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Prospecting








From: The Gold Girl

The gray of early morning was just beginning to render objects in the
little room indistinguishable when Patty awoke. She made a hasty
toilet, lighted the fire, and while the water was heating for her
coffee, delved into the pack sack and drew out a gray flannel shirt
which she viewed critically from every conceivable angle. She tried it
on, turning this way and that, before the mirror. "Daddy wasn't so
much larger than I am," she smiled, "I can take a tuck in the sleeves,
and turn back the collar and it will fit pretty well. Anyway, it will
be better than that riding jacket. It will look less citified, and
more--more prospecty." A few moments sufficed for the alteration and
as the girl stood before the mirror and carefully knotted her
brilliant scarf, she nodded emphatic approval.

Breakfast over, she washed her dishes and as she put them on their
shelf her glance rested upon the bits of broken rock fragments.
Instantly, her thoughts flew to the night before, and the feeling that
someone had been watching her. Rapidly her glance flashed about the
cabin searching a place to hide them. "They're too heavy to carry,"
she murmured. "And, yet," her eyes continued their search, lingering
for a moment upon some nook or corner only to flit to another, and
another, "every place I can think of seems as though it would be the
very first place anyone would look." Her eyes fell upon the empty
tomato can that she had forgotten to throw into the coulee after last
night's supper. She placed the samples in the can. "I might put it
with the others in the cupboard, but if anybody looked there they
would be sure to see that it had been opened. Where do people hide
things? I might go out and dig a hole and bury it, but if anyone were
watching--" Suddenly her eyes lighted: "The very thing," she cried:
"Nobody would think of looking among those old bottles and cars." And
placing the can in the pan of dish-water, she carried it out and threw
it onto the pile of rubbish in the coulee. Returning to the cabin, she
put on her father's Stetson, slipped his revolver into its holster,
and buckling the belt about her waist, gave one last approving glance
into the mirror, closed the door behind her, and saddled her horse.
With the bridle reins in her hand she stood irresolute. In which
direction should she start? Obviously, if she must search the whole
country, she should begin somewhere and work systematically. She felt
in the pocket of her skirt and reassured herself that the compass she
had taken from the pack sack was there. Her eyes swept the valley and
came to rest upon a deep notch in the hills that flanked it upon the
west. A coulee sloped upward to the notch, and mounting, the girl
crossed the creek and headed for the gap. It was slow and laborious
work, picking her way among the loose rocks and fallen trees of the
deep ravine that narrowed and grew steeper as she advanced. Loose
rocks, disturbed by her horse's feet, clattered noisily behind her,
and marks here and there in the soil told her that she was not the
first to pass that way. "I wonder who it was?" she speculated. "Either
Monk Bethune, or Vil Holland, or Lord Clendenning, I suppose. They all
seem to be forever riding back and forth through the hills." At last
she gained the summit, and pulled up to enjoy the view. Judging by
the trampled buffalo grass that capped the divide, the rider who
preceded her had also stopped. She glanced backward, and there,
showing above the tops of the trees that covered the slope, stood her
own cabin, looking tiny and far away, but with its every detail
standing out with startling clearness. She could even see the ax
standing where she had left it beside the door, and the box she had
placed at the end of the log wall to take the place of the cupboard as
a home for the pack rats. "Whoever it was could certainly keep track
of my movements from here without the least risk of being discovered,"
she thought, "and if he had field glasses!" She blushed, and turned
her eyes to survey the endless succession of peaks and passes and
valleys that lay spread out over the sea of hills. "How in the world
am I ever going to find one tiny little valley among all these?" she
wondered. Her heart sank at the vastness of it all, and at her own
helplessness, and the utter hopelessness of her stupendous task. "Oh,
I can never, never do it," she faltered, "--never." And, instantly
ashamed of herself, clenched her small, gloved fist. "I will do it! My
daddy found his mine, and he didn't have any pictures to go by either.
He just delved and worked for years and years--and at last he found
it. I'd find it if there were twice as many hills and valleys. It may
take me years--and I may find it to-day--just think! This very day I
may ride into that little valley--or to-morrow, or the next day. It
can't be far away. Mrs. Watts said daddy was always to be found within
ten miles of the ranch."

