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Uncle Bill Finds News In The Try-bune








From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

When anybody remained in Ore City through the winter it was a tacit
confession that he had not money enough to get away; and this winter the
unfortunates were somewhat more numerous than usual. Those who remained
complained that they saw the sun so seldom that when it did come out it
hurt their eyes, and certain it is that owing to the altitude there were
always two months more of winter in Ore City than in any other camp in
the State.

After the first few falls of snow a transcontinental aeroplane might
have crossed the clearing in the thick timber without suspecting any
settlement there, unless perchance the aeronaut was flying low enough to
see the tunnels which led like the spokes of a wheel from the
snow-buried cabins to the front door of the Hinds House.

When the rigid cold of forty below froze everything that would freeze,
and the wind drove the powdery snow up and down the Main street, there
would not be a single sign of life for hours; but at the least cessation
the inhabitants came out like prairie dogs from their holes and scuttled
through their tunnels, generally on borrowing expeditions: that is, if
they were not engaged at the time in conversation, cribbage, piute or
poker in the comfortable office of the Hinds House. In which event they
all came out together.

In winter the chief topic was a continual wonder as to whether the stage
would be able to get in, and in summer as to whether when it did get in
it would bring a "live one." No one ever looked for a "live one" later
than September or earlier than June.

There had been a time when the hotel was full of "live ones," and nearly
every mine owner had one of his own in tow, but this was when the
Mascot was working three shifts and a big California outfit had bonded
the Goldbug.

But a "fault" had come into the vein on the Mascot and they had never
been able to pick up the ore-shoot again. So the grass grew ankle-deep
on the Mascot hill because there were no longer three shifts of
hob-nailed boots to keep it down. The California outfit dropped the
Goldbug as though it had been stung, and a one-lunger stamp-mill chugged
where the camp had dreamed of forty.

In the halcyon days, the sound that issued from "The Bucket o' Blood"
suggested wild animals at feeding time; but the nightly roar from the
saloon even in summer had sunk to a plaintive whine and ceased
altogether in winter. Machinery rusted and timbers rotted while the roof
of the Hinds House sagged like a sway-backed horse; so did the beds, so
also did "Old Man" Hinds' spirits, and there was a hole in the
dining-room floor where the unwary sometimes dropped to their
hip-joints.

But the Hinds House continued to be, as it always had been, the social
centre, the news bureau, the scene where large deals were constantly
being conceived and promulgated--although they got no further. Each
inhabitant of Ore City had his set time for arriving and departing, and
he abided as closely by his schedule as though he kept office hours.

There was a generous box of saw-dust near the round sheet-iron stove
which set in the middle of the office, and there were many
straight-backed wooden chairs whose legs were steadied with baling wire
and whose seats had been highly polished by the overalls of countless
embryo mining magnates. On one side of the room was a small pine table
where Old Man Hinds walloped himself at solitaire, and on the other side
of the room was a larger table, felt-covered, kept sacred to the games
of piute and poker, where as much as three dollars sometimes changed
hands in a single night.

At the extreme end of the long office was a plush barber chair, and a
row of gilt mugs beneath a gilt mirror gave the place a metropolitan
air, although there was little doing in winter when whiskers and long
hair became assets.

Selected samples of ore laid in rows on the window-sills; there were
neat piles heaped in the corners, along the walls, and on every shelf,
while the cabinet-organ, of Jersey manufacture, with its ornamental rows
of false stops and keys, which was the distinguishing feature of the
office, had "spec'mins" on the bristling array of stands which stood out
from it in unexpected places like wooden stalagmites.

The cabinet-organ setting "catty-cornered" beside the roller-towel
indicated the presence of womankind, and it indicated correctly, for out
in the kitchen was Mrs. Alonzo Snow, and elsewhere about the hotel were
her two lovely daughters, the Misses Violet and Rosie Snow,--facetiously
known as "the Snowbirds."

