reflection in the glass:

"Well," determinedly, "I've never thought myself a coward and I won't
act like one now. There's been many a thousand before me gone through
this experience without whining and I guess I can do the same. Until I'm
a sure enough down-and-outer I'll do the best I can. I must find a
cheaper room and buy an oil-stove. Ugh! the first step on the down
grade."

There was a rap upon the door and she lowered the shade a little so that
the bell-boy with her evening paper should not see her reddened eyes.
Instead of the paper he carried a long pasteboard box.

Flowers? How extraordinary--perhaps Peters; no, not Peters, as she read
the name of a side street florist on the box, he was not to be suspected
of any such economy as that. Roses--a dozen--a little too full blown to
last very long but lovely. T. Victor Sprudell's card fell out as she
took them from the box.



XIII

"OFF HIS RANGE"


Bruce stood before the blackboard in the Bartlesville station studying
the schedule. A train went west at 11.45. The first train went east at
11.10. He hesitated a moment, then the expression of uncertainty upon
his face hardened into decision. He turned quickly and bought a ticket
east. If Sprudell had lied he was going to find it out.

As he sat by the car window watching the smug, white farm-houses and big
red barns of the middle west fly by, their dull respectability, their
commonplace prosperity vaguely depressed him. What if he should be
sentenced for life to walk up to his front door between two rows of
whitewashed rocks, to live surrounded by a picket fence, and to die
behind a pair of neat green blinds? But mostly his thoughts were a
jumble of Sprudell, of his insincere cordiality and the unexpected
denouement when Abe Cone's call had forced his hand; of Dill and his
mission, and disgust at his own carelessness in failing to record his
claims.

They concentrated finally upon the work which lay before him once he had
demonstrated the truth or falsity of Sprudell's assertion that Slim's
family were not to be found. He turned the situation over and over in
his mind and always it resolved itself into the same thing, namely, his
lack of money. That obstacle confronted him at every turn and yet in
spite of it, in spite of the doubts and fears which reason and caution
together thrust into his mind, his determination to win, to outwit
Sprudell, to make good his boast, grew stronger with every turn of the
car wheels.

Ambition was already awake within him; but it needed Sprudell's sneers
to sting his pride, Sprudell's ingratitude and arrogant assumption of
success in whatever it pleased him to undertake, to arouse in Bruce that
stubborn, dogged, half-sullen obstinacy which his father had called
mulishness but which the farmer's wife with her surer woman's intuition
had recognized as one of the traits which make for achievement. It is a
quality which stands those who have it in good stead when failure stares
them in the face.

It did not take Bruce long to discover that in whatever else Sprudell
had prevaricated he at least had told the truth when he said that the
Naudain family had disappeared. They might never have existed, for all
the trace he could find of them in the city of a million.

The old-fashioned residence where "Slim" had lived, with its dingy
trimmings, and its marble steps worn in hollows, affected him strangely
as he stood across the street where he could see it from roof to
basement. It made "Slim" seem more real, more like "folks" and less like
a malignant presence. It had been an imposing house in its time but now
it was given over to doctors' offices and studios, while a male
hair-dresser in the basement transformed the straight locks of
fashionable ladies into a wonderful marcelle.

Bruce went down to make some inquiries and he stared at the proprietor
as though he were some strange, hybrid animal when he came forward
testing the heat of a curling-iron against his fair cheek.

No, the hair-dresser shook his fluffy, blonde head, he never had heard
of a family named Naudain, although he had been four years in the
building and knew everyone upstairs. A trust company owned the place
now; he was sure of that because the rent collector was just a shade
more prompt than the rising sun. Yes, most certainly he would give Bruce
the company's address and it was no trouble at all.

He was a fascinating person to Bruce, who would have liked to prolong
the conversation, but the disheveled customer in the chair was growing
restless, so he took the address, thanked him, and went out wondering
whimsically if through any cataclysm of nature he should turn up a
hair-dresser, sweet-scented, redolent of tonique, smelling of pomade,
how it would seem to be curling a lady's hair?

Back in the moderate-priced hotel where he had established himself, he
set about interviewing by telephone the Naudains whose names appeared in
the directory. It was a nerve-racking task to Bruce, who was unfamiliar
with the use of the telephone, and those of the name with whom he
succeeded in getting in communication seemed singularly busy folk,
indifferent to the amenities and entirely uninterested in his quest. But
he persisted until he had exhausted the list.

Since there was no more to do that night, in fact no more to do at all
if the trust company failed him, he went to bed: but everything was too
strange for him to sleep well.

A sense of the nearness of people made him uneasy, and the room seemed
close although there was no steam and the window was wide open. The
noises of the street disturbed him; they were poor substitutes for the
plaintive music of the wind among the pines. His bed was far too soft;
he believed he could have slept if only he had had his mattress of
pine-boughs and his bear-grass pillow. The only advantage that his
present quarters had over his cabin was the hot and cold water. It
really was convenient, he told himself with a grin, to have a spring in
the room.

The street lamp made his room like day and as he lay wide-eyed in the
white light listening to the clatter of hoofs over the pavement, he
recalled his childish ambition to buy up all the old horses in the world
when he was big--he smiled now at the size of the contract--all the
horses he could find that were stiff and sore, and half dead on their
feet from straining on preposterous loads; the horses that were lashed
and cut and cursed because in their wretched old age they could not step
out like colts. He meant to turn them into a pasture where the grass was
knee-deep and they could lie with their necks outstretched in the sun
and rest their tired legs.

He had explained the plan to his mother and he remembered how she had
assured him gravely that it was a fine idea indeed. It was from her that
he had inherited his passionate fondness for animals. Cruelty to a dumb
brute hurt him like a blow.

On the trip out from Ore City an overworked stage horse straining on a
sixteen per cent. grade and more had dropped dead in the harness--a
victim to the parsimony of a government that has spent millions on
useless dams, pumping plants, and reservoirs, but continues to pay
cheerfully the salaries of the engineers responsible for the blunders;
footing the bills for the junkets of hordes of "foresters," of
"timber-inspectors" and inspectors inspecting the inspectors, and what
not, yet forcing the parcel post upon some poor mountain mail-contractor
without sufficient compensation, haggling over a pittance with the man
it is ruining like some Baxter street Jew.

Like many people in the West, Bruce had come to have a feeling for some
of the departments of the government, whose activities had come under
his observation, that was as strong as a personal enmity.

He put the picture of the stage-horse, staggering and dying on its feet,
resolutely from his mind.

"I never will sleep if I get to thinking of that," he told himself. "It
makes me hot all over again."

From this disquieting subject his thought reverted to his own affairs,
to "Slim's" family and his self-appointed task, to the placer and
Sprudell. Nor were these reflections conducive to sleep. More and more
he realized how much truth there was in Sprudell's taunts. Without money
how could he fight him in the Courts? There were instances in plenty
where prospectors had been driven from that which was rightfully theirs
because they were without the means to defend their property.

Squaw Creek was the key to the situation. This was a fact which became
more and more plain. However, Sprudell was undoubtedly quite as well
aware of this as he was himself and would lose no time in applying for
the water right. The situation looked dark indeed to Bruce as he tossed
and turned. Then like a lost word or name which one gropes for for
hours, days, weeks perhaps, there suddenly jumped before Bruce's eyes a
paragraph from the state mining laws which he had glanced over
carelessly in an idle moment. It stood out before him now as though it
were in double-leaded type.

"If it isn't too late! If it isn't too late!" he breathed excitedly.
"Dog-gone, if it isn't too late!"

With the same movement that he sprang out on the floor he reached for
his hat; then he recalled that telegraph operators were sometimes ladies
and it would be as well to dress. He made short work of the performance,
however, and went downstairs two steps at a time rather than wait for
the sleepy bell-boy, who did double duty on the elevator at night. The
telegraph office was two squares away, the wondering night-clerk told
him, and Bruce, stepping frequently on his shoelaces, went up the street
at a gait which was more than half suspicious to the somnambulant
officer on the beat.

The trust company's doors had not been opened many minutes the next
morning before Bruce arrived. The clerk who listened to his inquiries
was willing enough to give him any information that he had but he had
none beyond the fact that the property in question had passed from the
possession of a family named Dunbar into the hands of the trust company
many years ago, and no person named Naudain had figured in the transfer,
or any other transfer so far as he could ascertain from consulting
various deeds and documents in the vault.

It was puzzling enough to Bruce, who was sure that he had read the
number and the street correctly and had remembered it, but the clerk was
waiting politely for him to go, so he thanked him and went out.

As Bruce stood in the wide stone archway of the building watching the
stream of passers-by hastening to their offices and shops, some faint
glimmerings of the magnitude of the task he had set himself in raising
money among strangers to defend the placer ground if need be and install
the hydro-electric plant for working it, came to him. He had little, if
any, idea how to begin or where, and he had a feeling as he studied the
self-centred faces of the hurrying throng that if he should fall on his
knees before anyone among them and beg for a hearing they would merely
walk around him and go on.

It occurred to Bruce that the clerk inside was an uncommonly good
fellow, and friendly; he believed he would ask his advice. He might make
some useful suggestions. Bruce acted at once upon the idea and again the
clerk came forward cheerfully. Going to the point at once, Bruce
demanded:

"How would a stranger go about raising money here for a mining
proposition?"

A quizzical expression came into the clerk's eyes and a faint smile
played about his mouth. He looked Bruce over with some personal interest
before he answered.

"If I was the stranger," he said dryly, "I'd get a piece of lead-pipe
and stand in an area-way about 11.30 one of these dark nights. That's
the only way I know to raise money for mining purposes in this town."

Bruce stepped back abruptly and his dark face reddened.

"Sorry I bothered you," he eyed the clerk steadily, "but I made a
mistake in the way I sized you up."

It was the clerk's turn to flush, but because he really was a good
fellow and there was that in Bruce's unusual appearance that he liked,
he called him back when he would have gone.

"I apologize," he said frankly, "I hadn't any business to get funny
when you asked me a civil question, but the fact is the town's been
worked to death with mining schemes. Nearly everyone's been bitten to
the point of hydrophobia and I doubt if you can raise a dollar without
friends."

"I wouldn't say I had much show if that's the case," Bruce answered,
"for I'm a long way off my range."

In his well-worn Stetson, with his dark skin tanned by sun and wind and
snow to a shade that was only a little lighter than an Indian's; using,
when he talked, the wide, careless gestures that bespeak the far West,
Bruce was so obviously of the country beyond the Mississippi that the
clerk could not repress a smile.

"I've never promoted anything more important than a theatre party or a
motor trip," the clerk vouchsafed, "but I should think some of the
brokers who handle mining stocks would be the people to see. There's a
good firm two doors above. I can give you the names of a few people who
sometimes take 'flyers' on the side but even they don't go into anything
that isn't pretty strongly endorsed by someone they know. There's always
the chance though," he continued, looking Bruce over speculatively,
"that someone may take a fancy to you personally. I've noticed that
personality sometimes wins where facts and figures couldn't get a look
in."

Bruce answered simply:

"That lets me out again, I've no silver tongue. I've talked with too few
people to have much fluency."

The clerk did not contradict him though he was thinking that Bruce could
thank his personality for the time he was giving him and the pains he
was taking to help him.

"Here," handing Bruce a hastily written list. "You needn't tell them I
sent you for it wouldn't do any good. Some of them come in here often
but they look upon me as an office fixture--like this mahogany desk, or
that Oriental rug."

"This is mighty good of you," said Bruce, as grateful as though he had
written special letters of endorsement for him to all his friends.
"Say," with his impulsive hospitality, "I wish you could come out and
visit me. Couldn't you get away the end of August when the bull-trout
and the redsides are biting good?"

"Me?" The clerk started, then he murmured wistfully: "When the
bull-trout and the redsides are biting good! Gee! I like the way that
sounds! Then," with a resigned gesture, "I was never farther west than
South Bethlehem; I never expect to have the price."

He looked so efficient and well dressed that Bruce had thought he must
receive a large salary and he felt badly to learn that the prosperity of
such a nice chap was only clothes deep. He promised to look in on him
before he left the city and tell him how he had gotten on; then he took
his list and went back to the hotel prepared to spend some anxious hours
in the time which must intervene before he could expect to hear from his
night telegram. He hoped the answer would come in the morning, for
disappointments, he had learned, were easier to bear when the sun shone.

The telegram was awaiting him when he returned from an excursion to a
department store which had been fraught with considerable excitement. A
majestic blonde had assumed a kind of protectorate over him and
dissuaded him from his original intention of buying thirty yards of
ruching for Ma Snow with a firmness that approached a refusal to sell
him anything so old-fashioned, although he protested that it had looked
beautiful in the neck and sleeves of his mother's gowns some fifteen
years before. Neglecting to explain that his gift was for a woman all of
fifty, a pink crepe-de-chine garment was held alluringly before his
embarrassed eyes and a filmy petticoat, from beneath which, in his
mind's eye, Bruce could see Pa Snow's carpet-slippers, in which Ma Snow
"eased her feet," peeping in and out. In the end he fought his way
out--through more women than he had seen together in all his life--with
a box of silk hose in appallingly vivid colors and a beaded bag which,
he had it on the saleslady's honor, was "all the rage."

Bruce took the yellow envelope which the desk-clerk handed him and
looked at it with a feeling of dread. He had counted the hours until it
should come and now he was afraid to open it. It meant so much to
him--everything in fact--the moment was a crisis but he managed to tear
the envelope across with no outward indication of his dread.

He took in the contents at a glance and there was such relief, such
renewed hope in his radiant face that the desk-clerk was moved to
observe smilingly: "Good news, I gather." And Bruce was so glad, so
happy, that for the moment he could think of nothing more brilliant to
answer than--"Well I should say so! I should say so!"



XIV

HIS ONLY ASSET


It would be a pleasure to record that Capital found Bruce's personality
so irresistible that his need of funds met with instant response, that
the dashing picturesqueness of his appearance and charm of his
unconventional speech and manner was so fascinating that Capital
violated all the rules observed by experienced investors and handed out
its checks with the cheery "God bless you m' boy!" which warms the heart
toward Capital in fiction. Such, however, was not the case.

It took only one interview to disabuse Bruce's mind of any faint,
sneaking idea he may have had that he was doing Capital a favor for
which it would duly thank him. The person whom he honored with his first
call strongly conveyed the impression after he had stated his case that
he considered that he, Bruce, had obtained valuable time under false
pretenses. Certainly the last emotion which he seemed to entertain for
the opportunity given him was gratitude, and his refusal to be
interested amounted to a curt dismissal.

The second interview, during which Bruce was cross-examined by a
cold-eyed gentleman with a cool, impersonal voice, was sufficient to
make him realize with tolerable clearness his total unpreparedness. What
engineer of recognized standing had reported upon the ground? None! To
what extent, then, had the ground been sampled? How many test-pits had
been sunk, and how far to bed-rock? What was the yardage? Where were
his certified assay sheets, and his engineer's estimate for
hydro-electric installation? What transportation facilities?

Bruce, still dazed by the onslaught, had turned and looked at the door
which had closed behind him with a briskness which seemed to say "Good
riddance," and muttered, thinking of the clerk's one sanguine
suggestion: "Personality! I might as well be a hop-toad."

But in his chagrin he went to extremes in his contemptuous estimate of
himself, for there was that about him which generally got him a hearing
and a longer one than would have been accorded the average "promoter"
with nothing more tangible upon which to raise money than his
unsupported word. His Western phraseology and sometimes humorous
similes, his unexpected whimsicalities and a certain naïveté secretly
amused many of those whom he approached, though they took the best of
care not to show it lest he mistake their interest in himself for
interest in his proposition.

One or two went so far as to pass him on by giving him the name of a
friend, but, mostly, they listened coldly, critically, and refused with
some faint excuse or none. There was no harder task that Bruce could
have set himself than applying to such men for financial help for,
underneath, he was still the sensitive boy who had bolted from the
dinner-table in tears and anger to escape his father's ridicule, and,
furthermore, he was accustomed to the friendly spirit and manner of the
far West.

The chilling stiffness, the skepticism and suspicion, the curtness which
was close to rudeness, at first bewildered, then hurt and humiliated
him, finally filling him with a resentment which was rapidly reaching a
point where it needed only an uncivil word or act too much to produce an
explosion.

But if he was like that boy of other days in his quick pride, neither
had he lost the tenacity of purpose which had kept him dragging one
sore, bare foot after the other to get to his mother when the gulches he
had to pass were black and full of ghostly, fearsome things that the
hired man had seen when staying out late o' nights. This trait now kept
him trudging grimly from one office to another, offering himself a
target for rebuffs that to him had the sting of insults.

He had come to know so well what to expect that he shrank painfully from
each interview. It required a strong effort of will to turn in at the
given number and ask for the man he had come to see, and when he saw him
it required all his courage to explain the purpose of his call. Bruce
understood fully now how he was handicapped by the lack of data and the
fact that he was utterly unknown, but so long as there was one glimmer
of hope that someone would believe him, would see the possibilities in
his proposition as he saw them, and investigate for himself Bruce would
not quit. The list of names the clerk had given him and many others had
long since been exhausted. Looking back it seemed to him that he was a
babe in swaddling clothes when he started out with his telegram and his
addresses, so full of high hopes and the roseate expectations of
inexperience.

Day after day he plodded, his dark face set in grim lines of purpose,
following up clews leading to possible investors which he obtained here
and there, and always with the one result. What credentials had he? To
what past successes could he point? None? Ah, good-day.

One morning Bruce opened his eyes and the conviction that he had failed
leaped into his mind as though it had been waiting like a cat at a mouse
hole to pounce upon him the instant of his return to consciousness.

"You have failed! You have got to give up! You are done!" The words
pounding into his brain affected him like hammer blows over the heart.
He laid motionless, inert, his face grown sallow upon the pillow, and he
thought that the feelings of a condemned man listening to the building
of his gallows must be something like his own.

Those who have struggled for something, tried with all their heart and
soul, fought to the last atom of their strength, and failed, know
something of the sickening heaviness, the dull, aching depression which
takes the vitality and seems actually to slow up the beating of the
heart.

Out in the world, he told himself, where men won things by their brains,
he had failed like any pitiable weakling; that he had been handicapped
by unpreparedness was no palliation of the crime of failure. Ignorance
was no excuse. In humiliation and chagrin he attributed the mistakes of
inexperience to lack of intelligence. His mother had over-estimated him,
he had over-estimated himself. It was presumption to have supposed he
was fitted for anything but manual labor. Sprudell had been right, he
thought bitterly, when he had sneered that muscle was his only asset.

He could see himself loading his belongings into Slim's old boat, his
blankets and the tattered soogan and bobbing through the rapids with the
blackened coffee-pot, the frying pan, and lard cans jingling in the
bottom, while Sprudell, with his hateful, womanish smile, watched his
ignominious departure. Bruce drew his sleeve across his damp forehead.
If there was any one thing which could goad him to further action it was
this picture.

He arose and dressed slowly. Bruce had known fatigue, the weakness of
hunger, but never anything like the leaden, heavy-footed depression
which comes from intense despondency and hopelessness.

As his finances had gone down he had gone up, until he was now located
permanently on the top floor of the hotel where the hall carpets and
furniture were given their final try-out before going into the discards.
The only thing which stopped him from going further was the roof. He had
no means of judging what the original colors in his rug had been save by
an inch or two close to the wall, and every brass handle on the drawers
of his dresser came out at the touch. The lone faucet of cold water
dripped constantly and he had to stand on a chair each time he raised
the split green shade. When he wiped his face he fell through the hole
in the towel; he could never get over a feeling of surprise at meeting
his hands in the middle, and the patched sheets on his bed looked like
city plots laid out in squares.

He loathed the shabbiness of it, and the suggestion of germs, decay,
down-at-the-heel poverty added to his depression. He never had any such
feelings about his rough bunk filled with cedar boughs and his pine
table as he had about this iron bed, with its scratched enamel and tin
knobs, which deceived nobody into thinking them brass, or the wobbly
dresser that he swore at heartily each time he turned back a fingernail
trying to claw a drawer open.

Bruce had vowed that so long as a stone remained unturned he would stay
and turn it, but--he had run out of stones. Three untried addresses were
left in his note-book and he looked at them as he ate his frugal
breakfast speculating as to which was nearest.

"If I'd eaten as much beef as I have crow since I came to this man's
town," he meditated as he dragged his unwilling feet up the street, "I'd
be a 'shipper' in prime A1 condition. I've a notion I haven't put on
much weight since it became the chief article of my diet. If thirty days
of quail will stall a man what will six weeks of crow do to him? I doubt
if I will ever entirely get my self-respect back unless," he added with
the glimmer of a smile, "I go around and lick some of them before I
leave."

"I suppose," his thoughts ran on, "that it's a part of the scheme of
life that a person must eat his share of crow before he gets in a
position to make some one else eat it, but dog-gone!" with a wry face,
"I've sure swallowed a double portion." Then he fell to wondering if--he
consulted his note-book--J. Winfield Harrah had specialized at all upon
his method of serving up this game-bird which knows no closed season?

As he sat in Harrah's outer office on a high-backed settee of teak-wood
ornate with dragons and Chinese devils, with his feet on a rug which
would have gone a long way toward installing a power-plant, looking at
pictures of Jake Kilrain in pugilistic garb and pose, the racing yacht
Shamrock under full sail, and Heatherbloom taking a record smashing
jump, the spider-legged office boy came from inside endeavoring to hide
some pleasurable excitement under a semblance of dignity and office
reticence.

"Mr. Harrah has been detained and won't be here for perhaps an hour."

"I'll wait," Bruce replied laconically.

The office boy lingered. He fancied Bruce because of his size and his
hat and a resemblance that he thought he saw between him and his
favorite western hero of the movies; besides, he was bursting with a
proud secret. He hunched his shoulders and looked cautiously behind
toward the inner offices. Between his palms he whispered:

"He's been arrested."

It delighted him that Bruce's eyes widened.

"Third time in a month--speedin' in Jersey--his new machine is 80
horse-power--! A farmer put tacks in the road and tried to kill him wit'
a pitchfork. Say! my boss _et_ him. I bet he'll get fined the limit."
His red necktie swelled palpably and he swaggered proudly. "Pooh! he
don't care. My boss, he--"

"Willie!"

"Yes ma'am." The stenographer's call interrupted further confidences
from Willie and he scuttled away, leaving Bruce with the impression that
the boy's admiration for his boss was not unmixed with apprehension.

The hour had gone when the door opened and a huge, fiery-bearded,
dynamic sort of person went swinging past Bruce without a glance and on
to the inner offices. The office boy's husky "That's him!" was not
needed to tell him that J. Winfield Harrah had arrived. The air suddenly
seemed charged electrically. The stenographer speeded up and dapper
young clerks and accountants bent to their work with a zeal and
assiduity which merited immediate promotion, while "Willie," Bruce
noticed, came from a brief session in the private office with the dazed
look of one who has just been through an experience.

When Bruce's turn came Harrah sat at his desk like an expectant ogre;
there was that in his attitude which seemed to say: "Enter; I eat
promoters." His eyes measured Bruce from head to foot in a glance of
appraisement, and Bruce on his part subjected Harrah to the same swift
scrutiny.

Without at all being able to explain it Bruce felt instantly at his
ease, he experienced a kind of relief as does a stranger in a strange
land when he discovers someone who speaks his tongue.

Harrah appeared about Bruce's age, perhaps a year or two older, and he
was as tall, though lacking Bruce's thickness and breadth of shoulder.
His arms were long as a gorilla's and he had huge white fists with
freckles on the back that looked like ginger-snaps. Fiery red eyebrows
as stiff as two toothbrushes bristled above a pair of vivid blue eyes,
while his short beard resembled nothing so much as a neatly trimmed
whisk broom, flaming in color. His skin was florid and his hair, which
was of a darker shade than his beard, was brushed straight back from a
high, white forehead. A tuft of hair stood up on his crown like the
crest on a game-cock. Everything about him indicated volcanic
temperament, virility, and impulsiveness which amounted to eccentricity.

Harrah represented to Bruce practically his last chance, but there was
nothing in Harrah's veiled, non-committal eyes as he motioned Bruce to a
chair and inquired brusquely: "Well--what kind of a wild-cat have _you_
got?" which would have led an observer to wager any large amount that
his last chance was a good one.

Bruce's eyes opened and he stared for the fraction of a second at the
rudeness of the question, then they flashed as he answered shortly.

"I'm not peddling wild-cats, or selling mining stock to widows and
orphans--if you happen to be either."

Capital is not accustomed to tart answers to its humor caustic, from
persons in need of financial assistance for their enterprises. Harrah
raised his toothbrush eyebrows and once more he favored Bruce with a
sweeping glance of interest, which Bruce, in his sensitive pride,
resented.

"Who sent you?" Harrah demanded roughly.

"Never mind who sent me," Bruce answered in the same tone, reaching for
his hat which he had laid on the floor beside him, "but he had his
dog-gone nerve directing me to an ill-mannered four-flusher like you."

The color flamed to Harrah's cheek bones and over his high, white
forehead.

"You've got a curious way of trying to raise money," he observed. "I
suppose," dryly, "that's what you're here for?"

"You suppose right," Bruce answered hotly as he stood up, "but I'm no
damn pauper. And get it out of your head," he went on as the accumulated
wrath of weeks swept over him, "that you're talking to the office boy.
I've found somebody at last that's big enough to stand up to and tell
'em to go to hell! Sabe? You needn't touch my proposition, you needn't
even listen to it, but, hear me, you talk civil!"

As Harrah arose Bruce took a step closer and looked at him squarely.

A lurking imp sprang to life in Harrah's vivid eyes, a dare-devil look
which found its counterpart in Bruce's own.

"I believe you think you're a better man than I am."

"I can lick you any jump in the road," Bruce answered promptly.

Harrah looked at him speculatively, without resentment, then his lips
parted in a grin which showed two sharp, white, prominent front teeth.

"On the square," eagerly, "do you think you can down me?"

"I know it," curtly--"any old time or place. _Now_, if it suits you."

To Bruce's amazement Harrah took his hand and shook it joyfully.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you could! You look as hard as nails. Do you
box or wrestle?"

Bruce wondered if he was crazy.

He answered shortly: "Some."

"Bully!" excitedly. "The best luck ever! We'll have a try-out in private
and if you're the moose I think you are you can break him in two!"

"Break who in two?"

"The Spanish Bull-dog! Eureka!" he chuckled gleefully. "I'll back you to
the limit!"

"What's the matter with you?" Bruce demanded. "Are you loco?"

"Close to it!" the eccentric capitalist cried gaily,--"with joy! He
bested me proper the other night at the Athletic Club--he dusted the mat
with me--and I want to play even." Seeing that Bruce's face did not
lose its look of mystification he curbed his exuberance: "You see I've
got some little reputation as a wrestler so when Billy Harper ran across
this fellow in Central America he imported him on purpose to reduce the
swelling in my head, he said, and he did it, for while the chap hasn't
much science he's so powerful I couldn't hold him. But you, by George!
wait till I spring _you_ on him!"

"Say," Bruce answered resentfully, "I came East to raise money for a
hydro-electric power plant, not to go into the ring. It looks as if
you're taking a good deal for granted."

"That's all right," Harrah answered easily. "How much do you want? What
you got? Where is it?"

Bruce told him briefly.

Harrah heard him through attentively and when he was done Harrah said
candidly:

"Perhaps you've been told before that without a qualified engineer's
report it isn't much of a business proposition to appeal to a business
man."

"Once or twice," Bruce answered dryly.

"Nevertheless," Harrah continued, "I'm willing to take a chance on
you--not on the proposition as you've put it up to me but on you
personally, because I like you. I'll head your inscription list with
$5000 and introduce you to some men that will probably take a 'flyer' on
my say-so. If you're still short of what you think you'll need I'll make
up the remainder, all providing"--with a quick grin--"that you go in and
wallop that Greaser!"

Bruce's expression was a mixture of many.

Finally he replied slowly:

"Well, it isn't just the way I'd figured out to interest Capital and I
reckon the method is unique in mine promotion, but as I'm at the end of
my rope and have no choice, one more meal of 'crow' won't kill me." He
went on with a tinge of bitterness, thinking of Sprudell: "Since muscle
is my only asset I'll have to realize on it." Then his dark face lighted
with one of the slow, whimsical smiles that transformed it--"Unchain the
'Spanish Bull-dog,' feller!"

Harrah rang for the office boy and reached for his hat.

"William," he said sternly when the quaking youth stood before him,
"tell those people outside not to wait. I'm called away on
business--urgent, important business and I can't say when I'll be
back."



XV

MILLIONS!


Would the car never come--would it never come! Helen walked once more to
the corner from the shelter of a building in one of the outlying mill
districts where an assignment had taken her.

