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Bethune Tries Again








From: The Gold Girl

For several days following the incident of the two struggling
horsemen, Patty rode, extending her quest farther and farther into the
hills, and thus widening the circle of her exploration. She had
overhauled her father's photographic outfit and found it contained
complete supplies for the development and printing of his own
pictures, and having brought several rolls of films from town, she
proceeded to amuse herself by photographing the more striking bits of
scenery she encountered upon her daily rides.

It was mid-summer, now, the sun shone hot and brassy from a cloudless
sky, and the buffalo grass was beginning to exchange its fresh
greenness for a shade of dirty tan. Only the delicious coolness of the
short nights made bearable the long, hot, monotonous days during which
the girl stuck doggedly to her purpose. Upon these rides she met no
one. It was as if human beings had entirely forsaken the world and
left it to the prairie dogs, the coyotes, and the lazily coiled
rattle-snakes that lay basking upon the rocks in the hot glare of the
sun. Even the occasional bunches of range cattle did not eye her with
their accustomed interest, but lay in straggling groups close beside
the cold waters of tiny streams.

And it was upon one of these hot days, long past the noon hour, that
Patty dismounted in a narrow valley near the head of a cold mountain
stream and, affixing the hobbles to her horse's legs, threw off the
saddle and bridle, and spread the sweat-dampened blanket to dry in the
sun. Freed of his accouterments, the horse shook himself, shuffled to
the stream, and burying his muzzle to the eyes, sucked up great gulps
of the cold water, and playfully thrashing his head, sent volleys of
silver drops flying from side to side, as he churned the tiny pool
into a veritable mud wallow. Tiring of that, he rolled luxuriously,
the crisping buffalo grass scratching the irking saddle-feel from his
back and sides: and as the girl spread her luncheon upon a clean white
napkin in the shade of a stunted cottonwood, fell to grazing
contentedly.

As Patty chipped at the shell of a hard-boiled egg she glanced toward
the horse, which had stopped grazing and stood facing down stream with
ears nervously alert. A few moments later the soft rattle of
bit-chains and the low shuffling of hoofs told her that a rider was
approaching at a walk. "Probably my guardian devil, ostensibly paying
strict attention to his own business of prospecting, or trying to
strike the trail of the horse-thieves, but in reality hot on the trail
of little me. I just wish I could find the mine. He'll have to stop
and drive his stakes and fix his notice, and if his old buckskin is as
good as he thinks he is, he'll just about overtake me at Thompson's.
And then on a fresh horse--I just want one good look into his face
when I pass him, that's all!"

The horseman came suddenly into view a few yards distant, and the girl
looked up into the black eyes of Monk Bethune.

"Well, well, my dear Miss Sinclair!" The quarter-breed's tone was one
of glad surprise, as he dismounted and advanced, hat in hand. "This is
indeed an unexpected pleasure. La, la, la, the luck of it! Shall we
say, the romance? Hot and saddle-weary from a long ride, to come
suddenly upon the fairest of ladies, at luncheon alone in the most
charming of little valleys. It is a situation to be dreamed of. And,
am I not to be asked to share your repast?"

Patty laughed. The light whimsicality of the man's mood amused her:
"Yes, you may consider yourself invited."

"And be assured that I accept, that is, upon condition that I be
allowed to contribute my just share toward the feast." As he talked,
Bethune fumbled at his pack-strings, and brought forth a small canvas
bag, from which he drew sandwiches of fried trout and bacon thrust
between two slabs of doubtful looking baking-powder bread. "No dainty
lunch prepared by woman's hand," he apologized, "but we of the hills,
no matter how exotic or aesthetic our tastes may be, must of stern
necessity descend to the common level of cowboys and offscourings in
the matter of our eating. See, beside your own palatable food, this
rough fare of mine presents an appearance unappetizing almost to
repugnance."

"At least, it looks eminently satisfying," said Patty, eyeing the
thick sandwiches.

"Satisfying, I grant you. Satisfying to the beast that is in man, in
that it stays the pangs of hunger. So is the blood-dripping carcass of
the fresh-killed calf satisfying to the wolf, and carrion satisfying
to the buzzard. But, not at all satisfying to the unbestial ego--to
the thing that makes man, man."

"You should have been a poet," smiled the girl. "But come, even poets
must eat."

