"What's wanted on the canon road?"
"Wal, it wants widenin', an' it wants bracin' up here 'n there, 'n there's a power of big stuns to be weeded out. A reel purty job it's goin' to be, too, in there by the runnin' water, among the fars 'n the birds 'n the squirrels."
"I suppose you could hardly have managed that all by yourself?"
"Oh, yes! It's an easy job."
"And you think you could have done it with just your two hands and a shovel and a crowbar?"
"Wal, yes,—'n a pinch o' powder now and then, 'n somethin' to drill a hole with,—an' a little nat'ral gumption."
Wakefield liked the sound of it all uncommonly well. For a man who had come to a rough place in his own road,—a jumping-off place he had once thought it might prove to be,—would it not be rather a pleasant thing, to smooth off a road for the general public? It would be a stroke in the game, at least, and that was his main concern just now. Such a good, downright, genuine sort of work too! He had an idea that if he could once get his grip on a crowbar, and feel a big rock come off its bottom at his instigation, he should have a stirring of self-respect. After all, of all that he had lost, that was perhaps the most important thing to get back.
Just as he had arrived at this sensible conclusion his companion came to a halt.
"Here's my shanty; where's yours?" he asked.
"Haven't got any!"
"I'd ask you in if we wasn't packin' up to go."
"Does your wife go with you?"
"Say," Wakefield queried, as the man turned in at the gate. "How did you go to work to get that job up in the canon?"
"Went to 'Bijah Lang, the street-commissioner."
"You haven't got any friend who would like you to pass the job over to him?"
"Think I could do it?"
"Wal, yes,—if you've got the gumption! Your arms and legs 'pear to be all right! Ever see any work of the kind?"
"Yes; I used to watch them on the road up Bear Mountain, at Lame Gulch."
"Know how to drill a hole in a rock?"
"Learned that when I was a boy."
"Know the difference between joint powder and the black stuff?"
"Yes; though I never handled giant powder myself."
"Wal, don't be too free with it, that's all. And, say!" he called, as Wakefield in his turn made as if to go. "Look's like as though you'd got somethin' up to Lame Gulch. Wal, you hold on to it, that's all!"
"You believe in Lame Gulch, then?"
"Lame Gulch is all right. It's chockfull of stuff, now I tell ye! Only folks thought they was goin' to fish it out with a rod 'n line."
"Then you really think there 's something in it?"
"Somethin' in it? I tell ye, it's chockfull o' stuff! Only folks have got it into their heads that the one thing in this world they kin git without workin' for it, is gold! If that was so, what would it be wuth? Less than pig-iron! I tell ye, there ain't nothin' in this world that's to be got without workin' for it, 'n the more work it takes, the more it's wuth! 'N the reason gold's wuth more 'n most things, is because it takes more work 'n most things; more diggin' 'n more calc'latin'. Why!" he went on, waxing more and more emphatic. "Ef diggin' gold wa' n't no harder 'n mendin' roads, 't wouldn't pay any better,—now I tell ye!"
"Perhaps you're right," Wakefield admitted, "but that's not what we're brought up to think."
"That's what my boys was brought up to think, 'n they're actin' accordin'."
"Have you got some boys up at Lame Gulch?"
"Yes, four on 'em. 'N I've got a claim up there too, 'n they're workin' it."
"Why don't you go up and work your claim yourself?" asked Wakefield.
A humorous twinkle came into the man's eyes.
"Wal, now I tell ye!" and his voice dropped to a confidential level. "Railroadin' pays better, so far!"
"Do your boys get a living out of the mine?"
"Not yet, not yet. But they're skilled miners. 'N when they git hard up, a couple on 'em put in a month's work for some skalliwag 'company' or other, 'n so they keep agoin'. The three married ones ain't up there at all."
"So you've got seven sons?"
"Yes; seven boys, all told. We lost a girl," he added, with an indefinable change in his voice. "Her name was Loretty."
With that, Loretty's father passed up the path and disappeared within the house.
"Nice old chap," Wakefield thought, as he walked on, past the little houses with the presumable mortgages on them. "Nice of him to go on caring for Loretty after he had lost her."
He wondered whether, after all, he had better make such a point of forgetting about Dorothy! Up there on the red hilltop, hobnobbing with the yellow cactus, he had resolved never to think of her again; but down here among human habitations, fresh from the good human intercourse of the last ten minutes, he did not feel so sure about it. He thought that, on the whole, it might be as well to decide that question later. Meanwhile, here was the street-commissioner's door, and here was a decision that must be come to on the spot.
Harry Wakefield always looked back upon the day when he first pried a big rock off its base, as a turning-point in his career; a move that put the game in his own hands. The sensation was different from what he had anticipated. He had fancied that he was about to engage in a single-handed struggle, but no sooner had his grip closed upon the crowbar, no sooner had he felt the mass of rock yield to its pressure, than he found that he was not working single-handed. On the contrary, he had the feeling of having got right down among the forces of nature and of finding them ranged on his side. It was gravitation that gave the rock its weight, but, look there! how some other law, which he did not know the name of, dwelt in the resisting strength of the iron, worked in the action of his muscles. His legs trembled, as he braced himself to the effort; the veins of his neck throbbed hard; but the muscles of his arms and chest held firm as the crowbar they guided, and slowly, reluctantly, sullenly, the rock went over on its side. He dropped the crowbar from his stiffening grasp and drew himself up, flinging his shoulders back and panting deep and strong.
It was between six and seven o'clock in the morning, a radiant June morning, which seemed alive with pleasant things. As he stood with his head thrown back, taking a good draught of the delicious mountain air, a bluebird shot, like a bit of the sky, in and out among the solemn pines and delicate aspens. He looked down on the tangle of blossoming vines and bushes that latticed the borders of the brook, which came dashing down from the canon, still rioting on its way. The water would soon have another cause for clamor, in the big stone that had so long cumbered the road. He should presently have the fun of rolling it over the bank and seeing it settle with a splash in the bed of the stream where it belonged by rights. After that there was a fallen tree to be tackled, a couple of rods farther on, and then he should take a rest with his shovel and fill in some holes near by.
He had found a deserted lean-to, half way up the canon, where he had arranged to camp while the work went on. As he thought of Chittenden and Allery Jones and the rest, cooped up there in the town, still anxiously watching the fluctuations of the stock-market, he was filled with compassion for them, and he determined to have them out now and then and give them a camp stew.
Of course the exultation of that first hour's work did not last. Before the day was out, Wakefield had found out what he was "in for." An aching back and blistered hands were providing him with sensations of a less exhilarating order than those of the early morning. At one time, soon after his "nooning" as he liked to call it, the sun blazed so fiercely that he had ignominiously fled before it and taken refuge for an hour or more among the trees. That was the episode which he least liked to remember. He did not quite see why mending a road in the sun should be so much more dangerous than playing polo at high noon, but, somehow, it hurt more; and he recollected that his late father, who was a physician, had once told him that pain was Nature's warning. Having, then, entered into a close alliance with Nature, he thought it well to take her hints.
Before many days his apprenticeship was over and he was working like a born day-laborer. After the first week he was well rid of aches and pains; the muscles of his back were strengthened, the palms of his hands were hardened, his skull, he thought to himself, must have thickened. In all things, too, he was tuned to a lower key. But if the exhilaration of that first morning was gone, it had only given place to something better; namely, a solid sense of satisfaction. He knew it was all an episode, this form of work at least; he knew that when his "job" was done he should go back into the world and take up the life he had once made a failure of; but he knew also that he should not fail again. A sense of power had come into him; he had made friends with work for its own sake. He believed that his brain was as good as his muscles, that it would respond as readily to the demands he should put upon it. And he had learned to be strenuous with himself.
Wakefield was in correspondence with a friend in San Francisco who wanted him to come out there and practise law. He decided, rather suddenly, to do so, coming to his decision the day after he was told that Dorothy Ray was engaged to be married.
It was Dick Dayton who brought him the news. As he listened, he felt something as he did that first day in the canon when the sun got too strong for him. He thought, after Dayton left him, that he should have given up the game then and there, if it had not been for some blasting he was to do in the morning. The holes were all drilled, and it would be a day's job to clear away the pieces and straighten things out at that point. He should hate to have another man go on with the job. They might cut him out with Dorothy,—that was sure to come, sooner or later,—but, by the Great Horn Spoon! they should not get his job away from him!
