"Don't try to root in those needles for a soft spot," Kate advised him practically. "Not when some persons have more cushions than they need or can use." Whereupon she went over and took two pillows from under Marion's feet, and pulled another from under her shoulder.
These made the professor comfortable enough. He lay back smiling gratefully—even affectionately—upon her.
"You certainly do know how to make a man glad that he is alive," he thanked her. "Now, if I could lie here and look up through these branches and listen while a dear little woman I know recites Shelley's The Cloud, I could feel that paradise holds no greater joys than this sheltered little vale."
The hammock became suddenly and violently agitated. Marion was turning over with a movement that, in one less gracefully slim, might be called a flop.
"Well, good night! I hope you'll excuse me, Kate, for beating it," she said, sitting up. "But I've heard The Cloud till I could say it backwards with my tongue paralyzed. I'll go down by the creek and finish my sleep." She took the three remaining cushions under her arms and departed. At the creek she paused, her ear turned toward the shady spot beyond the cabin. She heard Kate's elocutionary voice declaiming brightly:
"From my wings are shaken the dews that waken The sweet buds, every one—"
She went on a little farther, until she could hear only the higher tones of Kate's voice above the happy gurgle of the stream. She scrambled through a willow tangle, stopped on the farther side to listen, and smiled when the water talked to her with no interruption of human voices.
"And Doug thinks he's a real nature lover!" she commented, throwing her cushions down into a grassy little hollow under the bank. "But if he would rather hear Kate elocute about it than to lie and listen to the real thing, he's nothing more or less than a nature pirate." She curled herself down among the cushions and stared up through the slender willow branches into the top of an alder that leaned over the bank and dangled its finger-tip branches playfully toward her.
"You pretty thing!" she cooed to it. "What does ail people, that they sit around and talk about you and make up rhymes about you, when you just want them to come out and love you! You darling! Words only make you cheap. Now whisper to me, all about when you woke up last spring and found the sun warm and waiting—Go on—tell me about it, and what you said to the creek, and all."
Having listened to Kate's dramatic rendition of the poem he liked, the professor went over and made himself comfortable in the hammock and began talking again about the fire. It was a magnificent spectacle, he declared, although he was really too close to it to obtain the best view. A lot of fine timber was ruined, of course; but fortunately not a tree on any of their claims had been touched. The wind had blown the flames in another direction.
"It would have been terrible to have a fire start in our timber," he went on. "We should lose all that we have put into the venture so far—and that would mean a good deal to us all. As it stands now, we have had a narrow escape. Did you go up where you could obtain a view of the fire, Kate?"
"No, I didn't." Kate poured herself out a glass of lemonade. "I was so worried about Marion I couldn't think of anything else. And when the man stopped and told me where she was, it was dark and I was afraid to go off alone. Douglas, I never spent as miserable a night in all my life. The tremendous risk you and Fred were taking made me fairly wild with anxiety—and then Marion's performance coming up on top of that—"
"What was Marion's performance? Did she sit by the creek again until after dark, refusing to stir?" He smiled tolerantly. "I know how trying Marion's little peculiarities can be. But you surely wouldn't take them seriously, Kate."
"Oh, no, I suppose not. But when it comes to getting herself caught on the other side of the fire, and going up to that lookout station and staying all night, and nobody up there except the lookout man—"
"No! By George, did she do that?"
"Yes, she did, and I think it's perfectly awful! I don't suppose she could get back, after the fire got started," she admitted grudgingly, "but she might have done something, don't you think? She could have gone down the other side, it seems to me. I know I'd have gotten back somehow. And what hurts me, Douglas, is the way she passed it over, as though it was nothing! She knew how worried I was, and she didn't seem to care at all. She made a joke of it."
"Well! By George, I am surprised. But Marion is inclined to be a trifle self-centered, I have noticed. Probably she doesn't realize your point of view at all. I am sure she likes you too much to hurt you deliberately, Kate. And young people nowadays have such different standards of morals. She may actually feel that it isn't shocking, and she may be hurt at your apparent lack of confidence in her."
"She couldn't possibly think that." Kate was too loyal at heart to contemplate that possibility for a moment. "Marion knows better than that. But it does hurt me to see her so careless of her own dignity and good name. We're strangers in this community, and people are going to judge us by appearances. They have nothing else to go by. I care more for Marion, it seems to me, than she cares for herself. Why, Douglas, that girl even telephoned down to the Forest Service that she was up there and going to stay, and wanted them to send word to me. And they are men in that office—human beings, that are bound to think things. What can they think, not knowing Marion at all, and just judging by appearances?"
"I suppose they understood perfectly that it would be impossible for her to get home across the fire, Kate. By George! I can see myself that she couldn't do it. I shouldn't blame the girl for that, Kate. And I can see also that it was a consideration for you that prompted her to send word in the only way she could. Poor girl, you are completely worn out. Now be a good girl and go in and rest, and don't worry any more about it. I shall stay here and keep an eye on camp—and I want you to promise that you will lie down and take a good, long sleep. Go—you need it more than you realize."
Tears—unreasoning, woman tears—stood in Kate's eyes at the tender solicitude of his tone. Very submissively she picked up the pitcher and the glasses and went into the cabin. The professor sighed when she was gone, kneaded the pillows into a more comfortable position and proceeded to keep an eye on camp by falling into so sound a sleep that within five minutes he was snoring gently. It would be cruel to suspect him of wanting to be rid of Kate and her troubles so that he could sleep, but he certainly lost no time in profiting by her absence. Nature had skimped her material when she fashioned Professor Harrison. He was not much taller than Kate—not so tall as Marion by a full inch—and he was narrow shouldered and shallow chested, with thin, bony wrists and a bulging forehead that seemed to bulge worse than it really did because of his scanty growth of hair. He was a kind hearted little man, but the forest rangers had worked him hard all night. One cannot blame him for wanting to sleep in peace, with no sound but the gurgle of the creek two rods away, and the warbling call of a little, yellow-breasted bird in the alders near by.
It was Fred Humphrey tramping wearily into camp three hours later, who awoke him. Fred was an altogether different type of man, and he was not so careful to conceal his own desires. Just now he was hungry, and so he called for Kate. Moreover, he had with him two men, and they were just as hungry as he was, even if they did suppress the fact politely.
"Oh, Kate! Can you scare up something right away for us to eat? Make a lot of coffee, will you? And never mind fancy fixings—real grub is what we want right now. Where's Marion? She can help you get it ready, can't she?"
Kate was heard moving inside the cabin when Fred first called her. Now she looked out of the door, and dodged back embarrassed when she saw the two strangers. She was in a kimono, and had her hair down; evidently she had obeyed the professor implicitly in the matter of going to sleep.
"Oh!" she said, "I don't know where Marion is—as usual; but I can have luncheon ready in a very short time, I'm sure. Is the fire—"
"'Luncheon!'" snorted Fred, laughing a little. "Don't you palm off any luncheon on us! That sounds like a dab of salad and a dab of sauce and two peas in a platter and a prayer for dinner to hurry up and come around! Cook us some grub, old girl—lots of it. Coffee and bacon and flour gravy and spuds. We'd rather wait a few minutes longer and get a square meal, wouldn't we, boys? Make yourselves at home. There's all the ground there is, to sit down on, and there's the whole creek to wash in, if the basin down there is too small. I'm going to get some clean clothes and go down to the big hole and take a plunge. How long will it be before chuck's ready, Kate?"
Kate told him half an hour, and he went off down the creek, keeping at the edge of the little meadow, with a change of clothing under his arm and a big bath towel hung over his shoulder. The two men followed him listlessly, too tired, evidently, to care much what they did.
Fred, leading the way, plunged through the willow fringe and came upon the creek bank three feet from where Marion lay curled up on her cushions. He stood for a minute looking down at her before his present, material needs dominated his admiration of her beauty—for beautiful she was, lying there in a nest of green, with her yellow hair falling loosely about her face.
"Hello! Asleep?" he called to her, much as he had called to Kate. "Afraid we'll have to ask you to move on, sister. We want to take a swim right here. And anyway, Kate wants you right away, quick. Wake up, like a good girl, and run along."
"I don't want to wake up. Go away and let me sleep." Marion opened her eyes long enough to make sure that he was standing right there waiting, and closed them again. "Go somewhere else and swim. There's lots of creek that isn't in use."
"No sir, by heck, I'm going to take my swim right here. I'm too doggone tired to walk another yard. Suit yourself about going, though. Don't let me hurry you at all." He sat down and began to unlace his shoes, grinning back over his shoulder at the other two who had not ventured down to the creek when they heard the voice of a woman there.
Marion sat up indignantly. "Go on down the creek, why don't you?"
"Oh, this place suits me fine." Fred, having removed one shoe, turned it upside down and shook out the sand, and began unlacing the other.
