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The Race For The Register








From: The Gold Girl

Beside the little table Patty Sinclair listened to the sound of hoofs
splashing through the shallows of the creek and thudding dully upon
the floor of the valley beyond. When the sounds told her that the
horseman had disappeared into the timber, she walked slowly to the
door, and leaning her arm against the jamb, stared for a long time
into the black sweep of woods that concealed the trail that led upward
to the notch in the hills, just discernible against the sky where the
stars showed through the last faint blush of after-glow in winking
points of gold.

"Nothing here for me," she repeated dully. "Nothing but trees, and
hills--and gold. He loves me," she laughed bitterly. "And yet, between
me, and his jug, he chose--the jug." She closed the door, slipped the
bar into place, thrust the photographs and map into her pocket, and
threw herself face downward upon the bunk. And, in the edge of the
timber, Vil Holland turned his horse slowly about and headed him up
the ravine. At the notch in the hills he slipped to the ground and,
throwing an arm across the saddle, removed his Stetson and let the
night wind ripple his hair. Standing alone in the night with his
soul-hurt, he gazed far downward where a tiny square of yellow light
marked the window of the cabin.

"It's hell--the way things work out," he said, thoughtfully. "Yes,
sir, Buck, it sure is hell. If Len had told me a week ago about her
havin' to teach school, or even yesterday--she might have--But,
now--she's rich. An' that cracked rock claim turnin' out to be
hers--" He swung abruptly into the saddle and headed the buckskin
for camp.

Patty spent a miserable night. Brief periods of sleep were
interspersed with long periods of wakefulness in which her brain
traveled wearily over and over a long, long trail that ended always at
a brown leather jug that swung by a strap from a saddle horn. She had
found her father's claim--had accomplished the thing she had started
out to accomplish--had vindicated her father's judgment in the eyes of
the people back home--had circumvented the machinations of Bethune,
and in all probability, the moment that she recorded her claim would
be the possessor of more gold than she could possibly spend--and in
the achievement there was no joy. There was a dull hurt in her heart,
and the future stretched away, uninviting, heart-sickening,
interminable. The world looked drab.

She ate her breakfast by lamplight, and as objects began to take form
in the pearly light of the new day, she saddled her horse and rode up
the trail to the notch in the hills--the trail that was a short cut,
and that would carry her past Vil Holland's little white tent,
nestling close beside its big rock at the edge of the little plateau.
"He will still be asleep, and I can take one more look at the far snow
mountains from the spot that might have been the porch of--our cabin."

Carefully keeping to the damp ground that bordered the little creek,
she worked her way around the huge rock, and drew up in amazement. The
little white tent was gone! Hastily, her eyes swept the plateau. The
buckskin was gone, and the saddle was not hanging by its stirrup from
its accustomed limb-stub. Crossing the creek, the girl stared at the
row of packs, the blanket roll, and the neat tarpaulin-covered
bundles that were ranged along the base of the rock.

"He has gone," she murmured, as if trying to grasp the fact and then,
again: "He has gone." Slowly, her eyes raised to the high-flung peaks
that reared their snowy heads against the blue. And as she looked, the
words of Vil Holland formed themselves in her brain. "If there ain't
any 'we,' there won't be any cabin--so there's nothing to worry
about." "Nothing to worry about," she repeated bitterly, and touching
her horse with a spur, rode out across the plateau toward the head of
a coulee that led to the trail for town. "Where has he gone?" she
wondered, and pulled up sharply as her horse entered the coulee.
Riding slowly down the trail ahead, mounted on the meditative Gee Dot,
was Microby Dandeline. Urging her horse forward Patty gained her side,
and realizing that escape was hopeless, the girl stared sullenly
without speaking.

"Why, Microby!" she smiled, ignoring the sullen stare, "you're miles
from home, and it's hardly daylight! Where in the world are you
going?"

"Hain't a-goin' nowher'. I'm prospectin'."

"Where's Vil Holland, have you seen him?"

The girl nodded: "He's done gone to town. He's mad, an' he roden fas'
as Buck kin run, an' he says, 'I'm gonna file one more claim, an' to
hell with the hill country, tell yo' dad good-by!'"

Patty sat for an instant as one stunned. "Gone to town! Mad! File one
more claim!" What did it mean? Why was Vil Holland riding to town as
fast as his horse could run? And what claim was he going to file? He
had mentioned no claim--and if he had just made a strike, surely he
would have mentioned it--last night. She knew that he already had a
claim, and that he considered it worthless. He told her once that he
hadn't even bothered to work out the assessments--it was no good. Was
it possible that he was riding to file her claim? Was he no better
than Bethune--only shrewder, more patient, richer in imagination?

