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From: The Gold Girl

At the Samuelson's ranch they found not only the doctor but Len
Christie. Mr. Samuelson's condition had taken a sudden turn for the
better and it was a jubilant little group that welcomed Patty as she
rode up to the veranda. Vil Holland had muttered an excuse and gone
directly to the bunk house where the doctor sought him out a few
minutes later and attended to his wound. From the top of "Lost Creek"
divide, the ride had been made almost in silence. The cowboy's
reference to his jug had angered the girl into a moody reserve which
he made no effort to dispel.

The news of Patty's rescue from the horse herd had preceded her,
having been recounted by the Samuelson riders upon their return to the
ranch, and Mrs. Samuelson blamed herself unmercifully for having
allowed the girl to venture down the valley alone. Which
self-accusation was promptly silenced by Patty, who gently forced the
old lady into an arm chair, and called her Mother Samuelson, and
seated herself upon the step at her feet, and assured her that she
wouldn't have missed the adventure for the world.

"We'll have a jolly little dinner party this evening," beamed Mrs.
Samuelson, an hour later when the girl had finished recounting her
part in the night's adventure, "there'll be you and Mr. Christie, and
Doctor Mallory, and the boys from the bunk house, and Vil Holland, and
it will be in honor of Mr. Samuelson's turn for the better, and your
escape, and the successful routing of the horse-thieves."

"Too late to count Vil Holland in," smiled the doctor, who had
returned to the veranda in time to hear the arrangement, "said he had
important business in town, and pulled out as soon as I'd got his arm
rigged up." And, in the doorway, the Reverend Len Christie smiled
behind a screen of cigarette smoke as he noted the toss of the head,
and the decided tightening of the lips with which Patty greeted the
announcement.

"But, he's wounded!" protested Mrs. Samuelson. "In his condition,
ought he attempt a ride like that?"

The doctor laughed: "You can't hurt these clean-blooded young bucks
with a flesh wound. As far as fitness is concerned, he can ride to
Jericho if he wants to. Too bad he won't quit prospecting and settle
down. He'd make some girl a mighty fine husband."

Christie laughed. "I don't think Vil is the marrying kind. In the
first place he's been bitten too deep with the prospecting bug. And,
again, women don't appeal to him. He's wedded to his prospecting. He
only stops when driven to it by necessity, then he only works long
enough to save up a grub-stake and he's off for the hills again. I
can't imagine that high priest of the pack horse and the frying pan
living in a house!"

And so the talk went, everyone participating except Patty, who sat and
listened with an elaborate indifference that caused the Reverend Len
to smile again to himself behind the gray cloud of his cigarette
smoke.

"You haven't forgotten about my school?" asked Patty next morning, as
Christie and the doctor were preparing to leave for town.

"Indeed, I haven't!" laughed the Bishop of All Outdoors. "School opens
the first of September, and that's not very far away. But badly as we
need you, somehow I feel that we are not going to get you."

"Why?" asked the girl in surprise.

"A whole lot may happen in ten days--and I've got a hunch that before
that time you will have made your strike."

"I hope so!" she exclaimed fervidly. "I know I shall just hate to
teach school--and I'd never do it, either, if I didn't need a
grub-stake."

As she watched him ride away, Patty was joined by Mrs. Samuelson who
stepped from the house and thrust her arm through hers. "My husband
wants to meet you, my dear. He's so very much better this
morning--quite himself. And I must warn you that that means he's rough
as an old bear, apparently, although in reality he's got the tenderest
heart in the world. He always puts his worst foot foremost with
strangers--he may even swear."

Patty laughed: "I'm not afraid. You seem to have survived a good many
years of him. He really can't be so terrible!"

"Oh, he's not terrible at all. Only, I know how much depends upon
first impressions--and I do want you to like us."

Patty drew the old lady's arm about her waist and together they
ascended the stairs: "I love you already, and although I have never
met him I am going to love Mr. Samuelson, too--you see, I have heard a
good deal about him here in the hills."