She headed her horse down the opposite slope that slanted at a much
easier gradient than the one she had just ascended. The trees on this
side of the divide were larger and the hillside gradually flattened
into a broad, tilted plateau. She gave her horse his head and breathed
deeply of the pine-laden air as the animal swung in beside a tiny
creek that flowed smooth and black through the dusky silence of the
pines whose interlacing branches, high above, admitted the sunlight in
irregular splashes of gold. There was little under-brush and the horse
followed easily along the creek, where here and there, in the softer
soil of damp places, the girl could see the hoof marks of the rider
who had crossed the divide. "I wonder whether it was he who watched me
last night? There was someone, I could feel it."

The creek sheered sharply around an out-cropping shoulder of rock, and
the next instant Patty pulled up short, and sat staring at a little
white tent that nestled close against the side of the huge monolith
which stood at the edge of a broad, grassed opening in the woods. The
flaps were thrown wide and the walls caught up to allow free passage
of air. Blankets that had evidently covered a pile of boughs in one
corner, were thrown over the ridgepole from which hung a black leather
binocular case, and several canvas bags formed an orderly row along
one side. A kettle hung suspended over a small fire in front of the
tent, and a row of blackened cooking utensils hung from a wooden bar
suspended between two crotched stakes. Out in the clearing, a man was
bridling a tall buckskin horse. The man was Vil Holland. Curbing a
desire to retreat unobserved into the timber, the girl advanced boldly
across the creek and pulled up beside the fire. At the sound the man
whirled, and Patty noticed that a lean, brown hand dropped swiftly to
the butt of the revolver.

"Don't shoot!" she called, in a tone that was meant to be sarcastic,
"I won't hurt you." Somehow, the sarcasm fell flat.

The man buckled the throat-latch of his bridle and picking up the
reins, advanced hat in hand, leading the horse. "I beg your pardon,"
he said, gravely, "I didn't know who it was, when your horse splashed
through the creek."

"You have enemies in the hills? Those you would shoot, or who would
shoot you?"

He dropped the bridle reins, allowing them to trail on the ground. "If
some kinds of folks wasn't a man's enemy he wouldn't be fit to have
any friends," he said, simply. "And here in the hills it's just as
well to be forehanded with your gun. Won't you climb down? I suppose
you've had breakfast?"

Patty swung from the saddle and stood holding the bridle reins. "Yes,
I've had breakfast, thank you. Don't let me keep you from yours."

"Had mine, too. If you don't mind I'll wash up these dishes, though.
Just drop your reins--like mine. Your cayuse will stand as long as the
reins are hangin'. It's the way they're broke--'tyin' 'em to the
ground,' we call it." He glanced at her horse's feet, and pointed to a
place beneath the fetlock from which the hair had been rubbed: "Rope
burnt," he opined. "You oughtn't to put him out on a picket rope. Use
hobbles. There's a couple of pair in your dad's war-bag."

"War-bag?"

"Yeh, it's down in Watts's barn, if he ain't hauled it up for you."

"What are hobbles?"

The man stepped to the tent and returned a moment later with two heavy
straps fastened together by a bit of chain and a swivel. "These are
hobbles, they work like this." He stooped and fastened the straps
about the forelegs of the horse just above the fetlock. "He can get
around all right, but he can't get far, and there is no rope to snag
him."

Patty nodded. "Thank you," she said. "I'll try it. But how do you know
there are hobbles in dad's pack?"

"Where would they be? He had a couple of pair. All his stuff is in
there. He always traveled light."

"Did you leave my father's war-bag, as you call it, at Watts's?"

"Yeh, he was in somethin' of a hurry and didn't want to go around by
the trail, so he left his outfit here and struck straight through the
hills."

"Why was he in a hurry?"

The man placed the dishes in a pan and poured water over them. "I've
got my good guess," he answered, thoughtfully.

"Which may mean anything, and tells me nothing."

Holland nodded, as he carefully wiped his tin plate. "Yeh, that's
about the size of it."

His attitude angered the girl. "And I have heard he was not the only
one in the hills that was in a hurry that day, and I suppose I can
have my 'good guess' at that, and I can have my 'good guess' as to who
cut daddy's pack sack, too."

"Yeh, an' you can change your guess as often as you want to."

"And every time I change it, I'd get farther from the truth."


"You might, an' you might get nearer." The cowpuncher was looking at
her squarely, now. "You ain't left-handed, are you?" he asked,
abruptly.

"No, of course not! Why?"

"Because, if you ain't, you better change that belt around so the
holster'll carry on yer right side--or else leave it to home."