The day was bitterly cold with a wind blowing which went through her
coat and skirt as though they were light-weight summer clothing. She
held her muff against her cheek and she peered up the street and the
dark background accentuated the drawn whiteness of her face with the
pinched, blue look about her mouth and nostrils. The girl was really
suffering terribly. She had passed the chattering stage and was enduring
dumbly, wondering how much longer she could stand it, knowing all the
time that she must stand it as there was no place to go inside and
missing the car which ran at half hour intervals meant missing the
edition. She was _paid_ to stand it, she told herself, as she stamped
her feet which were almost without feeling. The doctor's emphatic
warning came to her mind with each icy blast that made her shrink and
huddle closer to the wall of the big storage building. Exposure, wet
feet, were as suicidal in her condition as poison, he had told her. She
could guard against the latter but there was no escape from the former
if she would do her work conscientiously for long, cold rides and waits
on street corners were a recognized part of it.

She could not afford even to dress warmly. There was absolutely nothing
but fur that would keep out such penetrating wind and cold as this, and
anything at all presentable was beyond her means.

"And they tell us, these smug, unctuous preachers warming their shins
before their study fires, that living is a privilege, and we should be
grateful to the Almighty for being allowed to go through things like
this! I can't see it!" she declared to herself in angry rebellion. "I
haven't one thing on earth to look forward to--unless--" her hand
tightened on a letter inside her muff--"unless I take a way out which,
in the end, might be worse."

Sprudell's note had come by special delivery from the Hotel Strathmore
just as she was leaving the office, so she had not stopped to answer it.
He had made several trips from Bartlesville since their first meeting,
under the pretext of business, but it did not require any great acumen
to discover that he came chiefly to see her.

Now, thinking that it might divert her mind from her misery, Helen
turned her back to the wind and drew out his note for a second reading.
One would scarcely have gathered from her expression as she turned the
pages that she was reading a cordial dinner invitation.

Everything about it grated upon her--and the note was so eminently
characteristic. She observed critically the "My dear Miss Dunbar," which
he considered more intimate than "Dear Miss Dunbar." She disliked the
round vowels formed with such care that they looked piffling, and the
elaborately shaded consonants. The stiffness, the triteness of his
phraseology, and his utter lack of humor, made his letters dull reading
but most of all his inexact use of words irritated her--it made him seem
so hopeless--far more so than bad spelling. She even detested the
glazed note paper which she was sure was a "broken lot" bought at a
bargain in a department store.

"To-night I have a matter of supreme importance to impart," she read,
"make every effort to join me. The evening may prove as eventful to you
as to me, so do not disappoint me, Mignonne."

"Mignonne!" Her lips curled. "Idiot! Imbecile! Ignoramus!"
Savagely--"_Donkey!_"

She leaned a shoulder against the cold bricks of the warehouse, her head
drooped and a tear slipped down her cheek to turn to frost on the dark
fur of her muff.

Helen was too analytical and she had had the opportunity of knowing and
observing men in too many walks of life not to have by this time a
fairly good insight into Sprudell's character. At least she understood
him to the extent of reading his motives and interpreting his actions
with tolerable accuracy. She tried to be charitable and endeavored not
to dwell upon the traits which, in the light of his lover's attitude,
made him ridiculous. When she received tender offering of stale
fruit-cake and glucose jam from a cut-rate grocer, large boxes of candy
from an obscure confectioner, and other gifts betraying the penurious
economy which always tempered his generosity, she endeavored to assure
herself that it came merely from the habit of saving in small ways which
many self-made men had in common. She dwelt resolutely upon his
integrity, upon the acumen which had made him a business success; yet in
her heart she could not help likening him to a garment of shoddy
material aping the style of elegance. While endeavoring to palliate
these small offenses Helen knew perfectly that they were due to the
fact that he was innately what was known in the office vernacular as a
"cheap skate," striving to give the impression of generosity at a
minimum of expense.

Helen had grown sensitive about her cough and shrank from comment upon
it. She did her best to stifle it and she herself spoke of it lightly;
but to-day, when she came into the warm air of the office after the
nightmare of a wait on the corner and the long, cold ride afterward, it
set her coughing violently, so violently that it attracted the attention
of her neighbor, who called over the partition jocularly but with a note
of seriousness in his voice--

"We'll have to ship you to Colorado, Miss Dunbar, if you go on like
that!"

Helen caught her clasped hands quickly to her breast, a trick she had
when startled.

"Yes?" she answered lightly but her expression was frightened.

People were noticing! It was the last straw needed. When she laid out
her most becoming frock that evening it was the white flag of
capitulation. The odds were too heavy--she felt she must surrender
before it was too late. While she dressed her hair with more than usual
care she scrutinized her face closely for that indefinable look which
conveys to the initiated a hint of something deeper-seated than the
languor of fatigue.

If Helen had cared at all for Sprudell's approbation she would have had
the reward for her pains in the pleased, self-satisfied air of
proprietorship with which he followed her to the table he had reserved
in the fashionable restaurant of the Hotel Strathmore. He missed none of
the interested looks directed at her as she passed, and glowed with
satisfaction.

"If they notice her like this in a city," he thought triumphantly,
"she'll make 'em sit up in Bartlesville!" Sprudell's cup of happiness
seemed running full.

"You're looking great to-night," he whispered as they sat down.

"Fine feathers--" she smiled slightly--"my one good gown."

"My dear, you can have a hundred--a thousand!" he cried extravagantly.
"It's up to you!"

She studied him curiously, wondering what had happened. He was tremulous
with suppressed excitement; his high spirits were like the elation of
intoxication and he ordered with a lavishness which made him
conspicuous.

But Sprudell was indifferent to appearances, seeming to survey the world
at large from the height of omnipotence and it seemed to Helen that
every objectionable trait he had was exaggerated, twice enlarged under
the stimulus of this mysterious, exalted mood. His egotism loomed
colossal, he was oblivious to everything and everybody but himself, else
he could not have failed to see the growing coldness in her eyes.

Helen herself had little appetite, so while Sprudell partook of the
numerous dishes with relish she inspected him anew from the critical
viewpoint of the woman who intends to marry without love. As she
dissected him it occurred to her that Sprudell exemplified every petty
feminine prejudice she had. She disliked his small, red mouth, which had
a way of fixing itself in an expression of mawkish sentimentality when
he looked at her, and there was that in the amorous, significant light
in his infantile blue eyes which sickened her very soul. She
disapproved of his toddling walk, his fat, stooped shoulders, his spats
and general appearance of over-emphasized dapperness. The excessive
politeness, the elaborate deference which he showed her upon occasions,
exasperated her, and it was incredible, she thought, that a part in a
man's back hair should be able to arouse such violence of feeling. But
it did. She hated it. She loathed it. It was one of her very strongest
aversions. She had always hoped never even to know a man who parted his
back hair and now she was going to marry one.

She tried to imagine herself going through life making a pretense of
taking his learning and his talents seriously, of refraining carefully
from calling attention to his errors or correcting his misstatements, of
shielding him from the ridicule which his pedantry must bring upon him
when he mingled with his superiors, smoothing over smarts when he
bullied and "talked down," without convincing his adversaries--as Helen
had seen other women do. But could _she_ do it? When it came right down
to brass tacks, she asked herself, could she exchange herself, her
freedom, her individuality, all the years to come if many were spared
her, for the chance to get well and for relief from anxiety about food
and clothes and shelter?

To marry Sprudell meant immunity from freezing on street corners, from
mental and physical exhaustion, from the rebuffs which were a part of
her work and which hurt far worse than anyone guessed because she could
never regard them as impersonal. Women were making such exchanges every
day and with less excuse--for luxury or position merely--but could she
do it?

Must she grow into an old woman without a single romance in her life?
That much seemed every woman's right. What had she done that the Fates
should "have it in for her" like this? She clenched her hands under the
shelter of the tablecloth. This thing she had made up her mind to do
seemed such a horrid, sordid, vulgar end to youth and sentiment.

Sprudell meanwhile was revolving in his mind the best method of
imparting effectively and dramatically the news which was burdening him.
He considered beginning with a Latin quotation from his Vest-Pocket
Manual--"_Labor omnia vincit_"--or something like that--but ended, when
he felt the right moment had arrived, by stating the fact bluntly and
abruptly:

"I'm going to be as rich as Croesus."

Helen looked up, to see his red lower lip trembling with excitement.

"My dear," solemnly, "I shall have fabulous wealth."

Undoubtedly he was in earnest. She could see that from the intensity
shining in his eyes. Wonderingly she took the pamphlet which he withdrew
from its envelope and passed to her, watching her face eagerly as she
read.

                        PROSPECTUS OF THE BITTER ROOT
                            PLACER MINING COMPANY

proclaimed the outside page, and the frontispiece contained a picture of
seven large mules staggering up a mountain trail under a load of bullion
protected by guards carrying rifles with eight-foot barrels.

"That illustration is _my_ idea," he said proudly.

"It's very--very alluring," Helen conceded. "And you are interested?"

"Interested!" gleefully, "it's all mine! Wait till you go on."

The first paragraph of the text read:

    We have, with infinite hardship and difficulties and a large
    personal expense, secured absolute legal ownership, and physical
    possession, of eight placer claims, making 160 acres of the
    richest, unworked placer ground in the United States.

                           THE PROPERTIES

    Queen of Sheba No. 1:--Area about 15 acres.

    Section 1--600 × 300 feet. Examined by the best obtainable
    placer experts and under the most favorable conditions money
    could afford. Prospect Shaft No. L:--Through natural, clean sand
    and fine river gravel. Depth of pit 10 feet. Every foot showed
    gold in paying quantities. A four foot streak, extremely rich,
    passes through this section. Red-rock was not reached but the
    values increase with depth, as is usually true.

    Average workable depth of this section 60 ft.
    Average assay .6235 per cubic yard.
    600 × 300 × 60----400,000 cu. yds. @ .6235       $249,400
    Estimated cost of working 5 cents per cu. yd.      20,000
                                                     --------
                    Estimated Net Profit             $229,000

"That's one of the poor claims," he explained carelessly, "we probably
won't bother with it."

"The yardage of 'The Pot of Gold' and claims 'Eureka' 1 and 2 totalled
millions, while the leanest next to 'The Queen of Sheba,' yielded a net
profit of $700,000."

Then the monotony of facts and figures was varied by another
illustration showing a miner in hip-boots and a sou'wester blithely
handling a giant which threw a ten-inch stream into a sand-bank.

"I drew the rough sketch for that and the artist carried out my ideas."
Sprudell wished to convey the impression that along with his many other
gifts he possessed artistic talent, had he only chosen to develop it.

Helen read at random:

    Numerous prospect holes, cuts and trenches fully corroborate the
    value of the ground. There are rich streaks and spots yielding
    25 cts. to 50 cts. to the pan of what area the Giant alone will
    tell. Every surface foot yields gold in paying quantities. It is
    pay-dirt from the grass-roots. While we confine our estimates to
    the actual ground examined, nevertheless we are certain the real
    wealth lies on bed-rock.

    The home claim with its rustic log cabin provides a delightful
    home for those interested in the enterprise, supplying comforts
    and luxuries which money cannot purchase in large cities. Game
    and fish in greatest abundance infest its door-yard. We have
    seen fifty grouse and twenty mountain sheep within three hundred
    feet of the doorway. Bear may be had at any time for the going
    after.

    It must be borne in mind, all of these placers are the ancient
    beds of a least two separate periods of a great river,
    consequently, bed-rock will undoubtedly reveal fabulous wealth
    which cannot be uncovered in an examination. It would be useless
    to attempt to exaggerate the possibilities of these properties.
    The plain, simple facts are far more potent than unestablished
    fiction could possibly be.

    All the claims we have described represent virgin ground,
    something seldom found, now, anywhere in the U. S. There is not
    a wagon track in the whole valley. It has heretofore been too
    difficult of access to tempt capital to come in here. We have
    changed the whole situation. Our Saw-mill, which we now have in
    operation, is the wonder of the place, and is, of course, our
    salvation, for without that, of course, we could not construct
    flumes to put water upon our placer ground.

    We have partially constructed a wagon road to shorten and make
    less arduous the difficult trip into this paradise.
    Nevertheless, it is a paradise, when once within its charmed
    environments. Gold is the commonest product there.

    This is quite sufficient.

    The confidential details which accompany this prospectus will
    make known our financial requirements.

    We know we have a great fortune in sight, but, hidden away in
    the greater depths are unknown possibilities of fabulous riches,
    for this great river is noted for its richness on bed-rock.
    Millions have been taken out of its sand with the crudest
    devices.

    We have demonstrated our good faith and our confidence in the
    worth of these properties by a personal expenditure
    approximating fifty thousand dollars in cash.

    We have taken every legal precaution and necessary physical step
    to insure an absolutely safe and profitable investment.

    We are now ready, and desire, to finance a close corporation,
    with a limited capital, to operate this property on a scale
    BEFITTING ITS IMPORTANCE.

Helen closed the pamphlet and passed it back. She knew nothing of mining
and had no reason to doubt its truth or Sprudell's honesty. Not only the
facts but the magnitude of the possibilities as he had outlined them
were bewildering. He might, indeed, become as rich as Croesus and, she
thought, how like a tyrant he would use his power!

"Well?" He looked at her, exultant, gloating. For the moment he had the
appearance of a person whose every wish had been granted. His eyes
blazed with excitement, his face was crimson. Dazzled, intoxicated by
the prospect of his great wealth, he felt himself omnipotent, immune
from the consequences of rude manners and shameless selfishness, safe
from criticism among the very rich. He felt a wild, reckless impulse to
throw the cut-glass rose-vase on the floor--and pay for it.

"Well?" he repeated arrogantly. He felt so sure of her, for what woman
who earned her own living would refuse what he now could offer! He was
impatient for her to say something that would show how much she was
impressed.

And still Helen did not answer. Looking at him as he bared himself in
his transport, the realization came swiftly, unexpectedly that she could
not marry him if to refuse meant the beginning of sure starvation on the
morrow! Not because she was too honorable, too conscientious, to marry
without love in her present circumstances, but because it would be an
actual impossibility for her to marry Sprudell.

It was not a question of honor or conscience, of mental uncongeniality,
temperamental differences, or even the part in his back hair; it was, as
she realized, a case of physical repulsion pure and simple.

From her first acquaintance with him she had shrunk involuntarily from
the touch of his hand, the slightest contact; when he sat beside her in
taxicabs and at the theatre she invariably had been unpleasantly
conscious of his nearness. She was convinced now that her reluctant feet
would have refused to carry her to the altar, and her tongue to answer
according to her bidding.

If she had been less strong in her likes and dislikes, less violent in
her prejudices, she might have forced herself to dwell upon the
advantages over her present position and come to accept the situation
with something like serenity. But she was too strong a character to
adapt herself complacently to a livelong, intimate association with a
person so genuinely, so uncontrollably, physically repugnant to her as
was Sprudell.

Psychologically, it was curious--no doubt there were women in the world
who had, or did, or might, adore Sprudell; but for herself she
understood clearly now that the single kindly feeling she had for him
was the gratitude she felt she owed him.

"I congratulate you," she said finally. "It is a remarkable story--most
romantic! Money is power--there never was anything truer--Listen!" She
raised a finger. "Isn't that your name? Yes; the boy is paging you."

Sprudell ostentatiously opened the telegram which was brought to him,
secretly pleased at seeming to be thus pursued by the requirements of
his large business interests; but his frown of importance and air of a
man with weighty matters to decide was wasted upon Helen, who was
watching a lively party of men making its way to a nearby table reserved
for six.

Sprudell read:

    The original locator has beat us to the water-right. Applied by
    wire while I was snowed up. Advise making best terms possible
    with him. Letter follows.
                                                              Dill.

He looked as if some one had struck him in the face.

Helen was still watching the advancing party. She murmured, with a smile
of amusement, as Sprudell laid the telegram down:

"Here, coming in the lead, is our unfailing news supply--Winfield
Harrah. You've heard of him no doubt. Behind him, the big one--that huge
chap with the black eyes, is the mysterious Samson from the West who
whipped the 'Spanish Bull-dog.' 'The Man from the Bitter Roots' I think
they call him."

Subconsciously, Sprudell heard what she was saying and his eyes followed
hers. The start he gave caused her to turn her head quickly. His face
was more than colorless, it was chalky even to the lips.

"Burt!" He exclaimed involuntarily, "Bruce Burt!" He could have bitten
his tongue out the instant after.



XVI

"SLIM'S SISTER"


Bruce Burt! the murderer! Of all things in the world that he should be
"The Man from the Bitter Roots"--dining at the Strathmore--the guest of
Winfield Harrah! Weren't people punished for murder in the West?
Sprudell had intimated that he would hang for it. Helen's grey eyes were
big with amazement and indignation while she watched him being seated.

She saw the widening of his eyes when he recognized Sprudell, the quick
hardening of his features and the look that followed, which, if not
exactly triumph, was certainly satisfaction. Involuntarily she glanced
at Sprudell and the expression on his face held her eyes. It fascinated
her. For the moment she forgot Bruce Burt in studying him.

She thought she had read his real nature, had seen his dominant
characteristic in the blatant egotism that had shown itself so strongly
in his elation. But this was different, so different that she had a
queer feeling of sitting opposite an utter stranger. It was not dislike,
resentment, fear; it was rather a sly but savage vindictiveness, a
purposeful malice that would stop at nothing. In the unguarded moment
Sprudell's passion for revenge was stamped upon his face like a brand.
Helen had thought of him contemptuously as a bounder, a conceited
ignoramus--he was more than these things, he was a dangerous man.

But why this intense antagonism? Why should they not speak? Sprudell had
not told her of a quarrel.

"Who are those men!" he asked in an undertone, and she noticed that he
was breathing hard in an excitement he could not conceal.

As she named them in turn she saw that Bruce Burt was regarding her with
the puzzled, questioning look one gives to the person he is trying to
place.

The one stipulation which Bruce had made when he consented to meet the
"Spanish Bull-dog" was that his name should not be known in the event of
the match being mentioned in the papers; so Harrah had complied by
introducing him to his friends by any humorous appellation which
occurred to him. It proved a wise precaution, since directly Bruce's
challenge had been sent and it was known that he was Harrah's protegé,
the papers had made much of it, publishing unflattering snapshots after
he had steadily refused to let them take his picture.

It was true enough, as Helen had said, he had whipped the "Spanish
Bull-dog," loosened his tenacious grip in a feat of strength so
sensational that the next morning he had found himself featured along
with an elopement and a bank failure.

They called him "The Man from the Bitter Boots," and a staff artist
depicted him as a hairy aborigine that Winfield Harrah had had captured
to turn loose on the Spanish gladiator. Which humor Bruce did not
relish, for Sprudell's taunt that "muscle" was his only asset still
rankled.

The betting odds had been against him in the Athletic Club, for Bruce's
size ofttimes made him look clumsy, but if Bruce had a bear's great
strength he had also a bear's surprising quickness and agility. And it
was the combination which had won the victory for him. Unexpectedly, with
one of the awkward but swift movements which was characteristically
bear-like, Bruce had swooped when he saw his opening and thrown the
"Bull-dog" as he had thrown "Slim"--over his shoulder. Then he had
whirled and pinned him--both shoulders and a hip touching squarely.
There had been no room for dispute over the decision. Friends and foes
alike had cheered in frenzy, but beyond the fact that the financial help
which Harrah promised was contingent upon his success, Bruce felt no
elation. The whole thing was a humiliation to him.

But Harrah had been as good as his word. They had filed in to Bruce's
top floor room one evening--Harrah's friends headed by Harrah. They had
seemed to regard it as a lark, roosting on his bed and window-sill and
table, while Bruce dropped naturally to a seat on his heel, camp-fire
fashion, with his back against the wall, and to their amusement outlined
his proposition and drew a map of the location of his ground on the
carpet with his finger.

But they had not taken much interest in detail, they were going into it
chiefly to please Harrah. Bruce saw that clearly and it piqued him. He
felt as though his proposition, his sincerity, counted for nothing, but
while it nettled him more than ever, it put him on his mettle.

Bruce's brief acquaintance with Harrah already had opened up new vistas,
shown him unknown possibilities in life. They were sport-loving,
courteous, generous people that Harrah drew about him--merry-hearted as
those may be who are free from care--and Bruce found the inhabitants in
this new world eminently congenial. He never had realized before how
much money meant in the world "outside." It was comfort, independence,
and most of all the ability to choose, to a great extent, one's friends
instead of being forced to accept such as circumstances may thrust upon
one.

Bruce saw what anyone may see who looks facts in the face, namely, that
money is the greatest contributory factor to happiness, no matter how
comforting it may be to those who have none to assure themselves to the
contrary. There may even be doubts as to whether the majority of rich
invalids would exchange their check-books for the privilege of being
husky paupers in spite of the time-honored platitude concerning health.

Yet Bruce could not help a certain soreness that all he had fought for
so doggedly and so unavailingly came so easily as the result of a rich
man's whim.

Laughingly, with much good-humored jest, they had made up the $25,000
between them and then trailed off to Harrah's box at the opera, taking
Bruce with them, where he contributed his share to the gaiety of the
evening by observing quite seriously that the famous tenor sounded to
him like nothing so much as a bull-elk bugling.

Harrah's subscription which had headed the list had been half of his
winnings and the other half had gone to his favorite charity--The Home
For Crippled Children. "If you get in a hole and need a little more I
might dig up a few thousand," he told Bruce privately, but the others
stated plainly that they would not commit themselves to further sums or
be liable for assessments.

Bruce had gone about with Harrah since then and with so notable a
sponsor the world became suddenly a pleasant, friendly place and life
plain sailing; but now every detail had been attended to, and, eager to
begin, Bruce was leaving on the morrow, this dinner being in the nature
of a farewell party.

To see Bruce in the East and in the company of these men on top of
Dill's telegram was a culminating blow to Sprudell, as effective as
though it had been planned. Stunned at first by the loss of the
water-right which made the ground valueless, then startled, and
astonished by Bruce's unexpected appearance, all his thoughts finally
resolved themselves into a furious, overmastering desire to defeat him.
Revenge, always his first impulse when injured, was to become an
obsession. Whatever there was of magnanimity, of justice, or of honor,
in Sprudell's nature was to become poisoned by the venom of his
vindictive malice where it concerned Bruce Burt.

Bruce had altered materially in appearance since that one occasion in
his life, in Sprudell's office, when he had been conscious of his
clothes. Those he now wore were not expensive but they fitted him and
for the first time in many years he had something on his feet other than
hob-nailed miner's shoes. Also he laid aside his stetson because, as he
explained when Harrah deplored the change, he thought "it made folks
look at him." "Folks" still looked at him for even in the correct
habiliments of civilization he somehow looked picturesque and alien.
Powerfully built, tanned, with his wide, forceful gestures, his utter
lack of self-consciousness, there was stamped upon him indelibly the
freedom and broadness of the great outdoors.

He was the last person, even in that group, all of whose members were
more or less notable, who would have been suspected of a cold-blooded
murder.

Against her will Helen found herself looking at him. It seemed
unnatural; she was shocked at herself, but he attracted her
irresistibly. Her brother's murderer was handsome in a dark, serious,
unsmiling way which appealed to her strongly.

She tried to fix her attention upon the food before her, to keep up a
conversation with Sprudell, who made no pretense of listening; but just
so often as she resolved not to look again, just so often she found
herself returning Bruce Burt's questioning but respectful stare.

Helen took it for granted that his object in coming East was to meet the
"Spanish Bull-dog," but Sprudell knew better. He had seen enough of
Bruce to guess something of his fixity of purpose when aroused and
Dill's telegram confirmed it. But he had thought that, naturally, Bruce
would return to the West at once from Bartlesville to try and hold his
claims, from which, when he was ready, through a due process of law, if
necessary, Sprudell would eject him.

To find him here, perhaps already with formidable backing, for the
moment scattered Sprudell's wits, upset him; the only thing in his mind
which was fixed and real was the determination somehow to block him.

A vaguely defined plan was already forming in his mind, and he wanted to
be alone to perfect it and put it into immediate execution. Besides, he
was far from comfortable in the presence of the man who, temporarily at
least, had outwitted him, nor was he too preoccupied to observe Bruce's
obvious interest in Helen. He made the motion to go as soon as possible
and in spite of his best efforts to appear deliberate his movements were
precipitate.

Bruce found it impossible to keep his attention upon the conversation at
his own table. After his first surprise at seeing Sprudell his mind and
eyes persisted in fixing themselves upon Sprudell's companion. He could
not rid himself of the notion that somewhere he had seen her, or was it
only a resemblance? Yet surely if he ever had known a girl with a
profile like that--such hair, such eyes, such a perfect manner--he would
not have forgotten her! Was it the face of some dream-girl that had
lingered in his memory? It was puzzling, most extraordinary, but whoever
she was she looked far too nice to be dining with that--that--. His
black brows met in a frown and unconsciously his hands became fists
under the table.

He felt a sharp pang when he saw that they were preparing to go. Why
couldn't it be his luck to know a girl like that? He wondered how it
would seem to be sitting across the table from her, talking intimately.
And he found considerable satisfaction in the fact that she had not
smiled once at Sprudell during the conversation. He would not have said
that she was enjoying herself particularly.

Then she arose and the gloves in her lap fell to the floor. He had an
impulse to jump and slide for them but the waiter was ahead of him.
Sprudell looked back impatiently.

"Thank you so much." She smiled at the waiter-fellow and Bruce knew her.

Slim's sister! There was no mistaking the sweetly serious eyes, the
smiling lips with which he had grown familiar in the yellowish picture.
She was older, thinner, the youthful roundness was gone, but beyond
question she was Slim's sister!

She passed the table without a glance and in something like a panic he
watched her leave the room. He would never see her again! This was the
only chance he'd ever have. Should he sit there calmly and let it pass!
He laid his napkin on the table, and explained as he rose hastily:

"There's someone out there I must see. I'll be back, but don't wait for
me."

He did not know himself what he meant to say or do, beyond the fact that
he would speak to her even if she snubbed him.

She had stepped into the cloak room for her wrap and Sprudell was
waiting in the corridor. Immediately when he saw Bruce he guessed his
purpose and the full significance of a meeting between them rushed upon
him. He was bent desperately upon preventing it. Sprudell took the
initiative and advanced to meet him.

"If you've anything to say to me, Bruce, I'll meet you to-morrow."

"I've nothing at all to say to you except to repeat what I said to you
in Bartlesville. I told you then I thought you'd lied and now I know it.
That's Slim's sister."

"That is Miss Dunbar."

"I don't believe you."

"I'll prove it."

"Introduce me."

"It isn't necessary; besides," he sneered, "she's particular who she
knows."

"Not very," Bruce drawled, "or she wouldn't be here with you." He added
obstinately: "That's Slim's sister."

Helen came from the cloak room and stopped short at seeing Bruce and
Sprudell in conversation. Certainly this was an evening of surprises.

"Are you ready, Miss Dunbar?" Sprudell placed loud emphasis upon the
name.

She nodded.

Sprudell, who was walking to meet her, glanced back at Bruce with a
smile of malice but it was wasted upon Bruce, who was looking at the
girl. Why should there be that lurking horror and hostility in her eyes?
What had Sprudell told her? On a sudden desperate impulse and before
Sprudell could stop him, he walked up to her and asked doggedly, though
his temerity made him hot and cold:

"Why do you look at me as if I were an enemy? What has Sprudell been
telling you?"

"I forbid you to answer this fellow--" Sprudell's voice shook and his
pink face had again taken on the curious chalkiness of color which it
became under stress of feeling. Forgetting prudence, his deferential
pose, forgetting everything that he should have remembered in his rage
at Bruce's hardihood, and the fear of exposure, he shook his finger
threateningly before Helen's face.

On the instant her chin went haughtily in the air and there was a
dangerous sparkle in her eyes as she replied:

"You are presumptuous, Mr. Sprudell. Your manner is offensive--_very_."

He ignored her resentment and laid his hand none too gently upon her
arm, as though he would have turned her forcibly toward the door. The
action, the familiarity it implied, incensed her.

"Take your hand away," Helen said quietly but tensely.

"I tell you not to talk to him!" But he obeyed.

"I intend to hear what Mr. Burt has to say."

"You mean that?"

"I do."

"Then you'll listen alone," he threatened. "You can get home the best
you can."

"Suit yourself about that," Helen replied coolly. "There are taxicabs at
the door and the cars run every six minutes."

Bruce contributed cordially:

"Sprudell, you just dust along whenever you get ready."

"You'll repent this--both of you!" His voice shook with chagrin and
fury--"I'll see to that if it takes the rest of my life and my last
dollar."

Bruce warned in mock solicitude:

"Don't excite yourself, it's bad for your heart; I can tell that from
your color."

Sprudell's answer was a malignant look from one to the other.

"On the square," said Bruce ruefully when the last turn of the revolving
door had shut Sprudell into the street, "I hadn't an idea of stirring up
anything like this when I spoke to you."

"It doesn't matter," Helen answered coldly. "It will disabuse his mind
of the notion that he has any claim on me."

"It did look as though he wanted to give that impression."

