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Bethune Pays A Call








From: The Gold Girl

It was past noon when Patty sank into the chair beside her table and
glanced about her with a sigh of satisfaction. Warm June sunlight
streamed through the open door and lay in a bright oblique patch upon
the scrubbed floor. The girl's glance strayed past the door and rested
with approval upon the little flat across the creek where a neat pile
of panels replaced the broken sheep corral. She had spent hours in
untwisting the baling wire with which they had been fastened to the
posts and dragging them to the pile, and other hours in chopping a
supply of firewood, and picking up the cans and broken bottles and
pitching them into the deep ravine of a side coulee. Also she had
built a little reservoir of rocks about her spring, and had found time
to add a few touches to the interior of the cabin. "It's just as homey
and cozy as it can be," she murmured, as her eyes strayed from the
little window where the colored chintz curtain stirred lightly in the
breeze, to the neatly arranged "dressing table" that she had contrived
with the aid of four light packing boxes and a bit of figured
cretonne. Another packing case, covered to match, served as a stool,
and upon the wall above the table hung a small mirror. Four or five
prints, looking oddly out of place, hung upon the dark log
walls--pictures that had always hung in her room at Aunt Rebecca's,
and which she had managed to crowd into one of the trunks. A fond
imagination had pictured them adorning the walls of her "apartment"
which was to be located in a spacious wing of the great Watts ranch
house. "I don't care, I'm glad there wasn't any big ranch house," she
muttered. "It's lots nicer this way, and I'm absolutely independent.
We prospectors can't hope to be regular in our habits--and I've always
wanted a house of my very own. Ten times better!" she exclaimed
vehemently. "There won't be anybody to ask me every day or two if I've
made my strike yet? And how much gold I brought back to-day? And all
the other fool questions that seem so humorous to questioners and
hearers, but which hurt and sting and rankle when you're sick at heart
with disappointment, and gritting your teeth to keep up your courage
and your belief in yourself. Oh I know! Daddy didn't know I knew, but
I did--how it hurt when the village wits would slyly wink at each
other as they asked their cruel questions. Even when I was a little
girl I knew, and I could have killed them!" Her glance rested upon
the canvas covered pack that lay in the corner at the foot of the
bunk. "There are his things--his outfit, they call it here. I'm going
to examine it." The sack of stiff oiled canvas, with its contents, was
heavy, but the girl dragged it to the middle of the floor and
squatting beside it, stared in dismay at the stout padlock and the
chain that threaded a set of grommets. She was about to search for the
key among the contents of her father's pockets which she had placed in
the tray of her trunk, when her eye fell upon a thin slit close along
the edge of the hem that held the grommets--a slit that, pulled wide,
disclosed an aperture through which the contents of the sack could be
easily removed but withal so cunningly contrived as to escape casual
inspection. With an angry exclamation the girl stared at the gaping
hole. "Someone has cut it!" she cried. "He doesn't seem to have taken
much, though. It's about as full as it can be." She began hurriedly
to remove the contents, piling them about her upon the floor. "I
wonder if--if he left any papers, or note books, or maps, or things
that would enable anyone to locate the claim? If he did," she
muttered, peering into the empty sack, "they're gone, now."

One by one, she returned the belongings, handling them tenderly, now,
and examining them lovingly, and many an article was returned to the
sack, wet with its splash of hot tears. "Here's his coffee pot, and
his plate, and frying pan, and his old pipe--" the pipe she did not
replace, but put it with the other things in her trunk. "And
here--why, it's a revolver and a belt of cartridges--like Vil
Holland's! And a hat like his, too! And I thought he was a desperado
because he wore them!" She jumped to her feet and, hurrying to the
mirror, tried on the hat, pinching the crown into a peak, tilting it
this way and that, and arranging and rearranging the soft roll brim.
"It fits!" she cried, delighted as a child, and then with eyes
sparkling, picked up the belt with its row of yellow cartridges and
its ivory handled six gun dangling in the holster. Buckling the belt
about her waist, she laughed aloud as the buckle tongue came to rest a
full six inches beyond the last hole. "I'll look just as desperate as
he does, now--except for his old jug. Daddy didn't have any jug, and
I'm glad--that's where the difference is--it's the jug. But, I wish he
had had one of those black horn effects for his scarf." She knotted
the brilliant red scarf with its zigzag border of yellow, about her
neck, and snatching a small pair of scissors from the dressing table,
removed the heavy belt, and proceeded to bore a tongue hole at the
point she had marked with her finger nail. So engrossed she became in
the work, that she failed to hear the approach of horses' feet, and
started violently at the sound of a voice from the doorway. "Permit
me." The six shooter thudded to the floor, and sweeping the hat from
his head, Monk Bethune crossed the room, and replaced it upon the
table. He smiled as he noticed the scar left upon the thick leather by
the scissor points; and repeated. "Permit me, please." He drew a
penknife from his pocket, and picked up the belt. "A knife is so much
better."

