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Title: Wunpost
Author: Coolidge, Dane, 1873-1940
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 "Wunpost" ***

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WUNPOST



WUNPOST

BY

DANE COOLIDGE

AUTHOR OF

LORENZO THE MAGNIFICENT, THE DESERT TRAIL, RIMROCK JONES, ETC.

GROSSET & DUNLAP

PUBLISHERS NEW YORK

Published by Arrangement with E. P. Dutton & Company



Copyright, 1920,

By E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY

All Rights Reserved

First printing ... April, 1920

Second printing ... May, 1920

Printed in the United States of America



CONTENTS
 CHAPTER                                    PAGE
       I.  The Death Valley Trail              1
      II.  The Gateway of Dreams               9
     III.  Dusty Rhodes Eats Dirt             20
      IV.  The Tree of Life                   30
       V.  The Willie Meena                   42
      VI.  Cinched                            51
     VII.  More Dreams                        63
    VIII.  The Babes in the Woods             73
      IX.  A New Deal                         85
       X.  Short Sports                       91
      XI.  The Stinging Lizard               102
     XII.  Back Home                         114
    XIII.  With Hay-hooks                    128
     XIV.  Poisoned Bait                     135
      XV.  Wunpost Takes Them All On         144
     XVI.  Divine Providence                 156
    XVII.  The Answer                        168
   XVIII.  A Lesson                          175
     XIX.  Tainted Money                     183
      XX.  The War Eagle                     190
     XXI.  A Lock of Hair                    200
    XXII.  The Fear of the Hills             209
   XXIII.  The Return of the  Blow-hard      217
    XXIV.  Something New                     226
     XXV.  The Challenge                     233
    XXVI.  The Fine Print                    242
   XXVII.  A Come-Back                       251
  XXVIII.  Wunpost Has a Bad Dream           259
    XXIX.  In Trust                          268



WUNPOST



CHAPTER I

THE DEATH VALLEY TRAIL


The heat hung like smoke above Panamint Sink, it surged up against the
hills like the waves of a great sea that boiled and seethed in the sun;
and the mountains that walled it in gleamed and glistened like polished
jet where the light was struck back from their sides. They rose up in
solid ramparts, unbelievably steep and combed clean by the sluicings of
cloudbursts; and where the black canyons had belched forth their floods
a broad wash spread out, writhing and twisting like a snake-track, until
at last it was lost in the Sink. For the Sink was the swallower-up of
all that came from the hills and whatever it sucked in it buried beneath
its sands or poisoned on its alkali flats. Yet the Death Valley trail
led across its level floor--thirty miles from Wild Rose Springs to
Blackwater and its saloons--and while the heat danced and quivered there
was a dust in the north pass and a pack-train swung round the point.

It came on furiously, four burros with flat packs and an old man who ran
cursing behind; and as he passed down into the Sink there was another
dust in the north and a lone man followed as furiously after him. He was
young and tall, a mountain of rude strength, and as he strode off down
the trail he brandished a piece of quartz and swung his hat in the air.
But the pack-train kept on, a column of swirling dust, a blotch of
burro-gray in the heat; and as he emptied his canteen he hurled it to
the ground and took after his partner on the run. He could see the
twinkling feet, the heave of the white packs, the vindictive form
dodging behind; and then his knees weakened, his throbbing brain seemed
to burst and he fell down cursing in the trail. But the pack-train went
on like a tireless automaton that no human power could stay and when he
raised his head it was a streamer of dust, a speck on the far horizon.

He rose up slowly and looked around--at the empty trail, the waterless
flats, the barren hills all about--and then he raised his fist, which
still clutched the chunk of quartz, and shook it at the pillar of dust.
His throat was dry and no words came, to carry the burden of his hate,
but as he stumbled along his eyes were on the dust-cloud and he choked
out gusty oaths. A demoniac strength took possession of his limbs and
once more he broke into a run, the muttered oaths grew louder and gave
way to savage shouts and then to delirious babblings; and when he awoke
he was groveling in a sand-wash and the sun had sunk in the west.

Once more he rose up and looked down the empty trail and across the
waterless flats; and then he raised his eyes to the eastern hills,
burning red in the last rays of the sun. They were high, very high, with
pines on their summits, and from the wash of a near canyon there lapped
out a tongue of green, the promise of water beyond. But his strength had
left him now and given place to a feverish weakness--the hills were far
away, and he could only sit and wait, and if help did not come he would
perish. The solemn twilight turned to night, a star glowed in the east;
and then, on the high point above the mouth of the canyon, there leapt
up a brighter glow. It was a fire, and as he gazed he saw a form passing
before it and feeding the ruddy blaze. He rose up all a-tremble, crushed
down a brittle salt-bush and touched it off with a match; and as the
resinous wood flared up he snatched out a torch and carried the flame to
another bush. It was the signal of the lost, two fires side by side, and
he gave a hoarse cry when, from the point of the canyon, a second fire
promised help. Then he sank down in the sand, feebly feeding his signal
fire, until he was roused by galloping feet.

A half moon was in the sky, lighting the desert with ghostly radiance,
and as he scrambled up to look he saw a boy on a white mule, riding in
with a canteen held out. Not a word was spoken but as he gurgled down
the water he rolled his eyes and gazed at his rescuer. The boy was slim
and vigorous, stripped down to sandals and bib overalls; and
conspicuously on his hip he carried a heavy pistol which he suddenly
hitched to the front.

"That's enough, now," he said, "you give me back that canteen." And when
the man refused he snatched it from his lips and whipped out his ready
gun. "Don't you grab me," he warned, "or I'll fill you full of lead.
You've had enough, I tell you!"

For a moment the man faced him as if crouching for a spring; and then
his legs failed him and he sank to the ground, at which the boy dropped
down and stooped over him.

"Lie still," he said, "and I'll bathe your face--I was afraid you were
crazy with the heat."

"That's all right, kid," muttered the man, "you're right on the job.
Say, gimme another drink."

"In a minute--well, just a little one! Now, lie down here in the sand
and try to go to sleep." He moistened a big handkerchief and sopped
water on his head and over his heaving chest, and after a few drinks the
big frame relaxed and the man lay sleeping like a child. But in his
dreams he was still lost and running across the desert, he started and
twitched his arms; and then he began to mutter and fumble in the sand
until at last he sat up with a jerk.

"Where's that rock?" he demanded, "by grab, she's half gold--I'm going
to take it and bash out his brains!" He rose to his knees and scrambled
about and the boy dropped his hand to his gun. "I'm going to _kill_
him!" raved the man, "the danged old lizard-herder--he went off and left
me to die!"

He felt about in the dirt and grabbed up the chunk of quartz, which he
had lost in his last delirium.

"Look at _that_!" he exclaimed thrusting it out to the boy, "the
richest danged quartz in the world! I've got a ledge of it, kid, enough
to make us both rich--and John Calhoun never forgets a friend! No, and
he never forgets an enemy--the son of a goat don't live that can put one
over on _me_! You just wait, Mister Dusty Rhodes!"

"Oh, was that Dusty Rhodes?" the boy piped up eagerly. "I was watching
from the point and I _thought_ it was his outfit--but I don't think
I've ever seen you. Were you glad when you saw my fire?"

"You bet I was, kid," the man answered gravely, "I reckon you saved my
life. My name is John C. Calhoun."

He held out his hand and after a moment's hesitation the boy reached out
and took it.

"My name is Billy Campbell and we live in Jail Canyon. My mother will be
coming down soon--that is, if she can catch our other mule."

"Glad to meet her," replied Calhoun still shaking his hand, "you're a
good kid, Billy; I like you. And when your mother comes, if it's
agreeable to her, I'd like to take you along for my pardner. How would
that suit you, now--I've just made a big strike and I'll put you right
next to the discovery."

"I--I'd like it," stammered the boy hastily drawing his hand away,
"only--only I'm afraid my mother won't let me. You see the boys are all
gone, and there's lots of work to do, and--but I do get awful lonely."

"I'll fix it!" announced Calhoun, pausing to take another drink, "and
anything I've got, it's yours. You've saved my life, Billy, and I never
forget a kindness--any more than I forget an injury. Do you see that
rock?" he demanded fiercely. "I'm going to follow Dusty Rhodes to the
end of the world and bash out his rabbit brains with it! I stopped up at
Black Point to look at that big dyke and what do you think he done? He
went off and _left_ me and never looked back until he struck them
Blackwater saloons! And the first chunk of rock that I knocked off of
that ledge would assay a thousand dollars--gold! I ran after that danged
fool until I fell down like I was dead, and then I ran after him again,
but he never so much as looked back--and all the time I was trying to
make him rich and put him next to my strike!"

He stopped and mopped his brow, then took another drink and laughed,
deep down in his chest.

"We were supposed to be prospecting," he said at last. "I threw in with
him over at Furnace Creek and we never stopped hiking until we struck
the upper water at Wild Rose. How's that for prospecting--never looked
at a rock, except them he threw at his burros--and this morning, when I
stopped, he got all bowed up and went off and left me flat. All I had
was one canteen and the makings for a smoke, everything else was on the
jacks, and the first rock I knocked off was rotten with gold--he'd been
going past it for years! Well, I _stopped_! Nothing to it, when you
find a ledge like that you want to put up a notice. All my blanks were
in the pack but I located it, all the same--with some rocks and a
cigarette paper. It'll hold, all right, according to law--it's got my
name, and the date, and the name of the claim and how far I claim, both
ways--but not a doggoned corner nor a pick-mark on it; and there it is,
right by the trail! The first jasper that comes by is going to jump it,
sure--don't you know, boy, I've got to get _back_. What's the
chances for borrowing your mule?"

"What--Tellurium?" faltered the boy going over to the mule and rubbing
his nose regretfully, "he's--he's a pet; I'd rather not."

"Aw come on now, I'll pay you well--I'll stake you the claim next to
mine. That ought to be worth lots of money."

"Nope," returned Billy, "here's a lunch I brought along. I guess I'll be
going home."

He untied a sack of food from the back of his saddle and mounted as if
to go, but the stranger took the mule by the bit.

"Now listen, kid," he said. "Do you know who I am? Well, I'm John C.
Calhoun, the man that discovered the Wunpost Mine and put Southern
Nevada on the map. I'm no crazy man; I'm a prospector, as good as the
best, if I am playing to a little hard luck. Yes sir, I located the
Wunpost and started that first big rush--they came pouring into Keno by
the thousands; but when I show 'em this rock there won't be anybody
left--they'll come across Death Valley like a sandstorm. They'll come
pouring down that wash like a cloudburst in July and the whole doggoned
country will be located. Don't you want to be in on the strike? I'm
giving you a chance, and you'll never have another one like it. All I
ask is this mule, and your canteen and the grub, and I'll tell you what
I'll do--I'll give you half my claim, and I'll bet it's worth millions,
and I'll bring back your mule to boot!"

"Oh, will you?" exclaimed the boy and was scrambling swiftly down when
he stopped with one hand on the horn. "Does--does it make any difference
if I'm a girl?" he asked with a break in his voice, and John C. Calhoun
started back. He looked again and in the desert moonlight the boyish
face seemed to soften and change. Tears sprang into the dark eyes and as
she hung her head a curl fell across her breast.

"Hell--no!" he burst out hardly knowing what he said, "not as long as I
get the mule."

"Then write out that notice for Wilhelmina Campbell--I guess that's my
legal name."

"It's a right pretty name," conceded Calhoun as he mounted, "but somehow
I kinder liked Billy."



CHAPTER II

THE GATEWAY OF DREAMS


Standing alone in the desert, with her face bared to the moonlight and
her curls shaken free to the wind, Wilhelmina smiled softly as she gazed
after the stranger who already had won her heart. His language had been
crude when he thought she was a boy, but that only proved the perfection
of her disguise; and when she had asked if it made any difference, and
confessed that she was a girl, he had bridged over the gap like a flash.
"Hell--no!" he had said, as men oftentimes do to express the heartiest
accord; and then he had added, with the gallantry due a lady, that
Wilhelmina was a right pretty name. And tomorrow, as soon as he had
staked out his claim--their claim--he was coming back to the ranch!

She started back up the long wash that led down from Jail Canyon, still
musing on his masterful ways, but as she rounded the lower point and saw
a light in the house a sudden doubt assailed her. Tellurium was her
mule, to give to whom she chose, but he was matched to pull with Bodie
when they needed a team and her father might not approve. And what would
she say when she met her mother's eye and she questioned her about this
strange man? Yet she knew as well as anything that he was going to make
her rich--and tomorrow he would bring back the mule. All she needed was
faith, and the patience to wait; and she took her scolding so meekly
that her mother repented it and allowed her to sleep in the tunnel.

The Jail Canyon Ranch lay in a pocket among the hills, so shut in by
high ridges and overhanging rimrock that it seemed like the bottom of a
well; but where the point swung in that encircled the tiny farm a tunnel
bored its way through the hill. It was the extension of a mine which in
earlier days had gophered along the hillside after gold, but now that it
was closed down and abandoned to the rats Wilhelmina had taken the
tunnel for her own. It ran through the knife-blade ridge as straight as
a die, and a trail led up to its mouth; and from the other side, where
it broke out into the sun, there was a view of the outer world. Sitting
within its cool portal she could look off across the Sink, to Blackwater
and the Argus Range beyond; and by stepping outside she could see the
whole valley, from South Pass to the Death Valley Trail.

It was from this tunnel that she had watched when Dusty Rhodes went
past, a moving fleck of color plumed with dust; and when the sun sank
low she had seen the form that followed, like a man yet not like a man.
She had seen it rise and fall, disappear and loom up again; until at
last in the twilight she had challenged it with a fire and the answer
had led her to--him. She had found him--lost on the desert and about to
die, big and strong yet dependent upon her aid--and when she had allowed
her long curls to escape he had stood silent in the presence of her
womanhood. She wanted to run back and sleep in her tunnel, where the air
was always moving and cool; and then in the morning, when she looked to
the north, she might see the first dust of his return. She might see his
tall form, and the white sides of Tellurium as he took the shortest way
home, and then she could run back and drag her mother to the portal and
prove that her knight had been misjudged. For her mother had predicted
that the prospector would not return, and that his mine was only a
blind; but she, who had seen him and felt the clasp of his hand, she
knew that he would never rob _her_. So she fled to her dream-house,
where there was nothing to check her fancies, and slept in the
tunnel-mouth till dawn.

The day came first in the west, galloping along the Argus Range and
splashing its peaks with red; and then as the sun ascended it found gaps
in the eastern rim and laid long bands of light across the Sink. It rose
up higher and, as the desert stood forth bare, the dweller in the
dream-house stepped out through its portals and gazed long at the Death
Valley Trail. From the far north pass, where it came down from Wild
Rose, to where Blackwater sent up its thin smoke, the trail crept like a
serpent among the sandhills and washes, a long tenuous line through the
Sink. Where the ground was white the trail stood out darker, and where
it crossed the sun-burnt mesas it was white; but from one end to the
other it was vacant and nothing emerged from north pass. Billy sighed
and turned away, but when she came back there was a streak of dust to
the south.

It came tearing along the trail from Blackwater, struck up by a
galloping horseman, and at the spot where she had found the lost man the
night before the flying rider stopped. He rode about in circles, started
north and came dashing back; and at last, still galloping, he turned up
the wash and headed for the mouth of Jail Canyon. He was some searcher
who had found her tracks in the sand, and the tracks of Tellurium going
on; and, rather than follow the long trail to Wild Rose Springs, he was
coming to interview her. Billy ran down to meet him with long, rangey
strides, and at the point of the hill she stood waiting expectantly, for
visitors were rare at the ranch. Three restless lonely weeks had dragged
away without bringing a single wanderer to their doors; and now here was
a second man, fully as exciting as the first, because he was coming up
there to see _her_. Billy tucked up her curls beneath the brim of
her man's hat as she watched the laboring horse, but when she made out
who it was that was coming she gave up all thought of disguise.

"Hello, Dusty!" she called running gayly down to meet him, "are you
looking for Mr. Calhoun?"

"Oh, it's Mister, is it?" he yelled. "Well, have you seen the danged
whelp? Whoo, boy--where is he, Billy?"

"He went back!" she cried, "I lent him my mule. He told me he'd made a
rich strike!"

"A rich _strike_!" repeated the man and then he laughed and spurred
his drooping mount. He was tall and bony with a thin, hawk nose and eyes
sunk deep into his head. "A rich strike, eh?" he mimicked, and then he
laughed again, until suddenly his face came straight. "What's that you
said?" he shouted, "you didn't lend him your _mule_! Well, I'm
afraid, my little girl, you've made a mistake--that feller is a regular
horse-thief. Is your mother up to the house? We'll go up and see
her--I'm afraid he's gone and stole your mule!"

"Oh, no he hasn't," protested Billy confidently, running along the trail
beside him, "he went back to stake out his claim. He found some rich ore
right there at Black Point, and he's going to give me half of it."

"At Black P'int!" whooped Dusty Rhodes doubling up in a knot to squeeze
out the last atom of his mirth, "w'y I've been past that p'int for
twenty years--it's nothing but porphyry and burnt lava! He's crazy with
the heat! Where's your father, my little girl? We'll have to go out and
ketch him if we ever expect to git back that mule!"

"He's working up the canyon," answered Billy sulkily, "but never you
mind about my mule. He's mine, I guess, and I loaned him to that man in
exchange for a half interest in his mine!"

"Oh, it's a _mine_ now, is it?" mocked Dusty Rhodes, "next thing
it'll be a mine and mill. And he borrowed your mule, eh, that your
father give ye, and sent ye back home on foot!"

"I don't care!" pouted Billy, "I'll bet you change your tune when you
see him coming back with my mule. You went off and left him, and if I
hadn't gone down and helped him he would have died in the desert of
thirst."

"Eh--eh! Went off and _left_ him!" bleated Dusty in a fury, "the
poor fool went off and left _me_! I picked him up at Furnace Crick,
over in the middle of Death Valley, and jest took him along out of pity;
and all the way over he was looking at every rock when a prospector
wouldn't spit on the place! He was eating my grub and packing his bed on
my jacks; and then, by the gods, he wants me to stop at Black P'int
while he looks at that hungry bull-quartz! I warned him distinctly that
I don't wait for no man--did he say I went off and left him?"

"Yes, he did," answered Billy, "and he says he's going to kill you,
because you went off and took all his water!"

"Hoo, hoo!" jeered Dusty Rhodes, "that big bag of wind?" But he ignored
what she said about the water.

They spattered through the creek, where it flowed out to sink in the
sand, and passed around the point of the canyon; and then the green
valley spread out before them until it was cut off by the gorge above.
This was the treacherous Corkscrew Bend, where the fury of countless
cloudbursts had polished the granite walls like a tombstone; but Dusty
Rhodes recalled the time when a fine stage-road had threaded its curves
and led on up the canyon to old Panamint. But the flood which had
destroyed the road had left the town marooned and the inhabitants had
gone out over the rocks; until now only Cole Campbell, the owner of the
Homestake, stayed on to do the work on his claims. In this valley far
below he had made his home for years, diverting the creek to water his
scanty crops; while in season and out he labored on the road which was
to connect up his mine with the world.

His house stood against the hill, around the point from Corkscrew Bend,
old and rambling and overgrown with vines; and along the road that led
up to it there were rows of peaches and figs, fenced off by stone walls
from the creek. Dusty rode past the trees slowly, feasting his eyes on
their lush greenness and the rank growth of alfalfa beyond; until from
the house ahead a screen door slammed and a woman gazed anxiously down.

"Oh, is that you, Mr. Rhodes?" she called out at last, "I thought it was
the man who got lost! Come up to the house and tell me about him--do you
think he will bring back our mule?"

He dismounted with a flourish and dropped his reins at the gate; then,
while Billy hung back and petted the lathered horse, he strode up the
flower-entangled walk.

"Don't think nothing, Mrs. Campbell," he announced with decision, "that
boy has stole 'em before. He'll trade off that mule fer anything he can
git and pull his freight fer Nevada."

He paced up to the porch and shook hands ceremoniously, after which he
accepted a drink and a basketful of figs and proceeded to retail the
news.

"Do you know who that feller is?" he inquired mysteriously, as Billy
crept resentfully near, "he's the man that discovered the Wunpost mine
and tried to keep it dark. Yes, that big mine over in Keno that they
thought was worth millions, only it pinched right out at depth; but it
showed up the nicest specimens of jewelry gold that has ever been seen
in these parts. Well, this Wunpost, as they call him, was working on a
grubstake for a banker named Judson Eells. He'd been out for two years,
just sitting around the water-holes or playing coon-can with the Injuns,
when he comes across this mine, or was led to it by some Injun, and he
tries to cover it up. He puts up one post, to kinder hold it down in
case some prospector should happen along; and then he writes his notice,
_leaving out the date_--and everything else, you might say.

"'Wunpost Mine,'" he writes, "'John C. Calhoun owner. I claim fifteen
hundred feet on this vein.'

"And jest to show you, Mrs. Campbell, what an ignorant fool he is--he
spelled One Post, W-u-n! That's where he got his name!"

"I think that's a _pretty_ name!" spoke up Billy loyally, as her
mother joined in on the laugh. "And anyhow, just because a man can't
spell, that's no reason for calling him a fool!"

"Well, he _is_ a fool!" burst out Dusty Rhodes spitefully, "and
more than that, he's a crook! Now that is what he done--he covered up
that find and went back to the man that had grubstaked him. But this
banker was no sucker, if he did have the name of staking every bum in
Nevada. He was generous with his men and he give 'em all they asked for,
but before he planked down a dollar he made 'em sign a contract that a
corporation lawyer couldn't break. Well, when Wunpost said he'd quit,
Mr. Eells says all right--no hard feeling--better luck next time. But
when Wunpost went back and opened up this vein Mr. Eells was
Johnny-on-the-spot. He steps up to that hole and shows his contract,
giving him an equal share of whatever Wunpost finds--and then he reads a
clause giving him the right to take possession and to work the mine
according to his judgment. And the first thing Wunpost knowed the mine
was worked out and he was left holding the sack. But served him right,
sez I, for trying to beat his outfitter, after eating his grub for two
years!"

"But didn't he receive _anything_?" inquired Mrs. Campbell. "That
seems to me pretty sharp practice."

She was a prim little woman, with honest blue eyes that sometimes made
men think of their sins, and when Dusty Rhodes perceived that he had
gone a bit too far he endeavored to justify his spleen.

"He received _some_!" he cried, "but what good did it do him? Eells
give him five hundred dollars when he demanded an accounting and he
blowed it all in in one night. He was buying the drinks for every man in
camp--your money was all counterfeit with him--and the next morning he
woke up without a shirt to his back, having had it torn off in a fight.
What kind of a man is that to be managing a mine or to be partners with
a big banker like Eells? No, he walked out of camp without a cent to his
name and I picked him up Tuesday over at Furnace Crick. All he had was
his bed and a couple of canteens and a little jerked beef in a sack, but
to hear the poor boob talk you'd think he was a millionaire--he had the
world by the tail. And then, at the end of it, he'd be borrying your
tobacco--or anything else you'd got. But I never would've thought that
he'd steal Billy's mule--that's gitting pretty low, it strikes me."

"He never stole my mule!" burst out Wilhelmina angrily. "I expect him
back here any time. And when he does come, and you hear about his mine,
I'll bet you change your tune!"

"Ho! Ho!" shouted Rhodes, nodding and winking at Mrs. Campbell, "she's
getting to be growed-up, ain't she? Last time I come through here she
was a little girl in pigtails but now it's done up in curls. And I can't
say a word against this no-account Wunpost till she calls me a liar to
my face!"

"Billy is almost nineteen," answered Mrs. Campbell quietly, "but I'm
surprised to hear her contradict."

"Well, I didn't mean that," apologized Wilhelmina hastily, "but--well
anyhow, I _know_ he's got a mine! Because he showed me a piece of
quartz that he'd carried all the way, and he must have had a reason for
_that_. It was just moonlight, of course, and I couldn't see the
gold, but I know that it was quartz."

"Ah, Billy, my little girl," returned Dusty indulgently, "you don't know
the boy like I do. And the world is full of quartz but you don't find a
mine right next to a well-worn trail. Have you got that piece of rock?
Well now you see the p'int--he took it _away_! Would he do that if
his mine was on the square?"

"Well, I don't know why not," answered Billy at last and then she bowed
her head and turned away. They gazed after her pityingly as she ran
along the ditch and up to the mouth of her tunnel, but Billy did not
stop till she had threaded its murky passageway and come out at her gate
of dreams. It was from there that she had seen him when he was lost in
the Sink, and she knew her dream of dreams would come true. He was going
to come back, he was going to bring her mule, and make her his partner
in the mine. She looked out--and there was his dust!



CHAPTER III

DUSTY RHODES EATS DIRT


Billy gazed away in ecstasy at the dust cloud in the distance, and at
the white spot that was Tellurium, her mule; and when the rider came
closer she skipped back through the tunnel and danced along the trail to
the house. Dusty Rhodes was still there, describing in windy detail
Wunpost's encounter with one Pisen-face Lynch, but as she stood before
them smiling he sensed the mischief in her eye and interrupted himself
with a question.

"He's coming," announced Billy, showing the dimples in both cheeks and
Dusty Rhodes let his jaw drop.

"Who's coming?" he asked but she dimpled enigmatically and jerked her
curly head towards the road. They started up to look and as the white
mule rounded the point Dusty Rhodes blinked his eyes uncertainly. After
all his talk about the faithless and cowardly Wunpost here he was,
coming up the road; and the memory of a canteen which he had left
strapped upon a pack, rose up and left him cold. Talk as much as he
would he could never escape the fact that he had gone off with Wunpost's
big canteen, and the one subject he had avoided--why he had not stopped
to wait for him--was now likely to be thoroughly discussed. He glanced
about furtively, but there was no avenue of escape and he started off
down to the gate.

"Where you been all the time?" he shouted in accusing accents, "I've
been looking for you everywhere."

"Yes, you have!" thundered Wunpost dropping down off his mule and
striding swiftly towards him. "You've been lapping up the booze, over at
Blackwater! I've a good mind to kill you, you old dastard!"

"Didn't I tell you not to stop?" yelled Rhodes in a feigned fury. "You
brought it all on yourself! I thought you'd gone back----"

"You did not!" shouted Wunpost waving his fists in the air, "you saw me
behind you all the time. And if I'd ever caught up with you I'd have
bashed your danged brains out, but now I'm going to let you live! I'm
going to let you live so I can have a good laugh every time I see you go
by--Old Dusty Rhodes, the Speed King, the Wild Ass of the Desert, the
man that couldn't stop to get rich! I was running along behind you
trying to make you a millionaire but you wouldn't even give me a drink!
Look at _that_, what I was trying to show you!"

He whipped out a rock and slapped it into Rhodes' hand but Dusty was
blind with rage.

"No good!" he said, and chucked it in the dirt at which Wunpost stooped
down and picked it up.

"You're a peach of a prospector," he said with biting scorn and stored
it away in his pocket.

"Let me look at that again," spoke up Dusty Rhodes querulously but
Wunpost had spied the ladies. He advanced to the porch, his big black
hat in one hand, while he smoothed his towsled hair with the other, and
the smile which he flashed Billy made her flush and then go pale, for
she had neglected to change back to skirts. Every Sunday morning, and
when they had visitors, she was required to don the true habiliments of
her sex; but her joy at his return had left no room for thoughts of
dress and she found herself in the overalls of a boy. So she stepped
behind her mother and as Wunpost observed her blushes he addressed his
remarks to Mrs. Campbell.

"Glad to meet you," he exclaimed with a gallantry quite surprising in a
man who could not even spell "one." "I hope you'll excuse my few words
with Mr. Rhodes. It's been a long time since I've had the pleasure of
meeting ladies and I forgot myself for the moment. I met your daughter
yesterday--good morning, Miss Wilhelmina--and I formed a high opinion of
you both; because a young lady of her breeding must have a mother to be
proud of, and she certainly showed she was game. She saved my life with
that water and lunch, and then she loaned me her mule!"

He paused and Dusty Rhodes brought his bushy eyebrows down and stabbed
him to the heart with his stare.

"Lemme look at that rock!" he demanded importantly and John C. Calhoun
returned his glare.

"Mr. Rhodes," he said, "after the way you have treated me I don't feel
that I owe you any courtesies. You have seen the rock once and that's
enough. Please excuse me, I was talking with these ladies."

"Aw, you can't fool me," burst out Dusty Rhodes vindictively, "you ain't
sech a winner as you think. I've jest give Mrs. Campbell a bird's-eye
view of your career, so you're coppered on that bet from the start."

"What do you mean?" demanded Wunpost drawing himself up arrogantly while
his beetle-browed eyes flashed fire; but the challenge in his voice did
not ring absolutely true and Dusty Rhodes grinned at him wickedly.

"You'd better learn to spell Wunpost," he said with a hectoring laugh,
"before you put on any more dog with the ladies. But I asked you for
that rock and I intend to git a look at it--I claim an interest in
anything you've found."

"Oh, you do, eh?" returned Wunpost, now suddenly calm. "Well, let me
tell you something, Mr. Rhodes. You wasn't in my company when I found
this chunk of rock, so you haven't got any interest--see? But rather
than have an argument in the presence of these ladies I'll show you the
quartz again."

He drew out the piece of rock and handed it to Rhodes who stared at it
with sun-blinded eyes--then suddenly he whipped out a case and focussed
a pair of magnifying glasses meanwhile mumbling to himself in broken
accents.

"Where'd you git that rock?" he asked, looking up, and Wunpost threw out
his chest.

"Right there at Black Point," he answered carelessly, "you've been
chasing along by it for years."

"I don't believe it!" burst out Dusty gazing wildly about and mumbling
still louder in the interim. "It ain't possible--I've been right by
there!"

"But perhaps you never stopped," suggested Wunpost sarcastically and
handed the piece of rock to Mrs. Campbell.

"Look in them holes," he directed, "they're full of fine gold." And then
he turned to Dusty.

"No, Mr. Rhodes," he said, "you ain't treated me right or I'd let you in
on this strike. But you went off and left me and therefore you're out of
it, and there ain't any extensions to stake. It's just a single big
blow-out, an eroded volcanic cone, and I've covered it all with one
claim."

"But you was _traveling_ with me!" yelled Rhodes dancing about like
a jay-bird, "you gimme half or I'll have the law on ye!"

"Hop to it!" invited Wunpost, "nothing would please me better than to
air this whole case in court. And I'll bet, when I've finished, they'll
take you out of court and hang you to the first tree they find. I'll
just tell them the facts, how you went off and left me and refused to
either stop or leave me water; and then I'll tell the judge how this
little girl came down and saved my life with her mule. I'm not trying to
play the hog--all I want is half the claim--but the other half goes to
Billy. Here's the paper, Wilhelmina; I may not know how to spell but you
bet your life I know who's my friend!"

He handed over a piece of the paper bag which had been used to wrap up
his lunch, and as Wilhelmina looked she beheld a copy of the notice that
he had posted on his claim. No knight errant of old could have excelled
him in gallantry, for he had given her a full half of his claim; but her
eyes filled with tears, for here, even as at Wunpost, he had betrayed
his ineptitude with the pen. He had named the mine after her but he had
spelled it "Willie Meena" and she knew that his detractors would laugh.
Yet she folded the precious paper and thanked him shyly as he told her
how to have it recorded, and then she slipped away to gloat over it
alone and look through the specimen for gold.

But Dusty Rhodes, though he had been silenced for the moment, was not
satisfied with the way things had gone; and while Billy was making a
change to her Sunday clothes she heard his complaining voice from the
corrals. He spoke as to the hilltops, after the manner of mountain men
or those who address themselves to mules; and John Calhoun in turn had a
truly mighty voice which wafted every word to her ears. But as she
listened, half in awe at their savage repartee, a third but quieter
voice broke in, and she leapt into her dress and went dashing down the
hill for her father had come back from the mine. He was deaf, and
slightly crippled, as the result of an explosion when his drill had
struck into a missed hole; but to lonely Wilhelmina he was the dearest
of companions and she shouted into his ear by the hour. And, now that he
had come home, the rival claimants were laying their case before him.

Dusty Rhodes was excited, for he saw the chance of a fortune slipping
away through his impotent fingers; but when Wunpost made answer he was
even more excited, for the memory of his desertion rankled deep. All the
ethics of the desert had been violated by Dusty Rhodes and a human life
put in jeopardy, and as Wunpost dwelt upon his sufferings the old thirst
for revenge rose up till it quite overmastered him. He denounced Dusty's
actions in no uncertain terms, holding him up to the scorn of mankind;
but Dusty was just as vehement in his impassioned defense and in his
claim to a half of the strike. There the ethics of the desert came in
again; for it is a tradition in mining, not unsupported by sound law,
that whoever is with a man at the time of a discovery is entitled to
half the find. And the hold-over from his drinking bout of the evening
before made Dusty unrestrained in his protests.

The battle was at its height when Wilhelmina arrived and gave her father
a hug and as the contestants beheld her, suddenly transformed to a young
lady, they ceased their accusations and stood dumb. She was a child no
longer, as she had appeared in the bib overalls, but a woman and with
all a woman's charm. Her eyes were very bright, her cheeks a ruddy pink,
her curls a glorious halo for her head; and, standing beside her father,
she took on a naïve dignity that left the two fire-eaters abashed. Cole
Campbell himself was a man to be reckoned with--tall and straight as an
arrow, with eyes that never wavered and decision in every line of his
face. His gray hair stood up straight above a brow furrowed with care
and his mustache bristled out aggressively, but as he glanced down at
his daughter his stern eyes suddenly softened and he acknowledged her
presence with a smile.

"Are they telling you about the strike?" she called into his ear and he
nodded and smiled again. "Let's go up there!" she proposed but he shook
his head and turned to the expectant contestants.

"Well, gentleman," he said, "as near as I can make out Mr. Rhodes
_has_ a certain right in the property. Mr. Calhoun was traveling
with him and eating his grub, and I believe a court of law would decide
in his favor even if he did go off and leave him in the lurch. But since
my daughter picked him up and supplied him with a mule to go back and
stake out the claim it might be that she also has an equity in the
property, although that is for you gentlemen to decide."

"That's decided already!" shouted Wunpost angrily, "the claim has been
located in her name. She's entitled to one-half and no burro-chasing
prospector is going to beat her out of any part of it."

"But perhaps," suggested Campbell with a quick glance at his daughter,
"perhaps she would consent to take a third. And if you would do the same
that would be giving up only one sixth and yet it would obviate a
lawsuit."

"Yes, and I'll sue him!" yammered Rhodes. "I'll fight him to a whisper!
I'll engage the best lawyers in the country! And if I can't git it no
other way----"

"That'll do!" commanded Campbell raising his hand for peace, "there's
nothing to be gained by threats. This can all be arranged if you'll just
keep your heads and try to consider it impartially. I'm surprised, Mr.
Rhodes, that you abandoned your pardner and left him without water on
the desert. I've known you a long time and I've always respected you,
but the fact would be against you in court. But on the other hand you
can prove that you rode out this morning and made a diligent search, and
that in itself would probably disprove abandonment, although I can't say
it counts for much with me. But you've asked my opinion, gentlemen, and
there it is; and my advice is to settle this matter right now without
taking the case into court."

"Well, I'll give him half of my share," broke out Wunpost fretfully,
"but I promised Billy half and she is going to get half--I gave her my
word, and that goes."

"No, I'll give him half of mine," cried Billy to her father, "because
all I did was lend him Tellurium. But before I agree to it Mr. Rhodes
has got to apologize, because he said he'd steal my mule!"

"What's that?" inquired her father holding his ear down closer, "I
didn't quite get that last."

"Why, Dusty Rhodes came up here to look for Mr. Calhoun, and when I told
him that I had loaned him my mule he said Mr. Calhoun would _steal_
him! And then he went up and told Mother all about it and said that Mr.
Calhoun would do _anything_, and he said he'd probably take
Tellurium to Wild Rose and trade him off to some _squaw_! And when
I defended him he just whooped and laughed at me--and now he's got to
_apologise_!"

She darted a hateful glance at the perspiring Dusty Rhodes, who was
vainly trying to get Campbell's ear; and at the end of her recital there
was a look in Wunpost's eye that spoke of reprisals to come. The fat was
in the fire, as far as Rhodes was concerned, but he surprised them all
by retracting. He apologized in haste, before Wunpost could make a reach
for him, and then he recanted in detail, and when the tumult was over
they had signed a joint agreement to give him one third of the mine.

"All right, boys," he yelled, thrusting his copy into his pocket and
making a dash for his horse. "One third! It's all right with me! But if
we'd gone to the courts I'd got half, sure as shooting! 'Sall right, but
just watch my dust!"



CHAPTER IV

THE TREE OF LIFE


As the evening came on they walked out together, Wunpost and the
worshipful Wilhelmina, and from the portals of her House of Dreams they
looked out over the Sink where they had met but the evening before. Less
than a single day had passed since their stars had crossed, and already
they were talking of life and eternal friendship and of all the great
dreams that youth loves. Each had given of what they had without
counting the cost or considering what others might say; and now they
walked together like reunited lovers, though their friendship was not
twenty-four hours old. Yet in that single eventful day what a gamut they
had run of the emotions which make up the soul's life--of dangers boldly
met, of mutual sacrifice and trust and the joys of vindication and
success. They had staked all they had in the greatest game in life and,
miracle of miracles, they had won. They had sought out each other's
souls in the murk of death and doubt and each had been proven pure gold;
yet even youth, for all its madness, has its moments of clairvoyance and
Billy sensed that her joy could not last. It was too great, too perfect,
to endure forever, and as she gazed across the desert she sighed.

"What's the matter?" inquired Wunpost who, after a few hours' sleep, had
awakened in a most expansive mood; but she only sighed again and shook
her head and gazed off across the quivering Sink. It was a hell-hole of
torment to those who crossed its moods and yet in that waste she had
found this man, who had changed her whole outlook on life. He had come
up from the desert, a sun-bronzed young giant, volcanic in his loves and
his hates; and on the morrow the desert would claim him again, for he
was going back to his mine. And her father was going, too--Jail Canyon
would be as empty as it had been for many a long year--and she who
longed to live, to plunge into the swirl of life, would be left there
alone, to dream.

But what would dreams be after she had tasted the bitter-sweet of living
and learned what it was that she missed; the tug of strong emotions, the
hopes and fears and heartaches that are the fruits of the great Tree of
Life? She wanted to pluck the fruits, be they bitter or sweet, and drain
the world's wine to the dregs; and then, if life went ill, she could
return to her House with something about which to dream. But now she
only sighed and Wunpost took her hand and drew her down beside him in
the shade.

"Don't you worry about _him_ kid?" he observed mysteriously, "I'll
take care of him, all right. And don't you believe a word he said about
me stealing horses and such. I'm a little rough sometimes when these
jaspers try to rob me, but I never take advantage of a friend. I'm a
Kentucky Calhoun, related to John Caldwell Calhoun, the great orator who
debated with Webster; and a Kentucky Calhoun never forgets a kindness
nor forgives an intentional injury. Dusty Rhodes thinks he's smart,
getting a third of our mine after he went off and left me flat; but I'll
show that old walloper before I get through with him that he can't put
one over on me. And there's a man over in Nevada that's going to learn
the same thing as soon as I make my stake--he's another smart Aleck that
thinks he can job me and get away with highway robbery."

"Oh, is that Judson Eells?" broke in Billy quickly and Wunpost nodded
his head.

