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Patty Makes Her Strike








From: The Gold Girl

It was noon, one week from the day she had returned from the Samuelson
ranch, and Patty Sinclair stood upon the high shoulder of a butte and
looked down into a rock-rimmed valley. Her eyes roved slowly up and
down the depression where the dark green of the scrub contrasted
sharply with the crinkly buffalo grass, yellowed to spun gold beneath

the rays of the summer sun.

She reached up and stroked the neck of her horse. "Just think, old
partner, three days from now I may be teaching school in that horrid
little town with its ratty hotel, and its picture shows, and its
saloons, and you may be turned out in a pasture with nothing to do but
eat and grow fat! If we don't find our claim to-day, or to-morrow,
it's good-by hill country 'til next summer."

The day following her encounter with Bethune, Vil Holland had
appeared, true to his promise, and instructed her in the use of her
father's six-gun. At the end of an hour's practice, she had been able
to kick up the dirt in close proximity to a tomato can at fifteen
steps, and twice she had actually hit it. "That's good enough for any
use you're apt to have for it," her instructor had approved. "The main
thing is that you ain't afraid of it. An' remember," he added, "a gun
ain't made to bluff with. Don't pull it on anyone unless you go
through with it. Only short-horns an' pilgrims ever pull a gun that
don't need wipin' before it's put back--I could show you the graves of
several of 'em. I'm leavin' you some extry shells that you can shoot
up the scenery with. Always pick out somethin' little to shoot
at--start in with tin cans and work down to match-sticks. When you can
break six match-sticks with six shots at ten steps in ten seconds
folks will call you handy with a gun." He had made no mention of his
trip to town, of his filing a homestead, or of their conversation upon
the top of Lost Creek divide. When the lesson was finished, he had
refused Patty's invitation to supper, mounted his horse, and
disappeared up the ravine that led to the notch in the hills. Although
neither had mentioned it, Patty somehow felt that he had heard from
Watts of her encounter with Bethune. And now a week had passed and she
had seen neither Vil Holland nor the quarter-breed. It had been a week
of anxiety and hard work for the girl who had devoted almost every
hour of daylight to the unraveling of her father's map. Simple as the
directions seemed, her inability to estimate distances had proven a
serious handicap. But by dogged perseverance, and much retracing of
steps, and correcting of false leads, she finally stood upon the rim
of the valley she judged to lie two miles east of the humpbacked butte
that she had figured to be the inverted U of her father's map.

"If this isn't the valley, I'm through for this year," she said. "And
I've got to-day and to-morrow to explore it." She wondered at her
indifference--at her strange lack of excitement at this, the crucial
moment of her long quest, even as she had wondered at her absence of
fear, believing as she did, that Bethune was still in the hills. The
feeling inspired by the outlaw had been a feeling of rage, rather than
terror, and had rapidly crystallized in her outraged mind into an
abysmal soul-hate. She knew that, should the man accost her again, she
would kill him--and not for a single instant did she doubt her ability
to kill him. Vaguely, as she stood looking out over the valley, she
wondered if he were following her--if at that moment he were lying
concealed, somewhere among the surrounding rocks or patches of scrub?
Yet, she was conscious of no feeling of fear. She even attempted no
concealment as, standing there upon the bare rock, she drew her
father's map and photographs from her pocket and subjected them to a
long and minute scrutiny. And then, still holding them in her hand,
gazed once more over the valley. "To 'a,' to 'b,'" she repeated. "What
is there that daddy would have designed as 'a,' and 'b?'" Suddenly,
her glance became fixed upon a point up the valley that lay just
within her range of vision. With puckered eyes and hat-brim drawn low
upon her forehead, she stared steadily into the distance. She knew
that she had never before seen this valley, and yet the place seemed,
somehow, strangely familiar. With a low cry she bent over one of the
photographs. Her hands trembled violently as her eyes once more flew
to the valley. Yes, there it was, spread out before her just the way
it was in the photograph--the rock-strewn ground--she could even
identify the various rocks with the rocks in the picture. There was
the lone tree, and the long rock wall, higher at its upper end,
and--yes, she could just discern it--the zigzag crack in the rock
ledge! Jamming the papers into her pocket she leaped into the saddle
and dashed toward a fringe of scrub that marked the course of a coulee
which led downward into the valley. Over its edge, and down its
brush-choked course, slipping, sliding, scrambling, she urged her
horse, reckless of safety, reckless of anything except that her weary,
and at times it had seemed her hopeless, search was about to end. She
had stood where her daddy had stood when he took that photograph--had
seen with her own eyes--the jagged crack in the rock wall!