Ashamed of having been startled, Patty smiled. "Yes, please do. I had
no idea it was so tough, or that scissors could be so dull."

Deftly twirling the penknife, Bethune bored a neat hole in the
leather. "There should be several holes," he smiled, "for there are
occasions in the hill country when one fails to connect with the
commissary, and then it is that the tightening of the belt answers the
purpose of a meal." Drilling as he talked, he soon finished the task
and held up the belt for inspection. "Rod Sinclair's gun," he
commented, sorrowfully. "And Rod's scarf, and hat, too. Ah, there was
a man, Miss Sinclair! I doubt if even you yourself knew him as I knew
him. You must ride and work with a man, in fair weather and foul; you
must share his hardships, and his disappointments, yes and his joys,
too, to really know him." A look of genuine affection shone from the
man's eyes as he stood drawing his fingers gently along the rims of
the shiny cartridges. He seemed to be speaking more to himself than to
the girl. His manner, the look in his eyes, the very tone of his
voice, were so intrinsically honest in their expression of unbounded
sympathy with his subject, and his mood fitted so thoroughly with her
own, that the girl's heart suddenly warmed toward this man who spoke
so feelingly of her father. She flushed slightly as she remembered
that upon the occasion of their previous meeting, his words had
engendered a feeling of distrust.

"You knew him--well?" she asked.

"Like a brother. For two years we have worked together in our search
for the mother lode that both believed lay concealed deep within the
bosom of these hills. A dozen times during those two years our hopes
have risen, as only the hopes can rise, of those who seek gold. A
dozen times it seemed certain that at last we had reached our goal.
But, always it was the same--a false lead--shattered hopes--and a
fresh start. Those were the times, Miss Sinclair, that your father
showed the stuff that was in him. He was a better man than I. It was
his Spartan acceptance of disappointment, his optimism, and his
unshaken faith in ultimate success, that kept me going. I suppose it
is my French ancestry that is responsible for my lack of just the
qualities that made your father the man he was. I lacked his
stability--his balance. I had imagination--vision, possibly greater
than his. And under the stimulus of apparent success, my spirits would
rise to heights his never knew. But I paid for it--no one knows how
bitterly I paid. For when apparent success turned into failure, mine
were depths of despair he never descended to. At first, before I
learned that his disappointment was as bitter as my own, his smiling
acceptance of failure, used to goad me to fury. There were times I
could have killed him with pleasure--but that was only at first.
Before we had been long together God knows how I came to depend on
those smiles. Then, at last, we struck it--and poor Rod--" The man's
voice which had dropped very low, broke suddenly. He cleared his
throat and turning abruptly, stared out the door toward the green
sweep of pines on the mountain slopes.

There was a long silence during which the words kept repeating
themselves in the girl's brain. "Then, at last, we struck it." What
did he mean? His back was toward her, and she saw that the muscles of
his neck worked slowly, as though he were swallowing repeatedly.

When at last she spoke, her voice sounded strangely dull to her own
ears. "Do you mean that you and my father were partners, and that you
know the location of his mine?"

Bethune faced her, laying the belt gently upon the table. "Partners?"
He repeated the word as though questioning himself. "Hardly partners,
I should say. We were--it is hard to define the exact relationship
that existed between Rod Sinclair and me. There was never any
agreement of partnership, rather a sort of tacit understanding, that
when we struck the lode, we should work it together. Your father knew
vastly more about rock than I, although I had long suspected the
existence of this lode. But extensive interests to the northward
prevented me from making any continued search for it. However, I found
time at intervals to spend a month or six weeks in these hills, and it
was upon one of these occasions that we struck up the acquaintance
that ripened into a sort of mutuality of interest. Neighbors are few
and far between in the hill country, and those not exactly of the type
that attract men of education. I think each found in the other a man
of his own stripe, and thus a friendship sprang up between us that
gradually led to a merging of interests. His were by far the most
valuable activities in the field, while I, from time to time, advanced
certain funds for the carrying on of the work.

