Laughing Bill Hyde





Mr. William Hyde was discharged from Deer Lodge Penitentiary a changed

man. That was quite in line with the accepted theory of criminal

jurisprudence, the warden's discipline, and the chaplain's prayers.

Yes, Mr. Hyde was changed, and the change had bitten deep; his

humorous contempt for the law had turned to abiding hatred; his

sunburned cheeks were pallid, his lungs were weak, and he coughed

considerably. Balanced against these results, to be sure, were the

benefits accruing from three years of corrective discipline at the

State's expense; the knack of conversing through stone walls, which

Mr. Hyde had mastered, and the plaiting of wonderful horsehair

bridles, which he had learned. Otherwise he was the same "Laughing

Bill" his friends had known, neither more nor less regenerate.



Since the name of Montana promised to associate itself with unpleasant

memories, Mr. Hyde determined at once to bury his past and begin life

anew in a climate more suited to weak lungs. To that end he stuck up a

peaceful citizen of Butte who was hurrying homeward with an armful of

bundles, and in the warm dusk of a pleasant evening relieved him

of eighty-three dollars, a Swiss watch with an elk's-tooth fob, a

pearl-handled penknife, a key-ring, and a bottle of digestive tablets.



Three wasted years of industry had not robbed Mr. Hyde of the

technique of his trade, hence there was nothing amateurish or

uproarious about the procedure. He merely back-heeled the pedestrian

against a bill-board, held him erect and speechless by placing his

left hand upon his victim's shoulder and pressing his left forearm

firmly across the gentleman's apple, the while with his own dexterous

right mit he placed the eighty-three dollars in circulation. During

the transaction he laughed constantly. An hour later he was en route

for the sunny South, there being good and sufficient reasons why he

preferred that direction to any other.



Arizona helped Mr. Hyde's lungs, for the random town which he selected

was high and dry, but, unfortunately, so was Laughing Bill soon after

his arrival, and in consequence he was forced to engage promptly in

a new business enterprise. This time he raised a pay-roll. It was an

easy task, for the custodian of the pay-roll was a small man with a

kindly and unsuspicious nature. As a result of this operation Bill was

enabled to maintain himself, for some six weeks, in a luxury to which

of late he had been unaccustomed. At the end of this time the original

bearer of the payroll tottered forth from the hospital and, chancing

to overhear Mr. Hyde in altercation with a faro dealer, he was struck

by some haunting note in the former's laughter, and lost no time in

shuffling his painful way to the sheriff's office.



Seeing the man go, Laughing Bill realized that his health again

demanded a change of climate, and since it lacked nearly an hour of

train time he was forced to leave on horseback. Luckily for him he

found a horse convenient. It was a wild horse, with nothing whatever

to indicate that it belonged to any one, except the fact that it

carried a silver-mounted saddle and bridle, the reins of which were

fastened to a post in front of a saloon.



Mr. Hyde enjoyed the ride, for it kept him out in the open air. It

grieved him to part with the horse, a few hours later, but being

prodigal with personal property he presented the animal to a poor

Mexican woman, leaving her to face any resulting embarrassments. Ten

minutes later he swung himself under a west-bound freight, and in

due time arrived in California, somewhat dirty and fatigued, but in

excellent humor.



Laughing Bill's adventures and his aliases during his slow progress up

the coast form no part of this story. It might be said, with a great

deal of truth, that he was missed, if not mourned, in many towns.

Finally, having found the climates of California, Oregon and

Washington uniformly unsuited to one of his habits, force of

circumstance in the shape of numerous hand-bills adorned with an

unflattering half-tone of himself, but containing certain undeniably

accurate data such as diameter of skull, length of nose, angle of ear,

and the like, drove him still north and west. Bill was a modest man;

he considered these statistics purely personal in character; to see

them blazoned publicly on the walls of post-offices, and in the

corridors of county buildings, outraged his finer feelings, so he went

away from there, in haste, as usual.



Having never sailed the sea, he looked forward to such an experience

with lively anticipation, only to be disappointed in the realization.

It was rough off Flattery, and he suffered agonies strange and

terrifying. In due time, however, he gained his sea legs and, being

forever curious, even prying, he explored the ship. His explorations

were interesting, for they took him into strange quarters--into

the forecastle, the steerage, even into some of the first-class

state-rooms, the doors of which had been left "on the hook" while

their occupants were at meals. No small benefit accrued to Mr. Hyde

from these investigations.



One day during the dinner-hour, as he was occupied in admiring the

contents of a strange suit-case, a voice accosted him over his

shoulder, and he looked up to discover a face in the cabin window.

Bill realized that an explanation was due, for it was evident that

the speaker had been watching him for some little time; but under the

circumstances, even though the face in the window was round, youthful,

good-humored, explanations promised to be embarrassing.



"How d'y?" said Mr. Hyde.



"What luck?" inquired the stranger.



Mr. Hyde sat back upon his heels and grinned engagingly. "Not much,"

he confessed. "Can't find it nowhere. This guy must be a missionary."



The new-comer opened the door and entered. He was a medium-sized,

plump young man. "Oh, I say!" he protested. "Is it as bad as that?"

Bill nodded vaguely, meanwhile carefully measuring the physical

proportions of the interloper. The latter went on:



"I saw that you knew your business, and--I was hoping you'd manage to

find something I had missed."



Mr. Hyde breathed deep with relief; his expression altered. "You been

through ahead of me?" he inquired.



"Oh, several times; daily, in fact." The speaker tossed a bunch of

keys upon the berth, saying: "Glance through the steamer-trunk while

you're here and declare me in on anything-you find."



Mr. Hyde rose to his feet and retreated a step; his look of relief was

replaced by one of dark suspicion. As always, in moments of extremity,

he began to laugh.



"Who are you?" he demanded.



"I? Why, I live here. That's my baggage. I've been through it, as

I told you, but--" The young man frowned whimsically and lit a

cigarette. "It doesn't diagnose. I can't find a solitary symptom of

anything worth while. Sit down, won't you?"



Mr. Hyde's manner changed for a second time. He was embarrassed,

apologetic, crestfallen. "Your cabin? Why, then--it's my mistake!"

he declared. "I must 'a' got in the wrong flat. Mac sent me up for a

deck of cards, but--Say, that's funny, ain't it?"



He began to see the joke upon himself, and the youth echoed his

laughter.



"It is funny," the latter agreed. "For Heaven's sake, don't spoil

it. Sit down and have a smoke; I'm not going to eat you."



"See here! You don't mean--? D'you think for a minute--?" Mr.

Hyde began with rotund dignity, but the other waved his cigarette

impatiently, saying:



"Oh, drop that stuff or I'll page your friend 'Mac' and show you up."



In assuming his air of outraged innocence Laughing Bill had arched

his hollow chest and inhaled deeply. As a result he began to cough,

whereupon his new acquaintance eyed him keenly, saying:



"That's a bad bark. What ails you?"



"Con," said Laughing Bill.



"Pardon me. I wouldn't have smoked if I'd known." The speaker dropped

his cigarette and placed a heel upon it. "What are you doing here?

Alaska's no place for weak lungs."



Gingerly seating himself upon the narrow settee Mr. Hyde murmured,

wonderingly: "Say! You're a regular guy, ain't you?" He began to laugh

again, but now there was less of a metallic quality to his merriment.