Bruce was absurdly pleased to find himself alone with her, but Helen's
eyes did not soften and her voice was distant as she said, moving toward
the nearest parlor:

"If you have anything to say to me, please be brief. I must be going."

"I want to know what Sprudell has told you that you should look at me
almost as if you hated me?"

"How else would I look at the man who murdered my brother in
cold-blood."

He stared at her blankly in an astonishment too genuine to be feigned.

"I murdered your brother in cold-blood! You _are_ Slim's sister, then?"

"I'm Frederic Naudain's sister, if that's what you mean--his
half-sister."

The light of understanding grew slowly on Bruce's face. The revelation
made many things plain. The difference in the name accounted for his
inability to trace her. It was easy enough now to account for Sprudell's
violent opposition to their meeting.

"He told you that it was a premeditated murder?"

Watching him closely Helen saw that his tanned skin changed color.

She nodded.

"Why, I came East on purpose to find you!" he exclaimed. "To make
amends--"

"Amends!" she interrupted, and the cold scorn in her voice made the
perspiration start out on his forehead.

"Yes, amends," he reiterated. "I was to blame in a way, but not
entirely. Don't be any harder on me than you can help; it's not any easy
thing to talk about to--his sister."

She did not make it easier, but sat waiting in silence while he
hesitated. He was wondering how he could tell her so she would
understand, how not to shock her with the grewsome details of the story.
Through the wide archway with its draperies of gold thread and royal
purple velvet a procession of bare-shouldered, exquisitely dressed women
was passing and Bruce became suddenly conscious of the music of the
distant orchestra, of the faint odor of flowers and perfume, of
everything about him that stood for culture and civilization. How at the
antipodes was the picture he was seeing! For the moment it seemed as
though that lonely, primitive life on the river must be only a memory of
some previous existence. Then the unforgettable scene in the cabin came
back vividly and he almost shuddered, for he felt again the warm gush
over his hand and saw plainly the snarling madman striking, kicking,
while he fought to save him. He had meant to tell her delicately and
instead he blurted it out brutally.

"I made him mad and he went crazy. He came at me with the axe and I
threw him over my shoulder. He fell on the blade and cut an artery. Slim
bled to death on the floor of the cabin."

"Ugh--how horrible!" Bruce imagined she shrank from him. "But why did
you quarrel--what started it?"

Bruce hesitated; it sounded so petty--so ridiculous. He thought of the
two old partners he had known who had three bloody fights over the most
desirable place to hang a haunch of venison. "Salt," he finally forced
himself to answer.

"Sprudell told me that and I could not believe it."

She looked at him incredulously.

"We were down to a handful, and I fed it to a band of mountain-sheep
that came to the cabin. I had no business to do it."

"You said that he went crazy--do you mean actually?"

"Actually--a maniac--raving."

"Then why do you blame yourself so much?"

"Because I should have pulled out when I saw how things were going. We
had quarrelled before over trifles and I knew he would be furious. You
can't blame me more than I blame myself, Miss Dunbar. I suppose you
think they should hang me?" There was a pleading note in the question
and he wiped the perspiration from his forehead while he waited for her
answer.

She did not reply immediately but when she finally looked him squarely
in the eyes and said quietly: "No, because I believe you," Bruce thought
his heart turned over with relief and joy.

"What you have told me shows merely that he had not changed--that my
hopes for him were quite without foundation. Even as a child he had a
disposition--a temper, that was little short of diabolical. We have all
been the victims of it. I should not want to see another. He disgraced
and ruined us financially. Now," Helen said rising, "you must go back to
your friends. I'll take a taxicab home--"

"Please let me go with you. They can wait for me--or something," he
added vaguely. The thought of losing sight of her frightened him.

She shook her head.

"No--no; I won't listen to it." She gave him her hand: "I must thank you
for sending back my letter and picture."

"Sprudell gave them to you!"

"Yes, and the money."

"Money?"

"Why, yes." She looked at him inquiringly.

Just in time Bruce caught and stopped a grin that was appearing at the
thought that Sprudell had had to "dig up" the money he had returned to
him out of his own pocket.

"That's so," he agreed. "I had forgotten. But Miss Dunbar," eagerly. "I
must see you on business. Your brother left property that _may_ be
valuable."

"Property? Mr. Sprudell did not mention it."

"I suppose it slipped his mind," Bruce answered drily. "You'll give me
your address and let me come to-morrow?"

"Will you mind coming early--at nine in the morning?"

"Mind! I'll be sitting on the steps at sunrise if you say so," Bruce
answered heartily.

How young she looked--how like the little girl of the picture when she
laughed! Bruce looked at his watch as he returned to his party to see
how many hours it would be before nine in the morning.

                 *       *       *       *       *

The shabbiness of the hotel where Helen lived surprised him. It was
worse than his own. She had looked so exceptionally well-dressed the
previous evening he had supposed that what she called ruin was
comparative affluence, for Bruce had not yet learned that clothes are
unsafe standards by which to judge the resources of city folks, just as
on the plains and in the mountains faded overalls and a ragged shirt are
equally untrustworthy guides to a man's financial rating. And the musty
odor that met him in the gloomy hallway--he felt how she must loathe it.
He had wondered at the early hour she'd set but when Helen came down she
quickly explained.

"I must leave here at half past and if you have not finished what you
have to say I thought you might walk with me to the office."

"The office?" It shocked him that she should have to go to an _office_,
that she had hours, that anybody should have a claim upon her time by
paying for it.

Quizzically:

"Did you think I was an heiress!"

"Last night you looked as though you might be." His tone told her of his
admiration.

"Relics of past greatness," Helen replied smiling. "A remodelled gown
that was my mother's. One good street suit at a time and a blouse or two
is the best I can do. I am merely a wonderful bluff in the evening."

Bruce felt that it was a sore spot although she was smiling, and he
could not help being glad, for it meant she needed him. If he had found
her in prosperous circumstances the success or failure of the placer
would have meant very little to her. He _must_ succeed, he told himself
exuberantly; his incentive now was to make her life happier and easier.

"If everything goes this summer as I hope--and expect--" he said slowly,
"you need not be a 'bluff' at any hour of the day."

Her eyes widened.

"What do you mean?"

Then Bruce described the ground that he and Slim had located. He told of
his confidence in it, of his efforts to raise the money to develop it,
and the means by which he had accomplished it. Encouraged by her
intelligent interest he talked with eager enthusiasm of his plans for
working it, describing mercury traps, and undercurrents, discussing the
comparative merits of pole and block, Hungarian and caribou rifles. Once
he was well started it seemed to him that he must have been saving up
things all his life to tell to this girl. He talked almost breathlessly
as though he had much to say and an appallingly short time to say it in.

He told her about his friend, Old Felix, and about the "sassy" blue-jays
and the darting kingfisher that nested in the cut-bank where he worked,
of the bush-birds that shared his sour-dough bread. He tried to picture
to her the black bear lumbering over the river bowlders to the service
berry bush across the river, where he stood on his hind legs, cramming
his mouth and watching over his shoulder, looking like a funny little
man in baggy trousers. He told her of his hero, the great Agassiz, of
his mother, of whom even yet he could not speak without a break in his
voice, and of his father, as he remembered him, harsh, silent,
interested only in his cattle.

It dawned upon Bruce suddenly that he had been talking about
himself--babbling for nearly an hour.

"Why haven't you stopped me?" he demanded, pausing in the middle of a
sentence and coloring to his hair. "I've been prattling like an old
soldier, telling war stories in a Home. What's got into me?"

Helen laughed aloud at his dismay.

"Honest," he assured her ruefully, "I never broke out like this before.
And the worst of it is that I know with the least encouragement from you
I'll start again. I never wanted to talk so much in my life. I'm
ransacking my brain this very minute to see if there's anything else I
know that I haven't told you. Oh, yes, there is," he exclaimed putting
his hand inside his coat, "there's some more money coming to you from
Slim--I forgot to tell you. It isn't a great deal but--" he laid in her
hand the bank-notes Sprudell had been obliged to give him in
Bartlesville after having denied finding her.

Helen looked from the money to Bruce in surprised inquiry:

"But Mr. Sprudell has already given me what Freddie left."

"Oh, this is another matter--a collection I made for him after Sprudell
left," he replied glibly. It was considerable satisfaction to think that
Sprudell had had to pay for his perfidy and she would benefit by it.

The last thing that Helen had expected to do was to cry, but the money
meant so much to her just then; her relief was so great that the tears
welled into her eyes. She bit her lip hard but they kept coming, and,
mortified at such an exhibition, she laid her arm on the back of the
worn plush sofa and hid her face.

Tears, however embarrassing, have a way of breaking down barriers and
Bruce impulsively took in his the other hand that lay in her lap.

"What is it, Miss Dunbar? Won't you tell me? If you only knew how proud
and happy I should be to have you talk to me frankly. You can't imagine
how I've looked forward to being allowed to do something for you. It
means everything to me--far more than to you."

Bruce remembered having seen his mother cry, through homesickness and
loneliness, softly, uncomplainingly, as she went about her work in the
ugly frame house back there on the bleak prairie. And he remembered the
roars of rage in which Peroxide Louise had voiced her jealousy. But he
had seen few women cry, and now he was so sorry for her that it hurt
him--he felt as though someone had laid a hand upon his heart and
squeezed it.

"It's relief, I suppose," she said brokenly. "It's disgusting that money
should be so important."

"And do you need it so badly?" Bruce asked gravely.

"I need it if I am to go on living." And she told him of the doctor's
warning.

"You must go away at once." Brace's voice was sharp with anxiety. "I
wish you could come West," he added wistfully.

"I'd love it, but it is out of the question; it's too far--too
expensive."

Bruce's black eyebrows came together. His poverty had never seemed so
galling, so humiliating.

"I must go." She got up quickly. "I'm late. Do my eyes look very badly?"

"They're all right." He turned abruptly for his hat. He knew that if he
looked an instant longer he should kiss her! What was the matter with
him anyhow? he asked himself for the second time. Was he getting
maudlin? Not content with talking a strange girl to death he would put
on the finishing touch by kissing her. It was high time he was getting
back to the mountains!

He walked with her to the office, wishing with all his heart that the
blocks were each a mile long, and in his fear lest he miss a single word
she had to say he pushed divers pedestrians out of his way with so
little ceremony that only his size saved him from unpleasant
consequences.

It was incredible and absurd that he should find it so hard to say
good-bye to a girl he had just met, but when they reached the steps it
was not until he had exhausted every infantile excuse he could think of
for detaining her just an instant longer that he finally said
reluctantly:

"I suppose you must go, but--" he hesitated; it seemed a tremendous
thing to ask of her because it meant so much to him--"I'd like to write
to you if you'd answer my letter. Pardners always write to each other,
you know." He was smiling, but Helen was almost startled by the wistful
earnestness in his eyes. "I'd like to know how it feels," he added, "to
draw something in the mail besides a mail-order catalogue--to have
something to look forward to."

"To be sure--we _are_ partners, aren't we?"

"I've had a good many but I never had one I liked better." Bruce replied
with such fervor that Helen felt herself coloring.

"I don't like being a _silent_ partner," she returned lightly. "I wish I
could do my share. I'm even afraid to say I'll pray for your success
for, to the present, I've never made a prayer that's been answered.
But," and she sobered, "I want to tell you I _do_ believe in you. It's
like a fairy tale--too wonderful and good to be true--but I'm going to
bank on it and whatever happens now--no matter how disagreeable--I shall
be telling myself that it is of no importance for in a few months my
hard times will all be done."

Bruce took the hand she gave him and looked deep into her eyes.

"I'll try--with all my might," he said huskily, and in his heart the
simple promise was a vow.

He watched her as she ran up the steps and disappeared inside the wide
doors of the office building--resenting again the thought that she had
"hours"--that she had to work for pay. If all went well--if there were
no accidents or miscalculations--he should be able to see her again
by--certainly by October. What a long time half a year was when a person
came to think of it! What a lot of hours there were in six months! Bruce
sighed as he turned away.

He looked up to meet the vacant gaze of a nondescript person lounging on
the curbing. It was the fourth or fifth time that morning he thought he
had seen that same blank face.

"Is this town full of twins and triplets in battered derbies?" Bruce
asked himself, eying the idler sharply as he passed, "or is that hombre
tagging me around?"



XVII

A PRACTICAL MAN


Bruce's thoughts were a jumble of dynamos and motors, direct and
alternating currents, volts and amperes, when James J. Jennings'
papier-mache suitcase hit him in the shins in the lobby of a hotel which
was headquarters for mining men in the somnolent city on the Pacific
coast.

Jennings promptly dropped the suitcase and thrust out a hand which
still had ground into the knuckles oil and smudge acquired while helping
put up a power-plant in Alaska.

"Where did you come from--what are you doing here?" Bruce had seen him
last in Alberta.

"Been up in the North Country, but"--James lifted a remarkable upper lip
in a shy grin of ecstasy--"I aims to git married and stay in the
States."

"Shoo--you don't say so!" Bruce exclaimed, properly surprised and
congratulatory.

"Yep," he beamed, then dropped, as he added mournfully, "So fur I've had
awful bad luck with my wives; they allus die or quit me."

Bruce ventured the hope that his luck might change with this, his
last--and as Jennings explained--fifth venture.

"I kinda think it will," the prospective bridegroom declared hopefully.
"Bertha looks--er--lasty. But what about you?--I never knew you'd even
saw a city."

"I'm a sure enough Sourdough," Bruce admitted, "but I did stray out of
the timber. Register, and I'll tell you all about it--maybe you can
help me."

Jennings, Bruce commented mentally as he watched him walk to the desk,
was not exactly the person he would have singled out as the hero of five
serious romances. Even five years before, in the Kootnai country,
Jennings had been no matinee idol and Time had not been lenient.

He had bent knees, protuberant, that seemed to wobble. A horseman would
have called him knee-sprung and declared he stumbled. His back was
stooped so his outline was the letter S, and _CARE_ was written in
capitals on his corrugated brow. No railroad president with a strike on
ever wore a heavier air of responsibility, though the suitcase which
gave out an empty rattle contained James's earthly all. His teeth were
yellow fangs and his complexion suggested a bad case of San José scale,
but his distinctive feature was a long elastic upper lip which he had a
habit of puffing out like a bear pouting in a trap. Yet James's physical
imperfections had been no handicap, as was proved by the fact that he
was paying alimony into two households and the bride on the horizon was
contemplating matrimony with an enthusiasm equal to his own.

While Jennings breakfasted Bruce told him the purpose of his visit to
the Pacific coast, hoping that out of the wide experience with machinery
which Jennings claimed he might make some useful suggestions; besides
Bruce found it a relief to talk the situation over with someone he had
known.

"I don't pretend to know the first thing about electrical machinery," he
said frankly, "I only know the results I want--that I must have. I've
got to rely on the judgment and honesty of others and there's such a
diversity of opinion that I tell you, Jennings, I'm scared to death lest
I make a mistake. And I can't afford to make a mistake. I've left myself
no margin for mistakes, every dollar has got to count."

"There's one thing you want to remember when you're workin' in an
isolated country, and that's the need of strength--strength and
simplicity. These new-fangled--"

Bruce interrupted eagerly--

"My idea exactly--durability. If anything breaks down there that can't
he repaired on the place it means laying off the crew from a month to
six weeks while the parts are going in and out to the factory."

Jennings nodded.

"That's it--that's why I say strength above everything." Nearly half a
century of frying-pan bread had given Jennings indigestion and now as he
sipped his hot water he pondered, bursting out finally--"If I was you,
Burt, I'll tell you what I'd do, I'd install the old type Edison
machines for that very reason. You can't break 'em with a trip hammer.
They're so simple a kid can run 'em. There's nothin' about 'em to git
out of repair onct they're up. If you aim to work that ground with
scrapers, I'll tell you now it's goin' to be a big drag on the motors.
Of course they're a little bit heavier than these new-fangled--"

"But the agents tell me these newer and lighter machines will stand it."

Jennings blew out his elastic upper lip and shrugged a shoulder:

"Maybe they know more than I do--maybe they do, but it's to their
interest to talk 'em up, ain't it? I'm no college electrician--I'm a
practical man and I been around machinery nigh to fifty years, so I
know them old-fashioned motors. They'll stand an overload, and take my
word for it they'll git it on them scrapers. These new-fangled machines
will stand jest about what they're rated at and you can't tell me
anything differenter. _I_ say them old type Edison machines is the thing
for rough work in that kind of a country. Ain't I seen what they can do
on drudgers? Besides, you can pick 'em up for half the price and as good
as new with a little repairin'."

"I wonder if they _would_ do the work," Bruce murmured to himself
thoughtfully.

"What interest would I have in tellin' you if they wouldn't?" Jennings
demanded.

"I didn't mean that the way it sounded," Bruce assured him quickly. "I
was thinking that if they would do the work and I could save something
on the price of machinery I'd sure breathe easier."

"Do the work!" scornfully. "You can pull off a chunk of mountain with a
good donkey-engine and them motors. Why, on the drudgers up here in
Alasky--"

"Do you know where you can get hold of any of these machines?"

"I think I do," Jennings reflected. "Before I went down North I knowed
where they was a couple if they ain't been sold."

"Suppose you look them up and find out their condition--will you do this
for me?"

"Bet I will, old man, I'd like to see you make a go of it. I gotta show
up at Bertha's, then I'll run right out and look 'em over and report
this evenin'."

Jennings kept his word and when Bruce saw him cross the office with a
spray of lilies-of-the-valley in his buttonhole and stepping like an
English cob he guessed that he either had been successful or his call
upon Bertha had been eminently satisfactory. He was correct, it proved,
in both surmises.

"They're there yet" he announced with elation, "in good shape, too. The
motors need re-winding and there's some other little tinkerin', but
aside from that--say, my boy, you're lucky--nearly as lucky as I am. I
tell you I'm goin' to git a great little woman!"

"Glad to hear it, Jennings. But about this machinery, what's it going to
weigh? I don't know that I told you but I mean to take it down the
river."

"Bad water?"

"It's no mill-pond," Bruce answered dryly, "full of rapids." Jennings
looked a little startled, and Bruce added:

"The weight is a mighty important feature."

Jennings hesitated.

"The dynamos will weigh close to 22,000 pounds, and the whole 55,000
pounds approximately."

"They weigh a-plenty," Bruce looked thoughtful, "but I reckon I can
bring them if I must. And there's no doubt about the must, as a wagon
road in there would cost $20,000."

As the outcome of the chance meeting Bruce bought the machines upon
Jennings's recommendation with a saving of much money and Jennings
furthermore was engaged to make the necessary repairs and install the
plant on the river. It was a load off Bruce's mind to feel that this
part of the work was safe in the hands of a practical, experienced man
accustomed to coping with the emergencies which arise when working far
from transportation facilities.

Once this was settled there was nothing more for Bruce to do in the
city and a great deal to be done upon the river, so he bade good-bye to
Jennings and left immediately.

On the journey from the Pacific coast to Spokane the gritting of the
car-wheels was a song of success, of achievement. Bruce felt himself
alive to the finger-tips with the joy of at last being busy at something
worth while. He looked back upon the times when he had thought himself
happy with profound pity for his ignorance.

When he had stretched himself at night on his mattress of pine-boughs
with his head on the bear-grass pillow watching through the cabin window
the moon rise out of the "draw" where Big Squaw creek headed, he had
thought that he was happy. When he had found a bit of float that
"panned," a ledge that held possibilities, or the yellow flakes had
shown up thicker than usual in the day's clean-up he had called this
satisfaction, the momentary exhilaration, happiness. When he had landed
a battling "red-side" after a struggle and later thrust his fork through
the crisp, brown skin into its steaming pink flesh he had characterized
that animal contentment such as any clod might have, as happiness. Poor
fool, he told himself now, he had not known the meaning of the word.

His day dreams had taken on a different color. His goal was always
before him and this goal was represented by the hour when the machinery
in the power and pump houses was running smoothly, when a head of water
was flowing through the flume and sluice-boxes and the scrapers were
handling 1000 cubic yards a day. As he stared through the window at the
flying landscape he saw, not the orchards and wheat fields of the great
state of Washington, but quicksilver lying thick with amalgam behind
the riffles and the scales sagging with precious, yellow, honey-combed
chunks of gold still hot from the retort.

Sometimes he found himself anticipating the moment when he should be
telegraphing the amount of the clean-up to Helen Dunbar, to Harrah, and
to Harrah's good-naturedly pessimistic friends. Bruce ransacked his
brain for somebody in the world to envy, but there was no one.

He had gone directly to the river from the East, taking a surveyor with
him, and as soon as his application for the water-right in Big Squaw
creek had been granted he got a crew together composed chiefly of the
magnates from Ore City who, owing to Dill's failure to take up the
options, found themselves still at leisure and the financial depression
unrelieved.

Ore City nursed a grievance against Dill that was some sorer than a
carbuncle and it relieved its feelings by inventing punishments should
he ever return to the camp which in ingenuity rivalled the tortures of
the Inquisition. Bruce, too, often speculated concerning Dill, for it
looked as though he had purposely betrayed Sprudell's interest.
Certainly a man of his mining experience knew better than to make
locations in the snow and to pass assessment work which was obviously
inadequate. From Sprudell, Bruce had heard nothing and engrossed in his
new activities all but forgot him and his treachery, his insults and
mysterious threats of vengeance.

Before leaving for the Pacific coast to buy machinery, Bruce had mapped
out for the crew the work to be done in his absence and now, upon his
return, he found great changes had come to the quiet bar on the river.
There was a kitchen where Toy reigned, an arbitrary monarch, and a long
bunk-house built of lumber sawed by an old-fashioned water-wheel which
itself had been laboriously whip-sawed from heavy logs. Across the river
the men were straining and lifting and tugging on the green timbers for
the 500 feet of trestle which the survey demanded in order to get the
200-feet head that was necessary to develop the 250 horse-power needed
for the pumps and scrapers.

Bruce was not long in exchanging the clothes of civilization for the
recognized uniform of the miner, and in flannel shirt and overalls he
toiled side by side with Porcupine Jim, Lannigan and the other local
celebrities on his pay-roll, who by heroic exertions were pushing the
trestle foot by foot across Big Squaw creek.

The position of General Manager as Bruce interpreted it was no sinecure.
A General Manager who worked was an anomaly, something unheard of in the
district where the title carried with it the time-honored prerogative of
sitting in the shade issuing orders, sustained and soothed by an
unfailing supply of liquid refreshment.

And while the crew wondered, they criticised--not through any lack of
regard for Bruce but merely from habit and the secret belief that
whatever he did they could have done better. In their hours of
relaxation it was their wont to go over his plans for working the
ground, so far as they knew them, and explain to each other carefully
and in detail how it was impossible for Bruce with the kind of a "rig"
he was putting in, to handle enough dirt to wash out a breast-pin. Yet
they toiled none the less faithfully for these dispiriting
conversations, doing the work of horses, often to the point of
exhaustion.

When the trestle was well along Bruce commenced sawing lumber for the
half mile of flume which was to bring the water from the head-gate
across the trestle to the pressure-box above the power-house. He sawed
in such frenzy of haste--for there was so much to do and so little time
to do it in--and with such concentration that when he raised his eyes
the air seemed full of two by fours, and bottoms. When he closed them at
night he saw "inch stuff," and bottoms. When he dreamed, it was of
saw-logs, battens and bottoms.

Spring came unmistakably and Bruce waited anxiously for word from
Jennings that the repairs had been made and the machinery was on its way
to Meadows--the mountain town one hundred and fifty miles above where
the barges would be built and loaded for their hazardous journey.

As the sun grew stronger daily Bruce began to watch the river with
increasing anxiety. He wondered if he had made it clear to Jennings that
delay, the difference of a week, might mean a year's postponement. The
period nearest approaching safety was when the river was at the middle
stage of the spring rise--about eight feet above low water. After it had
passed this point only the utterly foolhardy would have attempted it.

Bruce's nerves were at a tension as the days went by and he saw the
great green snake swelling with the coming of warmer weather. Inch by
inch the water crept up the sides of "Old Turtle-back," the huge glazed
rock that rose defiantly, splitting the current in the middle. A few hot
suns would melt the snowbanks in the mountains to send the river
thundering between its banks until the very earth trembled, and its
navigation was unthinkable.

The telegram came finally, and Bruce's relief was so great that, as
little as he liked him, he could almost have embraced Smaltz, the man
who brought the news that the machinery was boxed and on its way to
Meadows.

"Thank God, _that_ worry's over!" Bruce ejaculated as he read it, and
Smaltz lingered. "I may get a night's sleep now instead of lying awake
listening to the river."

"Oh, the machinery's started?"

Bruce had an impression that he already knew the contents of the
telegram in spite of his air of innocence and his question.

"Yes," he nodded briefly.

"Say,--me and Porcupine Jim been talkin' it over and wonderin' if we'd
pay our own way around so it wouldn't cost the Company nothin', if you'd
let us come down with a boat from Meadows?"

"Can you handle a sweep?"

"Can I?" Smaltz sniggered. "Try me!"

Bruce looked at him a moment before he answered. He was wondering why
the very sight of Smaltz irritated him. He was the only man of the crew
that he disliked thoroughly. His boastful speech, his swaggering walk, a
veiled insolence in his eyes and manner made Bruce itch to send him up
the hill for good, but since Smaltz was unquestionably the best
all-round man he had, he would not allow himself to be influenced by his
personal prejudices. While he boasted he had yet to fail to make good
his boastings and the tattered credentials he had displayed when he had
asked for work were of the best. When he asserted now that he could
handle a sweep it was fairly certain that he could not only handle one
but handle it well. Porcupine Jim, Bruce knew, had had some experience,
so there was no good reason why he should not let them go since they
were anxious.

"I've engaged the front sweepman for the other two boats," Bruce said
finally, "but if you and Jim want to take a hind sweep each and will
promise to obey orders I guess there's no objection."

"Surest thing you know," Smaltz answered in the fresh tone that rasped
Bruce. "An' much obliged. Anything to git a chanst to shoot them rapids.
I'd do it if I wasn't gittin' nothin' out of it just for the fun of it."

"It won't look like fun to me with all I'll have at stake," said Bruce
soberly.

"Aw--don't worry--we kin cut her." Smaltz tossed the assurance back
airily as he walked away, looking sharply to the right and left over his
shoulder. It was a habit he had, Bruce often had noticed it, along with
a fashion of stepping quickly around corners, peering and craning his
neck as if perpetually on the alert for something or somebody. "You act
like some feller that's 'done time'--or orter. I'll bet a hundred to one
you know how to make horsehair bridles," Woods, the carpenter, had once
told him pointedly, and the criticism had voiced Bruce's own thoughts.

In the mail which Smaltz had brought down from Ore City was a letter
from Helen Dunbar. It was the second he had had and he told himself as
he tore it open eagerly that it had come none too soon, for the first
one was well nigh worn out. He could not get over the surprise of
discovering how many readings three or four pages of scraggly
handwriting will stand without loss of interest.

Now, as he tried to grasp it all in a glance, the friendliness of it,
the confidence and encouragement it contained made him glow. But at the
end there was a paragraph which startled him--always the fly in the
ointment--that gave rise to a vague uneasiness he could not immediately
shake off.

"I ran up to the city one day last week," the paragraph read, "and who
do you suppose I saw with Winfield Harrah in the lobby of the Hotel
Strathmore? You would never guess. None other than our versatile friend
T. Victor Sprudell!"

How did they meet? For what purpose had Sprudell sought Harrah's
acquaintance? It troubled as well as puzzled Bruce for he could not
think the meeting an accident because even he could see that Harrah and
Sprudell moved in widely different stratas of society.



XVIII

PROPHETS OF EVIL


The difference between success and failure is sometimes only a hair's
breadth, the turning of a hand, and although the man who loses is
frequently as deserving of commendation as the man who wins he seldom
receives it, and Bruce knew that this would be particularly true of his
attempt to shoot the dangerous rapids of the river with heavily loaded
boats. If he accomplished the feat he would be lauded as a marvel of
nerve and skill and shrewdness, if he failed he would be known in the
terse language of Meadows as "One crazy damn fool."

While the more conservative citizens of the mountain towns refrained
from publicly expressing their thoughts, a coterie known as the "Old
Timers" left him in no doubt as to their own opinion of the attempt.
Each day they came to the river bank as regularly as though they had
office-hours and stationed themselves on a pile of lumber near where
Bruce caulked and tarred the seams of the three boats which were to make
the first trip through the rapids. They made Bruce think of so many
ancient ravens, as they roosted in a row croaking disaster. By the time
the machinery was due to arrive they spoke of the wreck of the boats as
something foreordained and settled. They differed only as to where it
would happen.

"I really doubts, Burt, if you so much as git through the Pine-Crick
rapids."

"No?"

"I mind the time Jake Hazlett and his crew was drowned at the 'Wild
Goose.' It seems the coroner was already there a settin' on a corp' that
had come up in the eddy. 'Go on through, boys!' he hollers to 'em, 'I'll
wait for you down below. It'll save me another trip from Medders'."

