Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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"DID you ever kill a man?"
The question came quietly out of a long silence. The younger man looked up quickly from the crackling camp-fire, his eyes searching his partners grave face for an explanation of the strangely dull note in his voice.
"No, Johnny. I never killed a man. Why?"
Johnny Watson made no answer for a little as he drew thoughtfully upon his pipe. The little, drying mountain stream upon which they had camped for the night went singing on its way under the stars.
Neither of the two men so much as stirred until after the younger man had almost forgotten the abrupt question, and was thinking upon the bed he had made of willow branches, when Johnny Watson took the pipe from between his lips, ran a brown hand across the grizzled stub of his ragged mustache and continued in the same expressionless monotone: "I have. Three of 'c 'em. One close to thirty years ago, Dick. A sailor, he was; and a sailor of a sort I was, too, in those days. Down where the South Seas is used to man-killing. I had a little money, a good deal for a sailorman to have all at one time, sewed in a bit of canvas in my shirt. Ben, he had been drunk and was mean and reckless, or I guess he wouldn't 'a' done it—Ben was a decent man after his fashion.
"He come up behind with a knife. I saw his shadow, and I give it to him across the temple with a bit of scrap-iron laying on the little pier. He died two days later.
"One was twenty years gone now. They called him DeVine, and he was the crookedest man that ever put on white man's clothes. It began with cards, and ended with him trying to do me on a mine. He knowed when I had caught him, and pulled his gun first. He missed me about six inches, and we wasn't standing more than seven feet apart....
"And one was something more than eight years ago. He was no account. He murdered old Tom Richards. Tom was a pardner of mine. Tom's body wasn't cold yet when the man as murdered him went to plead his case with the Great Judge."
Again the deep stillness of the mountains shut in about them. Young Dick Farley stared curiously into his partner's face, wondering. And since the ways of the cities of the earth were not forgotten by hint, the ways of men, where judges and courts and written laws were not, were new to him—he shivered slightly.
For two years he and the man WHO was speaking quietly of the murderous killing of men, and the killing of men in retribution, had lived together in that close fraternity for which the West has coined the word "pardnership" from a colder word; and never had he heard old Johnny Watson talk as he did tonight. And still he waited for the man to go on, knowing that there was some reason for this unasked confidence.
"There's some things a man can explain," went on Watson. "There's a Lord's sight more he can't. When you've lived as long as I have, Dickie, alone a big three-fourths of the time, maybe you'll be like me and not try to look under things for the why so long's you know the what.
"I know now you and me are on the likeliest trail I ever put one foot down in front of the other on. And I know it's my last trail! It's 'So long' for you and me, pardner. And I'm going to know real soon what's on the other side of things."
Dick Farley sought a light rejoinder with which to meet an old miner's superstition, but he could find no words. So again there was silence between them until Watson once more spoke:
"I killed them three men in fair fight, Dickie, and with the right o' things on my side. And it ain't ever once bothered me. And now the funny part of it—I ain't so much as thought of one of them men for a month.
"You know we got too much to think about, you and me, with the trail leading us straight to more gold—our gold—than would sink a battle-ship. And today? Well, when the sun shines in my eyes, and I wake up slow, I'm kinder dazed for a Utile while, and while I can't get my bearings I'm back in the South Sea country with Ben, the sailorman. Just as plain as I'm seeing you now, Dick, I saw him. Twisted thumb and all—and I hadn't thought about that twisted thumb from that day over thirty years ago until this very morning! And all day I've been walking first with Ben and then with Flash DeVine, and then with Perry Parker, as did for poor old Tom Richards."
HE BROKE off suddenly, sitting hunched forward, his eyes meditatively upon the fire. Then he continued:
"A man that didn't know would think it was all nonsense. But most men that live in the way-out places of the earth, and who've took men off, fair and square—or with a knife from behind; it makes no difference—would know what I know. I don't know the why, pardner. And I don't care why. You'll be looking for a new side-kick before Summer dies."
Dick stirred uneasily. Again he sought for a light, bantering reply. But the words did not come. A strange sense of fatality had crept slowly over him.
He tried to tell himself that he was listening to the expression of an old miner's superstition, that the thing was an absurdity. And while he refused to give credence to a thing which he could not understand, he had an odd sense that he and Johnny Watson were not alone. Unconsciously he drew a bit closer to the fire and to the man who was "seeing things."
"And this here the likeliest trail I ever set foot down on," said the older man, with nothing but a vague regret in the even tones. "Just two more days and we're there—maybe together and maybe you finish the trail alone, pardner. It's a month ago I picked up that first yellow lump. The whole mountainside is rotten with gold! And then I come back and picked you up like we'd said we would, you wearing your shoes out on flinty rocks where a man wouldn't find a color in seven lifetimes. And now we're in two days of it, and—"
He didn't finish, breaking off with a long-drawn, deep breath. His pipe had gone out and he leaned forward, picking up a blazing bit of dry pine which he held to the blackened bowl. Dick Farley noticed that the bronzed, lined face was very calm, the eyes somewhat wider opened than usual, the fingers upon the fagot as steady as should be the fingers of a man without nerves.
"Johnny—" Farley was speaking at last, with an effort, keeping his tones as steady as his partner's—"you are right when you say that there are some things which we can't explain. But it's up to us to explain what we can, isn't it? You haven't thought of those men for a long time, and now they flash up before you all of a sudden, and clear. Can't it be that I have happened to use some expression that Ben used, or that some sound from the woods about us, or some smell or even an odd color in the sunset—"
"That's like you, Dickie. Fight until you're in the last ditch, and then go on fighting!" Watson shook his head. "No, that ain't the right explanation this trip. I've seen them three men today. I've seen Flash DeVine jerk up his head with a little funny sort of twist to the left like he always used to, and I've seen the red spot, by Parker's ear. I'd clean forgot them little things, Dick. No, pard'. There's no use trying to explain. I got to thinking about it this noon while you was staking out the horses and I made a little drawing you can use if I pass out before we get to the place. It's on a cigareet paper, and I poked it inside old Shaggy's saddle-blanket. And now, boy—" standing up, his shoulders lifted and squared—"good night. If it happens I don't see you any more—"
He put out his hand suddenly. Young Dick Farley gulped down a lump in his throat as he gripped Johnny Watson's fingers. For a moment they stared into each other's eyes—then Watson turned away abruptly and with no other word went to his blankets.
IT WAS Johnny Watson's voice swearing at old Shaggy that awoke Dick Farley in the early dawn. Farley stared upward through the still tree-tops at the gray morning, his mind groping for the unpleasant something of last night. And when he remembered he smiled, thinking how he would chaff his partner about his night fears and his dead men.
But when he caught a swift glimpse of the deep-set eyes under the shaggy gray-sprinkled brows, the bantering remarks which were trooping to the end of his tongue Were left unuttered. In a blind sort of way he realized that the thing which had come upon Johnny Watson yesterday had not left him. Those eyes were looking out upon death calmly, expectantly, a bit reluctantly, but not with fear and not with rebellion. Farley said nothing as he turned away and went down into the creek-bed to wash his hands and face.
Over their breakfast of coffee, bacon and flapjacks the two men talked lightly of this and that, with no mention of last night. When Watson had finished he began spelling of the day's work into the canyon. He told briefly where they would leave the creek in three or four hours, where they would find water for the noon camp, where more water and grass for the evening camp.
"Tonight—we ought to be there by six—we get over the ridge and into the Devil's Pocket country. There's just one way to get out of that country, Dick, and that's the way we're going in. If a man looks for a short cut, if he goes skallyhooting east or west, north or south of the place where our trail is going to cut into the basin there, he's a goner.
"If you leave this trail on the way back you're going to run out of water first thing, and your horse is going to break his leg, if it ain't his neck, the next thing; and then you die because you can't pick up another water-hole. I was in that country more'n a dozen years ago. There was three of us. Me being lucky in them days, I got out. The Others didn't. And I ain't never been back until I took a whirl at it last month."
The morning sun had not yet peeped down into the steep-walled ravine in which their course lay when the two men led their pack-horses out of its shadows, along the higher bank upon the right, and upon the little bench land there. They moved swiftly, with long swinging strides, and as Watson had said, within three or four hours they left the creek entirely, moved eastward through a cut in the mountains which rose steeply against them, and found what might once have been a trail.
Conversation had died. Watson was in the lead, at times hidden from his companion a hundred yards in advance. Then came the two horses. And in the rear, his brain leaping from the talk of last night to Watson's accounts of the place where "the whole side of the mountain was rotten with gold," to wondering about this Devil's locket, Dick Farley followed silently.
They camped a little at noon by a spring which Watson had marked upon his map, and rested for a couple of hours. The older man, unostentatiously and without effort at concealment, unlimbered the two heavy revolvers at his belt and looked to them as a man docs when he expects he will use them.
"The cards ain't played yet, Dick," he said. "And if it don't come too unexpected, we're going to give 'em a run for their money, old timer."
During the silent hours of the afternoon Farley strove to keep his partner always in sight, hurrying up the lagging horses, keeping them at Watson's heels. And, although he still told himself that he did not and would not believe in this senseless superstition, he carried all day a forty-five-caliber Colt.
ALL day they drove steadily into the mountains. For ahead of them was the thing which had called to them across the miles of wilderness, which, since the world was young, had drawn men into hardship, exile and often enough to death—soft, yellow, crumbling gold! And it was almost eight, and dark in the narrow pass, when Watson called out and Farley pushed by the horses to his side and looked on the site for their camp—"the last camp this side the strike."