It was not until he had turned in for the night that it occurred to him that he had not asked whom Dorothy was engaged to. What did he care, any way? he said to himself. He had gambled away his chances long ago. Yet, Good Heavens, how dear she was! As he lay on the ground, outside the little lean-to, staring up at the stars that glittered in the thin air with what is called, at lower altitudes, a frosty brilliance, he seemed to see her before him more plainly than he had ever done in the old days when they had stood face to face. He had been too self-absorbed, too blinded and bewildered with the urgency of his own case, to see her as she really was. He remembered now,—something that he had never thought about before,—the little toss of her hair, up from her forehead, which was different from the way other girls wore their hair. It made a little billow there, that was like her free spirit. Yes, she had always had a free spirit. Perhaps it was the claim of ownership he had made, which had repelled her so strongly. As well set up a claim of ownership over those stars up there!
He tried to hope that the other fellow was man enough to deserve her; but that was beyond his magnanimity. The only way to bear it, for the present at least, was to leave the "other fellow" out of the question. He was glad he did not know his name. And all night long, as he watched the stars, their slow, imperceptible progress marked only by the intervening tree-twigs, Dorothy's face was fairly visible to him, her voice came to him distinct as an echo; her sweet, free nature unfolded itself to his awakened consciousness.
Since then he had worked as if his life had depended upon it, and now, after those ten days of fierce labor, his "job" was almost done. He had worked his way well up into the canon, quite to the end of the distance contracted for. A few days more would complete the job. He thought, with a pang of regret, that his lines would never again fall in such glorious places. He knew the canon by heart; he had seen it in every phase of its summer beauty, by day and by night, in sunshine and in storm, and now the autumn had come and the sensitive green of the aspens had turned to yellow. They gleamed along the brook-side; they showed like an outcrop of gold on the wall of rock over there, and in among the blue-green pines; their yellow leaves strewed the ground on which he stood. It was eight o'clock in the morning, and he was about to do his last blasting. There was nobody up the canon, and nobody was likely to come from below for an hour yet. The big boulder was not to thrust itself into the road any more; another minute, and all that protruding side of it would be blown off and there would be room for two teams to pass each other. Hark! Was not that a horse's hoofs down below? He was already in the act of "touching her off," holding the lighted match in the hollow of his two hands. As he turned his head to listen, the fuse ignited with a sharp spit! scorching and blackening the palms of his hands, and causing him to jump as violently as he used to do before his nerves were trained to the business. Somewhat disgusted with his want of nerve, he picked up his tools in a particularly leisurely manner, and deposited them at a safe distance from the coming crash. Then, to make up for this bit of bravado, he ran swiftly down the road,—"walluped" he said to himself, thinking of Loretty's father,—and when he espied the horse, he shouted and waved his arms in warning.
The horse stopped, and Wakefield slackened his pace. The moment he had done so he recognized the rider. He was not conscious of any surprise at seeing Dorothy Ray riding, all by herself, up the canon. He did not pause to question as to how she got there, to wonder what she would think of him, turned day-laborer. He felt nothing but an absolute content and satisfaction in having her there before him; it seemed so natural and so right that he did not see how it could have been otherwise! He strode down the road to where she stood, and as she dropped the bridle and held out both hands to him, he flung his old hat away and clasped them in his powder-blackened palms.
"O Harry!" she cried with a joyful ring in her voice; "I never was so glad to see anybody in my life!"
He did not say one word, but as he stood there, bareheaded, there was a look in his face that gave her pause. Had she been too forward? Was he so changed? She drew her hands away, and taking up the bridle, looked uncertainly from side to side.
"Aren't we friends any more, Harry? Aren't you glad to see me?" she asked. Her voice was unsteady like her look. He had never seen her like this.
"Glad to see you, Dorothy?" he cried. "You seem like an angel straight from Heaven, only a hundred thousand million times better!"
A sudden explosion boomed out, putting a period to this emphatic declaration. Wakefield seized the rein of the startled horse, that sprang shivering to one side; but Dorothy only said, quite composedly: "I suppose you were blasting up there. Will there be another?"
"No; but how did you know it was I?"
"Why, I knew all about it, of course. Fanny told me, and Mrs. Dick Dayton wrote home, and,—well, I knew about it a great deal better than anybody else!"
"And you knew I was up here?"
"Of course I did! Why, else, should I have come up at daybreak?"
"But, Dorothy," Wakefield persisted, determined to make a clean breast of it at the outset. "Did you know I had made a fizzle of everything out here?"
"I knew you had lost your money," she replied, with an air of misprizing such sordid considerations. "And Fanny told me you were going to California, and,—I just thought I would come out with the Dennimans!" she added irrelevantly.
He was walking beside her horse up the broad clean road he had once taken such pride in;—ages ago he thought it must have been. On either hand, the solemn cliffs, familiars of the past three months, stood decked with gleaming bits of color; the brook went careering in their shadow, calling and crooning its little tale. What was that over yonder under the big pine-tree? Only a pair of bright eyes, that twinkled curiously, then vanished in a whisking bit of fur! On a sudden he had become estranged and disassociated from these intimate surroundings, these sights and sounds which had so long been his companions. What had they to do with Dorothy!
She was telling him of her journey out and of the friends she was travelling with. She would have given him the home news, but, "Don't talk about anybody but yourself, Dorothy," he said. "That's all that I care about!"
At last they stood fronting the big boulder, whose side had been blasted off. Dorothy looked at the fragments of stone strewing the road, and at the massive granite surface, now withdrawn among the pine-trees. One huge branch, broken by a flying rock, hung down across its face. The whole scene told of the play of tremendous forces, and Wakefield's was the hand that had controlled and directed them. Obedient to long habit, he stooped, and lifting a good-sized fragment, sent it crashing down the bank into the brook.
"How strong you are, Harry!" she said.
There was something in the way she said it, that made him feel that he must break the spell, then and there, or he should be playing the mischief with his own peace of mind. Yet he was conscious of a strange absence of conviction, as he asked abruptly: "Dorothy, whom are you going to marry?"
So he had heard that foolish gossip, and that was why there was that look in his face!
She was too generous to think of herself, too sure, indeed, of him and of herself, to weigh her words. With the little, half-defiant toss of the head he knew so well, yet gathering up the reins as if for instant flight, she said:
"I should think that was for you to say, Harry!"
THE BLIZZARD PICNIC.
"Ah, there, Mr. Burns! Glad to see you! This is what we call real Colorado weather!"
The speaker, a mercurial youth of two and twenty, was one of a group of young people assembled, some on horseback, some in yellow buckboards, in front of a stately Springtown mansion.
"Nothing conceited about us!" a girlish voice retorted. "I am sure you understand by this time, Mr. Burns, that Colorado is a synonym for perfection."
The new-comer laughed appreciatively as he drew rein close beside the girl, who sat her part-thoroughbred with the ease and grace of lifelong habit.
"I had learned my lesson pretty well before I came out, thanks to you," the young man answered, in a tone that was a trifle over-significant.
The girl flushed, whether from pleasure or annoyance, it was impossible for the looker-on to decide. The looker-on—and his name, as usual, was legion,—had found no lack of occupation since the arrival on the field, some two weeks previous, of the Rev. Stephen Burns. Although the young minister was staying at the hotel, like any other chance tourist, there could be no question as to the object of his visit, for he passed most of his waking hours, either under Dr. Lovejoy's roof, or in the society of the doctor's daughter. The fact that Amy Lovejoy tolerated such assiduous attendance boded ill for Springtown, yet so cheerful is the atmosphere of the sunny-hearted little community, that foregone conclusions of an unwelcome character carry but scant conviction to its mind. Springtown could not spare Amy Lovejoy, therefore Springtown would not be called upon to do so.
By this time the group was twenty strong, a truly gala assemblage, which might have blocked the way on a less generous thoroughfare. On the broad expanse of Western Avenue, however, no picnic party, however numerous, was likely to interfere with traffic.
They were all young people, the chaperone of the occasion, a bride of twenty, looking, as she was, one of the very youngest. The brilliant February day gleamed like a jewel upon the proud and grateful earth. The sky was one glorious arch of tingling blue, beneath which the snowy peaks shone with a joyful glitter. The air had the keen, dry sparkle that is sometimes compared to champagne, greatly to the advantage of that pleasant beverage. In short, it was a real Colorado day, and these young people were off on a real Colorado picnic. How exceptionally characteristic the occasion might prove to be, no one suspected, simply because no one payed sufficient heed to a shred of gray vapor that hovered on the brow of the Peak. Amy Lovejoy, to be sure, remarked that there would be wind before night, and another old resident driving by, waved his hat toward the Peak, and cried, "Look out for hurricanes!" But no one was the wiser for that.