The coldly impersonal tone angered the girl. "Much better leave it
home," she said, "so if anyone wanted to get my map and photographs,
he could do it without risk."

"If you had any sense you'd shut up about maps an' photos."

"At least I've got sense enough not to tell whether I carry them with
me, or keep them hidden in a safe place."

"You carry 'em on you!" commanded the man, gruffly. "It's a good deal
safer'n cachin' 'em." He laid his dishes aside, poured the water
from the pan, wiped it, hung it in its place, and picking up his
saddle blanket, examined it carefully.

"I wonder why my father entrusted his pack sack to you?" said Patty,
eyeing him resentfully. "Were you and he such great friends?"

"Knew one another tolerable well," answered Holland, dryly.

"You weren't, by any chance--partners, were you?"

He glanced up quickly. "Didn't I tell you once that yer dad played a
lone hand?"

"You knew he made a strike?"

"That's what folks think. But I suppose he told Monk Bethune all about
it."

The thinly veiled sneer goaded the girl to anger. "Yes, he did," she
answered, hotly, "and he told me, too!"

"Told Monk all about it, did he--location an' all, I suppose?"

"He intended to, yes," answered the girl, defiantly. "The day he made
his strike, Mr. Bethune happened to be away up in British Columbia,
and daddy told Lord Clendenning that he had made his strike, and he
drew a map and sent it to Mr. Bethune by Lord Clendenning."

Holland smoothed the blanket into place upon the back of the buckskin,
and reached for his saddle. "An' of course, Monk, he wouldn't file
till you come, so you'd be sure an' get a square deal----"

"He never got the map or the photos. Lord Clendenning lost them in a
river. And he nearly lost his life, and was rescued by an Indian."

There was a sound very like a cough, and Patty glanced sharply at the
cowpuncher, but his back was toward her, and he was busy with his
cinch. "Tough luck," he remarked, as he adjusted the latigo strap.
"An', you say, yer dad told you all about this partnership business?"

"No, he didn't."

"Who did?"

"Mr. Bethune."

"Oh."

Something in the tone made the girl feel extremely foolish. Holland
was deliberately strapping the brown leather jug to his saddle horn,
and gathering up her reins, she mounted. "At least, Mr. Bethune is a
gentleman," she emphasized the word nastily.

"An' they can't hang him for that, anyway," he flung back, and swung
lightly into the saddle, "I must be goin'."

"And you don't even deny cutting the pack?"

He looked her squarely in the eyes and shook his head. "No. You kind
of half believe Monk about the partnership. But you don't believe I
cut that pack, so what's the use denying it?"

"I do----"

"If you should happen to get lost, don't try to outguess your compass.
Always pack a little grub an' some matches, an' if you need help,
three shots, an' then three more, will bring anyone that's in hearin'
distance."

"I hope I shall never have to summon you for help."

"It is quite a bother," admitted the other. "An' if you'll remember
what I've told you, you prob'ly won't have to. So long."

The cowboy settled the Stetson firmly upon his head, and with never a
glance behind him, headed his horse down the little creek.

The girl watched him for a moment with angry eyes, and then, urging
her horse forward, crossed the plateau at a gallop, and headed up the
valley. "Of all the--the boors! He certainly is the limit. And the
worst of it is I don't know whether he deliberately tries to insult
me, or whether it's just ignorance. Anyway, I wouldn't trust him as
far as I could see him. And I do believe he cut daddy's pack sack, so
there!" The heavy revolver dangling at her side attracted her
attention, and she pulled up her horse and changed it to the opposite

side. "I suppose I did look like a fool," she admitted, "but he
needn't have told me so. And I bet I know as much about a compass as
he does, anyway. And I'll tie my horse up with a rope if I want to."

Beyond the plateau, the valley narrowed rapidly, and innumerable
ravines and coulees led steeply upward to lose themselves among the
timbered slopes of the mountain sides. Crossing a low divide at the
head of the valley, she reined in her horse and gazed with thumping
heart into the new valley that lay before her. There, scarcely a mile
away, stretched a rock ledge--and, yes, there were scraggly trees
fringing its rim, and the valley was strewn with rock fragments! Her
valley! The valley of the photographs! She laughed aloud, and urged
her horse down the steep descent, heedless of the fact that upon the
precarious, loose rock footing of the slope, a misstep would mean
almost certain destruction.