Marion waited stubbornly until he was pulling that shoe off, and then she gathered up her cushions and fled, flushed and angry. She was frequently angry with Fred, who never yielded an inch and never would argue or cajole. She firmly believed that Fred would actually have gone in swimming with her sitting there on the bank; he was just that stubborn. For that she sometimes hated him—since no one detests stubbornness so much as an obstinate person.
Fred looked after her, still smiling oddly because he had known so well how to persuade her to go back to the house and help Kate. Fred almost loved Marion Rose. He admitted to himself that he almost loved her—which is going pretty far for a man like Fred Humphrey. But he also admitted to himself that she could not make him happy, nor he her. To make Marion happy he believed that he would need to have about a million dollars to spend. To make him happy, Marion would need to take a little more interest in home making and not so much interest in beauty making. The frivolous vanity bag of hers, and her bland way of using it, like the movie actresses, in public, served to check his imagination before it actually began building air-castles wherein she reigned the queen.
He could have loved her so faithfully if only she were a little different! The nearest he came to building an air-castle was when he was lying luxuriously in a shallow part of the pool, where the water was not so cold.
"She'd be different, I believe—I'd make her different if I could just have her to myself," he mused. "I'd take a lot of that foolishness out of her in a little while, and I wouldn't have to be rough with her, either. All she needs is a man she can't bluff!"
JACK SHOULD HAVE A HIDE-OUT
Kate, like the rest of the world, pretended to herself a good deal. For instance, when she came into the mountains, she had hoped that Fred and Marion would fall in love and get married. She felt that the arrangement would be perfectly ideal in every way. Marion was such a dear girl, so sweet-tempered and light-hearted; just the temperament that Fred needed in a wife, to save him from becoming mentally heavy and stolid and too unemotional. Fred was so matter-of-fact! Her eagerness to have Marion come into the mining-claim scheme had not been altogether a friendly desire for companionship, as she pretended. Deep in the back of her mind was the matchmaker's belief that propinquity would prove a mighty factor in bringing these two together in marriage. If they did marry, that would throw Marion's timber land with Fred's and give Fred a good bit more than he would have with his own claim alone, which was another reason why Kate had considered their marriage an ideal arrangement.
Three weeks had changed Kate's desire, however. Three weeks is a long time for two women to spend in one small cabin together with almost no intercourse with the outside world. Little by little, Kate's opinion of Marion had changed considerably. To go to shows with Marion, to have her at the house for dinner and to spend a night now and then, to lie relaxed upon a cot in the Martha Washington's beauty booth while Marion ministered to her with soothing fingertips and agreeable chatter, was one thing; to live uncomfortably—albeit picturesquely—with Marion in a log cabin in the woods was quite another thing.
Kate began to doubt whether Marion would make a suitable wife for Fred. She had discovered that Marion was selfish, for one thing; being selfish, she was also mercenary. Kate began to fear that Marion had designs upon Fred for the sake of his timber claim; which was altogether different, of course, from Kate's designs upon Marion's timber claim! Besides, Marion was inclined to shirk her share of the cooking and dishwashing, and when she made their bed and tidied the crude little room they called their bedroom, she never so much as pretended to hang up Kate's clothes. She would appropriate the nails on the wall to her own uses, and lay Kate's clothes on Kate's trunk and let it go at that. Any woman, Kate told herself, would resent such treatment.
Then Marion was always going off alone and never asking Kate if she would like to go along. That was inconsiderate, to say the least. And look how she had acted about climbing the peak at Mount Hough, the day they had gone to see the lake! Kate had wanted to go down to the lake—but no—Marion had declared that it was more beautiful from the rim, and had insisted upon climbing clear to the top of the peak, when she knew perfectly well that the altitude was affecting Kate's heart. And she had gone off alone and stayed nearly two hours, so that they were almost caught in the dark on the way home. It was the most selfish thing Kate had ever heard of—until Marion perpetrated worse selfishness which paled the incident.
More than that, Marion was always making little, sneering remarks about the professor, and doing little things to annoy him. Kate could not see how any one could do that, kind as Douglas was, and courteous. And there were times when Marion seemed actually to be trying to interest Fred; other times she purposely irritated him, as though she were deliberately amusing herself with him. All this was not taking into account Marion's penurious habit of charging Kate for every facial massage and every manicure she gave her. When Kate looked ahead to the long winter they must spend together in that cabin, she was tempted to feel as though she, for one, would be paying an exorbitant price for her timber claim.
With all that tucked away in the back of her mind, Kate still believed—or at least she successfully pretended to believe—that she liked Marion personally as much as she ever had liked her. She did not see why any one must be absolutely blind to the faults of a friend. She merely recognized Marion's faults. But if she ever criticised, she condoned the criticism by saying that it was for Marion's own best interests.
Just now, while she cleared away the litter of Fred's dinner, she meditated upon the proper manner of dealing with Marion's latest defection. Should she warn the professor to say nothing to Fred? It might turn Fred against Marion to know what she had done; Fred was so queer and old-fashioned about women. Still, he would be sure to hear of it somehow, and it might be best to tell him herself, as tactfully as possible, because she knew so well just how best to approach Fred. She told Fred and was amazed at the result.
"Well, what of it?" Fred demanded with brotherly bluntness. "It takes a woman, by thunder, to knife her friends in the back. What are you trying to build up anyway? Take it from me, old girl, you want to cut out this picking away at Marion behind her back—or to her face, either, for that matter. You two women are going to see a good deal of each other between now and spring, and you'll be ready to claw each other's eyes out if you don't shut them to a lot you don't like."
"Well, upon my word! I was merely telling you of Marion's adventure. I'm not saying—"
"No, but you're thinking, and you want to quit it." Whereupon Fred went off to his tent and indulged in a much needed siesta.
Kate was angry as well as hurt. The injustice of Fred's condemnation stirred her to action. She got hurriedly into her khaki skirt and tramping shoes, slung a canteen over her shoulder, tied her green veil over her hat and under her chin, put on her amber sun-glasses, and took her stout walking stick.
She was careful not to wake Fred or the professor, though that would have been more difficult than she imagined. She did not want them to know where she was going. If they missed her and were worried it would serve them both right; for now she remembered that the professor had also been very unsympathetic. Neither of them had seemed to realize what a terrible night she had spent there alone, with that terrible fire raging through the forest and with Marion gone, without saying one word to Kate about where she was going or when she expected to return.
She meant to climb Mount Hough in spite of the altitude, and find out for herself what sort of a fellow that lookout man was. Fred and Douglas might make light of the matter if they wished, but she was in a sense responsible for Marion Rose, and she considered it her duty to think of the girl's welfare.
There was a good deal of determination in Kate's character, once you roused her out of herself. She climbed Mount Hough, but she did not find out what sort of a fellow the lookout man was, for Jack heard her puffing up the pack trail and retired, with the precipitateness of a hunted fox, to his niche between the boulders. She did not stay long. As soon as she had rested a little and made sure that the station door was locked, and had peered in and seen that everything was in perfect order, she decided that the lookout man was probably off fighting fire with the rest of the forest rangers. Convinced of that, she straightway jumped to the conclusion that he had not been there at all since the fire started, and Marion must have stayed up there alone, and she had simply been trying to worry Kate over nothing.
Well, at any rate, she couldn't play that trick the second time. Kate felt well repaid for the climb even if she did not get a glimpse of the lookout man. Let Marion pretend, if she wanted to. Let her rave about the lookout man's mouth and eyes and temper; Kate was armed against all future baitings. She could go back now and be mistress of the situation.
So she went, and Jack listened to her retreating footsteps scrunching down the trail, and heaved a deep sigh of relief when the silence flowed in behind her and the mountain top was all his own. Nevertheless he felt uneasy over the incident. Kate, climbing alone to the station, trying the door, waiting around for a few minutes and then going back the way she had come, did not strike Jack as being a tourist come to view the scenery. So far as he had been able to judge as he peeped out through a narrow rift in the ledge, she had paid very little attention to the scenery. She seemed chiefly concerned with the station, and her concern seemed mostly an impatience over its locked door.
He got his telescope and watched her as she came down through the rocks into sight. No, she certainly did not strike him as being a tourist, in spite of her tourist's khaki and amber glasses and heavy tan boots. Women tourists did not climb mountains without an escort of some kind, he had learned.
"By heck, I'll bet that's Kate!" he exclaimed suddenly, staring at her retreating form. "Now, what does the old girl want—?" Straightway he guessed what she wanted, and the guess brought his eyebrows together with the lump between which Marion had described. If she had come up there to see him, it must be because she had heard something about him that had stirred her up considerably. He remembered how she had refused to climb the peak with Marion, that first afternoon.