"That's the hombre," he said his voice waxing louder, "he's one of these
grubstake sharks. He came to Nevada after the Tonopah excitement with a
flunkey they call Flip Flappum. That's another dirty dog that I'm going
to put my mark on when I get him in the door--one of the most low-down,
contemptible curs that I know of--he makes his living by selling bum
life insurance. Phillip F. Lapham is his name but we all call him Flip
Flappum--he's the black-leg lawyer that drew up that contract that made
me lose my mine. Did Dusty tell you about it--then he told you a lie--I
never even read the cussed contract! I was broke, to tell you the truth,
and I'd have signed my own death warrant to get the price of a plate of
beans; and so I put my name in the place where he told me and never
thought nothing about it.

"It was a grubstake, that's all I knew, giving him half of what I staked
in exchange for what I could eat; but it turned out afterwards it was
like these fire insurance policies, where a man never reads the fine
print. There was more jokers in that contract than in a tinhorn
gambler's deck of cards--he had me peoned for life--and after I'd given
him half my strike he came out and claimed it all. Well, no man would
stand for that but when I went to make a kick there was a rat-faced
guard there waiting for me. Pisen-face Lynch they call him, and if he
was half as bad as he looks he'd be the wild wolf of the world; but he
ain't, not by a long shot, he just had the drop on me, and he run me off
my own claim! I came back and they ganged me and when I woke up I looked
like I'd been through a barbed-wire fence.

"Well, after that, as the nigger says, I began to think they didn't want
me around there, and so I pulled my freight; and it wasn't a month
afterwards that the ore all pinched out and left Judson Eells belly up.
If he lost one dollar I'll bet he lost fifty thousand, besides tipping
his hand on that contract; and I walked clean back from the lower end of
Death Valley just to see how his lip was hung. He's a big, fat slob, and
when times are good he goes around with his lip pulled up, so! But this
time he looked like an old muley cow that's come through a long, late
spring--his lip was plumb down on his brisket. So I gave him the
horse-laugh, paid my regards to Flip and Lynch, and came away feeling
fine. Because I'll tell you Billy, sure as God made little fishes,
there's a hereafter coming to them three men; and I'm the boy that's
going to deal 'em the misery--you wait, and watch my smoke!"

He smiled benevolently into Billy's startled eyes, and as the subject
seemed to interest her he settled himself more comfortably and proceeded
with his views on life.

"Yes sir," he said, "I'll put a torch under them, that'll burn 'em off
the face of the earth. Did you ever see a banker that wasn't a regular
robber--with special attention to widows and orphans? Well, take it from
me, Billy, they're a bunch of crooks--I guess I ought to know. I was
just eleven years old when they foreclosed the mortgage and turned my
mother and us kids into the street; and since then I've done everything
from punching cows to highway robbery but I've never forgot those
bankers. That's how come I signed up with Judson Eells, I thought I was
sticking him good; but he was playing a system and they didn't anybody
tumble to it until I discovered the Wunpost.

"W'y, there wasn't a prospector in the state of Nevada that hadn't
worked old Eells for a grubstake. We thought he was easy, kind of bugs
on mining like all the rest of these nuts, but the minute I struck the
Wunpost--_bing_, he's there with his contract and we find where
we've all been stung. We're tied up, by grab, with more whereases and
wherefores, and the parties of the first part, and so on, than you'd
find in a book of law; and the boys all found out from what he did to me
that he had us euchered at every turn. I thought I could fool him by
covering up the hole----"

"Oh, did you do that!" burst out Billy reproachfully, "and I made Dusty
Rhodes apologize!"

"Never mind," said Wunpost, "that was nothing but jaw-bone. He just said
it to get a share in our mine."

"No, but listen," protested Billy, "that isn't what I mean. Do you think
it was right to deceive Eells?"

"Was it _right_, kid!" laughed Wunpost. "That ain't nothing to what
I'm _going_ to do if I ever get the chance. Didn't he hire that
black-leg lawyer to draw up a cinch contract with the purpose of
grabbing all I found? Well then, that shows how honest _he_
was--and now I'm out after his scalp. I've got to raise a stake, so I
can fight him dollar for dollar; and then, sure as shooting, I'm going
to bust his bank and make him walk out of camp. Was it right--say,
that's a good one--you ain't been around much, have you? Well, that's
all right, Billy; I like you, all the same."

He nodded approvingly and Billy sat staring, for her world had gone
topsy-turvy again. She had wanted to leave Jail Canyon and go out into
the world, but was it possible that there existed a state of society
where there was no right and wrong? She sat thinking a minute, her head
in a whirl, and then she came back again.

"But when you covered up this mine and tried to keep it for yourself,
he--had Mr. Eells ever done you any harm?"

"Well, not yet, kid--that is, I didn't know it--but believe me, his
intentions were good. The time hadn't come, that's all."

"He was your friend, then," contended Billy, "because Dusty Rhodes
said----"

"Dusty Rhodes!" bellowed Wunpost and then he paused. "Go on, let's get
this off your chest."

"Well, he said," continued Billy, "that Mr. Eells gave you everything
and that you lived off his grubstake for two years; so I don't think it
was right, when you finally found a mine----"

"Say, listen," broke in Wunpost leaning over and tapping her on the knee
while he fixed her with intolerant eyes, "who's your friend, now--Dusty
Rhodes or me?"

"Why--you are," faltered Billy, "but I don't see----"

"All right then," pronounced Wunpost, "if I'm your friend, _stay with
me_. Don't tell me what Dusty Rhodes said!"

"That's all right," she defended, "didn't I make him apologize? But I'm
_your_ friend, too, and I don't think it was right----"

"Right!" thundered Wunpost, "where do you get this 'right' stuff? Have
you lived up this canyon all your life? Well, you wait until tomorrow,
when the rush is on, and I'll show you how much _right_ there is in
mining! You come down to the mine and I'll show you a bunch of mugs that
would rob you of your claim like _that_! I'm going to be there,
myself, and I'm going to borrow that pistol that you stuck in my ribs
the other night; and the first yap that touches a corner or crosses my
line I'll make him hard to catch. And then will come the promoters, with
their diamonds and certified checks, and they'll offer you millions and
millions; but you stay with me, kid, if they offer you the sub-treasury,
because they'll clean you if you ever sign up. Don't sign nothing,
see--and don't promise anything, either; and I'll tell you about
_me_, I'll do anything for a friend--but that's as far as I go.
They ain't no right and wrong, as far as I'm concerned. I'm like a
danged Injun, I'll keep my word to a friend no matter how the cards
fall; but if that friend turns against me I'll scalp him like
_that_, and hang his hide on the fence! So now you know right where
you'll find me!"

"Well, all right," retorted Billy, whose Scotch blood was up, "and I'll
tell you right where you'll find _me_. I'll stay with my friends
whether they're right or wrong, but I'll never do anything dishonest.
And if you don't like that you can take back your claim because----"

"Sure I like it!" cried Wunpost, laughing and patting her hand, "that's
just the kind of a friend I want. But all the same, Billy, this is no
Sunday School picnic--it's more like a dog fight we're going to--and the
only way to stand off that bunch of burglars is to hit 'em with anything
you've got. You've got to grab with both hands and kick with both feet
if you want to win in this mining game; and when you try to fight honest
you're tying one hand behind you, because some of 'em won't stop at
murder. Eells and Flip Flap and their kind don't pretend to be honest,
they just get by with the law; and if you give 'em the edge they'll soak
you in the jaw the first time you turn your head."

"Well, I don't care," returned Billy, "my father is honest and nobody
ever robbed him of his claim!"

"Hooh! Who wants it?" jeered Wunpost arrogantly. "I'm talking about a
real mine. Your old man's claims are stuck up in a canyon where a flying
machine couldn't hardly go and about the time he gets his road built
another cloudburst will come along and wash it away. Oh, don't talk to
me, I _know_--I've been all along those peaks and right down past
his mine--and I tell you it isn't worth stealing!"

"And I've been up there, too, and helped pack out the ore, and I tell
you you don't know what you're talking about!"

Billy's eyes flashed dangerously as she sprang up to face him and for a
minute they matched their wills; then Wunpost laughed shortly and
stepped out into the open where the sun was just topping the mountains.

"Well all right, kid," he said, "have your own way about it. It makes no
difference to me."

"No, I guess not," retorted Billy, "or you'd find out what you were
talking about before you said that my father was a fool. His mine is
just as good as it ever was--all it needs is another road."

"Yes, and then _another_ road," chimed in Wunpost mockingly, "as
soon as the first cloudburst comes by. And the price of silver is just
half what it was when Old Panamint was on the boom. But that makes no
difference, of course?"

"Yes, it does," acknowledged Billy whose eyes were gray with rage, "but
the flotation process is so much cheaper than milling that it more than
evens things up. And there hasn't been a cloudburst in thirteen
years--but that makes no difference, of course!"

She spat it out spitefully and Wunpost curbed his wit for he saw where
his jesting was leading to. When it came to her father this
unsophisticated child would stand up and fight like a wildcat. And he
began to perceive too that she was not such a child--she was a woman,
with the experience of a child. In the ways of the world she was a mere
babe in the woods but in intellect and character she was far from being
dwarfed and her honesty was positively embarrassing. It crowded him into
corners that were hard to get out of and forced him to make excuses for
himself, whereas at the moment he was all lit up with joy over the
miracle of his second big strike. He had discovered the Wunpost, and
lost it on a fluke; but the Willie Meena was different--if he kept the
peace with her they would both come out with a fortune.

"Never mind now, kid," he said at last, "your father is all right--I
like him. And if he thinks he can get rich by building roads up the
canyon, that's his privilege; it's nothing to me. But you string along
with me on our mine down below and there'll be money and to spare for us
both; and then you can take your share and build the old man a road
that'll make 'em all take notice! About twenty thousand dollars ought to
fix the matter up, but if we get to gee-hawing and Dusty Rhodes mixes in
there won't be a dollar for any of us. We've got to stand together,
see--you and me against old Dusty--and that will give us control."

"Well, I didn't start the quarrel," said Billy, beginning to blink, "but
it makes me mad, just because father won't give up to have everybody
saying he's crazy. But he isn't--he knows just exactly what he's
doing--and some day he'll be a rich man when these Blackwater
pocket-miners are destitute. The Homestake mine produced half a million
dollars, the second time they opened it up, and if the road hadn't
washed out it would be producing yet and my father would be rated a
millionaire. If he would sell out his claims, or just organize a company
and give outside capitalists control----"

"Don't you do it!" warned Wunpost, who made a very poor listener,
"they'll skin you, every time. The party that has control can take over
the property and exclude the minority stockholders from the ground, and
all they can do is to sue for an accounting and demand a look at the
books. But the books are nothing, it's what's underground that counts,
and if you try to go down they can kill you. I learned that from Judson
Eells when he put me out of Wunpost--and say, we can work that on Dusty!
We'll treat him white at first, but the minute he gets gay, it's the
gate--we'll give him the gate!"

He pranced about joyously, vainly trying to make her smile, but
Wilhelmina had lost her gaiety.

"No," she said, "let's not do that--because I made him apologize, you
know. But don't you think it's possible that Judson Eells will follow
after you and claim this mine too, under his contract?"

"He can't!" chuckled Wunpost starting to do a double-shuffle, "I fooled
him--this isn't Nevada. And when I found the Wunpost I was eating his
grub, but this time I was strictly on my own. I came to a country where
I'd never been before, so he couldn't say I'd covered it up; and that
contract was made out in the state of Nevada, but this is clear over in
California. Not a chance, kid, we're rich, cheer up!"

He tried to grab her hand but she drew it away from him and an anxious
look crept into her eyes.

"No," she said, "let's not be foolish." Already the great dream had
sped.



CHAPTER V

THE WILLIE MEENA


The morning had scarcely dawned when Wilhelmina dashed up the trail and
looked down on the Sink below; and Wunpost had been right, where before
all was empty, now the Death Valley Trail was alive. From Blackwater to
Wild Rose Wash the dust rose up in clouds, each streamer boring on
towards the north; and already the first stampeders had passed out of
sight in their rush for the Black Point strike. It lay beyond North
Pass, cut off from view by the shoulder of a long, low ridge; but there
it was, and her claim and Wunpost's was already swarming with men. The
whole town of Blackwater had risen up in the night and gone streaking
across the Sink, and what was to keep those envious pocket-miners from
claiming the find for their own? And Dusty Rhodes--he must have led the
stampede--had he respected his partners' rights? She gazed a long
moment, then darted back through the tunnel and bore the news to her
father and Wunpost.

He had slept in the hay, this hardy desert animal, this shabby,
penniless man with the loud voice of a demagogue and the profile of a
bronze Greek god; and he came forth boldly, like Odysseus of old when,
cast ashore on a strange land, he roused from his sleep and beheld
Nausicaa and her maidens at play. But as Nausicaa, the princess,
withstood his advance when all her maidens had fled, so Wilhelmina faced
him, for she knew full well now that he was not a god. He was a
water-hole prospector who for two idle years had eaten the bread of
Judson Eells; and then, when chance led him to a rich vein of ore, had
covered up the hole and said nothing. Yet for all his human weaknesses
he had one godlike quality, a regal disregard for wealth; for he had
kept his plighted word and divided, half and half, this mine towards
which all Blackwater now rushed. She looked at him again and her rosy
lips parted--he had earned the meed of a smile.

The day had dawned auspiciously, as far as Billy was concerned, for she
was back in her overalls and her father had consented to take her along
to the mine. The claim was part hers and Wunpost had insisted that she
accompany them back to the strike. Dusty Rhodes would be there, with his
noisy demands and his hints at greater rights in the claim; and in the
first wild rush complications might arise that would call for a speedy
settlement. But with Billy at his side and Cole Campbell as a witness,
every detail of their agreement could be proved on the instant and the
Willie Meena started off right. So Wunpost smiled back when he beheld
the make-believe boy who had come to his aid on her mule; and as they
rode off down the canyon, driving four burros, two packed with water, he
looked her over approvingly.

In skirts she had something of the conventional reserve which had always
made him scared of women; but as a boy, as Billy, she was one partner in
a thousand, and as carefree as the wind. Upon the back of her saddle,
neatly tied up in a bag, she carried the dress that she would wear at
the mine; but riding across the mesa on the lonely Indian trail she
clung to the garb of utility. In overalls she had ridden up and down the
corkscrew canyon that led to her father's mine; she had gone out to hunt
for burros, dragged in wood and carried up water and done the daily
duties of a man. Both her brothers were gone, off working in the mines,
and their tasks descended to her; until in stride and manner and speech
she was by instinct, a man and only by thought a woman.

The years had slipped by, even her mother had hardly noticed how she too
had grown up like the rest; and now in one day she had stepped forth
into their councils and claimed her place as a man. Yes, that was the
place that she had instinctively claimed but they had given her the
place of a woman. When it came to prospecting among the lonely peaks she
could go as far as she chose; but in the presence of men, even as an
owner in the great mine, she must confine her free limbs within skirts.
And, though she had come of age, she was still in tutelage--with two men
along to do her thinking. Wunpost had made it easy, all she had to do
was stand pat and agree to whatever he said; and her father was there to
protect her in her rights and preserve the family honor from loose
tongues.

They skirted the edge of the valley, keeping up above the Sink and
crossing an endless series of rocky washes, until as they topped the
last low ridge the Black Point lay before them, surrounded by a swarm of
digging men. It jutted out from the ridge, a round volcanic cone
sticking up through the shattered porphyry; and yet this point of rock,
all but buried in the wash of centuries, held a treasure fit to ransom a
king. It held the Willie Meena mine, which had lain there by the trail
while thousands of adventurers hurried past; until at last Wunpost had
stopped to examine it and had all but perished of thirst. But one there
was who had seen him, and saved him from the Sink, and loaned him her
mule to ride; and in honor of her, though he could not spell her name,
he had called it the Willie Meena.

Billy sat on Tellurium and gazed with rapt wonder at the scene which
stretched out below. Wagons and horses everywhere, and automobiles too,
and dejected-looking burros and mules; and in the rough hills beyond men
were climbing like goats as they staked the lava-crowned buttes. A
procession of Indian wagons was filing up the gulch to haul water from
Wild Rose Spring and already the first tent of what would soon be a city
was set up opposite the point. In a few hours there would be twenty up,
in a few days a hundred, in a few months it would be a town; and all
named for her, who had been given a half by Wunpost and yet had hardly
murmured her thanks. She turned to him smiling but as she was about to
speak her father caught her eye.

"Put on your dress," he said, and she retired, red with chagrin, to
struggle into that accursed badge of servitude. It was hot, the sun
boiled down as it does every day in that land where the rocks are burned
black; and, once she was dressed, she could not mount her mule without
seeming to be immodest. So she followed along behind them, leading
Tellurium by his rope, and entered her city of dreams unnoticed. Calhoun
strode on before her, while Campbell rounded up the burros, and the men
from Blackwater stared at him. He was a stranger to them all, but
evidently not to boom camps, for he headed for the solitary tent.

"Good morning to you, gentlemen," he called out in his great voice;
"won't you join me--let's all have a drink!"

The crowd fell in behind him, another crowd opened up in front, and he
stood against the bar, a board strewn thick with glasses and tottering
bottles of whiskey. An old man stood behind it, wagging his beard as he
chewed tobacco, and as he set out the glasses he glanced up at Wunpost
with a curious, embittered smile. He was white-faced and white-bearded,
stooped and gnarled like a wind-tortured tree, and the crook to his nose
made one think instinctively of pictures of the Wandering Jew. Or
perhaps it was the black skull-cap, set far back on his bent head, which
gave him the Jewish cast; but his manner was that of the rough-and-ready
barkeeper and he slapped one wet hand on the bar.

"Here's to her!" cried Wunpost, ignoring the hint to pay as he raised
his glass to the crowd. "Here's to the Willie Meena--some mine!"

He tossed off the drink, but when he looked for the chaser the barkeeper
shook his head.

"No chasers," he said, "water is too blasted scarce--that'll be three
dollars and twenty-five cents."

"Charge it to ground-rent!" grinned Wunpost. "I'm the man that owns this
claim. See you later--where's Dusty Rhodes?"

"No--_cash_!" demanded the barkeeper, looking him coldly in the
eye. "I'm in on this claim myself."

"Since when?" inquired Wunpost. "Maybe you don't know who I am? I am
John C. Calhoun, the man that discovered Wunpost; and unless I'm greatly
mistaken you're not in on anything--who gave you any title to this
ground?"

"Dusty Rhodes," croaked the saloon-keeper, and a curse slipped past
Wunpost's lips, though he knew that a lady was near.

"Well, damn Dusty Rhodes!" he cried in a passion. "Where is the crazy
fool?"

He burst from the crowd just as Dusty came hurrying across from where he
had been digging out ore; and for a minute they stood clamoring, both
shouting at once, until at last Wunpost seized him by the throat.

"Who's this old stiff with whiskers?" he yelled into his ear, "that
thinks he owns the whole claim? Speak up, or I'll wring your neck!"

He released his hold and Dusty Rhodes staggered back, while the crowd
looked on in alarm.

"W'y, that's Whiskers," explained Dusty, "the saloon-keeper down in
Blackwater. I guess I didn't tell you but he give me a grubstake and so
he gits half my claim."

"_Your_ claim!" echoed Wunpost. "Since when was this your claim?
You doddering old tarrapin, you only own one-third of it--and that ain't
yours, by rights. How much do you claim, I say?"

"W'y--I only claim one third," responded Dusty weakly, "but Whiskers, he
claims that I'm entitled to a half----"

"A half!" raged Wunpost, starting back towards the saloon. "I'll show
the old billygoat what he owns!"

He kicked over the bar with savage destructiveness, jerking up a
tent-peg with each brawny hand, and as the old man cowered he dragged
the tent forward until it threatened every moment to come down.

"Git out of here!" he ordered, "git off of my ground! I discovered this
claim and it's located in my name--now git, before I break you in two!"

"Here, here!" broke in Cole Campbell, laying a hand on Wunpost's arm as
the saloon-keeper began suddenly to beg, "let's not have any violence.
What's the trouble?"

"Why, this old spittoon-trammer," began Wunpost in a fury, "has got the
nerve to claim half my ground. I've been beat out of one claim, but this
time it's different--I'll show him who owns this ground!"

"I just claim a quarter of it!" snapped old Whiskers vindictively. "I
claim half of Dusty Rhodes' share. He was working on my grubstake--and
he was with you when you made your strike."

"He was not!" denied Wunpost, "he went off and left me. Did you find his
name on the notice? No, you found John C. Calhoun and Williemeena
Campbell, the girl that loaned me her mule. We're the locators of this
property, and, just to keep the peace, we agreed to give Dusty one
third; but that ain't a half and if you say it is again, out you
go--I'll throw you off my claim!"

"Well, a third, then," screeched Old Whiskers, holding his hands about
his ears, "but for cripes' sake quit jerking that tent! Ain't a third
enough to give me a right to put up my tent on the ground?"

"It is if I say so," replied Wunpost authoritatively, "and if
Williemeena Campbell consents. But git it straight now--we're running
this property and you and Dusty are _nothing_. You're the minority,
see, and if you make a crooked move we'll put you both off the claim.
Can you git that through your head?"

"Well, I guess so," grumbled Whiskers, stooping to straighten up his
bar, and Wunpost winked at the crowd.

"Set 'em up again!" he commanded regally and all Blackwater drank on the
house.



CHAPTER VI

CINCHED


Having established his rights beyond the peradventure of a doubt, the
imperious Wunpost left Old Whiskers to recoup his losses and turned to
the wide-eyed Wilhelmina. She had been standing, rooted to the earth,
while he assaulted Old Whiskers and Rhodes; and as she glanced up at him
doubtfully he winked and grinned back at her and spoke from behind the
cover of his hand.

"That's the system!" he said. "Git the jump on 'em--treat 'em rough!
Come on, let's go look at our mine!"

He led the way to Black Point, where the bonanza vein of quartz came
down and was buried in the sand; and while the crowd gazed from afar
they looked over their property, though Billy moved like one in a dream.
Her father was engaged in placating Dusty Rhodes and in explaining their
agreement to the rest, and she still felt surprised that she had ever
consented to accompany so desperate a ruffian. Yet as he knocked off a
chunk of ore and showed her the specks of gold, scattered through it
with such prodigal richness, she felt her old sense of security return;
for he had never been rough with her. It was only with Old Whiskers, the
grasping Blackwater saloon-keeper, and with the equally avaricious Dusty
Rhodes--who had been trying to steal more than their share of the
prospect and to beat her out of her third. They had thought to ignore
her, to brush her aside and usurp her share in the claim; but Wunpost
had defended her and protected her rights and put them back where they
belonged. And it was for this that he had seized Dusty Rhodes by the
throat and kicked down the saloon-keeper's bar. But she wondered what
would happen if, at some future time, she should venture to oppose his
will.

The vein of quartz which had caught Wunpost's eye was enclosed within
another, not so rich, and a third mighty ledge of low-grade ore encased
the two of them within its walls. This big dyke it was which formed the
backbone of the point, thrusting up through the half-eroded porphyry;
and as it ran up towards its apex it was swallowed and overcapped by the
lava from the old volcanic cone.

"Look at that!" exclaimed Wunpost, knocking off chunk after chunk; and
as a crowd began to gather he dug down on the richest streak, giving the
specimens to the first person who asked. The heat beat down upon them
and Campbell called Wilhelmina to the shelter of his makeshift tent, but
on the ledge Wunpost dug on untiringly while the pocket-miners gathered
about. They knew, if he did not, the value of those rocks which he
dispensed like so much dirt, and when he was not looking they gathered
up the leavings and even knocked off more for themselves. There had been
hungry times in the Blackwater district, and some of this quartz was
half gold.

An Indian wood-hauler came down from Wild Rose Spring with his wagon
filled with casks of water, and as he peddled his load at two-bits a
bucket the camp took on a new lease of life. Old Whiskers served a
chaser with each drink of whiskey; coffee was boiled and cooking began;
and all the drooping horses were banded together and driven up the
canyon to the spring. It was only nine miles, and the Indians would keep
on hauling, but already Wunpost had planned to put in a pipe-line and
make Willie Meena a town. He stood by Campbell's tent while the crowd
gathered about and related the history of his strike, and then he went
on with his plans for the mine and his predictions of boom times to
come.

"Just you wait," he said, bulking big in the moonlight; "you wait till
them Nevada boomers come. Things are dead over there--Keno and Wunpost
are worked out; they'll hit for this camp to a man. And when they come,
gentlemen, you want to be on your ground, because they'll jump anything
that ain't held down. Just wait till they see this ore and then watch
their dust--they'll stake the whole country for miles--but I've only got
one claim, and I'm going to stay on it, and the first man that jumps it
will get this."

He slapped the big pistol that he had borrowed from Wilhelmina and
nodded impressively to the crowd; and the next morning early he was over
at the hole, getting ready for the rush that was to come. For the news
of the strike had gone out from Blackwater on the stage of the evening
before, and the moment it reached the railroad it would be wired to Keno
and to Tonopah and Goldfield beyond. Then the stampede would begin, over
the hills and down into Death Valley and up Emigrant Wash to the
springs; and from there the first automobiles would burn up the ground
till they struck Wild Rose Canyon and came down. Wunpost got out a
hammer and drill, and as he watched for the rush he dug out more
specimens to show. Wilhelmina stood beside him, putting the best of them
into an ore-sack and piling the rest on the dump; and as he met her glad
smile he laid down his tools and nodded at her wisely.

"Big doings, kid," he said. "There's some rock that'll make 'em scream.
D'ye remember what I said about Dusty Rhodes? Well, maybe I didn't call
the turn--he did just exactly what I said. When he got to Blackwater he
claimed the strike was his and framed it up with Whiskers to freeze us
out. They thought they had us jumped--somebody knocked down my monument,
and that's a State Prison offense--but I came back at 'em so quick they
were whipped before they knew it. They acknowledged that the claim was
mine. Well, all right, kid, let's keep it; you tag right along with me
and back up any play that I make, and if any of these boomers from
Nevada get funny we'll give 'em the gate, the gate!"

He did a little dance and Billy smiled back feebly, for it was all very
bewildering to her. She had expected, of course, a certain amount of
lawless conduct; but that Dusty Rhodes, an old friend of their family,
should conspire to deprive her of her claim was almost inconceivable.
And that Wunpost should instantly seize him by the throat and force him
to renounce his claims was even more surprising. But of course he had
warned her, he had told her all about it, and predicted even bolder
attempts; and yet here he was, digging out the best of his ore to give
to these same Nevada burglars.

"What do you give them all the ore for?" she asked at last. "Why don't
you keep it, and we can pound out the gold?"

"We have to play the game, kid," he answered with a shrug. "That's the
way they always do."

"Yes, but I should think it would only make them worse. When they see
how rich it is maybe someone will try to jump us--do you think Judson
Eells will come?"

"Sure he'll come," answered Wunpost. "He'll be one of the first."

"And will you give him a specimen?"

"Surest thing--I'll give him a good one. I believe that's a machine, up
the wash."

He shaded his eyes, and as they gazed up the winding canyon a monster
automobile swung around the curve. A flash and it was gone, only to rush
into view a second time and come bubbling and thundering down the wash.
It drew up before the point and four men leapt out and headed straight
for the hole; not a word was said, but they seemed to know by instinct
just where to find the mine. Wunpost strode to meet them and greeted
them by name, they came up and looked at the ground; and then, as
another machine came around the point, they asked him his price, for
cash.

"Nothing doing, gentlemen," answered Wunpost. "It's too good to sell.
It'll pay from the first day it's worked."

He went down to meet the second car of stampeders, and his answer to
them was the same. And each time he said it he turned to Wilhelmina, who
gravely nodded her head. It was his mine; he had found it and only given
her a share of it, and of course they must stand together; but as
machine after machine came whirling down the canyon and the bids mounted
higher and higher a wistful look came into Wilhelmina's eye and she went
down and sat with her father. It was for him that she wanted the money
that was offered her--to help him finish the road he had been working on
so long--but she did not speak, and he too sat silent, looking on with
brooding eyes. Something seemed to tell them both that trouble was at
hand, and when, after the first rush, a single auto rumbled in, Billy
rose to her feet apprehensively. A big man with red cheeks, attired in a
long linen duster, descended from the curtained machine, and she flew to
the side of Wunpost.

It was Judson Eells; she would know him anywhere from the description
that Wunpost had given, and as he came towards the hole she took in
every detail of this man who was predestined to be her enemy. He was big
and fat, with a high George the Third nose and the florid smugness of a
country squire, and as he returned Wunpost's greeting his pendulous
lower lip was thrust up in arrogant scorn. He came on confidently, and
behind him like a shadow there followed a mysterious second person. His
nose was high and thin, his cheeks gaunt and furrowed, and his eyes
seemed brooding over some terrible wrong which had turned him against
all mankind. At first glance his face was terrifying in its fierceness,
and then the very badness of it gave the effect of a caricature. His
eyebrows were too black, his lips too grim, his jaw too firmly set; and
his haggard eyes looked like those of a woman who is about to burst into
hysterical tears. It was Pisen-face Lynch, and as Wunpost caught his eye
he gave way to a mocking smirk.

"Ah, good morning, Mr. Eells," he called out cordially, "good morning,
good morning Mr. Lynch! Well, well, glad to see you--how's the bad man
from Bodie? Meet my partner, Miss Wilhelmina Campbell!"

He presented her gallantly and as Wilhelmina bowed she felt their
hostile eyes upon her.

"Like to look at our mine?" rattled on Wunpost affably. "Well, here it
is, and she's a world-beater. Take a squint at that rock--you won't need
no glasses--how's that, Mr. Eells, for the pure quill?"

Eells looked at the specimen, then looked at it again, and slipped it
into his pocket.

"Yes, rich," he said in a deep bass voice, "very rich--it looks like a
mine. But--er--did I understand you to say that Miss Campbell was your
partner? Because really you know----"

"Yes, she's my partner," replied Wunpost. "We hold the controlling
interest. Got a couple more partners that own a third."

"Because really," protested Eells, "under the terms of our contract----"

"Oh, to hell with your contract!" burst out Wunpost scornfully. "Do you
think that will hold over here?"

"Why, undoubtedly!" exclaimed Eells. "I hope you didn't think--but no
matter, I claim half of this mine."

"You won't get it," answered Wunpost. "This is over in California. Your
contract was made for Nevada."

"It was made _in_ Nevada," corrected Judson Eells promptly, "but it
applied to all claims, _wherever found_! Would you like to see a
copy of the contract?" He turned to the automobile, and like a
jack-in-the-box a little lean man popped out.

"No!" roared Wunpost, and looked about wildly, at which Cole Campbell
stepped up beside him.

"What's the trouble?" he asked, and as Wunpost shouted into his ear
Campbell shook his head and smiled dubiously.

"Let's look at the contract," he suggested, and Wunpost, all unstrung,
consented. Then he grabbed him back and yelled into his ear:

"_That's_ no good now--he's used it once already!"

"How do you mean?" queried Campbell, still reaching for the contract;
and the jack-in-the-box thrust it into his hands.

"Why, he used that same paper to claim the Wunpost--he can't claim every
mine I find!"

"Well, we'll see," returned Campbell, putting on his glasses, and
Wunpost flew into a fury.

"Git out of here!" he yelled, making a kick at Pisen-face Lynch; "git
out, or I'll be the death of ye!"

But Pisen-face Lynch recoiled like a rattlesnake and stood set with a
gun in each hand.

"Don't you think it," he rasped, and Wunpost turned away from him with a
groan of mortal agony.

"What does it say?" he demanded of Campbell. "Can he claim this mine,
too? But say, listen; I wasn't _working_ for him! I was working for
myself, and furnishing my own grub--and I've never been through here
before! He can't claim I found it when I was under his grubstake,
because I've never been into this country!"

He stopped, all a-tremble, and looked on helplessly while Cole Campbell
read on through the "fine print"; and, not being able to read the words,
he watched the face of the deaf man like a criminal who hopes for a
reprieve. But there was no reprieve for Wunpost, for the paper he had
signed made provision against every possible contingency; and the man
who had drawn it stood there smiling triumphantly--the jack-in-the-box
was none other than Lapham. Wunpost watched till he saw his last hope
flicker out, then whirled on the gloating lawyer. Phillip F. Lapham was
tall and thin, with the bloodless pallor of a lunger, but as Wunpost
began to curse him a red spot mounted to each cheek-bone and he pointed
his lanky forefinger like a weapon.

"Don't you threaten me!" he cried out vindictively, "or I'll have you
put under bond. The fault is your own if you failed to read this
contract, or failed to understand its intent. But there it stands, a
paper of record and unbeatable in any court in the land. I challenge you
to break it--every provision is reciprocal--it is sound both in law and
equity! And under clause seven my client, Mr. Eells, is entitled to
one-half of this claim!"

"But I only own one-third of it!" protested Wunpost desperately. "I
located it for myself and Wilhelmina Campbell, and then we gave Dusty
Rhodes a third."

"That's beside the point," answered Lapham briefly. "If you were the
original and sole discoverer, Mr. Eells is entitled to one-half, and any
agreements which you have made with others will have to be modified
accordingly."

"What do you mean?" yelled a voice, and Dusty Rhodes, who had been
listening, now jumped into the center of the arena. "I'll have you to
understand," he cried in a fury, "that I'm entitled to a full half in
this claim. I was with this man Wunpost when he made the discovery, and
according to mining law I'm entitled to one-half of it--I don't give
_that_ for you and your contract!"

He snapped his fingers under the lawyer's nose and Lapham drew back,
startled.

"Then in that case," stated Wunpost, "I don't get _anything_--and
I'm the man that discovered it! But I'll tell you, my merry men, there's
another law yet, when a man is sure he's right!"

He tapped his six-shooter and even Lynch blenched, for the fighting
light had come into his eyes. "No," went on Wunpost, "you can't work
that on me. I found this mine and I'm going to have half of it or shoot
it out with the bunch of ye!"

"You can have my share," interposed Wilhelmina tremulously, and he
flinched as if struck by a whip.

"I don't want it!" he snarled. "It's these high-binders I'm after. You,
Dusty, you don't get anything now. If this big fat slob is going to
claim half my mine, you can _law_ us--he'll have to pay the bills.
Now git, you old dastard, and if you horn in here again I'll show you
where you head _out_!" He waved him away, and Dusty Rhodes slunk
off, for a guilty conscience makes cowards of us all; but Judson Eells
stood solid as adamant, though his lawyer was whispering in his ear.

"Go and see him," nodded Eells, and as Lapham followed Rhodes he turned
to the excited Wunpost.

"Mr. Calhoun," he began, "I see no reason to withdraw from my position
in regard to this claim. This contract is legal and was made in good
faith, and moreover I can prove that I paid out two thousand dollars
before you ever located a claim. But all that can be settled in court.
If you have given Miss Campbell a third, her share is now a sixth,
because only half of the mine was yours to give; and so on with the
rest, though if Mr. Rhodes' claim is valid we will allow him his
original one-third. Now what would you say if I should allow _you_
one-third, of which you can give Miss Campbell what you wish, and I will
keep the other, allowing Mr. Rhodes the last--each one of us to hold a
third interest?"

"I would say----" burst out Wunpost, and then he stopped, for Wilhelmina
was tugging at his arm. She spoke quickly into his ear, he flared up and
then subsided, and at last he turned sulkily to Eells.

"All right," he said, "I'll take the third. I see you've got me
cinched."



CHAPTER VII

MORE DREAMS


In four days time Wunpost had seen his interest dwindle from full
ownership to a mere sixth of the Willie Meena. First he had given Billy
half, then they had each given Rhodes a sixth; and now Judson Eells had
stepped in with his contract and trimmed their holdings by a half. In
another day or so, if the ratio kept up, Wunpost's sixth would be
reduced to a twelfth, a twenty-fourth, a forty-eighth, a
ninety-sixth--and he had discovered the mine himself! What philosophy or
sophistry can reconcile a man to such buffets from the hand of Fate?
Wunpost cursed and turned to raw whiskey. It was the infamy of it all;
the humiliation, the disgrace, the insult of being trimmed by a
lawyer--twice! Yes, twice in the same place, with the same contract, the
same system; and now this same Flip Flappum was busy as a hunting dog
trying to hire one of his partners to sell him out!

Wunpost towered above Old Whiskers, and so terrible was his presence
that the saloon-keeper never hinted at pay. He poured out drink after
drink of the vitriolic whiskey, which Whiskers made in the secrecy of
his back-room; and as Wunpost drank and shuddered the waspish Phillip F.
Lapham set about his complete undoing. First he went to Dusty Rhodes,
who still claimed a full half, and browbeat him until he fell back to a
third; and then, when Dusty priced his third at one million, he turned
to the disillusioned Billy. Her ideas were more moderate, as far as
values were concerned, but her loyalty to Wunpost was still unshaken and
she refused to even consider a sale. Back and forth went the lawyer like
a shuttle in its socket, from Dusty Rhodes to Wilhelmina and then back
once more to Rhodes; but Dusty would sign nothing, sell nothing, agree
to nothing, and Billy was almost as bad. She placed a cash value of
twenty thousand dollars on her interest in the Willie Meena Mine, but
the sale was contingent upon the consent of John C. Calhoun, who had
drowned his sorrows at last. So they waited until morning and Billy laid
the matter before him when her father brought the drunken man to their
tent.

Wunpost was more than drunk, he was drugged and robbed of reason by the
poison which Old Whiskers had brewed; but even with this handicap his
mind leapt straight to the point and he replied with an emphatic "No!"

"Twenty thousand!" he repeated, "twenty thousand devils--twenty thousand
little demons from hell! What do you want to sell me out for--didn't I
give you your interest? Well, listen, kid--you ever been to school? Then
how much is one-sixth and one-third--add 'em together! Makes
_three_-sixths, don't it--well, ain't that a half? I ain't
educated, that's all right; but I can _think_, kid, can't I? Flip
Flappum he wants to get control. Give him a half, under my contract, and
he can take possession--and then where do _I_ git off? I git off at
the same place I got off over at Wunpost; he's trying to freeze me out.
So if you want to do me dirt, kid, when I've always been your friend, go
to it and sell him your share. Take your paltry twenty thousand and let
old Wunpost rustle--serves him right, the poor, ignorant fool!"

He swayed about and Billy drew away from him, but her answer to Lapham
was final. She would not sell out, at any price, without the consent of
Wunpost. Lapham nodded and darted off--he was a man who dealt with facts
and not with the moonshine of sentiment--and this time he fairly flew at
Dusty Rhodes. He took him off to one side, where no one could listen in,
and at the end of half an hour Mr. Rhodes had signed a paper giving a
quit-claim to his interest in the mine. Old Whiskers was summoned from
his attendance on the bottles, the lawyer presented his case; and,
whatever the arguments, they prevailed also with the saloon-keeper, who
signed up and took his check. Presumably they had to do with threats of
expensive litigation and appeals to the higher courts, with a learned
exposition of the weakness of their case and the air-tight position of
Judson Eells; the point is, they prevailed, and Eells took possession of
the mine, placing Pisen-face Lynch in charge.

Old Whiskers folded his tent and returned to Blackwater, where many of
the stampeders had preceded him; and Dusty Rhodes, with a guilty grin,
folded his check and started for the railroad. Cole Campbell and his
daughter, when they heard the news and found themselves debarred from
the property, packed up and took the trail home, and when John C.
Calhoun came out of his coma he was left without a friend in the world.
The rush had passed on, across the Sink to Blackwater and to the gulches
in the mountains beyond; for the men from Nevada had not been slow to
comprehend that the Willie Meena held no promise for them.