It was a spring which bubbled out clear and cold upon a little flat hardly bigger than the barroom at the Eagle Hotel. And oddly, there was no creek flowing from it to mark its whereabouts. For the water ran a scant ten feet westward and sank into a great fissure in the rock.
"We'll eat first," said Watson when the two men had drunk. "The moon'll be up pretty quick. Then I'll show you something—what the Devil's Pocket country looks like."
The day had died slowly. It did not grow dark, for with the rising evening breeze the full moon climbed up through a tangle of fir-tops and barren peaks, its strong white light driving all but the most valiant stars from the sky. Watson knocked the dead ashes out of his pipe and got to his feet.
"Come ahead, Dick. We'll take a look at where we're going. Where a good many men have been—and not many come back."
They climbed from the trail along a spine of rock to a black spire, rising clear of the scanty brush. To the very top of the sloping rock they worked their cautious way until their two gaunt bodies stood outlined against the sky. Here they found footing, and here Watson stood with arm flung out, pointing. Dick Farley was not unused to the thousand moods of the mountain places, and yet as his eyes ran along the pointing arm, and beyond it eagerly, he muttered his startled admiration.
The moon, full, round and yellow, had floated clear of the distant ridges and hung in rich splendor above a long, narrow, twisting valley, the Devil's Pocket. Trees, bills, peaks and ravines stood out in the soft light, black and without detail. The floor of the winding valley took upon itself many shifting shades, a dark silver-gray here where there was a strip of sandy soil, a more somber splotch there where the willows followed a thin thread of a stream.
"There she is!" Watson exclaimed. "That thread of willows marks the only creek in the valley. It runs from a big spring like ours here, and the lake drinks it up. They call the lake 'The Last Drink.' We'll walk fifteen minutes before we get to it. We hit the southeast shore just about where you see that little bay with the cliffs coming down close. There's a trail along the base of them cliffs; we follow that worse'n six miles fu'ther. And when we're there, Dickie boy, we're right on top of the biggest gold-mine—"
His voice broke off sharply, and he turned his back to it all. Dick heard him move back down to the trail. With his eyes filled with the panorama below him Dick's thoughts drew back from the trail and the ore at the end of it and followed the man who had found the thing, the precious thing which they had so long sought, and who had turned back for his partner that he, too, might have his share.
And again he told himself that his fears of last night, which had been growing all day, were groundless, senseless—that Johnny Watson could not be in danger of death.
BEFORE he climbed down the way Watson had gone, Dick Farley again turned his eyes along the trail which was to lead him tomorrow to the Cup of Gold. His wandering fancies built a golden dream future. Then he turned back and climbed slowly down to the trail.
The fire was dying upon the little rocky ledge where he had built it an hour ago. Beyond the camp-fire, where he had flung his blanket at the base of the cliff, Johnny Watson was already tying. Farley swept up his own blanket from the ground and, stepping around the fire, flung it down close to Watson's.
"I don't believe in your premonitions, pardner," he said with a little laugh. "But if they get one of us they'll have to take two. Here's where I pitch my tent."'
Johnny Watson made no answer. He was already asleep. Johnny never wasted time in wakefulness when he had turned in.
Farley straightened out his blankets, jerked off his heavy boots and socks and lay down, his elbow close to Watson's. And so he went to sleep.
Something awoke him; it might have been the moon, shining full in his face. He rolled over upon his side, shifted his wide-brimmed hat to shield his face from the light, and still he did not go back to sleep. He felt restless, uneasy—inexplicably uneasy. Those confounded things Johnny had said last night wouldn't leave him. There was no sound; not a ripple upon the surface of the night's silence save the murmur and trickle of the water. He should be able to hear the horses—the chain on old Shaggy's halter.
He sat up. Doing so, he put his right hand on the ground beside him, beside Johnny Watson. He felt something damp, spongy, and sticky. He lifted his hand, staring at it in the moonlight. There was a dark stain. He put it to his nostrils.
"Good God!" he cried aloud. "Johnny! Johnny!"
And then when Johnny Watson did not answer, he did not need to look. He knew Johnny Watson was dead—dead at the side of his partner who had slept!
The young man staggered to his feet and stared wildly around. Each rock and tree and bush stood out clearly in the moonlight with its shadow flung out very dark and very distinct. His revolver was rigid in the tense steel of his grip. There was nothing, there was no one. And yet, while he slept, some one had crept upon his partner.
He turned to where Watson lay. And suddenly, as he saw how the man was lying, the way an arm lay at his side, the other arm flung out, the truth came upon him; and without looking at the wound he-knew that death had not come upon Watson while the two men lay side by side,
It had come while Farley stood alone upon the top of the cliff staring out into Devil's Pocket, dreaming! For as Watson lay now, so had he lain when Farley came down to him. He had been dead when his partner called to him, saying they would sleep side by side!
"While I was up on the rock," Farley muttered dully, "they got him."
He stooped low over the prostrate body and gently, tenderly, he moved it so that it lay face-up. The moonlight showed well how Johnny Watson's death had found him. At the side of his bared neck was a cut such as a broad-bladed knife would make, a great gash, two inches long. Just one blow had been struck, just one such blow needed.
Farley got slowly to his feet and for a little stood looking down into the dead man's face. And the face of the man who looked into the dead eyes was as oddly quiet and calm.
"They got you, Johnny," Farley was saying in a voice void of expression, "with me in calling distance—Oh, Johnny!"
For a moment he stood, his face sunk into his two brown hands. And then suddenly he whirled about, his head lifted, his arm flung out, shaken with a frenzy of rage.
"My pardner—you've murdered my pardner!" he shouted. "And I'm going to find you out! I'm going to kill you!"
Then he suddenly calmed as he realized that he was alone in the mountains, a week's travel from the nearest mining-camp, alone with his dead partner. He moved back from the ledge and into the shadow, where he sat down upon a broken boulder. All at once a thing which he had forgotten swept back over him—the horses! He had missed the noise of their crunching, he had failed to hear the jingle of old Shaggy's tie-chain!
He sprang to his feet and ran down into the little clearing where they had tied the two pack-animals. They were gone, both gone. He stumbled over one of the pack-saddles with its load. There had been no time to take that. But the other, old Shaggy's saddle, was missing.
Slowly he made his way back to the little ledge where Johnny Watson lay. Again he sat down upon the bit of boulder, and lighting his pipe pulled at it steadily, staring down into the quiet canyon. He could not follow tracks until morning.
WITH the first glint of the new day he buried Johnny Watson. For a moment Dick stood hat in hand, looking at the little mound of earth which he had made and piled high with stones. And then he turned and, walking swiftly, strode back to the spot where the horses had been staked.
There was no difficulty in picking up the trail. Upon that rugged, rocky mountainside the murderer, if he had taken the two horses with him, must have moved eastward and into the Devil's Pocket, or in a direction leading southwesterly over the trail which Farley and Watson had come yesterday. He could not have scaled the cliffs above, he could have made no progress through the dense brush of the deep-cut ravine below.
For a moment Farley hesitated between going forward toward the little mountain valley and turning back. Then the thought came to him that he could hope to learn what he sought to know by going forward, quicker than by swinging back toward the southwest. For if the two horses had gone eastward, it would be easier to pick up their trail than upon the path which they had cut up yesterday. If there should be any fresh tracks leading into the Devil's Pocket, that would settle it. And not tea minutes later, having followed the stony trail until it dipped a little into a bit of soft soil in a hollow, he found the tracks—fresh tracks made by two shod horses.
Then he went back to last night's camp, made himself a small pack of bacon and coffee and flour; and taking no useless thing, no blanket even to interfere with the free swing of his body, he turned east and struck out swiftly.
He followed the trail for a mile, saw how it wound in and out, climbing and dipping, worming slowly toward the pocket. And then, when he had been assured that the two horses were ahead of him, he left the trail and fought his way due east, up the face of a steep bank and to the crest of the bleak mountains. He remembered Watson had told him that following the trail they would have to go a good fifteen miles to travel ten, and now he sought a short-cut to head off the man he followed. He knew that he would pick up the trail again in the valley.
Hour after hour he trudged on, his face whipped by tangled brambles in the canons, his hands torn by the crags over which he continued to climb toward the top of the ridge.
At last, about the middle of the forenoon, he came to the top of the narrow divide. From an outjutting crag he looked down into the valley before him, seeing again the winding course of the creek, the little lake, the steep mountain walls and gorges. Here he stopped long enough to choose the way he must go to make the best time. And then with one long look back toward the slope where the lone cedar flung its twisted branches over his partner, he turned again eastward and plunged down into the steep canyon, down into the Devil's Pocket.
ON THE floor of the Devil's Pocket Dick Farley came upon the trail again as he had foreseen. Where it ran from the ridges across the creek he found tracks. He drank first and then studied them. And slowly there came a frown into his eyes, and then a look of pain.
For there were the tracks of one horse, and of a man's boot-heels in the soft wet soil—tracks a month old, the tracks which Johnny Watson had left when he drew out of the valley to find his partner.