You know how self-conscious a secret makes a person. Jack could think of only one reason why Kate should climb away up there to see him. She must know who he was, and had come up to settle any doubt in her mind before she did anything. If she knew who he was, then Marion Rose must have told her. And if Marion Rose had gone straight and told her friends—
Jack went so far as to pack everything he owned into his suitcase and carry it to the niche in the ledge. He would not stay and give her the satisfaction of sending the sheriff up there. He was a headlong youth, much given to hasty judgments. All that night he hated Marion Rose worse than he had ever hated any one in his life. He did not leave, however. He could not quite bring himself to the point of leaving while his beloved mountain was being scarred with fire. He knew that it was for the sake of having him there in just such an emergency as this fire that the government paid him a salary. Headlong as was his nature, there was in him the quality of being loyal to a trust. He could make all preparations for leaving—but until the fire was out and the forest safe for the time being, he could not go.
Then, quite early the next day, Marion herself came up the trail with three movie magazines and a loaf of bread that she had purloined from Kate's makeshift pantry. On this day she was not so frivolous, but helpful and full of sympathy. Jack could not believe that she had told his secret to Kate; and because he could not believe it he asked her point blank whether Kate had come spying up there deliberately, and was vastly reassured by Marion's vehement denial.
They worked out a heliograph code that day, and they planned an exploring trip to Taylor Rock the next time Jack was relieved. It seemed very important that Jack should have a picturesque hide-out there; a secret cave, perhaps, with a tilting rock to cover the doorway.
"It would be great," declared Marion, clasping her hands together with her favorite ecstatic gesture. "If we could just find a cave with a spring away back in it, don't you know, and a ledge outside where you could watch for enemies—wouldn't that be keen? It makes me wish I had done something, so I had to hide out in the hills. And every day at a certain time, I can come up here where that hydrometer thing was before it burned, and signal to you. And we'll find a place where I can leave magazines and things like that, and you can come and get them. Honestly, I've always wished I could be an outlaw—if I could be one without doing anything really bad, you know. I'd love having to live in a cave somewhere. You're lucky, Jack—Johnny Carew—if you only knew it."
"I do know it. I never found it out till today, though," Jack told her with what he fancied was an enigmatic smile.
"Now listen. If you want me to help you enjoy being an outlaw, Jack Corey, you simply must cut out the sentimental stuff. Let me tell you how I feel about it. It's nothing new to have men make love—any kind of a man will sit up and say 'bow-wow' if you snap your fingers at him. That's deadly common. But here you are, a bandit and an outlaw without being bad or tough—I don't think you are, anyway. You didn't do such awful things to get in bad with the law, you see. But you're hiding out just the same, with the police sleuthing around after you, and disowned by your mother and all, just like the real thing. Why, it's a story in real life! And I want to live in that story, too, and help you just like a book heroine. I think we can make it awfully interesting, being real enough so it isn't just make-believe. It's keen, I tell you. But for once I want to see if a boy and a girl can't cut out the love interest and be just good pals, like two boys together." Marion got up and stood before him, plainly as ready to go as to stay. "If you'll agree to that I'll go and help you find your cave. Otherwise, I'll go back to camp and stay there, and you can look after yourself."
"Be calm! Be calm!" Jack pushed back his mop of hair and grinned derisively. "You should worry about any lovemaking from me. Take the bunch out at the beach, or at a dance, and I can rattle off the sentimental patter to beat the band. But it doesn't seem to fit in up here—unless a fellow meant it honest-to-goodness. And I ain't going to mean it, my dear girl. Not with you. I like you as a friend, but I fear I can never be more than a step-brother to you." He pulled off a dead twig from the bush beside him, snapped it in two and flipped the pieces down the slope. "I'd look nice, making love to a girl, the fix I'm in!" he added with a savage bitterness that gave the lie to his smiling indifference. "A fellow ought to make sure his canoe is going to stay right side up before he asks a girl to step into it."
"That's all right then. It's best to understand each other. Now, if I were you, I'd have things brought up here, a little at a time, that you'll need for your secret camp. Groceries, you know, and things. You can make a place to keep them in till you get your vacation—and listen! When I go to town I can buy you things that would look queer if you sent for them. Towels and napkins and—"
Jack gave a whoop at that, though his ignorance of primitive living did not fall far short of hers. But in the main, he took her advice with praiseworthy gratitude. He had never expected to enjoy being an outlaw. But under the influence of her enthusiasm and his own youthfulness, he began to take a certain interest in the details of her scheme—to plan with her as though it was going to be merely a camping out for pleasure. That, of course, was the boy in him rising to the bait of a secret cave in the mountains, and exchanging heliograph signals with the heroine of the adventure, and lying upon a ledge before his cave watching for enemies. There would be the bears, too, that Hank Brown had said would be ambling up there to their winter quarters. And there would be the scream of the mountain lions—Jack had more than once heard them at night down in the forest below him, and had thrilled to the sound. He would stalk the shy deer and carry meat to his cave and broil the flesh over his tiny campfire—don't tell me that the boy in any normal young man would not rise enthusiastically to that bait!
But there were other times, when Marion was not there; when Jack was alone with the stars and the dark bulk of the wooded slopes beneath him; times when the adventure paled and grew bleak before his soul, so that he shrank from it appalled. Times when he could not shut out the picture of the proud, stately Mrs. Singleton Corey, hiding humiliated and broken of spirit in a sanatorium, shamed before the world because he was her son. Not all the secret caves the mountains held could dull the pain of that thought when it assailed him in the dark stillness of the peak.
For Jack was her true offspring in pride, if no more. He had been a sensitive youngster who had resented passionately his mother's slights upon his vague memory of the dad who had given him his adventurous spirit and his rebellion against the restraints of mere convention, which was his mother's dearest god. Unknown to Mrs. Singleton Corey, he had ardently espoused the cause of his wandering dad, and had withdrawn his love from the arrogant lady-mother, who never once spoke affectionately of the man Jack loved. He had taken what money she gave him. It was his dad's money, for his dad had suffered hardship to wrest it from the earth, in the mines that kept Mrs. Singleton Corey in soft, perfumed luxury. His dad would have wanted Jack to have it, so Jack took all she would give him and did not feel particularly grateful to her because she was fairly generous in giving.
But now the very pride that he had inherited from her turned upon him the savage weapons of memory. He had swift visions of his mother mounting the steps of some mansion, going graciously to make a fashionable ten-minute call upon some friend, while Jack played chauffeur for the occasion. She couldn't go calling now on the Westlake millionaires' wives, taunted memory. Neither could she preside at the club teas; nor invite forty or fifty twittery women into her big double parlors and queen it over them as Jack had so often seen her do. She could not do any of the things that had made up her life, and Jack was the reason why she could not do them.
He tried to shut out the picture of his mother, and there were times when for a few hours he succeeded. Those were the hours he spent with Marion or in watching for her to come, or in perfecting the details of the plan she had helped him to form. By the time he had his next four days of freedom, he had also a good-sized cache of food ready to carry to Grizzly Peak where his makeshift camping outfit was hidden. Marion had told him that when the fire-season was over and the lookout station closed for the winter, which would be when the first snow had come to stay, he ought to be ready to disappear altogether from the ken of the Forest Service and all of the rest of Quincy.
"You can say you're going prospecting," she planned, "and then beat it to your cave and make it snug for the winter. Anything you must buy after that, you can tell me about it, and I'll manage to get it and leave it for you at our secret meeting place. I don't know how I'll manage about Kate, but I'll manage somehow—and that'll be fun, too. Kate will be perfectly wild if she sees me doing mysterious things—but she won't find out what it's all about, and I'll have more fun! I do love to badger her, poor thing. She's a dear, really, you know. But she wants to know everything a person does and says and thinks; and she hasn't any more imagination than a white rabbit, and so she wouldn't understand if you told her every little thing.
"So I'll have the time of my life doing it, but I'll get things just the same, and leave them for you. And I'll bring you reading—oh, have you put down candles, Jack? You'll need a lot of them, so you can read evenings."
"What's the matter with pine knots?" Jack inquired. "Daniel Boone was great on pine-knot torches, if I remember right. One thing I wish you would do, Marion. I'll give you the money to send for about a million Araby cigarettes. I'll write down the address—where I always bought them. Think you could get by with it?
"You just watch me. Say, I do think this is going to be the best kind of a winter! I wouldn't miss being up here for anything."
Jack looked at her doubtfully, but he finally nodded his head in assent. "It could be worse," he qualified optimistically.
MURPHY HAS A HUMOROUS MOOD
Though Fred and the professor shouldered pick and shovel at sunrise every morning and laid them down thankfully at dusk every night, they could not hope to work out the assessment upon eight mining claims in a year. The professor was not a success as a pick-and-shovel man, though he did his best. He acquired a row of callouses on each hand and a chronic ache in his back, but beyond that he did not accomplish very much. Fred was really the brawn of the undertaking, and in a practical way he was the brains also. Fred saw at once that the task required more muscle than he and the professor could furnish, so he hired a couple of men and set them to work on the claims of the speculators.