It was a single rich blow-out in a country otherwise barren; and the
tales of the pocket miners, who held claims back of Blackwater, had led
to a second stampede. The Willie Meena was a prophecy of what might be
expected if a similar formation could be found, but it was no more than
the throat of an extinct volcano, filled up with gold-bearing quartz.
There was no fissure-vein, no great mother lode leading off through the
country for miles; only a hogback of black quartz and then worlds and
worlds of desert as barren as wash boulders could make it. So they rose
and went on, like birds in full flight after they have settled for a
moment on the plain, and when Wunpost rose up and rubbed his eyes his
great camp had passed away like a dream.

Two days later he walked wearily across the desert from Blackwater, with
a two gallon canteen under his arm, and at the entrance to Jail Canyon
he paused and looked in doubtfully before he shambled up to the house.
He was broke, and he knew it, and added to that shame was the greater
shame that comes from drink. Old Whiskers' poisonous whiskey had sapped
his self-respect, and yet he came on boldly. There was a fever in his
eye like that of the gambler who has lost all, yet still watches the
fall of the cards; and as Wilhelmina came out he winked at her
mysteriously and beckoned her away from the house.

"I've got something good," he told her confidentially; "can you get off
to go down to Blackwater?"

"Why, I might," she said. "Father's working up the canyon. Is it
something about the mine?"

"Yes, it is," he answered. "Say, what d'ye think of Dusty? He sold us
out for five thousand dollars! Five thousand--that's all--and Old
Whiskers took the same, giving Judson Eells full control. They cleaned
us, Billy, but we'll get our cut yet--do you know what they're trying to
do? Eells is going to organize a company and sell a few shares in order
to finance the mine; and if we want to, kid, we can turn in our third
interest and get the pro rata in stock. We might as well do it, because
they've got the control and otherwise we won't get anything. They've
barred us off the property and we'll never get a cent if it produces a
million dollars. But look, here's the idea--Judson Eells is badly bent
on account of what he lost at Wunpost, and he's crazy to organize a
company and market the treasury stock. We'll go in with him, see, and as
soon as we get our stock we'll peddle it for what we can get. That'll
net us a few thousand and you can take your share and help the old man
build his road."

The stubborn look on Billy's face suddenly gave place to one of doubt
and then to one of swift decision.

"I'll do it," she said. "We don't need to see Father--just tell them
that I've agreed. And when the time comes, send an Indian up to notify
me and I'll ride down and sign the papers."

"Good enough!" exclaimed Wunpost with a hint of his old smile. "I'll
come up and tell you myself. Have you heard the news from below? Well,
every house in Blackwater is plumb full of boomers--and them
pocket-miners are all selling out. The whole country's staked, clean
back to the peaks, and old Eells says he's going to start a bank.
There's three new saloons, a couple more restaurants, and she sure looks
like a good live camp--and me, the man that started it and made the
whole country, I can't even bum a drink!"

"I'm glad of it," returned Billy, and regarded him so intently that he
hastened to change the subject.

"But you wait!" he thundered. "I'll show 'em who's who! I ain't down, by
no manner of means. I've got a mine or two hid out that would make 'em
fairly scream if I'd show 'em a piece of the rock. All I need is a
little capital, just a few thousand dollars to get me a good outfit of
mules, and I'll come back into Blackwater with a pack-load of ore
that'll make 'em _all_ sit up and take notice."

He swung his fist into his hand with oratorical fervor and Mrs. Campbell
appeared suddenly at the door. Her first favorable impression of the
gallant young Southerner had been changed by the course of events and
she was now morally certain that the envious Dusty Rhodes had come
nearer the unvarnished truth. To be sure he had apologized, but Wunpost
himself had said that it was only to gain a share in the mine--and how
lamentably had Wunpost failed, after all his windy boasts, when it came
to a conflict with Judson Eells. He had weakened like a schoolboy, all
his arguments had been puerile; and even her husband, who was far from
censorious, had stated that the whole affair was badly handled. And now
here he was, after a secret conference with her daughter, suddenly
bursting into vehement protestations and hinting at still other hidden
mines. Well, his mines might be as rich as he declared them to be, but
Mrs. Campbell herself was dubious.

"Wilhelmina," she called, "don't stand out in the sun! Why don't you
invite Mr. Calhoun to the house?"

The hint was sufficient, Mr. Calhoun excused himself hastily and went
striding away down the canyon; and Wilhelmina, after a perfunctory
return to the house, slipped out and ran up to her lookout. Not a word
that he had said about the rush to Blackwater was in any way startling
to her; she had seen every dust-cloud, marked each automobile as it
rushed past, and even noted the stampede from the west. For the natural
way to Blackwater was not across Death Valley from the distant Nevada
camps, but from the railroad which lay only forty miles to the west and
was reached by an automobile stage. The road came down through
Sheep-herder Canyon, on the other side of the Sink, and every day as she
looked across its vastness she saw the long trailers of dust. She knew
that the autos were rushing in with men and the slow freighters were
hauling in supplies--all the real news for her was the number of saloons
and restaurants, and that Eells was starting a bank.

A bank! And in Blackwater! The only bank that Blackwater had ever had or
needed was the safe in Old Whiskers' saloon; and now this rich schemer,
this iron-handed robber, was going to start a bank! Billy lay inside the
portal of her gate of dreams and watched Wunpost as he plodded across
the plain, and she resolved to join with him and do her level best to
bring Eells' plans to naught. If he was counting on the sale of his
treasury stock to fill up the vaults of his bank he would find others in
the market with stock in both hands, peddling it out to the highest
bidder. And even if the mine was worth into the millions, she, for one,
would sell every share. It was best, after all, since Eells owned the
control, to sell out for what they could get; and if this was merely a
deep-laid scheme to buy in their stock for almost nothing they would at
least have a little ready cash.

The Campbells were poor; her father even lacked the money to buy powder
to blast out his road, and so he struggled on, grading up the easy
places and leaving Corkscrew Gorge untouched. That would call for heavy
blasting and crews of hardy men to climb up and shoot down the walls,
and even after that the jagged rock-bed must be covered and leveled to
the semblance of a road. Now nothing but a trail led up through the dark
passageway, where grinding boulders had polished the walls like glass;
and until that gateway was opened Cole Campbell's road was useless; it
might as well be all trail. But with five thousand dollars, or even
less--with whatever she received from her stock--the gateway could be
conquered, her father's dream would come true and all their life would
be changed.

There would be a road, right past their house, where great trucks would
lumber forth loaded down with ore from their mine, and return ladened
with machinery from the railroad. There would be miners going by and
stopping for a drink, and someone to talk to every day, and the
loneliness which oppressed her like a physical pain would give place to
gaiety and peace. Her father would be happy and stop working so hard,
and her mother would not have to worry--all if she, Wilhelmina, could
just sell her stock and salvage a pittance from the wreck.

She knew now what Wunpost had meant when he had described the outside
world and the men they would meet at the rush, yet for all his hard-won
knowledge he had gone down once more before Judson Eells and his gang.
But he had spoken true when he said they would resort to murder to gain
possession of their mine, and though he had yielded at last to the lure
of strong drink, in her heart she could not blame him too much. It was
not by wrongdoing that he had wrecked their high hopes, but by signing a
contract long years before without reading what he called the fine
print. He was just a boy, after all, in spite of his boasting and his
vaunted knowledge of the world; and now in his trouble he had come back
to her, to the one person he knew he could trust. She gazed a long time
at the dwindling form till it was lost in the immensity of the plain;
and then she gazed on, for dreams were all she had to comfort her lonely
heart



CHAPTER VIII

THE BABES IN THE WOODS


Ever since David went forth and slew Goliath with his sling, youth has
set its puny lance to strike down giants; and history, making much of
the hotspurs who won, draws a veil over the striplings who were slain.
And yet all who know the stern conditions of life must recognize that
youth is a handicap, and if David had but donned the heavy armor of King
Saul he too would have gone to his death. But instead he stepped forth
untrammeled by its weight, with nothing but a stone and a sling, and
because the scoffing giant refused to raise his shield he was struck
down by the pebble of a child. But giant Judson Eells was in a
baby-killing mood when he invited Wunpost and Wilhelmina to his den; and
when they emerged, after signing articles of incorporation, he licked
his chops and smiled.

It developed at the meeting that the sole function of a stockholder is
to vote for the Directors of the Company; and, having elected Eells and
Lapham and John C. Calhoun Directors, the stockholders' meeting
adjourned. Reconvening immediately as a, Board of Directors, Judson
Eells was elected President, John C. Calhoun, Vice-President and Phillip
F. Lapham Secretary-treasurer--after which an assessment of ten cents a
share was levied upon all the stock. Exit John C. Calhoun and Wilhelmina
Campbell, stripped of their stock and all faith in mankind. For even if
by some miracle they should raise the necessary sum Judson Eells and
Phillip Lapham would immediately vote a second assessment, and so on,
_ad finitum_. Holding a majority of the stock, Eells could control
the Board of Directors, and through it the policies of the company; and
any assessments which he himself might pay would but be transferred from
one pocket to the other. It was as neat a job of baby-killing as Eells
had ever accomplished, and he slew them both with a smile.

They had conspired in their innocence to gain stock in the company and
to hawk it about the streets; but neither had thought to suggest the
customary Article: "The stock of said company shall be non-assessable."
The Articles of Incorporation had been drawn up by Phillip F. Lapham;
and yet, after all his hard experiences, Wunpost was so awed by the
legal procedure that he forgot all about the fine print. Not that it
made any difference, they would have trimmed him anyway, but it was
three times in the very same place! He cursed himself out loud for an
ignorant baboon and left Wilhelmina in tears.

She had come down with her mother, her father being busy, and they had
planned to take in the town; but after this final misfortune Wilhelmina
lost all interest in the busy marts of trade. What to her were clothes
and shoes when she had no money to buy them--and when overdressed women,
none too chaste in their demeanor, stared after her in boorish
amusement? Blackwater had become a great city, but it was not for
her--the empty honor of having the Willie Meena named after her was all
she had won from her mine. John C. Calhoun had been right when he warned
her, long before, that the mining game was more like a dog fight than it
was like a Sunday school picnic; and yet--well, some people made money
at it. Perhaps they were better at reading the fine print, and not so
precipitate about signing Articles of Incorporation, but as far as she
was concerned Wilhelmina made a vow never to trust a lawyer again.

She returned to the ranch, where the neglected garden soon showed signs
of her changing mood; but after the weeds had been chopped out and
routed she slipped back to her lookout on the hill. It was easier to
tear the weeds from a tangled garden than old memories from her lonely
heart; and she took up, against her will, the old watch for Wunpost, who
had departed from Blackwater in a fury. He had stood on the corner and,
oblivious of her presence, had poured out the vials of his wrath; he had
cursed Eells for a swindler, and Lapham for his dog and Lynch for his
yellow hound. He had challenged them all, either individually or
collectively, to come forth and meet him in battle; and then he had
offered to fight any man in Blackwater who would say a good word for any
of them. But Blackwater looked on in cynical amusement, for Eells was
the making of the town; and when he had given off the worst of his venom
Wunpost had tied up his roll and departed.

He had left as he had come, a single-blanket tourist, packing his
worldly possessions on his back; and when last seen by Wilhelmina he was
headed east, up the wash that came down from the Panamints. Where he was
going, when he would return, if he ever would return, all were mysteries
to the girl who waited on; and if she watched for him it was because
there was no one else whose coming would stir her heart. Far up the
canyon and over the divide there lived Hungry Bill and his family, but
Hungry was an Indian and when he dropped in it was always to get
something to eat. He had two sons and two daughters, whom he kept
enslaved, forbidding them to even think of marriage; and all his
thoughts were of money and things to eat, for Hungry Bill was an Indian
miser.

He came through often now with his burros packed with fruit from the
abandoned white-man's ranch that he had occupied; and even his wild-eyed
daughters had more variety than Billy, for they accompanied him to
Blackwater and Willie Meena. There they sold their grapes and peaches at
exorbitant prices and came back with coffee and flour, but neither would
say a word for fear of their old father, who watched them with
intolerant eyes. They were evil, snaky eyes, for it was said that in his
day he had waylaid many a venturesome prospector, and while they gleamed
ingratiatingly when he was presented with food, at no time did they show
good will. He was still a renegade at heart, shunned and avoided by his
own kinsmen, the Shoshones who camped around Wild Rose; but it was from
him, from this old tyrant that she despised so cordially, that
Wilhelmina received her first news of Wunpost.

Hungry Bill came up grinning, on his way down from his ranch, and fixed
her with his glittering black eyes.

"You savvy Wunpo?" he asked, "hi-ko man--busca gol'? Him sendum piece of
lock!"

He produced a piece of rock from a knot in his shirt-tail and handed it
over to her slowly. It was a small chunk of polished quartz, half green,
half turquoise blue; and in the center, like a jewel, a crystal of
yellow gold gleamed out from its matrix of blue. Wilhelmina gazed at it
blankly, then flushed and turned away as she felt Hungry Bill's eyes
upon her. He was a disreputable old wretch, who imputed to others the
base motives which governed his own acts; and when she read his black
heart Wilhelmina straightened up and gave him back the stone.

"No, you keepum!" protested Hungry. "Hi-ko ketchum plenty mo'."

But Wilhelmina shook her head.

"No!" she said, "you give that to my mother. Are those your girls down
there? Well, why don't you let them come up to the house? You no good--I
don't like bad Indians!"

She turned away from him, still frowning angrily, and strode on down to
the creek; but the daughters of Hungry Bill, in their groveling way,
seemed to share the low ideals of their father. They were tall and
sturdy girls, clad in breezy calico dresses and with their hair down
over their eyes; and as they gazed out from beneath their bangs a guilty
smile contorted their lips, a smile that made Wilhelmina writhe.

"What's the matter with you?" she snapped, and as the scared look came
back she turned on her heel and left them. What could one expect, of
course, from Hungry Bill's daughters after they had been guarded like
the slave-girls in a harem; but the joy of hearing from Wunpost was
quite lost in the fierce anger which the conduct of his messengers
evoked. He was up there, somewhere, and he had made another strike--the
most beautiful blue quartz in the world--but these renegade Shoshones
with their understanding smiles had quite killed the pleasure of it for
her. She returned to the house where Hungry Bill, in the kitchen, was
wolfing down a great pan of beans; but the sight of the old glutton with
his mouth down to the plate quite sickened her and drove her away.
Wunpost was up in the hills, and he had made a strike, but with that she
must remain content until he either came down himself or chose a more
highminded messenger.

Hungry Bill went on to Blackwater and came back with a load of supplies,
which he claimed he was taking to "Wunpo"; and, after he had passed up
the canyon, Wilhelmina strolled along behind him. At the mouth of
Corkscrew Gorge there was a great pool of water, overshadowed by a rank
growth of willows through whose tops the wild grapevines ran riot. Here
it had been her custom, during the heat of the day, to paddle along the
shallows or sit and enjoy the cool air. There was always a breeze at the
mouth of Corkscrew Gorge, and when it drew down, as it did on this day,
it carried the odors of dank caverns. In the dark and gloomy depths of
this gash through the hills the rocks were always damp and cold; and
beneath the great waterfalls, where the cloudbursts had scooped out
pot-holes, there was a delicious mist and spray. She dawdled by the
willows, then splashed on up the slippery trail until, above the last
echoing waterfall, she stepped out into the world beyond.

The great canyon spread out again, once she had passed the waterworn
Gorge, and peak after peak rose up to right and left where yawning side
canyons led in. But all were set on edge and reared up to dizzying
heights; and along their scarred flanks there lay huge slides of shaley
rock, ready to slip at the touch of a hand. Vivid stripes of red and
green, alternating with layers of blue and white, painted the sides of
the striated ridges; and odd seams here and there showed dull yellows
and chocolate browns like the edge of a crumbled layer-cake. Up the
canyon the walls shut in again, and then they opened out, and so on for
nine miles until Old Panamint was reached and the open valley sloped up
to the summit.

Many a time in the old days when they had lived in Panamint had
Wilhelmina scaled those far heights; the huge white wall of granite
dotted with ball-like piñons and junipers, which fenced them from Death
Valley beyond. It opened up like a gulf, once the summit was reached,
and below the jagged precipices stretched long ridges and fan-like
washes which lost themselves at last in the Sink. For a hundred miles to
the north and the south it lay, a writhing ribbon of white, pinching
down to narrow strips, then broadening out in gleaming marshes; and on
both sides the mountains rose up black and forbidding, a bulwark against
the sky. Wilhelmina had never entered it, she had been content to look
down; and then she crept back to beautiful sheltered Panamint where
father had his mine.

It was up on the ridge, where the white granite of the summit came into
contact with the burnt limestone and schist; and, of all the rich mines,
the Homestake was the best, until the cloudburst came along and spoiled
all of them. Wilhelmina still remembered how the great flood had passed
the town, moving boulders as if they were pebbles; but not until it
reached the place where she stood had it done irretrievable damage. The
roadbed was washed out, but the streambed remained, and the banks from
which to fill in more dirt; but when the flood struck the Gorge it
backed up into a lake, for the narrow defile was choked. Trees and rocks
and rumbling boulders had piled up against its entrance, holding the
waters back like a dam; and when they broke through they sluiced
everything before them, gouging the canyon down to the bedrock. Now
twelve years had passed by and only a hazardous trail threaded the Gorge
which had once been a highway.

Wilhelmina gazed up the valley and sighed again, for since that terrific
cloudburst she had been stranded in Jail Canyon like a piece of
driftwood tossed up by the flood. Nothing happened to her, any more than
to the piñon logs which the waters had wedged high above the stream, and
as she returned home down the Gorge she almost wished for another flood,
to float them and herself away. No one came by there any more, the trail
was so poor, and yet her father still clung to the mine; but a flood
would either fill up the Gorge with débris or make even him give up
hope. She sank down by the cool pool and put her feet in the water,
dabbling them about like a wilful child; but at a shout from below she
rose up a grown woman, for she knew it was Dusty Rhodes.

He came on up the creekbed with his burros on the trot, hurling clubs at
the laggards as he ran; and when they stopped short at the sight of
Wilhelmina he almost rushed them over her. But a burro is a creature of
lively imagination, to whom the unknown is always terrible; and at a
fresh outburst from Dusty the whole outfit took to the brush, leaving
him face to face with his erstwhile partner.

"Oh, hello, hello!" he called out gruffly. "Say, did Hungry Bill go
through here? He was jest down to Blackwater, buying some grub at the
store, and he paid for it with rock that was _half gold_! So git
out of the road, my little girl--I'm going up to prospect them hills!"

"Don't you call me your little girl!" called back Billy angrily. "And
Hungry Bill hasn't got any mine!"

"Oh, he ain't, hey?" mocked Dusty, leaving his burros to browse while he
strode triumphantly up to her. "Then jest look at _that_, my--my
fine young lady! I got it from the store-keeper myself!"

He handed her a piece of green and blue quartz, but she only glanced at
it languidly. The memory of his perfidy on a previous occasion made her
long to puncture his pride, and she passed the gold ore back to him.

"I've seen that before," she said with a sniff, "so you can stop driving
those burros so hard. It came from Wunpost's mine."

"Wunpost!" yelled Dusty Rhodes, his eyes getting big; and then he spat
out an oath. "Who told ye?" he demanded, sticking his face into hers,
and she stepped away disdainfully.

"Hungry Bill," she said, and watched him writhe as the bitter truth went
home. "You think you're so smart," she taunted at last, "why don't you
go out and find one for yourself? I suppose you want to rush in and
claim a half interest in his strike and then sell out to old Eells. I
hope he kills you, if you try to do it--_I_ would, if I were him.
What'd you do with that five thousand dollars?"

"Eh--eh--that's none of your business," bleated Dusty Rhodes, whose trip
to Los Angeles had proved disastrous. "And if Wunpost gave Hungry that
sack of ore he stole it from some other feller's mine. I knowed all
along he'd locate that Black P'int if I ever let him stop--I've had my
eye on it for years--and that's why I hurried by. I discovered it
myself, only I never told nobody--he must have heard me talking in my
sleep!"

"Yes, or when you were drunk!" suggested Wilhelmina maliciously. "I hear
you got robbed in Los Angeles. And anyhow I'm glad, because you stole
that five thousand dollars, and no good ever came from stolen property."

"Oh, it didn't, hey?" sneered Dusty, who was recovering his poise,
"well, I'll bet ye _this_ rock was stolen! And if that's the case,
where does your young man git off, that you think the world and all of?
But you've got to show me that he ever _saw_ this rock--I believe
old Hungry was lying to you!"

"Well, don't let me keep you!" cried Billy, bowing mockingly. "Go on
over and ask him yourself--but I'll bet you don't _dare_ to meet
Wunpost!"

"How come Hungry to tell you?" burst out Dusty Rhodes at last, and
Wilhelmina smiled mysteriously.

"That's none of your business, my busy little man," she mimicked in
patronizing tones, "but I've got a piece of that rock right up at the
house. You go back there and mother will show it to you."

"I'm going on!" answered Dusty with instant decision; "can't stop to
make no visit today. They's a big rush coming--every burro-man in
Blackwater--and some of them are legging it afoot. But that thieving son
of a goat, _he_ never found no mine! I know it--it can't be
possible!"



CHAPTER IX

A NEW DEAL


The rush of burro-men to Hungry Bill's ranch followed close in Dusty
Rhodes' wake, and some there were who came on foot; but they soon came
stringing back, for it was a fine, large country and Hungry Bill was
about as communicative as a rattlesnake. All he knew, or cared to know,
was the price of corn and fruit, which he sold at Blackwater prices; and
the search for Wunpost had only served to show to what lengths a man
will go for revenge. In some mysterious way Wunpost had acquired a horse
and mule, both sharp-shod for climbing over rocks, and he had dallied at
Hungry Bill's until the first of the stampeders had come in sight on the
Panamint trail. Then he had set out up the ridge, riding the horse and
packing the mule, and even an Indian trailer had given out and quit
without ever bringing them in sight of him again. He had led them such a
chase that the hardiest came back satisfied, and they agreed that he
could keep his old mine.

The excitement died away or was diverted to other channels, for
Blackwater was having a boom; and, just as Wilhelmina had given up hope
of seeing him, John C. Calhoun came riding down the ridge. Not down the
canyon, where the trail made riding easy, but down the steep ridge
trail, where a band of mountain sheep was accustomed to come for water.
Wilhelmina was in her tunnel, looking down with envious eyes at the
traffic in the valley below; and he came upon her suddenly, so suddenly
it made her jump, for no one ever rode up there.

"Hello!" he hailed, spurring his horse up to the portal and letting out
his rope as he entered. "Kinder hot, out there in the sun. Well, how's
tricks?" he inquired, sitting down in the shade and wiping the streaming
sweat from his eyes. "Hungry Bill says you s-spurned my gold!"

"What did you tell that old Indian?" burst out Wilhelmina wrathfully,
and Wunpost looked up in surprise.

"Why, nothing," he said, "only to get me some grub and give you that
piece of polished rock. How was that for the real old high grade? From
my new mine, up in the high country. What's the matter--did Hungry get
gay?"

"Well--not that," hesitated Wilhelmina, "but he looked at me so funny
that I told him to give it to Mother. What was it you told him about
me?"

"Not a thing," protested Wunpost, "just to give you the rock. Oh, I
know!" He laughed and slapped his leg. "He's scared some prospector will
steal one of them gals, and I told him not to worry about me. Guess that
gave him a tip, because he looked wise as a prairie dog when I told him
to give that specimen to you." He paused and knocked the dust out of his
battered old hat, then glanced up from under his eyebrows.

"Ain't mad, are you?" he asked, "because if you are I'm on my way----"

"Oh, no!" she answered quickly. "Where have you been all the time? Dusty
Rhodes came through here, looking for you."

"Yes, they all came," he grinned, "but I showed 'em some sheep-trails
before they got tired of chasing me. I knew for a certainty that those
mugs would follow Hungry--they did the same thing over in Nevada. I sent
in an Indian to buy me a little grub and they trailed me clean across
Death Valley. Guess that ore must have looked pretty good."

"Where'd you get it?" she asked, and he rolled his eyes roguishly while
a crafty smile lit up his face.

"That's a question," he said. "If I'd tell you, you'd have the answer.
But I'm not going to show it to _nobody_!"

"Well, you don't need to think that _I_ care!" she spoke up
resentfully, "nobody asked you to show them your gold. And after what
happened with the Willie Meena I wouldn't take your old mine for a
gift."

"You won't have to," he replied. "I've quit taking in pardners--it's a
lone hand for me, after this. I'm sure slow in the head, but I reckon
I've learned my lesson--never go up against the other man's game. Old
Eells is a lawyer and I tried to beat him at law. We've switched the
deal now and he can play _my_ game a while--hide-and-seek, up in
them high peaks."

He waved his hand in the direction of the Panamints and winked at her
exultantly.

"Look at _that_!" he said, and drew a rock from his shirt pocket
which was caked and studded with gold. It was more like a chunk of gold
with a little quartz attached to it, and as she exclaimed he leaned back
and gloated. "I've got worlds of it!" he declared. "Let 'em get out and
rustle for it--that's the way I made my start. By the time they've rode
as far as I have they'll know she's a mountain sheep country. I located
two mines right smack beside the trail and these jaspers came along and
stole them both. All right! Fine! Fine! Let 'em look for the old
Sockdolager where I got this gold, and the first man that finds it can
have it! I'm a sport--I haven't even staked it!"

"And can _I_ have it?" asked Billy, her eyes beginning to glow,
"because, oh, we need money so bad!"

"What for, kid?" inquired Wunpost with a fatherly smile. "Ain't you got
a good home, and everything?"

"Yes, but the road--Father's road. If I just had the money we'd start
right in on it tomorrow."

"Hoo! I'll build you the road!" declared Wunpost munificently. "And it
won't cost either one of us a cent. Don't believe it, eh? You think this
is bunk? Then I'll tell you, kid, what I'll do. I'll make you a bet
we'll have a wagon-road up that canyon before three months are up. And
all by head-work, mind ye--not a dollar of our own money--might even get
old Eells to build it. Yes, I'm serious; I've got a new system--been
thinking it out, up in the hills--and just to show you how brainy I am
I'll make this demonstration for nothing. You don't need to bet me
anything, just acknowledge that I'm the king when it comes to the real
inside work; and before I get through I'll have Judson Eells belly up
and gasping for air like a fish. I'm going to trim him, the big fat
slob; I'm going to give him a lesson that'll learn him to lay off of me
for life; I'm going to make him so scared he'll step down into the
gutter when he meets me coming down the sidewalk. Well, laugh, doggone
it, but you watch my dust--I'm going to hang his hide on the fence!"

"That's what you told me before," she reminded him mischievously, "but
somehow it didn't work out."

"It'll work out this time," he retorted grimly. "A man has got to learn.
I'm just a kid, I know that, and I'm not much on book learning, but
don't you never say I can't _think_! Maybe I can't beat them crooks
when I play their own game, but this time _I deal the hand_! Do you
git me? We've switched the deal! And if I don't ring in a cold deck and
deal from the bottom it won't be because it's _wrong_. I'm out to
scalp 'em, see, and just to convince you we'll begin by building that
road. Your old man is wrong, he don't need no road and it won't do him
any good when he gets it; but just to make you happy and show you how
much I think of you, I'll do it--only you've got to stand pat! No Sunday
school stuff, see? We're going to fight this out with hay hooks, and
when I come back with his hair don't blame me if old Eells makes a roar.
I'm going to stick him, see; and I'm not going to stick him once--I'm
going to stick him three times, till he squeals like a pig, because
that's what he did to me! He cleaned me once on the Wunpost, and twice
on the Willie Meena, but before I get through with him he'll knock a
corner off the mountain every time he sees my dust. He'll be
_gone_, you understand--it'll be moving day for him--but I'll chase
him to the hottest stope in hell. I'm going to bust him, savvy, just to
learn these other dastards not to start any rough stuff with me. And now
the road, the road! We'll just get him to build it--I've got it all
framed up!"

He made a bluff to kiss her, then ran out and mounted his horse and went
rollicking off towards Blackwater. Wilhelmina brushed her cheek and
gazed angrily after him, then smiled and turned away with a sigh.



CHAPTER X

THE SHORT SPORTS


The booming mining camp of Blackwater stood under the rim of a high
mesa, between it and an alkali flat, and as Wunpost rode in he looked it
over critically, though with none too friendly eyes. Being laid out in a
land of magnificent distances, there was plenty of room between the
houses, and the broad main street seemed more suited for driving cattle
than for accommodating the scant local traffic. There had been a time
when all that space was needed to give swing-room to twenty-mule teams,
but that time was past and the two sparse rows of houses seemed dwarfed
and pitifully few. Yet there were new ones going up, and quite a
sprinkling of tents; and down on the corner Wunpost saw a big building
which he knew must be Judson Eells' bank.

It had sprung up in his absence, a pretentious structure of solid
concrete, and as he jogged along past it Wunpost swung his head and
looked it over scornfully. The walls were thick and strong, but that was
no great credit, for in that desert country any man who would get water
could mix concrete until he was tired. All in the world he had to do was
to scoop up the ground and pour the mud into the molds, and when it was
set he had a natural concrete, composed of lime and coarse gravel and
bone-dry dust. Half the burro-corrals in Blackwater were built out of
concrete, but Eells had put up a big false front. This had run into
money, the ornately stamped tin-work having been shipped all the way
from Los Angeles; and there were two plate-glass windows that framed a
passing view of marble pillars and shining brass grilles. Wunpost took
it all in and then hissed through his teeth--the money that had built it
was his!

"I'll skin him!" he muttered, and pulled up down the street before Old
Whiskers' populous saloon. Several men drifted out to speak to him as he
tied his horse and pack, but he greeted them all with such a venomous
glare that they shied off and went across the street. There there stood
a rival saloon, rushed up in Wunpost's absence; but after looking it
over he went into Whiskers' Place, which immediately began to fill up.
The coming of Wunpost had been noted from afar, and a man who buys his
grub with jewelry gold-specimens is sure to have a following. He
slouched in sulkily and gazed at Old Whiskers, who was chewing on his
tobacco like a ruminative billygoat and pretending to polish the bar. It
was borne in on Whiskers that he had refused Wunpost a drink on the day
he had walked out of camp, but he was hoping that the slight was
forgotten; for if he could keep him in his saloon all the others would
soon be vacated, now that Wunpost was the talk of the town. He had found
one mine and lost it and gone out and found another one while the rest
of them were wearing out shoe-leather; and a man like that could not be
ignored by the community, no matter if he did curse their town. So
Whiskers chewed on, not daring to claim his friendship, and Wunpost
leaned against the bar.

"Gimme a drink," he said laying fifteen cents before him; and as several
men moved forward he scowled at them in silence and tossed off his
_solamente_. "Cr-ripes!" he shuddered, "did you make that
yourself?" And when Whiskers, caught unawares, half acquiesced, Wunpost
drew himself up and burst forth. "I believe it!" he announced with an
oracular nod, "I can taste the burnt sugar, the fusel oil, the wood
alcohol and everything. One drink of that stuff would strike a stone
Injun blind if it wasn't for this dry desert air. They tell me,
Whiskers, that when you came to this town you brought one barrel of
whiskey with you--and that you ain't ordered another one since. That
stuff is all right for those that like it--I'm going across the street."

He strode out the door, taking the fickle crowd with him and leaving Old
Whiskers to chew the cud of brooding bitterness. In the saloon across
the street a city barkeeper greeted Wunpost affably, and inquired what
it would be. Wunpost asked for a drink and the discerning barkeeper set
out a bottle with the seal uncut. It was bonded goods, guaranteed seven
years in the wood, and Wunpost smacked his lips as he tasted it.

"Have one yourself," he suggested and while the crowd stood agape he
laid down a nugget of gold.

That settled it with Blackwater, they threw their money on the bar and
tried to get him drunk, but Wunpost would drink with none of them.

"No, you bunch of bootlickers!" he shouted angrily, "go on away, I won't
have nothing to do with you! When I was broke you wouldn't treat me and
now that I'm flush I reckon I can buy my own liquor. You're all sucking
around old Eells, saying he made the town--I made your danged town
myself! Didn't I discover the Willie Meena--and ain't that what made the
town? Well, go chase yourselves, you suckers, I'm through with ye! You
did me dirt when you thought I was cleaned and now you can all go to
blazes!"

He shook hands with the friendly barkeeper, told him to keep the change,
and fought his way out to the street. The crowd of boomers, still
refusing to be insulted, trooped shamelessly along in his wake; and when
he unpacked his mule and took out two heavy, heavy ore-sacks even Judson
Eells cast aside his dignity. He had looked on from afar, standing in
front of the plate-glass window which had "Willie Meena Mining Company"
across it; but at a signal from Lynch, who had been acting as his
lookout, he came running to demand his rights. The acquisition of The
Wunpost and The Willie Meena properties had by no means satisfied his
lust; and since this one crazy prospector--who of all men he had
grubstaked seemed the only one who could find a mine--had for the third
time come in with rich ore, he felt no compunctions about claiming his
share.

"Where'd you get that ore?" he demanded of Wunpost as the crowd opened
up before him and Wunpost glanced at him fleeringly.

"I stole it!" he said and went on sorting out specimens which he stuffed
into his well-worn overalls.

"I asked you _where_!" returned Eells, drawing his lip up sternly,
and Wunpost turned to the crowd.

"You see?" he jeered, "I told you he was crooked. He wants to go and
steal some himself." He laughed, long and loud, and some there were who
joined in with him, for Eells was not without his enemies. To be sure he
had built the bank, and established his offices in Blackwater when he
might have started a new town at the mine; but no moneylender was ever
universally popular and Eells was ruthless in exacting his usury. But on
the other hand he had brought a world of money in to town, for the
Willie Meena had paid from the first; and it was his pay-roll and the
wealth which had followed in his wake that had made the camp what it
was; so no one laughed as long or as loud as John C. Calhoun and he
hunched his shoulders and quit.

"Never you mind where I stole it!" he said to Eells, "I stole it, and
that's enough. Is there anything in your contract that gives you a cut
on everything I _steal_?"

"Why--why, no," replied Eells, "but that isn't the point--I asked you
where you got it. If it's stolen, that's one thing, but if you've
located another mine----"

"I haven't!" put in Wunpost, "you've broke me of that. The only way I
can keep anything now is to steal it. Because, no matter what it is, if
I come by it honestly, you and your rabbit-faced lawyer will grab it;
but if I go out and steal it you don't dare to claim half, because that
would make you out a thief. And of course a banker, and a big mining
magnate, and the owner of the famous Willie Meena--well, it just isn't
done, that's all."

He twisted up his lips in a wry, sarcastic smile but Eells was not
susceptible to irony. He was the bulldog type of man, the kind that
takes hold and hangs on, and he could see that the ore was rich. It was
so rich indeed that in those two sacks alone there were undoubtedly
several thousand dollars--and the mine itself might be worth millions.
Eells turned and beckoned to Phillip F. Lapham, who was looking on with
greedy eyes. They consulted together while Wunpost waited calmly, though
with the battle light in his eyes, and at last Eells returned to the
charge.

"Mr. Calhoun," he said, "there's no use to pretend that this ore which
you have is stolen. We have seen samples of it before and it is very
unusual--in fact, no one has seen anything like it. Therefore your claim
that it is stolen is a palpable pretense, to deprive me of my rights
under our constitution.

"Yes?" prompted Wunpost, dropping his hand on his pistol, and Eells
paused and glanced at Lapham.

"Well," he conceded, "of course I can't prove anything and----"

"No, you bet you can't prove anything," spoke up Wunpost defiantly, "and
you can't touch an ounce of my ore. It's mine and I stole it and no
court can make me show where; because a man can't be compelled to
incriminate himself--and if I showed you they could come out and pinch
me. Huh! You've got a lawyer, have you? Well, I've got one myself and I
know my legal rights and if any man puts out his hand to take away this
bag, I've got a right to shoot him dead! Ain't that right now, Mr. Flip
Flappum?"

"Well--the law gives one the right to defend his own property; but only
with sufficient force to resist the attack, and to shoot would be
excessive."

"Not with me!" asserted Wunpost, "I've consulted one of the best lawyers
in Nevada and I'm posted on every detail. There's Pisen-face Lynch, that
everybody knows is a gun-man in the employ of Judson Eells, and at the
first crooked move I'd be justified in killing him and then in killing
you and Eells. Oh, I'll law you, you dastards, I'll law you with a
six-shooter--and I've got an attorney all hired to defend me. We've
agreed on his fee and I've got it all buried where he can go get it when
I give him the directions; and I hope he gets it soon because then
there'll be just three less grafters, to rob honest prospectors of their
rights."

He advanced upon Lapham, his great head thrust out as he followed his
squirming flight through the crowd; and when he was gone he turned upon
Eells who stood his ground with insolent courage.

"And you, you big slob," he went on threateningly, "you don't need to
think you'll git off. I ain't afraid of your gun-man, and I ain't afraid
of you, and before we get through I'm going to _git_ you. Well,
laugh if you want to--it's your scalp or mine--and you can jest politely
go to hell."

He snapped his fingers in his face and, taking a sack in both hands,
started off to the Wells Fargo office; and, so intimidated for once were
Eells and his gun-fighter, that neither one followed along after him.
Wunpost deposited his treasure in the Express Company's safe and went
off to care for his animals and, while the crowd dispersed to the
several saloons, Eells and Lapham went into conference. This sudden glib
quoting of moot points of law was a new and disturbing factor, and
Lapham himself was quite unstrung over the news of the buried retainer.
It had all the earmarks of a criminal lawyer's work, this tender
solicitude for his fee; and some shysters that Lapham knew would even
encourage their client to violence, if it would bring them any nearer to
the gold. But this gold--where did it come from? Could it possibly be
high-graded, in spite of all the testimony to the contrary? And if not,
if his claim that it was stolen was a blind, then how could they
discover its whereabouts? Certainly not by force of law, and not by any
violence--they must resort to guile, the old cunning of the serpent,
which now differentiates man from the beasts of the field, and perhaps
they could get Wunpost drunk!

Happy thought! The wires were laid and all Blackwater joined in with
them, in fact it was the universal idea, and even the new barkeeper with
whom Wunpost had struck up an acquaintance had promised to do his part.
To get Wunpost drunk and then to make him boast, to pique him by
professed doubts of his great find; and then when he spilled it, as he
had always done before, the wild rush and another great boom! They
watched his every move as he put his animals in a corral and stored his
packs and saddles; and when, in the evening, he drifted back to The
Mint, man after man tried to buy him a drink. But Wunpost was
antisocial, he would have none of their whiskey and their canting
professions of friendship; only Ben Fellowes, the new barkeeper, was
good enough for his society and he joined him in several libations. It
was all case goods, very soft and smooth and velvety, and yet in a
remarkably short space of time Wunpost was observed to be getting
garrulous.

"I'll tell you, pardner," he said taking the barkeeper by the arm and
speaking very confidently into his ear, "I'll tell you, it's this way
with me. I'm a Calhoun, see--John C. Calhoun is my name, and I come from
the state of Kentucky--and a Kentucky Calhoun never forgets a friend,
and he never forgets an enemy. I'm burned out on this town--don't like
it--nothing about it--but you, now, you're different, you never done me
any injury. You're my friend, ain't that right, you're my friend!"

