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The Claim Jumpers by Stewart Edward White

Part 2 out of 3

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saw that it was sincere, and youthful, and indicative of clear faith
in what is beautiful, and in fine ideals of what is fitting. Perhaps,
dimly, she perceived that this is good stuff of which to make a man,
provided it springs from immaturity, and not from the sentimentalism of
degeneracy. The loss of it is a price we pay for wisdom. Some think the
price too high.

As he talked on in this moonshiny way, really believing his ridiculous
abstractions the most important things in the world, gradually she too
became young. She listened with parted lips, and in her great eyes the
soul rose and rose within, clearing away the surface moods as twilight
clears the land of everything but peace.

He was telling of the East again with a certain felicity of
expression--have we not said he had the gift of words?--and an abandon
of sentiment which showed how thoroughly he confided in the sympathy of
his listener. When we are young we are apt to confide in the sympathy
of every listener, and so we make fools of ourselves, and it takes us a
long time to live down our reputations. As we grow older, we believe
less and less in its reality. Perhaps by and by we do not trust to
anybody's sympathy, not even our own.

"We have an old country place," he was saying; "it belonged to my
grandfather. My grandfather came by it when the little town was very
small indeed, so he built an old-fashioned stone house and surrounded
it with large grounds." He was seeing the stone house and the large
grounds with that new inner observation which he had just discovered,
and he was trying to the best of his ability to tell what he saw. After
a little he spoke more rhythmically. Many might have thought he spoke
sentimentally, because with feeling; but in reality he was merely
trying with great earnestness for expression. A jarring word would have
brought him back to his everyday mood, but for the time being he was
wrapt in what he saw. This is a condition which all writers, and some
lovers, will recognise. "Now the place is empty--except in
summer--except that we have an old woman who lives tucked away in one
corner of it. I lived there one summer just after I finished college.
Outside my window there was an apple tree that just brushed against
the ledge; there were rose vines, the climbing sort, on the wall; and
then, too, there was a hickory tree that towered 'way over the roof. In
the front yard is what is known all over town as the 'big tree,' a
silver maple, at least twice as tall as the house. It is so broad that
its shade falls over the whole front of the place. In the back is an
orchard of old apple trees, and trellises of big blue grapes. On one
side is a broad lawn, at the back of which is one of the good
old-fashioned flower gardens that does one good to look at. There are
little pink primroses dotting the sod, sweet-william, lavender,
nasturtiums, sweet peas, hollyhocks, bachelor's buttons, portulaca, and
a row of tall sunflowers, the delight of a sleepy colony of hens. I
learned all the flowers that summer." He clasped his hands comfortably
back of his head and looked at her. She was gazing out over the Bad
Lands to the East. "In the very centre, as a sort of protecting nurse
to all the littler flowers," he went on, "is a big lilac bush, and
there the bees and humming birds are thick on a warm spring day. There
are plenty of birds too, but I didn't know so many of them. They
nested everywhere--in the 'big tree,' the orchard, the evergreens, the
hedges, and in the long row of maple trees with trunks as big as a
barrel and limbs that touch across the street."

"It must be beautiful!" said the girl quietly without looking around.

Then he began to "suppose." This, as every woman knows, is dangerous
business.

"It _was_ beautiful," said he. "I can't tell you about it. The words
don't seem to fit some way. I wish you could see it for yourself. I
know you'd enjoy it. I always wanted some one with me to enjoy it too.
Suppose some way we were placed so we could watch the year go by in
those deep windows. First there is the spring and the birds and the
flowers, all of which I've been talking about. Then there is the
summer, when the shades are drawn, when the shadows of the roses wave
slowly across the curtains, when the air outside quivers with heat, and
the air inside tastes like a draught of cool water. All the bird songs
are stilled except that one little fellow still warbles, swaying in
the breeze on the tiptop of the 'big tree,' his notes sliding down the
long sunbeams like beads on a golden thread. Then we would read
together, in the half-darkened 'parlour,' something not very deep, but
beautiful, like Hawthorne's stories; or we would together seek for
these perfect lines of poetry which haunt the memory. In the evening we
would go out to hear the crickets and the tree toads, to see the night
breeze toss the leaves across the calm face of the moon, to be silenced
in spirit by the peace of the stars. Then the autumn would come. We
would taste the 'Concords' and the little red grapes and the big red
grapes. We would take our choice of the yellow sweetings, the hard
white snow apples, or the little red-cheeked fellows from the west
tree. And then, of course, there are the russets! Then there are the
pears, and all the hickory nuts which rattle down on us every time the
wind blows. The leaves are everywhere. We would rake them up into big
piles, and jump into them, and 'swish' about in them. How bracing the
air is! How silvery the sun! How red your cheeks would get! And think
of the bonfires!"

"And in winter?" murmured the girl. Her eyes were shining.

"In the winter the wind would howl through the 'big tree,' and
everything would be bleak and cold out doors. We would be inside, of
course, and we would sit on the fur rug in front of the fireplace,
while the evening passed by, watching the 'geese in the chimney' flying
slowly away."

"'Suppose' some more," she begged dreamily. "I love it. It rests me."

She clasped her hands back of her head and closed her eyes.

The young man looked quietly about him.

"This is a wild and beautiful country," said he, "but it lacks
something. I think it is the soul. The little wood lots of the East
have so much of it." He paused in surprise at his own thoughts. His
only experiences in the woods East had been when out picnicking, or
berrying, and he had never noticed these things. "I don't know as I
ever thought of it there," he went on slowly, as though trying to be
honest with her, "but here it comes to me somehow or another." A little
fly-catcher shot up from the frond below, poised a moment, and dropped
back with closed wings.

"Do you know the birds?" she asked.

"I'm afraid not," he admitted; "I don't really _know_ much about
Nature, but I love it, and I'm going to learn more. I know only the
very common birds, and one other. Did you ever hear the hermit thrush
sing?"

"Never."

"Oh!" he cried in sudden enthusiasm, "then there is another 'suppose'
for us, the best of all."

"I love the dear old house!" she objected doubtfully.

"But the hermit thrush is better. The old country minister took me to
hear him one Sunday afternoon and I shall never forget it."

She glanced at his animated face through half-closed eyes.

"Tell me," she urged softly.

"'Suppose' we were back East," he began, "and in the country, just
about this time of year. We would wait until the afternoon--why! just
about this time, when the sun is getting low. We would push through the
bushes at the edge of the woods where the little tinkling birds sing in
the fence corners, and would enter the deep high woods where the trees
are tall and still. The moss is thick and soft in there, and there are
little pools lying calm and dark, and there is a kind of a _hush_ in
the air--not silence, you know, but like when a big crowd of people are
keeping still. And then we would walk very carefully, and speak low,
and we would sit by the side of a fallen log and wait. After a while
the thrush would sing, a deep note, with a thrill in it, like a bell
slow and solemn. When you hear it you too feel a thrill as though you
had heard a great and noble thought. Why, it is almost _holy_!"

He turned to the girl. She was looking at him.

"Why, hullo!" he exclaimed, "what's the matter?"

Her eyes were brimming with tears.

"Nothing," she said. "I never heard a man talk as you have been
talking, that is all. The rest of them are cynical and hard and cold.
They would be ashamed to say the things you have said. No, no!" she
cried, laying her hand on his arm as he made a little uneasy movement,
"do not misunderstand me. I like it. I love it. It does me good. I had
lost faith. It is not nice to know the other kind--well."

"You speak bitterly," he expostulated.

She laughed. "It is a common experience enough. Pray that you may never
know it. I began as a little child, loving and trusting every one, and
giving my full free heart and confidence to every one who offered his
best to me. All I can say is, that I am thankful for you that you have
escaped the suffering such blind trust leads to."

She laughed again, bitterly, and threw her arms out.

"I suppose I shall go on trusting people forever. It's in my nature,
and I can't help it."

"I hope you will feel you can trust me," said he, troubled at this
passion so much beyond his experience. "I would do anything for you."

"Do! do!" she cried with contempt. "Yes. Any number of people will _do_
anything for me. I want some one to _be_ for me!"

"I'm so sorry!" he said simply, but with great feeling.

"Don't pity me, don't believe in me!" she cried suddenly in a passion.
"I am not worth it. I am cruel and hard and cold, and I'll never care
for anybody in any way. My nature has been hardened. I _can't_ be good.
I can't care for people. I _can't_ think of giving way to it. It
frightens me."

She burst into sudden tears and sobbed convulsively. In a moment she
became calm. Then she took her hands from her eyes and smiled. In the
distress of his sympathy Bennington thought he had never seen anything
more beautiful than this breaking forth of the light.

"You must think I am a very peculiar young person," she said, "but I
told you I was a mystery. I am a little tired to-day, that's all."

The conversation took a lighter tone and ran on the subject of the new
horse. She was much interested, inquiring of his colour, his size, his
gaits, whether he had been tried.

"I'll tell you what we will do," she suggested; "we'll go on an
expedition some day. I have a pony too. We will fill up our saddlebags
and cook our own dinner. I know a nice little place over toward Blue
Lead."

"I've one suggestion to add," put in Bennington, "and that is, that we
go to-morrow."

She looked a trifle doubtful.

"I don't know. Aren't we seeing a good deal of each other?"

"Oh, if it is going to bore you, by all means put it off!" cried
Bennington in genuine alarm.

She laughed contentedly over his way of looking at it. "I'm not tired
then, so please you; and when I am, I'll let you know. To-morrow it
is."

"Shall I come after you? What time shall I start?"

"No, I'd rather meet you somewhere. Let's see. You watch for me, and
I'll ride by in the lower gulch about nine o'clock."

"Very well. By the way, the band's going to practise in town to-night.
Don't you want to go?"

"I'd like to, but I promised Jim I'd go with him."

"Jim?"

"Jim Fay."

Bennington felt this as a discordant note.

"Do you know him very well?" he asked jealously.

"He's my best friend. I like him very much. He is a fine fellow. You
must meet him."

"I've met him," said Bennington shortly.

"Now you must go," she commanded, after a pause. "I want to stay here
for a while." "No," as he opened his mouth to object. "I mean it!
Please be good!"

