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Title: The Mascot of Sweet Briar Gulch
Author: Phillips, Henry Wallace, 1869-1930
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 Mascot of Sweet Briar Gulch" ***

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THE MASCOT OF SWEET BRIAR GULCH

by

HENRY WALLACE PHILLIPS

Author of Red Saunders
Plain Mary Smith
etc.

With Illustrations by F. Graham Cootes



New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers

Copyright 1908
The Bobbs-Merrill Company
October



THE MASCOT OF SWEET BRIAR GULCH



THE MASCOT OF SWEET BRIAR GULCH


The gulch ran in a trough of beauty to the foot of Jones's Hill, which
rose in a sweeping curve into the clouds.

Wild flowers, trees in profuse leaf, and mats of vines covered the
scarred earth, and the sky was as limpid as spring water; the air carried
a weight of heart-stirring odors, yet Jim Felton, sitting on the
door-step of his cabin in the brilliant sunshine, was not a happy man.

He looked at the hollow of the gulch and cursed it manfully and bitterly.
The gold should be there--Jim had figured it all out. The old wash cut at
right angles to the creek, and at the turn was where its freight of
yellow metal should have been deposited, but when you got down to the
bed-rock, the blasted stuff was either slanted so nothing could stay on
it, or was rotten--crumbling in your fingers, and that kind of bed will
hold nothing.

Therefore Jim had sunk about fifty prospect holes; got colors under the
grass-roots, as evidence that pay should be there--and nothing but ashy
wash beneath it.

When a man is alone, and thinks things are wrong, optimism comes down on
the run, the shades of pessimism gather fast and furious--more especially
if a man does his own cooking, and the raw material is limited, at that.

The sun had not moved the shadows three inches before Jim had reached the
conclusion that this world was all a practical joke, of so low an order
that no sensible man would even laugh at it, and he drew a letter from
his pocket in proof thereof. It was a thin letter, written on delicate
paper in a delicate hand, and it showed much wear. He read for the
thousandth time:

  Dearest Jim--And again I must say "no." Of course you will not
  understand, for which foolish reason I like you all the better, but
  you must try to take my point of view. You say that we can be
  married on nothing and take our chances.

  So we can, old simple-heart--but aren't those chances all against
  us? Would you like to be forced to work in some office for just
  enough to live on? You know you would not, and you know how you
  would suffer in such slavery.

  Nevertheless we can not live on air, and I doubt if I would stand
  transplanting to the wild life you love, better than you to a
  clerk's desk. You have that fancy which gilds the tin cans in the
  back yard; I have that unfortunate eye which would multiply their
  number by three, and their unsightliness by ten. I don't want
  riches, dear; I only want a modest assurance that I can have enough
  to live on.

  Really, is your way of doing a guarantee of even bread and butter? In
  the Garden of Eden you would be the most delightful of companions,
  but in this world as it is, you will not fight for your own. You
  would risk your life to save a dog, but you couldn't stay at a
  continued grind--I mean it would kill you, actually, physically,
  dead, dead--to save all of us. At first I thought that a fault in
  you, but now, being older, having compared you to other men, I see it
  is merely a missing faculty.

  I could stick to the desk, and would gladly, if you would let me,
  yet I could not even fancy behaving as you did at the factory fire,
  which is still the symbol in the town for manly courage and presence
  of mind.

  They talk now of the way you laughed and joked with those poor
  frightened girls (who had such good cause to be frightened) and
  brought them back to sanity with a jest. I feel that if I had the
  least atom of heroism in me I would marry you for that feat alone,
  and let cold facts go hang; but, ah, Jim! magnificent as you are on
  the grand occasions, they come but seldom, and in the meantime,
  Jim--I'll leave that to your own honesty.

  I'm plebeian, Jim, and you're a nobleman, with a beautiful but
  embarrassing disregard for vulgar necessities.

  However, I can say this for myself--for surely I may brag a little
  to my lover--I can try to match your splendid physical bravery by
  my own moral courage.

  You may rest your soul in peace on one point. If I am not for you,
  I'm for no man, no, not so much as a half-glance of the eye. I
  wouldn't hold myself a bit more straitly if I were your wife.

  You'll be angry at this letter. Well, I'll stand your anger. I have
  caused it, and I'll bear the blame. I know that we could not be
  happy without some visible means of support, yet I do not blame you
  in the least for thinking otherwise.

  Be as kind to me as you can, Jim, for I love you very much in my
  commonplace way. I'll admit, too, that I had rather have your fire
  than my refrigerator--oh, if you could only make some money--not a
  great deal, but enough for a little house of our own, and enough in
  the bank to buy groceries!

  With my best love, and an aching lump in my throat,

  Your mother, sister, and sweetheart,

                                                               Anne.

Jim dropped the letter, and his lips trembled a little. Parts of it
touched him deeply, and he was the more enraged and hurt at the rest
because of that.

He could not call her mercenary. He knew better. More than one very
comfortable income was at her disposal.

Poor fellow! He could only grind his teeth and curse Sweet Briar gulch
from the deepest pot-hole in the bed-rock to the top of its loftiest
pine. He drew out her photograph, and obtained much sweet consolation by
thinking how happy they two would be in Sweet Briar gulch together, even
if there wasn't a cent of pay in the gravel.

Sick of this ingenious torture, he lit his pipe and drew savagely upon
it. With a mocking gurgle, about a dram of "slumgullion" passed into his
mouth. It was the last touch. He spat out the biting, nauseating stuff,
hurled the pipe upon the rocks and danced on it.

And yet the colors frolicked in the gulch; the pines toned the air with
healthy breath.

From afar came the th-r-r-up! th-r-r-up! th-r-r-up of a galloping horse.
It was Bud, the mail-carrier, coming, modestly and quietly, at a decent
gait, down a trail where most would prefer to walk, and to "hang on" to
something at that.

At first Jim felt irritated by the interruption. He wanted to luxuriate
in misery: still he was a vigorous, healthy man, and the cheery
good-fellowship of Bud soon made away with that feeling.

"Well, how they coming, Jimmy?" queried the young giant. "Hit her yet?"

"Hit--well, much caloric,"--replied Jim. "I've begun to believe there
ain't a durned thing here."

"You're looking kind of owly, old man--what's up? Don't you feel well?"

"Oh, Bud I I'm sick of everything this day--I don't believe in the
constitution of the United States, including the thirteenth amendment,
nor the ten commandments, nor the attraction of gravitation, nor anything
else--it's all a damned lie."

"No wonder you get like that, mousing around here without a chance to
yappi with a feller critter. 'Nough to make you locoed.

"Jump it for a spell. Go up town. Get loaded. Get horribly loaded. Break
somebody's window, and tell the folks you're a Sweet Briar zephyr come to
blow out their lights. Go ahead and do it. When your hair stops pulling
you'll feel like a new man."

Jim thought the advice sound, yet a strange feeling had developed in him,
in his isolation; it was that the eye of Anne was always on him. He had
fallen into a habit, which becomes a superstition when a man is alone, of
acting as though she were there in person.

However, he didn't feel called upon to offer Bud that explanation of his
refusal. He conveyed the idea in one brief word.

"Busted," said he.

"Busted?" retorted Bud warmly. "Busted? Not much, you ain't busted whilst
that little package is there, bet cher life! You call for what you want,
and the cashier will make good."

"Ah, Bud! How'll I ever pay you back? Keep it, man, keep it," replied Jim
in a disheartened voice.

"Say, you ain't got no call to worry about that part of it--there's where
my troubles begin," returned Bud. "Now, you take these two bucks and jab
'em in your jeans--Go on, now! Do as I tell you, or damned if I don't
lick you and make you take 'em! What's the good of money if it ain't to
help a friend out with? I don't care who gets drunk on it, just so long
as they have a good time.

"Boy, you'll be sailing up the track regardless of orders, with your
boiler full of suds, if you don't get out in the scramble for a while."

"Lord! I'd like to see a railroad train! Haven't heard a whistle for two
years! How far is it to the nearest station, Bud?"

"Plattsburg--fifty mile--due south."

"Christmas! Little far to walk."

"Say, you take this horse, Jim,--go ahead! I can walk just as well as
not, I'm getting too fat, anyhow. Go on, you take the horse and have a
ride to Plattsburg!"

"Yes, take the shirt off your back, and never mind if a bit of the skin
goes with it. I'll see you far away first. Tell you what you could do for
me, Buddy; the herd of burros is around now, if you'd round up one of
them for me?"

"Sure thing! You sit on the mail sack till I come back. There's a heap of
registered stuff in it this trip. Oh say! What do you think? I was held
up t'other side of the Bulldog. Bang! Zipp! says a little popper from the
bushes. I climbed for them bushes, and out goes a beggar like a rabbit. I
was after him like a coyote, bet cher life. Who do you suppose it was,
Jim?"

"Hang it, how should I know?"

"That little down-east cuss with the crook in his back. He begged hard.
Poor devil, he was up against the sandpaper side, all right. He heard
from the postmaster that there was a lot of valuable mail going out, so
he thought he'd make a try for it. Then what do you think he had the
cold, cold nerve to do?"

"Pass it up--'most anything, I reckon."

"Worse'n that. Struck me for fifty!"

"And got it."