The barkeeper reassured him and held his breath while he poured out
another drink and then, as Wunpost renewed his protestations, Fellowes
thanked him for his present of the nugget.

"What--_that_?" exclaimed Wunpost brushing the piece of gold aside,
"that's nothing--here, give you a good one!" He drew out a chunk of rock
fairly encrusted with gold and forced it roughly upon him. "It's
nothing!" he said, "lots more where that came from. Got system,
see--know how to find it. All these water-hole prospectors, they never
find nothing--too lazy, won't get out and hunt. I head for the high
places--leap from crag to crag, see, like mountain sheep--come back with
my pockets full of gold. These bums are no good--I could take 'em out
tonight and lead 'em to my mine and they'd never be able to go back.
Rough country 'n all that--no trails, steep as the devil--take 'em out
there and lose 'em, every time. Take you out and lose you--now say,
you're my friend, I'll tell you what I'll do."

He stopped with portentous dignity and poured out another drink and the
barkeeper frowned a hanger-on away.

"I'll take you out there," went on Wunpost, "and show you my mine--show
you the place where I get all this gold. You can pick up all you want,
and when we get back you give me a thousand dollar bill. That's all I
ask is a thousand dollar bill--like to have one to flash on the
boys--and then we'll go to Los and blow the whole pile--by grab, I'm a
high-roller, right. I'm a good feller, see, as long as you're my friend,
but don't tip off this place to old Eells. Have to kill you if you
do--he's bad actor--robbed me twice. What's matter--ain't you got the
dollar bill?"

"You said a thousand dollars!" spoke up the barkeeper breathlessly.

"Well, thousand dollar bill, then. Ain't you got it--what's the matter?
Aw, gimme another drink--you're nothing but a bunch of short sports."

He shook his head and sighed and as the barkeeper began to sweat he
caught the hanger-on's eye. It was Pisen-face Lynch and he was winking
at him fiercely, meanwhile tapping his own pocket significantly.

"I can get it," ventured the barkeeper but Wunpost ignored him.

"You're all short sports," he asserted drunkenly, waving his hand
insultingly at the crowd. "You're cheap guys--you can't bear to lose."

"Hey!" broke in the barkeeper, "I said I'd take you up. I'll get the
thousand dollars, all right."

"Oh, you will, eh?" murmured Wunpost and then he shook himself together.
"Oh--sure! Yes, all right! Come on, we'll start right now!"



CHAPTER XI

THE STINGING LIZARD


In a certain stratum of society, now about to become extinct, it is
considered quite _au fait_ to roll a drunk if circumstances will
permit. And it was from this particular stratum that the barkeeper at
The Mint had derived his moral concepts. Therefore he considered it no
crime, no betrayal of a trust, to borrow the thousand dollars with which
he was to pay John C. Calhoun from that prince of opportunists, Judson
Eells. It is not every banker that will thrust a thousand dollar
bill--and the only one he has on hand--upon a member of the
bungstarters' brotherhood; but a word in his ear from Pisen-face Lynch
convinced Fellowes that it would be well to run straight. Fate had
snatched him from behind the bar to carry out a part not unconnected
with certain schemes of Judson Eells and any tendency to run out on his
trusting backers would be visited with summary punishment. At least that
was what he gathered in the brief moment they had together before Lynch
gave him the money and disappeared.

As for John C. Calhoun, a close student of inebriety might have noticed
that he became sober too quick; but he invested their departure in such
a wealth of mystery that the barkeeper was more than satisfied. A short
ways out of town Wunpost turned out into the rocks and milled around for
an hour; and then, when their trail was hopelessly lost, he led the way
into the hills. Being a stranger in the country Fellowes could not say
what wash it was, but they passed up _some_ wash and from that into
another one; and so on until he was lost; and the most he could do was
to drop a few white beans from the pocketful that Lynch had provided.
The night was very dark and they rode on interminably, camping at dawn
in a shut-in canyon; and so on for three nights until his mind became a
blank as far as direction was concerned. His liberal supply of beans had
been exhausted the first night and since then they had passed over a
hundred rocky hog-backs and down a thousand boulder-strewn canyons. As
to the whereabouts of Blackwater he had no more idea than a cat that has
been carried in a bag; and he lacked that intimate sense of direction
which often enables the cat to come back. He was lost, and a little
scared, when Wunpost stopped in a gulch and showed him a neat pile of
rocks.

"There's my monument," he said, "ain't that a neat piece of work? I
learned how to make them from a surveyor. This tobacco can here contains
my notice of location--that was a steer when I said it wasn't staked.
Git down and help yourself!"

He assisted his companion, who was slightly saddle-sore, to alight and
inspect the monument and then he waited expectantly.

"Oh, the mine! The mine!" cried Wunpost gaily. "Come along--have you got
your sack? Well, bring along a sack and we'll fill it so full of gold
it'll bust and spill out going home. Be a nice way to mark the trail, if
you should want to come back sometime--and by the way, have you got that
thousand dollar bill?"

"Yes, I've got it," whined the barkeeper, "but where's your cussed mine?
This don't look like nothing to me!"

"No, that's it," expounded Wunpost, "you haven't got my system--they's
no use for you to turn prospector. Now look in this crack--notice that
stuff up and down there? Well, now, that's where I'd look to find gold."

"Jee-rusalem!" exclaimed the barkeeper, or words to that effect, and
dropped down to dig out the rock. It was the very same ore that Wunpost
had shown when he had entered The Mint at Blackwater, only some of it
was actually richer than any of the pieces he had seen. And there was a
six-inch streak of it, running down into the country-rock as if it were
going to China. He dug and dug again while Wunpost, all unmindful,
unpacked and cooked a good meal. Fellowes filled his small sack and all
his pockets and wrapped up the rest in his handkerchief; and before they
packed to go he borrowed the dish-towel and went back for a last hoard
of gold. It was there for the taking, and he could have all he wanted as
long as he turned over the thousand dollar bill. Wunpost was insistent
upon this and as they prepared to start he accepted it as payment in
full.

"That's _my_ idea of money!" he exclaimed admiringly as he smoothed
the silken note across his knee. "A thousand dollar bill, and you could
hide it inside your ear--say, wait till I pull that in Los! I'll walk up
to the bar in my old, raggedy clothes and if the barkeep makes any
cracks about paying in advance I'll just drop _that_ down on the
mahogany. That'll learn him, by grab, to keep a civil tongue in his head
and to say Mister when he's speaking to a gentleman."

He grinned at the Judas that he had taken to his bosom but Fellowes did
not respond. He was haunted by a fear that the simple-minded Wunpost
might ask him where he got that big bill, since it is rather out of the
ordinary for even a barkeeper to have that much money in his clothes;
but the simple-minded Wunpost was playing a game of his own and he asked
no embarrassing questions. It was taken for granted that they were both
gentlemen of integrity, each playing his own system to win, and the
barkeeper's nervous fear that the joker would pop up somewhere found no
justification in fact. He had his gold, all he could carry of it, and
Wunpost had his thousand dollar bill, and now nothing remained to hope
for but a quick trip home and a speedy deliverance from his misery.

"Say, for cripes' sake," he wailed, "ain't they any short-cut home? I'm
so lame I can hardly walk."

"Well, there is," admitted Wunpost, "I could have you home by morning.
But you might take to dropping that gold, like you did them Boston
beans, and I'd come back to find my mine jumped."

"Oh, I won't drop no gold!" protested Fellowes earnestly, "and them
beans was just for a joke. Always read about it, you know, in these here
lost treasure stories; but shucks, I didn't mean no harm!"

"No," nodded Wunpost, "if I'd thought you did I'd have ditched you, back
there in the rocks. But I'll tell you what I _will_ do--you let me
keep you blindfolded and I'll get you out of here quick."

"You're on!" agreed Fellowes and Wunpost whipped out his handkerchief
and bound it across his whole face. They rode on interminably, but it
was always down hill and the sagacious Mr. Fellowes even noted a deep
gorge through which water was rushing in a torrent. Shortly after they
passed through it he heard a rooster crow and caught the fragrance of
hay and not long after that they were out on the level where he could
smell the rank odor of the creosote. Just at daylight they rode into
Blackwater from the south, for Wunpost was still playing the game, and
half an hour later every prospector was out, ostensibly hunting for his
burros. But Wunpost's work was done, he turned his animals into the
corral and retired for some much-needed sleep; and when he awoke the
barkeeper was gone, along with everybody else in town.

The stampede was to the north and then up Jail Canyon, where there was
the only hay ranch for miles; and then up the gorge and on almost to
Panamint, where the tracks turned off up Woodpecker Canyon. They were
back-tracking of course, for the tracks really came down it, but before
the sun had set Wunpost's monument was discovered, together with the
vein of gold. It was astounding, incredible, after all his early
efforts, that he should let them back-track him to his mine; but that
was what he had done and Pisen-face Lynch was not slow to take
possession of the treasure. There was no looting of the paystreak as
there had been at the Willie Meena, a guard was put over it forthwith;
and after he had taken a few samples from the vein Lynch returned on the
gallop to Blackwater.

The great question now with Eells was how Wunpost would take it, but
after hearing from his scouts that the prospector was calm he summoned
him to his office. It seemed too good to be true, but so it had seemed
before when Calhoun had given up the Wunpost and the Willie Meena; and
when Lynch brought him in Eells was more than pleased to see that his
victim was almost smiling.

"Well, followed me up again, eh?" he observed sententiously, and Eells
inclined his head.

"Yes," he said, "Mr. Lynch followed your trail and--well, we have
already taken possession of the mine."

"Under the contract?" inquired Wunpost and when Eells assented Wunpost
shut his lips down grimly. "Good!" he said, "now I've got you where I
want you. We're partners, ain't that it, under our contract? And you
don't give a whoop for justice or nothing as long as you get it
_all_! Well, you'll get it, Mr. Eells--do you recognize this
thousand dollar bill? That was given to me by a barkeep named Fellowes,
but of course he received it from you. I knowed where he got it, and I
knowed what he was up to--I ain't quite as easy as I look--and now I'm
going to take it and give it to a lawyer, and start in to get my rights.
Yes, I've got some rights, too--never thought of that, did ye--and I'm
going to demand 'em _all_! I'm going to go to this lawyer and put
this bill in his hand and tell him to git me my _rights_! Not part
of 'em, not nine tenths of 'em--I want 'em _all_--and by grab, I'm
going to _get_ 'em!"

He struck the mahogany table a resounding whack and Eells jumped and
glanced warningly at Lynch.

"I'm going to call for a receiver, or whatever you call him, to look
after my interests at the mine; and if the judge won't appoint him I'm
going to have you summoned to bring the Wunpost books into court. And
I'm going to prove by those books that you robbed me of my interest and
never made any proper accounting; and then, by grab, he'll _have_
to appoint him, and I'll get all that's coming to me, and you'll get
what's coming to _you_. You'll be shown up for what you are, a
low-down, sneaking thief that would steal the pennies from a blind man;
you'll be showed up right, you and your sure-thing contract, and you'll
get a little _publicity_! I'll just give this to the press, along
with some four-bit cigars and the drinks all around for the boys, and
we'll just see where you stand when you get your next rating from
Bradstreet--I'll put your tin-front bank on the bum! And then I'll say
to my lawyer, and he's a slippery son-of-a-goat: 'Go to it and see how
much you can get--and for every dollar you collect, by hook, crook or
book, I'll give you back a half of it! Sue Eells for an accounting every
time he ships a brick--make him pay back what he stole on the
Wunpost--give him fits over the Willie Meena--and if a half ain't
enough, send him broke and you can have it _all_! Do you reckon
I'll get some results?"

He asked this last softly, bowing his bristling head to where he could
look Judson Eells in the eye, and the oppressor of the poor took
counsel. Undoubtedly he _would_ get certain results, some of which
were very unpleasant to contemplate, but behind it all he felt something
yet to come, some counter-proposal involving peace. For no man starts
out by laying his cards on the table unless he has an ace in the
hole--or unless he is running a bluff. And he knew, and Wunpost knew,
that the thing which irked him most was that sure-fire Prospector's
Contract. There Eells had the high card and if he played his hand well
he might tame this impassioned young orator. His lawyer was not yet
retained, none of the suits had been brought, and perhaps they never
would be brought. Yet undoubtedly Wunpost had consulted some attorney.

"Why--yes," admitted Eells, "I'm quite sure you'd get results--but
whether they would be the results you anticipate is quite another
question. I have a lawyer of my own, quite a competent man and one in
whom I can trust, and if it comes to a suit there's one thing you
_can't_ break and that is your Prospector's Contract."

He paused and over Wunpost's scowling face there flashed a twinge that
betrayed him--Judson Eells had read his inner thought.

"Well, anyhow," he blustered, "I'll deal you so much misery----"

"Not necessary, not necessary," put in Judson Eells mildly, "I'm willing
to meet you half way. What is it you want now, and if it's anything
reasonable I'll be glad to consider a settlement. Litigation is
expensive--it takes time and it takes money--and I'm willing to do what
is right."

"Well, gimme back that contract!" blurted out Wunpost desperately, "and
you can keep your doggoned mine. But if you don't by grab I'll fight
you!"

"No, I can't do that," replied Eells regretfully, "and I'll tell you,
Mr. Calhoun, why. You're just one of forty-odd men that have signed
those Prospector's Contracts, and there's a certain principle involved.
I paid out thirty thousand dollars before I got back a nickel and I
can't afford to establish a precedent. If I let you buy out, they will
all want to buy out--that is, if they've happened to find a mine--and
the result will be that there'll be trouble and litigation every time I
claim my rights. When you were wasting my grubstake I never said a word,
because that, in a way, was your privilege; and now that, for some
reason, you are stumbling onto mines, you ought to recognize my rights.
It is a part of my policy, as laid down from the first, under no
circumstances to ever release anybody; otherwise some dishonest
prospector might be tempted to conceal his find in the hope of getting
title to it later. But now about this mine, which you have named The
Stinging Lizard--what would be your top price for cash?"

"I want that contract," returned Wunpost doggedly but Judson Eells shook
his head.

"How about ten thousand dollars?" suggested Eells at last, "for a
quit-claim on the Stinging Lizard Mine?"

"Nothing doing!" flashed back Wunpost, "I don't sign no quit-claim--nor
no other paper, for that matter. You might have it treated with
invisible ink, or write something else in, up above. But--aw cripes,
dang these lawyers, I don't want to monkey around--gimme a hundred
thousand dollars and she's yours."

"The Stinging Lizard?" inquired Eells and wrote it absently on his
blotter at which Wunpost began to sweat.

"I don't _sign_ nothing!" he reminded him, and Eells smiled
indulgently.

"Very well, you can acknowledge it before witnesses."

"No, I don't acknowledge nothing!" insisted Wunpost stubbornly, "and
you've got to put the money in my hand. How about fifty thousand dollars
and make it all cash, and I'll agree to get out of town."

"No-o, I haven't that much on hand at this time," observed Judson Eells,
frowning thoughtfully. "I might give you a draft on Los Angeles."

"No--cash!" challenged Wunpost, "how much have you got? Count it over
and make me an offer--I want to get out of this town." He muttered
uneasily and paced up and down while Judson Eells, with ponderous
surety, opened up the chilled steel vault. He ran through bundles and
neat packages, totting up as he went, and then with a face as frozen as
a stone he came out with the currency in his hands.

"I've got twenty thousand dollars that I suppose I can spare," he began
as he spread out the money, but Wunpost cut him short.

"I'll take it," he said, "and you can have the Stinging Lizard--but my
word's all the quit claim you get!"

He stuffed the money into his pockets without stopping to count it, more
like a burglar than a seller of mines, and that night while the town
gathered to gaze on in wonder he took the stage for Los Angeles. No one
shouted good-by and he did not look back, but as they pulled out of
Blackwater he smiled.



CHAPTER XII

BACK HOME


The dry heat of July gave way to the muggy heat of August and as the
September storms began to gather along the summits Wunpost Calhoun
returned to his own. It was his own country, after all, this land of
desert spaces and jagged mountains reared up again the sky; and he came
back in style, riding a big, round-bellied mule and leading another one
packed. He had a rifle under his knee, a pistol on his hip and a pair of
field glasses in a case on the horn; and he rode in on a trot, looking
about with a knowing smile that changed suddenly to a smirk of triumph.

"Well, well!" he exclaimed as he saw Eells emerge from the bank, "how's
the mine, Mr. Eells; how's the mine?"

And Judson Eells, who had rushed out at the rumor of his approach, drew
up his lip and glared at him hatefully.

"You're a criminal!" he bellowed, "I could have you jailed for
this--that Stinging Lizard mine was salted!"

"The hell you say!" shrilled Wunpost and then he laughed uproariously
while he did a little jig in his stirrups. "Yeee--hoo!" he yelled, "say,
that's pretty good! Have you any idee who done it?"

"You did it!" answered Eells, "and I could have you arrested for it,
only I don't want to have any trouble. But you agreed to leave town and
now I see you're back--what's the meaning of this, Mr. Calhoun?"

"Too slow inside," complained Mr. Calhoun, who was sporting a brand-new
outfit, "so I thought I'd come back and shake hands with my friends and
take another look at my mine. Costs money to live in Los Angeles and I
bought me a dog--looky here, cost me eight hundred dollars!"

He reached down into a nest which he had hollowed out of the pack and
held up a wilted fox terrier, and as Eells stood speechless he dropped
it back into its cubby-hole and laid a loving hand on the mule.

"How's this for a mule?" he enquired ingenuously, "cost me five hundred
dollars in Barstow. Fastest walker in the West--picked him out on
purpose--and my pack mule can carry four hundred. How much did you lose
on the Stinging Lizard?"

"I lost over thirty thousand dollars, with the road work and all,"
answered Eells with ponderous exactitude, and Wunpost laughed again.

"Thirty thousand!" he echoed. "I wish it was a million! But you can't
say that I didn't warn you!"

"Warn me!" raged Eells, "you did nothing of the kind. It was a
deliberate attempt to defraud me."

"Aw, cripes," scoffed Wunpost, "you can't win all the time--why don't
you take your medicine like a sport? Didn't I name the danged hole The
Stinging Lizard? Well, there was your warning--but you got stung!"

He laughed heartily at the joke and looked up the street, ignoring the
staring crowd.

"Well, got to go!" he said. "Where _is_ that road you built--like
to go up and take a look at it!"

"It extends up Jail Canyon," returned the banker grimly. "I understand
Mr. Campbell is using it."

"Pretty work!" exclaimed Wunpost, "won't be wasted, anyhow. That'll come
in right handy for Cole. Why didn't you buy the old hassayamper out?"

"He won't sell!" grumbled Eells, "say, come in here a minute--I've got
something I want to talk over."

He led the way into his inner office, where an electric fan was running,
and Wunpost took off his big, black hat to loll before the breeze.

"Pretty nice," he pronounced, "they've got lots of 'em in Los. But I
never suffered so much from heat in my life--the poor fools all wear
_coats_! Gimme the desert, every time!"

"So you've come back to stay, eh?" inquired Eells unsociably, "I thought
you'd left these parts."

"Yep--left and came back," replied Wunpost lightly. "Say, how much do
you want for that contract? You might as well release me, because it'll
never buy _you_ anything--you've got all the mines you'll get."

"I'll never release you!" answered Judson Eells firmly. "It's against my
principles to do it."

"Aw, put a price on it," burst out Wunpost bluffly, "you know you
haven't got any principles. You're out for the dough, the same as the
rest of us, and you figure you'll make more by holding on. But I'm here
to tell you that I'm getting too slick for you and you might as well
quit while you're lucky."

"Not for any money," responded Judson Eells solemnly, "I am in this as a
matter of principle."

"Ahhr, principle!" scoffed Wunpost. "You're the crookedest dog that ever
drew up a contract--and then talk to me about _principle_! Why
don't you say what you mean and call it your system--like they use
trying to break the roulette wheel? But I'm telling you your system is
played out. I'll never locate another claim as long as I live, unless
I'm released from that contract; so where do you figure on any more
Willie Meenas? All you'll get will be Stinging Lizards."

He burst out into taunting laughter but Judson Eells sat dumb, his heavy
lower lip drawn up grimly.

"That's all right," he said at last, "I have reason to believe that you
have located a very rich mine--and the only way you personally can ever
get a dollar out of it, is to come through and give me half!"

"The only way, eh?" jeered Wunpost, "well, where did I get the price to
buy that swell pair of mules? Did I give you one half, or even a smell?
Not much--and I got this, besides."

He slapped a wad of bills that he drew from his pocket, and Eells knew
they were a part of his payment--the purchase price of the salted
Stinging Lizard--but he only looked them over and scowled.

"Nothing doing, eh?" observed Wunpost rising up to go, "you won't sell
that contract for no price. Going to follow me up, eh, and find this
hidden treasure, and skin me out of it, too? Well, hop to it, Mr. Eells,
and after you've got a bellyful perhaps you'll listen to reason. You got
stung good and plenty when you bought the Stinging Lizard and I figure
I'm pretty well heeled. Got two new mules, beside my other animals, and
an eight hundred dollar watch-dog to keep me company; and I'm going to
come back inside of a month with my mules loaded down with gold. Do you
reckon your pet rabbit, Mr. Phillip F. Flappum, can make me come through
with any part of it? Well, I consulted a lawyer before I left Los
Angeles and he said--decidedly not! Your contract calls for claims,
wherever located, but I haven't got any claim. This ore that I bring in
may be dug from some claim, and then again it may be high-graded from
some mine; but you've got to find that claim and prove that it exists
before you can call for a cent. You've got to prove, by grab, where I
got that gold, before you can claim that it's yours--and that's
something you never can do. I'm going to say I _stole_ it and if
you sue for any part of it you make yourself out a thief!"

He slammed his hand on Eells' desk and slammed the door when he went out
and mounted his big mule with a swagger. The citizens of Blackwater made
way for him promptly, though many a lip curled in scorn, and he rode out
of town sitting sideways in his saddle while he did a little jig in his
stirrups. He had come into town and bearded their leading citizen and
now he was on his way. If any wished to follow, that was their privilege
as free citizens, and their efforts might lead them to a mine; but on
the other hand they might lead them up some very rocky canyons and down
through Death Valley in summer. But there was one man he knew would
follow, for the stakes were high and Judson Eells was not to be
denied--it was up to Lynch, who had claimed to be so bad, to prove
himself a tracker and a desert-man.

Wunpost rode along slowly until the sun went down, for the heat-haze
hung black over the Sink, and that evening about midnight he entered
Jail Canyon on a road that was graded like a boulevard. It swung around
the point well up above the creek, and then on along the wash to
Corkscrew Gorge, and as he paused below the house Wunpost chuckled to
himself as he thought of his boasts to Wilhelmina. He had bet her two
months before that, without turning his hand over or spending a cent of
money, he could build her father a road; and now here it was, laid out
like a highway--a proof that his system would work. She had chosen to
scoff when he had made his big talk; but here he was back with his
clothes full of money, and Judson Eells had kindly built the road. He
looked up at the moon, where it rose swimming through the haze, and
laughed until he shook; then he camped and waited for day.

The dawn came in a wave of heat, preceding the sun like the breath from
a furnace; and Wunpost woke up suddenly to hear his wilted terrier
barking furiously as he raced towards the house. There was a moment of
silence, then the spit and yell of a cat and as Wunpost stood grinning
his dog came slinking back licking the blood from a scratch across his
nose. He was a fullblooded fox terrier, but small and white and trembly;
and the baby-blue in his eyes pleaded of youth and inexperience as he
crouched before his stern master.

"Come here!" commanded Wunpost but as he reached down to slap him a
voice called his name from above.

"_Don't_ whip him!" it begged and Wunpost withheld his hand for
Wilhelmina had been much in his mind. She came dancing down the trail,
her curls tumbling about her face and down over the perennial
bib-overalls, and when the pup saw her he left his scowling master and
crept meechingly to take refuge at her feet.

"He was chasing Red," she dimpled, "and you know how fierce he is--why,
Red isn't afraid of a wildcat! Where have you been? We've all been
looking for you!"

"I've been in Los Angeles," responded Wunpost with a sigh, "but, by
grab, I never thought that this dog of mine would get licked by an old
yaller cat!"

"He isn't yellow--he's red!" corrected Wilhelmina briskly, "the desert
makes all yellow cats red; but where'd you get your dog? And oh, yes;
isn't it fine--how do you like our new road? They had it built up to
your mine!"

"So I hear," returned Wunpost with a grim twinkle in his eye, "what do
you think of my system now?"

"Why, what system?" asked Billy, staring blankly into his face, and
Wunpost pulled down his lip. Was it possible that this fly-away had
taken his words so lightly that she had forgotten his exposition and
prophecy? Did she think that this road had come there by accident and
not by deep-laid design? He called back his dog and made him lie down
behind him and then he changed the subject.

"How's your father getting along?" he asked after a silence, "has he
shipped out any ore? Well say, you tell 'im to get a move on. There's
liable to be a cloudburst and wash the whole road out, and then where'd
you be with your home stake?"

"Well, I guess there hasn't been one for over twelve years," answered
Billy snapping her fingers enticingly to his dog, "and besides, it's so
hot the trucks can't gull up the canyon--it makes their radiators boil.
But we've got it all sacked and when Father gets his payment I'm going
inside, to school. Isn't it fine, after all they said about Dad--calling
him crazy and everything else--and now his mine is worth lots and lots
of money! I knew all the time he would win! And Eells has been up here
and offered us forty thousand dollars, but Father wouldn't even consider
it."

She stepped over boldly and picked up the dog, who wriggled frantically
and tried to lick her face, and Wunpost stood mumbling to himself. So
now it was her father who was getting all the credit for this wonderful
stroke of luck; and he and the others who had called old Cole crazy were
proven by the event to be fools. And yet he had packed ore for over two
weeks to salt the Stinging Lizard for Eells!

"Put your mules in the corral and come up to breakfast!" cried Billy
starting off for the house; and then she dropped his dog, which ran
capering along behind her--and Wunpost had named it Good Luck! If she
stole his dog on top of everything else, he would learn about women from
her.

There was a cordial welcome at the house from Mrs. Campbell, who was
radiant with joy over their good fortune; but Wunpost avoided the
subject of the sale of his mine, for of course she must know it was
salted. Anyone would know that after they had dug down a ways for
Wunpost had simply quarried out a vein of rotten quartz and filled the
resultant fissure with high grade. But there is something in Latin about
_caveat emptor_, which is short for "Let the buyer beware!" and if
Judson Eells was so foolish as to build his road first that was
certainly no fault of Wunpost's. All he had done was to locate the hole,
and then Judson Eells had jumped it; and if, as a result thereof,
Wunpost had trimmed him of twenty thousand, that was nothing to what
Eells had done to him. And yet every time he met Mrs. Campbell's eye he
felt that she had her reservations about him. He was a mine-salter, a
crook, the same as Eells was a crook; but she welcomed him all the same.
Perhaps she held it to his credit that he had given Billy a full half
when he had discovered the Willie Meena Mine; but it might be, of
course, that she was this way with everyone and simply tolerated him as
she did Hungry Bill. He ate a good breakfast, but without saying much,
and then he went back to his camp.

Wilhelmina tagged along, joyous as a child to have company and quite
innocent of what is called maidenly reserve; and Wunpost dug down into
his pack and gave her a bag of candy, at the same time patting her hand.

"Yours truly," he said, "sweets to the sweet, and all that. Say, what do
you think this is?"

He held up a box, which might contain almost anything that was less than
six inches square, and shook his head at all her guesses.

"Come on up to the lookout," he said at last and she followed along
fearlessly behind him. There are maidens, of course, who would refuse to
enter dark tunnels in the company of masterful young prospectors; but
Wilhelmina had yet to learn both fear and feminine subterfuge and she
made no pretty excuses. She was neither afraid of the dark, nor
afflicted with vertigo, nor reminded of pressing home duties; and she
was frankly interested both in the contents of the box and the ways of a
man with a maid. He had given her some candy, and there was a gift in
the little box--and once before he had made as if to kiss her; would he
now, after bringing his lover's gifts, demand the customary tribute? And
if so, should she permit it; and if not, why not?

It was very perplexing and yet Billy was determined not to evade any of
the problems of life. All girls had their suitors; and yet few of them,
she knew, were cast in the heroic mold of Wunpost. He was big and
strong, with roving blue eyes and a smile that was both compelling and
shy; and sometimes when he looked at her she felt a vague tumult, for of
course he could kiss her if he would. When he had assaulted Old Whiskers
and seized Dusty Rhodes by the throat, in the contest over their mine,
she had stood in awe of his violence; but except for that one time when
he had attempted to steal a kiss, he had reserved his rough violence for
his enemies. Yet--and somehow the thought thrilled her--it might be,
after all, that he was shy; and that playful, bear-like hug was only his
boyish way of hinting at the wish in his heart.

It might even be that he was secretly in love with her, as she had read
of other lovers in books; and that all the time, unknown to her, he was
worshiping her beauty from afar. For she was beautiful, she knew it--and
others had told her so--and there are few girls indeed that have curling
hair _and_ dimples, but Nature had given her both. And now if he
did not kiss her, or speak from his heart, it would be because she was
dressed like a boy; and she would have to lay aside her overalls
forever. For no one can hope to retain everything in this world, and
life is ours to be lived; and if worst came to worst, she might give up
her freedom and consent to wear millinery and skirts. She sighed and
followed on, and came safely to the portal which looked out on the great
world below.

Wunpost sat down deliberately at the mouth of the tunnel, on the broad
seat she had built along the wall, and handed Wilhelmina the package;
and as she sank down beside him the panting fox terrier slumped down at
her feet and wheezed. But Billy failed to notice this sign of affection,
for as the package was broken open a dainty case was exposed and this in
turn revealed a pair of glasses. Not ordinary, cheap field-glasses with
rusty round barrels and lenses that refracted the colors of the rainbow;
but exquisitely small ones, with square shoulders on the sides and
quality showing in every line. She caught them up ecstatically and
looked out across the Sink; and Wunpost let her gaze, though her focus
was all wrong, while he made his little speech.

"Now," he said, "next time you see my dust you'll know whether it's a
man or a dog."

"Oh, aren't they fine!" exclaimed Billy, swinging the glasses on
Blackwater. "I can see every house in town. And there's a man on the
trail--yes, and another one behind--I believe they're coming this way."

"Probably Pisen-face Lynch," observed Wunpost unconcernedly, "I expected
him to be on my trail."

"Why, what for?" murmured Billy still struggling with the focus. "Oh,
now I can see them fine! Oh, aren't these just wonderful--and such
little things, too--are you going to use them to hunt horses?"

"No, they're yours!" returned Wunpost with a generous swagger, "I've got
another pair of my own. I'll never forget how you picked me up that
time, so this is a kind of present."

"A present!" gasped Wilhelmina and then she paused and blushed, for of
course she had known it all the time. They were small glasses, for a
lady, but it was nice of him to say it, and to mention her finding him
on the desert. And now her mother would have to let her keep them, for,
they were in remembrance of her saving his life.

"It's awful kind of you," she said, "and I'll never forget it--and now,
won't you show me how they work?"

She drew a little closer, and as her curls brushed his cheek Wunpost
reeled as if from a blow.

"Sure," he said and gave her a kiss just as if she had really asked for
it.



CHAPTER XIII

WITH HAY HOOKS


It is no more than right that the first kiss should be forgiven,
especially if no one is to blame, and Wilhelmina forgave him very
sweetly; but there was a wild, hunted look in Wunpost's bold eyes and he
wondered what would happen next. Something had come over him very
suddenly and made him forget the restraint which all ladies, even in
overalls, laid upon him; and when their hands had touched some great
force had drawn them together and he had kissed her before she knew it.
But instead of resisting she had yielded for a moment, and then pushed
him away very slowly; and he still remembered, like part of a dream, her
heart beating against his breast. But it was all over now, and she was
toying with the field-glasses which he had brought from the city as a
present.

"Isn't it wonderful," she said, "how we first came together? And the
first place I looked for when you gave me these glasses was that wash
where you made your two fires."

"If you'd had them then," ventured Wunpost at last, "you'd've been able
to see me plain."

"Yes," she sighed, "but I found you anyhow. Doesn't it seem a long time
ago? And it was only the end of last May."

"Something doing every minute," burst out Wunpost gaily, "say, I've
found two mines this summer! What did old Eells think of the Stinging
Lizard? I hooked him right on that--he'll be careful what he grabs next
time. And when he jumps the next claim of mine I reckon he'll sink a few
feet before he builds any more ten thousand dollar roads!"

He chuckled and ran his hand through his tumbled hair, which always
stood straight on end, but Billy was looking at him curiously.

"Mr. Eells was up to see us," she said at last, "and he claims you
salted that mine. And he even told Father that you located it up our
canyon just on purpose so we could use his road!"

"And what did you say?" inquired Wunpost teasingly. "Didn't I tell you,
right here, I was going to do it?"

"Oh, but you were just fooling!" she protested laughing, "and I told him
you did nothing of the kind. And then Father stepped in, when he heard
what we were talking about, and he told Mr. Eells what he thought of
him."

"No, but I did salt the mine!" spoke up Wunpost quickly, "there wasn't
any fooling there. And, being as I had to locate it somewhere--well, the
chances are Eells was correct."

"Oh, that's just the way you talk!" she burst out incredulously; "did
you honestly do it on purpose?"

"Well, I guess I did!" boasted Wunpost. "I just stopped over in
Blackwater and told Mr. Eells all about it. So don't be worried on
_my_ account--and he built you a mighty good road."

"Yes, but do you think it was quite right," began Billy indignantly, "to
make Father seem a party to a fraud? It's what some people would call a
very shady transaction; but I suppose, of course, you're proud of it!"

"Why, sure I am!" returned Wunpost warmly, "and you don't need to be so
high and mighty. I guess I'm just as good as your old man or anybody,
and I notice he's using the road!"

"He won't though," answered Billy, "if I tell him what's happened! My
father is honest, he works for what he gets, and that road is just the
same as stolen!"

"Well, go ahead and tell him!" challenged Wunpost angrily. "We'll come
to a show-down, right now. And anybody that's too good to use my road is
too good to associate with _me_!" He brought down his big fist into
the palm of his hand and Wilhelmina jumped at the smack. "Didn't I tell
you," he demanded rising and pointing at her accusingly, "didn't I say I
was going to build that road? Well, why didn't you kick about it
_then_? You were game to follow me up and jump my mine so your
father could build him a road; but the minute I trim old Eells, who has
robbed you of a million, by grab, all of a sudden you get _good_!
You can't bear to use a road that that old skinflint built, thinking
he'd robbed me of another rich mine! No, that wouldn't be right, that's
a shady transaction! All right then, don't use the doggoned road!"

He smashed his fist into his hand in a final sweeping gesture of disdain
and Wilhelmina gazed at him fixedly.

"I thought you were just talking," she said at last, "but don't you ever
tell Father what's happened. If you do he'll never use the road--or if
he does, he'll pay Mr. Eells for it. He tries to be honest in
everything."

"Yes, and look what it gets him!" cried Wunpost passionately, "he's
spent half his life in this hell-hole of a canyon and you're chasing
around here in overalls! And then when some _crook_ like me comes
along and gives him a ten thousand dollar road this is all the thanks he
gets! I'm through--you can rustle for yourself!"

"Very well!" returned Billy with a wild gleam in her eye, "and if you
don't like my overalls----"

"I do!" he broke in, "I like 'em fine--like 'em better than those flimsy
danged skirts! But if you're too good to use my road----"

"It isn't that," interrupted Billy, "I'm glad you built the road, but
Father looks at it differently. He told Mr. Eells he wouldn't be a party
to any such scheme to defraud. But--now it's all built--don't tell him
how you did it; because I want him to have a little happiness. He's been
working so long and this came, as he said, just like an act of
Providence; so let's not tell him, and when he's taken out his ore he
can pay Mr. Eells, if he wishes to."

"If he's crazy!" corrected Wunpost. "What, pay that crook? Say, do you
see those two men on the trail? They're hired by Eells to tag along
behind me and trail me to my mine. Now what right has he got to claim
that mine? Did he ever give me a dollar to spend, while I was up there
in the high country looking for it? He did not, and he stole every
dollar I had before I ever went out to prospect. Didn't he rob us both
of the Willie Meena--take it all without giving us a cent? Well, what's
the sense of trying to treat him white, when you know he's out to do
you? His name is Eells and he skins 'em alive! But you wait--I'm out to
skin _him_!"

"You're awfully convincing," conceded Billy smiling tremulously, "but
somehow it doesn't seem right. Just because he robs you----"

"Aw, forget it; forget it!" exclaimed Wunpost impatiently, "didn't I
tell you this is no Sunday school picnic? What're you going to do, let
him go on robbing everybody until he has all the money in the world? No,
you've got to play the game--go after him with the hay hooks and get his
back hair if you can! I've trimmed him of twenty thousand and a ten
thousand dollar road, but where did he get all that coin? He took it out
of our mine, the old Willie Meena, and a whole lot more besides. Well,
whose money was it, anyway--didn't I own the mine first? All right,
then, I reckon it was _mine_!"

He patted his pocket, where his roll of bills lay, and smiled roguishly
as he grabbed up the dog.

"Fine pup, eh?" he began, "well, he picked me out himself--followed
along when I was going down the street. Tried to lose him and couldn't
do it, he followed me everywhere, so I kept him and called him Good
Luck. Get the idea? Luck is my pup, he lays down and rolls over whenever
I say the word. Going to make a fine watch-dog if he lives through this
hot weather--how'd you like to keep him a while?"

"Oh, I'd like to!" beamed Billy, "only I'm afraid you might be
jealous----"

"Not of no pup, kid," returned Wunpost with his lordliest swagger, "and
if you steal him, by grab you can have him!"

"Well, I'll bet I can do it!" answered Billy defiantly. "And are you
still going to give me that mine?"

"If you can find it!" nodded Wunpost. "Or I'll give it to Mr. Lynch, if
he'll promise to follow the leader. I see that's an Injun that he's got
riding along behind him but I'm going to lose 'em both. These
Shooshonnies ain't so much--I can out-trail 'em, any time--and I tell
you what I'm going to do. I'm going to lead Mr. Lynch and his rat-eating
guide just as long as they're game to follow, and if they follow me two
weeks I'll take 'em to my mine and tell 'em to help themselves. Now
that's sporting, ain't it? Because the Sockdolager ain't staked and
she's the richest hole I've struck."

"Yes, it's sporting," she admitted, "but why don't you stake it? Are you
afraid they'll take it away from you?"

"Don't you think it!" he exclaimed, "if it was staked I'd have half of
it! No, I'm doing this out of pride. I'm leaving that claim open and if
Mr. Eells can find it he's welcome to it _all_! But I'm telling
you, it'll never be found!"

He nodded impressively, with a wise, mysterious, smile, and Billy rose
up impatiently.

"I believe you _like_ to fight," she stated accusingly and Wunpost
did not deny it.



