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Lord Clendenning Gets A Ducking

From: The Gold Girl

Patty awoke at dawn and dressed hurriedly. Shivering in the chill air,
she lighted a match and pushed back a lid of the little cast iron cook
stove. Instead of the "cold fire" of neatly arranged wood and
kindlings that she had built before leaving for town a pile of gray
ashes and blackened ends of charcoal greeted her.

"Whoever it was knew he had plenty of time at his disposal so he
helped himself to a meal," she muttered angrily. "He might, at least,
have cut me some kindlings. I'm surprised that he had the good grace
to wash up his dirty dishes." A few moments later, as the fire
crackled merrily in the stove, she picked up the water pail and
stepping through the door, threw back her head and breathed deeply of
the crisp mountain air. "Oh, it's wonderful just to be alive!" she
whispered. "Even if everybody is against you. It's just like a great
big game and, oh, I want to win! I've got to win!" she added, grimly,
as her thoughts flew to her depleted bank account.

At the spring she paused in the act of filling her pail and stared at
a mark in the mud at the edge of the tiny rill formed by the overflow
from the catch basin. She leaned over and examined the mark more
closely. It was the track of a bare foot. Then, for the first time in
many days, the girl threw back her head and laughed. "Microby
Dandeline!" she cried. "And I was picturing some skulking murderer
lying in wait to pounce on me at the first opportunity. And here it
was only poor little Microby who happened along, and with her natural
curiosity pawed over everything in the cabin, and then decided it
would be a grand stunt to cook herself a meal and eat it at my
table--and I haven't the least doubt that she arrayed herself in one
of my dresses when she did it." Patty hummed a light tune as, water
pail in hand, she made her way up the path to the cabin. "Whee! but
it's a relief to feel that I won't have to ride these hills peering
behind every tree and rock for a lurking assassin. And I won't have to
carry that horrid heavy old gun, either."

After breakfast she saddled her horse and headed up the ravine that
she had followed upon the morning of her first ride. At the top of the
divide she pulled up her horse and gazed downward at the little cabin.
As before she was impressed by the startling distinctness with which
each object was visible. "Anyway, I'm glad my window is not on this
side," she muttered, as her eyes strayed to the ground at her horse's
feet. For yards around, the buffalo grass had been trampled and pawed
until scarcely a spear remained. "Here's where he watches me start out
each morning, then he follows me until he's sure I'm well away from
the valley, then he slips back and searches the cabin, and then takes
up my trail again. The miserable sneak!" she cried, angrily. "If Mr.
Thompson, and Watts, and that cowboy preacher knew what I knew about
him, they wouldn't seem so impressed with him. Anyway," she added,
defiantly, "Mr. Bethune and Lord Clendenning know him for what he
is-and so do I."

It was in a very wrathful mood that she turned her horse's head and
struck into the timber, being careful to avoid Vil Holland's camp by a
wide margin. Crossing the timbered plateau, she topped a low divide
and found herself at the head of a deep, rocky valley, whose course
she could trace for miles as it wound in and out among the far hills.
Giving her horse his head, she began the descent of the valley,
scanning its sides carefully as the animal picked his way slowly among
the rock fragments and patches of scrub timber that littered its
floor. She had proceeded for perhaps an hour when, in passing the
mouth of a ravine that slanted sharply into the hills, she was
startled by a rattling of loose stones, and a horse and rider emerged
almost directly into her path. The next moment Vil Holland raised the
Stetson from his head and addressed her gravely: "Good mornin' Miss
Sinclair, I sure didn't mean to come out on you sudden, that way, but
Buck slipped on the rocks an' we come mighty near pilin' up."

"It is about the first slip you've made, isn't it?" Patty answered,
acidly. "Possibly if you'd left your jug at home you wouldn't have
made that."