Bruce worked on, apparently unperturbed by these discouraging
reminiscences.

"They say they's a place down there where the river's so narrow it's bent
over," volunteered a third pessimist, as he cut an artistic initial in a
plank with the skill of long practice. "And you'll go through the Black
Canyon like a bat out o' hell. But I has no notion whatsoever that
you'll ever come up when you hits that waterfall on the other end. When
her nose dips under, heavy-loaded like that, she'll sink and fill right
thar. Why--"

"Do you rickolect," quavered a spry young cub of eighty-two who talked
of the Civil War and the Nez Perce uprising as though they were the
events of yesterday, "do you remember the time 'Death-on-the-Trail' lost
his hull outfit tryin' to git through the 'Devil's Teeth'? The idee of
an old feller like him startin' out alone! Why he was all of seventy."

"An' the time 'Starvation Bill' turned over at Proctors's Falls?"
chortled another. "Fritz Yandell said the river was full of
grub--cracker cans, prunes and the like o' that, for clost to a week. I
never grieved much to hear of an accident to him for we'd had a railroad
in here twenty years ago if it hadn't been for Bill. The survey outfit
took him along for helper and he et up all the grub, so the Injin guide
quit 'em cold and they couldn't go on. I allus hoped he'd starve to
death somm'eres, but after a spell of sickness from swallerin' a
ham-bone, he died tryin' to eat six dozen aigs on a bet."

"Talkin' of Fritz Yandell--he told me he fished him a compass and
transit out'n the river after them Governmint Yellow-Legs wrecked on
Butcher's Bar." The speaker added cheerfully: "Since the Whites come
into the country I reckon all told you could count the boats that's got
through without trouble on the fingers of one hand. If these boats was
goin' empty I'd say 'all right--you're liable to make it,' but sunk deep
in the water with six or eight thousand pounds--Burt, you orter have
your head examined."

But Bruce refused to let himself think of accident. He knew water, he
could handle a sweep; he meant to take every precaution and he could, he
_must_ get through.

The river was rising rapidly now, not an inch at a time but inches, for
the days were warmer--warm enough to start rivulets running from
sheltered snowbanks in the mountains. Daily the distance increased from
shore to shore. Sprawling trees, driftwood, carcasses, the year's
rubbish from draws and gulches, swept by on the broad bosom of the
yellow flood. The half-submerged willows were bending in the current and
water-mark after water-mark disappeared on the bridge piles.

Bruce had not realized that the days of waiting had stretched his nerves
to such a tension until he learned that the freight had really come. He
felt for a moment as though the burdens of the world had been suddenly
rolled from his shoulders. His relief was short-lived. It changed to
consternation when he saw the last of the machinery piled upon the bank
for loading. It weighed not fifty thousand pounds but all of
ninety--nearer a hundred! Dumfounded for the moment, he did not see how
he could take it. The saving that he had made on the purchase price was
eaten up by the extra weight owing to the excessive freight rates from
the coast and on the branch line to Meadows. More than that, Jennings
had disobeyed his explicit orders to box the smaller parts of each
machine together. All had been thrown in the car helter-skelter.

Not since he had raged at "Slim" had Bruce been so furious, but there
was little time to indulge his temper for there was now an extra boat to
build upon which he must trust Smaltz as front sweepman.

They all worked early and late, building the extra barge, dividing the
weight and loading the unwieldy machinery, but the best they could do,
counting four boats to a trip instead of three, each barge drew from
eight to twelve inches of water.

Though he gave no outward sign and went on stubbornly, the undertaking
under such conditions--even to Bruce--looked foolhardy, while the
croakings of the "Old Timers" rose to a wail of lamentation.

The last nail was driven and the last piece loaded and Bruce and his
boatmen stood on the banks at dusk looking at the four barges, securely
tied with bow and stern lines riding on the rising flood. Thirty-seven
feet long they were, five feet high, eight feet wide while the sweeps
were of two young fir trees over six inches in diameter and twenty feet
in length. A twelve foot plank formed the blade which was bolted
obliquely to one end and the whole balanced on a pin. They were clumsy
looking enough, these flat-bottomed barges, but the only type of boat
that could ride the rough water and skim the rocks so menacingly close
to the surface.

"There's nothin' left to do now but say our prayers." Smaltz's
jocularity broke the silence.

"My wife hasn't quit snifflin' since she heard the weight I was goin' to
take," said Saunders, the boatman upon whom Bruce counted most. "If I
hadn't promised I don't know as I'd take the risk. I wouldn't, as it is,
for anybody else, but I know what it means to you."

"And I sure hate to ask it," said Bruce answered gravely. "If anything
happens I'll never forgive myself."

"Well--we can only do the best we can--and hope," said Saunders. "The
water's as near right as it ever will be; and I wouldn't worry if it
wasn't for the load."

"To-morrow at eight, boys, and be prompt. Every hour is counting from
now on, with two more trips to make."

Bruce walked slowly up the street and went to his room, too tired and
depressed for conversation down below. The weigh-bill from the
station-agent was even worse than he had expected; and the question
which he asked himself over and over was whether Jennings's
under-estimation of the weight was deliberate misrepresentation or bad
figuring? Whatever the cause the costly error had shaken his faith in
Jennings.

Bruce was asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. The last thing
he remembered was Smaltz's raucous voice in the bar-room below boasting
of the wicked rapids he had shot in the tumultuous "Colo-rady" and on
the Stikine in the far north.

The noise of the bar-room ceased at an early hour and the little
mountain town grew quiet but Bruce was not conscious of the change. It
was midnight--and long past--well toward morning when in the sleep which
had been so profound he heard his mother calling, calling in the same
dear, sweet way that she used to call him when, tired out with following
his father on long rides, he had overslept in the morning.

"Bruce! Bruce-boy! Up-adaisy!"

He stirred uneasily and imagined that he answered.

The voice came again and there was pleading in the shrill, staccato
notes:

"Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!"

The cry from dreamland roused his consciousness at last. He sat up
startled. There was no thought in his mind but the boats--the boats! In
seconds, not minutes, he was in his clothes and stumbling down the dark
stairway. There was something ghostly in the hollow echo of his
footsteps on the plank sidewalk as he ran through the main street of the
still village.

He saw that one boat was gone from its mooring before he reached the
bank! He could see plainly the space where it had been. The other boats
were safe--but the fourth--. He stopped short on the bank for one brief
second weak with relief. The fourth barge, which was holding it
temporarily. The water by some miracle it had jammed against the third
barge which was holding it temporarily. The water was slapping against
the side that was turned to the stream and the other was bumping,
bumping against the stern of the third boat but the loose barge was
working a little closer to the current with each bump. A matter of five
minutes more at the most and it would have been started on its journey
to destruction.

Bruce sprang to the stern of the third barge and dragged the loose
bow-line from the water. It was shorter by many feet--the stout, new
rope had been cut! It was not necessary to strike a match--the starlight
was sufficient to show him that. He stared at it, unable to credit his
own eyes. He scrambled over the machinery to the stern. The stern-line
was the same--cut square and clean. If further evidence was needed, it
was furnished by the severed portion, which was still tied around a
bush.

There was no more sleep for Bruce that night. Bewildered, dumfounded by
the discovery, he rolled himself in a "tarp" and laid down on the boat's
platform. So far as he knew he had not an enemy in the town. There
seemed absolutely no reasonable explanation for the act.



XIX

AT THE BIG MALLARD


The sun rose the next morning upon an eventful day in Bruce's life. He
was backing his judgment--or was it only his mulish obstinacy?--against
the conviction of the community. He knew that if it had not been for
their personal friendship for himself the married men among his boatmen
would have backed out. There was excitement and tension in the air.

The wide, yellow river was running like a mill-race, bending the
willows, lapping hungrily at the crumbling shore. The bank was black
with groups of people, tearful wives and whimpering children, lugubrious
neighbors, pessimistic citizens. Bruce called the men together and
assigned each boat its place in line. Beyond explicit orders that no
boatman should attempt to pass another and the barges must be kept a
safe distance apart, he gave few instructions, for they had only to
follow his lead.

"But if you see I'm in trouble, follow Saunders, who's second. And, Jim,
do exactly as Smaltz tells you--you'll be on the hind sweep in the third
boat with him."

In addition to a head and hind sweepman each barge carried a bailer, for
there were rapids where at any stage of the water a boat partially
filled. The men now silently took their places and Bruce on his platform
gripped the sweep-handle and nodded--

"Cast off."

The barge drifted a little distance slowly, then faster; the current
caught it and it started on its journey like some great swift-swimming
bird. As he glided into the shadow of the bridge Saunders started;
before he turned the bend Smaltz was waving his farewells, and as
Meadows vanished from his sight the fourth boat, the heaviest loaded,
was on its way. Bruce drew a deep breath, rest was behind him, the next
three days would be hours of almost continual anxiety and strain.

The forenoon of the first day was comparatively easy going, though there
were places enough for an amateur to wreck; but the real battle with the
river began at the Pine Creek Rapids--the battle that no experienced
boatman ever was rash enough to prophesy the result. The sinister
stream, with its rapids and whirlpools, its waterfalls and dangerous
channel-rocks, had claimed countless victims in the old days of the gold
rush and there were years together since the white people had settled
at Meadows that no boat had gone even a third of its length. Wherever
the name of the river was known its ill-fame went with it, and those
feared it most who knew it best. Only the inexperienced, those too
unfamiliar with water to recognize its perils so long as nothing
happened, spoke lightly of its dangers.

Above the Pine Creek Rapids, Bruce swung into an eddy to tie up for
lunch; besides, he wanted to see how Smaltz handled his sweep. Smaltz
came on, grinning, and Porcupine Jim, bare-headed, his yellow pompadour
shining in the sun like corn-silk, responded instantly to every order
with a stroke. They were working together perfectly, Bruce noted with
relief, and the landing Smaltz made in the eddy was quite as good as the
one he had made himself.

Once more Bruce had to admit that if Smaltz boasted he always made good
his boast. He believed there was little doubt but that he was equal to
the work.

An ominous roar was coming from the rapids, a continuous rumble like
thunder far back in the hills. It was not the most cheerful sound by
which to eat and the meal was brief. The gravity of the boatmen who knew
the river was contagious and the grin faded gradually from Smaltz's
face.

Life preservers were dragged out within easy reach, the sweepmen
replaced their boots with rubber-soled canvas ties and cleared their
platform of every nail and splinter. When all were ready, Bruce swung
off his hat and laid both hands upon his sweep.

"Throw off the lines," he said quietly and his black eyes took on a
steady shine.

There was something creepy, portentous, in the seemingly deliberate
quietness with which the boat crept from the still water of the eddy
toward the channel.

The bailer in the stern changed color and no one spoke. There was an
occasional ripple against the side of the boat but save for that distant
roar no other sound broke the strained stillness. Bruce crouched over
his sweep like some huge cat, a cougar waiting to grapple with an enemy
as wily and as formidable as himself. The boat slipped forward with a
kind of stealth and then the current caught it.

Faster it moved, then faster and faster. The rocks and bushes at the
water's edge flew by. The sound was now a steady boom! boom! growing
louder with every heart-beat, until it was like the indescribable roar
of a cloudburst in a canyon--an avalanche of water dropping from a great
height.

The boat was racing now with a speed which made the flying rocks and
foliage along the shore a blur--racing toward a white stretch of
churning spray and foam that reached as far down the river as it was
possible to see. From the water which dashed itself to whiteness against
the rocks there still came the mighty boom! boom! which had put fear
into many a heart.

The barge was leaping toward it as though drawn by the invisible force
of some great suction pump. The hind sweepman gripped the handle of the
sweep until his knuckles went white and Bruce over his shoulder watched
the wild water with a jaw set and rigid.

The heavy barge seemed to pause for an instant on the edge of a
precipice with half her length in mid-air before her bow dropped heavily
into a curve of water that was like the hollow of a great green shell.
The roar that followed was deafening. The sheet of water that broke over
the boat for an instant shut out the sun. Then she came up like a clumsy
Newfoundland, with the water streaming from the platform and swishing
through the machinery, and all on board drenched to the skin.

Bruce stood at his post unshaken, throwing his great strength on the
sweep this way and that--endeavoring to keep it in the centre of the
current--in the middle of the tortuous channel through which the boat
was racing like mad. And the hind-sweepman, doing his part, responded,
with all the weight of body and strength he possessed, to Bruce's
low-voiced orders almost before they had left his lips.

Quick and tremendous action was imperative for there were places where a
single instant's tardiness meant destruction. There was no time in that
mad rush to rectify mistakes. A miscalculation, a stroke of the sweep
too little or too much, would send the heavily loaded boat with that
tremendous, terrifying force behind it, crashing and splintering on a
rock like a flimsy-bottomed strawberry box.

For all of seven miles Bruce never lifted his eyes, straining them as he
wielded his sweep for the deceptive, submerged granite boulders over
which the water slid in a thin sheet. Immovable, tense, he steered with
the sureness of knowledge and grim determination until the boat ceased
to leap and ahead lay a little stretch of peace.

Then he turned and looked at the lolling tongues behind him that seemed
still reaching for the boat and straightening up he shook his fist:

"You didn't get me that time, dog-gone you, and what's more you won't!"

All three boats were coming, rearing and plunging, disappearing and
reappearing. Anxiously he watched Smaltz work until a bend of the river
shut them all from sight. It was many miles before the river
straightened out again but when it did he saw them all riding safely,
with Smaltz holding his place in line.

Stretches of white water came at frequent intervals all day but Bruce
slept on the platform of his barge that night more soundly than he ever
had dared hope. Each hour that passed, each rapid that they put behind
them, was so much done; he was so much nearer his goal.

On the second night when they tied up, with the Devil's Teeth, the Black
Canyon and the Whiplash passed in safety, Bruce felt almost secure,
although the rapid that he dreaded most remained for the third and last
day.

The boatmen stood, a silent group, at The Big Mallard. "She's a bad one,
boys--and looking wicked as I've ever seen her." There was a furrow of
anxiety between Bruce's heavy brows.

Every grave face was a shade paler and Porcupine Jim's eyes looked like
two blue buttons sewed on white paper as he stared.

"I wish I was back in Meennyso-ta." The unimaginative Swede's voice was
plaintive.

"We dare not risk the other channel, Saunders," said Bruce briefly, "the
water's hardly up enough for that."

"I don't believe we could make it," Saunders answered; "it's too long a
chance."

Smaltz was studying the rocks and current intently, as though to impress
upon his mind every twist and turn. His face was serious but he made no
comment and walked back in silence to the eddy above where the boats
were tied.

It was the only rapid where they had stopped to "look out the trail
ahead," but a peculiarity of the Big Mallard was that the channel
changed with the varying stages of the water and it was too dangerous at
any stage to trust to luck.

It was a stretch of water not easy to describe. Words seem
colorless--inadequate to convey the picture it presented or the sense of
awe it inspired. Looking at it from among the boulders on the shore it
seemed the last degree of madness for human beings to pit their
Lilliputian strength against that racing, thundering flood. Certain it
was that The Big Mallard was the supreme test of courage and
boatmanship.

The river, running like a mill-race, shot straight and smooth down grade
until it reached a high, sharp, jutting ledge of granite, where it made
a sharp turn. The main current made a close swirl and then fairly
leaping took a sudden rush for a narrow passageway between two great
boulders, one of which rose close to shore and the other nearer the
centre of the river. The latter being covered thinly with a sheet of
water which shot over it to drop into a dark hole like a well, rising
again to strike another rock immediately below and curve back. For three
hundred yards or more the river seethed and boiled, a stretch of roaring
whiteness, as though its growing fury had culminated in this foaming fit
of rage, and from it came uncanny sounds like children crying, women
screaming.

Bruce's eyes were shining brilliantly with the excitement of the
desperate game ahead when he put into the river, but nothing could
exceed the carefulness, the caution with which he worked his boat out of
the eddy so that when the current caught it it should catch it right.
Watching the landmarks on either shore, measuring distances, calculating
the consequences of each stroke, he placed the clumsy barge where he
would have it, with all the accurate skill of a good billiard player
making a shot.

The boat reached the edge of the current; then it caught it full. With a
jump like a race-horse at the signal it was shooting down the toboggan
slide of water toward the jutting granite ledge. The blanched bailer in
the stern could have touched it with his hand as the boat whipped around
the corner, clearing it by so small a margin that it seemed to him his
heart stood still.

Bruce's muscles turned to steel as he gripped the sweep handle for the
last mad rush. He looked the personification of human daring. The wind
blew his hair straight back. The joy of battle blazed in his eyes. His
face was alight with a reckless exultation. But powerful, fearless as he
was, it did not seem as though it were within the range of human skill
or possibilities to place a boat in that toboggan slide of water so that
it would cut the current diagonally, miss the rock nearest shore and
shoot across to miss the channel boulder and that yawning hole beneath.
But he did, though he skimmed the wide-mouthed well so close that the
bailer stared into its dark depths with bulging eyes.

The boat leaped in the spray below, but the worst was passed and Bruce
and his hind sweepman exchanged the swift smile of satisfaction which
men have for each other at such a time.

"Keep her steady--straight away." He had not dared yet to lift his eyes
to look behind save for that one glance.

"My God! they're comin' right together!"

The sharp cry from the hind sweepman made him turn. They had rounded the
ledge abreast and Smaltz's boat inside was crowding Saunders hard.
Saunders and his helper were working with superhuman strength to throw
the boat into the outer channel in the fraction of time before it
started on the final shoot. Could they do it! could they! Bruce felt his
lungs--his heart--something inside him hurt with his sharp intake of
breath as he watched that desperate battle whose loss meant not only
sunk machinery but very likely death.

Bruce's hands were still full getting his own boat to safety. He dared
not look too long behind.

"They're goin' to make it! They're almost through! They're safe!"
Then--shrilly--"They're gone! they've lost a sweep."

Bruce turned quickly at his helper's cry of consternation, turned to see
the hind-sweep wildly threshing the air while the boat spun around and
around in the boiling water, disappearing, reappearing, sinking a little
lower with each plunge. Then, at the risk of having every rib crushed
in, they saw the bailer throw his body across the sweep and hold it down
before it quite leaped from its pin. The hind-sweepman was scrambling
wildly to reach and hold the handle as it beat the air. He got it--held
it for a second--then it was wrenched out of his hand. He tried again
and again before he held it, but finally Bruce said huskily----

"They'll make it--they'll make it sure if Saunders can hold her a little
longer off the rocks."

His own boat had reached quieter water. Simultaneously, it seemed, both
he and his helper thought of Smaltz. They took their eyes from the boat
in trouble and the hind-sweepman's jaw dropped. He said
unemotionally--dully--as he might have said--"I'm sick; I'm
hungry"--"They've struck."

Yes--they had struck. If Bruce had not been so absorbed he might have
heard the bottom splintering when she hit the rock.

Her bow shot high into the air and settled at the stern. As she slid
off, tilted, filled and sunk, Smaltz and Porcupine Jim both jumped. Then
the river made a bend which shut it all from Bruce's sight. It was half
a mile before he found a landing. He tied up and walked back, unexcited,
not hurrying, with a curious quietness inside.

Smaltz and Jim were fighting when he got there. Smaltz was sitting
astride the latter's chest. There were epithets and recriminations,
accusations, counter-charges, oaths. The Swede was crying and a little
stream of red was trickling toward his ear. Bruce eyed him calmly,
contemplatively, thinking what a face he made, and how ludicrous he
looked with the sand matted in his corn-silk hair and covering him like
a tamale casing of corn-meal as it stuck to his wet clothes.

He left them and walked up the river where the rock rose like a monument
to his hopes. With his hands on his hips he watched the water rippling
around it, slipping over the spot where the boat lay buried with some
portion of every machine upon the works while like a bolt from the blue
the knowledge came to him that since the old Edison type was obsolete
the factories no longer made duplicates of the parts.



XX

"THE FORLORN HOPE"


It was August. "Old Turtle-back" was showing up at the diggin's and the
river would reach low water-mark with less than half a foot.

Pole in hand, big John Johnson of the crew stood on the rocking raft
anchored below The Big Mallard and opposite the rock where the boat had
sunk and smiled his solemn smile at Bruce.

"Don't know but what we ought to name her and break a bottle of ketchup
over the bow of this here craft a'fore we la'nch her."

"The Forlorn Hope, The Last Chance, or something appropriate like that,"
Bruce suggested, although there was too much truth in the jest for him
to smile. This attempt to recover the sunken boat was literally that. If
it was gone, he was done. His work, all that he had been through, was
wasted effort; the whole an expensive fiasco proving that the majority
are sometimes right.

The suspense which Bruce had been under for more than two months would
soon be ended one way or the other. Day and night it seemed to him he
had thought of little else than the fate of the sunken boat. His brain
was tired with conjecturing as to what had happened to her when the
water had reached its flood. Had the force of it shoved her into deeper
water? Had the sand which the water carried at that period filled and
covered her? Had the current wrenched her to pieces and imbedded the
machinery deep in the sediment and mud?

Questioning his own judgment, doubtful as to whether he was right or
wrong, he had gone on with the work as though the machinery was to be
recovered, yet all the time he was filled with sickening doubts. But it
seemed as though his inborn tenacity of purpose, his mulish obstinacy,
would not let him quit, driving him on to finish the flume and trestle
40 feet high with every green log and timber snaked in and put in place
by hand; to finish the pressure box and penstock and the 200 feet of
pipe-line riveted on the broiling hillside when the metal was almost too
hot to touch with the bare hand. The foundation of the power house was
ready for the machinery and the Pelton water-wheel had been installed.
It had taken time and money and grimy sweat. Was it all in vain?

Asking himself the question for which ten minutes at most would find the
answer Bruce sprang upon the tilting raft and nodded--

"Shove off."

As Bruce balanced himself on the raft while the Swede poled slowly
toward the rock that now arose from the water the size of a small house,
he was thankful that the face can be made at times to serve as so good a
mask. Not for the world would he have had John Johnson guess how afraid
he was, how actually scared to death when the raft bumped against the
huge brown rock and he knew that he must look over the side.

Holding the raft steady, Johnson kept his eyes on Bruce's face as he
peered into the river and searched the bottom. Not a muscle of Bruce's
face moved nor an eyelid flickered in the tense silence. Then he said
quietly--

"John, she's gone."

A look of sympathy softened the Swede's homely face.

Bruce straightened up.

"Gone!" he reiterated--"gone."

Johnson might guess a little but he could never guess the whole of the
despair which seemed to crush Bruce like an overwhelming weight as he
stood looking at the sun shining upon the back of the twisting green
snake of a river that he had thought he could beat; Johnson never had
risked and lost anybody's money but his own, he never had allowed a
woman he loved to build her hopes upon his judgment and success. To have
failed so quickly and so completely--oh, the mortification of it! the
chagrin!

Finally Johnson said gently:

"Guess we might as well go back."

Bruce winced. It reminded him what going back meant. To discharge the
crew and telegraph his failure to Helen Dunbar, Harrah and the rest,
then to watch the lumber dry out and the cracks widen in the flume, the
rust take the machinery and the water-wheel go to ruin--_that's_ what
going back meant--taking up his lonely, pointless life where he had left
it off, growing morbid, eccentric, like the other failures sulking in
the hills.

"There were parts of two dynamos, one 50 horse-power motor, a keeper, and
a field, beside the fly-wheel in the boat." Bruce looked absently at
Johnson but he was talking to himself. "I wonder, I wonder"--a gleam of
hope lit up his face--"John, go up to Fritz Yandell's and borrow that
compass that he fished out of the river."

Johnson looked puzzled but started in a hurry. In an hour or so he was
back, still puzzled; compasses he thought were for people who were lost.

"It's only a chance, John, another forlorn hope, but there's magnetic
iron in those dynamos and the needle might show it if we can get above
the boat."

Johnson's friendly eye shone instantly with interest. Starting from the
spot of the wreck, he poled slowly down the river, keeping in line with
the rock. Ten, twenty, thirty--fifty feet below the rock they poled and
the needle did not waver from the north.

"She'd go to pieces before she ever travelled this far." The glimmer of
hope in Bruce's eyes had died. "Either the needle won't locate her or
she's drifted into the channel. If that's the case we'll never get her
out."

Then Johnson poled back and forth, zig-zagging from bank to bank,
covering every foot of space, and still the needle hung steadfastly to
its place.

They were all of fifty feet from where the boat had sunk and some forty
feet from shore when Bruce cried sharply:

"Hold her steady! Wait!"

The needle wavered--agitated unmistakably--then the parts of the dynamos
and the motor in the boat dragged the reluctant point of steel slowly,
flutteringly, but surely, from its affinity, the magnetic North.

Bruce gulped at something in his throat before he spoke----

"John, we've GOT her!"

"I _see_ her!" Johnson executed a kind of dance on the rocking raft.
"Lookee," he pointed into the exasperatingly dense water, "see her
there--like a shadow--her bow is shoved up four--five feet above her
stern. Got her?"

Bruce nodded, then they looked at each other joyfully, and Bruce
remembered afterward that they had giggled hysterically like two boys.

"The water'll drop a foot yet," Bruce said excitedly. "Can you dive?"

"First cousin to a musk-rat," the Swede declared.

"We'll build a raft like a hollow square, use a tripod and bring up the
chain blocks. What we can't raise with a grappling-hook, we'll go after.
John, we're going to get it--every piece!"

"Bet yer life we'll get her!" John cried responsively, "if I has to git
drunk to do it and stand to my neck in water for a week."



XXI

TOY


Bruce paused in the blithesome task of packing six by eights to look at
the machinery which lay like a pile of junk on the river bank. Each time
he passed he looked at it and always he felt the same hot impatience and
burning sense of irritation.

The days, the weeks, months were going by and nothing moved.

Two months Jennings had named as the maximum of time required to set up
the machines and have the plant in working order. "We'll be throwin'
dirt by the middle of July," he had said, confidently, and it was now
close to the middle of September. The lost machinery was no longer an
excuse, as every piece had been recovered by grappling and diving, and
landed safely at the diggin's.

Twice the whole crew save Jennings had dragged a heavy barge fifteen
miles up the river, advancing only a pull at a time against the strong
current, windlassing over the rapids with big John Johnson poling like
mad to keep the boat off the rocks; sleeping at night in wet clothing,
waking stiff and jaded as stage horses to go at it again. Six days they
had been getting up, and a little over an hour coming down, while two
trips had been necessary owing to the low stage of the water, which now
made the running of a deeply loaded boat impossible. It had been a
severe test of endurance and loyalty in which none had fallen short and
no one among them had worked with more tireless energy than Smaltz, or
his erstwhile friend but present enemy, Porcupine Jim.

There was amazingly little damage done to the submerged machinery, and
when the last bit of iron was unloaded on the bank, the years which had
come upon Bruce in the weeks of strain and tension seemed to roll away.
Unless some fresh calamity happened, by September, surely, they would be
"throwing dirt."

Now, as Bruce changed the lumber from the raw spot on his right shoulder
to the raw spot on his left shoulder he was wondering how much more of a
chance was due Jennings, how much longer he could hold his tongue. A
more extended acquaintance with his "practical man" had taught him how
easily a virtue may become a fault.

In his insistence upon solidity and exactitude he went beyond the point
of careful workmanship and became a putterer. He was the King of
Putterers. He could out-putter a plumber. And when he had finished it
was usually some unimportant piece of work that any man who handled
tools could have done as well in half the time.

Bruce had a favorite bush, thick, and a safe distance from the work,
behind which it was his wont to retire at such times as the sight of
Jennings puttering while the crew under him stood idle, became too much
for Bruce's nerves:

"He'd break the Bank of England!" Bruce would exclaim in a vehement
whisper behind the bush. "If he'd been on the pay-roll of Rameses II,
they'd have dug up his work intact. It's fierce! As sure as shooting I'm
going to run out of money."

Yet so long as Jennings _was_ in charge, Bruce would not listen to
attacks upon him behind his back, and Jennings had succeeded in
antagonizing almost all the crew. With the same regularity that the sun
rose he and Woods, the carpenter, had their daily set-to, if over
nothing more important than the mislaying of a file or saw--no doubt
they were at it now.

Bruce sighed. It seemed eons ago that he had had time to watch the
kingfisher flying to his nest or the water-ousel ducking and teetering
sociably at his feet. They never came any more, neither they nor the
black bear to his service-berry bush and Old Felix had learned in one
bitter lesson how his confidence in man had been misplaced. Nothing came
any more but annoyances, trouble, and thinking of trouble. Bruce
wondered what was the matter with Toy. He had looked as grim and
forbidding at breakfast as a Chinese god of war.

But it was no time to speculate, with a load of lumber grinding into his
sore shoulder, so Bruce hurried on across the slippery foot-log and up a
steep pitch to see the carpenter charging through the brush brandishing
a saw as if it was a sabre.