After he had gone she sat still until sundown. Once she shook her
shoulders impatiently. "It is _silly_!" she assured herself. As before,
the shadow of Harney crept out to the horizon's edge. There it
stopped. Twilight fell.

"No Spirit Mountain to-night," she murmured wistfully at last. "Almost
do I believe in the old legend."

CHAPTER VIII

AN ADVENTURE IN THE NIGHT

After supper that night Bennington found himself unaccountably alone in
camp. Old Mizzou had wandered off up the gulch. Arthur had wandered off
down the gulch. The woman had locked herself in her cabin.

So, having nothing else to do, he got out the manuscript of _Aliris: A
Romance of all Time_, and read it through carefully from the beginning.
To his surprise he found it very poor. Its language was felicitous in
some spots, but stilted in most; the erudition was pedantic, and
dragged in by the ears; the action was idiotic; and the proportions
were padded until they no longer existed as proportions. He was
astounded. He began to see that he had misconceived the whole treatment
of it. It would have to be written all over again, with the love story
as the ruling _motif_. He felt very capable of doing the love story.
He drew some paper toward him and began to write.

You see he was already developing. Every time a writer is made to
appreciate that his work is poor he has taken a step in advance of it.
Although he did not know that was the reason of it, Bennington
perceived the deficiencies of _Aliris_, because he had promised to read
it to the girl. He saw it through her eyes.

The young man became absorbed in redescribing the heroine with violet
eyes. A sudden slamming of the door behind him brought him, startled,
to his feet. He laughed, and was about to sit down again, but noticed
that the door had remained open. He arose to shut it. Over the trunks
of the nearer pines played a strange flickering light, throwing them
now into relief, now into shadow. "Strange!" murmured Bennington to
himself, and stepped outside to investigate. As he crossed the sill he
was seized on either side.

He cried out and struggled blindly, but was held as in a vice. His
captors, whom he dimly perceived to be large men in masks, whirled him
sharply to the left, and he found himself face to face with a third
man, also masked. Beyond him were a score or so more, some of whom bore
pine torches, which, partly blazing and partly smoking, served to cast
the weird light he had seen flickering on the tree trunks. Perfect
silence reigned. The man with whom Bennington was fronted eyed him
gravely through the holes in his mask.

"I'd like to know what this means?" broke out the Easterner angrily.

The men did not reply. They stood motionless, as silent as the night.
In spite of his indignation, the young man was impressed. He twisted
his shoulders again. The men at either arm never tightened a muscle to
resist, and yet he was held beyond the possibility of escape.

"What's the matter? What're you trying to do? Take your hands off me!"
he cried.

Again the silence fell.

Then at the end of what seemed to the Easterner a full minute the
masked figure in front spoke.

"Thar is them that thinks as how it ain't noways needful thet ye
knows," it said in slow and solemn accents, "but by the mercy of th'
others we gives y' thet much satisfaction."

"You comes hyar from a great corp'ration thet in times gone by we
thinks is public spirited an' enterprisin', which is a mistake. You
pays th' debt of said corp'ration, so they sez, an' tharfore we
welcomes you to our bosom cordial. What happens? You insults us by
paying such low-down ornary cusses as Snowie. Th' camp is just. She
arises an' avenges said insult by stringin' of you up all right an'
proper. We gives you five minutes to get ready."

"What do you mean?"

"We hangs you in five minutes."

The slow, even voice ceased, and again the silence was broken only by
the occasional bursting crackle of a blister in the pine torches.
Bennington tried to realize the situation. It had all come about so
suddenly.

"I guess you've got the joke on me, boys," he ventured with a nervous
little laugh. And then his voice died away against the stony
immobility of the man opposite as laughter sinks to nothing against
the horror of a great darkness. Bennington began to feel impressed in
earnest. Across his mind crept doubts as to the outcome. He almost
screamed aloud as some one stole up behind and dropped over his throat
the soft cold coil of a lariat. Then, at a signal from the chief, the
two men haled him away.

They stopped beneath a gnarled oak halfway down the slope to the gulch
bottom, from which protruded, like a long witch arm, a single withered
branch. Over this the unseen threw the end of the lariat. Bennington
faced the expressionless gaze of twenty masks, on which the torchlight
threw Strong black shadows. Directly in front of him the leader posted
himself, watch in hand.

"Any last requests?" he inquired in his measured tones.

Bennington felt the need of thinking quickly, but, being unused to
emergencies, he could not.

"Anywhar y' want yore stuff sent?" the other pursued relentlessly.

Bennington swallowed, and found his voice at last.

"Now be reasonable," he pleaded. "It isn't going to do you any good to
hang me. I didn't mean to make any distinctions. I just paid the oldest
debts, that's all. You'll all get paid. There'll be some more money
after a while, and then I can pay some more of you. If you kill me, you
won't get any at all."

"Won't get any any way," some one muttered audibly from the crowd.

The man with the watch never stirred.

"Two minutes more," he said simply.

One of the men, who had been holding the young man's arms, had fallen
back into the crowd when the lariat was thrown over the oak limb.
During the short colloquy just detailed, the attention of the other had
become somewhat distracted. Bennington wrenched himself free, and
struck this man full in the face.

He had never in his well-ordered life hit in anger, but behind this
blow was desperation, and the weight of a young and active body. The
man went down. Bennington seized the lariat with both hands and tried
to wrench it over his head.

The individual who had done all the talking leaped forward toward him,
and dodging a hastily aimed blow, seized him about the waist and threw
him neatly to the ground. Bennington struggled furiously and silently.
The other had great difficulty in holding him down.

"Come here, some of you fellows," he cried, panting and laughing a
little. "Tie his hands, for the love of Heaven."

In another moment the Easterner, his arms securely pinioned, stood as
before. He was breathing hard and the short struggle had heated his
blood through and through. Bunker Hill had waked up. He set his teeth,
resolving that they should not get another word out of him.

The timekeeper raised one hand warningly. Over his shoulder Bennington
dimly saw a tall muscular figure, tense with the expectation of effort,
lean forward to the slack of the lariat. He stared back to the front.

The leader raised his pistol to give the signal. Bennington shut his
eyes. Then ensued a pause and a murmuring of low voices. Bennington
looked, and, to his surprise, perceived Lawton's girl in earnest
expostulation with the leader of the band. As he listened their voices
rose, so he caught snatches of their talk.

"Confound it all!" objected the man in exasperated tones, "you don't
play fair. That wasn't the agreement at all."

"Agreement or no agreement, this thing's gone far enough," she rejoined
sharply. "I've watched the whole performance, and I've been expecting
for the last ten minutes you'd have sense enough to quit."

The voices died to a murmuring. Once the girl stamped her foot, and
once the man spread his hands out in deprecation. The maskers grouped
about in silent enjoyment of the scene. At last the discussion
terminated.

"It's all up, boys," cried the man savagely, tearing off his mask. To
Bennington's vast surprise, the features of Jim Fay were discovered. He
approached and began sullenly to undo the young man's pinioned arms.
The others rolled up their masks and put them in their pockets. They
laughed to each other consumedly. The tall man approached, rubbing his
jaw.

"You hits hard, sonny," said he, "and you don't go down in yore
boots[A] a little bit."

The group began to break up and move down the gulch, most of the men
shouting out a good-natured word or so of farewell. Bennington,
recovering from his daze at the rapid passage of these events, stepped
forward to where Fay and the girl had resumed their discussion. He saw
that the young miner had recovered his habitual tone of raillery, and
that the girl was now looking up at him with eyes full of deprecation.

"Miss Lawton," said Bennington with formality, "I hope you will allow
me, after your great kindness, to see that you get down the gulch
safely."

Fay cut in before the girl could reply.

"Don't bother about that, de Laney," said he, in a most cavalier
fashion. "I'll see to it."

"I did not address you, sir!" returned Bennington coldly. The
Westerner's eyes twinkled with amusement. The girl interrupted.

"Thank you very much, Mr. de Laney, but Mr. Fay is right--I wouldn't
trouble you." Her eyes commanded Fay, and he moved a little apart.

"Don't be angry," she pleaded hurriedly, in an undertone, "but it's
better that way to-night. And I think you acted grandly."

"You are the one who acted grandly," he replied, a little mollified.
"How can I ever thank you? You came just in time."

She laughed.

"You're not angry, are you?" she coaxed.

"No, of course not; what right have I to be?"

"I don't like that--quite--but I suppose it will do. You'll be there
to-morrow?"

"You know I will."

"Then good-night." She gave his folded arm a hasty pat and ran on down
the hill after Fay, who had gone on. Bennington saw her seize his
shoulders, as she overtook him, and give them a severe shake.

The light of the torches down the gulch wavered and disappeared.
Bennington returned to his room. On the table lay his manuscript, and
the ink was hardly dried on the last word of it. Outside a poor-will
began to utter its weird call. The candle before him sputtered, and
burned again with a clear flame.

[Footnote A: Western--to become frightened.]

CHAPTER IX

THE HEAVENS OPENED

Bennington awoke early the next morning, a pleased glow of anticipation
warming his heart, and almost before his eyes were opened he had raised
himself to leap out of the bunk. Then with a disappointed sigh he sank
back. On the roof fell the heavy patter of raindrops.

After a time he arose and pulled aside the curtains of a window. The
nearer world was dripping; the farther world was hidden or obscured by
long veils of rain, driven in ragged clouds before a west wind.
Yesterday the leaves had waved lightly, the undergrowth of shrubs had
uplifted in feathery airiness of texture, the ground beneath had been
crisp and aromatic with pine needles. Now everything bore a drooping,
sodden aspect which spoke rather of decay than of the life of spring.
Even the chickens had wisely remained indoors, with the exception of a
single bedraggled old rooster, whose melancholy appearance added
another shade of gloom to the dismal outlook. The wind twisted his long
tail feathers from side to side so energetically that, even as
Bennington looked, the poor fowl, perforce, had to scud, careened from
one side to the other, like a heavily-laden craft, into the shelter of
his coop. The wind, left to its own devices, skittered across
cold-looking little pools of water, and tried in vain to induce the
soaked leaves of the autumn before to essay an aerial flight.

