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Sheep Camp








From: The Gold Girl

If Patty Sinclair had anticipated annoyance from the forced attention
of her tall horseman of the hills, she was disappointed, for neither
at meals, nor during the shopping tour that occupied the whole of the
following day, nor yet upon the long homeward drive, did he appear.
The return trip was slower and more monotonous even than the journey
to town. The horses crawled along the interminable treeless trail with
the heavily loaded wagon bumping and rattling in the choking cloud of
its own dust.

The expedition had been a disappointing one to Microby. The "pitcher
show" did not compare in interest with the never forgotten "circust."
There had been no "fight" to break the monotony of purchasing
supplies. And they had encountered no "nortymobiles."

Despite the fact that they had started from town at daylight,
darkness overtook them at the canyon and it was with fear and
misgiving that Patty contemplated the devious trail up Monte's Creek.
The descent of this trail by daylight had taxed the girl's knowledge
of horsemanship to the limit, and now to attempt its ascent with a
heavily loaded wagon in the darkness--Microby Dandeline seemed to read
her thoughts.

"We-all cain't git up the crick, I don't reckon," she hazarded, but
even as she spoke there was a flicker of light flashed through the
darkness and, lantern in hand, Watts rose from his comfortable seat in
a niche of rock near the fork of the trail and greeted them with his
kindly drawl. "I 'lowed yo' all ort to be 'long d'rec'ly. I'll take
'em now, Miss; the trail's kind of roughish like, but ef yo'll jist
take the lantern an' foller 'long ahead I reckon we'll make hit all
right. I've druv hit afore in the dark, an' no lantern, neither."
Taking turns with the lantern, the girls led the way, and an hour and
a half later halted before the door of the Watts cabin, where they
became the center of an admiring group of young Wattses who munched
their candy soberly as they gazed in reverent awe at the homing
argonauts.

The three mile walk up the rough trail did wonders for Patty's
stiffened muscles, and it was with a feeling of agreeable surprise
that she rose from her shake-down the following morning with scarcely
an ache or a pain in her body.

"Yer gittin' bruk in to hit," smiled Ma Watts, approvingly, as the
girl sat down to her belated breakfast. But the surprise at her fit
condition was nothing to the surprise of Ma Watts's next words. "Pa,
he taken yer stuff on up to the sheep camp. He 'lowed yo'd want to git
settled like. They taken yer pa's outfit along, too, an' when they git
yo' onloaded they're a-goin' to work on the upper pasture fence. When
Pa gits sot on a thing he goes right ahead an' does hit. Some thinks
he's lazy, but hit hain't thet. He's easy goin'--all the Wattses
wus--but when they git sot on a thing all kingdom come cain't stop 'em
a-doin' hit. Trouble with Pa is he's got sot on settin'." Ma Watts
talked on and on, and at the conclusion of the meal Patty drew a bill
from her purse. But the woman would have none of it. "No siree, we-all
hain't a-runnin' no hotel. Folks is welcome to come when they like
an' stay as long as they want to, an' we're glad to hev 'em. Yer
cayuse is a-waitin' out yender. The boys saddled him up fer yo'. Come
down an' take pot luck whenever yo're a mind. Microby Dandeline, she
ketched up Gee Dot an' went a-taggin' 'long fer to help yo' git
settled. Ef she gits in the way jist send her home. Foller up the
crick," she called, as Patty mounted her horse. "Yo' cain't miss the
sheep camp, hit's about a mild 'bove the upper pasture."

Watts and the boys were just finishing the unloading of her supplies
when Patty slipped from her horse and surveyed the little cabin with
its dark background of pines.

"Hit hain't so big as some," apologized the man, as he climbed into
the wagon and gathered up the reins. "But the chinkin's tol'ble, an'
the roof's middlin' tight 'cept a couple places wher' it leaks."

