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Title: The Plunderer
Author: Norton, Roy, 1869-1942
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Plunderer" ***

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THE PLUNDERER



[Illustration: He leaned over her saddle, to where, as before something
sacred, he stood with parted lips, and upturned face, bareheaded, in
adoration.--The Plunderer]



THE PLUNDERER

By ROY NORTON

With Frontispiece in Colors

By DOUGLAS DUER

A. L. BURT COMPANY

Publishers--New York



Copyright, 1912, by
W. J. WATT & COMPANY



TO

REX BEACH

WITH ALL THE AFFECTION THAT ONE GIVES TO A PARTNER WITH WHOM HE HAS
TRAILED, AND MINED, AND ADVENTURED FOR MANY YEARS, AND NEVER FOUND
WANTING WHEN BACKS WERE AGAINST THE WALL



CONTENTS

  CHAPTER                                                         PAGE
       I. Bully Presby                                               9
      II. The Croix d'Or                                            22
     III. An Ugly Watchman                                          36
      IV. The Black Death                                           51
       V. The Aged Engineer                                         71
      VI. My Lady of the Horse                                      97
     VII. The Woman Unafraid                                       114
    VIII. The Inconsistent Bully                                   129
      IX. Where a Girl Advises                                     151
       X. Trouble Stalks Abroad                                    167
      XI. Bells' Valiant Fight                                     182
     XII. A Disastrous Blow                                        195
    XIII. The Dynamiter                                            208
     XIV. "Though Love Say Nay"                                    225
      XV. "Mr. Sloan Speaks"                                       240
     XVI. Benefits Returned                                        258
    XVII. When Reason Swings                                       271
   XVIII. The Bully Meets His Master                               288
     XIX. The Quest Supreme                                        303



THE PLUNDERER

CHAPTER I

BULLY PRESBY


Plainly the rambling log structure was a road house and the stopping
place for a mountain stage. It had the watering trough in front, the
bundle of iron pails cluttered around the rusted iron pump, and the
trampled muddy hollow created by many tired hoofs striking vigorously
to drive away the flies. It was in a tiny flat beside the road, and
mountains were everywhere; hard-cut, relentless giants, whose stern
faces portrayed a perpetual constancy. At the trough two burros, with
their packs deftly lashed, thrust soft gray muzzles deep into the
water, and held rigid their long gray ears, casting now and then a
wise look at the young man in worn mining clothes who stood patiently
beside them.

Another man, almost a giant in size, but with a litheness of movement
that told of marvelous physical strength, emerged from the door of the
road house, and the babel of sound that had been stilled when he
entered, but a few minutes before, rose again. He crossed to the well,
and smiled from half-humorous eyes at the younger man standing beside
the animals, and said: "Bumped into a hornet's nest. Butted into an
indignation meetin'. A Blackfoot war powwow when the trader had
furnished free booze would have been a peace party put up against
it."

The younger man, who had turned to pump more water, following the
polite mountain custom of replenishing for what you have used, stopped
with a hand on the handle, and looked at him inquiringly.

"It seems it's a bunch of fellers that's been workin' some placer
ground off back here somewheres"--and he waved a tanned hand
indefinitely in a wide arc--"and some man got the double hitch on 'em
with the law, provin' that the ground was his'n, and the sheriff run
'em off! Now they're sore. But it seems they cain't help 'emselves, so
they're movin' over to some other place across the divide."

"But what has that to do with us?"

"Nothin', except that it took me five minutes to get the barkeep' to
tell me about the road. He says we've come all right this far, and
this is the place where we hit the trail over the hills. Says we save
a day and a half, with pack burros, by takin' the cut-off. Says it's
seven or eight hours good ridin' by the road if we were on horses and
in a hurry."

He paused and scanned the hills with an observant eye, while his
companion resumed the pumping process. The trough again filled, the
latter walked around the pails and joined him.

"Well, where does this trail start in?" he asked.

"He's goin' to show us as soon as he can get a minute's rest from that
bunch in there. Said we'd have to be shown. Said unless he could get
away long enough we'd have to wait till somebody he named came in, and
he'd head us into it."

They led the burros across the road and into the shadow of a cliff
where the morning sun, searching and fervid, did not reach, and threw
themselves to the ground, resting their backs against the foot wall,
and trying patiently to await the appearance of their guides. The
steady, hurried clink of glass and bottle on bar, the ribald shouts
and threats of the crowd that filled the road house, the occasional
burst of a maudlin song, all told the condition of the ejected placer
men who had stopped here on their journey.

"I don't know nothin' about the case, of course," drawled the big man
lazily, "and it's none of my funeral; but it does seem as if this
feller they call 'Bully' is quite some for havin' him own way."

He laughed softly as if remembering scraps of conversation he had
segregated from the murmur inside, and rolled his long body over until
he rested on his belly with the upper part of his torso raised on his
elbows.

"It appears that the courts down at the county seat gave a decision in
his favor, and that he lost about as much time gettin' action as a
hornet does when he's come to a conclusion. He just shows up with the
sheriff, and about twenty deputies, good and true, and says: 'Hike!
The courts say it's mine. These is the sheriffs. Off you go, and don't
waste no time doin' it, either!' And so they hikes and have got this
far, where they lay over for the night to comfort their insides with
somethin' that smelled like a cross between nitric acid, a corn farm,
and sump water. And it don't seem to cheer 'em up much, either,
because their talk's right ugly."

"But I thought you said they were heading for some other ground?"

"So they are, but they're takin' their time on the road. I used to be
that way till the day Arizona Bill plugged me because I was slow, all
through havin' stopped at a place too long. Then, says I, when I woke
up a month later in the Widder Haskins' back room: 'Bill, this comes
from corn and rye. Never have nothin' to do with a farmer, or anything
that comes from a farmer, after this; or some day, when your hand
ain't quick enough, and things look kind of hazy, some quarrelsome
man's goin' to shoot first and you'll cash in.' And from that day to
this, when I want to go on a bust, I drink a gallon of soda pop to
have a rip-roarin' time."

A man lurched out of the door of the road house as if striving to find
clean air, and stood leaning against one of the pole posts supporting
a pole porch. Another one joined him, coarsely accusing him of being a
"quitter" because he had left his drink on the bar. They were
stubbornly passing words when, from down the road, there came the
gritting of wheels over the pulverized stone, and the clacking of
horses' hoofs, slow moving, as if being rested by a cautious driver
along the ascent.

The man by the post suddenly frowned in the direction of the sound,
and then whirled back to the open door.

"It's Bully!" he bellowed so loudly that his words were plainly
audible to the partners lying in the shadow. "Bully's a-comin' up the
road right now! Let's get him!"

There was a fierce, bawling chorus of shouts that outdid anything
preceding, and the door seemed to vomit men in all stages of
intoxication, who came heavily out with their boots stamping across
the boards of the porch. They cursed, imprecated, shook their fists,
and threatened, as they surged into the road and looked down it toward
the approaching driver. The men in the shade got quickly to their
feet, interested spectators, and the burros awoke from their drowsy
somnolence, and turned inquiring, soft eyes on their owners.

Calmly driven up toward the mob in the road came a mountain buckboard
drawn by two sweating horses. In the seat was a man who drove as if
the reins were completely in control. He appeared to be stockily
built, and his shoulders--broad, heavy, and high--had, even in that
posture, the unmistakable stamp of one who is accustomed to stooping
his way through drifts and tunnels. He wore a black slouch hat, which
had been shaped by habitual handling to shade his eyes. His hair was
white; his neck short and thick, with a suggestion of bull-like power
and force. His face, as he approached to closer range, showed firm and
masterful. His nose was dominant--the nose of a conqueror who
overrides all obstacles. He came steadily forward, without in the
least changing his attitude, or betraying anxiety, or haste. The men
in the road waited, squarely across his path, and their hoarse
fulminations had died away to a far more terrifying silence; yet he
did not seem to heed them as his horses advanced.

"Gad! Doesn't he know who they are?" the bigger man by the rock
mumbled to his partner.

"If he doesn't he has a supreme nerve," the younger man replied. "They
look to me as if they mean trouble. They're in a pretty nasty
temper--what with all the poison they've poured in, and all the
injustice they believe they have met. Wonder who's right?"

A shout from the crowd in the roadway interrupted any further
speculation. The man who had first appeared on the road-house porch
threw up his hand, and roared, "Here he is! We've got him! It's the
Bully!"

The shout was taken up by others until a miniature forest of raised
fists shook themselves threateningly at the man in the buckboard who
was now within a few feet of them.

"Get a rope, somebody! Hang him!" yelled an excited voice.

"Yes, that's the goods," screamed another, heard above the turmoil.
"Up with the Bully!"

Two men sprang forward, and caught the horses by their bits, and
brought them to an excited, nervous stop, and the others began to
surround the wagon. The man in the seat made no movement, but sat
there with a hard smile on his firm lips. The partners stepped to the
top of a convenient rock, where they could overlook the meeting, and
watched, perturbed.

"I don't know about this," the elder said doubtfully. "Looks to me
like there's too many against one, and I ain't sure whether he
deserves hangin'. What do you think?"

"Let's wait and see. Then, if they get too ugly, we'll give them a
talk and try to find out," the younger man answered.

Even as he spoke, a man came running from the door of the road house
with a coil in his hand, and began to assert drunkenly: "Here it is!
I've got it! A rope!"

The partners were preparing to jump forward and protest, when a most
astonishing change took place. The man in the wagon suddenly stood up,
stretched his hand commandingly to the men holding the horses' heads,
and ordered: "Let go of my horses there, you drunken idiots! Let go of
them, I say, or I'll come down there and make you! Understand?"

The men at the horses' heads wavered under that harsh, firm command,
but did not release their hold. Without any further pause, the man
jumped from his buckboard squarely into the road, struck the man
holding the rope a sweeping side blow that toppled him over like a
sprawling dummy, jerked the coil from his hands, and tore toward his
horses' heads. As if each feared to bar his advance, the men of the
mob made way for him, taken by surprise. He brought the coil of rope
with a stinging, whistling impact into the face of the nearest man,
who, blinded, threw his hands upward across his eyes and reeled back.
The man at the other horse's head suddenly turned and dove out of
reach, but the whistling coils again fell, lashing him across his head
and shoulders.

Without any appearance of haste, and as if scornful of the mob that
had so recently been threatening to hang him, the man walked back to
his buckboard, climbed in, and stood there on his feet with the reins
in one hand, and the rope in the other. "You get away from in front of
me there," he said, in his harsh, incisive voice; "I'm tired of
child's play. If you don't let me alone, I'll kill a few of you. Now,
clear out!"

The men around him were already backing farther away, and at this
threat they opened the road in such haste that one or two of them
nearly ran over others.

"Say," admiringly commented the big observer on the rock, "we'd play
hob helpin' him out. He don't need help, that feller don't. If I ever
saw a man that could take care of himself----"

"He certainly is the one!" his companion finished the sentence.

"Who does this rope belong to?" demanded the hard-faced victor in the
buckboard, looking around him.

No one appeared eager to claim proprietorship. He gave a loud,
contemptuous snort, and threw the rope far over toward the road
house.

"Keep it!" he called, in his cold, unemotional voice. "Some of you
might want to cheat the sheriff by hanging yourselves. After this, any
or all of you had better keep away from me. I might lose my temper."

He sat down in the seat with a deliberate effort to show his scorn,
picked the reins up more firmly, glanced around at the rear of his
buckboard to see that his parcels were safe, ignored the cowed men,
and without ever looking at them started his horses forward. As they
began a steady trot and passed the partners, he swept over them one
keen, searching look, as if wondering whether they had been of the
mob, turned back to observe their loaded burros, apparently decided
they had taken no part in the affair, and bestowed on them a faint,
dry smile as he settled himself into his seat. At the bend of the road
he had not deigned another look on the men who had been ravening to
lynch him. He drove away as carelessly as if he alone were the only
human being within miles, and the partners gave a gasp of enjoyment.

"Good Lord! What a man!" exclaimed the elder, and his companion
answered in an equally admiring tone: "Isn't he, though! Just look at
these desperadoes, will you!"

With shuffling feet some of them were turning back toward the inviting
door in which the bartender stood with his dirty apron knotted into a
string before him. Some of the more voluble were accusing the others
of not having supported them, and loudly expounding the method of
attack that would have been successful. The man with red welts across
his face was swearing that if he ever got a chance he would "put a
rifle ball through Bully." The young man by the rock grinned and said:
"That's just about as close as he would ever dare come to that fellow.
Shoot him through the back at a half-mile range!"

The bartender suddenly appeared to remember the travelers, and ran
across the road.

"I'm sorry, gents," he said, "that I can't do more to show you the
way, but you see how it is. Go up there to that big rock that looks
like a bear's head, then angle off south-east, and you'll find a
trail. When you come to any crossin's, don't take 'em, but keep
straight on, and bimeby, about to-morrer, if you don't camp too long
to-night, you'll see a peak--high it is--with a yellow mark on it,
like a cross. Can't miss it. Right under it's the Croix Mine. You
leave the trail to cross a draw, look down, and there you are. So
long!"

He turned and ran back across the road in response to brawling shouts
from the men whose thirst seemed to have been renewed by their
encounter with the masterful man they called "Bully," and the
partners, glad to escape from such a place, headed their animals
upward into the hills.



CHAPTER II

THE CROIX D'OR


It was the day after the halt at the road house. Half-obliterated by
the débris of snowslide and melting torrents, the trail was hard to
follow. In some places the pack burros scrambled for a footing or
skated awkwardly with tiny hoofs desperately set to check their
descent, to be steadied and encouraged by the booming voice, deep as a
bell, of the man nearest them. Sometimes in dangerous spots where
shale slides threatened to prove unstable, his lean, grim face and
blue-gray eyes appeared apprehensive, and he braced his great
shoulders against one of the bulging packs to assist a sweating,
straining animal. After one of these perilous tracts he stopped beside
the burros, pushed the stained white Stetson to the back of his head,
exposing a white forehead which had been protected from the sun, and
ran the sleeve of his blue-flannel shirt across his face from brow to
chin to wipe away the moisture.

"Hell's got no worse roads than this!" he exclaimed. "Next time
anybody talks me into takin' a cut-off over a spring trail to save a
day and a half's time, him and me'll have an argument!"

Ahead, and at the moment inspecting a knot in a diamond hitch, the
other man grinned, then straightened up, and, shading his eyes from
the sun with his hat, looked off into the distance. He was younger
than his partner, whose hair was grizzled to a badger gray, but no
less determined and self-reliant in appearance. He did not look his
thirty years, while the other man looked more than his forty-eight.

"Well, Bill," he said slowly, "it seems to me if we can get through at
all we've saved a day and a half. By the way, come up here."

The grizzled prospector walked up until he stood abreast, and from the
little rise stared ahead.

"Isn't that it?" asked the younger man. "Over there--through the gap;
just down below that spike with a snow cap." He stretched out a long,
muscular arm, and his companion edged up to it and sighted along its
length and over the index finger as if it were the barrel of a rifle,
and stared, scowling, at the distant maze of mountain and sky that
seemed upended from the green of the forests below.

"Say, I believe you're right, Dick!" he exclaimed. "I believe you are.
Let's hustle along to the top of this divide, and then we'll know for
sure."

They resumed their progress, to halt at the top, where there was
abruptly opened below them a far-flung panorama of white and gray and
purple, stretched out in prodigality from sky line to sky line.

"Well, there she is, Dick," asserted the elder man. "That yellow,
cross-shaped mark up there on the side of the peak. I kept tellin' you
to keep patient and we'd get there after a while."

His partner did not reply to the inconsistency of this argument, but
stood looking at the landmark as if dreaming of all it represented.

"That is it, undoubtedly," he said, as if to himself. "The Croix d'Or.
I suppose that's why the old Frenchman who located the mine in the
first place gave it that name--the Cross of Gold!"

"Humph! It looks to me, from what I've heard of it," growled the older
prospector, "that the Double Cross would have been a heap more
fittin' name for it. It's busted everybody that ever had it."

The younger man laughed softly and remonstrated: "Now, what's the use
in saying that? It wasn't the Croix d'Or that broke my father----"

"But his half in it was all he had left when he died!"

"That is true, and it is true that he sunk more than a hundred
thousand in it; but it was the stock-market that got him. Besides, how
about Sloan, my father's old-time partner? He's not broke, by a long
shot!"

"No," came the grumbling response, "he's not busted, just because he
had sense enough to lay his hand down when he'd gone the limit."

"Lay his hand down? Say, Bill, you're a little twisted, aren't you?
Better go back over the last month or two and think it over. We, being
partners, are working up in the Coeur d'Alenes. Our prospect pinches
out. We've got just seven hundred left between us on the day we bring
the drills and hammers back, throw them in the corner of the cabin,
and say 'We're on a dead one. What next?' Then we get the letter
saying that my father, whom I haven't seen in ten years, nor heard
much of, owing to certain things, is dead, and that all he left was
his half of the Croix d'Or. The letter comes from whom? Sloan! And it
says that although he and my father, owing to father's abominable
temper, had not been intimate for a year or two, he still respected
his memory, and wanted to befriend his son. Didn't he? Then he said
that he had enough belief left in the Croix d'Or to back it for a
hundred thousand more, if I, being a practical miner, thought well of
it. Do you call that laying down a hand? Humph!"

The elder man finished rolling a cigarette, and then looked at him
with twinkling, whimsical eyes, as if continuing the argument merely
for the sake of debate.

"Well, if he thinks it's such a good thing, why didn't he offer to buy
you out? Why didn't they work her sooner? She's been idle, and
water-soaked, for three years, ain't she? As sure as your name's Dick
Townsend, and mine's Bill Mathews, that old feller back East don't
think you're goin' to say it's all right. He knows all about you! He
knows you don't stand for no lies or crooked work, and are a fool for
principle, like a bee that goes and sticks his stinger into somethin'
even though he knows he's goin' to kill himself by doin' it."

"Bosh!"

"And how do you know he ain't figurin' it this way: 'Now I'll send
Dick Townsend down there to look at it. He'll say it's no good. Then
I'll buy him out and unload this Cross of Gold hole and plant it on
some tenderfoot and get mine back!' You cain't make me believe in any
of those Wall Street fellers! They all deal from the bottom of the
deck and keep shoemaker's wax on their cuff buttons to steal the lone
ace!"

As if giving the lie to his growling complaints and pessimism, he
laughed with a bellowing cachinnation that prompted the burros, now
rested, to look at him with long gray ears thrust forward curiously,
and wonder at his noise.

Townsend appeared to comprehend that his partner was but half in
earnest, and smiled good-humoredly.

"Well, Bill," he said, "if the mine's not full of water or bad air, so
that we can't form any idea at all, we'll not be long in saying what
we think of it. We ought to be there in an hour from now. Let's
hike."

They began the slow, plodding gait of the packer again, finding it
easier now that they were on the crest of a divide where the trail
was less obstructed and firmer, and the yellow lines on the peak,
their goal, came more plainly into view. The cross resolved itself
into a peculiar slide of oxidized earth traversing two gullies, and
the arm of the cross no longer appeared true to the perpendicular. The
tall tamaracks began to segregate as the travelers dropped to a lower
altitude; and pine and fir, fragrant with spring odor, seemed watching
them. The trail at last took an abrupt turn away from the cross-marked
mountain, and they came to another halt.

"This must be where they told us to turn off through the woods and
down the slope, I think," said Townsend. "Doesn't it seem so to you,
Bill?"

The old prospector frowned off toward the top of the peak now high
above them, and then, with the peculiar farsightedness of an outdoor
man of the West, looked around at the horizon as if calculating the
position of the mine.

"Sure," he agreed. "It can't be any use to keep on the trail now. We'd
better go to the right. They said we'd come to a little draw, then
from the top of a low divide we'd see the mine buildings. Come on,
Jack," he ended, addressing the foremost burro, which patiently
turned after him as he led the way through the trees.

They came to the draw, which proved shallow, climbed the opposite
bank, and gave an exclamation of surprise.

"Holy Moses! They had some buildings and plant there, eh, Dick?"

The other, as if remembering all that was represented in the scene
below, did not answer. He was thinking of the days when his father and
he had been friendly, and of how that restless, grasping, conquering
dreamer had built many hopes, even as he squandered many dollars, on
the Croix d'Or. It was to produce millions. It was to be one of the
greatest gold mines in the world. All that it required was more
development. Now, it was to have a huge mill to handle vast quantities
of low-grade ore; then all it needed was cheaper power, so it must
have electric equipment. Again the milling results were not good, and
what it demanded was the cyanide process.

And so it had been, for years that he could still remember, and always
it led his father on and on, deferring or promising hope, to come, at
last, to this! A great, idle plant with some of its buildings falling
into decay, its roadways obliterated by the brush growth that was
creeping back through the clearings as Nature reconquered her own, and
its huge waste dumps losing their ugliness under the green moss.

It seemed useless to think of anything more than an occasional pay
chute. Yet, as he thought of it, hope revived; for there had been pay
chutes of marvelous wealth. Why, men still talked of the Bonanza Chute
that yielded eighty thousand dollars in four days' blasting before it
worked out! Maybe there were others, but that was what his father and
Sloan had always expected, and never found!

His meditations were cut short by a shout from below. A man appeared,
small in the distance, on the flat, or "yard" of what seemed to be the
blacksmith shop.

"Wonder who that can be?" speculated Bill, drawing his hat rim farther
over his eyes.

"I don't know," answered Townsend, puzzled. "I never heard of their
having any watchmen here. But we'll soon find out."

They started down the hillside at a faster pace, the tired animals
surmising, with their curiously acute instinct, that this must be the
end of the journey and hastening to have it over with. As they broke
through a screen of brush and came out to the edge of what had been a
clearing back of a huge log bunk-house, the man who had shouted came
rapidly forward to meet them. There was a certain shiftless, sullen,
yet authoritative air about him as he spoke.

"What do you fellers want here?" he asked. "I s'pose you know that no
one's allowed on the Cross ground, don't you?"

"We didn't know that," replied Townsend, inclined to be pacific, "but
I fancy, we are different from almost any one else that would come. We
represent the owners."

"Can't help that," came the blustering answer. "You'll have to hit the
trail. I don't take orders from no one but Presby."

A shade of annoyance was depicted on Townsend's face as he continued
to ignore the watchman's arrogance, and asked: "And please tell us,
who is Presby?"

"Presby? Who's Presby? What are you handin' me? You don't know
Presby?"

"I don't, or I shouldn't have asked you," Townsend answered with less
patience.

"Say," drawled his companion, with a calm deliberation that would have
been dreaded by those who knew him, "does it hurt you much to be
civil? You were asked who this man Presby is. Do you get that?"

The watchman glared at him for a moment, but there was something in
the cold eyes and firm lines of the prospector's face that caused him
to hesitate before venturing any further display of officiousness.

"He's the owner of the Rattler," he answered sullenly, "and I've got
orders from him that nobody, not any one, is to step a foot on this
ground. If you'd 'a' come by the road, you'd 'a' seen the sign."

The partners looked at each other for an instant, and the younger man,
ignoring the elder's apparent wrath, said: "Well, I suppose the best
thing we can do is to leave the burros here and go and see Presby, and
get this man of his called off."

"You'll leave no burros here!" asserted the watchman, recovering his
combativeness.

"Why, you fool," exploded Mathews, starting toward him with his fists
clenched and anger blazing from his eyes at the watchman's obstinate
stupidity, "you're talking to one of the owners of this mine! This is
Mr. Townsend."

For an instant the man appeared abashed, and then grumbled acridly:
"Well, I can't help it. I've got orders and----"

"Oh, come on, Bill," interrupted the owner, stepping to the nearest
burro's head. "We'll go on over to Presby, and get rid of this man of
his. It won't hurt the burros to go a little farther."

He turned to the watchman, who was scowling and obdurate.

"Where can Presby and the Rattler be found?" he asked crisply.

"Around the turn down at the mouth of the cañon," the watchman
mumbled. "It's not more than half or three-quarters of a mile from
here, but you'd better go back up the hill."

As if this last suggestion was the breaking straw, the big prospector
jumped forward, and caught the man's wrist with dexterous, sinewy
fingers. He gave the arm a jerk that almost took the man from his
feet. His eyes were hard and sharp now, and his jaw seemed to have
shut tightly.

"We'll go back up no hill, you bet on that!" he asserted belligerently.
"We go by the road. We're done foolin' with you, my bucko! You go
ahead and show the way and be quick about it! If you don't, you'll
have trouble with me. Now git!"

He released the wrist with a shove that sent the watchman ten feet
away, and cowed him to subjection. He recovered his balance, and
hesitated for a minute, muttering something about "being even for
that," and then, as the big, infuriated miner took a step toward him,
said: "All right! Come on," and started toward a roadway that, half
ruined, led off and was lost at a turn. Cursing softly and telling the
burros that it was a shame they had to go farther on account of a
fool, the prospector followed, and the little procession resumed its
straggling march.

They passed the huge bunk-house, a mess-house, an assay office, what
seemed to be the superintendent's quarters, and a dozen smaller
structures, all of logs, and began an abrupt descent. The top of the
cañon was so high that they looked down on the roof of the big, silent
stamp mill with its quarter of a mile of covered tramway stretching
like a huge, weather-beaten snake to the dumps of the grizzly and
breakers behind it.

The road was blasted from the side of the cañon on which they were,
and far below, between them and the hoisting house and the mill, ran
a clear little mountain stream, undefiled for years by the silt of
industry. The peak of the cross, lifting a needle point high above
them, as if keeping watch over the Blue Mountains, the far-distant
Idaho hills, the near-by forests of Oregon, and the puny, man-made
structures at its feet, appeared to have a lofty disdain of them and
the burrowings into its mammoth sides, as if all ravagers were mere
parasites, mad to uncover its secrets of gold, and futile, if
successful, to wreak the slightest damage on its aged heart.



CHAPTER III

AN UGLY WATCHMAN


By easy stages indicating competent engineering and a lavish
expenditure of money, the road led them downward to a barricade of
logs, in an opening of which swung a gate barely wide enough to pass
the tired burros and their packs.

"You'll find Presby over there," said their unwilling guide, pointing
at a group of red-painted mining structures nestled in a flat lap in
the ragged mountains.

They surmised that this must be the Rattler camp, and inspected its
display of tall smokestacks, high hoists, skeleton tramways, and bleak
dumps. Before they could make any reply, the gate behind them slammed
shut with a vicious bang that attracted their attention. They turned
to see the watchman hurrying back up the road. Fixed to the barricade
was a sign, crudely lettered, but insistently distinct:

No one allowed on these premises, by order of the owners. For any
business to be transacted with the Croix d'Or, apply to Thomas W.
Presby.

"Curt enough, at least, isn't he?" commented Townsend, half-smiling.

"Curt!" growled his companion, frowning, with his recent anger but
half-dissipated. "Curt as a bulldog takin' a bite out of your leg.
Don't waste no time at all on words. Just says: 'It's you I'm lookin'
after.' Where do you reckon we'll find this here Thomas Presby
person?"

"I suppose he must have an office up there somewhere," answered
Townsend, waving his arm in the direction of the scattered buildings
spread in that profligacy of space which comes where space is free.

"These mules is tired. It's a shame we couldn't have left them up
there," Mathews answered, looking at them and fondling the ears of the
nearest one. "You go on up and get an order letting us into your mine,
and I'll wait here. No use in makin' these poor devils do any more'n
they have to."

Townsend assented, and followed a path which zigzaged around bowlders
and stumps up to the red cluster on the hillside above him. He was
impatient and annoyed at the useless delays imposed upon them in this
new venture, and wondered why his father's partner had not informed
him of the fact that he would find the mine guarded by the owner of
the adjoining property.

A camp "washwoman," with clothespins in her mouth, and a soggy gray
shirt in her hands, paused to stare at him from beneath a row of other
gray and blue shirts and coarse underwear, dripping from the lines
above her head.

Two little boys, fantastically garbed in faded blue denim which had
evidently been refashioned from cast-off wearing apparel of their
sires, followed after him, hand in hand, as if the advent of a
stranger on the Rattler grounds was an event of interest, and he found
himself facing a squat, red, white-bordered, one-storied building,
over whose door a white-and-black sign told the stranger, or applicant
for work, that he was at the "office."

A man came to a window in a picketed wicket as he entered, and said
briskly: "Well?"

"I want to see Mr. Presby," Dick answered, wasting no more words than
had the other.

"Oh, well, if nobody else will do, go in through that door."

Before he had finished his speech, the bookkeeper had turned again
toward the ledgers spread out on an unpainted, standing desk against
the wall behind his palings, and Dick walked to the only door in
sight. He opened it, and stepped inside. A white-headed, scowling man,
clean shaven, and with close-shut, thin, hard lips, looked up over a
pile of letters and accounts laid before him on a cheap, flat-topped
desk.

Dick's eyes opened a trifle wider. He was looking at the man who had
defied the mob at the road house, and at this close range studied his
appearance more keenly.

There was hard, insolent mastery in his every line. His face had the
sternness of granite. His hands, poised when interrupted in their
task, were firm and wrinkled as if by years of reaching; and his heavy
body, short neck, and muscle-bent shoulders, all suggested the man who
had relentlessly fought his way to whatever position of dominancy he
might then occupy. He wore the same faded black hat planted squarely
on his head, and was in his shirt-sleeves. The only sign of
self-indulgence betrayed in him or his surroundings was an old
crucible, serving as an ash tray, which was half-filled with cigar
stumps, and Dick observed, in that instant's swift appraisement, that
even these were chewed as if between the teeth of a mentally restless
man.

"You want to see me?" the man questioned, and then, as if the thin
partition had not muffled the words of the outer office, went on:
"You asked for Presby. I'm Presby. What do you want?"

For an instant, self-reliant and cool as he was, Dick was confused by
the directness of his greeting.

"I should like to have you tell that watchman over at the Croix d'Or
that we are to be admitted there," he replied, forgetting that he had
not introduced himself.

"You should, eh? And who are you, may I ask?" came the dry, satirical
response.

Dick flushed a trifle, feeling that he had begun lamely in this
reception and request.

"I am Richard Townsend," he answered, recovering himself. "A son of
Charles Townsend, and a half-owner in the property. I've come to look
the Croix d'Or over."

He was not conscious of it then, but remembered afterward, that Presby
was momentarily startled by the announcement. The man's eyes seemed
intent on penetrating and appraising him, as he stood there without a
seat having been proffered, or any courtesy shown. Then, as if
thinking, Presby stared at the inkwell before him, and frowned.

"How am I to know that?" he asked. "The Cross has had enough men
wanting to look it over to make an army. Maybe you're one of them. Got
any letters telling me that I'm to turn it over to you?"

For an instant Dick was staggered by this obstacle.

"No," he said reluctantly, "I have not; that is, nothing directed to
you. I did not know that you were in charge of the property."

He was surprised to notice that Presby's heavy brows adjusted
themselves to a scowl. He wondered why the mine owner should be
antagonistic to him, when there was nothing at stake.

"Well, I am," asserted Presby. "I hired the watchman up there, and I
see to it that all the stuff lying around loose isn't stolen."

"On whose authority, may I ask?" questioned Dick, without thought of
giving offense, but rather as a means of explaining his position.

"Sloan's. Why, you don't think I'm watching it because I want it, do
you, young man? The old watchman threw up his job. I had Sloan's
address, and wrote him about it. Sloan wrote and asked me to get a man
to look after it, and I did. Now, you show me that you've got a right
to go on the grounds of the Cross Mine, and I'll give an order to the
watchman."

There was absolute antagonism in his tone, although not in his words.
Dick thought of nothing at the moment but that he had one sole proof
of his ownership, the letter from Sloan himself. He unbuttoned the
flap of his shirt pocket, and, taking out a bundle of letters,
selected the one bearing on the situation.

"That should be sufficient," he said, throwing it, opened, before
Presby.

The latter, without moving his solid body in the least, and as if his
arms and hands were entirely independent of it, stolidly picked up the
letter and read it. Dick could infer nothing of its reception. He
could not tell whether Presby was inclined to accept it as sufficient
authority, or to question it. Outside were the sounds of the Rattler's
activity and production, the heavy, thunderous roar of the stamp mill,
the clash of cars of ore dumped into the maws of the grizzly to be
hammered into smaller fragments in their journey to the crusher, and
thence downward to end their journeys over the thumping stamps, and
out, disintegrated, across the wet and shaking tables.

It seemed, as he stood waiting, that the dust of the pulverized
mountains had settled over everything in the office save the
granite-like figure that sat at the desk, rereading the letter which
had changed all his life. For the first time he thought that perhaps
he should not have so easily displayed that link with his past. It
seemed a useless sacrilege. If the mine-owner was not reading the
letter, he was pondering, unmoved, over a course of action, and took
his time.

Dick thought bitterly, in a flash, of all that it represented. The
quarrel with his father on that day he had returned from Columbia
University with a mining course proudly finished, when each, stubborn
by nature, had insisted that his plan was the better; of his
rebellious refusal to enter the brokerage office in Wall Street, and
declaration that he intended to go into the far West and follow his
profession, and of the stern old man's dismissal when he asserted,
with heat:

"You've always taken the road you wanted to go since your mother died.
I objected to your taking up mining engineering, but you went ahead in
spite of me. I tried to get you to take an interest in the business
that has been my life work, but you scorned it. You wouldn't be a
broker, or a banker. You had to be a mining engineer! All right,
you've had your way, so far. Now, you can keep on in the way you have
selected. I'll give you five thousand dollars, but you'll never get
another cent from me until you've learned what a fool you're making of
yourself, and return to do what I want you to do. It won't be long!
There's a vast difference between dawdling around a university
learning something that is going to be useless while your father pays
the bills, and turning that foolish education into dollars to stave
off an empty belly. You can go now."

In those days the house of Phillip Townsend had been a great name in
New York. Now this was all that was left of it. Dissolution, death,
and dust, and a half-interest in an abandoned mine! The harsh voice of
Bully Presby aroused him from his thoughts.

"All right," it said. "This seems sufficient, but if you've got the
sense and judgment Sloan seems to think you have, you'll come to the
conclusion that there's not much use in wasting any of his good, hard
dollars on the Croix d'Or. It never has paid. It never will pay. I
offered to buy it once, but I wouldn't give a dollar for it now,
beyond what the timber above ground is worth. It owns a full section
of timberland, and that's about all."

He reached for a pen and wrote a note to the watchman, telling him
that the bearer, Richard Townsend, had come to look over the property
and that his orders must be accepted, and signed it with his
hard-driven scrawl. He handed it up to Dick without rising from his
seat, and said: "That'll fix you up, I think."

As if by an afterthought, he asked: "Have you any idea of the
condition of the mine?"

"No," Dick answered, as he folded the letter and put it into his
pocket, together with the one from his late father's partner.

"Well, then, I can tell you, it's bad," said Presby, fixing him with
his cool, hard stare. "The Cross is spotted. Once in a while they had
pay chutes. They never had a true ledge. There isn't one there, as far
as anybody that ever worked it knows. They wasted five hundred
thousand dollars trying to find it, and drove ten thousand feet of
drifts and tunnels. They went down more than six hundred feet. She's
under water, no one knows how deep. It might take twenty thousand to
un-water the sinking shaft again, and at the bottom you'd find
nothing. Take my advice. Let it alone. Good-day."

Dick walked out, scarcely knowing whether to feel grateful for the
churlish advice or to resume his wonted attitude of self-reliance and
hold himself unprejudiced by Presby's condemnation of the Croix d'Or.
He wondered if Bully Presby suspected him of having been friendly with
the mob of drunken ruffians at the road house, but he had been given
no chance to explain.