The rain hit the roof now in heavy gusts as though some one had dashed
it from a pail. The wind whistled through a loosened shingle and
rattled around an ill-made joint. Within the house itself some slight
sounds of preparation for breakfast sounded the clearer against the
turmoil outside. And then Bennington became conscious that for some
time he had _felt_ another sound underneath all the rest. It was grand
and organlike in tone, resembling the roar of surf on a sand beach as
much as anything else. He looked out again, and saw that it was the
wind in the trees. The same conditions that had before touched the harp
murmur of a stiller day now struck out a rush and roar almost
awe-inspiring in its volume. Bennington impulsively threw open the
window and leaned out.

The great hill back of the camp was so steep that the pines growing on
its slope offered to the breeze an almost perpendicular screen of
branches. Instead of one, or at most a dozen trees, the wind here
passed through a thousand at once. As a consequence, the stir of air
that in a level woodland would arouse but a faint whisper, here would
pass with a rustling murmur; a murmur would be magnified into a noise
as of the mellow falling of waters; and now that the storm had
awakened, the hill caught up its cry with a howl so awful and sustained
that, as the open window let in the full volume of its blast,
Bennington involuntarily drew back. He closed the sash and turned to
dress.

After the first disappointment, strange to say, Bennington became quite
resigned. He had felt, a little illogically, that this giving of a
whole day to the picnic was not quite the thing. His Puritan conscience
impressed him with the sacredness of work. He settled down to the fact
of the rainstorm with a pleasant recognition of its inevitability, and
a resolve to improve his time.

To that end, after breakfast, he drew on a pair of fleece-lined
slippers, donned a sweater, occupied two chairs in the well-known
fashion, and attacked with energy the pages of Le Conte's _Geology_.
This book, as you very well know, discourses at first with great
interest concerning erosions. Among other things it convinces you that
a current of water, being doubled in swiftness, can transport a mass
sixty-four times as heavy as when it ran half as fast. This astounding
proposition is abstrusely proved. As Bennington had resolved not to
make his reading mere recreation, he drew diagrams conscientiously
until he understood it. Then he passed on to an earnest consideration
of why the revolution of the globe and the resistance of continents
cause oceanic currents of a particular direction and velocity. Besides
this, there was much easier reading concerning alluvial deposits. So
interested did he grow that Old Mizzou, coming in, muddy-hoofed and
glistening from a round of the stock, found him quite unapproachable on
the subject of cribbage. The patriarch then stumped over to Arthur's
cabin.

After dinner, Bennington picked up the book again, but found that his
brain had reached the limit of spontaneous mental effort. He looked for
Old Mizzou and the cribbage game. The miner had gone to visit Arthur
again. Bennington wandered about disconsolately.

For a time he drummed idly on the window pane. Then he took out his
revolver and tried to practise through the open doorway. The smoke from
the discharges hung heavy in the damp air, filling the room in a most
disagreeable fashion. Bennington's trips to see the effect of his shots
proved to him the fiendish propensity of everything he touched, were it
never so lightly, to sprinkle him with cold water. Above all, his skill
with the weapon was not great enough as yet to make it much fun. He
abandoned pistol shooting and yawned extensively, wishing it were time
to go to bed.

In the evening he played cribbage with Old Mizzou. After a time Arthur
and his wife came in and they had a dreary game of "cinch," the man
speaking but little, the woman not at all. Old Mizzou smoked
incessantly on a corncob pipe charged with a peculiarly pungent variety
of tobacco, which filled the air with a blue vapour, and penetrated
unpleasantly into Bennington's mucous membranes.

The next morning it was still raining.

Bennington became very impatient indeed, but he tackled Le Conte
industriously, and did well enough until he tried to get it into his
head why various things happen to glaciers. Then viscosity, the lines
of swiftest motion, relegation, and directions of pressure came forth
from the printed pages and mocked him. He arose in his might and went
forth into the open air.

Before going out he had put on his canvas shooting coat and a pair of
hobnailed leather hunting boots, laced for a little distance at the
front and sides. He visited the horses, standing disconsolate under an
open shed in the corral; he slopped, with constantly accruing masses of
sticky earth at his feet, to the chicken coop, into which he cast an
eye; he even took the kitchen pails and tramped down to the spring and
back. In the gulch he did not see or hear a living thing. A newly-born
and dirty little stream was trickling destructively through all manner
of shivering grasses and flowers. The water from Bennington's sleeves
ran down over the harsh canvas cuffs and turned his hands purple with
the cold. He returned to the cabin and changed his clothes.

The short walk had refreshed him, but it had spurred his impatience.
Outside, the world seemed to have changed. His experience with the
Hills, up to now, had always been in one phase of their beauty--that of
clear, bright sunshine and soft skies. Now it was as a different
country. He could not get rid of the feeling, foolish as it was, that
it was in reality different; and that the whole episode of the girl and
the rock was as a vision which had passed. It grew indistinct in the
presence of this iron reality of cold and wet. He could not assure
himself he had not imagined it all. Thus, belated, he came to thinking
of her again, and having now nothing else to do, he fell into daydreams
that had no other effect than to reveal to him the impatience which had
been, from the first, the real cause of his restlessness under the
temporary confinement. Now the impatience grew in intensity. He
resolved that if the morrow did not end the storm, he would tramp down
the gulch to make a call. All this time _Aliris_ lay quite untouched.

The next day dawned darker than ever. After breakfast Old Mizzou, as
usual, went out to feed the horses, and Bennington, through sheer
idleness, accompanied him. They distributed the oats and hay, and then
stood, sheltered from the direct rain, conversing idly.

Suddenly the wind died and the rain ceased. In the place of the gloom
succeeded a strange sulphur-yellow glare which lay on the spirit with
almost physical oppression. Old Mizzou shouted something, and scrambled
excitedly to the house. Bennington looked about him bewildered.

Over back of the hill, dimly discernible through the trees, loomed the
black irregular shape of a cloud, in dismal contrast to the yellow
glare which now filled all the sky. The horses, frightened, crowded up
close to Bennington, trying to push their noses over his shoulder. A
number of jays and finches rushed down through the woods and darted
rapidly, each with its peculiar flight, toward a clump of trees and
bushes standing on a ridge across the valley.

From the cabin Old Mizzou was shouting to him. He turned to follow the
old man. Back of him something vast and awful roared out, and then all
at once he felt himself struggling with a rush of waters. He was jammed
violently against the posts of the corral. There he worked to his feet.

The whole side of the hill was one vast spread of shallow tossing
water, as though a lake had been let fall on the summit of the ridge.
The smaller bushes were uprooted and swept along, but the trees and
saplings held their own.

In a moment the stones and ridgelets began to show. It was over. Not a
drop of rain had fallen.

Bennington climbed the corral fence and walked slowly to the house. The
blacksmith shop was filled to the window, and Arthur's cabin was not
much better. He entered the kitchen. The floor there was some two
inches submerged, but the water was slowly escaping through the
down-hill door by which Bennington had come in. Across the dining-room
door Mrs. Arthur had laid a folded rug. In front of the barrier stood
the lady herself, vigorously sweeping back the threatening water from
her only glorious apartment.

Bennington took the broom from her and swept until the cessation of the
flood made it no longer necessary. Mrs. Arthur commenced to mop the
floor. The young man stepped outside. There he was joined a moment
later by the other two.

They offered no explanation of their whereabouts during the trouble,
but Bennington surmised shrewdly that they had hunted a dry place.

"Glory!" cried Old Mizzou. "Lucky she misses us!"

"What was it? Where'd it come from?" inquired Bennington, shaking the
surface drops from his shoulders. He was wet through.

"Cloud-burst," replied the miner. "She hit up th' ridge a ways. If
she'd ever burst yere, sonny, ye'd never know what drownded ye. Look at
that gulch!"

The water had now drained from the hill entirely. It could be seen that
most of the surface earth had been washed away, leaving the skeleton of
the mountain bare. Some of the more slightly rooted trees had fallen,
or clung precariously to the earth with bony fingers. But the gulch
itself was terrible. The mountain laurel, the elders, the sarvis
bushes, the wild roses which, a few days before, had been fragrant and
beautiful with blossom and leaf and musical with birds, had
disappeared. In their stead rolled an angry brown flood whirling in
almost unbroken surface from bank to bank. Several oaks, submerged to
their branches, raised their arms helplessly. As Bennington looked,
one of these bent slowly and sank from sight. A moment later it shot
with great suddenness half its length into the air, was seized by the
eager waters, and whisked away as lightly as though it had been a tree
of straw. Dark objects began to come down with the stream. They seemed
to be trying to preserve a semblance of dignity in their stately
bobbing up and down, but apparently found the attempt difficult. The
roar was almost deafening, but even above it a strangely deliberate
grinding noise was audible. Old Mizzou said it was the grating of
boulders as they were rolled along the bed of the stream. The yellow
glow had disappeared from the air, and the gloom of rain had taken its
place.

A fine mist began to fall. Bennington for the first time realized he
was wet and shivering, and so he turned inside to change his clothes.

"It'll all be over in a few hours," remarked Arthur. "I reckon them
Spanish Gulch people'll wish they lived up-stream."

Bennington paused at the doorway.

"That's so," he commented. "How about Spanish Gulch? Will it all be
drowned out?"

"No, I reckon not," replied Arthur. "They'll get wet down a lot, and
have wet blankets to sleep in to-night, that's all. You see the gulch
spraddles out down there, an' then too all this timber'll jam down this
gulch a-ways. That'll back up th' water some, and so she won't come all
of a rush."

"I see," said Bennington.

The afternoon was well enough occupied in repairing to some extent the
ravages of the brief storm. A length of the corral had succumbed to the
flood, many valuable tools in the blacksmith shop were in danger of
rust from the dampness, and Arthur and his wife had been completely
washed out. All three men worked hard setting things to rights. The
twilight caught them before their work was done.

Bennington found himself too weary to attempt an unknown,
_debris_-covered road by dark. He played cribbage with Old Mizzou and
won.

About half past nine he pushed back his chair and went outside. The
stars had come out by the thousand, and a solitary cricket, which had
in some way escaped the deluge, was chirping in the middle distance.
With a sudden uplift of the heart he realized that he would see "her"
on the morrow. He learned that no matter how philosophically we may
have borne a separation, the prospect of its near end shows us how
strong the repression has been; the lifting of the bonds makes evident
how much they have galled.