"Oh no. We've slipped before. Fact is, we've been into about every
kind of a jack-pot the hills can deal. We rolled half way down a
mountain once, an' barrin' a little skinnin' up, we come out of it all
to the good. But it ain't the jug. Buck don't drink. It's surprisin'
what a good habited horse he is. He's a heap better'n most folks."
The man spoke gravely, with no hint of sarcasm in his tone, and Patty
sniffed. He appeared not to notice. "How you comin' on with the
prospectin'? Found yer dad's claim yet?"

"You ought to know whether I have or not," she retorted, hotly.

"That's so. If you had, you wouldn't still be huntin' it, would you?"

"No. And if I had, I'd have had a nice little race on my hands to file
it, wouldn't I?"

"Well, I expect maybe you would. But that horse of yours is pretty
handy on his feet. Used to belong to Bob Smith--that's his brand--that
KN on the left shoulder."

"Yes," answered the girl, meaningly. "I understand there is only one
horse in the hills that could outrun him."

"Buck can. I won ten dollars off Bob one time. We run a mile, an' Buck
won, easy. But the best thing about Buck, he's a distance horse. He's
got the wind--an' he don't know what it means to quit. He could run
all day if he had to, couldn't you, Buck?" The man stroked the
buckskin's neck affectionately as he talked.

Patty's eyes glinted angrily: "The stakes would have to be pretty
high for you to run him, say, fifty miles, wouldn't they?"

"Yes. Pretty high," he repeated, and changed the subject abruptly.
"Must find it kind of lonesome out here in the hills, after livin' in
the East where there's lots of folks around all the time."

"Oh, not at all," answered the girl, quickly. "Some of my neighbors
are good enough to call on me once in a while--when I am at home.
And there is at least one that calls very regularly when I am not at
home. He is a genius for detail--that one. Sharp eyes, and a light
touch. He's something of an expert in the matter of duplicate keys,
too. In any large city he should make a grand success--as a burglar.
It is really too bad that he's wasting his talents, here in the

"Maybe he figures that the stakes are higher, and the risk less--here
in the hills."

"Of course," sneered Patty. "And I must say his reasoning does him
credit. If he should succeed in burglarizing even the biggest bank in
the richest city, he could not expect to carry off a gold mine. And,
here in the hills, instead of burglar-proof devices and armed
policemen, he has only an unlocked cabin, and a woman to contend
with. Yes, the risk is far less here in the hills. His location speaks
well for his reasoning--if not for his courage."

"I suppose he figures that plenty of brutes have got courage, but only
humans can reason," answered the man, blandly. "But, ridin' out in the
hills this way--that must be a lonesome job."

"Not at all," she answered, in a voice that masked the anger against
the man who sat calmly baiting her. "In fact, I never ride alone. I
have an unseen escort, who accompanies me wherever I go. 'My guardian
devil of the hills' I call him, and even when I'm at home I know that
he is watching from his notch in the rim of the hills."

"Guardian devil," the man repeated. "That's pretty good." He did not
smile, in fact, Patty recalled, as she sat looking squarely into his
eyes, that she had never seen him smile--had never seen him express
any emotion. Without a trace of anger in tone or expression he had
ordered the grasping hotel-keeper about--and had been obeyed to the
letter. And without the slightest evidence of annoyance or displeasure
he had listened, upon several occasions to her own sarcastic outbursts
against him. Here was a man as devoid of emotion as a fish, or one
whose complete self-mastery was astounding. "Pretty good," he
repeated. "And does he know that you call him your 'guardian devil?'"

"Yes, I think he does--now," she answered, dryly. "By the way, Mr.
Holland, you do a good deal of riding about the hills, yourself."

"Yeh, prospectors are apt to. Then, there's other little matters of
interest here, too."

"Such as horse-thieving?" suggested the girl. "I heard you were paid
to run down a gang of horse-thieves. I was wondering when you found
time to earn your money."

"Yeh, there's some hair artists loose in the hills, an' some of the
outfits kind of wanted me to keep an eye out for 'em."