"Got it? No, not much he didn't, sonny! He drew just ten, and he was
lucky to get that. I've done a favor or two for that feller, first and
last, and to have him shoot at me made me sore--although he missed me by
several locations, I'll say that for him--so I gave him the ten and told
him I'd kick the hump on his back so high up on his shoulders he could
wear it for a hat, if he ever shoved into my daylight again. And you
never in your life saw a humpback make better time than he did.

"Well here's for your jack-ass--which way's the herd?"

"Right up over the hill."

Jim sat patiently on the sack until Bud returned with the burro.

"Here's your thoroughbred!" holloed Bud. "Get ap, there, Mary. Look at
the knowing ears of him, will you? You bet cher life, you've got an
animile there that'll go when he gets ready, and as fast as he pretty
well damn pleases--nail him!"

Jim tied a gunny sack on his noble mount, and the two rode on together to
the fork in the trail. Jim tried to thank his friend, who knocked his hat
over his eyes, and said, "Aw, write it down when you've got more time.
Never see a feller in my life I cottoned to more'n you, Jim. First I
thought you was too smooth for my kind of traveling, but later, I see it
was only the grain of the wood. I believe in my friends, I do. Here we go
hopping around this little world for a small time, and then that's done.
S'pose you ain't got any real friends for the trip? Rotten, I say. You go
ahead and rip Plattsburg up the back. Wisht I could be there with you.
Don't you mind consequences. So long, old man! Hike! You beggar!" The
buckskin pony was off with a snort and a splashing of gravel as the irons
touched his sides, and Bud vanished down the road without a look behind
him.

The next day Jim was in Plattsburg. One does not know what an alluring
quality, what a hazy enchantment can linger around even a small town,
until an absence in a real wilderness has given man's work a new flavor.

The people coming and going, the traffic of the stores, the dwellings
with small cultivated plots around them warmed Jim like a fire. He had
been very lonely, without knowing it. In the afternoon he went down to
the depot to see the eastern train come in.

Here again absence played a part, and restored the locomotive to its
proper proportions of a miracle.

As the engine glided in, shaking the ground beneath it, it seemed
impossible to Jim that man really made it. What! Bend those mighty rods
of steel to his will? Twist and shape those others? Cast those great
drivers? And after, to drive the monster with a hand?

He drew back as the buzzing engine passed him, with something like awe.
Then the moving village came to a stop and the passengers sallied forth
to test their legs, wearied with long sitting.

There was humanity of all shades, from the haughty aristocrat of the
Pullman, to the peasant of the immigrant car.

Jim had a sense of pleasure in beholding well-dressed folk again; yet it
was merely an æsthetic pleasure, for he found, when he began to
speculate on the possibilities of the throng before him, that he was more
interested in those whose all was staked on the trip, than in those to
whom it was only an excursion.

People of widely differing nationalities occupied the immigrant car. Jim
wondered whether they would ever become Americans, according to his ideas
of Americans, a people in which he had great pride and delight; and he
shook his head doubtfully as he took them in.

Suddenly a small boy darted out of a car; an exceedingly small boy, thin
to emaciation, who made his way through the crowd with that sprawling,
active, dancing manner peculiar to thin small boys and spiders.

Jim half laughed at the little chap until he saw his face; then he
realized at a glance that the matter was no laughing one for the boy.

At the same time he saw the shocking thinness of the little face, made
into a wolf's face by hunger; the mingled horror and desperation of the
eyes; the big man would not have believed a child's face could express
emotions of such magnitude. He was wonder-stricken at the sight, and felt
an instinctive sympathy for the fugitive.

It is a strange thing how fortune will sometimes guide with certainty,
when reason shows no path.

The boy came unerringly toward Jim; Jim had a sort of prophetic insight
that he would. Back behind him the urchin ran. "Don't cher give me away,
Mister!" he pleaded. Jim flapped a hand in answer.

At the time he was leaning against a corner of the station; a little back
of him was a small lean-to shed where various truck was stored.

Out of the car came a burly brute of a man, who stared about him rapidly.

"Dat's der ol' man," whispered the boy. "If he gits holt of me, there
won't be a hull bone left in me body."

The man walked up to the conductor and spoke to him.

"Aggh!" said the boy. "Now dey'll get me sure--der jig is up--dey'll have
der hull gang ertop o' me!" the voice trailed off into a strangled sob,
and then continued in a fierce whisper: "Aggh! If I had me growth, I'd
show 'em! I'd show 'em!" and then a burst of hair-raising profanity.

The argument was growing loud between the man, who was urging something,
and the conductor, who was declining; others were walking toward the
moderate excitement.

Jim wheeled and caught the boy in his arms. "Up you go!" he said, and
tossed him on top of the shed. "Lie low behind the wood there, and you
are all right."

Then came the conductor's voice: "Say, my friend, if you think I'm going
to hold my train while you hunt up a lost kid, there's something in you
that don't work right! Why didn't you take care of him while you had him?
Now you've got just four minutes by the watch; either hustle around and
hunt, or drop off the train and hunt--what's that? Now don't you give me
any slack, you black-muzzled tarrier, or I'll have the fear of God thrown
into you too quick. Get out of here now! Get out of my way!"

The man slouched off, and made a hasty search around the station. A
woman's face--scarcely an improvement on the man's--leaned out of the car
window and jeered at the hunter, who cursed her back savagely.

The man walked up to Jim. "Say, did yer see a kid go by here, Mister?"

With a shrug of his shoulders, Jim asked him that question in Mr.
Ollendorf's French method, about the pink-and-green overcoat of the
shoemaker's wife's sister.

The man showered low abuse on what he supposed was a foreigner, until
Jim's ribs rose with the desire to kill him.

"Ayr, wot are yer wastin' time wid th' Dago fur?" called the woman. "Th'
kid's on the roof!" Jim's heart almost stopped, so thoroughly had he
identified himself with this quarrel. He made up his mind to fight for
the boy, right or wrong.

But he was saved the trouble. It was only a jest of the woman's, for she
suddenly called, so earnestly that even Jim was fooled. "No he ain't
neither; I see him! I see him! There he is." It was the perfection of
acting, voice and gesture.

The man ran out to see where she was pointing. "Where is he?" he asked,
looking wildly around.

"On top der flag-pole, like er monkey! You're it!" she cried, with a
shriek of laughter at the black brows of her dupe.

"I'll show yer der joke, when I git in dere!" he threatened.

The woman leaned her chin on her hands and smiled. Jim never forgot the
utter undauntedness, impudence and malice of that face. "Yer allus goin'
to do sumpin', Pete!" she retorted. "Yer'll be a man yet."

A more amiable man than "Pete" might have been provoked by such conduct.
He strode forward with white-knuckled fists and a very unpleasant
expression on his face. Several men started to interfere, but it wasn't
necessary.

The woman quietly looked at her bully, chewing a straw with the utmost
nonchalance. "Give us a kiss," said she. The man's crest dropped. He said
something in an undertone, and got on the car.

Jim needed no further knowledge of this delightful couple to be
thoroughly on the boy's side. It seemed to him that the man was quite
capable of keeping a small animal at hand, for the fun of torturing it,
and as for the woman--well, if there was her like in hell, Jim determined
to be good for the rest of his days.

"All aboard!" cried the conductor, and with a few mighty breaths the iron
giant whisked its load out in the open again.

"Stay where you are, son, till I see whether that fellow is playing a
trick," said Jim, and not until he had looked under the platform, up and
down the track, and in the waiting rooms, did he give the command, "Come
down!"



II


The passenger agent saw the performance with astonishment. "So you had
the boy tucked away all the time?" said he. "Just what kind of a game is
this?"

"Dunno," returned Jim. "Let the boy speak for himself. Now, young man,
what's the matter?"

The urchin stood before them, taking them in thoroughly with his sharp
little eyes. More big men strolled up. As a particularly fine foil to the
boy's diminutive form, Benny, the baggage smasher, whose overhanging
shoulders testified whence came the power that had reduced many a proud
Saratoga to elemental conditions, and "Happy Jack," the mammoth,
soot-black, loose-jointed negro porter, placed themselves on either side
of him. They made the boy look more like an insect than ever.

"Wot's de matter?" he cried in a voice at once hoarse and shrill, with a
cursing note in it, and accompanying the words with an extravagant,
dramatic gesture of his skinny claw. "I'll tell yer wot's der matter--dey
beat me--dey beat me bad. I don't ast youse to take me word fur it--look
at me back--dat's all I ast yer--jes' look at dat!"

He ripped the shirt from his shoulders. An angry growl went up from all
those big-bearded men when they saw the horrible stripes and welts--raw,
blue and swollen--on the poor little back.

Happy Jack threw up both his gorilla arms. "Lord Jesus! Who done you like
dat, boy?" he cried. "'F I got m' hookers on him, cuss me 'f I wudden'
put bumps on him bigger'n yer hull body."

"Now yer talkin'," shrieked the boy. He raised himself to the tips of his
toes, bared his teeth to the gum, and with clutching talons, gripping at
the air, yelled: "Aggh! If I had me growth! I'd bite his heart out! I'd
tear his neck for 'im!"

The men looked astounded on this mighty fury, pent in so small and
miserable a cage. The voice had a peculiar alarming call to it, like the
note of a fire-gong.

Suddenly the boy's head dropped on the crook of his arm. "Treated me
wuss'n a dog," he sobbed out. "Done me so it makes even dat nigger holler
when he sees it."

Happy Jack was taken aback. The other men smoothed down their faces
forcibly.

"Say, lil' boy, you think dat's a p'lite way to talk to people?" inquired
Jack.