At the bottom of the gulch he found Bill sprawled at length on his
elbows almost under the forefeet of one of the burros which was nosing
him over in a friendly caress. He called out as he approached, and the
big prospector sat up, deftly snapped the cigarette he had been
smoking into the creek with his thumb and forefinger, and got to his
feet.

"Do we get permission to go on the claim?" he grinned, as Townsend
reached him.

"Yes, I've got an order to the watchman. The old man doesn't seem to
think much of it. Says it's spotted. Had rich pay chutes, but they
pinched. No regular formation. Always been a loser. Thinks we'd be
foolish to do anything with it."

"Good of him, wasn't it?"

Dick looked quickly at the hard, lined face of his companion.

"That's the first thing I've heard that made me feel better," declared
the prospector, as he swung one of the burro's heads back into the
trail and hit the beast a friendly slap on the haunches to start it
forward. "Whenever a man, like this old feller seems to be, gives me
that kind of advice, I sit up and take notice."

"Why--why, what do you know about him?" Dick asked, falling into the
trail behind the pack animals, which had started forward with their
slow jog trot, and ears swaying backward and forward as they went.

"While you was gone," Mathews answered, "I had a long talk with a boy
that came along and got friendly. You can believe boys, most of 'em.
They know a heap more than men. They think out things that men don't.
Kids are always friends with me; you know that. I reckon, from what I
gathered, that this Presby man is about as hard and grasping an old
cuss as ever worked the last ounce of gold out of a waste dump. He
makes the men save the fags of the candles and the drips, so's he can
melt 'em over again. He runs a company store, and if they don't buy
boots and grub from him, they have to tear out mighty quick. He fired
a fireman because the safety-valve in the boiler-house let go one day
twenty minutes before the noon shift went back to work. If he says,
'Let the Cross alone,' I think it's because he wants it."

"You couldn't guess who he is," Dick said, preparing to move.

"Why? Do I know him?"

"In a way. He's the man we saw the mob tackle, back there at the road
house."

Bill gave a long whistle.

"So that's the chap, eh? Bully Presby! Well, if we ever run foul of
him, we've got our work cut out for us. Things are beginnin' to get
interestin'. 'I like the place,' as Daniel said when he went to sleep
in the lion's den."

They opened the gate through the barricade without any formality, and
were well started up the inclined road of the Croix d'Or before they
encountered the watchman who had given them so much trouble. As he
came toward them, frowning, they observed that he had buckled a pistol
round him as if to resist any intrusion in case it should be attempted
without instructions. Dick handed him Presby's order, and the man read
it through in surly silence; then his entire attitude underwent a
swift change. He became almost obsequiously respectful.

"I'll have to go down and have a talk with Mr. Presby," he said, and
would have ventured a further remark, but was cut short by the
mine-owner.

"Yes, you'd better go and see him," Dick said concisely. "And when you
go, take all of your dunnage you can carry, then come back and get the
rest. I shall not want you on the claim an hour longer than necessary
for you to get your stuff away. You're too good a man to have around
here."

The fellow gave a shrug of his shoulders, an evil grin, and
turned back up the road to vanish in what had evidently been the
superintendent's cabin, and noisily began to whistle as he gathered
his stuff together. The partners halted before the door, and Dick
looked inside.

"I suppose you have the keys for everything, haven't you?" he called.

The man impudently tossed a bundle at him without a word. Apparently
his belongings were but few, which led the newcomers to believe that
he had taken his meals at the Rattler, and perhaps slept there on many
nights. They watched him as he rolled his blankets, and prepared to
start down the trail.

"The rest of that plunder in there, the pots and the lamp, belong to
the mine," he said. And then, without other words, turned away.

"That may be the last of him, and maybe it won't!" growled Bill, as he
began throwing the hitches off the tired burros that stood panting
outside the door. "Anyway, it's the fag end of him to-night."

They were amazed at the lavish expenditure of money that had been made
in the superintendent's quarters. There were a porcelain bathtub
brought up into the heart of the wilderness, a mahogany desk whose
edges had been burned by careless smokers, and a safe whose door swung
open, exposing a litter of papers, mine drawings, and plans. The four
rooms evidently included office and living quarters, and they
betokened a reckless financial outlay for the purpose.

"Poor Dad!" said Dick, looking around him. "No wonder the Cross lost
money if this is a sample of the way the management spent it."

He stepped outside to where the cañon was beginning to sink into the
dusk. The early moon, still behind the silhouette of the eastern
fringe of peaks and forests, lighted up the yellow cross mark high
above, and for some reason, in the stillness of the evening, he
accepted it as a sign of promise.



CHAPTER IV

THE BLACK DEATH


It took seven days of exploration to reveal the condition of the Cross
of Gold, and each night the task appeared more hopeless. The steel
pipe line, leading down for three miles of sinuous, black length, from
a reservoir high up in the hills, had been broken here and there
maliciously by some one who had traversed its length and with a heavy
pick driven holes into it that inflicted thousands of dollars of
expense.

The Pelton wheels in the power house, neglected, were rusted in their
bearings, and without them and the pipe line there could be no
electric power on which the mill depended. The mill had been stripped
of all smaller stuff, and its dynamos had been chipped with an ax
until the copper windings showed frayed and useless. The shoes of the
huge stamps were worn down to a thin, uneven rim, battering on broken
surfaces. The Venners rattled on their foundations, and the plates
had been scarred as if by a chisel in the hands of a maniac.

The blacksmith's tunnel--the tunnel leading off from the level--was
blocked by fallen timbers where a belt of lime formation cut across;
and fragments of wood, splintered into toothpick size, had been thrown
out when the mountain settled to its place. But a short distance from
the main shaft, which was a double compartment, carrying two cages up
and down, in every level the air was foul down to the five-hundred
foot, and below that the mine was filled with water.

Patiently Dick and the veteran explored these windings as far as they
might until the guttering of their candles warned them that the air
was loaded with poison, and often they retreated none too soon to
scale the slippery, yielding rungs of the ladder with dizzy heads.
Expert and experienced, they were puzzled by what was disclosed.
Either the mine had yielded exceedingly rich streaks and had been, in
mining parlance, "gophered," or else the management had been as
foolish as ever handled a property.

In the assay-house, where the furnaces were dust-covered, the scale
case black with grime, and the floor littered with refuse crucibles,
cupels, mufflers, and worn buckboards, they discovered a bundle of
old tablets. Almost invariably these showed that the assays had been
made from samples that would have paid to work, but this alone gave
them no hope.

But this was not all. A mysterious enmity seemed to pursue all their
efforts. Yet its displays were unaccountable for by natural causes. On
their arrival at the mine they found water, fresh and clear, piped
into every cabin, the mess-house, and the superintendent's quarters.
They traced it back and discovered a small lake formed and fed by a
large spring on what was evidently land of the mine. It suddenly
failed them, and proved unwholesome. An investigation of the tiny
reservoir disclosed masses of poisonous weeds in the water. They
decided that they must have been blown there after their arrival,
cleared the supply and yet, but two days later, when there had been no
wind of more than noticeable violence, the weeds were there again.
They abandoned their water supply for the time being and resorted to
the stream at the bottom of the cañon.

A day later one of their burros died mysteriously, and Bill, puzzled,
said he believed that it had lost its sense of smell and eaten
something poisonous. On the day following the other died, apparently
from the same complaint. The veteran miner grieved over them as for
friends.

"I've been acquainted with a good many of 'em," he said, sorrowfully,
"but I never knew two that had finer characters than these two did.
They were regular burros! No cheaters--just the square, open and
above-board kind, that never kicked without layin' back their ears to
give you warnin' and never laid down on the trail unless they wanted
to rest. The meanest thing a burro or a man can do is to die
voluntarily when you're dependin' on him, or when he owes you work or
money. So it does seem as if I must have been mistaken in these two,
after all, because we may need 'em."

Dick did not smile at his homily, for he caught the significance of
it, that the Croix d'Or would have to make a better showing than they
had so far discovered to warrant them in opening it. They had come
almost to the end of the investigations possible. They scanned plans
and scales in the office to familiarize themselves with the property,
and there was but one portion of it they had not visited. That was a
shaft which had been the "discovery hole," where the first find of ore
had been made. And it was this they entered on the day when Fate
seemed most particularly unkind. Yet even Fate appeared to relent, in
the end, through one of those trifling afterthoughts which lead men to
do the insignificant act. They had prepared everything for the
venture. They had an extra supply of candles, chalk for making a
course mark, sample bags for such pieces of ore as might interest
them, and the prospectors' picks and hammers when they started out.
They were a hundred yards from the office when the younger man
hesitated, stopped and turned back.

"I've an idea we might need those old maps," he said. "We haven't gone
over them very much and they might come in handy."

Bill protested, but despite this Dick went back to the quarters and
got them. They were crude, apparently, compared with the later work
when competent engineers had opened the mine in earnest; but doubtless
had served their purpose. The men came to the mouth of the old shaft
which had been loosely covered over with poles, and around which a
thicket of wild blackberry bushes had sprung up in stunted growth. An
hour's work disclosed the black opening and a ladder in a fair state
of preservation. They lowered a candle into the depths and saw that it
burned undimmed, indicating that the air was pure, and then descended
cautiously, testing each rung as they went. The shaft was not more
than fifty feet deep, and they found themselves standing on the bottom
and peering off into a drift which had been crudely timbered and had
fallen in here and there as the unworked ground had settled.

"There doesn't seem to be much of anything here except some starved
quartz," Bill said, staring at the wall after they had gone in some
thirty or forty feet, and they had come to a place where the lagging
had dropped away. He caught another piece of the half-rotted timbering
and jerked it loose for a better inspection. It gave with a dull
crack, then, immediately after, and seeming almost an echo, there was
a terrific rumble, and a report like the explosion of a huge gun back
in the direction of the shaft. Their candles flickered in the air
impact, and for an instant they feared that the roof was coming down
on them to crush them out of all resemblance to human beings.

They turned and ran toward the shaft. A few loose pebbles and pieces
of rock were dripping from above like a shower of porphyry. For an
instant they dared not step out, but stood inside the drift, waiting
for what might happen and staring at each other with set faces exposed
in the still flickering light. They had said nothing up to this time,
being under too great stress to offer other than sharp exclamations.

"Sounds like that shaft had given way!" the veteran exclaimed. "If it
has----"

He leaned forward and looked into Dick's face.

"If it has," the latter took up, "we are in a bad predicament."

They stood tensed and anxious until the pebbles stopped falling and a
silence like that of a tomb, so profound as to seem thick and dense,
invaded the hollows; then Dick started out into the shaft. He felt a
restraining hand on his arm.

"Wait a minute, boy," the elder man said. "You're the owner here. It's
dangerous. I ought to be the one to go first and find out what's
happened. You wait inside the drift."

But Dick shook his hand off and stepped out to look upward. A dense
blackness filled what should have been a space of light. This he had
partially expected from the fact that when they came out toward the
shaft there had been no sign of day; but he had not anticipated such a
complete closing of the opening.

"Lord! We're buried in!" came an exclamation from behind him, and he
felt a sudden sinking of the heart.

"I'll go easily till I come to it," he said, his voice sounding
strained and loud although he had spoken scarcely above a whisper.
"You stand clear so that if anything gives, Bill, you won't be
caught."

The elder miner would have protested, but already he was slowly and
cautiously climbing the ladder. Step by step he ascended, holding the
light above his head to discover the place where the shaft had given
way, and then Bill, standing anxiously below, heard a harsh shout.

"I think the ladder will bear your weight as well as mine. Come up
here."

The big man climbed steadily upward until he stood directly beneath
the younger man's feet. He ventured an exclamation that was almost an
oath.

"Not the shaft at all," he said, an instant later. "It's just a
bowlder so big that it filled the whole opening. We're plugged and
penned in here like rats in a trap!"

Dick took his little prospecting hammer and tapped the bowlder, at
first gently, then with firmer strokes, and looked down at his partner
with a distressed face.

"Hear that?" he exclaimed, rather than questioned. "It's a big one,
and solid. It sounds bad to me."

For a minute they waved their candles round the edge, inspecting the
resting place of the rock that had imprisoned them. Everywhere it was
set firmly. A fitted door could have been no more secure. They
consulted, and at last Bill descended and stepped back into the
entrance to the drift to avoid falling stone, while the younger man
attacked the edge beneath the bowlder, inch by inch, trying to find
some place where he could pick through to daylight. At last, his arm
wearied and the point of his prospecting hammer dulled, he rested.

"Come down, Dick, and I'll take a spell," Bill called up from below,
and he obeyed.

The big miner, without comment, climbed up, and again the vault-like
space was filled with the persistent picking of steel on stone. For a
half-hour it continued, and then, slowly, Bill descended. He sat down
at the foot of the shaft, wiped the sweat from his face, thrust his
candlestick in a crevice and rolled a cigarette before he said
anything, and then only as Dick started to the foot of the ladder.

"It's no use," he said. "We're holed up all right. I picked clear
around the lower edge and there isn't a place where she isn't resting
on solid rock. Nothing but dynamite could ever move that stone. Unless
we can find some other way out we're----"

He paused and Dick added the finishing word, "Gone!"

"Exactly! No one knows we're here. No one comes to the mine. We're in
the old works which I don't suppose a man has been inside of in five
or ten years, and the map shows that it doesn't connect with the other
ones. Answer--the finish!"

Dick pulled the worn and badly drawn plans from his pocket and then
lighted his own candle, indulging in the extravagance of two that he
might study the faint and smudged penciled lines.

"Here, Bill," he said, pointing at the drawing. "These two side drifts
each end in what are now sump holes. We've got to watch out for them.
That makes it safe for us to take the main drift and see where it
leads. The two end drifts evidently ran but a few feet and were then
abandoned. So, if these plans are any good, they, too, are safe, if we
can get into them."

The elder miner peered at the plans and studied them. He stood up and
blew out his candle. He thrust his hands into his pockets.

"I've got three candles left," he said, "and I cain't just exactly say
why I put that many in unless the Lord gave me a hunch we'd need 'em.
How many you got!"

"One in my pocket, and this."

"Then we'd better move fast, eh?"

They took a desperate chance on foul air and plunged down the drift,
pausing only now and then when they came to the first side drifts to
make sure of their course. They were informed by the plans that they
had barely three hundred feet to explore, yet they had gone even
farther than that before they came to a halt, a threatening one, for
directly ahead of them the timbering had given way, the shaft caved,
and there seemed at first no opening through the débris.

"Well, this looks pretty tough!" exclaimed Bill, stooping down and
examining the face of the barrier.

His companion lighted his own candle and together they went over the
face of the obstruction.

"It looks to me as if we could open her up a little if we can shift
this timber here and use it as a lever," he said, pointing to one
projecting near the roof.

"May bring the whole mountain down, but it's our only chance," agreed
Bill. "Here she goes. Stand back. No use in both of us getting it."

He caught the end of the timber in his heavy hands, planted his feet
firmly on the floor and heaved. The big timber creaked, but did not
give. Again he planted himself and this time his great shoulders
seemed to twist and writhe until the muscles cracked and then, with a
crash, the barrier gave way. He sprang back with amazing quickness and
they ran back up the drift for twenty or thirty feet while the mass
again readjusted itself and settled slowly into position. A cloud of
dust bellowed toward them, half-choking them with its gritty fineness,
and then, in a minute, the air had cleared. They went cautiously
forward.

"Well, we got some farther, anyhow, unless she comes down while we're
working through. We've got a hole to crawl into, and that's
something," the big miner asserted.

Before he could say anything more Dick had crowded him to one side and
was entering the aperture. He had prevented his partner from taking
the first perilous chance. Painfully he made his way, while the man
behind listened with terrified apprehension; for none knew better
than he the risk of that progress.

"All right, but be careful," a voice came to him faintly from the
distance. "She's bad, but the air over here seems good. It's a close
shave."

The big miner dropped down and began crawling through beneath the tons
of balanced rock, which might give at any instant. Larger than his
younger companion, he found it more difficult for his great shoulders
persisted in brushing at all times, and now and then he was compelled
to squeeze himself through a narrow place that for a moment threatened
to be impossible. Once a timber above him gave a little and a rock
crowded down until only by exerting his whole force could he sustain
it while he scraped his hips through from under it. Then as it
descended between his legs he found one of them pinioned. He shut his
teeth desperately to avoid shouting, and twisted sidewise, and back,
to and fro, at the imminent danger of dislodging everything above him.
He heard an anxious voice calling outside and replied that he was
coming and was all right. He rested for an instant to regain breath,
then made a desperate forward effort to find that his foot alone
caught him. Again he rolled from side to side, and again he rested.

"Bill! Bill! For God's sake, what has happened?" he heard an agonized
call from ahead.

"I'm all right, boy," he called back patiently. "Just keep away from
the hole so I can get air. I'm--I'm just findin' some places a little
tight."

His reply did not seem to allay the solicitude of his companion, who
called again, "Can I help you in any way?"

"Only by keeping clear. I'll make another try. Stand clear so if she
comes down you won't be caught. If she does come--well--good-bye,
Dick!"

As he spoke the final word he made another fiercely desperate effort
from his new position. There was a ripping, searing pain along the
length of his foot which he disregarded in that supreme attempt and
suddenly he seemed to slide forward while back of him came a
crunching, grinding noise as the disturbed rock which had pinioned him
settled down into place. He crawled desperately forward. A light
flared in his eyes and he felt strong hands thrust under his arm pits
and was jerked bodily out to the floor of the drift. They fell
together and the candle, falling with them, was extinguished. They
were overwhelmed, as they lay there in the darkness, gasping, by a
terrific crashing impact as if the whole mountain had given way and at
their very feet huge rocks thundered down. They crawled farther along
on hands and knees and the falling rock seemed to pursue them
malignantly. For an age it seemed as if the whole drift would give way
as each set of timbers came to the strain and failed to hold. Then
again all was still.

Strangling, sweating, spent, they got to the side wall and raised
themselves up, gasping for fresh air. Their senses wavered and swooned
in that half-suffocation and slowly they comprehended that they were
still alive and that the dust was settling. "Are you all right?" they
called to each other in acute unison, their voices betraying a great
apprehension, and then, reassured for the instant, they sagged weakly
against the walls and each reached out to find the other. Their hands
met and clasped fervently and, again in unison, they said, "Thank
God!"

A match spluttered dimly through the dark and dust-clogged air, a
candle slowly took flame and they looked at each other. Bill was
leaning against the wall, weakly, and trying to recover his strength.
A tattered trousers leg clung above his bared leg and foot where he
had wrenched himself loose from the rock, and torn his boot away in
so doing. Along the length of the white flesh was a flaring line of
red, where the point of rock had cut deeply when he made that last
desperate struggle to escape. He dropped to the floor and clutched his
wound with his hands while Dick, almost with a moan, thrust his
candlestick into a timber and savagely tore his shirt off and rent it
into strips. He stooped over and with hasty skill bandaged the wound.

"It's not bad, I hope," he said, "but it does hurt, doesn't it, old
partner?"

"That's nothin'," bravely drawled the giant, striving to force a grin
to his pain-drawn lips. "Don't worry now, boy! Think what might have
happened if I'd been there a minute or two longer, or if I couldn't
have got loose at all!"

In their thankfulness for the last escape they had almost forgotten
the fact that their situation was still almost hopeless, and that
perhaps the speedy end would have been preferable to one more
agonizing, more slow, to come. They got to their feet at last and
hobbled forward, the big man resting half his weight on his friend's
shoulder and making slow progress. Again they were centered on the
faint hope that beyond was some sort of opening, because now they knew
but too well that their retreat was effectually cut off. If there was
no opening ahead they were doomed. They consulted the plan again and
went forward. Abruptly they came to a halt, shutting their jaws hard.
They had come to the end of the main drift and it was a blank wall of
solid stone where the prospectors had finished!

"Well, old man, there's still the two side drifts to examine," said
Bill with a plain attempt to appear hopeful that did not in the least
deceive the other.

"Yes. That's back there about fifty feet," Dick assented, finding that
it required an effort to steady his voice. "The other one is behind
that barrier."

They looked at each other, reading the same thought. They had but one
more chance and that was almost futile; for the plans indicated that
the side drift extended but a score or so of yards and had then been
abandoned. They felt their feet faltering when they turned into it,
dreading the end, dreading the revelation that must tell them they
were to die in this limited burrow in the hills. But courageously they
tried to assume an air of confidence. They did not speak as they
progressed, each dreading that instant when he would again face an
inexorable barrier. They counted their steps as they went, to
themselves. They came to the twentieth, twenty-first, twenty-second,
and were peering fixedly ahead. Together they stopped and turned
toward each other. Dimly in the faintly thrown light of the candle
beams, they could see it, the dusky gray mass where hope had pictured
a continuing blackness. The wall leered at them as they stood there
panting, despairing, desperate as trapped animals. Their imaginations
told them the end.

"Well, old man"--Bill's voice sounded with exceptional softness--"they
didn't extend this drift any farther. All we can do now is to go up
and sit down at the foot of it, and--wait!"

"But it won't take long, Bill," Dick replied. "The air, you know. It
can't last forever."

They trudged forward for the few remaining yards and then, abruptly,
the candle they were carrying gave a little flicker. This time they
stopped in their tracks and shouted. Bill suddenly loosened his hold
on the younger man's shoulder and began hopping forward, and the light
threw huge, grotesque, strangely moving shadows on the wall ahead of
them. Dick ran after him, crowding on his heels and shouting
meaningless hopes. Abruptly they came to a right-angle drift, and
then, but a few yards down it, they discovered an upraise, crude and
uncared-for, but climbing into the higher darkness, and down this
there streamed fresh air.

It was such a one as prospectors make, having here and there a pole
with cleats to serve as a ladder, then ascending at an incline which,
though difficult, was not impossible, and again reverting to rocky
footholds at the sides. Up this Dick boosted his partner, thrusting a
shoulder beneath his haunches and straining upward with the exultation
of reaction. They were saved! He knew it! The fresh air told that
story to their experienced nostrils. Up, up, up they clambered for a
long slanting distance and then fell out on the floor of another
drift, at whose end was a shadowy light. Again they hobbled down a
long length, ever approaching their goal. Bill stopped and leaned
against the side wall and voiced his exultation.

"I know where we are," he exclaimed. "This is the blacksmiths' tunnel.
They made that upraise following the ore, and that's why the mine was
opened for the second time here. They didn't complete the plans
because they knew the old work was useless. Dick, we've been through
some pretty hard times together and had some narrow shaves; but I
don't care for many more like that! Come on. Help me out. I want you
to take a look and see if my head is any whiter than it was at nine
o'clock this mornin' when we went into that other hole."



CHAPTER V

THE AGED ENGINEER


The sunlight was good to see again--good as only sunlight can be when
men have not expected ever again to be enlivened by its glory. They
were astonished at the shortness of the time of their imprisonment.
They had lived years in dread thought, and but a few hours in reality.
They had suffered for the spans of lives to find that the clock had
imperturbably registered brief intervals. They had played the gamut of
dread, terror, and anguish, to learn how trivial, after all, was the
completed score.

"I think that will do," said Dick, with a sigh of relief, as he
straightened up from bandaging Bill's leg. "The stitches probably hurt
some, but aside from a day's stiffness I don't think you will ever
know it happened."

"Won't eh?" rumbled the patient. "Sure, the leg's all right; but it
ain't bruised limbs a man remembers. They heal. You can see the scars
on a man's legs, but only the Lord Almighty can see those on his mind,
and they're the only ones that last. Dick, now that it's all over, I
ain't ashamed to tell you that there was quite a long spell down there
underground when I thought over a heap of things I might have done
different if I'd had a chance to do 'em over again. And, boy, I
thought quite a little bit about you! It didn't seem right that a
young fellow like you, with so much to live for, should be snuffed out
down there in that black place, where the whole mountain acted as if
it was chasin' us, step by step, to wipe us off the slate."

He stood on his feet and limped across the room to his coat in an
effort to recover himself, and Dick, more stirred than he cared to
admit by the affection in his voice, tramped out to the little porch
in front and pretended to whistle a tune, that proved tuneless. He
looked at the little valley around the shoulder of the mountain at the
head of the ravine, which they had so carelessly invaded that morning,
and shuddered. Inside he heard Bill moving around, and then after a
time his steps advancing stiffly, and turned to see him coming out.

"I think," he said smiling, "that we're entitled to a rest for to-day.
By to-morrow you'll be all right again, unless I'm mistaken. Let's
put in the day looking over these old records."

Bill grinned whimsically and assented. He could keep quiet when he had
to; but the day following found him again restlessly investigating
anything that seemed worth the trouble and the afternoon saw him
standing looking upward toward the same valley of dread.

"I've got over it a little," he said to the younger man, "and do you
know I'm right curious to go over there and see how big that rock was
that tumbled into the mouth of the old shaft. Want to come along?"

Dick had sustained that same curiosity, so together they made their
way to the beginning of the previous day's disaster. They chilled when
they saw how effectually they had been caught; for the bowlder
completely filled the entrance to the shaft and would have proved a
hopeless trap had they tried to escape by burrowing around its edge.
It rested, as they had discovered, on solid rock, and its course down
the hillside was clearly marked.

"What gets me," said the veteran miner, "is what could have started
it. I noticed it up there when we went in. It was sort of poised on
that little ledge you see, and it didn't have to roll more than thirty
feet."

He began to climb up the bowlder's well-defined path, and suddenly
called to his partner with a hoarse shout, needlessly loud.

"Come up here," he said. "That bowlder never started itself! Some one
helped it. What do you think of that?"

Dick hastily climbed up to his side and looked. The rock around was
bare of growth or covering, so that no footprints could be discerned;
but a rock rested there that had plainly been used as a fulcrum. The
surface beneath it was weather beaten and devoid of moisture, which
indicated that it had lain there but a short time, probably only from
the time of its mission on the preceding day. They found themselves
standing up and staring around at the surrounding hills as if seeking
sight of the man who had attempted to murder them.

"We'll find out about this!" Bill exclaimed. "Good thing we know
enough to look."

He limped to the edge of the barren spot and began to circle around
its edge, while Dick did likewise, following his example. They found a
footprint at last and took the trail. It did not lead them far before
they came to a path on top of the hill that was so well used that any
attempt to follow it was useless; but, intent on seeing where it led,
they walked along it as it led straight away toward the timber.
Scarcely inside the cool shadows of the tamaracks they paused and
looked at each other understandingly; for thrown carelessly into a
clump of laurel was a long, freshly cut sapling, that had been used as
a lever. They recovered it from its resting place and inspected it.
There was no doubt whatever that it had been the instrument of motion.
Its scarred end, its length, and all, told that the man who had used
it had carried it this far to discard it, believing his murderous work
done.

"I noticed that rock, as I said before," declared Bill. "You noticed
how round it was on one side? Well, a man could take this lever, and
by teetering on it until he got it in motion, finally upset it. The
chances were a hundred to one it would land in the mouth of the shaft.
And it's a cinch, it seems to me, he wouldn't do that for fun."

Dick shook his head gravely.

"But who could it be?" he insisted. "Who is there that could want us
out of the way badly enough to murder us? No one here knows or cares a
continental about us! It seems incredible. It must have been sheer
carelessness of some restless loafer who wanted to see the rock
roll."

Yet they knew that the theory was scarcely tenable. They walked
farther along the path and found that it was one used by workmen,
evidently, leading at last down the steep mountain side and across to
the Rattler. They surmised that it must be one made by the timber
cutters for the mine, and learned, in later months, that the surmise
was correct.

"It makes one thing certain," Bill declared that evening when,
candidly discouraged, they sat on the little porch in front of the
office they had made their home and discussed the day's findings. "And
that is that until we get a force to work here, if we ever do, it
ain't a right healthy place for us. Of course with a gang of men
around there wouldn't be a ghost of a chance for any enemy to get us;
but until then we'd better watch out all the time. I begin to believe
that about everything that's happened to us here has been the work of
somebody who ain't right fond of us. Wish we could catch him at it
once!"

There was a grim undercurrent in his wish that left nothing to words.
They remembered that in all the time since their arrival they had seen
no other human being, the Rattler men having left them as severely
alone as if they had been under quarantine.

In the stillness of twilight they heard the slow, soft padding of a
man's feet laboriously climbing the hill, and listened intently at the
unusual sound.

"Wonder who that is," speculated Bill, leaning forward and staring at
the dim trail. "Looks like a dwarf from here. Some old man of the
mountain coming up to drive us off!"

"Hello," hailed a shrill, quavering voice. "Be you the bosses?"

"We are," Dick shouted, in reply, "Come on up."

The visitor came halting up the slope, and they discerned that he was
lame and carrying a roll of blankets. He paused before them, panting,
and then dropped the roll from his back, and sat down on the edge of
the porch with his head turned to face them. He was white headed and
old, and seemed to have exhausted his surplus strength in his haste to
reach them before darkness.

"I'm Bells Park," he said. "Bells Park, the engineer. Maybe you've
heard of me? Eh? What? No? Well, I used to have the engines here at
the Cross eight or ten years ago, and I've come to take 'em again.
When do I go to work? They hates me around here. They drove me out
once. I said I'd come back. I'm here. I'm a union man, but I tell 'em
what I think of 'em, and it don't set well. When did you say I go to
work?"

"I'm afraid you don't go," Dick answered regretfully.

The Cross, so far as he could conjecture, would never again ring
with the sounds of throbbing engines. Already he was more than
half-convinced that he should write to Sloan and reject his kindly
offer of support. "We've been here but a week, but it doesn't look
promising to us."

"Well, then you're a pair of fools!" came the disrespectful and
irascible retort. "They told me down in Goldpan that some miners had
come to open the Cross up again. You're not miners. I've hoofed it all
the way up here for nothin'."

The partners looked at each other, and grinned at the old man's
tirade. He went on without noticing them, speaking of himself in the
third person:

"I can stay here to-night somewhere, can't I? Bells Park is askin' it.
Bells Park that used to be chief in the Con and Virginia, and once had
his own cabin here--cabin that was a home till his wife went away on
the long trip. She's asleep up there under the cross mark on the hill.
Bells Park as came back because he wanted to be near where she was put
away! She was the best woman that ever lived. I'm looking for my old
job back. I can sleep here, can't I?"

His querulous question was more of a challenge than a request, and
Dick hastened to assure him that he could unroll his blankets in a
bunk in the rambling old structure that loomed dim, silent, and
ghostly, on the hill beyond where they were seated. His pity and
hospitality led him farther.

"Had your supper?" he asked.

Bells Park shook his head in negation.

"Then you can share with us," Dick said, getting to his feet and
entering the cabin from which in a few moments came a rattle of fire
being replenished, a coffee-pot being refilled, and the crisp, frying
note of sizzling bacon and eggs.

"Who might that young feller be?" asked the engineer, glowering with
sudden curiosity, after his long silence, into the face of the
grizzled old prospector, who, in the interim, had sat quietly.

"Him? That's Dick Townsend, half-owner in the mine," Bill replied.

"Half owner? Cookin' for me? Why don't you do it? What right have you
got sittin' here on your long haunches and lettin' a boss do the work?
Hey? Who are you?"

"I'm his superintendent," grinned Bill, appreciating the joke of being
superintendent of a mine where no one worked.

"Oh!" said the engineer. And then, after a pause, as if readjusting
all these conditions to meet his approval: "Say, he's all right, ain't
he!"

"You bet your life!" came the emphatic response.

The applicant said no more until after he had gone into the cabin and
eaten his fill, after which he insisted on clearing away the dishes,
and then rejoined them in a less-tired mood. He squatted down on the
edge of the porch, where they sat staring at the shadows of the
glorious night, and appeared to be thoughtful for a time, while they
were silently amused.

"You're thinkin' it's no good, are you?" he suddenly asked,
brandishing his pipe at Dick. "Well, I said you were a fool. Take it
kindly, young feller. I'm an old man, but I know. You've been good to
me. I didn't come here to butt my nose in, but I know her better than
you do. Say!" He pivoted on his hips, and tapped an emphatic
forefinger on the warped planks beneath in punctuation. "There never
was a set of owners shell-gamed like them that had the Croix d'Or!
There never was a good property so badly handled. Two superintendents
are retired and livin' on the money they stole from her. One millman's
bought himself a hotel in Seattle with what he got away with. There
was enough ore packed off in dinner-pails from the Bonanza Chute to
heel half the men who tapped it. They were always lookin' for more of
'em. They passed through a lead of ore that would have paid expenses,
on the six-hundred-foot level, and lagged it rather than hoist it out.
I know! I've seen the cars come up out of the shaft with a man
standin' on the hundred foot to slush 'em over with muddy sump water
so the gold wouldn't show until the car men could swipe the stuff and
dump it out of the tram to be picked up at night. It ain't the rich
streaks that pays. It's the four-foot ledge that runs profit from two
bits to a couple of dollars a ton. That's what showed on the
six-hundred level. Get it?"

The partners by this time were leaning eagerly forward, half-inclined
to believe all that had been told them, yet willing to discount the
gabbling of the old man and find content. Until bedtime he went on,
and they listened to him the next morning, when the slow dawn crept
up, and decided to take the plunge. And so it was that Dick wrote a
long statement of the findings to his backer in New York and told him
that he was going to chance it and open the Croix d'Or again until he
was satisfied, either that it would not pay to work, or would merit
larger expenditure.

Once again the smoke belched from the hoisting house of the Cross, and
the throb of the pumps came, hollow and clanking, from the shaft
below. A stream of discolored water swirled into the creek from the
waste pipes, and the rainbow trout, affrighted and disgusted, forsook
its reaches and sought the pools of the river into which it emptied.

Slowly they gained on its depths, and each day the murk swam lower,
and the newly oiled cage waited for its freshly stretched cable,
one which had happened to be coiled in the store-house. The
compressor shivered and vibrated as the pistons drove clean, sweet
air through the long-disused pipes, and at last the partners knew
they could reach the anticipated six-hundred-foot level and form
their own conclusions.

"Well, here goes," said Bill, grinning from under his sou'wester as
they entered the cage with lamps in hand. "We'll see how she looks if
the air pipes aren't broken."

They saw the slimy black sides of the shaft slip past them as Bells
Park dropped them into the depths, and felt the cage slow down as he
saw his pointer above the drum indicate the approach of the
six-hundred-foot level. They stepped out cautiously, whiffed the air,
and knew that the pipes, which had been protected by the water, were
intact, and that they had no need to fear foul air. The rusted rails,
slime-covered, beneath their rubber boots, glowed a vivid red as they
inspected the timbering above, and saw that the sparse stulls, caps,
and columns were still holding their own, and that the heavy
porphyritic formation would scarcely have given had the timbers rotted
away. Dank, glistening walls and a tremulous waving blackness were
ahead of them as they cautiously invaded the long-deserted precincts,
scraping and striking here and there with their prospector's picks in
search of the lost lead.

"About two hundred feet from the shaft, Bells said," Dick commented.
"And this must be about the place where they cut through pay ore in
search of another lobe of the Bonanza Chute. What thieves they were!"

He suddenly became aware that his companion was not with him, and
whirled round. Back of him shone a tiny spark of flaring light,
striving to illumine the solid blackness. He paused expectantly, and a
voice came bellowing through the dark:

"Here it is. The old man's right, I think. This looks like ore to
me."

Dick hastened back, and assisted while they broke away the looser
pieces of green rock, glowing dully, and filled their sample sacks.

Three hours later they stood over the scales in the log assay-house
above, and congratulated each other.

"It'll pay!" Dick declared gleefully. "Not much, but enough to justify
going on with the work. I am glad I wrote Sloan that I should draw on
him, and now we'll go ahead and hire a small gang to set the mill and
the Cross in shape."

They were like boys when they crossed to the engine house and told the
news to the hard-worked engineer, who chuckeled softly and asserted
that he had "told them so."