Entering the room, they advanced to the bed where a big-framed man
with a white mustache and a stubble of gray beard lay propped up on
pillows. Sickness had not paled the rich mahogany of the
weather-seamed face, and the eyes that met Patty's from beneath their
bushy brows were bright as a boy's. "Good morning! Good morning! So,
you're Rod Sinclair's daughter, are you? An' a chip of the old block,
by what mama's been tellin' me. I knew Rod well. He was a real
prospector. Knew his business, an' went at it business fashion. Wasn't
like most of 'em--makin' their rock-peckin' an excuse to get out of
workin'. They tell me you ain't afraid to live alone in the hills, an'
ain't afraid to make a midnight ride to fetch the doc for an old
long-horn like me. That's stuff! Didn't know they bred it east of the
Mizoo. The ones mama an' I've seen around the theaters an' restaurants
on our trips East would turn a man's stomach. Why, damn it, young
woman, if I ever caught a daughter of mine painted up like a Piute
an' stripped to the waist smokin' cigarettes an' drinkin' cocktails in
a public restaurant, I'd peel the rest of her duds off an' turn her
over my knee an' take a quirt to her, if she was forty!"

"Why, papa!"

"I would too--an' so would you!" Patty saw the old eyes twinkling with
mischief, and she laughed merrily:

"And so would I," she agreed. "So there's no chance for any argument,
is there?"

"We must go, now," reminded Mrs. Samuelson. "The doctor said you could
not see any visitors yet. He made a special exception of Miss
Sinclair, for just a few minutes."

"I wish you would call me Patty," smiled the girl. "Miss Sinclair
sounds so--so formal----"

"Me, too!" exclaimed the invalid. "I'll go you one better, an' call
you Pat----"

"If you do, I'll call you Pap--" laughed the girl.

"That's a trade! An' say, they tell me you live over in Watts's sheep
camp. If you should happen to run across that reprobate of a Vil
Holland, you tell him to come over here. I want to see him about----"

"There, now, papa--remember the doctor said----"

"I don't care what the doctor said! He's finished his job an' gone,
ain't he? It's bad enough to have to do what he says when you're
sick--but, I'm all right now, an' the quicker he finds out I didn't
hire him for a guardian, the better it'll be all round. As I was goin'
to say, you tell Vil that Old Man Samuelson wants to see him pronto.
Fall's comin' on, an' I'll have my hands full this winter with the
horses. He's the only cowman in the hills I'd trust them white faces
with, an' he's got to winter 'em for me. He's a natural born cowman
an' there's big money in it after he gets a start. I'll give him his
start. It's time he woke up, an' left off his damned rock-peckin', an'
settled down. If he keeps on long enough he'll have these hills
whittled down as flat as North Dakota, an' the wind'll blow us all
over into the sheep country. Now, Pat, can you remember all that?"

The girl turned in the doorway, and smiled into the bright old eyes:
"Oh, yes, Pap, I'll tell him if I see him. Good-by!"

"Good-by, an' good luck to you! Come to see us often. We old folks get
pretty lonesome sometimes--especially mama. You see, I've got all the
best of it--I've got her, an' she's only got me!"

As Patty threaded the hills toward her cabin her thoughts followed the
events of the past few days; the visit of Len Christie in the early
morning, when he had inadvertently showed her how to read her father's
map, the staking of the false claim, the visit to the Samuelson ranch,
the horse raid, the finding of Vil Holland's glove and the bitter
disappointment that followed, then the finding of the notice that
disclosed the identity of the real thief, and her genuine joy in the
discovery, her visit to Holland's camp, and their long ride together.
"I tried to show him that all my distrust of him was gone, but he
hardly seemed to notice--unless--I wonder what he did mean about
having a hunch that he would build that cabin before snow flies?"

For some time she rode in silence, then she burst out vehemently: "I
don't care! I could love him--so there! I could just adore him! And I
don't wonder everybody likes him. He seems always so--so capable--so
confident. You just can't help liking him. If it weren't for that old
jug! He had to drag that in, even up there when he stood on the spot
where we first met--and then at the Samuelsons' he wouldn't even wait
for dinner he was so crazy to get his old whisky jug filled. It never
seems to hurt him any," she continued. "But nobody can drink as much
as he does and not be hurt by it. I just know he meant that the cabin
was going to be for me--or, did he know that Mr. Samuelson was going
to ask him to winter the cattle? He's a regular cave man--I don't know
whether I've been proposed to, or not!"