The boy wiped his eyes on his sleeve and went over to him. "Say, don't
yer holt nothin' ag'in me fur der word," said he. "Dey've got me
looney--dat's wot--yer've used me liker fren'; and if it hoits yer, yer
can kick me pants fur me, and I won't say nuthin'."

"Well, there's two-pound-and-a-half of dead game sport for you, all
right!" cried Benny. "Good eye, kid!"

Happy Jack smiled a mollified smile eight inches wide. "You is all right,
beau," said he. "An' as fur as my bein' a nigger's concerned, I'll admit
my kerplection ain't light." He slapped his ham and brought down a foot
on the platform. "Hyah, hyah!" he roared, "you bet dere ain't no dam'
blond 'bout me!"

The infectious darky laugh started the others off, and brought matters to
a common-sense footing.

The passenger agent took up the interrogation. Was the man the boy's real
father? Answer: "How'd I know? Dat's der song he guv me." Were there any
relatives? Friends? Answer: "Naw!" Well, what did the boy propose to do?
Answer, digging his toes into the boards: "Didn't know--anyt'ing!" What
was his name? "Jim." Jim what? "Didn't know. Sometimes der gun callt
himself 'Darragh,' an' sometimes 'Mullen,' an' sometimes 'Smit.' Aggh! He
callt himself the foist t'ing dat come to his tongue--he didn't have no
real name."

The agent talked to him a bit more, winding up by saying kindly: "You've
had a pretty rough time of it, Jimmy, and we'd all like to give you a
lift--now, just say what you'd like to do, and maybe we can fix it."

"I'd like to go along wid dat feller, 'f he'll take me," replied the boy,
tossing a thumb toward Jim Felton. There was a becoming access of shyness
in his manner; moreover, Felton had an increased interest in him when he
knew they bore the same name--a sort of kinship, as it were.

"Well, it's up to you, Mister--" said the passenger agent, with a smile.

"Felton," said Jim. "I'm in. I'll take the boy. Hard rustling down my
way, but I guess we can make out somehow. Sure you want to go, kid?"

"Yessir!" very heartily.

"Done, then!"

Happy Jack snatched off his uniform cap, spat on a bill, and flapped it
into the bottom thereof.

"Good-by, fren'!" said he. He shook the cap in front of the others.
"Here's fur the lil' rooster; step up to the capen's office an' settle,
gents!" he called. "'Member what de Bible says, 'Fool an' his money soon
parted.' Come up! Come up!"

They came up generously.

"Stick a five in there for me, Bill," said Benny to the passenger agent,
"I'm strapped."

"How much you got, boy?" asked the agent, as Happy counted the money.

"Fo'ty dollars, even money, Misto' Breckenridge." The agent was a
bachelor with a fat salary. "Here, that makes it fifty," said he. He
turned to Felton. "Now, what do you say if we go across the street
and--er--discuss this matter a little further?"

"Go you," replied Felton.

"Now, Jimmy, you sit here for a moment. We're going on some business."

The boy glanced at them sharply. "Youse fellers is goin' to get a drink,"
said he.

Those big men put their hands on their sides and roared.

"You'll find that kid worse than a wife, Felton!" said the agent.

"No use of our being hypocrites to the little chap. I reckon he's seen
worse things than the inside of a saloon. Come along, laddybuck."

They lined up and partook. The agent told the story of the waif. "And we
started him off with fifty, Mac," he said to the saloon-keeper. "Suppose
you break away from some of your ill-gotten gains in the good cause."

The saloon-keeper opened his cash drawer without words and slid over a
five-dollar bill. He seemed very glad to part with it.

"Confound it! Now we're upsticks again," said the agent. "Tell you what
let's do. Here's ten of us. Each man put up a two, and we'll shake the
dice to see who gives it to the kid--winner to set 'em up. That'll make
seventy-five--a very respectable figure."

They played a new interesting dice-game, in which the figure of a pig
drawn in chalk upon the bar furnished the "lay-out." It is a game which
increases in interest to the last throw. They stuck the saloon-keeper,
and were gleeful.

"We ought to name the boy," said Felton, under the inspiration of the
second refreshment. "My name's Jim, and I want something else to call him
by. I'll make him a present of my last name."

"Gad, that's so!" replied the agent.

"Call him Chescheela Jim," put in a cow-man. "That's Injun for 'little
Jim.' 'Ches' ain't a bad nickname."

"Mac, hand over one of those toy sample bottles of California fizz," said
the agent. "We'll put this craft down the ways in shape."

Felton broke the neck off the bottle with a tack-hammer and poured the
wine on the boy's head. "I christen thee Chescheela James Felton--may you
become a good seaworthy craft, and not fill your skin with this stuff
when you grow up," said he dramatically.

The small boy squinted up his eyes to keep the wine out; then he shook
the liquid from his hair, looked up and grinned.

"Youse fellers is reg'lar kids," said he.

"Lord, that's a great boy!" said the agent. "He's the oldest man in the
crowd. Say, let's give him a white man's start, beginning with a bath."

The whole party went to the barbershop and made the darky proprietor
dispense a bath and a hair-cut for nothing.

"Shave, sir?" asked the latter, when the hair had been properly trimmed.

"No," replied the youth. "I t'ink I'll let me whiskers grow. Dere's enuff
wind in dis country ter keep der moths outen 'em."

Then they raided the clothing store, and abused the Hebrew owner until he
reduced the price. "Oof der lodt--everyding, shennelmun! Sigsdy ber zent.
Dere's no broffit left--it doaned bay fur the freight."

"Look here, Sol! Will you swear that on a piece of pork?" demanded the
agent. The Hebrew moaned.

"Doaned dalk to me!" he cried. "My heardt iss prooken!"

Clean, trimmed and clothed, Chescheela James Felton was a different
looking boy. Months only could take those animal lines out of his face,
and fresh air and wholesome food fill out the hollows of the cheeks, but,
all in all, he was not a bad-looking youngster.

Jim Felton bought some supplies for his camp, and prepared to start for
home that afternoon, as they could yet make fifteen miles before dark.

The new friends of the morning saw them off with hearty good-bys. The boy
quite unexpectedly thanked them for their treatment and the money. The
poor little soul had heard few words of gratitude, and had less chance to
employ them.

His speech was curious, but the generous big men saw behind the words,
and felt really touched by the old-child's attempt to express himself.

The two Jims soon pushed on, through the rolling foot-hills near the town,
into the broken country. The boy kept watching, watching, but said little,
until at last they came to the stupendous cliffs of Paha-Sahpedon,
overhanging the trail with dark majesty. Jim happened to glance at the
boy, and saw him looking up, mouth and eyes wide open.

"Say, Mister!" gasped Ches. "Who built them!"

"Built?" repeated Jim, puzzled. Then he understood. "The hand of God, my
boy," he replied.

The urchin shivered. "I feel's if dey was comin' ertop o' me," he gasped.
"Let's hook it outer here."

Jim spanked the burro, and they flew out of the Paha-Sahpedon at a
canter.

They camped that night in the spruces of Silver Creek, in one of the
prettiest little places that ever lay out of doors. As they prepared the
supper and ate it, sharing plate, cup and spoon, the boy was fairly
ecstatic.

"Dis is der bulliest ol' time dat ever I had," said he. "I didn't know
dere was places like dis 'tall, 'cept Cintral Park. Yer can run aroun'
here all yer like, can't yer, Mister? Nobuddy'll stop yer?"

"Not if you ran a thousand miles, Ches. This is the free land, boy. You
can do what you like." Jim spoke with warmth, for, although he felt that
the child could not understand, yet the love of the country swelled in
him so hot that he could never speak of it carelessly.

"Dat's prutty damn good," responded Ches.

"It is," replied Jim. "Now, Ches, will you do something to oblige me?"

"Sure!"

"Well, then, don't swear. I don't like to hear boys swear."

"I won't cuss another cuss, if I kin help it. Dey'll come out too quick
for me sometimes, but I'll try to do dat, now."

"Thank you. Now, let's get the stuff cleared up and roll in."

In the middle of the night Jim heard a strange noise, a puzzling sound he
could not trace. Becoming wider awake, it resolved itself into a stifled
weeping.

"Hello there, Ches! What's the matter?" he cried.

The boy flung himself into Jim's arms with a cry. "Ar, I'm scart to
deat'," said he. "Take holt uf me, Mister! Take holt uf me! Dere ain't
anyt'ing but you and me here 'tall!"

Jim gathered up the trembling figure. "Nothing will hurt you, Ches," he
said. "You're safe here."

"I wasn't t'inkin' of gettin' hurted," retorted the boy, with shaky
indignation. "Did youse t'ink I'd weaken fur dat? Yer don't know me, den.
Dat ain't bodderin' me--I've been hurted plenty. I'm just scart, dat's
wat's der matter."

"Well, now, you cuddle right up in my arms, like a little puppy dog, and
you'll feel all right."

"Say, you're prutty good stuff, Mister Felton," whimpered the little
voice. "Dis is der bulliest time I ever had, even if I am scart."

"I think you're a brave boy, Ches. Now go to sleep."

A small hand reached timidly around until it found the man's and gave it
an affectionate squeeze. "Good night, sir," said Ches.

Jim lay awake, thinking dreamily, long after the boy's regular breathing
showed that he was at peace again. The man felt a tenderness for the waif
so abruptly put in his care that only a lonely man can feel. He
speculated about the boy's future; he wondered what kind of a man he
would make. Surely, with a foundation of such courage, the better part
could be brought out.