The last packages of good things, the last overcoat and extra wrap, were stowed away under the seats of the yellow buckboards; the mercurial youth, Jack Hersey by name, had cried, for the last time, "Are we ready,—say, are we ready?" Elliot Chittenden's restive bronco, known as "my nag," had cut its last impatient caper; and off they started, a gay holiday throng, passing down the Avenue to the tune of jingling harness and chattering voices and ringing hoofs. From a south porch on the one hand, and a swinging gate on the other, friends called a cheery greeting; elderly people jogging past in slow buggies, met the pleasure-seekers with a benignant smile; foot-passengers turned and waved their wide sombreros, and over yonder the Peak beamed upon them, with never a hint of warning; for the gray vapor hovering there was far too slight a film to cast a shadow upon that broad and radiant front.
"It makes one think of the new Jerusalem, and the walls of Walhalla, and every sort of brilliant vision," Stephen Burns remarked, as his horse and Amy's cantered side by side, a little apart from the others.
"Yes," said Amy, looking absently before her; "I suppose it does." And she wondered, as she had done more than once in the past two weeks, why she could not enter more responsively into the spirit of his conversation. She knew, and she would once have considered it a fact of the first importance, that to Stephen Burns the New Jerusalem was not more sacred than the abode of the ancient gods,—or, to be more accurate, Walhalla was not less beautiful and real than the sacred city of the Hebrews. Each had its own significance and value in his estimation, as a dream, an aspiration of the human mind.
It was what seemed to Amy Lovejoy the originality and daring of the young minister's views of things high and low, which had at first fascinated the girl. She had never before met with just that type of thinker,—indeed she had never before associated on equal terms with any thinker of any type whatever!—and it was perhaps no wonder that she had been inclined to identify the priest with his gospel, that she had been ready to accept both with equal trust. In fact, nothing but her father's cautious reluctance had deterred her from pledging herself, four months ago, to this grave-eyed cavalier, riding now so confidently by her side.
She was her father's only child, and since the death of her mother, some ten years previous to this, she had been called upon to fill the important position of "apple of the eye" to a secretly adoring, if somewhat sarcastic parent.
"Your parson may be all very well," the doctor had written, "but if he is worth having he will keep! He must have the advantage of extreme youth, to be taken with a callow chick like yourself, but that shall not injure him in my eyes. Tell him to wait a while, and then come and show himself. Two heads are better than one in most of the exigencies of life, and when he comes, you and I can make up our minds about him at our leisure."
The girl's mind had reverted, a propos of nothing, to that concluding sentence of her father's letter, which she had read at the time with an indulgent but incredulous smile. Presently she became aware that her companion was speaking again.
"It is all one," he was saying. "What we see and what we imagine; what we aspire to, and what has been the aspiration of other men in other ages. And how good it all is!"
This he added with a certain turn and gesture which made the words intensely personal. Why did they repel her so strongly, she wondered, and wondering, she failed to answer. Involuntarily she had slackened her horse's pace, and fallen in line with the others, and when Jack Hersey rode up at that moment, she gave him a look of welcome which had the effect of making him more mercurial than ever for the rest of the day.
"I say, Amy," he cried; "isn't this a dandy day?" and Amy felt herself on good, homely, familiar ground, and she answered him with a heart grown suddenly light as his own.
Stephen Burns, meanwhile, rode on beside her, with no very distinct misgiving in his mind. He had, to be sure, been somewhat daunted once or twice before, by a curious, intermittent asperity in her, which he could not quite account for. Yet why should he expect to account for every changing mood in this uniquely charming being? Had he not perceived from the beginning that she was not fashioned quite after the usual pattern?
They had met, the previous autumn, in the quaint old New England town where his people lived. She had come like a bit of the young West into the staid, old-fashioned setting of the place, and he had rejoiced in every trait that distinguished her from the conventional young lady of his acquaintance. To-day, as they rode side by side toward the broad-bosomed mountain to the southward, he told himself once more that her nature was like this Colorado atmosphere, in its absolute clearness and crispness. Such an air,—bracing, stinging, as it sometimes was,—could never turn really harsh and easterly; neither, perhaps, could it ever take on the soft languor of the summer sea. And Amy Lovejoy's nature would always have the finer, more individual quality of the high, pure altitude in which she had been reared. Possibly Stephen Burns had yet something to learn about that agreeable climate with which he was so ready to compare his love. The weather had been perfect since he came to Colorado. How could he suspect the meaning of a tiny wisp of vapor too slight to cast a visible shadow?
And Amy chatted gaily on with Jack Hersey, as they cantered southward, while Stephen Burns, riding beside them, told himself with needless reiteration, that he was well content. One reason for content he certainly had at that moment, for he was a good horseman, as an accomplished gentleman is bound to be, and he was never quite insensible to the exhilaration of that delicious, rhythmic motion.
They had passed through a gate which signified that the rolling acres of prairie on either hand, the winding road that lost itself in the distance, the pine-clad slope to the right, were all but a part of a great ranch. Herds of cattle were doubtless pastured within that enclosure, though nowhere visible to the holiday party riding and driving over their domain. Hundreds of prairie-dog holes dotted the vast field on either hand, and here and there one of the odd little fraternity scampered like a ball of gray cotton across the field, or sat erect beside his hole, barking shrilly, before vanishing, with a whisk of the tail, from sight. Stephen took so kindly to the little show, and made such commonplace exclamations of pleasure, that Amy felt a sudden relieved compunction and smiled upon him very graciously.
"They are not a bit like what I expected," he said; "but they are such self-important, conceited little chaps that you can't help having a fellow-feeling with them!"
"Hullo! There's a give-away!" Jack Hersey shouted; and he turned and repeated the remark for the benefit of a buckboard in the rear. Amy thought Jack very stupid and silly, and in her own heart, she promptly ranged herself on the side of her young minister. There was nothing subtle or elusive about her changes of mood, and Stephen profited by each relenting. For a few blissful moments, accordingly, he now basked in the full consciousness of her favor.
They continued for half an hour on the ranch road, rising and dipping from point to point, yet mounting always higher above the great plain below. There the prairie stretched away, a hundred miles to the East and South, with never a lake nor a forest to catch the light, with not a cloud in the sky to cast a shadow. Yet over the broad, undulating expanse were lines and patches of varying color, changing and wavering from moment to moment, like mystic currents and eddies upon a heaving, tide-swept sea. Amy watched her companion furtively, ready to take umbrage at any lack of proper appreciation on his part; for this was what she liked best in all Colorado, this vast, mysterious prairie sea. Yet when she saw by Stephen's face that the spell had touched him too, when she noted the rapt gaze he sent forth, as he left his horse to choose his own way, she felt annoyed, unreasoningly, perversely annoyed. Somehow his look was too rapt, he was taking it too solemnly, he was too much in earnest! She had a longing to touch up her horse and gallop off to some spot where she might be unmolested, where she might think her own thoughts and receive her own impressions without seeing them accentuated, exaggerated in another person. There had never been any one before who seemed to feel just as she did about that view, and somehow she resented this intrusion upon what seemed like her own preserve.
Of course there was but one explanation of all this high-strung sensitiveness in a healthy, natural girl like Amy Lovejoy. She had made a mistake, and she was finding it out. In those autumn days in the little New England town, she had fallen captive to an idea, a theory of life, a certain poetical incentive and aspiration; for months she had fed her imagination upon this new experience, and suddenly Stephen Burns had come, and by his personal presence asserted a personal claim. She had been unconsciously ignoring the personal element in their relation, which had, in the months of separation, become very indefinite and unreal to her. She had told her father that Stephen's eyes were brown, and she found that they were blue; she had described him as being tall, and he had turned out to be rather below the medium height; she had forgotten what his voice was like, and it seemed oppressively rich and full.
"Better look out for your horse, Mr. Burns!" she said curtly. "He almost took a header a minute ago."
"Did he?" said Stephen. "I did not notice. This is the view you told me about, is it not?"
"Very likely," she returned, with affected indifference. "We Colorado people always do a good deal of bragging when we are in the East. We wear all our little descriptions and enthusiasms threadbare."
"There was nothing threadbare about your account," Stephen protested. "It was almost as vivid as the sight itself."
"We take things more naturally when we get back to them. Come, Jack, let's go faster!"
There was a level stretch of road before them, and the two young people were off with a rush. Stephen knew that the livery horse he rode could never keep up with them, even had his pride allowed him to follow uninvited. He had a dazed, hurt feeling, which was not more than half dispelled when, a few minutes later he came up with the truants, resting their horses at the top of a sudden dip in the road.
"Who got there first?" called a voice from one of the buckboards.
"Amy, of course. You don't suppose Cigarette would pass a lady!"
"Jacky wouldn't 'cause he couldn't!" Amy quoted. "Poor Cigarette," she added, descending to prose again, and tapping Cigarette's nose with the butt of her riding-crop. "How he did heave and pant when he caught up with us! And Sunbeam never turned a hair!"
"What made you call him Sunbeam?" Stephen asked, with an effort to appear undisturbed, as he watched her stroking the glossy black neck.
