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The Claim Jumpers by Stewart Edward White

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THE CLAIM JUMPERS

_A ROMANCE_

BY

STEWART EDWARD WHITE

1901

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I.--JIM LESLIE WRITES A LETTER
II.--THE STORY-BOOK WEST
III.--BENNINGTON HUNTS FOR GOLD AND FINDS A KISS
IV.--THE SUN FAIRY
V.--THE SPIRIT MOUNTAIN
VI.--BENNINGTON AS A MAN OF BUSINESS
VII.--THE MEETING AT THE ROCK
VIII.--AN ADVENTURE IN THE NIGHT
IX.--THE HEAVENS OPENED
X.--THE WORLD MADE YOUNG
XI.--AND HE DID EAT
XII.--OLD MIZZOU RESIGNS
XIII.--THE SPIRES OF STONE
XIV.--THE PIONEER'S PICNIC
XV.--THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
XVI.--A NOON DINNER
XVII.--NOBLESSE OBLIGE
XVIII.--THE CLAIM JUMPERS
XIX.--BENNINGTON PROVES GAME
XX.--MASKS OFF
XXI.--THE LAND OF VISIONS
XXII.--FLOWER O' THE WORLD

CHAPTER I

JIM LESLIE WRITES A LETTER

In a fifth-story sitting room of a New York boarding house four youths
were holding a discussion. The sitting room was large and square, and
in the wildest disorder, which was, however, sublimated into a certain
system by an illuminated device to the effect that one should "Have a
Place for Everything, and then there'll be one Place you won't have to
look." Easels and artists' materials thrust back to the wall
sufficiently advertised the art student, and perhaps explained the
untidiness.

Two of the occupants of the room, curled up on elevated window ledges,
were emitting clouds of tobacco smoke and nursing their knees; the
other two, naked to the waist, sat on a couple of ordinary bedroom
mattresses deposited carefully in the vacant centre of the apartment.
They were eager, alert-looking young men, well-muscled, curly of hair,
and possessing in common an unabashed carriage of the head which, more
plainly than any mere facial resemblance, proved them brothers. They,
too, were nursing their knees.

"He must be an unadorned ass," remarked one of the occupants of the
window seats, in answer to some previous statement.

"He is not," categorically denied a youth of the mattresses. "My dear
Hench, you make no distinctions. I've been talking about the boy's
people and his bringing up and the way he acts, whereupon you fly off
on a tangent and coolly conclude things about the boy himself. It is
not only unkind, but stupid."

Hench laughed. "You amuse me, Jeems," said he; "elucidate."

Jeems let go his knees. The upper part of his body, thus deprived of
support, fell backward on the mattress. He then clasped his hands
behind his head, and stared at the ceiling.

"Listen, ye multitude," he began; "I'm an artist. So are you. I'm also
a philosopher. You are not. Therefore, I'll deign to instruct you. Ben
de Laney has a father and a mother. The father is pompous, conceited,
and a bore. The mother is pompous, conceited, and a bore. The father
uses language of whose absolutely vapid correctness Addison would have
been proud. So does the mother, unless she forgets, in which case the
old man calls her down hard. They, are rich and of a good social
position. The latter worries them, because they have to keep up its
dignity."

"They succeed," interrupted the other brother fervently, "they succeed.
I dined there once. After that I went around to the waxworks to get
cheered up a bit."

"Quite so, Bertie," replied the philosopher; "but you interrupted me
just before I got to my point. The poor old creatures had been married
many years before Bennie came to cheer _them_ up. Naturally, Bennie has
been the whole thing ever since. He is allowed a few privileges, but
always under the best auspices. The rest of the time he stays at home,
is told what or what not a gentleman should do, and is instructed in
the genealogy of the de Laneys."

"The mother is always impressing him with the fact that he is a de
Laney on both sides," interpolated Bert.

"Important, if true, as the newspapers say," remarked the other young
man on the window ledge. "What constitutes a de Laney?"

"Hereditary lack of humour, Beck, my boy. Well, the result is that poor
Bennie is a sort of----" the speaker hesitated for his word.

"'Willy boy,'" suggested Beck, mildly.

"Something of the sort, but not exactly. A 'willy boy' never has ideas.
Bennie has."

"Such as?"

"Well, for one thing, he wants to get away. He doesn't seem quite
content with his job of idle aristocrat. I believe he's been pestering
the old man to send him West. Old man doesn't approve."

"'That the fine bloom of culture will become rubbed off in the contact
with rude, rough men, seems to me inevitable,'" mimicked Bert in
pedantic tones, "'unless a firm sense of personal dignity and an
equally firm sense of our obligations to more refined though absent
friends hedges us about with adequate safeguards.'"

The four laughed. "That's his style, sure enough," Jim agreed.

"What does he want to do West?" asked Hench.

"_He_ doesn't know. Write a book, I believe, or something of that sort.
But he _isn't_ an ass. He has a lot of good stuff in him, only it will
never get a chance, fixed the way he is now."

A silence fell, which was broken at last by Bert.

"Come, Jeems," he suggested; "here we've taken up Hench's valuable
idea, but are no farther with it."

"True," said Jeems.

He rolled over on his hands and knees. Bert took up a similar position
by his side.

"Go!" shouted Hench from the window ledge.

At the word, the two on the mattress turned and grappled each other
fiercely, half rising to their feet in the strenuousness of endeavour.
Jeems tried frantically for a half-Nelson. While preventing it the wily
Bert awaited his chance for a hammer-lock. In the moment of indecision
as to which would succeed in his charitable design, a knock on the door
put an end to hostilities. The gladiators sat upright and panted.

A young man stepped bashfully into the room and closed the door behind
him.

The newcomer was a clean-cut young fellow, of perhaps twenty-two years
of age, with regular features, brown eyes, straight hair, and sensitive
lips. He was exceedingly well-dressed. A moment's pause followed his
appearance. Then:

"Why, it's our old friend, the kid!" cried Jeems.

"Don't let me interrupt," begged the youth diffidently.

"No interruption. End of round one," panted Jeems. "Glad you came.
Bertie, here, was twisting my delicate clavicle most cruelly. Know
Hench and Beck there?"

De Laney bowed to the young men in the window, who removed their pipes
from their mouths and grinned amiably.

"This, gentlemen," explained Jeems, without changing his position, "is
Mr. Bennie de Laney on both sides. It is extremely fortunate for Mr. de
Laney that he is a de Laney on both sides, for otherwise he would be
lop-sided."

"You will find a seat, Mr. de Laney, in the adjoining bedroom," said
the first, with great politeness; "and if you don't care to go in
there, you will stand yourself in the corner by that easel until the
conclusion of this little discussion between Jeems and myself.--Jeems,
will you kindly state the merits of the discussion to the gentleman?
I'm out of breath."

Jeems kindly would.

"Bert and I have, for the last few weeks, been obeying the parting
commands of our dear mother. 'Boys,' said she, with tears in her eyes,
'Boys, always take care of one another.' So each evening I have tried
to tuck Bertie in his little bed, and Bertie, with equal enthusiasm,
has attempted to tuck _me_ in. It has been hard on pyjamas, bed
springs, and the temper of the Lady with the Piano who resides in the
apartments immediately beneath; so, at the wise suggestion of our
friends in the windows"--he waved a graceful hand toward them, and they
gravely bowed acknowledgment--"we are now engaged in deciding the
matter Graeco-Roman. The winner 'tucks.' Come on, Bertie."

The two again took position side by side, on their hands and knees,
while Mr. Hench explained to de Laney that this method of beginning the
bout was necessary, because the limited area of the mat precluded
flying falls. At a signal from Mr. Beck, they turned and grappled,
Jeems, by the grace of Providence, on top. In the course of the combat
it often happened that the two mattresses would slide apart. The
contestants, suspending their struggles, would then try to kick them
together again without releasing the advantage of their holds. The
noise was beautiful. To de Laney, strong in maternal admonitions as to
proper deportment, it was all new and stirring, and quite without
precedent. He applauded excitedly, and made as much racket as the
rest.

A sudden and vigorous knock for the second time put an end to
hostilities. The wrestlers again sat bolt upright on the mattresses,
and listened.

"Gentlemen," cried an irritated German voice, "there is a lady
schleeping on the next floor!"

"Karl, Karl!" called one of the irrepressibles, "can I never teach you
to be accurate! No lady could possibly be sleeping anywhere in the
building."

He arose from the mattress and shook himself.

"Jeems," he continued sadly, "the world is against true virtue. Our
dear mother's wishes can not be respected."

De Laney came out of his corner.

"Fellows," he cried with enthusiasm, "I want you to come up and stay
all night with me some time, so mother can see that gentlemen can make
a noise!"

Bertie sat down suddenly and shrieked. Jeems rolled over and over,
clutching small feathers from the mattress in the agony of his delight,
while the clothed youths contented themselves with amused but gurgling
chuckles.

"Bennie, my boy," gasped Jeems, at last, "you'll be the death of me! O
Lord! O Lord! You unfortunate infant! You shall come here and have a
drum to pound; yes, you shall." He tottered weakly to his feet. "Come,
Bertie, let us go get dressed."

The two disappeared into the bedroom, leaving de Laney uncomfortably
alone with the occupants of the window ledge.

The young fellow walked awkwardly across the room and sat down on a
partly empty chair, not because he preferred sitting to standing, but
in order to give himself time to recover from his embarrassment.