"I want my 'time,'" he shouted when he saw Bruce. "Him or me has got to
quit. I won't work with that feller--I won't take orders from the likes
o' him! I never saw a man from Oregon yit that was worth the powder to
blow him up! Half-baked, no-account fakirs, the whole lot of 'em--allus
a hirin' for somethin' they cain't do! Middle West renegades! Poor white
trash! Oregon is the New Jersey of the Pacific coast; it's the Missoury
of the West. It ought to be throwed into some other state and its name
wiped off the map. That there Jennings has got the ear-marks of Oregon
printed on him like a governmint stamp. Every time I see that putterin'
web-foot's tracks in the dust it makes me hot. He don't know how to put
up this plant no mor'n I do and you'll find it out. If an Oregonian'd be
offered a job teachin' dead languages in a college he'd make a bluff at
doin' it if he couldn't write his own name. Why them 'web-feet'--"

"Just what in particular is the matter?" Bruce asked, as the carpenter
paused, not for want of verbal ammunition but because he was out of
breath.

"Matter!" panted Woods, "he's got us strainin' our life out puttin' up
them green four-by-eight's when they's no need. They'd carry a ocean
cable, them cross-arms would. Four-by-fives is big enough for all the
wire that'll be strung here. John Johnson jest fell out'n a tree a
liftin' and like to broke a lung."

"Do you feel sure that four-by-five's are strong enough?"

"Try it--that's all I ask."

"You'd better come back to work."

The carpenter hesitated.

"I don't like to quit when you need me, but," he waved the rip-saw in a
significant gesture, "if that Oregonian gives me any more back-talk I
aims to cut him up in chunks."

It was the first time Bruce had countermanded one of Jennings's orders
but now he backed Woods up. He had shared the carpenter's opinion that
four-by-five's were strong enough but he had said nothing, supposing
that Jennings was following precedent and knew what he was about. Woods,
too, had voiced a suspicion which kept rising in his mind as to whether
Jennings _did_ know how to put up the machines. Was it possible that the
unimportant detail work which Jennings insisted upon doing personally in
order that it might be exactly right, was only a subterfuge to put off
as long as possible the day when the showdown must come? Was it in his
mind to draw his generous wages as long as he safely might then invent
some plausible excuse to quit?

Bruce was not a fool but neither was he apt to be suspicious of a person
he had no good reason to mistrust. He had made every allowance for
Jennings' slowness, but his bank account was rapidly reaching a stage
where, even if he would, he could no longer humor Jennings' mania for
solidity. _Something_ had to move, and, taking Jennings aside, Bruce
told him so.

The look which darkened Jennings's face when his instructions to Woods
were countermanded surprised Bruce. It was more than chagrin, it
was--ugly. It prejudiced Bruce against him as all his puttering had
failed to do. The correctness or incorrectness of his contention
concerning the cross-arm seemed of less importance than the fact that
Bruce's interference had impaired his dignity--belittled him in the eyes
of the crew.

"Am I the constructin' ingineer, or ain't I? If I am, I'm entitled to
some respect." More than ever Jennings looked like a bear pouting in a
trap.

"What's your dignity got to do with it?" Bruce demanded. "I'm General
Manager, when it comes to that, and I've been packing cross-arms like a
mule. This is no time to talk about what's due you--_get results_. This
pay-roll can't go on forever, Jennings. There's an end. At this rate
it'll come quick. You know what the success of this proposition means to
me--my first, and, I beg of you don't putter any more; get busy and put
up those machines. You say that 50 horse-power motor has got to be
rewound--"

"One man can't work on that alone," Jennings interrupted in a surly
tone. "I can't do anything on it until that other electrician comes in."

"Get Smaltz to help you."

"Smaltz! What does he know. Him holding out for them four-be-five
cross-arms shows what he knows."

"Sometimes I think he knows a good deal more than he lets on."

"Don't you think it," Jennings sneered. "He don't know _half_ as much as
he lets on. Jest one of them rovin' windjammers pickin' up a little
smatterin' here and there. Run a power-house in the Coeur d'Alenes.
Huh--what's that! This here feller that I got comin' is a 'lectrical
genius. He's worked with me on drudgers, and I know."

Glaring at the victorious carpenter who, being human, sent back a grin,
Jennings went to the power-house, mumbling to the last that
"four-be-five's" would never hold.

"I think I go now I think."

"Toy!"

The old Chinaman at his elbow was dressed for travelling in a clean but
unironed shirt; and his shoes had been newly hobbed. His round, black
hat was pulled down purposefully as far as his ears would permit. All
his possessions were stuffed into his best overalls with the legs tied
around his waist and the pair of attached suspenders worn over his
shoulders so that at first glance he presented the startling appearance
of carrying a headless corpse pick-a-back.

Bruce looked at him in astonishment. He would as soon have thought of
thus suddenly losing his right arm.

The Chinaman's yellow face was impassive, his snuff-brown eyes quite
blank.

"I go now," he repeated.

"But Toy--" There are a special set of sensations which accompany the
announcement of the departure of cooks, Bruce felt distinctly when his
heart hit his boots. To be without a cook just now was more than an
annoyance--it was a tragedy--but mostly it was the Chinaman's
ingratitude that hurt.

"I go," was the stubborn answer.

Bruce knew the tone.

"All right--go," he answered coldly, "but first I want you to tell me
why."

A flame of anger leaped into Toy's eyes; his whole face worked; he was
stirred to the centre of his being.

"She kick on me!" he hissed. "She say I no can cook!"

Instantly Bruce understood. Jennings's bride had been guilty of the one
unforgivable offense. His own eyes flashed.

"Tell her to keep out of the kitchen."

Toy shook his head.

"I no likee her; I no stay."

"Won't you stay if I ask you as a favor?"

The Chinaman reiterated in his stubborn monotone:

"She kick on my glub; I no likee her; I no stay."

"You're going to put me in an awful hole, Toy, if you go."

"She want my job, I think. All light--I no care."

Bruce knew him too well to argue. The Chinaman could see only one thing,
and that loomed colossal. He had been insulted; his dignity would not
permit him even to breathe under the same roof with a woman who said he
could not cook. He turned away abruptly and jogged down the trail with
the overalls stuffed with his possessions bobbing ludicrously on his
back.

Heavy-hearted Bruce watched him go. If Toy had forgotten that he owed
him for his life he would not remind him, but he had thought that the
Chinaman's gratitude was deeper than this, although, it was true, he
never had thanked him or indicated in any way that he realized or
appreciated what Bruce had done. Nevertheless Bruce had believed that in
his way Toy was fond of him, that deep under his yellow skin there was
loyalty and a passive, undemonstrative affection. Obviously there was
none. He was no different from other Chinamen, it seemed--the white man
and his country were only means to an end.

Bruce would not have believed that anybody with oblique eyes and a
shingled queue could have hurt him so. Of the three men he had
befriended, two had turned the knife in him. He wondered cynically how
soon he would hear from Uncle Bill.



XXII

THE GENERAL MANAGER


Jennings and Woods were now sworn enemies and the stringing of the wires
became a matter of intense interest, as this was the test which would
prove the truth or fallacy of Jennings' cantankerous harping that the
cross-arms were too light.

In isolated camps where there is no outside diversion such tests of
opinion become momentous matters, and the present instance was no
exception. Mrs. Jennings, too, had taken sides--her husband's,
naturally--and the anti-Jennings faction was made to realize fully the
possibilities for revenge which lie within the jurisdiction of the cook.

The alacrity with which Jennings's bride stepped into Toy's shoes
convinced Bruce that the Chinaman had been correct in his assertion, but
he was helpless in the circumstances, and accepted the inevitable, being
able for the first time to understand why there are wife-beaters.

Jennings had opined that his bride was "lasty." She looked it. "Bertha"
stood six feet in her moccasins and lifted a sack of flour as the weaker
of her sex toy with a fan. She had an undershot jaw and a nose so
retroussé that the crew asserted it was possible to observe the
convolutions of her brain and see what she had planned for the next
meal. Be that as it may, Bertha had them cowed to a man, with the
possible exception of Porcupine Jim, whose hide no mere sarcasm could
penetrate. There was general envy of the temerity which enabled Jim to
ask for more biscuits when the plate was empty. Even Smaltz shrank
involuntarily when she came toward him with her mouth on the bias and a
look in her deep-set eyes which said that she would as soon, or sooner,
pour the steaming contents of the coffee-pot down the back of his neck
than in his cup, while Woods averred that "Doc" Tanner who fasted forty
days didn't have anything on him.

Nobody but Jennings shared Bertha's hallucination that she could cook,
and he was the recipient of special dishes, such delicacies as
cup-custard, and toast. This in no wise added to Jennings's popularity
with the crew and when Bruce suggested as much to the unblushing bride
she told him, with arms akimbo and her heels well planted some three
feet apart, that if they "didn't like it let 'em come and tell her so."

Bertha was looking like a gargoyle when the men filed in for supper the
night before the stringing of the wires was to begin. The fact that men
antagonistic to her husband dared walk in before her eyes and eat,
seemed like bravado, a challenge, and filled her with such black
resentment that Bruce trembled for the carpenter when she hovered over
him like a Fury, with a platter of bacon.

Woods, too, felt his peril, and intrepid soul though he was, seemed to
contract, withdraw like a turtle into his flannel collar, as though
already he felt the sizzling grease on his unprotected pate.

Conversation was at a standstill in the atmosphere charged with Bertha's
disapproval. Only Porcupine Jim, quite unconscious, unabashed, heaped
his plate and ate with all the loud abandon of a Berkshire Red.
Emboldened by the pangs of hunger a long way from satisfied, John
Johnson tried to "palm" a fourth biscuit while surreptitiously reaching
for a third. Unfortunately John was not sufficiently practised in the
art of legerdemain and the biscuit slipped from his fingers. It fell off
the table and rolled like a cartwheel to Bertha's feet.

"Shan't I bring you in the shovel, Mr. Johnson?" she inquired in a tone
of deadly politeness as she polished the biscuit on her lip and returned
it to the plate.

John's ears flamed, also his neck and face. The honest Swede looked like
a sheep-killing dog caught in the act. He dared not answer, and she
added:

"There's three apiece."

"Mrs. Jennings, I haven't put the camp on half-rations yet." Bruce was
mutinous at last.

The bride drew herself up and reared back from the waist-line until she
looked all of seven feet tall. The row of short locks that hung down
like a row of fish-hooks beneath a knob of black hair seemed to stand
out straight and the window rattled in its casing as she swarmed down on
Bruce.

"Look a here, young feller, I don't need no boss to tell me how much to
cook!"

Jennings protested mildly:

"Now don't you go and git upset, Babe."

"Babe" turned upon him savagely:

"And don't you go to takin' sides! I'm used to livin' good an' when I
think what I give up to come down here to this hole--"

"I know 'taint what you're used to," Jennings agreed in a conciliatory
tone.

Smaltz took this occasion to ostentatiously inspect a confection the
upper and lower crusts of which stuck together like two pieces of
adhesive plaster.

"Looks like somebudy's been high-gradin' this here pie."

The criticism might have touched even a mild-tempered cook; it made a
demon of Bertha. She started around the table with the obvious intention
of doing Smaltz bodily harm, but at the moment, Porcupine Jim, whose
roving eye had been searching the table for more food, lighted upon one
of the special dishes set before Jennings' plate.

It _looked_ like rice pudding with raisins in it! If there was one
delicacy which appealed to James's palate more than another it was rice
pudding with raisins in it. He arose from the bench in all the pristine
splendor of the orange-colored cotton undershirt in which he worked and
dined, and reached for the pudding. It was a considerable distance and
he was unable to reach it by merely stretching himself over the table,
so James, unhampered by the rules of etiquette prescribed by a finical
Society, put his knee on the table and buried his thumb in the pudding
as he dragged it toward him by the rim.

Without warning he sat down so hard and so suddenly that his feet flew
up and kicked the table underneath.

"Leggo!" he gurgled.

For answer Bertha took another twist around the stout neck-band of his
orange undergarment.

"I'll learn you rough-necks some manners!" she panted. "I'll git the
respect that's comin' to a lady if I have to clean out this here camp!"

"You quit, now!" He rolled a pair of wild, beseeching eyes around the
table. "Somebudy take her off!"

"Coward--to fight a woman!" She fell back with a section of James's
shirt in one hand, with the other reaching for his hair.

He clapped the crook of his elbow over his ear and started to slide
under the table when the special Providence that looks after Swedes
intervened. A long, plump, shining bull-snake took that particular
moment to slip off one of the log beams and bounce on the bride's head.

She threw herself on Jennings emitting sounds like forty catamounts tied
in a bag. The flying crew jammed in the doorway, burst through and never
stopped to look behind until they were well outside.

"Hy-sterics," said the carpenter who was married--"she's took a fit."

"Hydrophoby--she must a bit herself!" Porcupine Jim was vigorously
massaging his neck.

The bride was sitting on the floor beating her heels, when Bruce put his
head in the door cautiously:

"If there's anything I can do--"

Bertha renewed her screams at sight of him.

"They is--" she shrieked--"Git out!"

"You don't want to go near 'em when they're in a tantrum," advised the
carpenter in an experienced tone. "But that's about the hardest one I
ever see."

Jennings, staggering manfully under his burden, bore the hysterical
Amazon to her tent and it remained for Bruce to do her work.

"That's a devil of a job for a General Manager," commented John Johnson
sympathetically, as he stood in the doorway watching Bruce, with his
sleeves rolled up, scraping assiduously at the bottom of a frying-pan.

Bruce smiled grimly but made no reply. He had been thinking the same
thing himself.

Bruce often had watched an ant trying to move a bread-crumb many times
its size, pushing with all its feet braced, rushing it with its head,
backing off and considering and going at it again. Failing, running
frantically around in front to drag and pull and tug. Trying it this way
and that, stopping to rest for an instant then tackling it in fresh
frenzy--and getting nowhere, until, out of pity, he gave it a lift.

Bruce felt that this power-plant was his bread-crumb, and tug and push
and struggle as he would he could not make it budge. The thought, too,
was becoming a conviction that Jennings, who should have helped him
push, was riding on the other side.

"I wouldn't even mind his riding," Bruce said to himself ironically, "if
he wouldn't drag his feet."

He was hoping with all his heart that the much discussed cross-arms
would hold, for when the wires were up and stretched across the river he
would feel that the bread-crumb had at least _moved_.

When Bruce crossed to the work the next morning, the "come-along" was
clamped to the transmission wire and hooked to the block-and-tackle.
Naturally Jennings had charge of the stretching of the wire and he
selected Smaltz as his assistant.

All the crew, intensely interested in the test, stood around as
Jennings, taciturn and sour and addressing no one but Smaltz, puttered
about his preparations.

Finally he cried:

"Ready-O!"

The wire tightened and the slack disappeared under Smaltz's steady pull.
The carpenter and the crew watched the cross-arm anxiously as the strain
came upon it under the taut wire. Their faces brightened as it held.

Smaltz looked at Jennings quizzically.

"More?"

"You ain't heard me tell you yet to stop," was the snarling answer.

"Here goes, then." Smaltz's face wore an expressive grin as he put his
strength on the rope of the block-and-tackle, which gave him the pull of
a four-horse team.

Bruce heard the cross-arm splinter as he came up the trail through the
brush.

Jennings turned to Woods and said offensively:

"Old as you are, I guess I kin learn you somethin' yet."

The carpenter's face had turned white. With a gesture Bruce stopped his
belligerent advance.

"Try the next one, Jennings," he said quietly.

Once more the slack was taken up and the wire grew taut--so taut it
would have twanged like a fiddle-string if it had been struck. Jennings
did not give Smaltz the sign to stop even when the cross-arm cracked.
Without a word of protest Bruce watched the stout four-by-five splinter
and drop off.

"There--you see--I told you so! I knowed!" Jennings looked triumphantly
at the carpenter as he spoke. Then, turning to the crew: "Knock 'em
off--every one. _Now_ I'll do it right!"

Not a man moved and for an instant Bruce dared not trust himself to
speak. When he did speak it was in a tone that made Jennings look up
startled:

"You'll come across the river and get your time." His surprise was
genuine as Bruce went on--"Do you imagine," he asked savagely, trying to
steady his voice, "that I haven't intelligence enough to know that
you've got to allow for the swaying of the trees in the wind, for the
contraction and expansion of heat and cold, for the weight of snow and
sleet? Do you think I haven't brains enough to see when you're
deliberately destroying another man's work? I've been trying to make
myself believe in you--believe that in spite of your faults you were
honest. Now I know that you've been drawing pay for months for work you
don't know how to do. I can't see any difference between you and any
common thief who takes what doesn't belong to him. Right here you quit!
Vamoose!" Bruce made a sweeping gesture--"You go up that hill as quick
as the Lord will let you."



XXIII

"GOOD ENOUGH"


"Alf" Banule, the electrical genius for whom Jennings had sent to help
him rewind an armature and who therefore had taken Jennings's place as
constructing engineer, had the distinction of being the only person
Bruce had ever seen who could remove his socks without taking off his
shoes. He accomplished the feat with ease for the reason that there were
never any toes in the aforesaid shoes. As he himself said, he would have
been a tall man if there had not been so much of him turned up at the
end.

The only way he was able to wear shoes at all, save those made to order,
was to cut out the toes; the same applied to his socks, and the exposed
portion of his bare feet had not that dimpled pinkness which moves poets
to song. From the rear, Banule's shoes looked like two bobsleds going
down hill, and from the front the effect of the loose soles was that of
two great mouths opening and closing. Yet he skimmed the river boulders
at amazing speed, seeming to find no inconvenience in the flap-flapping
of the loose leather as he leaped from rock to rock.

In contrast to his yawning shoes and a pair of trousers the original
shade of which was a matter of uncertainty, together with a black satine
shirt whose color made change unnecessary, was a stylish Tyrolese
hat--green felt--with a butterfly bow perched jauntily on one side. And
underneath this stylishness there was a prematurely bald head covered
with smudges of machine grease which it could readily be believed were
souvenirs of his apprentice days in the machine shop. If indifference to
appearance be a mark of genius it would be impossible to deny Banule's
claim to the title.

He was the direct antithesis of Jennings, harnessed lightning in
clothes, working early and late. He flew at the machinery like a madman,
yelling for wrenches, and rivets and bolts, chiselling, and soldering,
and oiling, until the fly-wheel was on its shaft in the power-house, and
the dynamos, dragged at top speed from the river-bank, no longer looked
like a pile of junk. The switchboard went up, and the pressure gauge,
and the wiring for the power-house light. But for all Bruce's relief at
seeing things moving, he had a feeling of uneasiness lest there was too
much haste. "Good enough--that's good enough!" were the words oftenest
on Banule's lips. They filled Bruce with vague forebodings, misgivings,
and he came to feel a flash of irritation each time the genius said
airily: "Oh, that's good enough."

Bruce warned him often--"Don't slight your work--do it right if it takes
twice as long."

Banule always made the same cheering answer: "Don't worry, everything is
going fine; in less than a month we'll be generating 'juice'." And Bruce
tried to find comfort in the assurance.

When Bruce pulled the lever which opened the valve, and heard the hiss
of the water when it shot from the nozzle and hit the wheel, and watched
the belt, and shaft, and big fly-wheel speed up until the spokes were a
blur and the breeze it created lifted his hair, it was the happiest
moment of his life. When he saw the thread of carbon filament in the
glass bulb turn red and grow to a bright, white light, he had something
of the feeling of ecstasy that he imagined a mother must have when she
looks at her first-born--a mixture of wonder and joy.

He had an odd, intimate feeling--a strong feeling of affection--for
every piece of machinery in the power-house. He liked to hear the squeak
of the belting and the steady chug-chug of the water-wheels; the purr of
the dynamos was music, and he kept the commutators free from dust with
loving care.

But these moments alone in the power-house were high-lights in a world
of shadows. His periods of elation were brief, for so many things went
wrong, and so often, that sometimes he wondered if it was the way some
guardian angel had of warning him, of trying to prevent him from keeping
on and making a big mistake bigger; or was it only the tests that the
Fates have a way of putting humans through and, failing to break their
hearts, sometimes let them win?

Important as the power-house was it was only a small portion of the
whole. There was still the 10-inch pump in the pump-house with its 75
horse-power motor and the donkey engine with the 50 horse-power motor to
get to working right, not to mention the flume and sluice-boxes, with
their variety of riffles and every practicable device for trapping the
elusive fine gold. And not the least of Bruce's increasing anxieties was
"Alf" Banule with his constant "good enough."

It was well toward the end of October and Bruce, hurrying over the trail
with sheets of mica for Banule, who was working on the submerged motor
which had to be rewound, noticed that the willows were turning black.
What a lot had happened since he had noticed the willows turning black
last year! A lifetime of hopes and fears, and new experiences had been
crowded into twelve flying months.

His mind straying for a moment from the work and its many problems, he
fell to thinking of Helen Dunbar and her last letter. When he was not
thinking of undercurrents or expanded metal riffles or wondering
anxiously if the 10-inch and 8-inch pumps were going to raise sufficient
water, or if the foundation built on piling, instead of cement, was
"good enough," Bruce was thinking of the girl he loved.

She had written in her last letter--Bruce knew them all by heart--

    I had a visitor yesterday. You will be as surprised, when I tell
    you who it was, as I was to see him. Have you guessed? I'm sure
    you haven't. None other than our friend Sprudell--very
    apologetic--very humble and contrite, and with an explanation to
    offer for his behavior that was really most ingenious. There's
    no denying he has cleverness of a kind--craft, perhaps, is a
    better word.

    His humility was touching but so unlike him that I should have
    been alarmed if he had not been so obviously sincere.

    Nevertheless his visit has upset me. I've been worried ever
    since. Perhaps you'll only laugh at me when I tell you that it
    is because I am afraid for _you_. Truly I am! I don't know that
    I can explain exactly so you'll understand but there was
    something disturbing which I _felt_ when he spoke quite casually
    of you. It was almost too intangible to put into words but it
    was like a gloating secret satisfaction, as though he had the
    best of you in some way, the whip-hand.

    It may be just a silly notion, one of those fears that pop into
    one's head in the most inexplicable way and stick, refusing to
    be driven out by any amount of logic. Tell me, is there anything
    that he can do to you? Any way that he can harm you?

    I am nervous--_anxious_--and I cannot help it.

She was anxious about him! That fact was paramount. Somebody in the
world was worrying over _him_. He stopped short in the trail with fresh
wonder of it. Every time he thought of it, it gave him a thrill. His
face, that had been set in tired, harsh lines of late, softened with a
smile of happiness.

And he did so long to give her substantial evidence of his gratitude. If
that machinery ever started--if the scrapers ever got to hauling
dirt--her reward, his reward, would come quick. That was one of the
compensating features of mining; if the returns came at all they came
quick. Bruce started on, hastening his footsteps until he almost ran.

The electrical genius was driving a nail with a spirit-level when Bruce
reached the pump-house and Bruce flared up in quick wrath.

"Stop that, Banule! Isn't there a hammer on this place?"

"Didn't see one handy," Banule replied cheerfully, "took the first thing
I could reach."

"It just about keeps one pack-train on the trail supplying you with
tools."

"Guess I am a little careless." Banule seemed unruffled by the
reproach--because he had heard it so many times before, no doubt.

"Yes, you're careless," Bruce answered vigorously, "and I'm telling you
straight it worries me; I can't help wondering if your carelessness
extends to your work. There, you know, you've got me, for I can't tell.
I must trust you absolutely."

Banule shrugged a shoulder--

"This ain't the first plant I've put up, you know." He added--"I'll
guarantee that inside two weeks we'll be throwin' dirt. Eh, Smaltz?
Ain't I right?"

Smaltz, who was stooping over, did not immediately look up. Bruce saw an
odd expression cross his face--an expression that was something like
derision. When he felt Bruce looking at him it vanished instantly and he
straightened up.

"Why, yes," with his customary grin, "looks like we orter make a
_start_."

The peculiar emphasis did not escape Bruce and he was still thinking of
the look he had caught on Smaltz's face as he asked Banule:

"Is this mica right? Is it the kind you need?"

Smaltz looked at Banule from the corner of his eye.

"'Taint exactly what I ought to have," Banule responded cheerfully. "I
forgot to specify when I ordered, but I guess I can make it do--it's
good enough."

It seemed to Bruce that his over-strained nerves snapped all at once. He
did not recognize the sound of his voice when he turned on Banule:

"S'help me, I'm goin' to break every bone in your body if you don't cut
out that 'good enough'! How many hundred times have I got to tell you
that nothing's good enough on this plant until it's right?"

"I didn't mean anything," Banule mumbled, temporarily cowed.

Bruce heard Smaltz snicker as he walked away.

The sluice-boxes upon which Bruce was putting the finishing touches were
his particular pride. They were four feet wide and nearly a quarter of a
mile in length. The eight per cent grade was steep enough to carry off
boulders twice, three times, the size of a man's head when there was a
force of water behind them.

The last box was well over the river at a point where it was
sufficiently swift to take off the "tailings" and keep it free. The top
earth, which had to be removed to uncover the sand-bank, was full of
jagged rocks that had come down in snowslides from the mountain and
below this top earth was a strata of small, smooth boulders--"river
wash."

This troublesome "overburden" necessitated the use of iron instead of
wooden riffles, as the bumping and grinding of the boulders would soon
have worn the latter down to nothing. So, for many weary trips, a string
of footsore pack-horses had picked their way down the dangerous trail
from Ore City, loaded to their limit with pierced iron strips, rods,
heavy sacks of nuts and bolts.

It had been laborious, nerve-racking work and every trip had had its
accident, culminating in the loss of the best pack-horse in the string,
the horse having slipped off the trail, scattering its pack, as Smaltz
announced it, "from hell to breakfast."

But the iron strips and rods were made into riffles now, and laid. Bruce
surveyed the whole with intense satisfaction as he stood by the
sluice-boxes looking down the long grade. It was _his_ work and he knew
that he had done it well. He had spared no labor to have it
right--nothing had been just "good enough."

There was cocoa matting under the riffles of the first six boxes.
Half-way the length of the sluice-boxes the finest gravel, yellow and
black sand, dropped through perforated sheet-iron grizzles into the
"undercurrents" while the rocks and boulders rushed on through the
sluice-boxes to the river.

At the end of the undercurrents there was a wide table having a slight
grade, and this table was covered with canton flannel over which was
placed more riffles of expanded metal. And, as a final precaution, lest
some infinitesimal amount of gold escape, there was a mercury trap below
the table. While Bruce was expecting to catch the greater part of it in
the first six sluice-boxes he was not taking a single chance.

Now, as he stood by the sluice-boxes looking their length, he allowed
himself to dream for a moment of the days when the mercury, turned to
amalgam, should be lying thick with gold behind the riffles; to
anticipate the unspeakable happiness of telegraphing his success to
Helen Dunbar.

Even with the tangible evidence before his eyes it was hard to realize
that after all the struggle, he was so near his goal. The ceaseless
strain and anxiety had left their marks upon his face. He looked older
by years than when he had stood by the river dipping water into his
old-fashioned cradle and watching "Slim" scramble among the rocks.

But it would be worth it all--all and more--he told himself exultingly,
if he succeeded--as he must. His eyes shone with enthusiasm and he
tingled with his joy, as he thought what success meant.

A sound behind him brought him back to earth. He turned to see Toy
picking his way gingerly over the rocks.

"You old rascal!" he cried joyfully. "Dog-gone, I'm glad to see you,
though you don't deserve it."

"I come back now," the Chinaman announced serenely. "No go way no more I
think."



XXIV

THE MIDNIGHT VISITOR


Toy raised his head sharply from his little flat pillow where he lay in
his tent, pitched for convenience beside the kitchen, and listened. A
sound like the cautious scraping of the sagging storehouse door on the
other side of the kitchen had awakened him. He was not sure that he had
not dreamed it or that it was not merely renewed activities on the part
of his enemies, the pack-rats, between whom and himself there waged
constant war. There was a possibility that some prowling animal might
push in the door, but, as the month was now November and the nights were
as cold as winter, he was not too anxious to crawl from his warm nest
and investigate until he was sure.

Hearing nothing more he dropped back on his pillow sleepily, vowing
fresh vengeance on the pack-rats who at that moment no doubt were
carrying off rice and rolled oats. Suddenly there came a fresh sound,
very distinct in the stillness, somewhat like the side of a big tin
bulging where it had been dented. To ease his mind rather than because
he expected to find anything Toy slipped his feet into his thick-soled
Chinese slippers and shuffled out into the night.

The faintest gleam of light was coming through the opening in the
storehouse door, which Toy himself had carefully closed. It was all of
eleven o'clock and the men, Toy knew, had been in bed for hours. He
stepped noiselessly inside and stared with all his eyes at Smaltz.
Smaltz was about to extinguish the candle which he had been shielding
with his coat.

"What you do? What you gittee?"

Smaltz whirled swiftly at the shrill demand with a startled look on his
impudent face.

"Oh--hello," he said uncertainly.

"Why you come? What you want?"