In the valley the going was better, and with quirt and spur she urged
her horse to his best, her eyes on the lone pine tree. At the rock
wall beyond, she pulled up sharply and stared at the jagged crevice
that bisected it from top to bottom. It was the crevice of the
photograph! Very deliberately she began at the top and traced its
course to the bottom. She noted the scraggly, stunted pines that
fringed the rim of the wall and that the crack started straight, and
then zigzagged to the ground. Producing the "close up" photograph, she
compared it with the reality before her--an entirely superfluous and
needless act, for each minute detail of the spot at which she stared
was indelibly engraved upon her memory. For hours on end, she had
studied those photographs, and now--she laughed aloud, and the sound
roused her to action. Slipping from the horse, she fumbled at the pack
strings of the saddle and loosened the canvas bag. She reached into
it, and stood erect holding a light hand-axe. Once more she consulted
her map. "Stake l. c.," she read. "That's lode claim--and then that
funny wiggly mark, and then the word center." Her brows drew together
as she studied the ground. Suddenly her face brightened. "Why, of
course!" she exclaimed. "That mark represents the crack, and daddy
meant to stake the claim with the crack for the center. Well, here
goes!" She vehemently attacked a young sapling, and ten minutes later
viewed with pride her four roughly hacked stakes. Picking up one of
them and the axe, she paced off her distance, and as she reached the
first corner point, stared in surprise at the ground. The claim had
already been staked! Eagerly she stooped to examine the bit of wood.
It had evidently been in place for some time--how long, the girl could
not tell. Long enough, though, for its surface to have become
weather-grayed and discolored. "Daddy's stakes," she breathed softly,
and as her fingers strayed over the surface two big tears welled into
her eyes and trickled unheeded down her cheeks. "If he staked the
claim, I wonder why he didn't file," she puzzled over the matter for a
moment, and dismissed it. "I don't know why. But, anyway, the thing
for me to do is to get in my own stakes--only, I'll file, just as soon
as I can get to the register's office."

After considerable difficulty, she succeeded in planting her own stake
close beside the other, which marked the southwest corner of the claim, a
short time later the northwest corner was staked, and the girl stared again
at the rock wall. "Why, I've got to put in my eastern boundary stakes up on
top--three hundred feet back from the edge!" she exclaimed; "maybe I'll
find his notice on one of those stakes." It required only a moment to
locate a ravine that led to the top of the ledge which was not nearly so
high as the one that formed the opposite side of the valley. She found the
old stakes, but no sign of a notice. "The wind, and the snow, and the rain
have destroyed it long ago," she muttered. "And, now for my own notice."
Producing from her bag a pencil and a piece of paper, she wrote her
description and affixed it to a stake by means of a bit of wire. Then,
descending once more into the valley, she produced her luncheon and threw
herself down beside the little creek. It was mid-afternoon, and she
suddenly discovered that she was ravenously hungry. With her back against a
rock fragment, she sat and feasted her eyes upon her claim--hers--HERS! Her
thoughts flew backward to the enthusiasm of her father over this very
claim. She remembered how his eyes had lighted as he told her of its hidden
treasure. She remembered the jibes, and doubts, and covert sneers of the
Middleton people, her father's death, her own anger and revolt, when she
had suddenly decided, in the face of their council, entreaties, and
commands to take up his work where he had left it. With kaleidoscopic
rapidity her thoughts flew over the events of the ensuing months--the
meeting with Vil Holland, her disappointment in the Watts ranch, her eager
acceptance of the sheep camp, the long weary weeks of patiently riding
along rock walls, taking each valley in turn, the growing fear of running
out of funds before she could locate the claim. She shuddered as she
thought of Monk Bethune, and of how nearly she had fallen a victim to his
machinations. Her thoughts returned to Vil Holland, her "guardian devil of
the hills," who had turned out to be in reality a guardian angel in
disguise. "Very much in disguise," she smiled, "with his jug of whisky."
Nobody who had helped make up her little world of people in the hill
country was forgotten, the Thompsons, the Samuelsons, and the Wattses--she
thought of them all. "Why, I--I love every one of them," she cried, as
though the discovery surprised her. "They're all, every one of them, real
friends--they're not like the others, the smug, sleek, best citizens of
Middleton. And I'll not forget one of them. We'll file that whole vein from
one end to the other!" Catching up her horse, she mounted, and sat for a
moment irresolute. "I could make town, sometime to-night," she mused, and
then her eyes rested for a moment upon her horse's neck where the white
alkali dust lay upon the rough, sweat-dried hair. "No," she decided. "We'll
go back to the cabin, and you can rest up, and to-morrow we'll start at
daylight."