Second to the stove in the office, the Snow family was the attraction in
the Hinds House, for the entertainment they frequently furnished was as
free as the wood that the habitues fed so liberally to the sheet-iron
stove.

A psychological writer has asserted that when an extremely sensitive
person meets for the first time one who is to figure prominently in his
life, he experiences an inward tremor. Whether it was that Old Man Hinds
was not sufficiently sensitive or was too busy at the time to be
cognizant of inward tremors, the fact is he was not conscious of any
such sensation when the "Musical Snows" alighted stiffly from the Beaver
Creek stage; yet they were to fill not only his best rooms but his whole
horizon.

"Nightingales and Prodigies," the handbills said, and after the concert
nobody questioned their claims. The "Musical Snows" liked the people,
the food, the scenery--and the climate which was doing Mr. Snow such a
lot of good--so well that they stayed on. There were so many of them and
they rested so long that their board-bill became too hopelessly large to
pay, so they did not dishearten themselves by trying.

Then while freight was seven cents a pound from the railroad terminus
and Old Man Hinds was staring at the ceiling in the tortured watches of
the night trying to figure out how he could make three hams last until
another wagon got in, a solution came to him which seemed the answer to
all his problems. He would turn the hotel over to the "Musical Snows"
and board with them! It was the only way he could ever hope to catch up.
To board them meant ruin.

So the Snow family abandoned their musical careers and consented to
assume the responsibility temporarily--at least while Pa was "poahly."
This was four years ago, and "Pa" was still poahly.

He spent most of his time in a rocking chair upstairs by the stove-pipe
hole where he could hear conveniently. When the stove-pipe parted at the
joint, as it sometimes did, those below knew that Mr. Snow had
inadvertently clasped the stove-pipe too tightly between his stockinged
feet, though there were those who held that it happened because he did
not like the turn the talk was taking. At any rate the Snow family
spread themselves around most advantageously. Mr. Will Snow, the tenor
of the "Plantation Quartette," appeared behind the office desk, while
Mr. Claude Snow, the baritone, turned hostler for the stage-line and
sold oats to the freighters. And "Ma" Snow developed such a taste for
discipline and executive ability that while she was only five feet four
and her outline had the gentle outward slope of a churn, Ore City spoke
of her fearfully as "SHE."

Her shoulders were narrow, her chest was flat, and the corrugated puffs
under her eyes with which she arose each morning looked like the
half-shell of an English walnut. By noon these puffs had sunk as far the
other way, so it was almost possible to tell the time of day by Ma
Snow's eyes; but she could beat the world on "The Last Rose of Summer,"
and she still took high C.

Regular food and four years in the mountain air had done wonders for
"The Infant Prodigies," Miss Rosie and Miss Vi, who now weighed close to
two hundred pounds, tempting an ungallant freighter to observe that they
must be "throw-backs" to Percheron stock and adding that "they ought to
work great on the wheel." Their hips stood out like well-filled saddle
pockets and they still wore their hair down their backs in thin braids,
but, as the only girls within fifty miles, the "Prodigies" were
undisputed belles.

One dull day in early December, when the sky had not lightened even at
noon, a monotonous day in the Hinds House, since there had been no
impromptu concert and the cards had been running with unsensational
evenness, while every thread-bare topic seemed completely talked out,
Uncle Bill walked restlessly to the window and by the waning light
turned a bit of "rock" over in his hand.

The sight was too much for Yankee Sam, who hastily joined him.

"Think you got anything, Bill?"

"I got a hell-uv-a-lot of somethin' or a hell-uv-a-lot of nothin'. It's
forty feet across the face."

"Shoo!" Sam took it from him and picked at it with a knife-point,
screwing a glass into his eye to inspect the particle which he laid out
carefully in his palm.

"Looks like somethin' good."

"When I run a fifty foot tunnel into a ledge of antimony over on the
Skookumchuck it looked like somethin' good." Uncle Bill added drily:
"I ain't excited."

"It might be one of them rar' minerals." Yankee Sam hefted it
judicially. "What do you hold it at?"