She crossed the trail for town and struck into a valley that should
bring her out somewhere along the Watts fences. So engrossed was she
in her thoughts that she failed to notice the horseman who slipped
noiselessly into the scrub a quarter of a mile ahead. Slowly she rode
up the valley: "If he comes to teach me how to shoot, I'll tell him
that Mr. Samuelson wants to see him, and if he says any more about the
cabin, or--or anything--I'll tell him he can choose between me and his
jug. And, if he chooses the jug, and I don't find daddy's mine--it
isn't long 'til school opens. I don't mind--he has to work to get his
grub-stake, and so will I."

Her horse snorted and shied violently, and when Patty recovered her
seat it was to find her way blocked by a horseman who stood not ten
feet in front of her and leered into her eyes. The horseman was Monk
Bethune--a malignant, terrifying Bethune, as he sat regarding her with
his sneering smile. The girl's first impulse was to turn and fly, but
as if divining her thoughts, the man pushed nearer, and she saw that
his eyes gleamed horribly between lids drawn to slits. Had he
discovered that she had tricked him with a false claim? If not why the
glare of hate and the sneering smile that told plainer than words that
he had her completely in his power, and knew it.

"So, my fine lady--we meet again! We have much to talk about--you and
I. But, first, about the claim. You thought you were very wise with
your lying about not having a map. You thought to save the whole loaf
for yourself--you thought I was fool enough to believe you. If you had
let me in, you would have had half--now you have nothing. The claim is
all staked and filed, and the adjoining claims for a mile are staked
with the stakes of my friends--and you have nothing! You were the
fool! You couldn't have won against me. Failing in my story of
partnership with your father, I had intended to marry you, and failing
in that, I should have taken the map by force--for I knew you carried
it with you. But I dislike violence when the end may be gained by
other means, so I waited until, at last, happened the thing I knew
would happen--you became careless. You left your precious map and
photograph in plain sight upon your little table--and now you have
nothing." So he had not discovered the deception, but, through
accident or design, had seized this opportunity to gloat over her, and
taunt her with her loss. His carefully assumed mask of suave
courtliness had disappeared, and Patty realized that at last she was
face to face with the real Bethune, a creature so degenerate that he
boasted openly of having stolen her secret, as though the fact
redounded greatly to his credit.

A sudden rage seized her. She touched her horse with the spur: "Let me
pass!" she demanded, her lips white.

The man's answer was a sneering laugh, as he blocked her way: "Ho! not
so fast, my pretty! How about the Samuelson horse raid--your part in
it? Three of my best men are in hell because you tipped off that raid
to Vil Holland! How you found it out I do not know--but women, of a
certain kind, can find out anything from men. No doubt Clen, in some
sweet secret meeting place, poured the story into your ear, although
he denies it on his life."

"What do you mean?"

"Ha! Ha! Injured innocence!" He leered knowingly into her flashing
eyes: "It seems that everyone else knew what I did not. But, I am of a
forgiving nature. I will not see you starve. Leave the others and come
to me----"

"You cur!" The words cut like a swish of a lash, and again the man
laughed:

"Oh, not so fast, you hussy! I must admit it rather piqued me to be
bested in the matter of a woman--and by a soul-puncher. I was on hand
early that morning, to spy upon your movements, as was my custom. I
speak of the morning following the night that the very Reverend
Christie spent with you in your cabin. I should not have believed it
had I not seen his horse running unsaddled with your own. Also later,
I saw you come out of the cabin together. Then I damned myself for not
having reached out before and taken what was there for me to take."

With a low cry of fury, the girl drove her spurs into her horse's
sides. The animal leaped against Bethune's horse, forcing him aside.
The quarter-breed reached swiftly for her bridle reins, and as he
leaned forward with his arm outstretched, Patty summoned all her
strength and, whirling her heavy braided rawhide quirt high above her
head, brought it down with the full sweep of her muscular arm. The
feel of the blow was good as it landed squarely upon the inflamed
brutish face, and the shrill scream of pain that followed, sent a wild
thrill of joy to the very heart of the girl. Again, the lash swung
high, this time to descend upon the flank of her horse, and before
Bethune could recover himself, the frenzied animal shot up the valley,
running with every ounce there was in him.