The sort of chaffing to which he had just been subjected was direct and
brutal; it touched all his tender spots--the very spots wherein he
realized the intensest soreness of his deficiencies, and about which,
therefore, he was the most sensitive--yet, somehow, he liked it. This
was because the Leslie boys meant to him everything free and young that
he had missed in the precise atmosphere of his own home, and so he
admired them and stood in delightful inferiority to them in spite of
his wealth and position. He would have given anything he owned to have
felt himself one of their sort; but, failing that, the next best thing
was to possess their intimacy. Of this intimacy chaffing was a gauge.
Bennington Clarence de Laney always glowed at heart when they rubbed
his fur the wrong way, for it showed that they felt they knew him well
enough to do so. And in this there was something just a little
pathetic.

Bennington held to the society standpoint with men, so he thought he
must keep up a conversation. He did so. It was laboured. Bennington
thought of things to say about Art, the Theatre, and Books. Hench and
Beck looked at each other from time to time.

Finally the door opened, and, to the relief of all, two sweatered and
white-ducked individuals appeared.

"And now, Jeems, we'll smoke the pipe of peace," suggested Bert, diving
for the mantel and the pipe rack.

"Correct, my boy," responded Jeems, doing likewise. They lit up, and
turned with simultaneous interest to their latest caller.

"And how is the proud plutocrat?" inquired Bert; "and how did he
contrive to get leave to visit us rude and vulgar persons?"

The Leslies had called at the de Laneys', and, as Bert said, had dined
there once. They recognised their status, and rejoiced therein.

"He is calling on the minister," explained Jeems for him. "Bennington,
my son, you'll get caught at that some day, as sure as shooting. If
your mamma ever found out that, instead of talking society-religion to
old Garnett, you were revelling in this awful dissipation, you'd have
to go abroad again."

"What did you call him?" inquired Bert.

"Call who?"

"Him--Bennie--what was that full name?"

"Bennington."

"Great Scott! and here I've been thinking all the time he was plain
Benjamin! Tell us about it, my boy. What is it? It sounds like a battle
of the Revolution. _Is_ it a battle of the Revolution? Just to think
that all this time we have been entertaining unawares a real live
battle!"

De Laney grinned, half-embarrassed as usual.

"It's a family name," said he. "It's the name of an ancestor."

He never knew whether or not these vivacious youths really desired the
varied information they demanded.

The Leslies looked upon him with awe.

"You don't mean to tell me," said Bertie, "that you are a Bennington!
Well, well! This is a small world! We will celebrate the discovery." He
walked to the door and touched a bell five times. "Beautiful system,"
he explained. "In a moment Karl will appear with five beers. This
arrangement is possible because never, in any circumstances, do we ring
for anything but beer."

The beer came. Two steins, two glasses, and a carefully scrubbed
shaving mug were pressed into service. After the excitement of finding
all these things had died, and the five men were grouped about the
place in ungraceful but comfortable attitudes, Bennington bid for the
sympathy he had sought in this visit.

"Fellows," said he, "I've something to tell you."

"Let her flicker," said Jim.

"I'm going away next week. It's all settled."

"Bar Harbour, Trouville, Paris, or Berlin?"

"None of them. I'm going West."

"Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, or Monterey?"

"None of them. I'm going to the real West. I'm going to a mining camp."

The Leslies straightened their backbones.

"Don't spring things on us that way," reproved Bertie severely; "you'll
give us heart disease. Now repeat softly."

"I am going to a mining camp," obeyed Bennington, a little
shamefacedly.

"With whom?"

"Alone."

This time the Leslies sprang quite to their feet.

"By the Great Horn Spoon, man!" cried Jim. "Alone! No chaperon! Good
Lord!"

"Yes," said Bennington, "I've always wanted to go West. I want to
write, and I'm sure, in that great, free country, I'll get a chance for
development. I had to work hard to induce father and mother to consent,
but it's done now, and I leave next week. Father procured me a position
out there in one of the camps. I'm to be local treasurer, or something
like that; I'm not quite sure, you see, for I haven't talked with
Bishop yet. I go to his office for directions to-morrow."

At the mention of Bishop the Leslies glanced at each other behind the
young man's back.

"Bishop?" repeated Jim. "Where's your job located?"

"In the Black Hills of South Dakota, somewhere near a little place
called Spanish Gulch."

This time the Leslies winked at each other.

"It's a nice country," commented Bert vaguely; "I've been there."

"Oh, have you?" cried the young man. "What's it like?"

"Hills, pines, log houses, good hunting--oh, it's Western enough."

A clock struck in a church tower outside. In spite of himself,
Bennington started.

"Better run along home," laughed Jim; "your mamma will be angry."

To prove that this consideration carried no weight, Bennington stayed
ten minutes longer. Then he descended the five flights of stairs
deliberately enough, but once out of earshot of his friends, he ran
several blocks. Before going into the house he took off his shoes. In
spite of the precaution, his mother called to him as he passed her
room. It was half past ten.

Beck and Hench kicked de Laney's chair aside, and drew up more
comfortably before the fire; but James would have none of it. He seemed
to be excited.

"No," he vetoed decidedly. "You fellows have got to get out! I've got
something to do, and I can't be bothered."

The visitors grumbled. "There's true hospitality for you," objected
they; "turn your best friends out into the cold world! I like that!"

"Sorry, boys," insisted James, unmoved. "Got an inspiration. Get out!
Vamoose!"

They went, grumbling loudly down the length of the stairs, to the
disgust of the Lady with the Piano on the floor below.

"What're you up to, anyway, Jimmie?" inquired the brother with some
curiosity.

James had swept a space clear on the table, and was arranging some
stationery.

"Don't you care," he replied; "you just sit down and read your little
Omar for a while."

He plunged into the labours of composition, and Bert sat smoking
meditatively. After some moments the writer passed a letter over to the
smoker.

"Think it'll do?" he inquired.

Bert read the letter through carefully.

"Jeems," said he, after due deliberation, "Jeems, you're a blooming
genius."

James stamped the envelope.

"I'll mail it for you when I go out in the morning," Bert suggested.

"Not on your daily bread, sonny. It is posted now by my own hand. We
won't take any chances on _this_ layout, and that I can tell you."

He tramped down four flights and to the corner, although it was
midnight and bitter cold. Then, with a seraphic grin on his
countenance, he went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.

The envelope was addressed to a Mr. James Fay, Spanish Gulch, South
Dakota.

CHAPTER II

THE STORY-BOOK WEST

When a man is twenty-one, and has had no experience, and graduates from
a small college where he roomed alone in splendour, and possesses a
gift of words and a certain delight in reading, and is thrown into new
and, to him, romantic surroundings--when all these stars of chance
cross their orbits, he begins to write a novel. The novel never has
anything to do with the aforesaid new and romantic surroundings;
neither has it the faintest connection with anything the author has
ever seen. That would limit his imagination.

Once he was well settled in his new home, and the first excitement of
novel impressions had worn off, Bennington de Laney began to write
regularly three hours a day. He did his scribbling with a fountain pen,
on typewriter paper, and left a broad right-hand margin, just as he had
seen Brooks do. In it he experienced, above all, a delightful feeling
of power. He enjoyed to the full his ability to swing gorgeous involved
sentences, phrase after phrase, down the long arc of rhetoric, without
a pause, without a quiver, until they rushed unhasting up the other
slope to end in beautiful words, polysyllabic, but with just the right
number of syllables. Interspersed were short sentences. He counted the
words in one or the other of these two sorts, carefully noting the
relations they bore to each other. On occasions he despaired because
they did not bear the right relations. And he also dragged out,
squirming, the Anglo-Saxon and Latin derivations, and set them up in a
row that he might observe their respective numbers. He was uneasily
conscious that he ought, in the dread of college anathema, to use the
former, but he loved the many-syllabled crash or modulated music of the
latter. Also, there was the question of getting variety into his
paragraph lengths. It was all excellent practice.

And yet this technique, absorbing as it was, counted as nothing in
comparison with the subject-matter.

The method was talent; the subject-matter was Genius; and Genius had
evolved an Idea which no one had ever thought of before--something
brand new under the sun. It goes without saying that the Idea
symbolized a great Truth. One department, the more impersonal, of
Bennington's critical faculty, assured him that the Idea would take
rank with the Ideas of Plato and Emerson. Emerson, Bennington
worshipped. Plato he also worshipped--because Emerson told him to. He
had never read Plato himself. The other, the more personal and modest,
however, had perforce to doubt this, not because it doubted the Idea,
but because Bennington was not naturally conceited.

To settle the discrepancy he began to write. He laid the scene in
Arabia and decided to call it _Aliris: A Romance of all Time_, because
he liked the smooth, easy flow of the syllables.

The consciousness that he could do all this sugar-coated his Wild
Western experiences, which otherwise might have been a little
disagreeable. He could comfort himself with the reflection that he was
superior, if ridiculous.

In spots, he was certainly the latter. The locality into which his
destinies had led him lay in the tumultuous centre of the Hills, about
thirty miles from Custer and ten from Hill City. Spanish Gulch was
three miles down the draw. The Holy Smoke mine, to which Bennington was
accredited, he found to consist of a hole in the ground, of unsounded
depth, two log structures, and a chicken coop. The log structures
resembled those he had read about. In one of them lived Arthur and his
wife. The wife did the cooking. Arthur did nothing at all but sit in
the shade and smoke a pipe, and this in spite of the fact that he did
not look like a loafer. He had no official connection with the place,
except that of husband to Mrs. Arthur. The other member of the
community was Davidson, alias Old Mizzou.