Two little old Irishmen, these were; men who had dried down to pure muscle and bone as to their bodies, and to pure mining craft and tenacious memory for the details of their narrow lives as to brains. The mountains produce such men. In the barren plains country they would be called desert rats, but in the mountains they are called prospectors.
They set up their own camp half a mile down the creek, so that Kate and Marion seldom saw them. They did their own cooking and divided their work to suit themselves, and they did not charge as much for their labor as Fred charged the claim-owners for the work, so Fred considered that he had done very well in hiring them. He could turn his attention to his own claim and the claims of Marion and Kate, and let the professor peck away at a hole in the hillside where he vaguely hoped to find gold. Why not? People did, in these mountains. Why, nuggets of gold had been picked up in the main street of Quincy, so they told him. One man in town had solemnly assured him that all these hills were "lousy with gold"; and while the professor did not like the phrase, he did like the heartening assurance it bore to his wistful heart, and he began examining his twenty-acre claim with a new interest. Surely the early-day miners had not gleaned all the gold! Why, nearly every time he talked with any of the natives he heard of fresh strikes. Old prospectors like Murphy and Mike were always coming in town for supplies and then hurrying back to far canyons where they fully expected to become rich.
The professor got a book on mineralogy and read it faithfully. Certain points which he was not sure that he understood he memorized and meant to ask Murphy, who had a memory like a trap and had mined from Mexico to Alaska and from Montana to the sea.
Murphy poised his shovel, since he happened to be working, twinkled his eyes at the professor through thick, silver-rimmed glasses, and demanded: "For why do ye be readin' a buke about it? For why don't ye get down wit yer pick, man, and see what's in the ground? My gorry, I been minin' now for forty-wan year, ever sence I come from the auld country, an' I never read no buke t' see what I had in me claim. I got down inty the ground, an' I seen for meself what I got there—an' whin I found out, my gorry, I didn't need no buke t' tell me was she wort' the powder I'd put inty 'er. An' them that made their millions outy their mines, they didn't go walkin' around wit' a buke in their hands! My gorry, they hired jackasses like me an' Mike here t' dig fer all they wanted t' know about.
"And if ye want to find out what's there in yer claim, I'd advise ye t' throw away yer buke, young feller, an' git busy wit' yer two hands, an' ye'll be like t' know a dom sight more than wit' all yer readin'. An' if ye like to bring me a sample of what ye git, I'll be the wan t' tell ye by sight what ye have, and I don't need no buke t' tell it by nayther."
Whereat Mike, who was silly from being struck on the head with a railroad tie somewhere down the long trail of years behind him, gulped his lean Adam's apple into a laugh, and began to gobble a long, rambling tale about a feller he knew once in Minnesota who could locate mines with a crooked stick, and wherever he pinted the stick you could dig....
Murphy sat down upon him then—figuratively speaking—and reminded Mike that they were not talking about crooked sticks ner no kind of sticks, ner they didn't give a dom what happened in Minnesota fifty year ago—if it ever had happened, which Murphy doubted. So Mike left his story in the middle and went off to the water jug under a stubby cedar, walking bowlegged and swinging his arms limply, palms turned backward, and muttering to himself as he went.
"A-ah, there goes a liar if ever there was one—him and his crooked sthick!" Murphy brought out a plug of tobacco the length of his hand and pried off a corner with his teeth. "Mebby it was a railroad tie, I dunno, that give him the dint in his head where he should have brains—but I misdoubt me if iver there was more than the prospect of a hole there, and niver a color to pay fer the diggin'." He looked at the professor and winked prodigiously, though Mike was out of earshot. "Him an' his crooked sthick!" he snorted, nudging the professor with his elbow. "'S fer me, I'd a dom sight ruther go be yer buke, young feller—and more I cannot say than thot."
The professor went back to his ledge on the hillside and began to peck away with his pick, getting a sample for Murphy to look at. He rather liked Murphy, who had addressed him as young feller—a term sweet to the ears of any man when he had passed forty-five and was still going. By George! an old miner like Murphy ought to know a fair prospect when he saw it! The professor hoped that he might really find gold on his claim. Gold would not lessen the timber value, and it would magnify the profits. They expected to make somewhere near six thousand dollars off each twenty acres; perhaps more, since they were noble trees and good, honest pine that brought the best price from the mills. Six thousand dollars was worth while, certainly; but think of the fortune if they could really find gold. He would have a more honest right to the claim, then. He wondered what Murphy thought of the shaft he was sinking over there, where Fred had perfunctorily broken through the leaf mold with a "prospect" hole, and had ordered Murphy and Mike to dig to bed-rock, and stop when they had the assessment work finished.
What Murphy thought of it Murphy was succinctly expressing just then to Mike, with an upward twinkle of his thick, convex glasses, and a contemptuous fling of his shovelful of dirt up over the rim of the hole.
"My gorry, I think this mine we're workin' on was located by the bake," he chuckled. "Fer if not that, will ye tell me why else they want 'er opened up? There's as much gold here as I've got in me pocket, an' not a dom bit more."
"Well, that man I knowed in Minnesota, he tuk a crooked sthick," gobbled Mike, whose speech, as well as his mind had been driven askew by the railroad tie; but Murphy impatiently shut him up again.
"A-ah, an' that's about as much as ye iver did know, I'm thinkin', le's have no more av yer crooked sthick. Hand me down that other pick, fer this wan is no sharper than me foot."
He worked steadily after that, flinging up the moist soil with an asperated "a-ah" that punctuated regularly each heave of his shoulder muscles. In a little he climbed out and helped Mike rig a windlass over the hole. Mike pottered a good deal, and stood often staring vacantly, studying the next detail of their work. When he was not using them, his hands drooped helplessly at his sides, a sign of mental slackness never to be mistaken. He was willing, and what Murphy told him to do he did. But it was Murphy who did the hard work, who planned for them both.
Presently Mike went bowlegging to camp to start their dinner, and Murphy finished spiking the windlass to the platform on which it rested. He still whispered a sibilant "a-ah!" with every blow of the hammer, and the perspiration trickled down his seamed temples in little rivulets to his chin that looked smaller and weaker than it should because he had lost so many of his teeth and had a habit of pinching his lower jaw up against his upper.
The professor came back with his sample of rock—with a pocketful of samples—just as Murphy had finished and was wiping his thick glasses on a soiled, blue calico handkerchief with large white polka-dots on the border and little white polka-dots in the middle. He turned toward the professor inquiringly, warned by the scrunching footsteps that some one approached. But he was blind as a bat—so he declared—without his glasses, so he finished polishing them and placed them again before his bleared, powder-burned eyes before he knew who was coming.
"An' it's you back already," he greeted, in his soft Irish voice, that tilted up at the end of every sentence, so that, without knowing what words he spoke, one would think he was asking question after question and never making a statement at all. "An' what have ye dug outy yer buke now?"
"No, by George, I dug this out of the ground," the professor declared, going forward eagerly. "I want you to tell me frankly just what you think of it."
"An' I will do that—though it's many the fight I've been in because of speakin' me mind," Murphy stated, grinning a little. "An' now le's see what ye got there. My gorry, I've been thinkin' they're all av thim buke mines that ye have here," he bantered, peering into the professor's face, before he took the largest piece of rock and turned it over critically in his hands. In a minute he handed it back with a quizzical glance.
"They's nawthin' there," he said softly. "If thot was gold-bearin' rock, my gorry, we'd all of us be rollin' in wealth, fer the mountains is made of such. Young feller, ye're wastin' yer time an' ivery dollar ye're sinkin' in these here claims ye've showed me—and thot's no lie I'm tellin' ye, but the truth, an' if ye believe it I'll soon be huntin' another job and ye'll be takin' the train back where ye come from."
The professor eyed him uncertainly. He looked at the great, singing pines that laced their branches together high over their heads. Fred, he thought, had made a mistake when he hired experienced miners to do this work. It might be better to let Murphy in....
"Still the timber on the claims is worth proving up, and more," he ventured cautiously, with a sharp glance at Murphy's spectacles.
"A-ah, and there yer right," Murphy assented with the upward tilt to his voice. "An' if it's the timber ye be wantin', I'll say no more about the mine. Four thousand acres minin' claims no better than yer own have I seen held fer the trees on thim—an' ain't it the way some of these ole fellers thot goes around now wit' their two hands in their pants pockets an' no more work t' do wit' 'em than to light up their seegars—ain't it wit' the timber on their minin' claims that they made their pile? A-ah—but them was the good times fer them that had brains. A jackass like me an' Mike, here, we're the fellers thot went on a lookin' fer gold an' givin' no thought to the trees that stood above. An' thim that took the gold an' the trees, they're the ones thot's payin' wages now to the likes of Mike an' me."