An old saw flashed into the girl's mind, and the comers of her mouth
drew into a sarcastic smile.

"'Settin' a thief to catch a thief,' is what you're thinkin'. We ain't
so well acquainted yet as what we will be--when you get your eye teeth

"I suppose our real acquaintance will begin when the game we are
playing comes to a show-down?" she sneered. "But let me tell you this,
if I win, our acquaintance will end, right where you think it will

The cowboy nodded: "That's fair an' square. An' if I win--you'll have
to be satisfied with what you get. Good-day, I've fooled away time
enough already." And, with a word to his horse, Vil Holland
disappeared up the valley in the direction from which the girl had

When her anger had cooled sufficiently, Patty smiled, a rather grim,
tight-lipped little smile. "If he wins I'll have to be satisfied with
what I get," she muttered. "At least, he's candid about it. I think,
now, Mr. Vil Holland and I understand each other perfectly."

Late in the afternoon she emerged from the mouth of her valley and,
crossing a familiar tongue of bench, found herself upon the trail near
the point of its intersection with Monte's Creek. Turning up the
creek, she stopped for a few minutes' chat with Ma Watts.

"Law sakes! Climb right down an' set a while. I wus sayin' to Watts
las' night how we-all hain't see nawthin' of yo' fer hit's goin' on a
couple of weeks 'cept yo' hirein' the team, an' not stoppin' in to
speak of, comin' er goin'. How be yo'? An' I 'spect yo' hain't found
yer pa's claim yet. I saved yo' up a dozen of aigs. Hed to mighty near
fight off that there Lord Clendennin' he wanted 'em so bad. But I
done tol' him yo' wus promised 'em, an' yo'd git 'em not nary nother.
So there they be, honey, all packed in a pail with hay so's they won't
break. No sir, I tol' him how he couldn't hev' 'em if he wus two
lords. An' all the time we wus a-augerin', Mr. Bethune an' Microby
Dandeline sot out yonder a-talkin' an' laughin', friendly as yo'
please." Ma Watts paused for breath and her eye fell upon her spouse,
who stood meekly beside the kitchen door. "Watts, where's yer manners?
Cain't yo' say 'howdy' to Mr. Sinclair's darter--an' her a-payin' yo'
good money fer rent an' fer team hire. Yo' ort to be 'shamed, standin'
gawpin' like a mud turkle. Folks 'ud think yo' hain't got good sense."

"I aimed to say 'howdy' first chanct I got." He shoved a chair toward
the girl. "Set down an' take hit easy a spell."

"Where is Microby?" she asked, refusing the proffered seat with a
smile, and leaning lightly against her saddle.

"Land sakes, I don't know! She's gittin' that no 'count, she goes
pokin' off somewhere's in the hills on Gee Dot. Says she's
a-prospectin'--like they all says when they're too lazy to do reg'lar

"My father was a prospector," answered the girl, quickly, "and there
wasn't a lazy bone in his body. And I'm a prospector, and I'm sure I'm
not lazy."

"Law, there I went an' done hit!" exclaimed Ma Watts, contritely. "I
didn't mean no real honest-to-Gawd, reg'lar prospectors like yo' pa
wus, an' yo', an' Mr. Bethune. But there's that Vil Holland, he's a
cowpuncher, when he works, and a prospector when he don't. An' there's
Lord Clendennin', he's a prospector all the time, 'cause he don't
never work--an' that's the way hit goes. An' Microby Dandeline's
a-gittin' as triflin' as the rest. Mr. Bethune, he tellin' her how
she'd git rich ef she could find a gol' mind, an' how she could buy
her some fine clos' like yourn, an' go to the city to live like the
folks in the pitchers. Mr. Bethune, he's done found minds. He's rich.
An' he's got manners, too. Watts, he's allus makin' light of
manners--says they don't 'mount to nawthin'. But thet's 'cause he
hain't quality. Quality's got 'em, an' they're nice to hev."