The girl's glance strayed from the little log building to the untidy
litter of rusty tin cans and broken bottles that ornamented its
dooryard, and the warped and broken panels of the abandoned corral
that showed upon the weed-choked flat across the creek. Stepping to
the door, she peered into the interior where Microby was industriously
sweeping the musty hay from the bunk with the brand-new broom. Thumbed
and torn magazines littered the floor, a few discarded garments hung
dejectedly from nails driven into the wall, while from the sagging
door of the rough board cupboard bulged a miscellaneous collection of
rubbish. A sense of depression obsessed her; this was to be her
home! She sneezed and drew back hastily from the cloud of dust raised
by Microby's broom. As she dabbed at her eyes and nose with a small
and ridiculously inadequate handkerchief, she was conscious of an
uncomfortable lump in her throat, and the moisture that dampened the
handkerchief could not all be accredited to the sneeze tears. "What if
I have trouble locating the mine and have to stay here all summer?"
she was thinking, and instantly recalling the Watts ranch with its air
of shiftless decay, the smelly Watts blankets in the overcrowded
sleeping room, the soggy meals, the tapping of chickens' bills upon
the floor, and the never ending voice of Ma Watts, she smiled. It was
a weak, forced little smile, at first, but it gradually widened into a
real smile as her eyes swept the little valley with its long vista of
pine-clad hills that reached upward to the sky, their mighty sides and
shoulders gored by innumerable rock-rimmed coulees and ravines.
Somewhere amid the silence of those mighty slopes and high-flung peaks
her father had found Eldorado--had wrested nature's secret from the
guardianship of the everlasting hills. Her heart swelled with the
pride of him. She was ashamed of that sudden welling of tears. The
feeling of depression vanished and her heart throbbed to the lure of
the land of gold. The two small Wattses had scrambled into the
wagon-box.

"Yo' goin' to like hit," announced Watts, noticing the smile. "I
'lowed, fust-off yo'----"

"I'm going to love it!" interrupted the girl vehemently. "My father
loved these hills, and I shall love them. And, as for the cabin! When
Microby and I get through with it, it's going to be the dearest little
place imaginable."

"Hit wus a good sheep camp," admitted Watts, his fingers fumbling
judiciously at his head. "An' they's a heap o' good feed goin' to
waste in this yere valley. But ef the cattlemen wants to pay fer what
they hain't gittin' hit hain't none o' my business, I reckon."

"Why did they drive the sheep out? Surely, there is room for all here
in the hills."

"Vil Holland, he claimed they cain't no sheeps stay in the hill
country. He claims sheeps is like small-poxt. Onct they git a-goin'
they spread, an' like's not, the hull country's ruint fer cattle
range."

"It seems that Vil Holland runs this little corner of Montana."

"He kind o' looks after things fer the cattlemen, but the prospectin's
got into his blood, an' he won't stick to the cattle, only on the
round-up, 'til he gits him a grub-stake. He's a good man--Vil is--ef
it wusn't fer foolin' 'round with the prospectin'."

Instantly, the girl's eyes flashed. "If it wasn't for the
prospecting!" she exclaimed, in sudden anger. "My father was a
prospector--and there was never a better man lived than he! Why is it
that everyone looks askance at a prospector? You talk like the people
back home! But, I'll show you all. My father made a strike. He told me
of it on his death-bed, and he gave me the map, and the photographs
and his samples. Maybe when I locate this mine and begin taking out
more gold every day than most of you ever saw, you won't talk of
people 'fooling around' prospecting. I tell you prospectors are the
finest men in the world! They must have imagination, and unending
patience, and the heart to withstand a thousand disappointments--" She
broke off suddenly as the soft rattle of bit-chains sounded from
behind her, and whirled to face Vil Holland. The man regarded her
gravely, unsmiling. A gauntleted hand raised the Stetson from his
head. As her eyes took in every detail, from the inevitable leather
jug, to the tip of polished buffalo horn, she flushed. How long had he
stood there, listening?

The cowpuncher seemed to divine her thoughts. "I just happened along,"
he said regarding her with his steady blue eyes. "I couldn't help
hearin' what you said about the prospectors. You're right in the
main."

"I was speaking of my father. I am Rodney Sinclair's daughter."

The man nodded. "Yes, I know."

Watts rubbed his chin apologetically. "We-all thought a right smart o'
yo' pa, didn't we, Vil? I didn't aim to rile yo'."

"I know you didn't!" the girl smiled. "And thank you so much for
bringing my things up so early." She turned to the cowboy who sat
regarding the outfit indifferently. "I hope you'll overlook my lack of
hospitality, but really I must get to work and help Microby or she'll
have the whole house cleaned before I get started."

"I saw the team here, an' thought I'd swing down to find out if Watts
was movin' in another sheep outfit."