He straightened his back and sent a speculative glance at the forest around him. "'Tis long sence the thrick has been worked through," he mused, turning his plug of tobacco over in his hand, looking for a likely place to sink his stained old teeth. "Ye'll be kapin' mum about what's in yer mind, young feller, ef ye don't want to bring the dom Forest Service on yer trail. Ef it was me, I'd buy me a bag of salt fer me mines—I would thot."
"Well, by George!" The professor stared. "What has salt—?"
"A-ah, an' there's where ye're ign'rant, young feller, wit' all yer buke l'arnin'. 'Tis gold I mean—gold thot ye can show t' thim thot gits cur'us. But if it was me, I'd sink me shaf' in a likelier spot than what this spot is—I wuddn't be bringing up durt like this, an' be callin' the hole a mine! I kin show ye places where ye kin git the color an' have the luke of a mine if ye haven't the gold. There's better men than you been fooled in these hills. I spint me a winter meself, cuttin' timbers fer me mine—an' no more than a mile from this spot it was—an' in the spring I sinks me shaf' an' not a dom ounce of gold do I git fer me pains!"
"Well, by George! I'll speak to Fred about it. I—I suppose you can be trusted, Murphy?"
Murphy spat far from him and hitched up his sagging overalls. "Kin any man be trusted?" he inquired sardonically. "He kin, says I, if it's to his intrust. I'm gittin' my wages fer the diggin', ain't I? Then it's to me intrust to kape on diggin'! Sure, me tongue niver wagged me belly outy a grub-stake yit, young feller! I'm with ye on this, an' thot's me true word I'm givin' ye."
The professor hurried off to find Fred and urge him to let Murphy advise them upon the exact sites of their mines. Murphy hung his hammer up in the forked branches of a young oak, and went off to his dinner. Arriving there, he straightway discovered that Mike, besides frying bacon and making a pot of muddy coffee and stirring up a bannock, had been engaged also in what passed with him for thinking.
"Them fellers don't know nothin' about minin'," he began when he had poured himself a cup of coffee and turned the pot with the handle toward Murphy. "They's no gold there, where we're diggin', I know there's no gold! They's no sign of gold. They can dig a hunnerd feet down, an' they won't find no gold! Why, in Minnesota, that time—"
"A-ah, now, le's have none av Minnesota," Murphy broke in upon Mike's gobbling—no other word expresses Mike's manner of speech, or comes anywhere near to giving any idea of his mushy mouthing of words. "An' who iver said they was after gold, now?"
Mike's jaw went slack while he stared dully at his partner. "An' if they ain't after gold, what they diggin' fer, then?" he demanded, when he had collected what he could of his scattered thoughts.
"A-ah, now, an' thot's a diffrunt story, Mike, me boy." Murphy broke off a piece of bannock, on the side least burned, and nodded his head in a peculiarly knowing manner. "Av ye could kape yer tongue quiet fr'm clappin' all ye know, Mike, I cud tell ye somethin'—I cud thot."
"Wh-why, nobudy ever heard me talkin' things that's tol' in secret," Mike made haste to asseverate. "Why, one time in Minnesota, they was a feller, he tol' me, min' yuh, things 't he wouldn't tell his own mthrrr!" Mike, poor man, could not say mother at all. He just buzzed with his tongue and let it go at that. But Murphy was used to his peculiarities and guessed what he meant.
"An' there's where he showed respick fer the auld lady," he commended drily, and winked at his cup of coffee.
"An' he tol' me, mind yuh, all about a mrrer" (which was as close as he could come to murder) "an' he knew, mind ye, who it was, an' he tol' me—an' why, I wouldn't ever say nothin' an' he knew it—I doctrrrred his eyes, mind ye, mind ye, an' the doctrrrs they couldn't do nothin'—an' we was with this outfit that was puttin' in a bridge" (only he couldn't say bridge to save his life) "this was 'way back in Minnesota—"
"A-ah, now ye come back to Minnesota, ye better quit yer travelin' an' eat yer dinner," quelled Murphy impatiently. "An' le's hear no more 'bout it."
Mike laid a strip of scorched bacon upon a chunk of scorched bannock and bit down through the mass, chewed meditatively and stared into the coals of his camp fire. "If they ain't diggin' fer gold, then what are they diggin' fer?" he demanded aggressively, and so suddenly that Murphy started.
"A-ah, now, I'll tell ye what they're diggin' fer, but it's a secret, mind ye, and ye must nivver spheak a word av it. They're diggin' fer anguintum, me boy. An' thot's wort' more than gold, an' the likes av me 'n you wadden't know if we was to wade through it, but it's used in the war, I dunno, t' make gas-bags t' kill the inimy, and ye're t' say nawthin' t' nobody er they'll likely take an' hang ye fer a spy on the government, but ye're sa-afe, Mike, s' long as ye sthick t' me an' yer job an' say nawthin' t' nobody, d' ye see."
"They'd nivver hang me fer a spy," Mike gobbled excitedly. "They'll nivver hang me—why I knowed—"
"A-ah, av yer ivver did ye've fergot it intirely," Murphy squelched him pitilessly.
Mike gulped down a mouthful and took a swallow of muddy coffee. "They better look out how they come around me," he threatened vaguely. "They can't take me for a spy. I'd git the lawyers after 'em, an' I'd make 'em trouble. They wanta look out—I'd spend ivvery cent I make on lawyers an' courts if they took and hung me fer a spy. I'd lawsue 'em!"
Murphy laughed. "A-ah, would ye, now!" he cried admiringly. "My gorry, it takes a brain like yours t' think av things. Now, av they hung me, I'd be likes to let 'er sthand thot way. I'd nivver a thought t' lawsue 'em fer it—I wad not!"
A CAVE DWELLER JACK WOULD BE
Smoke-tinged sunlight and warm winds and languorous days held for another full month in the mountains. Then the pines complained all through one night, and in the morning they roared like the rush of breakers in a storm, and sent dead branches crashing down, and sifted brown needles thick upon the earth below.
"A-ah, but she's goin' t' give us the rain now, I dunno," Murphy predicted, staring up at the leaden clouds through his thick glasses. "Ye better git up some firewood, Mike, and make the camp snug agin foul weather. An' av' the both of ye ain't got yer place tight an' ready fer a sthorm, ye betther be stirrin' yerselves an' let the diggin' go fer a day. It's firewood ye'll need, an' in a dry place. An' while ye're talkin' 'bout wood, have yer got yer wood fer the winter? An' yer goin' to sthay, ye bin tellin' me."
Fred looked around him at the forest where the oaks and the cottonwoods and all the trailing vines were fluttering gay red and yellow leaves in the wind. Fall was slipping on him unaware. He had thought that there was plenty of time to make ready for winter, but now he knew that the time was short—too short, maybe, with that wind booming up from the southwest.
"You and Mike can knock off work here, and when your camp's in shape you can come over and cut wood for us. Doug, we'll beat it and throw that woodshed together we've been going to build. Think it'll storm today, Murphy?"
Murphy stepped out where he could glimpse the southern sky, and eyed the drift of heavy clouds. "She will not bust loose t'day, I'm thinkin'," he decided. "She'll be workin' 'erself up to the pint av shnowin' er rainin' er both. Rain in the valley, shnow up here where we're at, I'm thinkin'. She'll be a rip when she does bust loose, me boy, an' ye can't have things too tight an' shnug."
"I believe yuh. Come on, Doug. Murphy, you can take care of the tools and cover up the hole, will you?"
"I will do that." Murphy grinned after the two tolerantly. "Will I take care av me tools, an' it buildin' a sthorm?" he sarcastically asked the swaying bushes around him. "An' do I need a pilgrim to remind me av that? An' thim wit' no wood, I dunno, whin they shud have thurrty tier at the very least, sawed an' sphlit an' ricked up under cover where it can be got at whin they want it—an' they will want it, fair enough! A-ah, but they'll find they ain't winterin' in Southern Californy, before they're t'rough with this country. They're not got their winter grub laid in, an' I'll bet money on't, an' no wood, an' they're like t' be shnowed in here, whin no rig will come up thot grade wit' a load an' I don't care how much they'll pay t' have it hauled, an' them two not able t' pack grub on their backs as I've done manny's the time, an' them wimmin wantin' all the nicks Lee's got in his sthores! Cake an' pie, it's likely they must have in the house er they think they're not eatin'." Murphy talked as he worked, putting the tools in a pile ready to be carried to camp, picking up pieces of rope and wire and boards and nails, and laying a plank roof over the windlass and weighting it with rocks. Mike had gone pacing to camp, swinging his arms and talking to himself also, though his talk was less humanly kind under the monotonous grumble. Mike was gobbling under his breath, something about law-suing anybody that come botherin' him an' tryin' t' arrest him for nothin'. But Murphy continued to harp upon the subject of domestic preparedness.