"God help the man who has no poetry in his soul--no imagination!"
exclaimed Bethune, a trifle sententiously, thought the girl, as she
resumed the chipping of her egg. "Imagination," the word hovered
elusively in her brain--she had applied that word only recently to
someone--oh, yes, the man whose habit it was to search her cabin. She
smiled ever so slightly as she glanced sidewise at Bethune who was
nibbling at one of his own sandwiches.

"Please try one of mine," she urged, "and there are some pickles, and
an olive or two. I have loads of them at home, and really I believe I
should like that other sandwich of yours. I haven't tasted fish for
ages."

"Take it and welcome," smiled the man. "But do not deny yourself the
pleasure of eating all the fish you want. Why, with a bent pin, a bit
of thread, and housefly, you can catch yourself a mess of trout any
morning without venturing a hundred yards from your own door. Monte's
Creek is alive with them, and taken fresh from the water and fried to
a crisp in butter, they make a breakfast fit for a king, or in the
present instance, I should have said, a queen."

"Tell me," asked Patty, abruptly. "Has Vil Holland imagination?"

"Imagination! My dear lady, Vil Holland is the veriest clod! Too lazy
to do the honest work for which he is fitted, he roams the hills under
pretense of prospecting."

"But, how does he make a living?"

Bethune shrugged. "Who can tell? I know for a certainty that he has
never made a cent out of his alleged prospecting. It is true he rides
the round-up for a couple of months in the spring and fall, but four
months' work at forty dollars a month will hardly suffice for a man's
yearly needs." He unconsciously lowered his voice, and continued:
"Several ranchers have complained of losing horses and only a few days
ago, up near the line, my good friend Corporal Downey, of the Mounted,
told me that a number of American horses, with brands skillfully
doctored, had been regularly making their appearance in Canada. It is
an ugly suspicion, and I am making no open accusation, but--one may
wonder."

The man finished his sandwich, dipped his fingers into the creek, wiped
them upon his handkerchief, and proceeded to roll a cigarette. "Speaking of
Vil Holland, why did you ask whether he had--imagination?"

"Oh, I don't know," replied the girl, lightly. "I just wondered."

Bethune regarded her steadily. "Has he been,--er, interfering in any
way with your attempt to locate your father's strike?"

"Hardly interfering, I should say."

"You believe he still follows you?"

"Yes."

"You do not fear him?"

"No."

"That is because you do not know him! I tell you he is a dangerous
man!" Bethune puffed shortly at his cigarette, hurled it from him, and
faced the girl with glowing eyes: "Ah, Miss Sinclair, why don't you
end this uncertainty? Why do you continue every day to jeopardize your
interests--yes, your very life----?"

"Do you mean," interrupted the girl, "why don't I form a partnership
with you?"

"A partnership! Ah, no, not a--and, yet--yes, a partnership. A
partnership of life, and love, and happiness!" The man moved close,
and the black eyes seemed, in the intensity of their gaze to devour
her very soul. "There I have said it--the thing I have been wanting to
say, yet have feared to say." Patty's lips moved, as if to speak, but
the man forestalled the words with a gesture. "Before you answer, let
me tell you how, since you first came into the hills, I have lived in
the shadow of a mighty fear--I, who have lived my life among men, and
have never known the meaning of fear, have been harassed by a
multitude of fears. From the moment of our first meeting I have loved
you. And, by all the saints, I swear you are the only woman I have
ever loved! And, yet, I feared to tell you of that love. Twice the
words have trembled on my tongue, and remained unspoken, because I
feared that you might spurn me. Then in my heart rose another fear,
and I cursed myself for a craven. I feared that chance might favor you
in locating your father's strike, and then people would say, 'he loves
her for her wealth.' I even thought that you, yourself, might
doubt--might ask yourself why he waited until I became rich before he
told me of his love? But, believe me, my dear lady, for your wealth, I
care not the snap of my fingers--so!" He snapped his fingers loudly
and continued: "But say the word, and we will go far from the hill
country, and leave your father's secret to the guardianship of his
beloved mountains. For I am rich. I own mines, mines, mines! What is
one mine more or less to me?"

Patty Sinclair felt herself drifting under the spell of his compelling
ardor. "Why not?" she asked herself. "Why not marry this man and give
up the hopeless struggle?" She thought of her depleted bank account.
At best, she could not hope to hold out much longer. Bethune had taken
her hand as he talked, and she had not withdrawn it from his palm.
Swiftly he bent his head and pressed the brown hand passionately to
his lips. She felt his grip tighten as the burning kisses covered her
hand--her wrist. She drew the hand away.