"But let us not talk of business matters. Time enough for that." He
stepped to the doorway and glanced down the creek. "Here comes Clen
and we must be going. While he stopped at Watts's to reset a shoe I
rode on to inquire if there is any way in which I may serve the
daughter of my friend.

"Oh-ho! I see Clen is carrying something very gingerly. He has
prevailed upon the good Mrs. Watts to sell him some eggs. A great
gourmand--but a good fellow at heart. I think a great deal of Clen,
even though it was he who----"

"But tell me, before you go," interrupted the girl. "Do you know the
location of my father's mine?"

Bethune turned from the door, smiling. Patty noticed with surprise
that the dark, handsome features looked almost boyish when he smiled.
There had been no hint of boyishness before, in fact something of
baffling inscrutability in the black eyes, gave the man an expression
of extreme sophistication. "Do not call it a mine," he laughed. "At
least, not yet. A mine is a going proposition. If your father actually
succeeded in locating the lode, it is a strike. Had he filed, it would
be a claim. Had he started operation it would be a proposition--but
not until there is ore on the dump will it be a mine."

"If he actually succeeded!" cried Patty. "I thought you said----"

The man interrupted with a wave of the hand. "So I did, for I believe
he did succeed. In fact, knowing Rod Sinclair as I did, I am certain
of it."

"But the location of the--the strike," she persisted, "do you know
it?"

Bethune shook his head sadly. "Had your father filed the claim, all
would have been well. But, who am I to question Rod's judgment? For on
the other hand, if he had filed, word of the strike would have spread
broadcast, and the whole hill country would immediately have been
overrun by stampeders--those vultures that can scent a gold strike for
five thousand miles. No one knows where they come from, and no one
knows where they go. It was to guard our secret from these that
prompted your father not to file. We had planned to establish our
friends on the adjoining claims, and thus build up a syndicate of our
own choosing. So he did not file, but it was through no fault of his
that I remain ignorant of the location, but rather it was the result
of a combination of unforeseen circumstances. You shall judge for
yourself.

"I was deep in the wilds of British Columbia, upon another matter,
when Rod unearthed the lode, and, not knowing this, he hastened at
once to my camp. He found Clen there and after expressing
disappointment at my absence, sat down and hurriedly sketched a map,
and taking from his pocket a photograph, he wrapped both in a piece
of oilskin, and handed them to Clen, with instructions to travel night
and day until he had delivered the packet to me. He told him that he
had located the lode and was hurrying East to procure the necessary
capital and would return in the early spring for immediate operation."
Bethune paused and, with his eyes upon the Englishman who was
dismounting, continued:

"Poor Clen! He did his best, and I do not hold his failure against
him, for his was a journey of hardship and peril such as few men could
have survived. Upon receiving the packet he started within the hour.
That night he camped at the line, and that night, too, came the first
snow of the season. He labored on next day to the railway and took a
train to Edmonton, and from there, to Fort George, where he succeeded
in procuring an Indian guide for the dash into the wilderness beyond
the railway. The early months of last winter were among the most
terrible in the history of the North. Storm after storm hurtled out of
the Arctic, and between storms the bitter winds from the barrens to
the eastward roared with unabated fury. Yet Clen and his guide pushed
on, fighting the cold and the snow. Up over the Height of Land, to the
Hudson Bay Post at the head of the Parsnip, where I was making my
headquarters, and where I had lain snowbound for ten days. It was
during the descent of Crooked River, a quick water, treacherous
stream, whose thin ice was covered with snow, that the accident
happened that cost me the loss of the location, and nearly cost Clen
his life. The Indian guide was mushing before, bent low with the
weight of his pack, and head lowered to the sweep of the wind. Clen
followed. At the head of a newly frozen rapid, the Englishman suddenly
broke through and was plunged into the icy waters. Grasping the ice,
he managed to draw himself up so that his elbows rested upon the edge,
and in this position he called again and again to the guide. But the
Indian was far ahead, his ears were muffled in his fur cap, and the
wind roared through the scrub, drowning Clen's voice. The icy waters
numbed him and sucked at his body seeking to drag him to his doom. The
heavy pack was dragging him slowly backward, and his hold upon the ice
was slipping. Then, and not until then, Clen did what any other man
who possessed the strength, would have done. He worked the knife from
his belt and cut the straps of his pack sack. In an instant it
disappeared beneath the ice, and with it the location of your
father's strike. Relieved of the weight upon his shoulders, Clen had a
fighting chance for his life, but it is doubtful if he would have won
had it not been that the Indian, missing him at last, returned in the
nick of time, and with the aid of a loop of babiche, succeeded in
drawing him from the water. The rest of the day was spent in drying
Clen's clothing beside a miserable fire of brushwood, and the next day
they made Fort McLeod, more dead than alive."