"An' that leanto them men sleep in is no better than nothin' an' if it kapes the rain off their blankets it'll not kape off the shnow, an' it won't kape off the wind at all. An' they've not got the beddin' they'll be needin', an' I'll bet money on it.
"They should have a cellar dug back av the cabin where's the hill the sun gets to, an' they should have it filled with spuds an' cabbages an' the like—but what have they got? A dollar's worth av sugar, maybe, an' a fifty-poun' sack av flour, an' maybe a roll av butter an' a table full of nicknacks which they could do without—an' winter comin' on like the lope av a coyote after a rabbit, an' them no better prepared than the rabbit, ner so, fer the rabbit's maybe got a hole he can duck inty an' they have nawthin' but the summer camp they've made, an' hammicks, by gorry, whin they should have warrm overshoes an' sourdough coats! Tenderfeet an' pilgrims they be, an' these mountains is no place fer such with winter comin' on—an' like to be a bad wan the way the squrls has been layin' away nuts."
Pilgrims and tenderfeet they were, and their lack of foresight might well shock an oldtimer like Murphy. But he would have been still more shocked had he seen what poor amateurish preparations for the coming winter another young tenderfoot had been making. If he had seen the place which Jack Corey had chosen for his winter hide-out I think he would have taken a fit; and if he had seen the little pile of food which Jack referred to pridefully as his grubstake I don't know what he would have done.
Under the barren, rock-upended peak of King Solomon there was a narrow cleft between two huge slabs that had slipped off the ledge when the mountain was in the making. At the farther end of the cleft there was a cave the size of a country school-house, with a jagged opening in the roof at one side, and with a "back-door" opening that let one out into a network of clefts and caves. It was cool and quiet in there when Jack discovered the hiding place, and the wind blowing directly from the south that day, did not more than whistle pleasantly through a big fissure somewhere in the roof.
Jack thought it must have been made to order, and hastened down to their meeting place and told Marion so. And the very next day she insisted upon meeting him on the ridge beyond Toll-Gate basin and climbing with him to the cave. As soon as she had breath enough to talk, she agreed with him as emphatically as her vocabulary and her flexible voice would permit. Made to order? She should say it was! Why, it was perfect, and she was just as jealous of him as she could be. Why, look at the view! And the campfire smoke wouldn't show but would drift away through all those caves; or if it did show, people would simply think that a new volcano had bursted loose, and they would be afraid to climb the peak for fear of getting caught in an eruption. Even if they did come up, Jack could see them hours before they got there, and he could hide. And anyway, they never would find his cave. It was perfect, just like a moonshiner story or something.
Speaking of smoke reminded Jack that he would have to lay in a supply of wood, which was some distance below the rock crest. Manzanita was the closest, and that was brushy stuff. He also told Marion gravely that he must do it before any snow came, or his tracks would be a dead give-away to the place. He must get all his grubstake in too, and after snowfall he would have to be mighty careful about making tracks around any place.
Marion thought that snow on the mountain would be "keen," and suggested that Jack try a pair of her shoes, and see if he couldn't manage to wear them whenever there was snow. His feet were very small for a man's, and hers were—well, not tiny for a woman, and she would spend so much time hiking around over the hills that a person would think, of course, she had made the tracks. Being an impulsive young woman who believed in doing things on the spot, she thereupon retired behind a corner of rock, and presently threw one of her high-lace boots out to Jack. It crumpled his toes, but Jack thought he could wear it if he had to. So that point was settled satisfactorily, and they went on planning impossibilities with a naive enthusiasm that would have horrified Murphy.
Any man could have told Jack things to dampen his enthusiasm for wintering on the top of King Solomon. But Jack, for perfectly obvious reasons, was not asking any man for information or advice upon that subject. Hank Brown would have rambled along the trail of many words and eventually have told Jack some things that he ought to know—only Hank Brown came no more to Mount Hough lookout station. A stranger brought Jack's weekly pack-load of supplies; a laconic type of man who held his mind and his tongue strictly to the business at hand. The other men who came there were tourists, and with them Jack would not talk at all if he could help it.
So he went blandly on with his camp building, four precious days out of every month. He chopped dead manzanita bush and carried it on his back to his hide-out, and was tickled with the pile he managed to store away in one end of the cave. Working in warm weather, it seemed to be a great deal of wood.
From the lookout station he watched the slow building of the storm that so worried Murphy because of the Toll-Gate people. He watched the circled sweep of the clouds rushing from mountain ridge to mountain ridge. Straight off Claremont they came, and tangled themselves in the treetops of the higher slopes. The wind howled over the mountain so fiercely that he could scarcely force his way against it to the spring for water. And when he filled his bucket the wind sloshed half of it out before he could reach the puny shelter of his station. If he had ever wondered why that station was banked solid to the window-sills with rocks, he wondered no more when he felt that gale pushing and tugging at it and shrieking as if it were enraged because it could not pick the station up bodily and fling it down into the lake below.
"Gee! I'm glad I've got a cave the wind can't monkey with, to winter in," he congratulated himself fatuously once, when the little boxlike building shook in the blast.
That night the wind slept, and the mountain lay hushed after the tumult. But the clouds hung heavy and gray at dark, and in the morning they had not drifted on. It was as though the mountain tops had corralled all the clouds in the country and held them penned like sheep over the valleys. With the gray sunrise came the wind again, and howled and trumpeted and bullied the harassed forests until dark. And then, with dark came the stinging slap of rain upon the windows, and pressed Jack's loneliness deep into the soul of him.
"They'll be shutting up this joint for the winter," he told himself many times that night, half hopefully, half regretfully. "They won't pay a man to watch forests that are soaking wet. I guess my job's done here."
The next morning a thin white blanket of snow fresh sifted from the clouds lay all over the summit and far down the sides. Beyond its edges the rain beat steadily upon the matted leaves and branches. Surely his job was ended with that storm, Jack kept telling himself, while he stared out at his drenched world capped with white. It was the nearest he had ever been to snow, except once or twice when he had gone frolicking up Mount Wilson with snowballing parties. He scooped up handfuls of it with a dreary kind of gleefulness—dreary because he must be gleeful alone—he made tracks all around just for the novelty of it; he snowballed the rocks. He would soon go into a different kind of exile, without rules and regulations to hamper his movements; without seventy-five dollars a month salary, too, by the way! But he would have the freedom of the mountains. He would be snug and safe in his cave over there, and Marion would climb up to meet him every day or so and bring him magazines and news of the outside world. And he would fill in the time hunting, and maybe do a little prospecting, as he had vaguely hinted to the man who brought his supplies. It would not be so bad.
But his job did not end with that storm. The storm passed after a few days of dreary drizzle in the lower country and howling winds over the crest and a few hours of daytime snowfall that interested Jack hugely because he had never in his life before seen snow actually falling out of the sky. Then the sun came out and dried the forests, and Supervisor Ross said nothing whatever about closing the lookout station for the winter.
A week of beautiful weather brought other beautiful weeks. He had another four days' relief and, warned by the storm, he spent the time in laboriously carrying dead pine wood and spruce bark up to his cave. It wouldn't do any harm to have a lot of wood stored away. It might get pretty cold, some stormy days. Already the nights were pretty nippy, even to a warm blooded young fellow who had never in his life really suffered from cold. Some instinct of self-preservation impelled him to phone in for a canvas bed sheet—a "tarp," he had heard Hank Brown call it—and two pairs of the heaviest blankets to be had in Quincy. You bet a fellow ought to be prepared for the worst when he is planning to winter in a cave! Especially when he must do his preparing now, or tough it out till spring.
With his mirror he heliographed a signal to Marion, and when she came he said he must have more cigarettes, because he might smoke harder when he was really settled down to roughing it. What he should have ordered was more bacon and flour, but he did not know that, his mind dwelling upon the luxuries of life rather than the necessities—he who had never met real necessity face to face.
"I'll send the order right away," Marion obligingly promised him. "But Kate will be simply furious if she sees the package. The last lot I made her believe was candy that was sent me, and because I didn't offer her any of it—I couldn't, of course—she would hardly talk for a whole day, and she hinted about selfishness. She thinks I carry my pockets full of candy when I start off hiking through the woods, and eat it all by myself." She laughed because it seemed a good joke on Kate.
The next time she climbed up to the station she found him boarding up the windows and hanging certain things from the ceiling to keep them away from rats, under the telephone directions of the supervisor. He expected Hank's successor up that afternoon to move down what must be taken to town for the winter. He did not seem so cheerful over the near prospect of hiding out on King Solomon, and Marion herself seemed depressed a bit and more silent than usual. The wind whistled keenly over the peak, whipping her khaki skirt around her ankles and searching out the open places in her sweater. Claremont and the piled ridges beyond were hooded in clouds that seemed heavy with moisture, quite unlike the woolly fleeces of fair weather.