CHAPTER XIV

POISONED BAIT


The fight for the Sockdolager Mine was on and Wunpost led off up the
canyon with a swagger. His fast walking mule stepped off at a brisk pace
and the pack-mule, well loaded with provisions and grain, followed along
up Judson Eells' road. First it led through the Gorge, now clinging to
one wall and now crossing perforce to the other, and as Wunpost saw the
work of the powder-men above him he laughed and slapped his leg. Great
masses of rock had been shot down from the sides, filling up the
pot-holes which the cloudburst had dug; and then, along the sides, a
grade had been constructed which gave clearance for loaded trucks. Past
the Gorge, the work showed the signs of greater haste, as if Eells had
driven his men to the limit; but to get through at all he had had to
move much dirt, and that of course had run into money. Wunpost ambled
along luxuriously, chuckling at each heavy job of blasting and at the
spot where Cole Campbell's road turned in; and then he swung off up
Woodpecker Canyon to where the Stinging Lizard Mine had been located.

Great timbers still lay where they had been dumped from the trucks,
there was a concrete foundation for the engine; and a double-compartment
shaft, sunk on the salted vein, showed what great expectations had been
blasted. With the Willie Meena still sinking on high-grade ore, Judson
Eells had taken a good deal for granted when he had set out to develop
the Stinging Lizard. He had squared out his shaft and sunk on the vein
only as far as the muckers could throw out the waste; and then, instead
of installing a windlass or a whim, he had decided upon a gallows-frame
and hoist. But to bring in his machinery he must first have a road, for
the trail was all but impassable; and so, without sinking, he had
blasted his way up the canyon, only to find his efforts wasted. The ore
had been dug out before his engine was installed, thus saving him even
greater loss; but every dollar that he had put into the work had been
absolutely thrown away. Wunpost camped there and gloated and then,
shortly after midnight, he set off with his tongue in his cheek.

The time had now come when he was to match wits with Lynch in the old
game of follow-my-leader and, even with the Indian to do Lynch's
tracking, he had no fears for the outcome. There were places on those
peaks where a man could travel for miles without placing his foot on
soft ground, and other places in Death Valley where he could travel in
sand that was so powdery it would bog a butterfly. First the high
places, to wear them out and make Pisen-face Lynch get quarrelsome; and
then the desolate Valley, with its heat and poison springs, to put the
final touch to his revenge. For it was revenge that Wunpost sought,
revenge on Pisen-face Lynch, who had driven him from two claims with a
gun; and this chase over the hills, which had started so casually, had
really been planned for months. It was part of that "system" which he
had developed so belatedly, by which his enemies were all to be
confounded; and, knowing that Lynch would follow wherever he led,
Wunpost had made his plans accordingly. He was leading the way into a
trap, long set, which was sure to enmesh its prey.

At daylight Wunpost paused in his steady, plunging climb and looked back
over the rock-slides and boulders; and while his mules munched their
grain well back out of sight he focussed his new field glasses and
watched. From the knife-blade ridge up which he had spurred and
scrambled the whole country lay before him like a relief map, and in the
particular gash-like canyon where he had located the Stinging Lizard he
made out his furtive pursuers. The Indian was ahead, leaning over in his
saddle as he kept his eyes on the trail; and Lynch rode behind, a heavy
rifle beneath his knee, scanning the ridges to prevent a surprise. But
neither led a pack-horse and when Wunpost had looked his fill he put up
his glasses and smiled.

In the country where he was going there was no grass for those horses,
no browse that even an Indian pony could travel on; and if they wanted
to keep up with him and his grain-fed mules they would have to use quirt
and spurs. And the man who feeds his horse on buckskin alone is due to
walk back to camp. So reasoned John C. Calhoun from his cow-puncher
days, when he had tried out the weaknesses of horseflesh; and as he
returned to the grassy swale where his mules were hid he looked them
over proudly. His riding mule, Old Walker, was still in his prime, a
big-bellied animal with the long reach in its fore-shoulders which made
it by nature a fast walker; and his pack-mule, equally round-bellied to
store away food, was short-bodied as well so that he bore his pack
easily without any tendency to give down. He had been raised with Old
Walker and would follow him anywhere, without being dragged by a rope,
so that Wunpost had both hands for any emergency which might arise and
could keep his eyes on the trail.

And to think that these noble animals, big and black and beautifully
gaited, had been bought with Judson Eells' own money; while he, poor
fool, sent Lynch out after him on a miserable Indian cayuse. Wunpost's
road was always plain, for where he went they must follow, but at every
rocky point or granite-strewn flat they must circle and cut for his
trail. As he rode on now to the north he did not double and twist, for
the Indian would know the old trail; but the tracks he had left behind
him before he mounted to the ridge were as aimless as it was possible to
make them. They did not strike out boldly up some hogback or canyon but
at every fork and bend they turned this way and that, as if he were
hopelessly lost. And now as he rode on, unobserved by his pursuers, over
the well-worn Indian trail along the summit, Lynch and his tracker were
far behind, tracing his mule-tracks to and fro, up and down the broiling
hot canyons.

On the summit it was cool and the grass was still green, for the snow
had held late on the peaks, and the junipers and piñons had given place
to oaks and limber pines which stood up along the steep slopes like
switches. The air was sweet and pure, all the world lay below him; but,
as the heat came on, the abyss of Death Valley was lost in a pall of
black haze. It gathered from nowhere, smoke-like and yet not smoke; a
haze, a murk, a mass of writhing heat like the fumes from a witches'
cauldron. Wunpost had simmered in that cauldron, and he would simmer
again soon; but gladly, if he had Lynch for company. It was
follow-my-leader and, since there were no long wharves to jump off of,
Wunpost had decided upon the Valley of Death. And if, in following after
him to rob him of his mine, Pisen-face Lynch should succumb to the heat,
that might justly be considered a visitation of Providence to punish him
for his misspent life. Or at least so Wunpost reasoned and, remembering
the gun under Lynch's knee, he decided to keep well in the lead.

Wunpost camped that night at the upper water in Wild Rose Canyon,
letting his mules get a last feed of grass; and the next morning at
daylight he was up and away on the long trail that led down to Death
Valley. But first it led north over a broad, sandy plain, where Indian
ponies were grazing in stray bands; and then, after ten miles, it swung
off to the east where it broke through the hills and turned down. After
that it was a jump-off for six thousand feet, from the mountain-top to
down below sea-level; and, before he lost himself in the gap between the
hills, Wunpost paused and looked back across the plain.

This was the door to his trap, for at the edge of the rim the trail
split in twain; the Wet Trail leading past water while the Dry Trail was
shorter, but dry. And as live bait is best he unpacked and waited
patiently until he spied his pursuers in the pass. They were not five
miles away, coming down the narrow draw which marked the turn in the
trail, and after a long look Wunpost put up his glasses and saddled and
packed to go. Yet still he lingered on, looking back through the
shimmering heat that seemed to make the yellow earth blaze; until at
last they were so near that he could see them point ahead and bring
their tired horses to a stop. Then he whipped out his pistol and shot
back at them defiantly, turning off up the Dry Trail at a trot.

They followed, but cautiously, as if anxious to avoid a conflict and
Wunpost swung off between the points of two hills and led them on down
the dry canyon. If they took the Wet Trail, which the Indian knew, he
might double back and give them the slip; but now there was no water
till they had descended to sea level and crossed the treacherous
corduroy to Furnace Creek. The trap was sprung, they were committed to
the adventure, to follow him wherever he might lead; and Wunpost never
stopped spurring until he had descended the steep canyon and led them
out in the dry wash below. It was like climbing down a wall into a
sink-hole of boiling heat, but Lynch did not weaken and Wunpost bowed
his head and took the main trail to the ranch.

The sun swung low behind the rim of the Panamints, throwing a shadow
across the broad canyon below; ten miles to the east, under the heat and
haze, lay Furnace Creek Ranch and rest; but as his pursuers came on,
just keeping within sight of him, Wunpost turned off sharply to the
north. He quit the trail and struck out across the boulder-patches
towards the point of Tucki Mountain, and if they followed him there it
would be into a country that even the Indians were afraid of. It was
there that Death Valley had earned its name, when a party of Mormon
emigrants had died beside their ox-teams after drinking the water at
Salt Creek. There was Stove-pipe Hole, with the grave close by of the
man who had not stopped to bail the hole; and, nearest of all, was
Poison Spring, the worst water in all Death Valley. Wunpost turned out
and started north, daring his enemies to follow, and Lynch accept the
challenge--alone.

The Indian rode on, leaving the white man to his fate and heading for
Furnace Creek Ranch; and Wunpost, sweating streams and cursing to
himself, flogged on toward Poison Spring. It was a hideous thing to do,
but Lynch had chosen to follow him and his blood would be upon his own
head. Wunpost had given him the trail, to go on to the ranch while he
turned back the way they had come; but no, Lynch was bull-headed, or
perhaps the heat had warped his judgment--in any case he had elected to
follow. The last courtesies were past, Wunpost had given him his chance,
and Lynch had taken his trail like a bloodhound; he could not claim now
that he was going in the same direction--he was following along after
him like a murderer. Perhaps the slow fever of the terrible heat had
turned his anger into an obsession to kill, for Wunpost himself was
beginning to feel the desert madness and he set out deliberately to lure
him.

Where the black and frowning ramparts of Tucki Mountain thrust out
towards the edge of the Sink a spring of stinking water rises up from
the ground and runs off into the marsh. From the peaks above, it is a
bright strip of green at which the wary mountain sheep gaze longingly;
but down in that rank grass there are bones and curling horns that have
taught the survivors to beware. It is Poison Spring, _the_ Poison
Spring in a land where all water is bad; and in many a long day Wunpost
was the only human being who had gazed into its crystal depths. For the
water was clear, too clear to be good, without even a green scum along
its edge; and the rank, deceiving grass which grew up below could not
tempt him to more than taste it. But, being trailed at the time by some
men from Nevada who had seen the Sockdolager ore, he had conceived a
possible use for the spring; and, coming back later, he had buried two
cans of good water where he could find them when occasion demanded. This
was the trap, in fact, toward which for four days he had been leading
his vindictive pursuers; it was poisoned bait, laid out by Nature
herself, to strike down such coyotes as Lynch.

Wunpost arrived at Poison Spring well along in the evening, the desert
night being almost turned to day by the splendor of a waning moon. He
rode in across the flat and down the salt-encrusted bank, still
sweltering in the smothering heat; and the pounding blood in his brain
had brought on a kind of fury--a death-anger at Pisen-face Lynch. He dug
into the sand and drew out the cans of water, holding his mules away
from the spring; and then, from a bucket, he gave each a small drink
after taking a large one himself. There were two five-gallon cans, and
after he had finished he lashed the full one on the pack; the other one,
which sloshed faintly if one shook it up and down, he tossed mockingly
down by the spring. And then he rode on, wiping the sweat from his brow
and gazing back grimly into the night.



CHAPTER XV

WUNPOST TAKES THEM ALL ON


The morning found Wunpost at Salt Creek Crossing, where the bones of a
hundred emigrants lie buried in the sand without even a cross to mark
their resting place. It was a place well calculated to bring up thoughts
of death, but Wunpost faced the coming day calmly. At the first flush of
dawn the sand was still hot from the sun of the evening before; the low
air seemed to suffocate him with its below-sea-level pressure, and the
salt marshes to give off stinking gases; it was a hell-hole, even then,
and the day was yet to come, when the Valley would make life a torment.

The white borax-flats would reflect a blinding light, the briny marshes
would seethe in the sun; and every rock, every sand-dune, would radiate
more heat to add to the flame in the sky. Wunpost knew it well, the
long-enduring agony which would be his lot that day; but he moved about
briskly, bailing the slime from the well and sinking it deeper into the
sand. He doused his body into the water and let his pores drink, and
threw buckets of it on his beseeching mules; but only after the
well-hole had been scraped and bailed twice would he permit them to
drink the brackish water. Then he tied them in the shade of the wilting
mesquite trees and strode to the top of the hill.

A man, perforce, takes on the color of his surroundings, and Wunpost was
coated white from the crystallized salt and baked black underneath by
the glare; but the look in his eyes was as savage and implacable as that
of a devil from hell. He sat down on the point and focussed his glasses
on Poison Spring, and then on the trail beyond; and at last, out on the
marshes, he saw an object that moved--it was Pisen-face Lynch and his
horse. The horse was in the lead, picking his way along a trail which
led across the Sink towards the Ranch; and Lynch was behind, following
feebly and sinking down, then springing up again and struggling on. His
way led over hummocks of solid salt, across mud-holes and
borax-encrusted flats; and far to the south another form moved towards
him--it was the Indian, riding out to bring him in.

The sun swung up high, striking through Wunpost's thin shirt like the
blast from a furnace door; sweat rolled down his face, to be sopped up
by the bath-towel which he wore draped about his neck; but he sat on his
hilltop, grim as a gargoyle on Notre Dame, gloating down on the
suffering man. This was Pisen-face Lynch, the bad man from Bodie, who
was going to trail him to his mine; this was Eells' hired man-killer and
professional claim-jumper who had robbed him of the Wunpost and Willie
Meena--and now he was a derelict, lost on the desert he claimed to know,
following along behind his half-dead horse; and but for the Indian who
was coming out to meet him he would go to his just reward. Wunpost put
up his glasses and turned back with a grin--it was hell, but he was
getting his revenge.

Wunpost spent the heat of the day in the bottom of the well, floating
about like a frog in the brine, but as evening came on he crawled out
dripping and saddled up and packed in haste. Every cinch-ring was
searing hot, even the wood and leather burned him, and as he threw on
the packs he lifted one foot after the other in a devil's dance over the
hot sands. It was hot even for Death Valley, the hottest place in North
America, but there was no use in waiting for it to cool. Wunpost soused
himself and mounted, and the next morning at dawn he looked down from
the rim of the Panamints.

The great sink-hole was beginning to seethe, to give off its poisonous
vapors and fill up like a bowl with its own heat; but he had escaped it
and fled to the heights while Pisen-face Lynch stayed below. He was
still at the ranch, gasping for breath before the water-fan which served
to keep the men there alive; and as he breathed that bone-dry air and
felt the day's heat coming on, he was cursing the name of Calhoun. Yes,
cursing long and loud, or deep and low, and vowing to wreak his revenge;
for before he had worked for hire, but now he had a grievance of his
own. He would take up Wunpost's trail like an Indian on the warpath,
like a warrior who had been robbed of his medicine-bag; he would come on
the run and with blood in his eye--that is, if the heat had not killed
him. For his pride was involved, and his name as a trailer and an
all-around desert-man; he had been led into a trap by a boy in his
twenties, and it was up to him to demonstrate or quit.

Wunpost went his way tranquilly, for there was no one to pursue him; and
ten days later he rode down Jail Canyon with his pack-mule loaded with
ore. It had been his boast that he would return in two weeks with a
mule-load of Sockdolager gold; but Billy, as usual, had taken his boast
lightly and came running with news of her own.

"Hello!" she called. "Say, you can't guess what I've done--I've taught
Red and Good Luck to be friends. They eat their supper together!"

"Good!" observed Wunpost, "and not to change the subject, what's the
chances for a white man to eat? I've been living on jerky for three
days."

"Why, they're good," returned Billy, suddenly quieted by his manner.
"What's the matter--have you had any trouble?"

"Oh, no!" blustered Wunpost, "nah, nothing like that--the other fellow
had all the trouble. Did Pisen-face Lynch and that Injun come back?
Well, I'll bet they were dragging their tracks out!"

"They didn't come through here, but I saw them on the trail--it must
have been a week ago. But what's all that that you've got in your
pack-sacks--have you been out and got some more ore?"

"Why, sure," answered Wunpost, deftly easing off his kyacks and lowering
the load to the ground. "Didn't I tell you I was going to get some?"

"Yes, but----"

"But what?" he demanded, looking down on her arrogantly, and Wilhelmina
became interested in the dog.

"You have such a funny way of talking," she said at last, "and
besides--would you mind letting me look at it?"

"I sure would!" replied Wunpost; "you leave them sacks alone. And any
time my word ain't as good as gold----"

"Oh, of course it's good!" she protested, and he took her at her word.

"All right, then--I've got the gold."

"Oh, have you really?" she cried, and as he rolled his eyes accusingly
she laughed and bit her lip. "That's just _my_ way of talking," she
explained, rather lamely. "I mean I'm glad--and surprised."

"Well, you'll be more surprised," he said, nodding grimly, "when I show
you a piece of the ore. I sold that last lot to a jeweler in Los Angeles
for twenty-four dollars an ounce, quartz and all--and pure gold is worth
a little over twenty. Talk about your jewelry ore! Wait till I show this
in Blackwater and watch them saloon-bums come through here. Too lazy to
go out and find anything for themselves--all they know is to follow some
poor guy like me and rob him of what he finds. What's the news from down
below?"

"Oh, nothing," answered Billy, and stood watching him doubtfully as he
unsaddled and turned out his gaunted mules. His new black hat was
sweated through already and his clothes were salt-stained and worn, but
it was the look in his eye even more than his clothes which convinced
her he had had a hard trip. He was close-mouthed and grim and the old
rollicking smile seemed to have been lost beneath a two weeks' growth of
beard. Perhaps she had done wrong to speak of the dog first, but she
knew there was something behind.

"Did you have a fight with Mr. Lynch?" she asked at last, and he darted
a quick glance and said nothing. "Because when he went through here,"
she went on finally, "he seemed to be awful quarrelsome."

"Yes, he's quarrelsome," admitted Wunpost, "but so am I. You wait till I
tangle with him, sometime."

"You're hungry!" she declared, still gazing at him fixedly, and he gave
way to a twisted grin.

"How'd you guess it?" he inquired; but she did not tell him, for of
course they were supposed to be friends. Yes, good friends, and
more--she had let him kiss her once, but now he seemed to have forgotten
it. He ate supper greedily and went back to the corral to sleep, and in
the morning he was gone.

The early-risers at Blackwater, out to look for their burros or to get a
little eye-opener at the saloon, were astonished to see his mules in the
adobe corral and Wunpost himself on the street. He was reputed to be in
hiding from Pisen-face Lynch, who had been inquiring for him for over a
week; and the news was soon passed to Lynch himself, for Blackwater had
a grudge against Wunpost. He had made the town, yes, in a manner of
speaking--for of course he had discovered the Willie Meena Mine and
brought in Eells and the boomers--but never to their knowledge had he
spoken a good word of them, or of anything else in town. He came
swaggering down their streets as if he owned the place, or had enough
money to buy it--and besides, he had led them on two disastrous
stampedes in which no one had even located a claim. And the Stinging
Lizard Mine was salted! Hence their haste to tell Lynch and the
malevolent zeal with which they maneuvered to bring them together.

Wunpost was standing before the Express office, waiting for the agent to
open up and receive his ore-sacks for shipment, when he espied his enemy
advancing, closely followed by an expectant crowd. Lynch was still
haggard and emaciated from his hard trip through Death Valley, and his
face had the pallor of indoors; but his small, hateful eyes seemed to
burn in their sockets and he walked with venomous quickness. But Wunpost
stood waiting, his head thrust out and his gun pulled well to the front,
and Lynch came to a sudden halt.

"So there you are!" he burst out accusingly, "you low-down, poisoning
whelp! You poisoned that water, you know you did, and I've a danged good
mind to kill ye!"

"Hop to it!" invited Wunpost, "just git them rubbernecks away. I ain't
scared of you or nobody!"

He paused, and the rubbernecks betook themselves away, but Pisen-face
Lynch did not shoot. He stood in the street, shifting his feet uneasily,
and Wunpost opened the vials of scorn.

"You're bad, ain't you?" he taunted. "You're so bad your face hurts you,
but you can't run no blazer on me. And just because you chased me clean
down into Death Valley you don't need to think I'm afraid. I was just
showing you up as a desert-man, et cetery, but if any man had told me
you'd drink that poisoned water I'd've said he was crazy with the heat.
You're a lovely looking specimen of humanity! What's the matter--didn't
you like them Epsom salts?"

"There was arsenic in that water!" charged Pisen-face fiercely. "I had
it analyzed--you were trying to kill me!"

"Why, sure there was arsenic," returned Wunpost mockingly, "don't you
know that rank, fishy smell? But don't blame me--it was God Almighty
that threw the mixture together. And didn't I leave you a drink in that
empty can? Well, where is your proper gratitude?"

He ogled him sarcastically and Lynch took a step forward, only to halt
as Wunpost stepped to meet him.

"That's all right!" threatened Lynch, his voice tremulous with rage and
weakness. "You wait till I git back my strength. I'll fix you for this,
you dirty, poisoning coward--you led me to that spring on purpose!"

"Yes, and you followed, you sucker!" returned Wunpost insultingly; "even
your Injun had better sense than that. What did you expect me to
do--leave you a canteen of good water so you could trail me up and pot
me? No, you can consider yourself lucky I didn't shoot you like a dog
for following me off the trail. I gave you the road--what did you want
to follow _me_ for? By grab, it looked danged bad!"

"I'll go where I please!" declared Lynch defiantly. "You're hiding a
mine that belongs to Mr. Eells and my instructions were to follow you
and find it."

"Well, if you'd followed your instructions," returned Wunpost easily,
"you sure would have found a mine. Do you see these two bags? Plum full
of ore that I dug since I gave you the shake. Go back and report that to
your boss."

"You're a liar!" snarled Lynch, but his eyes were on the ore-sacks and
now they were gleaming with envy. And other eyes also were suddenly
focussed on the gold, at which Wunpost surveyed the crowd intolerantly.

"You're a prize bunch of prospectors," he announced as from the
housetops. "Why don't you get out in the hills and rustle? That's the
way I got my start. But you Blackwater stiffs want to hang around town
and let somebody else do the work. All you want is a chance to stake an
extension on some big strike, so you can sell it to some promoter from
Los!"

He grunted contemptuously and picked up the two big sacks while the
citizens of Blackwater sneered back at him.

"Aw, bull!" scoffed one, "you ain't got no gold! And if you have, by
grab, you stole it. What about the Stinging Lizard?"

"Well, _what_ about it?" retorted Wunpost, giving his bags to the
Express agent, "----put down the value on that at seven thousand
dollars." This last was aside to the inquiring Express agent, but the
crowd heard it and burst out hooting.

"Seven thousands _cents_!" yelled a voice; "you never _saw_
seven thousand dollars! You're a bull-shover and your mine was salted!"

"Sure it was salted!" agreed Wunpost, laughing exultantly, "but you
Blackwater stiffs will bite at anything. Did _I_ ever claim it was
a mine? I'm a bull-shover, am I? Well, when did I ever come here and try
to sell somebody a mine? No; I came into town with some Sockdolager ore,
and you dastards all tried to get me drunk; and I finally made a deal
with the barkeep at The Mint to show him the place for a thousand dollar
bill. Well, didn't I show him the place--and didn't he come back more
than satisfied with his pockets bursting out with the gold? _He_
never had no kick--I met him in Los Angeles and he told me he had sold
the rock for thirteen hundred dollars to a jeweler. But say, my friends,
don't you think I knew where he would go to get that thousand dollar
bill? Do you think I was so drunk I expected a barkeeper to have
thousand dollar bills in his pocket? No; I knowed who he would go to,
and Eells gave him the bill and a pocket full of Boston beans; but he
lost them on the road, so I brought him down Jail Canyon and old-scout
Lynch here, he followed my tracks!

"Wasn't that wonderful, now? He followed our tracks back and he found
the Stinging Lizard Mine--and then, of course, he jumped it! That's his
job, when he ain't licking old Judson Eells' boots or framing up some
crooked deal with Flappum; and then he went back and told Eells. And
then Eells--you know him--being as he'd stole the mine from me, like all
crooks he thought it was valuable. Was it up to me then to go to Mr.
Eells and tell him that the mine was salted? Would _you_ have done
it--would _anybody_? Well, he thought he had me cinched, and I sold
out for twenty thousand dollars. And now, my friend, you said a moment
ago that I'd never _seen_ seven thousand dollars. All right, I say
_you_ never did! But just, by grab, to show you who's four-flushing
I'll put you out of your misery--I'll _show_ you seven thousand,
savvy?"

He stuck out his head and gazed insolently into the man's face and then
drew out his wad of bills. They were badly sweated, but the numbers were
there--he peeled off seven bills and waved them airily, then laughed and
shoved them into his overalls.

"Tuh hell with you!" he burst out defiantly, consigning all Blackwater
to perdition with one grand, oratorical flourish. "You think you're so
smart," he went on tauntingly, "now come and trail me to my mine. If you
find it you can have it--it ain't even staked--but they ain't one of you
dares to follow me. I ain't afraid of Eells and his hired yaller dog,
and I ain't afraid of _you_! I'll take you _all_ on--old Eells
and all the rest of you--and I ain't afraid to show you the ore!"

He strode into the Express office and grabbed up a sack, which he cut
open with a slash of his knife; and then he reached in and took out a
great chunk that bulged and gleamed with gold.

"Am I four-flushing?" he inquired, and when no one answered he grunted
and tied up the hole. There was a silence, and the crowd began to filter
away--all but Lynch, who stood staring like an Indian. Then he too
turned away, his haggard eyes blinking fast, like a woman on the verge
of bitter tears.



CHAPTER XVI

DIVINE PROVIDENCE


The thundercaps were gleaming like silver in the heat when Wunpost rode
back to Jail Canyon; but he came on almost merrily, a sopping bath-towel
about his neck and his shirt pulled out, like a Chinaman's. These were
the last days of September when the clouds which had gathered for months
at last were giving down their rain; and the air, now it was humid,
seemed to open every pore and make the sweat run in rivulets. Wunpost
perspired, but he was happy, and as he neared the silent house he
whistled shrilly for his dog. Good Luck came out for a moment, looked
down at him reproachfully, and crawled back under the house, Yes, it was
hot in the canyon, for the ridge cut off the wind and the rimrock
reflected yet more heat, but Wunpost was happy through it all. He had
told Blackwater where it could go.

Not Eells and Lynch alone, but the citizens at large, collectively and
as individuals; and he had planted the seeds of envy and rage to rankle
in their hairy breasts. He had shown them his gold, to make them yearn
to find it, and his money to make them envy him his wealth; and then he
had left them to stew in their own juice, for Blackwater was as hot as
Jail Canyon. He was riding a horse now, and, in addition to Old Walker,
he had a third mule, heavily packed; and he was headed for the hills to
hide still more food and water against the chase that was sure to come.
Sooner or later they would follow on his trail, those petty, hateful
souls who now sat in the barrooms and gasped like fish for breath; but
they were waiting, forsooth, for the weather to cool down and the
cloudbursts to finish their destruction. And that was the very reason
why they would never find his mine--they were afraid to take his
chances.

Mrs. Campbell and Wilhelmina were out on the back porch, which had been
sprinkled until it was almost cool; and when Wunpost had unpacked and
put his mules in the corral he came up the hill and joined them.
Wilhelmina had returned to her proper sphere, being clothed in the
filmiest of gowns; and poor Mrs. Campbell, who was nearly prostrated by
the heat, allowed her to entertain the company. They sat in the dense
shade of the umbrella trees and creepers, within easy reach of a
dripping olla; and after taking a huge drink, which started the sweat
again, Wunpost sank down on the cool dirt floor.

"It ain't so hot here!" he began encouragingly; "you ought to be down in
Blackwater. Say, the wind off that Sink would make your hair curl. I
scared a lizard out of the shade and he hadn't run ten feet till he
disappeared in a puff of smoke. His pardner turned over and started to
lick his toes----"

"Yes, it does look like rain," observed Billy with a twinkle. "How long
since _you_ started to herd lizards?"

"Who--me?" inquired Wunpost. "W'y, I'm telling you the truth. But say,
it does look like rain. If they'd only spread it out, instead of dumping
it all in one place, it'd suit me better, personally. There was a
cloudburst last week hit into the canyon above me and I just made my
getaway in time, and where that water landed you'd think a hydraulic
sluice had been washing down the hill for a year. It all struck in one
place and gouged clean down to bedrock, and when she came by me there
was so much brush pushed ahead that it looked like a big, moving dam.
Where's your father--up getting out ore?"

"Yes, he's up at the mine," spoke up Mrs. Campbell, "although I've
begged him not to work so hard. The heat is almost killing him, but he's
so thankful to have his road done that he won't delay a minute. He's
used up all his sacks, but he's still sorting the ore so that he can
load it right onto the trucks."

"Yes, that's good," commented Wunpost, glancing furtively at Billy, "I
hope he makes a million. He deserves it--he's sure worked hard."

"Yes, he has," responded Mrs. Campbell, "and I've always had faith in
him, but others have tried to discourage him. I believe I've heard you
say that his work was all wasted, but now everybody is envying him his
success. It all goes to show that the Lord cares for his own, and that
the righteous are not forgotten; because Cole has always said he would
rather be poor and honest than to own the greatest fortune in the land.
And now it seems as if the hand of Providence has just reached down and
given us our road--the Lord provides for his own."

"Looks that way," agreed Wunpost; "sure treating _me_ fine, too.
There was a time, back there, when He seemed to have a copper on every
bet I played, but now luck is coming my way. Of course I don't deserve
it--and for that matter, I don't ask no odds--but this last mine I found
is a Sockdolager right, and Eells or none of 'em can't find it. I took
down one mule-load that was worth ten thousand dollars, and when I was
shipping it you should have seen them Blackwater bums looking on with
tears in their eyes. That's all right about the Lord providing for his
own, but I tell you hard work has got something to do with it, whether
you believe in religion or not. I'm a rustler, I'll say that, and I work
for what I get, just as hard as your husband or anyone----"

"Ah, but Mister Calhoun," broke in Mrs. Campbell reproachfully, "we've
heard evil stories of your dealings with Eells. Not that we like him,
for we don't; but, so we are informed, the mine that you sold him was
salted."

"Why, mother!" exclaimed Billy, but the fat was in the fire, for Wunpost
had nodded shamelessly.

"Yes," he said, "the mine was salted, but don't let that keep you awake
nights. I didn't _sell_ him the mine--he took it away from me and
gave me twenty thousand for a quit-claim. And the twenty thousand
dollars was nothing to what I lost when he robbed me and Billy of our
mine."

"Why--why, Mr. Calhoun!" cried Mrs. Campbell in a shocked voice, "did
you salt that mine on purpose?"

"You'd have thought so," he returned, "if you'd seen me packing the ore.
It took me nigh onto two weeks."

Mrs. Campbell paused and gasped, but Wunpost met her gaze with a cold,
unblinking stare. Her nice Scotch scruples were not for such as he, and
if she crowded him too far he had an answer to her reproaches which
would effectually reduce her to silence. But Billy knew that answer, and
the reason for the gleam which played like heat-lightning in his eyes,
and she hastened to stave off disaster.

"Oh, mother!" she protested, "now please don't talk seriously to him or
he'll confess to almost anything. He told me a lot of stuff and I was
dreadfully worried about it, but I found out he only did it to tease me.
And besides, you know yourself that Mr. Eells did take advantage of us
and trick us out of our mine--and if it hadn't been for that we could
have built the road ourselves without being beholden to anybody."

"But Billy, child!" she chided, "just think what you're saying. Is it
any excuse that others are dishonest? Well, I must say I'm surprised!"

"Oh, you're surprised, are you?" spoke up Wunpost, rising ponderously to
his feet. "Well, if you don't like my style, just say so."

He reached for his hat and stood waiting for the answer, but Mrs.
Campbell avoided the issue.

"It is not for us to judge our neighbors--the Bible says: Judge not,
lest ye be judged--but I'm sorry, Mr. Calhoun, that you think so poorly
of us as to boast of the deception you practised. He's no friend of us,
this Judson Eells, but surely you cannot think it was aught but
dishonest to sell him a salted mine. Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,
and because he took your property is no excuse for committing a crime."

"A _crime_!" repeated Wunpost, and turned to look at Billy, who
hung her head regretfully. "Did you hear that?" he asked. "She says I'm
a criminal! Well, I won't bother you folks any more. But before I go,
Mrs. Campbell, I might as well tell you that these criminals sometimes
come in danged handy. Suppose I'd buried that ore in Happy Canyon, for
instance, or over the summit in Hanaupah--where would the Campbell
family be for a road? They wouldn't have one, _would_ they? And
this here Providence that you talk about would be distributing its
rewards to others. But there's too many good people for the rewards to
go around--that's why some of us get out and rustle. No, you want to be
thankful that a criminal came along and took a flyer at being Providence
himself; otherwise you'd be stuck with your mine on your hands--because
I gave you that road, myself."

He started for the door and Mrs. Campbell let him go, for the revelation
had left her thunderstruck. Never for a moment had she doubted that the
sterling integrity of her husband had brought a special dispensation of
Providence, and while her faith in Divine Providence was by no means
shaken, she did begin to doubt the miracle. Perhaps, after all, this
loud and boastful Wunpost had been more than an instrument of
Providence--he might, in fact, have been a kindly but misguided friend,
who had shaped his vengeance to serve their special needs. For he knew
they needed the road and, since he could salt a crevice anywhere, he had
located his mine up their canyon. And then Eells had jumped the mine and
built the road, and----Well, really, after all, it was no more than
right to go out and thank him for his kindness. He was wrong, of course,
and led astray by angry passions; but Wilhelmina and he were friends
and----She rose up and hurried out after him.

The blazing light in the heavens almost blinded her sight as she stepped
out into the sun; and high up above the peaks, like cones of burnished
metal, she saw two thundercaps, turning black at the base and mounting
on the superheated air. There was the hush in the air which she had
learned to associate with an explosion such as was about to take place,
and she looked back anxiously, for her husband was up the canyon and the
downpour might strike above Panamint. It was clouds such as these that
had come together before to form the cloudburst which had isolated their
mine, and though they now appeared daily she could never escape the fear
that once more they would send down their floods. Every day they struck
somewhere, and one more bone-dry canyon ran bank-high and spewed its
refuse across the plain, and each time she had the feeling that their
sins might be punished by another visitation from on high. But she only
glanced back once, for Wunpost was packing and Billy was looking on
hopelessly.

"Oh, Mr. Calhoun!" she called, "please don't go up the canyon
now--there's a cloudburst forming above the peaks."

"I'll make it," he grumbled, cocking his eye at the clouds--and then he
stopped and looked again. "There went lightning," he said; "that's a
mighty bad sign--they're stabbing out towards each other."

"Yes, I'm sure you'd better stay," she went on apologetically, "and
please don't think you're not welcome. But oh! this heat is
terrible--I'll have to go back--but Billy will stop and help you."

She raised her sunshade as if she were fleeing from a rain-storm and
hastened back out of the sun; and Wunpost, after a minute of careful
scrutiny, unpacked and squatted down in the shade.

"They're moving together," he said to Billy, "and see that lightning
reaching out? This is going to bust the world open, somewhere. That's no
cloudburst that's shaping up, it's a regular old waterspout; I know by
the way she acts."

He settled back on his heels to await the outcome, and as the thunder
began to roll he turned to his companion and shook his head in ominous
silence. There were but two clouds in the sky, all the rest was blazing
light; and these two clouds were moving slowly together, or rather,
towards a common center. One came on from the southeast, the other from
the west, and some invisible force seemed to be drawing them towards the
peaks which marked the summit of the Panamints. The play of the
lightning became almost constant, the rumbling rose to a tumult; and
then, as if caught by resistless hands, the two clouds rushed together.
There was a flash of white light, a sudden blackening of the mass, and
as Wunpost leapt up shouting a writhing funnel reached down as if
feeling for the palpitating earth.

"There she goes!" he cried; "it's a waterspout, all right--but it ain't
going to land near here."

He talked on, half to himself, as the great spiral reached and
lengthened; and then he shouted again, for it had struck the ground,
though where it was impossible to tell. The high rim of the canyon cut
off all but the high peaks, and they could see nothing but the
waterspout now; and it, as if stabilized by its contact with the earth,
had turned into a long line of black. It was a column of falling water,
and the two clouds, which had joined, seemed to be discharging their
contents down a hole. They were sucked into the vortex, now turned an
inky black, and their millions of tons of water were precipitated upon
one spot, while all about the ground was left dry.

Wunpost knew what was happening, for he had seen it once before, and as
he watched the rain descend he imagined the spot where it fell and the
wreck which would follow its flood. For the Panamints are set on edge
and shed rain like a roof, the water all flowing off at once; and when
they strike a canyon, after rushing down the converging gulches, there
is nothing that can withstand their violence. Every canyon in the range,
and in the Funeral Range beyond, and in Tin Mountain and the Grapevines
to the north--every one of them had been swept by the floods from the
heights and ripped out as clean as a sand-wash. And this waterspout,
which had turned into a mighty cloudburst, would sweep one of them clean
again. The question was--which one?

A breeze, rising suddenly, came up from the Sink and was sucked into the
vortex above; the black line of the downfall turned lead-color and
broadened out until it merged into the clouds above; and at last, as
Wunpost lingered, the storm disappeared and the canyon took on the hush
of heavy waiting. The sun blazed out as before, the fig-leaves hung down
wilted; but the humidity was gone and the dry, oven-heat almost created
the illusion of coolness.

"Well, I'm going," announced Wunpost, for the third or fourth time. "She
must have come down away north."

"No--wait!" protested Billy, "why are you always in such a hurry? And
perhaps the flood hasn't come yet."

"It'd be here," he answered, "been an hour, by my watch; and believe me,
that old boy would be coming some. Excuse _me_, if it should hit
into one end of a box canyon while I was coming up the other. My friends
could omit the flowers."

"Well, why not stay, then?" she pouted anxiously; "you know Mother
didn't mean anything. And perhaps Father will be down, to see if there
was any damage done, and we could catch him first and explain."

"No explaining for me!" returned Wunpost, beginning to pack; "you can
tell them whatever you want. And if your folks are too religious to use
my old road maybe the Lord will send a cloudburst and destroy it. That's
the way He always did in them old Bible stories----"

"You oughten to talk that way!" warned Wilhelmina soberly, "and besides,
that's what made Mother angry. She isn't feeling well, and when you
spoke slightingly of Divine Providence----"

"Well, I'm going," he said again, "before I begin to quarrel with
_you_. But, oh say, I want to get that dog."

"Oh, it's too hot!" she protested, "let him stay under the house. He and
Red are sleeping there together."

"No, I need him," he grumbled, "liable to be bushwhacked now, any time;
and I want a dog to guard camp at night."

He started towards the house, still looking up the canyon, and at the
gate he stopped dead and listened.

"What's that?" he asked, and glanced about wildly, but Billy only shook
her head.

"I don't hear anything," she replied, turning listlessly away, "but I
wish you wouldn't go."

"Well, maybe I won't," he answered grimly, "don't you hear that kind of
rumble, up the canyon?"

She listened again, then rushed towards the house while Wunpost made a
dash for the corral. The cloudburst was coming down their canyon.



CHAPTER XVII

THE ANSWER


The rumbling up the canyon was hardly a noise; it was a tremulous
shudder of earth and air like the grinding that accompanies an
earthquake. But Wunpost knew, and the Campbells knew, what it meant and
what was to follow; and as it increased to a growl they threw down the
corral bars and rushed the stock up to the high ground. They waited, and
Wunpost ran back to get his dog, and then the dammed waters broke loose.
A great spray of yellow mud splashed out from Corkscrew Gorge and a
piñon-trunk was snapped high into the air; and while all the earth
trembled the dam of mud burst forth, forced on by the weight of
backed-up waters. Then more trees came smashing through, followed by
muddy tides of driftwood, and as suddenly the debacle ceased.

