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Patty Takes Precautions

From: The Gold Girl

During the next few days Patty Sinclair paid scant attention to rock
ledges. Each morning she saddled her cayuse and rode into the hills to
the southward, crossing divides and following creeks and valleys from
their sources down their winding, twisting lengths. After the first
two or three trips she left her gun at home. It was heavy and
cumbersome, and she realized, in her unskilled hand, useless. Always
she felt that she was being followed, but, try as she would, never
could catch so much as a fleeting glimpse of the rider who lurked on
her trail. Nevertheless, during these long rides which she made for
the sole purpose of familiarizing herself with all the short cuts
through the hills, she derived satisfaction from the fact that, while
the trips were of immense value to her, Vil Holland was having his
trouble for his pains.

Ascertaining at length that, after crossing the high divide at the
head of Monte's Creek, any valley leading southward would prove a
direct outlet onto the bench and thereby furnish a short cut to town,
she returned once more to her prospecting--to the exploration of
little valleys, and the examination of innumerable rock ledges.

Accepting as part of the game the fact that her cabin was searched
almost daily during her absence she derived grim enjoyment in
contemplation of the searcher's repeated disappointment. Several
attempts to surprise the marauder at his work proved futile, and she
was forced to admit that in the matter of shrewdness and persistence,
his ability exceeded her own. "The real test will come when I locate
the mine," she told herself one evening, as she sat alone in her
little cabin. "Then the prize will go to the fastest horse." She drew
a small folding check-book from her pocket and frowningly regarded its
latest stub. "A thousand dollars isn't very much, and--it's half

Next day she rode out of the hills and, following the trail for town,
dismounted at Thompson's ranch which nestled in its coulee well out
upon the bench, and waited for the rancher, who drove up beside a huge
stack with a load of alfalfa, to unhitch his team.

"Have you a good saddle horse for sale?" she asked, abruptly.

Thompson released the tug chains, and hung the bridles upon the hames,
whereupon the horses of their own accord started toward the stable,
followed by a ranch hand who slid from the top of the stack. Without
answering, he called to the man: "Take the lady's horse along an' give
him a feed."

"It's noon," he explained, turning to the girl. "You'll stay fer
dinner." He pointed toward the house. "You'll find Miz T. in the
kitchen. If you want to wash up, she'll show you."

The ranch hand was leading her horse toward the barn. "But," objected
Patty, "I didn't mean to run in like this just at meal time. Mrs.
Thompson won't be expecting a guest, and I brought a lunch with me."

Thompson laughed: "You must be a pilgrim in these parts," he said.
"Most folks would ride half a day to git here 'round feedin' time. We
always count on two or three extry, so I guess they'll be a-plenty."
The man's laugh was infectious, and Patty found herself smiling. She
liked him from the first. There was a ponderous heartiness about him,
and she liked the way his little brown eyes sparkled from out their
network of sun-browned wrinkles. "You trot along in, now, an' tell Miz
T. she can begin dishin' up whenever she likes. We'll be 'long
d'rectly. They'll be plenty time to talk horse after we've et. My work
teams earns a good hour of noonin', an' I don't begrudge 'em an hour
an' a half, hot days."

Patty found Mrs. Thompson slight and quiet as her husband was big and
hearty. But her smile was as engaging as his, and an indefinable
something about her made the girl feel at home the moment she crossed
the threshold. "I came to see Mr. Thompson about a horse, and he
insisted that I stay to dinner," she apologized.

"Why, of course you'll stay to dinner. But you must be hot an' tired.
The wash dish is there beside the door. You better use it before
Thompson an' the hands comes, they always slosh everything all
up--they don't wash, they waller."

"Mr. Thompson said to tell you you could begin to dish up whenever
you're ready."

The woman smiled. "Yes, an' have everythin' set an' git cold, while
they feed the horses an' then like's not, stand 'round a spell an'
size up the hay stack, er mebbe mend a piece of harness or somethin'.
I guess you ain't married, er you wouldn't expect a man to meals 'til
you see him comin'. Seems like no matter how hungry they be, if they's
some little odd job they can find to do just when you get the grub set
on, they pick that time to do it. 'Specially if it's somethin' that
don't 'mount to anythin', an' like's not's b'en layin' 'round in plain
sight a week."