Then he wondered what Anne would say to the adoption, or rather what
advice she would give, for he felt entirely sure of her broad humanity,
outside of their one difference. He felt the need of her practical sense.
Soon he had drifted into thinking of Anne entirely. Not bitterly now, but
with a steady longing. The gray light of the waning moon, sifting through
the boughs, was the true lumina for reverie. Why had he not answered her
letter? Perhaps by this time--

What was that moving in the grass? He had noticed a sort of something
before. He threw up his right hand in a threatening gesture, to frighten
the intruder away.

Instantly he got his answer, and an icy wind seemed to ruff his
hair--that insistent, dry, shrilling sound that will make a man's blood
turn cold if anything will--the whirring defiance of a rattlesnake!

Jim thought quick and hard, with chills and fever coursing over him _ad
libitum_. He did not want to waken and frighten the boy. He managed to
slip his arm out without disturbing the sleeper. But now! There wasn't a
club around except the short sticks of the fire. A two-foot stick is not
the proper equipment for rattler hunting, except to those born with
nerves so strong that they do not hesitate to catch Mr. Crotalus by the
tail and snap his head off.

Jim thought of the rope he had used for a cinch, and made for it with his
eye on the snake, lest the latter should approach closer to the boy.

With a deep thankfulness for the heft of the rope, he returned and struck
with all the strength of his big body, and pounded away in a sort of
crazy rage, although the first stroke had done the business.

He snapped the sweat from his brow as he looked down at the still
writhing reptile.

"My God! What might have happened if the boy hadn't waked me?" he
thought. The superstition of the miner rose in him rampant. "I believe
that kid's going to bring me good luck," he said. "Darned if I don't.
Well, I could stand some."

He took up the body of the rattler on a stick and heaved it far away,
then lit his pipe.

"I don't think I care for any more sleep to-night," he laughed. "Like
Ches, it ain't that anything will hurt me out here, but I'm everlastingly
scared."

He watched the night out, revelling in his enjoyment of the mystery of
the coming morning, that phase of the day which never ceases to be
unreal, and which calls out of the watcher sentiments and emotions he is
a stranger to for the rest of the day.

The sun hung on the sharp point of Old Dog-Tooth like a portent, before
he woke the boy.

Ches was all amazement for a second; then he gave a glad cry.

"Gee! Yer still here, ain't yer? No pipe in dis." He looked all around
him. "Say! Dis is a reg'lar teeayter uf er place, ain't it?" he remarked.
"Dis is der scene where der villun almost gits der gent wid der sword, if
der stage mannecher didn't send sumun ter help 'im out."

Jim laughed at the sophisticated infant. "You don't believe in the
theater much, then, Ches?"

"Aggh!" replied Ches. "If it ain't seven it's 'leven on der stage--but
it's mostly craps in der street."

"Well, son, there are such points on the dice," admitted Jim. "But let's
have something to eat and we'll feel better."

Ches rustled around after sticks in his funny, angularly active style,
singing a song the while from the gladness of his heart. It was a merry
song, about mother slowly going down the hectic path of phthisis
pulmonalis, and sister, who has--one is led to believe--taken to small
bottles, small hours and undesirable companions, refusing to come home
and lift the mortgage which is shortly to be foreclosed--all in the
narrow confines of twenty-five verses.

Jim listened to the inspiriting ditty in astonishment.

          "'Bird of the wilderness, blithesome and cumberless,
          Sweet be thy matin o'er moorland and lea!'"

he quoted. "For Heaven's sake, child," he continued, in some irritation,
"where did you learn that echo of the morgue?"

"Don't you like 'er?" asked Ches, in his turn astonished at such a lack
of taste. "W'y, dat's er gig in der city--everybuddy an' der ginnies wid
der organs is givin' dat out all day long."

"Well, let 'em," commanded Jim. "Don't introduce it to this part of the
country. As you render it, through the nose, and with the wail at the
end, it is a thing to make a strong man lie down and give up the ghost in
sheer disgust. Ches, does it really make you feel good to sing it?"

"Yessir--kinder," replied Ches hesitatingly.

"Lord!" thought Jim. "What a life, to make a song like that a
recreation!" Then aloud: "It's bad luck to sing before breakfast, Ches.
I'll teach you a livelier song than that when we hit the trail again."

So it came to pass that during the first miles of their day's journey the
way was enlivened by the notes of _The Arkansas Traveler_, _Garry Owen_,
_Where's My Linda-Cinda Gone?_, _Baltimore Girls_, and other songs of a
lively character.

Ches approved of these in moderation. Then Jim tried an experiment. With
a serious face, but half an eye on the boy, he howled, moaned and grunted
_The Cow-boy's Lament_, which still presents the insoluble problem of
whether the words or the music are drearier. "OooooOOO!!! Pla-a-ay your
fifes l-o-o-w-l-y, a-a-nd beee-eat your drums sl-o-o-o-wly, and play the
dead m-a-arch as you carry me o-o-o-on!" mourned Jim. Ches was all
attention. "For I'm o-o-o-nly a p-o-o-o-r cow-boy, and I know I've done
w-r-o-o-o-o-o-ng!" wailed the singer, in conclusion. "How'd you like
that, Ches?"

"Say, dat's a ringer!" cried the boy enthusiastically.

Jim sat him down by the roadside and laughed his fill. "I think you're
hopeless," he gasped.

The boy was hurt in a way he could not understand. Something pained
him--a new sensation, of not being up to the requirements of another's
view. His forced acute intelligence made a bull's-eye shot.

"P'r'aps w'en I've got er chist and t'umpers on me like you, I'll like
der udder kin' er song," he said.

Jim looked at the pathetic little figure on the burro, and his conscience
smote him. "That's right, boy," he replied very kindly. "I was only
joking--ought not to be any ill feeling between friends over a joke, you
know. Now, you sing ahead all you plenty please."

"Don't say nuttin' more about it," replied Ches. "It's all square."

A little farther on Jim noticed a piece of quartz outcrop with a metal
stain on it. Now, a miner can no more pass such a thing than some others
could refuse to pick up the pin shining at their feet, so he took a stone
and hammered off a specimen for future reference. In the meantime Ches,
on the burro, got around the turn of the trail.

Suddenly the boy set up a shout of excitement. "Oh, Mister!" he yelled,
with a string of profanity, his promise forgotten in his heat. "Come
quick, an' look at der cat! Come quick, quick, quick! What a cat! You
never see sich a cat!"

Jim dashed forward. "Well, I should say cat!" he remarked, as he took in
the situation. On a ledge about fifty feet above the road crouched a
full-grown mountain lion, ears back, eyes furtively glimpsing every
avenue of escape, yaggering at the intruders savagely.

The small boy in Jim Felton rose on the instant. "Pelt him, Ches! Pelt
him!" he cried, and let fly the rock in his hand by way of illustration.
A wild animal seems to have little idea of a missile.

The lion held his ground and let the stone strike him in the side. Then,
with a screech like the vital principle of forty thousand tom-cat
fights--a screech that left a sediment in the ear-drums of the listeners
for the balance of the morning--he fairly flew up the straight side of
the cliff, followed by a rain of projectiles.

"Ches, we oughtn't to have done that," said Jim soberly. "If that fellow
had been of another mind, he'd have made this the warmest day of our
lives."

"W'y! Will dey fight?" asked Ches, his eyes wide open.

"They will that, son, sometimes," replied Jim. Then he launched into the
tales of wild beast hunts, drifted from that to the romance of the gold
field, the riches coming in a day--the whole glamour of it.

Never did narrator have more attentive listener. There was a sort of
white joy in the boy's face.

"Oh, ain't I glad to git in dis!" he cried. "Here's just wot I been
lookin' fur." Suddenly he struck Jim on the shoulder with a tightly
clenched fist. "I made fur youse der first t'ing--didn't yer see me? I
know me man all right. Der secont I put me peeps on yer I ses ter meself,
'Dat feller won't t'row yer down, Chimmy'--ain't I right, hey? Ain't I
right, Mister?"

Jim patted him on the back. "I think you're right, old man," he said.
"I'll do anything I can for you."

"Yer don't hafter tell me dat--I know it," replied the boy. A sudden sob
gathered in his throat and choked him. "Yer don't know wot I been
t'rough, Mister--it 'ud laid out many er big stiff ten times me size.
I'd--don't youse laugh at me now, becus I'm only a kid--I'd give me
heart's blood fur youse, s' help me, I would, now!"

"Shake hands, pardner," said Jim, his own voice a trifle hoarse. "We'll
do fine together--I know we will."



III


They crested the last sharp rise, and looked down upon the little cabin
huddling in the spruces--an island of humanity in the beautiful sea of
the wilderness.

It seemed to Jim as if the small house brightened in appearance at the
return of its soul; his heart in turn rose with a home feeling; his
belief in the treasure which lay where the new channel cut across the old
wash--that treasure which would make the world so different--came back to
him like a renewed love. His hands ached for a grip on pick and shovel.
His strong muscles twitched with eagerness to be at work again.

Suddenly a ponderous and gross sound, out of all proportion to the size
of its source, smashed the mountain silence into slivers. It was the
burro's greeting to his companions, and the echoes fluttered it from
cliff to cliff until it faded into the merest tint.