"I've heard about your driving away the sheep man," returned Patty,
with more than a trace of sarcasm in her tone. "I am moving into this
cabin--am taking up my father's work where he left off. I suppose I
should ask your permission to prospect in the hill country."

"No," replied the man, gravely. "Just help yourself, only don't get
lost, an' remember yer dad knew enough to play a lone hand. I must be
goin', now. Good day." He turned his horse to see Microby standing in
the doorway. "Hello, Microby Dandeline! House cleanin', eh? I s'pect
you took in the picture show in town?"

"Yes, but circusts is better. I got some yallar ribbon fer my hat, an'
a awful lot o' candies."

"My, that's fine! How's ma an' the baby?"

"They stayed hum. The baby'd squall. Pa an' the boys is goin' to mend
fence, an' I'm a-goin' to stay yere an' he'p her clean up the sheep
camp."

The cowpuncher turned to Watts. "What's the big hurry about the
fences, Watts? You goin' to take over a bunch of stock?"

"Hosses," answered Watts with an important jerk at his scraggly beard.
"I done rented the upper pasture to a man name o' Schultz over in
Blackfoot country. Five dollars a month, I git fer hit, an' five
dollars fer every day er night they's hosses in hit. He done paid two
months' rent a'ready."

Vil Holland's brows puckered slightly. "Schultz, you say? Over in the
Blackfoot country?"

"Yas, he's aimin' to trail hosses from there over into Canady an' he
wants some pastures handy."

"Did Schultz see you about it himself?" asked Vil, casually.

"No, Monk Bethune; he come by this way, an' he taken the pasture for
Schultz."

Patty noted an almost imperceptible narrowing of the cowpuncher's
eyes, an expression, slight as it was, that spoke disapproval. The
man's attitude angered her. Here was poor Watts, about to undertake
the first work he had done in years, judging by the condition of the
ranch, under stimulus of the few dollars promised him by Bethune, and
this cowboy disapproved. "Are horses under the ban, too?" she asked
quickly. "Hasn't Mr. Watts the right to rent his land for a horse
pasture?"

The man's answer seemed studiously rude in its direct brevity. "No,
horses ain't under the ban. Yes, Watts can rent his land where he
wants to. Good day." Before the girl could reply he reined his horse
abruptly about, and disappeared in the timber upon the opposite side
of the creek.

"Reckon I better be gittin' 'long, too," said Watts. "Microby's
welcome to stay an' he'p yo'-all git moved in, but please mom, to
see't she gits started fer hum 'fore dark. Hit takes thet ol' pinto
'bout a hour to make the trip."

Patty promised, and unsaddling, picketed her horse, and joined the
girl in the dusty interior of the cabin. The musty hay, the discarded
garments, and the two bushels or more of odds and ends with which the
pack rats had filled the cupboard made a smudgy, smelly bonfire beside
which Patty paused with an armful of discarded magazines. "Wouldn't
you like to take these home?" she asked.

"Which?" inquired Microby, deftly picking a small stick from the
ground with her bare toes and tossing it into the fire.

"These magazines. There are stories and pictures in them."

"No, I don't want none. We-alls cain't read, 'cept Ma, an' she's got a
book--an' a bible, too," she added, with a touch of pride. "Davey, he
kin mos' read, an' he kin drawer pitchers, too. Reckon he'll be a
preacher when he's grow'd up, like Preacher Christie. He done read
outen a book when he babitized us-uns. I don't like to read. Ma, she
aimed to learn me onct, but I'd ruther shuck beans."

"Maybe you didn't keep at it long enough," suggested Patty.

"Yes, we did! We kep' at hit every night fer two nights 'til hit come
bedtime. I cain't learn them letters--they's too many diffe'nt ones,
an' all mixed up."

Patty smiled, but she did not toss the magazines into the fire.
Instead she laid them aside with the resolve that when opportunity
afforded, she would carry on the interrupted education.