"Yes sir, dam' if you ain't." He withdrew from his pocket a

silver-mounted hair-brush and comb, and placed them carefully upon the

washstand. "I don't aim to quit winner on a sport like you."



"Thanks, awfully!" smiled the young man. "I'd have fought you for that

comb and brush. Girl stuff, you understand? That's she." He pointed to

a leather-framed photograph propped against the mirror.



Laughing Bill leaned forward and studied the picture approvingly.

"Some queen, all right. Blonde, I reckon."



"Sure. You like blondes?"



"Who, me? I ain't strong for no kind of women. You hate her, don't

you?"



The young man smiled more widely, his whole face lit up. "I hate her

so much that I kissed her good-by and sailed away to make a quick

fortune. I hope Alaska's unhealthy."



"Yeah?"



"You see, I'm a doctor. I'm a good doctor, too, but it takes a long

time to prove it, out in the States, and I can't wait a long time."



Mr. Hyde pondered briefly. "I don't see's you got much on me, Doc," he

said. "I frisk 'em while they're good and healthy, and you 'take' 'em

when they're feeble. I don't see no difference to speak of."



"It's an interesting viewpoint," the physician agreed, seriously

enough, "and I respect every man's opinion. Tell me, how did you

acquire that cough?"



"Livin' in a ground-floor apartment."



"What's your business?"



"Harness-maker."



"Hm-m! You'll do well up here." The doctor was highly entertained. "I

understand there's a horse at Nome."



"A horse!"



"Alaska isn't a stock country."



Laughing Bill was genuinely surprised. "No horses!" he murmured. "How

the hell do you get away?"



"You don't. You stay and face the music."



"Now what do you know about that?" There was a brief silence. "Well, I

bet I'll turn my hand to something."



"No doubt. You impress me as a man of resource." The doctor's eyes

twinkled and Bill smiled. A bond of friendly understanding had already

sprung up between the two men. "Now then, I'm interested in your case.

I've a notion to try to cure you."



"Nothing doin' on the fees. I'm a dead card."



"Oh, I won't charge you anything! I'm merely interested in obscure

ailments, and, if I'm not mistaken, you suffer from more than

one--well, disease. I think you need curing about as badly as any man

I ever saw."



Now Laughing Bill was not skilled in subtleties, and his relief at

extricating himself from a trying predicament banished any resentment

he might have felt at the doctor's double meaning. Since the latter

was a good-natured, harmless individual he decided to humor him, and

so, after they had visited for an hour or more, Mr. Hyde discreetly

withdrew. But, oddly enough, during the days immediately following,

Laughing Bill grew to like the young fellow immensely. This in itself

was a novel experience, for the ex-convict had been a "loner" all

his-life, and had never really liked any one. Dr. Evan Thomas,

however, seemed to fill some long-felt want in Hyde's hungry make-up.

He fitted in smoothly, too, and despite the latter's lifelong habit of

suspicion, despite his many rough edges, he could not manage to hold

the young man at a distance.



Thomas was of a type strange to the wanderer, he was educated, he had

unfamiliar airs and accomplishments, but he was human and natural

withal. He was totally ignorant of much that Mr. Hyde deemed

fundamental, and yet he was mysteriously superior, while his

indifferent good nature, his mild amusement at the antics of the world

about him covered a sincere and earnest nature. He knew his business,

moreover, and he revolutionized Bill's habits of hygiene in spite of

the latter's protests.



But the disease which ravaged Mr. Hyde's constitution had its toes dug

in, and when the steamer touched at St. Michaels he suffered a severe

hemorrhage. For the first time in his life Laughing Bill stood face to

face with darkness. He had fevered memories of going over side on a

stretcher; he was dimly aware of an appalling weakness, which grew

hourly, then an agreeable indifference enveloped him, and for a long

time he lived in a land of unrealities, of dreams. The day came when

he began to wonder dully how and why he found himself in a freezing

cabin with Doctor Thomas, in fur cap and arctic overshoes, tending

him. Bill pondered the phenomenon for a week before he put his query

into words.



"I've had a hard fight for you, old man," the doctor explained. "I

couldn't leave you here to die."



"I guess I must 'a' been pretty sick."



"Right! There's no hospital here, so I took this cabin--borrowed it

from the Company. We don't burn much fuel, and expenses aren't high."



"You been standin' off the landlord?"



"Yes."



There was a considerable silence, then Bill said, fervently: "You're a

regular guy, like I told you! But you got your pill business to attend

to. I'm all right now, so you better blow."



Thomas smiled dubiously. "You're a long way from all right, and

there's no place to 'blow' to. The last boat sailed two weeks ago."



"Last boat for where?"



"For anywhere. We're here for the winter, unless the mail-carrier will

take us to Nome, or up the Yukon, after the trails open."



"I bet you'll do a good business right here, when folks see what you

done for me," Bill ventured.



"Just wait till you look at the town--deserted warehouses, some young

and healthy watchmen, and a Siwash village. You're the only possible

patient in all of St. Michaels."



Bill lay silent for an hour, staring through the open cabin window

at a gray curtain of falling snowflakes; then he shook his head and

muttered:



"Well, I be danged!"



"Anything you want?" Thomas inquired, quickly.



"I was just thinking about that gal." Bill indicated the

leather-framed photograph which was prominently featured above the

other bunk. "You ain't gettin' ahead very fast, are you?"



This time the young medical man smiled with his lips only--his eyes

were grave and troubled. "I've written her all the circumstances, and

she'll understand. She's that sort of a girl." He turned cheerfully

back to his task. "I found that I had a few dollars left, so we won't

starve."



Mr. Hyde felt impelled to confess that in his war-bag there was a roll

of some seven hundred dollars, title to which had vested in him on the

northward trip, together with certain miscellaneous objects of virtu,

but he resisted the impulse, fearing that an investigation by his

nurse might lead the latter to believe that he, Bill, was not a

harness-maker at all, but a jewelry salesman. He determined to spring

that roll at a later date, and to present the doctor with a very thin,

very choice gold watch out of State-room 27. Bill carried out this

intention when he had sufficiently recovered to get about.



Later, when his lungs had healed, Bill hired the mail-man to take him

and his nurse to Nome. Since he was not yet altogether strong, he rode

the sled most of the way, while the doctor walked. It was a slow and

tiresome trip, along the dreary shores of Behring Sea, over timberless

tundras, across inlets where the new ice bent beneath their weight and

where the mail-carrier cautiously tested the footing with the head of

his ax. Sometimes they slept in their tent, or again in road-houses

and in Indian villages.



Every hour Laughing Bill grew stronger, and with his strength of

body grew his strength of affection for the youthful doctor. Bill

experienced a dog-like satisfaction in merely being near him; he

suffered pangs when Thomas made new friends; he monopolized him

jealously. The knowledge that he had a pal was new and thrilling; it

gave Bill constant food for thought and speculation. Thomas was always

gentle and considerate, but his little services, his unobtrusive

sacrifices never went unnoticed, and they awoke in the bandit an

ever-increasing wonderment. Also, they awoke a fierce desire to square

the obligation.



The two men laid over at one of the old Russian towns, and Thomas, as

was his restless custom, made investigation of the native village.