With a swish the quirt descended upon her horse's flanks. The animal
shot forward and, leaving Microby Dandeline staring open-mouthed,
horse and rider dashed headlong down the coulee. Into the long white
trail they swept, through the canyon, and out among the foothills
toward Thompsons'. "Why did I show him the map, and the pictures? Why
did I trust him? Why did I trust anybody? I see it all, now! His
continual spying, and his plausible explanation that he was watching
Bethune. He asked me to marry him, and when, like the poor little fool
I was, I showed him the location, he was only too glad to get the mine
without being saddled with me."

If Vil Holland reached town first--well, she could teach school.
Scalding tears blinded her as with quirt and spur she crowded her
horse to his utmost. Only one slender hope remained. With Thompson's
fresh horse, Lightning, she might yet win the race. The chance was
slim, but she would take it! Her own horse was laboring heavily, a
solid lather of sweat, as his feet pounded the trail that wound white
and hot through the foothills. "It's your last hard ride," she sobbed
into his ear as she urged him on. "Win or lose, boy, it's your last
hard ride--and we've got to make it!"

She whirled into Thompson's lane and, in the dooryard, threw herself
from her horse almost into the arms of the big ranchman who stared at
her in surprise. "Must be somethin's busted loose in the hills, that
folks is all takin' to the open!" he exclaimed.

"Where's Lightning?" cried the girl. "Quick! I want him!"

"Lightnin'?" repeated Thompson. "Why, Lightnin's gone--Vil Holland
come along an hour or so ago, an' rode him on to town. Turned Buck
into the corral, yonder--he was rode down almost as bad as yourn."

Patty's brain reeled dizzily as from a blow. Lightning gone! Her one
slim chance of saving her mine had vanished in a breath. She felt
suddenly weak, and sick, and leaning against her saddle for support,
she closed her eyes and buried her face in her arm.

"What's the matter, Miss? Somethin' wrong?"

The girl laughed, a dry hard laugh, and raising her head, looked into
the man's face. "Oh, no!" she said. "Nothing's wrong--nothing except
that I've lost my father's claim--lost it because I relied on your
horse to carry me into town in time to file ahead of him."

"Lost yer pa's claim?" cried Thompson. "What do you mean--lost? Has
that devil dared to show his face after the horse raid?" He paused
suddenly and smiled. "Now don't you go worryin' about that there
claim. Vil Holland's on the job! I know'd there was somethin' in the
wind when he come a-larrupin' in here an' jerked his kak offen Buck
an' throw'd it on Lightnin' without hardly a word. Vil, he'll head
him! An' when he does, Bethune'll be lucky if he lives long enough to
git hung!"

"Bethune! Bethune!" cried the girl bitterly. "Bethune's got nothing to
do with it! It's Vil Holland himself that's going to file my claim.
Have you got another horse here?" she cried. "If you have I want him.
I'm not beaten yet! There's still a chance! Maybe Lightning will go
down, or something. Quick--change my saddle!"

Catching up a rope, Thompson ran to the corral and throwing his loop
over the head of a horse led him out and transferred the girl's saddle
and bridle.

"I don't git the straight of it," he said, eying her with a puzzled
frown. "But if it's a question of gittin' to town before Vil Holland
kin beat you out of yer claim--you've got plenty of time--if you
walk."

Patty shot the man one glance of withering scorn. "You're all crazy!
He's got you hypnotized! Everybody thinks he's a saint----"

Thompson grinned. "No, Miss, Vil ain't no saint--an' he ain't no
devil--neither. But somewheres between the two of 'em is the place
where good men fits in--an' that's Vil. You're all het up needless,
an' barkin' up the wrong tree, as folks used to say back where I come
from. Just come and have a talk with Miz T. She'll straighten you
around all right. I'll slip in an' tell her to set the coffee-pot on,
an' you kin take yer time about gittin' to town." Thompson disappeared
into the kitchen, and a moment later when he returned with his wife,
the two stared in amazement at the flying figure that was just
swinging from the lane into the long white trail.

Hours later the girl crossed the Mosquito Flats, forded the river, and
passed along the sandy street of the town. Her eyes felt hot and tired
from continual straining ahead in a vain effort to catch a glimpse of
a fallen horse, whose rider must continue his way on foot. But the
plain was deserted, and the only evidence that anyone had proceeded
her was an occasional glimpse of hoof prints in the white dust of the
trail.