Microby's literary delinquency in no wise impaired her willingness to
work. She had inherited none of her father's predilection toward
eternal rest, and all day, side by side with Patty, she scraped, and
scoured, and scrubbed, and washed, until the little cabin and its
contents fairly radiated cleanliness. The moving in was great fun for
the mountain girl. Especially the unpacking of the two trunks that
resisted all efforts to lift them until their contents had been
removed. But at last the work was finished even to the arrangement of
dishes and utensils, the stowing of supplies, and the blowing up of
the air mattress that replaced the musty hay of the sheep herder. And
as the long shadows of mountains crept slowly across the little valley
and began to climb the opposite slope, Patty stood in the door of her
cabin and watched Microby mount the superannuated Indian pony and
proceed slowly down the creek, her bare feet swinging awkwardly in the
loops of rope that served as stirrups of her dilapidated stock saddle.

When horse and rider disappeared into a grove of cottonwoods, Patty's
gaze returned to her immediate surroundings--her saddle-horse
contentedly snipping grass, the waters of the shallow creek burbling
noisily over the stones, the untidy scattering of tin cans, and the
leaning panels of the old sheep corral. She frowned at the panels.
"I'll just use you for firewood," she muttered. "And that reminds me
that I've got to wake up to my responsibility as head of the
household--even if the household does only consist of one bay cayuse,
named Dan, and a tiny one-room cabin, and two funny little
squirrel-tailed pack rats, and me." She reached for her brand new ax,
and picking her way from stone to stone, crossed the creek, and
attacked a sagging panel.

Patty Sinclair was no hot-house flower, and the hand that gripped the
ax was strong and brown and capable. Back home she had been known to
the society reporters as "an out-door girl," by which it was
understood that rather than afternoon auction at henfests, she
affected tennis, golf, swimming, and cross-country riding. She could
saddle her own horse, and paddle a canoe for hours on end. Even the ax
was no stranger to her hand, for upon rare occasions when her father
had returned during the summer months from his everlasting
prospecting, he had taken her to camp in the mountains, and there from
the quiet visionary whom she loved more than he ever knew, she learned
the ax, and the compass, and a hundred tricks of camp lore that were
to stand her well in hand. Partly inherited, partly acquired through
association with her father upon those never-to-be-forgotten
pilgrimages to the shrine of nature, her love of the vast solitudes
shone from her uplifted eyes as she stood for a moment, ax in hand,
and let her gaze travel slowly from the sun-gilded peaks of the
mountains, down their darkening sides, to the dusk-enshrouded reaches
of her valley. "He used to watch the sun go down, and he never wearied
at the wonder of it," she breathed, softly. "And then, as the darkness
deepened and the bull-bats came wheeling overhead, and the
whip-poor-wills began calling from the thickets, he would light his
pipe, and I would cuddle up close to him, and the firelight would grow
redder and brighter and the soft warm dark would grow blacker. The
pine trees would lose their shapes and blend into the formless night
and mysterious shadow shapes would dance to the flicker of the little
flames. It was then he would talk of the things he loved; of quartz,
and drift, and the mother lode; of storms, and bears, and the scent of
pines; of reeking craters, parched deserts, ice-locked barrens, and
the wind-lashed waters of lakes. 'And some day, little daughter,' he
would say, 'some day you are going with daddy and see all these things
for yourself--things whose grandeur you have never dreamed. It won't
be long, now--I'm on the right track at last--only till I've made my
strike.' Always--'it won't be long now.' Always--'I'm on the right
track, at last.' Always--'just ahead is the strike'--that lure, that
mocking chimera that saps men's lives! And now, he is--gone, and I am
chasing the chimera." Salt tears stung her eyes and blurred the
timbered slopes. "They said he was a--a ne'er-do-well. He became
almost a joke--" the words ended in a dry sob, as the bright blade of
the ax crashed viciously into the rotting panel. A few moments later
she picked up an armful of wood, and retracing her steps, piled it
neatly behind the stove. She lighted the fire, fetched a pail of water
from the spring, and moved the picketed cayuse to a spot beside the
creek where the grass was green and lush. She had intended after
supper to study her map and familiarize herself with the two small
photographs that were pinned to it. But, when the meal was over and
the dishes washed and put away she was too sleepy to do anything but
drop the huge wooden bar that the sheep herder had contrived to insure
himself against a possible night attack from his enemies into its
place and crawl into her bunk. How good it felt, she thought,
sleepily--the yielding air mattress, and the soft, clean blankets,
after the straw tick on the floor, and the course sour blankets in the
Wattses' stuffy room.

Somewhere, way off in the hills, a wolf howled and almost before the
sound had died away the girl was asleep.





Next: Bethune Pays A Call

Previous: Monk Bethune



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