Directly opposite the face of the rock wall she pulled her horse to a
stand. "Surely, this must be the place, but--where is the crack? It
should be about there." Her eyes searched the face of the cliff for
the zigzag crevice. "Maybe I'm too close to it," she muttered. "The
picture was taken from a hillside across the valley. That must be the
hill--the one with the bare patch half way up. That's right where he
must have stood when he took the photograph." The hillside rose
abruptly, and abandoning her horse, the girl climbed the steep ascent,
pausing at frequent intervals for breath. At last, she stood upon the
bare shoulder of the hill and gazed out across the valley, and as she
gazed, her heart sank. "It isn't the place," she muttered. "There is
no big tree, and the rock cliff isn't a bit like the one in the
picture--and I thought I had found it sure! I wonder how many of those
rock walls there are in the hills? And will I ever find the right
one?"

Once more in the saddle, she crossed another divide and scanned
another rock wall, and farther down, another. "I believe every single
valley in these hills has its own rock ledge, and some of them three
or four!" she cried disgustedly, as she seated herself beside a tiny
spring that trickled from beneath a huge rock, and proceeded to devour
her lunch. "I had no idea how hungry I could get," she stared ruefully
at the paper that had held her two sandwiches. "Next time I'll bring
about six."

Producing her compass, she leveled a place among the stones. "Let's
see if I can point to the north without its help." She glanced at the
sun and carefully scanned the tumultuous skyline. "It is there," she
indicated a gap between two peaks, and glanced at the compass. "I knew
I wouldn't get turned around," she said, proudly. "I didn't miss it
but just a mite--anyway it's near enough for all practical purposes.
If that's north," she speculated, "then I must have started east and
then turned south, and then west, and then south again, and my cabin
must be almost due north of me now." She returned the compass to her
pocket. "I'll explore a little farther and then work toward home."

Mounting, she turned northward, and emerging abruptly from a clump of
trees, caught a glimpse of swift motion a quarter of a mile away,
where her trail had dipped into the valley, as a horse and rider
disappeared like a flash into the timber. "He's following me!" she
cried angrily, "sneaking along my trail like a coyote! I'll tell him
just what I think of him and his cowardly spying." Urging her horse
into a run, she reached the spot to find it deserted, although it
seemed incredible that anyone could have negotiated the divide
unnoticed in that brief space of time. "I saw him plain as day," she
murmured, as she turned her horse toward the opposite side of the
valley. "I couldn't tell for sure that it was he--I didn't even see
the color of the horse--but who else could it be? He knew I started
out this way, and he knew that I carried the map and photos, and was
hunting daddy's claim. I know, now who was watching the other night."
She shuddered. "And I've got to stay here 'til I find that claim,
knowing all the time that I am being watched! There's no place I can
go that he will not follow. Even in my own cabin, I'll always feel
that eyes are watching me. And when I do find the mine, he'll know it
as soon as I do, and it will be a race to file." Drawing up sharply,
she gritted her teeth, "And he knows the short cuts through the hills,
and I don't. But I will know them!" she cried, "and when I do find the
mine, Mr. Vil Holland is going to have the race of his life!"

Another parallel valley, and another, she explored before turning her
horse's head toward the high divide that she had reasoned separated
her from Monte's Creek at a point well above her cabin. Comparatively
low ridges divided these valleys, and as she topped each ridge, the
girl swerved sharply into the timber and, concealing herself, intently
watched the back trail--a maneuver that caused the solitary horseman
who watched from a safe distance, to chuckle audibly as he carefully
wiped the lenses of his binoculars.

The sunlight played only upon the higher peaks when at last, weary and
dispirited, she negotiated the steep descent to Monte's Creek at a
point a mile above the sheep camp. "If he'd only photographed
something besides a rock wall," she muttered, petulantly, "I'd stand
some show of finding it." At the door of the cabin she slipped from
her saddle, and pausing with her hand on the coiled rope, dropped her
eyes to the rubbed place below her horse's fetlock. A moment later she
knelt and fastened a pair of hobbles about the horse's ankles, and,
removing the saddle, watched the animal roll clumsily in the grass,
and shuffle awkwardly to the creek where he sucked greedily at the
cold water. Entering the cabin, she lighted the lamp and stared about
her. Her glance traveled one by one over the objects of the little
room. Everything was apparently as she had left it--yet--an
uncomfortable, creepy sensation stole over her. She knew that the room
had been searched.





Next: Patty Takes Precautions

Previous: In The Cabin



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