"But, I do not want to leave the hill country," she said, quite
calmly. "I shall never leave it until I have vindicated my father's
course in the eyes of the people back home--the men who scoffed at
him, and called him a ne'er-do-well, and a dreamer--who refused to
back his judgment with their miserable dollars--who killed him with
their cruelty, and their doubt!"

"I hoped you would say that!" exclaimed Bethune, his eyes alight with
approval. "I knew you would say it! The daughter of your father could
not do otherwise. I knew him well, and loved him as a son should love.
And I, too, would see his judgment vindicated in the eyes of all the
world. Listen, together we will remain, and together we will locate
the lost strike, if it takes every cent I own." The man's voice
gripped in its intensity, and Patty's eyes returned from the distance
where the summer haze bathed far mountain tops in soft purple, and
looked into the eyes of velvet black.

"But, why should you want to marry me?" she inquired, a puzzled little
frown wrinkling her forehead. "You hardly know me. You have not always
lived in the hills. You have met many women."

"A man meets many women. He marries but one. You ask me why I want to
marry you. I cannot tell you why. Many times since we first met I have
asked myself why. I, who have openly scoffed at the yoke, and boasted
proudly of my freedom. I do not know why, unless it is that to me you
are the embodiment of all womanhood--of all that is desirable and
worth while, or maybe the reason is in the fact that while I am with
you I am supremely happy, and while I am absent from you I am
restless and unhappy--a prey to my fears. I suppose it all sums up in
the reason--world-old, but ever new--because I love you." The man was
upon his feet, now, bending toward her with arms outstretched. For
just an instant Patty hesitated, then shook her head.

"No!" she cried and struggling to her feet, faced him across the
remains of the luncheon. "No, it would not be playing the game. I have
my work to do, and I'll do it alone. It would be like quitting--like
calling for help before I am beaten. This is my work--not yours, this
vindication of my father!"

"But think," interrupted Bethune, "you will not let such Quixotic
ideals stand between us and happiness! You have your right to
happiness, and so have I, and in the end 'twill be the same, your
father's name will be cleared of any suspicion of unworthiness."

"It is my work," Patty repeated, stubbornly, "and besides, I do not
think I love you. I do not know----"

"Ah, but you will love me!" cried Bethune. "Such love as mine will not
be denied!" The black eyes glowed, and he took a step toward her, but
the girl drew away.

"Not now--not yet! Stop!" At the command Bethune recoiled slightly,
and the arms that had been about to encircle the girl, fell slowly to
his sides. Patty had suddenly drawn herself erect and looked him eye
for eye: and as she looked, from behind the soft glow of the velvet
eyes, leaped a wolfish gleam--a glint of baffled rage, a flash of
hate. In a moment it was gone and the man's lips smiled.

"Pardon," he said, "for the moment I forgot I have not the right." The
voice had lost its intense timbre, and sounded dull, as if held under
control only by a mighty effort of will. And in that moment a strange
fear of him took possession of the girl, so that her own voice
surprised her with its calm.

"I must be going, now."

Bethune bowed. "I will saddle your horse, while you clear up the
table." He nodded toward the napkin spread upon the grass with the
remains of the luncheon upon it. "My way takes me within a short
distance of your cabin; may I ride with you?" he asked a few moments
later, as he led her horse, bridled and saddled, to his own.

"Why certainly. I should be glad to have you. And we can talk."

"Of love?"

The girl laughed: "No, not of love. Surely there are other things----"

"Yes, for instance, I may again warn you that you are in danger."

"Danger?" she glanced up quickly.

"From Vil Holland." They had mounted, and turned their horses toward a
long divide.

"Oh, yes, from Vil Holland," she repeated slowly, as she drew in
beside him. "I had almost forgotten Vil Holland."

"I wish to God I could forget him," retorted the man, viciously. "But,
as long as you remain unprotected in these hills I shall never for one
moment forget him. Your secret is not safe. Your person is not safe.
He dogs your footsteps. He visits your cabin during your absence. He
is bad--bad! And here I must tell you of an incident--or rather
explain an incident, the unfortunate conclusion of which you saw with
your own eyes. Poor Clen! He is beside himself with mortification at
the sorry spectacle he presented when you rode up and saw him crawl
dripping from the creek.