"Because he wasn't yellow," she answered shortly; upon which somebody laughed.
They picknicked in a sunny opening among the scrub-oaks, on the edge of a hollow through which a mountain brook had made its way. There was snow in the hollow, and a thin coating of ice on the brook. A few rods away, the horses, relieved of their bridles, were enjoying their dinners, switching their sides with their tails from time to time, as if the warm sun had wakened recollections of summer flies. Amy sat on the outskirts of the company, where Sunbeam could eat from her hand; a privilege he was accustomed to on such occasions. One of the men had brought a camera, and he took a snap-shot at the entire company, just as they had grouped themselves on the sunny slope. Amy and Sunbeam were conspicuous in the group, but when, some days later, the plate was developed, it was found that Mr. Stephen Burns did not appear in the photograph. Amy was the only one not surprised at the omission. He had been sitting beside her, and she was aware that he leaned on his elbow and got out of sight, just as the snap-shot was taken. She wondered at the time why he did so, but she found that she did not greatly care to know the reason.
A few minutes later, just as the girls of the party were busy dipping the cups and spoons into the edge of the snow,—the sun so hot on their shoulders that they quite longed to get into the shade, Elliot Chittenden came hurrying back from a short excursion out to the edge of the slope, to tell them of a wicked-looking cloud in the north. The brow of the hill had shut off the view in that direction, the faithful barometer, the Peak, having long since been lost sight of.
There was a sudden hurry and commotion, for all knew the menace of a storm from the north, and that its coming is often as swift as it is sharp. No one was better aware of the situation than Amy.
"Put your overcoat on to begin with," she said to Burns; "and get your horse. I'll see to Sunbeam." The bridle was already fast on the pretty black head as she spoke, but it was some time before Burns came up. He had mislaid his bridle, and when he found it he fumbled unaccountably. His fingers apparently shared the agitation of his mind; an agitation which was something new in his experience, and which made him feel singularly at odds with everything, even with impersonal straps and buckles! When at last he came, she put her foot in his hand and went up like a bird to a perch.
"Everybody has got ahead of us," she said, as they put their horses into a canter.
The sun was still hot upon them, but down below, the plains were obscured as with a fog.
"What is that?" he asked.
"A dust-storm. Can you make your horse go faster?"
"Not and keep the wind in him."
"Never mind, we shall do very well."
They had come about the brow of the mountain now, and could see the great black cloud to the north. It looked pretty ugly, even to Stephen Burns's unaccustomed eyes.
"What do you expect?" he asked, as they walked their horses down a sharp descent.
"It may be only wind, but there is likely to be snow at this season. If we can only get out of the ranch we're all right; the prairie-dog holes make it bad when you can't see."
"Can't see?" he repeated.
"Yes," she answered impatiently. "Of course you can't see in a blizzard!"
A moment later a blinding cloud of sand struck them with such force that both the horses slewed sharp about and stood an instant, trembling with the shock. As they turned to the north again, a few flakes of snow came flying almost horizontally in their faces and then—the storm came!
Horses and riders bent their heads to the blast, and on they went. It had suddenly grown bitterly cold.
"I wish you would take my coat," said Stephen, fumbling at the buttons as he had fumbled at the bridle. His teeth were chattering as he spoke.
"Nonsense!" Amy answered sharply. "You'll feel this ten times as much as I."
The snow was collecting in Stephen's beard, freezing as it fell, and making fantastic shapes there; the top of Amy's hat was a white cone, stiff and sharp as if it were carved in stone.
They could not see a rod before them, but they found it easier to breathe now.
"Isn't it splendid, the way one rouses to it!" Amy exclaimed. "I'm getting all heated up from the effort of breathing!"
There was no answer.
"Don't you like it?" she asked, taking a look at his set face.
"Like it? With you out in it!"
That was all he said, but Amy felt her cheeks tingle under the dash of snow that clung to them. The answer came like a rude check to the exultant thrill which had prompted her words.
"He doesn't understand in the least!" she thought, impatiently, and it was all she could do to refrain from spurring on her horse and leaving him in the lurch as she had done once before, that day. He was faint-hearted, pusillanimous! What if it were only for her sake that he feared? All the worse for him! She did not want his solicitude; it was an offence to her!
The wind whistled past them, and the snow beat in their faces; the shapes in his beard grew more and more fantastic, the white cone on her hat grew taller, and then broke and tumbled into her lap; the horses bent their heads, all caked with snow, and cantered pluckily on.
They had passed the gate of the ranch, leaving it open behind them, and now there were but a couple of miles between them and the town. The snow was so blinding that they did not see a group of buckboards and saddle-horses under a shed close at hand, nor guess that some of the party had found shelter in a house near by. They rode swiftly on, gaining in speed as they approached the town. The horses were very close together, straining, side by side, toward the goal. Amy's right hand lay upon her knee, the stiff fingers closed about the riding-crop. If she had thought about it at all, she would have said that her hand was absolutely numb. Suddenly, with a shock, she felt another hand close upon it, while the words, "my darling!" vibrated upon her ear; the voice was so close that it seemed to touch her cheek. She started as if she had been stung.
"Oh, my riding-crop!" she cried, letting the handle slip from her grasp.
"I beg your pardon," Stephen gasped, in a low, pained tone. "If you will wait an instant, I will get it for you!"
He turned his horse about, for they had passed the spot by several lengths.
Sunbeam stood for a moment, obedient to his rider's hand, while Amy watched the storm close in about her departing cavalier. As he vanished from view, a sudden, overpowering impulse of flight seized her. Without daring to think of what she was doing, she bent down and whispered "go!" in the low sharp tone that Sunbeam knew. He was off like a shot.
"I don't care, I don't care," the girl said to herself, over and over again, as they bounded forward in the teeth of the storm. "Better now than later!"
She wondered whether Stephen would kill his horse endeavoring to overtake her; she wondered whether he would ever overtake her again! Somehow it seemed to her as if the storm had caught her up bodily and were bearing her away from a very perplexing world. After all, what an amenable, unexacting sort of thing a blizzard was! How very easy to deal with! You had only to duck your head, and screw up your eyes, and cleave your way through it, and on it went, quite unconcerned with your moods and tenses! If Stephen Burns were only more like that, she thought to herself! But, alas! poor Stephen, with all his strong claims to affection and esteem, could not assert the remotest kinship with the whistling winds and blinding snow which were proving such formidable rivals!
A narrow lane appeared at her right. Almost before she was aware that it was there, she had swung Sunbeam about; in another moment they were standing, with two other saddle-horses, in a little grove of trees, further protected by a small house close at hand. It seemed almost warm in that sheltered nook. Amy recognized the horses and knew that Harry de Luce and one of the girls must have taken refuge within.
The lane was a short one, and she and Sunbeam stood, trembling with excitement, until they saw the shadow of a horse and rider speeding along the road toward the town. Then Amy drew a long breath of relief. "It was all nothing but a shadow," she said to herself, "and I went and thought it was real!"
She slid stiffly down from the saddle and hobbled into the house, all the exultation gone from her bounding veins. It made her a bit dizzy to think of the rush of tumultuous emotions which had outvied the storm of the elements but now. By the time the friendly hostess had established her before the kitchen stove and taken away her dripping hat and coat, she felt too limp and spent to answer the eager questions that were asked.
"Do something for Sunbeam," she murmured weakly to Harry de Luce, in answer to his ready offers of help.
"They're going to send out a 'bus with four horses to pick up the remnants," de Luce assured her. "If you girls will go in the 'bus I will lead Sunbeam and Paddy home." And somehow it seemed so pleasant to be taken care of, just in a group with another girl and two horses, that Amy, with a faint, assenting smile, submitted to be classed with the "remnants."
She felt as if she were half asleep when, an hour or more later, she sat in the corner of the great omnibus, that went lurching along through the snow, like a mudscow gone astray among ocean waves. She had an idea that everybody was talking at once, but that was just as well, since not a syllable was audible above the creaking and rattling of the big ark.
Arrived at home she found the riding-crop, but no Stephen. He had called an hour ago, to ask if she had arrived safely, but he had said nothing about coming again.
"If he has an atom of spirit he will never come near me again," Amy thought to herself. And then; "Oh, that dear blizzard!" she exclaimed under her breath.
Sunbeam, she learned, had arrived before her. Thomas Jefferson, the black stable-man, reported him as partaking of a sumptuous supper with unimpaired relish. The thought of her favorite, crunching his feed in the stall close at hand, gave her a sense of companionship as she ate her own solitary meal. Her father had been called in consultation to a neighboring town and would not return until the following day.
After supper Amy curled herself up in an easy-chair under the drop-light, and opened a new novel which she had been longing to read, ever since Stephen Burns's arrival. She thought with strong disapproval of the manner in which he had been taking possession of her time for two weeks past. She looked at the clock; it was half-past-eight.