Back and forth Farley moved, stepping slowly by the side of the path, searching long and carefully for the fresh signs to tell him that two horses had passed here during the night or in the early morning. He did not find them. But a moment later, at the very edge of the stream, dose to the spot where he had just flung himself down to drink, he found that another man had lain there drinking. He saw the prints of the heavy boots, saw that they had come from the west; that the man had crossed the stream here, stepping over the mere thread of water, and had pushed on toward the northern end of the valley. And the horses?
Dick had no doubt this was the man he sought. For some reason he had left the horses in the hills, hidden in some steep-walled canyon.
Again Farley pushed on, following the trail, seeing now and again the outline of the heavy boots where the soil was moist or dusty. In a little he ceased to look for the tracks, excepting at long intervals, for they led straight ahead, keeping to the path through the wingrass, straight toward the lake. At noon he stopped to cat and smoke his pipe. And then again he pushed on.
He was tired now, but he gave no respite to the muscles which had been greatly taxed after a night of wakefulness.
Finally, a little after noon, he came to the lake shore, where the trail ran close to the water's edge, and at the base of the cliffs which rose a perpendicular twenty feet here, fifty feet there. And when he had drunk of the clear, cold water and had turned from looking out across the mile of dimpling crystal, mountain fringed, he made a discovery, a discovery which came very close to costing him his life.
Rising straight up through the clear air above the cliffs at his side was a thin wisp of smoke, such as climbs upward from a little camp-fire. His heart beat quickly at sight of it. It was back from the cliffs maybe a quarter of a mile, he judged. There must be a sort of table-land up there. There he would find the man he had followed. He saw that the tracks had come to the lake here ahead of him; that they continued northward along the shore. But again he left them, again to make a short cut, and began working his way up along the cliff-side. Clinging with his fingers to seams and crevices, driving the toes of his boots into the cracks which they could find, he drew painfully, slowly toward the top.
He was already so close to the edge above that he could almost reach it with a hand thrust up as far as he could reach, with fifteen feet between him and the ground below. He was straining every muscle, his face tight-pressed to the rocks, reaching up for the rough hand-hold which just defied him, when he was startled by a sound coming clearly to him from below—the unmistakable sound of the dip of a paddle.
He saw the trap he had blundered into. As he was, he could not turn, could not draw a gun from his belt. There he was, clinging to the face of the cliff, a mark to be seen from across the lake, with no hope of being overseen by the man who in a moment would drive a canoe around the rocky point a few yards away, who could shoot him in the back as easily as lift a finger.
Again he strained upward, and at last he succeeded in grasping the rock which protruded from the edge above, and drew himself up. Then he heard a cry from below, a cry as of warning; the rock came away in his hand, he clutched wildly to save himself, then plunged headlong, twisting as he fell. As his body had struck he felt a swift-driven pain through his head, and lost consciousness in a black nothingness.
Luckily for him the fall had been broken for he had twisted his body so that a part of his solid weight struck upon his shoulder. For life was still in him, and came back little by little. He tried dizzily to lift his head and could not. But he could turn a little to the side so that he could see the lake. There was the canoe, its paddle floating in the water. And coming toward him....
It was all so vague; he was so dizzy, the blackness wavered so like a misty veil in front of his eyes! For a little he would not believe that his mind was clear yet, that he was not wandering. For coming toward him was a girl; a girl clad in rough, coarse cloth, made into a short skirt and sleeveless blouse; a girl whose long braided hair was scarcely a deeper, richer brown than her bronzed cheeks, as brown as an Indian maid, but with great, fearless gray eyes. She came swiftly to his side and dropped down upon her knees, flinging back the thick braid which had brushed across his breast.
"I tried to call, to tell you!" she was saying, her low-toned voice coming to him clearly through the singing in his ears. "Are you very badly hurt?"
He didn't answer at once, but stared up at the fresh, girlish beauty of her, frowning to clear the mist from his eyes, telling himself that it was impossible.
She leaned closer and put her quick light hands upon his head. He felt a little shudder run through them. And then, before he could speak, she sprang up, ran to the lake and came back to him with water in her two bands. She bathed the cut, washed the blood away and, ripping a strip of cloth from the hem of her skirt, tied it about his head in a rude bandage.
"I thought—" he began, groping for words.
"Yes, yes!" she broke in. "You could not know how crumbling, how treacherous to the climber those rocks are up there. I tried to warn you. Are you very much hurt?"
"No, I don't think so," he answered, still frowning. And then, "You—where did you come from?"
She laughed, sitting back from him—her hands clasped about her two knees, her chin tip-tilted, a glimpse of her round throat telling that the bronze and copper of her coloring were not racial, that the slender body was of wonderful white and pink.
"No, you're not badly hurt. Or you wouldn't be wondering about other folks!"
With an effort of will he drew his eyes away from her and turned them out across the lake. He had come to find a man, the man who had killed his partner; and instead, this was what he had found. This Naiad of a creature who was no shy backwoods lass, tongue-tied and blushing, but who looked at him with clear, amused eyes.
Was Johnny Watson wrong about this Devil's Pocket, after all? He had said that few men ever came into it; that they never came back; that they never lived here. Then how came this sparkling, radiant woodland maid here? Where had she come from now in her light canoe? Where was she going? Were there others?
Slowly his eyes came back to her.
"I didn't know any one lived here, though."
"Then what brought you here?" she asked.
"I came looking for—some one."
And then, realizing that this statement contradicted the one he had just made, he said by way of explanation:
"I meant that I did not know that womenfolk ever penetrated so far into the wilderness. Miners, I know, lone prospectors, get into all corners of the earth."
"And womenfolk?" she challenged him. "Are there then any places where men have led that their womenfolk have not followed them?"
He again tried to sit up, but sudden blackness swept upon him and he fell back. The gleam of amusement went as swiftly from her eyes, which were once more deeply womanly, intensely feminine and soft. Her cool hand was upon his forehead, pushing back the tangled hair, smoothing it; and her voice, cooing, tender, came to him like a whisper out of a dream:
"You are hurt, badly hurt! Don't try to move. Just rest; be very still."
Once more she sprang up and ran to the lake shore to bring water in his hat. She wet his forehead, readjusted the bandage and let a little trickle of water run upon his wrists. In a moment he opened his eyes to look up at her, forcing a smile to meet her anxious gaze.
"Can you tell me," she said softly, "where you are hurt? You can't move?"
"I'll try again in a minute. It's my whole side, the right side." He glanced down toward his hand. "I think the wrist is broken. I got it caught under me as I fell. I can't move it."
"It is swollen already," she told him after a brief inspection. "Poor fellow, how it must hurt!"
Then as professionally as a trained nurse might have done it she moved her hand down along his side.
"Where does it hurt most?" she queried, her eyes upon his. "The shoulder, isn't it?"
"Yes. Just a bad bruise, I think."
"I hope so. Now, do you think that after a while, when you have rested a little, you can manage to walk? Just a few feet?"
"Yes. But where'll I walk to?"
"Just to the boat. And I'll take you the rest of the way."
"And the rest of the way?" he asked curiously.
"You are a mighty inquisitive creature for a patient!" she smiled. "Where do you suppose? Home, of course!"
DICK rested for a long time. Then leaning upon the girl's firm shoulder, he got to his feet and moved slowly with her to the boat. When he had sunk in a huddled heap in the narrow craft, his pulses beating wildly, his head whirling, he began to realize he had a great deal besides a scalp wound and a broken wrist to reckon with.
With a swift flash of a glance at his white lips and the little drops upon his forehead, the girl stepped into the boat, took up the paddle and pushed out into the lake. And under her strong hands the canoe shot through the water, headed for the north end of the lake and for a little cove, cliff-bound.
Dick half slept as the canoe sped on and on. Finally he roused as they rounded a rocky point, flashed by a Utile green cove into which a narrow spray of water fell from the cliffs above, skirted a dense pine grove, and turned suddenly into a second tiny bay, sandy-beached. The canoe, its slender nose thrust into the pebbles and white sand, held there, swaying gently. Before Farley could move, the girl was out, standing in the shallow water, her left hand steadying the boat while her right reached out to help him.
"If you feel strong enough, it's only a little way, and you will rest better."
Ashamed of his weakness in the face of her confident young strength, he got to his feet. Already it was a harder thing for him to stand than it had been ten minutes ago. His right shoulder, side and arm were utterly useless. His leg, when he put a little of his weight upon it, pained him so that with his lip caught sharply between his teeth it cost him much to keep back a cry of agony.
But in the end, leaning upon her, her arm tight about him, he got into the water and to the strip of sand. Looking anxiously for some sort of camp, he saw ahead only a thick grove of pine and fir like the one they had passed, and the sheer cliffs beyond.
"I think," she was saying to him, "that if you rest again you will only be the stiffer, sorer for it. Can you manage to walk a little further?"
He nodded. And now he staggered on with his guide and into the trees. And when at last she stopped he again looked up, expecting to see the camp. Instead, he saw that they had brought up at the edge of the level strip with the cliff-wall in front of them.
"We're going up there," she answered the puzzled look in his eyes. "It isn't as hard as it looks. Can you go a little further?"
He nodded again painfully. So again they moved on, ten feet along the cliffs, and came, unexpectedly for him, upon a great, gently slanting cut in the rocks, into which bits of stone had been flung so as to make rude, rough steps. It was harder now, slower; for he had to lift his left foot each time, while she helped relieve the weight upon the other, and wearily pull himself up. Ten minutes dragged by before they had climbed the twenty feet.