"Anything I can git."

"You ought to git ten thousand dollars easy when Capital takes holt."

"I'd take a hundred and think I'd stuck the feller, if I could git
cash."

"A hundred!" Yankee Sam flared up in instant wrath. "It's cheap fellers
like you that's killin' this camp!"

"Mortification had set in on this camp 'fore I ever saw it, Samuel,"
replied Uncle Bill calmly. "I was over in the Buffalo Hump Country doin'
assessment work fifteen hundred feet above timber-line when the last
Live One pulled out of Ore City. They ain't been one in since to my
knowledge. The town's so quiet you can hear the fish come up to breathe
in Lemon Crick and I ain't lookin' for a change soon."

"You wait till spring."

"I wore out the bosoms of two pair of Levi Strauss's every winter since
1910 waitin' for spring, and I ain't seen nothin' yet except Capital
makin' wide circles around Ore City. This here camp's got a black eye."

"And who give it a black eye?" demanded Yankee Sam wrathfully. "Who done
it but knockers like you? I 'spose if Capital was settin' right
alongside you'd up and tell 'em you never saw a ledge yet in this camp
hold out below a hundred feet?"

Uncle Bill replied tranquilly:

"Would if they ast me."

"You'd rather see us all starve than boost."

"Jest as lief as to lie."

"Well, that's what we're goin' to do if somethin' don't happen this
Spring. She'll own this camp. Porcupine Jim turned over 'the Underdog'
yesterday and Lannigan's finished eatin' on 'The Gold-dust Twins'." He
moved away disconsolately. "Lord, I wish the stage would get in."

At this juncture Judge George Petty turned in from the street, hitting
both sides of the snow tunnel as he came. He fumbled at the door-knob in
a suspicious manner and then stumbled joyously inside.

"Boys," he announced exuberantly, "I think I heerd the stage."

The group about the red-hot stove regarded him coldly and no one moved.
It was like him, the ingrate, to get drunk alone. When he tried to wedge
a chair into the circle they made no effort to give him room.

"You don't believe me!" The Judge's mouth, which had been upturned at
the corners like a "dry" new moon, as promptly became a "wet" one and
drooped as far the other way.

"Somethin' you been takin' must a quickened your hearin'," said Yankee
Sam sourly. "She's an hour and a half yet from bein' due."

"'Twere nothin'," he answered on the defensive, "but a few drops of
vaniller and some arnicy left over from that sprain. You oughtn't to
feel hard toward me," he quavered, wilting under the unfriendly eyes.
"I'd a passed it if there'd been enough to go aroun'."

"An' after all we've done fer ye," said Lannigan, "makin' ye Jestice of
the Peace to keep ye off the town."

"Jedge," said Uncle Bill deliberately, "you're gittin' almost no-account
enough to be a Forest Ranger. I aims to write to Washington when your
term is out and git you in the Service."

The Judge jumped up as though he had been stung.

"Bill, we been friends for twenty year, an' I'll take considerable off
you, but I want you to understan' they'r a limit. You kin call me a
wolf, er a Mormon, er a son-of-a-gun, but, Bill, you can't call me no
Forest Ranger! Bill," pleadingly, and his face crumpled in sudden tears,
"you didn't mean that, did you? You wouldn't insult an ol', ol' frien'?"

"You got the ear-marks," Uncle Bill replied unmoved. "For a year now
you've walked forty feet around that tree that fell across the trail to
your cabin rather than stop and chop it out. You sleeps fourteen hours a
day and eats the rest. The hardest work you ever do is to draw your
money. Hell's catoots! It's a crime to keep a born Ranger like you off
the Department's pay-roll."

"You think I'm drunk now and I'll forgit. Well--I won't." The Judge
shook a tremulous but belligerent fist. "I'll remember what you said to
me the longest day I live, and you've turned an ol', ol' frien' into an
enemy. Whur's that waumbat coat what was hangin' here day 'fore
yistiday?"