The latter was cordial and voluble. As he was blessed with a long white
beard of the patriarchal type, he inspired confidence. He used
exclusively the present tense and chewed tobacco. He also played
interminable cribbage. Likewise he talked. The latter was his strong
point. Bennington found that within two days of his arrival he knew all
about the company's business without having proved the necessity of
stirring foot on his own behalf. The claims were not worth much,
according to Old Mizzou. The company had been cheated. They would find
it out some day. None of the ore assayed very high. For his part he did
not see why they even did assessment work. Bennington was to look after
the latter? All in good time. You know you had until the end of the
year to do it. What else was there to do? Nothing much; The present
holders had come into the property on a foreclosed mortgage, and
weren't doing anything to develop it yet. Did Bennington know of their
plans? No? Well, it looked as though the two of them were to have a
pretty easy time of it, didn't it?

Old Mizzou tried, by adroit questioning, to find out just why de Laney
had been sent West. There was, in reality, not enough to keep one man
busy, and surely Old Mizzou considered himself quite competent to
attend to that. Finally, he concluded that it must be to watch
him--Old Mizzou. Acting on that supposition, he tried a new tack.

For two delicious hours he showed up, to his own satisfaction,
Bennington's ignorance of mining. That was an easy enough task.
Bennington did not even know what country-rock was. All he succeeded in
eliciting confirmed him in the impression that de Laney was sent to spy
on him. But why de Laney? Old Mizzou wagged his gray beard. And why spy
on him? What could the company want to know? He gave it up. One thing
alone was clear: this young man's understanding of his duties was very
simple. Bennington imagined he was expected to see certain assessment
work done (whatever that was), and was to find out what he could about
the value of the property.

As a matter of sedulously concealed truth, he was really expected to do
nothing at all. The place had been made for him through Mr. de Laney's
influence, because he wanted to go West.

"Now, my boy," Bishop, the mining capitalist, had said, when
Bennington had visited him in his New York office, "do you know
anything about mining?"

"No, sir," Bennington replied.

"Well, that doesn't matter much. We don't expect to do anything in the
way of development. The case, briefly, is this: We've bought this
busted proposition of the people who were handling it, and have assumed
their debt. They didn't run it right. They had a sort of a wildcat
individual in charge of the thing, and he got contracts for sinking
shafts with all the turtlebacks out there, and then didn't pay for
them. Now, what we want you to do is this: First of all, you're to take
charge financially at that end of the line. That means paying the local
debts as we send you the money, and looking after whatever expenditures
may become necessary. Then you'll have to attend to the assessment
work. Do you know what assessment work is?"

"No, sir."

"Well, in order to hold the various claims legally, the owners have to
do one hundred dollars' worth of work a year on each claim. If the
work isn't done, the claims can be 'jumped.' You'll have to hire the
men, buy the supplies, and see that the full amount is done. We have a
man out there named Davidson. You can rely on him, and he'll help you
out in all practical matters. He's a good enough practical miner, but
he's useless in bossing a job or handling money. Between you, you ought
to get along."

"I'll try, anyway."

"That's right. Then, another thing. You can put in your spare time
investigating what the thing is worth. I don't expect much from you in
that respect, for you haven't had enough experience; but do the best
you can. It'll be good practice, anyway. Hunt up Davidson; go over all
the claims; find out how the lead runs, and how it holds out; get
samples and ship them to me; investigate everything you can, and don't
be afraid to write when you're stuck."

In other words, Bennington was to hold the ends of the reins while some
one else drove. But he did not know that. He felt his responsibility.

As to the assessment work, Old Mizzou had already assured him there was
no immediate hurry; men were cheaper in the fall. As to investigating,
he started in on that at once. He and Davidson climbed down shafts, and
broke off ore, and worked the gold pan. It was fun.

In the morning Bennington decided to work from seven until ten on
_Aliris_. Then for three hours he and Old Mizzou prospected. In the
afternoon the young man took a vacation and hunted Wild Western
adventures.

It may as well be remarked here that Bennington knew all about the West
before he left home. Until this excursion he had never even crossed the
Alleghanies, but he thought he appreciated the conditions thoroughly.
This was because he was young. He could close his eyes and see the
cowboys scouring the plain. As a parenthesis it should be noted that
cowboys always scour the plain, just as sailors always scan the
horizon. He knew how the cowboys looked, because he had seen Buffalo
Bill's show; and he knew how they talked, because he had read accurate
authors of the school of Bret Harte. He could even imagine the
romantic mountain maidens.

With his preconceived notions the country, in most particulars, tallied
interestingly. At first Bennington frequented the little town down the
draw. It answered fairly well to the story-book descriptions, but
proved a bit lively for him. The first day they lent him a horse. The
horse looked sleepy. It took him twenty minutes to get on the animal
and twenty seconds to fall off. There was an audience. They made him
purchase strange drinks at outlandish prices. After that they shot
holes all around his feet to induce him to dance. He had inherited an
obstinate streak from some of his forebears, and declined when it went
that far. They then did other things to him which were not pleasant.
Most of these pranks seemed to have been instigated by a laughing,
curly-haired young man named Fay. Fay had clear blue eyes, which seemed
always to mock you. He could think up more diabolical schemes in ten
minutes than the rest of the men in as many hours. Bennington came
shortly to hate this man Fay. His attentions had so much of the
gratuitous! For a number of days, even after the enjoyment of novelty
had worn off, the Easterner returned bravely to Spanish Gulch every
afternoon for the mail. It was a matter of pride with him. He did not
like to be bluffed out. But Fay was always there.

"Tender _foot!_" the latter would shriek joyously, and bear down on the
shrinking de Laney.

That would bring out the loafers. It all had to happen over again.

Bennington hoped that this performance would cease in time. It never
did.

By a mental process, unnecessary to trace here, he modified his first
views, and permitted Old Mizzou to get the mail. Spanish Gulch saw him
no more.

After all, it was quite as good Western experience to wander in the
hills. He did not regret the other. In fact, as he cast in review his
research in Wild West literature, he perceived that the incidents of
his town visits were the proper thing. He would not have had them
different--to look back on. They were inspiring--to write home about.
He recognised all the types--the miner, the gambler, the
saloon-keeper, the bad man, the cowboy, the prospector--just as though
they had stepped living from the pages of his classics. They had the
true slouch; they used the picturesque language. The log cabins squared
with his ideas. The broncos even exceeded them.

But now he had seen it all. There is no sense in draining an agreeable
cup to satiety. He was quite content to enjoy his rambles in the hills,
like the healthy youngster he was. But had he seen it all? On
reflection, he acknowledged he could not make this statement to himself
with a full consciousness of sincerity. One thing was lacking from the
preconceived picture his imagination had drawn. There had been no
Mountain Flowers. By that he meant girls.

Every one knows what a Western girl is. She is a beautiful creature,
always, with clear, tanned skin, bright eyes, and curly hair. She wears
a Tam o' Shanter. She rides a horse. Also, she talks deliciously, in a
silver voice, about "old pards." Altogether a charming vision--in
books.

This vision Bennington had not yet realized. The rest of the West came
up to specifications, but this one essential failed. In Spanish Gulch
he had, to be sure, encountered a number of girls. But they were
red-handed, big-boned, freckled-faced, rough-skinned, and there wasn't
a Tam o' Shanter in the lot. Plainly servants, Bennington thought. The
Mountain Flower must have gone on a visit. Come to think of it, there
never was more than one Mountain Flower to a town.

CHAPTER III

BENNINGTON HUNTS FOR GOLD AND FINDS A KISS

One day Old Mizzou brought him a blue-print map.

"This y'ar map," said he, spreading it out under his stubby fingers,
"shows the deestrict. I gets it of Fay, so you gains an idee of th' lay
of the land a whole lot. Them claims marked with a crost belongs to th'
Company. You kin take her and explore."

This struck Bennington as an excellent idea. He sat down at the table
and counted the crosses. There were fourteen of them. The different
lodes were laid off in mathematically exact rectangles, running in many
directions. A few joined one another, but most lay isolated. Their
relative positions were a trifle confusing at first, but, after a
little earnest study, Bennington thought he understood them. He could
start with the Holy Smoke, just outside the door. The John Logan lay
beyond, at an obtuse angle. Then a jump of a hundred yards or so to the
southwest would bring him to the Crazy Horse. This he resolved to
locate, for it was said to be on the same "lode" as a big strike some
one had recently made. He picked up his rifle and set out.

Now, a blue-print map maker has undoubtedly accurate ideas as to points
of the compass, and faultless proficiency in depicting bird's-eye
views, but he neglects entirely the putting in of various ups and down,
slants and windings of the country, which apparently twist the north
pole around to the east-south-east. You start due west on a bee line,
according to directions; after about ten feet you scramble over a
fallen tree, skirt a boulder, dip into a ravine, and climb a ledge.
Your starting point is out of sight behind you; your destination is,
Heaven knows where, in front. By the time you have walked six thousand
actual feet, which is as near as you can guess to fifteen hundred
theoretical level ones, your little blazed stake in a pile of stones is
likely to be almost anywhere within a liberal quarter of a mile. Then
it is guess-work. If the hill is pretty thickly staked out, the chase
becomes exciting. In the middle distance you see a post. You clamber
eagerly to it, only to find that it marks your neighbour's claim. You
have lost your standpoint of a moment ago, and must start afresh. In an
hour's time you have discovered every stake on the hill but the one you
want. In two hours' time you are staggering homeward a gibbering idiot.
Then you are brought back to profane sanity by falling at full length
over the very object of your search.