Upon the top was a plateau perhaps a mile long, broken with trees and boulders, five hundred yards wide. The fringe of trees and ragged cliffs upon the side toward the lake hid the table-land completely from that direction. And, set between two gnarled cedars, at the very edge of a dense bit of the forest where it ran out from the sea of verdure like a cape, was a low, rambling log cabin, a thin spiral of smoke winding up from its stone chimney. Here was "home."
The cabin had all the signs of age, discolored by many Winters, a vine a dozen years old climbing over it. And Johnny Watson, who had known the Devil's Pocket for a quarter of a century, had said that no man ever lived here!
But Dick Farley was in little mood for speculation. He stumbled on, conscious only of the dizzy nausea which drove even the pain of his hurt side into a dim, faraway background. After an endless groping through a thickening fog he knew that they had stepped from the sunlight into the shade; felt rough boards under his boots; felt that two arms, not just one, were tight around his body; knew with a grateful, long-drawn sobbing breath that he was lying upon blankets.
It was dusk in the cabin—twilight fragrant with the spicy odors dropping down from the grove—when he found himself at first groping for reality in a confused chaos of emotions and then gradually coming to full understanding. It was a great, low-walled room, a rectangle of light marking the door, two squares showing him the windows and a deep-mouthed fireplace crackling with a newly lighted fire.
Across the room from his bunk were a heavy little table and rough chair. His eyes went slowly to the floor—over the squared saplings which went to make it, across a bearskin, and to another door, smaller, lower than the other, leading into another room. He tried to lift himself upon his elbow, and fell back stabbed by the sharp pain in his shoulder. And then he turned his head quickly toward the narrow door. Then he had heard a step.
She came swiftly to him, looking down at him with her great eyes filled with concern. When she saw the look in his she smiled, and sitting down upon the edge of his bed put her hand upon his forehead.
"You are better," her rich voice was saying in a matter-of-fact way. "You're not so feverish, and you know where you are, don't you?"
"Yes. Much better." He called up a twisted smile to meet hers. And then, "I have been an awful nuisance."
"You mustn't say such things!"
But he insisted, looking steadily at her.
"If you hadn't happened along—if you hadn't found me then, or soon—do you know what would have happened to me? If I hadn't died from my fall and exposure, I'd have died pretty soon from starvation. Do you know that?"
"I know," she retorted with great mock severity, "that this is my case; you're my patient, and I'm the doctor and the nurse. And that you're talking, while I believe the proper thing for people who are sick is to lie still. Also, you're not going to die of starvation now. When I heard you stir, I was just making some soup for you. For I'm the cook, too!"
When she had come back with a smoking bowl of broth, she set the thing down upon the floor for a moment while she insisted on propping him up with pillows. She shook her head at him when he opened his lips to protest, and thrust a spoonful of the soup between them by way of further silencing him.
"Good?" she demanded, when she had set the empty bowl down on the floor. "And now, do you know I am afraid that I have about reached the end of my medical knowledge! I've forbidden you to talk, and I've fed you some broth. What next?"
"There'll be nothing next. I'm going to be all right soon."
"Of course you are! But we must do something for your poor, hurt side. I have some liniment—"
"Just the thing," he assured her. "I'll give myself a good rubbing—"
"You are very stupid," she frowned at him. "You will do nothing of the sort. I haven't dismissed my case yet, have I, Mr. Man?"
"You're discharged, Miss Girl!" he grinned up at her. "And my other name is Farley—Dick Farley."
"I won't be discharged that way, and my name is Virginia Dalton, and you lie right still, Dick Farley!" she laughed at him.
And when she came back she made him lie upon his left side while she slit his shirt from the shoulder down and bathed the bruised muscles with the stinging oil. The wrist, swollen and ugly, she bandaged with soft white cloth. When she had finished she sat back, flushed but triumphant, and nodded at him approvingly.
With the fire roaring in the deep fireplace, for cheeriness rather than from the need of warmth, with a couple of misshapen, homemade candles upon the mantelpiece, her chair drawn up facing the bunk upon which her guest and patient lay—at her request he was smoking his pipe and enjoying it—Virginia Dalton at last satisfied the man's curiosity as well as she could.
She and her father lived here together, had lived here for fifteen years. He had brought her, a baby of four, into this wilderness with him, had built the cabin, had made this home. Of the world outside she knew little more than she had known when her lather brought her here—perhaps less; as even the child's images of men and women and cities, and the things thereof, had been lost in the years. The father had taught her, had brought with them a few books, had been always very dear to her.
She did not know why he lived here, away from his kind. He had once, long ago, told her that his health demanded it. Of late they had not mentioned the matter.
"But," she ended, with a flush of eagerness lighting her face, "it's nearly over! We're going to leave soon; go back to the world where people are. Dear old Daddy came in just this afternoon, a little while before I went down to the lake, and I could see right away that something had happened. He didn't say what it was—he doesn't say much at any time; but he told me that he was going out again and might be gone all night; but that when he came back I could get ready to go! Isn't it glorious?"
But Dick, to whom there had come a sudden fear, made no answer, frowning as he lay back staring up at the rough rafters.
THE night dragged by, bringing little sleep to Dick Farley, and Virginia Dalton's father did not return. It was the longest night Dick had ever known. Hour after hour he sat propped up against the wall, the pillow behind him, and smoked, staring out through the open door at the shadows the moon made. They were deep black shadows, and his spirit was caught in them, strangely troubled. But at last, when the tardy day was breaking, the spark in his pipe-bowl died and he slipped down in his pillows and slept.
When he awoke, the sun was flinging its light through the tree-tops into the cabin. Nature's was a soft mood this morning—smiling, fragrant, audible with many low, harmonious woodland notes. And through the weave of still music, rising suddenly, clearly, sweetly, a girl's voice floated in to him in an old song. He watched the open door expectantly.
In a little while she came in, her voice hushed, walking tiptoe not to wake him, a rod in one hand, a string of lake-trout swinging from the other. Her smile was as gloriously a radiant thing 35 the morning itself when her eyes met his expectant ones.
"Good morning!" she greeted him, coming to his bedside. "Awake at last, are you? I was afraid I should have to breakfast alone."
"Good morning," he answered, his eyes filled with the rosy beauty of her glorious youth. "You have been fishing already!"
"I have been down to the lake—for my morning plunge primarily, to tell the truth. And in the second place for something for my sick man to eat. Hungry?"
As she went to set the rod in its place in the corner he looked after her approvingly. Her hair hung as yesterday in two long braids, one flung over her shoulder. Her brown arms were bare from the shoulder.
"Yes," he answered her, "I think I am hungry. While you are starting breakfast I think I'll get up—"
"You'll do nothing of the kind," she retorted positively. "I'll put a table close to your bunk, and we'll eat here. After breakfast, when the sun is a little higher and it's good and warm, maybe I'll let you try to get up."
As she moved toward the kitchen with her string of fish, he called after her:
"Your father? He hasn't come in yet?"
"No. But we'll look for him before long. Dear old Daddy has dreadfully irregular habits!"
Then he heard her clattering with pots and pans, heard her singing broken snatches of songs; and soon the aroma of coffee and the sizzling of the trout told him that breakfast was ready. She came in then, removed the objects from the table across the room—he saw with a little surprise that they were several books carelessly scattered—pushed the table to his side, dragged her own chair up to it, and brought in the fish and coffee and biscuits with tin cups, tin plates, heavy iron knives, forks and spoons.
"There is no sugar, no butter, no cream," she laughed at him. "But you won't mind, will you?"
While they ate she told him more of herself; how she fished, or used the rifle to bring down a squirrel from a pine, or to get a deer, sometimes; how from her lookout, a peak a mile behind the cabin, she mused over the pale, shifting shades of daybreak or the vivid splashes of color in the west before the dusk came; how she let her eyes go far out to the furthermost rim of the vague, distant mountains and dreamed of the other side—the land of men and women, of cities where the canons were streets, and the peaks many-storied buildings. She was not lonely because no one had taught her the word, because she had known no existence but this. She did not know unrest, because she had not lived in cities.
"But sometimes," with a sudden wistfulness, "there is something here which talks; and I can't quite understand it!" She pressed her two hands tightly upon her breast. "When I have everything here, how can there be anything lacking? When the world is so big, how can it seem so little? When the day is so filled with good things, how can it seem so empty? When I am so happy, how can I be, all of a sudden, so sad? When I am laughing, why do I want to cry?"
He told her, too, of his own life; of the schools he had gone to; of his work in cities of the East; of the command to go West for his health as her father had done; of the fever of gold. But he said no word of his partner—he could not speak of that, yet. Nor did he mention the Cup of Gold, saying merely that he had pushed into these mountains, into her valley, prospecting.
"But you said," she reminded him frankly, "that you were looking for some one?"
"Yes," he admitted, turning from her dear eyes to the door. "I will tell you about that some other time."
HE QUESTIONED her about her father; and she, glad to find other ears than the inattentive ones of her woodland friends, spoke unreservedly.
He was a wonderful man, this James Dalton, this "dear old Daddy." A wonderful man to look at: big, mighty of his hands, handsome, a full-bearded giant. With a great tender heart, too, forgetful at all times of self, striving only for his daughter's good and happiness, doing all of the thousand and one little things to please her, to make life run smoothly and brightly for her.
He had filled the long hours with instruction, had taught her to read and write, had read to her from the few books which had come with them into their exile. He had drawn pictures of busy cities with their factories and hotels, their churches and stores, and he had promised her that one day he would take her with him to see these marvelous things with her own eyes.