"Well! that's over with!" she thought, with a half guilty pang of conviction.
Somehow the novel was not as absorbing as she had anticipated. She let it drop on her lap, and sat for awhile listening to the storm outside, as she reviewed this strange, unnatural episode of half-betrothal which had turned out so queerly.
A sharp ring at the telephone in the adjoining room broke in upon her revery. She hastened to answer it. It was an inquiry from the livery-stable for Mr. Stephen Burns. He had not brought the horse back, nor had he returned to his hotel. Did Miss Lovejoy perhaps know of his whereabouts? Did she think they had better send out a search-party?
Miss Lovejoy knew nothing of his whereabouts, and she was strongly of the opinion that he had better be looked up. As she still stood listening at the telephone, her heart knocking her ribs in a fierce fright, she heard a voice in the distant stable, not intended for her ears, say: "Not much use to search! If he ain't under cover he ain't alive." Upon which the heart ceased, for several seconds, its knocking at the ribs, and Amy Lovejoy knew how novel-heroines feel, when they are described as growing gray about the lips.
She could not seem to make the telephone tube fit in its ring, and after trying to do so once or twice, she left it hanging by the cord, and went and opened the front door and stood on the veranda. It did not seem to her especially cold, but over there, in the light that streamed from the parlor window, the snow lay drifted into a singular shape, that looked as if it might cover a human form. She shuddered sharply and went into the house again. From time to time she telephoned to the stable. They had sent a close carriage out with a doctor and two other passengers, and Elliot Chittenden had gone in an open buckboard with a driver. By and by the buckboard had come back and another party had gone out in it. Then the carriage had returned and gone forth again with fresh horses and a fresh driver.
She played a good deal with the riding-crop during the evening, and now and then she went outside the door and took a look at the weird, shroud-like shape, there in the light of the window. Once she stepped up to it and pushed the riding-crop in, to its full length, just to make sure that there was nothing under the snow. After that she took the riding-crop in and dried it carefully on a towel.
Before she knew it the evening was far gone, and all but one carriage had returned.
"Guess Jim's turned in at some ranch," came the word from the livery-stable. "He'll be ready to start out again as soon as it's light."
If the evening had not seemed so miraculously short, Amy could not have forgiven herself for having been so slow in arriving at her own plan of action. As it was, the clock had struck twelve, before she found herself, clothed in two or three knit and wadded jackets under a loose old seal-skin sack, crossing the yard to the stable door. The maids had long since gone to bed, and Thomas Jefferson was a mile away, under his own modest roof.
Presently, with a clatter of hoofs, Sunbeam came forth from the stable door, bearing on his back, a funny, round, dumpy figure, very unlike in its outlines to the slender form which usually graced that seat. The gallant steed was still further encumbered by a fur-lined great coat of the doctor's, strapped on behind, its pockets well stocked with brandy flask and biscuits.
The storm had much abated, and there was already a break in the clouds over yonder. The air was intensely cold, but the wind had quite died down. Sunbeam took the road at a good pace, for he had a valiant spirit and would have scorned to remember the day's fatigues. His rider sat, a funny little ball of fur, looking neither to the right nor to the left. Stephen was nowhere on the open road; that was sure, for he was far too good a horseman to come to grief out there. There was but one place to look for him, and that was among the prairie-dog holes. She had told him of the danger there was among them, and he would have hastened there the moment he believed that she was lost.
Amy did not do very much thinking as she rode along; she did not analyze the feeling that drove her forth to the rescue. She only knew that she and she alone was responsible for any harm that might have come to one whose only fault was that he had taken her at her word; and that she would cheerfully break her own neck and Sunbeam's,—even Sunbeam's! for the sake of rescuing him.
The storm had ceased entirely now, and just as she reached the ranch gate, which had swung half to on its hinges and was stuck there in the snow, the moon came out and revealed the wide white expanse, unbroken by any sign of the road. She felt sure that the search-parties would have followed the road as closely as possible and that they would have tried not to stray off into the field. But that was just where Stephen Burns, mindful of the perils she had described to him, would naturally have turned. She blew the whistle in the end of her riding-crop, once, twice, three times. The sound died away in the wide echoless spaces. Then cautiously, slowly, she made Sunbeam feel his way across the snow. The moon was still riding among heavy clouds, but now and then it shone forth and flooded with light the broad white field, casting a sharp-cut, distorted shadow of horse and rider upon the snow.
Once or twice she stopped, and blew the whistle and hallooed, and each time the weird silence closed in again like an impenetrable veil. Sometimes she became impatient of her slow progress, but she knew too well the dangers of a misstep to risk the chance of success by any lack of caution. Even in her anxiety and distress of mind, she marked the intelligence with which Sunbeam picked his way, testing the firmness of each spot on which he trod, as if he had known the danger.
Presently they began the ascent of a long narrow ridge beyond which she knew there were no holes. As they paused for a moment on the crest, looking down into the moonlit hollow, she raised the riding-crop to her lips, and blew a long, shrill whistle; and promptly as an echo a voice returned the signal. Following the direction of the sound, her eyes discerned a dark shadow in the hollow forty rods away. She put Sunbeam into a canter, and as she approached the shadow, the outline defined itself, and she saw that it was a ruinous shed or hut.
"Hulloo!" came the voice again, and this time it was unmistakeably Stephen's.
A hundred yards from the shed, Sunbeam shied violently. Looking to one side, she beheld in the shadow of a mass of scrub-oaks the body of a horse lying stark and still. Close beside the head was a dark spot in the snow.
A moment later she had dismounted and was standing within the rickety hut, looking down upon another shadowy form that moved and spoke.
"Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Not much. I believe I have sprained my ankle. But the poor nag is done for," he added sorrowfully.
"Which foot have you hurt?"
"The right one."
"That's good. Then you can ride sidesaddle. Are you sure that is all?"
He was already consuming brandy and biscuit at a rate to dissipate all immediate anxiety.
"Yes; and I declare it's worth it!" he cried with enthusiasm; a statement which, if slightly ambiguous, conveyed a cheerful impression.
"Did the fall kill the horse?" Amy asked, with a little quiver in her voice, of pity for the poor beast.
"No; I thought it best to cut an artery for him. Poor boy! He floundered terribly before he went down."
"What threw him?"
"Something in the way of a branch or a piece of timber. Lucky it happened where it did," he added. "I couldn't have gone far looking for shelter."
"Poor old nag!" said Amy. Then, perceiving that she had not been altogether polite: "Aren't you nearly frozen?" she asked.
"No, it's very snug in here. Some other tramp must have been here before me, and got these leaves together. There's lots of warmth in them."
By this time Stephen had crawled out from among the oak-leaves and, having got himself into the doctor's fur-lined coat, stood on one foot, leaning heavily against the door-frame.
"A splendid night, isn't it?" he remarked in a conversational tone.
Amy, who was just leading Sunbeam up to the doorway, glanced at the young man, standing there in the bright moonlight,—at his sensitive, intelligent face, his finely-modelled head and brow,—and somehow she felt reinstated with herself. She had been fatally wrong in making choice so lightly, but at least the choice was, in itself, nothing to be ashamed of! As she helped Stephen in his painful transit to the saddle, she wondered if she were really a heartless person to take comfort in such a thought. But, in truth, since she had come to question the genuineness of her own part in their relation, she had lost faith in his share as well. There must have been something wrong about it from the beginning, and certainly, she reasoned, if she had lost interest in so admirable a being as he, it was not to be expected that he would be more constant to a trifling sort of person like herself. There was only a little awkwardness to be got over at first, but sooner or later he would bless her for his escape.
Stephen, meanwhile, was submitting to all her arrangements with neither protest nor suggestion. She had undertaken to rescue him, and she must do it in her own way. If he hated to see her ploughing through the snow by the side of the horse, he made no sign. If he would rather have been left to his fate than to have subjected her to exposure and fatigue, he was too wise to say so. Her wilfulness had been so thoroughly demonstrated in the course of that day that he merely observed her with an appreciation half amused, half admiring.
"There is a house just beyond the gate where we can go," she said; and then she did not speak again for many minutes.
As for her companion, he seemed inclined at first to be as taciturn as she. Whether or not he was suffering agony from his foot, she had no means of knowing, nor could she guess how he interpreted her own action. At last he broke the silence.
"Of course you meant to give me the slip," he said. "I half knew it all the time. I suppose that was the very reason why I persisted in acting as if I thought you had ridden back for me. One clings all the harder to one's illusions when,—well, when it's all up with them."
Amy could not seem to think of any suitable remark to make in reply.