"Kerissmus! How many of dem is dere?" asked Ches, astonished at the
demonstration. At that instant the herd welcomed the returned one.

The cañon was full of brays; colliding, rising, falling and swelling in
a tumult of noise against which the dreadful shouting of the gods at the
fall of Troy would have seemed as the wail of a kitten.

"Say, I don't like dat!" said Ches. "What's loose?"

Jim had watched the growing astonishment of the boy's face with
suppressed emotion, but now he hugged himself and uproariously laughed
his laugh out.

"That, Ches," he replied, "is a matter of fifteen or twenty donkeys and
an echo--did you think it was the end of the world?"

"I t'ought it was gittin' on well past der middle, all right," retorted
Ches. "What 'ud yer expeck of a man dat never heerd der like before?"

"I knew what to expect. I never heard them either till I came out here. I
was digging a hole up the side of that hill yonder, and had begun to feel
that there was something behind me, and that it was almost time to go
home, when old Jack, who has the voice of his family, poured out his soul
about twenty rods away. I was half way home, Ches, before I got sand
enough to go back and investigate. But now listen, and you'll hear
something prettier than that."

He put his fingers to his lips and whistled a bugle call.

                  "I can't get 'em up,
                  I can't get 'em up,
                  I can't get 'em up in the morning,"

sounded Jim. And back came the pretty reveille in a fabric of music,
indescribably interwoven; sharp and staccato from the neighboring walls;
the lightest of whispers from the distance, turning and twisting upon
itself and starting afresh when all seemed still.

"Say, dat _is_ prutty!" said Ches enthusiastically. "Hit her again!"

"Young man, you can come up here whenever you feel like it in the future,
but as for now, I'm for home and grub."

"Dat ain't so bad, neither. Der animile's jumped me up an' down till I
cud hold more'n a man. Dis spook's hang-out business won't quit, will
it?"

"No, sir; that's a fixture. Hang on tight now, and I'll race you to the
cabin--one, two, three!" and away sprinted Jim down the hill trail, the
burro lumbering after.

"No fair! No fair!" yelled Ches. "Yer've got me skate doped! T'row us a
tow!"

Jim wheeled at the doorway and took in the excited, happy little figure
bumping on the burro's back. For once in his life he had the satisfaction
of an indisputable proof that he had done well. With a sudden access of
affection he caught the boy in his arms and stood him on the ground.
"Well, here's our home, Ches," he said.

Home! The street Arab filled his puny chest, took a long, devouring look
about him, and sought a definition of the word to make sound the lift of
pride and hope that rose within him.

"Yer mean nobuddy kin chase us out of dis?"

"Nobody."

"It's our'n!" the boy went on with curious vehemence. "Like dis here,"
snatching an old knife from his pocket and shaking it in his tight fist,
"ter t'row away, ter sell, er ter keep, and nobuddy got nuttin' ter say
about it?"

"Just that, laddybuck. That and nothing else."

"No more slinkin' an' snoopin' aroun' dodgin' der coppers; no more
stallin' fer der push; no more dirt of no kind--say, I can't git dat jus'
in a minute."

He stood grappling with the new idea. In the search an old one came to
the top. His face changed rapidly. The furtive, hunted look returned. In
a tone, the odd quiet of which contrasted with the former heat, he spoke
again. "Yer for _me_, now, ain't yer, Jim? If--if der Gun should happen
ter come here, yer wouldn't t'row me down at dis stage of der game?"

The big man answered him with an equal soberness. He thrust a hand before
the boy's eyes--a splendid hand, massive and corded at the base, running
out to long, shapely, intelligent fingers, and every line in it spoke of
power.

"Do you see that hand, Ches?"

"Yessir."

"If the 'Gun' shows his face where that hand can get a grip on him, it
will do the business for him in one squeeze, and if the hand can't reach,
there's a rifle inside that can. Now get that out of your mind once for
all."

"Well--" said the boy, "well--aw, I'll be damned, dat's all I kin say,
Jim," and rushed into the house.

The miner leaned back and laughed, and blew his nose; and laughed again
and blew his nose again; then he wiped the dust out of his eyes, swore a
few words himself, and followed the boy within.

The next day Jim started on his work in earnest. Before, he had sunk a
hole here or there in the broad smooth surface of the bar of gravel that
he felt certain hid his bonanza.

Now, he determined to begin at the creek bank and drift straight across
the bar. That meant six hundred feet of tunnel at the best, unless
fortune was much kinder than she had hinted at before--quite an
undertaking for one man, considering the timbering and all.

It must have been a miner who wrote, that hope springs eternal in the
human breast. Surely in no place other than the mines is the fact so
manifest. There was once a man seventy-three years old who was sinking
through a cap of cement two hundred feet thick. The stuff was just this
side of powderwork, barely to be loosened with a pick. The old man had to
climb down sixty feet of ladder, fill his bucket, climb up again and dump
it, and so on and so on and so on. Besides, he had to walk thirty miles
and back again with his load, whenever he ran out of provisions. It had
taken him a year to put his shaft down the sixty feet. There was one
hundred and forty more to go, each foot getting harder, the Lord only
knew what would be at the bottom when he got there; yet to sit in that
old man's cabin for an hour was to obtain a complete exposition of the
theory and practice of optimism. It is an unbelievable story and would be
senseless, were it not entirely true.

Beside that effort, Jim's task took on the tint of an avocation, but the
man who runs six hundred feet of tunnel single-handed earns whatever may
be at the end of it.

The tunnel was the one thing that Ches abhorred in his new surroundings.
Whether it was that it reminded him of the dingy holes of his city life,
or whether it was a natural antipathy, Ches was one of those who can
never enter a confined space without the sensation of smothering--at any
rate, neither argument nor coaxing could get him to put a foot within its
dark mouth.

An old miner would have shared his feelings in this instance, for Jim, so
thorough in some things, was a careless workman. Your old miner would
have shaken his head at the weak caps and recklessly driven lagging;
frames out of plumb and made of any stick that came to hand--more
especially as they were to support loose dirt of the most treacherous
sort.

Ches worked outside, dumping the car that Jim had made of four tree
sections for wheels, and sluice-box boards for sides. Jim, the ingenious,
had rigged up a pulley system, whereby Ches could run the car out and in
without interrupting the work on the face.

It was hard labor for Ches at first, but he gritted his teeth and stuck
it out manfully.

"Bime-by," he would say to himself, "I'll have er muscle on me like Jim,
an' den I'll yank dis cussed ol' car right out in der middle of der
crik," and he examined the small bunch on his arm critically a dozen
times every day.

Meanwhile, his hero and idol was outdoing the human in his exertions. The
effort he put forth would have killed an ordinary man. He fought the
stubborn earth as though it were an enemy. Stripped to the waist, bent
over in the low tunnel, hour after hour Jim plied the pick and shovel
with the regularity and power of a machine. There was at once something
fascinating and heroic in the rippling glide of the muscles over his
broad back, and in the supple swing that sent the pick to join the packed
dirt.

It all looked so easy. It was as if the dirt were very soft, and not the
striker very strong. Nevertheless, fourteen hours a day of this, varied
occasionally by cutting timbers and carrying them by hand to the
tunnel--some of them a weight enough for a horse, others not adequate,
"just as they came" being careless Jim's motto--told even on his engines.

They had a certain mark on the cañon side--a wild-cat's hole it was--and
when the sun threw the shadow of the western wall upon the mark, the
day's work was finished.

Ches used to watch this with attention. "Yer move along all right till
yer gits half way up, den yer jus' crawls, yer ol' beggar!" was his
standing remark on the progress of the shadow. Still, he always gave good
measurement.

Toward the last of the month Jim grew an interest in their clock.

"Where's the blame thing now, Ches?" would come hollowly out of the
tunnel.

"Three more cars away, Jim,--jus' tippin' the white rock."

Then the cheery shout of "All over!" and the worker stepping out into the
fresh air, soft and cool in the twilight, hooking the sweat from his
forehead, and wishing that supper would cook itself. Sometimes the
wild-cat looked down upon them from his eyrie.

"Ches," said weary Jim, "if that lad thinks at all, he must think we're
awful fools."

"He wouldn't be so tur'ble off his guess, neider," replied the equally
weary Ches.

After supper, however, the world seemed different. There was Jones's
Hill--(a man of large ideas, was Jones, to call that mass of rock a
hill)--shining red-hot in the last light against a topaz or turquoise
sky, and the gulch that ran up to it in a mystery of dark green gloom
offering up an evening prayer of indescribable odors--those appeals to a
life in former spheres which no other sense remembers; the ceaseless roar
of the wind in the pines, so steady that it formed a background for other
sounds almost as good as silence itself; the evening pipe, and the talk
of what had been done and what was to be done--all these made amends.

And then the sleeping--such sleeping! And waking up in the morning in the
exact attitude one went to sleep the night before! Sleep that washed out
all the former day's fatigue, and started them as eager as hounds for
that of the new day. That is, within limits, for, when a man overworks as
continually as Jim had done, no paradise sleep nor balsam air can turn
him right perpetually.

And for that reason the claim declared a holiday, consisting of a hunting
trip. It was a curious hunting trip. Not one "bang!" went the clean and
polished rifle. They stalked four deer, crawling on their bellies,
quivering with the chase, rounding behind rocks. Then when the game was
within range, up went the rifle, Jim squinted along the sights--then
dropped it.

"What's der matter?" whispered Ches. He had been waiting for a long time
to hear the gun go off.