"Mr. Christie was right," she smiled, as she took the back trail for
Monte's Creek. "I don't have to teach school. But, I wonder how he
could have gotten that 'hunch,' as he called it? When I've been
searching for the claim for months?"

In a little valley that ran parallel to Monte's Creek, Patty
encountered Microby Dandeline. The girl was lying stretched at full
length upon the ground and did not notice her approach until she was
almost on her, then she leaped to her feet, regarded her for a moment,
and, with a frightened cry, sprang into the bush and scrambled out of
sight along the steep side of a ravine. In vain Patty called, but her
only answer was the diminishing sounds of the girl's scrambling
flight. "What in the world has got into her of late," she wondered, as
she proceeded on her way. Certain it was that the girl avoided her,
not only at the Watts ranch, but whenever they had chanced to meet in
the hills. At first she had attributed it to anger or resentment over
her own treatment of her when she had tried to get possession of the
map. But, surely, even the dull-witted Microby must know that the
incident had been forgotten. "No," she decided, "there is something
else." Somehow, the girl no longer seemed the simple child-like
creature of the wild. There was a furtiveness about her, and she had
developed a certain crafty side glance, as though constantly seeking a
means of escape from something. Her mother had noticed the change,
and had confided to Patty that she was "gittin' mo' triflin' every
day, a-rammin' 'round the hills a-huntin' her a mine." "There's
something worrying her," muttered the girl. "Something that she don't
dare tell anyone, and it's sapping what little wit she has."

It was late that evening when Patty ate her solitary supper. The sun
had long set, and the dusk of the late twilight had settled upon the
valley of Monte's Creek as she wiped the last dish and set it upon the
shelf of her tiny cupboard. Suddenly she looked up. A form darkened
the doorway, and quick as a flash, her eyes sought the six-gun that
lay in its holster upon the bunk.

"You won't need that." The voice was reassuring. It was Vil Holland's
voice; she had recognized him a second before he spoke and greeted him
with a smile, even as she wondered what had brought him there. Only
three times before had he come to her cabin, once to ascertain who was
moving into the sheep camp, once when he had pitched Lord Clendenning
into the creek, and again, only a few days before, when he had come to
teach her to shoot. The girl noted that he seemed graver than usual,
if that were possible. Certain it was that he appeared to be holding
himself under restraint. She wondered if he had come to warn her of
the proximity of Bethune.

"I was in town, to-day," he came directly to the point. "An' Len
Christie told me you're goin' to teach school." He paused and his eyes
rested upon her face as if seeking confirmation.

Patty laughed; she could afford to laugh, now that the necessity for
teaching did not exist. "I asked him if he could find a school for me
sometime ago," she replied, trying to fathom what was in his mind.