CHAPTER X

THE WORLD MADE YOUNG

The morning fulfilled the promise of the night before. Bennington de
Laney awoke to a sun-bright world, fresh with the early breezes. A
multitude of birds outside the window bubbled and warbled and carolled
away with all their little mights, either in joy at the return of
peace, or in sorrow at the loss of their new-built houses. Sorrow and
joy sound much alike as nature tells them. The farther ridges and the
prairies were once more in view, but now, oh, wonder! the great plain
had cast aside its robes of monk brown, and had stepped forth in jolly
green-o'Lincoln. The air was full of tingling life. Altogether a
morning to cry one to leap eagerly from bed, to rush to the window, to
drink in deep draughts of electric balmy ozone, and to thank heaven for
the grace of mere existence.

That at least is what Bennington did. And he did more. He despatched a
hasty breakfast, and went forth and saddled his steed, and rode away
down the gulch, with never a thought of sample tests, and never a care
whether the day's work were done or not. For this was springtime, and
the air was snapping with it. Near the chickens' shelter the burnished
old gobbler spread his tail and dragged his wings and puffed his
feathers and swelled himself red in the face, to the great admiration
of a demure gray-brown little turkey hen. Overhead wheeled two small
hawks screaming. They clashed, and light feathers came floating down
from the encounter; yet presently they flew away together to a hole in
a dead tree. Three song sparrows dashed almost to his very feet, so
busily fighting that they hardly escaped the pony's hoofs. Everywhere
love songs trilled from the underbrush; and Bennington de Laney, as
young, as full of life, as unmated as they, rode slowly along thinking
of his lady love, and----

"Hullo! Where are you going?" cried she.

He looked up with eager joy, to find that they had met in the middle
of what used to be the road. The gulch had been swept bare by the
flood, not only of every representative of the vegetable world, but
also of the very earth in which it had grown. From the remains of the
roadbed projected sharp flints and rocks, among which the broncos
picked their way.

"Good-morning, Mary," he cried. "I was just coming to see you. Wasn't
it a great rain?"

"And isn't the gulch awful? Down near our way the timber began to jam,
and it is all choked up; but up here it is desolate."

He turned his horse about, and they paced slowly along together,
telling each other their respective experiences in the storm. It seemed
that the Lawtons had known nothing of the cloud-burst itself, except
from its effects in filling up the ravine. Rumours of the drowning of a
miner were about.

It soon became evident that the brightness of the morning was reflected
from the girl's mood. She fairly sparkled with gaiety and high spirits.
The two got along famously.

"Where are you going?" asked Bennington at last.

"On the picnic, of course," she rejoined promptly. "Weren't you
invited? I thought you were."

"I thought it would be too wet," he averred in explanation.

"Not a bit! The rain dries quickly in the hills, and the cloud-burst
only came into this gulch. I have here," she went on, twisting around
in her saddle to inspect a large bundle and a pair of well-stuffed
saddle bags, "I have here a coffee pot, a frying pan, a little kettle,
two tin cups, and various sorts of grub. I am fixed for a scout sure.
Now when we get near your camp you must run up and get an axe and some
matches."

Bennington observed with approval the corpulency of the bundle and the
skilful manner with which it was tied on. He noted, with perhaps more
approval, her lithe figure in its old-fashioned painter's blouse and
rough skirt, and the rosiness of her cheeks under a cloth cap caught on
awry. As the ponies sought a path at a snail's pace through the sharp
flints, she showed in a thousand ways how high the gaiety of her
animal spirits had mounted. She sang airy little pieces of songs. She
uttered single clear notes. She mocked, with a ludicrously feminine
croak, the hoarse voice of a crow sailing over them. She rallied
Bennington mercilessly on his corduroys, his yellow flapped pistol
holster, his laced boots. She went over in ridiculous pantomime the
scene of the mock lynching, until Bennington rolled in his saddle with
light-hearted laughter, and wondered how it was possible he had ever
taken the affair seriously. When he returned with the axe she was
hugely alarmed lest he harm himself by his awkward way of carrying it,
and gave him much wholesome advice in her most maternal manner. After
all of which she would catch his eye, and they would both laugh to
startle the birds.

Blue Lead proved to be some distance away, for which fact Bennington
was not sorry. At length they surmounted a little ridge. Over its
summit there started into being a long cool "draw," broad and shallow
near the top, but deepening by insensible degrees into a canon filled
already with broad-leaved shrubs, and thickly grown with saplings of
beech and ash. Through the screen of slender trunks could be seen
miniature open parks carpeted with a soft tiny fern, not high enough to
conceal the ears of a rabbit, or to quench the flame of the tiger lily
that grew there. Soon a little brook sprang from nowhere, and crept
timidly through and under thick mosses. After a time it increased in
size, and when it had become large enough to bubble over clear gravel,
Mary called a halt.

"We'll have our picnic here," she decided.

The ravine at this point received another little gulch into itself, and
where the two came together the bottom widened out into almost parklike
proportions. On one side was a grass-plot encroached upon by numerous
raspberry vines. On the other was the brook, flowing noisily in the
shade of saplings and of ferns.

Bennington unsaddled the horses and led them over to the grass-plot,
where he picketed them securely in such a manner that they could not
become entangled. When he returned to the brookside he found that Mary
had undone her bundle and spread out its contents. There were various
utensils, some corn meal, coffee, two slices of ham, raw potatoes, a
small bottle of milk, some eggs wonderfully preserved by moss inside
the pail, and some bread and cake. Bennington eyed all this in dismay.
She caught his look and laughed.

"Can't you cook? Well, I can; you just obey orders."

"We won't get anything to eat before night," objected Bennington
dolefully as he looked over the decidedly raw material.

"And he's _so_ hungry!" she teased. "Never mind, you build a fire."

Bennington brightened. He had one outdoor knack--that of lighting
matches in a wind and inducing refractory wood to burn. His skill had
often been called into requisition in the igniting of beach fires, and
the so-called "camp fires" of girls. He collected dry twigs from the
sunny places, cut slivers with his knife, built over the whole a
wigwam-shaped pyramid of heavier twigs, against which he leaned his
firewood. Then he touched off the combination. The slivers ignited the
twigs, the twigs set fire to the wigwam, the wigwam started the
firewood. Bennington's honour was vindicated. He felt proud.

Mary, who had been filling the coffee pot at the creek, approached and
viewed the triumph. She cast upon it the glance of scorn.

"That's no cooking fire," said she.

So Bennington, under her directions, placed together the two parallel
logs with the hewn sides and built the small bright fire between them.

"Now you see," she explained, "I can put my frying pan, and coffee pot,
and kettle across the two logs. I can get at them easy, and don't burn
my fingers. Now you may peel the potatoes."

The Easterner peeled potatoes under constant laughing amendment as to
method. Then the small cook collected her materials about her, in grand
preparation for the final rites. She turned back the loose sleeves of
her blouse to the elbow.

This drew an exclamation from Bennington.

"Why, Mary, how white your arms are!" he cried, astonished.

She surveyed her forearm with a little blush, turning it back and
forth.

"I _am_ pretty tanned," she agreed.

The coffee pot was filled and placed across the logs at one end, and
left to its own devices a little removed from the hottest of the fire.
The kettle stood next, half filled with salted water, in which nestled
the potatoes like so many nested eggs. Mary mixed a mysterious
concoction of corn meal, eggs, butter, and some white powder, mushing
the whole up with milk and water. The mixture she spread evenly in the
bottom of the frying pan, which she set in a warm place.

"It isn't much of a baking tin," she commented, eyeing it critically,
"but it'll do."

Under her direction Bennington impaled the two slices of ham on long
green switches, and stuck these upright in the ground in such a
position that the warmth from the flames could just reach them.

"They'll never cook there," he objected.

"Didn't expect they would," she retorted briefly. Then relenting,
"They finish better if they're warmed through first," she explained.

By this time the potatoes were bubbling energetically and the coffee
was sending out a fragrant steam. Mary stabbed experimentally at the
vegetables with a sharpened sliver. Apparently satisfied, she drew back
with a happy sigh. She shook her hair from her eyes and smiled across
at Bennington.

"Ready! Go!" cried she.

The frying pan was covered with a tin plate on which were heaped live
coals. More coals were poked from between the logs on to a flat place,
were spread out thin, and were crowned by the frying pan and its
glowing freight. Bennington held over the fire a switch of ham in each
hand, taking care, according to directions, not to approach the actual
blaze. Mary borrowed his hunting knife and disappeared into the
thicket. In a moment she returned with a kettle-lifter, improvised very
simply from a forked branch of a sapling. One of the forks was left
long for the hand, the other was cut short. The result was like an
Esquimaux fishhook. She then relieved Bennington of his task, while
that young man lifted the kettle from the fire and carefully drained
away the water.

"Dinner!" she called gaily.

Bennington looked up surprised. He had been so absorbed in the spells
wrought by this dainty woods fairy that he had forgotten the flight of
time. It was enough for him to watch the turn of her wrist, the swift
certainty of her movements, to catch the glow lit in her face by the
fire over which she bent. Then he suddenly remembered that her
movements had all along tended toward dinner, and were not got up
simply and merely that he might discover new charms in the small
housekeeper.

He found himself seated on a rock with a tin plate in his lap, a tin
cup at his side, and an eager little lady in front of him, anxious that
he should taste all her dishes and deliver an opinion forthwith.

The coffee he pronounced nectar; the ham and mealy potatoes, delicious;
the "johnny-cake" of a yellow golden crispness which the originator of
johnny-cake might envy; and the bread and cake and butter and sugar
only the less meritorious that they had not been prepared by her own
hands and on the spot.

"And see!" she cried, clapping her hands, "the sun is still directly
over us. It is not night yet, silly boy!"

CHAPTER XI

AND HE DID EAT

After the meal he wanted to lie down in the grasses and watch the
clouds sail by, but she would have none of it. She haled him away to
the brookside. There she showed him how to wash dishes by filling them
half full of water in which fine gravel has been mixed, and then
whirling the whole rapidly until the tin is rubbed quite clean. Never
was prosaic task more delightful. They knelt side by side on the bank,
under the dense leaves, and dabbled in the water happily. The ferns
were fresh and cool. Once a redbird shot confidently down from above on
half-closed wing, caught sight of these intruders, brought up with a
swish of feathers, and eyed them gravely for some time from a
neighbouring treelet. Apparently he was satisfied with his inspection,
for after a few minutes he paid no further attention to them, but went
about his business quietly. When the dishes had been washed, Mary
stood over Bennington while he packed them in the bundle and strapped
them on the saddle.