Of course Bill went with him. They had learned by this time to enter

Indian houses without knocking, so, therefore, when they finally came

to a cabin larger and cleaner than the rest they opened the door and

stepped inside, quite like experienced travelers.



A squaw was bent over a tub of washing, another stood beside the tiny

frosted window staring out. Neither woman answered the greeting of the

white men.



"Must be the chief's house," Thomas observed.



"Must be! I s'pose the old bird is out adding up his reindeer.

'Sapolio Sue' is prob'ly his head wife." Laughing Bill ran an

interested eye over the orderly interior. "Some shack, but--I miss the

usual smell."



Neither woman paid them the least attention, so they continued to talk

with each other.



"I wonder what she is washing," Doctor Thomas said, finally.



The figure at the window turned, exposing the face of a comely young

Indian girl. Her features were good, her skin was light. She eyed the

intruders coolly, then in a well-modulated voice, and in excellent

English, she said:



"She is washing a pair of sealskin pants."



Both men removed their caps in sudden embarrassment. Thomas exclaimed:



"I beg your pardon! We thought this was just an ordinary native house,

or we wouldn't have intruded."



"You haven't intruded. This is 'Reindeer Mary's' house." The girl had

again turned her back.



"Are you Reindeer Mary?"



"No, I am Ponatah. Mary befriended me; she lets me live with her."



"Allow me to introduce Mr. Hyde. I am Doctor Thomas. We were very

rude--"



"Oh, everybody comes here." The men recognized instantly in the

speaker's face, as well as in her voice, that education had set its

stamp. "Will you sit down and wait for her?"



"You overwhelm us." After an awkward moment the physician queried,

"How in the world did you learn to speak such good English?"



"A missionary took an interest in me when I was a little girl. He sent

me to Carlisle."



Laughing Bill had been an attentive listener, now he ventured to say:

"I know this Carlisle. He's a swell football player, or something."



Ponatah smiled, showing a row of small, white teeth. "Carlisle is an

Indian school."



"What made you come back?" Thomas inquired, curiously.



Ponatah shrugged her shoulders. "There was an end to the money. What

could I do? At first I thought I'd be able to help my people, but--I

couldn't. They will learn from the white people, but not from one of

their own kind."



"Your parents--?"



"They died when I was a baby. Mary took me in." The girl spoke in a

flat, emotionless tone.



"It must be tough to come back to this, now that you know what life

really is," said Thomas, after a time.



Ponatah's eyes were dark with tragedy when she turned them to the

speaker. "God!" she cried, unexpectedly, then abruptly she faced

the window once more. It was a moment before she went on in fierce

resentment:



"Why didn't they leave me as they found me? Why did they teach me

their ways, and then send me back to this--this dirt and ignorance and

squalor? Sometimes I think I can't stand it. But what can I do? Nobody

understands. Mary can't see why I'm different from her and the others.

She has grown rich, with her reindeer; she says if this is good enough

for her it should be good enough for me. As for the white men who come

through, they can't, or they won't, understand. They're hateful to me.

Petersen, the mail-carrier, for instance! I don't know why I'm telling

you this. You're strangers. You're probably just like Petersen."



"I know why you're telling us," Thomas said, slowly. "It's because

I--because we're not like Petersen and the others; it's because

I--we can help you."



"Help me?" sneered the girl. "How?"



"I don't know, yet. But you're out of place here. There's a place for

you somewhere; I'll find it."



Ponatah shook her head wearily. "Mary says I belong here, with my

people."



"No. You belong with white people--people who will treat you well."



This time the girl smiled bitterly. "They have treated me worse than

my own people have. I know them, and--I hate them."



"Ain't you the sore-head, now?" Laughing Bill murmured. "You got a

hundred-per-cent. grouch, but if the old medicine-man says he'll put

you in right, you bet your string of beads he'll do it. He's got a

gift for helpin' down-and-outers. You got class, Kid; you certainly

rhinestone this whole bunch of red men. Why, you belong in French

heels and a boodwar cap; that's how I dope you."



"There must be a chance for a girl like you in Nome," Thomas

continued, thoughtfully. "You'd make a good hand with children.

Suppose I try to find you a place as governess?"



"Would you?" Ponatah's face was suddenly eager. "Children? Oh yes!

I'd work my fingers to the bone. I--I'd do anything--"



"Then I'll do what I can."



For some time longer the three of them talked, and gradually into the

native girl's eyes there came a light, for these men were not like the

others she had met, and she saw the world begin to unfold before her.

When at last they left she laid a hand upon the doctor's arm and said,

imploringly:



"You won't forget. You--promise?"



"I promise," he told her.



"He don't forget nothing," Bill assured her, "and if he does I'll see

that he don't."



After they had gone Ponatah stood motionless for a long time, then she

whispered, breathlessly:



"Children! Little white children! I'll be very good to them."



"She's a classy quilt," Laughing Bill said, on the way back to the

road-house.



"She's as pretty as a picture, and little more than a child," the

doctor admitted.



"You made a hit. She'd do 'most anything for you." The doctor

muttered, absent-mindedly. "She's stood off Petersen and these

red-necks, but she'd fall for you." Mr. Hyde was insinuating.



Thomas halted; he stared at his partner curiously, coldly. "Say! Do

you think that's why I offered to help her?" he inquired.



"Come clean!" The invalid winked meaningly. "You're a long ways from

home, and I've knew fellers to do a lot worse. You can grab her, easy.

And if you do--"



Thomas grunted angrily. "I've put up with a lot from you," he said,

then he strode on.



"And if you do," the other resumed, falling into step with him, "I'll

bust you right where you're thickest."



"Eh?"



"I'll bust you wide open. Oh, me 'n' that gal in the leather frame had

a long talk while I was sick in St. Mikes, and she asked me to keep

you in the middle of the trail. Well, I'm the little guy that can do

it."



"Bill!" Evan Thomas's eyes were twinkling. "I believe I'm going to

cure you, after all," said he.



Late that afternoon Mr. Hyde disappeared; he did not show up until

after dark.



"I been to see Lo, the poor squaw," he readily confessed. "She ain't

the pure domestic leaf, she's a blend--part Rooshian, or something.

Seems there was a gang of Rooshians or Swedes or Dagoes of some sort

used to run this country. She says they horned into some of the best

Injun families, and she's one of the 'overs.'"



"They were Russians."



"Rooshians is a kind of white people, ain't they? Well, that's how she

come so light-complected. You remember she said our folks had treated

her bad? It's a fact, Doc. She spilled the story, and it made a

mouthful. It's like this: when Nome was struck a Swede feller she

had knew staked her a claim, but she couldn't hold it, her bein' a

squab--under age, savvy? There's something in the law that prevents

Injuns gettin' in on anything good, too; I don't rightly recollect

what it is, but if it's legal you can bet it's crooked. Anyhow, Uncle

Sam lets up a squawk that she's only eighteen, goin' on nineteen, and

a noble redskin to boot, and says his mining claims is reserved for

Laps and Yaps and Japs and Wops, and such other furrin' slantheads of

legal age as declare their intention to become American citizens if

their claims turn out rich enough so's it pays 'em to do so.