"Now, the best way for you to get a gang around here," he said, "is
to go down to Goldpan and tell 'The Lily' you want her to pass the
word, or stick a sign up in her place saying what men, and how many,
you want."

"Sounds like a nice name," Mathews commented.

"The Lily?" questioned Dick, anxious as to who this camp character
could be.

"Sure," the engineer rasped, as if annoyed by their ignorance. "Ain't
you never heard of her? Well, her right name, so they tell, is Lily
Meredith. She owns the place called the High Light. Everybody knows
her. She's square, even if she does run a dance hall and rents a
gamblin' joint. She don't stand for nothin' crooked, Lily don't. She
pays her way, and asks no favors. Go down and tell her you want men.
They all go there, some time or another."

He stooped over to inspect the fire under the small boiler he was
working, and straightened up before he went on. Through the black
coating on his face, he appeared thoughtful.

"Best time to see The Lily and get action is at night. All the
day-shift men hang around the camp then, and, besides that, they've
got a new batch of placer ground about a mile and a half over the
other side, and lots of them fellers come over. Want to go to-day?"

The partners looked at each other, as if consulting, and then Dick
said: "Yes. I think the sooner the better."

Bells Park pulled the visor of his greasy little cap lower over his
eyes, and stepped to the door.

"Come out here onto the yard," he said, and they followed. "Go down to
the Rattler, then bear off to the right. The trail starts in back of
the last shanty on the right-hand side. You see that gap up yonder?
Not the big one, but the narrow one." He pointed with a grimy hand.
"Well, you go right through that and drop down, and you'll see the
camp below you. It's a stiff climb, but the trail's good, and it's
just about two miles over there. It's so plain you can make it home by
moonlight."

Without further ceremony or advice, he returned into the boiler-room,
and the partners, after but slight preparations, began their journey.

It was a stiff climb! The sun had set, and the long twilight was
giving way to darkness when they came down the trail into the upper
end of the camp. Some embryo artist was painfully overworking an
accordion, while a dog rendered melancholy by the unmusical noise,
occasionally accompanied him with prolonged howls. A belated ore
trailer, with the front wagon creaking under the whine of the brakes
and the chains of the six horses clanking, lurched down from a road on
the far side of the long, straggling street, and passed them, the
horses' heads hanging as if overwork had robbed them of all
stable-going spirit of eagerness.

The steady, booming "clumpety-clump! clumpety-clump!" of a stamp-mill
on a shoulder of a hill high above the camp, drowned the whir and
chirp of night insects, and from the second story of a house they
passed they heard the crude banging of a piano, and a woman's strident
voice wailing, "She may have seen better da-a-ys," with a mighty
effort to be pathetic.

"Seems right homelike! Don't it?" Bill grinned and chuckled. "That's
one right nice thing about minin'. You can go from Dawson to Chiapas,
and a camp's a camp! Always the same. I reckon if you went up the
street far enough you'd find a Miner's Home Saloon, maybe a Northern
Light or two, and you can bet on there bein' a First Class."

The High Light proved to be the most pretentious resort in Goldpan.
For one thing it had plate-glass windows and a gorgeous sign painted
thereon. Its double doors were wide, and at the front was a bar with a
brass rail that, by its very brightness, told only too plainly that
the evening's trade had not commenced. Two bartenders, one with a huge
crest of hair waved back, and the other with his parted in the middle,
plastered low and curled at the ends, betokened diverse taste in
barbering. A Chinese was giving the last polish to a huge pile of
glasses, thick and heavy.

On the other side of the room, behind a roulette wheel, a man who
looked more like a country parson than a gambler sat reading a thumbed
copy of Taine's "English Literature." Three faro layouts stretched
themselves in line as if watching for newcomers, and in the rear a man
was lighting the coal-oil lamps of the dance hall. It was separated
from the front part of the house by an iron rail, and had boxes
completely around an upper tier and supported by log pillars beneath,
and a tiny stage with a badly worn drop curtain.

"Is the boss here?" Bill asked, pausing in front of the man with a
wave.

"Who do you mean--Lily?" was the familiar reply.

"Yes."

"I think she's over helpin' nurse the Widder Flannery's sick kids this
afternoon. They've got chicken pox. Might go over there and see her if
you're in a rush."

"We didn't say we wanted to borrow money," Bill retorted to the
jocular latter part of the bartender's speech. "What time will she be
here?"

"About ten, I guess," was the more courteous reply.

The partners walked out and past the row of buildings until they came
to a general store, where they occupied themselves in making out an
order for supplies and arranging for their delivery on the following
day. The trader was a loquacious individual with the unmistakable
"Yankee" twang and nasal whine of the man from that important speck of
the United States called New England.

When they again turned into the street, the long twilight had been
replaced by night, and on the tops of the high peaks to the westward
the light of the full moon was beginning to paint the chill white with
a shining glow. The street was filled with men, most of them scorning
the narrow board walks and traversing the roadway. A pandemonium of
sound was robbing the night of peace through music, of assorted
character, which boiled forth from open doors in discordant business
rivalry, but underneath it all was the steady, dull monotone of the
stamp-mill, remorselessly beating the ore as if in eternal industry.

"Hardly know the place now, eh?" Bill said, as they entered the open
doors of the High Light. "It certainly keeps gettin' more homelike.
Camp must be makin' money, eh?"

Dick did not answer. He was staring at a woman who stood at the lower
end of the bar outside, and talking to a man with a medicine case in
his hand. He surmised that she must be The Lily, and was astonished.
He had expected the customary brazen appearance of other camp women he
had known in his years of wandering; the hard-faced, combatative type
produced by greed. Instead, he saw a woman of perhaps thirty years of
age, or in that vague boundary between thirty and thirty-five.

She was dressed in a short skirt, wore a spotless shirt waist over an
exceptionally graceful pair of shoulders, and her hair, neatly coiled
in heavy bronze folds, was surmounted by a white hat of the frontier
type, dented in regulation form with four hollows.

From the hat to the high tan boots, she was neat and womanly; yet it
was not this that attracted him so much as her profile. From the
straight brow, down over the high, fine nose and the firm lips to the
firmer chin, the face was perfect.

As if sensing his inspection, she turned toward him, and met his
wondering eyes. Her appraisement was calm, repressed, and cold.
Her face gave him the impression that she had forgotten how to
smile. Townsend advanced toward her, certain that she must be the
proprietress of the High Light.

"You are Miss Meredith?" he interrogated, as he halted in front of
her.

"Mrs. Meredith," she corrected, still unbending, and looking at him a
question as to his business.

A forgotten courtesy impelled him to remove his hat as he introduced
himself, but Mathews did not follow it when he was introduced, and
reached out and caught her competent hand with a hard grip. Dick
explained his errand, feeling, all the time under that steady look,
that he was being measured.

"Oh, yes, they'll be all right by to-morrow, Lily," the doctor
interrupted. "Excuse me for being so abrupt, but I must go now.
Good-night."

"Good-night," she answered, and then: "I'll be up there at three
o'clock to-morrow afternoon. Ah, you were saying you wanted----"

She had turned to the partners again with her unfinished question
leading them on to state their mission.

"Men. Here's a list," Dick answered, handing her a memorandum calling
for go many millmen, so many drill runners, swampers, car handlers,
and so forth; in all, a list of twenty odd.

"Who told you to come here?" She exploded the question as if it were
vital.

"Park. Bells Park."

She laughed mirthlessly between lips that did not smile and regular,
white teeth. But her laugh belied her lack of sympathy.

"Poor old Bells!" she said, with a touch of sadness in her voice.
"Poor old fool! I tried to keep him from gambling when he had money,
and he went broke, like all the other fools. But he loved his wife. He
made her happy. Some one in this world must be happy. So he came back,
did he? And is up there at the Cross? Well, he's a faithful man. I'm
not an employment agency, but maybe I can help you. I would do it for
Bells. I like him. Good men are scarce. The bums and loafers are
always easy to get. There isn't a mine around here that isn't looking
for good men, since they made that discovery over in the flat. Most of
them broke to the placer ground. Wages are nothing when there's a
chance for better."

She had not looked at Dick as she talked, but had her eyes fixed on
the paper, though not seeming to scan its contents. The room was
crowded with men and filled with a confused volume of sound as she
spoke, the click and whir of the wheel, the monotonous voice of the
student--turned gambler--calling "Single O and the house wins. All
down?" the sharp snap of the case-keeper's buttons before the faro
layouts, the screech of the orchestra in the dance hall, and the heavy
shuffling of feet; yet her words and intonations were distinct.

"We would like to get them as soon as we can," Dick answered. "We have
unwatered the main shaft and----"

From the dance hall in the rear there came a shrill, high shriek,
oaths, shouts, and the orchestra stopped playing. Men jumped to their
feet from the faro layouts, and then, mob-like, began to surge toward
the door, while in the lead, uttering scream on scream, ran one of
the dance-hall girls with her gaudy dress bursting into enveloping
flame. She had the terror of a panic-stricken animal flying into the
danger of the open air to die.

As if springing forward from live ground, Mathews leaped into her
path, and caught her in his arms. He jammed her forward ahead of him,
taking no pains to shield her body save with his bent arm, and seized
the cover of the roulette wheel, which lay neatly folded on the end of
the bar.

"Give me room!" he bellowed, in his heavy, thunderous voice. "Stop
'em, Dick! For God's sake, stop 'em!"

Dick leaped in among the crowd that was madly stampeding--women with
faces whose terror showed through masks of rouge, shrieking, men who
cursed, trampled, and elbowed their way to the outer air, and the
wild-eyed musicians seeking to escape from a fire-trap. Dick struck
right and left, and in the little space created Bill swathed the girl
in the cover, smothering the flames. And all the time he shouted:

"Don't run. What's the matter with you? Go back and put the fire out!
Don't be idiots!"

As suddenly as it had commenced the panic subsided, and the tide
turned the other way. Sobbing women hovered round the door, and men
began to form a bucket line. In a long age of five or ten minutes the
excitement was over, and the fire extinguished. The dance-hall floor
was littered with pieces of scorched wood torn bodily from the boxes,
and the remnants of the lamp which had exploded and caused the havoc
were being swept into the sodden, steaming heap in the center of the
room.

Through the press at the sides came The Lily, who, in the turmoil, had
sought refuge behind the bar. The partners, stooping over the
unconscious, swaddled figure on the floor, looked up at her, and Dick
saw that her face was as calm and unemotional as ever.

"Bring her to my room," she said; "I'll show you where it is. You,
Tim," she called to one of the bartenders, "go as quickly as you can
and get Doctor Mills."

The partners meekly followed her lead, pausing but once, when she
turned to hold up an authoritative hand and tell the curious ones who
formed a wake that they must go back, or at least not come ahead to
make the case more difficult. Mathews carried his senseless burden as
easily as if it were of no weight, and even as they turned up a
hallway leading to a flight of stairs ascending to The Lily's
apartments, the doctor and bartender came running to join them.

Not until they had swathed the girl in cooling bandages did any one
speak. Then, as they drew the sheet tenderly over her, they became
conscious of one another. As Bill looked up through blistered eyelids,
exposing a cruelly scorched face, his lips broke into a painful
smile.

"Doctor," The Lily said, "now you had better care for this patient."

She put her firm, white fingers out, brushed the miner's singed hair
back from his brow, and said: "I've forgotten your name, but--I want
to say--you're a man!"



CHAPTER VI

MY LADY OF THE HORSE


"It serves you right for bein' so anxious to help one of them
dance-hall women; not but what I'd probably 'a' done it myself," was
the croaking, querulous consolation offered by Bells Park as he sat
beside the plainly suffering and heavily bandaged Bill that night, or
rather in the early hours of the morning, in the cabin on the Cross.
"They ain't no good except for young fools to gallop around with over
a floor."

He poured some more olive oil over the bandages, and relented enough
to add: "All but The Lily, and she don't dance with none of 'em. She's
all right, she is. Mighty peart looker, too. None purtier than Dorothy
Presby, though."

Dick, looking up from where he sat with his tired chin resting on his
tired hands and elbows, thought of the gruff Bully Presby with some
interest.

"Oh, so the old Rattler owner has a daughter, eh?"

"I don't mean old skinflint Presby!" sharply corrected the engineer.
"He ain't the only Presby in this whole United States, is he? He don't
own the whole world and the name, even if he thinks he does. This
Presby I'm talkin' about ain't no kin of his. He's too white. He owns
all them sawmills on the other side of the Cross peak, about four
miles from here. Got a railroad of his own. Worth about a billion, I
reckon."

Dick's momentary interest subsided, but he heard the old man babbling
on:

"I worked for him once, when Dorothy was a little bit of a kid. Him
and me fought, but he's a white man. She's been away to some of those
fool colleges for women back East, they say, for the last four or five
years. It don't do women no good to know too much. My wife couldn't
read or write, and she was the best woman that ever lived, bar none."

He looked around as if delivering a challenge, and, finding that no
one was paying any attention to him, subsided, fidgeted for a minute,
and then said he guessed he'd "turn in so's the water wouldn't gain on
the pumps in the mornin'."

On the insistent demand of his partner, Dick also retired shortly, and
the cabin on the hillside was dark save for the dim light that glowed
in the sufferer's room.

They began to straggle in, the men wanted, before the partners had
finished their breakfast on the following morning. Some of them were
real miners, and others were nondescripts, bearing out The Lily's
statement that good men were scarce, but all were hired as they came,
and the Croix d'Or began to thrill with activity.

A fat cook--and no miner can explain why a camp cook is always
fat--beamed from the mess-house door. A blacksmith, accepting the
ready name of "Smuts," oiled the rusted wheels of his blower, and
swore patiently and softly at a new helper as he selected the drills
for sharpening. Three Burley drill runners tinkered with their
machines, and scraped off the verdigris and accumulated dust of
storage; millmen began to reset the tables, strip the damaged plates,
and lay in new water pipes to drip ceaselessly over the powered ore.
Over all these watched Bill with his bandaged face, rumbling orders
here and there, and tirelessly active. Out on the pipe line, winding
by cut and trestle from the reservoir in the high hills, Dick
superintended repairs and laid plans.

Leaving his gang replacing sections near the power-house, he climbed
up the length of the line to discover, if possible, how far the labors
of the vandal had extended. Foot by foot he had traversed it, almost
to the reservoir itself, when he paused to breathe and look off at the
mountains spread below and around.

The Cross, in the distance, was softened again to a miracle of dim
yellow laid against a field of purple, and, like a speck, a huge eagle
swept in circles round its point to come to rest on its extreme
summit. He turned from admiring its flight to inspect a bowlder that
had tumbled down from the slope above and come to rest in a big dent;
it had smashed in the top of the pipe. He picked up a piece of a
storm-broken limb, used it as a lever, and sent the rock crashing
across the pipe to go bounding down the hillside as it gained momentum
with every leap.

There was a startled snort, a sudden threshing of the brush, and it
parted to disclose a girl astride a horse that was terrified and
endeavoring his best to dismount his rider. Dick, surmising that horse
and rider had suffered a narrow escape from the bowlder, ran toward
them remorsefully, but the girl already had the animal in control
after a display of splendid horsemanship.

"Thank you," she said, as he hastened toward the horse's head, intent
on seizing the snaffle. "Please don't touch him. I can quiet him
down."

"I am so sorry," he pleaded, with his hat in his hand. "I had no idea
that any one ever rode up this way."

"Don't apologize," she answered, with a careless laugh. "No one ever
does, save me. It's an old and favorite view of mine. I used to ride
here, to see the Cross, many years ago, before I went away to school.
So I came back to see my old friend, and--well--your bowlder would
have struck us if my horse hadn't jumped."

She laughed again, and reached a yellow-gauntleted hand down to pat
her mount's shoulder with a soothing caress. The horse stopped
trembling, and looked at Dick with large, intelligent eyes.

"Ah," said Dick, remembering the garrulity of the engineer. "I believe
you must be Miss Presby."

Even as she said simply: "I am, but how did you know? I don't remember
ever seeing you," he took note of her modish blue riding-dress with
divided skirts and patent-leather boots. There was a clean freshness
about her person, a smiling candor in her eyes, and a fine, frank
girlishness in her face that attracted him beyond measure. She
appeared to be about twenty years of age, and was such a girl as those
he had known and danced with, in those distant university days when
his future seemed assured, and life a joyous conquest with all the
odds in his favor. Now she was of another world, for he was, after
all, but a workingman, while she, the daughter of a millionaire
lumberman, would dance and associate with those other university men
whose financial incomes enabled them to dawdle as they pleased through
life. He had no bitterness in this summary, but he sustained an
instant's longing for a taste of that old existence, and the
camaraderie of such girls as the one who sat before him on her horse.

"No," he said, looking up at her, "you never saw me before. I have
been in the Blue Mountains but six weeks. I am Richard Townsend."

Her face took on a look of aroused interest, different from the casual
look she had been giving him in the brief minute of their meeting.

"Oh," she said, "then you must be the Mr. Townsend of the Croix d'Or.
I learned of your arrival last night after I came home. You are
rehabilitating the old mine?"

"Yes," he answered, smiling. "At least we are trying to. As to the
outcome--I don't know."

"You mustn't say that!" she protested. "Faith in anything is the first
requisite for success. That's what it says in the copybooks, doesn't
it?"

She laughed again in her clear, mezzo voice, and then with a
resumption of gravity gathered her reins into a firmer grip, and, as
her horse lifted his head in response to the summons, said: "Anyway, I
thank you for volunteering to rescue me, Mr. Townsend, and wish you
lots of good luck, but please don't start any more bowlders down the
hill, because if you do I shall be robbed of my most enjoyable trip
each day. Good-by."

"Don't be afraid," he called to her, as she started away. "There are
no more bowlders to roll."

He stood and watched her as she rode, masterfully seated on the black
horse, around a crag that stuck out into the trail.

"'Faith in anything is the first requisite for success,'" he repeated
to himself, striving to recall whether or not it was, as she had
intimated, a hackneyed proverb for the young; yet there was something
bracing in it, coming from her calm, young, womanly lips. "That's it;
she has it," he again said to himself. "'Faith.' That's what I need."
And he resumed his tramp up the mountainside with a better courage and
more hope for the Croix d'Or. He was still vaguely troubled when he
made his way back past the power-house, in a sliding, scrambling
descent, his boots starting tiny avalanches of shale and loose rock to
go clattering down the mountainside.

The new men were proving competent under the direction of a boss
pipeman who had been made foreman, and Dick trudged away toward the
mine, feeling that one part of the work, at least, would be speedily
accomplished.

Bill was still striding backward and forward, but devoting most of his
attention to cleaning up the mill, and declared, with a wry smile,
that he never felt better in his life, but never liked talking less.

When the noon whistle shrieked its high, staccato note from the
engine-house, they went up to the mess, and seated themselves at the
head of the table. As a whole, the men were fairly satisfactory. Bill
stared coldly down the table, and appeared to be mentally tabulating
those who would draw but one pay-check, and that when their "time" was
given them, but Dick's mind persisted in wandering afield to the
chance encounter of the morning.

The men had finished their hasty meal, in hasty miner's fashion,
silently, and tramped, with clumping feet, out of the mess-house to
the shade of its northern side before Bill had ended his painful
repast. Whiffs of tobacco smoke and voices came through the open
windows, where the miners lounged and rested on a long bench while
waiting for the whistle.

"Don't you fool yourself about Bully Presby," one of them was saying.
"It's true he's a hard man, and out for the dust every minute of his
life, but he's got nerve, all right. He'll bulldoze and fight and
growl and gouge, but he's there in other ways. I don't like him, and
we quit pretty sudden, yet I saw him do somethin' once that beat me."

"Did you work on the Rattler?" another voice queried.

"No," the other went on, "I worked for him down on the Placer Belle in
California. It was under the old system and was a small mine. Kept all
the dynamite on the hundred-foot level in an old chamber. Every man
went there to get it when it was time to load his holes. I was
startin' for mine one evenin', whistlin' along, when I smelled smoke.
Stopped and sniffed, and about weakened. Knowed it was comin' from the
powder room down there. It wan't more'n twenty feet from the shaft,
and there was two or three tons of it in that hole. Ran back and gave
the alarm bell to the engineer, then ducked my head and went toward
the smoke to see if anything could be done before she blew up the
whole works. On his hands and knees, with all that was left of his
coat, was Bully. He'd got the fire nearly smothered out, and we
coughed and spit, and drowned the rest of the sparks from the water
barrel. He'd fought it to a finish all alone, and I had to drag him
out to the cage that was slidin' up and down as if the engineer was on
a drunk, and every time it went up I could see the boys' faces, kind
of white, and worried, and hear the alarms bangin' away like mad. But
he'd put the fire out there with all that stuff around him. That took
some nerve, I tell you!"

"What did he do for you?" asked another voice.

The narrator gave a heavy laugh, and chuckled.

"Do for me? When he got fresh air in him again, up in the hoist, he
sat up and opened his hand. In it was a candlestick and a snipe,
burned on the side till the wick looked about a foot long. 'Who owns
this candlestick?' says he. No one spoke, but some of us knowed it
belonged to old Deacon Wells, an absent-minded old cuss, but the
deacon had a family of nigh on to ten kids. So nobody answered. 'Some
fool left this here,' Bully bellowed, tearing around. 'And that's what
started the fire. I'll kick the man off the works that owns the
stick.' Still nobody said anything. He caught me grinnin'. 'You know
who it was,' says he. 'Sure I do,' says I, 'but I'm a little
tongue-tied.' Then he told me he'd fire me if I didn't say who it was.
'Give me my time-check,' says I, and he gave it. He found out
afterward I was the man that dragged him out, and sent a letter up to
Colusa askin' me to come back, but I didn't go. Don't s'pose he'd
remember me now, and don't know as I'd want him to. Any man that works
for Bully comes about as near givin' away his heart's blood as any one
could, and live."

The voices went rumbling on, and Dick sat thinking of the strange,
powerful man of the Rattler.

"Three of the millmen know their business," mumbled Bill, as if all
the time he had been mentally appraising his force. "Two are rumdums.
The chips isn't bad. He could carpenter anywhere, and if he's as
smart a timberman as he is millwright, will make good. The engineer
that's to relieve Bells ain't so much, but I'll leave it to Bells to
cuss him into line. That goes. Two of the Burley men are all right,
and I fired the third in the first hour because he didn't know what
was the nut and which the wrench. Smuts is a gem. He put the
pigeon-blue temper on a bunch of drills as fast as any man could have
done it."

Dick did not answer, but concentrated his mind on the work ahead. The
whistle blew, and he compelled Bill to submit to new bandages,
following the doctor's instructions, and smiled at his steady swearing
as the wrappings were removed and the blisters redressed. They walked
across to the hoist, entered the cage, and felt the sinking sensation
as they were dropped, rather than lowered, to the six-hundred-foot
level. The celerity of the descent almost robbed him of breath, but he
thought of sturdy old Bells' boast, that he had "never run a cage into
the sheaves, nor dropped it to the sump, in forty years of steam."

Lights glowed ahead of them, and they heard hammering. The suck of
fresh air under pressure, vapored like steam, whirled around them in
gusts, and the water oozed and rippled beside their feet as they went
forward. The carpenter was putting in a new set of timbers, and his
task was nearly finished, while beside him waited a drill man and a
swamper with the cumbersome, spiderlike mechanism ready to set. The
carpenter gave a few more blows to a key block, and methodically flung
his hammer into his box and hurried back out through the tunnel toward
the cage, intent on resuming his work at the mill.

Bill tentatively inspected the timbers, tapped the roof with a pick
taken from the swamper's hands, heard the true ring of live rock, and
backed away. The drill was drawn up to the green face of ore.

"About there, I should say," Dick directed, pointing an indicatory
finger, and the drill runner nodded.

The swamper, who appeared to know his business, came forward with the
coupling which fed compressed air to the machine, the runner gave a
last inspection of his drill, turned his chuck screw, setting it
against the rocky face, and signaled for the air. With a clatter like
the discharge of a rapid-fire gun, the steel bit into the rock, and
the Cross was really a mine again. Spattered with mud, and satisfied
that the new drift was working in pay, the partner trudged back out.

They signaled for the cage, shot upward, and emerged to the yard near
the blacksmith's tunnel in time to see a huge bay horse, with a woman
rider, come toiling up the slope. There was something familiar about
the white hat, and as she neared them they recognized The Lily. Before
they could assist her to dismount, she leaped from the saddle, landing
lightly on her toes, and dropped the horse's reins over his head.

"Good-day--never mind--he'll stand," she said, all in a breath,
striding toward them with an extended hand.

Dick accepted it with a firm grip, and lifted his hat, while Bill
merely shook hands and tried to smile. It was to him that she turned
solicitously.

"I'm glad you are out," she remarked, without lowering her eyes which
swept over the bandages on his face. "You're all right, are you?"

"Sure. But how's that girl? It don't matter much about an old cuss
like me. Girls are a heap scarcer."

The owner of the High Light looked troubled for a moment, and removed
her gloves before answering.

"Doctor Mills says she will live," she said quietly, "but she is
terribly burned. She will be so disfigured that she can never work in
a dance hall any more. It's pretty rough luck."

Dick recoiled and felt a chill at this hard, cold statement. The girl
could never work in a dance hall any more! And this was accepted as a
calamity! Accustomed as he was to the frontier, this matter-of-fact
acceptance of a dance-hall occupation as something desirable impressed
him with its cynicism. Not that he doubted the virtue of many of those
forlorn ones who gayly tripped their feet over rough boards, and drank
tea or ginger ale and filled their pockets with bar checks to make a
living as best they might, but because the whole garish, rough,
drink-laden, curse-begrimed atmosphere of a camp dance hall revolted
him.

Mrs. Meredith had intuition, and read men as she read books,
understandingly. She arose to the defense of her sex.

"Well," she said, facing him, as if he had voiced his sentiment, "what
would you have? Women are what men make them, no better, no worse."

"I have made no criticism," he retorted.

"No, but you thought one," she asserted. "But, pshaw! I didn't come
here to argue. I came up to tell you that the dance-hall girl will
recover and has friends who will see that she doesn't starve, even if
she no longer works in my place. Also, I came to see how Mister--what
is your name, anyway?--is."

"Mathews, ma'am. William Mathews. My friends call me Bill. I don't
allow the others to call me anything."

The temporary and threatening cloud was dissipated by the miner's
rumbling laugh, and they sauntered across the yard, the bay horse
looking after them, but standing as firmly as if the loosened reins
were tied to a post instead of resting on the ground. A swamper,
carrying a bundle of drills, trudged across the yard to the blacksmith
shop, as they stood in its doorway.

"I sent you the best men I could pick up," The Lily said. "You did me
a good turn, and I did my best to pay it back. That blacksmith is all
right. Some of the others I know, but I don't know him. Never saw him
before. You'd better watch him."

She pointed at the swamper as coolly as if he were an inanimate
object, and he glared at her in return, then dropped his eyes.

"I told you I didn't run an employment agency," she went on, "but if
any of these fellows get fresh, let me know, and I'll try to get you
others. How does the Cross look, anyway?"

They turned away and accompanied her over the plant above ground, and
heard her greet man after man on a level of comradeship, as if she
were but a man among men. Her hard self-possession and competence
impressed the younger man as a peculiar study. It seemed to him, as he
walked beside her thoughtfully, that every womanly trait had been
ground from her in the stern mills of circumstance. He had a vague
desire to probe into her mind and learn whether or not there still
dwelt within it the softness of her sex, but he dared not venture. He
stood beside the bandaged veteran as she rode away, a graceful,
independent figure.

"Is she all tiger, or part woman?" he said, turning to Mathews, whose
eyes had a singularly thoughtful look.

The latter turned to him with a quick gesture, and threw up his
unbandaged hand.

"My boy," he said, "she's not a half of anything. She's all tiger, or
all woman! God only knows!"



CHAPTER VII

THE WOMAN UNAFRAID


They were to have another opportunity to puzzle over the character of
The Lily before a week passed, when, wishing to make out a new bill of
supplies, they went down to the camp. The night was fragrant with the
spring of the mountains, summer elsewhere--down in the levels where
other occupations than mining held rule. The camp had the same dead
level of squalor in appearance, the same twisting, wriggling, reckless
life in its streets.

"Fine new lot of stuff in," the trader said, pushing his goods in a
brisk way. "Never been a finer lot of stuff brought into any camp than
I've got here now. Canned tomatoes, canned corn, canned beans, canned
meat, canned tripe, canned salmon. That's a pretty big layout, eh? And
I reckon there never was no better dried prunes and dried apricots
ever thrown across a mule's back than I got. Why, they taste as if
you was eatin' 'em right off the bushes! And Mexican beans! Hey, look
at these! Talk about beans and sowbelly, how would these do?"

He plunged his grimy hand into a sack, and lifted a handful of beans
aloft to let them sift through his fingers, clattering, on those
below. The partners agreed that he had everything in the world that
any one could crave in the way of delicacies, and gave him their
orders; then, that hour's task completed, sauntered out into the
street.

Dick started toward the trail leading homeward, but Bill checked him,
with a slow: "Hold on a minute."

The younger man turned back, and waited for him to speak.

"I'd kind of like to go down to the High Light for a while," the big
man said awkwardly. "We ought to go round there and see Mrs. Meredith,
and patronize her as far as a few soda pops, and such go, hadn't we?
Seein' as how she's been right good to us."

Dick, nothing loath to a visit to The Lily, assented, although the
High Light, with its camp garishness, was an old and familiar sight to
any one who had passed seven years in outlying mining regions.

The proprietress was not in sight when they entered, but the
bartenders greeted them in a more friendly way, and the Chinese, who
seemed forever cleaning glasses, grinned them a welcome. They nodded
to those they recognized, and walked back to the little railing.

"Lookin' for Lily?" the man with the bangs asked, trying to show his
friendliness. "She ain't here now, but she'll be here soon. She's
about due. Go on up and grab a box for yourselves. The house owes you
fellers a drink, it seems to me. Can I send you up a bottle of Pumbry?
The fizzy stuff's none too good for you, I guess."

He appeared disappointed when Dick told him to send up two lemonades,
and turned back to lean across the bar and hail some new arrival. The
partners went up and seated themselves in one of the cardboard stalls
dignified by the name of boxes, and, leaning over the railing in front
between the gilt-embroidered, red-denim curtains, looked down on the
dancers. Two or three of their own men were there, grimly waltzing
with girls who tried to appear cheerful and joyous.

Shrill laughter echoed now and then, and when the music changed a man
with a voice like a megaphone shouted: "Gents! Git pardners for the
square sets!" and the scene shifted into one of more regular pattern,
where different individuals were more conspicuous. Some of the more
hilarious cavorted, and tried clumsy shuffles on the corners when the
raucous-voiced man howled: "Bala-a-ance all!" and others merely jigged
up and down with stiff jerks and muscle-bound limbs, gravely, and with
a desperate, earnest endeavor to enjoy themselves.

A glowering, pockmarked man, evidently seeking some one with no good
intent, pulled open the curtains at the back of the box, and stared at
them in half-drunken gravity; then discovering his mistake, with a
clumsy "Beg pardon, gents," let the draperies drop, and passed on down
the row.

Across from them, in the opposite box, some man from the placers, with
his face tanned to a copper color, was hilariously surrounding himself
with all the girls he could induce to become his guests, holding a box
party of his own. He was leaning over the rail and bellowing so loudly
that his voice could be heard above the din: "Hey, down there! You,
Tim! Bring me up a bottle of the bubbly water--two bottles--five--no,
send up a case. Whoop-ee! Pay on seventeen! This is where little Hank
Jones celebrates! Come on up, girls. Here's where no men is wanted.
It's me all by my little lonely!"

Some one threw a garland of paper flowers round his neck, which he
esteemed as a high honor, and shook it out over the floor below, where
all the dancers were becoming confused in an endeavor simultaneously
to watch his antics, and keep their places in the dance.

"The most disgusting object in the world is a man who drinks!" came a
cold voice behind them, and they turned to see The Lily standing back
of them, and frowning at the scene across.

Bill turned to greet her, holding out his hand, and his broad
shoulders shut out the view of Bacchanalia.

"The bartender says you drink nothing stronger than lemonade," she
said, looking up at the giant, "and I am glad to hear it. It is a
pleasure to meet men like you once in a while. It keeps one from
losing faith in all."

She sat down in one of the chairs--a trifle wearily, Dick thought, and
he noticed that there were lines under the eyebrows, melancholy,
pensive, that he had not observed before in the few times they had met
her. As on the occasion of their meeting at the mine, she appeared to
sense his thoughts, and turned toward him as if to defend herself.

"You are asking yourself and me the question, why, if I dislike
liquor, and gambling, and all this, I am owner of the High Light?" she
said, reverting to her old-time hardness. "Well, it's because I want
money. Does that answer you?"

"I didn't ask you a question," he retorted.

"No, but it's just like it always is with you! You looked one. I'm not
sure that I like you; you look so devilish clean-minded. You always
accuse me, without saying anything so that I can have a chance to
answer back. It isn't fair. I don't like to be made uncomfortable. I
am what I am, and can't help it."

She turned her frowning eyes on Bill, and they softened. She relented,
and for the first time in the evening her rare laugh sounded softly
from between her white, even teeth.

"You see," she said, addressing him, "I can't help being angry with
Mr. Townsend. I think I'm a little afraid of him. I'm a coward in some
ways. You're different. You just smile kindly at me, as if you were
older than Methuselah, and had all the wisdom of Solomon or Socrates,
and were inclined to be tolerant when you couldn't agree."

"Go on," Bill said. "You're doin' all the talkin'."

"I have a right to exercise at least one womanly prerogative, once in
a while," she laughed. And then: "But I am talking more than usual.
Tell me about the mine and the men? How goes it?"

They had but little to tell her, yet she seemed to find it interesting,
and her eyes had the absent look of one who listens and sees distant
scenes under discussion to the exclusion of all immediate surroundings.

"Have you met Bully Presby yet?" she asked.

They smiled, and told her they had.

"He is a wonderful man," she said admiringly. "He makes his way over
everything and everybody. He is ruthless in going after what he wants.
He fears nothing above or below. I honestly believe that if the arch
demon were to block him on the trail, Bully Presby would take a chance
and try to throw him over a cliff. I don't suppose he ever had a vice
or a human emotion. I believe I'd like him better if he had a little
of both."

Dick laughed outright, and stared at her with renewed interest. He
admitted to himself that she was one of the most fascinating women he
had ever met, and wondered what vicissitude could have brought such a
woman, who used classical illustrations, fluent, cultivated speech,
and who was strong grace exemplified, to such a position. She seemed
master of her surroundings, and yet not of them, looking down with a
hard and lofty scorn on the very men from whom she made her living. He
began to believe what was commonly said of her, that her virtue,
physical and ethical, was unassailable.

There was a crash and a loud guffaw of laughter. They pulled the
curtains farther apart, and looked across at the man who was
celebrating. He had dropped a bottle of wine to the floor below, and
was beseeching some one to bring it up to him.

Bill leaned farther out of the box to look, and suddenly the drummer
saw him, pointed in his direction with a drumstick, and spoke to a
girl leaning near by. She, too, looked up, and then clapped her
hands.

"There he is!" she called in her high treble voice. "Up there in
number five! The man that carried Pearl out and got burned himself."

Some man near her climbed to the little stage and pointed, took off
his hat, and shouted: "A tiger for that man! Now! All together!
Whooee! Whooee! Whooee! Ow!"

In the wild yell that every one joined, Bill was abashed. He shrank
back into the box, flushed and embarrassed, while Dick laughed
outright, with boyish enjoyment at his confusion, and The Lily watched
him with a soft look in her eyes, and then stared down at the floor
below.