They had reached the ranch road now. She knew the general lay of the land well enough to recognize it, and she could trust Sunbeam to keep it. A dense black cloud, the rearguard of the storm, had covered the moon, but there were stars enough to light the way somewhat.
"Would you mind telling me why you risked your life for me?" Stephen asked abruptly.
Some seconds went by before she answered. Then: "I think there was reason enough in my being to blame for it all," she said; "I behaved outrageously."
"And the other reason? There was another reason, I take it."
His voice was not eager, not lover-like; there was more curiosity than anything else in the tone. Again the moon shone out, and lighted up her face distinctly, as she answered him, looking straight before her along the snowy road.
"I think," she said, speaking with a slow consideration of her words; "I think it was because I could not bear to have you—go out of the world, believing—what was not true! It seemed like a deceit going over into eternity!"
Would he say something very dreadful in reply, she wondered; something that would haunt her for the rest of her days?
She was still bracing herself for the worst,—for he had not yet broken the silence,—when they came to the gate, fixed there, half closed. There was just room for Sunbeam to pass out, and Amy fell behind for a moment. Stephen drew rein and waited for her, while she vainly tried to close the gate.
"Don't mind that," he said. "It will close of itself when the snow melts."
She came obediently and walked beside him. They had turned aside from the direction of Springtown, toward a little house a few rods away. They were almost there when Stephen spoke again.
"You must be sorry about it all," he said, "though you very wisely leave that to be understood. You have made a mistake and you think you have caused another person great and lasting unhappiness. I can't tell to-night whether that is so or not, but there is one thing that I think you have a right to know."
"And that is?" She felt that she must fill in the pause, for he evidently found it difficult to go on.
"I think I know you well enough," he said; "to be sure of your feeling about it, though it is different from what some people would have under the circumstances. But somehow I am sure that you will be glad to know, that when I thought I was going to perish in the storm,—after I was thrown, and before I had seen that there was shelter near by,—it was not you my thoughts were running on."
Again he paused while she lifted the latch of the little gate. Then, as Sunbeam passed through, and Amy walked by his side up the snowy path, Stephen said:
"I think it must have been a good many minutes that I lay there, thinking that the end was coming, and the only person in the world that I seemed to care about was—my mother!"
At the word, the bond that had irked her was gently loosed, and he, for his part, could only wonder that he felt no pain. The great cold moonlit calm of the night seemed to enter into their hearts, swept clean by the storm. They looked into one another's faces in the solemn white light, with a fine new unconcern. Where were all their perplexities? What had it all been about?
It was as if the snow had melted, and the great gate had closed itself. Was it Paradise or Purgatory they had shut themselves out from?
A GOLDEN VISTA.
Tramp, tramp, tramp,—the heavy boots had sounded on the road,—tramp, tramp, tramp! since Sunday morning, and now it was Tuesday noon. Often for hours together there had been no witness to the steady march, save the lordly pine-trees, standing straight and grand in the mountain "parks," or scaling boldly the precipitate sides of the encroaching cliffs; the cliffs themselves, frowning sternly above the path; and always somewhere on the horizon, towering above the nearer hills or closing in the end of the valley, a snowy peak gleaming like a transcendent promise against the sky. Waldo Kean, as he strode steadily down from his father's mountain ranch toward a wonderful new future whose door was about to be flung wide to him, felt the inspiration of those rugged mountain influences, the like of which had been his familiars all the seventeen years of his life. The chattering brooks had nothing to say to him as they came dashing down from the hills to join the rollicking stream whose course his path followed; the sunflowers, gilding the edge of the road, were but frills and furbelows to his thinking. But in the pine-trees there was a perfectly clear significance,—in those hardy growths, finding a foothold among the rocks, drawing sustenance from Heaven knew where, yet ever growing skyward, straight and tall and strong. As he passed among them, standing at gracious intervals in the broad "parks," they seemed to flush with understanding and sympathy. His way led from north to south and as often as he turned and looked back among the trees, the stems glowed ruddily and his heart warmed to them. He knew that it was merely the southern exposure that had tinged their bark and caused that friendly glow, but he liked it all the same.
Now and then the solitude was relieved by the appearance of a horseman riding with flapping arms and jingling spurs up the pass; or again the silence was broken by the inconsequent bleating of a flock of sheep wandering in search of their scant pasturage or huddling together, an agitated mass of grimy wool, its outskirts painfully exposed to the sharp but well-intentioned admonitions of a somewhat irascible collie. Neither man nor beast took special note of the overgrown boy striding so confidently on his way, nor was one observer more likely than the other to guess what inspiring thoughts were animating the roughly clad, uncouth form. The boy's clothes were shabby and travel-stained, and over his shoulders was slung a canvas bag, its miscellaneous contents making sharp, angular protuberances on its surface. He had left the ranch with clothes and books enough to give the bag a pretty weight, and this he had unconcernedly increased by the insertion into the straining receptacle of many a "specimen" picked up by the way. For the eyes were keen and observant that looked out from under the strongly marked brows, and bits of fluorite and "fool's gold," and of rarer minerals as well, which had lain for years beside the road, noted as little by cowboy and ranchman and mountain tourist as by the redman whose feet first trod the pass, were destined to-day to start on their travels, enlisted in the service of Science.
It must have been a daring specimen indeed that should have thought of resisting its fate when it came at the hands of Waldo Kean. There was a certain rough strength not only in the muscular frame, but in the face itself, with its rude features, its determined outlines, its heavy under-lip; and in the stiff black hair roughly clipped on the ample skull, growing in a bushy thatch above the keen dark eyes. It seemed but natural that just that type of boy should feel himself drawn to the study of the rocky foundation of things.
Four years ago Waldo Kean had found out that he wanted to be a geologist, and that to this end he must go to college. Yet though the college was in Springtown, and though Springtown lies close to the foot of the "range," it had taken him four years to get there. During that enforced interval he had done his full share of the heavy ranch work, he had found one and another means of accumulating a little capital of his own; at off hours and off seasons he had cudgelled his brain over books with ugly difficult titles and anything but tractable contents. In short he had fairly earned his passport, and now, at last, on this radiant October morning, he was striding over the few intervening miles that separated him from that wonderful Land of Promise, where Latin and Greek grew on every tree, and the air was electric with the secrets of Science itself. What wonder that he was unconscious of hardship and fatigue, that he counted as nothing the three days' tramp; the icy nights spent out under the chill stars; the only half-satisfied hunger of a healthy boy, living on food which the dry mountain air was rapidly reducing to a powdery consistency! He was going to College; he was going to be a Geologist. What did he care for any paltry details by the way?
He seated himself for his noon meal, the last crumbling sandwich of his store, at the foot of a big pine-tree, just where the pass narrows to a wild ravine. As he took out the slice of bread and meat neatly wrapped about with brown paper, his thoughts reverted with a certain sore compunction to the hand that had prepared it for him. It had been his mother's farewell service, and he somehow realized now as he had not realized at the time, how much all those careful preparations meant, to her and to himself. He remembered how, late Saturday night, she had sat mending a new rip in his best coat, and that when she pricked her finger, and a little bead of red blood had to be disposed of before she could go on with the work, he had wondered why women were always pricking their fingers when there was no need. It was not until the very moment of departure that the pain of it seized him. His mother was a quiet, undemonstrative woman of the New England race, and if mother and son loved each other,—as it now transpired that they did,—no mention had ever been made of the fact on either side. The consequence was, that when, at parting, an iron hand seemed to be gripping the boy's throat, he had been so taken at unawares, that he had found it impossible to articulate a single word. On the mother's part there had been one little, half-suppressed sob that sounded in his ears yet. It left an ache in him that he did not at first know what to do with, but which clearly called for heroic treatment. Accordingly, after much pondering the situation, he had adopted a great resolution,—a resolution which involved no less arduous a task than that of writing a letter to his mother and telling her that he loved her. He thought it possible that the confession might give her pleasure, coming from a safe distance and involving no immediate consequences, and in any case he did not feel justified in keeping to himself a discovery which so nearly concerned another person. He had thought a good deal about the letter and of how he should approach the subject, and he had about decided to make the momentous statement in a postscript down in one corner and to sign it "Waldy."
He was so near his journey's end that he allowed himself rather a longer nooning than usual. He stretched himself on his back on the pine needles, and with his hands clasped behind his head, he gazed up through the spreading branches to the marvellous blue of the sky. When he should be a scientific man and know all sorts of things besides geology,—meteorology and chemistry and the like,—perhaps he should find out why the sky looked so particularly deep and palpitating when you were lying flat on your back and there were some pine branches in between. He meant, one of these days, to know everything there was to be known, and to discover a little something new besides.
A train of cars thundered by on the other side of the brook not thirty yards from his feet. He did not change his position, but looking down the long length of his legs, he saw the roaring, snorting beast of an engine rush by, trailing its tail of cars behind it.