The valley floor was fairly level, and a hundred yards away the girl
shot a swift glance over her shoulder. Bethune's horse was getting
under way in frantic leaps that told of cruel spurring, and with her
eyes to the front, she bent forward over the horn and slapped her
horse's neck with her gloved hand. She remembered with a quick gasp of
relief that Bethune prided himself upon the fact that he never carried
a gun. She had once taunted Vil Holland with the fact, and he had
replied that "greasers and breeds were generally sneaking enough to be
knife men." Again, she glanced over her shoulder and smiled grimly as
she noted that the distance between the two flying horses had
increased by half. "Good old boy," she whispered. "You can beat
him--can 'run rings around him,' as Vil would say. It would be a long
knife that could harm me now," she thought, as she pulled her Stetson
tight against the sweep of the rushing wind. The ground was becoming
more and more uneven. Loose rock fragments were strewn about in
increasing numbers, and the valley was narrowing to an extent that
necessitated frequent fording of the shallow creek. "He can't make any
better time than I can," muttered the girl, as she noted the
slackening of her horse's speed. She was riding on a loose rein,
giving her horse his head, for she realized that to force him might
mean a misstep and a fall. She closed her eyes and shuddered at the
thoughts of a fall. A thousand times better had she fallen and been
pounded to a pulp by the flying hoofs of the horse herd, than to fall
now--and survive it. The ascent became steeper. Her horse was still
running, but very slowly. His neck and shoulders were reeking with
sweat, and she could hear the labored breath pumping through his
distended nostrils.

A sudden fear shot through her. Nine valleys in every ten, she knew,
ended in surmountable divides; and she knew, also, that one valley in
every ten did not. Suppose this one that she had chosen at random
terminated in a cul-de-sac? The way became steeper. Running was out of
the question, and her horse was forging upward in a curious
scrambling walk. A noise of clattering rocks sounded behind her, and
Patty glanced backward straight into the face of Bethune. Reckless of
a fall, in the blind fury of his passion, the quarter-breed had forced
his horse to his utmost, and rapidly closed up the gap until scarcely
ten yards separated him from the fleeing girl.

In a frenzy of terror she lashed her laboring horse's flanks as the
animal dug and clawed like a cat at the loose rock footing of the
steep ascent. White to the lips she searched the foreground for a
ravine or a coulee that would afford a means of escape. But before her
loomed only the ever steepening wall, its surface half concealed by
the scattering scrub. Once more she looked backward. The breath was
whistling through the blood-red flaring nostrils of Bethune's horse,
and her glance flew to the face of the man. Never in her wildest
nightmares had she imagined the soul-curdling horror of that face. The
lips writhed back in a hideous grin of hate. A long blue-red welt
bisected the features obliquely--a welt from which red blood flowed
freely at the corner of a swollen eye. White foam gathered upon the
distorted lips and drooled down onto the chin where it mingled with
the blood in a pink meringue that dripped in fluffy chunks upon his
shirt front. The uninjured eye was a narrow gleam of venom, and the
breath swished through the man's nostrils as from the strain of great
physical labor.

"Oh, for my gun!" thought the girl. "I'd--I'd kill him!" With a wild
scramble her horse went down. "Vil! Vil!" she shrieked, in a frenzy of
despair, and freeing herself from the floundering animal, she
struggled to her feet and faced her pursuer with a sharp rock fragment
upraised in her two hands.

Monk Bethune laughed--as the fiends must laugh in hell. A laugh that
struck a chill to the very heart of the girl. Her muscles went limp at
the sound of it and she felt the strength ebbing from her body like
sand from an upturned glass. The rock fragment became an insupportable
weight. It crashed to the ground, and rolled clattering to Bethune's
feet. He, too, had dismounted, and stood beside his horse, his fists
slowly clenching and unclenching in gloating anticipation. Patty
turned to run, but her limbs felt numb and heavy, and she pitched
forward upon her knees. With a slow movement of his hand, Bethune
wiped the pink foam from his chin, examined it, snapped it from his
fingers, cleansed them upon the sleeve of his shirt--and again,
deliberately, he laughed, and started to climb slowly forward.

A rock slipped close beside the girl, and the next instant a voice
sounded in her ear: "I don't reckon he's 'round yere, Miss. I hain't
saw Vil this mo'nin'." Rifle in hand, Watts stepped from behind a
scrub pine, and as his eyes fell upon Bethune, he stood fumbling his
beard with uncertain fingers.

"He--he'll kill me!" gasped the girl.

"Sho', now, Miss--he won't hurt yo' none, will yo', Mr. Bethune?
Gineral Jackson! Mr. Bethune, look at yo' face! Yo' must of rode
again' a limb!"