Suddenly her figure seemed to stiffen, and the look on her face
altered to one of cold anger. She peered farther over as if to assure
herself of something, and Dick, following her eyes, saw they were
fixed on a man who stood leaning against one of the pillars near the
entrance to the dance floor. He alone, apparently, was taking no part
in the demonstration in Bill's honor, but glowered sullenly toward the
box. It took no long reasoning for Dick to know why. The man was the
one who had been the watchman at the mine when they arrived.

The band struck up again, and another dance began, the enthusiasts
forgetting Bill as quickly as they had saluted him; but the
ex-watchman continued to lean against the post, a picture of
sullenness, and in the box The Lily stood with knitted brows, as if
trying to recollect him.

"Well," she said at last, "I must go now. Come and see me whenever
you can, both of you. I like you."

They arose and followed her out of the box, and down the flimsy
stairs that led to the floor below. She paused on the bottom step, and
clutched the casing with both hands, then tried to get a closer
look at the ex-watchman, who had turned away until but a small part
of his face was exposed. She walked onward, still looking angrily
preoccupied, to the end of the bar, and the partners were on the
point of bidding her good-night, when she abruptly started, seemed to
tense herself, and exclaimed: "Now I know him!"

The partners wondered when she made a swift clutch under the end of
the bar and slipped something into the bosom of her jacket. She took
five or six determined steps toward the ex-watchman and tapped him on
the shoulder.

He whirled sharply as if his mind had guilty fears, and faced her
defiantly.

Those immediately around, suspecting something unusual, stopped to
watch them, and listened.

"So you are here in Goldpan, are you, Wolff?" she demanded, with a
cold sneer in her voice.

He gave her a fierce, defiant stare, and brazenly growled: "You're
off. My name's not Wolff. My name's Brown."

"You lie!" she flared back, with a hard anger in her voice. "Your name
is Gus Wolff! You get out of this place, and don't you ever come in
again! If you do, I'll have you thrown out like a dog."

He glowered at the crowd that was forming around him, as crowds
invariably form in any controversy, and then started toward the door,
but he made a grave mistake. He called back a vile epithet as he
went.

"Stop!" she commanded him, with an imperious, compelling tone.

He half-turned, and then shrugged his shoulders, and made as if to
move on.

"Stop, I said!"

He turned again to face a pistol which she had snatched from her
jacket, and now the partners, amazed, understood what that swift
motion had meant. He halted irresolutely.

"You used a name toward me that I permit no man to use," she said
fiercely. "So I shall explain to these men of Goldpan who you are, Gus
Wolff! You were in Butte five years ago. You induced a poor, silly
little fool named Rose Trevor to leave the dance hall where she
worked, and go with you. You were one of those who believe that women
are made to be brutalized. But good as most of them are, and bad as
some of them are, there is none, living or dead, that you are or were
fit to consort with. You murdered her. Don't you dare to deny it! They
found her dead outside of your cabin. They arrested you, and tried
you, and should have hanged you, but they couldn't get the proof of
what everybody believed, that you--you brute--had killed, then thrown
her over the rocks to claim that she had fallen there in the
darkness."

She paused as if the tempest of her words had left her breathless, and
men glared at him savagely. It seemed as if every one had crowded
forward to hear her denunciation.

"Bah!" she added scornfully. "The jury was made up of fools, and men
knew it. The sheriff himself told you so when he slipped you out of
the jail where he had protected you, and let you loose across the
border in the night. Didn't he? And he told you that if ever you came
back to Butte, he would not turn a hand to keep you from the clutches
of the mob; didn't he? And now you are plain 'Mister Brown,' working
somewhere back up in the hills, are you? Well, Mr. Brown, you keep
away from the High Light. Get out!"

Some one made a restless motion, and declared the man should be
hanged, even now, but The Lily turned her angry eyes on the speaker,
and silenced him.

"Not if I can help it, or any of my friends can," she said coolly.
"There'll be no mobbing anybody around here. I've said enough. Let him
alone, but remember what kind of a blackguard he is. That's all!"

She turned back and tossed the pistol behind the bar, and the crowd,
as if her words and the advice of the more contained element
prevailed, resumed its play. She looked up, and saw the partners
waiting to bid her good-night, and suddenly bit her lip, as if ashamed
that they had seen her fury unmasked.

"We're going now," Bill said, reaching out his hand. She did not take
it, but looked around the room with unreadable eyes.

"I'll walk with you to the beginning of your trail," she said. "I'm
sick of this," and led the way out into the night.

For half the length of the long street, she strode between them,
wordless, and then suddenly halted and held her arms apart
appealingly.

"What must you think of me?" she said, with a note of grief in her
voice. "Oh, you two don't know it all! You don't know what it takes to
make a woman, who tries to be decent, rebellious at everything under
the skies. What brutes there are walking the earth! Sometimes, lately,
I begin to doubt if there is a God!"

"And that," exclaimed the quiet, steadfast young voice at her side,
"is unworthy of you and your intelligence."

She halted again, as if thinking.

"And I," said the giant, in his deep, musical tones, "know there's
one. It takes more than men to make me believe there ain't. I know it
when I look at them!" He waved his hands at the starlit mountains
surrounding them, and towering in serenity high up to the cloudless
spaces.

"I'd be mighty ashamed to doubt when I can see them," he said, "and if
they went away, I'd still believe it; because if I didn't, I couldn't
see no use in livin' any more. It's havin' Him lean down and whisper
to you once in a while, in the night, when everything seems to be
goin' wrong, 'Old boy, you did well,' that keeps it all worth while
and makes a feller stiffen his back and go ahead, with his conscience
clean and not carin' a cuss what anybody says or thinks, so longs as
he knows that the Lord knows he did the right thing."

She faltered for a moment, and Dick, staring through the darkness at
her, could not decide whether it was because the woman in her was
melting after the storm of anger, or whether she was merely weighing
his partner's words. As abruptly as had been any of her actions in all
the time they had known her, she turned and walked away from them, her
soft "Good-night" wafting itself back with a note of profound sadness
and misery.

"I've decided what she is," Bill said, as they paused for a last look
at the lights of the camp. "She's all woman, and a mighty good one, at
that!"



CHAPTER VIII

THE INCONSISTENT BULLY


"Them beans," declared the fat cook, plaintively, "looks as if they
had been put through some sort of shrivelin' process. The dried prunes
are sure dry all right! Must have been put up about the time they
dried them mummy things back in Egypt. Apuricots? Humph! I soaked some
of 'em all day and to-night took one over to the shop and cut it open
with a chisel to see if it was real leather, or only imitation. The
canned salmon, and the canned tripe is all swells so that the cans is
round instead of flat on the ends. I reckon you'd better go down and
see that storekeeper. I dassen't! If I did I'd probably lose my temper
and wallop him. If somebody don't go, the men here'll be makin' a
mistake, blamin' it on me, and I can't exactly see how they could keep
from hangin' me, if they want to do justice."

He had stood in the doorway of the office to voice his complaint, and
now, without further words walked away toward his own particular
section of the little camp village.

"So that's the way that trader down there filled the order, is it?"
Dick said, frowning at his companion.

The latter merely grunted and then offered a solution.

"Probably," he said, "that stuff was sent up here without bein'
opened, just as he got it. If that's so it ain't his fault. About half
the rows in life come from takin' things for granted. The other half
because we know too well how things did happen."

He stood up and stretched his arms.

"What do you say we go down and hear what the trader has to say? If
he's square he'll make good. If he ain't--we'll make him!"

Taking it for granted that the younger man would accompany him, he was
already slipping off his working shirt and peering around the corners
of the room for his clean boots. Dick hesitated and had to be urged.
He wondered then if it were not possible that something beside the
errand to the trader's caused Bill's eagerness; but wisely kept the
idea to himself.

The camp was in the dusk when they entered it, the soft dusk that
falls over early summer evenings in the hills, when everything in
nature seems drowsily awaiting the night. They thought there was an
unusual hush in the manner of those they met. Men talked on the
corners or in groups in the roadway with unaccustomed earnestness.
Women leaned across window sills and chatted across intervening spaces
with an air of anxiety; the very dogs in the street appeared to be
subdued. At the trader's there was not the usual small gathering of
loungers, squatted sociably around on cracker boxes and packing cases,
and the man with the twang was alone.

"Say, there's something wrong with that stuff you sent us," Bill
began, and the trader answered with a soft, absent-minded, "So?"

Bill repeated the words of the cook; but the storekeeper continued to
stare out of the door as if but half of what was said proved
interesting.

"I'll send up and bring it back to-morrow," he replied when the miner
had concluded his complaint. "The fact is it's a job lot I bought in
Portland, and I didn't look at it. Came in yesterday. I ain't--I ain't
exactly feelin' right. I suppose you heard about it?"

The partners looked at him questioningly, but he did not shift his
eyes from the door through which he still appeared to be staring away
into the distance, and it was easy to conjecture, from the expression
of his eyes, that he was seeing a tragedy.

"I'm sort of busted up," he went on, without looking at them. "You see
I had a brother over there. A shift boss, he was. Him and me was more
than brothers. We was friends. It don't seem right that Hiram was down
there, in the dark, when the big cave came--came just as if the whole
mountain wanted to smash them men under it. It don't seem right! I
can't quite get it all yet. I'm goin' over there on the stage in the
mornin'. He's left a widder and a couple of little shavers. I'm goin'
to bring 'em here."

"We don't quite understand you," Dick said, hesitatingly, and with
sympathy in his voice. "We haven't heard about it--whatever it is. I'm
sorry if----"

The trader straightened up from where he had been leaning on his
elbows across the counter and they saw that his face was drawn.

"Oh, I see," he said, in the same slow, hopeless voice. "I forgot you
men don't come down here very often and that my driver never has
anything to say to anybody. Why, it's the Blackbird mine over across
the divide--on the east spur. Bad, old fashioned mine she was, with
crawlin' ground. Lime streaks all through the formation and plenty of
water. Nobody quite knows how it happened. There was a big slip over
there a few days ago on the four-hundred-foot level. Thirty odd men
back of it. Timbers went off, they say, like a gatlin' gun. I just
can't seem to understand how they didn't handle that ground better. It
don't look right to me!"

He stooped and twisted his fingers together and the palms of his hands
gave out dry, rasping sounds. His attitude seemed inconsistent with
the immobility of his face, but Dick surmised that he was trying to
regain control of his emotions. He had a keen desire to know more of
the particulars of the tragedy, but sensed from the storekeeper's
appearance that he was scarcely able to give a coherent account of it.
His words had already told his sorrow. Bill's voice broke the pause.

"We're right sorry we bothered you about the supplies," he said,
softly. "But we didn't know, you see. I reckon we ain't in any big
hurry. You just take your time about fixin' it up. We can live on most
anything for a day or two."

The storekeeper looked at him gratefully and then lowered his eyes
again. He turned away from them with a long sigh.

"Nope," he said. "Much obliged. I'll send my man up to-morrow.
Business keeps a-goin' on just the same, no matter who passes out. If
you or me died to-night, the whole world would just keep joggin'
along. I'll send up."

They turned and walked out, feeling that anything they could say would
be useless, and sound hollow, and they did not speak until they were
some distance farther up the street.

"He's hard hit, poor cuss!" Bill said. "Wonder what the rest of it
was. Lets go on up toward the High Light. Seems as if it must have
been pretty bad. What's the commotion down there?"

Ahead of them they saw men clustering toward a central point, and
others who had been in the street hurrying forward to be absorbed into
the group. They quickened their steps a trifle, speculating as to
whether it could mean a brawl, or something relating to the disaster
of which they had just learned. It proved the latter. A man was
standing in the center of the gathering crowd with the reins of a
tired horse hanging loosely over his arm. He was talking to the
doctor, who was asking him questions.

"No," Bill and Dick heard him say as they crowded into the group,
"there ain't nothin' you can do, Doc. It's all over with 'em. I was
there until quite late. God! It's awful!"

"Anybody get out at all?" someone asked.

"No. That's a cinch. You see they were driving back in and feeling for
the ledge. Blocking out, I think. Pretty lean ore, over there, you
know. So there was just one drift away from the shaft, and it was in
that she caved."

There was a moment's silence and then a half-dozen questions asked
almost in the same moment. The man turned first to one and then to
another as if striving to decide which query should be answered first,
and shook his head hopelessly.

"They didn't have a chance," he asserted. "It happened three days ago,
as you all know. They sent over to Arrapahoe and all the boys over
there went and volunteered. They worked just as many men as could get
into the drift at a time, and they spelled each other in half-hour
shifts, so's every man could do his best. They hadn't got in twenty
feet before they saw that she was bad. Seemed as if the whole drift
had been wiped out. It was as solid as rock in place--just as if the
whole mountain had slipped!"

"Did you go down, Jim?" the doctor asked.

For reply the man held up his hands. Dick, close behind him and
peering forward to see them in the light that came from a street lamp,
saw they were a mass of blisters with the skin torn away, red and
bleeding. The answer was too eloquent to require words for the man
they called Jim had evidently been there and striving madly, as had
others, in the attempt to rescue. There was a surge forward as the
crowd pressed in, each man trying to inspect these evidences of the
tragedy. The questions were coming faster and from all sides. Most
frequently the anxious demand, coupled with a pronounced eagerness
was, "Is there anything any of us can do? Can we help if we get over
there?"

"How far over is it?" Bill asked the man nearest him.

"Forty-miles," was the answer. They were all willing to travel that
far, or farther, if they could be of any assistance whatever.

"No, there's no use in going," the man in the center said. "There's
more men there now than can be handled, and all they're doing is to
try to get at the boys' bodies. It's sure that they can't live till
they're taken out. You all know that! They're gone, every one of 'em.
And that ain't the worst. They left twenty-six widows, most of 'em
with children!"

A groan went up from the crowd. The word passed back along like the
waves cast up by a rock thrown into the center of a pool of blackness.
It began at the center with its repetition as the words were conveyed
to those out of earshot. "He says there's twenty-six widows. He says
there's a lot of children."

The questions were flowing inward again.

"No, boys, there ain't a thing you can do," the man they called Jim
repeated. "That is, there ain't a thing can be done for the boys
underground. They're gone; but somebody ought to do what can be done
for them that's left. It's money that helps the most. That's the best
way to show that most all of us had friends who went out."

He turned and climbed back into his saddle in the little open space,
and there was another moment's silence. The crowd looked up at him
now, as he sat there in the center of the light thrown downward,
feebly, from the lamp.

"Give me room, boys, won't you?" he asked. "My cayuse is about all in.
There ain't nothing more to tell. There ain't a thing you can do; but
just what I said. Those women and children will need money. They're
all broke."

The crowd slowly parted and he rode through a narrow lane where his
stirrups brushed against those in the front ranks, and then the
gathering began to twist backward and forward, to disintegrate, to
spread itself outward and up the street of the camp. It talked in a
subdued way as it went. There were but few in it who did not know and
picture the meaning of all that had been imparted by the courier--the
desperate alarm, the haggard, sobbing women in front of a hoist, the
relays of men who were ready to descend and beat hammer on steel and
tear madly at slow-yielding rock, the calls for a rest while
carpenters hastily propped up tottering roofs and walls, the
occasional warning shouts when men fell back to watch other huge
masses of rock fall into the black drift, and the instants when some
rescuer, overwrought, thought he heard sounds of "rock telegraphing"
and bade the others pause and listen. There were those among the men
on the street who had seen the desperate, melancholy conclusions, when
hope, flaming ever more feebly, guttered out as a burned candle and
died. There were those among them who had been in those black holes of
despair and been rescued, to carry scars of the body for life, but
recklessly forget the scars of the mind, the horrors of despair.
Comparative strangers to the camp as were the two men of the Cross,
they appreciated the full meaning of the blow; for doubtless there was
scarcely a man around them who had not known some of those who
perished in that terrible, lingering agony. Besides they were miners
all.

"Pretty tough luck, isn't it?"

They found themselves confronted by the doctor, who had turned at the
sound of their voices as they resumed conversation.

"We just learned of it," Dick answered, "and know scarcely anything
whatever of it, save what we just heard."

The doctor shook his head.

"It has been almost the sole topic here for the last two days," he
said. "We heard of it after it was too late for any of us to be of
use. I started over, but got word from a confrère of mine from a camp
farther east, that there were already four doctors on the spot and
that I need not come unless they called for me. Even then they were
hopeless. Most of the men of the Blackbird were good men, too. The
kind that have families, and are steady; but I suppose from what I
hear they were nearly all fellows who have been idle for some time, or
have just moved into the district, so probably they had nothing much
to leave in the way of support--for those left behind."

He stopped for a moment and peered at other men who were passing
them.

"I think it my duty to do something in that regard," he said, quietly.
"I believe I shall get Mrs. Meredith to call a meeting out in front of
her place. Nearly every man of the camp goes there at some time or
another, in the course of the evening. Perhaps I could--"

Again he stopped, as if thinking of the best plan.

"I see," interpolated the miner, almost as his younger companion was
about to offer the same suggestion. "Let her send out word that every
man in the camp is wanted. Then you give them the last news and get
them to do what they can. That's right."

"It is the best way," asserted Dick, agreeing with the project. "You
can do more than any one. They all respect and know you."

They left him to make his way toward the High Light and stood at the
borders of little gatherings on the street, gleaning other details of
the tragedy, for nearly an hour, and then were attracted by a sound
below them. Men were calling to one another. Out in front of the High
Light two torches flared, their flames glowing steadily in the still
night air and lighting the faces of those who gathered toward them.
They went with the street current and again found themselves in a
crowd; but it was not so dense as that first one they had encountered.
Men stood in groups, thoughtfully, with hands in pockets, their harsh,
strong faces rendered soft by the light. They talked together with a
quiet and sad sympathy, as if in that hour they were all of one family
up there in the heart of the mountains from which they tore their hard
livelihood. There was a stir from the nearest store and a voice
called, "Here, Doc! Here's a couple of boxes for you to stand on so
they can see you when you talk."

Men were carrying some large packing cases, or tumbling them end over
end, with hollow, booming noises, to form a crude platform. The boxes
clashed together. Two men holding the torches climbed up on them and
they saw two others boosting the doctor upward. At sight of him there
was a restraining hiss passed round through the gathering crowd,
commanding silence. He waited for it to become complete.

"Men," he said, "you have all heard the news. Thirty-three of our
fellows died over across the divide, or are dying now. God knows
which! God grant they went quickly!"

He stopped and although not a trained orator, the pause could have
been no more effective. Dick looked around him. The faces of those
nearest were grave and unmoved, as if carved from the mother rock of
the country in which they delved; but he saw a light in their frowning
eyes that told how deeply their sympathies were stirred.

"I didn't get up here to talk to you so much about them, however," the
doctor went on, quietly, "as I did to remind you that out of
thirty-three of these men there were twenty-six who left widows, or
widows and children behind them. The boys over there did all they
could. There were a hundred and fifty men who tried to save them. They
are now working merely to get their bodies. We couldn't be there to
help in that; so we do what we can here. And that doing shall consist
in helping out those women and children. There's a box down here in
front of me. I wish you'd put what you can on it."

Bill, staring over the heads of those around him, saw a movement among
those nearest the orator's stand, and into the ring of light stepped
The Lily. Apparently she was speaking to the doctor, who leaned down
to listen. He straightened up and called for silence.

"Mrs. Meredith," he said, "says that any man here who has no money
with him can sign what he wants to give on a piece of paper, and that
she will accept it as she would a pay-check and forward the cash. Then
on pay-day the man can come and redeem his paper pledge."

There was a low murmur of approval swept round over the crowd which
began to move forward with slow regularity. The doctor dropped down
from his rostrum as if his task were done. The torches lowered as
their bearers followed him and planted them beside the box on which
coins, big round silver dollars and yellow gold-pieces, were falling,
with here and there a scrap of paper. No one stood guard over that
collection. The crowd was thinning out. Dick turned toward his friend
and looked up at him to meet eyes as troubled as his own. Each
understood the other.

"I wish I had some money of my own," the younger man exclaimed; "but I
haven't a dollar that actually belongs to me. I am going to borrow a
little from Sloan."

"I can't do that much," was the sorrowful reply. "And there ain't
nothin' I'd rather do in the world than walk up there and drop a
couple of hundred on that pile. I'm--I'm--"

His manner indicated that he was about to relapse into stronger terms.
He suddenly whirled. A hand had been laid on his sleeve and a low,
steady voice said, "Excuse me, I heard you talking and I understand. I
know what you feel. I want you to permit me."

It was Mrs. Meredith who had walked around behind them unobserved and
now held out her hand. They fell back, embarrassed. She appeared to
fathom their position.

"I know," she said. "I wasn't eavesdropping. I saw you here. I wanted
to talk to you both and so, well, I overheard. Take this, won't you?
Please permit me."

Bill suddenly reached his hand out and found in his palm a roll of
bills, rare in that camp. He looked at them curiously.

"There is five hundred dollars in it," she said. "That permits a
reasonable gift from each of you. You can return it to me at your
convenience."

Neither of them had spoken to her in all this time. Now both voiced
thanks. But a moment later Dick found himself talking alone and
telling her that he would send her a check within a few days to cover
the amount of the loan; but she was not looking at him. He saw that
her eyes were fixed on the big man by his side, who stood there
looking down into her face. For some reason she appeared embarrassed
by that direct scrutiny, and her eyes fell, and wandered around on
those standing nearest. Suddenly she frowned, and wondering they
followed the direction of her look. Not ten feet from them, standing
stockily on his feet with his high, heavy shoulders squared, his hands
thrust deep into his pockets, his firm face unmoved, his hat shading
his eyes, stood Bully Presby. He made no movement toward the goal of
the contributors, and seemed to have no intention of so doing. As if
to escape an unpleasant situation The Lily suddenly walked toward
him.

"Good-evening, Mister Presby," she saluted, and he slowly turned his
head and stared at her. He did not shift his attitude in the least,
and appeared granite-like in his rigid pose.

"I suppose," she said, "that you have put something into the
contribution."

"I have not," he replied with his customary incisive, harsh voice.
"Why should I? The contribution means nothing to me."

The brutality, the inhumanity of his words made her recoil for an
instant, and then she recovered her fearlessness and dignity.

"I might have known that," she said, coolly. "I should have expected
nothing more from you. The lives of these--all these--" and she
gestured toward those around--"mean nothing to you. Nor the sufferings
and poverties of those dependent on them."

"Certainly not," he answered with a trace of a harsh sneer outlined on
his face. "If they get killed, I am sorry. If they live, they are
useful. If they are lost, others take their places. They are merely a
part of the general scheme. They are for me to use."

His words were like a challenge. He watched her curiously as if
awaiting her reply. Dick felt Bill starting forward, angrily, then
checked him.

"Wait!" he whispered. "Let's hear what he has to say."

The Lily took a step forward to arraign him. Her face shone whiter
than ever in the light of the torches.

"And that is all? That is your attitude?"

He did not answer, but stared at her curiously. It seemed to anger her
more.

"I wonder," she said, "if you would care for my estimate of you! I
wonder if you would care for the estimate of those around you. It does
not seem strange that you are called by the fitting sobriquet of
'Bully Presby.' You are that! You are one of those shriveled souls
that fatten on the toil of others--that thrive on others' misfortunes
and miseries. My God! A usurer--a pawnbroker, is a prince compared to
you. You are without compassion, pity, charity or grace. Your code is
that of winning all, the code of greed! Listen to me. You doubtless
look down on me as a camp woman, and with a certain amount of scorn!
But knowing what I am, I should far rather be what I am, the owner of
the High Light, a sordid den, than to be you, the owner of the
Rattler, the man they call Bully Presby!"

To their astonishment he leaned his head back and laughed, deeply,
from his chest, as if her anger, her scorn, her bitter denunciation,
had all served to amuse him. It was as if she had flattered him by her
characterizations. She was too angry to speak and stood regarding him
coldly until he had finished. He turned and appeared for the first
time to observe the men of the Croix d'Or scowling at him, and his
laugh abruptly stopped. He scowled back at them, and, without so much
as a good-night salutation turned and walked away and lost himself in
the shadows of the street.

"Oh," she said, facing them and clenching her hands, "sometimes I hate
that man! He is unfathomable! There have been times when I wondered if
he was human."

She bit her lip as if to restrain her words, and then looked up at the
partners.

"And there are times," drawled the big miner, "when I wonder how long
I'll be able to keep my hands off of him. And one of those times has
been in the last minute! If you think it would do any good, I'll--"

She looked up at him and smiled, for the first time since they had
met. She interrupted him.

"No, the only way you can do any good is to make your contribution.
I'll go with you."

They walked together toward the box which was now deserted, save by
the doctor and one other, who were scooping the money into a water
pail they had secured somewhere. Bill threw his roll of bills into it
and the doctor looked up and smiled.

"I knew you would come," he said. "And that, with the two thousand
that Mrs. Meredith has volunteered--"

She checked him.

"That was to be my secret. Please, none of you, speak of it again."

"As you wish," replied the doctor. "And I apologize. Now I would
suggest that you take charge of this and take it to the High Light.
I'll send it over to-morrow by Jim. The boys have done well."

That was all he said, and yet in his simple sentence was much. The
camp had done well. He straightened up with an air of weariness.

"This pail is pretty heavy," he said. "Won't you take it, Mathews, and
carry it over?"

The miner caught it up in his arms, fearing lest the bail break loose
under its weight. The doctor bade them good night, and they started
toward the High Light, leaving the torch man to extinguish his flares.
She talked freely as she walked between them, expressing her relief
that none of the destitute in that distant camp of mourning would
suffer unduly after the receipt of Goldpan's offering. As they entered
the house of the lights and noise the bartender nearest hailed her,
wiped his hands on his apron and reached out an envelope.

"Bully Presby was in here about an hour or two ago," he said, "and
left this. It was before you and Doc Mills was goin' out to try and
get the boys interested."

She tore it open, then flushed, and passed it to the partners who
together read it.

"I hear," the letter read, "that some of the men who were killed
over at the Blackbird used to work for me down in California. Also
that there are some women and children over there who may have a
hard time of it. Will you see to it that this goes to the right
channels, and regard it as confidential? I don't want to appear to be
a philanthropist on even a small scale. Presby."

Pinned to the letter was a check. It was for ten thousand dollars.
Bill lifted it in his fingers, scanned each word, then handed it to
Mrs. Meredith who stood frowning with her eyes fixed on the floor.

"I've known burros, and other contrary cusses, in my time," he said,
slowly, "but this feller Presby has 'em all lookin' as simple, and
plain, and understandable, as a cross-roads guide-post."

And The Lily, contrite, agreed.



CHAPTER IX

WHERE A GIRL ADVISES


"There's one thing about you, pardner, I don't quite sabe," drawled
Bill to his employer as they sat in front of their cabin one night,
after discussing the assays which Dick made his especial work. "You
ain't as talkative as you used to be. Somethin's on your mind. It's
more'n two weeks now since I had time to think about anything but the
green lead, and I'm beginnin' to notice. Where the devil do you go
every mornin' between nine and eleven?"

Dick turned toward him impulsively, and then made no reply, other than
to laugh softly. Then slowly he felt a wave of embarrassment.

"Not that it's any of my business, bein' as you're you and I'm me; but
we were pardners for some years before things changed and made you the
boss and me the hired hand. And it may be I'm undue curious. Who's
that girl you go up on the pipe line to meet every mornin'?"

His question was so abrupt that, for an instant, the younger man had a
hot, childish anger; but he controlled himself, and wondered why he
should have been annoyed by the frank interrogation.

"Miss Presby, the lumberman's daughter," he said crisply. "But what
interests me most is how you knew?"

The elder miner slapped his leg gleefully, as if pleased with a joke,
and said: "Well, I went up there five or six days ago, tryin' to find
you, because I'd lost the combination to the safe, and wanted to look
over them old drawings. I sneaked back, because I was a little jealous
to see you sittin' on the pipe talkin' right friendly to such a
good-looker. Three evenin's later while you were workin' on them mill
samples, I thought I'd like to see the whole of the line. I took a
walk. There's been a real good horse trail worked into the ground up
there, ain't there? And it's a new trail, too. Seems as if somebody
must have been riding up and down that way every day for just about
two weeks. And it's serious, too, because you don't say nothin' to a
man you was pardners with for more'n seven years. Hey, Dick! What
ails you, anyway?"

The younger man was on his feet with one of his fists drawn back, in
an attitude of extreme temper.

"Suppose after this you mind your own business?"

For a full half minute the elder man sat there in the dusk, and then
said slowly: "All right, boy--I mean, Mister Townsend--I will
hereafter."

In the gloom his figure seemed suddenly bent forward more than usual,
and his voice had a note of terrible hurt. It was as if all the ties
of seven years of vicissitude had been arbitrarily cast off by his old
partner; that they had become master and man. His words conveyed an
indescribable sorrow, and loss.

"Bill!"

Dick's arm had relaxed, and he had stepped closer. Mathews did not
lift his head. A hand, pleading, fell on his shoulder, and rested
there.

"Bill, I didn't mean it! I'm--I'm--well, I'm upset. Something's
happened to me. I didn't seem to realize it till just now. I'm--well,
thank you, I'm making a fool of myself."

The faithful gray head lifted itself, and the gray eyes glowed warmly
as they peered in the dusk at the younger man's face.

"Whe-e-w!" he whistled. "It's as bad as that, is it, boy? Just forget
it, won't you? That is, forget I butted in."

Dick sat down, hating himself for such an unusual outburst. He felt
foolish, and extremely young again, as if his steadfast foundations of
self-reliance and repression had been proven nothing more than sand.

"I know how them things go," the slow voice, so soft as to be scarcely
audible, continued. "I was young once, and it was good to be young.
Not that I'm old now, because I'm not; but because when a feller is
younger, there are hot hollows in his heart that he don't want anybody
to know about. Only don't make me feel again that I ought to 'mister'
you. I don't believe I could do that. It's pretty late to begin."

Dick went to his bed with a critical admission of the truth, and from
any angle it appeared foolish. How had it all happened? He was not
prone to be easy of heart. He had known the light, fleeting loves of
boyhood, and could laugh at them; but they had been different to this.
And it had come on him at a time when everything was at stake, and
when his undivided thoughts and attention should have been centered on
the Croix d'Or. He reviewed his situation, and scarcely knew why he
had drifted into it, unless it had been through a desire to talk to
some one who knew, as he knew, all that old life from which he had
been, and would forever be, parted.

Not that he regretted its easy scramble, and its plethora of civilized
concomitants; for he loved the mountains, the streams, the open
forests, and the physical struggles of the wild places; but--and he
gave over reasoning, and knew that it was because of the charm of Miss
Presby herself, and that he wanted her, and had hoped unconsciously.
Sternly arraigning himself, he knew that he had no groundwork to hope,
and nothing to offer, just then; that he must first win with the Croix
d'Or, and that it was his first duty to win with that, and justify the
confidence of the kindly old Sloan who backed him with hard dollars.

He had not appreciated how much the daily meeting of Miss Presby meant
to him until, on the following morning, and acting on his hardly
reached resolution of the night before, he went up for what might be
the last time. It was difficult to realize that the short summer of
the altitudes was there in its splendid growth, and that it had
opened before his unobserving eyes, passed from the tender green of
spring to the deep-shaded depths of maturity, and that the wild
flowers that carpeted the open slopes had made way for roses. Even the
cross on the peak was different, and it came to him that he had not
observed it in the weeks he had been climbing to the slope, but had
always waited eagerly for the light of a woman's face.

She came cantering up the trail, and waved a gay hand at him as she
rounded the bend of the crag. There was a frank expectancy in her
face--the expectancy of a pleasant hour's visit with a good comrade.
He wondered, vaguely and with new scrutiny, if that were not all--just
friendliness. They talked of nothing; but his usual bantering tone was
gone, and, quick to observe, she divined that there had come to him a
subtle change, not without perturbation.

"You don't seem talkative to-day," she accused as he stood up,
preparatory to going. "Have you finished work on your pipe line?"

He flushed slightly under the bronze of his face at the question, it
being thus brought home to him that he had used it as a pretext for
continuing their meetings for more than two weeks after that task was
completed and the pipemen scattered--perhaps working in some subway
in New York by that time.

"Yes," he said, "the work is finished. I shall not come up here again
unless it is for the sole purpose of seeing you."

There was something in his tone that caused her to glance up at him
and there was that in his eyes, on his face, in his bearing of
restraint, that caused her to look around again, as if to escape, and
hastily begin donning her gloves. She pulled the fingers, though they
fitted loosely, as if she had difficulty with them--even as though
they were tight gloves of kid, and said: "Well, you might do that,
sometimes--when you have time; but you mustn't neglect your work. I
come here because it is my favorite ride. You must not come merely to
talk to me when there are other duties."

"Yes," he said, endeavoring to appear unconcerned. "The Croix d'Or is
apt to be a most insistent tyrant."

"And it should come first!" He was obtuse for the instant in his
worriment, and did not catch the subtle shade of bitterness in which
she spoke.

She tugged at the reins of her horse, and the animal reluctantly tore
loose a last mouthful of the succulent grass growing under the
moisture and shadow of the big steel pipe, and stood expectantly
waiting for her to mount. She was in the saddle before Dick could come
around to her side to assist her. He made a last desperate compromise,
finding an excuse.

"When I feel that I must see you, because you are such a good little
adviser, I shall come back here," he said, "morning after morning, in
the hope of seeing you and unburdening my disgruntlement."

She laughed, as if it were a joke.

"I'm afraid I'm not a very good miner," she said, "although I suppose
I ought to be a yellow-legged expert, having been brought up somewhere
within sound of the stamps all my life. Good luck to you. Good-by."

His reply was almost a mumble, and the black horse started down the
trail. He watched her, with a sinking, hungry heart. Just as the crag
was almost abreast of her mount, she turned and called back: "Oh, I
forgot to say that I shall probably come here almost every day."

He did not understand, until long afterward, the effort that speech
cost her; nor did he know ever that her face was suffused when her
horse, startled, sprang out of sight at the touch of her spurs. He
did not know, as he stood there, wishing that he had called her back,
that she was riding recklessly down the road, hurt, and yet inclined
to be strangely happy over that parting and all it had confessed. With
a set face, as if a whole fabric of dreams had been wrenched from his
life, the miner turned and walked slowly over the trail, worn by his
own feet, which led him back to the Croix d'Or, and the struggle with
the stubborn rock.

As he topped the hill he suddenly listened, and his steps quickened.
From below a new sound had been added to the threnody of the hills; a
new note, grumbling and roaring, insistent and strong. Its message was
plain. The mill of the Cross was running again for the first time in
years; and, even as he looked down on the red roof, the whistle in the
engine-house gave a series of cheerful toots in salute of the fact.

Down on the flat in front of the long structure which held, in its
batteries, almost two-score stamps, a tall figure came out, and looked
around as if seeking him, and then, casting its eyes upward, beheld
him, and lifted a battered hat and swung it overhead. It was Bill,
rejoicing in his work.

A car of ore slid along the tramway, with the carboy dangling one leg
over the back end while steadying himself by the controller, as if he
had been thus occupied for years. Dick tore his hat off, threw it in
the air, and shouted, and raced down the hill. From now on it must be
work; unless they met with great success--then--he dared not stop to
think of what then.

He hastened on down to the mill and entered the door. Everything
about it, from the dumping of the cars sixty feet above, the wrench
of the crushers breaking the ore into smaller fragments, the clash of
the screens as it came on down to the stamps, and their terrific
"jiggety-jig-jig," roared, throbbed, and trembled. Every timber in
the structure seemed to keep pace with that resistless shaking as the
tables slid to and fro, dripping from the water percolating at
their heads, to distribute the fine silt of crushed, muddy ore evenly
over the plates in the steady downward slant. Already the bright
plates of copper, coated with quicksilver, were catching, retaining,
amalgamating the gold.