"They seem to be having a pretty good time by themselves there, Ches."

"Yes--dat's so--but I've heard deer-meat was good." Ches was disappointed
at this manner of hunting.

"So it is," replied Jim, "probably nobody has that notion stronger than
the deer." He followed the four pretty animals below them with tense
eyes. He loved to hunt but he hated to kill.

"See here, boy," he said, sitting down and pulling off his boots, "I
think I can show you some fun--do you notice they're feeding up to that
nose of rock? Well I used to be rather quick on my feet once, and I think
if I can slip down behind there without their winding me, if one gets
close enough I can catch him with my hands--which is a trick I'd like
muchly to accomplish. Now you sit here and watch, and for your life,
don't make a move or sound! By Jiminy! if I could do that!" He trotted
light-footed down the slope out of sight.

The boy soon saw him reappear behind the sharp rock-wall that jutted out
into the valley, rubbing crushed pine-needles upon himself with the idea
of overpowering the human odor, although, whether effective in its
purpose or not, it was not necessary--a strong up-wind from deer to man
making it impossible that they could scent him.

They waited and they waited, a big man crouched like a tiger below, and a
highly excited small boy above, while the deer did every exasperating
thing that animals could do.

They started straight for the rock, grazing along, and then for no reason
in the world beat back on their tracks, or turned to right or left. They
even went so far as to lie down, chewing most contentedly.

One hour went by--two--when suddenly the buck rose and walked straight up
the cañon in a course that would take him within twenty feet of the
rock. Jim heard him snort and prepared for action, laying hold of a
corner of stone to get a spring from all-fours.

The deer's shadow floated black on the grass before him, and Jim
leaped--to the biggest surprise of his life, for instead of making the
least effort to escape, the buck charged, and that with such sudden fury
it was all the man could do to lay hold of him anywhere as they came to
dirt together.

The next ten seconds was delirium, each combatant doing something as
quick as he could without any definite aim. Jim received a painful rake
across the chest from the antlers, and a jab in the leg from the sharp
hoofs, while the deer was the worse for several bangs over the head and
an ear nearly pulled off, as they rolled over together.

It came over Jim with the force of a revelation that he had got into a
very different business from that which he had intended. Instead of the
"timid deer" whose capture was the difficulty, he found himself engaged
with a horned and hoofed demon, and the problem was how to get away.

Meanwhile, Ches had legged it down the hill-side at his best speed,
enthusiastically cheering what he supposed was a prearranged performance.
Jim had promised him fun, and that whirling heap below supplied plenty of
it.

"Hooray!" yelled Ches. "Hooray! Hold him dere, Jim, till I get down!"

Jim heard the shrill voice, as he succeeded, after a desperate effort, in
getting an arm around the deer's neck, so that he could do something in
the choking line, and he smiled grimly in the heat of battle. "All right,
Ches!" he gasped. "Don't--hurry!"

"Keep out of this!" he yelled a moment later as Ches burst out from the
bushes. "You'll get killed!"

But Ches was not to be denied. He danced around the pushing, tugging,
straining storm-center, and the moment opportunity offered, slipped in
and seized the buck by a hind leg.

If he had touched an electric battery, the effect could not have been
more instant. The deer fanned that muscular hind leg, with its boy
attachment, at the rate of seven hundred strokes to the minute. Poor
Ches' head was nearly snapped off his shoulders, and the breath was
literally jerked out of his body, but he hung on, with all the strength
that pulling the car had given him.

It was not much help, but it was a diversion. Jim gulped a lungful of
air, gathered his powers and came down with all his might. Slowly the
stubborn neck, bent--so slowly that Jim feared he would give out before
gaining the mastery. As it yielded, his leverage increased, and at last,
exerting every ounce of strength that was in him, he downed the foe and
held him there, his leg over the front legs whose armament he had felt
before, and was not desirous of feeling again.

But the deer gave up the struggle, and lay quiet, looking up with great
pleading eyes.

"Yes, you devil!" cried Jim, "you look meek enough now, but if you
weren't a handful of hard luck ten seconds ago I never ran across one.
You hurt, Ches?"

"I got a lovely t'ump on me smeller, but I'm in it yet--do I let go or
don't I?"

"Not on your life--wait a moment!" He worked his weight over on the
deer's body. "Now!" he said. "Quick! Jump loose!" Again the deer glanced
up reproachfully, as though to say, "How suspicious you are!"

The instant Ches jumped clear, so did Jim. They watched their late
antagonist, who sprang to his feet and went off with frisky leaps,
apparently as fresh as ever.

Then they looked at each other. Ches was rubbing his stomach with his
left hand, while he wiped the blood from his nose with the right. Jim's
coat and trousers were torn; he had a deep scratch across his chest, a
gouge in his leg, and he trembled from the exertion.

"Well--Ches!" he panted, "we've--had--a--nice--rest--haven't we?"

"Wouldn't it 'a' been tur'ble if yer hadn't caught him?" replied Ches.
And then they simply whooped.

A good incident is an opal among gems in a lonely life. You can turn it
over and over and always get new colors.

On the home trip, as Nimrod Jim stalked along with his follower trotting
beside, they rehearsed every detail of the unexpected encounter. Jim
crouched and leaped again, giving his sensations when the buck did
likewise. Then he waited while Ches ran down a side hill and threw
himself upon a sapling, which for the time was a deer's hind leg.

They were just of an age--any one would have said so, on seeing them
approach the cabin, arms flying, tongues wagging, bruised, tired and
happy.

"Jim," said a very sleepy little boy after supper, gorged like an
anaconda, "yer don't see t'ings like dat in N'york--not much yer don't. If
dat racket had come off in der Bowery, dere'd be head-lines--'dlines--on
der extries--more'n a mile--"

Jim picked him up and tucked him into his bunk. "More'n a mile long--g'
nigh'," sighed Ches.

Jim lit his pipe and went out for an evening smoke. It was some little
time the next morning before he could realize what he was doing out there
under the tree.

He had been in some ways a graver man of late. What he had undertaken as
an experiment, a generous impulse, had been turned into a lasting
responsibility.



IV


On the second day after Ches' arrival, Bud had come through with the
mail, and before leaving, drew Jim aside, out of the boy's hearing.

"The little feller's yours agin all comers now, Jim," he said.

"What's that?" asked Jim, surprised by the meaning in the tone.

"He's _yours_," repeated Bud. "That sweet-scented blossom that called
himself the boy's dad, filled his skin with red-eye farther up the line
and settled the fuss he had with his dame."

"Hurt her?"

"Man!" said Bud slowly, "he used a knife a foot long--gave it to her a
dozen times as hard as he could drive--what's your opinion?"

"Lord Almighty! Did he get away? But no, of course he couldn't, being on
the train--"

"He didn't get away. The Con. wired the news to Kimballs. What was he to
do when a small army of punchers boarded the train and took the prisoner?
He couldn't do nothing, and he never loved that black-muzzled whelp from
the time he sassed him in the depot. The punchers took our friend out and
tried him."

"Tried him?"

"With a rope. In three minutes by; the watch he was found wanting--your
boy now, Jim, as I was telling you. Going to say anything to him about
it?"

"Why," said Jim, bewildered, "why, I don't know, Bud--guess not, just
yet, on general principles. What do you think?"

"Think you're right," said Bud. "The poor little rooster couldn't help
but feel glad to hear the news, but it would sound kind of awful to hear
a kid like that say he was glad two people were killed. Better wait till
he's been with you a while, Jim, and learned something different."

Jim flushed at the implied compliment. "You're right, Bud, I will."

"Great little papoose, ain't he?" said Bud, turning in his saddle before
his starting rush. "Makings of a man there, all right. The boys in town
are dead stuck on him. I'll have to give a complete history when I get
back. I must get a gait on, or I'll have Uncle Sammy on my neck
again--inspector started out with me this morning."

"The devil he did!" cried Jim indignantly, well knowing the hardships and
dangers of the big rider's route.

"Oh, it's all right!" replied Bud with a wave of his hand. "Come out
fine. When the lad first told me he'd been sent out to see why the mails
was so late on this line, I told him I'd show him right on the spot, but
he said there was no use getting hot about it, as he was only doing his
duty, so I quieted down.

"He was a decent sort of feller. I thought to myself before we got under
way, 'Now, there won't nothing happen this day--everything'll go as
smooth and slick as grease, and this feller will report that I'm
sojering,' that's the way it usually works, you know. But this time I
played in luck.

"Two miles out of town we ran into a wild-eyed gang from somewhere, who
was going to make us dance. We didn't dance, and I'll say for that
inspector that he stood by me like a man, but he was awful sick at his
stomach later on from the excitement.

"Next thing, the bridge was down at Squaw Creek, and we swum her. He'd
have gone down the flume, if I hadn't got hold of his bridle. 'Nice mail
route, this,' says he, as he got ashore. 'Oh, you'd like it,' says I, 'if
you got used to it.' I'd begun to wonder what was next myself. Ain't many
people swimming Squaw Creek, as you perhaps know.