"Gre't sight o' quality--him," growled Watts. "He's part Injun."

"Hit don't make no diff'ence what he's part!" defended the woman.
"He's rich, an' he's purty lookin', an' he's got manners like I done
tol' yo'. Ef I wus you I'd marry up with him, an----"

"Why, Mrs. Watts! What do you mean?" exclaimed the girl flushing with

"Jest what I be'n aimin' to tell yo' fer hit's goin' on quite a spell.
Yo'n him 'ud step hit off right pert. Yo' pretty, an' yo' rich, er yo'
will be when yo' find yo' pa's mind, an' yo' manners is most as good
as his'n."

The humor of the mountain woman's serious effort at match-making
struck Patty, and she interrupted with a laugh: "There are several
objections to that arrangement," she hastened to say. "In the first
place Mr. Bethune has never asked me to marry him. He may have serious
objections, and as for me, I'm not ready to even think of marrying."

"Don't take long to git ready, onct yo' git in the notion. An' I bet
Mr. Bethune hain't abuzzin' 'round up an' down this yere crick fer
nawthin'. Law sakes, child, when I tuk a notion to take Watts, come a
supper time I wusn't no more a mind to git married than yo' be, an',
by cracky! come moonrise me an' Watts had forked one o' pa's mewels
with nothin' on but a rope halter, an' wus headin' down the branch
with pa an' my brother Lafe a-cuttin' through the lau'ls with their
rifle-guns fer to head us off."

"Yo' didn't take me fer looks ner manners, neither," reminded Watts.

"Law, I'd a be'n single yet, ef I hed. No sir, I tuk yo' to save a
sight o' killin' that's what I done. Yo' see, Miss, my pa wus sot on
me not marryin' no Watts--not that I aimed to, 'til he says I dasn't.
But Watts hed be'n a pesterin' 'round right smart, nights, an' pa
lowed he'd shore kill him daid ef he didn't mind his own
business--so'd my brothers, they wus five of 'em, an' nary one that
wusn't mighty handy with his rifle-gun.

"So Watts, he quit a-comin' to the cabin, but me an' him made hit up
thet he'd hide out on t'other side o' the branch an' holler like a
owl, an' then I'd slip out the back do'--an' that's the way we done
our co'tin'. My folks didn't hev no truck with the Wattses thet lived
on t'other side the mountain, 'count of them killin' two Strunkses a
way back, the Strunkses bein' my pa's ma's folks, over a hawg. Even
then I didn't hev no notion o' marryin' Watts, jest done hit to be
a-doin' like, ontil pa an' the boys ketched on to whut we wus up to.
After thet, hit got so't every time they heerd a squinch owl holler,
they'd begin a-shootin' into the bresh with their rifle guns. Watts
lowed they was comin' doggone clust to him a time er two, an' how he
aimed to bring along his own gun some night, an' start a shootin'

"Law knows wher it would ended, whut one with another, the Biggses an'
the Strunkses, an' the Rawlins, an' the Craborchards would hev be'n
drug into hit, along of the Wattses an' the Scrogginses. So I tuk
Watts, an' we went to live with his folks, an' we sent back the mewel
with Job Swenky, who they wouldn't nobody kill 'cause he wus a daftie.
An' pa brung back the mewel hisself, come alone, an' 'thouten his
rifle-gun. He says seem' how Watts hed got me fair an' squr, an' we
wus reg'lar married, he reckoned the ol' grudge wus dead, the
Strunkses wasn't no count much, nohow, an' we wus welcome to keep the
mewel to start on. So Watts's pa killed a shoat, an' brung out a big
jug o' corn whisky, an' we-all et an' drunk all we could hold, an'
from then on 'til whut time we come away from ther, they wusn't a man,
outside a couple o' revenoos, killed on B'ar Track.

"So yo' see," the woman continued, with a smile. "Hit don't take no
time to git ready, onct yo' git in the notion."