Patty laughingly admitted she was not married. "But, I'd teach 'em a
lesson," she said. "I'd put the things on and let them get cold."

The older woman smiled, and at the sound of voices, peered out the
door: "Here they come now," she said, and proceeded to carry heaping
vegetable dishes and a steaming platter of savory boiled meat from the
stove to the table. There was a prodigious splashing outside the door
and a moment later Thompson appeared, followed by his two ranch hands,
hair wet and shining, plastered tightly to their scalps, and faces
aglow from vigorous scrubbing. "You mind Mr. Sinclair, that used to
prospect in the hills," introduced Mrs. Thompson; "this is his

Her husband bowed awkwardly: "Glad to know you. We know'd yer
paw--used to stop now an' again on his way to town. He was a smart
man. Liked to talk to him. He'd be'n all over." The man turned his
attention to his plate and the meal proceeded in solemn silence to its
conclusion. The two ranch hands arose and disappeared through the
door, and tilting back in his chair Thompson produced a match from his
pocket, and proceeded to whittle it into a toothpick. "I heard in town
how you was out in the hills," he began. "They said yer paw went back
East--" he paused as if uncertain how to proceed.

Patty nodded: "Yes, he went back home, and this spring he died. He
told me he had made a strike and I came out here to locate it."

The kindly brown eyes regarded her intently: "Ever do any

"No. This is my first experience."

"I never, either. But, if I was you I'd kind of have an eye on my

"You mean--the Wattses?" asked the girl in surprise.

The brown eyes were twinkling again: "No, Watts, he's all right! Only
trouble with Watts is he sets an' herds the sun all day. But, they's
others besides Watts in the hills."

"Yes," answered the girl, quickly, "I know. And that is the reason I
came to see you about a horse."

"What's the matter with the one you got?"

"Nothing at all. He seems to be a good horse. He's fast too, when I
want to crowd him. But, I need another just as good and as fast as he
is. Have you one you will sell?"

"I'll sell anything I got, if the price is right," smiled the man.

Patty regarded him thoughtfully: "I haven't very much money," she
said. "How much is he worth?"

Thompson considered: "A horse ain't like a cow-brute. There ain't no
regular market price. Horses is worth just as much as you can get
folks to pay fer 'em. But it looks like one horse ort to be enough to
prospect 'round the hills on."

"It isn't that," explained the girl. "If I buy him I shall try to
arrange with you to leave him right here where I can get him at a
moment's notice. I shall probably never need him but once, but when I
do, I shall need him badly." She paused, but without comment the man
waited for her to proceed: "I believe I am being followed, and if I
am, when I locate the claim, I am going to have to race for the
register's office."

Thompson leaned forward upon the table and chewed his toothpick
rapidly: "By Gosh, an' you want to have a fresh horse here for a
change!" he exclaimed, his eyes beaming approval.

"Exactly. Have you got the horse?"

The man nodded: "You bet I've got the horse! I've got a horse out
there in the corral that'll run rings around anythin' in this country
unless it's that there buckskin of Vil Holland's--an' I guess you
ain't goin' to have no call to race him."

Patty was on the point of exclaiming that the buckskin was the very
horse she would have to race, but instead she smiled: "But, if your
horse started fresh from here, and even Vil Holland's horse had run
clear from the mountains, this one could beat him to town, couldn't

"Could do it on three legs," laughed the man.

"How much do you ask for him?" The girl waited breathless, thinking of
her diminishing bank account.

Thompson's brow wrinkled: "I hold Lightnin' pretty high," he said,
after a pause. "You see, some of us ranchers is holdin' a fast horse
handy, a-waitin' fer word from the hills--an' when it comes, they's
goin' to be the biggest horse-thief round-up the hill country ever
seen. An' unless I miss my guess they'll be some that's carried their
nose pretty high that's goin' to snap down on the end of a tight one."

"Now, Thompson, what's the use of talkin' like that? Them things is
bad enough to have to do, let alone set around an' talk about 'em.
Anyone'd think you took pleasure in hangin' folks."

"I would--some folks."