Bennington was treated to full measure of this experience. He found the
John Logan lode without much difficulty, and followed its length with
less, for the simple reason that its course lay over the round brow of
a hill bare of trees. He also discovered the "Northeast Corner of the
Crazy Horse Lode" plainly marked on the white surface of a pine stake
braced upright in a pile of rocks. Thence he confidently paced south,
and found nothing. Next trip he came across pencilled directions
concerning the "Miner's Dream Lode." The time after he ran against the
"Golden Ball" and the "Golden Chain Lodes." Bennington reflected; his
mind was becoming a little heated.

"It's because I went around those ledges and boulders," he said to
himself; "I got off the straight line. This time I'll take the straight
line and keep it."

So he addressed himself to the surmounting of obstructions. Work of
that sort is not easy. At one point he lost his hold on a broad, steep
rock, and slid ungracefully to the foot of it, his elbows digging
frantically into the moss, and his legs straddled apart. As he struck
bottom, he imagined he heard a most delicious little laugh. So real was
the illusion that he gripped two handfuls of moss and looked about
sharply, but of course saw nothing. The laugh was repeated.

He looked again, and so became aware of a Vision in pink, standing just
in front of a big pine above him on the hill and surveying him with
mischievous eyes.

Surprise froze him, his legs straddled, his hat on one side, his mouth
open. The Vision began to pick its way down the hill, eyeing him the
while.

That dancing scrutiny seemed to mesmerize him. He was enchanted to
perfect stillness, but he was graciously permitted to take in the
particulars of the girl's appearance. She was dainty. Every posture of
her slight figure was of an airy grace, as light and delicate as that
of a rose tendril swaying in the wind. Even when she tripped over a
loose rock, she caught her balance again with a pretty little uplift of
the hand. As she approached, slowly, and evidently not unwilling to
allow her charms full time in which to work, Bennington could see that
her face was delicately made; but as to the details he could not judge
clearly because of her mischievous eyes. They were large and wide and
clear, and of a most peculiar colour--a purple-violet, of the shade one
sometimes finds in flowers, but only in the flowers of a deep and shady
wood. In this wonderful colour--which seemed to borrow the richness of
its hue rather from its depth than from any pigment of its own, just as
beyond soundings the ocean changes from green to blue--an hundred moods
seem to rise slowly from within, to swim visible, even though the mere
expression of her face gave no sign of them. For instance, at the
present moment her features were composed to the utmost gravity. Yet in
her eyes bubbled gaiety and fun, as successive up-swellings of a
spring; or, rather, as the riffles of sunlight and wind, or the
pictured flight of birds across a pool whose surface alone is stirred.

Bennington realized suddenly, with overwhelming fervency, that he
preferred to slide in solitude.

The Vision in the starched pink gingham now poised above him like a
humming-bird over a flower. From behind her back she withdrew one hand.
In the hand was the missing claim stake.

"Is this what you are looking for?" she inquired demurely.

The mesmeric spell broke, and Bennington was permitted to babble
incoherencies.

She stamped her foot.

"Is this what you're looking for?" she persisted.

Bennington's chaos had not yet crystallized to relevancy.

"Wh-where did you get it?" he stammered again.

"IS THIS WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR?" she demanded in very large capitals.

The young man regained control of his faculties with an effort.

"Yes, it is!" he rejoined sharply; and then, with the instinct that
bids us appreciate the extent of our relief by passing an annoyance
along, "Don't you know it's a penal offence to disturb claim stakes?"

He had suddenly discovered that he preferred to find claim stakes on
claims.

The Vision's eyes opened wider.

"It must be nice to know so much!" said she, in reverent admiration.

Bennington flushed. As a de Laney, the girls he had known had always
taken him seriously. He disliked being made fun of.

"This is nonsense," he objected, with some impatience. "I must know
where it came from."

In the background of his consciousness still whirled the moil of his
wonder and bewilderment. He clung to the claim stake as a stable
object.

The Vision looked straight at him without winking, and those wonderful
eyes filled with tears. Yet underneath their mist seemed to sparkle
little points of light, as wavelets through a vapour which veils the
surface of the sea. Bennington became conscious-stricken because of the
tears, and still he owned an uneasy suspicion that they were not real.

"I'm so sorry!" she said contritely, after a moment; "I thought I was
helping you so much! I found that stake just streaking it over the top
of the hill. It had got loose and was running away." The mist had
cleared up very suddenly, and the light-tipped sparkles of fun were
chasing each other rapidly, as though impelled by a lively breeze. "I
thought you'd be ever so grateful, and, instead of that, you scold me!
I don't believe I like you a bit!"

She looked him over reflectively, as though making up her mind.

Bennington laughed outright, and scrambled to his feet. "You are
absolutely incorrigible!" he exclaimed, to cover his confusion at his
change of face.

Her eyes fairly danced.

"Oh, what a _lovely_ word!" she cried rapturously. "What _does_ it
mean? Something nice, or I'm sure you wouldn't have said it about me.
_Would_ you?" The eyes suddenly became grave. "Oh, please tell me!" she
begged appealingly.

Bennington was thrown into confusion at this, for he did not know
whether she was serious or not. He could do nothing but stammer and get
red, and think what a ridiculous ass he was making of himself. He might
have considered the help he was getting in that.

"Well, then, you needn't," she conceded, magnanimously, after a moment.
"Only, you ought not to say things about girls that you don't dare tell
them in plain language. If you will say nice things about me, you might
as well say them so I can understand them; only, I do think it's a
little early in our acquaintance."

This cast Bennington still more in perplexity. He had a
pretty-well-defined notion that he was being ridiculed, but concerning
this, just a last grain of doubt remained. She rattled on.

"Well!" said she impatiently, "why don't you say something? Why don't
you take this stick? I don't want it. Men are so stupid!"

That last remark has been made many, many times, and yet it never fails
of its effect, which is at once to invest the speaker with daintiness
indescribable, and to thrust the man addressed into nether inferiority.
Bennington fell to its charm. He took the stake.

"Where does it belong?" he asked.

She pointed silently to a pile of stones. He deposited the stake in its
proper place, and returned to find her seated on the ground, plucking a
handful of the leaves of a little erect herb that grew abundantly in
the hollow. These she rubbed together and held to her face inside the
sunbonnet.

"Who are you, anyway?" asked Bennington abruptly, as he returned.

"D' you ever see this before?" she inquired irrelevantly, looking up
with her eyes as she leaned over the handful. "Good for colds. Makes
your nose feel all funny and prickly."

She turned her hands over and began to drop the leaves one by one.
Bennington caught himself watching her with fascinated interest in
silence. He began to find this one of her most potent charms--the
faculty of translating into a grace so exquisite as almost to realize
the fabled poetry of motion, the least shrug of her shoulders, the
smallest crook of her finger, the slightest toss of her small,
well-balanced head. She looked up.

"Want to smell?" she inquired, and held out her hands with a pretty
gesture.

Not knowing what else to do, Bennington stepped forward obediently and
stooped over. The two little palms held a single crushed bit of the
herb in their cup. They were soft, pink little palms, all wrinkled,
like crumpled rose leaves. Bennington stooped to smell the herb;
instead, he kissed the palms.

The girl sprang to her feet with one indignant motion and faced him.
The eyes now flashed blue flame, and Bennington for the first time
noticed what had escaped him before--that the forehead was broad and
thoughtful, and that above it the hair, instead of being blonde and
curly and sparkling with golden radiance, was of a peculiar wavy brown
that seemed sometimes full of light and sometimes lustreless and black,
according as it caught the direct rays of the sun or not. Then he
appreciated his offence.

"Sir!" she exclaimed, and turned away with a haughty shoulder.

"And we've never been introduced!" she said, half to herself, but her
face was now concealed, so that Bennington could not see she laughed.
She marched stiffly down the hill. Bennington turned to follow her,
although the action was entirely mechanical, and he had no definite
idea in doing so.

"Don't you dare, sir!" she cried.

So he did not dare.

This vexed her for a moment. Then, having gone quite out of sight, she
sank down and laughed until the tears ran down her cheeks.

"I didn't think he knew enough!" she said, with a final hysterical
chuckle.

This first impression of the Mountain Flower, Bennington would have
been willing to acknowledge, was quite complicated enough, but he was
destined to further surprises.

When he returned to the Holy Smoke camp he found Old Mizzou in earnest
conversation with a peculiar-looking stranger, whose hand he was
promptly requested to shake.

The stranger was a tall, scraggly individual, dressed in the usual
flannel shirt and blue jeans, the latter tucked into rusty cowhide
boots. Bennington was interested in him because he was so phenomenally
ugly. From the collar of his shirt projected a lean, sinewy neck, on
which the too-abundant skin rolled and wrinkled in a dark red,
wind-roughened manner particularly disagreeable to behold. The neck
supported a small head. The face was wizened and tanned to a dark
mahogany colour. It was ornamented with a grizzled goatee.

The man smoked a stub pipe. His remarks were emphasized by the gestures
of a huge and gnarled pair of hands.

"Mr. Lawton is from Old Mizzou, too, afore he moved to Illinoy,"
commented Davidson. One became aware, from the loving tones in which
he pronounced the two words, whence he derived his sobriquet.

Lawton expressed the opinion that Chillicothe, of that State, was the
finest town on top of earth.