"Well, next was about ten mile along, just before you come to the old
Tin-cup Camp. We was passing the bluff there, and all of a sudden, rip,
thump, biff! Down comes what looked like the whole side a-top of us. It
weren't though. It was only a cinnamon had lost his balance, leaning over
too far to see what we was. That bear landed right agin brother
inspector's horse, and brother inspector's horse tried to climb a tree.
Inspector himself fell a-top of the bear. I dassent shoot, for the devil
himself couldn't have told which was inspector and which bear. Finally
bear shakes himself loose and telescopes himself up the cañon, the worst
scared animile in the country. 'If you'll ketch my horse, I'll amble back
again,' says the inspector. 'I've investigated this route pretty
thorough, and find it's just as you say. Lamp-posts'll do me all right
for a while.' Come out fine, didn't it?

"Whish there! Untie yourself, you yaller bone-heap!" And the mail was a
quarter of a mile up the trail.

Jim pondered the information concerning Ches carefully, only to adhere to
his original determination. He could not see any way in which the boy
would be benefited by hearing the news. Still, the miner hated anything
that savored of concealment or deception.

"I wish Anne was here to help me," he thought; "she'd know what to do."

He sat long, looking down, his hands clasped about his knees, drinking
with old Tantalus. But the reverie ended as it always did--in action.
There was nothing for it but the claim. Success there meant success
everywhere.

It was the knowledge that Anne, the boy, and all he wished to do for both
depended on the pay-streak which had urged him to such a fury of effort.

His carelessness of his own life, that led him to slap his timbering up
any way, was born of that same fury. And the consequences came like most
consequences, without a moment's warning.

It was a still and beautiful noon. Ches had pulled out the last car
before dinner, and started for the cabin.

A curious groaning and snapping from the tunnel halted him. It was the
giving of the tortured timbers. On the heels of that came a dull,
crushing roar. A blast of dust shot from the tunnel-mouth, like smoke
from a cannon, preceded by a shock that nearly threw the boy off his
feet.

Then all was still again. The sun shone as brilliantly as before, blazing
down upon the ghastly face of a little boy, who, after one heart-broken
cry of "Jim! Oh, Jim's killed!" sank down upon the ground, chewing the
fingers thrust in his mouth, that the pain might make the black wave keep
its distance.

For Ches knew that he was alone; that there was no human being within
miles to help the man caught in the hand of that mischance but himself,
so frantically willing, but so impotent.

"I must git me wits tergedder--I must!" and down came the teeth with all
the strength of the boy's jaw. "Oh, what will I do? What will I do?" The
little head waved from side to side in its agony, and a sudden sob struck
him in the throat.

After that one small weakness rose Ches Felton, hero. To the mouth of the
tunnel he went. Above the tumbled pile of dirt and timber ran a sort of
passage, between it and the roof.

A way along which a boy might crawl and find out if all the frames were
down--to which the silence of the tunnel gave a bitter assent--or if by
some most lucky chance one or two had held, and Jim be safe within.

Ches climbed to the top and thrust his head into the gloom. "Jim!" he
called, "Jim!" No answer.

Before him lay the ruin of his pardner's work. It was over this that his
path lay, as deadly dangerous a path as could be found. The slightest
disturbing of the roof above might bring down a thousand tons of dirt
upon the one who ventured, slowly and hideously to crush his life out,
there in the dark, beyond sight and sound of the cheerful world without.
With this knowledge before him, and his inborn fear of the dark hole, as
daunting as the hand of death itself, he took his soul in his gripe, and
wormed his way within.

Sometimes his back grazed a stone in the roof, and the touch of white-hot
iron could not have been so terrible; sometimes a falling stone near him
would make his heart leap and stop as he waited for the hill above to
follow. Foot by foot he made it, twisting around the end of a post,
scooping out the dirt most cautiously where the hole was too small for
even his slight body.

Once the sharp end of a broken piece of lagging caught in his clothes,
and he could go neither forward nor back. There, for a second, he broke
down. Bracing up again, he managed somehow to get the old knife out of
his pocket and cut himself free.

He could see little.

A gray spectral light filtered in here and there that defined nothing,
even when his eyes grew accustomed to the darkness.

It was an endless journey. In places where the dirt closed in he would be
a full minute progressing a foot, and a minute of such mortal terror as
seldom falls to the lot of man of peace or soldier.

But it ended.

Suddenly the boy's outstretched hand encountered only emptiness below.
That frame had held. He dove into the space head first, and landed on
something soft and warm--the body of his pardner.

He had found him. In a paroxysm of joy, he flung himself upon the
motionless figure and cried his heart out. This, too, he soon conquered.
Jim had just so much show--any delay might wipe it out. He searched the
man's pockets until he found a match. By its light he saw the candle
stuck into the post, and lit it. Then he knelt beside his pardner again.

It was a curious picture within that gloomy chamber underground. The
miner lying stark, stretched to his full great length, appearing enormous
in the flickering candle-light, and the child, white-faced, big-eyed, but
steady as a veteran, wiping the blood from the ragged cut in the man's
head.

Ches realized what had happened the instant before the calamity. Jim,
startled by the noise of the yielding timbers, had made a rush, only to
be struck down by the rock, that now lay within an inch of him; yet
struck into safety for all that. Had he gone a yard farther, the life
would have been smashed out of him instantly.

But now, what? The flowing blood sent a sickening chill through the boy.
Had he done this much only to be able to see his pardner die? He drove
his teeth into his hand again at the thought. What was that? Was it a
trick of the tunnel, his heart sounding in his own ears, or a rhythmic
beat from outside? Hollow and dull fell that "clatter-clum-clatter-clum."

"Bud!" screamed Ches, "T'ank God, dat's Bud!"

After half a dozen efforts he climbed the dirt pile and went back through
the treacherous holes. The rider came so fast! "Oh!" groaned the boy,
"I'll never make it! Bud'll t'ink we're off somewheres an' pull
on!--_Bud_! BUD!" he called at the top of his lungs; but the tunnel
swallowed the little voice.

Desperation made him entirely reckless. It was any way to get out before
the mail-man was beyond call. Glairy with sweat, he pulled, tugged,
squirmed and wriggled along, until a dirty, small bundle rolled down
almost under the mail-rider's feet.

"Whoa!" shouted Bud with an astonished oath. "What's the--why boy, what's
the matter? Damn it! how you scart me!"

One look at him froze the man; he said no more, but waited, watching the
working face of the child, who was mastering himself once more, in order
to tell a quick, straight story, that no time might be lost.

"Der tunnel's fell in, Bud; Jim's in dere where der frame's held. He's
livin' yet, but he's got a tur'ble cut in his head."

The mail-rider drew out paper and tobacco, and rolled a cigarette. It was
his method of biting his hand. He loved the man inside that dark blotch
on the hill-side with an affection only known where men are few and
strong. And because he loved him, Bud was going to keep his head cool and
clear, to find the right thing to do and do it the right way.

For all his calm outer man the mind within was whirling. He turned to the
tense little face before him for help, and with an admiration that knew
no bounds.

"How far back?" he asked.

"T'ree frames was held--dere was seven, ten foot apart--how much is dat?"

"Forty feet--ten foot apart! No wonder! Oh, Jim! How could you have been
so careless?"

The boy's shoulders shook once. "He worked like er horse--now it's all
gone an' he's in dere--" The face was contorted out of all humanity, but
he held the tears back.

Bud leaped from his horse. "Never you mind, Chessy lad!" he cried,
hugging up the little figure, "we'll get him out of that, by God!--Could
we haul him out the way you went?"

"No, dere ain't room--an' if you touch dat roof hard--" he shuddered.

Bud sucked in his breath. "If you weren't the sandy little man to try
it!" he said. He stood a moment in silence going over it all.

"Ches," he said, "there ain't any time to lose. If Jim's cut like that he
may bleed to death in there when we could save him all right if we had
him outside.

"There's a party of miners down the road eight mile. They was having
their grub as I went by. Chances are they'll be there yet. They've got
four men and a team. I _could_ ride back, but I ought to be here working.
Do you think you could stick on old Buck and ride there?"

"I kin."

"By God! I hate to do it--but there ain't any other way!" The big man
ground his teeth together. "I hate to do it--damned if I'll do it!"

Ches caught his hand. "I kin make it, Bud," he pleaded; "I cuddent do
nothin' if I stayed here, an' you could do a heap. Put me up and let me
try."

"All right," said Bud. "The good Lord kept you from getting hurt in the
tunnel, perhaps He'll see you through again. Shut your eyes and hold on
tight when you strike the high places, and don't touch a rein--leave it
all to old Buck."

He stepped forward and caught the horse by the bit.

"Buck!" he said, as though talking to a human being, "you and me have
been through a heap together--don't fall down on me, now!--Take the kid
safe, old boy!" He caught Ches up and threw him across the saddle.
"You'll only have to tell 'em what's happened--the Lord send nothing
happens to you! Good-by, you brave little devil--we'll win out yet. Go
it, Buck!"

And while one of Jim's friends plied pick and shovel like a mad man, the
other was swaying on top of a galloping horse, gripping the pommel of the
saddle with all the strength he had, and shutting his eyes when he came
to the high places.

Captain Hanrahan's party were miners of substance. They were working
their way out to a new country to suit their inclinations. It had just
been suggested that it was perhaps time to hit the trail again when the
captain saw a figure on a horse flying athwart the mountain side--the
regular road was bad enough, but Bud had short cuts of his own, and Buck
followed his usual way.

"Huh!" said the captain, "that man's drunk or crazy?"

"Holy sufferin'!" gasped the man next him, as the yellow horse slipped on
a turn and sent a shower of gravel a thousand feet below. "That was a
near touch," as the horse caught himself and swept on.