In offended dignity the Judge took the waumbat coat and retreated to the
furthermost end of the office, where he covered himself and went to
sleep in the plush barber-chair.

In the silence which followed, Miss Vi doing belated chamberwork
upstairs sounded like six on an ore-wagon as she walked up and down the
uncarpeted hall.

"Wisht they'd sing somethin'," said Porcupine Jim wistfully.

As though his desire had been communicated by mental telepathy Ma Snow's
soprano came faintly from the kitchen--"We all like she-e-e--p-." Miss
Rosie's alto was heard above the clatter of the dishes she was placing
on the table in the dining-room--"We all like she-e-e--p-." Miss Vi's
throaty contralto was wafted down the stairs--"We all like she-e-e-p."
"Have gone" sang the tenor. "Have gone astray--astray"--Mr. Snow's
booming bass came through the stove-pipe hole. The baritone arrived from
the stable in time to lend his voice as they all chorded.

"The stage's comin'," the musical hostler announced when the strains
died away. The entranced audience dashed abruptly for the door.

A combination of arnica and vanilla seemed indeed to have sharpened the
Judge's hearing for the stage was fully an hour earlier than any one had
reason to expect.

"Don't see how he can make such good time over them roads loaded down
like he is with Mungummery-Ward Catalogues and nails comin' by passel
post." Yankee Sam turned up his coat collar and shivered.

"Them leaders is turrible good snow-horses; they sabe snow-shoes like a
man." Lannigan stretched his neck to catch a glimpse of them through the
pines before they made the turn into the Main street.

There was a slightly acid edge to Uncle Bill's tone as he observed:

"I ought to git my Try-bune to-night if the postmistress at Beaver Crick
is done with it."

"Git-ep! Eagle! Git-ep, Nig!" They could hear the stage driver urging
his horses before they caught sight of the leader's ears turning the
corner.

Then Porcupine Jim, who had the physical endowment of being able to
elongate his neck like a turtle, cried excitedly before anyone else
could see the rear of the stage: "They's somebudy on!"

A passenger? They looked at each other inquiringly. Who could be coming
into Ore City at this time of year? But there he sat--a visible fact--in
the back seat--wearing a coon-skin cap and snuggled down into a
coon-skin overcoat looking the embodiment of ready money! A Live One--in
winter! They experienced something of the awe which the Children of
Israel must have felt when manna fell in the wilderness. Even Uncle Bill
tingled with curiosity.

When the steaming stage horses stopped before the snow tunnel, the
population of Ore City was waiting like a reception committee, their
attitudes of nonchalance belied by their gleaming, intent eyes.

The stranger was dark and hatchet-faced, with sharp, quick-moving eyes.
He nodded curtly in a general way and throwing aside the robes sprang
out nimbly.

A pang so sharp and violent that it was nearly audible passed through
the expectant group. Hope died a sudden death when they saw his legs. It
vanished like the effervescence from charged water, likewise their
smile. He wore puttees! He was the prospectors' ancient enemy. He was a
Yellow Leg! A mining expert--but who was he representing? Without
knowing, they suspected "the Guggenheimers"--when in doubt they always
suspected the Guggenheimers.

They stood aside to let him pass, their cold eyes following his legs
down the tunnel, waiting in the freezing atmosphere to avoid the
appearance of indecent haste, though they burned to make a bee-line for
the register.

"Wilbur Dill,--Spokane" was the name he inscribed upon the spotless page
with many curlicues, while Ma Snow waited with a graceful word of
greeting, bringing with her the fragrant odors of the kitchen.

"Welcome to our mountain home."

As Mr. Dill bowed gallantly over her extended hand he became aware that
there was to be fried ham for supper.

He was shown to his room but came down again with considerable celerity,
rubbing his knuckles, and breaking the highly charged silence of the
office with a caustic comment upon the inconvenience of sleeping in cold
storage.