There was quiet, except for the hoarse rumble of boulders as they ground
their way down through the Gorge; and for the muffled crack of submerged
tree-trunks, straining and breaking beneath the ever-mounting jamb. It
rose up and overflowed in a gush of turbid waters, rose still higher and
overflowed again; and then it broke loose in a crash like imminent
thunder--the cloudburst had conquered the Gorge. It went through it and
over it, spreading out on its sloping sides; and when the worst crush
seemed over it washed higher yet and came through with an all-devouring
surge. In a flash the whole creekbed was a mass of mud and driftwood,
which swashed about and swayed drunkenly on; and, as great tree-boles
came battering through, the jamb broke abruptly and spewed out a sea of
yellow water.

The fugitives climbed up higher, followed by the cat and dog, and the
burros which had been left in the corrals; but the flood bore swiftly
on, leaving the ranch unsullied by its burden of brush and mud. The jamb
broke down again, letting out a second gush of water which crept up
among the lower trees, but just as the Gorge opened up for the third
time the flood-crest struck the lower gorge and stopped. Once more the
trees and logs which had formed the jamb above bobbed and floated on the
surface of a pond; and while the Campbells gazed and wept the turbid
flood swung back swiftly, inundating their ranch with its mud.

First the orchard was overflowed, then the garden above the road, then
the corrals and the flowers by the gate; and as they ran about
distracted the water crept up towards the house and out over the verdant
alfalfa. But just when it seemed as if the whole ranch would be
destroyed there was a smash from the lower point; the jamb went out,
draining the waters quickly away and rushing on towards the Sink. The
great mass of mud and boulders which had been brought down by the flood
ceased to spread out and cover their fields, and as the millrace of
waters continued to pour down the canyon it began to dig a new streambed
in the débris. Then the thunder of its roaring subsided by degrees and
by sundown the cloudburst was past.

Where the creek had been before there was a wider and deeper creek, its
sides cumbered with huge boulders and tree-trunks; and the mixture of
silt and gravel which formed its cut banks already had set like cement.
It _was_ cement, the same natural concrete which Nature combines
everywhere on the desert--gravel and lime and bone-dry clay, sluiced and
mixed by the passing cloudburst and piled up to set into pudding-stone.
And all the mud which had overlaid the garden and orchard was setting
like a concrete pavement. The ancient figs and peach-trees, half buried
in the slime, rose up stiffly from the fertile soil beneath; and the
Jail Canyon Ranch, once so flamboyantly green, was now shore-lined with
a blotch of dirty gray. Only the alfalfa patch remained, and the house
on the hill--everything else was either washed away or covered with
gravel and dirt. And the road--it was washed away too.

Wunpost worked late and hard, shoveling the muck away from the trees and
clearing a section of the corral; but not until Cole Campbell came down
the next day was the Stinging Lizard road even mentioned. It was gone,
they all knew that, and all their prayers and tears could not bring back
one rock from its grade; and yet somehow Wunpost felt guilty, as if his
impious words had brought down this disaster upon his friends. He rushed
feverishly about in the blazing sun, trying to undo the most imminent
damage; and Billy and Mrs. Campbell, half divining his futile regrets,
went about their own tasks in silence. But when Campbell came down over
the mountain-sheep trail and beheld what the cloudburst had done he
spoke what came first into his mind.

"Ah, my road," he moaned, talking half to himself after the manner of
the lonely and deaf, "and I let it lie idle six weeks! All my ore still
sacked and waiting on the dump, and now my road is gone."

He bowed his head and gave way to tears, for he had lost ten years' work
in a day, and then Mrs. Campbell forgot. She had remained silent before,
not wishing to seem unkind, but now she spoke from her heart.

"It's a visitation!" she wailed; "the Lord has punished us for our sins.
We should never have used the road."

"And why not?" demanded Campbell, rousing up from his brooding, and he
saw Wunpost turning guiltily away. "Ah, I knew it!" he burst out; "I
misdoubted it all the time, but you thought you could keep it from me.
But when I came down from Panamint, to see where the waterspout had
struck, and found it tearing in from Woodpecker Canyon, I said: 'It is
the hand of God!' We had not come by our road quite honestly."

"No," sobbed Mrs. Campbell, "and I hate to say it, but I'm glad the road
is destroyed. What you built we came by honestly, but the rest was
obtained by fraud, and now it has all been destroyed. You have worked
long and hard, Cole, and I'm sorry this had to happen; but God is not
mocked, we know that. I tried to keep it from you, and to keep myself
from knowing; but he told me himself that he salted the mine on purpose,
so that Eells would build us a road!"

"Aha!" nodded Campbell, and looked out from under his eyebrows at the
man who had befriended him by fraud. But he was a man of few words, and
his silence spoke for him--Wunpost scuffled his feet and withdrew.

"Well I'm going," he announced to Billy as he threw on his packs; "this
is getting too rough for me. So I crabbed the whole play, eh, and
fetched that cloudburst down Woodpecker? And it washed out your father's
road! It's a wonder Divine Providence didn't ketch _me_ up the
canyon, and wipe me off the footstool, too!"

"Perhaps He spared you," suggested Billy, whose eyes were big with awe,
"so you could repent and be forgiven of your sins."

"I bet ye!" scoffed Wunpost; "but you can't tell _me_ that God
Almighty was steering that waterspout. It just hit in Woodpecker Canyon,
same as one hit Hanaupah last week and another one washed out down
below. They're falling every day, but I'm going up into them hills, and
do you reckon one will drop on me? Don't you think it--God Almighty has
got more important business than following me around through the hills.
I'm going to take my little dog, so I'll be sure to have Good Luck; and
if I don't come back you'll know somebody has got me, that's all."

He tightened his lash ropes viciously, mounted his horse and took the
lead, followed by Old Walker and the other mules, packed; and when he
whistled for Good Luck, to Billy's surprise the little terrier went
bounding off after him. She waved at him furtively and tried to toll him
back, but his devotion to his master was still just as strong as it had
been when he had adopted him in Los Angeles. When he had been prostrated
by the heat he had stayed with Billy gladly, but now that he was strong
and accustomed to the climate he raced along after the mules. Wunpost
looked back and grinned, then he reached down a hand and swooped his dog
up into the saddle.

"You can't steal him!" he hooted, and Billy bit her lip, for she thought
she had weaned him from his master. And Wunpost--she had thought he was
tamed to her hand, but he too had gone off and left her. He was still as
wild and ruthless as on the day they had first met, when he had been
chasing Dusty Rhodes with a stone; and now he was heading off into the
high places he was so fond of, to play hide-and-seek with his pursuers.
Several had come up already, ostensibly to view the ruin but undoubtedly
to keep Wunpost in sight; and if he continued his lawless strife she
doubted if the good Lord would preserve him, as He had from the
cloudburst.

Time and again he had mounted to go and each time she had held him back,
for she had sensed some imminent disaster; and now, as he rode off, she
felt the prompting again to run after him and call him back. But he
would not come back, he was headstrong and unrepentant, making light of
what others held sacred; and as she watched him out of sight something
told her again that he was going out to meet his doom. Some great
punishment was hanging over him, to chastise him for his sins and bring
him, perhaps, to repentance; but she could no more stop his going, or
turn him aside from his purpose, than she could control the rush of a
cloudburst. He was like a force of nature--a rude, fighting creature who
beat down opposition as the flood struck down bushes, rushing on to seek
new worlds to conquer.



CHAPTER XVIII

A LESSON


The heat-wave, which had made even the desert-dwellers pant, came to an
end with the Jail Canyon waterspout; the nights became bearable, the
rocks cooled off and the sun ceased to strike through men's clothes. But
there was one, still clinging to her faded bib-overalls, who took no joy
in the blessed release. Wilhelmina was worried, for the sightseers from
Blackwater had disappeared as soon as Wunpost rode away; and now, two
days later, his dog had come back, meeching and whining and licking its
feet. Good Luck had left Wunpost and returned to the ranch, where he was
sure of food and a friend; but now that he was fed he begged and
whimpered uneasily and watched every move that she made. And every time
that she started towards the trail where Wunpost had ridden away he
barked and ran eagerly ahead. Billy stood it until noon, then she caught
up Tellurium and rode off after the dog.

He led up the trail, where he had run so often before, but over the
ridge he turned abruptly downhill and Billy refused to follow. Wunpost
certainly had taken the upper trail, for there were his tracks leading
on; and the dog, after all, had no notion of leading her to his master.
He was still young and inexperienced, though with that thoroughbred
smartness which set him apart from the ordinary cur; but when she made
as though to follow he cut circles with delight and ran along enticingly
in front of her. So Billy rode after him, and at the foot of the hill
she found mule-tracks heading off north. Wunpost had made a wide detour
and come back, probably at night, to throw off his pursuers and start
fresh; but as she followed the tracks she found where several horse
tracks had circled and cut into his trail. She picked up Good Luck, who
was beginning to get footsore, and followed the mule-tracks at a lope.

Near the mouth of the canyon they struck out over the mud, which the
cloudburst had spread out for miles, but now they were across and going
down the slope which a thousand previous floods had laid. Ahead lay Warm
Springs, where the Indians sometimes camped; but the trail cut out
around them and headed for Fall Canyon, the next big valley to the
north. She rode on steadily, her big pistol that Wunpost had once
borrowed now back in its accustomed place; and the fact that she had
failed to tell her parents of her intentions did not keep her from
taking up the hunt. Wunpost was in trouble, and she knew it; and now she
was on her way, either to find him or to make sure he was safe.

The trail up Fall Canyon twists and winds among wash boulders, over
cut-banks and up sandy gulches; but at the mouth of the canyon it
plunges abruptly into willow-brush and leads on up the bed of a dry
creek. Once more the steep ridges closed in and made deep gorges, the
hillsides were striped with blues and reds; and along the ancient trail
there were tunnels and dumps of rock where prospectors had dug in for
gold. There were dog tracks in the mud showing where Good Luck had come
down, and she knew Wunpost must be up there somewhere; but when she came
upon a mule, lying down under his pack, she started and clutched at her
gun. The mule jumped up noisily and ran smashing through the willows,
then turned with a terrifying snort; and as she drew rein and stopped
Good Luck sprang to the ground and rushed silently off up the canyon.

Billy followed along cautiously, driving the snorting mule before her
and looking for something she feared to find. A buzzard rose up slowly,
flopping awkwardly to clear the canyon wall, and her heart leapt once
and stood still. There in the open lay Wunpost's horse, its sharp-shod
feet in the air, and there was a bullet-hole through its side. She
stopped and looked about, at the ridge, at the sky, at the knife-like
gash ahead; and then she set her teeth and spurred up the canyon to
where the dog had set up a yapping.

He was standing by a tunnel at the edge of the creek, wagging his tail
and waiting expectantly; and when she came in sight he dashed half-way
to meet her and turned back to the hole in the hill. She rode up to its
mouth, her eyes straining into the darkness, her breath coming in short,
quick gasps; and Tellurium, advancing slowly, suddenly flew back and
snorted as a voice came out from the depths.

"Hello, there!" it hailed; "say, bring me a drink of water. This is
Calhoun--I'm shot in the leg."

"Well, what are you hiding in there for?" burst out Billy as she
dismounted; "why don't you crawl out and get some yourself?"

Now that she knew he was alive a swift impatience swept over her, an
unreasoning anger that he had caused her such a fright, and as she
unslung her canteen and started for the tunnel her stride was almost
vixenish. But when she found him stretched out on the bare, uneven rocks
with one bloody leg done up in bandages, she knelt down suddenly and
held out the canteen, which he seized and almost drained at one drink.

"Fine! Fine!" he smacked; "began to think you wasn't coming--did you
bring along that medicine I wrote for?"

"Why, what medicine?" exclaimed Billy. "No, I didn't find a note--Good
Luck must have lost it on the way."

"Well, never mind," he said; "just catch one of my mules and we'll go
back to the ranch after dark."

"But who shot you?" clamored Billy, "and what are you in here for? We'll
start back home right now!"

"No we won't!" he vetoed; "there's some Injuns up above there and
they're doing their best to git me. You can't see 'em--they're hid--but
when I showed myself this noon some dastard took a crack at me with his
Winchester. Did you happen to bring along a little grub?"

"Why, yes," assented Billy, and went out in a kind of trance--it was so
unreasonable, so utterly absurd. Why should Indians be watching to shoot
down Wunpost when he had always been friendly with them all? And for
that matter, why should anyone desire to kill him--that certainly could
never lead them to his mine. The men who had come to the ranch were
Blackwater prospectors--she knew them all by sight--and if it was they
who had followed him she was absolutely sure that Wunpost had started
the fight. She stepped out into the dazzling sunshine and looked up at
the ridges that rose tier by tier above her, but she had no fear either
of white men or Indians, for she had done nothing to make them her
enemies. Whoever they were, she knew she was safe--but Wunpost was
hiding in a cave. All his bravado gone, he was afraid to venture out
even to wet his parched throat at the creek.

"What were you doing?" she demanded when she had given him her lunch,
and Wunpost reared up at the challenge.

"I was riding along that trail," he answered defiantly, "and I wasn't
doing a thing. And then a bullet came down and got me through the leg--I
didn't even hear the shot. All I know is I was riding and the next thing
I knew I was down and my horse was laying on my leg. I got out from
under him somehow and jumped over into the brush, and I've been hiding
here ever since. But it's Lynch that's behind it--I know that for a
certainty--he's hired some of these Injuns to bushwhack me."

"Have you seen them?" she asked unbelievingly.

"No, and I don't need to," he retorted. "I guess I know Injuns by this
time. That's just the way they work--hide out on some ridge and pot a
man when he goes by. But they're up there, I know it, because one of
them took a shot at me this noon--and anyhow I can just _feel_
'em!"

"Well, _I_ can't," returned Billy, "and I don't believe they're
there; and if they are they won't hurt me. They all know me too well,
and we've always been good to them. I'm going up to catch your mules."

"No, look out!" warned Wunpost; "them devils are treacherous, and I
wouldn't put it past 'em to shoot you. But you wait till I get this leg
of mine fixed and I'll make some of 'em hard to ketch!"

"Now you see what you get," burst out Billy heartlessly, "for taking Mr.
Lynch to Poison Spring. I'm sorry you're shot, but when you get well I
hope this will be a lesson to you. Because if it wasn't for your dog,
and me running away from home, you never would get away from here
alive."

"Well, for cripes' sake!" roared Wunpost, "don't you think I know that
now? What's the use of rubbing it in? And you're dead right it'll be a
lesson--I'll ride the ridges, after this, and the next time I'll try to
shoot first. But you go up the canyon and throw the packs off them mules
and bring me Old Walker to ride. I ain't crippled; I'm all right, but
this leg is sure hurting me and I believe I'll take a chance. Saddle him
up and we'll start for the ranch."

Billy stepped out briskly, half smiling at his rage and at the straits
to which his anger had brought him; but when she heard his heavy
groaning as she helped him into the saddle her woman's heart was
touched. After all he was just a child, a big reckless boy, still
learning the hard lessons of life; and it had certainly been treacherous
for the assassin to shoot him without even giving him a chance. She rode
close beside him as they went down the canyon, to protect him from
possible bullets; and if Wunpost divined her purpose it did not prevent
him from keeping her between him and the ridge. The wound and the long
wait had shattered his nerves and made him weak and querulous, and he
cursed softly whenever he hit his sore leg; but back at the ranch his
spirits revived and he insisted upon going on to Blackwater.

Cole Campbell had cleaned his wound and drenched it well with dilute
carbolic, but though it was clean and would heal in a few days, Wunpost
demanded to be taken to town. He was restless and uneasy in the presence
of these people, whose standards were so different from his own; but
behind it all there was some hidden purpose which urged him on to Los
Angeles. It was shown in the set lips, the stern brooding stare and his
impatience with his motion-impeding leg; but to Billy it was shown most
by his oblivious glances and the absence of all proper gratitude. She
had done a brave deed in following his dog back and in rescuing him from
the bullets of his enemies, but when she drew near and tried to engage
him in conversation his answers were mostly in monosyllables. Only once
did he rouse up, and that was when she said that Lynch was even with him
now, and the look in his eyes gave Billy to understand that he was not
even with Lynch. That was it--he was unrepentant, he was brooding
revenge, he was planning even more desperate deeds; but he would not
tell her, or even admit that he was worried about anything but his leg.
It was hurting him, he said, and he wanted a good doctor to see it
before it grew worse; but when he went away he avoided her eye and Billy
ran off and wept.



CHAPTER XIX

TAINTED MONEY


A month passed by and the haze above the Sink lifted its shroud and
revealed the mountains beyond; the soft blues and pinks crept back into
the distance and the shadowy canyons were filled with royal purple. At
dawn a silver radiance rose and glowed along the east and the sunsets
stained the west with orange and gold; there was wine in the cool air,
and when the night wind came up the prospectors crouched over their
fires. The first October storm put a crown on Telescope Peak and tipped
the lesser Panamints with snow, but still Wilhelmina waited and Wunpost
did not return from his mysterious trip "inside."

The time was not ripe for his notable revenge and he had forgotten Jail
Canyon and her. Yet at last she saw his dust, and as she watched him
through her glasses something told her that his thoughts were not of
her. He was on his way, either seeking after gold or searching out the
means of revenge; and if he came that way it was to find his dog and
mules and not to make love to her. Their ranch was merely his half-way
house, a place to feed his animals and leave them when he went away; and
she was only a child, to be noticed like a fond dog, but not to be taken
seriously. Billy put up her glasses and went back to the house, and when
he arrived she was a woman. Her hair was done up gracefully, her nimble
limbs were confined in skirts; and she smiled at him demurely, as if her
mind was far away and he had recalled her from maidenly dreams.

"Well, well!" exclaimed Wunpost as he limped up to the house and
discovered her on the shady front porch; "where's the trusty
bib-overalls and all? What's the matter--is it Sunday, or did you see my
dust? Say, you don't look right without them curls!"

"We're thinking of moving away," she explained quite truthfully, "and I
can't wear overalls then."

"Moving away!" cried Wunpost; "why, where were you thinking of going to?
Has your father given up on his road?"

"Well, no--or that is, he's working on a trail to pack down the ore he
had sacked. And after that's shipped, if it pays him what it ought,
we're going to move inside."

"Oh," observed Wunpost and sat down on the porch, where he rumpled his
hair reflectively. "Say," he said at last, "I've got a little
roll--what's the matter if _I_ build the road?"

"Shh!" she hissed, moving over and speaking low; "don't you know that
Mother wouldn't hear to it? And poor Father, he feels awful bad."

"No, but look," he protested, "you folks have been my friends, and I owe
you for taking care of my mules. I'd be glad to advance the money to put
in an aerial tramway and you could pay it back out of the ore. That's
the kind of road you want, one that will never wash out, and I know
where you can get one cheap. There's one down by Goler that you can buy
for almost nothing--I stopped and looked it over, coming up. And all you
have to do, after you once get it installed, is to feed your ore into
the buckets and send them down the canyon and the empties will come up
with your supplies. It's automatic--works itself, and can't get out of
order--just a long, double cable, swinging down from point to point and
supplying its own power by gravity. Some class to that, and I tell you
what I'll do--I'll lend the money to _you_!"

"No!" she said as he reached down into his pocket, and she gazed at him
reproachfully.

"What do you mean?" he asked after a minute of puzzled silence, and she
shook her head and pointed towards the house. Then she rose up quietly
and led off down the path where the hollyhocks were still in full bloom.

"You know what I mean," she said at the gate; "have you forgotten about
the cloudburst?"

"Why, no," he returned; "you don't mean to say----"

"Yes, I do," she replied, "they think your money is accursed. Father
says you didn't come by it honestly."

"Oh, he does, eh?" sulked Wunpost; "and what do you think about it?"

"I think the same," she answered promptly and looked him straight in the
eye.

"Well, well," he began with a sardonic smile, and then he thrust out his
lip. "All right, kid," he said, "excuse me for living, but I wouldn't be
that good if I could. It takes all the roar out of life. Now here I came
back with some money in my pocket, to make you a little present, and the
first thing you hand me is this: 'My money ain't come by honestly.'
Well, that's the end of the present."

He shrugged his shoulders and waited, but Billy made no reply.

"I went up into the hills," he went on at last, "and discovered a vein
of gold--nobody had ever owned it before. And I dug it out and showed
the ore to Eells and asked him if he thought it was his. No, he said he
couldn't claim it. Well, I took it to Los Angeles and sold it to a
jeweler and here's the money he paid me for it--don't you think that
money is honest?"

He drew out a sheaf of bills and flicked the ends temptingly, but Billy
shook her head.

"No," she said, "because you don't dare to show the place where you
claim you dug up that gold--and you told Mr. Eells you _stole_ it!"

"Heh, heh!" chuckled Wunpost, "you keep right up with me, kid. Don't
reckon I can give you any present. I was just thinking you might like to
take a trip to Los Angeles, and see the bright lights and all--taking
your mother along, and so forth--but it's Jail Canyon for you, for life.
If this thousand dollar bill that you earned by saving my life is
nothing but tainted money, all I can do is to tender a vote of thanks.
It must be fierce to have a Scotch conscience."

"You mind your own business," answered Billy shortly, and brushed away a
furtive tear. A trip to Los Angeles--and new clothes and everything--and
she really had earned the money! Yes, she had saved his life and enabled
him to come back to dig up some more hidden gold. But it was stolen, and
there was an end to it--she turned away abruptly, but he caught her by
the hand.

"Say, listen, kid," he said; "I may not be an angel, but I never go back
on a friend. Now you tell me what you want and, no matter what it is,
I'll go out and get it for you--honestly. You're the best friend I've
got--and you sure look swell, dressed up in them women's clothes--but I
want you to have a good time. I want you to go inside and see the world,
and go to the theaters and all, but how'm I going to slip you the
money?"

Billy laughed, rather hysterically, and then she turned grave and her
eyes looked far away.

"All I want," she said at last, "is a road up Father's canyon--and I
know he won't accept it from you. So let's talk about something else.
Are you going back to your mine?"

He sighed, then glanced up at the ridge and nodded his head
mysteriously.

"There's somebody after me," he said at last. "They follow me up now,
every place. In town it's detectives, and out here on the desert it's
Pisen-face Lynch and his gang. But I don't mind them--I'm looking for
that feller that shot me in the leg last month. It wasn't Lynch--I've
had him traced--and it wasn't none of those Shooshonnies; but there's
some feller in these hills that's out after my scalp and I've come back
to get him. And when I find him, kid, I'll light a fire under him
that'll burn 'im off the face of the earth. I'm going to kill him, by
grab, the same as I would a rattlesnake; I'm going to----"

"Oh, please don't talk that way!" broke in Wilhelmina impatiently, "it
gives people a bad impression. There isn't a man in Blackwater that
isn't firmly convinced that you're nothing but a bag of hot air. Well, I
don't care--that's just what they said!"

"Ahhr!" scoffed Wunpost, "them Blackwater stiffs. They're jealous,
that's what's the matter."

"No, but don't talk that way," she pleaded. "It turns folks against you.
Even Father and Mother have noticed it. You're always telling of the big
things you're going to do----"

"Well, don't I _do_ 'em?" he demanded. "What did I ever say I'd do
that I didn't make good, in the end? Don't you think I'm going to get
this bad _hombre_--this feller that's following me through the
hills? Well, I'll tell you what I'll do. If I don't bring you his hair
inside of a month--you can have my mine and everything. But I'm going to
_git_ him, see? I'm going to toll him across the Valley, where
he'll have to come out into the open, and when I ketch him I'm going to
scalp him. He's nothing but a low-down, murdering assassin that old
Eells or somebody has hired----"

"Oh, _please_!" she protested and his eyes opened big before they
closed down in a sudden scowl.

"Well, I'll show you," he said and packed and rode off in silence.



CHAPTER XX

THE WAR EAGLE


Since a bullet from nowhere had shot him through the leg, Wunpost had
learned a new fear of the hills. Before, they had been his
stamping-ground, the "high places" he was so boastful of; but now they
became imbued with a malign personality, all the more fearful because it
was unknown. With painstaking care he had checked up on Pisen-face
Lynch, to determine if it was he who had ambushed him; but Lynch had
established a perfect alibi--in fact, it was almost too good. He had
been right in Blackwater during all the trouble, although now he was out
in the hills; and an Indian whom Wunpost had sent on a scout reported
that the Shoshones had no knowledge of the shooting. They, too, had
become aware of the strange presence in the hills, though none of them
had really seen it, and their women were afraid to go out after the
piñon-nuts for fear of being caught and stolen.

The prowler was no renegade Shoshone, for his kinsmen would know about
him, and yet Wunpost had a feeling it was an Indian. And he had another
hunch--that the Indian was employed by Eels and Pisen-face Lynch. For,
despite Wilhelmina's statement, there was one man in Blackwater who did
not consider him a bag of hot air. Judson Eells took him seriously, so
seriously, in fact, that he was spending thousands of dollars on
detectives; and Wunpost knew for a certainty that there was a party in
the hills, waiting and watching to trail him to his mine. His departure
from Los Angeles had been promptly reported, and Lynch and several
others had left town--which was yet another reason why Wunpost quit the
hills and went north over the Death Valley Trail.

Life had suddenly become a serious affair to the man who had discovered
the Willie Meena, and as he neared that mine he veered off to the right
and took the high ground to Wild Rose. Yet he could not but observe that
the mine was looking dead, and rumor had it that the paystreak had
failed. The low-grade was still there and Eells was still working it;
but out on the desert and sixty miles from the railroad it could hardly
be expected to pay. No, Judson Eells was desperate, for he saw his
treasure slipping as the Wunpost had slipped away before; it was
slipping through his fingers and he grasped at any straw which might
help him to find the Sockdolager. It was the curse of the Panamints that
the veins all pinched out or ran into hungry ore; and for the second
time, when he had esteemed himself rich, he had found the bottom of the
hole. He had built roads and piped water and set up a mill and settled
down to make his pile; and then, with that strange fatality which seemed
to pursue him, he had seen his profits fail. The assays had shown that
his pay-ore was limited and that soon the Willie Meena must close, and
now he was taking the last of his surplus and making a desperate fight
for the Sockdolager.

Half the new mine was his, according to law, and since Wunpost had dared
him to do his worst he was taking him at his word. And Wunpost at last
was getting scared, though not exactly of Eells. For, since he alone
knew the location of his mine, and no one could find it if he were dead,
it stood to reason that Eells would never kill him, or give orders to
his agents to kill. But what those agents were doing while they were out
in the field, and how far they would respect his wishes, was something
about which Eells knew no more than Wunpost, if, in fact, he knew as
much. For Wunpost had a limp in his good right leg which partially
conveyed the answer, and it was his private opinion that Lynch had gone
bad and was out in the hills to kill him. Hence his avoidance of the
peaks, and even the open trail; and the way he rode into water after
dark.

There were Indians at Wild Rose, Shooshon Johnny and his family on their
way to Furnace Creek for the winter; but though they were friendly
Wunpost left in the night and camped far out on the plain. It was the
same sandy plain over which he had fled when he had led Lynch to Poison
Spring, and as he went on at dawn Wunpost felt the first vague
misgivings for his part in that unfortunate affair. It had lost him a
lot of friends and steeled his enemies against him--Lynch no longer was
working by the day--and sooner or later it was likely to cost him dear,
for no man can win all the time. Yet he had thrown down the gauntlet,
and if he weakened now and quit his name would be a byword on the
desert. And besides he had made his boast to Wilhelmina that he would
come back with his assailant's back hair.

It was a matter of pride with John C. Calhoun that, for all his wild
talk, he never made his brag without trying to live up to his word. He
had stated in public that he was going to break Eells, and he fully
intended to do so; and his promise to get Lynch and Phillip F. Lapham
was never out of his mind; but this assassin, this murderer, who had
shot him without cause and then crawled off through the boulders like a
snake--Wunpost had schemed night and day from the moment he was hit to
bring the sneaking miscreant to book. He had some steel-traps in his
packs which might serve to good purpose if he could once get the
man-hunter on his trail; and he still fondly hoped to lure him over into
Death Valley, where he would have to come out of the hills.

No man could cross that Valley without leaving his tracks, for there
were alkali flats for miles; and when, in turn, Wunpost wished to cover
his own trail, there was always the Devil's Playground. There, whenever
the wind blew, the great sandhills were on the move, covering up and at
the same time laying bare; and when a sand storm came on he could lose
his tracks half an hour after they were made. It was a big country, and
wild, no man lived there for sixty miles--they could fight it out,
alone.

From Emigrant Spring, where he camped after dark, Wunpost rode out
before dawn and was well clear of the hills before it was light enough
to shoot. The broad bulwark of Tucki Mountain, rising up on his right,
might give a last shelter to his enemy; but now he was in the open with
Emigrant Wash straight ahead and Death Valley lying white beyond. And
over beyond that, like a wall of layer cake, rose the striated
buttresses of the Grapevines. Wunpost passed down over the road up which
the Nevada rush had come when he had made his great strike at Black
Point; and as he rollicked along on his fast-walking mule, with the two
pack-animals following behind, something rose up within him to tell him
the world was good and that a lucky star was leading him on.

He was heading across the Valley to the Grapevine Range, and the hateful
imp of evil which had dogged him through the Panamints would have to
come down and leave a trail. And once he found his tracks Wunpost would
know who he was fighting, and he could govern himself accordingly. If it
was an Indian, well and good; if it was Lynch, still well and good; but
no man can be brave when he is fighting in the dark or fleeing from an
unseen hand. From their lookouts on the heights his enemies could see
him traveling and trace him with their glasses all day; but when night
fell they would lose him, and then someone would have to descend and
pick up his trail in the sands.

Wunpost camped that evening at Surveyor's Well, a trench-hole dug down
into the Sink, and after his mules had eaten their fill of salt-grass he
packed up again and pushed on to the east. From the stinking alkali flat
with its mesquite clumps and sacaton, he passed on up an interminable
wash; and at daylight he was hidden in the depths of a black canyon
which ended abruptly behind him. There was no way to reach him, or even
see where he was hid, except by following up the canyon; and before he
went to sleep Wunpost got out his two bear-traps and planted them
hurriedly in the trail. Then, retiring into a cave, he left Good Luck on
guard and slept until late in the day. But nothing stirred down the
trail, his watch-dog was silent--he was hidden from all the world.

That evening just at dusk he went back down the trail and set his bear
traps again, but not even a prowling fox came along in the night to
spring their cruel jaws. The canyon was deserted and the water-hole
where he drank was unvisited except by his mules. These he had penned in
above him by a fence of brush and ropes and hobbled them to make doubly
sure; but in the morning they were there, waiting to receive their bait
of grain as if Tank Canyon was their customary home. Another day dragged
by and Wunpost began to fidget and to watch the unscalable peaks, but no
Indian's head appeared to draw a slug from his rifle and again the night
passed uneventfully. He spent the third day in a fury, pacing up and
down his cave, and at nightfall he packed up and was gone.

Three days was enough to wait on the man who had shot him down from the
heights and, now that he thought of it, he was taking a great deal for
granted when he set his big traps in the trail. In the first place, he
was assuming that the man was still there, after a lapse of six weeks
and more; and in the second place that he was bold enough, or so
obsessed by blood-lust, that he would follow him across Death Valley;
whereas as a matter of fact, he knew nothing whatever about him except
that he had shot him in the leg. His aim had been good but a little too
low, which is unusual when shooting down hill, and that might argue him
a white man; but his hiding had been better, and his absolute patience,
and that looked more like an Indian. But whoever he was, it was taking
too much for granted to think that he would walk into a trap. What
Wunpost wanted to know, and what he was about to find out, was whether
his tracks had been followed.

He left Tank Canyon after dark, driving his pack-mules before him to
detect any possible ambush; and in his nest on the front pack Good Luck
stood up like a sentinel, eager to scent out the lurking foe. For the
past day and night Good Luck had been uneasy, snuffing the wind and
growling in his throat, but the actions of his master had been cause
enough for that, for he responded to Wunpost's every mood. And Wunpost
was as jumpy as a cat that has been chased by a dog, he practised for
hours on the draw-and-shoot; and whenever he dismounted he dragged his
rifle with him to make sure he would do it in a pinch. He was worried
but not frightened and when he came free from the canyon he headed for
Surveyor's Well.

Someone had been there before him, perhaps even that very night, for
water had been splashed about the hole; but whoever it was, was gone.
Wunpost studied the unshod horse-track, then he began to cut circles in
the snow-white alkali and at last he sat down to await the dawn. There
was something eerie about this pursuit, if pursuit it was, for while the
horse had been watered from the bucket at the well, its rider had not
left a track. Not a heel-mark, not a nail-point, and the last of the
water had been dropped craftily on the spot where he had mounted. That
was enough--Wunpost knew he had met his match. He watered his mules
again, rode west into the mesquite brush and at sun-up he was hid for
the day.

Where three giant mesquite trees, their tops reared high in the air and
their trunks banked up with sand, sprawled together to make a natural
barricade, Wunpost unpacked his mules and tied them there to browse
while he climbed to the top of a mound. The desert was quite bare as far
as he could see--no horseman came or went, every distant trail was
empty, the way to Tank Canyon was untrod. And yet somewhere there must
be a man and a horse--a very ordinary horse, such as any man might have,
and a man who wiped out his tracks. Wunpost lay there a long time,
sweeping the washes with his glasses, and then a shadow passed over him
and was gone. He jumped and a glossy raven, his head turned to one side,
gave vent to a loud, throaty _quawk_! His mate followed behind him,
her wings rustling noisily, her beady eye fixed on his camp, and Wunpost
looked up and cursed back at them.

If the ravens on the mountain had made out his hiding-place and come
down from their crags to look, what was to prevent this man who smoothed
out his tracks from detecting his hidden retreat? Wunpost knew the
ravens well, for no man ever crossed Death Valley without hearing the
whish of black wings, but he wondered now if this early morning visit
did not presage disaster to come. What the ravens really sought for he
knew all too well, for he had seen their knotted tracks by dead forms;
yet somehow their passage conjured up thoughts in his brain which had
never disturbed him before. They were birds of death, rapacious and
evil-bringing, and they had cast their boding shadows upon him.

The dank coolness of the morning gave place to ardent midday before he
crept down and gave up his watch, but as he crouched beneath the trees
another shadow passed over him and cast a slow circle through the brush.
It was a pair of black eagles, come down from the Panamints to throw a
fateful circle above _him_, and in all his wanderings it had never
happened before that an eagle had circled his camp. A superstitious
chill made Wunpost shudder and draw back, for the Shoshones had told him
that the eagles loved men's battles and came from afar to watch. They
had learned in the old days that when one war-party followed another
there would later be feasting and blood; and now, when one man followed
another across the desert, they came down from their high cliffs to
look. Wunpost scrambled to his hillock and watched their effortless
flight; and they swung to the north, where they circled again, not far
from the spot where he was hid. Here was an omen indeed, a sign without
fail, for below where they circled his enemy was hiding--or slipping up
through the brush to shoot.

We can all stand so much of superstitious fear and then the best nerves
must crack--Wunpost saddled his mules and struck out due south, turning
off into the "self-rising ground." Here in bloated bubbles of salt and
poisonous niter the ground had boiled up and formed a brittle crust,
like dough made of self-rising flour. It was a dangerous place to go,
for at uncertain intervals his mules caved through to their hocks, but
Wunpost did not stop till he had crossed to the other side and put ten
miles of salt-flats behind him. He was haunted by a fear of something he
could not name, of a presence which pursued him like a devil; but as he
stopped and looked back the hot curses rushed to his lips and he headed
boldly for the mouth of Tank Canyon.



CHAPTER XXI

A LOCK OF HAIR


It is no disgrace to flee the unknown, for Nature has made that an
instinct; but the will to overcome conquers even this last of fears and
steels a man's nerves to face anything. The heroes of antiquity set
their lances against dragons and creatures that belched forth flame and
smoke--brave Perseus slew the Gorgon, and Jason the brass-hooved bulls,
and St. George and many another slew his "worm." But the dragons are all
dead or driven to the depths of the sea, whence they rise up to chill
men's blood; and those who conquer now fight only their memory, passed
down in our fear of the unknown. And Perseus and Jason had gods and
sorceresses to protect them, but Wunpost turned back alone.

He entered Tank Canyon just as the sun sank in the west; and there at
its entrance he found horse-tracks, showing dimly among the rocks. His
enemy had been there, a day or two before, but he too had feared the
unknown. He had gazed into that narrow passageway and turned away, to
wait at Surveyor's Well for his coming. And Wunpost had come, but the
eagles had saved him to give battle once more on his own ground. Tank
Canyon was his stronghold, inaccessible from behind, cut off from the
sides by high walls; and the evil one who pursued him must now brave its
dark depths or play an Indian game and wait.

Wunpost threw off his packs and left his mules to fret while he ran back
to plant the huge traps. They were not the largest size that would break
a man's leg, but yet large enough to hold their victim firm against all
the force he could exert. Their jaws spread a good foot and two powerful
springs lurked beneath to give them a jump; and once the blow was struck
nothing could pry those teeth apart but the clamps, which were operated
by screws. A man caught in such a trap would be doomed to certain death
if no one came to his aid and Wunpost's lips curled ferociously as he
rose up from his knees and regarded his cunning handiwork. His traps
were set not far apart, in the two holes he had dug before, and covered
with the greatest care; but one was in the trail, where a man would
naturally step, and the other was out in the rocks. A bush, pulled
carelessly down, stuck out from the bank like a fragile but compelling
hand; and Wunpost knew that the prowler would step around it by
instinct, which would throw him into the trap.

The night was black in Tank Canyon and only a pathway of stars showed
the edge of the boxed-in walls; it was black and very silent, for not a
mouse was abroad, and yet Wunpost and his dog could not sleep. A dozen
times before midnight Good Luck leapt up growling and bestrode his
master's form, and at last he rushed out barking, his voice rising to a
yell as he paused and listened through the silence. Wunpost lay in bed
and waited, then rose cautiously up and peered from the mouth of the
cave. A pale moon was shining on the jagged rocks above and there was a
grayness that foretold the dawn, but the bottom of Tank Canyon was still
dark as a pocket and he went back to wait for the day. Good Luck came
back whining, and a growl rumbled in his throat--then he leapt up again
and Wunpost felt his own hair rise, for a wail had come through the
night. He slapped Good Luck into silence and listened again--and it
came, a wild, animal-like cry. Yet it was the voice of a man and Wunpost
sprang to his feet all a-tremble to gaze on his catch.

"I've got him!" he chuckled and drew on his boots; then tied up the dog
and slipped out into the night.

The dawn had come when he rose up from behind a boulder and strained his
eyes in the uncertain light, and where the trap had been there was now a
rocking form which let out hoarse grunts of pain. It rose up suddenly
and as the head came in view Wunpost saw that his pursuer was an Indian.
His hair was long and cut off straight above the shoulders in the
old-time Indian silhouette; but this buck was no Shoshone, for they have
given up the breech-clout and he wore a cloth about his hips.

"H'lo!" he hailed and Wunpost ducked back for he did not trust his
guest. He was the man, beyond a doubt, who had shot him from the ridge;
and such a man would shoot again. So he dropped down and lay silent,
listening to the rattle of the huge chain and the vicious clash of the
trap, and the Indian burst out scolding.

"Whassa mala!" he gritted, "my foot get caught in trap. You come
fixum--fixum quick!"

Wunpost rose up slowly and peered out through a crack and he caught the
gleam of a gun.

"You throw away that gun!" he returned from behind the boulder and at
last he heard it clatter among the rocks. "Now your pistol!" he ordered,
but the Indian burst out angrily in his guttural native tongue. What he
said could only be guessed from his scolding tone of voice; but after a
sullen pause he dropped back into English, this time complaining and
insolently defiant.