"And now," she ended, her eyes luminous with the dreamings of a golden fairyland whose gates were to be thrown open to her, "now we are going to see it all, very soon."
She fell suddenly silent, looking beyond the far horizon where her fancies led her.
"It is worth being raised like this," Farley was thinking, "just to be able to walk out into the other life—the life filled with the things man has done. To wander through it a little—and then to come back, to stay."
When all of the dull of the mountain morning had gone, drunk up by the warm, thirsty sun, she allowed her sick man to get up. Farley found that his wrist was more swollen, more painful than it had been last night, but began to hope that there were no bones broken in it, that he had sprained it badly and that in a few days it would mend itself. His right side was very nearly useless to him, the shoulder, lower ribs and leg being sore and stiff; but with a cane which she cut for him from a sapling in the grove he was able to hobble around slowly.
He realized, as he worked his way unsteadily to the door, that it would be many days before he could take up the trail which he had vowed over his dead partner's body to follow until he found its end.
The morning passed, and they had lunch together out under the trees at the edge of the grove. Still Dalton had not come in. But the girl seemed in no way surprised, saying lightly that her father often was gone a day or so without warning, that perhaps he had found and was following the tracks of a bear.
"I am going for my mail," she told him, laughing at his wonder. "Do you feel strong enough to come with me?"
"Mail?" he demanded incredulously.
"Yes! There may be a letter from Daddy. The post-office is over yonder, across the lake. If you think that you can walk down to the canoe, we can paddle over."
With the help of his cane, with the aid of her hand when they came to the rude steps in the cliff side, he finally reached the edge of the lake where they had left the canoe yesterday. Leaving him here for a little, she disappeared into the trees and came back presently, carrying the light boat upon her shoulders.
Helping him to get into it, she pushed out from the shore, jumped in and paddled out into the water, heading straight for the western side a half-mile away. Upon a little beach there, sandy and strewn with white-pebbles she grounded the canoe; and with a word to him to wait while she asked for her letter, hurried to a big rock, flat-topped, set back a little from the water's edge.
Turning so that he could see what she did, she tossed toward him five pebbles which she had picked up from the rock. And then she came back to him.
"No letter?" he asked.
"Didn't you see it?" she laughed into his puzzled face. "Of course there was! Daddy has gone over yonder," pointing to the ridge of hills sweeping upward into the westward mountains. "How do I know? Those pebbles were in a row, pointing east and west, with the biggest one at this end, the littlest, our 'pointer,' at the west end. And since there were five pebbles, he means to be gone about five days. No, he didn't add a postscript saying what he was going for. We need sugar, and we need ammunition. Also—" with a little glance, purely feminine, at her skirt—"I shall want a new dress!"
"But," suggested Farley, "there is no town, no camp near enough for him to get those things and be back in five days?"
"He is generally gone longer," she admitted as she got back into the canoe and pushed off. "But it doesn't matter what he went for, does it? You'll have to put up with my sole company for the five days."
THE days passed swiftly and pleasantly for them—too pleasantly, Dick Farley told himself with something of bitterness. For what right had he to live from day to day in this quiet haven, lured out of himself, out of his black lonesomeness for his partner with that partner not a week dead?
It was true that his bruised side must have kept him in a forced inactivity, that he must have waited even as he was waiting. But he should have spent day and night with his thoughts of "squaring things for poor old Johnny," not in wandering through the woods with a girl.
He told himself, as he lay unsleeping in the quiet night, that he should go; that he should go now that he could drag himself away from her; that he had no right to stay longer. Yet, where should he go? To pick up the trail which he had followed to the margin of the lake, and to follow it—where?
Would it bring him, after miles of winding, back to the cabin perched upon the table-land? Would be find at the end of that trail James Dalton, her father? Where was Dalton now? Why had he gone away so suddenly? Why had he said to her the other day, the day before Johnny was killed, that at last they could go back into the world which so long ago he had left behind him? Had he killed Johnny Watson? If not he, who then?
If Dalton had killed Watson, then Farley must kill Dalton. There was no other way; there could be no other way. He must kill the father of the girl who had brought him here and cared for him, who had saved him from dying alone and miserable—must kill her "dear old Daddy," whom she loved so much, who had always been so good to her, who was all that she had in the world.
And to stay here made matters worse. To linger on in the home of the man whom, perhaps, he was to kill; to listen to the ingenuous, happy voice of the daughter; to grow to see how wonderful a thing Nature had built of this child of the wildwood; to feel that day by day they were being drawn closer together, that they were crossing a frontier which in a little they could not retrace.
"If her father is the man who did it, have I the right to take her father from her?" he muttered. And again, "Has the man who killed Johnny Watson a right to live?"
So those five days were short days, fleeing so swiftly for man and maid, filled with sunshine and the girl's soft laughter and the vague promise of life. And the nights were long nights for the man; crowded with ugly images, torn with doubts, beset with threats of the future, thronged with questions to which he could find no answer. Now there was nothing to do but to wait.
But there was no waiting, no staying, into the path into which their feet were wandering, Dick Farley's and Virginia Dalton's. It was the old, old story of a man and a maid. And with the first great throb of understanding in the man's heart there came, too, a contraction and a pain, and he tore himself abruptly from the girl's presence and went to stand frowning toward the mountains into which Dalton had gone. And her eyes, following him, were filled with a tender Light which was new to them, her lips parted in a half-smile, her breast rising and falling rapidly. For into her heart, too, had come the throb, but not the pain of the knowledge he had.
It was the sixth day. They had been together so much; had talked of self and of the other so frankly; had been so lost to the world and drawn dose to each other in the solitude of the still mountains; had come to find a new peace and contentment as they were silent together watching the coming of the dawn, the passing of the day, the slow voyages of the moon through clouds and stars; had been so all-sufficient each to each that the short five days seemed like long, bursting years when they looked back upon them. It was only natural that the thing which was happening with them should happen.
Now, upon the morning of the sixth day, the day which was to bring Dalton home, their talk had died down suddenly. Farley had fallen into an abrupt silence, his eyes refusing to come back to hers. And in a little the girl's mood followed his, and with a faint trouble in her eyes she moved about the cabin, as silent as he. The forenoon passed; they lunched, with now and then a fitful burst of conversation which ended wretchedly, forced and unnatural, and the afternoon wore on. It was nearly dusk when James Dalton came home-He was a very big man, tall, heavy, broad of shoulder, and very dark; with sharp black eyes under bushy brows, black hair and beard shot with gray. He came upon them from the lake, walking swiftly, his rifle caught up under his arm. The girl was sitting upon the doorstep, Farley upon a rock a few feet away. Dalton's eyes went quickly from the young man to his daughter, very keen, with a glint of surprise in them.
"Daddy!" the girl cried, running to meet him, throwing her two arms about his neck. "So you have finally got tired of roving and have come back, have you?"
He ran an arm about her, and then, with no reply to her bantering, demanded quietly—
"Who is that?"
Farley was on his feet now, missing nothing that the big man said, no gesture he made.
"My name is Farley," he returned for himself. "A miner. I came into this country' prospecting. Had a bad fall, and your daughter took care of me."
"Prospecting?" Dalton laughed unpleasantly. "Don't you know, young man, that this country, every foot of it, has been gone over and over during the last twenty years, and nothing ever found? Prospecting!" He strode by Farley towards the cabin, muttering, "So they come right under our nose and prospect!"
AS HE went, Farley's eager eyes saw the hunting-knife which swung unscabbarded from his belt—a knife more than usually broad-bladed; and his heart sank. Little as he liked the looks of this man, he had prayed that he prove to be innocent of Johnny Watson's blood. At the door Dalton stopped and swung about, looking steadily, deep into Farley's eyes.
"When did you get here?" he asked shortly. "How long have you been here?"
"I came five days ago—the day you left."
"Where did you come from?"
"From the coast. Then from Three Sisters and the Yellow Queen country, where I've been prospecting."
"What brought you in here? Don't you know that this country has been combed over a hundred times—that there is nothing here?"
"I believed," Farley retorted quietly, "that there was gold in these mountains. Since my fall I have not had a chance to get about. So I haven't learned yet that there isn't."
Virginia Dalton had stepped a little from her father's side, and now stood with troubled face looking from one man to the other. There was an atmosphere of distrust, almost of open hostility, and she could not understand.
Dalton turned slowly from Farley to the girl. As he moved the iron rigidity left his face, the cold glint passed from his eyes. It was wonderful how the man's whole expression softened.
"Come here, Virginia," he said gently. "I want to talk with you a little. Mr. Farley," with grave courtesy, "will pardon us?"
Farley bowed. Dalton, with his arm about his daughter, entered the cabin, closing the door behind them, leaving the younger man alone with his doubts, his suspicions, his fears. Their voices came to him, confused, indistinct. He supposed that the father was asking all about this intruder in their quiet Eden; whence he had come, what she knew of him and his purposes.
Finally the door opened and Dalton stood on the threshold looking steadily out at Farley.
"I trust that you will overlook my rather scant courtesy in greeting a guest, Mr. Farley." The tone was open, frank, pleasant. "I am afraid that living a sort of exile in the wilderness so many years has made me forget the social usages. Will you come in for a pipe? We can talk things over."
"I think," Farley replied, his eyes running past the broad form so nearly filling the doorway to the form of the slender girl standing within the room, "that I have already allowed myself to become a nuisance.