"Lord" Clendenning had dismounted, deposited his precious basket of
eggs upon the ground, and stood in the doorway as Bethune concluded
his narrative. When the man ceased speaking the Englishman shook his
head sadly. "Yes, yes, it seemed to me then, as I clung to the edge of
the bloomin' ice, freezin' from my feet up, that my only chance was in
bein' rid of the pack. But, I've thought since that maybe if I'd held
on just a few minutes longer, the bloody Injun would have got there in
time to save both me an' the pack to boot."

"There you go again!" exclaimed Bethune, with a trace of impatience in
his voice. "How many times have I told you to quit this
self-accusation. A man who covered fifty miles on horseback, seven
hundred on the train, and then nearly a hundred a-foot, under
conditions such as you faced, has nothing to be ashamed of in the
failure of his mission. It is your loss as well as mine, for you also
were to have profited by the strike. It is possible, however, that all
will be well--that Miss Sinclair has her father's original map, and a
duplicate of the photograph, or better yet, the film from which the
print was made."

Pausing he glanced at the girl significantly, but she was gazing past
him--past Clendenning, her eyes upon the giant up-sweep of the hills.
He hurried on, "So now you have the whole story. I had not meant to
speak of it, to-day. Really, we must be going. If I can be of service
to you in any way, Miss Sinclair, I am yours to command. We will drop
in again, after you have had time to get used to your surroundings,
and lay our plans for the rediscovery of the mother lode." Smiling he
pointed to the canvas bag upon the floor. "Your father's pack sack,"
he said. "I should know it in a thousand. He devised it himself. It is
a clever combination of the virtues of several of the standard packs,
and an elimination of the evils of all." He stooped closer. "What's
this? You should not have cut it! Couldn't you find the key? If not,
it would have been a simple matter to file a link of the chain, and
leave the sack undamaged." He laughed, shortly. "But, that, I suppose,
is a woman's way."

"I did not cut it. It was cut before it came here. My father left it
in Mr. Watts's care and he stored it in the barn. Look at the edges,
it is an old cut."

"So it is!" exclaimed Bethune, as he and Lord Clendenning bent close
to examine it. "So it is. I wonder who--" Suddenly he ceased speaking,
and stood for a moment with puckered brows. "I wonder," he muttered.
"I wonder if he would have dared? Yes, I think he would. He knew of
Rod's strike, and he would stop at nothing to steal the secret."

"I don't believe Mr. Watts, nor any of the Wattses cut that pack,"
defended the girl.

"Neither do I. Watts has his faults, but dishonesty is not one of
them. No. The man who cut that pack, was the man who carried it
there----"

"Vil Holland!" exclaimed Lord Clendenning. "My word, d'ye think he'd
dare? Yes, Watts told us that he brought in the pack because Sinclair
was in a hurry. The bloody scamp! He should be jolly well trounced!
I'll do it myself if I see him, so help me Bob, I will!"

Bethune turned to the girl. "You have examined his effects. Was there
evidence of their having been tampered with?"

"I'm sure I don't know. If he left any papers or maps or things like
that in there it most certainly has been tampered with, for they are
not there now."

The man smiled. "I think we are safe in assuming that there were no
maps or papers of value in the outfit. Your father was far too shrewd
to have left anything of the sort to the tender mercies of Vil
Holland. By cutting the pack Vil merely gave evidence of his
unscrupulous methods without in any way profiting by it. And, as for
the map and photographs in your possession, I should advise you to
find some good hiding place for them and not trust to carrying them
about upon your person." Swiftly Patty glanced at the speaker. That
last injunction, somehow, did not ring quite true. But he had turned
to the door, and a moment later when he faced her to bid her adieu,
the boyish smile was again curling his lips, and he mounted and rode
away.





Next: In The Cabin

Previous: Sheep Camp



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