The little woman turned to Patty: "He's just a-talkin'. Chances is, if
it come to hangin', Thompson would be the one to try an' talk 'em out
of it. Why, he won't even brand his own colts an' calves--makes the
hands do it."

"That's different," defended the man. "They're little an' young an'
they ain't never done nothin' ornery."

"But you haven't told me how much you want for your horse," persisted
the girl.

"Now just you listen to me a minute. I don't want to sell that horse,
an' there ain't no mortal use of you buyin' him. He's always
here--right in the corral when he ain't in the stable, an' either
place, all you got to do is throw yer kak on him an' fog it."

The girl stared at him in surprise: "You mean----"

"I mean that you're plumb welcome to use Lightnin' whenever you need
him. An' if they's anything else I can do to help you beat out any
ornery cuss that'd try an' hornswaggle you out of yer claim, you can
count on me doin' it! An' whether you know it 'er not, I ain't the
only one you can count on in a pinch neither." The man waved her
thanks aside with a sweep of a big hand, and rose from the table. "Miz
T. an' me'd like fer you to stop in whenever you feel like----"

"Yes, indeed, we would," seconded the little woman. "Couldn't you come
over an' bring yer sewin' some day?"

Patty laughed: "I'm afraid I haven't much sewing to bring, but I'll
come and spend the day with you some time. I'd love to."

The girl rode homeward with a lighter heart than she had known in some
time. "Now let him follow me all he wants to," she muttered. "But I
wonder why Mr. Thompson said I wouldn't have to race the buckskin. And
who did he mean I could count on in a pinch--Watts, I guess, or maybe
he meant Mr. Bethune."

As she saddled her horse next morning, Bethune presented himself at
the cabin. "Where away?" he smiled as he rode close, and swung
lightly to the ground.

"Into the hills," she answered, "in search of my father's lost mine."

The man's expression became suddenly grave: "Do you know, Miss
Sinclair, I hate to think of your riding these hills alone."

Patty glanced at him in surprise: "Why?"

"There are several reasons. For instance, one never knows what will
happen--a misstep on a dangerous trail--a broken cinch--any one of a
hundred things may happen in the wilds that mean death or serious
injury, even to the initiated. And the danger is tenfold in the case
of a tender-foot."

The girl laughed: "Thank you. But, if anything is going to happen,
it's going to happen. At least, I am in no danger from being run down
by a street car or an automobile. And I can't be blown up by a gas
explosion, or fall into a coal hole."

"But there are other dangers," persisted the man. "A woman, alone in
the hills--especially you."

"Why 'especially me'? Plenty of women have lived alone before in
places more dangerous than this, and have gotten along very well,
too. You men are conceited. You think there can be no possible safety
unless members of your own sex are at the helm of every undertaking or
enterprise. But you are wrong."

Bethune shook his head: "But I have reason to believe that there is at
least one person in these hills who believes you possess the secret of
your father's strike--and who would stop at nothing to obtain that

"I suppose you mean Vil Holland. I agree that he does seem to take
more than a passing interest in my comings and goings. But he doesn't
seem very fierce. Anyhow, I am not in the least afraid of him."

"What do you mean that he seems to take an interest in your comings
and goings?" The question seemed a bit eager. "Surely he has not been
following you!"

"Hasn't he? Then possibly you can tell me who has?"

"The scoundrel! And when you discover the lode he'll wait 'til you
have set your stakes and posted your notice, and have gotten out of
sight, and then he'll drive in his own stakes, stick up his own notice
beside them and beat you to the register."

Patty laughed: "Race me, you mean. He won't beat me. Remember, I shall
have at least a half-hour's start."

"A half-hour!" exclaimed Bethune. "And what is a half-hour in a
fifty-mile race against that buckskin. Why, my dear girl, with all due
respect for that horse of yours, Vil Holland's horse could give you
two hours' start and beat you to the railroad."

"Maybe," smiled the girl. "But he's going to have to do it--that is,
if I ever locate the lode."

"Ah, that is the point, exactly. It is that that brings me here. Not
that alone," he hastened to add. "For I would ride far any day to
spend a few moments with so charming a lady--and indeed, I should not
have delayed my visit this long but for some urgent business to the
northward. At all events, I'm here, and here I shall stay until,
together, we have solved our mystery of the hills."