"Well, Ponatah's Swede friend gets himself froze, somehow, so she has

to pass the buck. Naturally, she turns to her pals, the missionaries.

There's a he-missionary here--head mug of the whole gang. He's a godly

walloper, and he tears into Satan bare-handed every Sunday. He slams

the devil around something shameful, and Ponatah thinks he's a square

guy if ever they come square, so she asks him to re-locate her claim,

on shares, and hold it for the joint account. Old Doctor M.E. Church

agrees to split fifty-fifty, half to her and half to heaven, then he

vamps to Nome and chalks his monaker over the Kid's. Now get me: the

claim turns out good, and Ponatah's heavenly pilot makes a Mexican

divvy--he takes the money and gives her his best wishes. He grabs

everything, and says he never knew nobody by the name of Ponatah--he

gets so he can't even pronounce it. He allows her face is familiar,

but he can't place her, and the partnership idea allus was repugnant

to him. He never was partners with nobody, understand? He blows the

show; he bows out and leaves the Kid flat. He forsakes the Milky Way

for the Great White one, and he's out there now, smokin' Coronas and

wearin' a red vest under his black coat, with a diamond horseshoe

in his tie. It looks to me like the James boys could 'a' learned

something from this gospel hold-up."



"Do you believe her story?" Thomas inquired.



"She don't know enough to lie, and you can't trust a guy that wears

his collar backwards."



"She should go to court."



Mr. Hyde shook his head. "I been there, often, but I never picked up a

bet. Somehow or other courts is usually right next to jails, and you

got to watch out you don't get in the wrong place. You can't win

nothing in either one. I thought I'd tell you the story, so if you

ever meet up with this shave-tail preacher and he wants a headache

pill you can slip him some sugar-coated arsenic."



In the days immediately following Doctor Thomas's arrival at Nome

he was a busy man, but he did not forget Ponatah. He was allowed no

opportunity of doing so, for Bill frequently reminded him of her, and

as a result it was not long before he found a place for his charge, in

the home of a leading merchant. Arrangements made, Bill went in search

of the mail-carrier.



Petersen was drinking with two friends at the bar of the Last Chance,

and he pressed his late passenger to join them. But alcoholism was not

one of Mr. Hyde's weaknesses. The best of Bill's bad habits was much

worse than drink; he had learned from experience that liquor put a

traitor's tongue in his head, and in consequence he was a teetotaler.



"I got a job for you, Pete," he announced. "I got you another

sled-load for your next trip. You know Ponatah?"



"Ponatah? Sure Aye know 'im." Petersen. spoke with enthusiasm.



"Well, bring her along when you come. Me 'n' the little Doc will

settle."



"Dat's good yob for me, all right. Vot mak' you tank she'll come? Aye

ask her plenty tams, but she ant like me."



"You slip her this billy-ducks and she'll come."



Petersen pocketed the letter which Bill handed him; his eyes

brightened; the flush in his face deepened. "You bet your gum boots

Aye bring her. She's svell, ant she, Bill? She's yust some svell like

white voman."



"Who's this?" queried one of Petersen's companions.



"Ponatah. She's jung sqvaw. Aye got eyes on dat chicken long tam

now." The burly mail-man laughed loudly and slapped his friend on the

shoulder.



Mr. Hyde appeared to share in the general good nature. Carelessly,

smilingly he picked up Petersen's dog-whip, which lay coiled on the

bar; thoughtfully he weighed it. The lash was long, but the handle was

short and thick, and its butt was loaded with shot; it had much the

balance of a black-jack--a weapon not unknown to Mr. Hyde.



"Pretty soft for you mail-men." The former speaker grinned.



"Ja! Pretty soft. Aye bet Aye have good tam dis trip. Yust vait. You

don't know how purty is Ponatah. She--"



Petersen's listeners waited. They are waiting yet, for the mail-man

never completed his admiring recital of the Indian girl's charms,

owing to the fact that the genial Mr. Hyde without warning tapped his

late friend's round head with the leather butt of the dog-whip. Had

it not been for the Norseman's otter cap it is probable that a new

mail-carrier would have taken the St. Michaels run.



Petersen sat down upon his heels, and rested his forehead against the

cool brass foot-rail; the subsequent proceedings interested him not

at all. Those proceedings were varied and sudden, for the nearest and

dearest of Petersen's friends rushed upon Mr. Hyde with a roar. Him,

too, Bill eliminated from consideration with the loaded whip handle.

But, this done, Bill found himself hugged in the arms of the other

man, as in the embrace of a bereaved she-grizzly. Now even at his best

the laughing Mr. Hyde was no hand at rough-and-tumble, it being his

opinion that fisticuffs was a peculiarly indecisive and exhausting way

of settling a dispute. He possessed a vile temper, moreover, and once

aroused half measures failed to satisfy it.



After Mr. Hyde's admirable beginning those neutrals who had seen the

start of the affray were prepared to witness an ending equally quick

and conclusive. They were surprised, therefore, to note that Bill put

up a very weak struggle, once he had come to close quarters. He made

only the feeblest resistance, before permitting himself to be borne

backward to the floor, and then as he lay pinned beneath his opponent

he did not even try to guard the blows that rained upon him; as a

matter of fact, he continued to laugh as if the experience were highly

diverting.



Seeing that the fight was one-sided, the bartender hastened from his

retreat, dragged Petersen's champion to his feet, and flung him back

into the arms of the onlookers, after which he stooped to aid the

loser. His hands were actually upon Bill before he understood the

meaning of that peculiar laughter, and saw in Mr. Hyde's shaking

fingers that which caused him to drop the prostrate victim as if he

were a rattlesnake.



"God'l'mighty!" exclaimed the rescuer. He retreated hurriedly whence

he had come.



Bill rose and dusted himself off, then he bent over Petersen, who was

stirring.



"Just give her that billy-ducks and tell her it's all right. Tell her

I say you won't hurt her none." Then, still chuckling, he slipped into

the crowd and out of the Last Chance. As he went he coughed and spat a

mouthful of blood.



Once the mail-carrier had been apprised of the amazing incidents which

had occurred during his temporary inattention, he vowed vengeance in

a mighty voice, and his threats found echo in the throats of his two

companions. But the bartender took them aside and spoke guardedly:



"You better lay off of that guy, or he'll fatten the graveyard with

all three of you. I didn't 'make' him at first, but I got him now, all

right."



"What d'you mean? Who is he?"



"His name's Hyde, 'Laughing Bill.'"



"'Laughing Bill' Hyde!" One of Petersen's friends, he who had come

last into the encounter, turned yellow and leaned hard against the

bar. A sudden nausea assailed him and he laid tender hands upon his

abdomen. "'Laughing Bill' Hyde! That's why he went down so easy! Why,

he killed a feller I knew--ribboned him up from underneath, just

that way--and the jury called it self-defense." A shudder racked the

speaker's frame.



"Sure! He's a cutter--a reg'lar gent's cutter and fitter. He'd 'a' had

you all over the floor in another minute; if I hadn't pried you apart

they'd 'a' sewed sawdust up inside of you like you was a doll. He had

the old bone-handled skinner in his mit; that's why I let go of him.

Laughing Bill! Take it from me, boys, you better walk around him like

he was a hole in the ice."