A short distance up the street, standing "tied to the ground" before
the hitching rail of a little false-front saloon, was Lightning. Patty
noted as she passed that he showed signs of hard riding, and that the
inevitable jug dangled motionless from the saddle horn. Her lips
stiffened, and her hand tightened on the bridle reins, as she forced
her eyes to the front. Farther on, she could see the little
white-painted frame office of the register. She would pass it by--no
use for her to go there. She must find Len Christie and tell him she
had come to teach his school. A great wave of repugnance swept over
her, engulfed her, as her eyes traveled over the rows of small wooden
houses with their stiff, uncomfortable porches, their treeless yards,
and their flaunting paintiness.

"And to think, that I've got to live in one of them!" she murmured,
dully. "Nothing could be worse--except the hotel."

Opposite the register's office she pulled up, and gazed in fascination
at the open door. Then deliberately she reined her horse to the
sidewalk and dismounted. The characteristic thoroughness that had
marked the progress of her search for her father's claim, and had
impelled her to return to the false claim and procure the notice, and
that very morning had prompted her to ride against the slender chance
of Vil Holland's meeting with a mishap, impelled her now to read for
herself the entry of her father's strike.

The register shoved his black skull-cap a trifle back upon his shiny
head, adjusted his thick eyeglasses, and smiled into the face of the
girl. "Things must be looking up out in the hills," he hazarded.
"You're the second one to-day and it ain't noon yet."

"I presume Mr. Holland has been here."

"Yes, Vil come in. I guess he's around somewheres. He----"

"Relinquished one claim and filed another?"

"That's just what he done."

Patty nodded wearily. She was gamely trying to appear disinterested.

"Did you want to file?" asked the man, whirling a large book about,
and pushing it toward her. "Just enter your description there, an'
fill out the application fer a patent, an' file your field notes, and
plat."

The girl's glance strayed listlessly over the adjoining page, her eyes
mechanically taking in the words. Suddenly, she became intensely
alert. She leaned over the book and reread with feverish interest the
written description. The location was filed in Vil Holland's
name--but, the description was not of her claim!

"Where--where is this claim?" she gasped.

The old register turned the book and very deliberately proceeded to
read the description. In her nervous excitement Patty felt that she
must scream, and her fingers clutched the counter edge until the
knuckles whitened. Finally the man looked up. "That must be somewheres
over on the Blackfoot side," he announced. "Must be Vil's figuring on
pulling over there. Too bad we won't be seeing him much no more." He
swung the book back, as the import of his words dawned upon the girl
she leaned weakly against the counter.

"Ain't you feeling well?" asked the old man, eying her with concern.

Without hearing him Patty picked up the pen, and as she wrote, her
hand trembled so that she could scarcely form the letters. At last it
was done, and the register once again swung the book and read the
freshly penned words.

"Well, I'll be darned!" he exclaimed, when he had finished.

The blood had rushed back into the girl's face and she was regarding
him with shining eyes. "What's the matter? Isn't it right? Because if
it isn't you can show me how to do it, and I'll fix it."

"Oh it's right--all right." He was eying her quizzically. "Only it's
blamed funny. That there's the claim Vil Holland just relinquished."

"Just relinquished!" gasped the girl, reaching out and shaking the

old man's sleeve in her excitement. "What do you mean? Tell me!"

"Mean just what I said--here's the entry."

"Vil--Holland--just--relinquished," she repeated, in a dazed voice.
"When did he file it?"

"I don't recollect--it was back in the winter, or spring." The man
began to turn the pages slowly backward. "Here it is, March, the
thirteenth."

"Why, that was before I came out here!"

"How?"

"Why did he relinquish?" The words rushed eagerly from her lips, and
she awaited breathless, for the answer.

"It wasn't no good, I guess, or he found a better one--that's most
generally why they relinquish."

"No good! Found a better one!" From the chaos of conflicting ideas the
girl's thoughts began to take definite form. "The stakes in the ground
were his stakes. Her father had never staked--would never have
staked until ready to file."

Gradually it dawned upon her that, without knowing it was her
father's, Vil Holland had staked and filed the claim. It was his. He
did not know its value as her father had. He believed it to be
worthless, but when he learned, only last night, back there in the
cabin on Monte's Creek, that it was really of enormous value--that it
was the claim Rod Sinclair had staked his reputation on, the claim
for which Rod Sinclair's daughter had sought all summer--when he
learned this he had relinquished--that she might come into her own!
Hot tears filled her eyes and caused the objects in the little room to
blur and swim together in hopeless jumble. She knew, now, the meaning
of his furious ride, and why he had changed horses at Thompson's. And
this was the man she had doubted! She, alone of all who knew him,
had doubted him. Her cheeks burned with the shame of it. Not once, but
again and again, she had doubted him--she, who loved him! This was the
man with whom she had quarreled because he had carried a jug. Suddenly
she realized why he had turned away from her--there in the little
cabin. She recalled the words that came slowly from his lips, as, for
a brief moment he stood holding her hand. "There is nothing for you in
the hills." "And now, he is going away--his outfit's all packed, and
he's going away!" With a sob she dashed from the office. As she
blotted the tears from her eyes with a handkerchief that had been her
father's, a wild, savage joy surged up within her. He should not go
away! He was hers--hers! If he went, she would go too. He should
never leave her! And never, never would she doubt him again!