"The venners need a little more slant, don't you think?" bellowed his
partner, with his hands cupped and held close against Dick's ear in
the effort to make himself heard in that pandemonium where millmen
worked the shift through without attempting to speak.

In the critical calculation of the professional miner, Dick forgot all
other affairs, and leaned down to see the run of water. He nodded his
head, beckoned to the mill boss, and by well-known signs indicated his
wish. He scrambled above and studied the pulp, slipping it through his
fingers and feeling its fineness, and speculating whether or not they
would be troubled with any solution of lead that would render the
milling difficult and slime the plates so that the gold would escape
to go roistering down the creek with waste water. It did feel very
slippery, and he was reassured. He was eager to get to the assay-house
and make his first assay of "tailings," refuse from the mill, to
discover what percentage of gold they were saving, and, in parlance,
"How she would run on mill test."

Fascinated in his inspection and direction of certain minor changes,
he was astonished when the noise suddenly dropped from fortissimo to a
dull whine, as the mill slowed down to a stop for the noon hour. And
the afternoon passed as quickly while he worked over the bucking
board--a plate used to crush ore for assaying--in the assay-house, and
watched the gasoline flare and fume in his furnaces to bring the
little cupels, with their mass of powdered, weighed, and numbered
samples, to a molten state. He took them out with his tongs, watched
them cool, and weighed, on the scales that could tell the weight of a
lead pencil mark on a sheet of paper, the residue of gold, thus making
his computations. He was not pleased with the result. The green lead
was not as rich as they had believed.

"It won't pay more than fifty cents a ton with the best milling we can
do," he said to Bill, who came eagerly into the assay office.

"But you know the old idea--that she gets richer as we go down?" his
partner asserted. "If it pays fifty cents a ton at the mill plates,
we'll open up the face of the ledge and put on a day and night shift.
We can handle a heap of ore with this plant. It begins to look to me
as if the Cross is all to the good. Come on. Let's go down to the
power-house and see how things look down there when we're working."

They had been contemplating a new timber road, and, after visiting the
power plant and finding it trim, and throbbing with its new life, they
cut across and debouched into the public road leading up the cañon, by
the banks of the stream, to the Rattler. When almost at the fork,
where their own road branched off and crossed the stream to begin its
steep little climb up to the Croix d'Or, they saw a man standing on
the apron of the bridge, and apparently listening to the roar of their
mill. His back was toward them, and seemingly he was so absorbed in
the sounds of industry from above that he did not hear them approach
until their feet struck the first planks leading to the heavy log
structure. He turned his head slowly toward them, and they recognized
him as Bully Presby. It was the first time either of them had seen him
since the evening in the camp.

"So you're running, eh?" he asked Dick without any preliminary
courtesy.

"Yes, we started the mill to-day."

"On ore, or waste?" There was a sneer in his question which caused
Dick to stiffen a trifle; and Bill frowned, as if the question carried
an insult.

Still the younger man was inclined to avoid words.

"Naturally, we shouldn't put waste through the mill," he said coldly.
"We have opened up an old vein which the other managers did not seem
to think worth while."

"And so, I suppose, showing superior knowledge, you will demonstrate
that the men before you were a set of dubs? Humph! From babes and
fools come wisdom!"

His voice was hard and cynical, and his grim lips curled with a
slightly contemptuous twitch. The hot, impulsive streak in Dick leaped
upward. His eyes were angry when he answered.

"If you apply the latter to me," he retorted hotly, "you are going
pretty far. I don't know what business it is of yours. We have never
asked you for any advice, and we don't want any. I expect no favors
from any one, and if I did, am certain, in view of your attitude, that
I shouldn't ask them from you."

"Steady! Steady, boy!" admonished his partner's drawling voice at his
side. Dick did not utter other words that were surging to his tongue,
and finished with an angry shrug of his shoulders.

Bill turned coolly to the owner of the Rattler, and appeared to probe
him with his eyes; and his stare was returned with one as searching as
his own.

"Who are you?" Presby asked, as if the big miner were some man he had
not noticed before.

"Me? My name's Mathews. I'm superintendent of the Croix d'Or," Bill
answered, as calmly as if the form of question had been ignored.

"And I suppose the young Mister Townsend relies on you for advice, and
that he----"

"He don't need to rely on any one for advice," interrupted the soft,
repressed voice. "I rely on him. He knows more than I do. And say," he
added, taking a step toward Bully Presby, and suddenly appearing to
concentrate himself with all his muscles flexed as if for action,
"I've mined for thirty-five years. And I've met some miners. And I've
never met one who had as little decency for the men on the next claim,
or such bullying ways as you've got."

Presby's face did not change in the least, nor did he shift his eyes.
There was an instant's pause, and he showed no inclination to speak.

"'Most every one around these diggings seems to be kind of buffaloed
by you," Bill added; "but I sort of reckon we ain't like them. I'm
handin' it to you right straight, so you and me won't have any trouble
after this, because if we do--well, we'd have to find out which was
the better man."

Bully Presby's eyes flashed a singular look. It seemed as if they
carried something of approval, and at the same time a longing to test
the question of physical superiority. And then, abruptly, he laughed.
Astonished by this strange, complex character, Bill relaxed, and
turned toward his partner. Dick, seeing that the interview was ended,
as far as the necessity for saying anything was concerned, moved
across the bridge, and Bill took a last hard stare at the mine owner.
The latter laughed again, with his cold, cynical rumble.

"I think," he said, "that when the Cross shuts down for good, I'd like
to give you a job. When it does, come and see me."

Without another look, word, or sign of interest, he turned his back on
them, and marched up the hill toward the Rattler.



CHAPTER X

TROUBLE STALKS ABROAD


August had come, with its broiling heat at midday and its chill at
night, when the snow, perpetual on the peaks, sent its cold breezes
downward to the gulches below. Here and there the grass was dying. The
lines on Dick's brows had become visible; and even Mathews' resolute
sanguinity was being tested to the utmost. The green lead was barely
paying expenses. There had come no justification for a night shift,
and use of all the batteries of the mill, for the ledge of ore was
gradually, but certainly, narrowing to a point where it must
eventually pinch out.

Five times, in as many weeks, Dick had crossed the hill and waited for
Miss Presby. Twice he had been bitterly disappointed, and three times
she had cantered around to meet him. Their first meeting had been
constrained. He felt that it was due to his own bald discovery that
he wanted her more than anything in life, and was debarred from
telling her so. In the second meeting she had been the good comrade,
and interested, palpably, in the developments at the Croix d'Or.

"You should sink, I believe," she had said hesitatingly, as if with a
delicate fear that she was usurping his position. "I know this
district very well, indeed; and there isn't a mine along this range
that has paid until it had gone the depth. Do I talk like a miner?"

She laughed, in cheerful carelessness as if his worries meant but
little to her.

"You see, I've heard so much of mines and mining, although my father
seldom talks of them to me, that I know the geological formation and
history of this district like a real miner. I played with nothing but
miners' children from the time I was so high, pigtails and pinafores,
until I was this high, short skirts and frocks."

She indicated the progressive stages of her growth with her riding
crop, as if seeing herself in those younger years.

"Then my father sent me to an aunt, in New York, with instructions
that I was to be taught something, and to be a lady. I believe I used
to eat with my knife when I first went to her home."

She leaned back and laughed until the tears welled into her eyes.

"She was a Spartan lady. She cured me of it by rapping my knuckles
with the handle of a silver-plated knife. My, how it hurt! I feel
it yet! I wonder that they were not enlarged by her repeated
admonitions."

Dick looked at them as she held them reminiscently before her, and
had an almost irresistible desire to seize and crush the long,
slender, white fingers in his own. But the end of the meeting had
been commonplace, and they had parted again without treading on
embarrassing ground.

Dick had heard no more from the owner of the Rattler, save indirectly,
nor met him since the strained passage of the bridge; but mess-house
gossip, creeping through old Bells, who recognized no superiors, and
calmly clumped into the owner's quarters whenever he felt inclined,
said that the neighboring mine was prodigiously prosperous.

"I heard down in Goldpan," he squeaked one night, "that Wells Fargo
takes out five or six bars of bullion for him every mill clean-up. And
you can bet none of it ever gets away from that old stiff."

"But how does this news leak out?" Dick asked, wondering at such a
tale, when millmen and miners were distinguished for keeping inviolate
the secrets of the property on which they worked.

"Wells Fargo," the engineer answered. "None of the boys would say
anything. He pays top wages and hires good men. Got to hand that to
him. He brags there ain't no man so high-priced that he can't make
money off'n him--Bully Presby does. And they ain't no better miner
than him on earth. He can smell pay ore a mile underground--Bully
Presby can."

The old man suddenly looked at the superintendent, and said: "Say,
Bill. You been down to the camp a few times, ain't you?"

"Yes, we've been down there several times. Why?"

"Well, I suppose you know they's a lot of talk goin' around that the
Cross is workin' in good pay now?"

"Oh, I've heard it; but don't pay any attention when it's not so."

Bells Park leaned farther over, and lowered his shrill, garrulous
voice to a thin murmur.

"Well, I cain't tell you what it is, but I want to give you the right
lead. When that gets to goin' on about newcomers in the Blue
Mountains--fellers like you be--look out for storms."

"Go on! You're full of stuff again!" Bill gibed, with his hearty
laugh. "If we'd listened to all the mysterious warnin's you've handed
us since we came up here, Bells, we'd been like a dog chasin' his tail
around when it happened to be bit off down to the rump and no place to
get hold of. Better look out! Humph!"

The old engineer got up in one of his tantrums, fairly screamed with
rage, threatened to leave as soon as he could get another job, and
then tramped down the hill to the cabin he occupied with the other
engineer. But that was not new, either, for he had made the same
threat at least a half-dozen times, and yet the men from the Coeur
d'Alenes knew that nothing could drive him away but dismissal.

It was but two or three days later that the partners, coming from the
assay-house to the mess late, discovered a stranger talking to the men
outside under the shade of a great clump of tamaracks that nestled at
the foot of a slope. They passed in and sat down at their table,
wondering who the visitor could be. The cook's helper, a mute, served
them, and they were alone when they were attracted by a shrill, soft
hiss from the window. They looked, and saw Bells Park. Nothing but
his head, cap-crowned, was visible as he stood on tiptoe to reach the
opening.

"I told you to look out," he said warningly. "Old Mister Trouble's
come. Don't give anything. Stand pat. A walkin' delegate from Denver's
here. God knows why. Look out."

His head disappeared as if it were a jack-in-the-box, shut down; and
the partners paused with anxious eyes and waited for him to reappear.
Dick jumped to his feet and walked across to the window. No one was in
sight. He went to the farther end of the mess-house and peered through
a corner of the nearest pane. Out under the tamaracks the stranger was
orating, and punctuating his remarks with a finger tapping in a palm.
His words were not audible; but Dick saw that he was at least
receiving attention. He returned to the table, and told Bill what he
had seen. The latter was perturbed.

"It looks as if we were goin' to have an argument, don't it?" he
asked, voicing his perplexity.

"But about what?" Dick insisted. "We pay the union scale, and, while I
don't know, I believe there isn't a man on the Cross that hasn't a
card."

"Well," replied his partner, "we'll soon see. Finished?"

As they walked to the office, men began to hurry across the gulch
toward the hoist, others toward the mill, and by the time they were in
their cabin the whistle blew. It was but a minute later that they
heard someone striding over the porch, and the man they assumed to be
the walking delegate entered. He was not of the usual stamp, but
appeared intent on his errand. Save for a certain air of craftiness,
he was representative and intelligent. He was quietly dressed, and
gave the distinct impression that he had come up from the mines, and
had known a hammer and drill--a typical "hard-rock man."

"Gentlemen," he said, "I am representing the Consolidated Miners'
Association."

He drew a neat card from a leather case in his pocket, and presented
it, and was asked to seat himself.

"What can we do for you?" Dick asked, wasting no time on words.

"I suppose this mine is fair?"

"Yes. It is straight, as far as I know."

"It has no agreement."

"But we are ready to sign one whenever it is presented."

The delegate drew a worn wallet from his pocket, extracted a paper,
and tendered it.

"I anticipated no trouble," he said, but without smiling or giving any
sign of satisfaction. "Would you mind looking that over, and seeing if
it meets with your approval?"

Dick stepped to the high desk at the side of the room which he had
been utilizing as a drawing board, laid the sheet out, and began
reading it, while Bill stood up and scanned it across his shoulders.
Bill suddenly put a stubby finger on a clause, and mumbled: "That's
not right."

Dick slowly read it; and, before he had completed the involved
wording, the finger again clapped down at another section. "Nor that.
Don't stand for it!"

"What do you want, anyhow?" Bill demanded, swinging round and facing
the delegate.

The latter looked at him coolly and exasperatingly for a moment, then
said: "What position do you occupy here, my man?"

Dick whirled as if he had been struck from behind.

"What position does he occupy? He is my superintendent, and my friend.
Anything he objects to, or sanctions, I object to, or agree with.
Anything he says, I'll back up. Now I'll let him do the talking."

The delegate calmly flicked the ash from a cigar he had lighted,
puffed at it, blew the smoke from under his mustache toward the
ceiling, and looked at the thin cloud before answering. It was as if
he had come intent on creating a disturbance through studied
insolence.

"Well," he said, without noticing the hot, antagonistic attitude of
the mine owner, "what do you think of the proffered agreement?"

"I think it's no good!" answered Mathews, facing him. "It's drawn up
on a number-one scale. This mine ain't in that class."

"Oh! So you've signed 'em before."

"I have. A dozen times. This mine has but one shift--the regular day
shift. It has but one engineer and a helper. It has but one mill
boss."

"Working eight batteries?"

"No. You know we couldn't work eight batteries with one small shift."

"Well, you've got to have an assistant millman at the union scale, you
know," insisted the delegate.

"What to do? To loaf around, I suppose," Bill retorted.

"And you've got to have a turn up in the engine-house. You need
another hoisting engineer," continued the delegate, as if all these
matters had been decided by him beforehand.

Dick thought that he might gain a more friendly footing by taking part
in the conversation himself.

"See here," he said. "The Croix d'Or isn't paying interest. Maybe we
aren't using the requisite number of men as demanded under this
rating; but they are all satisfied, and----"

"I don't know about that," interrupted the delegate, with an air of
insolent assurance.

"And if we can't go on under the present conditions, we may as well
shut down," Dick concluded.

"That's up to you," declared the delegate, with an air of disinterest.
"If a mine can't pay for the working, it ought to shut down."

The partners looked at each other. There was a mutual question as to
whether it would be policy to throw the delegate out of the door.
Plainly they were in a predicament, for the man was master, in his
way.

"Look here," Bill said, accepting the responsibility, "this ain't
right. You know it ain't. We're in another class altogether. You ought
to put us, at present, under----"

"It is right," belligerently asserted the delegate. "I've looked it
all over. You'll agree to it, or I'll declare the Croix d'Or unfair."

He had arisen to his feet as if arbitrarily to end the argument. For a
wonder, the veteran miner restrained himself, although there was a
hard, glowing light in his eyes.

"We won't stand for it," he said, restraining Dick with his elbow.
"When you're ready to talk on a square basis, come back, and we'll use
the ink. Until then we won't. We might as well shut down, first as
last, as to lose money when we're just breakin' even as it is. Think
it over a while, and see if we ain't right."

"Well, you'll hear from me," declared the delegate, as he put his hat
on his head and turned out of the door without any parting courtesy.
"Keep the card. My name's Thompson, you know."

For a full minute after he had gone, the partners stared at each other
with troubled faces.

"Oh, he's a bluff! That's all there is to it," asserted Mathews,
reaching into the corner for his rubber boots, preparatory to going
underground. "He knows it ain't right, just as well as I do. If he can
put this over, all right. If he can't he'll give us the other
rating."

He left Dick making up a time-roll, and turned down the hill; and they
did not discuss it again until they were alone that night.

It was seven o'clock the next evening when the partners observed an
unusual stir in the camp. They came into the mess-house to find that
the men had eaten in unusually short order; and from the bench
outside, usually filled at that hour with laughing loungers, there was
not a sound. A strange stillness had invaded the colony of the Croix
d'Or, almost ominous. Preoccupied, and each thinking over his
individual trials, the partners ate their food and arose from the
table. Out on the doorstep they paused to look down the cañon, now
shorn of ugliness and rendered beautiful by the purple twilight. The
faint haze of smoke from the banked fires, rising above the steel
chimney of the boiler-house, was the only stirring, living spectacle
visible; save one.

"What does that mean?" Bill drawled, as if speaking to himself.

Far below, just turning the bend of the road, Dick saw a procession of
men, grouped, or walking in pairs. They disappeared before he
answered.

"Looks like the boys," he said, using the term of the camps for all
men employed. "I wonder where they are bound for? If it were pay
night, I could understand. It would mean Goldpan, the dance halls, a
fight or two, and sore heads to-morrow; but to-night--I don't know."

Bill did not answer. He seemed to be in a silent, contemplative mood
when they sat in the rough easy-chairs on the porch in front of the
office and looked up at the first rays of light on the splendid,
rugged peak above. Dick's mind reverted to the lumberman's daughter,
as does the needle veer to the magnet; and for a long time they sat
there, until the fires of their cigars glowed like stars. The moon
came up, and the cross was outlined, dimly, above them, and against
the background of black, cast upon the somber, starlit blue of the
night.

From far below, as if steel had been struck upon stone, came a faint,
ringing sound. Living in that strange world of acuteness to which men
of the high hills are habituated, they listened, alert. Accustomed, as
are all those dwellers of the lonesome spots, to heeding anything out
of the ordinary, they strained their ears for a repetition. Clattering
up the roadway came the sound of a hard-ridden horse's hoofs, then his
labored breathing, and a soft voice steadying him to further effort.
Into the shadows was injected something moving, some unfamiliar,
living shape. It turned up the hill over the trail, and plunged
wearily toward them. They jumped to their feet and stepped down off
the porch, advancing to meet the belated visitor. The horse, with
lathering neck and distended nostrils, paused before them. The moon
cleared the top of the eastern ridges with a slow bound, lowering the
shadows until the sweat on the horse's neck glistened like a network
of diamond dust strewn on a velvet cloak. It also lighted to a pallid
gleam the still face of the night rider. It was Lily Meredith.

"I've come again," she said. "They're trying to make trouble for you,
down there in the camp. Bells Park came out and told me about it. The
miners' union stirred up by that man from Denver. Bells said the only
chance you had was to come down there at once. They've split on your
account--on account of the Croix d'Or. I've ridden two miles to warn
you, and to get you there before the meeting breaks up. Bells will try
and hold them until you can come and demand a hearing. If you don't
make it they will scab the mine. You must hurry. It's your only
chance. I know them, the best friends in peace, and devils when turned
the other way."

She stopped abruptly and looked off at the moon, and then around over
the dark and silent camp. Only one light was visible, that in the
cook's end of the mess-house, where that fat worthy lay upon his back
and read a yellow-backed, sentimental novel. Faint and rumbling came
the subdued roar of the mill at the Rattler, beating out the gold for
Bully Presby; and through some vague prescience Dick was aware of its
noise for the first time in weeks, and it conveyed a sense of menace.
Everything was at stake. Everything watched him. He looked up at the
white face of The Lily above him, and in the moonlight saw that her
eyes were fixed, glowing, not on him or the scenes of the night, but
on the aroused giant at his side.



CHAPTER XI

BELLS' VALIANT FIGHT


"We'll get there as soon as we can," Dick said. "It may not do any
good; but we'll demand a word and give them an argument. I haven't
time to thank you now, Mrs. Meredith, but some day----"

"You owe me no thanks," was her rejoinder. "It is I who owe you. Turn
about, you know."

The big man said nothing, but took a step nearer to her horse, and
looked up into her face with his penetrating eyes. He reached up and
closed his hand over both of hers, and held them for an instant, and
then whirled back into the cabin to get his hat. The horse pivoted and
started away.

"If I see Bells before you do," a voice floated up from the shadows
below, where the moon had not yet penetrated, "I'll tell him you're
coming. So long."

As the partners dog-trotted down the trail, she was already a long way
in advance. Now and then, as they panted up the steep path leading
away behind the Rattler, whose lights glowed dimly, they heard faint
sounds telling them that she was hastening back to Goldpan. The
winding of the trail took them away from the immediate roar of the
stamp mill behind, and they were still in the gloom, when they saw the
horse and rider outlined for a moment high above them on the crest of
the divide and they thought she stopped for a moment and looked back.
Then the silhouette seemed to float down out of sight, and was gone.

At the top, wordless, and sweating with effort, they filled their
lungs, hitched their belts tighter, and plunged into the shadows
leading toward the straggling rows of lights far below. They ran now,
doggedly, hoping to arrive in the camp before the meeting came to an
end.

"All we want," Bill said jerkily, as his feet pounded on the last
decline, "is a chance to argue it out with the men themselves before
this Denver feller gets his work in. I'm entitled to talk to 'em. I've
got my own card, and am as good a union man as any of 'em. The boys'll
be reasonable if they stop to think."

They hastened up the roadway of the street, which was, as at any hour
of the night, filled with moving men and clamorous with sound. They
knew that the miners' hall was at its farthest end over the Golden Age
Saloon, and so lost no time in directing their steps toward it. A
group in the roadway compelled them to turn out; and they were
hurrying past, when a high, angry voice arrested them.

"And that's what they did to me--me, old Bells Park, who is
sixty-four!"

Dick turned into the crowd, followed by his partner, and began forcing
his way through. Bells was screaming and sobbing now in anger, and
venting a tirade of oaths. "If I'd been younger they couldn't have
done it so easily. If I'd 'a' had my gun, I'd 'a' killed some of 'em,
I would!"

As the partners gained the little opening around him, the light from a
window disclosed the white-headed, little man. Two men were
half-holding him up. His face was a mass of blood, which one of his
supporters was endeavoring to wipe away with a handkerchief, and from
all sides came indignant, sympathetic mutterings.

"Who did that?" roared the heavy, infuriated voice of Bill as he
turned to those around him.

Bells, whose eyes were swollen shut, recognized the voice, and lurched
forward.

"Some fellers backin' up that Denver thug," he wailed. "I was tryin'
to hold 'em till you come. He had the meetin' packed with a lot of
bums I never saw before, and, when I told 'em what I thought of 'em
and him, he ordered me thrown out. I tore my card to pieces and
chucked 'em in his fat face, and then one of the fellers that came
with him hit me. They threw me down the stairs, and might 'a' killed
me if there hadn't been one or two of my friends there. They call
'emselves union miners! The dirty loafers!" And his voice screamed
away again into a line of objurgations and anathemas until Bill
quieted him.

"Here, Dick," he said, "give us a hand. We'll take him over to Lily's
rooms and have her get Doc Mills."

His voice was unusually calm and contained. Dick had heard him use
that tone but once before, when he made a proposition to a man in an
Arizona camp that the road was wide, the day fine, and each well
armed. He had helped bury the other man after that meeting, so now
read the danger note.

"I'll go get The Lily to come up and open the door," one of Bells'
supporters said; "and won't you go for Doc?" He addressed the man on
the other side of the engineer.

"Sure!" replied the other.

Within five minutes they were in Mrs. Meredith's rooms again; and it
seemed to Dick, as he looked around its dainty fittings, that it was
forever to be a place of tragedy; for the memory of that terribly
burned victim of the fire was still there, and he seemed to see her
lying, scorched and unconscious, on the white counterpane.

"His nose is busted, I think," his partner said to The Lily, whose
only comment was an abrupt exclamation: "What a shame! The cowards!"

He turned to the woman with his set face, and, still speaking in that
calm, deadly voice, said: "Do you happen to have your gun up here?"

Her eyes opened wider, and Dick was about to interpose, when she
answered understandingly: "Yes; but I'll not give it to you, Bill
Mathews."

"I'm sorry," he said, as quietly as if his request or her refusal had
been mere desultory conversation. "I might need one in a pinch; but
if you can't spare it, I reckon the boy and me can do what we have to
do without one."

He turned and walked from the room and Dick followed, hoping to argue
him from that dangerous mood.

"Say, Bill," he said, "isn't it about bad enough without any more
trouble?"

"What? You don't mean to say you're not with me?" exclaimed the miner,
suddenly turning on him and stopping abruptly in the street. "Are you
for lettin' 'em get away with it? Of course you ain't! You always
stick. Come on."

They saw that the lights in the miners' hall were out, and began a
steady tour of the saloons in the vicinity. One of their own men was
in one of them--Smuts, the blacksmith, cursing loudly and volubly as
they entered.

"Them boys has always treated us white clean through," he bawled,
banging his fist on the bar, "and a lot of you pikers that don't know
nothin' about the case sit around like a lot of yaps and let this
Denver bunch pack the meetin' and declare a strike. Then you let the
same Denver bunch jump on poor old Bells, and hammer him to a pulp
after they've hustled him out of the door, instead of follerin' out to
see that he don't get the worst of it. Bah! I'm dead sick of you."

The partners had paused while listening to him, and he now saw them.

"Come out here, Smuts," Dick said, turning toward the door, and the
smith followed them.

"So they've ordered a strike on us, have they?" Dick asked.

"Yes," was the blacksmith's heated response; "but it don't go for me!
I stick."

"Then if you're with us, where is that Denver bunch?" Bill asked; and
Dick knew that any effort to deter his partner from his purpose would
prove useless.

"They all went down to the High Light," the smith answered. "Have you
seen Bells?"

"Yes, and taken care of him. Now I'm goin' to take care of the man
that done it."

The blacksmith banged a heavy hand on the superintendent's shoulder.

"Bully for you! I'm with you. We'll go together!" he exclaimed, and at
once led the way toward the flaming lights of the High Light but a few
doors below.

Dick nerved himself for the inevitable, and grimly walked with them as
they entered the doors. As they stood there, with the big miner in
front, a sudden hush invaded the babel of noise, and men began to look
in their direction. The grim, determined man in the lead, glaring here
and there with cold, terrible eyes, was too noticeable a figure to
escape observation. The set face of his partner, scarcely less
determined, and the smith, with brawny, clenched hands, and bushy,
black brows drawn into a fierce scowl, completed the picture of a
desperate trio come to avenge.

"You're the man I'm after," suddenly declared Bill, pointing a finger
at Thompson, of Denver, who had been the center of an admiring group.
"You're the one that's responsible for old Bells. Let's see if you or
any of your bunch are as brave with a younger man. Come outside, won't
you?"

When first he began to speak, in that silky, soft rumble, Thompson,
who was nearly as large as Mathews, assumed an air of amused disdain;
but before the speech was ended his face went a little white.

"Oh, go on away, you drunken loafers!" he said, half-turning, as if to
resume his conversation.

Instantly Bill sprang at him; and it seemed that he launched his
sinewy bulk with a tiger's directness and deadliness straight through
the ten feet intervening. He drove his fist into the face of the
Denver man, and the latter swept back against those behind him. Again
he lifted the merciless fist, and now began striking with both with
incredible rapidity. The battered Thompson was driven back, to fall
against a faro layout. The miner bent him backward over the table
until he was resting on the wildly scattered gold and silver coins,
and struck again, and this time the blood spurted in a stream, to run
across the green cloth, the staring card symbols, and the case rack.

"Don't kill him, Bill, don't kill him!" Dick's shout arose above the
shouts of men and the screams of dance-hall women. He had barely time
to observe, in a flash, that Bill had picked the limp form of Thompson
up, and heavy as it was, lifted it high above his head and thrown it
violently into a vacant corner back of the table in a crumpled heap,
when he was almost felled to the floor by a blow from behind, and
turned to fight his own battle with one of the Denver bullies.

His old gymnasium training stood him in good stead; for, half-dazed by
the blow, he could only reel back and block the heavy fists that were
smashing toward him, when there came a sudden pause, and he saw that
the smith had forced his way forward and lunged, with his heavy, slow
arm, a deadly punch that landed under his assailant's ear, and sent
him limp and dazed to the floor. The smith jumped forward and lifted
his heavy boot to kick the weaving face; but Dick caught him by the
arm, and whirled him back in time to prevent needless brutality.

"There's another of 'em that hit Bells," the smith yelled, pointing to
a man who began desperately edging toward the door.

All the rage of the primitive was aroused in Dick by this time, the
battle lust that dwells, placidly through life, perhaps, in every man,
but which breaks loose in a torrent when once unleashed. He leaped
after the retreating man, seized him by the collar, and gave a wrench
that tore coat, collar, and tie from the man's throat. He drove a blow
into the frightened face, and yelled: "That for old Bells Park! And
that!"

The room had become a pandemonium. Men seemed striking everywhere.
Fists were flying, the bartenders and gamblers shouting for order; and
Dick looked back to where Smuts and Bill were clearing a wide circle
as they went after individual members of Thompson's supporters who
were edging in. Suddenly he saw a man leap on the bar, and recognized
in him the man who had been watchman at the Croix d'Or. Even in that
tempestuous instant Dick wondered at his temerity in entering the
place.

Something glistened in the light, and he saw that the watchman held a
drawn revolver, and was leveling it at Bill. The motion of the fight
was all that prevented the shot, as Mathews leaped to and fro. A dozen
men were between Dick and the watchman; but almost under his hand, at
the edge of the bar, stood a whisky bottle. He dove for it, brought it
up, and threw. The watchman, struck fairly on the side of the head,
dropped off backward, and fell to the floor behind the bar, and his
pistol exploded harmlessly upward.

Instantly there came a change. From terrific uproar the room became as
still as a solitude. Brutal and deadly as had been that fierce minute
or two of battle in which all men fought, or strove to protect
themselves from the maddened ones nearest, the sound of the shot
brought them to their senses. A fight was one thing, a shooting
another. Gunmen as many of them were, they dreaded the results if
firearms were resorted to in that dense mass of excited men, and each
one stood still, panting, listening, calmed.

"I think Bells Park has played even," came a calm, steady voice at the
door.

They turned in surprise. Standing in the doorway, motionless,
scornful, and immaculate, with her white hat still on her head, as if
she had just entered from the street, stood The Lily.

"Poor old Bells! Poor old man!" she said, in that panting silence, and
then for what seemed a long time looked at the floor. "Bells Park,"
she said at last, lifting her eyes, "is dead!"

Suddenly, and before any one could speak, she clenched her hands at
her sides, her eyes blazed, her face twisted, and went white.

"Oh," she said bitterly, in a voice low-pitched and tortured with
passion, "I hate you! I hate you! You brutes of Goldpan. You gambling
dogs! You purchasers of women. From this time, forever, I am done with
you!"

She lifted her arms, opened her hands, and made one wide, sweeping,
inclusive gesture, and turned and walked out into the night.

"Dead! Dead! Bells is dead!"

Dick heard an unutterably sorrowful voice exclaim; and Bill,
half-denuded, his blue shirt in shreds, his face puffed from blows,
and his cut knuckles dripping a slow, trickling red, plunged toward
him, followed by the smith. No one blocked their way as they went,
the three together, as they had come. Behind them, the room broke into
hushed, awed exclamations, and began to writhe and twist, as men
lifted and revived the fallen, and took stock of their injuries.

Two men came running down the street with weapons in hand; and the
moonlight, which had lifted until it shone white and clear into the
squalors of the camp, picked out dim blazes from the stars on their
breasts. They were the town marshal and a deputy sheriff, summoned
from some distant saloon by the turmoil, and hastening forward to
arrest the rioters, not suspecting that men were wanted for a graver
offense. Standing alone in the moonlight, in the middle of the road,
with her hands clenched before her, the three men discerned another
figure, and, when they gained it, saw that in the eyes of The Lily
swam unshed tears.

Dick and the smith hastened onward toward her rooms; but Bill abruptly
turned, after they had passed her, and spoke. They did not hear what
he said. They scarcely noted his pause, for in but two or three steps
he was with them again, grimly hurrying to where lay the man they had
come to love.



CHAPTER XII

A DISASTROUS BLOW


In after years it all came back to Dick as a horrible nightmare of
unreality, that tragic night's events and those which followed. The
grim setting of the coroner's jury, where men with bestial, bruised,
and discolored faces sat awkwardly or anxiously, with their hats on
their knees, in a hard stillness; the grave questions of the coroner,
coupled with the harsh, decisive interrogations of the prosecuting
attorney, who had been hastily summoned from the county seat across
the hills; and there in the other room, quiet, and at rest, the
faithful old man who had given his life in defense of his friends.

Dick gave his testimony in a dulled voice that sounded strange and
unfamiliar, telling all that the engineer had said of the assault. He
had one rage of vindictiveness, when the three men from Denver were
identified as the ones who had attacked the engineer, and regretted
that they were alive to meet the charge against them. He but vaguely
understood the technical phraseology of Doctor Mills when he stated
that Bells Park died from the shock of the blows and kicks rained on
him in that last valorous chapter of his life. He heard the decision
placing the responsibility on the men from Denver, saw the sheriff and
his deputies step forward and lay firm hands on their arms and lead
them away; and then was aroused by the heavy entrance of the camp
undertaker to make ready, for the quiet sleep, the body of Bells Park,
the engineer.

"He belongs to us," said Dick numbly; "to Bill and me. He died for the
Croix d'Or. The Croix d'Or will keep him forever, as it would if he
had lived and we had made good."

He saw, as they trudged past the High Light, that its door was shut,
and remembered, afterward, a tiny white notice pasted on the glass.
The trail across the divide was of interminable length, as was that
other climb up to the foot of the yellow cross on the peak, and to the
grave he had caused to be dug beside that other one which Bells had
guarded with jealous care, planted with flowers, weeded, and where a
faded, rough little cross bore the rudely carved inscription:

                           A DISASTEROUS BLOW
                            MEHITABLE PARK.
                    THE BEST WOMAN THAT EVER LIVED.

Those who had come to pay the last honor to the little engineer filed
back down the hill, and the Croix d'Or was left alone, silent and
idle. The smoke of the banked fires still wove little heat spirals
above the stacks as if waiting for the man of the engines. The men
were shamefacedly standing around the works and arguing, and one or
two had rolled their blankets and dumped them on the bench beside the
mess-house.

Two or three of them halted Dick and his partner as they started up
the little path to the office building where they made their home.

"Well?" Bill asked, facing them with his penetrating eyes.

"We don't want you boys to think we had any hand in any of this," the
old drill runner said, taking the lead. "They jobbed us. There were
but three or four of the Cross men there when they voted a strike, and
before that there wasn't a man that hadn't taken the floor and fought
for your scale. The meeting dragged for some reason, because old Bells
kept bringing up arguments--long-winded ones--as if holding it off."

He appeared to choke up a little, and gave a swift glance over his
shoulder at the yellow landmark above.

"If any of us had been there, they'd never have gotten him. We all
liked Bells. But they tell me that meeting was packed by that"--and he
suddenly flamed wrathful and used a foul epithet--"from Denver, and
the three thugs he brought with him. Mr. Townsend, there ain't a man
on the Cross that don't belong to the union. You know what that means.
You know how hard it is for us to scab ourselves. But there ain't a
man on the Cross that hasn't decided to stick by the mine if you want
us. We're making a protest to the head officers, and if that don't
go--well, we stick!"

Dick impulsively put out his hand. He could not speak. He was
choking.

"Want you, boys? Want you?" Bill rumbled. "We want all of you. Every
man jack on the works. You know how she's goin' as well as we do; but
I'm here to tell you that if the Cross makes good, there'll be one set
of men that'll always have the inside edge."

The men with the blankets grinned, and furtively flung them through an
open bunk-house window. They all turned away, tongue-tied in emotion,
as are nearly all men of the high hills, and tried to appear
unconcerned; while Dick, still choking, led the way up the trail. The
unwritten law of the mines had decreed there should be no work that
day; and he saw the men of the Cross pass down the road, arguing with
stolid emphasis against the injustice of the ordered strike. He knew
they would return to the camp and continue that argument, with more or
less heat, and wondered what the outcome would be.