It may have been the memory of that heavy whip handle, it may have

been the moral effect of stray biographical bits garnered here and

there around the gambling-table, or it may have been merely a high

and natural chivalry, totally unsuspected until now, which prompted

Petersen to treat Ponatah with a chill and formal courtesy when he

returned from St. Michaels. At any rate, the girl arrived in Nome with

nothing but praise for the mail-man. Pete Petersen, so she said, might

have his faults, but he knew how to behave like a perfect gentleman.



Ponatah took up her new duties with enthusiasm, and before a month had

passed she had endeared herself to her employers, who secretly assured

Doctor Thomas that they had discovered a treasure and would never part

with her. She was gentle, patient, sweet, industrious; the children

idolized her. The Indian girl had never dreamed of a home like this;

she was deliriously happy.



She took pride in discharging her obligations; she did not forget the

men who had made this wonder possible. They had rented a little cabin,

and, after the fashion of men, they make slipshod efforts at keeping

house. Since it was Ponatah's nature to serve, she found time somehow

to keep the place tidy and to see to their comfort.



Laughing Bill was a hopeless idler; he had been born to leisure and

was wedded to indigence, therefore he saw a good deal of the girl on

her visits. He listened to her stories of the children, he admired her

new and stylish clothes, he watched her develop under the influence of

her surroundings. Inasmuch as both of them were waifs, and beholden

to the bounty of others, thy had ties in common--a certain

mutuality--hence they came to know each other intimately.



Despite the great change in her environment, Ponatah remained in many

ways quite aboriginal. For instance, she was embarrassingly direct and

straightforward; she entirely lacked hypocrisy, and that which puzzled

or troubled her she boldly put into words. There came a time when Bill

discovered that Ponatah's eyes, when they looked at him, were more

than friendly, that most of the services she performed were aimed at

him.



Then one day she asked him to marry her.



There was nothing brazen or forward about the proposal; Ponatah merely

gave voice to her feelings in a simple, honest way that robbed her of

no dignity.



Bill laughed the proposal off. "I wouldn't marry the Queen of Sheby,"

said he.



"Why?"



"I ain't that kind of a bird, that's why."



"What kind of a bird are you?" Ponatah eyed him with grave curiosity.

"All men marry. I'm reading a great many books, and they're all about

love and marriage. I love you, and I'm pretty. Is it because I'm an

Indian--?"



"Hell! That wouldn't faze me, Kiddo. You skin the white dames around

this village. But you better cut out them books."



"I'd make you a good wife."



"Sure! You're aces. But I'd make a bum husband. I ain't got the breath

to blow out a candle." Mr. Hyde chuckled; the idea of marriage plainly

amused him. "How you know I ain't got a covey of wives?" he inquired.



"Oh, I know!" Ponatah was unsmiling. "I'm simple, but I can see

through people. I can tell the good ones and the bad ones. You're a

good man, Billy."



Now this praise was anything but agreeable to Mr. Hyde, for above all

things he abhorred so-called "good" people. Good people were suckers,

and he prided himself upon being a wise guy, with all that was meant

thereby.



"You lay off of me, Kid," he warned, darkly, "and you muffle them

wedding bells. You can't win nothing with that line of talk. If I

was fifty inches around the chest, liked to work, and was fond of

pas'ment'ries I'd prob'ly fall for you, but I ain't. I'm a good man,

all right--to leave alone. I'll be a brother to you, but that's my

limit." The subject was embarrassing, so he changed it. "Say! I been

thinking about that claim of yours. Didn't you get no paper from that

missionary?"



"No."



"Then his word's as good as yours."



"That's what the lawyer told me. I offered to give him half, but he

wouldn't touch the case."



"It was a dirty deal, but you better forget it."



"I'll try," the girl promised. "But I don't forget easily."



Laughing Bill's rejection of Ponatah's offer of marriage did not in

the least affect their friendly relations. She continued to visit the

cabin, and not infrequently she reverted to the forbidden topic, only

to meet with discouragement.



Doctor Thomas had opened an office, of course, but business was light

and expenses heavy. Supplies were low in Nome and prices high; coal,

for instance, was a hundred dollars a ton and, as a result, most

of the idle citizens spent their evenings---but precious little

else--around the saloon stoves. When April came Laughing Bill

regretfully decided that it was necessary for him to go to work. The

prospect was depressing, and he did not easily reconcile himself to

it, for he would have infinitely preferred some less degraded and

humiliating way out of the difficulty. He put up a desperate battle

against the necessity, and he did not accept the inevitable until

thoroughly convinced that the practice of medicine and burglary could

not be carried on from the same residence without the risk of serious

embarrassment to his benefactor.



However, to find employment in a community where there were two men to

one job was not easy, but happily--or unhappily--Bill had a smattering

of many trades, and eventually there came an opening as handy-man at a

mine. It was a lowly position, and Bill had little pride in it, for

he was put to helping the cook, waiting on table, washing dishes,

sweeping cabins, making beds, and the like. He had been assured that

the work was light, and so it was, but it was also continuous. He

could summon not the slightest interest in it until he discovered that

this was the very claim which rightfully belonged to Ponatah. Then,

indeed, he pricked up his ears.



The Aurora Borealis, as the mine was now called, had been working all

winter, and gigantic dumps of red pay-dirt stood as monuments to the

industry of its workmen. Rumor had it that the "streak" was rich, and

that Doctor Slayforth, the owner, would be in on the first boat to

personally oversee the clean-ups. The ex-missionary, Bill discovered,

had the reputation of being a tight man, and meanly suspicious in

money matters. He reposed no confidence in his superintendent, a

surly, saturnine fellow known as Black Jack Berg, nor in Denny Slevin,

his foreman. So much Laughing Bill gathered from camp gossip.



It soon became evident that Black Jack was a hard driver, for sluicing

began with the first trickle of snow water--even while the ditches

were still ice-bound--and it continued with double shifts thereafter.

A representative of Doctor Slayforth came out from Nome to watch the

first clean-up, and Bill, in his capacity as chambermaid, set up a cot

for him in the cabin shared by Black Jack and Denny. While so engaged

the latter discovered him, and gruffly ordered him to remove the cot

to the bunk-house.



"Put him in with the men," growled Slevin. "Serves the dam' spy

right."



"Spy? Is he a gum-shoe?" Mr. Hyde paused, a pillow slip between his

teeth.



"That's what! Me and Jack was honest enough to run things all

winter, but we ain't honest enough to clean up. That's like old

Slayforth--always lookin' to get the worst of it. I'm square, and so's

Jack. Makes me sick, this spyin' on honest folks. Everybody knows we

wouldn't turn a trick."



Now it was Laughing Bill's experience that honesty needs no boosting,

and that he who most loudly vaunts his rectitude is he who is least

certain of it.



"The boss must be a good man, him being a sort of psalm-singer," Bill

ventured, guilelessly.



Denny snorted: "Oh, sure! He's good, all right. He's 'most too

good--to be true. Billy, my boy, when you've seen as many crooks as I

have you'll know 'em, no matter how they come dressed."



As he folded the cot Mr. Hyde opined that worldly experience must

indeed be a fine thing to possess.



"You go gamble on it!" Slevin agreed. "Now then, just tell that

Hawkshaw we don't want no dam' spies in our house. We're square guys,

and we can't stomach 'em."