She glanced down the street and her eyes fell upon Lightning, standing
as he had stood a few minutes before. Only a moment she hesitated, and
her spurs clicked rapidly as she hurried down the sidewalk. The door
of the saloon stood open and she walked boldly in. Vil Holland stood
at the bar shaking dice with the bartender. The latter looked up
surprised, and Vil followed his glance to the figure of the girl who
had paused just inside the doorway. She beckoned to him and he
followed her out onto the sidewalk, and stood, Stetson in hand,
regarding her gravely, unsmiling as was his wont.

"Vil--Vil Holland," she faltered, as a furious blush suffused her
cheeks. "I've changed my mind."

"You mean----"

"I mean, I will marry you--I wanted to say it--last
night--only--only----" her voice sounded husky, and far away.

"But, now, it's too late. It was different--then. I didn't know you'd
made your strike. I thought we were both poor--but, now, you've struck
it rich."

"Struck it rich!" flared the girl. "Who made it possible for me to
strike it rich? Don't you suppose I know you relinquished that claim?
Relinquished it so I could file it!"

"Old Grebble talks too much," growled the man. "The claim wasn't any
good to me. I never went far enough in to get samples like those of
your dad's. I'd have relinquished it anyway, as soon as I'd located
another."

"But, you knew it was rich when you did relinquish it."

"A man couldn't hardly do different, could he?"

"Oh, Vil," there were tears in the girl's eyes, and she did not try to
conceal them. The words trembled on her lips. "A man couldn't--your
kind of a man! But--they're so hard to find. Don't--don't rob me of
mine--now that I've found him!"

A shrill whistle tore the words from her lips. She glanced up,
startled, to see Vil Holland take his fingers from his teeth. She
followed his gaze, and a block away, in front of the wooden
post-office, saw the Reverend Len Christie whirl in his tracks. The
cowboy motioned him to wait, and taking the girl gently by the arm,
turned her about, and together they walked toward the "Bishop of All
Outdoors," who awaited them with twinkling eyes.

"It's about the school, I presume," he greeted. "Everything is all
arranged, Miss Sinclair. You may assume your duties to-morrow."

"If I was you, Len," replied Vil Holland, dryly, "I wouldn't go
bettin' much on that presoomer of yours--it ain't workin' just right,
an' Miss Sinclair has decided to assoom her duties to-day. So, havin'
disposed of presoom, an' assoom, we'll rezoom, as you'd say if you was
dealin' from the pulpit, an' if you ain't got anything more important
on your mind, we'll just walk over to the church an' get married."

The Reverend Len Christie regarded his friend solemnly. "I didn't
think it of you, Vil--when I bragged to you yesterday about the
excellent teacher I'd got--I didn't think you would slip right out and
get her away from me!"

"Oh, I'm so sorry! Really, Mr. Christie, I didn't mean to disappoint
you in this way, at the last minute----"

"Don't you go wastin' any sympathy on that old renegade," cut in Vil.

"That's right," laughed Christie, noting the genuine concern in the
girl's eyes. "As a matter of fact, I have in mind a substitute who
will be tickled to death to learn that she is to have the regular
position. Didn't I tell you out at the Samuelsons' that I had a hunch
you'd make your strike before school time? Of course, everyone knows
that Vil is the one who made the real strike, but you'll find that the
claim you've staked isn't so bad, and that after you get down through
the surface, you will run onto a whole lot of pure gold."

Patty who had been regarding him with a slightly puzzled expression
suddenly caught his allusion, and she smiled happily into the face of
her cowboy. "I've already found pure gold," she said, "and it lies
mighty close to the surface."

In the little church after the hastily summoned witnesses had
departed, the Reverend Len Christie stood holding a hand of each.
"Never in my life have I performed a clerical office that gave me so
much genuine happiness and satisfaction," he announced.

"Me, neither," assented Vil Holland, heartily, and, then--"Hold on,
Len. You're too blame young an' good lookin' for such tricks--an'
besides, I've never kissed her, myself, yet----!"

"Where will it be now?" asked Holland, when they found themselves once
more upon the street.