Bennington presumed it might be, and then opportunely bethought him of
a bottle of Canadian Club, which, among other necessary articles, he
had brought with him from New York. This he produced. The old
Missourians brightened; Davidson went into the cabin after glasses and
a corkscrew. He found the corkscrew all right, but apparently had some
difficulty in regard to the glasses. They could hear him calling
vociferously for Mrs. Arthur. Mrs. Arthur had gone to the spring for
water. In a few moments Old Mizzou appeared in the doorway exceedingly
red of face.

"Consarn them women folks!" he grumbled, depositing the tin cups on the
porch. "They locks up an' conceals things most damnable. Ain't a
tumbler in th' place."

"These yar is all right," assured Lawton consolingly, picking up one of
the cups and examining the bottom of it with great care.

"I reckon they'll hold the likker, anyhow," agreed Davidson.

They passed the bottle politely to de Laney, and the latter helped
himself. For his part, he was glad the tin cups had been necessary, for
it enabled him to conceal the smallness of his dose. Lawton filled his
own up to the brim; Davidson followed suit.

"Here's how!" observed the latter, and the two old turtlebacks drank
the raw whisky down, near a half pint of it, as though it had been so
much milk.

Bennington fairly gasped with astonishment. "Don't you ever take any
water?" he asked.

They turned slowly. Old Mizzou looked him in the eye with glimmering
reproach.

"Not, if th' whisky's good, sonny," said he impressively.

"Wall," commented Lawton, after a pause, "that is a good drink. Reckon
I must be goin'."

"Stay t' grub!" urged Old Mizzou heartily.

"Folks waitin'. Remember!"

They looked at Bennington and chuckled a little, to that young man's
discomfort.

"Lawton's a damn fine fella'," said Old Mizzou with emphasis.
Bennington thought, with a shudder, of the loose-skinned, turkey-red
neck, and was silent.

After supper Bennington and Old Mizzou played cribbage by the light of
a kerosene lamp.

"While I was hunting claims this afternoon," said the Easterner
suddenly, "I ran across a mighty pretty girl."

"Yas?" observed Old Mizzou with indifference. "What fer a gal was it?"

"She didn't look as if she belonged around here. She was a slender
girl, very pretty, with a pink dress on."

"Ain't no female strangers yar-abouts. Blue eyes?"

"Yes."

"An' ha'r that sometimes looks black an' sometimes yaller-brown?"

"Yes, that's the one all right. Who is she?"

"Oh, that!" said Old Mizzou with slight interest, "that's Bill
Lawton's girl. Live's down th' gulch. He's th' fella' that was yar
afore grub," he explained.

For a full minute Bennington stared at the cards in his hand. The
patriarch became impatient.

"Yore play, sonny," he suggested.

"I don't believe you know the one I mean," returned Bennington slowly.
"She's a girl with a little mouth and a nose that is tipped up just a
trifle----"

"Snub!" interrupted Old Mizzou, with some impatience. "Yas, I knows.
Same critter. Only one like her in th' Hills. Sasshays all over th'
scenery, an' don't do nothin' but sit on rocks."

"So she's the daughter of that man!" said Bennington, still more
slowly.

"Wall, so Mis' Lawton sez," chuckled Mizzou.

That night Bennington lay awake for some time. He had discovered the
Mountain Flower; the story-book West was complete at last. But he had
offended his discovery. What was the etiquette in such a case? Back
East he would have felt called upon to apologize for being rude. Then,
at the thought of apologizing to a daughter of that turkey-necked old
whisky-guzzler he had to laugh.

CHAPTER IV

THE SUN FAIRY

The next afternoon, after the day's writing and prospecting were
finished, Bennington resolved to go deer hunting. He had skipped
thirteen chapters of his work to describe the heroine, Rhoda. She had
wonderful eyes, and was, I believe, dressed in a garment whose colour
was pink.

"Keep yore moccasins greased," Old Mizzou advised at parting; by which
he meant that the young man was to step softly.

This he found to be difficult. His course lay along the top of the
ridge where the obstructions were many. There were outcrops, boulders,
ravines, broken twigs, old leaves, and dikes, all of which had to be
surmounted or avoided. They were all aggravating, but the dikes
possessed some intellectual interest which the others lacked.

A dike, be it understood, is a hole in the earth made visible. That is
to say, in old days, when mountains were much loftier than they are
now, various agencies brought it to pass that they split and cracked
and yawned down to the innermost cores of their being in such hideous
fashion that chasms and holes of great depth and perpendicularity were
opened in them. Thereupon the interior fires were released, and these,
vomiting up a vast supply of molten material, filled said chasms and
holes to the very brim. The molten material cooled into fire-hardened
rock. The rains descended and the snows melted. Under their erosive
influence the original mountains were cut down somewhat, but the
erstwhile molten material, being, as we have said, fire-hardened,
wasted very little, or not at all, and, as a consequence, stands forth
above its present surroundings in exact mould of the ancient cracks or
holes.

Now, some dikes are long and narrow, others are short and wide, and
still others are nearly round. All, however, are highest points, and,
head and shoulders above the trees, look abroad over the land.

When Bennington came to one of these dikes he was forced to pick his
way carefully in a detour around its base. Between times he found
hobnails much inclined to click against unforeseen stones. The broken
twig came to possess other than literary importance. After a little his
nerves asserted themselves. Unconsciously he relaxed his attention and
began to think.

The subject of his thoughts was the girl he had seen just twenty-four
hours before. He caught himself remembering little things he had not
consciously noticed at the time, as, for instance, the strange contrast
between the mischief in her eyes and the austerity of her brow, or the
queer little fashion she had of winking rapidly four or five times, and
then opening her eyes wide and looking straight into the depths of his
own. He considered it quite a coincidence that he had unconsciously
returned to the spot on which they had met the day before--the rich
Crazy Horse lode.

As though in answer to his recognition of this fact, her voice suddenly
called to him from above.

"Hullo, little boy!" it cried.

He felt at once that he was pleased at the encounter.

"Hullo!" he answered; "where are you?"

"Right here."

He looked up, and then still up, until, at the flat top of the
castellated dike that stood over him, he caught a gleam of pink. The
contrast between it, the blue of the sky, and the dark green of the
trees, was most beautiful and unusual. Nature rarely uses pink, except
in sunsets and in flowers. Bennington thought pleasedly how every
impression this girl made upon him was one of grace or beauty or bright
colour. The gleam of pink disappeared, and a great pine cone, heavy
with pitch, came buzzing through the air to fall at his feet.

"That's to show you where I am," came the clear voice. "You ought to
feel honoured. I've only three cones left."

The dike before which Bennington had paused was one of the round
variety. It rose perhaps twenty feet above the _debris_ at its base,
sheer, gray, its surface almost intact except for an insignificant
number of frost fissures. From its base the hill fell rapidly, so that,
even from his own inferior elevation, he was enabled to look over the
tops of trees standing but a few rods away from him. He could see that
the summit of this dike was probably nearly flat, and he surmised that,
once up there, one would become master of a pretty enough little
plateau on which to sit; but his careful circumvallation could discover
no possible method of ascent. The walls afforded no chance for a
squirrel's foothold even. He began to doubt whether he had guessed
aright as to the girl's whereabouts, and began carefully to examine the
tops of the trees. Discovering nothing in them, he cast another puzzled
glance at the top of the dike. A pair of violet eyes was scrutinizing
him gravely over the edge of it.

"How in the world did you get up there?" he cried.

"Flew," she explained, with great succinctness.

"Look out you don't fall," he warned hastily; her attitude was
alarming.

"I am lying flat," said she, "and I can't fall."

"You haven't told me how you got up. I want to come up, too."

"How do you know I want you?"

"I have such a lot of things to say!" cried Bennington, rather at a
loss for a valid reason, but feeling the necessity keenly.

"Well, sit down and say them. There's a big flat rock just behind you."

This did not suit him in the least. "I wish you'd let me up," he begged
petulantly. "I can't say what I want from here."

"I can hear you quite well. You'll have to talk from there, or else
keep still."

"That isn't fair!" persisted the young man, adopting a tone of
argument. "You're a girl----"

"Stop there! You are wrong to start with. Did you think that a creature
who could fly to the tops of the rocks was a mere girl? Not at all."

"What do you mean?" asked the easily bewildered Bennington.

"What I say. I'm not a girl."

"What are you then?"

"A sun fairy."

"A sun fairy?"

"Yes; a real live one. See that cloud over toward the sun? The nice
downy one, I mean. That's my couch. I sleep on it all night. I've got
it near the sun so that it will warm up, you see."

"I see," cried Bennington. He could recognise foolery--provided it were
ticketed plainly enough. He sat down on the flat rock before indicated,
and clasped his knee with his hands, prepared to enjoy more. "Is that
your throne up there, Sun Fairy?" he asked. She had withdrawn her head
from sight.

"It is," her voice came down to him in grave tones.

"It must be a very nice one."

"The nicest throne you ever saw."

"I never saw one, but I've often heard that thrones were unpleasant
things."

"I am sitting, foolish mortal," said she, in tones of deep
commiseration, "on a soft, thick cushion of moss--much more
comfortable, I imagine, than hard, flat rocks. And the nice warm sun
is shining on me--it must be rather chilly in the woods to-day. And
there is a breeze blowing from the Big Horn--old rocks are always damp
and stuffy in the shade. And I am looking away out over the Hills--I
hope some people enjoy the sight of piles of quartzite."