That evening Black Jack called upon the handy-man to help with the

clean-up, and put him to tend the water while he and Denny, under the

watchful eye of the owner's representative, lifted the riffles, worked

down the concentrates, and removed them from the boxes.



Bill was an experienced placer miner, so it was not many days before

he was asked to help in the actual cleaning of the sluices. He was

glad of the promotion, for, as he told himself, no man can squeeze a

lemon without getting juice on his fingers. It will be seen, alas!

that Mr. Hyde's moral sense remained blunted in spite of the refining

influence of his association with Doctor Thomas. But Aurora dust

was fine, and the handy-man's profits were scarcely worth the risks

involved in taking them.



One morning while Bill was cleaning up the superintendent's cabin

he noticed a tiny yellow flake of gold upon the floor in front of

Slevin's bed. Careful examination showed him several "colors" of the

same sort, so he swept the boards carefully and took up the dust in

a "blower." He breathed upon the pile, blowing the lighter particles

away. A considerable residue of heavy yellow grains remained. With

a grin Bill folded them in a cigarette paper and placed them in his

pocket. But it puzzled him to explain how there came to be gold on the

cabin floor. His surprise deepened when, a few days later, he found

another "prospect" in the same place. His two sweepings had yielded

perhaps a pennyweight of the precious metal--enough to set him to

thinking. It seemed queer that in the neighborhood of Black Jack's

bunk he could find no pay whatever.



Slevin had left his hip boots in the cabin, and as Laughing Bill

turned down their tops and set them out in the wind to dry his sharp

eye detected several yellow pin-points of color which proved, upon

closer investigation, to be specks of gold clinging to the wet lining.



"Well, I be danged!" said Mr. Hyde. Carefully, thoughtfully, he

replaced the boots where he had found them. The knowledge that he was

on a hot trail electrified him.



At the next clean-up Laughing Bill took less interest in his part of

the work and more in Denny Slevin's. When the riffles were washed,

and the loose gravel had been worked down into yellow piles of rich

concentrates, Slevin, armed with whisk broom, paddle, and scoop,

climbed into the sluices. Bill watched him out of a corner of his eye,

and it was not long before his vigilance was rewarded. The hold-up

man turned away with a feeling of genuine admiration, for he had

seen Slevin, under the very nose of the lookout, "go south" with a

substantial amount of gold.



The foreman's daring and dexterity amazed Bill and deepened his

respect. Slevin's work was cunning, and yet so simple as to be almost

laughable. With his hip boots pulled high he had knelt upon one knee

in the sluice scooping up the wet piles of gold and black iron sand,

while Berg held a gold pan to receive it. During the process Black

Jack had turned to address the vigilant owner's representative, and,

profiting by the brief diversion, Bill had seen Denny dump a heaping

scoop-load of "pay" into the gaping pocket-like top of his capacious

rubber boot.



"The sons-of-a-gun!" breathed Laughing Bill. "The double-crossing

sons-of-a-gun! Why, it begins to look like a big summer for me."



Bill slept well that night, for now that he knew the game which was

going on he felt sure that sooner or later he would take a hand in it.

Just how or when the hand would fall he could not tell, but that did

not worry him in the least, inasmuch as he already held the trumps. It

seemed that a kindly fortune had guided him to the Aurora; that fate

had decreed he should avenge the wrongs of Ponatah. The handy-man fell

asleep with a smile upon his lips.



The first ship arrived that very evening, and the next day Doctor

Slayforth in person appeared at the Aurora. He was a thin, restless

man with weak and shifting eyes; he said grace at dinner, giving

thanks for the scanty rations of hash and brown beans over which his

hungry workmen were poised like cormorants. The Aurora had won the

name of a bad feeder, but its owner seemed satisfied with his meal.

Later Bill overheard him talking with his superintendent.



"I'm disappointed with the clean-ups," Slayforth confessed. "The pay

appears to be pinching out."



"She don't wash like she sampled, that's a fact," said Black Jack.



"I'm afraid we shall have to practise economies--"



"Look here! If you aim to cut down the grub, don't try it," counseled

Berg. "It's rotten now."



"Indeed? There appeared to be plenty, and the quality was excellent. I

fear you encourage gluttony, and nothing so interferes with work. We

must effect a saving somehow; there is too great a variation between

theoretical and actual values."



"Huh! You better try feeding hay for a while," sourly grumbled the

superintendent. "If you ain't getting what you aimed to get it's

because it ain't in the cards."



This conversation interested Bill, for it proved that the robbers had

helped themselves with a liberal hand, but how they had managed to

appropriate enough gold to noticeably affect the showing of the

winter's work intensely mystified him; it led him to believe that

Black Jack and Denny were out for a homestake.



That such was indeed the case and that Slevin was not the only thief

Bill soon discovered, for after the next clean-up he slipped away

through the twilight and took stand among the alders outside the rear

window of the shack on the hill. From his point of concealment he

could observe all that went on inside.



It was a familiar scene. By the light of an oil lamp Black Jack was

putting the final touches to the clean-up. Two gold pans, heaped high

with the mingled black sand and gold dust, as it came out of the

sluices, were drying on the Yukon stove, and the superintendent was

engaged in separating the precious yellow particles from the worthless

material which gravity had deposited with it. This refining process

was slow, painstaking work, and was effected with the help of a flat

brass scoop--a "blower." By shaking this blower and breathing upon its

contents the lighter grains of iron sand were propelled to the edge,

as chaff is separated from wheat, and fell into a box held between the

superintendent's knees. The residue, left in the heel of the blower

after each blowing process, was commercial "dust," ready for the bank

or the assay office. Doctor Slayforth, with his glasses on the end of

his nose, presided at the gold scales, while Denny Slevin looked on.

As the dust was weighed, a few ounces at a time, it was dumped into a

moose-skin sack and entered upon the books.



Black Jack had the light at his back, he was facing the window,

therefore Laughing Bill commanded an unobstructed view of his

adept manipulations. It was not long before the latter saw him

surreptitiously drop a considerable quantity of gold out of the scoop

and into the box between his knees, then cover it up with the black

sand. This sleight-of-hand was repeated several times, and when

the last heap of gold had been weighed Bill estimated that Doctor

Slayforth was poorer by at least a hundred ounces--sixteen hundred

dollars. There was no question about it now; these were not common

thieves; this was becoming a regular man's game, and the stakes were

assuming a size to give Laughing Bill a tingling sensation along his

spine. Having discovered the modus operandi of the pair, and having

read their cards, so to speak, he next set himself to discover where

they banked their swag. But this was by no means easy. His utmost

vigilance went unrewarded by so much as a single clue.



Berg and Slevin had a habit of riding into town on Saturday nights,

and the next time they left the claim Bill pleaded a jumping toothache

and set out afoot for medical attention.



It was late when he arrived at Nome, nevertheless a diligent search

of the Front Street saloons failed to locate either man. He was still

looking for them when they came riding in.



With their delayed arrival Bill's apprehensions vanished, as likewise

did his imaginary toothache. He had feared that they were in the habit

of bringing the gold to Nome, there perhaps to bank it with some

friend; but now he knew that they were too cautious for that, and

preferred instead to cache it somewhere in the hills. This simplified

matters immensely, so Bill looked up his little doctor for a sociable

visit.