The girl glanced into the face alight with boyish enthusiasm, and felt
irresistibly impelled to take this man into her confidence--to enlist
his help in the working out of her unintelligible map, and to admit
him to full partnership in her undertaking. There would be enough for
both if they succeeded in uncovering the lode. Her father had
intended that he should share in his mine. She recalled his eulogy of
her father, and his frank admission that there had been no agreement
of partnership. If anyone ever had the appearance of perfect sincerity
and candor this man had. She remembered her seriously depleted bank
account. Bethune had money, and in case the search should prove
long--Suddenly the words of Vil Holland flashed into her brain with
startling abruptness: "Remember yer dad knew enough to play a lone
hand." And again. "Did yer dad tell you about this partnership?" And
the significant emphasis he placed upon the "Oh," when she had
answered in the negative.

Bethune evidently had taken her silence for assent. He was speaking
again: "The first thing to do is to find the starting point on the map
and work it out step by step, then when we locate the lode, you and
Clen and I will file the first three claims, and we'll file all the
Wattses on the adjoining claims. That will give us absolute control of
a big block of what is probably a most valuable property."

Again Bethune had referred directly to the map which she had never
admitted she possessed. He had not said, "If you have a map." The
man's assumption angered her: "You still persist in assuming that I
have a map," she answered. "As a matter of fact, I'm depending
entirely upon a photograph. I am riding blindly through the hills
trying to find the spot that tallies with the picture."

Bethune frowned and shook his head doubtfully: "You might ride the
hills for years, and pass the spot a dozen times and never recognize
it. If you do not happen to strike the exact view-point you might
easily fail to recognize it. Then, too, the landscape changes with the
seasons of the year. However," his face brightened and the smile
returned to his lips; "we have at least something to go on. We are not
absolutely in the dark. Who knows? If the goddess of luck sits upon
our shoulders, I myself may know the place well--may recognize it
instantly! For years I have ridden these hills and I flatter myself
that no one knows their hidden nooks and byways better than I. Even if
I should not know the exact spot, it may be that I can tell by the
general features its approximate locality, and thus limit our search
to a comparatively small area."

Patty knew that her refusal to show the photograph could not fail to
place her in an unfavorable position. Either she would appear to
distrust this man whom she had no reason to distrust, or her action
would be attributed to a selfish intention to keep the secret to
herself, even though she knew she could only file one claim. The man's
argument had been entirely reasonable--in fact, it seemed the sensible
thing to do. Nevertheless, she did refuse, and refuse flatly: "I
think, Mr. Bethune, that I would rather play a lone hand. You see, I
started in on this thing alone, and I want to see it through--for the
present, at least. After a while, if I find that I cannot succeed
alone, I shall be glad of your assistance. I suppose you think me a
fool, but it's a matter of pride, I guess."

Was it fancy, or did the black eyes flash a gleam of hate--a glitter
of rage beneath their long up-curving lashes? And did the swarthy face
flush a shade darker beneath its tan? Patty could not be sure, for the
next moment he was speaking in a voice under perfect control: "I can
well understand your feeling in the matter, Miss Sinclair, and I have
nothing of reproach. I do think you are making a mistake. With Vil
Holland knowing what he does of your father's operations, time may be
a vital factor in the success of your undertaking. Let me caution you
again against carrying the photograph upon your person."

"Oh, I keep that safely hidden where no one would ever think of
searching for it," smiled the girl, and Bethune noted that her eyes
involuntarily swept the cabin with a glance.

The man mounted: "I will no longer keep you from your work," he said.
"I have arranged to spend the summer in the hills where I shall carry
on some prospecting upon my own account. If I can be of any assistance
to you--if you should need any advice, or help of any kind, a word
will procure it. I shall stop in occasionally to see how you fare.
Good-bye." He waved his hand and rode off down the creek where, in a
cottonwood thicket he dismounted and watched the girl ride away in the
opposite direction, noted that Lord Clendenning swung stealthily, into
the trail behind her, and swinging into his saddle rode swiftly toward
the cabin.

In his high notch in the hills, Vil Holland chuckled audibly, and
catching up his horse, headed for his camp.

Next: The Bishop Of All Outdoors

Previous: Prospecting

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