"Cruel sun fairy!" cried Bennington. "Why do you tantalize me so with
the delights from which you debar me? What have I done?"

There was a short silence.

"Can't you think of anything you've done?" asked the voice,
insinuatingly.

Bennington's conscience-stricken memory stirred. It did not seem so
ridiculous, under the direct charm of the fresh young voice that came
down through the summer air from above, like a dove's note from a
treetop, to apologize to Lawton's girl. The incongruity now was in
forcing into this Arcadian incident anything savouring of
conventionality at all. It had been so idyllic, this talk of the sun
fairy and the cloud; so like a passage from an old book of legends,
this dainty episode in the great, strong, Western breezes, under the
great, strong, Western sky. Everything should be perfect, not to be
blamed.

"Do sun fairies accept apologies?" he asked presently, in a subdued
voice.

"They might."

"This particular sun fairy is offered one by a man who is sorry."

"Is it a good big one?"

"Indeed, yes."

The head appeared over the edge of the rock, inspected him gravely for
a moment, and was withdrawn.

"Then it is accepted," said the voice.

"Thank you!" he replied sincerely. "And now are you going to let down
your rope ladder, or whatever it is? I really want to talk to you."

"You are so persistent!" cried the petulant voice, "and so foolish! It
is like a man to spoil things by questionings!"

He suddenly felt the truth of this. One can not talk every day to a sun
fairy, and the experience can never be repeated. He settled back on the
rock.

"Pardon me, Sun Fairy!" he cried again. "Rope ladders, indeed, to one
who has but to close her eyes and she finds herself on a downy cloud
near the sun. My mortality blinded me!"

"Now you are a nice boy," she approved more contentedly, "and as a
reward you may ask me one question."

"All right," he agreed; and then, with instinctive tact, "What do you
see up there?"

He could hear her clap her hands with delight, and he felt glad that he
had followed his impulse to ask just this question instead of one more
personal and more in line with his curiosity.

"Listen!" she began. "I see pines, many pines, just the tops of them,
and they are all waving in the breeze. Did you ever see trees from on
top? They are quite different. And out from the pines come great round
hills made all of stone. I think they look like skulls. Then there are
breathless descents where the pines fall away. Once in a while a little
white road flashes out."

"Yes," urged Bennington, as the voice paused. "And what else do you
see?"

"I see the prairie, too," she went on half dreamily. "It is brown now,
but the green is beginning to shine through it just a very little. And
out beyond there is a sparkle. That is the Cheyenne. And beyond that
there is something white, and that is the Bad Lands."

The voice broke off with a happy little laugh.

Bennington saw the scene as though it lay actually spread out before
him. There was something in the choice of the words, clearcut,
decisive, and descriptive; but more in the exquisite modulations of the
voice, adding here a tint, there a shade to the picture, and casting
over the whole that poetic glamour which, rarely, is imitated in
grosser materials by Nature herself, when, just following sunset, she
suffuses the landscape with a mellow afterglow.

The head, sunbonneted, reappeared perked inquiringly sideways.

"Hello, stranger!" it called with a nasal inflection, "how air ye? Do
y' think minin' is goin' t' pan out well this yar spring?" Then she
caught sight of his weapon. "What are you going to shoot?" she asked
with sudden interest.

"I thought I might see a deer."

"Deer! hoh!" she cried in lofty scorn, reassuming her nasal tone. "You
is shore a tenderfoot! Don' you-all know that blastin' scares all th'
deer away from a minin' camp?"

Bennington looked confused. "No, I hadn't thought of that," he
confessed stoutly enough.

"I kind of like to shoot!" said she, a little wistfully. "What sort of
a gun is it?"

"A Savage smokeless," answered Bennington perfunctorily.

"One of the thirty-calibres?" inquired the sunbonnet with new interest.

"Yes," gasped Bennington, astonished at so much feminine knowledge of
firearms.

"Oh! I'd like to see it. I never saw any of those. May I shoot it, just
once?"

"Of course you may. More than once. Shall I come up?"

"No. I'll come down. You sit right still on that rock."

The sunbonnet disappeared, and there ensued a momentary commotion on
the other side of the dike. In an instant the girl came around the
corner, picking her way over the loose blocks of stone. With the
finger-tips of either hand she held the pink starched skirt up,
displaying a neat little foot in a heavy little shoe. Diagonally across
the skirt ran two irregular brown stains. She caught him looking at
them.

"Naughty, naughty!" said she, glancing down at them with a grimace.

She dropped her skirt, and stood up beside him with a pretty shake of
the shoulders.

"Now let's see it," she begged.

She examined the weapon with much interest, throwing down and back the
lever in a manner that showed she was accustomed at least to the
old-style arm.

"How light it is!" she commented, squinting through the sights.
"Doesn't it kick awfully?"

"Not a bit. Smokeless powder, you know."

"Of course. What'll we shoot at?"

Bennington fumbled in his pockets and produced an envelope.

"How's this?" he asked.

She seized it and ran like an antelope--with the same _gliding_
motion--to a tree about thirty paces distant, on which she pinned the
bit of paper. They shot. Bennington hit the paper every time. The girl
missed it once. At this she looked a little vexed.

"You are either very rude or very sincere," was her comment.

"You're the best shot I ever saw----"

"Now don't dare say 'for a girl!'" she interrupted quickly. "What's the
prize?"

"Was this a match?"

"Of course it was, and I insist on paying up."

Bennington considered.

"I think I would like to go to the top of the rock there, and see the
pines, and the skull-stones, and the prairies."

She glanced toward him, knitting her brows. "It is my very own," she
said doubtfully. "I've never let anybody go up there before."

One of the diminutive chipmunks of the hills scampered out from a cleft
in the rocks and perched on a moss-covered log, chattering eagerly and
jerking his tail in the well-known manner of chipmunks.

"Oh, see! see!" she cried, all excitement in a moment. She seized the
rifle, and taking careful aim, fired. The chattering ceased; the
chipmunk disappeared.

Bennington ran to the log. Behind it lay the little animal. The long
steel-jacketed bullet had just grazed the base of its brain. He picked
it up gently in the palm of his hand and contemplated it.

It was such a diminutive beast, not as large as a good-sized rat, quite
smaller than our own fence-corner chipmunks of the East. It's little
sides were daintily striped, its little whiskers were as perfect as
those of the great squirrels in the timber bottom. In its pouches were
the roots of pine cones. Bennington was not a sentimentalist, but the
incident, against the background of the light-hearted day, seemed to
him just a little pathetic. Something of the feeling showed in his
eyes.

The girl, who had drawn near, looked from him to the dead chipmunk, and
back again. Then she burst suddenly into tears.

"Oh, cruel, cruel!" she sobbed. "What did I do it for? What did you
_let_ me do it for?"

Her distress was so keen that the young man hastened to relieve it.

"There," he reassured her lightly, "don't do that! Why, you are a great
hunter. You got your game. And it was a splendid shot. We'll have him
skinned when we get back home, and we'll cure the skin, and you can
make something out of it--a spectacle case," he suggested at random. "I
know how you feel," he went on, to give her time to recover, "but all
hunters feel that way occasionally. See, I'll put him just here until
we get ready to go home, where nothing can get him."

He deposited the squirrel in the cleft of a rock, quite out of sight,
and stood back as though pleased. "There, that's fine!" he concluded.

With one of those instantaneous transitions, which seemed so natural to
her, and yet which appeared to reach not at all to her real nature, she
had changed from an aspect of passionate grief to one of solemn
inquiry. Bennington found her looking at him with the soul brimming to
the very surface of her great eyes.

"I think you may come up on my rock," she said simply after a moment.

They skirted the base of the dike together until they had reached the
westernmost side. There Bennington was shown the means of ascent, which
he had overlooked before because of his too close examination of the
cliff itself. At a distance of about twenty feet from the dike grew a
large pine tree, the lowest branch of which extended directly over the
little plateau and about a foot above it. Next to the large pine stood
two smaller saplings side by side and a few inches apart. These had
been converted into a ladder by the nailing across of rustic rounds.

"That's how I get up," explained the girl. "Now you go back around the
corner again, and when I'm ready I'll call."

Bennington obeyed. In a few moments he heard again the voice in the air
summoning him to approach and climb.

He ascended the natural ladder easily, but when within six or eight
feet of the large branch that reached across to the dike, the smaller
of the two saplings ceased, and so, naturally, the ladder terminated.

"Hi!" he called, "how did you get up this?"

He looked across the intervening space expectantly, and then, to his
surprise, he observed that the girl was blushing furiously.

"I--I," stammered a small voice after a moment's hesitation, "I guess
I--_shinned_!"

A light broke across Bennington's mind as to the origin of the two dark
streaks on the gown, and he laughed. The girl eyed him reproachfully
for a moment or so; then she too began to laugh in an embarrassed
manner. Whereupon Bennington laughed the harder. He shinned up the
tree, to find that an ingenious hand rope had been fitted above the
bridge limb, so that the crossing of the short interval to the rock was
a matter of no great difficulty. In another instant he stood upon the
top of the dike.