"Home--dear," whispered his wife. "You know we've got to get that
cabin up before snow flies--our cabin, Vil--with the porch that will
look out over the snows of the changing lights."

"If the whole town didn't have their heads out the window, watchin' us
I'd kiss you right here," he answered, and strode off to lead her
horse up beside his own.

Swinging her into the saddle, he was about to mount Lightning, when
she leaned over and raised the brown leather jug on its thong. "Why,
it's empty!" she exclaimed.

"So it is," agreed Holland, with mock concern.

"Really, Vil, I don't care--so much. If it don't hurt men any more
than it has hurt you, I won't quarrel with it. I'll wait while you get
it filled."

"Maybe I'd better," he said, and swinging it from the saddle horn,
crossed the street and entered the general store. A few minutes later
he returned and swung the jug into place.

"Why! Do they sell whisky at the store? I thought you got that at a
saloon."

"Whisky!" The man looked up in surprise. "This jug never held any
whisky! It's my vinegar jug. I don't drink."

Patty stared at him in amazement. "Do you mean to tell me you carry a
jug of vinegar with you wherever you go?"

For the first time since she had known him she saw that his eyes were
twinkling, and that his lips were very near a smile. "No, not exactly,
but, you see, that first time I met you I happened to be riding from
town with this jug full of vinegar. I noticed the look you gave it,
an' it tickled me most to death. So, after that, every time I figured
I'd meet up with you I brought the jug along. I'd pour out the vinegar
an' fill it up with water, an' sometimes I'd just pack it empty--then
when I'd hit town, I'd get it filled again. I bet Johnson, over there,
thinks I'm picklin' me a winter's supply of prickly pears. I must have
bought close to half a barrel of vinegar this summer."

"Vil Holland! You carried that jug--went to all that trouble, just
to--to tease me?"

"That's about the size of it. An' Gosh! How you hated that jug."

"It might have--it nearly did, make me hate you, too."

"'Might have,' an' 'nearly,' an' 'if,' are all words about alike--they
all sort of fall short of amountin' to anythin'. It 'might have'--but,
somehow, things don't work out that way. The only thing that counts
is, it didn't."

Out on the trail they met Watts riding toward town. "Wher's Microby?"
he asked, addressing Patty.

"Microby! I haven't seen Microby since early this morning. She was
riding down a coulee not far from Vil's camp."

"Didn't yo' send for her?"

"I certainly did not!"

The man's hand fumbled at his beard. "Bethune was along last evenin'
an' hed a talk with her, an' then he done tol' Ma yo' wanted Microby
should come up to yo' place, come daylight. When I heern it, I
mistrusted yo' wouldn't hev no truck with Bethune, so after I done the
chores, I rode up ther'. They wasn't no one to hum." The simple-minded
man looked worried. "Bethune, he could do anything he wants with her.
She thinks he's grand--but, I know different. Then I met up with Lord
Clendennin' in the canyon, an' he tol' me how Bethune wus headin' fer
Canady. He said, had I lost anythin'. An' I said 'no,' an' he laffed
an' says he guess that's right."

As Vil Holland listened, his eyes hardened, and at the conclusion,
something very like an oath ground from his lips. Patty glanced at him
in surprise--never before had she seen him out of poise.

"You go back home," he advised Watts, in a kindly tone, "to the wife
and the kids. I'll find Microby for you!"

When the man had passed from sight into the dip of a coulee, Vil
leaned over and, drawing his wife close to his breast, kissed her lips
again and again. "It's too bad, little girl, that our honeymoon's got
to be broke into this way, but you remember I told you once that if I
won you'd have to be satisfied with what you got. You didn't know what
I meant, then, but you know, now--an' I'm goin' to win again! I'm
goin' to find that child! The poor little fool!" Patty saw that his
eyes were flashing, and his voice sounded hard:

"You ride back to town and tell Len to get his white goods together
an' ride back with you to Watts's. There's goin' to be a funeral--or
better yet, a weddin' an' a funeral in it for him by this time
to-morrow, or my name ain't Vil Holland!" And then, abruptly, he
turned and rode into the North.

A wild impulse to overtake him and dissuade him from his purpose took
possession of the girl. But the thought of Microby in the power of
Bethune, and of the sorrowing face of poor Watts stayed her. She saw
her husband hitch his belt forward and swiftly look to his six-gun,
and as the sound of galloping hoofs grew fainter, she watched his
diminishing figure until it was swallowed up in the distance.

Impulsively she stretched out her arms to him: "Good luck to you, my
knight!" she called, but the words ended in a sob, and she turned her
horse and, with a vast happiness in her heart, rode back toward the
town.





Next: The Meeting By The Waters

Previous: Patty Makes Her Strike



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