"And yet the power isn't in the steam," he thought to himself, "but in the brain that controls it. Just the brain. That's all." At the thought a sudden impatience seized him to arrive at that goal where the brain takes command, and he sprang to his feet, and shouldering his pack, strode on down the pass. Tramp, tramp, tramp! went the heavy boots; the great bag weighed like lead across his shoulders; a gnawing hunger had somehow got into him since he swallowed the crumbling bread and meat.
"The water was good, at any rate," he said to himself, glancing more appreciatively than before at the crystal stream that still raced on a level with the road. The way led across both brook and railroad just there, and there was a sharp turn in the walls of the canon. He looked back and saw a train rushing down the pass, swiftly,—surreptitiously, it seemed, so curiously little noise did it make on the down-grade. An instant later he had turned the corner, and found himself face to face with a pair of horses harnessed to a buggy, trotting rapidly up the pass, straight toward that railroad crossing. They were already close upon him and he could see a man and woman seated in the buggy. He had only time to fling his pack to one side and wave his arms in warning, and then, his warning being unheeded, he sprang at the horses' heads and seized the bridles. The horses reared and plunged, there was the sharp whistle of a whiplash, a stinging blow cut him across the face. The blood rushed to his head in a sudden fury, but instinctively he kept his hold upon the plunging horses. They had all but dragged him to the track when the train rushed by. The whole thing had happened in twenty seconds of time.
He dropped his hold and sprang to one side while the horses dashed on and tore round the projecting corner of rock, the buggy slewing wildly after them.
Waldo Kean stood an instant with clenched hands and crimson face, a straight welt standing out white and angry across his cheek. Then,—"Pooh! he muttered, I'm going to college all the same!"—and he picked up his hat which the horses had trampled out of shape, shouldered his pack and strode on down the pass. His cheek was smarting with pain, but he was hardly aware of that; there was a yawning rip in the arm-hole of his coat, but that was of still less consequence. He had all he could do to attend to the conflicting emotions of the moment; the sense of outraged dignity contending, not very successfully, with a lively concern for the fate of those people he had tried to rescue. He thought it more than likely that they would both get killed, for the horses were quite unmanageable when they disappeared around the corner, and he remembered an ugly bit of road just above that point. He was not a little disgusted with himself when he caught himself hoping that they might get out of the scrape alive. Well, if he could not "stay mad" longer than that, he told himself, he might as well forget the whole business and be on the look-out for specimens.
Meanwhile the pass was getting grander every moment; the brook was working its way deeper below the level of the road, while here and there in this sombre defile a splash of yellow aspen gleamed like living gold on the face of the precipice. The wild and beautiful gorge interested him in spite of himself; it disengaged his thoughts alike from his personal grievance, and from his dissatisfied contemplation of his own lack of proper vindictiveness. There was nothing grand like this in the neighborhood of the ranch. It was more like his father's description of the "Flume" and the "Notch," those natural wonders of the White Hills which Waldo Kean the elder liked to talk about. "When I was a boy over in New Hampshire," he used to say; and to the children it seemed as if "over in New Hampshire" could not be more than a day's journey from the ranch.
"When I was a boy over in New Hampshire," he would say, "I got it into my head that if I could only get away to a new place I sh'd get to be something big; and the farther away I got, the bigger I expected to be. Colorado was a territory then, 'n I thought, 'f I could only get out here they'd make me gov'nor's like 's not. 'N I do' know but what I'd have looked to be made President of the United States 'f I'd sighted the Pacific Ocean!"
Then the shaggy, keen-eyed mountaineer who made so light of boyish expectations would knock the logs together and take a puff or two at his pipe before coming to the climax of his remarks, which varied according to the lesson he wished to inculcate.
"It took me several years of wrastling with life," he was fond of saying, "to find out that it ain't so much matter whar you be, as what you be. 'N if I was you, Waldy,"—here was the application,—"I'd contrive to learn a little something on my own hook, before I aspired to go consorting with them as knows it all!"
When, however, the time was ripe, and "Waldy," having fulfilled these conditions, was fairly off for college, the ranchman had signified his approval of his son's course by escorting him a few miles on his way. The boy had felt himself highly honored by the attention, yet when the time of parting came, it was with no such stricture about his throat as had taken him at unawares in the early morning, that he watched the tall form disappearing among the pine-trees. There was a certain self-sufficiency about the "old man,"—aged forty-five,—that precluded any embarrassing tenderness in one's relations with him.
Waldo was thinking of his father as he strode down the pass with that welt on his cheek. He had an idea that his father would not make so much of the affair as he was taking himself to task for not doing. And up to this time his father had been his standard. He not only had a very high opinion of him as he was, but he had a boyish faith in what he might have been, a belief that if he had had half a chance he would have made his mark in the world. He was glad that he bore his father's name, and he was quite determined to make it stand for something in the minds of men before he got through with it. It sounded like a name that was to be made to mean something.
Suddenly the sound of wheels coming down the pass struck his ear. They were the wheels of a buggy, he thought, and of a buggy drawn by a pair of horses. The suggestion was distasteful to Waldo Kean just at that moment, and he quickened his pace somewhat. Presently the wheels stopped close behind him, a firm step sounded on the road, he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. He looked up, and his worst forebodings were realized. It was the face he had caught sight of in that particular buggy which he did not like to think about, and the hand that rested on his shoulder was the one which had swung the whip to such good purpose.
A very hearty and pleasant voice was saying; "Do you know, I never did anything in all my life I was so sorry for!" but the boy strode on as stolidly as if he had been stone-deaf.
The other, though a man of heavy build, kept pace with him easily.
"You see," he remarked, after waiting a reasonable time for a reply; "I never knew what it was to owe any one so much as I owe you!"
Not being, in fact, stone-deaf, Waldo found himself obliged to make some response. As much from embarrassment as from anger, he spoke gruffly.
"That's nothing," he said. "I'd have done as much for a stray dog,—and like as not I'd have got bit all the same!"
His companion was making a study of him rather than of his words;—of the defiant pose of the head above the shabby, uncouth figure,—of the stormy eyes set in the fiery crimson of the face. He could not resent the rough words, but neither could he help being amused at the tragic exaggeration of the figure.
"Do you know, you do look like a brigand!" he said, in an easy tone, that had a curious effect upon the excited boy. "I don't so much wonder that I took you for a footpad!"
No one but Dick Dayton,—for it was the Springtown "Mascot" himself who was trying to make friends with the ranch boy,—could have "hit off" the situation so easily. The "brigand's" face had already relaxed somewhat, though his tongue was not to be so lightly loosed.
"The fact is," Dayton went on, following up his advantage; "The fact is, there was a hold-up here in the pass last week, and my wife and I were just saying what a jolly good place it was for that kind of thing, when you flung yourself at the horses' heads. I don't know what you would have done under the circumstances, but I know you'd have been either a fool or a prophet if you hadn't let fly for all you were worth!"
The boy looked up at the friendly, humorous face, and pleasant relentings stole upon him.
"Well, then," he said, with a sudden, flashing smile, which illuminated his harsh countenance, very much as the gold of the aspens lit up the wall of frowning rock over there. "That's all right, and I'm glad I did it."
"All right!" cried Dayton, with a sudden rising emotion in his voice,—"I should think it was all right! It isn't every day that a man and his wife get their lives saved in that offhand way! Why! I'm all balled up every time I think of it!"
"Oh, well; I don't know!" said Waldo, relapsing into embarrassment again; "I guess it was the horses I thought of as much as anything!"
Dayton was still too sincerely moved to laugh outright at this unexpected turn, as he would have done in spite of himself under ordinary circumstances, but he found it a relief to slip back into his tone of easy banter.
"If that's the case," he said; "would you mind coming back and being introduced to the horses? They are just behind us, and I think they ought to have a chance to make their acknowledgments."
The boy, very much aware that he had said the wrong thing, yet attracted, in spite of himself and his own blunders, to the good-natured giant, yielded, awkwardly enough, and retraced his steps. They were soon face to face with the horses, making their way at a slow walk down the road, driven by the woman whose face Waldo had had a confused glimpse of in the heat of that fateful encounter.
"This is my wife, Mrs. Dayton," said the big man; "and you are?"
For the first time in his life the boy had taken his hat off as a matter of ceremony. He had done so in unconscious imitation of Dayton, who had lifted his own as he mentioned his wife's name. Waldo Kean did not perhaps realize that the education he was so ambitious of achieving was begun then and there.
The shapeless old hat once off, he did not find it easy to put it on again, and, as Mrs. Dayton leaned forward with extended hand, he stopped to tuck the battered bundle of felt into his pocket before clasping the bit of dainty kid she held out to him.