It was, as he had anticipated, nearly flat. Under the pine branch,
which might make a very good chair back, grew a thick cushion of moss.
The one tree broke the freedom of the eye's sweep toward the west, but
in all other directions it was uninterrupted. As the girl had said, the
tops of pines alone met the view, miles on miles of them, undulating,
rising, swelling, breaking against the barrier of a dike, or lapping
the foot of a great round boulder-mountain. Here and there a darker
spot suggested a break for a mountain peak; rarely a fleck of white
marked a mountain road. Back of them all--ridge, mountain, cavernous
valley--towered old Harney, sun-browned, rock-diademed, a few wisps of
cloud streaming down the wind from his brow, locks heavy with the age
of the great Manitou whom he was supposed to represent. Eastward, the
prairie like a peaceful sea. Above, the alert sky of the west. And
through all the air a humming--vast, murmurous, swelling--as the
mountain breeze touched simultaneously with strong hand the chords, not
of one, but a thousand pine harps.

Bennington drew in a deep breath, and looked about in all directions.
The girl watched him.

"Ah! it is beautiful!" he murmured at last with a half sigh, and looked
again.

She seized his hand eagerly.

"Oh, I'm so glad you said that--and no more than that!" she cried. "I
feel the sun fairy can make you welcome now."

CHAPTER V

THE SPIRIT MOUNTAIN

"From now on," said the girl, shaking out her skirts before sitting
down, "I am going to be a mystery."

"You are already," replied Bennington, for the first time aware that
such was the fact.

"No fencing. I have a plain business proposition to make. You and I are
going to be great friends. I can see that now."

"I hope so."

"And you, being a--well, an open-minded young man" (Now what does she
mean by that? thought Bennington), "will be asking all about myself. I
am going to tell you nothing. I am going to be a mystery."

"I'm sure----"

"No, you're not sure of anything, young man. Now I'll tell you this:
that I am living down the gulch with my people."

"I know--Mr. Lawton's."

She looked at him a moment. "Exactly. If you were to walk straight
ahead--not out in the air, of course--you could see the roof of the
house. Now, after we know each other better, the natural thing for you
to do will be to come and see me at my house, won't it?"

Bennington agreed that it would.

"Well, you mustn't."

Bennington expressed his astonishment.

"I will explain a very little. In a month occurs the Pioneer's Picnic
at Rapid. You don't know what the Pioneer's Picnic is? Ignorant boy!
It's our most important event of the year. Well, until that time I am
going to try an experiment. I am going to see if--well, I'll tell you;
I am going to try an experiment on a man, and the man is you, and I'll
explain the whole thing to you after the Pioneer's Picnic, and not a
moment before. Aren't you curious?"

"I am indeed," Bennington assured her sincerely.

She took on a small air of tyranny. "Now understand me. I mean what I
say. If you want to see me again, you must do as I tell you. You must
take me as I am, and you must mind me."

Bennington cast a fleeting wonder over the sublime self-confidence
which made this girl so certain he would care to see her again. Then,
with a grip at the heart, he owned that the self-confidence was well
founded.

"All right," he assented meekly.

"Good!" she cried, with a gleam of mischief. "Behold me! Old Bill
Lawton's gal! If you want to be pards, put her thar!"

"And so you are a girl after all, and no sun fairy," smiled Bennington
as he "put her thar."

"My cloud has melted," she replied quietly, pointing toward the brow of
Harney.

They chatted of small things for a time. Bennington felt intuitively
that there was something a little strange about this girl, something a
little out of the ordinary, something he had never been conscious of in
any other girl. Yet he could never seize the impression and examine it.
It was always just escaping; just taking shape to the point of
visibility, and then melting away again; just rising in the
modulations of her voice to a murmur that the ear thought to seize as
a definite chord, and then dying into a hundred other cadences. He
tried to catch it in her eyes, where so much else was to be seen.
Sometimes he perceived its influence, but never itself. It passed as a
shadow in the lower deeps, as though the feather mass of a great sea
growth had lifted slowly on an undercurrent, and then as slowly had
sunk back to its bed, leaving but the haunting impression of something
shapeless that had darkened the hue of the waters. It was most like a
sadness that had passed. Perhaps it was merely an unconscious trick of
thought or manner.

After a time she asked him his first name, and he told her.

"I'd like to know your's too, Miss Lawton," he suggested.

"I wish you wouldn't call me Miss Lawton," she cried with sudden
petulance.

"Why, certainly not, if you don't want me to, but what am I to call
you?"

"Do you know," she confided with a pretty little gesture, "I have
always disliked my real name. It's ugly and horrid. I've often wished
I were a heroine in a book, and then I could have a name I really
liked. Now here's a chance. I'm going to let you get up one for me, but
it must be pretty, and we'll have it all for our very own."

"I don't quite see----" objected the still conventional de Laney.

"Your wits, your wits, haven't you any wits at _all_?" she cried with
impatience over his unresponsiveness.

"Well, let me see. It isn't easy to do a thing like that on the spur of
the moment, Sun Fairy. A fairy's a fay, isn't it? I might call you
Fay."

"Fay," she repeated in a startled tone.

Bennington remembered that this was the name of the curly-haired young
man who had lent him the bucking horse, and frowned.

"No, I don't believe I like that," he recanted hastily.

"Take time and think about it," she suggested.

"I think of one that would be appropriate," he said after some little
time. "It is suggested by that little bird there. It is Phoebe."

"Do you think it is appropriate," she objected. "A Phoebe bird or a
Phoebe girl always seemed to me to be demure and quiet and thoughtful
and sweet-voiced and fond of dim forests, while I am a frivolous,
laughing, sunny individual who likes the open air and doesn't care for
shadows at all."

"Yet I feel it is appropriate," he insisted. He paused and went on a
little timidly in the face of his new experience in giving expression
to the more subtle feelings. "I don't know whether I can express it or
not. You are laughing and sunny, as you say, but there is something in
you like the Phoebe bird just the same. It is like those cloud
shadows." He pointed out over the mountains. Overhead a number of
summer clouds were winging their way from the west, casting on the
earth those huge irregular shadows which sweep across it so swiftly,
yet with such dignity; so rushingly, and yet so harmlessly. "The hills
are sunny and bright enough, and all at once one of the shadows crosses
them, and it is dark. Then in another moment it is bright again."

"And do you really see that in me?" she asked curiously. "You are a
dear boy," she continued, looking at him for some moments with
reflective eyes. "It won't do though," she said, rising at last. "It's
too 'fancy.'"

"I don't know then," he confessed with some helplessness.

"I'll tell you what I've always _wanted_ to be called," said she, "ever
since I was a little girl. It is 'Mary.'"

"Mary!" he cried, astonished. "Why, it is such a common name."

"It is a beautiful name," she asserted. "Say it over. Aren't the
syllables soft and musical and caressing? It is a lovely name. Why I
remember," she went on vivaciously, "a girl who was named Mary, and who
didn't like it. When she came to our school she changed it, but she
didn't dare to break it to the family all at once. The first letter
home she signed herself 'Mae.' Her father wrote back, 'My dear
daughter, if the name of the mother of Jesus isn't good enough for you,
come home.'" She laughed at the recollection.

"Then you have been away to school?" asked the young man.

"Yes," she replied shortly.

She adroitly led him to talk of himself. He told her naively of New
York and tennis, of brake parties and clubs, and even afternoon teas
and balls, all of which, of course, interested a Western girl
exceedingly. In this it so happened that his immaturity showed more
plainly than before. He did not boast openly, but he introduced
extraneous details important in themselves. He mentioned knowing
Pennington the painter, and Brookes the writer, merely in a casual
fashion, but with just the faintest flourish. It somehow became known
that his family had a crest, that his position was high; in short, that
he was a de Laney on both sides. He liked to tell it to this girl,
because it was evidently fresh and new to her, and because in the
presence of her inexperience in these matters he gained a confidence in
himself which he had never dared assume before.

She looked straight in front of her and listened, throwing in a
comment now and then to assist the stream of his talk. At last, when he
fell silent, she reached swiftly out and patted his cheek with her
hand.

"You are a dear big _boy_," she said quietly. "But I like it--oh, so
much!"

From the tree tops below the clear warble of the purple finch
proclaimed that under the fronds twilight had fallen. The vast green
surface of the hills was streaked here and there with irregular peaks
of darkness dwindling eastward. The sun was nearly down.

A sudden gloom blotted out the fretwork of the pine shadows that had,
during the latter part of the afternoon, lain athwart the rock. They
looked up startled.

The shadow of Harney had crept out to them, and, even as they looked,
it stole on, cat-like, across the lower ridges toward the East. One
after another the rounded hills changed hue as it crossed them. For a
moment it lingered in the tangle of woods at the outermost edge, and
then without further pause glided out over the prairie. They watched it
fascinated. The sparkle was quenched in the Cheyenne; the white gleam
of the Bad Lands became a dull gray, scarce distinguishable from the
gray of the twilight. Though a single mysterious cleft a long yellow
bar pointed down across the plains, paused at the horizon, and slowly
lifted into the air. The mountain shadow followed it steadily up into
the sky, growing and growing against the dullness of the east, until at
last over against them in the heavens was the huge phantom of a
mountain, infinitely greater, infinitely grander than any mountain ever
seen by mortal eyes, and lifting higher and higher, commanded upward by
that single wand of golden light. Then suddenly the wand was withdrawn
and the ghost mountain merged into the yellow afterglow of evening.

The girl had watched it breathless. At its dissolution she seized the
young man excitedly by the arm.

"The Spirit Mountain!" she cried. "I have never seen it before; and now
I see it--with you."

She looked at him with startled eyes.

"With you," she repeated.

"What is it? I don't understand."

She did not seem to hear his question.

"What is it?" he asked again.

"Why--nothing." She caught her breath and recovered command of herself
somewhat. "That is, it is just an old legend that I have often heard,
and it startled me for a minute."