"You shut up!" commanded Wunpost suddenly rising above his rock and
covering the Indian with his gun, "and throw away that pistol or I'll
kill you!"

The Indian reared up and faced him, then reached inside his waistband
and threw a wicked gun into the dirt. He was grinding his teeth with
pain, like a gopher in a trap, and his brows were drawn down in a fierce
scowl; but Wunpost only laughed as he advanced upon him slowly, his gun
held ready to shoot.

"Don't like it, eh?" he taunted, "well, I didn't like _this_ when
you up and shot me through the leg."

He slapped his leg and the Indian seemed to understand--or perhaps he
misunderstood; his hand leapt like a flash to a butcher knife in his
moccasin-leg and Wunpost jumped as it went past his ribs. Then a silence
fell, in which the fate of a human life hung on the remnant of what some
people call pity, and Wunpost's trigger-finger relaxed. But it was not
pity, it was just an age-old feeling against shooting a man in a trap.
Or perhaps it was pride and the white man's instinct not to foul his
clean hands with butcher's blood. Wunpost wanted to kill him but he
stepped back instead and looked him in the eye.

"You rattlesnake-eyed dastard!" he hissed between his teeth and the
Indian began to beg. Wunpost listened to him coldly, his eyes bulging
with rage, and then he backed off and sat down.

"Who you working for?" he asked and as the Indian turned glum he rolled
a cigarette and waited. The jaws of the steel-trap had caught him by the
heel, stabbing their teeth through into the flesh, and in spite of his
stoicism the Indian rocked back and forth and his little eyes glinted
with the agony. Yet he would not talk and Wunpost went off and left him,
after gathering up his guns and the knife. There was something about
that butcher-knife and the way it was flung which roused all the evil in
Wunpost's heart and he meditated darkly whether to let the Indian go or
give him his just deserts. But first he intended to wring a confession
from him, and he left him to rattle his chain.

Wunpost cooked a hasty breakfast and fed and saddled his mules and then,
as the Indian began to shout for help, he walked down and glanced at him
inquiringly.

"You let me go!" ordered the Indian, drawing himself up arrogantly and
shaking the coarse hair from his eyes, and Wunpost laughed disdainfully.

"Who are you?" he demanded, "and what you doing over here? I know them
buckskin _tewas_--you're an Apache!"

"_Sí_--Apache!" agreed the Indian. "I come over here--hunt sheep.
What for you settum trap?"

"Settum trap--ketch you," answered Wunpost succinctly. "You bad
Injun--maybeso I kill you. Who hired you to come over here and kill me?"

Again the sullen silence, the stubborn turn of the head, the suffering
compression of the lips; and Wunpost went back to his camp. The Indian
was an Apache, he had known it from the start by his _tewas_ and
the cut of his hair; for no Indian in California wears high-topped
buckskin moccasins with a little canoe-prow on the toe. That was a
mountain-Apache device, that little disc of rawhide, to protect the
wearer's toes from rocks and cactus, and someone had imported this buck.
Of course, it was Lynch but it was different to make him _say_
so--but Wunpost knew how an Apache would go about it. He would light a
little fire under his fellow-man and see if that wouldn't help. However
there are ways which answer just as well, and Wunpost packed and mounted
and rode down past the trap. Or at least he tried to, but his mules were
so frightened that it took all his strength to haze them past. As for
Good Luck, he flew at the Indian in a fury of barking and was nearly
struck dead by a rock. The Apache was fighting mad, until Wunpost came
back and tamed him; and then Wunpost spoke straight out.

"Here, you!" he said, "you savvy coyote? You want him come eat you up?
Well, _talk_ then, you dastard; or I'll go off and leave you. Come
through now--who brought you over here?"

The Apache looked up at him from under his banged hair and his evil eyes
roved fearfully about.

"Big fat man," he lied and Wunpost smiled grimly--he would tell this
later to Eells.

"Nope," he said and shook his head warningly at which the Indian seemed
to meditate his plight.

"Big tall man," he amended and Wunpost nodded.

"Sure," he said. "What name you callum?"

"Callum Lynchie," admitted the Apache with a sickly grin, "she come San
Carlos--busca scout."

"Oh, _busca_ scout, eh?" repeated Wunpost. "What for wantum scout?
Plenty Shooshonnie scout, over here."

"Hah! Shooshonnie no good!" spat the Apache contemptuously. "Me
_scout_--me work for Government! Injun scout--you savvy? Follow
tracks for soldier. Me Manuel Apache--big chief!"

"Yes, big chief!" scoffed Wunpost, "but you ain't no scout, Manuel, or
you wouldn't be caught here in this trap. Now listen, Mr. Injun--you
want to go home? You want to go see your squaw? Well, s'pose I let you
loose, what you think you're going to do--follow me up and shoot me for
Lynch?"

"No! No shootum for Lynchie!" denied the Apache vigorously.
"Lynchie--she say, _busca_ mine! _Busca_ gol' mine, savvy--but
'nother man she say, you ketchum plenty money--in pants."

"O-ho!" exclaimed Wunpost as the idea suddenly dawned on him and once
more he experienced a twinge of regret. This time it was for the
occasion when he had shown scornful Blackwater that seven thousand
dollars in bills. And he had with him now--in his pants, as the Indian
said--no less than thirty thousand dollars in one roll. And all because
he had lost his faith in banks.

"You shoot me--get money?" he inquired, slapping his leg; and Manuel
Apache grinned guiltily. He was caught now, and ashamed, but not of
attempting murder--he was ashamed of having been caught.

"Trap hurt!" he complained, drawing up his wrinkled face and rattling
his chain impatiently, and Wunpost nodded gravely.

"All right," he said, "I'll turn you loose. A man that will flash his
roll like I did in Blackwater--he _deserves_ to get shot in the
leg."

He took his rope from the saddle and noosed the Indian about both arms,
after which he stretched him out as he would a fighting wildcat and
loosened the springs with his clamps.

"What you do?" he inquired, "if I let you go?"

"Go home!" snarled Manuel, "Lynchie no good--me no likum. Me your
friend--no shootum--go home!"

"Well, you'd better," warned Wunpost, "because next time I'll kill you.
Oh, by grab, I nearly forgot!"

He whipped out the butcher-knife which the Apache had flung at him and
cropped off a lock of his hair. It was something he had promised
Wilhelmina.



CHAPTER XXII

THE FEAR OF THE HILLS


Wunpost romped off down the canyon, holding the hair up like a
scalp-lock--which it was, except for the scalp. Manuel Apache, with the
pride of his kind, had knotted it up in a purple silk handkerchief; and
he had yelled louder when he found it was gone than he had when he was
caught in the trap. He had, in fact, acted extremely unreasonable,
considering all that had been done for him; and Wunpost had been obliged
to throw down on him with his six-shooter and order him off up the
canyon. It was taking a big chance to allow him to live at all and, not
to tempt him too far along the lines of reprisal, Wunpost left the
Apache afoot. His gaunted pony was feeding hobbled, down the canyon, and
Wunpost took off the rawhide thongs and hung them about his neck, after
which he drove him on with his mules. But even at that he was taking a
chance, or so at least it seemed, for the look in the Apache's eye as he
had limped off up the gulch reminded Wunpost of a broken-backed
rattlesnake.

He was a bad Indian and a bad actor--one of these men that throw
butcher-knives--and yet Wunpost had tamed him and set him afoot and come
off with his back-hair, as promised. He was a Government scout, the pick
of the Apaches, and he had matched his desert craft against Wunpost's;
but that craft, while it was good, was not good enough, and he had
walked right into a bear-trap. Not the trap in the trail--he had gone
around that--but the one in the rocks, with the step-diverting bush
pulled down. Wunpost had gauged it to a nicety and this big chief of the
Apaches had lost out in the duel of wits. He had lost his horse and he
had lost his hair; and that pain in his heel would be a warning for some
time not to follow after Wunpost, the desert-man.

There were others, of course, who claimed to be desert-men and to know
Death Valley like a book; but it was self-evident to Wunpost as he rode
back with his trophies that he was the king of them all. He had taken on
Lynch and his desert-bred Shoshone and led them the devil's own chase;
and now he had taken on Manuel, the big chief of the Apaches, and left
him afoot in the rocks. But one thing he had learned from this
snakey-eyed man-killer--he would better get rid of his money. For there
were others still in the hills who might pot him for it any time--and
besides, it was a useless risk. He was taking chances enough without
making it an object for every miscreant in the country to shoot him.

He camped that noon at Surveyor's Well, to give his mules a good feed of
grass, and as he sat out in the open the two ravens came by, but now he
laughed at their croaks. Even if the eagles came by he would not lose
his nerve again, for he was fighting against men that he knew.
Pisen-face Lynch and his gang were no better than he was--they left a
track and followed the trails--and after he had announced that his money
was all banked they would have no inducement to kill him. The
inducements, in fact, would be all the other way; because the man that
killed him would be fully as foolish as the one that killed the goose
for her egg. He alone was the repository of that great and golden
secret, the whereabouts of the Sockdolager Mine; and if they killed him
out of spite neither Eells nor any of his man-hunters would ever see the
color of its ore.

Wunpost stretched his arms and laughed, but as he was saddling up his
mules he saw a smoke, rising up from the mouth of Tank Canyon. It was
not in the Canyon but high up on a point and he knew it was Manuel
Apache. He was signaling across the Valley to his boss in the Panamints
that he was in distress and needed help, but no answering smoke rose up
from Tucki Mountain to show where Wunpost's enemies lay hid. The
Panamints stood out clean in the brilliant November light and each
purple canyon seemed to invite him to its shelter, so sweetly did they
lie in the sun. And yet, as that thin smoke bellied up and was smothered
back again in the smoke-talk that the Apaches know so well, Wunpost
wondered if its message was only a call for help--it might be a warning
to Lynch. Or it might be a signal to still other Apaches who were
watching his coming from the heights, and as Wunpost looked again his
hand sought out the Indian's scalp-lock and he regarded it almost
regretfully.

Why had he envenomed that ruthless savage by lifting his scalp-lock, the
token of his warrior's pride; when by treating him generously he might
have won his good will and thus have one less enemy in the hills?
Perhaps Wilhelmina had been right--it was to make good on a boast which
might much better have never been uttered. He had bet her his mine and
everything he had, a thing quite unnecessary to do; and then to make
good he had deprived this Indian of his hair, which alone might put him
back on his trail. He might get another horse and take up once more that
relentless and murderous pursuit; and this time, like Lynch, he would be
out for blood and not for the money there was in it.

Wunpost sighed and cinched his packs and hit out across the flats for
the mouth of Emigrant Wash. But the thought that other Apaches might be
in Lynch's employ quite poisoned Wunpost's flowing cup of happiness, and
as he drew near the gap which led off to Emigrant Springs he stopped and
looked up at the mountains. They were high, he knew, and his mules were
tired, but something told him not to go through that gap. It was a
narrow passageway through the hills, not forty feet wide, and all along
its sides there were caves in the cliffs where a hundred men could hide.
And why should Manuel Apache be making fancy smoke-talks if no one but
white men were there? Why not make a straight smoke, the way a white man
would, and let it go at that? Wunpost shook his head sagely and turned
away from the gap--he had had enough excitement for that trip.

Bone Canyon, for which he headed, was still far away and the sun was
getting low; but Wunpost knew, even if others did not, that there was a
water-hole well up towards the summit. A cloudburst had sluiced the
canyon from top to bottom and spread out a great fan of dirt; but in the
earlier days an Indian trail had wound up it, passing by the hidden
spring. And if he could water his mules there he could rim out up above
and camp on a broad, level flat. Wunpost jogged along fast, for he had
left the pony at Surveyor's Well, and as he rode towards the
canyon-mouth he kept his eyes on the ridges to guard against a possible
surprise. For if Lynch and his Indians were watching from the gap they
would notice his turning off to the left, and in that case a good runner
might cut across to Bone Canyon before he could get through the pass.
But the mountain side was empty and as the dusk was gathering he passed
through the portals of Bone Canyon.

Like all desert canyons it boxed in at its mouth, opening out later in a
broad valley behind; his road was the sand-wash, the path of the last
cloudburst, now packed hard and set like stone. In the middle of the
sand-wash a little channel had been dug by the last of the sluicing
water; above the wash there rose another cut-bank where the cloudburst
before it had taken out an even greater slice; and then on both sides
there rose high bluffs of conglomerate which some father of all the
cloudbursts had formed. Wunpost was riding in the lead now on his
fast-walking mule, the two pack-animals following wearily along behind;
in his nest on the front pack Good Luck was more than half sleeping,
Wunpost himself was tempted to nod--and then, from the west bluff, there
was a spit of fire and Wunpost found himself on the ground.

Across his breast and under his arm there was a streak that burned like
fire, his mules were milling and bashing their packs; and as they turned
both ways and ran he rolled over into the channel, with his rifle still
clutched in one hand. Those days of steady practise had not been in
vain, for as he went off his mule he had snatched at his saddle-gun and
dragged it from its scabbard. And now he lay and waited, listening to
the running of his mules and the frenzied barking of his dog; and it
came to him vaguely that several shots had been fired, and some from the
east bank of the wash. But the man who had hit him had fired from the
west and Wunpost crept down the wash and looked up.

A trickle of blood was running down his left arm from the bullet wound
which had just missed his heart, but his whole body was tingling with a
strength which could move mountains and he was consumed with a passion
for revenge. For the second time he had been ambushed and shot by this
gang of cold-blooded murderers, and he had no doubt that their motive
was the same as that to which the Indian had confessed. They had dogged
his steps to kill him for his money--Pisen-face Lynch, or whoever it
was--but their shooting was poor and as he rose beside a bush Wunpost
took a chance from the east. The man he was looking for had shot from
the west and he ran his eyes along the bluff.

Nothing stirred for a minute and then a round rock suddenly moved and
altered its shape. He thrust out his rifle and drew down on it
carefully, but the dusk put a blur on his sights. His foresight was
beginning to loom, his hindsight was not clean, and he knew that would
make him shoot high. He waited, all a-tremble, the sweat running off his
face and mingling with the blood from his arm; and then the man rose up,
head and shoulders against the sky, and he knew his would-be murderer
was Lynch. Wunpost held his gun against the light until the sights were
lined up fine, then swung back for a snap-shot at Lynch; and as the
rifle belched and kicked he caught a flash of a tumbling form and
clutching hands thrown up wildly against the sky. Then he stooped down
and ran, helter-skelter down the wash, regardless of what might be in
his way; and as he plunged around a curve he stampeded a pack-mule which
had run that far and stopped.

It was the smallest of his mules, and the wildest as well, Old Walker
and his mate having gone off up the canyon in a panic which would take
them to the ranch; but it was a mule and, being packed, it could not run
far down hill so Wunpost walked up on it and caught it. Far out in the
open, where no enemy could slip up on him, he halted and made a saddle
of the pack, and as he mounted to go he turned to Tucki Mountain and
called down a curse on Lynch. Then he rode back down the trail that led
to Death Valley, for the fear of the hills had come back.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE RETURN OF THE BLOW-HARD


Nothing was seen of John C. Calhoun for nearly a week and then, late one
evening, he stepped in on Judson Eells in his office at the Blackwater
Bank.

"Why--why, Mr. Calhoun!" he gasped, "we--we all thought you were dead!"

"Yes," returned Calhoun, whose arm was in a sling, "I thought so myself
for a while. What's the good word from Mr. Lynch?"

Eells dropped back in his chair and stared at him fixedly.

"Why--we haven't been able to locate him. But you, Mr. Calhoun--we've
been looking for you everywhere. Your riding mule came back with his
saddle all bloody and a bullet wound across his hip and the Campbells
were terribly distressed. We've had search-parties out everywhere but no
one could find you and at last you were given up for dead."

"Yes, I saw some of those search-parties," answered Wunpost grimly, "but
I noticed that they all packed Winchesters. What's the idee in trying to
kill me?"

"Why, we aren't trying to kill you!" burst out Judson Eells vehemently.
"Quite the contrary, we've been trying to find you. But perhaps you can
tell us about poor Mr. Lynch--he has disappeared completely."

"What about them Apaches?" inquired Wunpost pointedly, and Judson Eells
went white.

"Why--what Apaches?" he faltered at last and Wunpost regarded him
sternly.

"All right," he said, "I don't know nothing if you don't. But I reckon
they turned the trick. That Manuel Apache was a bad one." He reached
back into his hip-pocket and drew out a coiled-up scalp-lock. "There's
his hair," he stated, and smiled.

"What? Did you kill him?" cried Eells, starting up from his chair, but
Wunpost only shrugged enigmatically.

"I ain't talking," he said. "Done too much of that already. What I've
come to say is that I've buried all my money and I'm not going back to
that mine. So you can call off your bad-men and your murdering Apache
Indians, because there's no use following me now. Thinking about taking
a little trip for my health."

He paused expectantly but Judson Eells was too shocked to make any
proper response. His world was tumbling about him, all his plans had
come to naught--and Lynch was gone. He longed to question further, to
seek out some clew, but he dared not, for his hands were not clean. He
had hired this Apache whose grisly scalp-lock now lay before him, and
the others who had been with Lynch; and if it ever became known----He
shuddered and let his lip drop.

"This is horrible!" he burst out hoarsely, "but why should they kill
Lynch?"

"And why should they kill _me_?" added Wunpost. "You've got a
nerve," he went on, "bringing those devils into the country--don't you
know they're as treacherous as a rattlesnake? No, you've been going too
far; and it's a question with me whether I won't report the whole
business to the sheriff. But what's the use of making trouble? All I
want is that contract--and this time I reckon I'll get it."

He nodded confidently but Judson Eells' proud lip went up and instantly
he became the bold financier.

"No," he said, "you'll never get it, Mr Calhoun--not until you take me
to the Sockdolager Mine."

"Nothing doing," replied Wunpost "not for you or any other man. I stay
away from that mine, from now on. Why should I give up a half--ain't I
got thirty thousand dollars, hid out up here under a stone? Live and let
live, sez I, and if you'll call off your bad-men I'll agree not to talk
to the sheriff."

"You can talk all you wish!" snapped out Eells with rising courage, "I'm
not afraid of your threats. And neither am I afraid of anything you can
do to test the validity of that contract. It will hold, absolutely, in
any court in the land; but if you will take me to your mine and turn it
over in good faith, I will agree to cancel the contract."

"Oh! You don't want nothing!" hooted Wunpost sarcastically, "but I'll
tell you what I will do--I'll give you thirty thousand dollars, cash."

"No! I've told you my terms, and there's no use coming back to me--it's
the Sockdolager Mine or nothing."

"Suit yourself," returned Wunpost, "but I'm just beginning to wonder
whether I'm shooting it out with the right men. What's the use of
fighting murderers, and playing tag with Apache Indians, when the man
that sends 'em out is sitting tight? In fact, why don't I come in here
and get _you_?"

"Because you're wrong!" answered Eells without giving back an inch,
"you're trying to evade the law. And any man that breaks the law is a
coward at heart, because he knows that all society is against him."

"Sounds good," admitted Wunpost, "and I'd almost believe it if
_you_ didn't show such a nerve But you know and I know that you
break the law every day--and some time, Mr. Banker, you're going to get
caught. No, you can guess again on why I don't shoot you--I just like to
see you wiggle. I just like to see a big fat slob like you, that's got
the whole world bluffed, twist around in his seat when a _man_
comes along and tells him what a dastard he is. And besides, I git a
laugh, every time I come back and you make me think of the Stinging
Lizard--and the road! But the biggest laugh I get is when you pull this
virtuous stuff, like the widow-robbing old screw you are, and then have
the nerve to tell me to my face that it's the Sockdolager Mine or
nothing. Well, it's nothing then, Mr. Penny-pincher; and if I ever get
the chance I'll make you squeal like a pig. And don't send no more
Apaches after _me_!"

He rose up and slapped the desk, then picked up the scalp-lock and
strode majestically out the door. But Judson Eells was unimpressed, for
he had seen them squirm before. He was a banker, and he knew all the
signs. Nor did John C. Calhoun laugh as he rode off through the night,
for his schemes had gone awry again. Every word that he had said was as
true as Gospel and he could sit around and wait a life-time--but waiting
was not his long suit. In Los Angeles he seemed to attract all the
bar-flies in the city, who swarmed about and bummed him for the drinks;
and no man could stand their company for more than a few days without
getting thoroughly disgusted. And on the desert, every time he went out
into the hills he was lucky to come back with his life. So what was he
to do, while he was waiting around for this banker to find out he was
whipped?

For Eells was whipped, he was foiled at every turn; and yet that
muley-cow lip came up as stubbornly as ever and he tried to tell him,
Wunpost, he was wrong. And that because he was wrong and a law-breaker
at heart he was therefore a coward and doomed to lose. It was ludicrous,
the way Eells stood up for his "rights," when everyone knew he was a
thief; and yet that purse-proud intolerance which is the hall-mark of
his class made him think he was entirely right. He even had the nerve to
preach little homilies about trying to evade the law. But that was it,
his very self-sufficiency made him immune against anything but a club.
He had got the idea into his George the Third head that the king can do
no wrong--and he, of course was the king. If Wunpost made a threat, or
concealed the location of a mine, that was wrong, it was against the
law; but Eells himself had hired some assassins who had shot him,
Wunpost, twice, and yet Eells was game to let it go before the
sheriff--he could not believe he was wrong.

Wunpost cursed that pride of class which makes all capitalists so hard
to head and put the whole matter from his mind. He had hoped to come
back with that contract in his pocket, to show to the doubting
Wilhelmina; but she had had enough of boasting and if he was ever to win
her heart he must learn to feign a virtue which he lacked. That virtue
was humility, the attribute of slaves and those who are not born to
rule; but with her it was a virtue second only to that Scotch honesty
which made upright Cole Campbell lean backwards. He was so straight he
was crooked and cheated himself, so honest that he stood in his own
light; and to carry out his principles he doomed his family to Jail
Canyon for the rest of their natural lives. And yet Wilhelmina loved him
and was always telling what he said and bragging of what he had done,
when anyone could see that he was bull-headed as a mule and hadn't one
chance in ten thousand to win. But all the same they were good folks,
you always knew where you would find them, and Wilhelmina was as pretty
as a picture.

No rouge on those cheeks and yet they were as pink as the petals of a
blushing rose, and her lips were as red as Los Angeles cherries and her
eyes were as honest as the day. Nothing fly about her, she had not
learned the tricks that the candy-girls and waitresses knew, and yet she
was as wise as many a grown man and could think circles around him when
it came to an argument. She could see right through his bluffing and put
her finger on the spot which convinced even him that he was wrong, but
if he refrained from opposing her she was as simple as a child and her
only desire was to please. She was not self-seeking, all she wanted was
his company and a chance to give expression to her thoughts; and when he
would listen they got on well enough, it was only when he boasted that
she rebelled. For she could not endure his masculine complacency and his
assumption that success made him right, and when he had gone away she
had told him to his face that he was a blow-hard and his money was
tainted.

Wunpost mulled this over, too, as he rode on up Jail Canyon and when he
sighted the house he took Manuel Apache's scalp-lock and hid it inside
his pack. After risking his life to bring his love this token he thought
better of it and brought only himself. He would come back a friend, one
who had seen trouble as they had but was not boasting of what he had
done--and if anyone asked him what he had done to Lynch he would pass it
off with some joke. So he talked too much, did he? All right, he would
show them; he would close his trap and say nothing; and in a week
Wilhelmina would be following him around everywhere, just begging to
know about his arm. But no, he would tell her it was just a sad
accident, which no one regretted more than he did; and rather than seem
to boast he would say in a general way that it would never happen again.
And that would be the truth, because from what Eells had said he was
satisfied the Apaches had buried Lynch.

But how, now, was he to approach this matter of the money which he was
determined to advance for the road? That would call for diplomacy and he
would have to stick around a while before Billy would listen to reason.
But once she was won over the whole family would be converted; for she
was the boss, after all. She wore the overalls at the Jail Canyon Ranch
and in spite of her pretty ways she had a will of her own that would not
be denied. And when she saw him come back, like a man from the dead--he
paused and blinked his eyes. But what would _he_ say--would he tell
her what had happened? No, there he was again, right back where he had
started from--the thing for him to do was to _keep still_. Say
nothing about Lynch and catching Apaches in bear-traps, just look happy
and listen to her talk.

It was morning and the sun had just touched the house which hung like
driftwood against the side of the hill. The mud of the cloudburst had
turned to hard pudding-stone, which resounded beneath his mule's feet.
The orchard was half buried, the garden in ruins, the corral still
smothered with muck; but as he rode up the new trail a streak of white
quit the house and came bounding down to meet him. It was Wilhelmina,
still dressed in women's clothes but quite forgetful of everything but
her joy; and when he dismounted she threw both arms about his neck, and
cried when he gave her a kiss.



CHAPTER XXIV

SOMETHING NEW


There are compensations for everything, even for being given up for
dead, and as he was welcomed back to life by a sweet kiss from
Wilhelmina, Wunpost was actually glad he had been shot. He was glad he
was hungry, for now she would feed him; glad he was wounded, for she
would be his nurse; and when Cole Campbell and his wife took him in and
made much of him he lost his last bitterness against Lynch. In the first
place, Lynch was dead, and not up on the ridge waiting to pot him for
what money he had; and in the second place Lynch had shot right past his
heart and yet had barely wounded him at all. But the sight of that
crease across his breast and the punctured hole through his arm quite
disarmed the Campbells and turned their former disapproval to a hovering
admiration and solicitude.

If the hand of Divine Providence had loosed the waterspout down their
canyon to punish him for his overweening pride, perhaps it had now saved
him and turned the bullet aside to make him meet for repentance. It was
something like that which lay in their minds as they installed him in
their best front room, and when they found that his hardships had left
him chastened and silent they even consented to accept payment for his
horse-feed. If they did not, he declared, he would pack up forthwith and
take his whole outfit to Blackwater; and the fact was the Campbells were
so reduced by their misfortunes that they had run up a big bill at the
store. Only occasional contributions from their miner sons in Nevada
kept them from facing actual want, and Campbell was engaged in packing
down his picked ore in order to make a small shipment. But if he figured
his own time in he was not making day's wages and the future held out no
hope.

Without a road the Homestake Mine was worthless, for it could never be
profitably worked; but Cole Campbell was like Eells in one respect at
least, and that was he never knew when he was whipped. A guarded
suggestion had come from Judson Eells that he might still be persuaded
to buy his mine, but Campbell would not even name a price; and now the
store-keeper had sent him notice that he had discounted his bill at the
bank. That was a polite way of saying that Eells had bought in the
account, which constituted a lien against the mine; and the Campbells
were vaguely worried lest Eells should try his well-known tactics and
suddenly deprive them of their treasure. For the Homestake Mine, in Cole
Campbell's eyes, was the greatest silver property in the West; and yet
even in this emergency, which threatened daily to become desperate, he
refused resolutely to accept tainted money. For not only was Wunpost's
money placed under the ban, but so much had been said of Judson Eells
and his sharp practises that his money was also barred.

This much Wunpost gathered on the first day of his home-coming, when,
still dazed by his welcome, he yet had the sense to look happy and say
almost nothing. He sat back in an easy chair with Wilhelmina at his side
and the Campbells hovering benevolently in the distance, and to all
attempts to draw him out he responded with a cryptic smile.

"Oh, we were so worried!" exclaimed Wilhelmina, looking up at him
anxiously, "because there was blood all over the saddle; and when the
trailers got to Wild Rose they found your pack-mule, and Good Luck with
the rope still fast about his neck. But they just couldn't find you
anywhere, and the tracks all disappeared; and when it became known that
Mr. Lynch was missing--oh, _do_ you think they killed him?"

"Search me," shrugged Wunpost. "I was too busy getting out of there to
do any worrying about Lynch. But I'll tell you one thing, about those
tracks disappearing--them Apaches must have smoothed 'em out, sure."

"Yes, but why should they kill _him_? Weren't they supposed to be
working for him? That's what Mr. Eells gave us to understand. But wasn't
it kind of him, when he heard you were missing, to send all those
search-parties out? It must have cost him several hundred dollars. And
it shows that even the men we like the least are capable of generous
impulses. He told Father he wouldn't have it happen for anything--I
mean, for you to come to any harm. All he wanted, he said, was the
mine."

"Yes," nodded Wunpost, and she ran on unheeding as he drew down the
corners of his mouth. But he could agree to that quite readily, for he
knew from his own experience that all Eells wanted was the mine. It was
only a question now of what move he would make next to bring about the
consummation of that wish. For it was Eells' next move, since, according
to Wunpost's reasoning, the magnate was already whipped. His plans for
tracing Wunpost to the source of his wealth had ended in absolute
disaster and the only other move he could possibly make would be along
the line of compromise. Wunpost had told him flat that he would not go
near his mine, no one else knew even its probable location; and yet,
when he had gone to him and suggested some compromise, Eells had refused
even to consider it. Therefore he must have other plans in view.

But all this was far away and almost academic to the lovelorn John C.
Calhoun, and if Eells never approached him on the matter of the
Sockdolager it would be soon enough for him. What he wanted was the
privilege of helping Billy feed the chickens and throw down hay to his
mules, and then to wander off up the trail to the tunnel that opened out
on the sordid world below. There the restless money-grabbers were
rushing to and fro in their fight for what treasures they knew, but one
kiss from Wilhelmina meant more to him now than all the gold in the
world. But her kisses, like gold, came when least expected and were
denied when he had hoped for them most; and the spell he held over her
seemed once more near to breaking, for on the third day he forgot
himself and talked. No, it was not just talk--he boasted of his mine,
and there for the first time they jarred.

"Well, I don't care," declared Wilhelmina, "if you have got a rich mine!
That's no reason for saying that Father's is no good; because it is, if
it only had a road."

Now here, if ever, was the golden opportunity for remaining silent and
looking intelligent; but Wunpost forgot his early resolve and gave way
to an ill-timed jest.

"Yes," he said, "that's like the gag the Texas land-boomer pulled off
when he woke up and found himself in hell. 'If it only had a little more
rain and good society----'"

"Now you hush up!" she cried, her lips beginning to tremble. "I guess
we've got enough trouble, without your making fun of it----"

"No. I'm not making fun of you!" protested Wunpost stoutly. "Haven't I
offered to build you a road? Well, what's the use of fiddling around,
packing silver ore down on burros, when you know from the start it won't
pay? First thing you folks know Judson Eells will come down on you and
grab the whole mine for nothing. Why not take some of my money that I've
buried under a rock and put in that aerial tramway?"

"Because we don't want to!" answered Wilhelmina tearfully; "my father
wants a _road_. And I don't think it's very kind of you, after all
we have suffered, to speak as if we were _fools_. If it wasn't for
that waterspout that washed away our road we'd be richer than you are,
today!"

"Oh, I don't know!" drawled Wunpost; "you don't know how rich I am. I
can take my mules and be back here in three days with ten thousand
dollars worth of ore!"

"You cannot!" she contradicted, and Wunpost's eyes began to bulge--he
was not used to lovely woman and her ways.

"Well, I'll just bet you I can," he responded deliberately. "What'll you
bet that I can't turn the trick?"

"I haven't got anything to bet," retorted Wilhelmina angrily, "but if I
did have, and it was right, I'd bet every cent I had--you're always
making big brags!"

"Yes, so you say," replied Wunpost evenly, "but I'll tell you what I'll
do. I'll put up a mule-load of ore against another sweet kiss--like you
give me when I first came in."

Wilhelmina bowed her head and blushed painfully beneath her curls and
then she turned away.

"I don't sell kisses," she said, and when he saw she was offended he put
aside his arrogant ways.

"No, I know, kid," he said, "you were just glad to see me--but why can't
you be glad all the time? Ain't I the same man? Well, you ought to be
glad then, if you see me coming back again."

"But somebody might kill you!" she answered quickly, "and then I'd be to
blame."

"They're scared to try it!" he boasted. "I've got 'em bluffed out. They
ain't a man left in the hills. And besides, I told Eells I wouldn't go
near the mine until he came through and sold me that contract. They's
nobody watching me now. And you can take the ore, if you should happen
to win, and build your father a road."

She straightened up and gazed at him with her honest brown eyes, and at
last the look in them changed.

"Well, _I_ don't care," she burst out recklessly, "and besides,
you're not going to win."

"Yes I am," he said, "and I want that kiss, too. Here, pup!" and he
whistled to his dog.

"Oh, you can't take Good Luck!" she objected quickly. "He's my dog now,
and I want him!"

She pouted and tossed her pretty head to one side, and Wunpost smiled at
her tyranny. It was something new in their relations with each other and
it struck him as quite piquant and charming.

"Well, all right," he assented, and Billy hid her face; because
treachery was new to her too.



CHAPTER XXV

THE CHALLENGE


If love begets love and deceit begets deceit, then Wunpost was repaid
according to his merits when Wilhelmina laid claim to his dog. She did
it in a way that was almost coquettish, for coquetry is a form of
deceit; but in the morning, when he was gone, she put his dog on his
trail and followed along behind on her mule. And this, of course, was
rank treachery no less, for her purpose was to discover his mine. If she
found it, she had decided in the small hours of the night, she would
locate it and claim it all; and that would teach him not to make fun of
honest poverty or to try to buy kisses with gold. Because kisses, as she
knew, could never be true unless they were given for love; and love
itself calls for respect, first of all--and who can respect a boaster?

She reasoned in circles, as the best of us will when trying to justify
doubtful acts; but she traveled in a straight line when she picked up
Wunpost's trail and followed him over the rocks. He had ridden out in
the night, turning straight up the ridge where the mountain-sheep trail
came down; and Good Luck bounded ahead of her, his nose to the ground,
his bobbed tail working like mad. There was a dew on the ground, for the
nights had turned cold and, though he was no hound, Good Luck could
follow the scent, which was only a few hours old. Wunpost had slept till
after midnight and then silently departed, taking only Old Walker and
his mate; and the trail of their sharp-shod shoes was easily discernible
except where they went over smooth rocks. It was here that Wunpost
circled, to throw off possible pursuit; but busy little Good Luck was
frantic to come up to him, and he smelled out the tracks and led on.

Wunpost had traveled in the night, and, after circling a few times, his
trail straightened out and fell into a dim path which had been traversed
by mules once before. Up and up it led, until Tellurium was exhausted
and Wilhelmina had to get off and walk; and at last, when it was almost
at the summit of the range, it entered a great stone patch and was lost.
But the stone-patch was not limitless, and Wilhelmina was
determined--she rode out around it, and soon Good Luck dropped his nose
and set out straight to the south. To the south! That would take him
into the canyon above Blackwater, where the pocket-miners had their
claims; but surely the great Sockdolager was not over there, for the
district had been worked for years.

Wilhelmina's heart stopped as she looked out the country from the high
ridge beyond the stone-patch--could it be that his mine was close? Was
it possible that his great strike was right there at their door while
they had been searching for it clear across Death Valley? It was like
the crafty Wunpost always to head north when his mine was hidden safely
to the south; and yet how had it escaped the eyes of the prospectors who
had been combing the hills for months? Where was it possible for a mine
to be hid in all that expanse of peaks? She sat down on the summit and
considered.

Happy Canyon lay below her, leading off to the west towards Blackwater
and the Sink, and beyond and to the south there was a jumble of
sharp-peaked hills painted with stripes of red and yellow and white. It
was a rough country, and bone dry; perhaps the prospectors had avoided
it and so failed to find his lost mine. Or perhaps he was throwing a
circle out through this broken ground to come back by Hungry Bill's
ranch. Wilhelmina sat and meditated, searching the country with the very
glasses which Wunpost himself had given her; and Good Luck came back and
whined. He had found his master's trail, it led on to the south, and now
Wilhelmina would not come. She did not even take notice of him, and
after watching her face Good Luck turned and ran resolutely on. He knew
whose dog he was, even if she did not; and after calling to him
perfunctorily Wilhelmina let him go, for even this defection might be
used.

Wunpost was so puffed up with pride over the devotion of his dog that he
would be pleased beyond measure to have him follow, and from her lookout
on the ridge she could watch where Good Luck went and spy out the trail
for miles. It was time to turn back if she was to reach home by dark,
but that white, scurrying form was too good a marker and she followed
him through her glasses for an hour. He would go bounding up some ridge
and plunge down into the next canyon; and then, still running, he would
top another summit until at last he was lost in a black canyon. It was
different from the rest, its huge flank veiled in shadow until it was
black as the entrance to a cavern; and the piebald point that crowned
its southern rim was touched with a broad splash of white. Wilhelmina
marked it well and then she turned back with crazy schemes still chasing
through her brain.

Time and again Wunpost had boasted that his mine was not staked, and
that it lay there a prize for the first man who found it or trailed him
to his mine. Well, she, Wilhelmina, had trailed him part way; and after
he was gone she would ride to that black canyon and look for big chunks
of gold. And if she ever found his mine she would locate it for herself,
and have her claim recorded; and then perhaps he would change his ways
and stop calling her Billy and Kid. She was not a boy, and she was not a
kid; but a grown-up woman, just as good as he was and, it might be, just
as smart. And oh, if she could only find that hidden mine and dig out a
mule-load of gold! It would serve him right, when he came back from Los
Angeles or from having a good time inside, to find that his mine had
been jumped by a girl and that she had taken him at his word. He had
challenged her to find it, and dared her to stake it--very well, she
would show him what a desert girl can do, once she makes up her mind to
play the game.

He was always exhorting her to play the game, and to forget all that
righteousness stuff--as if being righteous was worse than a crime, and a
reflection upon the intelligence as well. But she would let him know
that even the righteous can play the game, and if she could ever stake
his mine she would show him no mercy until he confessed that he had been
wrong. And then she would compel him to make his peace with Eells
and--but that could be settled later. She rode home in a whirl, now
imagining herself triumphant and laying down the law to him and Eells;
then coming back to earth and thinking up excuses to offer when her
lover returned. He might find her tracks, where she had followed on his
trail--well, she would tell him about Good Luck, and how he had led her
up the trail until at last he had run away and left her. And if he
demanded the kiss--instead of asking for it nicely--well, that would be
a good time to quarrel.

It was almost Machiavellian, the way she schemed and plotted, and upon
her return home she burst into tears and informed her mother that Good
Luck was lost. But her early training in the verities now stood her in
good stead, for Good Luck was lost; so of course she was telling the
truth, though it was a long way from being the whole truth. And the
tears were real tears, for her conscience began to trouble her the
moment she faced her mother. Yet as beginners at poker often win through
their ignorance, and because nobody can tell when they will bluff, so
Wilhelmina succeeded beyond measure in her first bout at "playing the
game." For if her efforts lacked finesse she had a life-time of
truth-telling to back up the clumsiest deceit. And besides, the
Campbells had troubles of their own without picking at flaws in their
daughter. She had come to an age when she was restive of all restraint
and they wisely left her alone.

The second day of Wunpost's absence she went up to her father's mine and
brought back the burros, packed with ore; but on the third day she
stayed at home, working feverishly in her new garden and watching for
Wunpost's return. His arm was not yet healed and he might injure it by
digging, or his mules might fly back and hurt him; and ever since his
departure she had thought of nothing else but those Apaches who had
twice tried to murder him. What if they had spied him from the heights
and followed him to his mine, or waylaid him and killed him for his
money? She had not thought of that when she had made their foolish bet,
but it left her sick with regrets. And if anything happened to him she
could never forgive herself, for she would be the cause of it all. She
watched the ridge till evening, then ran up to her lookout--and there he
was, riding in from the _north_. Her heart stood still, for who
would look for him there; and then as he waved at her she gathered up
her hindering skirts and ran down the hill to meet him.