"Miss Dalton has been very kind to me. But for her, I imagine, I should never have come so easily out of my accident. Now I am able to be about again, and I think that I'll take up the thing which brought me here. I have some work to do. But—" the two men's eyes meeting again, each studying the other—"I shall see you again before I leave the valley for good. And"—with slow significance—"I shall tell you all about what brought me here before I go next time."
He lifted his hat to the girl, said a brief word of thanks and of good-by, and limped away toward the lake. And his heart was very bitter as he went, and there was little hope in him.
OUT of the few scanty details which seemed to him to have any bearing upon the thing he sought to know. Dick Farley strove to piece together a chain of evidence which his brain could accept as pointing to the guilt or to the innocence of James Dalton. As he drew slowly away from the cabin and toward the cliffs which fell away to the lake, he arranged in mind these things in a sort of logical order:
1. There must have been some strong motive for the killing of his partner. If Dalton's knife driven by Dalton's powerful hand had caused Johnny Watson's death, what motive could have moved Dalton to the act?
This point he considered a long time. It was possible that these two men had known each other years before; that they had been enemies; that revenge had steeled the murderer's arm. But it did not seem probable.
There was something a great deal more likely.
Could it not be that Dalton, although he denied the presence of gold in the valley, had stumbled upon the same streak which Johnny had found a month ago—the Cup of Gold? That he had discovered Johnny's tracks, had foreseen that he would return with pack-horses, and had killed him rattier than that an outsider should come into his valley and steal "his" gold? But why, then, had he not killed Johnny's partner as well?
2. The crime had been committed with a knife, unusually broad-bladed. Dalton wore such a knife.
3. Something had made Dalton tell his daughter upon the day of the murder that they were going to leave the Devil's Pocket and go back into the world. What was it? Did it have any bearing on the case? If not, it was one of those odd coincidences which occur sometimes, and Farley did not believe very much in coincidences.
4. The man who had committed the crime had stolen the two horses, and had hidden them somewhere in the mountains to the southwest of the valley. Dalton had gone away into these same mountains and had been gone five days. Why had he gone? He had not had time to reach any of the settlements; he had brought back no sugar, no cloth.
5. Dalton had lived many years in a seclusion which was very like hiding. He looked the part of a man who had never had a sick day in his life. He was not here because the doctors had sent him. He was a man of culture, a man who had traveled and seen much of the world. He loved his daughter. Why, then, had he suffered this long exile? Why had he made her endure it?
These matters rose above other considerations in Farley's mind. And in the end he saw no way of arriving at any kind of certainty until he had gone back to pick up the old trail; until he had found the horses, until he had seen if Dalton's tracks led to them and back from them to the cabin.
He stopped for a moment at the top of the cliffs and turned to look back at the cabin. He saw the girl standing there alone, her eyes following him; saw her hand go up swiftly as he turned to wave to her; remembered what she had done for him; saw again the clean heart and budding woman's soul which she had not thought of hiding, had not known how to hide from him. Lifting his hat to her, he hurried down the cliffs and out of sight.
"It would kill her," he muttered. And then, his eyes grown suddenly hard as he tried to shut her out of his mind: "Never mind, Johnny, old pardner. It's all in the cards, and we'll play it out. If be did it, he'll pay for it!"
But when night came to him in the edge of the mountains and he sat brooding over his camp-fire he could not drive her out of his wandering thoughts. He saw justice on one hand, and loyalty to one's partner; and on the other he saw the face of a girt who was going to be happy, or broken upon her first great sorrow—and it would be his act to decide her life for her. He bowed his head in his two hands, caught powerless in the irony of fate.
For a week Dick Farley sought, almost without rest to body and brain, to work out the puzzle which had been set before him. He had gone almost back to where he had buried Johnny Watson before he found the trail of the two stolen horses. This he had followed away from the valley through narrow canons, over rocky passes, for two days.
As he had known from his partner's words, there was tittle water here. He thought more than once that he would be driven back to replenish the bottle he had carried with him. But the man who had driven the horses here had known the country; and following the trail, turning with it north or south of its general course, Farley found enough water in small springs and slender streams to keep the life in him and make his progress possible.
Fortunately the country was filled with small game, the quail, hare, grouse and squirrels having more curiosity than fear, coming close enough for him to kill with his revolvers what he required for food.
He came at last upon the two horses in a small, steep-walled valley set like a cup in the mountains. Here there was much rich, dry grass, and a narrow stream wandering through it. With little trouble he found the pack-saddle where it had been thrown into a clump of manzanitas. Remembering for the first time the map which Johnny had told him was hidden in a saddle-blanket, he found it readily. With a swift, cursory glance at it he put it into his pocket.
"To get the horses where they were left in the main trail," he muttered to himself, "to bring them here, then to go back to the lake would take a man just about five days—the time that Dalton was gone."
It was another point, a further link in the chain; but, like the other Links, it was not strong enough to bear the burden of certainty. He must find other tracks—the tracks the man had made when he left the horses here. He must follow them. If they led straight back over the hills to the lake, he would know. And he had little doubt that he would find them, and that they would carry him once more to the Dalton cabin.
AND now came the slowest, the hardest of his work. To follow the trail left by two horses was comparatively simple. To track a man over these mountains, across hard ground and dry gully, was another matter.
It was certain that the man Dalton, or a possible other, had not gone back over the same trail. It was devious, turning aside for steep canons which a horse could not climb but which a man could, full of many twists and turns. A man on foot would take a shorter way. And until he knew beyond a doubt that that man had been Virginia Dalton's father, he could not tell whether to look upon the eastern edge of the tiny valley for it, upon the western, northern or southern. But believing more and more that the trail would lead toward the east, he looked where he thought to find it.
And in an hour after finding the horses he picked up the other trail—the tracks made by the man who had brought them here. He saw the deep print of a boot-heel in the moist soil along the creek, found another track a few feet farther on, then another—all leading toward the east—toward Devil's Pocket.
A glance at the encircling hills showed him where the tracks must lead, where there was a Utile nature-made pass, leading over their crests which a man might follow; and he pushed ahead in that direction, positive that he would find the tracks there if there were any loose soil to keep them. He saw readily that he must leave the horses where they were for the present.
It took him another hour to climb up to the gap in the hills. The darkness was coming on, but there was light enough for him to see that the same heavy boots which had left their imprint in the soft dirt by the creek had passed here. He had done a long day's work; his side was paining him again, the night was very near. So he built his fire here and made his bed of fir-boughs.
In the first light of the dawn he breakfasted and moved on once more toward Devil's Pocket. Everywhere underfoot was a thick mat of pine-needles, upon which a man's foot would leave no sign. But the natural pass in which he had camped led straight on and into a canyon upon the other side of the little ridge; and where the soil had sifted down from the canyon sides to lie here and there among the rocks strewing the bottom of the ravine was the imprint of the heavy boots again. Only infrequently stopping to assure himself that he was not going wrong, he made what haste he could back toward the lake. And he had gone perhaps five miles before he came upon a discovery which caused him to stop, frowning, wondering.
He was in a small clearing, sandy-floored. The tracks were here, still leading east. But no longer was there the single trail. Here, plainly outlined, were the prints left by two men. They were side by side, alike fresh, a very few days old.
Farley had just come down a long rocky slope into the clearing, and did not know where the second man's path had met the first. There was little use in going back, in trying to find out. He sat down, filled his pipe and tried to make out the meaning of this new complication. Who was this second man? Where had he come from? Where was he going? Had he been with Dalton, or had he been trailing Dalton, or had Dalton been following him?
In the end he could not see that the new tracks made any great difference. If the trail he was following led on to the lake, to Dalton's cabin, the thing was clear enough.
Down the long slope of the mountainside from the clearing, into the rocky bed of the ravine, the only logical way for a man to follow, and out into a miniature valley below, he continued without looking for the tracks which he knew the hard, broken ground would not show had he looked.
It was two miles before he again found the boot-tracks in a bit of soft soil. And here again had one man, only one man, passed. The other, the second, had evidently turned aside across the rock-strewn side of the mountain—had gone on his way, prospecting.
IT WAS very quiet in Dalton's cabin. Were it not for the figures which the flickering firelight found out uncertainly, casting their grotesque wavering shadows upon the floor and wall, one would have said that there was no living thing there.
Dalton sat hunched forward in his chair—his elbows on his knees, his big hands knotted together, his eyes on the coals scattered across the stone hearth. Near the door, standing erect, his eyes upon the still figure, his whole attitude that of a man waiting, was Dick Farley. Now and then he turned his head a little and looked sharply over his shoulder into the darkness outside, is if he feared interruption.
"So," said Dalton after a long silence, no part of his body moving save his lips, his voice without expression. "So you're his pardner. I was afraid so, all along."
"Yes." Farley's answer was as quietly expressionless. "I was his pardner."
Dalton stirred in his chair. Farley's body lost none of its rigid motionlessness, but his hand, the right one, dropped quickly to his hip. Dalton had reached for his pipe, filled it and lighted it with a coal which he picked up in his fingers. Farley's hand remained upon the grip of his revolver.
"I'm sorry, mighty sorry," Dalton went on, without looking up. And then, "Is there anything else you want to say?"