"Why--er--I wanted to see if they was any more of them eight-penny nails
left. I'll need some to-morrow and bein' awake frettin' and stewin' over
my work I thought I'd come up and take a look. Besides," with his
mocking grin, "the evenin's reely too lovely to stay in bed."

"You lie, I think." Toy's teeth were chattering with cold and
excitement. "Why you come? What you want?"

"You oughtn't to say those rude, harsh things. They're apt to hurt the
feelin's of a sensitive feller like me."

"What you steal?" Toy pointed a trembling finger at the inside pocket of
Smaltz's coat where it bulged.

"You wrong me," said Smaltz sorrowfully in mock reproach. "That's my
Bible, Chink."

After Smaltz had gone Toy lighted a candle and poked among the boxes,
cans, and sacks. He knew almost to a pound how much sugar, flour, rice,
coffee, beans, and other provisions he had, but nothing, that he could
discover, had been disturbed. The nail kegs and reserve tools in the
corner, wedges, axe-handles and blades, files and extra shovels all were
there. It was a riddle Toy could not solve yet he knew that Smaltz had
not told the truth.

A white man who was as loyal to Bruce as Toy would have told him
immediately of Smaltz's mysterious midnight visit to the storehouse, but
that was not the yellow man's way. Instead he watched Smaltz like a
hawk, eying him furtively, appearing unexpectedly at his elbow while he
worked. From that night on, instead of one shadow Smaltz found himself
with two.

Toy never had liked Smaltz from the day he came. Those who knew the
Chinaman could tell it by the scrupulous politeness with which he
treated him. He was elaborately exact and fair but he never spoke to him
unless it was necessary. Toy yelled at and bullied those he liked but a
mandarin could not have surpassed him in dignity when he addressed
Smaltz.

Bruce surmised that the Chinaman must share his own instinctive
distrust, yet Smaltz, with his versatility, had proved himself more and
more valuable as the work progressed.

Banule's sanguine prophecy that they would be "throwin' dirt" within two
weeks had failed of fulfilment because the pump motors had sparked when
tried out. So small a matter had not disturbed the cheerful optimism of
the genius, who declared he could remedy it with a little further work.
Days, weeks, a month went by and still he tinkered, while Bruce,
watching the sky anxiously, wondered how much longer the bad weather
would hold off. As a convincing evidence of the nearness of winter,
Porcupine Jim, who considered himself something of a naturalist,
declared that the grasshoppers had lost their hind-legs.

While the time sped, Bruce realized that he must abandon his dream of
taking out enough gold to begin to repay the stockholders. The most he
could hope for now was a few days' run.

"If only I could get into the pay-streak! If I can just get enough out
of the clean-up to show them that it's here; that it's no wild-cat;
that I've told them the truth!" Over and over he said these things
monotonously to himself until they became a refrain to every other
thought.

In the middle of the summer he had been forced to ask for more money. He
was days nerving himself to make the call; but there was no
alternative--it was either that or shut down. He had written the
stockholders that it would surely be the last, and his relief and
gratitude had been great at their good-natured response.

Now the sparking of the motors which unexpectedly prolonged the work had
once more exhausted his funds. It took all Bruce's courage to write
again. It seemed to him that it was the hardest thing he had ever done
but he accomplished it as best he could. He was peremptorily refused.

His sensations when he read the letter are not easy to describe. There
was more than mere business curtness in the denial. There was actual
unfriendliness. Furthermore, it contained an ultimatum to the effect
that if the season's work was unsuccessful they would accept an offer
which they had had for their stock.

With Helen's warning still fresh in his mind, Bruce understood the
situation in one illuminating flash. Under the circumstances, no one but
Sprudell would want to buy the stock. Obviously Sprudell had gotten in
touch with the stockholders and managed somehow to poison their minds.
This was the way, then, that he intended taking his revenge!

Harrah's secretary had written Bruce in response to his last appeal that
Harrah had been badly hurt in an aeroplane accident in France and that
it would not be possible to communicate with him for months perhaps.
This was a blow, for Bruce counted him his only friend.

Bruce had neither the time nor money to go East and try to undo the harm
Sprudell had done, and, furthermore, little heart for the task of
setting himself right with people so ready to believe.

There was just one thing that remained for Bruce to do. He could use the
amount he had saved from his small salary as general manager and
continue the work as long as the money lasted. When this was gone he was
done. In any event it meant that he must face the winter there alone. If
the machinery was still not in working order when he came to the end of
his resources it meant that he was stranded, flat broke, unable even to
go outside and struggle.

In his desperation he sometimes thought of appealing to his father. The
amount he required was insignificant compared to what he knew his
father's yearly income must be. He doubted if even Harrah's fortune was
larger than the one represented by his father's land and herds; but just
as often as he thought of this way out just so often he realized that
there were some things he could not do--not even for Helen Dunbar--not
even to put his proposition through.

_That_ humiliation would be too much. To go back _begging_ after all
these years--no, no, he could not do it to save his life! He would meet
the pay-roll with his own checks so long as he had a cent, and hope for
the best until he knew there was no best.

The end of his rope was painfully close the day Banule announced, after
frequent testings, that they might start.

During short intervals of pumping, Bruce had been able by
ground-sluicing to work off a considerable area of top soil and now that
the machinery was declared to be ready for a steady run he could set the
scrapers at once in the red gravel streak that contained the "pay."

The final preparation before starting was to pour the mercury behind the
riffles in the sluice-boxes. When it lay quivering and shining behind
each block and bar Bruce felt that his gargantuan bread-crumb had been
dragged almost to the goal. It was well, too, he told himself with
indescribable relief, for, not only his money, but his courage, his
nerves, were well-nigh gone.

Bruce would trust no one but himself to pour the mercury in the boxes.

"That looks like good lively 'quick'," Smaltz commented as he watched
him at the task.

"It should be; it was guaranteed never to have been used." He added with
a smile: "Let's hope when we see it again it won't be quite so lively."

"Looks like it orter be as thick as mush if you can run a few thousand
yards of that there pay-streak over it." There was a mocking look in
Smaltz's yellow-brown eyes which Bruce, stooping over, did not see. He
only heard the hopeful words.

"Oh, Smaltz--Smaltz--if it only is! Success means so much to me!"
Unaccountably, such a tide of feeling rose within him that Bruce bared
his heart to the man he did not like.

Smaltz looked at him with a curious soberness.

"Does it?" he responded after a pause.

"And I've tried so hard."

"You've sure worked like a horse." There was a look that was half pity,
half grudging admiration on Smaltz's impudent face.

Banule was to run the power-house for the day and complete some work
inside, so when Bruce had finished with the mercury he told Smaltz to
telephone Banule from the pump-house that they were ready to start.
Therefore while Bruce took his place at the lever on the donkey-engine
enclosed in a temporary shed to protect the motor from rain and dust,
Smaltz went to the pump-house as he was bid.

When Banule answered his ring he shouted:

"Let her go in about two minutes--_two minutes_--d'ye hear?" The
telephone receiver was shaking in Smaltz's hand and he was breathing
hard.

"Yes," Banule answered irritably, "but don't yell so in my ear."

Smaltz already had slammed the receiver back on the hook. With a swift
movement he threw in the switch and jumped for the outside. He dropped
from the high platform and fell among the rocks some ten feet below.
Instantly he scrambled to his feet and crouching, dodging among the
boulders that strewed the river bank, he ran at top speed until he
reached the sluice-boxes. The carpenter came out from his shop to take a
leisurely survey of the world and Smaltz threw himself flat until he had
turned inside again.

Then, still crouching, looking this way and that, watching the trail, he
took a bottle from his pocket and pulling the cork with his teeth poured
the contents over the mercury almost to the upper end of the first box.
He went as far as he dared without being seen by Bruce inside the shed.

The pumps had already started and the big head of water was coming with
a rush down the steep grade, but Smaltz had done his evil work
thoroughly for wherever the mercury laid thickest it glittered with
iridescent drops of kerosene.

He was thrusting the bottle back in his pocket, his tense expression
relaxed, when he turned his head sharply at the sound of a crashing in
the brush.

"Toy!" Smaltz looked startled--scared.

It was Toy, his skin a waxy yellow and his oblique eyes blazing with
excitement and rage.

"I savvy you, Smaltz! I savvy you!" His voice was a shrill squawk. "I
savvy you!" His fingers with their long, sharp nails were opening and
shutting like claws.

Smaltz knew that he had seen him from the hill and, watching, had
understood. It was too late to run, useless to evade, so he stood
waiting while shrieking, screeching at every step, the Chinaman came on.

He flew at Smaltz's face like a wild-cat, clawing, scratching, digging
in his nails and screaming with every breath: "I savvy you! I savvy
you!"

Smaltz warded him off without striking, trying to get his hand over his
mouth; but in vain, and the Chinaman kept up his shrill accusing cry, "I
savvy you, Smaltz! I savvy you!" There was little chance, however, of
his being heard above the rush of the water through the sluice-boxes and
the bumping and grinding together of the rocks and boulders that it
carried down.

Then Smaltz struck him. Toy fell among the rocks, sprawling backwards.
He got to his feet and came back. Once more he clawed and clung and once
more Smaltz knocked him down. A third time he returned.

"You're harder to kill nor a cat," Smaltz grinned without malice, but he
threw him violently against the sluice-box.

Toy lost his balance, toppled, and went over backward, reaching out
wildly to save himself as he fell. The water turned him over but he
caught the edge of the box. His loose purple "jumper" of cotton and silk
ballooned at the back as he swung by one hand in the on-rushing water,
thick and yellow with sand, filled with the grinding boulders that came
down as, though shot from a catapult, drowning completely his, agonized
cry of "Bluce! Bluce!"

It was only a second that he hung with his wild beseeching eyes on
Smaltz's scared face while his frail, old body acted as a wedge for the
racing water and the rocks. Then he let go and turned over and over
tumbling grotesquely in the wide sluice-box while the rocks pounded and
ground him, beat him into insensibility. He shot over the tail-race into
the river limp and unresisting, like a dead fish.



XXV

THE CLEAN-UP

Toy's disappearance was mysterious and complete. There was not a single
clue to show which way he had gone, or how, or why. Only one thing
seemed certain and that was that his departure was unpremeditated.

His potatoes were in a bucket of water, peeled and ready for dinner; the
bread he had set to raise was waiting to be kneaded; his pipe laid on
the window sill while his hoarded trinkets for the little Sun Loon were
still hidden under the pad of the bed in his tent. His fish-pole in its
usual place disposed of the theory that he had fallen in the river, and
although trained eyes followed every trail there was not a single
telltale track. He had vanished as though he had gone straight up.

His disappearance sobered the men. There was something uncanny about it;
they lowered their voices When they speculated and all their latent
superstition arose. Porcupine Jim declared that the place was "hoodooed"
and as evidence enumerated the many accidents and delays. Bruce himself
wondered if the malignant spirit of Slim was lingering on the river to
harry him as he had in life.

Smaltz was now in the power-house doing at last the specific work for
which he had been hired. To all Bruce's questions, he replied that the
machinery there was "doing fine." Down below, the pump-house motors were
far from satisfactory, sparking and heating in a way that Bruce, who did
not know the a, b, c's of electricity, could see was not right. While
the pumps and scrapers were working Banule dared not leave the motors
alone.

Then, after a couple of days' unsatisfactory work, the water dropped so
low in Big Squaw creek that there was only sufficient pressure to use
one scraper. Bruce discharged all the crew save Smaltz, Banule, and
Porcupine Jim, who labored in the kitchen--a living insult to the
Brotherhood of Cooks. While Bruce, by running back and forth between the
donkey-engine and the top sluice-box where the scraper dumped, managed
to do the work of two men ten hours a day.

His nerves were at a tension, for along with the strain of his
responsibilities was the constant fear of a serious break-down. Banule
made light of the sparking motors but the bearings were heating badly,
daily necessitating more frequent stops. When a grounded wire sent the
leaking current through the cable that pulled the scraper, and knocked
Bruce flat, he was not convinced by Banule's assurance that it "didn't
amount to much." It was all evidence to Bruce that fundamentally
something was wrong.

But in spite of the time lost the cut was deepening and the side walls
stood up so that every scraper that emptied into the sluice-boxes was
from the pay-streak. Bruce fairly gloated over each cubic yard that he
succeeded in getting in, for the sample pans showed that it was all he
had hoped for, and more.

If only the riffles were saving it and the tables catching the fine
gold!

This he could not know until the clean-up and he did not mean to stop
until he had brought in the last load he dared before a freeze. So far
the weather had been phenomenal, the exceptional open fall had been his
one good piece of luck. Under usual weather conditions, to avoid
cleaning up through the ice he would have been obliged to have shut down
at least a month before.

So the work kept on intermittently until an incredibly late date in
November. The leaves of the poison oak had turned crimson, the tall
tamaracks in the high mountains were gold, frost crystals glittered each
morning on the planks and boards, but Big Squaw creek kept running
steadily and the sunshine soon melted the skim ice that formed over
night.

By this time Bruce had a fresh worry. It kept him awake hour after hour
at night. The mercury was not looking right where it showed behind the
riffles. It was too lively. There was something in it, of course, but
not enough to thicken it as he had hoped. He could see the flakes of
gold sticking to it as though it had been sprinkled with Nepaul pepper
but the activity of it where it showed in quantity alarmed him more than
he would confess to himself.

The change of weather came in the night. That day he started to
clean-up. A chill wind was blowing from the east and the sky was dark
with drab, low-hanging clouds when Bruce put on his hip-boots and began
to take up riffles. A thin sheet of water flowed through the boxes, just
sufficient to keep the sand and gravel moving down as he took up the
riffles one at a time and recovered the mercury each had contained.

Bruce's feet and fingers grew numb working in the icy water with a
scrubbing brush and a small scoop but they were no colder than the cold
hand of Premonition that lay heavy upon him.

Behind the riffles at the top of the first box the mercury was
amalgam--all that he could have wished for--beyond that point it
suddenly stopped and all that he recovered as he worked down looked to
be as active as when he had poured it from the flask.

What was wrong? He asked himself every conceivable question as he worked
with aching hands and feet. Had he given the boxes too much grade? Had
he washed too fast--crowded the dirt so that it had not had time to
settle? Was it possible that after all the gold was too light and fine
to save in paying quantities?

Hope died hard and he tried to make himself believe that the lower boxes
and the tables had caught it--that there was more in the mercury than
there looked. But the tension as he took up riffle after rime with the
one result was like watching a long-drawn-out race with all one's
possessions staked on the losing horse.

He took up riffles until it was a physical impossibility to work longer
in the numbing water, his fingers could not hold the scoop. Then he went
to the pump-house and told Banule to telephone Smaltz to shut down.

"He wants to know if you'll be pumpin' again?"

"Yes, after awhile. Tell him to stay there. I'm going to squeeze out the
'quick' I've taken up, but I want to get as near finished to-day as I
can. You come and help me."

As Bruce walked back to the sluice-boxes with bowed head he was thinking
that the day was well suited to the ending of his roseate dreams.
Failure is dull, drab, colorless, and in his heart he had little doubt
that for some reason still to be explained, he had failed. Just how
badly remained to be seen.

Bruce had scooped the mercury into a clean granite kettle and now,
while he held the four corners of a square of chamois skin, Banule
poured mercury from the kettle into the centre of the skin until told to
stop.

"Looks like you ought to get several hundred dollars out of that,"
Banule said hopefully as Bruce gathered the four corners, twisted them
and began to squeeze.

"Yes, looks like I ought to," Bruce replied ironically.

The quicksilver came through the pores of the skin in a shower of
shining globules.

Banule's expression of lively interest in the process was gradually
replaced by one of bewilderment as with every twist the contents kept
squeezing through until it looked as though there would be no residue
left. It was a shock even to Bruce, who was prepared for it, when he
spread the chamois skin on a rock and looked at the ball of amalgam
which it contained.

Banule stared at it, open-mouthed.

"What's the matter? Where's it gone? And out of all that dirt!"

Bruce shook his head; his voice was barely audible:

"I don't know." The sagging clouds were not heavier than his heart--"I
wish I did."

Banule stood a moment in silent sympathy.

"Guess you won't work any more to-day," he suggested.

"Yes; tell Smaltz to start," Bruce answered dully.

"I've got to save the mercury anyhow."

Banule lingered.

"Say," he hesitated--obviously he found the confession embarrassing or
else he hated to lay the final straw upon the camel's back--"just
before you told me to shut down, the motor on the small pump started
sparkin' pretty bad."

"Yes?" Bruce knew that if Banule admitted it was "pretty bad" it was bad
indeed.

"I'll look it over if we can stop awhile."

Bruce shook his head.

"There's not an hour to lose. It's going to storm; I must get done."

"I 'spose we can start." Banule looked dubious. "I'll try it, but I
think we'll have to quit."

_Was_ there anything more that could happen? Bruce asked himself in dumb
misery as he picked up his scoop and brush and mechanically went to work
when the pumps started and the water came.

His feet and hands were soon like ice but he was scarcely conscious of
the pain for his heart-ache was so much greater. As he pursued the
elusive quicksilver and worked the sand and gravel to the end of the box
all he could see was the stack of receipted bills which the work and
plant had cost, in shocking contrast to that tiny ball of amalgam lying
in the chamois-skin on the rock. He had spent all of $40,000 and he
doubted if he would take $20 from the entire clean-up as it now looked.

How could he break the news to Helen Dunbar? Where would he find the
courage to tell the unfriendly stockholders the exact truth? It was a
foregone conclusion that they would consider him a fakir and a crook.

It had to be done. As, in his imagination, he faced the ordeal he
unconsciously straightened up.

"Burt! Burt! come quick!" Banule was waving his arms frantically from
the platform of the pump-house. There was desperation in his cry for
help. He dashed back inside as soon as he saw Bruce jump out of the
sluice-box. Before Bruce reached the pump-house he heard Banule ringing
the telephone violently, and his frenzied shout:

"Shut down, Smaltz! Shut down! Where are you? Can't you hear? For God's
sake shut down, everything's burnin' up!"

He was ringing as though he would have torn the box loose from the wall
when Bruce reached the pump-house door. Bruce turned sick when he heard
the crackling of the burning motors and saw the electric flames.

"Somethin's happened in the power-house! I can't ring him! He must have
got a shock! Until I know what's wrong, I don't dare shut down for fear
I'll burn everything out up there!"

"_Keep her going!_" Bruce bounded through the door and dropped from the
platform. Then he threw off his hat as he always did when excited, and
ran. And how he ran! With his fists clenched and his arms tight against
his sides he ran as though the hip-boots were the seven-league boots of
fable.

In the stretch of deep sand he had to cross the weight was killing. The
drag of the heavy boots seemed to pull his legs from their sockets but
he did not slacken his pace. His breath was coming in gasps when he
started up the steep trail which led from the sand over a high
promontory. He clutched at bushes, rocks, anything to pull himself up
and the pounding of his heart sounded to him like the chug of a
steamboat, before he reached the top.

The veins and arteries in his forehead and neck seemed bursting, as did
his over-taxed lungs, when he started stumbling and sliding down the
other side. It was not the distance he had covered which had so winded
him, nor even the terrific pace, but the dragging weight of the
hip-boots. They felt as though they were soled with lead.

He imagined that he had crawled but as a matter of fact the distance
would never be covered in the same space of time again.

The perspiration was trickling from his hair and through his thick
eyebrows when he reached the boat landing where ordinarily they crossed.
He brushed it out of his eyes with the back of his sleeve and stared at
the place where usually the boat rode. It was gone! Smaltz had taken it
instead of the overhead tram in which he always crossed.

There was no time to speculate as to Smaltz's reason. He kept on running
along the river until he came to the steps of the platform where the
heavy iron cage, suspended from a cable, was tied to a tree. Bruce
bounded up the steps two at a time and loosened the rope. It was not
until then that he saw that the chain and sprocket, which made the
crossing easy, were missing. This, too, was strange. There was no time
for speculation. Could he cross in it hand over hand? For answer he put
his knee on the edge and kicked off.

The impetus sent it well over the river. Then it struck the slack in the
cable and slowed up. Bruce set his teeth and went at it hand over hand.
The test came when it started up grade. No ordinary man could have
budged it and Bruce pulled to the very last ounce of his strength. He
moved it only an inch at a time--slipping back two inches frequently
when he changed hands.

If he lost the grip of both hands for a single second and slid back to
the middle of the slack he realized that he was too near exhausted to
pull up again, so, somehow, he hung on, making inarticulate sounds as he
exerted superhuman strength, groaning like an animal loaded beyond its
limit. If only he could last!

When he reached the platform on the other side he was just able to throw
an arm around the tree and crawl out while the ponderous iron cage
squeaking on the rusty cable rolled back to the middle of the river,
where it swung to and fro.

Bruce gathered himself and tried to run. His legs refused to obey his
will and he had to fall back to a walk. He hung over from the waist like
a bent old man, his arms swinging limply at his sides.

He knew from the small amount of water going over the spillway that the
machinery was still running and as he drew nearer to the power-house he
could hear the hiss of the 200-feet head as it hit the wheel.

He dreaded entering for fear of what he should see. He had little doubt
but that Smaltz was dead--electrocuted--roasted. He expected the
sickening odor of burning flesh. He had been so long in getting
there--but he had done his best--the power must be shut off first--he
must get to the lever--if only he could run. His thoughts were
incoherent--disconnected, but all of Smaltz. Smaltz had been loyal;
Smaltz never had shirked; but he never had shown Smaltz the slightest
evidence of friendship because of his unconquerable dislike.

Bruce was reproaching himself as he stepped up on the wooden casing
which covered the pipes and nozzles inside the power-house. There he
stopped and stood quite motionless, looking at Smaltz. Smaltz's face
wore a look of keenest interest, as with one shoulder braced against the
side of the building, his hands in his pockets, he watched the plant
burn up.

Down below, Banule had thrown out the switch and the machinery was
running away. A rim of fire encircled the commutators. The cold, blue
flame of electrical energy was shooting its jagged flashes from every
piece of magnetic metal it could reach, while the crackling of the
short-circuited wires was like the continuous, rattling reports of a
rapid-fire gun.

There was something terrifying in the sight of the racing machinery,
something awe-inspiring in the spectacle of a great power gone mad. The
wind from the round blur that represented the fly-wheel was a gale and
in the semi-dusk,--Smaltz had closed the double-doors--the leaping
flames and the screech of the red-hot bearings made the place an
Inferno.

For a moment the amazing, unexpected sight deprived Bruce of the power
to move. Then he jumped for the lever and shut down. It was not until
the machinery responded that Smaltz turned. His yellow-brown eyes
widened until they looked round. He had not counted on anyone's being
able to cross the river for fully half an hour.

If Smaltz had been the villain of fiction, he would have been a coward
as well. But Smaltz was not a coward. It is true he was startled--so
startled that his skin turned a curious yellow-green like a half-ripe
pear--but he was not afraid. He knew that he was "in for it." He knew
that something was going to happen, and quick. That Bruce was sitting on
the wooden casing quietly pulling off his heavy boots did not deceive
him in the least.

It was as still as the tomb in the power-house when Bruce stood up and
walked toward Smaltz. Grimy streaks of perspiration showed on his
colorless face, from which every drop of blood seemed to have fled, and
his black eyes, that shone always with the soft brilliancy of a warm,
impulsive nature and an imaginative mind, were glittering and
purposeful.

Smaltz stood his ground as Bruce advanced.

"Why didn't you answer that telephone, Smaltz?"

In feigned surprise Smaltz glanced at the box.

"I declare--the receiver's dropped off the hook!"

Bruce ignored the answer; he did not even look, but stepped closer.

"Why didn't you shut down?"

Smaltz summoned his impudent grin, but it wavered and faded under
Bruce's burning eyes even while he replied in a tone of injured
innocence--

"How should I know? The bell didn't ring--Banule hadn't told me to."

Bruce paid no attention to the foolish excuse. He demanded again:

"Why didn't you shut down, Smaltz?"

"I've told you once," was the sullen answer.

Bruce turned to the telephone and rang the bell hard.

"Hello--hello--hello!" came the frantic reply.

"Can you swim, Banule?"

"Yes."

"Then take it where the cable crosses the river. Come quick." He put the
receiver back on its hook and stepped to the lever. Smaltz's eyes opened
wide as Bruce shoved it hard. He stared as though he thought Bruce had
gone out of his mind. Then the dynamos began to pick up.

"What you goin' to do?" he shouted above the screech of the belting and
the hot bearings.

"You're going to tell the truth!" The last vestige of Bruce's
self-control vanished. His voice, which had been nearly a whisper, was
like the sudden roar of a deep-hurt bear. His dark face was distorted to
ugliness with rage. He rushed Smaltz--with his head down--and Smaltz
staggered with the shock. Then they grappled and went down. Once more it
was pandemonium in the power-house with the screeching of the red hot
bearings and the glare of the crackling blue flames that meant the final
and complete destruction of the plant. Over and over the grimy,
grease-soaked floor of the power-house they rolled and fought. Brutally,
in utter savagery, Bruce ground Smaltz's face into the rough planks
littered with nails and sharp-copper filings, whenever he
could--dragging him, shoving him, working him each second a little
closer to the machinery with the frenzy of haste. He had not yet
recovered from his run but Smaltz was no match for his great strength.

A glimmer of Bruce's purpose came to Smaltz at last.

"What--you tryin'--to do?" he panted.

Bruce panted back:

"I'm going to kill you! Do you hear?" His eyes were bloodshot, more than
ever he looked like some battle-crazed grizzly seeing his victim through
a blur or rage and pain. "If I can--throw you--across those
commutators--before the fireworks stop--I'm goin' to give you fifteen
hundred volts!"

A wild fright came in Smaltz's eyes.

"Let me up!" he begged.

For answer Bruce shoved him closer to the dynamo. He fought with fresh
desperation.

"Don't do that, Burt! My God--Don't do that!"

"Then talk--talk! She's going fast. You've got to tell the truth before
she stops! _Why_ did you burn out this plant?"

Smaltz would not answer. Bruce lifted him bodily from the floor. In the
struggle he threw out a hand to save himself and his finger touched the
spring that held the carbons. He screamed with the shock, but the blue
flashes were close to his face blinding him before he suddenly relaxed:

"I'm all in. I'll tell."

Bruce let him drop back hard upon the floor and thrust a knee into his
chest.

"Goon, then--talk!"

The words came with an effort; he seemed afraid of their effect upon
Bruce, then, uncertainly:

"I--was paid."

For the fraction of a second Bruce stared into Smaltz's scared face.
"You were paid," he repeated slowly. "Who--" and then the word came
rapier-like as had the thought--"Sprudell!"

"He told me to see that you didn't start. He left the rest to me." With
sullen satisfaction: "And it's cost him plenty--you bet--"

Inexplicable things suddenly grew clear to Bruce.

"You turned the boat loose in Meadows--"

"Yes."

"You wrecked it on that rock--"

"Yes."

"You fouled the mercury in the boxes?"

"Yes."

"And Toy!" The look of murder came back into Bruce's face, his hand
crept toward Smaltz's throat. "Don't lie! What did you do to Toy?"

Smaltz whispered--he could barely speak--"I'm tellin' the truth--it was
an accident. He jumped me--I threw him off and he fell in the
sluice-box--backward--I tried to save him--I did--that's straight."
Smaltz kept rolling his head back and forth in an oil-soaked spot where
a grease cup leaked. Bruce's knee was grinding into his ribs and chest
and his fingers were tightening on his throat.

Bruce raised himself a little and looked down at Smaltz. As he stared at
the smudged, bleeding face and into the yellow-brown eyes with their
dilated pupils, the rage in his own gave place to a kind of intense
curiosity, the scrutiny one gives to a repulsive and venomous insect or
reptile he has captured. He was trying to impress upon his own mind the
incredible fact that this human being, lying helpless beneath him,
watching him with questioning fear, had ruined him without the least
personal malice--had robbed him of all he had strained, and worked, and
fought for, for pay! It seemed like a preposterous, illogical dream; yet
there he lay, alive, real, his face less than two feet from his own.

Finally, Bruce took his knee from his chest and got up. Smaltz pulled
himself to his feet and stood uncertainly.

"Well--I suppose it's jail." There was sullen resignation in his voice.

Bruce stopped the machinery without answering. Then he folded his arms
and leaned his broad shoulders against the rough boards of the
power-house while, eying Smaltz, he considered. A year ago he would have
killed him--he would have killed him begging on his knees, but taking a
human life either makes a man callous or sobers him and the remorse
which had followed the tragedy in the cabin was a sensation Bruce never
wanted to experience again.

Penitentiaries were made for men like Smaltz--but in a country of long
and difficult distances, with the lax courts and laws indifferently
enforced, to put Smaltz where he belonged was not so simple as it might
sound. It required time and money; Bruce had neither to spare.

It was so still in the power-house that the ticking of the dollar watch
hanging on a nail sounded like a clock. Smaltz shifted feet nervously.
At last Bruce walked to the work-bench and took a carpenter's pencil
from a box and sharpened it. He smoothed out some wrapping paper then
motioned Smaltz to sit down.