"Now," said she at last, "we have nothing more to think of until we go
home."

She was like a child, playing with exhaustless spirits at the most
trivial games. Not for a moment would she listen to anything of a
serious nature. Bennington, with the heavier pertinacity of men when
they have struck a congenial vein, tried to repeat to some extent the
experience of the last afternoon at the rock. Mary laughed his
sentiment to ridicule and his poetics to scorn. Everything he said she
twisted into something funny or ridiculous. He wanted to sit down and
enjoy the calm peace of the little ravine in which they had pitched
their temporary camp, but she made a quiet life miserable to him. At
last in sheer desperation he arose to pursue, whereupon she vanished
lightly into the underbrush. A moment later he heard her clear laugh
mocking him from some elder thickets a hundred yards away. Bennington
pursued with ardour. It was as though a slow-turning ocean liner were
to try to run down a lively little yacht.

Bennington had always considered girls as weak creatures, incapable of
swift motion, and needing assistance whenever the country departed from
the artificial level of macadam. He had also thought himself fairly
active. He revised these ideas. This girl could travel through the thin
brush of the creek bottom two feet to his one, because she ran more
lightly and surely, and her endurance was not a matter for discussion.
The question of second wind did not concern her any more than it does a
child, whose ordinary mode of progression is heartbreaking. Bennington
found that he was engaged in the most delightful play of his life. He
shouted aloud with the fun of it. He had the feeling that he was
grasping at a sunbeam, or a mist-shape that always eluded him.

He would lose her utterly, and would stand quite motionless, listening,
for a long time. Suddenly, without warning, an exaggerated leaf crown
would fall about his neck, and he would be overwhelmed with ridicule at
the outrageous figure he presented. Then for a time she seemed
everywhere at once. The mottled sunlight under the trees danced and
quivered after her, smiling and darkening as she dimpled or was grave.
The little whirlwinds of the gulches seized the leaves and danced with
her too, the birches and aspens tossed their hands, and rising ever
higher and wilder and more elf-like came the mocking cadences of her
laughter.

After a time she disappeared again. Bennington stood still, waiting for
some new prank, but he waited in vain. He instituted a search, but the
search was fruitless. He called, but received no reply. At last he made
his way again to the dell in which they had lunched, and there he found
her, flat on her back, looking at the little summer clouds through
wide-open eyes.

Her mood appeared to have changed. Indeed that seemed to be
characteristic of her; that her lightness was not so much the lightness
of thistle down, which is ever airy, the sport of every wind, but
rather that of the rose vine, mobile and swaying in every breeze, yet
at the same time rooted well in the wholesome garden earth. She cared
now to be silent. In a little while Bennington saw that she had fallen
asleep. For the first time he looked upon her face in absolute repose.

Feature by feature, line by line, he went over it, and into his heart
crept that peculiar yearning which seems, on analysis, half pity for
what has past and half fear for what may come. It is bestowed on little
children, and on those whose natures, in spite of their years, are
essentially childlike. For this girl's face was so pathetically young.
Its sensitive lips pouted with a child's pout, its pointed chin was
delicate with the delicacy that is lost when the teeth have had often
to be clenched in resolve; its cheek was curved so softly, its long
eyelashes shaded that cheek so purely. Yet somewhere, like an
intangible spirit which dwelt in it, unseen except through its littlest
effects, Bennington seemed to trace that subtle sadness, or still more
subtle mystery, which at times showed so strongly in her eyes. He
caught himself puzzling over it, trying to seize it. It was most like a
sorrow, and yet like a sorrow which had been outlived. Or, if a
mystery, it was as a mystery which was such only to others, no longer
to herself. The whole line of thought was too fine-drawn for
Bennington's untrained perceptions. Yet again, all at once, he realized
that this very fact was one of the girl's charms to him; that her mere
presence stirred in him perceptions, intuitions, thoughts--yes, even
powers--which he had never known before. He felt that she developed
him. He found that instead of being weak he was merely latent; that now
the latent perceptions were unfolding. Since he had known her he had
felt himself more of a man, more ready to grapple with facts and
conditions on his own behalf, more inclined to take his own view of the
world and to act on it. She had given him independence, for she had
made him believe in himself, and belief in one's self is the first
principle of independence. Bennington de Laney looked back on his old
New York self as on a being infinitely remote.

She awoke and opened her eyes slowly, and looked at him without
blinking. The sun had gone nearly to the ridge top, and a Wilson's
thrush was celebrating with his hollow notes the artificial twilight
of its shadow.

She smiled at him a little vaguely, the mists of sleep clouding her
eyes. It is the unguarded moment, the instant of awakening. At such an
instant the mask falls from before the features of the soul. I do not
know what Bennington saw.

"Mary, Mary!" he cried uncontrolledly, "I love you! I love you, girl."

He had never before seen any one so vexed. She sat up at once.

"Oh, _why_ did you have to say that!" she cried angrily. "Why did you
have to spoil things! Why couldn't you have let it go along as it was
without bringing _that_ into it!"

She arose and began to walk angrily up and down, kicking aside the
sticks and stones as she encountered them.

"I was just beginning to like you, and now you do this. _Oh_, I am so
angry!" She stamped her little foot. "I thought I had found a man for
once who could be a good friend to me, whom I could meet unguardedly,
and behold! the third day he tells me this!"

"I am sorry," stammered Bennington, his new tenderness fleeing,
frightened, into the inner recesses of his being. "I beg your pardon, I
didn't know--_Don't_! I won't say it again. Please!"

The declaration had been manly. This was ridiculously boyish. The girl
frowned at him in two minds as to what to do.

"Really, truly," he assured her.

She laughed a little, scornfully. "Very well, I'll give you one more
chance. I like you too well to drop you entirely." (What an air of
autocracy she took, to be sure!) "You mustn't speak of that again. And
you must forget it entirely." She lowered at him, a delicious picture
of wrath.

They saddled the horses and took their way homeward in silence. The
tenderness put out its flower head from the inner sanctuary. Apparently
the coast was clear. It ventured a little further. The evening was very
shadowy and sweet and musical with birds. The tenderness boldly invaded
Bennington's eyes, and spoke, oh, so timidly, from his lips.

"I will do just as you say," it hesitated, "and I'll be very, very
good indeed. But am I to have no hope at all?"

"Why can't you keep off that standpoint entirely?"

"Just that one question; then I will."

"Well," grudgingly, "I suppose nothing on earth could keep the average
mortal from hoping; but I can't answer that there is any ground for
it."

"When can I speak of it again?"

"I don't know--after the Pioneer's Picnic."

"That is when you cease to be a mystery, isn't it?"

She sighed. "That is when I become a greater mystery--even to myself, I
fear," she added in a murmur too low for him to catch.

They rode on in silence for a little space more. The night shadows were
flowing down between the trees like vapour. The girl of her own accord
returned to the subject.

"You are greatly to be envied," she said a little sadly, "for you are
really young. I am old, oh, very, very old! You have trust and
confidence. I have not. I can sympathize; I can understand. But that
is all. There is something within me that binds all my emotions so fast
that I can not give way to them. I want to. I wish I could. But it is
getting harder and harder for me to think of absolutely trusting, in
the sense of giving out the self that is my own. Ah, but you are to be
envied! You have saved up and accumulated the beautiful in your nature.
I have wasted mine, and now I sit by the roadside and cry for it. My
only hope and prayer is that a higher and better something will be
given me in place of the wasted, and yet I have no right to expect it.
Silly, isn't it?" she concluded bitterly.

Bennington made no reply.

They drew near the gulch, and could hear the mellow sound of bells as
the town herd defiled slowly down it toward town.

"We part here," the young man broke the long silence. "When do I see
you again?"

"I do not know."

"To-morrow?"

"No."

"Day after?"

The girl shook herself from a reverie. "If you want me to believe you,
come every afternoon to the Rock, and wait. Some day I will meet you
there."

She was gone.

CHAPTER XII

OLD MIZZOU RESIGNS

Bennington went faithfully to the Rock for four days. During whole
afternoons he sat there looking out over the Bad Lands. At sunset he
returned to camp. _Aliris: A Romance of all Time_ gathered dust.
Letters home remained unwritten. Prospecting was left to the capable
hands of Old Mizzou until, much to Bennington's surprise, that
individual resigned his position.

The samples lay in neatly tied coffee sacks just outside the door. The
tabulations and statistics only needed copying to prepare them for the
capitalist's eye. The information necessary to the understanding of
them reposed in a grimy notebook, requiring merely throwing into shape
as a letter to make them valuable to the Eastern owner of the property.
Anybody could do that.

Old Mizzou explained these things to Bennington.

"You-all does this jes's well's I," he said. "You expresses them
samples East, so as they kin assay 'em; an' you sends them notes and
statistics. Then all they is to do is to pay th' rest of the boys when
th' money rolls in. That ain't none of my funeral."

"But there's the assessment work," Bennington objected.

"That comes along all right. I aims to live yere in the camp jest th'
same as usual; and I'll help yo' git started when you-all aims to do
th' work."

"What do you want to quit for, then? If you live here, you may as well
draw your pay."

"No, sonny, that ain't my way. I has some prospectin' of my own to do,
an' as long as I is a employay of Bishop, I don't like to take his time
fer my work."

Bennington thought this very high-minded on the part of Old Mizzou.

"Very well," he agreed, "I'll write Bishop."

"Oh, no," put in the miner hastily, "no need to trouble. I resigns in
writin', of course; an' I sees to it myself."

"Well, then, if you'll help me with the assessment work, when shall we
begin?"

"C'yant jest now," reflected Old Mizzou, "'cause, as I tells you, I
wants to do some work of my own. A'ter th' Pioneer's Picnic, I
reckons."

The Pioneer's Picnic seemed to limit many things.