"Well, she's all nailed down for the winter," Jack said apathetically when the last board was in place. "She's been a queer old summer, but I kind of hate to leave the old peak, at that."
They turned their heads involuntarily and stared across the fire-scarred mountainside to where Taylor Rock thrust bleakly up into the sky. A summer unmarked by incidents worthy the name of events, spent on one mountain top; a winter that promised as little diversion upon another mountain top—
"Say, a ride on a real live street car would look as big to me right now as a three-ring circus," Jack summed up his world-hunger with a shrug. "By the time I've wintered over there I'll be running round in circles trying to catch my shadow. Plumb bugs, that's what I'll be; and don't I know it!"
"You'll love it," Marion predicted with elaborate cheerfulness. "I only wish I could change places with you. Think of me, shut up in a dark little three-room cabin with one elocutionist, one chronic grouch and one human bluebottle fly that does nothing but buzz! You're a lucky kid to have a whole mountain all to yourself. Think of me!"
"Oh, I'll think of you, all right!" Jack returned glumly and turned back to the denuded little station. "I'll think of you," he repeated under his breath, feeling savagely for the top button of his thick gray sweater. "Don't I know it!"
MIKE GOES SPYING ON THE SPIES
Mike sat hunched forward on a box in front of the stove in the rough little cabin where he and Murphy were facing together the winter in Toll-Gate flat. For an hour he had stared at the broken cook stove where a crack disclosed the blaze within. He chewed steadily and abstractedly upon a lump of tar-weed, and now and then he unclasped his hands and gave his left forefinger a jerk that made the knuckle crack. Tar-weed and knuckle-cracking were two queer little habits much affected by Mike. The weed he chewed in the belief that it not only kept his physical body in perfect health, but purified his soul as well; cracking the knuckles on his left forefinger cleared the muddle of his mind when he wanted to go deep into a subject that baffled him.
Hunched forward on another box sat Murphy nursing his elbow with one grimy palm and his pipe with the other. He would glance at Mike now and then and with a sour grin lifting the scraggly ends of his grizzled mustache. Murphy was resentfully contemptuous of Mike's long silences, but he was even more contemptuous of Mike's gobbling indistinct speech, so he let Mike alone and comforted himself with grinning superciliously when Mike was silent, and sneering at him openly when he spoke, and cursing his cooking when Mike cooked.
"That gurrl," Mike blurted abruptly while he cracked his knuckles, "she'd better look out!"
"A-ah," retorted Murphy scornfully, "belike ye'd better tell her so thin. Or belike ye better set yerself t' look out fer the gurrl—I dunno."
"Oh, I'll look out fer her," Mike gobbled, nodding his head mysteriously. "I bin lookin' out fer her all the time—but she ain't as cute as what she thinks she is. Oh, maybe she's cute, but there's them that's cuter, an' they don't live over in Europe, neither. Don't you worry—"
"Which I'm not doin' at all, me fine duck," vouchsafed Murphy boredly, crowding down the tobacco in his pipe. "An' it's you that's doin' the worryin', and fer why I dunno."
"Oh, I ain't worryin'—but that gurrl, she better look out, an' the old un she better look out too."
"An' fer what, then, Mike, should the gurrl be lookin' out? Fer a husband, maybe yer thinkin'."
Mike nodded his head in a way that did not mean assent, but merely that he was not telling all his thoughts. He fell silent, staring again at the glowing crack in the stove. Twice he snapped his knuckles before he spoke again.
"She thinks," he began again abruptly, "that everybody's blind. But that's where she makes a big mistake. They's nothin' the matter with my eyes. An' that old un, she better look out too. Why, the gurrl, she goes spyin' around t' meet the other spy, an' the old un she goes spyin' around after the gurrl, an' me I'm spyin' on—all of 'em!" He waved a dirt grimed, calloused hand awkwardly. "The whole bunch," he chortled. "They can't fool me with their spyin' around! An' the gov'ment can't fool me nayther. I know who's the spies up here, an' I kin fool 'em all. Why, it's like back in Minnesota one time—"
Murphy, having listened attentively thus far, settled back against the wall, swung a rough-shod foot and began nursing his pipe and elbow again. "A-ah, an' it's the trail to Minnesota, then," he commented disgustedly, nodding his head derisively. "Umm-hmm—it's back in Minnesota ye're wanderin' befuddled with yer sphies. So l'ave Minnesota wance more, Mike, an' put some beans a-soakin' like I explained t' ye forty-wan times a're'dy. My gorry, they're like bullets the way ye bile them fer an hour and ask that I eat thim. An' since yer eyes is so foine and keen, Mike, that ye can see sphies thick as rabbits in the woods, wud ye just pick out a few of the rocks, Mike, that will not come soft with all the b'ilin' ye can give thim? For if I come down wance more with me teeth on a rock, it's likely I might lose me temper, I dunno."
Mike grumbled and got out the beans, and Murphy went back to his smoking and his meditations. He made so little of Mike's outburst about the spies that he did not trouble to connect it with any one in the basin. Mike was always talking what Murphy called fool gibberish, that no man of sense would listen to it if he could help it. So Murphy fell to calculating how much of the money he had earned might justly be spent upon a few days' spree without endangering the grubstake he planned to take into the farther mountains in the spring. Murphy had been sober now for a couple of months, and he was beginning to thirst for the liquid joys of Quincy. Presently he nodded his head slowly, having come to a definite conclusion in his argument with himself.
"I think I'll be goin' t' town in the marnin', Mike, av I kin git a little money from the boss," he said, lookin' up. "It's comin' cold, an' more shnow, I'm thinkin', an' I must have shoepacs, I dunno. So we'll be up early in the marnin', an' it's a hefty two-hours walk t' town fer anny man—more now with the shnow. An' I be thinkin'—"
What he was thinking he did not say, and Mike did not ask. He seemed not to hear Murphy's declaration at all. Now that he had the beans soaking, Mike was absorbed in his own thoughts again. He did not care what Murphy did. Murphy, in Mike's estimation, was merely a conceited old fellow-countryman with bad eyes and a sharp tongue. Let Murphy go to town if he liked. Mike had plans of his own.
The old un, for instance, stirred Mike's curiosity a good deal. Why should she be following the girl, when the girl went tramping around in the woods? They lived in the same cabin, and it seemed to Mike that she must know all about what the girl was doing and why she was doing it. And why didn't the men go tramping around like that, since they were all in together? Mike decided that the two women must be spies, and the men didn't know anything about it. Probably they were spying on the men, to get them in trouble with the government—which to Mike was a vast, formless power only a little less than the Almighty. It might be that the women were spies for some other government, and meant to have the men hanged when the time was ripe for it; in other words, when these queer mines with no gold in them were all done.
But a spy spying on a spy smacked of complications too deep for Mike, with all his knuckle-cracking. He was lost in a maze of conflicting conjectures whenever he tried to figure the thing out. And who was the other spy that stayed up on Taylor Rock? There was smoke up there where should be no smoke. Mike had seen it. There were little flashes of light up there on sunny days—Mike had seen them also. And there was nothing in the nature of Taylor Rock itself to produce either smoke or flashes of light. No one but a spy would stay in so bleak a place. That was clear enough to Mike by this time; what he must find out was why one spy followed another spy.
The very next day Marion left the cabin and set forth with a square package under her arm. Mike, watching from where he was at work getting out timbers for next year's assessment work on the claims, waited until she had passed him at a short distance, going down the trail toward Quincy. When she had reached the line of timber that stood thick upon the slope opposite the basin, he saw Kate, bulky in sweater and coat, come from the cabin and take the trail after Marion. When she also had disappeared in the first wooded curve of the trail, up the hill, Mike struck his axe bit-deep into the green log he was clearing of branches, and shambled after her, going by a short cut that brought him into the trail within calling distance of Kate.
For half a mile the road climbed through deep forest. Marion walked steadily along, taking no pains to hide her tracks in the snow that lay there white as the day on which it had fallen. Bluejays screamed at her as she passed, but there was no other sound. Even the uneasy wind was quiet that day, and the faint scrunching of Marion's feet in the frozen snow when she doubled back on a curve in the trail, came to Kate's ears quite plainly.