"I want you to write what you told me--exactly--word for word. Write it
in duplicate and sign your name."

Consternation overspread Smaltz's face. A verbal confession to save
himself from being electrocuted was one thing, to put it in black and
white was quite another. He hesitated. Bruce saw the mutiny in his face;
also the quick, involuntary glance he gave toward a monkey-wrench which
lay on the end of the work-bench within his reach.

Rage burned up in Bruce again.

"Don't you know when you've got enough?" He stepped forward and removed
the heavy wrench from Smaltz's reach. "I'll give you just one minute by
the watch there to make up your mind. You'd better write, for you won't
be able when I'm through!"

They measured each other, eye to eye again. Each could hear the
breathing of the other in the silence while the watch ticked off the
seconds. An over-sanguine pack-rat tried to scramble up the tar-paper
covering on the outside and squeaked as he fell back with a thud, but
the face of neither man relaxed. Smaltz took the full limit of the time.
He saw Bruce's fingers work, then clinch. Suddenly he grinned--a
sheepish, unresentful grin.

"I guess you're the best man," He slouched to the bench and sat down.

He was still writing when Banule came, breathing hard and still dripping
from his frigid swim. He stopped short and his jaw dropped at seeing
Smaltz. He was obviously disappointed at finding him alive.

Smaltz handed Bruce the paper when he had finished and signed his name.
Neither the writing or composition was that of an illiterate man. Bruce
read it carefully and handed it to Banule:

"Read this and witness it."

Banule did as he was told, for once, apparently, too dumfounded for
comment.

"Now copy it," said Bruce, and Smaltz obeyed.

When this was done, signed and witnessed Smaltz looked up
inquiringly--his expression said--"What next?"

Bruce stepped to the double doors and slid the bolt.

"There's your trail--now _hit_ it!" He motioned into the wilderness as
he threw the doors wide.

Incredulity, amazement, appeared on Smaltz's face.

In the instant that he stood staring a vein swelled on Bruce's temple
and in a spasm of fury he cried:

"_Go_, I tell you! Go while I can keep my hands off you--you--" he
finished with an oath.

Smaltz went. He snatched his coat from its nail as he passed but did not
stop for his hat. It was not until he reached the slab which served as a
bridge over the water from the spillway that he recovered anything of
his impudent nonchalance. He was in the centre of it when he heard
Banule say:

"If it ud be me I'd a put a lash rope round his neck and drug him up
that hill to jail."

Smaltz wheeled and came back a step.

"Oh, you would, would you? Say, you fakir, I'm glad you spoke. I almost
forgot you." There was sneering, utter contempt in Smaltz's voice.
"_Fakir_," he reiterated, "you get that, do you, for I'm pickin' my
words and not callin' names by chance. You're the worst that ever come
off the Pacific coast--and that's goin' _some_."

He turned sharply to Bruce.

"You know even a liar sometimes tells the truth and I'm goin' to give it
to you straight now. I've nothin' to win or lose. _This machinery never
will run._ The plant was a failure before it was put up. And," he nodded
contemptuously at Banule, "nobody knew it better than that dub."

"Jennings," he went on "advised this old-fashioned type of machinery
because it was the only kind he understood and he wanted the job of
putting it up, honestly believin' at the time that he could. When he
realized that he couldn't, he sent for Banule to pull him through.

"Jennings failed because of his ignorance but this feller _knows_, and
whatever he's done he has done knowin' that his work couldn't by any
chance last. All he's thought of was gettin' the plant up somehow so it
would run temporarily--any old way to get through--get his money, and
get out. He's experimented continually at your expense; he's bungled the
job from beginning to end with his carelessness--his 'good enough' work.

"You were queered from the start with them armatures he wound back there
on the Coast. He and Jennings took an old fifty horse-power motor and
tried to wind it for seventy-five. There wasn't room for the copper so
they hammered in the coils. They ruptured the insulation in the armature
and that's why it's always short-circuited and sparked. He rated it at
seventy-five and it's never registered but fifty at its best. He rated
the small motor at fifty and it developed thirty--no more. The blue
print calls for 1500 revolutions on the big pump and the speed indicator
shows 900. Even if the motors were all right, the vibration from that
bum foundation that he told you was 'good enough' would throw them out,
in time.

"All through he's lied and bluffed, and faked. He has yet to put up his
first successful plant. Look up his record if you think it ain't the
truth. What's happened here is only a repetition of what's happened
everywhere he's ever been. It would be a fortune if 'twas figured what
his carelessness has cost the men for whom he's worked.

"In the eyes of the law I'm guilty of wreckin' this plant but in fact I
only put on the finishin' touches. I've shortened your misery, Burt,
I've saved you money, for otherwise you'd have gone tryin' to tinker it
up. Don't do it. Take it from me it isn't worth it. From start to finish
you've been stung."

He turned mockingly to Banule:

"As we know, Alphy, generally there's a kind of honor among crooks that
keeps us from squeakin' on each other, but that little speech of yourn
about takin' a turn of a las' rope round my neck kind of put me on the
prod. That virtuous pose of yours sort of set my teeth on edge, knowin'
what I do, and I ain't told half of what I could if I had the time.
However, Alphy," he shot a look at Bruce's face, "if you'll take the
advice of a gent what feels as though a log had rolled over him, you'll
sift along without puttin' up any holler about your pay."



XXVI

FAILURE


Smaltz was a liar, as he said, but Bruce knew that he had told the truth
regarding Banule's work. He confirmed the suspicions and fears that had
been in Bruce's mind for months. Therefore, when he said quietly to
Banule--"You'd better go up the hill!" there was that in his voice and
eyes which made that person take his departure with only a little less
celerity than Smaltz had taken his.

It remained for Bruce to gather up Banule's scattered tools, drain the
pumps, and nail the pump-house door. When he closed the head gate and
turned the water back into Big Squaw Creek, removed the belting from the
pulleys in the power-house and shut the place up tight, he felt that it
was much like making arrangements for his own funeral.

At last everything was done and Porcupine Jim, who had stayed on a day
or so to help, was waiting for Bruce to finish his letter to Helen
Dunbar so he could take it up the hill. Jim sat by the kitchen stove
whistling dismally through his teeth while Bruce groped for words in
which to break the news of his complete failure.

If only he could truthfully hold out some hope! But there was not the
slightest that he could see. Harrah was out of it. The stockholders had
lost both confidence and interest in him and his proposition and would
sell out, as they had notified him they would do if the season's work
was a failure--and consider themselves lucky to have the chance. It was
a foregone conclusion that Sprudell would shortly own the controlling
stock.

There was nothing for it but the blunt truth so Bruce wrote:

    Sprudell boasted that he would down me and he has. Villainy,
    incompetency and carelessness have been too strong a combination
    for my inexperience to beat.

    I've failed. I'm broke. I've spent $40,000 and have nothing to
    show for it but a burned-out plant of an obsolete type.

    You can't imagine how it hurts to write these words. The
    disappointment and humiliation of it passes belief. No one who
    has not been through an experience like it could ever, even
    faintly, understand.

    I grow hot and cold with shame when I look back now and see my
    mistakes. They are so plain that it makes me feel a fool--an
    ignorant, conceited, inexperienced fool. I've learned many
    lessons, but at what a price!

    You'll see from the enclosed paper what I was up against. But it
    does not excuse me, not in the least. Thinking myself just, I
    was merely weak. A confiding confidence in one's fellowman is
    very beautiful in theory but there's nothing makes him more
    ridiculous when it's taken advantage of. When I recall the
    suspicious happenings that should have warned me from Jenning's
    incompetency to Smaltz's villainy I have no words in which to
    express my mortification. The stockholders cannot condemn me
    more severely for my failure than I condemn myself.

    You are the beginning and end of everything with me. All my
    hopes, my ambitions, my life itself have come to centre in you.
    It was the thought that it was for you that kept me going when I
    have been so tired doing two men's work that I could scarcely
    drag one foot after the other. It made me take risks I might
    otherwise never have dared to take. It kept me plodding on when
    one failure after another smashed me in the face so fast that I
    could not see for the blackness.

    I never dreamed that love was like this--that it was such a
    spur--such an incentive--or that it could add so to the
    bitterness of failure. For I do love you, Helen; I see now that
    I have loved you from the time I saw you with Sprudell--further
    back than that, from the time I shook your picture out of that
    old envelope.

    I'm telling you this so you'll know why my tongue ran away with
    my judgment when I talked so much to you of my plans and
    expectations, hoping that in spite of the great disappointment
    my failure will be to you, it will make you a little more
    lenient.

    I have failed so completely that I don't even dare ask you if
    you care the least bit for me. It's presumptuous to suggest it--
    it seems like presuming because you have been kind. But even if
    such a miracle could be, I have nothing to offer you. I don't
    mean to quit but it may be years before I get again the chance
    that I had down here.

    I love you, Helen, truly, completely: I am sure there will never
    be any one else for me. If only for this reason won't you write
    to me sometimes, for your letters will mean so much in the days
    that are ahead of me.

When he had finished, Bruce gave Jim the letter and paid him off with
the check that took the last of his balance in the bank.

From the doorway of the shack he watched the Swede climb the hill,
following him with his eyes until he had rounded the last point before
the zig-zag trail disappeared into the timber on the ridge. A pall of
awful loneliness seemed to settle over the canyon as the figure passed
from sight and as Bruce turned inside he wondered which was going to be
the worst--the days or nights. His footsteps sounded hollow when he
walked across the still room. He stopped in the centre and looked at the
ashes overflowing the hearth of the greasy range, at the unwashed
frying-pan on the dirty floor, at the remains of Jim's lunch that
littered the shabby oilcloth on the table. A black wave of despair
swept over him. This was for him instead of cleanliness, comfort,
brightness, friendly people--and Helen Dunbar. This squalor, this bare
loneliness, was the harsh penalty of failure. He put his hand to his
throat and rubbed it for it ached with the sudden contraction of the
muscles, but he made no sound.

                 *       *       *       *       *

One of the pictures with which Bruce tortured himself was Helen's
disappointment when she should read his letter. He imagined the
animation fading from her face, the tears rising slowly to her eyes. Her
letters had shown how much she was counting on what he had led her to
expect, for she had written him of her plans; so the collapse of her
air-castles could not be other than a blow.

And he was right. The blunt news _was_ a blow. In one swift picture
Helen saw herself trudging drearily along the dull, narrow road of
genteel poverty to the end of her days, sacrificing every taste, and
impulse, and instinct to the necessity of living, for more and more as
she thought her freedom closer the restrictions of economic slavery
chaffed.

But as she read on, her face grew radiant and when she raised the letter
impulsively to her lips her eyes were luminous with happiness. He loved
her--he had told her so--that fact was paramount. It overshadowed
everything else, even her disappointment. The conditions against which
she rebelled so fiercely suddenly shrank to small importance. It was
extraordinary how half-a-dozen sentences should change the world! She
was so incredibly happy that she could have cried.

In her eagerness, she had read the first of Bruce's letter hastily so
she had not grasped the full significance of what he had written of the
part in his failure that Sprudell had played. It was not until she read
it again together with Smaltz's confession, that it came to her clearly.
When it did she was dumfounded by the extent of Sprudell's villainy, his
audacity, the length to which his mania for revenge would take him. It
was like a plot in one of his own preposterous melodramas!

And was he to be allowed to get away with it? Were his plans to work out
without a hitch? she asked herself furiously. She realized that Bruce's
hands were tied, that the complete exhaustion of his resources left him
helpless.

She sat at her desk for a long time, mechanically drawing little designs
upon a blotter. Wild impulses, impractical plans, followed each other in
quick succession. They crystallized finally into a definite resolve, and
her lips set in a line of determination.

"I don't know how much or how little I can do, but, T. Victor Sprudell,"
Helen clenched a small fist and shook it in the direction in which she
imagined Bartlesville lay, "I'm going to fight!"

If much of Helen's work was uncongenial it at least had the merit of
developing useful traits. It had given her confidence, resourcefulness,
persistency and when she was aroused, as now, these qualities were of
the sort most apt to furnish the exultant Sprudell with a disagreeable
surprise.

                 *       *       *       *       *

It was not such a difficult matter as Helen had thought to get from the
investors a thirty days' option upon their stock. In the first place
they were frankly amused and interested by her request; and, in the
second, while Sprudell had succeeded in shaking their confidence in
Bruce he had not inspired any liking for himself. Besides, he had not
been able to conceal his eagerness and they felt that his offer would
keep. It was unusual and quite outside their experiences, but in these
days of women architects, legislators, financiers, who could tell where
the sex would turn up next? So at a meeting of the stockholders it was
agreed that it would do no harm to "give the girl a chance" though they
made no secret of the fact that they had little expectation that she
would be able to take up the option.

When it was secure and she had obtained leave of absence from the
office, Helen felt that the hardest part of the task she had assigned
herself was done. To acquaint Bruce's father with Sprudell's plot and
enlist him on Bruce's side seemed altogether the easiest part of her
plan. She had no notion that she was the brilliant lady-journalist to
whom the diplomat, the recluse, the stern and rock-bound capitalist,
give up the secrets of their souls, but she did have an assured feeling
that with the arguments she had to offer she could manage Bruce's "Dad."

Therefore on the monotonous journey west her nerves relaxed and with a
comfortable feeling of security she rehearsed her case as she meant to
present it, which was to conclude with an eloquent plea for help. It
seemed to her that in spite of the years of estrangement it would be the
most natural thing in the world for Burt, when he heard all the facts,
to rush to the rescue of his son. Of the result she really entertained
no doubt.

But she was reckoning without John Burt. Reasoning that would apply to
nearly any other man did not at all fit Bruce's father. Helen had the
sensation of having run at full speed against a stone wall when Burt
came toward her slowly, leading his saddle-horse through one of the
corrals near the unpretentious ranch-house, which she had reached after
a long drive.

The amenities to which she was accustomed were not, as the phrase is,
John Burt's long suit. He did not raise his hat, extend a hand, or
evince the slightest interest by any lighting of the eye. With his arm
thrown across his saddle he waited for her to begin, to state her
business and be gone.

The broad backs of ten thousand cattle glistened in the sun as they fed
inside the John Burt ranch, but owing to his seedy appearance their
owner was frequently mistaken for his own hired man. Self-centred, of
narrow views, strong prejudices, saving to penuriousness, whatever there
was of sentiment, or warm human impulse, in his nature, seemed to have
been buried with Bruce's mother. He had not re-married, but this was the
only outward evidence by which any one could know that the memory of
"his Annie" was as green as the day she died. He never spoke of her nor
of his son, and Burt's life seemed to have for its aim the piling up of
dollars faster than his neighbors.

Helen grasped something of his character in her swift appraisement. As
she returned his impersonal gaze she realized that to him she was simply
a female--a person in petticoats who was going to take up his time and
bore him until he could get rid of her. She was not accustomed to a
reception of this kind; it disconcerted her, but chiefly the magnitude
of her task loomed before her.

The sudden, unexpected fear of failure threw her into a panic. The
feeling which came upon her was like stage-fright. In the first awkward
moment she could scarcely remember why she had come, much less what she
had intended to say. But he was too indifferent to notice her confusion
and this helped her somewhat to recover her presence of mind.

When she mentioned the distance she had travelled to see him he was
entirely unimpressed and it was not until she mentioned Bruce's name
that he appeared to realize that she was not an agent trying to sell him
a book. Then Helen saw in his eyes his mental start;--the look of
resignation vanished and his black brows, so like Bruce's, contracted in
a frown.

"He's alive then," Burt's voice was hard.

Helen nodded.

"I've come to see you on his behalf."

"Oh, he's in trouble." His voice had an acid edge. "He wants me to help
him out."

"In trouble--yes--but I'm not sure he'd forgive me if he knew I had
come."

"Still sore, is he?" His features stiffened.

"Not sore," Helen pleaded, "but--proud."

"Stubborn"--curtly--"mulish. But why should you come to me?"

"Why shouldn't I? You're his father and he needs a helping hand just now
more perhaps than he ever will again."

"Being his father is no reason, that I can see. He's never written me a
line."

"And you've never tried to find him," Helen retorted.

"He had a good home and he ran away. He was fourteen--old enough to know
what he was doing."

"Fourteen!" repeated Helen scornfully throwing diplomacy to the winds at
his criticism of Bruce, "Fourteen!--and you judged him as though he
were a man of your own age and experience!"

"I made $20 a month and my board when I was fourteen."

"That doesn't prove anything except a difference in ambition. You wanted
the $20 a month and Bruce wanted an education."

"He owed me some respect." Burt declared obstinately. At the moment he
and Bruce looked marvellously alike.

"And don't you think you owed him anything?" Helen's cheeks were
flaming. The last thing she had expected was to quarrel with Bruce's
father, but since she was in it she meant to stand her ground. She had
made a muddle of it she felt, and her chances of success were slim
indeed. "Don't you think a child is entitled to the best chance for
happiness and success that his parents can give him? All Bruce asked was
an education--the weapon that every child has a right to, to enable him
to fight his own battles. I had the best education my parents could
afford and at that I'm not bowed down with gratitude for the privilege
of struggling merely to exist."

She expected him to reply with equal heat but instead he ignored her
argument and with a return to his former manner as though his flare-up
of interest had passed, asked indifferently:

"What's he done?"

"Nothing to be ashamed of," Helen answered vigorously, "and everything
to be proud of. He's put up a plucky fight but the odds are too strong
against him and he's going to lose unless you come to the
rescue--quick."

Burt combed the horse's mane with his fingers.

"What's he in--what's he doing?" There was no personal interest in the
question.

Helen hesitated for a second, knowing instinctively the effect her
answer would have upon him--then she replied with a touch of defiance:

"Mining."

"Minin'!" His tone was full of disgust, much as though she had said
gambling or burglary. "I might have known it would be some fool thing
like that. No, ma'am," harshly, "by writin' first you might have saved
yourself the trip for not a dollar of my money ever has or ever will go
into any minin' scheme. I don't speculate."

"But Mr. Burt--" Helen began pleadingly. She had a panicky feeling that
she was going to cry.

"It's no use arguin'," he interrupted. "He can't get me into any
wild-cat minin' scheme--"

"It isn't a wild-cat mining scheme," Helen defended hotly.

Burt went on--

"If he wants to come home and help me with the cattle and behave himself
now that he's fooled away his time and failed--"

"But he hasn't failed." Helen insisted with eager impatience. "He won't
fail if----"

"Well he's hard up--he wants money----" Burt spoke as though the fact
were a crime.

"A good many men have been 'hard up' and needed money before they
succeeded," Helen pleaded. "Surely you know that crises come in nearly
every undertaking where there isn't unlimited capital, obstacles and
combinations of circumstances that no one can forsee. And if you knew
what Bruce has had to fight----"

Helen had expected of course to tell Bruce's father of the placer
properties and his efforts to develop them. She had thought he would
have a father's natural pride in what Bruce had accomplished in the face
of dangers and difficulties. She had intended to tell him of Sprudell,
to show him Smaltz's confession, and the options which would defeat
Sprudell's plotting, but in the face of his narrow obstinacy, his deep
prejudices, she felt the futility of words or argument. She had not for
a moment counted upon such opposition; now she felt helpless, impotent
before this armor of hardness.

"I don't care what he's had to fight. I'd just as soon put my money in
the stove as put it in a mining scheme. There's two things I never do,
young lady, and that's speculate and go on people's notes."

"But, Mr. Burt," she begged hopelessly, "If you'd only make an
exception--just this once. Go to him--see for yourself that all he needs
is a helping hand across this one hard place."

"I got on without any helping hands. Nobody saw me across hard places.
I've told you the only way that he can expect to get anything from me."

"Then it's useless, quite, quite useless for me to say any more?" Helen
was struggling hard to keep her voice steady to the end. "No matter what
the circumstances may be you refuse to do anything for Bruce?"

"That's the size of it--unless he comes back. There's plenty for him to
do here." His tone was implacable and he was waiting with a stolid
patience for her to go.

"I'm sorry if I've bored you and I shan't inflict you any more. Please
remember that Bruce knew nothing of my coming. I came upon my own
responsibility. But his success meant so much to him--to me that I--that
I----" she choked and turned away abruptly. She dared not even say
good-bye.

Burt remained standing by his horse looking after her straight, slender
figure as she walked toward the gate. His face was still sphinx-like but
there was a speculative look in his shrewd eyes. Bruce's success "meant
so much to her," did it? That, then, was why she had come. The distance
she had travelled for the purpose of seeing him had not impressed him in
the least before.

Helen was halfway to the gate when she stopped to replace the rubber
that stuck in the muddy corral and slipped from her heel. Her chin was
quivering, her sensitive lips drooped and, feeling that Burt was looking
at her, she raised her eyes to his. They were brimming full of tears.
She looked for all the world like a sorrowful, disappointed, woe-begone
little girl of not more than ten or twelve.

The unconscious pathos of some look or pose grips the heart harder than
any spoken word and so it was that this unstudied trick of expression
found the vulnerable spot in Burt's armor--the spot which might have
remained impervious indefinitely to any plea. It went straight to his
one weakness, his single point of susceptibility, and that was his
unsuspected but excessive fondness for little girls.

The distinct picture that was firmly fixed in his unimaginative mind
before Bruce was born was still there; the picture of that little girl
with flaxen hair that had blue ribbons in it, with a laughing mouth that
had tiny sharp teeth like pearls, and who was to come dancing to meet
him with her arms outstretched each time that he rode into the yard.
That the dream was never realized was one of the real disappointments of
Burt's life. Inexplicably he saw that little girl again as he looked at
Helen's upturned face with its quivering chin and swimming, reproachful
eyes.

John Burt had a queer feeling of something wilting, crumbling inside of
him, something hard and cold giving way around his heart. He could not
have explained it, it was not his way to try, but he took an impulsive
step toward her and called out:

"Wait a minute! Go on in the house till I put up my horse, I'll hear
what you have to say."



XXVII

UNCLE BILL IS OSTRACIZED


Uncle Bill Griswold sat by the window in the office of the Hinds House
where he could watch the stage road, and, as usual this winter, he was
sitting by himself. It was thus that Ore City punished reticence.

Uncle Bill was suspected of _knowing something_--of having
_business_--of his own--and keeping it to himself. A display of friendly
interest in his affairs having received no encouragement and various
lines of adroit cross-examination having been successfully blocked, Ore
City was forced to regard his stubborn reserve as a hostile act for
which it was tacitly agreed he should be disciplined. Therefore it
withdrew its own confidences and company. Uncle Bill was shunned, left
alone to enjoy his secret. The heavy hand of Public Opinion was upon
him. Socially he was an outcast. Conversation ceased when he approached
as if he had been a spy. Games of solo, high-five, and piute went on
without him and in heated arguments no one any longer asked his views.

This latter offense however was only an aggravation of the real one
which dated back to the memorable occasion when Wilbur Dill had asked
his opinion of the "secondary enrichment." It was held that a man who
would tell the truth at a time like that was a menace to the camp and
the sooner he moved on the better.

In the early spring the old man had disappeared into the mountain with
powder, drills, and a three months' grub-stake. He had told no one of
his destination, and when he had returned the most he would say was that
he had "been peckin' on a ledge all summer." He sent samples of his rock
outside but did not show the assays. He wrote letters and began to get
mail in blank, non-committal envelopes and added to the general feeling
of exasperation by always being at the desk before even the clerk had
time to make out the postmarks. Oh, he was up to something--that was
certain--something that would "knock" the camp no doubt. They wouldn't
put it past him.

If Uncle Bill felt his exile or harbored resentment at being treated
like a leper he was too proud to give any sign.

There had been but little change in the Hinds House in a year. Only a
close observer would have noted that it had changed at all. There was a
trifle more baling-wire intertwined among the legs of the office chairs
and a little higher polish on the seats. The grease spots on the
unbleached muslin where Ore City rested its head were a shade darker and
the monuments of "spec'mins" were higher. The Jersey organ had lost two
stops and a wooden stalagmite was broken. "Old Man" Hinds in a
praiseworthy attempt to clean his solitaire deck had washed off the
spots or at least faded them so that no one but himself could tell what
they were. The office was darker, too, because of the box-covers nailed
across the windows where a few more panes had gone out. Otherwise it
might have been the very day a year ago that Judge George Petty had
lurched through the snow tunnel jubilantly announcing the arrival of the
stage.

Only this year there was no snow tunnel and the Judge was sober--sober
and despondent.

His attitude of depression reflected more or less the spirit of the
camp, which for once came near admitting that "if Capital didn't take
holt in the Spring they _might_ have to quit."

"Anyway," Yankee Sam was saying, lowering his voice to give the
impression to Uncle Bill at the window that he, too, had affairs of a
private nature, "I learnt my lesson good about givin' options. That were
our big mistake--tyin' ourselves up hand and foot with that feller Dill.
Why, if a furrin' syndicate had walked in here and offered me half a
million fer my holdin's in that porphory dike I couldn't a done a stroke
of business. Forfeit money in the bank after this for Samuel. But if
ever I lays eyes on that rat--" Yankee Sam glared about the circle--"you
watch my smoke! Mind what I tell you."

"What about the deal he give me on The Prince o' Peace?" demanded
Lannigan. "Look what he cost me! The money I spent on them stamps
writin' to know what was doin' would a kept me eatin' for a month. Maybe
you think because I don't roar much I ain't angery. If I had the price
I'd hire somebudy regalar to help me hate that feller!"

"I hold that he's worse than robbed me!" Judge Petty struck his knee
with a tremulous fist. "He took one whole year off'n my life, that's
what he's done--pure murder, ain't it? Expectin' to sell every mail, all
summer, and then bein' disappinted has shore took it out of me. Made an
ol' man of me, as you might say, as was hale and hearty. I might have
knowed, too; you had only to look in his face to see what he was!
'Crook' was wrote all over him. There's a law for the likes o' Wilbur
Dill--false pretenses."

"Law!" contemptuously. "Pa" Snow spent more of his time downstairs now
in a rocking chair upholstered with a soogan, where he could vent his
bitterness at short range. Disappointment over the sale of "The Bay
Horse" had made a socialist of him. "The law--a long way we'd get havin'
the law on him! The law's no use to the poor man--he's only got one
weapon he can count on; and while I've never set out to let no man's
blood, if that skunk ever pokes his nose inside these premises he'll
find a red-hot _Southerner_ waitin' for him!" Mr. Snow looked so
altogether ferocious that Ore City more than half believed him.

"Seems like everything this year has been agin us." The despondent voice
behind the stove sounded hopeless. "Burt's proposition fizzlin' out on
the river is goin' to hurt this camp wonderful. It's surprisin' how fast
the news of a failure gits around among Capital. I knew the way he was
startin' in to work--in fact I told him--that he never could make
nothin'."

"When I first went down to work for him I advised steam but he goes
ahead, and look what's happened--broke down and you can gamble he won't
start up again." Lannigan added confidently as though he spoke from
personal knowledge--"Them stockholders is done puttin' up money."

"I warned him about the grade he was givin' them sluice-boxes--I went to
him first off, didn't I?" Yankee Sam looked around for confirmation. "Do
you mind I said at the time he wasn't warshin' that dirt fast enough?"

"Anyhow," declared the Judge querulously, "he ought to 'a piped it off.
T'were a hydraulickin' proposition. He could handle it just twice as
fast at half the cost. I sent him down word when I heard what he was
doin'."

"And wastin' money like he did on all them new style riffles--expanded
metal and cocoa matting! Gimme pole riffles with a little strap-iron on
the top and if you can't ketch it with that you can't ketch it with
nothin'."

"Mostly," said Ma Snow who had come up behind the critic's chair
unnoticed, "you've ketched nothin'." She went on in her plaintive voice:

"It's a shame, that's what it is, that Bruce Burt didn't just turn over
his business to you-all this summer. With shining examples of success to
advise him, like's sittin' here burnin' up my wood t'hout offerin' to
split any, he _couldn't_ have failed. Personally, I wouldn't think of
makin' a business move without first talkin' it over with the financiers
that have made Ore City the money centre that it is!"

"Everybody can learn something," Yankee Sam retorted with a show of
spirit.

"Not everybody," Ma Snow's voice had an ominous quaver, "or you'd a
learned long ago that you can't knock that young man in my hearin'. _I_
haven't forgot if _you_ have, that the only real money that's been in
the camp all Summer has come up from the river."

"We wasn't sayin' anything against him personal," the brash Samuel
assured her hastily; but Bruce's champion refused to be mollified.

"What if he _did_ shut down? What of it?" She glared defiance until her
pale eyes watered with the strain. "I don't notice anybody here that's
ever had gumption enough even to start up. What do you do?" She answered
for them--"Jest scratch a hole in the ground, then set and wait for
Capital to come and hand you out a million. I dast you to answer!"

It was plain from the silence that no one cared to remove the chip on Ma
Snow's shoulder.

"I hear he aims to stay down there all winter alone and trap." Judge
Petty made the observation for the sake of conversation merely, as the
fact was as well known as that there were four feet of snow outside or
that the camp was "busted."