He tried to forget his sorrow and bodily pains by checking over his
old assay slips, while Bill wandered, like a bruised and melancholy
survivor of a battle, from the mill to the hoist, from cabin to cabin,
and mess-house to bunk-house, stopping now and then to stare upward at
the peak, as if still thinking of that fresh and fragrant earth piled
in a mound above Bells Park.

Once, in the night, they were awakened by the sounds of the men
returning, as they discussed their situation and interjected copious
curses for the instruments of the tragedy. Once again, later, Dick was
awakened by a series of blasts, and turned restlessly in his bed,
struck a match, and looked at his watch, wondering if it had all been
a dream, and the morning shots of the Rattler had aroused him. It was
but three o'clock, and he returned to his troubled sleep thinking that
he must have been mistaken. Barely half-awake, he heard Bill climb out
of his bed and don his clothing, the whistle pulled by the new hands,
and the clang of hammer on steel in the blacksmith's shop. Then with a
start, he was aroused from the dreamless slumber of the utterly
exhausted by a heavy hand laid on his shoulder and a heavy voice:
"Wake up, Dick! Wake up, boy! They've got us."

He sat up, rubbing his eyes and fumbling with the cordings of his
pajamas. Bill was sitting on the edge of his bed, scowling and angry.

"Got us? Got us?" Dick repeated vaguely.

"Yes. Dynamited the Peltons, and I'm afraid that ain't all. We'll have
to go up the pipe line to find out."

Dick rolled out and jumped for his clothing. He did not take time to
follow his partner's kindly suggestion that he had better go to the
mess-house and get the "cookie" to give him a cup of hot coffee. He
was too much upset by the disaster, and walked rapidly over the trail.
Not a man was in sight around the works; and as he passed the smith's
door, he saw that Smuts, too, had gone, without taking time to don his
cap or doff his apron. The whole force appeared to have collected
around the power-house at the foot of the hill, which was around a
bend and shut off from view of the Cross. A jagged rent, scattered
stone and mortar, and a tangle of twisted steel told the story; but
that was not the most alarming damage he had to fear, for the heavy
steel pipe, where it entered the plant, was twisted loose, gaping and
dry.

He scrambled up the hill, seizing the manzanita brush here and there
to drag himself up faster, and gained the brow where the pipe made its
last abrupt descent. Far ahead, and walking sturdily, he recognized
the stalwart figure of his partner, and knew that Bill was suffering
the same anxiety. He ran when the ascent was less steep, and shouted
to the grizzled miner ahead, who turned and waited for him.

"I'm afraid of it," Bill called as he approached; and Dick,
breathless, made no reply, but hurried ahead with him to the
reservoir. In all the journey, which seemed unduly long and hot that
morning, they said nothing. Once, as they passed the familiar scene of
his tryst with Miss Presby, now ages past, Dick bit his lips, and
suppressed a moan like that of a hurt animal. Bitterly he thought that
now she was more unattainable, and his dreams more idle than ever
they had been. And the first sight of the reservoir confirmed it.

To a large extent, the reservoir of the Cross was artificial. It had
been constructed by throwing a deep stone and concrete dam across a
narrow cañon through which there percolated, in summer, a small
stream. Its cubic capacity was such, however, that when this reservoir
was filled by spring freshets it contained water enough to run the
full season round if sparingly used; and it was on this alone that the
mill depended for its power, and the mine for its lights and train
service, from hoist to breakers.

Where had stood the dam, gray with age and moss-covered, holding in
check its tiny lake, was now nothing but ruins. The shots had been
placed in the lower point, which was fifty feet down and conical as it
struck and rested on the mother rock. Whoever had placed the charges
knew well the explosive directions of his powder, and his work had
been disastrously effective.

The whole lower part of the dam was out, and through it, in the night,
had rushed the deluge of water so vital to the Croix d'Or. Small trees
that had grown up since the dam had been built were uprooted in the
bed of the cañon, and great bowlders pulled from their sockets and
sent resistlessly downward. Where, the day before, had been grassy
beds and heavy growths of ferns, was now but a naked bed, stripped to
the rock, down which flowed a small stream oozing from what had been
the reservoir.

The partners stood, as if paralyzed, on the edge of the gulch, and
looked down. The catastrophe, coming on top of all that had gone
before, was a death blow, stupefying, stupendous, and hopelessly
irremediable.

"Well, you were right," Dick said despairingly. "They've got us at
last!"

Bill nodded, without shifting his eyes from the ruin below. They stood
for another minute before scrambling down the cañon's steep side to
inspect more closely the way the vandalism had been effected. Slipping
down the muddy bank, heedless of their clothing or bruised hands, they
clambered over the broken pieces of wall, and looked upward through
the great hole and into the daylight beyond. The blow was too great to
permit of mere anger. It was disaster supreme, and they could find no
words in that time of despondency.

"I'll give a hundred dollars toward a reward for the man who did
that," shouted a voice, hoarse with indignation, above them; and they
looked up to see the smith on the bank, shaking his smudged and
clenched fist in the air.

"And I'll take a hundred more," growled one of the drill runners in
the augmenting group behind him.

And then, as if the blow had fallen equally on all, the men of
the Cross stormed and raved, and clambered over the ruins and
anathematized their unknown enemy; all but one known as Jack
Rogers, the boss millman, who silently, as if his business had
rendered him mute as well as deaf, stood looking up and down the
gulch. While the others continued their inspection of the damage,
he drifted farther and farther away, intent on the ground about him,
and the edge of the stream. Suddenly he stooped over and picked up
something water-stained and white. He came back toward them.

"Whoever did the one job," he said tersely, "did both. Probably one
man. Set the fuses at the power-house, then came on here and set
these. Then he must have got away by going to the eastward."

"For heaven's sake, how do you figure that out?" Dick asked eagerly,
while the others gathered closer around, with grim, inquiring faces,
and leaned corded necks forward to catch the millman's words.

"I found a piece of fuse down at the power plant," he said. "See, here
it is. It's a good long one. The fellow that did the job knew just how
long it would take him to walk here; and he knew fuse, and he knew
dynamite. The proof that he did it that way is shown by this short
piece of fuse I found down there at the edge of the wash. He cut the
fuse short when he shot the dam. He wanted the whole thing, both
places, to go up at once. Now it's plain as a Digger Indian's trail
that he didn't intend to go back the way he came, so he must have gone
eastward. And if he went that way, it shows he didn't intend to hit it
back toward Goldpan, but to keep on goin' over the ridge cut-off till
he hit the railroad."

Dick was astonished at the persistent reasoning of the man whom
hitherto he had regarded as a singularly taciturn old worker, wise in
milling and nothing more.

"Now, if there's any of you boys here that know trails," he said,
"come along with me, and we'll section the hillside up there and pick
it up. If you don't, stay here, because I can get it in time, and
don't want no one tramplin' over the ground. I was--a scout for five
years, and--well, I worked in the Geronimo raid."

Dick and Bill looked at him with a new admiration, marveling that the
man had never before betrayed that much of his variegated and hard
career.

"You're right! I believe you're right," the superintendent exclaimed.
"I can help you. So can Dick. We've lived where it came in handy
sometimes."

But two other men joined them, one a white-headed old miner called
Chloride and the other a stoker named Sinclair who had been at the
Cross for but a few weeks, and admitted that he had been a packer in
Arizona.

Slowly the men formed into a long line, and began working toward one
another, examining the ground in a belt twenty feet wide and covering
the upper eastward edge of the cañon. Each had his own method of
trailing. The white-headed man stooped over and passed slowly from
side to side. Bill walked with slow deliberation, stopping every three
or four feet and scanning the ground around him with his brilliant,
keen eyes. The stoker worked like a pointer dog, methodically, and
examining each bush clump for broken twigs.

But it was Rogers the millman, whose method was more like Bill's, who
gave the gathering call. On a patch of earth, close by the side of the
rampart and where the moisture had percolated sufficiently to soften
the ground, was the plain imprint of a man's foot, shod in miner's
brogans, and half-soled. Nor was that all. The half-soling had
evidently been home work, and the supply of pegs had been exhausted.
In lieu of them, three square-headed hobnails had been driven into the
center of the seam holding the patch of leather to the under part of
the instep, or palm of the foot. They were off like a pack of
bloodhounds, with the old millman in the lead.

Dick started to follow, and then paused. He saw that Bill was standing
aside, as if hesitating what to do.

"Bill, old partner," he said wearily, "if anything can be found they
can find it. I think you and I had better go back and try to think
some way out of this--try to see some opening. It looks pretty
black."

The big fellow took four or five of his long, swinging steps, and
threw an arm over the younger man's shoulder.

"Boy," he said, "they're a-givin' us a right fast run for our money;
but we ain't whipped yet--not by a long way! And if they do, well,
it's a mighty big world, with mighty big mountains, and we'll strike
it yet; but they haven't cleaned us out of the Cross, and can't as
long as you and me are both kickin.' They've got poor old Bells.
They've tried to hand us a strike. They've blown our reservoir so's we
can't work the mill until another spring passes over; and yet we're
still here, and the Croix d'Or is still there, off under the peak
that's holdin' it down."

He waved his arm above in a broad gesture, and Dick took heart as they
turned back toward the mine, calculating whether they could find a
means of opening it underground to pay; whether they would need as
many men as they had, and other troublesome details.



CHAPTER XIII

THE DYNAMITER


The men of the Croix d'Or slowly made their way upward toward the
higher crest of the range, spread out in an impatient fan whose narrow
point was made up of the three experienced men. At times the trail was
almost lost in the carpet of pine needles and heavy growths of
mountain grass, and again it would show plainly over long stretches
where the earth was exposed. It dipped down over a crest and sought a
hollow in which ran a mountain stream, spread out over a rocky bed and
running swiftly. At its bank they paused. It was plain that their man
had taken to the water to retard pursuit, if such came. The millman
threw up his hand and called the others around him.

"Before we go any farther," he said, "let's find out how many shooting
irons are in this crowd. We may need 'em."

The men looked blankly at one another, expressing by their actions the
fact that in all the party there was not one who possessed a weapon.

"Then it seems to me the best thing to do is for one man to go back to
the mine and get some," said Rogers, assuming leadership. "Who ever
goes will find my gun hanging up at the head of my bunk in a holster.
Bring that and the belt. There's cartridges in it."

One after another told where a weapon might be found, and two men
volunteered to return for them. It was agreed that the others were to
keep on and that after leaving the stream men were to be posted at
intervals to guide the messengers as they came up. Rogers proved
something of a general in the disposition of his little army, and
then, with Sinclair on one bank of the stream and Chloride on the
other, he plunged into the water and began an up-stream course.

"It stands to reason," he argued, "that our man didn't go down stream
unless it was for a blind. He wouldn't double back because it would
bring him out almost where he started. He will keep on up this way
until she gets too small to travel in and then will hit off somewhere
else. You other fellers keep behind."

They began a slow, painstaking course up the stream and began to fear
they had been mistaken in their surmise, when Sinclair gave a shout.
He had found the trail again, a telltale footprint with the patched
sole. It broke upward on the other side of the cañon, and now men were
posted within shouting distance of one another and left behind to
notify the two men bringing weapons which way to go. Across spots
where the trail was difficult or entirely lost, and still higher until
the timber line was passed and bare gray rocks were everywhere, the
man-hunters made their way, and another watchman was left on the
highest point. Down the other side and into the timber line again,
directed only by a broken twig, a freshly turned bowlder, or now and
then a faint suggestion of a footprint, they plunged as rapidly as
they could and then through tangled brush until suddenly they came out
to an old disused path. Unerringly they picked up the footprints
again, and now these indicated that the quarry had felt himself secure
against pursuit and made no further attempt at concealment.

"He is heading out to the east, just as you said he would," the smith
declared, as he sat down with the others to await the coming of the
messengers. They were certain now that henceforth they would travel
rapidly. They talked in low, angry voices among themselves, while
Rogers, silent and grim, sat quietly on a bowlder and smoked. A shout
from the hilltop attracted their attention and they looked up to see a
group beginning to descend. The men with guns had returned and the
outposts doubled back on themselves as they came, adding a man at
intervals, until they joined those waiting for them. Without delay the
men strung out in single file along the path, with the old millman in
the lead. For the most part they went as quietly as would Indians on
the war-path, loping along now and then down declivities, or panting
upward when the trail climbed to higher altitudes. There was no doubt
at all that the man who had dynamited the dam was certain of his
having evaded all followers, and indeed he would have done so with men
less trained and astute.

"Does any one know this country here?" demanded Rogers, suddenly
halting his little band.

"I do," declared one of the drill runners. "I worked over here on this
side one time about two years ago. Why?"

"Well, where does this trail go?"

"To an old logging camp, first, then from there there is a road
leading over to Malapi."

Rogers lowered his hand from his ear and looked thoughtful for a
moment.

"Many men at the camp?"

"No, I think it's been abandoned for two or three years," replied the
drill runner. Rogers slapped his hand on his leg, and seemed confident
again.

"Then that's where we'll find him. In that old, abandoned camp," he
exclaimed. "It's a ten-to-one bet that he got some supplies up there
some time within the last few days, when he made up his mind to do
this job, and that he plans to lay quiet there until it is safe for
him to get out of the country."

The others nodded their heads sagely.

"If you're sure of that," the drill runner said, "the best thing to do
is for us to leave the trail over here a ways and come up to the old
camp from behind it. He might be on the watch for this trail."

"Good again!" asserted the millman. "Here, you take the lead now and
we'll follow."

For another hour they plugged along the trail with an increasing
alertness, and wondering how soon the drill runner would turn off. At
last he looked back and gestured to them. They understood. He slipped
off the trail into the brush and began going slowly. Once he stopped
to whisper to them to be cautious, inasmuch as within a few hundred
yards they would reach their goal. Now they began to exercise the
utmost caution of movement, spreading out according to individual
judgment to avoid windfalls and thickets. Again the lead man stopped
and signaled them. He beckoned with his arm, and they closed up and
peered where he indicated.

Out in the center of a clearing stood a big, rambling structure that
had done service and been abandoned. A slow wisp of smoke, gray and
thin, floated upward from the rough chimney, a part of whose top rocks
had been dislodged by winter storms. They dropped to the ground and
held a whispered consultation. They argued heatedly over the best
course to pursue. The millman favored surrounding the cabin, and then
permitting him with two others to advance boldly to the door and
endeavor to capture their man.

The packer, Sinclair, suggested another course, which was nothing less
valorous than a straight rush for the doors and windows; but Chloride
fought that plan.

"It ain't that I'm afraid to take my chances," he declared; "but if we
do that, some of us, with such a crowd, is sure to get shot. We don't
want to lose no lives on a skunk of a dynamiter like this feller must
be. I'm for surroundin' the house, then callin' him out. If he's an
honest man, he'll come. If he ain't, he'll fight. Then we'll get him
in the long run if we have to fire the cabin to-night."

"And maybe burn a couple of million dollars worth of timber with it at
the same time," growled the drill runner. "That's a fine idea! I'm for
Jack's plan. First, line out around the cabin, out of sight of course,
then two men walk up and get him. I'm one of 'em."

"And I the other," declared Rogers. "Let's lose no time."

Silently, as before, the party spread out until it had completed the
ring around the cabin and then, when all was in readiness, the millman
and the runner, with pistols loosened, stepped out into the open and
walked around to the door. There was a moment's tensity as they made
that march, neither they nor the watchers knowing when a shot might
sound and bring one of them to the ground. The runner rapped on the
door, insistently. It creaked and gave back a sodden, hollow sound,
but at first there was no response. He rapped again, and at the same
time tried to open it; but it was barred. A voice from inside called,
"Hello! What do you want out there?"

"Want to see you," the runner answered. "Open the door, can't you?"

There was an instant's hesitation and then again the voice, "Well,
what do you want? Who are you?"

"Two men that ain't familiar with these parts," was the wary reply of
the runner. "Want to talk it over with you."

There was the creaking of a bar, and the door was opened cautiously.
One eye applied to a crack scanned the runner, who stood there alert.
Rogers was out of sight. Apparently the man in the cabin did not
recognize the runner, for now he flung the door wide and stepped out.
As he did so he saw the millman, whom he recognized, and swiftly
pulled a gun and shot at him. Even as he did so the younger man leaped
upon him, caught his wrist and wrenched the weapon from his hand. He
did the unexpected thing. Instead of fighting, or attempting to regain
the cabin, he deftly threw out a foot, tripped the runner against
Rogers, leaped over both as they fell, and dashed headlong for the
forest. Suddenly, as he gained the edge, several shots cracked
viciously, but none of them seemed to have taken effect. He snarled
loudly with excitement and plunged into the edge of the timber. Quite
as quickly as he gained it a man arose straight in his path, leaped
forward, caught him around the waist, and brought him to the ground.
Men came rushing forward, almost falling over one another, but arrived
too late to assist in the capture. Lying under and pinned to the earth
by the huge blacksmith, struggling for release, and cursing between
shut teeth, was the man who had been the watchman at the Croix d'Or
when its new proprietor arrived, the man Wolff, whose past had been
exposed by The Lily in the presence of some of those who were now his
captors.

"Might have guessed it," growled the smith. "It's like him, anyhow."

Two others reached over and assisted him. They caught Wolff by his
arms and lifted him to his feet, where they held him. Another man ran
his hand over his clothes and took out a big hunting knife, sheathed.
A further search revealed nothing save a small sum of money and a few
dynamite caps. The prisoner attempted to brazen it out.

"What do you mean by this, anyhow?" he demanded. "Bein' held up, am
I?"

No one replied to him directly, but it was Rogers who said, "Lift his
feet up there until we get a look at the shoes." Unceremoniously they
hoisted him clear of the ground, although in a sudden panic he kicked
and struggled. There was no doubt of it. The shoes were identical with
those worn by the man who had dynamited the reservoir dam. The
hobnails had betrayed him. For the first time he seemed to lose
courage and whined a protest.

"Where were you last night?" demanded the smith, frowning in his
face.

"Right here in this cabin. Been here two days now."

They walked him between them back to the door and Chloride and
Sinclair went in. They inspected it closely. They dropped to their
knees and examined the deposit of dust. They walked over to the
fireplace and inspected the ash surrounding the little blaze, which
had been started less than an hour before, as far as they could
decide. Below was a heap of mouldy ash that had been beaten down by
winter snows and summer rains falling through the broken chimney. The
others watched the two inquisitors curiously through the open door.

"If he has been here two days he has moved around the room scarcely at
all," Sinclair declared, "because the dust isn't disturbed by more
than one or two trails. And, what's more, that fire is the first one
that has been built here in many a long month, and it wasn't started
very long ago. It's too thin. He just got here! He's the man!"

The prisoner was ringed round by accusing, scowling eyes. He shoved a
dry tongue out and wet his lips as if the nervous strain were
beginning to tell. He started to speak, but apparently decided to say
nothing and stood looking at the ground.

"Well," demanded Rogers, "what have you to say for yourself? You've
plainly lied about being here in the cabin. What did you do that
for?"

"I didn't say that I was in the cabin. I slept outside," Wolff
growled.

"Then take us to the place where you camped," suggested one of the
drill runners. A chorus of approving shouts seconded his request; but
Wolff began to appear more confused than ever and did not answer. He
took refuge in a fierce burst of anger.

"What do you fellows mean, anyhow?" he demanded. "I ain't done
nothin'. What right have you to come up here and grab a man that way?
Who are you lookin' for, anyhow?"

"Wolff," said the old millman, steadily, "we are looking for the man
that blew up the Croix d'Or power-house and dam last night. And what's
more, we think we've got him. You're the man, all right!"

His attempts to pretend ignorance and innocence were pitiful. This
impromptu court was trying him there in the open beside the cabin, and
he knew that its verdict would be a speedy one. He started to run the
gamut of appeal, denial, and anger; but his hearers were inflexible.
They silenced him at last.

"We need just one thing more, boys," said Rogers, "and that is to be
sure that these are the same boots that made the tracks there by the
dam. All we have to do to prove that is to take this fellow back with
us. The tracks will still be there. If they are the same we can be
sure."

"That's right," added the blacksmith. "That'd be proof enough. Let's
move out."

They knotted their huge handkerchiefs and bound his arms at the elbows
and then his hands at the wrists, and started him forward. He fought
at first, but on being prodded sharply with the muzzle of a gun moved
sullenly in their midst along the trail he had so lately come over.
They trudged in a harsh silence, save now and then when he tried to
persuade them of his innocence, only to convince them further that he
lied. Their return was made much faster than their coming, for now
they had no need to seek a trail, nor to walk in a mountain stream.
They forged ahead rapidly under the direction of the runner who had
been in that part of the mountains before, and yet it was almost dusk
when they came down the hill above the great wreck. They led him to
the big heap of broken masonry and then ordered him to sit down. He
had to be thrown from his feet, after which they removed his shoes,
and while two of them stood guard over him the others descended to the
edge of the wall and found the clear-cut prints which had been first
noted that morning and which, trailed, had led to his capture. They
struck matches to be certain that there was no mistake and bent over
while Rogers carefully pressed one of the shoes into the mud beside
that first imprint. They were undoubtedly the same. He then fitted the
shoe into that track, and all further proof was unnecessary. Grimly
they passed back to where Wolff was being guarded.

"Well, boys," said Rogers, gravely, "this is the man! There isn't a
doubt of it. Now you all know who he is, what his past has been, what
he has done here, and I want to get your ideas what should be done
with him."

The smith stepped forward and took off his hat. It was as if he knew
that he were the one to impose a death sentence.

"There ain't but one thing for the likes of him. That's hangin'," he
declared, steadily. "I vote to hang him. Here and now, across the end
of the dam he shot out."

He stepped back into the closely drawn circle. Rogers faced man after
man, calling the name of each. There was no dissenting voice. The
verdict was unanimous. So certain had been the outcome that one of
their number had started along the pipe line to the wreck of the
power-house for a rope before ever they compared the imprints of the
telltale shoes, and now, almost by the time they had cast their
ballot, this man returned.

"Wolff, you've heard," said the old millman, with solemnity. "If
you've got any messages you want sent, we'll send them. If you want
time to pray, this is your chance. There's nothing you can say is
going to change it. You are as good as dead. Boys, some of you get
one of those beams that's tore loose there at the side, fasten
the rope around the end, and shove it over the edge of the wall
above the cañon there for a few feet. He shall hang above the dam he
dynamited."

Wolff knew that they were in earnest. There was something more
inexorable in their actions than in a court of law. At the last he
showed some courage of a brute kind, reviling them all, sputtering
forth his hatred, and interlarding it with a confession and threats of
what he wanted to do. They silenced him by leading him to the wall and
adjusting the noose. Once more Rogers besought him to pray and then,
when he again burst into oaths, they thrust him off. The fall was as
effective as ever hangman devised.

"In the morning, boys," said the smith, "a half-dozen of us must be up
early and come back here. The hound is at least entitled to a half-way
decent burial. I'll call some of you to come with me."

That was their sole comment. They had neither regrets, compunctions,
nor rancor. They had finished their task according to their own ideas
of justice, without hesitation.

At the Croix d'Or the partners, worried over their problems, and
somewhat astonished at the non-appearance of the force, sat on the
bench by the mess-house, smoking and silent.

In soft cadence they heard, as from the opposite side of the gulch,
the tramping of feet. Swinging along in the dusk the men came,
shadowy, unhalting, and homeward bound, like so many tired hounds
returning after the day's hunt. Their march led them past the bench;
but they did not look up. There was an unusual gravity in their
silence, a pronounced earnestness in their attitude.

"Well," called Dick, "what did you learn?"

It was the smith who answered, but the others never halted, continuing
that slow march to the bunk-house.

"We got him."

"Where is he, then?"

"Hanging to a beam across the dam he blew up," was the remorseless
response.

He started as if to proceed after the others, then paused long enough
to add: "It was that feller that used to be watchman here; the feller
that tried to shoot Bill that night. Found him in that old, deserted
cabin near the Potlach. Had the shoe on him, and at last said he did
it, and was sorry for just one thing, that he didn't get all of us.
Said he'd 'a' blown the bunk-house and the office up in a week more,
and that he'd tried to get you two with a bowlder and had killed your
burros--well, when we swung him off, he was still cursing every one
and everything connected with the Croix d'Or."

He paused for an instant, then came closer, and lowered his voice.

"And that ain't all. He said just before he went off--just like
this--mind you: 'I'd 'a' got Bully Presby, too, because he didn't
treat me fair, after me doin' my best and a-keepin' my mouth shut
about what I knew of the big lead.' Now, what in hell do you suppose
he meant by that?"



CHAPTER XIV

"THOUGH LOVE SAY NAY"


"Of one thing I am sure," said Dick on the following day, when they
began to readjust themselves for a decision, "and that is that if we
can find work for them, there isn't a man on the works that I don't
want to keep. They are too true and loyal to lose."

"We could drive into the blacksmith's tunnel," Bill said; "and I've an
idea we might strike something when we pass under that hard cone just
above--well, just about under where Bells is. I saw it yesterday when
we were up there for the first time. That would give the millman and
his gang something to do. Some of 'em can take out the rest of the
green lead, and after that drift see if it comes in again. And the
others that can't do anything underground, can turn to and build up
the dam, with a few masons to help, and, when a new wheel comes, the
millman will know how to set that all right again. So, you see, we
don't have to lose any of them that has stood by us, so long as Sloan
is ready to take his gamble and the hundred thousand lasts. Before
that's gone, we'll just have to make good. And somehow I feel we
will."

As if to add to the mental trials of the half-owner of the Croix d'Or,
but another day elapsed after this decision and adjustment before he
received a letter from a Seattle broker offering him a price for his
interest in the mine. Thus wrote the agent:

"My client has the timber and water rights of your property in view
more than anything underground, which, on the advice of experts who
have visited the property in previous years, he seems to regard as
worthless. He informs me that you are, to all intents, representing
not only your own interest, but that of the other partner, who places
implicit confidence in you. I presume that you will therefore be
amenable to doing all you can to save from the wreckage of the dead
property all that is possible in behalf of that partner as well as
yourself, and am authorized to make you the extremely liberal offer of
sixty thousand dollars for the full title to the property."

The price was ridiculously low, and Dick knew it; yet if the mine
produced nothing more, and was, as the experts were supposed to have
reported, worthless, the amount was extremely liberal. But for Bill he
would have hesitated to decline such an offer. That worthy, however,
threw his head back and roared derisively.

"Sixty thousand? Sixty thousand! What does that idiot think men who
have dropped a quarter of a million in a property would quit for? Does
he think that sixty thousand is any saving from a wreck like this has
been? Tell him to chase himself--that the tail goes with the hide, and
you'll quit clean whipped, or not at all."

But Dick was loath to refuse any offer without consulting his superior
in New York, and accordingly wandered off into the hills to think. It
was late in the afternoon, and he mechanically tramped over the trail
to the pipe line, where, when hope ran higher, he had dared to dream.

The whole situation had become a nerve-racking tragedy of mind and
action. His desperate desire for success after his self-acknowledgment
that he loved Miss Presby, and then the blows that had been rained on
him and the mine, the failure of the green lead to hold out when it
had at least promised and justified operation--all cumulated into a
disheartening climax which was testing his fortitude as it had never
been tried before. He was not of those who lack either persistence,
determination, or moral bravery; and it was this last characteristic,
coupled with a certain maturing caution, which made him question the
honesty of proceeding to lay out, perhaps, the entire hundred thousand
volunteered by Sloan, with such little certainty of returns. Had the
money been his own, he would have taken the chances uncomplainingly;
but his judgment told him that, had he been sent to the Croix d'Or as
an expert to pass an opinion on the justification of putting a hundred
thousand into the ground, under present conditions, he would have
advised against it.

He went as far as the reservoir. Its wreckage seemed to mock his
efforts. To rebuild it alone meant big expense in a country where
every barrel of cement had to be brought in on the backs of pack
mules, and where stone masons received unduly high wages. The repairs
to the plant would not prove so heavy; but after that? None knew
better than he the trials of expensive prospecting underground, the
long drives to end in nothing, the drifts that tapped no ore, the
ledges that promised to come in strongly, and led the worker on with
hope deferred until his purse was exhausted. The cruelty of nature
itself flaunting the golden will-o'-the-wisp in the blackness of the
earth.

He stood on a timber thrown carelessly on the brink of the gorge, and
suddenly thought how it happened to be there, and for what tragic
purpose it had served--a gallows. He shuddered, thinking of the
mentally distorted wretch who had died at its end, cursing as the men
of the Cross pushed him over to gasp and wrench his life away fifty
feet above the ruin he had wrought. He wondered where the man had been
buried, and hurried back along the pipe line to try and forget that
episode.

A little flutter of white from a clump of brush attracted his eyes,
and he extracted from the brambles a dainty handkerchief still
fragrant with the personality of the girl he loved. He lifted it to
his lips tightly, and, with a heart that was almost in pain, dropped
to the line, and sat on the pipe, bent, and utterly dejected. He sat
there for some minutes, and then a sound caused him to straighten
himself with a jerk. The black horse was thundering down the hill as
he had seen it on those other mornings when, looking backward, the
"world was young."

"I saw you, Mr. Townsend," Miss Presby said as he assisted her to
alight, and her voice was sympathetic and grave. "You are unhappy. I
don't blame you. I have heard all about it, and--well, I have had to
fight an hourly impulse to come to you ever since I heard the news.
Oh, my friend, believe me, I am so sorry! So sorry!"

He could not reply, lest his voice betray the emotions aroused by her
kindly sympathy. All his yearnings were fanned to flame by the cadence
of her voice and the softness of her eyes. Mechanically he resumed his
place on the pipe, and she seated herself by his side, half-facing
him. Her slender foot, booted, braced against the ground, and almost
touching his heavy miner's boot, tapped its toe on the sward as if she
were impatient to find words.

"It has been a little tough," he said; "but it seems less hard to me
now that I know you care."

He had blundered in his first words to the beginning of dangerous
heights, and his pulses gave a wild throb when he glanced up at her
and saw a light in her face, in her eyes, in her whole attitude, that
he had never surprised there before. Words, unuttered, leaped hotly
from his heart; a mad desire to tell of his love, of the visions he
had seen in the air, on the blue of the peaks, in the cool shadows of
the forests, in the black depths hundreds of feet under the ground. Of
how the Croix d'Or had come to represent, not financial success, but a
battle for her, and his love.

His face went white, and he bit his dry, twisting lips, and clenched
his hands until they hurt.

"Not now!" he savagely commanded himself. "Not now!"

She appeared to be thinking of something she had to say, and her first
words rendered him thankful that he had held his tongue, otherwise he
might never have known the depths of the girl seated there by his
side.

"I don't want you to think me forward," she said quietly; "but I have
wanted for the last two days to ask you something. It makes it easier
now that I know you know, that--that I care for it. What are
your--your--how are your finances?"

She had stammered it out at last, and, now that the conversation had
been led in that direction, he could speak. He sat there quietly, as
if by a comrade, and told her all. Told her of his boyhood, his
father's death, and that he, in his own right, had nothing in the
world but youth and a half-ownership in the Croix d'Or, which
threatened to prove worthless. He voiced that dread of wasting his
backer's money when he had none of his own to put with it, meeting
dollar for dollar as it was thrown into the crucibles of fate. He
stopped at last, a little ashamed of having so completely unbosomed
himself, for he was by habit and nature reticent.

"You have made it a great deal easier for me," she said, with an
assumption of gayety. "I can say what I've been thinking of for two
days without spludging all over my words."

She laughed as if in recollection of her previous embarrassment, and
again became seriously grave, and went on:

"They say my father is a hard man. At times I have been led to believe
it; but he has been a good father to me, and I appreciate it and his
worries more, after a four years' absence in an Eastern school,
and--well, perhaps because I am so much older now, and better able to
judge leniently. I have never known much of his business from his
lips. It is one subject on which he is not exactly loquacious, as
probably you know."

Again she laughed a little, grim laugh. Dick had opened his lips to
say that he had never met her father, when she continued:

"On the day I met you first, up here by your pipe line, the day you
almost ended my bright young career by starting a half-ton bowlder
down the hill--don't interrupt with repeated apologies, please--I had
my birth anniversary. I was twenty-one, and--my own boss."

"Congratulations, belated, but fervent."

"Thank you; but you again interrupt. On that day when I went home, my
father, in his customary gruff way, turned back just as he was going
to the office where he lives at least eighteen hours out of every
twenty-four, and threw in my lap a bank-book. 'Joan,' he said, 'you're
of age now. That's for you. It's all yours, to do just what you dam'
please with. I have nothing to do with it. If you make a fool use of
it, it'll be your fault, not mine. I'm giving it to you so that if
anything happened to me, or the Rattler, you'd not be helplessly
busted.'"

He jumped to his feet with an exclamation.

"The Rattler! The Rattler! And--and your name is Joan and not Dorothy,
and you are Bully Presby's daughter?"

He was bewildered by surprise.

"Why, yes. Certainly! Didn't you know that--all this time?"

"No!" he blurted. "There is a Dorothy Presby, and a----"

"Dorothy Presby!" She doubled over in a gust of mirth. "The daughter
of the lumberman over on the other side. Oh, this is too good to keep!
I must tell her the next time I see her. After all these months, you
still thought----"

Again her laughter overwhelmed her; but it was not shared by Dick, who
stood above her on the slope, frowning in perplexity, thinking of the
strange blunder into which he had been led by the words of poor old
Bells, his acceptance of her identity, his ignorance that Bully Presby
had kith or kin, and of the mine owner's sarcastic references and
veiled antagonism throughout all those troubled months preceding.

If she were Bully Presby's daughter, he might never gain her father's
consent, though the Croix d'Or were in the list of producers. He
thought of that harsh encounter on the trail, and his assertion that
he was capable of attending to his own business and asked neither
friendship nor favor from any man under the skies; of Bully Presby's
gruff reply, and of their passing each other a second time, in the
streets of Goldpan, without recognition. The girl in front of him, so
unlike her father save for the firm chin and capable brow, did not
appear to sense his perturbation.

"Well," she said, "it doesn't matter. I am not jeal---- I'm not any
different--just the same. Come back here and sit down, please, while I
go ahead with what I wish to say."

The interlude appeared to have rendered her more self-possessed.

"So, on that day I met you, I became quite rich. That money has rested
in a bank, doing neither me nor any one else any benefit. I think I
have drawn one check, for twenty-five dollars, just to convince myself
that it was all reality. And I am, in some ways, the daughter of my
father. I want my money to work. I'm quite a greedy young person, you
see. I want to lend you as much of that money as you need."

"Impossible!"

"Not at all. I have as much faith in you, perhaps more, than this
Mister Sloan, of whom I'm a trifle jealous. I want to have a share in
your success. I want to make you feel that, even if I'm not the
daughter of a lumberman, I am, and shall have a right to be,
interested in--in--the Croix d'Or."

"Impossible!"

"It isn't any such thing. I mean it!"

"Then it's because I haven't made it plain to you--haven't made you
understand that even now I am thinking, to preserve my honor, of
telling Mr. Sloan that it is too much of a venture. If I should
decline to venture his money, why should I----?"

"Refuse mine? That's just it. His money you could decline. He isn't on
the ground. He doesn't know mines, mining, or miners. I know them all.
I am here. I know the history of the Cross from the day it made its
first mill run. I went five hundred feet under ground in a California
mine when I was a month old. I've run from the lowest level to the top
of the hoist, and from the grizzlies to the tables, for at least ten
years of my life. I've absorbed it. I've lived in it. Had I the
strength, there isn't a place in this, or any mine, that I couldn't
fill. I'm backing my judgment. The Croix d'Or will prove good with
depth. It may never pay until you get it. The blowing of your dam, the
loss of your green lead, and all of those troubles, don't amount to
that."