Thomas was in his office; he greeted Bill warmly.



"Say! Pill-rolling must be brisk to keep you on the job till

midnight," the latter began.



"Business is rotten!" exclaimed the physician. "And it's a rotten

business."



"Nobody sick? That's tough. Open a can of typhoid germs, and I'll put

'em in the well. Anything to stir up a little trade."



"I've just balanced my books and--I've just heard from Alice."



"Do the books balance?"



"Oh, perfectly--nothing equals nothing--it's a perfect equilibrium.

Alice wants me to come home and start all over, and I'm tempted to do

so."



"Ain't going to throw up your tail, are you?"



"I can't get along without her." Thomas was plainly in the depths; he

turned away and stared moodily out into the dim-lit street. It was

midnight, but already the days were shortening, already there was an

hour or two of dusk between the evening and the morning light.



"Of course you can't get along without her," the ex-bandit agreed. "I

seen that when I looked at her picture. Why don't you bring her in?"



"Bring her in--here?" Thomas faced about quickly. "Humph! Not much."



"Well, this ain't no doll's village, that's a fact. It's full of

wicked men, and the women ain't wuth braggin' over. S'pose we go out

and marry her?"



"We?" Thomas smiled for the first time.



"Sure. I'll stick to the bitter finish."



"I'm broke, Bill."



"Pshaw, now! Don't let that worry you. I got money."



"You?" The doctor was surprised. "Where did you get it?"



"Well, I got it! That's the main thing. It was--left to me."



"Honestly?"



"What d'you mean, 'honestly'?"



"How much?"



"I dunno, exactly. You see, I ain't got it actually in my mit--"



"Oh!"



"But I'll have it, all righto. It's just waiting for me to close down

on it. I reckon there must be a thousand gold buzzards in the stack,

mebby more. It's all yours."



"Thanks!" said the physician, unimpressed.



"Look me in the eye." Bill spoke earnestly. "Twenty thousand iron men

ain't so bad. It'll buy a lot of doll's clothes. We can have a big

party--I ain't kidding!" Then reading amused incredulity in his

friend's face he demanded: "How you know I ain't got a rich uncle that

raised me from a colt and that broke his heart at me runnin' away and

turning out wild, and has had lawyers gunnin' for me ever since he

knew he was gettin' old and going to croak? How you know that, eh?"



"I don't know. I don't know anything about you, Bill. That's one of

the most interesting features of our friendship."



"Well, pay a little attention to me. Now then, I figger it like this:

I got lungs like a grasshopper, and the money won't do me no good, so

I'll stake you and Miss Alice to it."



Doctor Thomas eyed the speaker curiously. "I believe you would," said

he, after a moment.



"Would I? Say! You ever seen a feather bed tied up with a rope? You

sit tight and I'll slip you a roll just that size."



"Of course you know I wouldn't take it?"



"Why not? It's more'n likely it'll get me into evil company or gimme

some bad habit, and I'll gargle off before I've had a chance to spend

it. I ain't strong."



"I'll earn what I get, Billy."



"All right. If you feel like that I'll bet it for you on a crap game,

and you can take the winnings--"



"Nothing doing. I want honest money--money that I can look in the

face."



Mr. Hyde was out of patience. "All money's honest, after you get it!"

he cried. "It's gettin' it that draws blood. I never knew the silver

bird to fly off a dollar and scratch a guy, did you?"





"I want to make money--that's why I came up to this God-forsaken

place--but--when your uncle's draft arrives you cash it."



"Ain't you the champeen bone-dome?" muttered Bill. Such an attitude

seemed to him both senseless and quixotic, for he had never attached

the least sentiment to money. Money was an elemental necessity,

therefore he looked upon it with practical, unromantic eyes,

and helped himself to it as he helped himself to such elemental

necessities as air or water. Most of life's necessaries had fallen

into monopolistic hands and were used to wring tribute from

unfortunate mortals who had arrived too late to share in the graft, as

witness, for instance, Standard Oil. So ran Bill's reasoning when he

took the trouble to reason at all. Men had established arbitrary rules

to govern their forays upon one another's property, to be sure, but

under cover of these artificial laws they stole merrily, and got away

with it. Eagles did not scruple to steal from one another, horses ate

one another's fodder; why human beings should not do likewise had

always puzzled Mr. Hyde. The basic principle held good in both cases,

it seemed to him, and Doctor Thomas's refusal to share in the coming

legacy struck him as silly; it was the result of a warped and unsound

philosophy. But argue as he would he could not shake his friend's

opinion of the matter.



One evening, not long after his visit to town, Bill's toothache

returned again to plague him. He raised groans and hoarse profanities,

and then, while the crew was still at supper, he abandoned his work

and set out in search of relief. But he did not go to Nome. Once

out of sight of the mine he doubled back and came out behind the

superintendent's cabin. A moment later he was stretched out in the

narrow, dark space beneath Black Jack's bunk. Dust irritated Bill's

lungs, therefore he had carefully swept out the place that morning;

likewise he had thoughtfully provided himself with a cotton comforter

as protection to his bones. He had no intention of permitting himself

to be taken at a disadvantage, and knowing full well the painful

consequences of discovery he opened his bone-handled pocket-knife and

tested its keen edge with his thumb. In the interests of peace and

good-fellowship, however, he hoped he could go through the night

without coughing.



Slevin was the first to return from supper. He went directly to his

bunk, drew a bottle of whisky from beneath his pillow, poured himself

a drink, and replaced the bottle. When Berg entered he went through a

similar procedure, after which a fire was built, the men kicked off

their boots, lit their pipes, and stretched out upon their beds.



"I've been thinking it over," the superintendent began, "and you can't

do it."



"Why not?" queried Slevin. "I told his nibs I was sick of the grub."



"Foremen don't quit good jobs on account of the grub. You've got to

stick till fall; then we'll both go. We'll strike the old man for a

raise--"



"Humph! He'll let us go, quick enough, when we do that. Let's strike

him now. I'm through."



"Nothing stirring," Berg firmly declared. "We'll play out the string.

I'm taking no chances."



"Hell! Ain't we takin' a chance every day we stay here? I'm getting

so I don't sleep. I got enough to do me; I ain't a hog. I got a bully

corner all picked out, Jack--best corner in Seattle for a gin-mill."



"It'll wait. Corners don't get up and move. No, I won't hold the

bag for you or for anybody," declared the former speaker. "We'll go

through, arm in arm. Once we're away clean you can do what you like.

Me for the Argentine and ten thousand acres of long-horns. You better

forget that corner. Some night you'll get stewed and spill the beans."



"Who, me?" Slevin laughed in disdain. "Fat chance!" There was a long

silence during which the only sound was the bubbling of a pipe. "I

s'pose I'll have to stick, if you say so," Denny agreed finally, "but

I'm fed up. I'm getting jumpy. I got a hunch the cache ain't safe; I

feel like something was goin' to happen."



Mr. Slevin's premonition, under the circumstances, was almost uncanny;

it gave startling proof of his susceptibility to outside influences.



"You are rickety," Black Jack told him. "Why, there ain't any

danger; nobody goes up there." Laughing Bill held his breath, missing

not a word. "If they did we'd pick 'em up with the glasses. It's open

country, and we'd get 'em before they got down."