"And it's to his credit," Ma Snow snapped back. "When he's doin' that he
ain't runnin' up board bills he cain't pay."

"It's as good a place as any," admitted the Judge, "providin' he don't
go nutty." He raised his voice and added with a significant look at
Uncle Bill: "Bachin' alone makes some fellers act like a bull-elk that's
been whipped out of the herd."

"It takes about four months before you begin to think that somebudy's
layin' out in the brush watchin' you--waitin' to rob you even if you
haven't got anything to steal but a slab of swine-buzzum and a sack of
flour. The next stage," went on the citizen behind the stove speaking
with the voice of authority, "is when you pack your rifle along every
time you go for a bucket of water, and light you palouser in the middle
of the night to go around the cabin lookin' for tracks. Yes, sir,"
emphatically, "and the more brains you got the quicker you go off."

"You seemed about the same when you got back as when you left that time
you wintered alone on the left fork of Swiftwater," Ma Snow commented.

"Like as not you remember that spell I spent t'other side of Sheep-eater
Ridge when I druv that fifty foot tunnel single-handed into the Silver
King?"

"You've never give us no chance to forgit it," responded an auditor.
"We've heard it reg'lar every day since."

"I hadn't seen nobody fer clost to three months," Lemonade Dan continued
"when a feller come along, and says: 'I'd like to stop with ye but I'm
short of cash.' I counted out a dollar-thirty and I says 'Stranger,' I
says, 'that's all I got but it's yourn if you'll stay!'"

"And you'll jump for a new seed catalogue or an Agricultural Bulletin
like it was a novel just out," contributed Yankee Sam from his
experience. "I've allus been a great reader. I mind how I come clost to
burnin' myself out on account of it the fall of '97 when I was
ground-sluicin' down there on Snake river. I had a tidy cabin papered
with newspapers and one week when 'twere stormin' I got interested in a
serial story what was runnin'. It started back of the stove and they was
an installment pasted in the cupboard, they was a piece upside down
clost to the floor so I had to stand on my head, as you might say, to
read it, and the end was on the ceilin'. One evenin' I was standin' on a
box with my mouth open and my neck half broke tryin' to see how it come
out when I tipped the lamp over. I'm a reg'lar book-worm, when I gits
where they's readin'."

"I mind the winter I bached on Crooked Crick I tamed a mouse," ventured
Lannigan. "He got so sociable he et out of my fingers."

"He shorely must have been fond of you." Ma Snow looked fixedly at
Lannigan's hands. "Mistah Hinds," turning sharply upon that person, who
was endeavoring by close inspection to tell whether the last card was a
king or queen, "the bacon's froze and there ain't a knife in yoah ol'
kitchen that will cut."

"Yes ma'am," murmured Mr. Hinds, hoping against hope that the statement
was not a command with his luck just beginning to turn and a sequence in
sight.

"If there ain't an aidge on one of them butcher knives that'll cut bread
when I start in to get supper--"

But Ma Snow did not deliver her ultimatum. In the first place it was not
necessary, for the cowed owner of the Hinds House knew perfectly well
what it was, and in the second, Uncle Bill arose suddenly and stood on
tiptoe looking through the window in something that approached
excitement. Nothing ordinary could jar Uncle Bill's composure--chairs
went over in the rush to join him at the window.

The stage was coming--with passengers! It was almost in--they could hear
the driver's--"Git ep, Eagle! Git ep, Nig! Git ep--git ep--git ep!"
There was luggage on behind and--Yankee Sam's voice broke as though it
were changing when he announced it--a female and two men!

Was this Uncle Bill's secret? Had he known? They could learn nothing
from his face and his mouth was shut so tight it looked as if he had the
lock-jaw.

Who was she? Where was she from? Did she have any money? Was she old or
young? Delicacy forbade them to go outside and look straight at a
strange lady but a dozen questions rose in every mind. Then
simultaneously the same thought came to each. Moved by a common impulse
they turned and stared suspiciously at Uncle Bill. Could it be--was it
possible that he had been advertising for a wife? Luring some trusting
female from her home by representing himself as a mining man forced to
reside in this mountain solitude near his valuable properties? Ore City
knew of cases like it; and he was just about the age to begin writing to
matrimonial bureaus.

Speculation ended abruptly. A sharp intake of breath--a startled gasp
ran through the tense group as a pair of nimble, yellow legs flashed
from beneath the robes and the citizens of Ore City saw the smiling face
of Wilbur Dill! They turned to each other for confirmation lest their
own eyes deceive them.

Mr. Dill stamped the snow from his feet, flung open the door and beamed
around impartially.

"Well, boys--" he threw off his opulent, fur-lined coat--"it's good to
be back."

For the space of a second Ore City stood uncertainly. Then Pa Snow
disentangled his feet from the quilt and stepped forth briskly.

"Welcome home!" said the fire-eater cordially.

Dill's return could have but one meaning. He had returned with a "Live
One" to take up the options. Hope smouldering to the point of extinction
sprang to life and burned like a fire in a cane-brake. Imaginations were
loosed on the instant. Once more Ore City began to think in six figures.

Yankee Sam, who had called upon his friends and High Heaven to "watch
his smoke," was the next to wring Dill's hand, and Lannigan followed,
while the Judge forgot the priceless year of which he had been robbed
and elbowed Porcupine Jim aside to greet him. Only Uncle Bill stood
aloof turning his jack-knife over and over nonchalantly in the pocket of
his Levi Strauss's.

Ore City scowled. Couldn't he be diplomatic for once--the stubborn old
burro'--and act glad even if he wasn't? Why didn't he at least step up
like a man and say howdy to the woman he had lured from a good home?
Where was he raised, anyhow?--drug up in the brush, most like, in
Missoury.

Dill looked about inquiringly.

"Ah-h! Mr. Griswold." He strode across the floor. "_How_ are you?"

Ore City's hand flew to its heart, figuratively speaking, and clutched
it. No man ever called another "Mister" in that tone unless he had
something he wanted. And no man ever answered "tolable" with Uncle
Bill's serenity unless _he knew_ he had something the other fellow
wanted.

Had he really got hold of something on his prospecting trip this summer?
Had he sold? Was he selling? Did this account for Dill's presence and
not the options? The chill at their hearts shot to their feet.

Mr. Dill tapped his pocket and lowered his voice--a futile precaution,
for at the moment Ore City could have heard a "thousand legger" walk
across the floor. "I've got the papers here," he said, "all ready to be
signed up if every thing's as represented."

Ore City went limp but not too limp to strain their ears for Uncle
Bill's reply.

"Yes," he drawled, "you want to take particular care that I ain't saltin'
you. Give plenty of time to your examination. They's no great sweat; I
wouldn't sign my name to an application for a fish license that you
brought me until I'd had a good lawyer look it over first. As I promised
you when you wrote me to open up that ledge, I'll give you the first
shot at it, but don't try any funny business. I know now what I got,
and I don't need you to help me handle it. I've never made it no secret,
Wilbur, that I wouldn't trust you with a red-hot stove."

"I don't see why you should talk to me like this," Dill declared in an
injured tone. "You can't point to a single thing I've done."

"I ain't got fingers enough," Uncle Bill said dryly, "and my toes is
under cover. It's prob'ly slipped your mind that I was down in south'rn
Oregon when you left between two suns; but tain't that"--his old eyes
gleamed--"it's what you done last winter--goin' down there deliberate to
jump Bruce Burt's claim."

"Ss-sh!" Mr. Dill hissed, not in resentment but in alarm as he glanced
over his shoulder. "That's Burt's father." From the corner of his
mouth--"I think he's got money."

Money! The word acted like a strychnia tablet upon Ore City's retarded
circulation. Money! Warmth returned to its extremities. It looked at the
object of these hopeful suspicions as though its many heads swung on a
single neck. He was sitting by the stove in a suit of clothes that must
have cost as much as fifteen dollars and he appeared as oblivious to
their concentrated gaze as though he were alone in the middle of his
ranch.

The strange female was still unaccounted for. Ore City had the tense,
over-strained feeling of a spectator trying to watch all the acts in a
triple-ringed circus. When she removed her outer wraps it was seen that
she was not only young but, in Ore City's eyes, overpoweringly
good-looking. Was she married? Every question paled beside this one.
Surely--they looked at Uncle Bill contemptuously--even if he _had_
struck something she would not marry that old codger.

When she walked to the stove to warm her hands if they had followed
their impulses they would have jumped and run. The bravest among them
dared not raise his eyes two inches above the bottom part of the
stove-door though in each mind there was a wild groping for some light
and airy nothing to show how much he felt at ease. Something which
should be appropriate and respectful, yet witty.

And of course it must be Porcupine Jim who finally spoke.

"That's a hard stage ride, ma'am," he said deferentially. "Them jolts is
enough to tear the linin' out of a lady. They does _me_ up and I'm quite
hearty."

Ore City blushed to the roots of its hair and there was murder in the
eyes that turned on Jim. Didn't he know _nothin'_--that Swede?

They felt somewhat relieved when she laughed.

"It is rather bumpy but I enjoyed it. The mountains are wonderful, and
the air, and everybody is so kind; it's a new world to me and I love it
all!"

Ore City fairly purred. _Was_ she married? There was a general
movement--a surreptitious smoothing of back hair--an apologetic fumbling
at the spot sacred to neckties. The judge buttoned up the two remaining
buttons of his waistcoat. Lannigan concealed his hands.

The shadow of a grin flitted across John Burt's face, for he sometimes
saw and heard more than was generally believed.

"If you was aimin' to stay any length of time, ma'am," Yankee Sam fished
innocently, "we kin git up a picnic and show you somethin' of the
country when the snow goes off. About three days' ride from here I know
a real nice view."

Helen thanked him adequately and explained that she was not sure how
long she would remain. "I should like to stay, though," she added, "long
enough to see the boom."

Ore City sat up as if she had said, "bomb."

"By the way, I wonder, if Mr. Griswold is here?"

It _was_ Uncle Bill then! He'd ought to be lynched. It was sickening the
luck some people had.

Uncle Bill came forward wonderingly.

"Here I be."

Helen put out a friendly hand:

"You don't know me, of course, but I've heard a great deal about you."

"I'm most afraid to ask what it is, ma'am, for lyin' and stealin' is the
only crimes I denies."

"I'll tell you when I know you better," Helen laughed, "because I hope
we're going to be good friends."

He looked keenly into her face. "I wouldn't never look for any trouble
between you and me, ma'am. Shake." He added with a smile: "I ain't got
so many friends that I kin afford to turn one down."

"You'll have enough of them shortly," Helen smiled. "I know the world
sufficiently well to be sure of that. I hope I'm the first to
congratulate you on your good fortune. Mr. Dill has told me something of
your luck. He says you're going to be the saviour of the camp."

"I been crucified a-plenty," Uncle Bill replied, with a significant look
at Ore City sitting with its mouth agape, "but," modestly, "I wouldn't
hardly like to go as far as to call myself _that_."



XXVIII

"ANNIE'S BOY"


When Bruce was left alone in the gloomy canyon, where the winter sun at
its best did not shine more than three hours in the twenty-four, he had
wondered whether the days or nights would be the hardest to endure. It
was now well into December, and still he did not know. They were equally
intolerable.

During the storms which kept him inside he spent the days looking at the
floor, the nights staring at the ceiling, springing sometimes to his
feet burning with feverish energy, a maddening desire to _do_
something--and there was nothing for him to do but wait. Moments would
come when he felt that he could go out and conquer the world bare-handed
but they quickly passed with a fresh realization of his helplessness,
and he settled back to the inevitable.

It was folly to go out penniless--unarmed; he had learned that lesson in
the East and his condition then had been affluence compared to this. He
was doing the one thing that it was possible for him to do in the
circumstances--to get money enough to go outside.

"Slim" had brought a collection of traps down the river from Meadows,
and Bruce had set these out. So far he had been rather lucky and the
pile of skins in the corner was growing--lynx, cougar, marten, mink--but
it still was not high enough.

If Bruce had been less sensitive, more world-hardened, his failure would
not have seemed such a crushing, unbearable thing, but alone in the
killing monotony he brooded over the money he had sunk for other people
until it seemed like a colossal disgrace for which there was no excuse
and that he could never live down. In his bitter condemnation of himself
for his inexperience, his ill-judged magnanimity, he felt as though his
was an isolated case--that no human being ever had made such mistakes
before.

But it was thoughts of Helen that always gave his misery its crowning
touch. She pitied him, no doubt, because, she was kind, but in her heart
he felt she must despise him for a weakling--a braggart who could not
make good his boasts. She needed him, too,--he was sure of it--and lack
of money made him as helpless to aid her as though he were serving a
jail sentence. When, in the night, his mind began running along this
line he could no longer stay in his bunk; and not once, but many times,
he got up and dressed and went outside, stumbling around in the brush,
over the rocks--anything to change his thoughts.

He tried his utmost to put her out of his mind, yet as he plodded on his
snow-shoes, along his fifteen-mile trap line, either actively or
subconsciously his thoughts were of her. He could no longer imagine
himself feeling anything more than a mild interest in any other woman.
He loved her with the same concentration of affection that he had loved
his mother.

Bruce had formed the habit of wondering what she would think of this and
that--of imagining how she would look--what she would say--and so all
through the summer she had been associated with the work. He had
anticipated the time when he should be showing her the rapids with the
moonlight shining on the foam, the pink and amber sunsets behind the
umbrella tree, and when the wind blew among the pines of listening with
her to the sounds that were like Hawaiian music in the distance.

Now, try as he would, he could not rid himself of the habit, and, as he
pushed his way among the dark underbrush of creeks, he was always
thinking that she, too, would love that "woodsy" smell; that she, too,
would find delight in the frozen waterfalls and the awesome stillness of
the snow-laden pines.

But just so often as he allowed his imagination rein, just so often he
came back to earth doubly heavy-hearted, for the chance that she would
ever share his pleasure in these things seemed to grow more remote as
the days went by.

Bruce had built himself a shelter at the end of his trap-line that
consisted merely of poles and pine boughs leaned against a rim-rock.
Under this poor protection, wrapped in a blanket, with his feet toward
the fire at the entrance and his back against the wall, he spent many a
wretched night. Sometimes he dozed a little, but mostly wide-eyed, he
counted the endless hours waiting for the dawn.

During the summer when things had continually gone wrong Bruce had found
some comfort in recounting the difficulties which his hero of the
Calumet and Hecla had gone through in the initial stages of the
development of that great mine. But that time had passed, for, while
Alexander Agassiz had had his struggles, Bruce told himself with a
shadowy smile, he never had been up against a deal like this! there was
no record that he ever had had to lie out under a rim-rock when the
thermometer stood twenty and twenty-five below.

In the long, soundless nights that had the cold stillness of infinite
space, Bruce always had the sensation of being the only person in the
universe. He felt alone upon the planet. Facts became hazy myths, truths
merely hallucinations, nothing seemed real, actual, except that if he
slept too long and the fire went out he would freeze to death under the
rim-rock.

It was only when he dropped down from the peaks and ridges and began to
follow his own steps back, that he returned to reality and things seemed
as they are again. Then it was not so hard to believe that over beyond
that high, white range there were other human beings--happy people,
successful people, people with plenty to read and plenty to do, people
who looked forward with pleasure, not dread, to the days as they came.

He was so lonely that he always felt a little elated when he came across
an elk track in the snow. It was evidence that something _was_ stirring
in the world beside himself.

One day three deer came within thirty feet of him and stared.

"I suppose," he mused, "they're wondering what I am? Dog-gone!" with
savage cynicism. "I'm wondering that myself."

Whatever small portion of his spirits he had recovered by exercise and
success at his traps, always disappeared again on his return down Big
Squaw Creek. To pass the head-gate and the flume gave him an acute pang,
while the high trestle which represented so much toil and sweat, hurt
him like a stab. It seemed unbelievable that he could fail after all
that work!

When he passed the power-house with its nailed windows and doors he
turned his head the other way. It was like walking by a graveyard where
some one was sleeping that he loved.

Bruce always had been peculiarly depressed by abandoned homesteads,
deserted cabins, machinery left to rust, because they represented wasted
efforts, failure, but when these monuments to dead hopes were his own!
His quickened footsteps sometimes became very nearly like a run.

It was from such a trip that Bruce came back to his cabin after two
days' absence more than ordinarily heavy-hearted, if that were possible,
though his luck had been unusually good. He had a cougar, one lynx, and
six dark marten. Counting the State bounty on the cougar, the green
skins be brought back represented close to a hundred dollars. At that
rate he soon could go "outside."

But to-night the thought did not elate him. What was there for him
outside? What was there for him anywhere? As he had trudged along the
trail through the broken snow, the gloom of the canyon had weighed upon
him heavily, but it was the chill silence in the bare cabin when he
opened the door that put the finishing touches upon his misery. The
emptiness of it echoed in his heart.

The blankets were in a mound in the bunk; he had been too disheartened
before he left even to sweep the floor; the ashes over-flowed the stove
hearth and there was no wood split. The soiled dishes, caked with
hardened grease, made him sick. The chimney of the lamp he lighted was
black with smoke. It was the last word in cheerlessness, and there was
no reason to think, Bruce told himself, that it would not be in such
surroundings that he would end his days. He was tired, hungry; his
vitality and spirits were at low ebb.

He warmed over a pan of biscuits and cold bacon and threw a handful of
coffee in the dismal looking coffee pot. When it was ready he placed it
on the clammy oilcloth and sat down. He eyed the food for a moment--the
ever-present bacon, the sticky can of condensed milk, the black coffee
in the tin cup, the biscuits covered with protuberances that made them
look like a panful of horned toads. He realized suddenly that, hungry as
he had thought himself, he could not eat.

With a sweeping, vehement gesture he pushed it all from him. The tin cup
upset and a small waterfall of coffee splashed upon the floor, the can
of condensed milk rolled across the table and fell off but he did not
pick it up. Instead, he folded his arms upon the oilcloth in the space
he had made and dropping his forehead upon his ragged shirt-sleeve, he
cried. Bruce had hit bottom.

Older, wiser, braver men than Bruce have cried in some crisis of their
lives. Tears are no sign of weakness. And they did not come now because
he was quitting--because he did not mean to struggle on somehow or
because there was anything or anybody of whom he was afraid. It was only
that he was lonely, heartsick, humiliated, weary of thinking, bruised
with defeat.

These tears were different from the ready tears of childhood, different
from the last he had shed upon his dead mother's unresponsive shoulder;
these came slowly--smarting, stinging as they rose. His shoulders moved
but he made no sound.

                 *       *       *       *       *

A little way from the cabin where the steep trail from Ore City dropped
off the mountain to the sudden flatness of the river bar, some dead
branches cracked and a horse fell over a fallen log, upsetting the
toboggan that it dragged and taking Uncle Bill with it. Helen hurried to
the place where he was trying to extricate himself from the tangle.

"Are you _dead_, Uncle Bill?"

"Can't say--I never died before. Say," in a querulous whisper as he
helped the floundering horse up--"Why don't you notice where you're
goin'? Here you come down the mountain like you had fur on your feet,
and the minute I gits you where I wants you to be quiet you make more
noise nor a cow-elk goin' through the brush. How you feelin', ma'am?" to
Helen. "I expect you're about beat."

"Sorry to disappoint you, Uncle Bill, but I'm not. You tried so hard to
keep me from coming I don't think I'd tell you if I was."

"You wouldn't have to--I reckon I'd find it out before we'd gone far.
I've noticed that when a lady is tired or hungry she gits powerful
cross."

"Where did you learn so much about women?"

"I've picked up considerable knowledge of the female disposition from
wranglin' dudes. A bald-face bear with cubs is a reg'lar streak of
sunshine compared to a lady-dude I had out campin' once--when she got
tired or hungry, or otherwise on the peck. Her and me got feelin' pretty
hos-tile toward each other 'fore we quit.

"I didn't so much mind packin' warm water mornin's for her to wash her
face, or buttonin' her waist up the back, or changin' her stirrups every
few miles or gittin' off to see if it was a fly on her horse's stummick
that made him switch his tail, but I got so weak I couldn't hardly set
in the saddle from answerin' questions and tryin' to laugh at her
jokes.

"'Say,' says she, 'ain't you got no sense of humor?' atter I'd let out
somethin' between a groan and a squeal. 'I had,' I says, ''till I was
shot in the head.' 'Shot in the head! Why didn't it kill you?' 'The
bullet struck a bolt, ma'am, and glanced off.' We rode seven hours that
day without speakin' and 'twere the only enjoyable time I had. Dudin'
wouldn't be a bad business," Uncle Bill added judicially, "if it weren't
for answerin' questions and listenin' to their second-hand jokes.
Generally they're smart people when they're on their home range and
sometimes they turns out good friends."

"Like Sprudell." Helen suggested mischievously.

"Sprudell!" The old man's eyes blazed and he fairly jumped at the sound
of the name. "I ain't blood-thirsty and I never bore that reputation but
if I had knowed as much about that feller as I know now he'd a slept in
that there snow-bank until spring.

"You know, ma'am," Uncle Bill went on solemnly while he cast an eye back
up the trail for Burt who had fallen behind, "when a feller's drunk or
lonesome he's allus got some of a dream that he dreams of what he'd do
if he got rich. Sometimes its a hankerin' to travel, or be State
Senator, or have a whole bunch of bananny's hangin' up in the house to
onct. I knowed an old feller that died pinin' for a briled lobster with
his last breath. Since I read that piece about sobbin' out my gratitude
on Sprudell's broad chest it's woke a new ambition in me. Every time I
gits about three fingers of 'cyanide' from the Bucket o' Blood under my
belt I sees pictures of myself gittin' money enough together to go back
to Bartlesville, Indianny, and lick him every day, reg'lar, or jest as
often as I kin pay my fine, git washed up, and locate him agin." Uncle
Bill added reflectively:

"If this deal with Dill goes through without any hitch, I'd ort to be
able to start about the first of the month."

"When _you_ get through with him," Helen laughed, "I'll review the book
he's publishing at his own expense. Here comes Mr. Burt; he looks fagged
out."

"These plains fellers are never any good on foot," Uncle Bill commented
as Burt caught up. "Now," to Burt and Helen, "I'll jest hold this
war-horse back while you two go on ahead. Down there's his light."

There was eagerness in Burt's voice as he said:

"Yes, I'd like to have a look at him before he knows we're here. I'm
curious to see how he lives--what he does to pass the time."

"I hope as how you won't ketch him in the middle of a wild rannicaboo of
wine, women and song," Uncle Bill suggested dryly. "Bachin' in the
winter twenty miles from a neighbor is about the most dissipatin' life I
know. There must be somethin' goin' on this evenin' or he wouldn't be
settin' up after it's dark under the table."

"I'm so excited I'm _shaking_." Helen declared. "My teeth are almost
chattering. I'm so afraid he'll hear us. That will spoil the surprise."

But Bruce had not heard. In complete abandonment to his wretchedness he
was still sitting at the table with his head upon his arm. So it was
that his father saw him after fifteen years.

When he had thought of Bruce it was always as he had seen him that day
through the window of the prairie ranch house--his head thrown back in
stubborn defiance, his black eyes full of the tears of childish anger
and hurt pride, running bare-footed and bare-headed down the dusty
road--running, as he realized afterward, out of his life.

He had bitterly imagined that his son was prospering somewhere, with a
wife and children of his own, too indifferent in his contentment and
success to bother with his old Dad; and the picture had hardened his
heart.

His own life had been no bed of roses--no pioneer's was--and he, too,
had known loneliness, hardships, but never anything like this. His
shrewd face, deep-seamed and weather-beaten by the suns and snows of
many years, worked. Then he straightened his shoulders, stooped from
years of riding, and the black eyes under their thick eyebrows flashed.

"So this was that Sprudell fellow's work, was it? He was trying to
freeze Bruce out, down him because he thought he had no backing--break
him on the rack!" His teeth shut hard and the fingers inside his mittens
clenched. "There were people in the world who thought they could treat
Bruce like that--and get away with it? Annie's boy--_his_ son! Not yet,
by God, not while steers were bringing nine-sixty on the hoof."

Burt strode around the corner and threw the door back wide.

"Bruce! Bruce! You mustn't feel so bad!" Excitement made his voice sound
harsh, but there was no mistaking the sympathy intended or the yearning
in his face.

Bruce jumped, startled, to his feet and stared, his vision dimmed by the
smarting tears. Was it a ghost--was he, too, getting "queer?"

"Haven't you anything to say to me, Bruce?"

There was an odd timidity in his father's voice but it was real
enough--it was no hallucination. Simultaneous with the relief the
thought flashed through Bruce's mind that his father had seen him
through the window in his moment of weakness and despair. His features
stiffened and with a quick, shamed movement he brushed his eyes with the
back of his hand while his eyes flashed pride and resentment.

"I said all I had to say fifteen years ago when you refused me the
chance to make something of myself. If I'd had an education nobody could
have made a fool of me like this." His voice vibrated with mingled
bitterness and mortification.

"I suppose you've heard all about it and come to say--'I told you so.'"

"I've come to see you through."

"You're too late; I'm down and out." In Bruce's voice Burt recognized
his own harsh tones. "You've got nothing that I want now; you might as
well go back." His black eyes were relentless--hard.

"Won't you shake hands with me, Bruce?" There was pleading in his voice
as he took a step toward his son. Bruce did not stir, and Burt added
with an effort: "It ain't so easy as you might think for me to beg like
this."

"I begged, too, but it didn't do any good."

"I've come twenty miles--on foot--to tell you that I'm sorry. I'm not
young any more, Bruce. I'm an old man--and you're all I've got in the
world."

An old man! The words startled Bruce--shocked him. He never had thought
of his father as old, or lonely, but always as tireless, self-centred,
self-sufficient, absorbed heart and soul in getting rich. He seemed
suddenly to see the bent shoulders, the graying hair and eyebrows, the
furrows and deep, drooping lines about the mouth that had not been
engraved by happiness. There was something forlorn, pathetic about him
as he stood there with his hand out asking for forgiveness. And he had
plodded through the snow--twenty miles--on foot to see him!

The blood that is thicker than water stirred, and the tugging at his
heart strings grew too hard to withstand. He unfolded his arms and
stretched out a hand impulsively--"Father!" Then both--"Dad!" he cried.

"My boy!" There was a catch in the old man's voice, misty eyes looked
into misty eyes and fifteen years of bitterness vanished as father and
son clasped hands.

When Burt could speak he looked at Bruce quizzically and said, "I
thought you'd be married by this time, Bruce."

"Married! What right has a Failure to get married?"

"That's no way to talk. What's one slip-up, or two, or three? Nobody's a
failure till he's dead. Confidence comes from success, but, let me tell
you, boy, practical knowledge comes from jolts."

"Dog-gone! I ought to be awful wise," Bruce answered ironically. "Yes,"
sobering. "I've learned something--I'm not liable to make the same
mistake twice." He added ruefully: "Nor, by the same token, am I likely
to have the chance. I suppose I've got the reputation of being something
midway between an idiot and a thief."

Burt seemed to consider.

"Well, now, I can't recall that the person who engineered this trip for
me used any such names as that. As near as I could make out she was
somewhat prejudiced on your side."

Bruce stared.

"She? Not 'Ma' Snow!"

Burt's eyes twinkled as he shook his head.

"No," drily, "not 'Ma' Snow. She's an estimable lady but I doubt if she
could talk me into comin' on a tour like this in winter."

A wonderful light dawned suddenly in Bruce's eyes.

"You mean--"

"--Helen. I'm feelin' well enough acquainted with her now to call her
Helen. Whatever else we disagree on, Bruce, it looks as though we had
the same taste when it comes to girls."

"You _know_ her?" Bruce's tone was as incredulous as his face.

Burt answered with a wry smile:

"After you've ridden on the back seat of that Beaver Creek stage with a
person and bumped heads every fifteen feet for a hundred miles, you're
not apt to feel like strangers when you get in."

Bruce almost shouted--

"She's in Ore City!"

"She _was_."

Bruce fell back into his old attitude at the table, but his father
stepped quickly to the door and an instant later threw it open. At his
side was Helen--with outstretched arms and face aglow, her eyes shining
happily.

Bruce had not known that great and sudden joy could make a person
dizzy, but the walls, the floor, everything, seemed to waver as he
leaped to his feet.

"I was sure you wouldn't turn your own partner out of doors!" Her lips
parted in the smile that he loved and though he could not speak he went
toward her with outstretched arms.

Passing the window, Uncle Bill stopped and stood for a second looking
into the light.

"Hells catoots!" he muttered gruffly, "Seems like sometimes in this
world things happen as they ort." And then, Ore City to the contrary, he
demonstrated that he had both presence of mind and tact, for he shouted
to Burt in a voice that would have carried a mile on a still night--"Hi!
Old Man! Come out and help me with this horse. Sounds like he's down
agin and chokin' hisself."



      *      *      *      *      *      *



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