She snapped a thumb and forefinger derisively, and went on before he
could interject a word, so intent was she on assisting him and
encouraging him, and proving to him that her judgment, through
knowledge, was better than his.

"Borrow my money, Dick, and sink."

The name came so easily to her lips! It was the first time he had ever
heard her utter it. It swept away his flying restraint even as the
flame of powder snaps through a fuse to explosion; and he made a
sudden, swinging step toward her, and caught her in his arms savagely,
greedily, tenderly fierce. All his love was bursting, molten, to
speech; but she lifted both hands and thrust herself away from him.

"Oh, not that!" she said. "Not that! I wish you had not. It robs me of
my wish. I wanted you to take my money as a comrade, not as my---- Oh,
Dick! Dick! Don't say anything to me now, or do anything now! Please
let me have my way. You will win. I know it! The Cross must pay. It
shall pay! And when it does, then--then----"

She stood, trembling, and abashed by her own words, before him. Slowly
the delicacy of her mind, the romanticism of her dreams, the great,
unselfish love within her, fluttering yet valiant, overwhelmed him
with a sense of infinite unworthiness and weakness. He took his hat
from his head, leaned over, and caught one of the palpitant hands in
both his own, and raised it reverently to his lips. It was as if he
were paying homage to heaven devoutly.

"I understand," he said softly, still clinging to the fingers, every
throb of which struck appealingly on his heartstrings. "Forgive me,
and--yet--don't. Joan, little Joan, I can't take your money. It would
make me a weakling. But I can make the Cross win. If it never had a
chance before, it will have now. It must! God wouldn't let it be
otherwise!"

"Help me to my horse," she said faintly. "We mustn't talk any more.
Let us keep our hopes as they are."

He lifted her lightly to the saddle, and the big black, with
comprehending eyes, seemed to stand as a statue after she was in her
seat. The purple shadows of the mountain twilight were, with a soft
and tender haze, tinting the splendid peak above them. Everything was
still and hushed, as if attuned to their parting. She leaned low over
her saddle to where, as before something sacred, he stood with parted
lips, and upturned face, bareheaded, in adoration. Quite slowly she
bent down and kissed him full on the lips, and whispered: "God bless
you, dear, and keep you--for me!"

The abrupt crashing of a horse's hoofs awoke the echoes and the world
again. She was gone; and, for a full minute after the gray old rocks
and the shadows had encompassed her, there stood in the purple
twilight a man too overcome with happiness to move, to think, to
comprehend, to breathe!



CHAPTER XV

"MR. SLOAN SPEAKS"


"Wow! Somethin' seems to have kind of livened up the gloom of this
dump, seems to me," exclaimed Bill on the following morning, when
returning from his regular trip underground, he stamped into the
office, threw himself into a chair, and hauled off one of his rubber
boots preparatory to donning those of leather.

Dick had been bent over the high desk, with plans unrolled before him,
and a sheet of paper on which he made calculations, whistling as he
did so.

"First time I've heard you whistle since we left the Coeur d'Alenes,"
Bill went on, grinning slyly, as if secretly pleased. "What're you up
to?"

"Finding out if by sinking we couldn't cut that green lead about two
hundred feet farther down."

"Bully boy! I'm with you!" encouraged the older miner, throwing the
cumbersome boots into the corner, and coming over behind Dick, where
he could inspect the plans across the angle of the other's broad
shoulder. "How does she dope out?"

"We cut the green lead on the six-hundred-foot, at a hundred and ten
feet from the shaft, didn't we? Well, the men before us cut on the
five-hundred at a hundred and seventy from the shaft, and at
two-twenty from the shaft on the four-hundred-foot level, where they
stoped out a lot of it before concluding it wouldn't pay to work. It
was a strong but almost barren ledge when they first came into it on
the two-hundred-foot level. The Bonanza chute made gold because they
happened to hit it at a crossing on the four-hundred-foot level. At
the six-hundred, as we know, it was almost like a chimney of ore that
is playing out as we drift west. If the mill had not been put out of
business, we were going to stope it out, though, and prove whether it
was the permanent ledge, weren't we?"

"Right you are, pardner."

"Well, then, at the same angle, we would have to drift less than
seventy feet on the seven-hundred-foot level to cut it again, and at
the eight-hundred-foot we'd just about have it at the foot of the
shaft. Well, I'm sinking, regardless of expense."

"It might be right, boy, it might be right," Bill said, thoughtfully
scowling at the plans, and going over the figures of the dip. "But
you're the boss. What you say goes."

"But don't you think I'm right?"

"Yes," hesitatingly, "or, anyway, it's worth takin' a chance on. Bells
used to say the mines around here all had to get depth, and that most
of the ledges came in stronger as they went down. The Cross ain't
shown it so far, but eight hundred feet ought to show whether that's
the right line of work."

"How is the sump hole under the shaft?" Dick asked.

"Must be somewhere about seventy or eighty feet of water in it; but we
can pump that out in no time. She isn't makin' much water. Almost a
dry mine now, for some reason I don't quite get. Looks as if it leaked
away a good deal, somewhere, through the formation. There wouldn't be
no trouble in sinkin' the shaft."

"And thirty feet, about, would bring us to the seven-hundred-foot
mark?"

"Yes."

"Then I'll tell you what I want to do: I want you to shift the crew so
that there is a day and a night shift. The rebuilding of the dam can
be put off for a while, except for such work as the millmen are
agreeable to take on. I want to sink! I don't want to waste any time
about it. I want to go down just as fast as it can be done, and when
we get to the seven-hundred-foot, one gang must start to drift for the
green lead, and the others must keep going down."

He was almost knocked over the desk by a rousing, enthusiastic slap on
the back.

"Now you're my old pardner again!" Bill shouted. "You're the lad again
that was fresh from the schools, knew what he wanted, and went after
it. Dick, I've been kind of worried about you since we came here," the
veteran went on, in a softer tone of voice. "You ain't been like the
old Dick. You ain't had the zip! It's as if you were afraid all the
time of losing Sloan's money, and it worried you. And sometimes--now,
I don't want you to get sore and cuss me--it seemed to me as if your
mind wa'n't altogether on the job! As if the Cross didn't mean
everything."

He waited expectantly for a moment, as if inviting a confidence; then,
observing that the younger man was flushed, and not looking at him,
grinned knowingly, and trudged out of the office, calling back as he
went: "There'll be sump water in the creek in half an hour."

As if imbued with new energy, he ordered one of the idle millmen to
act as stoker, if he cared to do so, which was cheerfully done, had
the extra pump attached, saw the fire roaring from another boiler, and
by noon the shaft rang with the steady throb of the pistons pounding
and pulling the waste water upward. The last of the unwatering of the
Cross was going forward in haste. By six o'clock in the evening he
reported that soundings showed that the map had not been checked up,
and that the shaft was seven hundred and ten feet deep, and that they
would commence a drift on the seven-hundred-foot mark the next day.

Dick was awakened at an early hour, and found Bill missing. He
went over to the hoist house, where a sleepy night man, new to the
hours, grinned at him with a pleasant: "Looks like we're busy,
just--the--same, Mr. Townsend! The old man"--the superintendent of a
mine is always "the old man," be he but twenty--"left orders last
night that when the water was clear at seven hundred feet he was to be
called. He kicked up two of the drill men at four this mornin',
and they're down there puttin' the steel into the rock ever since.
Hear 'em? He's makin' things hump!"

Dick leaned over the unused compartment of the shaft, and heard the
steady, savage chugging of the drills. Bill was "makin' things hump!"
with a vengeance.

A man who had been sent to the camp for the semi-weekly mail arrived
while the partners were at breakfast, and the first letter laid before
them was one with a New York postmark, which Dick read anxiously. It
was from Sloan, who told him that he had been unexpectedly called to
the Pacific coast on a hurried trip, and that, while he did not have
time to visit the Croix d'Or, he very earnestly hoped that Dick would
arrange, on receipt of the letter, to meet him in Seattle, and named a
date.

"Whe-e-w! You got to move some, ain't you? Let's see, if you want to
meet him you'll have to be hittin' the trail out of here in an hour,"
said Bill, laying down his knife and fork. "What do you s'pose is up?
Goin' to tie the poke strings again?"

Dick feared something was amiss. And he continued to think of this
after he had written a hasty note to Joan, telling her of his abrupt
absence, and that he expected to return in a week. He pondered for a
moment whether or not to add some note of affection, but decided that
he was still under her ban, and so contented himself with the closing
line:

"I am following your advice. We are sinking!"

He had to run, bag in hand, to catch the stage from Goldpan, and as it
jolted along over the rough passes and rugged inclines had a medley of
thought. Sometimes he could not imagine why Sloan had been so anxious
to talk with him, and in the other and happier intervals, he thought
of Joan Presby, daughter of the man whom he had come to regard as
antagonistic in many ways.

The confusion of mind dwelt with him persistently after he had boarded
the rough "accommodation" that carried him to the main line, where he
must wait for the thunderous arrival of the long express train that
was to carry him across the broad and splendid State of Washington.
Idaho and Oregon were left behind. The magnificent wheat belt spread
from horizon to horizon, and harvesters paused to wave their hats at
the travelers. The Western ranges of the Olympics, solid, dignified,
and engraved against the sky with their outline of peak and forest,
came into view, and yet his perturbation continued.

He saw the splendid panorama of Puget Sound open to his view, and the
train, at last, after those weary hours of jolting, rattled into the
long sheds that at that time disgraced the young giant city of the
North-west. It was the first time he had even entered its shadows, and
as he turned its corner he looked curiously at the stump of a tree
that had been hollowed into an ample office, and was assailed by the
strident cries of cabmen.

"The Butler House," he said, relinquishing his bag into the hands of
the first driver who reached him, and settled back into the cushions
with a sense of bewilderment, as if something long forgotten had been
recalled. He knew what it was as he drove along in all that clamor of
sound which issues from a great and hurrying city. It was New York,
and he was in the young New York of the North-west, with great
skeleton structures uprearing and the turmoil of building. Only here
was a difference, for side by side on the streets walked men clad in
the latest fashion, and men bound to or coming from the arctic fields
of gold-bound Alaska. Electric cars tearing along at a reckless speed,
freight wagons heavily laden, newsboys screaming the call of extras,
and emerging from behind log wagons, and everything betokening that
clash of the old and the intensely new.

At the Butler House the man behind the desk twirled the register
toward him, and assigned him a room.

"Sloan?" he replied to Dick's inquiry. "Oh, yes. He's the old chap
from New York who said he was expecting someone, and to send him right
up. I suppose you're the man. Here, boy, show Mr. Townsend to
five-fifty. Right that way, sir."

And before his words were finished he had turned to a new arrival.

The clamor of the streets, busy as is no other city in the world busy
when the season is on, was still in his ears, striking a familiar note
in his memory, and the modernity of the elevator, the brass-buttoned
boy, and the hotel itself brought back the last time he had seen Mr.
Sloan, and the day he had parted from his father in that office on
Wall Street. He found the Wall Street veteran grayer, much older, and
more kindly, when he was ushered into the room to receive his
greeting. He subsided into a chair, but his father's old-time friend
protested.

"Stand up!" he commanded, "and turn around, young fellow, so I can see
whether you have filled out. Humph! You'll do, I guess, physically. I
don't think I should want to have any trouble with you. You look as if
you could hold your own most anywhere. I'm glad. Now, sit down, and
tell me all about the mine."

He listened while Dick went into details of the work, sparing none of
the misfortunes and disappointments, and telling of the new method
employed. He was interrupted now and then by a shrewd question, an
exclamation, or a word of assent, and, after he had finished the
account, said: "Well, that is all there is to report. What do you
think?"

"Who is Thomas W. Presby?" Sloan's question was abrupt.

"The owner of the Rattler, the mine next to us."

"He is?" the question was explosive. "Ah, ha! The moth in the closet,
eh? So that accounts for it! I spent a hundred dollars, then, to good
purpose, it seems to me!"

Dick looked an intent and wondering question.

"An agent here in Seattle wrote me that they had written you, making
an offer of sixty thousand dollars for the property--yes--the same one
you wrote me about. He said they had reason to believe I was the
financial backer for the mine, and that they now wished to deal with
me, inasmuch as you might be carried away by youthful enthusiasm to
squandering my hard-earned cash. I wrote back that your judgment
satisfied me. Then, just before I left, I got a flat offer of a
hundred thousand dollars for the property in full, or seventy-five
thousand for my share alone. It set me to thinking, and wondering if
some one wasn't trying to cut your feet from under you. So, having
business in Portland, I came on up here, and got after this agent."

Dick had a chill of apprehension. He knew before the loyal old man had
proceeded half-way what to expect.

"It cost me a hundred dollars in entertainment, and a lot of apparent
readiness to talk business, to get him confidential with me. Then I
got the name of the would-be purchaser, under injunctions of secrecy,
because those were the agent's positive instructions. The man who
wants to buy is Presby!"

For one black, unworthy instant, Dick looked out of the window,
wondering if it were possible that Joan had known of her father's
efforts, and had withheld the information. Then the memory of that
gentle face, the candid eyes, her courageous advice, and--last of
all--the kiss and prayer on her lips, made him mentally reproach
himself for the thought. But he remembered that he still owed
affection and deference to the stanch old man who sat before him, who
had been his benefactor in an hour of need, and backed faith with
money.

"Well, sir," he said, turning to meet the kindly eyes, "what do you
think of it?"

"Think of it? Think of it?" Sloan replied, raising his voice. "I'll
tell you my answer. 'You sit down,' I said, 'and write this man Presby
that I knew no one in connection with the Croix d'Or but the son of
the man who many times befriended me, in desperate situations when I
needed it! That I was paying back to the son what I was unfortunately
prevented from paying back to the father--a constant gratitude! That
I'd see him or any other man in their graves before I'd sell Richard
Townsend out in that way. That I'd back Dick Townsend on the Croix
d'Or as long as he wanted me to, and that when he gave that up, I'd
still back him on any other mine he said was good!' That's what I
said!"

He had lost his calm, club poise, and was again the virulent business
man of that Wall Street battle, waged daily, where men must have force
or fail to survive. Dick saw in him the man who was, the man who at
times had shaken the financial world with his desperate bravery and
daring, back in the days when giants fought for the beginnings of
supremacy. He felt very inexperienced and young, as he looked at this
veteran with scars, and impulsively rose to his feet and held out his
hand. He was almost dumb with gratitude.

"I shouldn't have asked you to say so much," he said. "I am--well--I
am sort of down and out with it all! I feel a little bit as I did when
the Cornell eleven piled on top of me in the annual, when I played
half-back."

"Hey! And wasn't that a game!" the old man suddenly enthused, with
sparkling eyes. "And how your father and I did yell and howl and beat
the heads of those in front! Gad! I remember the old man had a silk
hat, and he banged it up and down on a bald head in front until there
was nothing but a rim left, and then looked as sheepish as a boy
caught stealing apples when he realized what he had done. Oh, but your
Daddy was a man, even if he did have a temper, my boy!"

His eyes sparkled with a fervid love of the game of his college days,
and he seemed to have dismissed the Croix d'Or from his mind, as if it
were of no importance. Nor did he, during the course of that visit,
refer to it again. He made exception, when he shook hands with Dick at
the train.

"Don't let anybody bluff you," he said. "Remember that a brave front
alone often wins. If you fail with the Croix the world is still big,
and--well--you're one of my legatees. Good-by. Good luck!"

Again Dick endured the rumbling of trains through long hours, the
change from one to another at small junctions, the day and night in a
stage coach whose springs seemed to have lost resiliency, and the
discourse of two drummers, Hebraic, the chill aloofness of a
supercilious mining expert new to the district, and the heated
discussions of two drill runners, veterans, off to a new field, and
celebrating the journey with a demijohn. The latter were union men,
and long after lie was tired of their babel they broached a
conversation which brought Dick to a point of eager listening.

"Yes, you see," one of the men asserted; "they got the goods on him.
Thompson had been a good delegate until he got the finger itch, then
he had an idea he could use the miners' union to scratch 'em. He held
up one or two small mines before the big guns got wise. That got him
to feelin' his oats, and he went for bigger game."

"But how did they get him?" the other runner insisted.

"They got him over here to where we're goin--Goldpan. He held up some
fellers that's got a mine called the Craw Door, or somethin' like
that. Fetched three of his pals from Denver with him. They called
'emselves miners! God! Miners nothin'! They'd worked around Cripple
Creek long enough to get union cards, but two of 'em was prize
fighters, and the other used to be bouncer at the old Alcazar when she
was the hottest place to lose money that ever turned a crooked card. I
remember there one time when----"

"Nobody asked you about that," growled the other man. "What I'm
interested in is about this big stiff, Thompson."

"Him? Oh, yes. Where was I? Well, he fixed things for a hold-up. Was
goin' to get these fellers at the Craw Door to untie their pokes, but
they don't stand for it. He packs a meetin' with a lot of swampers
that don't know nothin' about the case, and before they gets done they
votes a strike, and an old feller from this Craw Door gets his time.
Gets kicked to death, the same as they uster in Park City when the
Cousin Jacks from the Ontario cut loose on one another. The Denver
council takes cawgnizance of this, and investigates. It snoops around
till it gets the goods. Then--_wow! bing!_ goes this here Thompson.
They sue him themselves, and now he's up in Cañon City, a-lookin'
plaintive like through these things."

He held his knotted, rough fingers open before his face, and jerked
his head sideways, simulating a man peering through penitentiary
bars. Then, with a roar, he started in to bellow, "The union
forever--hooraw, boys hooraw!" in which his companion, forgetting all
the story, joined until it was again time to tilt the wicker-covered
jug.

And so that was the end of Thompson and presumably the strike, Dick
thought, as he settled back into the corner he had claimed. And it was
easy to see, with this damning evidence to be brought forward, that
Bells Park's murderers would pay, to the full, the penalty. For them,
on trial, it meant nothing less than life. He was human enough to be
glad.

The stage rattled into Goldpan, and, stiff and sore from his journey,
he began his tramp toward the trail of the cut-off leading homeward:
He stopped but once. It was in front of the High Light, where a small
scrap of paper still clung to the plate glass. On it was written, in a
hurried, but firm and womanly, handwriting:

  This place is closed for good. It is not for sale. It has held
  hell. Hereafter it shall hold nothing but cobwebs.

  LILY MEREDITH.

The date was that of the tragic night, the night when Bells Park,
fighting for those on whom he had bestowed a queer, distorted
affection, had been kicked to death by the ruffians now cowering in a
distant jail!

Verily the camp and the district had memories for him as he trudged
away from its straggling shanties, and filled his lungs with the
fresh, free air from the wide, rugged stretches beyond. When he came
through the borders of the Rattler he looked eagerly, insistently, for
a glimpse of his heart's desire, and thought, with annoyance, that he
did not so much as know the cabin which she called home. But he was
not rewarded. It was still the same, with no enlivening touch of form
or color, the same spider-web tramways debouching into the top of the
mill, the same sullen roar and rumble of falling stamps, the same
columns of smoke from tall chimney and humble log structure, alike,
and the same careless clash of the breakers.

Bill came hurrying down the trail to meet him, waving his hat, and
shouting a welcome. Up at the yard the smith held a black hand and
muscled arm up to shade his eyes from the last sunlight, and then
shook a hammer aloft. From the door of the engine room the man who had
been Bells' assistant bawled a greeting, and the fat cook shook a
ladle at him through the mess-house window. It all gave him an immense
and satisfactory warmth of home-coming, and the Croix d'Or, with its
steadfast, friendly little colony, was home in truth!

"We're in sixty feet on the seven-hundred-foot," Bill grinned, with
the air of one giving a pleasant surprise, "and say, boy, we've hit
the edge of ore. You were all right. The green lead is still there,
only she looks better to me than she did before, and I know rock,
some."

There was nothing wanting in the pleasure of his return, and the last
addition to that satisfactory day was a note he found, lying on the
very top of other letters awaiting him. It was from Joan Presby, and
Bill, starting to enter the office, saw his partner's face in the
light of the lamp, smiled affectionately, and then tiptoed away into
the darkness, as if to avoid intrusion at such a time.



CHAPTER XVI

BENEFITS RETURNED


Dick waited impatiently at the rendezvous, saw Joan coming, hurried to
meet her, and was restrained from displaying his joy by her upheld
hand, as she smiled and cautioned: "Now, steady, Dick! You know we
were not to--to--be anything but comrades for a while yet."

He was compelled to respect her wishes, but his eyes spoke all that
his tongue might have uttered. In the joy of meeting her, he had
forgotten the part played by her father in his surreptitious attempt
to gain possession of the Croix d'Or: but her first words reminded him
of it:

"It has been terribly lonesome since you left. I have felt as if the
whole world had deserted me. Dad is not a cheery sort of companion,
because he is so absorbed by the Rattler that he lives with it, eats
with it, sleeps with it. And, to make him worse, something appears to
have upset him in the last week or ten days until a bear would be a
highly lovable companion by comparison."

She failed to notice the gravity of his face, for he surmised how
Sloan's answer must have affected the owner of the Rattler, who strode
mercilessly over all obstacles and men, but now had come to one which
he could not surmount. He wondered how obdurate Bully Presby would
prove if the time ever came when he dared ask for Joan, and whether,
if the father refused, Joan's will would override this opposition.

Studying the lines of her face, and the firm contour of her chin as it
rounded into the grace of her throat, he had a joyful sense of
confidence that she would not prove wanting, and dismissed Bully
Presby from his thoughts. With a great embarrassment, he fumbled in
the pocket of his shirt, and brought out a little box which he opened,
to display a glittering gem. He held it toward her, in the palm of his
hand; but she pulled her gloves over her fingers, and blushed and
laughed.

"It seems to me," she declared, "that you have plenty of assurance."

"Why?" he insisted.

"Because I haven't made my mind up--that far, yet, and because if I
had I shouldn't say so until the Croix d'Or had been proven one way
or the other."

She stopped, awkwardly embarrassed, as if her objection had conveyed a
suggestion that his financial standing had a bearing on her
acceptance, and hastened to rectify it:

"Not that its success or the money it would bring has anything to do
with it."

"But if it failed?" he interrogated, striving to force her to an
admission.

"I should accept you as quickly as if it were a success; perhaps more
quickly, for I have money enough. But that isn't it. Don't you see,
can't you understand, that I want you to make good just to show that
you can?"

"Yes," he answered gloomily. "But if I didn't feel quite confident, I
shouldn't offer you the ring. And if I failed, I shouldn't ask you."

"Then you musn't fail," she retorted. "And, do you know," she
hastened, as if eager to change the subject, and get away from such a
trying pass, "that I've never seen the Croix since you took possession
of it?"

"Come now," he said, with boyish eagerness. "I've wanted you to see
what we are doing for weeks--yes, months. Will you? We can lead your
horse down over the trail easily."

He walked by her side, the black patiently following them, and told
her of what had been accomplished in his absence, and of their plans.
She listened gravely, offering such sage advice now and then that his
admiration of her knowledge constantly increased. There were but few
men in sight as they crossed the head of the cañon, and came slowly
down past the blacksmith shop.

"Why, if there isn't Mr. Clark!" she exclaimed, and the smith looked
up, grinned, dropped his tongs, and came toward them, wiping his hand
on his smudgy apron.

"Hello, Joan!" he called out. "You're a bit bigger'n you used to be,
when I made iron rings for you."

"Oh, Smuts," she laughed happily, stepping to meet him, "do you know I
still have one, and that it's in my jewel case, among my most precious
possessions?"

She held out her white, clean hand, and he almost seized it in his
grimy, fist, then drew her back.

"'Most forgot!" he declared. "I reckon I'd muss that up some if I took
it in my fist."

"Then muss it," she laughed. "You weren't always so particular." And
he grabbed, held, and patted the hand that he had known in its
childhood.

"Why, little Joan," he growled, with a suspicious softness in his
voice, "you ain't changed none since you used to sit on the end of
that old-fashioned forge, dirty up your pinafores, and cry when Bully
led you off. Him and me ain't friends no more, so's you could notice.
Seven years now since I hit him for cussin' me for somethin' that
wa'n't my fault! But, by gee whiz, old Bully Presby could go some! We
tipped an anvil over that day, and wrecked a bellows before they
pulled us off each other. I've always wondered, since then which of us
is the better man!"

He spoke with such an air of regret that Joan and Dick laughed
outright, and in the midst of it a shadow came across their own, and
they turned to meet the amused, complacent stare of Bill. In
acknowledging the introduction, Joan felt that his piercing eyes were
studying her, probing her soul, as appraisingly as if seeking to lay
her appearance and character bare. His harsh, determined face suddenly
broke into a wondrous warmth of smile, and he impulsively seized her
hand again.

"Say," he said, "you'll do! You're all right!"

And she knew intuitively that this giant of the hills and lonely
places had read her, with all her emotions and love, as he would read
print, and that, with the quick decision of such men, he was prepared
to give her loyal friendship and affection.

They walked slowly around the plant, Dick pointing out their technical
progress as they went, and she still further gained Bill's admiration
in the assay-house when she declared that she had a preference for
another kind of furnace than they were using.

"Why, say, Miss Presby, can you assay?" he burst out.

"Assay!" she said. "Why, I lived in the assay-house at two or three
times, and then studied it afterward."

"Hey, up there!" a shout came from the roadway below.

They turned and went out to the little cindered, littered level in
front of the door, and looked down to where, on the roadway a hundred
feet below, a man stood at the head of a string of panting burros, and
they recognized in him a packer from Goldpan.

"I've got somethin' here for you." He waved his hand back toward the
string of burros.

"What is it?" asked Bill, turning to Dick.

"I don't know what it can be. I have ordered nothing as heavy as that
outfit appears to be."

Perplexed, they excused themselves and descended the slope, leaving
Joan standing there in front of the assay office, and enjoying the
picture of the cañon, with its border of working buildings on one
side, and its scattered cabins, mess- and bunk-houses on the other,
the huge waste dump towering away from the hoist, and filling the head
of the cañon, and the sparkle of the stream below.

"It's for you, all right," the packer insisted. "The Wells Fargo agent
turned it over to me down in Goldpan, and said the money had been sent
to pay me for bringin' it up here. I don't know what it is. It's
stones of some kind."

Still more perplexed, the partners ordered him to take his pack train
around to the storage house, and Bill led the way while his partner
climbed back up the hill, and rejoined Joan. He was showing her some
of the assay slips from the green lead when they heard a loud call
from the yard. It was Bill, beckoning. They went across to meet him.
One of the hitches had been thrown, and the other burros stood
expectantly waiting to be relieved of their burdens.

"It's a tombstone," Bill said gravely. "It's for Bell's grave. The
express receipt shows that it was sent by----" he hesitated for a
moment, as if studying whether to use one name, or another, and then
concluded--"The Lily."

He pointed to a section of granite at their feet, and on its polished
surface they read:

  Under this granite sleeps Bells Park, an engineer. Murdered in
  defense of his employers. Faithful when living, and faithful when
  dead, to the Croix d'Or and all those principles which make a
  worthy man.

A sudden, overwhelming sadness seemed to descend upon them. Bill
turned abruptly, and stepped across toward the boiler-house. The
whistle sent out a long-drawn, booming call--the alarm signal for the
mine. In all the stress of the Croix d'Or it was the first time that
note had ever been used save in drill. The bells of the hoist arose
into a jangling clamor. They heard the wheels of the cage whirl as it
shot downward, the excited exclamations of men ascending, some of them
with tools in hand, the running of a man's feet, emerging from the
blacksmith's tunnel, the shout of the smith to his helper, and the
labored running of the cook and waiter across the cinders of the yard.
Bill slowly returned toward them.

"We'll have to get you to land it up there," he said, waving his arm
toward the cross high above. "Give us a hand here, will you? and
we'll throw this hitch again."

The entire force of the mine had gathered around them before he had
finished speaking, and, seeing the stone, understood. Joan caught her
riding skirts deftly into her hand, and, with Bill leading the way up
the steep and rock-strewn ascent, they climbed the peak. The burros
halted now and then to rest, straining under the heaviness of their
task. The men of the Croix d'Or sometimes assisted them with willing
shoulders pushing behind, and there by the mound, on which flowers
were already beginning to show green and vivid, they laid out the
sections of granite. Only the cook's helper was absent. Willing hands
caught the sections, which had been grooved to join, and, tier on
tier, they found their places until there stood, high and austere, the
granite shaft that told of one man's loyalty.

Dick gave some final instructions as to the rearranging of the grave
and the little plot that had been created around it, and they
descended in a strange silence, saddened by all that had been
recalled. No one spoke, save Bill, who gave orders to the men to
return to their tasks, and then said, as if to himself: "I'd like
mighty well to know where Lily Meredith is. We cain't even thank her.
Once I wondered what she was. Now I know more than ever. She was all
woman!"

And to this, Joan, putting out her hand to bid them good-by,
assented.

The night shots had been fired at five o'clock--the time usually
selected by mines working two shifts--supper had been eaten, and the
partners were sitting in front of their quarters when Bill again
referred to Mrs. Meredith. High up on the hill, where the new landmark
had been, erected, at the foot of the cross, the day shift of the
Croix d'Or was busied here and there in clearing away the ground
around the grave of the engineer, some of the men on hands and knees
casting aside small bowlders, others trimming a clearing in the
surrounding brush, and still others painfully building a low wall of
rock.

"The hard work of findin' out where The Lily is," said Bill softly,
"is because she covered her trail. Nobody knows where she went. The
stage driver saw her on the train, but the railway agent told him she
didn't buy no ticket. The conductor wrote me that he put her off at
the junction, and that she took the train toward Spokane. That's all!
It ends there as if she'd got on the train, and then it had never
stopped. We cain't even thank her."

Dick, absorbed in thoughts of Joan, heard but little of what he said,
and so agreed with a short: "No, that's right." And Bill subsided into
silence. A man came trudging up the path leading from the roadway
lower down, and in his hand held a bundle of letters.

"Got the mail," he said. "The stage may run every other day after
this, instead of twice a week, the postmaster over at the camp told
me. Not much to-night. Here it is."

He handed Dick a bundle of letters, and then, sighting the others on
the side of the peak above, started to join them, and take his share
in that labor of respect and affection. In the approaching twilight
Dick ran through the packet, selected one letter addressed to his
partner, and gave it to him, then tore open the first one at hand. It
was addressed in an unfamiliar and painful chirography, with the
postmark of Portland, Ore., stamped smudgily in its corner. He began
casually to read, then went white as the laborious lines flowed and
swam before his eyes:

  Dear Mister Townsend, owner of the cross mine, I write you because
  I am afraid I aint got your pardners name right and because Ive
  got something on my mind that I cant keep any more. Im the girl
  that got burned at the High Light. Your pardner saved my life and
  you were awful kind to me. Everybody's been very kind to me too. I
  spose you know 111 not be able to work in dance halls no more
  because Im quite ugly now with them scars all over my face. But
  that dont make no difference. Mrs. Meredith has been here to see
  me and told me who it was saved my life. Mrs. Meredith dont want
  nobody to know where shes gone. Shes not coming back any more.
  Shes quit the business and is running a sort of millinery store
  in----

Here a name had been painstakingly obliterated, as if by afterthought,
the very paper being gouged through with ink.

  Shes paid all my hospital bills and when I get strong enough shes
  going to let me go to work for her. But that aint what Im writing
  about and this letter is the biggest I ever wrote. The nurse says
  Im making a book. I wasn't a very bad girl or a very good girl
  when I was in the camps. Maybe you know that but I done my best
  and was as decent as I could be. There was a man was my sweetheart
  and sometimes when he drank too much he talked too much. Men
  always say a whole lot when theyre full of rotgut, unless they get
  nasty. My man never got nasty. Hes gone away and I dont know
  where. Maybe he dont want nothing more to do with me since I got
  my face burned. Ive kept my mouth shut until I found out it was
  you two men who saved me and Im writing this to pay you back the
  only way I can. Bully Presby is stealing all his best pay ore from
  the Croix d'Or. Hes worked clean under you and got the richest
  ledge in the district. They aint nobody but confidential men ever
  get into that drift. Hes been stealing that ore for going on two
  years andll give you a lot of trouble if you dont mind your Ps and
  Qs. I hope you beat him out, and I pray for both of you.

                                         Your ever grateful,
                                                     Pearl Walker.



CHAPTER XVII

WHEN REASON SWINGS


Dick suddenly crumpled the sheet of paper, and put it in his pocket.
He lifted himself, as a man distracted, from the chair in which he had
been sitting, gripping the arms with hands that were tensely
responding to an agony of spirit. He almost lurched forward as he
stepped to the little steps leading down from the porch, and into the
worn trail, hesitated at the forks leading to mess-house or assay
office, and then mechanically turned in the latter direction, it being
where the greater number of his working hours were passed.

"Where you goin'?" the voice of his partner called, as he plunged
forward.

He had to make a determined attempt to speak, then his voice broke,
harsh and strained, through dry lips:

"Assay office."

He did not look back, but went forward, with limp hands and tottering
knees, turning neither to right nor left. The whole world was a haze.
The steadfast mountain above him was a cynical monster, and dimly, in
the shadow of the high landmark, he discerned a change, sinister,
gloating, and leering on him and his misery. The soft voices of the
men of the day shift returning from their voluntary task, the staccato
exhaust of the hoisting engine bringing up a load of ore from the
refound lead, the clash of a car dumping its load of waste, and the
roar of the Rattler's stamps, softened by distance, blended into
discordance.

He entered the assay-house like a whipped dog seeking the refuge of
its kennel, threw himself on a stool before the bench, leaned his head
into his hollowed arms, and groaned as would a stricken warrior of
olden days when surrendering to his wounds.

This, then, explained it all--that sequence of events, frustrating,
harrying, baffling him, since the first hour he had come to the mine
of the Croix d'Or. The rough suggestion of Bully Presby on the first
day, discouraging him; the harsh attitude; the persistent attempts to
dishearten him and buy him out; the endeavor to buy half the property
from, and remove the backing, of Sloan, without which he could not go
on; the words of the watchman, who doubtless had discovered Bully
Presby's secret theft, blackmailed him as much as he could, and,
dying, cursed him; but, hating the men of the mine more, had withheld
the vital meaning of his accusation. Perhaps Presby had been
instrumental in Thompson's strike. But no, that could scarcely be,
although, in the light of other events in that iniquitous chain, it
might be possible. That he had any part in the dynamiting of the dam
or power-house, Dick cast aside as unworthy of such a man. The strong,
hard, masterful, and domineering face of Bully Presby arose before him
as from the darkening shadows of the room, and it seemed triumphant.

He lifted his head suddenly, thinking, in his superacute state of
mind, that he had heard a noise. He must have air! The assay office,
with its smell of nitric acid, its burned fumes, its clutter of broken
cupels and slag, was unbearable. He arose from the stool so suddenly
that it went toppling over to fall against the stacked crucibles
beneath the bench which lent their clatter to the upset. He stepped
out into the night. It was dark, only the stars above him dimly
betraying the familiar shapes of mountains, forests, and buildings
around. Up in the bunk-house some man was wailing a verse of "Ella
Re," accompanied by a guitar, and the doleful drone of the hackneyed
chorus was caught up by the other men "off shift." But, nauseating as
it was to him, this piebald ballad of the hills, it contained one
shrieking sentence: "Lost forevermore!" That was it! Joan was lost!