"Shut up, and get out of here!" screamed the quarter-breed. "And, if
you know what's good for you, you'll forget that you've seen anyone
this morning."

"B'en layin' up yere in the gap fer to git me a deer. I heerd yo'-all
comin', like, so's I waited."

"Get out, I tell you, before I kill you!" cried Bethune, beside
himself with rage. "Go!" The man's hand plunged beneath his shirt and
came out with a glitter of steel.

The mountaineer eyed the blade indifferently, and turned to the girl.
"Ef yo' goin' my ways, ma'am, jest yo' lead yo' hoss on ahaid. They's
a game trail runs slaunchways up th'ough the gap yender. I'll kind o'
foller 'long behind."

"You fool!" shrilled Bethune, as he made a grab for the girl's reins,
and the next instant found himself looking straight into the muzzle of
Watts's rifle.

"Drap them lines," drawled the mountaineer, "thet hain't yo' hoss. An'
what's over an' above, yo' better put up yo' whittle, an' tu'n 'round
an' go back wher' yo' com' from."

"Lower that gun!" commanded Bethune. "It's cocked!"

"Yes, hit's cocked, Mr. Bethune, an' hit's sot mighty light on the
trigger. Ef I'd git a little scairt, er a little riled, er my foot 'ud
slip, yo'd have to be drug down to wher' the diggin's easy, an'
buried."

Bethune deliberately slipped the knife back into his shirt, and
laughed: "Oh, come, now, Watts, a joke's a joke. I played a joke on
Miss Sinclair to frighten her----"

"Yo' done hit, all right," interrupted Watts. "An' thet's the end
on't."

The rifle muzzle still covered Bethune's chest in the precise region
of his heart, and once more he changed his tactics: "Don't be a fool,
Watts," he said, in an undertone, "I'm rich--richer than you, or
anyone else knows. I've located Rod Sinclair's strike and filed it. If
you just slip quietly off about your business, and forget that you
ever saw anyone here this morning--and see to it that you never
remember it again, you'll never regret it. I'll make it right with
you--I'll file you next to discovery."

"Yo' mean," asked Watts, slowly, "thet you've stoled the mine offen
Sinclair's darter, an' filed hit yo'self, an' thet ef I go 'way an'
let yo' finish the job by murderin' the gal, yo'll give me some of the
mine--is thet what yo' tryin' to git at?"

"Put it anyway you want to, damn you! Words don't matter, but for
God's sake, get out! If she once gets through the gap----"

"Bethune," Watts drawled the name, even more than was his wont, and
the quarter-breed noticed that the usually roving eyes had set into a
hard stare behind which lurked a dangerous glitter, "yo're a ornery,
low-down cur-dog what hain't fitten to be run with by man, beast, or
devil. I'd ort to shoot yo' daid right wher' yo' at--an' mebbe I will.
But comin' to squint yo' over, that there damage looks mo' like a
quirt-lick than a limb. Thet ort to hurt like fire fer a couple a
days, an' when it lets up yo' face hain't a-goin' to be so purty as
what hit wus. Ef she'd jest of drug the quirt along a little when hit
landed she c'd of cut plumb into the bone--but hit's middlin' fair, as
hit stands. I'm a-goin' to give yo' a chanct--an' a warnin', too. Next
time I see yo' I'm a-going' to kill yo'--whenever, or wherever hit's
at. I'll do hit, jest as shore as my name is John Watts. Yo' kin go
now--back the way yo' come, pervidin' yo' go fast. I'm a-goin' to
count up to wher' I know how to--I hain't never be'n to school none,
but I counted up to nineteen, onct--an' whin I git to wher' I cain't
rec'lec' the nex' figger, I'm a-goin' to shoot, an' shoot straight.
An' I hain't a-goin' to study long about them figgers, neither. Le's
see, one comes fust--yere goes, then: One ... Two...." For a single
instant, Bethune gazed into the man's eyes and the next, he sprang
into the saddle, and dashing wildly down the steep slope, disappeared
into the scrub.

"Spec' I'd ort to killed him," regretted the mountaineer, as he
lowered the rifle, and gazed off down the valley, "but I hain't got no
appetite fer diggin'."





Next: Patty Makes Her Strike

Previous: Patty Finds A Glove



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