"I'm afraid I haven't the same provocation," Patty laughed, as she
picked up her pail of eggs and swung into the saddle. "Good-by, and be
sure and tell Microby Dandeline to come up and see me. Maybe she'd
like to come up on Sunday. I never ride on Sunday."

"She'll come fast enough," promised Ma Watts, and watched the
retreating girl until a bend of the creek carried her out of sight.

The long shadows of the mountains were slowly climbing the opposite
wall of the valley, as the girl rode leisurely up Monte's Creek. And
as she rode, she smiled: "Why is it that every married woman--and
especially the older ones, thinks it is her bounden duty to pounce
upon and marry off every single one? It is not one bit different out
here in the heart of the hills, than it is in Middleton, or New York.
And, it isn't because they're all so happy in their own marriages,
either. Look at old Mrs. Stratford, who was bound and determined that
I must marry that Archie Smith-Jones; she's been married four times,
and divorced three. And Archie never will amount to a row of pins. He
looks like a tailor's model, and acts like a Rolls-Royce. And, I
don't see any supreme bliss about Mrs. Watts's married existence,
although she's perfectly satisfied, I guess, poor thing. I love the
subtle finesse with which she tried to arrange a match between me and
Mr. Bethune. ''Ef I wus yo' I'd marry up with him'--just like that!
Shades of Mrs. Stratford who spent two whole months trying to get
Archie and me into the same canoe! And when she did, the blamed thing
tipped over and ruined the only decent summer things I had, all
because that fool Archie thought he had to stand up to fend the canoe
off the pier.... At least, Mr. Bethune has got some sense, and he is
good looking, and he seems to have money, and there is a certain dash
and verve about him that one would hardly expect to find here in the
hills--and yet--there's something--it isn't his Indian blood, I don't
care a cent about that--but sometimes, there's something about him
that makes me wonder if he's genuine."

She passed through the cottonwood grove and emerged into the open only
a few hundred yards below the sheep camp. A moment later she halted
abruptly and stared toward the cabin. Two saddled horses stood before
the door, reins hanging loosely, and upon the edge of a low cut-bank,
just below the shallow waters of the ford, two men were struggling,
locked in each other's embrace. Hastily the girl drew back into the
cover of the grove and watched with intense interest the two forms
that weaved precariously above the deep pool formed by a sudden bend
in the creek. The horses she recognized as Vil Holland's buckskin, and
the big, blaze-faced bay ridden by Lord Clendenning. In the gathering
dusk she could not make out the faces of the two men, but by their
heaving, circling, swaying figures she knew that mighty muscles were
being strained to their utmost, and that soon one or the other must
give in. A dozen questions flashed through the girl's brain. What were
they doing there? Why were they fighting at the very door of her
cabin? And, above all, what would be the outcome? Would one of them
kill the other? Would one of them be left maimed and bleeding for her
to bind up and coax back to life?

The men were on the very verge of the cut-bank, now, and it seemed
inevitable that both must go crashing into the creek. "Serve 'em right
if they would," muttered Patty, "I'd like to give 'em a push." With
the words on her lips, she saw a blur of motion, one of the forms
leaped lightly back, and the other poised for a second, arms waving
wildly in a vain effort to regain his balance, then fell suddenly
backward and toppled headlong into the creek. Patty could distinctly
hear the mighty splash with which he struck the water, as the other
advanced to the edge and peered downward. She knew that this other was
Vil Holland, and a moment later he turned away and catching up the
reins of the buckskin, swung into the saddle, splashed through the
ford, and disappeared into the scrub timber of the opposite side of
the valley.

Patty urged her horse forward, at the imminent risk of injury to her
pail of eggs. When she had almost reached the cabin, a grotesque,
dripping form crawled heavily from the creek bed, gave one hurried
glance in her direction, mounted his horse, and disappeared in a
thunder of galloping hoofs.

Next: Bethune Tries Again

Previous: The Bishop Of All Outdoors

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