There was a polite murmur of assent but nothing further, as his hearers
knew what he did not--that Pa Snow upstairs was listening. Yankee Sam
however tactfully diverted his thoughts to the weather, hoping thus
indirectly to draw out his reason for undertaking the hardship of such a
trip in winter. But whatever Mr. Dill's business it appeared to be of a
nature which would keep, although they sat expectantly till Miss Rosie
coyly announced supper.

"Don't you aim to set down, Uncle Bill?" she asked kindly as the rest
filed in.

"Thanks, no, I et late and quite hearty, an' I see the Try-bune's come."

"I should think you'd want to eat every chance you got after all you
went through out hunting."

"It's that, I reckon, what's took my appetite," the old man answered
soberly, as he produced his steel-rimmed spectacles and started to read
what the Beaver Creek postmistress had left him of his newspaper.

Inside, Mr. Dill seated himself at the end of the long table which a
placard braced against the castor proclaimed as sacred to the
"transient." A white tablecloth served as a kind of dead-line over
which the most audacious regular dared not reach for special delicacies
when Ma Snow hovered in the vicinity.

"Let me he'p yoah plate to some Oregon-grape jell," Ma Snow was urging
in her honied North Carolina accent, when, by that mysterious sixth
sense which she seemed to possess, or the eye which it was believed she
concealed by the arrangement of her back hair, she became suddenly aware
of the condition of Mr. Lannigan's hands.

She whirled upon him like a catamount and her weak blue eyes watered in
a way they had when she was about to show the hardness of a Lucretia
Borgia. Her voice, too, that quivered as though on the verge of tears,
had a quality in it which sent shivers up and down the spines of those
who were familiar with it.

"Lannigan, what did I tell you?"

It was obvious enough that Lannigan knew what she had told him for he
immediately jerked his hands off the oilcloth, and hid them under the
table.

He answered with a look of innocence:

"Why, I don't know ma'am."

"Go out and wash them hands!"

Hands, like murder, will out. Concealment was no longer possible, since
it was a well-known fact that Lannigan had hands, so he held them in
front of him and regarded them in well-feigned surprise.

"I declare I never noticed!"

It was difficult to imagine how such hands could have escaped
observation, even by their owner, as they looked as though he had used
them for scoops to remove soot from a choked chimney. Also the
demarcation lines of various high tides were plainly visible on his
wrists and well up his arms. He arose with a wistful look at the platter
of ham which had started on its first and perhaps only lap around the
table.

Uncle Bill glanced up and commented affably:

"You got ran out, I see. I thought she'd flag them hands when I saw
you goin' in with 'em."

Lannigan grunted as he splashed at the wash basin in the corner.

"I notice by the Try-bune," went on Uncle Bill with a chuckle, "that one
of them English suffragettes throwed flour on the Primeer and--" His
mouth opened as a fresh headline caught his eye, and when he had
finished perusing it his jaw had lengthened until it was resting well
down the bosom of his flannel shirt . . . The headline read:

BRAVE TENDERFOOT SAVES HIS GUIDE
FROM DEATH IN BLIZZARD
T. VICTOR SPRUDELL CARRIES EXHAUSTED OLD MAN
THROUGH DEEP DRIFTS TO SAFETY
A MODEST HERO

Uncle Bill removed his spectacles and polished them deliberately. Then
he readjusted them and read the last paragraph again:

"The rough old mountain man, Bill Griswold, grasped my hand at parting,
and tears of gratitude rolled down his withered cheeks as he said
good-bye. But, tut! tut!" declared Mr. Sprudell modestly: "I had done
nothing."

Uncle Bill made a sound that was somewhere between his favorite
ejaculation and a gurgle, while his face wore an expression which was a
droll mixture of amazement and wrath.

"Oh, Lannigan!" he called, then changed his mind and, instead, laid the
paper on his knee and carefully cut out the story, which had been copied
from an Eastern exchange, and placed it in his worn leather wallet.





Next: The Yellow-leg

Previous: Sprudell Goes East



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