Bennington shipped the ore East, tabulated the statistics, and wrote
his report. About two weeks later he received a letter from Bishop
saying that the assay of the samples had been very poor--not at all up
to expectations--and asking some further information. As to the latter,
Bennington consulted Old Mizzou. The miner said, "I told you so," and
helped on the answer. After this the young man heard nothing further
from his employer. As no more checks came from the East, he found
himself with nothing to do.

For four afternoons, as has been said, he fruitlessly haunted the Rock.
On the fifth morning he met the girl on horseback. She was quite the
same as at first, and they resumed their old relations as if the fatal
picnic had never taken place. In a very few days they were as intimate
as though they had known each other for years.

Bennington read to her certain rewritten parts of _Aliris: A Romance of
all Time,_ which would have been ridiculous to any but these two. They
saw it through the glamour of youth; for, in spite of her assertions of
great age, the girl, too, felt the whirl of that elixir in her veins. You
see, he was twenty-one and she was twenty: magic years, more venerable
than threescore and ten. She gave him sympathy, which was just what he
needed for the sake of his self-confidence and development, just the
right thing for him in that effervescent period which is so necessary a
concomitant of growth. The young business man indulges in a hundred wild
schemes, to be corrected by older heads. The young artist paints strange
impressionism, stranger symbolism, and perhaps a strangest other-ism,
before at last he reaches the medium of his individual genius. The young
writer thinks deep and philosophical thoughts which he expresses in
measured polysyllabic language; he dreams wild dreams of ideal motive,
which he sets forth in beautiful allegorical tales full of imagery; and
he delights in Rhetoric--flower-crowned, flashing-eyed, deep-voiced
Rhetoric, whom he clasps to his heart and believes to be true, although
the whole world declares her to be false; and then, after a time, he
decides not to introduce a new system of metaphysics, but to tell a plain
story plainly. Ah, it is a beautiful time to those who dwell in it, and
such a funny time to those who do not!

They came to possess an influence over each other. She decided how they
should meet; he, how they should act. She had only to be gay, and he
was gay; to be sad, and he was sad; to show her preference for serious
discourse, and he talked quietly of serious things; to sigh for dreams,
and he would rhapsodize. It sometimes terrified her almost when she saw
how much his mood depended on hers. But once the mood was established,
her dominance ceased and his began. If they were sad or gay or
thoughtful or poetic, it was in his way and not in hers. He took the
lead masterfully, and perhaps the more effectually in that it was done
unconsciously. And in a way which every reader will understand, but
which genius alone could put into words, this mutual psychical
dependence made them feel the need of each other more strongly than any
merely physical dependence ever could.

There is much to do in a new and romantic country, where the imminence
of a sordid, dreary future, when the soil will raise its own people and
the crop will be poor, is mercifully veiled. The future then counts
little in the face of the Past--the Past with its bearded strong men of
other lands, bringing their power and vigour here to be moulded and
directed by the influences of the frontier. Its shadow still lies over
the land.

They did it all. The Rock was still the favourite place to read or
talk--crossbars nailed on firmly made "shinning" unnecessary now--but
it was often deserted for days while they explored. Bennington had
bought the little bronco, and together they extended their
investigations of the country in all directions. They rode to Spring
Creek Valley. They passed the Range over into Custer Valley. Once they
climbed Harney by way of Grizzly Gulch.

Thus they grew to know the Hills intimately. From the summit of the
Rock they would often look abroad over the tangle of valleys and
ridges, selecting the objective points for their next expedition. Many
surprises awaited them, for they found that here, as everywhere, a
seemingly uniform exterior covered an almost infinite variety.

Or again, the horses were given a rest. The sarvis-berries ripened, and
they picked hatfuls. Then followed the raspberries on the stony hills.
They walked four unnecessary miles to see a forest fire, and six to buy
buckskin work from a band of Sioux who had come up into the timber for
their annual supply of tepee poles. They taught their ponies tricks.
They even went wading together, like two small children, in a pool of
Battle Creek.

Bennington was deliciously, carelessly, forgetfully happy. Only there
was Jim Fay. That individual was as much of a persecution as ever, and
he seemed to enjoy a greater intimacy with the girl than did the
Easterner. He did not see her as often as did the latter, but he
appeared to be more in her confidence. Bennington hated Jim Fay.

CHAPTER XIII

THE SPIRES OF STONE

One afternoon they had pushed over back of Harney, up a very steep
little trail in a very tiny cleft-like canon, verdant and cool. All at
once the trail had stood straight on end. The ponies scrambled up
somehow, and they found themselves on a narrow open _mesa_ splashed
with green moss and matted with an aromatic covering of pine needles.

Beyond the easternmost edge of the plateau stood great spires of stone,
a dozen in all, several hundred feet high, and of solid granite. They
soared up grandly into the open blue, like so many cathedral spires,
drawing about them that air of solitude and stillness which accompanies
always the sublime in Nature. Even boundless space was amplified at the
bidding of their solemn uplifted fingers. The girl reined in her horse.

"Oh!" she murmured in a hushed voice, "I feel impertinent--as though I
were intruding."

A squirrel many hundreds of feet below could be heard faintly barking.

"There _is_ something solemn about them," the boy agreed in the same
tone, "but, after all, we are nothing to them. They are thinking their
own thoughts, far above everything in the world."

She slipped from her horse.

"Let's sit here and watch them," she said. "I want to look at them, and
_feel_ them."

They sat on the moss, and stared solemnly across at the great spires of
stone.

"They are waiting for something there," she observed; "for something
that has not come to pass, and they are looking for it always toward
the East. Don't you see how they are waiting?"

"Yes, like Indian warriors wrapped each in his blanket. They might be
the Manitous. They say there are lots of them in the Hills."

"Yes, of course!" she cried, on fire with the idea. "They are the Gods
of the people, and they are waiting for something that is
coming--something from the East. What is it?"

"Civilization," he suggested.

"Yes! And when this something, this Civilization, comes, then the
Indians are to be destroyed, and so their Gods are always watching for
it toward the East."

"And," he went on, "when it comes at last, then the Manitous will have
to die, and so the Indians know that their hour has struck when these
great stone needles fall."

"Why, we have made a legend," she exclaimed with wonder.

They stretched out on their backs along the slope, and stared up at the
newly dignified Manitous in delicious silence.

"There was a legend once, you remember?" he began hesitatingly, "the
first day we were on the Rock together. It was about a Spirit
Mountain."

"Yes, I remember, the day we saw the Shadow."

"You said you'd tell it to me some time."

"Did I?"

"Don't you think now is a good time?"

She considered a moment idly.

"Why, yes, I suppose so," she assented, after a pause. "It isn't much
of a legend though." She clasped her hands back of her head. "It goes
like this," she began comfortably:

"Once upon a time, when the world was very young, there was an evil
Manitou named _Ne-naw-bo-shoo_. He was a very wicked Manitou, but he
was also very accomplished, for he could change himself into any shape
he wished to assume, and he could travel swifter than the wind. But he
was also very wicked. In old times the centres of all the trees were
fat, and people could get food from them, but _Ne-naw-bo-shoo_ walked
through the forest and pushed his staff down through the middle of the
trunks, and that is why the cores of the trees are dark-coloured. Maple
sap used to be pure sirup once, too, but _Ne-naw-bo-shoo_ diluted it
with rain water just out of spite. But there was one peculiar thing
about _Ne-naw-bo-shoo_. He could not cross a vein of gold or of silver.
There was some sort of magic in them that turned him back--repelled
him.

"Now, one day two lovers were wandering about on the prairie away east
of here. One of them was named _Mon-e-dowa_, or the Bird Lover, and the
other was _Muj-e-ah-je-wan_, or Rippling Water. And as these two walked
over the plains talking together, along came the evil spirit,
_Ne-naw-bo-shoo_, and as soon as he saw them he chased them, intending
to kill them and drink their blood, as was his custom.

"They fled far over the prairie. Everywhere that _Muj-e-ah-je-wan_
stepped, prairie violets grew up; and everywhere that _Mon-e-dowa_
stepped, a lark sprang up and began to sing. But the wicked
_Ne-naw-bo-shoo_ gained on them fast, for he could run very swiftly.

"Then suddenly they saw in front of them a great mountain, grown with
pines and seamed with fissures. This astonished them greatly, for they
knew there were no mountains in the prairie country at all; but they
had no time to spare, so they climbed quickly up a broad canon and
concealed themselves.

"Now, when the wicked Manitou came along he tried to enter the canon
too, but he had to stop, because down in the depths of the mountain
were veins of gold and silver which he could not cross. For many days
he raged back and forth, but in vain. At last he got tired and went
away.

"Then _Mon-e-dowa_ and _Muj-e-ah-je-wan_, who had been living quite
peacefully on the game with which the mountain swarmed, came out of the
canon and turned toward home. But as soon as they had set foot on the
level prairie again, the mountain vanished like a cloud, and then they
knew they had been aided by _Man-a-boo-sho_, the good Manitou."

The girl arose and shook her skirt free of the pine needles that clung
to it.

"Ever since then," she went on, eyeing Bennington saucily sideways,
"the mountain has been invisible except to a very few. The legend says
that when a maid and a warrior see it together they will be----"

"What?" asked Bennington as she paused.

"Dead within the year!" she cried gaily, and ran lightly to her pony.

"Did you like my legend?" she asked, as the ponies, foot-bunched,
minced down the steepest of the trail.

"Very much; all but the moral."

"Don't you want to die?"

"Not a bit."

"Then I'll have to."

"That would be the same thing."

And Bennington dared talk in this way, for the next day began the
Pioneer's Picnic, and lately she had been very kind.

CHAPTER XIV

THE PIONEER'S PICNIC

The Lawtons were not going to the picnic. Bennington was to take Mary
down to Rapid, where the girl was to stay with a certain Dr. McPherson
of the School of Mines.