He looked up at the superintendent's quarters, which had been his
home, and saw that its lights were out. Bill, he conjectured, always
hard working and early rising, had tumbled into his bed, unconscious
of this tragedy. He struck off across the gulch, and took the trail he
had so frequently trodden with a beating heart, and high and tender
hope. It led him to the black barrier of the pipe line, the place
where first he had met her, the sacred clump of bushes that had held
and surrendered to him the handkerchief enshrined in his pocket, the
slope where she had leaned down from her horse and kissed him in the
only caress he had ever received from her lips, and told him that he
should be with her in her prayers.

Reverently he caressed with his hands the spot where she had so often
sat on a gray old bowlder, flat-topped. His heart cried for one more
sight of her, one more caress, one more opportunity to listen to her
voice before he dealt her the irrevocable wound that would end it
all.

Not for an instant did he waver. The tempter, whispering in his ear,
told him that he could conceal his knowledge, advise Sloan to sell,
take his chance with Joan, and let the sleeping dog lie, forever
undiscovered. It told him that Sloan was admittedly rich beyond his
needs, and that with him the Croix d'Or was merely a matter of
sentiment, and an opportunity of bestowing on the son of his old-time
friend a chance to get ahead in the world.

But back of it all came the inexorable voice of truth, telling Dick
that there was but one course open, and that was reparation; that to
his benefactor he owed faith and loyalty; that Presby must pay, though
his--Richard Townsend's--castles crumbled to dust in the wreckage of
exposure. He must break the heart and faith of the girl who loved him,
and whom, with every fiber of his being, he loved in return.

She would stand in the world as the daughter of a colossal thief! Not
a thief of the marts, where crookedness was confused with shrewdness
far removed from the theft of the hands; but a thief who had burrowed
beneath another man's property, and carried away, to coinage, his
gold. Between Bully Presby and the man who tunneled under a bank to
loot the safe, there was no moral difference save in the romance of
that mystic underground world where men bored like microbes for their
spoil.

"Joan! Joan! Joan!" he muttered aloud, as if she were there to hear
his hurt appeal.

It was for her that he felt the wound, and not for Bully Presby, her
father. For the latter he spared scant sympathy; but it was Joan who
would be stricken by any action he might take, and the action must be
taken, and would necessarily be taken publicly.

Under criminal procedure men had served long terms behind bars for
less offenses than Presby's. Others had made reparation through
payment of money, and slunk away into the shadows of disgrace to avoid
handcuffs. And the fall of Presby of the Rattler, as a plunderer, was
one that would echo widely in the mining world where he had moved, a
stalwart, unbending king. Not until then had Dick realized how high
that figure towered. Presby, the irresistible, a thief, and fighting
to keep out of the penitentiary, while Joan, the brave, the loving,
the true, cowered in her room, dreading to look the world in the
face.

And he, the man who loved her, almost accepted as her betrothed, with
the ring even then burning in his pocket, was the one who must deal
her this blow!

He got up and staggered through the darkness along the length of the
line, almost envying the miserable dynamiter, who had died above
the remnant of wall, for the quiet into which he had been thrust.
If the train bringing him homeward had been wrecked, and his life
extinguished, he could have saved her this. The Cross would have
been sold. She might have grieved for him, for a time, but wounds
will heal, unless too deep. He stood above the abyss where daylight
showed ruins, and knew that the destruction of the dam, heavy a blow
as it had seemed when inflicted, was nothing as compared to this
ruin of dreams, of love, and hope.

"Dick! Dick! What is it, boy?" came a soft voice from the night,
scarcely above a whisper. "Can't you tell me, old man? Ain't we still
pardners? Just as we uster be?"

He peered through the darkness, roused from his misery in the
stillness of the hour, and the night, by the appeal. Dimly he
discerned, seated above him on the abutment, a shape outlined against
the stars. It threw itself down with hard-striking feet, and came
toward him, and he knew it was not a phantom of misery. It came
closer to where he stood on the brink of the blackness, and laid a
hand on his shoulder, put it farther across and held him, as tenderly
as father might have held, in this hour of distress.

"I've been follerin' you, boy," the kindly voice went on. "I saw that
somethin' had got you. That you were hard hit! I've been near you for
the last two or three hours. I don't know as I'd have bothered you
now, if I hadn't been afraid you'd fall over. Let's go back,
Dick--back to the mine."

It seemed as if there had come to him in the night a strong support.
Numbed and despairing, but with a strange relief, he permitted Bill to
lead him back over the trail, and at last, when they were standing
above the dim buildings below, found speech.

"It's her," he said. "It's for her sake that I hate to do it. It's
Joan!"

"Sit down here by me," the big voice, commiserating, said. "Here on
this timber. I've kept it to myself, boy, but I know all about her. I
stood on the bank, where I'd just gone to hunt you, on that day she
reached down from the saddle. I knew the rest, and slipped away. You
love her. She's done somethin' to you."

"No!" the denial was emphatic. "She hasn't! She's as true as the
hills. It's her father. Look here!"

He fumbled in his pocket, pulled out the crumpled sheet, and struck a
match. Bill took the letter in his hands and read, while the night
itself seemed pausing to shield the flickering flame. With hurried
fingers he struck another match, and the light flared up, exposing his
frowning eyebrows, the lights in his keen eyes, the tight pressure of
his firm lips.

He handed the letter back, and for a long time sat silently staring
before him, his big, square shoulders bent forward, and his hat
outlined against the light of the night, which was steadily
increasing.

"I see how it is," he said at last. "And it's hard on you, isn't it,
boy? A man can stand anything himself, but it's hell to hurt those we
care for."

The sympathy of his voice cut like a knife, with its merciful hurt.
Dick broke into words, telling of his misery, but stammering as strong
men stammer, when laying bare emotions which, without pressure, they
always conceal. His partner listened, motionless, absorbing it all,
and his face was concealed by the darkness, otherwise a great
sympathy would have flared from his eyes.

"We've got to find a way out of this, Dick," he said at last, with a
sigh. And the word "we" betrayed more fully than long sentences his
compassion. "We must go slow. Somehow, I reckon, I'm cooler than you
in this kind of a try-out. Maybe because it don't hit me so close to
home. Let's go back, boy, back to the cabin, and try to rest. The
daylight is like the Lord's own drink. It clears the head, and makes
us see things better than we can in the night--when all is dark. Let's
try to find a way out, and try to forget it for a while. Did you ever
think how good it all is to us? Just the night, coming along every
once in a while, to make us appreciate how good the sun is, and how
bright the mornings are. It ain't an easy old world, no matter how
hard we try to make it that; because it takes the black times to make
our eyes glad to watch the sunrise. Let me help you, old pardner.
We've been through some pretty tight places together, and somehow,
when He got good and ready, the Lord always showed us a way out."

He arose on his feet, stretched his long muscular arms, and started
down the hill, and Dick followed. There was not another word
exchanged, other than the sympathetic "good-night" in which they had
not failed for more than seven years, and outside the stars waned
slowly, the stamp mill of the Rattler roared on, and the Croix d'Or
was unmoved.

The daylight came, and with it the boom of the night shift setting off
its morning blasts, and clearing the way for the day shift that would
follow in sinking the hole that must inevitably betray the dishonesty
of the stern mine master at the foot of the hill. Dick had not slept,
and turned to see a shadow in the door.

"Don't you get up, Dick," Bill said. "Just try to rest. I heard you
tumblin' around all the night. You don't get anywhere by doin' that. A
man has to take himself in hand more than ever when there's big things
at stake. Then's when he needs his head. You just try to get some
rest. I'll keep things goin' ahead all right, and there ain't no call
to do nothin' for a week or ten days--till we get our feet on the
ground. After that we'll find a trail. Don't worry."

Through the kindly tones there ran confidence, and, entirely
exhausted, Dick turned over and tried to sleep. It came to him at
last, heavy and dreamless, the sleep that comes beneficently to those
who suffer. The sun, creeping westward, threw a beam across his face,
and he turned restlessly, like a fever-stricken convalescent, and
rolled farther over in the bed.

The beam pursued him, until at last there was no further refuge, and
he sat up, dazed and bewildered, and hoping that all had been a
nightmare, and that he should hear the cheery note of the whistle
telling him that it was day again, and calling the men of the Croix
d'Or to work.

It was monstrous, impossible, that all should have changed. It was but
yesterday that he had returned to the mine with finances assured,
confidence restored, and the certainty that Joan Presby loved him, and
could come to his side when his work was accomplished.

He looked at his watch and the bar of sunlight. It was four o'clock,
and the day was gone. Everything was real. Everything was horrible. He
crawled stiffly from his bed, thrust his head into the cold water of
the basin, and, unshaven, stepped out to the porch and down the
trail.

The plumes of smoke still wreathed upward from two stacks. Bill was
still driving downward unceasingly. The mellow clang of the smith's
hammer, sharpening drills, smote his ears, and the rumble of the cars.
The cook, in a high, thin tenor, sang the songs with which he
habitually whiled away his work. Everything was the same, save him!
And his air castles had been blown away as by the wind.

In a fever of uncertainty, he stood on the hillside and thought of
what he should do. He believed that it was his duty to be the one to
break the harsh news to Joan, and wondered whether or not she might be
found at the tryst. He remembered that, once before when he had not
appeared, she had ridden over there in the afternoon. Perhaps,
expecting him, and being disappointed, she might be there again.

He hurried down the slope, and back up across the divide and along the
trail, his hopes and uncertainties alone rendering him certain that
she must be there, and paused when the long, black line shone dully
outlined in its course around the swelling boss of the hill. He
experienced a thrill of disappointment when he saw that she was not
waiting, and, again consulting his watch feverishly, tramped backward
and forward along the confines of the hallowed place.

At last, certain from the fresh hoof marks on the yielding slope, that
she had come and gone, he turned, and went slowly back to the mine. He
had a longing to see his partner, and learn whether or not Mathews,
with that strange, resourceful logic of his, had evolved some way out
of the predicament. But Bill was nowhere in sight. He was not in the
office, and the mill door was locked. The cook had not seen him; and
the blacksmith, busy, stopped only long enough to say that he thought
he had seen the superintendent going toward the hoisting-house.

"Have you seen Bill?" Dick asked of the engineer, who stood at his
levers, and waited for a signal.

"He's below," the engineer answered, throwing over an arm, and
watching the cage ascend with a car of ore.

It trundled away, and Dick stepped into the cage. The man appeared
irresolute, and embarrassed.

"He'll be up pretty soon, I think," he ventured.

"Well, I'll not wait for him," Dick said. "Lower away."

The man still stood, irresolute.

"Let her go, I said," Dick called sharply, his usual patience of
temper having gone.

"But--but----" halted the engineer. "Bill said to me, when he went
down, says he: 'You don't let any one come below. Understand? I don't
care if it's Townsend himself. Nobody comes down. You hold the cage,
because I'll send the shift up, and 'tend to the firing myself.'"

For an instant Dick was enraged by this stubbornness, and turned with
a threat, and said: "Who's running this mine? I don't care what he
said. You haven't understood him. Lower away there, I say, and be
quick about it!"

The rails and engine room slid away from him. The cage slipped
downward on its oiled bearings, as if reluctant, and the light above
faded away to a small pin-point below, and then died in obscurity, as
if the world had been blotted out. Only the sense of falling told him
that he was going down, down, to the seven-hundred-foot level, and
then he remembered that he had no candle. The cage came to a halt, and
he fumbled for the guard bar, lifted it, and stepped out.

Straight ahead of him he saw a dim glow of light. With one hand on
the wall he started toward it, approached it, and then, in the
hollow of illumination saw something that struck him like a blow in
the face. The hard, resounding clash of his heels on the rock
underfoot stopped. His hands fell to his sides, as if fixed in an
attitude of astonishment. Standing in the light beyond him stood
Joan, with her hands raised, palms outward.

"Stop!" she commanded. "Stop! Stay where you are a moment!"

Amazed and bewildered, he obeyed mechanically, and comprehended rather
than saw that, crouched on the floor of the drift beyond, his partner
knelt with a watch in his hand, and in a listening attitude. Suddenly,
as if all had been waiting for this moment, a dull tremor ran through
the depths of the Croix d'Or. A muffled, beating, rending sound seemed
to tear its way, vibrant, through the solid ledge. He leaped forward,
understanding all at once, as if in a flash of illumination, what the
woman he loved and his partner had been waiting for. It was the sound
of the five-o'clock blasts from the Rattler, as it stole the ore from
beneath their feet. It was the audible proof of Bully Presby's theft.

"Joan! My Joan!" he said, leaping forward. "I should have spared you
this!"

But she did not answer. She was leaning back against the wall of the
tunnel, her hands outstretched in semblance of that cross whose name
was the name of the mine----as if crucified on its cross of gold. The
flaring lights of the candles in the sticks, thrust into the crevices
around, lighted her pale, haggard face, and her white hands that
clenched themselves in distress. She looked down at the giant who was
slowly lifting himself from his knees, with his clear-cut face
upturned; and the hollows, vibrant with silence, caught her whispered
words and multiplied the sound to a sibilant wail.

"It's true!" she said. "It's true! You didn't lie! You told the truth!
My father--my father is a thief, and may God help him and me!"



CHAPTER XVIII

THE BULLY MEETS HIS MASTER


The ache and pain in her whole being was no greater than the colossal
desire Dick had to comfort and shield her. He rushed toward her with
his arms reached out to infold, but she pushed him back, and said
hoarsely: "No! No! I sha'n't let you! It would be an insult now!"

Her eyes were filled with a light he had never seen in them before, a
commanding flame that held him in check and stupefied him, as he tried
to reason why his love at that moment would be an insult. It did not
dawn on him that he was putting himself in the position of one who was
proffering silence for affection. All he knew was that everything in
the world seemed against him, and, overstrained to the breaking point,
he was a mere madman.

"You brought her here?" he hoarsely questioned Bill.

"I did."

"And told her that her father was under us?"

"Yes."

"And that I was to be kept above ground?"

"Of course, and I had a reason, because--"

He did not finish the sentence. The younger man shouted a furious
curse, and lunged forward and struck at the same time. His feet,
turning under a fragment of rock, twisted the directness of his blow
so that it lost force; but its heavy spat on the patient face before
him was like the crack of a pistol in that underground chamber.

Bill's hands lifted impulsively, and then dropped back to his sides,
hanging widely open. The flickering candlelight showed a slow red
stream emerging slowly from one of his nostrils, and running down
across the firm chin, and the pain-distorted lips. In his eyes was a
hurt agony of reproach, as if the knife of a friend had been
unexpectedly thrust into his heart. Dick's arm, tensed by the insane
anger of his mind, was drawn back to deal another blow, and seemed to
stop half-way, impotent to strike that defenseless face before him.

"Why don't you hit again, boy? I'll not strike back! I have loved you
too much for that!"

There was a world of misery and reproach in the quiet voice of the
giant, whose tremendous physical power was such that he could have
caught the younger man's arm, and with one wrench twisted it to
splintered bone. Before its echoes had died away another voice broke
in, suffused with anguish, the shadows waving on the walls of gray
rock twisted, and Joan's hands were on his arm.

"Dick! Dick! Are you mad? Do you know what you are doing?"

He shook her hands from his arm, reeled against the wall, and raised
his forearm across his eyes, and brushed it across, as if dazed and
blinded by a rush of blood which he would sweep away. He had not
noticed that in that staggering progress he had fallen full against a
candlestick, and that it fell to the floor and lay there between them,
with its flame slowly increasing as it formed a pool of grease. For
the first time since he had spoken, the huge miner moved. He stepped
forward, and ground the flame underfoot.

"There might be a stray cap around here somewhere," he said.

His voice appeared to rouse the younger man, and bring him to himself.
He stepped forward, with his hands behind him and his face still set,
wild and drawn, and said brokenly: "Bill! Bill! Strike back! Do
something! Old friend!"

"I cain't," came the reply, in a helpless monotone. "You know if it
were any other man I'd kill him! But you don't understand yet, and--"

"I made him bring me here," Joan said, coming closer, until the
shadows of the three were almost together. Her voice had a strange
hopelessness in it, and yet a calm firmness. "He came to talk it over
with me, on your account. Pleading your cause--begging me that, no
matter what happened, I should not change my attitude toward you.
Toward you, I say! He said your sense of honesty and loyalty to Sloan
would drive you to demanding restitution even though it broke your
heart. He said he loved you more than anything on earth, and begged me
to help him find some way to spare--not me, or my father--but you!"

Dick tried to speak, but his throat restricted until he clutched it
with his fingers, and his lips were white and hard.

"I did not believe that what he said was true," the voice went on,
coming as from depths of desolation and misery, and with dead levels
dulled by grief beyond emotion. "I have believed in my father! I
thought there must be some mistake. I demanded of your partner that
he lay off his own shift, and bring me here where we might listen. Oh,
it was true--it was true!"

She suddenly turned and caught the steel handle of a candlestick in
her hand, and tore its long steel point from the crevice.

"But I've found the way," she said. "I've found the way. You must come
with me--now! Right now, I say. We shall have this over with, and
then--and then--I shall go away from here; for always!"

"Not that," Dick said, holding his hands toward her. "Not that, Joan!
What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to my father. He, too, must be spared. He must give it
back. It must never be known. I must save him disgrace. It must be
done to-night--now!"

She started down the drift toward the cage, walking determinedly, and
Dick's lips opened again to beg her to come back; but Bill's hand was
on his shoulder, and his grave and kindly voice in his ear.

"Go with her, boy. She's right. It's the only way. Have it over with
to-night. If you don't you'll break her heart, as well as your own."

They followed her to the cage, and the big miner gave the hoisting
bell. The cage floated upward, and into the pale twilight. Heedless of
anything around, they walked across the yard, and turned into the
roadway leading down the gulch.

"Will you come?" she asked, turning toward Bill.

"No," he said slowly. "I'm not needed. Besides, I couldn't stand
another blow to-day!"

It was the only reference he ever made to it, but it went through Dick
with more pain than he had administered. Almost sullenly he followed
her down the road, wordless, bewildered, and despairing. Unable to
spare her, unable to shield her, unable to comfort her, and unable to
be other than true to his benefactor, he plodded after her into the
deeper shadows of the lower gulch, across the log bridge spanning the
brawling mountain stream, and up into the Rattler camp. Her steps
never faltered as she advanced straight to the office door, and
stepped inside.

The bookkeepers were gone, and the inner door ajar. She threw it open,
walked in, and closed it after Dick, who sustained a deadly anger
against the man who sat at his desk, and as they entered looked up
with a sharp stare of surprise.

Something in the attitude of the two appeared to render him more
alert, more hard, more uncompromising and he frowned, as Dick had seen
him frown before when angry men made way for him and his dominant
mastery. His daughter had stopped in front of the closed door, and
eyed him with eyes no less determined than his own.

"Your men are working under the Croix d'Or," she said coldly, without
wasting words in preliminary.

His face hardened instantly, and his eyes flamed, dull and defiant.
The lines of his heavy jaw appeared to deepen, his shoulders lifted a
trifle, as if the muscles of him had suddenly tensed for combat, and
his lips had a trace of the imperious sneer.

"Oh, you're certain of that, are you, my girl?"

"I am," she retorted. "I was in their lower level when the Rattler's
shots were fired. I heard them."

For an instant he seemed about to leap from his chair, and then,
recovering himself, said with sarcastic emphasis, and a deadly
calmness: "And pray what were you doing there? Was the young mine
owner, Townsend, there with you? Was he so kind----?"

"Is there any need for an exchange of insults?" Dick demanded, taking
a step toward him, and prevented from going farther only by
recollection of his previous loss of temper.

For an instant the mine owner defiantly met his look, and then
half-rose from his chair, and stared more coldly across the litter of
papers, plans, and impedimenta on his desk.

"Then why are you here together?" he demanded. "Weren't you man enough
to come yourself, instead of taking my daughter underground? Did you
want to compel her to be the chief witness in your claim? What right
had you to--?"

"Father!" admonished Joan's voice.

It served a double purpose, for had she not interrupted Dick might
have answered with a heat that he would have regretted, and Bully
Presby dropped back into his chair, and drummed with his fingers on
the desk.

"You took the ore. You must pay. You must!" went on the dull voice of
his daughter.

"But how should I know how much it amounts to, even if I do find out
that some of my men drove into the Cross pay?" he answered, fixing her
with his flaming eyes.

"But you must know," she insisted dully. "I know you know. I know you
knew where the ore was coming from. It must be paid back."

For an instant they eyed each other defiantly, and her brave attitude,
uncompromising, seemed to lower the flood-gates of his anger. His
cheeks flushed, and he lowered his head still farther, and stared more
coldly from under the brim of his square-set hat. There were not many
men who would have faced Bully Presby when he was in that mood; but
before him stood his daughter, as brave and uncompromising as he, and
fortified by something that he had allowed to run dwarf in his soul--a
white conscience, burning undimmed, a true knowledge of what was right
and what was wrong. Her inheritance of brain and blood had all the
strength of his, and her fearlessness was his own. She did not waver,
or bend.

"It must be paid back," she reiterated, a little more firmly.

He suddenly jerked himself to his feet, his tremendous shoulders
thrust forward across the desk, and raised his hand with a commanding
finger.

"Joan," he ordered harshly, "you get out of here. Go to your room!
Leave this affair to this man and me. This is none of your business.
Go!"

"I shall not!" she defied him.

"I think it is best," Dick said, taking a step toward her. "I can
take care of my own and Mr. Sloan's interests. Please go."

The word "Joan" almost slipped from his lips. She faced him, and
backed against the door. "Yours and Mr. Sloan's interests? What of
mine? What of my conscience? What of my own father? What of me?"

She stepped hastily to the desk, and tapped on it with her firm
fingers, and faced the mine master.

"I said you must pay!" she declared, her voice rising and trembling in
her stress. "And you must! You shall!"

He was in a fury of temper by now, and brought the flat of his heavy,
strong hand down on its top, sending the inkwell and the electric
stand lamp dancing upward with a bound.

"And I shall do as I please!" he roared. "And it doesn't please me to
pay until these men"--and between the words he brought his hand down
in heavy emphasis--"until--these--men--of the Cross mine prove it!
I'll make them get experts and put men in my mine, and put you
yourself on the stand before I'll give them one damned dollar! I'll
fight every step of the road before I'll lay my hand down. I'll pay
nothing!"

She stood there above him, fixing him with her clear, honest, accusing
eyes, and never faltered. Neither his words nor his rage had altered
her determination. She was like a statue of justice, fixed and
demanding the right. Dick had rushed forward to try and dissuade her
from further speech, and stood at the end of the desk in the halo of
light from the lamp, and there was a tense stillness in the room which
rendered every outward sound more distinct. The voice of a boy driving
mules to their stable and singing as he went, the clank and jingle of
the chain tugs across the animals' backs, and the ceaseless monotone
of the mill, all came through the open windows, and assailed their
ears in that pent moment.

"Please let me have my way," Joan said, turning to Dick, and in her
voice was infinite sorrow and tragedy. "It is more my affair than
yours now. Father, I shall not permit you to go any farther. It is
useless. I know! I can't do it! I can't keep the money you gave me. It
isn't mine! It is theirs! You say you will not pay. Well, then, I
shall, to the last dollar!"

"But I shall accept nothing--not a cent--from you, if we never get a
penny from the Cross!" declared Dick, half-turning, as if to end the
interview.

She did not seem to hear him. She was still facing the hard, twisting
face of Bully Presby, who had suddenly drawn back, as if confronted
by a greater spirit than his own. She went on speaking to him as if
Dick was not in the room.

"You stole their ore. You know you stole it. Somehow, it all hurts so
that I cannot put it in words; for, Dad, I have loved you so much--so
much! Oh, Dad! Dad! Dad!"

She dropped to her knees, as if collapsed, to the outer edge of the
desk, and her head fell forward on her hands. The unutterable wail of
her voice as she broke, betrayed the desperate grief of her heart, the
destruction of an idol. It was as if she told the man across the desk
that he had been her ideal, and that his actions had brought this ruin
about them; as if all the sorrows of the world had cumulated in that
ruin of faith.

Dick looked down at her, and his nails bit into his palms as he fought
off his desire to reach down and lift her to his arms. Bully Presby's
chair went clashing back against the wall, where he kicked it as he
leaped to his feet. He ran around the end of the desk, throwing Dick
aside as he did so with one fierce sweep of his arm.

"Joan!" he said brokenly, laying his hand on her head. "Joan! My
little Joan! Get up, girl, and come here to your Dad!"

She did not move. The excess of her grief was betrayed by her bent
head and quivering shoulders. The light, gleaming above her, threw
stray shadows into the depths of her hair, and softened the white,
strained tips of her fingers.

Bully Presby, the arrogant and forceful, still resting his hand on her
head, turned toward the twisted, youthful face of the man at his side,
whose fingers were now clenched together, and held at arm's length in
front of him. The mine owner seemed suddenly old and worn. The
invincible fire of his eyes was dulled to a smoldering glow, as if,
reluctantly, he were making way for age. His broad shoulders appeared
suddenly to have relinquished force and might. He stooped above her,
as if about to gather her into his arms, and spoke with the slow voice
of pathos.

"She's right," he said. "She's right! I should pay; and I will! But I
did it for her. She was all I had. I've starved for her, and worked
for her, and stolen for her! Ever since her mother died and left her
in my arms, I've been one of those carried away by ambition. God is
damning me for it, in this!" He abruptly straightened himself to his
old form, and gestured toward the sobbing girl at his feet. "I am
paying more to her than as if I'd given you the Rattler and
all--all--everything!--for the paltry ore I pulled from under your
feet. You shall have your money. Bully Presby's word is as good as his
gold. You know that! I don't know anything about you. I don't hate
you, because you are fighting for your own! Somehow I feel as if the
bottom had been knocked out of everything, all at once! I wish you'd
go now. I want to have her alone--I want to talk to her--just the way
I used to, before--before--"

He had gone to the limit. His strong hands knotted themselves as they
clenched, then unclenched as he stepped to the farther side of the
door and looked at Dick, who had not moved; but now, as if his
limitations also had been reached, the younger man leaned forward,
stooped, and his arms caught Joan and lifted her bodily to his breast.
In slow resignation, and with a sigh as if coming to shelter at last,
her arms lifted up, her hands swept round his shoulders, and came to
rest, clasped behind his head, and held him tightly, as if without
capitulation.

There was a gasp of astonishment, and the rough pine floor creaked as
Bully Presby, dumbfounded, comprehending, conquered, turned toward the
door. He opened it blindly, fumbling for the knob with twitching
hands--hands unused to faltering. He looked back and hesitated, as if
all his directness of life, all his fierce decision of character had
become undermined, irresolute. He opened his lips as if to protest, to
demand, to dominate, to plead for a hearing; but no sound came. His
face, unobserved by either the man he had robbed, or the daughter who
had arraigned him, betrayed all these struggling, conflicting
emotions. He was whipped! He was beaten more certainly than by fists.
He was spiritually and physically powerless. Dazed, bewildered, he
stood for an instant, then his heavy hands, which for the first time
in his life had been held out in mute appeal, dropped to his sides.
Habit only asserted when he slammed the door behind him as he walked
out into the lonely darkness of the accusing night.



CHAPTER XIX

THE QUEST SUPREME


It was twilight again, and such a twilight as only the Blue
Mountains of that far divide may know. It barred the west with
golden bands, painted lavish purples and mauves in the hollows, and
reddened the everlasting snows on the summits. It deepened the
greens of the tamaracks, and made iridescent the foams of the
streams tearing downward joyously to the wide rivers below. It
painted the reddish-yellow bars of the cross on the peak above the
Croix d'Or, and rendered its outlines a glorified symbol. It lent
stateliness to the finger of granite beneath the base that told
those who paused that beneath the shaft rested one who had a loyal
heart. It swooped down and lingered caressingly on the strong, tender
face of the girl who sat on the wall surrounding the graves of
Bells Park and "the best woman that ever lived."

"For some reason," Joan said, speaking to the two men beside her, "the
ugliness of some of it has gone. There is nothing left but the good
and the beautiful. Ah, how I love it--all! All!"

Dick's arm slipped round her, and drew her close, and unresisting, to
his side.

"And but for you and Bill," he said softly, "it might never have ended
this way."

"Humph!" drawled the deep voice of the grizzled old miner. "Things is
just the way they have to be. Nobody can change 'em. The Lord Almighty
fixes 'em, and I expect they have to work out about as He wants 'em
to. Somehow, up here in the tops of the hills, where it's close to the
sky, He seems a heap friendlier and nearer than He does down on the
plains. 'Most always I feel sorry for them poor fellers that live down
there. They seem like such lonesome, forgotten cusses."

The youthful couple by him did not answer. Their happiness was too
new, too sacred, to admit of speech.

"Now," Bill went on argumentatively, "me and Bully Presby are friends.
He likes me for standin' up for my own, and told me so to-day. He
ain't got over that feller Wolff yet. Says he could have killed him
when he found out Wolff had poisoned the water and rolled the bowlder
into the shaft to pen us in. I reckon Wolff tried to blackmail him
about what he knew, but the Bully didn't approve none of the other
things. That ain't his way of fightin'. You can bet on that! He
drifted over and got the green lead in the Cross, when others had
given it up and squandered money. That shows he was a real miner. We
come along, and--well--all he's done is just to help us find it, and
then hand over the proceeds, all in the family, as I take it. Nobody's
loser. The families gets tangled up, and instead of there bein' two
there's just one. The Rattler and the Croix d'Or threatens to be made
into one mine, and the two plants consolidated to make it more
economical. The green lead's the best ledge in the Blue's, and 'most
everybody seems to be gettin' along pretty well. That ain't luck. It's
God Almighty arrangin' things for the best."

He sat for a moment, and gave a long sigh, as if there were something
else in his mind that had not been uttered. Dick lifted his eyes, and
looked at him affectionately, and then whispered into the ear close by
his shoulder: "Shall I tell him now?"

"Do!" Joan said, drawing away from him, and looking expectantly at the
giant.

Dick fumbled in his pocket with a look of sober enjoyment.

"Oh, by the way, Bill," he said, "I got a letter from Sloan a few days
ago. Here it is. Read it."

The latter took it, and frowning as he opened it, held it up to catch
the light.

"Great Scott!" he exclaimed. "Gives the Croix d'Or to you. Says he
wants you to have it, because you're the one that made good on it, and
he don't need the money! That the deeds are on the way by registered
mail, and all he asks is a small bar from the first clean-up!"

He folded the letter, and held it in his hands, looking thoughtfully
off into the distance for a time while he absorbed the news.

"Why, Dick," he said, "you're a rich man! Richer'n I ever expected
you'd be; but I'm a selfish old feller, after all! It seems to me as
if we ain't never goin' to be the same again, as we uster be when all
we had was a sack of flour and a side of bacon, and the whole
North-west to prospect. It seems as if somethin' mighty dear has
gone."

Dick got up and stood before him, with his hands in his pockets, and
smiling downward into his eyes.

"I've thought of that, too, Bill," he said, "and I can't afford to
lose you. I'd rather lose the Cross. So I'll tell you something that
I told Joan, long ago--that if ever the mine made good, and I could
give you something beside a debt, you were to have half of what I
made. A few days ago it would have been a quarter interest you owned.
Now it is a half. We're partners still, Bill, just as we were when
there was nothing but a sack of flour and a side of bacon to divide."

They looked at him, expecting him to show some sign of excitement, but
he did not. Instead, he reached over, and painstakingly pulled a weed
from the foot of the wall, and threw it away. He cleared his throat
once or twice, but did not look at them, and then got to his feet and
started as if to go down to the camp. Then, as if his feelings were
under control again, came back, and took one of Joan's and one of
Dick's hands into his own toil-worn palms, and said:

"Thanks, Dick! It's more'n I deserve, this knowin' both of you, and
havin' you give me a share in the Cross! And I accept it; but
conditionally."

He dropped their hands, and turned to look around, as if seeing a very
broad world.

"What is the condition?" Joan asked, laying her hand on his arm, and
looking up at him. "Can we change it?"

"No," he said; "you can't. I've had a hard hit of my own for a long
time now. I'm a-goin' to try to heal it. I'm goin' away on what may be
a short, or a long, long trail." His voice dropped until it was
scarcely audible. "I'm goin' away to keep goin' till I find The Lily.
And when I find her, I'll come back, and bring her with me, if she'll
come."

He turned his back toward them, unbuttoned the flap of his flannel
shirt, and reached inside. He drew out a sheet of paper wrapped in an
old silk handkerchief, as if it were a priceless possession to be
carefully preserved, and held it toward them. He did not look at
either of them as he spoke.

"I got that a long time ago," he said; "but somehow I could never say
anything about it to any one. And I reckon you're the only two in the
world that'll ever see it. Read it and give it back to me when--when
you come down the mountain."

He turned and stalked away over the trail, his feet planting
themselves firmly, as he had walked through life with firmness.

They watched him go, and opened the letter, and read, in a high,
strong handwriting:

  DEAR MR. MATHEWS: I am writing you of business, for one thing, and
  because I feel that I must, for another. I have paid for a
  tombstone suitable for Bells Park, whom I esteemed more than I
  have most men. And I have paid for its delivery to you, knowing
  that you will have it mounted in place. So you must pay nothing
  for it in any form, as I wish to stand all the expense in memory
  of an old and tried friend. I have left Goldpan for good and all,
  and all those old associations of my life. I am starting over
  again, to make a good and clean fight, in clean surroundings. I am
  sick to death of all that has made up my life. I am bitter,
  knowing that I was handicapped from the start. My father educated
  me because it was easier to have me in a boarding school in all my
  girlhood than to have me with him. I never knew my mother. I had
  no love bestowed upon me in my girlhood. When I came of age my
  father, who was an adventurer of the discredited gentleman type,
  gave me to a friend of his. I learned a year after I had been
  married that I had been sold to my husband--God save the mark! I
  tried to be patient when he dragged me from camp to camp, and I
  want to say that whatever else I have been, I have been good. You
  understand me, I hope, because I am defending myself to you, the
  only living being for whose esteem I care. I have had two happy
  moments in my life--one when the news was brought me that my
  husband had shot himself across a gambling table, and the second
  when you faced me that night after Bells Park was killed, alone
  there in the street after your partner had gone on, and said:
  "Lily, it hurts you as it does me. You're on the level, little
  pal. I want to stop long enough to tell you I believe in you."
  Then you went on, and I shall not see you again.

  I am writing this from a place I shall leave before it starts to
  you. You could not find me if you had the desire, and so I say to
  you that which perhaps I never should have said, if we had
  remained in sight of each other in the Blue Mountains. You are the
  only man I have ever met who made me heartsick because I was not
  worthy of him, and could not aspire to his level. You are the only
  man I have ever loved so much that it was an ache. You are the
  only man who told me by the look in his eyes, that he thought my
  life unworthy, and accused me without words every time we met. I
  am through with it, and if it will do you any good to know that
  your reproaches have done more than anything else to cause me to
  begin all over again, and live a different life, I want you to
  have that satisfaction. And this shall be my only good-by.

                                                    LILY MEREDITH.

For a long time Joan stood holding the letter in her hands, and then,
as if fathoming its cry of loneliness, clutched it tightly to her
breast.

"He will find her!" she said. "I know it! He must! It wouldn't be kind
of heaven to keep her from him. And he loved her all the time!"

Far across the peaks of the Blue Mountains the last rays of the sunset
went out, as an extinguished torch. A bird near by cheeped sleepily,
and the new night was coming to its own. Throbbing, rumbling, and
grinding in a melody softened by distance, the roar of the Rattler's
mills became audible, as it brought the yellow gold, glistening and
beautiful, from its sordid setting of earth. In the camp of the Croix
d'Or a chorus was wafted faintly up as men sitting in the dusk sang:
"Hearts that are brave and true, my lads, hearts that are brave and
true!"

Silently, arm in arm, they gave a last lingering look at the shaft,
the peak above, and turned down the trail to the camp which seemed all
aglow with rosy light.

THE END



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



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