"Looks to me like a case of trouble, Cap," said a third speaker. "That
ain't no man, anyhow--it's only a boy."

"Horse running away with him, probably--his folks ought to be clubbed for
letting him out on such an animal. Well, spread out, boys, and we'll
catch him."

But Buck stopped in two jumps, at Ches' command of "Whoa!"

"Fren's!" cried the boy, "me pardner's caught in a tunnel dat caved in on
him. Kin yer help us out? Three mile above Jones's Hill."

He had not finished the sentence before two men sprang for the horses.
The rest grabbed picks and shovels and hurled them into the wagon.

"We'll be there, hell-a-whooping," said Captain Hanrahan.

"T'anks!" replied Ches weakly, and then the world went out. The captain
caught him as he fell.

"Poor little cuss! He rid hard to help his pardner!" said the captain.
"Hump yourselves, boys--all ready! Got the whisky, Pete? Picks enough?
Stick the axes where they won't jump loose and cut a leg off some of us.
Tie the horse behind--good animal, that. All right, let 'em go!"

They went. Over stones and gulleys, the tools clanging and banging fit to
leap from the wagon, the men clinging to the side-boards for dear life.

Down hill-sides like the slant of a roof, the horses keeping out of the
way of the wagon; up the other side with the reeking animals straining
every fiber; over bridges that bent fearfully beneath the shock of their
onset; swaying around curves with the wheels sluing and sparks flying,
and over the level as though the devil himself were behind them.

It was the record trip for eight miles in a wagon in that country. The
driver stood up, a foot braced on either side, the reins thrown loose,
the whip plied hard, and every urging that voice could give shrieked out
by his powerful lungs.

It was like the rush of a fire-engine, plus twice the speed, and twenty
times the danger. Above the pounding of hoofs, the din of rattling metal,
the crash, smash and roar of the wheels and the yells of the driver could
be heard the man Pete, ex-cowpuncher, cheerfully singing,

                  "Roll your tails, and roll 'em high,
                  We'll all be angels by-and-by."

Braced in the back corner sat Captain Hanrahan, his leg keeping some of
the tools from going overboard, holding Ches in his arms.

"Curse it all, Billy!" he screamed to the driver, "miss _some_ of them
bumps, will you? I've got on a new pair of pants."

"I'll take 'em clean off you the next time, Cap!" retorted the driver.

They joked, which may seem heartless; but they risked their necks a
hundred times, and that isn't very heartless.

"That's the place, I reckon, Cap!" said the driver, pointing. "Somebody
working there now!"

"Give 'em a hoot!" replied the captain.

Bud stepped out and held up his hand in answer to the yell. The wave of
thanksgiving at the sight of this most efficient help took all the
stiffness out of the knees of the mail-rider. The tears rolled down his
face unnoticed.

"You're welcome, boys," he cried, as the driver sawed the frenzied team
to a standstill and the men sprang out.

"Reckon we are," said the captain. "Now what's up?"

"Is the boy hurt? Good God! He ain't hurt himself, has he?"

"Naw; pore little cuss is used up, that's all. He'll be around all right
in a minute. Now tell me, what's loose."

Bud answered briefly, but completely.

"Pete and Billy, get to cutting wood--the rest of you come here,"
commanded the captain.

"You ain't going to stop to timber, are you?" asked Bud in an agony of
haste.

"I sure am," replied the captain. "All this trouble's come of
carelessness. Now you just keep your clothes on, and let me run this
thing.

"We'll have your friend out in no time, and there won't be no more men
stuck in there with a hill a-top of 'em in the doing of it. What you've
done there is a help all right, but it might easy have meant that we'd
had two men instead of one to hunt for."

"You're dead right," said Bud. "Tell me what I'm to do."

The captain took hold as only a man can who has the genius for it. He
knew by long practice what size of a relief tunnel meant real speed of
progress--the least dirt to be removed to make it possible that men could
work to advantage. And his tunnel, safely rough-ceiled, went in at the
rate of a foot a minute.

When at last they pulled the insensible man out into the light of day,
and found that while his wound, though severe, and if neglected mortal,
was not likely to be dangerous with good attention, the captain said that
he must be getting about his business.

"Oh, stay a little longer, fellers, till he comes to," remonstrated Bud.
"He'd like to have a chance to say 'Thank you.'"

"Bugs!" replied the captain. "You tell him he owes us a drink, and as a
particular favor to me, please not to put his frames over four foot apart
in that ground.

"We're likely to be back here shortly, anyhow, because I think your
friend has got hold of the right idea from what you tell me of his plans;
but it'll take more'n one man to really prospect it. If we don't hit it
where we're going, we'll sure come back."

"Well, boys, _I_ can thank you and I'm going to," said Bud. "That man is
my friend, and if you hadn't come as you did--"

"Say, let go," interrupted the captain. "You'd have done the same thing
if you'd been us, wouldn't you?"

"Yes," admitted Bud reluctantly.

"And you wouldn't want to be thanked for it a white chip more'n we do,"
concluded the captain. "If there's any thanks coming it is to that little
two-foot chunk of man yonder. Snaking over that fall was a thing to put a
crimp in anybody. You was bound to help your pardner, wasn't you, son?"

The boy looked up into the captain's eagle face. "I'd 'er got to Jim," he
answered simply, "'f I'd had ter chew me way in like a rat."

The captain stepped back and looked at him.

"By the Lord!" he said slowly, "I believe you would!" A change came over
the thin, arrogant face. He stooped suddenly, raised the boy and kissed
him. "Now, get out o' this!" he roared at the driver, as he leaped into
the wagon.

They waved their hands as long as the miners were in sight, and stood
staring until Pete's statement that they'd all be angels by-and-by was
lost in the distance.

"Pretty good folks when you're in trouble, ain't they, Ches?" said Bud.

"What 'ud we have done, if dey hadn't come?--Ain't it 'mos' time Jim was
moving, Bud?"

"I'll give him another spoonful of whisky, but you can't expect him to
start right up and hop around. He got an awful crack, boy."

For all that, as the dose of strong liquor went down Jim's throat, he
opened his eyes.

"Hello, Bud! Hello, Ches!" he said wonderingly. "Have I been
asleep?--Why, what the devil's the matter with my head?" he raised his
hand to the spruce-gum bandage. "Phew! But I feel weak!" he sighed as his
hand dropped. "Something's happened--what is it?"

There, with a friend on each side holding a hand, they told him the
story. It was a sacred reunion.

The gratitude of the man saved, and the protestations of the others that
they would have done all they did a thousand times again would only seem
childish in repetition. They cried, too, which is excusable in a child,
but not in two big men. Men don't cry. It is the monopoly of women.
Nevertheless, Bud and Jim and Ches cried and swore, and shook hands and
cried again until it was a pitiful thing to see.

"Well," said Bud at last, "this makes you feel better, but it won't get
the work done. I've got to go out and fix old Buck and get in some
firewood."

"Oh, I'll do that!" cried Jim, raising himself on his elbow.

"You?" jeered Bud. "You look like it! Now, you lie right down there and
get well--that's your play. It would make us feel as if we'd wasted our
time if we had to turn to and bury you after all the trouble we've had.
You're good for two weeks in that bunk, old horse."

"Two weeks! I can't, Bud; I can't! I must get up before that!"

"You lie down there--hear me?"

"But I'll have to see to things around--you can't stay."

"I stay right here till you're well."

"But the mail?"

"The devil take the mail--or anybody else that wants the job. Uncle Sammy
won't hop on to my collar button, because of the fine send-off my friend
the inspector'll give. And somebody will get orry-eyed up in town, and
come down to find what's loose. He'll take the bags then. It's all
settled."

"But there are other things--"

"Let 'em rest. Now I'm off to do the chores--oh, say, speaking of mail,
here's a letter for you I forgot all about in the excitement--here you
go. Come along, Ches, and help me carry wood."

The miner looked at the letter in his hand, and a tinge of blood crept
into his white cheeks, then ebbed, leaving them whiter than before.

Suppose there were other men who wanted her; men with money, learning,
wit and influence. Was this bitterest of blows to fall upon him when he
was already down? He looked at his hands, green from loss of blood. "I
tried," he muttered, "I tried."

Still the very touch of the paper seemed to have something warm and
heartening in it. It was from _her_, anyhow. With sudden strength he tore
it open and read:

  Dearest, Dearest Jim--I yield the whole case. You are right.

  It is to my shame that clear-sightedness came from no source within
  me, but from a brave example set.

  My little cousin married the man she loved last week, and, of
  course, Miss Anne was a high functionary.

  Oh, what a stirring there was in me, Jim, watching them and thinking
  of you!

  They will be as poor as church mice, but they do not care, and
  theirs is the wise economy.

  Life is too short to waste, Jim, I see it now. I put it all in your
  hands, dearest; if you can not come to me, I shall come to you.

  I believe I'm only lukewarm by habit, not by nature.

  I wish I could tell you how sorry I am for the time I have squandered.

  I'll show you, that will be better.

  Any time, or any place and no conditions now, Jim. That's all, my
  dear brave lover. Good night.

                                                     Your own, Anne.

He was sitting bolt upright. Once more he devoured the letter. Then he
sank back and closed his eyes.

"Thank you, my darling, I can rest now," he said.

The golden sunset light played in riotous joyousness on the cabin walls;
the little creek laughed out loud; so did Ches and Bud, approaching the
cabin. It was a beautiful and happy world.





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Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

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



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