"Will you tell me the legend?"

"Not now; some time. We must go now, for it will soon be dark."

They wandered along the ridge toward Deerfoot Gulch in silence. She had
taken her sunbonnet off, and was enjoying the cool of the evening. He
carried the rifle over the crook of his arm, and watched her pensive
face. The poor little chipmunk lay stiffening in the cleft of the rock,
forgotten. The next morning a prying jay discovered him and carried him
away. He was only a little chipmunk after all--a very little
chipmunk--and nobody and nothing missed him in all the wide world, not
even his mate and his young, for mercifully grief in the animal world
is generally short-lived where tragedies are frequent. His life meant
little. His death----

At the dip of the gulch they paused.

"I live just down there," she said, "and now, good-night."

"Mayn't I take you home?"

"Remember your promise."

"Oh, very well."

She looked at him seriously. "I am going to ask you to do what I have
never asked any man before," she said slowly--"to meet me. I want you
to come to the rock to-morrow afternoon. I want to hear more about New
York."

"Of course I'll come," he agreed delightedly. "I feel as if I had known
you years already."

They said good-bye. She walked a few steps irresolutely down the
hillside, and then, with a sudden impulsive movement, returned. She
lifted her face gravely, searchingly to his.

"I like you," said she earnestly. "You have kind eyes," and was gone
down through the graceful alder saplings.

Bennington stood and watched the swaying of the leaf tops that marked
her progress until she emerged into the lower gulch. There she turned
and looked back toward the ridge, but apparently could not see him,
though he waved his hand. The next instant Jim Fay strolled into the
"park" from the direction of Lawton's cabin. Bennington saw her spring
to meet him, holding out both hands, and then the two strolled back
down the gulch talking earnestly, their heads close together.

Why should he care? "Mary, Mary, Mary!" he cried within himself as he
hurried home. And in remote burial grounds the ancient de Laneys on
both sides turned over in their lead-lined coffins.

CHAPTER VI

BENNINGTON AS A MAN OF BUSINESS

That evening Old Mizzou returned from town with a watery eye and a mind
that ran to horses.

"He is shore a fine cayuse," he asserted with extreme impressiveness.
"He is one of them broncs you jest _loves_. An' he's jes 's cheap! I
likes you a lot, sonny; I deems you as a face-card shore, an' ef any
one ever tries fer to climb yore hump, you jest calls on pore Old
Mizzou an' he mingles in them troubles immediate. You must have that
cayuse an' go scoutin' in th' hills, yo' shore must! Ol' man
Davidson'll do th' work fer ye, but ye shore must scout. 'Taint healthy
not t' git exercise on a cayuse. It shorely ain't! An' you must git t'
know these yar hills, you must. They is beautiful an' picturesque, and
is full of scenery. When you goes back East, you wants to know all
about 'em. I wouldn't hev you go back East without knowin' all about
'em for anythin' in the worl', I likes ye thet much!"

Old Mizzou paused to wipe away a sympathetic tear with a rather
uncertain hand.

"Y' wants to start right off too, thet's th' worst of it, so's t' see
'em all afore you goes, 'cause they is lots of hills and I'm 'feared
you won't stay long, sonny; I am that! I has my ideas these yar claims
is no good, I has fer a fact, and they won't need no one here long, and
then we'll lose ye, sonny, so you mus' shore hev that cayuse."

Old Mizzou rambled on in like fashion most of the evening, to
Bennington's great amusement, and, though next morning he was quite
himself again, he still clung to the idea that Bennington should
examine the pony.

"He is a fine bronc, fer shore," he claimed, "an' you'd better git
arter him afore some one else gits him."

As Bennington had for some time tentatively revolved in his mind the
desirability of something to ride, this struck him as being a good
idea. All Westerners had horses--in the books. So he abandoned
_Aliris: A Romance of all Time_, for the morning, and drove down to
Spanish Gulch with Old Mizzou.

He was mentally braced for devilment, but his arch-enemy, Fay, was not
in sight. To his surprise, he got to the post office quite without
molestation. There he was handed two letters. One was from his parents.
The other, his first business document, proved to be from the mining
capitalist. The latter he found to inclose separate drafts for various
amounts in favour of six men. Bishop wrote that the young man was to
hand these drafts to their owners, and to take receipts for the amounts
of each. He promised a further installment in a few weeks.

Bennington felt very important. He looked the letter all over again,
and examined the envelope idly. The Spanish Gulch postmark bore date of
the day before.

"That's funny," said Bennington to himself. "I wonder why Mizzou didn't
bring it up with him last night?" Then he remembered the old man's
watery eye and laughed. "I guess I know," he thought.

The next thing was to find the men named in the letter. He did not know
them from Adam. Mizzou saw no difficulty, however, when the matter was
laid before him.

"They're in th' Straight Flush!" he asserted positively.

This was astounding. How should Old Mizzou know that?

"I don't exactly know," the old man explained this discrepancy, "but
they generally is!"

"Don't they ever work?"

"Work's purty slack," crawfished Davidson. "But I tells you I don't
_know_. We has to find out," and he shuffled away toward the saloon.

Anybody but Bennington would have suspected something. There was the
delayed letter, the supernatural knowledge of Old Mizzou, the absence
of Fay. Even the Easterner might have been puzzled to account for the
crowded condition of the Straight Flush at ten in the morning, if his
attention had not been quite fully occupied in posing before himself as
the man of business.

When Mizzou and his companion entered the room, the hum of talk died,
and every one turned expectantly in the direction of the newcomers.

"Gents," said Old Mizzou, "this is Mr. de Laney, th' new sup'rintendent
of th' Holy Smoke. Mr. de Laney, gents!"

There was a nodding of heads.

Every one looked eagerly expectant. The man behind the bar turned back
his cuffs. De Laney, feeling himself the centre of observation, grew
nervous. He drew from his pocket Bishop's letter, and read out the five
names. "I'd like to see those men," he said.

The men designated came forward. After a moment's conversation, the six
adjourned to the hotel, where paper and ink could be procured.

After their exit a silence fell, and the miners looked at each other
with ludicrous faces.

"An' he never asked us to take a drink!" exclaimed one sorrowfully.
"That settles it. It may not be fer th' good of th' camp, Jim Fay, but
I reckons it ain't much fer th' harm of it. I goes you."

"Me to," "and me," "and me," shouted other voices.

Fay leaped on the bar and spread his arms abroad.

"Speech! Speech!" they cried.

"Gentlemen of the great and glorious West!" he began. "It rejoices me
to observe this spirit animating your bosoms. Trampling down the finer
feelings that you all possess to such an unlimited degree, putting
aside all thought of merely material prosperity, you are now prepared,
at whatever cost, to ally yourselves with that higher poetic justice
which is above barter, above mere expediency, above even the ordinary
this-for-that fairness which often passes as justice among the effete
and unenlightened savages of the East. Gentlemen of the great and
glorious West, I congratulate you!"

The miners stood close around the bar. Every man's face bore a broad
grin. At this point they interrupted with howls and cat-calls of
applause. "Ain't he a _peach_!" said one to another, and composed
himself again to listen. At the conclusion of a long harangue they
yelled enthusiastically, and immediately began the more informal
discussion of what was evidently a popular proposition. When the five
who had been paid off returned, everybody had a drink, while the
newcomers were made acquainted with the subject. Old Mizzou, who had
listened silently but with a twinkle in his eye, went to hunt up
Bennington.

They examined the horse together. The owner named thirty dollars as his
price. Old Mizzou said this was cheap. It was not. Bennington agreed to
take the animal on trial for a day or two, so they hitched a lariat
around its neck and led it over to the wagon. After despatching a few
errands they returned to camp. Bennington got out his ledger and
journal and made entries importantly. Old Mizzou disappeared in the
direction of the corral, where he was joined presently by the man
Arthur.

CHAPTER VII

THE MEETING AT THE ROCK

On his way to keep the appointment of the afternoon, Bennington de
Laney discovered within himself a new psychological experience. He
found that, since the evening before, he had been observing things
about him for the purpose of detailing them to his new friend. Little
beauties of nature--as when a strange bird shone for an instant in
vivid contrast to the mountain laurel near his window; an unusual
effect of pine silhouettes near the sky; a weird, semi-poetic
suggestion of one of Poe's stories implied in a contorted shadow cast
by a gnarled little oak in the light of the moon--these he had noticed
and remembered, and was now eager to tell his companion, with full
assurance of her sympathy and understanding. Three days earlier he
would have passed them by.

But stranger still was his discovery that he had _always_ noticed such
things, and had remembered them. Observations of the sort had
heretofore been quite unconscious. Without knowing it he had always
been a Nature lover, one who appreciated the poetry of her moods, one
who saw the beauty of her smiles, or, what is more rare, the greater
beauty of her frown. The influence had entered into his being, but had
lain neglected. Now it stole forth as the odour of a dried balsam bough
steals from the corner of a loft whither it has been thrown carelessly.
It was all delightful and new, and he wanted to tell her of it.

He did so. After a little he told her about _Aliris: A Romance of all
Time_, in which she appeared so interested that he detailed the main
idea and the plot. At her request, he promised to read it to her. He
was very young, you see, and very inexperienced; he threw himself
generously, without reserve, on this girl's sympathies in a manner of
which, assuredly, he should have been quite ashamed. Only the very
young are not ashamed.

The girl listened, at first half amused. Then she was touched, for she

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