"I guess I've said about all. I came into this country with Johnny—my pardner. We were looking for gold. We were interfering with no man. Johnny is dead, murdered. It wasn't even a fair fight. Who did it? I haven't jumped at conclusions. I probably would if it hadn't been for—" he hesitated a fraction of a second, during which for the first time Dalton glanced up swiftly at him—"for Miss Dalton. I wanted to be sure. I tracked you from one end of the trail to the other, to' the cabin here. I think it's pretty clear. So I came here to accuse you of his murder."
It was the first time he had spoken so dearly. But the two men had understood each other without this putting a name to a deed.
"I don't like that word, Farley," Dalton cut in, his voice as expressionless as before, his form as still. "You call him Johnny? Well, men's names change often enough out in this country for us not to quibble. I suppose he's carried a good many names since I saw him last."
"You knew him? A long time ago?"
"Yes. I hadn't seen him for over fifteen years, until$mdash;"
He didn't finish. Instead, he said after a moment:
"And being his pardner, you are going to try to square things for him; to be judge and jury and hangman; to kill the man who killed him? Well, every man is his own court out here, where we are far beyond the law. And when a man is dead it is up to his pardner. That is the way you feel about it?
"Yes," Dalton laughed mirthlessly. "We are beyond the law here—we are not beyond the reach of justice. Justice—or revenge? It is hard to see one for the other, sometimes! You want to kill me, then?"
"There is no use talking that way, Dalton," Farley frowned. "You have lived here too long; you know too well what is the result of the thing which you have done—you don't deny it?"
"Will it make any difference what I say?"
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"You are going to try to kill me," Dalton continued. "That won't help your dead friend much, but you'll do it just the same. I have no desire to be killed by you or by any other man. But soon there is going to be another dead man here—you or I? And Virginia! I wonder what she is going to do. That complicates matters, but it doesn't in any great degree alter them, does it? She'll be back from the lake pretty soon. We'd better get this o over with, unless you'll listen to a proposition I'm going lo make?"
"What is it?"
"That you let me tell you a story. Then that you give over your thoughts of revenge—or justice—for tonight; and that tomorrow or the next day, as soon as I can get things in shape for the girl so that if I am killed she will have a chance with the world, we go out into the wood? somewhere and—finish it."
"It can wait," Farley replied, "until tomorrow."
Dalton inclined his head gravely.
"Thank you. Now, if you will listen to my story. Won't you sit down?" Farley dropped to the chair at his side. "I bad trouble in Richmond, where our home was. I killed a man. Why, doesn't matter to you. Unfortunately for me, I killed that man in the presence of another who saw the thing done. That other man was your pardner. He hated me as cordially as I hated him. In any court in the world he would have sworn that it was cold-blooded murder, and his word would have hanged me.
"He would have lied when he said it, but he would have sworn it just the same. As it was, I had to run for it. Virginia was a little baby, six months old. Her mother—" his voice growing very hard—"was not strong. She died. I wasn't with her. I was being hounded from one place to the other; and the man who hounded me when the whole thing would have been dropped, the man who was the real murderer of my wife, was the man who made it necessary for me to run before what men call justice. I did go back and get the baby. Then we came here.
"Again and again, as the years rolled around, I got word from the world; each time to hear that what the world had forgotten was not forgotten by the man who was not satisfied in my exile, my loss of all the things which counted. He was still looking for me, he still would stop only when he saw me given over into the hangman's hands. A few days ago I found that he had penetrated into this wilderness. His prospector's outfit did not mislead me. He was looking for me. I was glad of it. I told Virginia that soon we were going back into the world from which we had hidden so many long years. I killed him."
"You murdered him," replied Farley coldly. "If you had given him a chance—"
"How do you know I murdered him? How do you know I didn't give him a chance?"
"The hole in his throat—death came upon him suddenly, unexpectedly. He may have been asleep, even."
"Talking about it doesn't help." Dalton spoke like a man bored with a worn-out topic. "You are going to wait until tomorrow for your—justice? I have some letters I want to write for Virginia to carry with her; I have some instructions to leave her; I have a good deal to do. For, somehow—" he looked up with a strange smile upon the tightened lips—"I imagine that you are going to come out of this alive, and I'm going to come out of it—dead! You'll wait until tomorrow?"
Farley got to his feet. Dalton rose with him.
"You'll sleep here tonight?"
"No. I'll sleep outside—not far away," meaningly.
"Oh, I won't run away," laughed Dalton. "Good night!"
Farley made no answer as he backed to the door and stepped swiftly outside. He closed the door behind him, and strode rapidly away into the darkness. Of no mind to sleep, he built a little fire of dead twigs and pine-cones, and sitting upon a fallen log stared into the flames mooddy.
HE HAD sat there, motionless, for five minutes when something impelled him to look up. Standing a few feet from him, just without the circle of his firelight, was Virginia Dalton. He rose quickly, took a step forward and stopped. He did not at once speak, waiting for her.
"So you have come back?" she said gently. "I have missed you."
"Yes, I have come back."
"And you found what you wanted to find?"
"I found what I was looking for. I don't know that I wanted to find just that," he ended bitterly.
She came slowly toward him until she stood in the firelight, so near that he could have put out his hand and touched her. He saw the brown arms reflecting the wavering fire, the dark braids, the full, round throat, her eyes even, deep and earnest. And something he glimpsed in their quiet depths sent a quick pain to his heart.
"Yes," she answered as if he had spoken. "I heard. I listened outside. I heard every word." She broke off, only her hands clasping each other tightly showing him that the calmness of her still figure was forced over a tumult within. "And so," she barely whispered after a little, "you have come back to kill dear old Daddy!"
He moved back, away from her, back from the quiet misery in her eyes, making no answer. And she came with him, step by step until he had stopped, and put her hand Upon his arm.
"You have come back," she repeated in the same lifeless tone, so different from the glad note which he had so often thrill through her voice, "to kill Daddy. Is that it?"
"You heard," he muttered heavily.
"Yes. He killed your pardner." She shivered and the hand upon his arm grew very tense. "So you want to kill him. Will that do any good? It will make me very miserable. It will take my father away from me—all I have. And will it do your pardner any good?"
"Why did you come?" he cried out fiercely. "You don't understand."
"Don't I understand?" She smiled at him—a wistful, wan little smile which hurt him more than if she had cried out aloud. "I understand this much: that in all the world I have but Daddy, and that he has been always so good to me, and that you want to take him away from me!
"I understand that you want to kill him because he killed your pardner, and that it won't do any good for you to kill him; it won't bring your pardner back to life, it won't make him rest any easier. I understand that these things are not for men to do, but for God. God sees better than we can see, and clearer and deeper down into our hearts. And He would not do what you are going to do. He would not take my Daddy away from me."
When he made no answer, finding no answer to make, she stood silent a little, letting her head sink forward despairingly. And then, again lifting her eyes to his, her lips, her chin quivering as she strove to make her faltering voice firm:
"Don't you sec that you will make it seem almost as if I had killed him, myself? For if I had not brought you to the cabin you would never have found it, maybe. If I had not thought you were a friend and brought you there, maybe you would not have lived! Don't you see?
"Don't you see?" Again, groaning aloud he had drawn back from her, and she had come to his side once more, had again lain her hand softly upon his arm. "And don't you see something else? We were growing to be such friends, you and I, Dick Farley, Didn't I read right the things which you did not say that day you went away, the things which were in your heart? Didn't you see the things in my heart, too? Didn't you see?"
He felt her hand tremble pitifully, saw the anguish written upon her young fate.
"We were going to be good friends—oh, such good friends! And now"—with a dry sob as she put her face in her two bands and shook from head to foot with the storm in her bosom—"and now you want to end it all, and to kill him!"
For a blind moment he fought hard with the thing which she had thought was friendship. And then, seeing her swaying there, seeing her mute misery, he put out his arms and drew her close to him.
"Friends!" he cried, his voice harsh in her ears, like the voice of a man in anger. "Friends! Can't you see that I love you—love you as a man can not love his friends—as he can love only the one woman in all the world!"
She lifted her face quickly to his, and through the tears glistening upon her cheeks he could see a new look, a look of gladness and of hope.
"Oh!" she whispered, drawing closer in the embrace of his arms. "I am glad! And you won't hurt him now; you can't."
For a Little he held her to him, tightly pressed, as if defying the world to take her away from him. And then slowly his arms loosened and dropped to his side. For again he had seen Johnny Watson's face staring up at him through the faint light of the dawn; again he realized that because she was Dalton's daughter. Dalton was none the less his partner's murderer.
"What is it?" she asked softly. "Isn't it all right now?"
"It is all wrong, Virginia, dear," he said bitterly. "And this only makes it more and more wrong. Don't ask me anything more. Only go back to jour father and let me think things over. I—" his voice was hard and steady—"I don't know what is going to happen. I don't think that I am going to kill him. Will you kiss me good night, dear?"
He watched her as she went slowly through the night, watched her as for a moment she stood in the dim rectangle of light made by the open door, and then had only the darkness and the shooting flames of his camp-fire about him.
"Johnny!" he muttered when at last there was but a dead pile of ashes where his tire had been. "If I don't kill him—if he kills me instead—it will be all right, won't it, Johnny?"
THE day had come, and Dick Farley was firm and calm in his determination. But the thing which the day was to bring need not come yet. There was no call for haste, while there was an urge deep down in his soul to spend this day alone. He turned his back upon the cabin and went, walking rapidly, down to the quiet shore of the lake.