There was a moment of silence, during which Patty saw the man's
fingers tighten upon his hat brim. "I don't want you to do that. It
ain't fit work--for you--teachin' other folks' kids."

Patty stared at him in surprise. The words had come slowly, and at
their conclusion he had paused.

"Maybe you could suggest some work that is more fit?"

The man ignored the hint of sarcasm. "Yes--I think I can." His head
was slightly bowed, and Patty saw that it was with an effort he
continued: "That is, I don't know if I can make you see it like I do.
It's awful real to me--an' plain. Miss Sinclair, I can't make any fine
speeches like they do in books. I wouldn't if I could--it ain't my
way. I love you more than I could tell you if I knew all the words in
the language, an' how to fit 'em together. I loved you that day I
first saw you--back there on the divide at Lost Creek. You was afraid
of me, an' you wouldn't show it, an' you wouldn't own up that you was
lost--'til I'd made the play of goin' off an' leavin' you. An' I've
loved you every minute since--an' every minute since, I've fought
against lovin' you. But, it's no use. The more I fight it, the
stronger it gets. It's stronger than I am. I can't down it. It's the
first time I ever ran up against anything I couldn't whip." Again he
paused. Patty advanced a step, and her eyes glowed softly as they
rested upon the form that stood in her doorway silhouetted against the
after-glow. She saw Buck rub his velvet nose affectionately up and
down the man's sleeve, and into her heart leaped a great longing for
this man who, with the unconscious dignity of the vast open places
upon him, had told her so earnestly of his love. She opened her lips
to speak but there was a great lump in her throat, and no words came.

"That's why," he continued, "I know it ain't just a flash in the
pan--this love of mine ain't. All summer I've watched you, an' the
hardest thing I ever had to do was to set back an' let you play a
lone hand against the worst devil that ever showed his face in the
hills. But the way things stacked up, I had to. You had me sized up
for the one that was campin' on your trail, an' anything I'd have done
would have played into Bethune's hand. I know I ain't fit for you--no
man is. But, I'll always do the best I know how by you--an' I'll
always love you. As for the rest of it, I never saved any money. I
know there's gold here in the hills, an' I've spent years huntin' it.
I'll find it, too--sometime. But, I ain't exactly a pauper, either.
I've got my two hands, an' I've got a contract with Old Man Samuelson
to winter his cattle. I didn't want to do it first, but the figure he
named was about twice what I thought the job was worth. I told him so
right out, an' he kind of laughed an' said maybe I'd need it all, an'
anyhow, them cattle was all grade Herefords, an' was worth more to
winter than common dogies. So, you see, we could winter through, all
right, an' next summer, we could prospect together. The gold's here,
somewhere--your dad knew it--an' I know it."

Receiving no answering pat, the buckskin left off his nuzzling of the
man's sleeve, and turned from the doorway. As he did so the brown
leather jug scraped lightly against the jamb. The girl's eyes flew to
the jug, and swiftly back to the man who stood framed in the doorway.
She loved him! For days and days she had known that she loved him, and
for days and nights her thoughts had been mostly of him--this
unsmiling knight of the saddle--her "guardian devil of the hills."
Without exception, the people whose regard was worth having respected
him, and liked him, even though they deplored his refusal to accept
steady work. They're just like the people back home, she thought. They
have no imagination. To their minds the cowpuncher who draws his forty
dollars a month, year in and year out, is in some manner more
dependable than the man whose imagination and love of the boundless
open lead him to stake his time against millions. What do they know of
the joys and the despairs of uncertainty? In a measure they, too, love
the plains and the hills--but their love of the open is inextricably
interwoven with their preconceived ideas of conduct. But, Vil Holland
is bound by no such convention; his "outfit," a pack horse to carry
it, and his home--all outdoors! Her father had imagination, and year
after year, in the face of the taunts and jibes of his small town
neighbors, he had steadfastly allowed his imagination full sway, and
at last--he had won. She had adored her father from whom she had
inherited her love of the wild. But--there was the jug! Always her
thoughts of Vil Holland had led up to that brown leather jug until she
had come to hate it with an unreasoning hatred.