He rode in majestically, swaying about on his big mule; and behind him
followed his pack-mule, weighed down with two kyacks of ore, and Good
Luck was tied on the pack. Nothing had happened to him, he was safe--and
yet something must have happened, for he was riding in from the north.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she panted as he dropped down to greet her, and
before she knew it she had rushed into his arms and given him the kiss
and more. "I was afraid the Indians had killed you," she explained, and
he patted her hands and stood dumb. Something poignant was striving
within him for expression, but he could only pat her hands.

"Nope," he said and slipped his arm around her waist, at which
Wilhelmina looked up and smiled. She had intended to quarrel with him,
so he would depart for Los Angeles and leave her free to go steal his
mine--but that was æons ago, before she knew her own heart or realized
how wrong it would be.

"You like me; don't you, kid?" he remarked at last, and she nodded and
looked away.

"Sometimes," she admitted, "and then you spoil it all. You must take
your arm away now."

He took his arm away, and then it crept back again in a rapturous,
bear-like hug.

"Aw, quit your fooling, kid," he murmured in her ear, "you know you like
me a lot. And say, I'm going to ask you a leading question--will you
promise to answer 'Yes'?"

He laughed and let her go, all but one hand that he held, and then he
drew her back.

"You know what I mean," he said. "I want you to be my wife."

He waited, but there was no answer; only a swaying away from him and a
reluctant striving against his grip. "Come on," he urged, "let's go in
to Los Angeles and you can help me spend my money. I've got lots of it,
kid, and it's yours for the asking--the whole or any part of it. But
you're too pretty a girl to be shut up here in Jail Canyon, working your
hands off at packing ore and slaving around like Hungry Bill's
daughters----"

"What do you mean?" she demanded, striking his hands aside and turning
to face him angrily, and Wunpost saw he had gone too far.

"Aw, now, Wilhelmina," he pleaded, then fell into a sulky silence as she
tossed back her curls and spoke.

"Don't you think," she burst out, "that I like to work for my father?
Well, I do; and I ought to do more! And I'd like to know where Hungry
Bill comes in----"

"He don't!" stated Wunpost, who was beginning to see red; but she rushed
on, undeterred.

"----because you don't need to think I'm a _squaw_. We may be poor,
but you can't buy _me_--and my father doesn't need to keep
_watch_ of me. I guess I've been brought up to act like a lady, if
I did--oh, I just hate the sight of you!"

She ended a little weakly, for the memory of that kiss made her blush
and hang her head; but Wunpost had been trained to match hate with a
hate, and he reared up his mane and stepped back.

"Aw, who said you were a squaw?" he retorted arrogantly. "But you might
as well be, by grab! Only old Hungry Bill takes his girls down to town,
but you never git to go nowhere."

"I don't want to go!" she cried in a passion. "I want to stay here and
help all I can. But all you talk about now is how much money you've got,
as if nothing else in the world ever counts."

"Well, forget it!" grumbled Wunpost, swinging up on his mule and
starting off up the canyon. "I'll go off and give you a rest. And maybe
them girls in Los Angeles won't treat me quite so high-headed."

"I don't care," began Wilhelmina--but she did, and so she stopped. And
then the old plan, conceived æons ago, rose up and took possession of
her mind. She followed along behind him, and already in her thoughts she
was the owner of the Sockdolager Mine. She held it for herself, without
recognizing his claims or any that Eells might bring; and while she dug
out the gold and shoveled it into sacks they stood by and looked on
enviously. But when her mules were loaded she took the gold away and
gave it to her father for his road.

"I don't care!" she repeated, and she meant it.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE FINE PRINT


A week passed by, and Wilhelmina rode into Blackwater and mailed a
letter to the County Recorder; and a week later she came back, to
receive a letter in return and to buy at the store with gold. And then
the big news broke--the Sockdolager had been found--and there was a
stampede that went clear to the peaks. Blackwater was abandoned, and
swarming again the next day with the second wave of stampeders; and the
day after that John C. Calhoun piled out of the stage and demanded to
see Wilhelmina. He hardly knew her at first, for she had bought a new
dress; and she sat in an office up over the bank, talking business with
several important persons.

"What's this I hear?" he demanded truculently, when he had cleared the
room of all callers. "I hear you've located my mine."

"Yes, I have," she admitted. "But of course it wasn't yours--and
besides, you said I could have it."

"Where is it at?" he snapped, sweating and fighting back his hair, and
when she told him he groaned.

"How'd you find it?" he asked, and then he groaned again, for she had
followed his own fresh trail.

"Stung!" he moaned and sank down in a chair, at which she dimpled
prettily.

"Yes," she said, "but it was all for your own good. And anyway, you
dared me to do it."

"Yes, I did," he assented with a weary sigh. "Well, what do you want me
to do?"

"Why, nothing," she returned. "I'm going to sell out to Mr. Eells
and----"

"To Eells!" he yelled. "Well, by the holy, jumping Judas--how much is he
going to give you?"

"Forty thousand dollars and----"

"_Forty thousand!_ Say, she's worth forty _million_! For
cripes' sake--have you signed the papers?"

"No, I haven't, but----"

"Well, then, _don't_! Don't you do it--don't you dare to sign
anything, not even a receipt for your money! Oh, my Lord, I just got
here in time!"

"But I'm going to," ended Wilhelmina, and then for the first time he
noticed the look in her eye. It was as cold and steely as a
gun-fighter's.

"Why--what's the matter?" he clamored. "You ain't sore at me, are you?
But even if you are, don't sign any papers until I tell you about that
mine. How much ore have you got in sight?"

"Why, just that one vein, where it goes under the black rock----"

"They's two others!" he panted, "that I covered up on purpose. Oh, my
Lord, this is simply awful."

"Two others!" echoed Wilhelmina, and then she sat dumb while a scared
look crept into her eyes. "Well, I didn't know that," she went on at
last, "and of course we lost everything, that other time. So when Mr.
Eells offered me forty thousand cash and agreed to release you from that
grubstake contract----"

"You throwed the whole thing away, eh?"

He had turned sullen now and petulantly discontented and the fire
flashed back into her eyes.

"Well, is that all the thanks I get? I thought you _wanted_ that
contract!"

"I did!" he complained, "but if you'd left me alone I'd've got it away
from him for nothing. But forty thousand dollars! Say, what's your
doggoned hurry--have you got to sell out the first day?"

"No, but that time before, when he tried to buy us out I held on until I
didn't get anything. And father has been waiting for his road so
long----"

"Oh, that road again!" snarled Wunpost. "Is that all you think about?
You've thrown away millions of dollars!"

"Well, anyway, I've got the road!" she answered with spirit, "and that's
more than I did before. If I'd followed my own judgment instead of
taking your advice----"

"Your judgment!" he mocked; "say, shake yourself, kid--you've pulled the
biggest bonehead of a life-time."

"I don't care!" she answered, "I'll get forty thousand dollars. And if
Father builds his road our mine will be worth millions, so why shouldn't
I let this one go?"

"Oh, boys!" sighed Wunpost and slumped down in his chair, then roused up
with a wild look in his eyes. "You haven't signed up, have you?" he
demanded again. "Well, thank God, then, I got here in time!"

"No you didn't," she said, "because I told him I'd do it and we've
already drawn up the papers. At first he wouldn't hear to it, to release
you from your contract; but when I told him I wouldn't sell without it,
he and Lapham had a conference and they're downstairs now having it
copied. There are to be three copies, one for each of us and one for
you, because of course you're an interested party. And I thought, if you
were released, you could go out and find another mine and----"

"Another one!" raved Wunpost. "Say, you must think it's easy! I'll never
find another one in a life-time. Another Sockdolager? I could sell that
mine tomorrow for a million dollars, cash; it's got a hundred thousand
dollars in sight!"

"Well, that's what you told me when we had the Willie Meena, and now
already they say it's worked out--and I know Mr. Eells isn't rich. He
had to send to Los Angeles to get the money for this first payment----"

"What, have you accepted his _money_?" shouted Wunpost accusingly,
and Wilhelmina rose to her feet.

"Mr. Calhoun," she said, "I'll have you to understand that I own this
mine myself. And I'm not going to sit here and be yelled at like a
Mexican--not by you or anybody else."

"Oh, it's yours, is it?" he jeered. "Well, excuse me for living; but who
came across it in the first place?"

"Well, you did," she conceded, "and if you hadn't been always bragging
about it you might be owning it yet. But you were always showing off,
and making fun of my father, and saying we were all such
_fools_--so I thought I'd just _show_ you, and it's no use
talking now, because I've agreed to sell it to Eells."

"That's all right, kid," he nodded, after a long minute of silence. "I
reckon I had it coming to me. But, by grab, I never thought that little
Billy Campbell would throw the hooks into me like this."

"No, and I wouldn't," she returned, "only you just treated us like dirt.
I'm glad, and I'd do it again."

"Well, I've learned one thing," he muttered gloomily; "I'll never trust
a woman again."

"Now isn't that just like a man!" exclaimed Wilhelmina indignantly. "You
know you never trusted anybody. I asked you one time where you got all
that ore and you looked smart and said: 'That's a question. If I'd tell
you, you'd know the answer.' Those were the very words you said. And now
you'll never trust a woman again!"

She laughed, and Wunpost rose slowly to his feet, but he did not get out
of the door.

"What's the matter?" she taunted; "did 'them Los Angeles girls' fool
you, too? Or am I the only one?"

"You're the only one," he answered ambiguously, and stood looking at her
queerly.

"Well, cheer up!" she dimpled, for her mood was gay. "You'll find
another one, somewhere."

"No I won't," he said; "you're the only one, Billy. But I never looked
for nothing like this."

"Well, you told me to get onto myself and learn to play the game, and
finally I took you at your word."

"Yes," he agreed, "I can't say a word. But these Blackwater stiffs will
sure throw it into me when they find I've been trimmed by a girl. The
best thing I can do is to drift."

He put his hand on the door-knob, but she knew he would not go, and he
turned back with a sheepish grin.

"What do the folks think about this?" he inquired casually, and
Wilhelmina made a face.

"They think I'm just _awful_!" she confessed. "But I don't
care--I'm tired of being poor."

"Don't reckon there'll be another cloudburst, do you, about the time you
get your road built?"

She grew sober at that and then her eyes gleamed.

"I don't care!" she repeated, "and besides, I didn't steal this. You
told me I could have it, you know."

"Too fine a point for me," he decided. "We'll just see, after you build
your new road."

"Well, I'm going to build it," she stated, "because he'll worry himself
to death. And I don't care what happens to me, as long as he gets his
road."

"Well, I've seen 'em that wanted all kinds of things, but you're the
first one that wanted a road. And so you're going to sign this contract
if it loses you a million dollars?"

"Yes, I am," she said. "We've drawn it all up and I've given him my
word, so there's nothing else to do."

"Yes, there is," he replied. "Tell him you've changed your mind and want
a million dollars. Tell him that I've come back and don't want that
grubstake contract and that you'll take it all in cash."

"No," she frowned, "now there's no use arguing, because I've fully made
up my mind. And if----" She paused and listened as steps came down the
hall. "They're coming," she said and smiled.

There was a rapid patter of feet and Lapham rapped and came in, bearing
some papers and his notary's stamp; but when he saw Wunpost he stopped
and stood aghast, while his stamp fell to the floor with a bang.

"Why, why--oh, excuse me!" he broke out, turning to dart through the
door; but the mighty bulk of Eells had blocked his way and now it forced
him back.

"Why--what's this?" demanded Eells, and then he saw Wunpost and his lip
dropped down and came up. "Oh, excuse me, Miss Campbell," he burst out
hastily, "we'll come back--didn't know you were occupied." He started to
back out and Wunpost and Wilhelmina exchanged glances, for they had
never seen him flustered before. But now he was stampeded, though why
they could not guess, for he had never feared Wunpost before.

"Oh, don't go!" cried Wilhelmina; "we were just waiting for you to come.
_Please_ come back--I want to have it over with."

She flew to the door and held it open and Eells and his lawyer filed in.

"Don't let me disturb you," said Wunpost grimly and stood with his back
to the wall. There was something in the wind, he could guess that
already, and he waited to see what would happen. But if Eells had been
startled his nerve had returned, and he proceeded with ponderous
dignity.

"This won't take but a moment," he observed to Wilhelmina as he spread
the papers before her. "Here are the three copies of our agreement
and"--he shook out his fountain pen--"you put your name right there."

"No you don't!" spoke up Wunpost, breaking in on the spell, "don't sign
nothing that you haven't read."

He fixed her with his eyes and as Wilhelmina read his thoughts she laid
down the waiting pen. Eells drew up his lip, Lapham shuffled uneasily,
and Wilhelmina took up the contract. She glanced through it page by
page, dipping in here and there and then turning impatiently ahead; and
as she struggled with its verbiage the sweat burst from Eells' face and
ran unnoticed down his neck.

"All right," she smiled, and was picking up the pen when she paused and
turned hurriedly back.

"Anything the matter?" croaked Lapham, clearing his throat and hovering
over her, and Wilhelmina looked up helplessly.

"Yes; please show me the place where it tells about that contract--the
one for Mr. Calhoun."

"Oh--yes," stammered Lapham, and then he hesitated and glanced across at
Eells. "Why--er----" he began, running rapidly through the sheets, and
John C. Calhoun strode forward.

"What did I tell you?" he said, nodding significantly at Wilhelmina and
grabbing up the damning papers. "That'll do for you," he said to Lapham.
"We'll have you in the Pen for this." And when Lapham and Eells both
rushed at him at once he struck them aside with one hand. For they did
not come on fighting, but all in a tremble, clutching wildly to get back
the papers.

"I knowed it," announced Wunpost; "that clause isn't there. This is one
time when we read the fine print."



CHAPTER XXVII

A COME-BACK


It takes an iron nerve to come back for more punishment right after a
solar plexus blow, but Judson Eells had that kind. Phillip F. Lapham
went to pieces and began to beg, but Eells reached out for the papers.

"Just give me that contract," he suggested amiably; "there must be some
mistake."

"Yes, you bet there's a mistake," came back Wunpost triumphantly, "but
we'll show these papers to the judge. This ain't the first time you've
tried to put one over, but you robbed us once before."

He turned to Wilhelmina, whose eyes were dark with rage, and she nodded
and stood close beside him.

"Yes," she said, "and I was selling it for almost nothing, just to get
that miserable grubstake. Oh, I think you just ought to be--hung!"

She took one of the contracts and ran through it to make sure, and Eells
coughed and sent Lapham away.

"Now let's sit down," he said, "and talk this matter over. And if,
through an oversight, the clause has been left out perhaps we can make
other arrangements."

"Nothing doing," declared Wunpost. "You're a crook and you know it; and
I don't want that grubstake contract, nohow. And there's a feller in
town that I know for a certainty will give five hundred thousand
dollars, cash."

"Oh, no!" protested Eells, but his glance was uneasy and he smiled when
Wilhelmina spoke up.

"Well, I _do_!" she said. "I want that grubstake contract
cancelled. But forty thousand dollars----"

"I'll give you more," put in Eells, suddenly coming to life. "I'll bond
your mine for a hundred thousand dollars if you'll give me a little more
time."

"And will you bring out that grubstake contract and have it cancelled in
my presence?" demanded Wilhelmina peremptorily, and Eells bowed before
the storm.

"Yes, I'll do that," he agreed, "although a hundred thousand
dollars----"

"There's a hundred thousand in sight!" broke in Wunpost intolerantly.
"But what do you want to trade with a crook like that for?" he demanded
of Wilhelmina, "when I can get you a certified check? Is he the only man
in town that can buy your mine? I'll bet you I can find you twenty. And
if you don't get an offer of five hundred thousand cash----"

"I'll make it two hundred," interposed Judson Eells hastily, "and
surrender the cancelled grubstake!"

"I don't _want_ the danged grubstake!" burst out Wunpost
impatiently. "What good is it now, when my claim has been jumped and I
ain't got a prospect in sight? No, it ain't worth a cent, now that the
Sockdolager is located, and I don't want it counted for anything."

"But _I_ want it," objected Wilhelmina, "and I'm willing to let it
count. But if others will pay me more----"

"I'll bond your mine," began Judson Eells desperately, "for four hundred
thousand dollars----"

"Don't you do it," came back Wunpost, "because under a bond and lease he
can take possession of your property. And if he ever gits a-hold of
it----"

"I'm talking to Miss Campbell," blustered Eells indignantly, but his
guns were spiked again. Wilhelmina knew his record too well, for he had
driven her from the Willie Meena, and yet she lingered on.

"Suppose," she said at last, "I should sell my mine elsewhere; how much
would you take for that grubstake?"

"I wouldn't sell it at any price!" returned Judson Eells instantly. "I'm
convinced that he has other claims."

"Well, then, how much will you give me in cash for my mine and throw the
grubstake in?"

"I'll give you four hundred thousand dollars in four yearly
payments----"

"Don't you do it," butted in Wunpost, but Wilhelmina turned upon him and
he read the decision in her eye.

"I'll take it," she said. "But this time the papers will be drawn up by
a lawyer that I will hire. And I must say, Mr. Eells, I think the way
you changed those papers----"

"It ought to put him in the Pen," observed Wunpost vindictively. "You're
easy--and you're compounding a felony."

"Well, I don't know what that is," answered Wilhelmina recklessly, "but
anyway, I'll get that grubstake."

"Well, I know one thing," stated Wunpost. "I'm going to keep these
papers until he makes the last of those payments. Because if he don't
dig that gold out inside of four years it won't be because he don't
_try_."

"No, you give them to me," she demanded, pouting, and Wunpost handed
them over. This was a new one on him--Wilhelmina turning pouty! But the
big fight was over, and when Eells went away she dismissed John C.
Calhoun and cried.

It takes time to draw up an ironclad contract that will hold a man as
slippery as Eells, but two outside lawyers who had come in with the rush
did their best to make it air-tight. And even after that Wunpost took it
to Los Angeles to show a lawyer who was his _friend_. When it came
back from the friend there was a proviso against everything, including
death and acts of God. But Judson Eells signed it and made a first
payment of twenty-five thousand dollars down, after which John C.
Calhoun suddenly dropped out of sight before Wilhelmina could thank him.
She heard of him later as being in Los Angeles, and then he came back
through Blackwater; but before she could see him he was gone again, on
some mysterious errand into the hills. Then she returned to the ranch
and missed him again, for he went by without making a stop. A month had
gone by before she met him on the street, and then she _knew_ he
was avoiding her.

"Why, good morning, Miss Campbell," he exclaimed, bowing gallantly;
"how's the mine and every little thing? You're looking fine, there's
nothing to it; but say, I've got to be going!"

He started to rush on, but Wilhelmina stopped him and looked him
reproachfully in the eye.

"Where have you been all the time?" she chided. "I've got something I
want to give you."

"Well, keep it," he said, "and I'll drop in and get it. See you later."
And he started to go.

"No, wait!" she implored, tagging resolutely after him, and Wunpost
halted reluctantly. "Now I _know_ you're mad at me," she charged;
"that's the first time you ever called me Miss Campbell."

"Is that so?" he replied. "Well, it must have been the clothes. When you
wore overalls you was Billy, and that white dress made it Wilhelmina;
and now it's Miss Campbell, and then some."

He stopped and mopped the sweat from his perspiring brow, but he refused
to meet her eye.

"Won't you come up to my office?" she asked very meekly. "I've got
something important to tell you."

"Is that feller Eells trying to beat you out of your money?" he demanded
with sudden heat, but she declined to discuss business on the street. In
her office she sat him down and closed the door behind them, then drew
out a contract from her desk.

"Here's that grubstake agreement, all cancelled," she said, and he took
it and grunted ungraciously.

"All right," he rumbled; "now what's the important business? Is the bank
going broke, or what?"

"Why, no," she answered, beginning to blink back the tears, "what makes
you talk like that?"

"Well, I was just into Los Angeles, trying to round up that bank
examiner, and I thought maybe he'd made his report."

"What--really?" she cried, "don't you think the bank is safe? Why, all
my money is there!"

"How much you got?" he asked, and when she told him he snorted.
"Twenty-five thousand, eh?" he said. "How'd he pay you--with a check?
Well, he might not have had a cent. A man that will rob a girl will rob
his depositors--you'd better draw out a few hundred."

She rose up in alarm, but something in his smile made her sit down and
eye him accusingly.

"I know what you're doing," she said at last; "you're trying to break
his bank. You always said you would."

"Oh, that stuff!" he jeered, "that was nothing but hot air. I'm a
blow-hard--everybody knows that."

She looked at him again, and her face became very grave, for she knew
what was gnawing at his heart. And she was far from being convinced.

"You didn't thank me," she said, "for returning your grubstake. Does
that mean you really don't care? Or are you just mad because I took away
your mine? Of course I know you are."

"Sure, I'm mad," he admitted. "Wouldn't you be mad? Well, why should I
thank you for this? You take away my mine, that was worth millions of
dollars, and gimme back a piece of paper."

He slapped the contract against his leg and thrust it roughly into his
shirt, at which Wilhelmina burst into tears.

"I--I'm sorry I stole it," she confessed between sobs, "and now Father
and everybody is against me. But I did it for you--so you wouldn't get
killed--and so Father could have his road. And now he won't take it,
because the money isn't ours. He says I'm to return it to you."

"Well, you tell your old man," burst out Wunpost brutally, "that he's
crazy and I won't touch a cent. I guess I know how to get my rights
without any help from him."

"Why, what do you mean?" she queried tremulously, but he shut his mouth
down grimly.

"Never mind," he said, "you just hold your breath, and listen for
something to drop. I ain't through, by no manner of means."

"Oh, you're going to fight Eells!" she cried out reproachfully. "I just
know something dreadful will happen."

"You bet your life it will--but not to me. I'm after that old boy's
hide."

"And won't you take the money?" she asked regretfully, and when he shook
his head she wept. It was not easy weeping, for Wilhelmina was not the
kind that practises before a mirror, and the agony of it touched his
heart.

"Aw, say, kid," he protested, "don't take on like that--the world hasn't
come to an end. You ain't cut out for this rough stuff, even if you did
steal me blind, but I'm not so sore as all that. You tell your old man
that I'll accept ten thousand dollars if he'll let me rebuild that
road--because ever since it washed out I've felt conscience-stricken as
hell over starting that cloudburst down his canyon."

He rose up gaily, but she refused to be comforted until he laid his big
hand on her head, and then she sprang up and threw both arms around his
neck and made him give her a kiss. But she did not ask him to forgive
her.



CHAPTER XXVIII

WUNPOST HAS A BAD DREAM


It is dangerous to start rumors against even the soundest of banks,
because our present-day finance is no more than a house of cards built
precariously on Public Confidence. No bank can pay interest, or even do
business, if it keeps all its money in the vaults; and yet in times of
panic, if a run ever starts, every depositor comes clamoring for his
money. Public confidence is shaken--and the house of cards falls,
carrying with it the fortunes of all. The depositors lose their money,
the bankers lose their money; and thousands of other people in nowise
connected with it are ruined by the failure of one bank. Hence the
committee of Blackwater citizens, with blood in their eye, which called
on John C. Calhoun.

Since the loss of his mine Wunpost had turned ugly and morose; and his
remarks about Eells, and especially about his bank, were nicely
calculated to get under the rind. He was waiting for the committee,
right in front of the bank; and the moment they began to talk he began
to orate, and to denounce them and everything else in Blackwater. What
was intended as a call-down of an envious and destructive agitator
threatened momentarily to turn into a riot and, hearing his own good
name brought into question, Judson Eells stepped quickly out and
challenged his bold traducer.

"W'y, sure I said it!" answered Wunpost hotly, "and I don't mind saying
it again. Your bank is all a fake, like your danged tin front; and
you've got everything in your vault except money."

"Well, now, Mr. Calhoun," returned Judson Eells waspishly, "I'm going to
challenge that statement, right now. What authority have you got for
suggesting that my cash is less than the law requires?"

"Well," began Wunpost, "of course I don't _know_, but----"

"No, of course you don't know!" replied Eells with a smile, "and
everybody knows you don't know; but your remarks are actionable and if
you don't shut up and go away I'll instruct my attorney to sue you."

"Oh, 'shut up,' eh?" repeated Wunpost after the crowd had had its laugh;
"you think I'm a blow-hard, eh? You all do, don't you? Well, I'll tell
you what I'll do." He paused impressively, reached down into several
pockets and pointed a finger at Eells. "I'll bet you," he said, "that
I've got more money in my clothes than you have in your whole danged
bank--and if you can prove any different I'll acknowledge I'm wrong by
depositing my roll in your bank. Now--that's fair enough, ain't it?"

He nodded and leered knowingly at the gaping crowd as Eells began to
temporize and hedge.

"I'm a blow-hard, am I?" he shouted uproariously; "my remarks are
actionable, are they? Well, if I should go into court and tell half of
what I know there'd be _two_ men on their way to the Pen!" He
pointed two fingers at Eells and Phillip Lapham and the banker saw a
change in the crowd. Public confidence was wavering, the cold fingers of
doubt were clutching at the hearts of his depositors--but behind it all
he sensed a trap. It was not by accident that Wunpost was on his corner
when the committee of citizens came by; and this bet of his was no
accident either, but part of some carefully laid scheme. The question
was--how much money did Wunpost have? If, unknown to them, he had found
access to large sums and had come there with the money on his person,
then the acceptance of his bet would simply result in a farce and make
the bank a byword and a mocking. If it could be said on the street that
one disreputable prospector had more money in his clothes than the bank,
then public confidence would receive a shrewd blow indeed, which might
lead to disastrous results. But the murmur of doubt was growing, Wunpost
was ranting like a demagogue--the time for a show-down had come.

"Very well!" shouted Eells, and as the crowd began to cheer the
committee adjourned to the bank. Eells strode in behind the counter and
threw the vault doors open, his cashier and Lapham made the count, and
when Wunpost was permitted to see the cash himself his face fell and he
fumbled in his pockets.

"You win," he announced, and while all Blackwater whooped and capered he
deposited his roll in the bank. It was a fabulously big roll--over forty
thousand dollars in five hundred and thousand dollar bills--but he
deposited it all without saying a word and went out to buy the drinks.

"That's all right," he said, "the drinks are on me. But I wanted to know
that that money was _safe_ before I went in and put it in the
bank."

It was a great triumph for Eells and a great boost for his bank, and he
insisted in the end upon shaking hands with Wunpost and assuring him
there was no hard feeling. Wunpost took it all grimly, for he claimed to
be a sport, but he saddled up soon after and departed for the hills,
leaving Blackwater delirious with joy. So old Wunpost had been stung and
called again by the redoubtable Judson Eells, and the bank had been
proved to be perfectly sound and a credit to the community it served! It
made pretty good reading for the _Blackwater Blade_, which had
recently been established in their midst, and the committee of boosters
ordered a thousand extra copies and sent them all over the country. That
was real mining stuff, and every dollar of Wunpost's money had been dug
from the Sockdolager Mine. Eells set to work immediately to build him a
road and to order the supplies and machinery, and as the development
work was pushed towards completion John C. Calhoun was almost forgotten.
He was gone, that was all they knew, and if he never came back it would
be soon enough for Eells.

But there was one who still watched for the prodigal's return and longed
ardently for his coming, for Wilhelmina Campbell still remembered with
regret the days when their ranch had been his goal. No matter where he
had been, or what desperate errand took him once more into the hills, he
had headed for their ranch like a homing pigeon that longs to join its
mates. The portal of her tunnel had been their trysting place, where he
had boasted and raged and denounced all his enemies and promised to
return with their scalps. But that was just his way, and it was harmless
after all, and wonderfully exciting and amusing; but now the ranch was
dead, except for the gang of road-makers who came by from their camp up
the canyon.

For her father at last had consented to build the road, since Wunpost
had disclaimed all title to the mine; but now it was his daughter who
looked on with a heavy heart, convinced that the money was accursed. She
had stolen it, she knew, from the man who had been her lover and who had
trusted her as no one else; only Wunpost was too proud to make any
protest or even acknowledge he had been wronged. He had accepted his
loss with the grim stoicism of a gambler and gone out again into the
hills, and the only thought that rose up to comfort her was that he had
deposited all his money in the bank. Every dollar, so they said; and
when he had bought his supplies the store-keeper had had to write out
his check! But anyway he was safe, for now everybody knew that he had no
money on his person; and when he came back he might stop at the ranch
and she could tell him about the road.

It was being built by contract, and more solidly than ever, and already
it was through the gorge and well up the canyon towards Panamint and the
Homestake Mine. And the mud and rocks that the cloudburst had deposited
had been dug out and cleared away from their trees; the ditch had been
enlarged, her garden restored and everything left tidy and clean. But
something was lacking and, try as she would, she failed to feel the
least thrill of joy. Their poverty had been hard, and the waiting and
disappointments; but even if the Homestake Mine turned out to be a
world-beater she would always feel that somehow it was _his_. But
when Wunpost came back he did not stop at the ranch--she saw him passing
by on the trail.

He rode in hot haste, heading grimly for Blackwater, and when he spurred
down the main street the crowd set up a yell, for they had learned to
watch for him now. When Wunpost came to town there was sure to be
something doing, something big that called for the drinks; and all the
pocket-miners and saloon bums were there, lined up to see him come in.
But whether he had made a strike in his lucky way or was back for
another bout with Eells was more than any man could say.

"Hello, there!" hailed a friend, or pseudo-friend, stepping out to make
him stop at the saloon, "hold on, what's biting you now?"

"Can't stop," announced Wunpost, spurring on towards the bank, "by grab,
I've had a bad dream!"

"A dream, eh?" echoed the friend, and then the crowd laughed and
followed on up to the bank. Since Wunpost had lost in his bet with Eells
and deposited all his money in the bank he was looked upon almost with
pride as a picturesque asset of the town. He made talk, and that was
made into publicity, and publicity helped the town. And now this mad
prank upon which he seemed bent gave promise of even greater renown. So
he had had a bad dream? That piqued their curiosity, but they were not
kept long in doubt. Dismounting at the bank, he glanced up at the front
and then made a plunge through the bank.

"Gimme my money!" he demanded, bringing his fist down with a bang and
making a grab for a check. "Gimme all of it--every danged cent!"

He started to write and threw the pen to the floor as it sputtered and
ruined his handiwork.

"Why, what's the matter, Mr. Calhoun?" cried Eells in astonishment, as
the crowd came piling in.

"Gimme a pen!" commanded Wunpost, and, having seized the cashier's, he
began laboriously to write. "There!" he said, shoving the check through
the wicket; and then he stood waiting, expectant.

The cashier glanced at the check and passed it back to Eells, who had
hastened behind the grille, and then they looked at each other in alarm.

"Why--er--this check," began Eells, "calls for forty-two thousand, eight
hundred and fifty-two dollars. Do you want all that money now?"

"W'y, sure!" shrilled Wunpost, "didn't I tell you I wanted it?"

"Well, it's rather unusual," went on Judson Eells lamely, and then he
spoke in an aside to his cashier.

"No! None of that, now!" burst out Wunpost in a fury, "don't you frame
up any monkey-business on me! I want my money, see? And I want it right
now! Dig up, or I'll wreck the whole dump!"

He brought his hand down again and Judson Eells retired while the
cashier began to count out the bills.

"Here!" objected Wunpost, "I don't want all that small stuff--where's
those thousand dollar bills I turned in? They're _gone_? Well, for
cripes' sake, did you think they were a _present_?"

The clerk started to explain, but Wunpost would not listen to him.

"You're a bunch of crooks!" he burst out indignantly. "I only deposited
that money on a bet! And here you turn loose and spend the whole roll,
and start to pay me back in fives and tens."

"No, but Mr. Calhoun," broke in Judson Eells impatiently, "you don't
understand how banking is done."

"Yes I do!" yelled back Wunpost, "but, by grab, I had a dream, and I
dreamt that your danged bank was _broke_! Now gimme my money, and
give it to me quick or I'll come in there and git it myself!"

He waited, grim and watchful, and they counted out the bills while he
nodded and stuffed them into his shirt. And then they brought out gold
in government-stamped sacks and he dropped them between his feet. But
the gold was not enough, and while Eells stood pale and silent the clerk
dragged out the silver from the vault. Wunpost took them one by one, the
great thousand dollar sacks, and added them to the pile at his feet, and
still his demand was unsatisfied.

"Well, I'm sorry," said Eells, "but that's all we have. And I consider
this very unfair."

"Unfair!" yelled Wunpost. "W'y, you doggone thief, you've robbed me of
two thousand dollars. But that's all right," he added; "it shows my
dream was true. And now your tin bank _is_ broke!"

He turned to the crowd, which looked on in stunned silence, and tucked
in his money-stuffed shirt.

"So I'm a blow-hard, am I?" he inquired sarcastically, and no one said a
word.



CHAPTER XXIX

IN TRUST


There was cursing and wailing and gnashing of teeth in Blackwater's
saloons that night, and some were for hanging Wunpost; but in the
morning, when they woke up and found Eells and Lapham gone, they
transferred their rage to them. A committee composed of the dummy
directors, who had allowed Eells to do what he would, discovered from
the books that the bank had been looted and that Eells was a fugitive
from justice. He had diverted the bank's funds to his own private uses,
leaving only his unsecured notes; and Lapham, the shrewd fox, had levied
blackmail on his chief by charging huge sums for legal service. And now
they were both gone and the Blackwater depositors had been left without
a cent.

It was galling to their pride to see Wunpost stalking about and
exhibiting his dream-restored wealth; but no one could say that he had
not warned them, and he was loser by two thousand dollars himself. But
even at that they considered it poor taste when he hung a piece of crepe
on the door. As for the God-given dream which he professed to have
received, there were those who questioned its authenticity; but whatever
his hunch was, it had saved him forty-odd thousand dollars, which he had
deposited with Wells Fargo and Company. They had never gone broke yet,
as far as he knew, and they had started as a Pony Express.

But there was one painful feature about his bank-wrecking triumph which
Wunpost had failed to anticipate, and as poor people who had lost their
all came and stood before the bank he hung his head and moved on. It was
all right for Old Whiskers and men of his stripe, whose profession was
predatory itself; but when the hard-rock miners and road-makers came in
the heady wine of triumph lost its bead. There are no palms of victory
without the dust of vain regrets to mar their gleaming leaves, and when
he saw Wilhelmina riding in from Jail Canyon he retreated to a doorway
and winced. This was to have been his high spot, his magnum of victory;
but somehow he sensed that no great joy would come from it, although of
course she had it coming to her. And Wilhelmina simply stared at the
sign "Bank Closed" and leaned against the door and cried.

That was too much for Wunpost, who had been handing out five dollars to
all of the workingmen who were broke, and he strode across the street
and approached her.

"What _you_ crying about?" he asked, and when she shook her head he
shuffled his feet and stood silent. "Come on up to the office," he said
at last, and she followed him to the bare little room. There a short
time before he had interceded to save her when she had all but signed
the contract with Eells; but now at one blow he had destroyed what was
built up and left her without a cent.

"What you crying about?" he repeated, as she sank down by the desk and
fixed him with her sad, reproachful eyes, "you ought to be tickled to
death."

"Because I've lost all my money," she answered dejectedly, "and we owe
the contractors for the road."

"Oh, that's all right," he said, "I'll get you some more money. But say,
didn't you do what I said? Why, I told you the last thing before I went
away to git that first payment money _out_!"

"You did not!" she denied, "you told me to draw a few hundred. And then
you turned around and deposited all you had, so I thought the bank must
be safe."

"What--safe with Judson Eells? Safe with Lapham behind the scenes? Say,
you'll never do at all. Have you heard the big news? Well, they've both
skipped to Mexico and the depositors won't get a cent."

"Then what about my contract?" she burst out tearfully, "I've sold him
my mine and now he's run away, so who's going to make the next payment?"

"They ain't nobody," grinned Wunpost, "and that's just the point--I told
you I'd come back with his scalp!"

"Yes, but what about _us_?" she clamored accusingly, "who's going
to pay for the road and all? Oh, I knew all the time that you'd never
forgive me, and now you've just ruined everything."

"Never asked me to forgive you," defended Wunpost stoutly, "but I don't
mind admitting I was sore. It's all right, of course, if you think you
can play the game--but I never thought you'd rob a _friend_!"

"But you dared me to!" she cried, "and didn't I offer it for almost
nothing, just to keep you from getting killed? And then, after I'd done
everything to get back your contract you didn't even say 'Thanks!'"

"No, sure not," he agreed, "what should I be thanking _you_ for?
Did I ask you to get back my grubstake? Not by a long shot I
didn't--what I wanted was my mine, and you turned around and sold it to
Eells. Well, where's your friend now, and his yeller dog, Lapham?
Skally-hooting across the desert for Mexico!"

"And isn't my contract any good? Won't the bank take it, or anybody? Oh,
I think you're just--just hateful!"

"You bet I am, kid!" he announced with a swagger, "that's my long suit,
savvy--hate! I never forgive an enemy and I never forget a friend, and
the man don't live that can _do_ me! I'll git him, if it takes a
thousand years!"

"Oh, there you go," she sighed, dusting her desk off petulantly, and
then she bowed her head in thought. "But I must say," she admitted, "you
have done what you said. But I thought you were just bragging at the
time."

"They _all_ did!" he beamed, "but I've showed 'em, by grab--they
ain't calling me a blow-hard now. These Blackwater stiffs that wanted to
run me out of town are coming around now to borrow five. They took up
with a crook, just because he boosted for their town, and now they're
left holding the sack. But if they'd listened to me they wouldn't be
left flat, because I told 'em I was after his hide. And say, you
should've seen him, when I came into his bank and shoved that big check
under his nose! He knowed what I was thinking and he never said: 'Boo!'
I showed him whether I knew how to write!"

He laid back and grinned broadly and Wilhelmina smiled, though a wistful
look had crept into her eyes.

"Then I suppose," she said, "you're always going to hate _me_,
because of course I did steal your mine. But now I'm glad it's gone,
because I wasn't happy a minute--do you think you can forgive me,
sometime?"

She glanced up appealingly but his brows had come down and he was
staring at her fiercely.

"Gone!" he roared, "your mine ain't gone! Ain't you ever read that
contract we framed up? Well, the mine reverts to you the first time a
payment isn't made or _if the buyer becomes a fugitive from
justice_! Yeh, my friend slipped that in along with the rest of it,
about death or an Act of God. Say, that's what you might call head
work!"

He jerked his chin and grinned admiringly but Wilhelmina did not
respond.

"Yes," she objected, "but how do I get the money to pay the men for
building the road? Because the twenty-five thousand dollars that I had
in the bank----"

"Get it?" cried Wunpost, "why you go up to your mine and dig out some
big chunks of gold, and then you send it out and sell it at the mint and
start a little bank of your own. But say, kid, you're all right--I like
you and all that--but something tells me you ain't cut out for business.
Now you'd better just turn this mine over to me----"

"Oh, _will_ you take it back?" she cried out impulsively, leaping
up and beginning to smile. "I've just _wanted_ to give it to you
but--well, of course I did steal it. And will you take me back for a
friend?"

"Well, I might," conceded Wunpost, rising slowly to his feet, and then
he shook his head. "But you're no business woman," he stated, "what I
was trying to say was----"

"Well, let's own it together!" she dimpled impatiently, and Wunpost
accepted the trust.



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