An early start was accomplished. They rode down the gulch through the
dwarf oaks, past the farthermost point, and so out into the hard level
dirt road of Battle Creek canon. Beyond were the pines, and a rugged
road, flint-edged, full of dips and rises, turns and twists, hovering
on edges, or bosoming itself in deep rock-strewn cuts. Mary's little
pony cantered recklessly through it all, scampering along like a
playful dog after a stone, leading Bennington's larger animal by
several feet. He had full leisure to notice the regular flop of the Tam
o'Shanter over the lighter dance of the hair, the increasing rosiness
of the cheeks dimpled into almost continual laughter, to catch stray
snatches of gay little remarks thrown out at random as they tore along.
After a time they drew out from the shadow of the pines into the
clearing at Rockerville, where the hydraulic "giants" had eaten away
the hill-sides, and left in them ugly unhealed sores. Then more rough
pine-shadowed roads, from which occasionally would open for a moment
broad vistas of endless glades, clear as parks, breathless descents, or
sharp steep cuts at the bottom of which Spring Creek, or as much of it
as was not turned into the Rockerville sluices, brawled or idled along.
It was time for lunch, so they dismounted near a deep still pool and
ate. The ponies cropped the sparse grasses, or twisted on their backs,
all four legs in the air. Squirrels chattered and scolded overhead.
Some of the indigo-coloured jays of the lowlands shot in long level
flight between the trees. The girl and the boy helped each other,
hindered each other, playing here and there near the Question, but
swerving always deliciously just in time.

After lunch, more riding through more pines. The road dipped strongly
once, then again; and then abruptly the forest ceased, and they found
themselves cantering over broad rolling meadows knee-high with grasses,
from which meadow larks rose in all directions like grasshoppers. Soon
after they passed the canvas "schooners" of some who had started the
evening before. Down the next long slope the ponies dropped cautiously
with bunched feet and tentative steps. Spring Creek was forded for the
last time, another steep grassy hill was surmounted, and they looked
abroad into Rapid Valley and over to the prairie beyond.

Behind them the Hills lay, dark with the everlasting greenery of the
North--even, low, with only sun-browned Harney to raise its cliff-like
front above the rest of the range. As though by a common impulse they
reined in their horses and looked back.

"I wonder just where the Rock is?" she mused.

They tried to guess at its location.

The treeless ridge on which they were now standing ran like a belt
outside the Hills. They journeyed along its summit until late in the
afternoon, and then all at once found the city of Rapid lying below
them at the mouth of a mighty canon, like a toy village on fine velvet
brown.

In the city they separated, Mary going to the McPhersons', Bennington
to the hotel. It was now near to sunset, so it was agreed that
Bennington was to come round the following morning to get her. At the
hotel Bennington spent an interesting evening viewing the pioneers with
their variety of costume, manners, and speech. He heard many good
stories, humorous and blood-curdling, and it was very late before he
finally got to bed.

The immediate consequence was that he was equally late to breakfast. He
hurried through that meal and stepped out into the street, with the
intention of hastening to Dr. McPherson's for Mary, but this he found
to be impossible because of the overcrowded condition of the streets.
The sports of the day had already begun. From curb to curb the way was
jammed with a dense mass of men, women, and children, through whom he
had to worm his way. After ten feet of this, he heard his name called,
and looking up, caught sight of Mary herself, perched on a dry-goods
box, frantically waving a handkerchief in his direction.

"You're a nice one!" she cried in mock reproach as he struggled toward
her. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks flew red signals of enjoyment.

Bennington explained.

"I know. Well, it didn't matter, any way. I just captured this box.
Climb up. There's room. I've lost the doctor and Mrs. McPherson
already."

Two mounted men, decorated with huge tin marshals' badges, rode slowly
along forcing the crowd back to the right and to the left. The first
horse race was on. Suddenly there was an eager scramble, a cloud of
dust, a swift impression of dim ghostlike figures. It was over. The
crowd flowed into the street again.

The two pressed together, hand in hand, on the top of the dry-goods
box. They laughed at each other and everything. Something beautiful was
very near to them, for this was the Pioneer's Picnic, and both
remembered that the Pioneer's Picnic marked the limit of many things.

"What's next? What's next?" she called excitedly to a tall young
cattleman.

The cowboy looked up at her, and his face relaxed into a pleased smile.

"Why, it's a drillin' match over in the next street, miss," he answered
politely. "You'd better run right along over and get a good place." He
glanced at de Laney, smiled again, and turned away, apparently to
follow his own advice.

"Come on, we'll follow him," cried Mary, jumping down.

"And abandon our box?" objected Bennington. But she was already in full
pursuit of the tall cowboy.

The ring around the large boulder--dragged by mule team from the
hills--had just begun to form when they arrived, so they were enabled
to secure good places near the front rank, where they kneeled on their
handkerchiefs, and the crowd hemmed them in at the back. The drilling
match was to determine which pair of contestants could in a given
time, with sledge and drill, cut the deepest hole in a granite boulder.
To one who stood apart, the sight must have been picturesque in the
extreme. The white dust, stirred by restless feet, rose lazily across
the heated air. The sun shone down clear and hot with a certain
wide-eyed glare that is seen only in the rarefied atmosphere of the
West. Around the outer edge of the ring hovered a few anxious small
boys, agonized that they were missing part of the show. Stolidly
indifferent Indians, wrapped close in their blankets, smoked silently,
awaiting the next pony race, the riders of which were skylarking about
trying to pull each other from their horses' backs.

When the last pair had finished, the judges measured the depths of the
holes drilled, and announced the victors.

The crowd shouted and broke for the saloons. The latter had been plying
a brisk business, so that men were about ready to embrace in
brotherhood or in battle with equal alacrity.

Suddenly it was the dinner hour. The crowd broke. Bennington and Mary
realized they had been wandering about hand in hand. They directed
their steps toward the McPhersons with the greatest propriety. It was a
glorious picnic.

The house was gratefully cool and dark after the summer heat out of
doors. The little doctor sat in the darkest room and dissertated
cannily on the strange variety of subjects which a Scotchman can always
bring up on the most ordinary occasions.

The doctor was not only a learned man, as was evidenced by his position
in the School of Mines and his wonderful collections, but was a scout
of long standing, a physician of merit, and an Indian authority of
acknowledged weight. Withal he was so modest that these things became
known only by implication or hearsay, never by direct evidence. Mrs.
McPherson was not Scotch at all, but plain comfortable American,
redolent of wholesome cleanliness and good temper, and beaming with
kindliness and round spectacles. Never was such a doctor; never was
such a Mrs. McPherson; never was such a dinner! And they brought in
after-dinner coffee in small cups.

"Ah, ha! Mr. de Laney," laughed the doctor, who had been watching him
with quizzical eye. "We're pretty bad, but we aren't got quite to
savagery yet."

Bennington hastened to disavow.

"That's all right," the doctor reassured him; "that's all right. I
didn't wonder at ye in this country, but Mrs. McPherson and mysel' jest
take a wee trip occasionally to keep our wits bright. Isn't it so, Mrs.
Mac?"

"It is that," said she with a doubtful inner thought as to the
propriety of offering cream.

"And as for you," went on the doctor dissertatively, "I suppose ye're
getting to be somewhat of a miner yourself. I mind me we did a bit of
assay work for your people the other day--the Crazy Horse, wasn't it? A
good claim I should judge, from the sample, and so I wrote Davidson."

"When was this?" asked the Easterner, puzzled.

"The last week."

"I didn't know he had had any assaying done."

"O weel," said the doctor comfortably, "it may not have occurred to him
to report yet. It was rich."

"Mrs. McPherson, let's talk about dresses," called Mary across the
table. "Here we've come down for a _holiday_ and they insist on talking
mining."

And so the subject was dropped, but Bennington could not get it out of
his mind. Why should Mizzou have had the Crazy Horse assayed without
saying anything about it to him? Why had he not reported the result?
How did it happen that the doctor's assistants had found the ore rich
when the company's assayers East had proved it poor? Why should Mizzou
have it assayed at all, since he was no longer connected with the
company? But, above all, supposing he had done this with the intention
of keeping it secret from Bennington, what possible benefit or
advantage could the old man derive from such an action?

He puzzled over this. It seemed to still the effervescence of his joy.
He realized suddenly that he had been very careless in a great many
respects. The work had all been trusted to Davidson, while he, often,
had never even seen it. He had been entirely occupied with the girl. He
experienced that sudden sinking feeling which always comes to a man
whom neglected duty wakes from pleasure.

What was Davidson's object? Could it be that he hoped to "buy in" a
rich claim at a low figure, and to that end had sent poor samples East?
The more he thought of this the more reasonable it seemed. His
resignation was for the purpose of putting him in the position of
outside purchaser.

He resolved to carry through the affair diplomatically. During the
afternoon he ruminated on how this was to be done. Mary could not
understand his preoccupation. It piqued her. A slight strangeness
sprang up between them which he was too _distrait_ to notice. Finally,
as he tumbled into bed that night, an idea so brilliant came to him
that he sat bolt upright in sheer delight at his own astuteness.

He would ask Dr. McPherson for a copy of the assays. If his suspicions
were correct, these assays would represent the richest samples. He
would send them at once to Bishop with a statement of the case, in that
manner putting the capitalist on his guard. There was something
exquisitely humorous to him in the idea of thus turning to his own use
the information which Davidson had accumulated for his fraudulent
purposes. He went to sleep chuckling over it.

CHAPTER XV

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

The next morning the young man had quite regained his good spirits. The
girl, on the other hand, was rather quiet.

Dr. McPherson made no objections to furnishing a copy of the assays.
The records, however, were at the School of Mines. He drove down to get
them, and in the interim the two young people, at Mrs. McPherson's
suggestion, went to see the train come in.

The platform of the station was filled to suffocation. Assuming that
the crowd's intention was to view the unaccustomed locomotive, it was
strange it did not occur to them that the opposite side of the track or
the adjacent prairie would afford more elbow room. They huddled
together on the boards of the platform as though the appearance of the
spectacle depended on every last individual's keeping his feet from the
naked earth. They pushed good-naturedly here and there, expostulating,
calling to one another facetiously, looking anxiously down the
straight, dwindling track for the first glimpse of the locomotive.

Mary and Bennington found themselves caught up at once into the vortex.
After a few moments of desperate clinging together, they were forced
into the front row, where they stood on the very edge, braced back
against the pressure, half laughing, half vexed.

The train drew in with a grinding rush. From the step swung the
conductor. Faces looked from the open windows.