"I was away to the northward, on important business, and knowing that
it had become my custom to ride over occasionally to see how you
fared, he decided to do the same during my absence. Arriving at the
cabin, he was surprised to see Vil Holland's horse before the door. He
rode boldly up, dismounted, and caught the scoundrel in the act of
searching among your effects. The sight, together with the memory of
the cut pack sack, enraged him to such an extent that, despite the
fact that the other was armed, he attacked him with his fists. In the
fighting that ensued, Holland, being much the younger and more agile,
succeeded in pitching Clen over the edge of the bank into the creek.
Whereupon, he leaped into the saddle and vanished.

"When Clen finally succeeded in reaching the bank and drawing himself
over the top, he was horrified to see you approaching. Above all
things Clen is a gentleman, and rather than appear before you in his
bedraggled condition, he fled. Upon my return he insisted that I see
you and explain the awkward situation to you in person. I beg of you
never to refer to the incident in Clen's presence, especially not in
levity, for he has, more strongly than anyone I ever knew, the
Englishman's horror of appearing ridiculous."

Patty smiled: "It was too funny for words. The way he gave one
horrified glance in my direction and then scrambled into his saddle
and dashed away, with the water flowing from him in rivulets. But of
course, I shall never mention it to Lord Clendenning, and I wish you
would thank him for his valiant championship of my cause."

Bethune shot her a swift sidewise glance. Was there just a trace of
mockery in the tone? If so, her expression masked it perfectly.

They rode in silence for a time, following down the course of a broad
valley, and presently came out onto the trail. A rider approached them
at a walk, the low-hung white dust cloud in his wake marking the
course of the long, hot trail. Bethune scrutinized the man intently.
"Jack Pierce," he announced. "He runs a little yak outfit, a few head
of horses, and some cattle over on Big Porcupine." A moment later
Bethune drew up and greeted the rider with a great show of cordiality.
"Hello, Pierce, old hand! How's everything over on Porcupine?"

The rancher returned the greeting with a curt nod, and a level stare:
"Things on Porky's all right, I guess--so far."

"I hear old man Samuelson's sick?"

"Yes."

"How's he getting on?"

"Ain't heard. So long." He touched his horse with a quirt and the
animal continued down the trail at a brisk trot.

"Surly devil," growled Bethune, as he gazed for a moment at the
retreating horseman, and this time Patty was sure she detected the
snake-like gleam in the black eyes. He dug his horse viciously with
his spurs and jerked him in, dancing and fighting the bit. He laughed,
shortly. "These little ranchers--bah!"

"Mr. Christie rode over to see Mr. Samuelson the other day. I met him
at Thompson's."

"Oh, so you know the soul-puncher, do you? Makes a big play with his
yellow chaps and six-gun. Suppose he had to be there to see that old
Samuelson gets a ring-side seat if he happens to cash in."

"He said he was going over to see if there was anything he could do,"
answered the girl, ignoring the venom of the man's words.

"Pretty slick graft--preaching. Educated for it myself. Old
Samuelson's rich. Christie goes over and pulls a long face, and sends
up a hatful of prayers, and if he gets well Samuelson will hand him a
nice fat check for the church. If he don't, the old woman kicks in.
And you know, and I know how much of it the church ever sees. Did the
soul-puncher have anything to say about me?"

"About you?" asked the girl in apparent surprise. "Why should he say
anything about you?"

"Because they all take a crack at me!" said Bethune in an injured
tone. "You just saw how Pierce answered a civil question. They all
hate me because I have made money. They never made any, and they never
will, and they're jealous of my success. They never lose a chance to
malign and injure me in every way possible--but I'll show them! Damn
them! I'll show them all!" They rode for a short distance in silence,
then Bethune laughed. It was the ringing boyish laugh that held no
hint of bitterness or sneer. "I hope you will pardon my outburst. I
have my moments of irascibility, for which I am heartily ashamed.
But--poof! Like a summer cloud, they are gone as quickly as they come.
Why should I care what they say of me. They betray their own meanness
of soul in their envy of my success. We part here for the time. I must
ride over onto the east slope--a little matter of some horses." Again
he laughed: "In a few days I shall return--I give you fair
warning--return to win your love. And I will win--I am Monk Bethune--I
always win!" Without waiting for a reply, the man drove his spurs
into his horse's sides and, swerving abruptly from the trail,
disappeared down a narrow rock chasm that led directly into the heart
of the hills.





Next: Patty Draws A Map

Previous: Lord Clendenning Gets A Ducking



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