"I see you have not forgotten your jug."

"No, I got it filled in town." The man's reply was casual, as he would
have mentioned his gloves, or his hat.

"You said you had never run up against anything you couldn't whip,
except--except----"

"Yes, except my love for you. That's right--an' I never expect to."

"How about that jug? Can you whip that?"

"Why, yes, I could. If there was any need. I never tried it."

"Suppose you try it for a while, and see."

The man regarded her seriously. "You mean, if I leave off packin' that
jug, you'll----"

"I haven't promised anything." The girl laughed a trifle nervously.
"But, I will tell you this much. I utterly despise a drunkard!"

Vil Holland nodded slowly. "Let's get the straight of it," he said.
"I didn't know--I didn't realize it was really hurtin' me any. Can you
see that it does? Have I ever done anything that you know of, or have
heard tell of, that a sober man wouldn't do?"

The girl felt her anger rising. "Nobody can drink as much as you do,
and not be the worse for it. Don't try to defend yourself."

"No, I wouldn't do that. You see, if it's hurtin' me, there wouldn't
be any defense--an' if it ain't, I don't need any."

For an instant Patty regarded the man who stood framed in the doorway.
"Clean-blooded," the doctor had called him, and clean-blooded he
looked--the very picture of health and rugged strength, clear of eye
and firm of jaw, not one slightest hint or mark of the toper could she
detect, and the realization that this was so, angered her the more.

Abruptly, she changed the subject, and the moment the brown leather
jug was banished from her mind, her anger subsided. In the doorway,
Vil Holland noted the undercurrent of suppressed excitement in her
voice as she said: "I have the most wonderful news! I--I found
daddy's mine!" Seconds passed as the man stood waiting for her to
proceed. "I found it to-day," she continued, without noting that his
lean brown hand gripped the hat brim even more tightly than before,
nor that his lips were pressed into a thin straight line. "And my
stakes are all in, and in the morning I'm going to file."

Vil Holland interrupted. "You--you say you located Rod Sinclair's
strike? You really located it?" Somehow, his voice sounded different.

The girl sensed the change without defining it. "Yes, I really found
it!" she answered. "Do you want to know where?" Hastily she turned to
the cupboard and taking a match from a box, lighted the lamp. "You
see," she laughed, "I am not afraid to trust you. I'm going to show
you daddy's map, and his photographs, and the samples. Oh, if you knew
how I've hunted and hunted through these hills for that rock wall! You
see, the map was like so much Greek to me, until I happened by
accident to learn how to read it. Before that, I just rode up and down
the valleys hunting for the wall with the broad crooked crack in it.
Here it is." The man had advanced to the table, and was bending over
the two photographs, examining them minutely. "And here's his map." He
picked up the paper and for several minutes studied the penciled
directions. Then he laid it down, and turned his attention to the
samples.

"High grade," he appraised, and returned them to the table beside the
photographs. "So, you don't have to teach school," he said, speaking
more to himself than to her. "An' you'll be goin' out of the hill
country for good an' all. There's nothin' here for you, now that
you've got what you come after. You'll be goin' back--East."

Patty laughed, and as Vil Holland looked into her face he saw that her
eyes held dancing lights. "I'm not going back East," she said. "I've
learned to love--the hill country. I have learned that--perhaps--there
is more here for me than--than even daddy's mine."

Vil Holland shook his head. "There's nothin' for you in the hills," he
repeated, slowly, and abruptly extended his hand. "I'm glad for your
sake your luck changed, Miss Sinclair. I hope the gold you take out of
there will bring you happiness. You've earnt it--every cent of it, an'
you've got it, an' now, as far as the hill country goes--the books are
closed. Good-night, I must be goin', now."

Abruptly as he had offered his hand, he withdrew it, and turning,
stepped through the door, mounted his horse, and rode out into the
night.





Next: The Race For The Register

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