Until now he had scarcely more than glanced at Johnny Watson's map. The Cup of Gold had seemed the small thing which gold is always when come the great, vital issues of life. But now it was different; now he could see a reason in going on over Johnny's trail, in finding the hillside that was "rotten with gold." This was something which must be done before he looked into Dalton's eyes again—for the last time.
A long, curving line along one side of the brown cigarette paper was marked in painfully small letters, "East Shore." A dotted line marked "Trail" ran along this. "High Cliffs" indicated the spot where Farley had attempted to climb up to the plateau, where he had fallen. The dotted line ran on by this, close to the lake shore, and was marked "2 mile." Then there was a little triangle with the words "Big White Rock." If ere the dotted line swerved at right angles—to the east—"200 paces." Here was the word, "Canyon." That was all upon one side of the paper. Upon the other, written lightly was:
"Enter mouth canyon. Go straight about five hundred yards. Climb dead pine-tree leaning against east bank. Straight up to top of ridge. Follow ledge to cliff. Look along bottom of cliff." And that was all.
Farley put the paper again in his pocket and turned north along the lake shore. He had perhaps two miles and a half, maybe three miles, to go, and be was growing anxious to see this mine which his partner had discovered.
It was a simple matter to follow the trail, a natural path at the lake's edge, kept open by the deer and other woodland animals that came down to drink or browse upon the long grass here. And before he had covered more than half of the two miles he saw the "big white rock" which Johnny had marked for him, close to the water, rising straight up from the level floor of the valley.
Here, with a glance at his map to make sure that he was right, he turned eastward, counting his steps. He had stepped off one hundred and twenty-five when he stopped, frowning. For nowhere were the mountains far from the lake, and already he had entered a canyon. And Johnny's map had said two hundred paces.
"Johnny wouldn't make a mistake like that," he told lumself.
And, again counting, he moved on and into the canyon until he had counted another seventy-five paces. Then he understood.
Here, cut into the wall of this canyon, was a second, a narrower, steeper-walled ravine, evidently the one Johnny had had in mind when he said, "Enter mouth of canyon." The general trend of this one was north and south. He pushed on into it, estimating roughly the five hundred yards.
And then, with a little quickening of the pulses, he saw the dead pine-tree. It had fallen, and now, with its roots half torn out of the rocky soil, lay sprawled against the eastern bank of the canyon at an angle of about forty-five degrees. The banks here were so steep, rising fifty feet above him, that a man would have had a hard time climbing them. But the fallen tree was at once a pointer to the Cup of Gold and a ladder to reach it.
Up on the top of the bank he found the ridge, and working his way slowly along that he came to the long line of cliffs which standing above made the side of the mountain look like a giant's stairway. And now, his heart beating with the exertion of the struggle upward and with the eagerness of quickened anticipation which comes to the miner at a time like this, no matter what face the day wears, he stopped and let his eyes rove along the bottom of the cliff.
And in a moment he saw what he looked for, and hurried forward. There were the marks of a pick in the crumbling bank, and there—
"Poor Johnny!" he muttered. "Poor old Johnny! To feel his pick sink into this, to have it in his hands—and never to really work the greatest mine this country ever saw!"
For here, showing so that a novice must have seen and known and understood the glittering promise of it, was a great vein of gold laid hare against the bottom of the cliff-side, where last year's snows had set the rocks free above; where the side of the cliff had fallen outward disclosing the thing which the mountains had hidden so well and so long.
It was as rich as any pocket the miner had ever seen—richer. And it was not a pocket at all, but a wide, deep vein which ran back into the mountainside; which would make not one man, but hundreds of men, rich, would give them riotous days and wild nights, would bring to the realization of dreams long dreamed. And Johnny Watson, the man who had found Uus, who had turned back with but a handful of the precious stuff that he might bring his partner with him, was dead and would never take out a nugget.
"All in the cards, Johnny," he mused bitterly. "And the cards are running wrong for you and me."
He sat upon a boulder, his eyes brooding over the yellow promise, his heart heavy with the love for a lost partner and the newer love for a woman who was to be lost as soon as he had found her. The shadows drew back from him, the sun found him out; and still he sat staring at the thing which promised and mocked.
At last, with the short laugh of a tired man, he got to his feet, stood for a little looking at the smooth cuts a pick had made in the rocky bank, and then, with no further spoken word, with no look behind him, moved slowly away and went back along the ridge, down the pine-tree and to the lakeside.
There he sat down upon the big white rock, and with the stub of a lead-pencil wrote a letter upon the bit of oiled paper in which his pipe tobacco was wrapped.
If I am never to see you again—and who knows how a day like this is going to end?—this is to say good-by for me. I think that you knew how much I love you before I told you last night. So I do not need to tell you again. I didn't think that love came this way, so swiftly. I am glad, more glad than you can ever understand, that it has come. You will go back to the world. I want you to be very happy. I am enclosing a little present, a farewell gift. I want it to help make you happy, dear. Good-by.
AND, folding the paper, he put into it Johnny Watson's map. Then he went back along the lakeside and to the cliffs below the cabin, to wait for James Dalton.
He thought that it must be about ten o clock when at last Dalton came, walking swiftly from the cabin. Farley got to his feet and waited. Neither man spoke until Dalton came within a dozen paces of him and stopped. Then Farley said quietly—"Ready?"
The man's face showed no emotion, there was none in his steady voice.
"Your revolver is of a smaller caliber than mine," Farley went on in a slow, matter-of-fact tone. "You can have one of my forty-fives, if you want it."
Dalton looked at him curiously.
"Thanks. I don't want it." And then after a short silence in which the two men eyed each other steadily: "There is no other way?"
"No. There can be no other way. I kill you or—you kill me."
"Then." Dalton answered, as if he had expected this, "if I don't come through it you will find a couple of letters in my picket. Give them to Virginia."
"I have written a note, too," Farley said by way of reply. "It is for her."
With slow, steady fingers he drew a revolver from his holster. For the instant he lost sight of the man in front of him as his eyes went upward along the cliffs and his thoughts ran ahead of them to the cabin and the girl there. The world was unnaturally silent, the pines about them like carvings in jade, without a tremor, the sunlight falling softly about them. The moment was strangely lacking the thrill of excited nerves he had anticipated.
That he and this man were standing so close together, that each held a revolver in his hand, that death was very near, and the world and life and love drawing very far awav, did not impress him as he would have said that such a thing would impress him. The whole thing was too big, meant too much, for him to grasp it.
"Virginia may come," Dalton's deep-toned voice startled him. "We had better—hurry."
"Yes," he answered. "We had better hurry."
So they stood facing each other, a gun in each right hand, the muzzles downward. There was not twenty feet between them.
"We shoot together?" Dalton was asking him.
"Yes. And the signal?"
"Count three. That will do as well as any way. Will you count?"
Farley nodded. And his voice, quiet, low, steady, with regular pauses between the words, said:
The two shots rang out together, like one. And the two men, their faces gone white and tense drawn, stood looking at each other through the slowly lifting smoke. For as he fired, Farley had thrown the muzzle of his gun downward so that the ball plowed through the sand at the feet of Virginia Dalton's father, and Dalton's bullet had winged its way high overhead, seeking the far shore of the lake.
"— you!" cried Farley shrilly, a red flood of blood in his face as he understood. "Why did you do that? Do you want to be killed, man?"
The man who could have killed him had spared him, the man who had murdered Johnny Watson had stood up courting death and had made no attempt to save himself. And the knowledge only maddened the man who had chosen to die himself at the hand of the man he could not kill—no, not even to "square things" for a dead partner.
"I have killed two men in fair fight in my life," Dalton told him sternly, his own face flushed hotly. "I am not going to kill a third. And I do not choose to be made to look like a fool French dude in a polite duel! Are you going to kill me?"
Farley laughed evilly.
"In fair fight!" he mocked. "To cut the throat out of a man before he had seen you, to sneak up on him in the dark—and you call that fair fight!"
"I gave him his chance! And he took it—not being a fool!"
"A chance!" scoffed Farley, the rising anger within him making him for the second forget that this was her father, his gun raised. "To drive your knife through a man's throat—to come at him in the dark—"
"I used no knife, and I came upon him in broad daylight. And I shot the throat out of him, after I got this!"
He threw back his shirt collar and showed a raw wound at the base of his neck. And Dick Farley, suddenly seeing the light of a great hope, dropped his revolver into the sand as he clutched Dalton's arm.
"Don't lie to me," he said in a harsh whisper. For he had remembered those other tracks he had found, and his whole body was shaking with what it might mean to him. "Where did you find him?"
Dalton looked at him curiously, as if upon a madman.
"Over yonder." His arm swung about until his outstretched forefinger pointed toward the west—not the south. "Where he had left two horses in a little hollow. I followed him back—"
"Was he a little man, and stocky?" Farley was crying hoarsely. "Blue-eyed, a little blond mustache?"
"He was a man six feet in his stockings," Dalton retorted, staring. "Black-haired and blacker-hearted. If he was your pardner—"
"He wasn't my pardner. Don't you see, man?" It came with sudden conviction, with a great gasp of relieved nerves. "You—you came upon the man who killed Johnny! You killed Johnny Watson's murderer!"
And as Dalton stared after him, like a man stunned, Dick Farley was running across the sandy beach and toward the cliffs. For he had seen the slender figure of a girl coming slowly through the trees, and he had a wonderful message of life and hope and love for her.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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