She was already speaking, and, strangely enough, there was something in her voice which made him think of his mother's as it had sounded just before it broke into that pathetic little sob.
"There is so little good in talking about what a person feels," she was saying; "that I'm not going to try." Yes, the little break in the voice was something he had heard but once in his life before; yet nothing could have been less like his mother than the expressive young face bending toward him.
The great half-civilized boy took one look at the face, and all his self-consciousness vanished.
"I guess anybody 'd like to do you a good turn!" he declared boldly, as he loosed the small gloved hand from the big clutch he had given it. The charming face flushed as warmly as if it had never been complimented before.
"Are you going to stay in Springtown?" its owner asked.
"I'm going to the college," the young geologist answered proudly.
"Then you'd better let us have your pack," said Dayton. "We can do that much for you! There's lots of room in back here."
Waldo hesitated; he was used to carrying his own burdens. But Dayton had hold of the pack, and it seemed to find its own way into the buggy.
"There! That will ride nicely," said Dayton. "Now I suppose we may call ourselves quits?" and he glanced quizzically at the boy who had clearly missed the amiable satire of the suggestion.
The two walked on together for some time, keeping close beside the buggy. The horses were perfectly docile now that no one seemed disposed to fly at their heads. Waldo began to feel that he had really been needlessly violent with them in that first encounter. He pulled out his hat and put it on again.
They had come to the narrowest and most stupendous part of the pass, and Waldo, now wonderfully at his ease, had broached the subject of the Notch. He was astonished to find how conversible these new acquaintances were. They proved much easier to talk with than his ranch neighbors whom he had known all his life. And, better still, they knew a surprising lot about minerals and flowers and things of that sort, that were but sticks and stones to his small world at home.
When, at last, these very remarkable and well-informed people drove away, and he watched their buggy disappearing down the pass, he found himself possessed of a new and inspiring faith in the approachableness of the great world he was about to confront. He had rather expected to deal with it with hammer and pick,—to wrest the gold of experience from the hardest and flintiest bedrock; and all at once he felt as if he had struck a great "placer" with nuggets of the most agreeable description lying about, ready to his hand!
As he reflected upon these things, the pass was opening out into a curious, cup-shaped valley, crowded with huge hotels and diminutive cottages of more or less fantastic architecture, clustering in the valley, climbing the hills, perching on jutting rocks and overhanging terraces. Waldo knew the secret of this startling outcrop of human enterprise. He knew that here, in this populous nook, were hidden springs of mineral waters, bubbling and sparkling up from the caverns of the earth. He found his way to one of the springs, where he took a long, deep draught of the tingling elixir, speculating the while, as to its nature and source. Then on he went, refreshed and exhilarated.
A few miles of dusty highway brought him at last within the borders of classic Springtown, classic in its significance to him, as the elm-embowered shades of Cambridge or New Haven to the New England boy at home. As he entered upon the broad Western Avenue, the declining sun had nearly touched the great Peak, its long, level rays striking a perfect glory across the boughs of the cottonwood trees shining in the height of their yellow autumn splendor. They arched the walk he trod, and stretched to the northward, a marvellous golden vista, as brilliant as the promise of the future itself. There were fine residences on either side of the avenue, finer than anything the ranch boy had ever dreamed of, while off to the west stretched the line of mountains, transfigured in the warm afternoon light. But all the boy could see or think of was that golden vista, stretching before him to the very portals of the house of learning.
And presently, along this glorified path, a man approached, and as the two came face to face, he stopped before the boy and called him by name.
The whole situation was so wonderful,—so magical it seemed to Waldo in the exaltation of the moment,—that he did not pause to consider how his name should be known to a chance passer-by; and when the stranger went on to give his own name, and it was the name of the college president, the boy accepted the fact that dreams come true, and only held his head a little higher and trod the path a little more firmly, as he walked beside the president under the yellow cottonwoods.
"I came out to meet you," the president was saying, in a big, friendly voice. "I heard you were coming, and I thought we might talk things over a bit on the way."
They chatted a little of the boy's plans and resources, of the classes he was to enter, and of what he might accomplish in his college course; and then they came out from under the trees, and found themselves upon the college campus. A game of football was going on there, the figures of the players fairly irradiated in the golden light which fell aslant the great open space, touching the scant yellowish grass into a play of shimmering color. They stood a moment, while the president pointed out to Waldo the different college buildings. Then:—
"I have something pleasant to tell you," his companion remarked, with a glance at the strong eager face of the boy. "The college has just had the gift of a scholarship."
"I'm glad of that," said Waldo, heartily, finding a cheerful omen in the fact that the day was an auspicious one for others beside himself.
"The gift is a sort of thank-offering," he heard his new friend say; "from a man who fell in with you—up in the pass this afternoon!"
The boy's face went crimson at the words, but he only fixed his eyes the more intently upon the football players, as if his destiny had depended upon the outcome of the game.
"The scholarship is the largest we have;"—he heard the words distinctly, but they struck him as coming from quite a long distance. "It is to be called—the Waldo Kean Scholarship!"
The Waldo Kean Scholarship! How well that sounded! What a good, convincing ring it had, as if it had been intended from the very beginning of things!
He stood silent a moment, pondering it, while the president waited for him to speak; and as he watched the field the football players seemed to mingle and vanish from sight like shadows in a dream, while in their place a certain tall angular form stood out, loose-jointed, somewhat bent, yet full of character and power. All the splendor of the setting sun centred upon that rugged vision, that yet did not bate one jot of its homely reality.
And the boy, lifting his head with a proud gesture, and with a straightening of the whole figure, looked the president in the face and said: "That is my father's name!"
They started to cross the campus, where the football players were once more in possession. The sun had dropped behind the Peak, and the glory was fading from the face of the earth; but to Waldo Kean, walking side by side with the college president, the world was alight with the rays of a sun whose setting was yet a long way off; and the golden vista he beheld before him was nothing less than the splendid illimitable future,—the future of the New West, which was to be his by right of conquest!
A Selection from the Catalogue of G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
Complete Catalogue sent on application
One of the most successful novels of the year, because it is one of those unusual stories that appeals to all classes of readers of fiction.
By Florence L. Barclay
"Once in a long while there appears a story like The Rosary, in which there is but one adventure, the love of the two real persons superbly capable of love, the sacrifices they make for it, the sorrows it brings them, the exceeding reward. This can only be done by a writer of feeling, of imagination, and of the sincerest art. When it is done, something has been done that justifies the publishing business, refreshes the heart of the reviewer, strengthens faith in the outcome of the great experiment of putting humanity on earth. The Rosary is a rare book, a source of genuine delight."—The Syracuse Post-Standard.
Crown 8vo. $1.35 Net. ($1.50 by mail)
G. P. Putnam's Sons New York—London
BY ANNA FULLER
A LITERARY COURTSHIP
Under the Auspices of Pike's Peak. 28th thousand. Illustrated. 16 deg., gilt top. $1.25
"A delightful little love story. Like her other books it is bright and breezy; its humor is crisp, and the general idea decidedly original."—Boston Times.
A VENETIAN JUNE
Illustrated by George Sloane. 15th thousand. 16 deg., gilt top $1.25
"Full of the picturesqueness, the novelty, the beauty of life in the city of gondolas and gondoliers."—Literary World.
The above two volumes together in box $2.50
Sketched in a New England Suburb. 12th thousand. Illustrated by George Sloane. 12 deg., gilt top $1.50
"The lines the author cuts in her vignette are sharp and clear, but she has, too, not alone the knack of color, but what is rarer, the gift of humor."—New York Times.
ONE OF THE PILGRIMS
A Bank Story. 6th thousand. 12 deg., gilt top $1.25
"The story is graceful and delightful, full of vivacity, and is not without pathos. It is thoroughly interesting."—Congregationalist.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS New York—London
Myrtle Reed's New Novel
MASTER OF THE VINEYARD BY MYRTLE REED
Author of "Old Rose and Silver," "Lavender and Old Lace," etc.
There is probably no other living writer whose books have the extraordinary popularity of Myrtle Reed's.
There is always a large circle of readers waiting for each of her new books as it appears. But the remarkable feature of Miss Reed's popularity is that each one of her books continues to show increasing sales every year. The more the public has of them, the more it wants. This can be said of no other fiction of the day.
Miss Reed's stories are always charming, but her latest book is something more than this. The humor is delightful, and the panorama of life, with its well-balanced picturing of lights and shadows, possesses the quality best-named fascination.
With Frontispiece in Color by Blendon Campbell. Crown 8vo. beautifully printed and bound. Cloth, $1.50 net. Full Red Leather, $2.00 net, Antique Calf, $2.50 net. Lavender Silk, $3.50 net.
Uniform with "Lavender and Old Lace"
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS NEW YORK—LONDON