On the platform of one of the last cars stood a young girl and three
men. One of the men was elderly, with white hair and side whiskers. The
other two were young and well dressed. The girl was of our best
patrician type--the type that may know little, think little, say
little, and generally amount to little, and yet carry its negative
qualities with so used an air of polite society as to raise them by
sheer force to the dignity of positive virtues. From head to foot she
was faultlessly groomed. From eye to attitude she was languidly
superior--the impolitic would say bored. Yet every feature of her
appearance and bearing, even to the very tips of her enamelled and
sensibly thick boots, implied that she was of a different class from
the ordinary, and satisfied on "common people" that impulse which
attracts her lesser sisters to the vulgar menagerie. She belonged to
the proper street--at the proper time of day. Any one acquainted with
the species would have known at once that this private-car trip to
Deadwood was to please the prosperous-looking gentleman with the side
whiskers, and that it was made bearable only by the two smooth-shaven
individuals in the background.

She caught sight of the pair directly in front of her, and raised her
lorgnette with a languid wrist.

Her stare was from the outside-the-menagerie standpoint. Bennington was
not used to it. For the moment he had the Fifth Avenue feeling, and
knew that he was not properly dressed. Therefore, naturally, he was
confused. He lowered his head and blushed a little. Then he became
conscious that Mary's clear eyes were examining him in a very troubled
fashion.

Three hours and a half afterward it suddenly occurred to him that she
might have thought he had blushed and lowered his head because he was
ashamed to be seen by this other girl in her company; but it was then
too late.

The train pulled out. The Westerners at once scattered in all
directions. Half an hour later the choking cloud dusts rose like smoke
from the different trails that led north or south or west to the heart
of the Hills.

"The picnic is over," he suggested gently at their noon camping place.

"Yes, thank Heaven!"

"You remember your promise?"

"What promise?"

"That you would explain your 'mystery.'"

"I've changed my mind."

A leaf floated slowly down the wind. A raven croaked. The breeze made
the sunbeams waver.

"Mary, the picnic is over," he repeated again very gently.

"Yes, yes, yes!"

"I love you, Mary."

The raven spread his wings and flew away.

"Do you love me?" he insisted gently.

"I want you to come to dinner at our house to-morrow noon."

"That is a strange answer, Mary."

"It is all the answer you'll get to-day."

"Why are you so cross? Is anything the matter?"

"Nothing."

"I love you, Mary. I love you, girl. At least I can say that now."

"Yes, you can say it--now."

CHAPTER XVI

A NOON DINNER

Bennington did not know what to make of his invitation. At one moment
he told himself it must mean that Mary loved him, and that she wished
him to meet her parents on that account. At the next he tormented
himself with the conviction that she thus merely avoided the issue.
Between these moods he alternated, without being able to abide in
either. He forgot all about Old Mizzou.

Promptly at noon the following day he turned up the little right-hand
trail for the first time.

The Lawton house he found, first of all, to be scrupulously neat. It
stood on a knoll, as do most gulch cabins, in order that occasional
freshets might pass below, and the knoll looked as though it had been
clipped with a pair of scissors. Not a crooked little juniper bush was
allowed to intrude its plebeian sprawl among the dignified pines and
the gracefully infrequent bushes. In front of the cabin itself was a
"rockery" of pink quartz, on which were piled elk antlers. The building
was L-shaped, of two low stories, had a veranda with a railing, and
possessed various ornamental wood edgings, all of which were painted.
The whole affair was mathematically squared and correspondingly neat.
Some boxes and pots of flowers adorned the window ledges.

Bennington's knock was answered by an elderly woman, who introduced
herself at once as Mrs. Lawton. She commenced a voluble and slightly
embarrassed explanation of how "she" would be down in a moment or so,
at the same time leading the way into the parlour. While this
explanation was going forward, Bennington had a good chance to examine
his hostess and her surroundings.

Mrs. Lawton was of the fat but energetic variety. She fairly shone with
cleanliness and with an insistent determination to keep busy. You could
see that all the time her tongue was uttering polite platitudes
concerning the weather, her mind was hovering like a dragon fly over
this or that flower of domestic economy. She was one of the women who
carry their housekeeping to a perfection uncomfortable both to herself
and everybody else, and then delude themselves into the martyrlike
belief that she is doing it all entirely for others. As a consequence,
she exhibited much of the time an aggrieved air that comported but
ludicrously with her tendency to bustle. And it must be confessed that
in other ways Mrs. Lawton was ludicrous. Her dumpy little form was
dressed in the loudest of prints, the figures of which turned her into
a huge flower bed of brilliant cabbage-like blooms. Over this chaos of
colours peered her round little face with its snapping eyes. She
discoursed in sentences which began coherently, but frayed out soon
into nothingness under the stress of inner thought. "I don't see where
that husban' of mine is. I reckon you'll think we're just awful rude,
Mr. de Laney, and that gal, an' Maude. I declare it's jest enough to
try any one's patience, it surely is. You've no idea, Mr. de Laney,
what with the hens settin', and this mis'able dry spell that sends th'
dust all over everything and every one 'way behin' hand on
everythin'----" Her eye was becoming vacant as she wondered about
certain biscuits.

"I'm sure it must be," agreed Bennington uncomfortably.

"What was I a-sayin'? You must excuse me, Mr. de Laney, but you, being
a man, can have no idea of the life us poor women folks lead, slavin'
our very lives away to keep things runnin', and then no thanks fer it
a'ter all. I'd just like t' see Bill Lawton try it _fer jest one week_.
He'd be a ravin' lunatic, an' thet I tell him often. This country's
jest awful, too. I tell him he must get out sometimes, and I 'spect he
will, when he's made his pile, poor man, an' then we'll have a chanst
to go back East again. When we lived East, Mr. de Laney, we had a
house--not like this little shack; a good house with nigh on to a dozen
rooms, and I had a gal to help me and some chanst to buy things once in
a while, but now that Bill Lawton's moved West, what's goin' to become
o' me I don't know. I'm nigh wore out with it all."

"Then you lived East once?" asked Bennington.

"Law, yes! We lived in Illinoy once, and th' Lord only knows I wisht we
lived there yet, though the farmin' was a sight of work and no pay
sometimes." The inner doubts as to the biscuits proved too much for
her. "Heaven knows, you ain't t' git much to eat," she cried, jumping
up, "but you ain't goin' to git anythin' a tall if I don't run right
off and tend to them biscuit."

She bustled out. Bennington had time then to notice the decorations of
the "parlour." They offered to the eye a strange mixture of the East
and West--reminiscences of the old home in "Illinoy" and trophies of
the new camping-out on the frontier. From the ceiling hung a heavy lamp
with prismatic danglers, surrounded by a globe on which were depicted
stags in the act of leaping six-barred gates. By way of complement to
this gorgeous centrepiece, the paper on the walls showed, in infinitely
recurring duplicate, a huntress in green habit and big hat carrying on
a desperate flirtation with a young man in the habiliments of the
fifteenth century, while across the background a huddle of dogs pursued
a mammoth deer. Mathematically beneath the lamp stood a table covered
with a red-figured spread. On the table was a glass bell, underneath
which were wax flowers and a poorly-stuffed robin. In one angle of the
room austerely huddled a three-cornered "whatnot" of four shelves. Two
china pugs and a statuette of a simpering pair of children under a
massive umbrella adorned this article of furniture. On the wall ticked
an old-fashioned square wooden clock. The floor was concealed by a rag
carpet. So much for the East. The West contributed brilliant green
copper ore, flaky white tin ore, glittering white quartz ore, shining
pyrites, and one or two businesslike specimens of oxygenated quartz,
all of which occupied points of exhibit on the "whatnot." Over the
carpet were spread a deer skin, and a rug made from the hide of a
timber wolf. Bennington found all this interesting but depressing. He
was glad when Mrs. Lawton returned and took up her voluble discourse.

In the midst of a dissertation on the relation of corn meal to eggs
the door opened, and Mr. Lawton sidled in.

"Oh, here y' are at last!" observed his spouse scornfully, and rattled
on. Lawton nodded awkwardly, and perched himself on the edge of a
chair. He had assumed an ill-fitting suit of store clothes, in which he
unaccustomedly writhed, and evidently, to judge from the sleekness of
his hair, had recently plunged his head in a pail of water. He said
nothing, but whenever Mrs. Lawton was not looking he winked elaborately
and solemnly at Bennington as though to imply that circumstances alone
prevented any more open show of cordiality. At last, catching the young
man's eye at a more than usually propitious moment, he went through the
pantomime of opening a bottle, then furtively arose and disappeared.
Mrs. Lawton, remembering her cakes, ran out. Bennington was left alone
again. He had not spoken six words.

The door slowly opened, and another member of the family sidled in.
Bennington owned a helpless feeling that this was a sort of show, and
that these various actors in it were parading their entrances and
their exits before him. Or that he himself were the object of
inspection on whom the others were satisfying their own curiosity.

The newcomer was a child, a little girl about eight or ten years old.
Bennington liked children as a usual thing. No one on earth could have
become possessed in this one's favour. She was a creature of regular
but mean features, extreme gravity, and evidently of an inquiring
disposition. On seeing her for the first time, one sophisticated would
have expected a deluge of questions. Bennington did. But she merely
stood and stared without winking.

"Hullo, little girl!" Bennington greeted her uneasily.

The creature only stared the harder.

"My doll's name is Garnet M-a-ay," she observed suddenly, with a
long-drawn nasal accent.

After this interesting bit of information another silence fell.

"What is your name, little girl?" Bennington asked desperately at
last.

"Maude," remarked the phenomenon briefly.

This statement she delivered in that whining tone which the extremely
self-conscious infant imagines to indicate playful childishness. She
approached.

"D' you want t' see my picters?" she whimpered confidingly.

Bennington expressed his delight.

For seven geological ages did he gaze upon cheap and horrible woodcuts
of gentlemen in fashionable raiment trying to lean against
conspicuously inadequate rustic gates; equally fashionable ladies, with
flat chests, and rat's nest hair; and animals whose attitudes denoted
playful sportiveness of disposition. Each of these pictures was
explained in minute detail. Bennington's distress became apathy. Mrs.
Lawton returned from the cakes presently, yet her voice seemed to break
in on the duration of centuries.

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