"I s'pose so. But the nights are getting dark."



"Nobody's out at night, either, you boob. I ain't losing any slumber

over that. And I ain't going to lose any about your quitting ahead of

me. That don't trouble me none." Berg yawned and changed the subject.

Half an hour later he rose, languidly undressed and rolled into his

bed. Slevin followed suit shortly after, and the rapidity with which

both men fell asleep spoke volumes for the elasticity of the human

conscience.



Now, Laughing Bill had come prepared to spend the night, but his

throat tickled and he had a distressing habit of snoring, therefore he

deemed it the part of caution to depart before he dropped off into the

land of dreams. He effected the manoeuver noiselessly.



Bill lingered at the spring hole on the following morning, and lost

himself in an attentive study of the surrounding scenery. It was

fairly impressive scenery, and he had a keen appreciation of nature's

beauty, but Black Jack's words continued to puzzle him. "Nobody goes

up there." Up where? The Aurora lay in a valley, therefore most of the

country round about was "up"--it was open, too. The ridges were bold

and barren, garbed only with shreds and patches of short grass and

reindeer moss. "We'd pick 'em up with the glasses--we'd get 'em before

they got down." Manifestly the cache was in plain sight, if one only

knew where to look for it, but Mr. Hyde's sharp eyes took in ten

thousand likely hiding-places, and he reasoned that it would be worse

than folly to go exploring blindly without more definite data than he

possessed.



It was clever of the pair to hide the swag where they could oversee it

every hour of the day, and they had chosen a safe location, too, for

nobody wasted the effort to explore those domes and hogbacks now that

they were known to contain no quartz. There was Anvil Mountain, for

instance, a bold schist peak crowned with a huge rock in the likeness

of a blacksmith's anvil. It guarded the entrance to the valley, rising

from the very heart of the best mining section; it was the most

prominent landmark hereabouts, but not a dozen men had ever climbed

it, and nowadays nobody did.



As Bill pondered the enigma, out from his bed in the willows came Don

Antonio de Chiquito, a meek and lowly burro, the only member of the

Aurora's working force which did not outrank in social importance the

man-of-all-work. Don Antonio was the pet of the Aurora Borealis, and

its scavenger. He ate everything from garbage to rubber boots--he was

even suspected of possessing a low appetite for German socks. It was,

in fact, this very democratic taste in things edible which caused

him to remain the steadiest of Doctor Slayforth's boarders. Wisdom,

patience, the sagacity of Solomon, lurked in Don Antonio's eyes, and

Laughing Bill consulted him as a friend and an equal.



"Tony," said he, "you've done a heap of prospecting and you know the

business. There's a rich pocket on one of them hills. Which one is

it?"



Don Antonio de Chiquito had ears like sunbonnets; he folded them back,

lifted his muzzle toward Anvil rock, and brayed loudly.



"Mebbe you're right," said the man. He fitted the Chinese yoke to his

skinny shoulders, and took up his burden. The load was heavy, the yoke

bruised his bones, therefore he was moved to complain: "The idea of

me totin' water for the very guys that stole my uncle's money! It's

awful--the darned crooks!"



It was a rainy evening when business next took Black Jack Berg and

Denny Slevin to town. Having dined amply, if not well, they donned

slickers, saddled a pair of horses, and set out down the creek. Few

people were abroad, therefore they felt secure from observation when

they swung off the trail where it bends around the foot of Anvil

Mountain and bore directly up through the scattered alders. The grass

was wet, the rain erased the marks of their horses' feet almost in the

passing. Tethering their mounts in the last clump of underbrush the

riders labored on afoot up a shallow draw which scarred the steep

slope. The murk of twilight obscured them, but even in a good light

they would have run small risk of discovery, for slow-moving human

figures would have been lost against the dark background.



The climb was long and arduous; both men were panting when they

breasted the last rise and looked down into the valley where lay the

Aurora Borealis. This was a desolate spot, great boulders, fallen from

the huge rock overhead, lay all about, the earth was weathered by

winter snows and summer rains. Ghostly fingers of mist writhed over

the peak; darkness was not far distant.



The robbers remained on the crest perhaps twenty minutes, then they

came striding down. They passed within a hundred yards of Laughing

Bill Hyde, who lay flat in the wet grass midway of their descent.

He watched them mount and ride out of sight, then he continued his

painful progress up the hillside.



Weak lungs are not suited to heavy grades and slippery footing. Bill

was sobbing with agony when he conquered the last rise and collapsed

upon his face. He feared he was dying, every cough threatened a

hemorrhage; but when his breath came more easily and he missed the

familiar taste of blood in his mouth he rose and tottered about

through the fog. He could discover no tracks; he began to fear the

night would foil him, when at last luck guided his aimless footsteps

to a slide of loose rock banked against a seamy ledge. The surface of

the bank showed a muddy scar, already half obliterated by the rain;

brief search among the near-by boulders uncovered the hiding-place of

a pick and shovel.



For once in his life Mr. Hyde looked upon these tools with favor, and

energetically tackled the business end of a "Number 2." He considered

pick-and-shovel work the lowest form of human endeavor; nevertheless

he engaged in it willingly enough, and he had not dug deeply before

he uncovered the side of a packing-case, labeled "Choice California

Canned Fruits." Further rapid explorations showed that the box was

fitted with a loose top, and that the interior was well-nigh filled

with stout canvas and moose skin bags. Bill counted them; he weighed

one, then he sat down weakly and his hard, smoke-blue eyes widened

with amazement.



"Suffering cats!" he whispered. He voiced other expletives, too, even

more forcefully indicative of surprise. He was not an imaginative man;

it did not occur to him to doubt his sanity or to wonder if he were

awake, nevertheless he opened one of the pokes and incredulously

examined its contents. "I'm dam' if it ain't!" he said, finally. "I

should reckon they was ready to quit. Argentine! Why, Jack'll bust

the bottom out of a boat if he takes this with him. He'll drown a lot

of innocent people." Mr. Hyde shook his head and smiled pityingly. "It

ain't safe to trust him with it. It ain't safe--the thievin' devil!

There's five hundred pounds if there's an ounce!" He began to figure

with his finger on the muddy shovel blade. "A hundred thousand bucks!"

he announced, finally. "Them boys is all right!"



Slowly, reluctantly, he replaced the gold sacks, reburied the box, and

placed the tools where he had found them; then he set out for home.



Don Antonio de Chiquito was contentedly munching an empty oat sack,

doubtless impelled thereto by the lingering flavor of its former

contents, when on the following morning Bill accosted him.



"Tony, I got to hand it to you," the man said, admiringly. "You're

some pocket miner, and you speak up like a gent when you're spoken to.

I got some nice egg-shells saved up for you." Then his voice dropped

to a confidential tone. "We're in with a passel of crooks, Tony. Evil

associates, I call 'em. They're bound to have a bad influence over

us--I feel it a'ready, don't you? Well, s'pose you meet me to-night at

the gap in the hedge and we'll take a walk?"



Don Antonio appeared in every way agreeable to the proposal, but to

make certain that he would keep his appointment Bill led him down

into the creek bottom and tied him securely, after which he removed a

pack-s





Lassiter's Way Laura London facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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