At the top of the hill where the wind had lifted the snow into drifts that left bare ground between, Marion stopped and listened, her head turned so that she could watch the winding trail behind her. She thought she heard the scrunch of Kate's feet down there, but she was not sure. She looked at the scrubby manzanita bushes at her right, chose her route and stepped widely to one side, where a bare spot showed between two bushes. Her left foot scraped the snow in making the awkward step, but she counted on Kate being unobserving enough to pass it over. She ducked behind a chunky young cedar, waited there for a breath or two and then ran down the steep hillside, keeping always on the bare ground as much as possible. Lower down, where the sun was shut away and the wind was sent whistling overhead to the next hilltop, the snow lay knee deep and even. But Kate would never come this far off the trail, Marion was sure. She believed that Kate suspected her of walking down to the valley, perhaps even to town, though the distance was too great for a casual hike of three hours or so. But there was the depot, not quite at the foot of the mountain; and at the station was the agent's wife, who was a friendly little person. Marion had made it a point to mention the agent's wife in an intimate, personal way, as though she were in the habit of visiting there. Mrs. Morton had an awful time getting her clothes dry without having them all smudged up with engine smoke, she had said after her last trip. Then she had stopped abruptly as though the remark had slipped out unaware. It was easy enough to fool poor Kate.
But there was a chance that poor Kate would walk clear down to the station, and find no Marion. In that case, Marion decided to invent a visit to one of the nearest ranches. That would be easy enough, for if Marion did not know any of the ranchers, neither did Kate, and she would scarcely go so far as to inquire at all the ranches. That would be too ridiculous; besides, Kate was not likely to punish herself by making the trip just for the sake of satisfying her curiosity.
Marion plunged on down the hill, hurrying because she was later than she had intended to be, and it was cold for a person standing around in the snow. She crossed the deep gulch and climbed laboriously up the other side, over hidden shale rock and through clumps of bushes that snatched at her clothing like a witch's bony fingers. She had no more than reached the top when Jack stepped out from behind a pine tree as wide of girth as a hogshead. Marion gave a little scream, and then laughed. After that she frowned at him.
"Say, you mustn't come down so far!" she expostulated. "You know it isn't a bit safe—I've told you so a dozen times, and every time I come out, here I find you a mile or so nearer to camp. Why, yesterday there were two men up here hunting. I saw them, and so did Doug. They gave Doug the liver of the deer they killed and the heart—so he wouldn't tell on them, I suppose. What if they had seen you?"
"One of them was Hank Brown," Jack informed her unemotionally. "I met him close as I am to you, and he swung off and went the other way. Last time we met I licked the daylights out of him, and I guess he hasn't forgotten the feel of my knuckles. Anyway, he stampeded."
"Well, forevermore!" Marion was indignant. "What's the use of your hiding out in a cave, for goodness' sake, if you're going to let people see you whenever they come up this way? Just for that I've a good mind not to give you these cigarettes. I could almost smoke them myself, anyway. Kate thinks that I do. She found out that it wasn't candy, the last time, so I had to pretend I have a secret craving for cigarettes, and I smoked one right before her to prove it. We had quite a fuss over it, and I told her I'd smoke them in the woods to save her feelings, but that I just simply must have them. She thinks now that the Martha Washington is an awful place; that's where she thinks I learned. She cried about it, and that made me feel like a criminal, only I was so sick I didn't care at the time. Take them—and please don't smoke so much, Jack! It's simply awful, the amount you use."
"All right. I'll cut out the smoking and go plumb crazy." To prove his absolute sincerity, he tore open the package, extracted a cigarette and began to smoke it with a gloomy relish. "Didn't bring anything to read, I suppose?" he queried after a minute which Marion spent in getting her breath and in gazing drearily out over the wintry mountainside.
"No, Kate was watching me, and I couldn't. I pretended at first that I was lending magazines and papers to Murphy and Mike, but she has found out that Murphy's eyes are too bad, and Mike, the ignorant old lunatic, can't read or write. I haven't squared that with her yet. I've been thinking that I'd invent a ranch or something to visit. Murphy says there's one on Taylor Creek, but the people have gone down below for the winter; and it's close enough so Kate could walk over and find out for herself."
She began to pull bits of bark off the tree trunk and throw them aimlessly at a snow-mounded rock. "It's fierce, living in a little pen of a place like that, where you can't make a move without somebody wanting to know why," she burst out savagely. "I can't write a letter or read a book or put an extra pin in my hat, but Kate knows all about it. She thinks I'm an awful liar. And I'm beginning to actually hate her. And she was the very best friend I had in the world when we came up here. Five thousand dollars' worth of timber can't pay for what we're going through, down there!"
"You cut it out," said Jack, reaching for another cigarette. "My part of it, I mean. It's that that's raising the deuce with you two, so you just cut me out of it. I'll make out all right." As an afterthought he added indifferently, "I killed a bear the other day. I was going to bring you down a chunk. It isn't half bad; change from deer meat and rabbits and grouse, anyway."
Marion shook her head. "There it is again. I couldn't take it home without lying about where I got it. And Kate would catch me up on it—she takes a perfectly fiendish delight in cornering me in a lie, lately." She brightened a little. "I'll tell you, Jack. We'll go up to the cave and cook some there. Kate can't," she told him grimly, "tell what I've been eating, thank goodness, once it's swallowed!"
"It's too hard hiking up there through the snow," Jack hastily objected. "Better not tackle it. Tell you what I can do though. I'll whittle off a couple of steaks and bring them down tomorrow, and we'll hunt a safe place to cook them. Have a barbecue," he grinned somberly.
"Oh, all right—if I can give Kate the slip. Did you skin him?" reverting with some animation to the slaying of the bear. "It must have been keen."
"It was keen—till I got the hide off the bear and onto my bed."
"You don't sound as if it was a bit thrilling." She looked at him dubiously. "How did it happen? You act as if you had killed a chipmunk, and I want to be excited! Did the bear come at you?"
"Nothing like that. I came at the bear. I just hunted around till I found a bear that had gone byelow, and I killed him and borrowed his hide. It was a mean trick on him—but I was cold."
"Oh, with all those blankets?"
Jack grinned with a sour kind of amusement at her tone, but his reply was an oblique answer to her question.
"Remember that nice air-hole in the top where the wind whistled in and made a kind of tune? You ought to spend a night up there now listening to it."
Marion threw a piece of bark spitefully at a stump beyond the snow mound. "But you have a fire," she said argumentatively. "And you have all kinds of reading, and plenty to eat."
"Am I kicking?"
"Well, you sound as if you'd like to. You simply don't know how lucky you are. You ought to be shut up in that little cabin with Kate and the professor."
"Lead me to 'em," Jack suggested with suspicious cheerfulness.
"Don't be silly. Are there lots of bears up there, Jack?"
"Maybe, but I haven't happened to see any, except two or three that ran into the brush soon as they got a whiff of me. And this one I hunted out of a hole under a big tree root. It's a lie about them wintering in caves. They'd freeze to death."
"You—you aren't really uncomfortable, are you, Jack?"
"Oh, no." Jack gave the "no" what Kate would have called a sliding inflection deeply surcharged with irony.
"Well, but why don't you keep the fire going? The smoke doesn't show at all, scarcely. And if you're going to tramp all over the mountains and let everybody see you, it doesn't matter a bit."
Jack lit his third cigarette. "What's going on in the world, anyway? Any news from—down South?"
"Well, the papers don't say much. There's been an awful storm that simply ruined the beaches, they say. Fred has gone down—something about your case, I think. And then he wanted to see the men who are in on this timber scheme. They aren't coming through with the assessment money the way they promised, and Fred and Doug and Kate had to dig up more than their share to pay for the work. I didn't because I didn't have anything to give—and Kate has been hinting things about that, too."
"I wish you'd take—"
"Now, don't you dare finish that sentence! When I came up here with them they agreed to do my assessment work and take it out of the money we get when we sell, and they're to get interest on all of it. Kate proposed it herself, because she wanted me up here with her. Let them keep the agreement. Fred isn't complaining—Fred's just dandy about everything. It's only—"
"Well, I guess I'll be getting back. It's a tough climb up to my hangout." Jack's interest in the conversation waned abruptly with the mention of Fred. "Can't you signal about ten o'clock tomorrow, if you're coming out? Then I'll bring down some bear meat."
"Oh, and I'll bring some cake and bread, if I can dodge Kate. I'll put up a lunch as if it were for me. Kate had good luck with her bread this time. I'll bring all I dare. And, Jack,—you aren't really uncomfortable up there, are you? Of course, I know it gets pretty cold, and maybe it's lonesome sometimes at night, but—you stayed alone all summer, so—"
"Oh, I'm all right. Don't you worry a minute about me. Run along home now, before you make Kate sore at you again. And don't forget to let me know if you're coming. I'll meet you right about here. So long, pardner." He stuffed the package of cigarettes into his coat pocket and plunged into the balsam thicket behind him as though he was eager to get away from her presence.
Marion felt it, and looked after him with hurt questioning in her eyes. "He's got his cigarettes—that's all he cares about," she told herself resentfully. "Well, if he thinks I care—!"
She went slipping and stumbling down the steep wall of the gulch, crossed it and climbed the other side and came upon Kate, sitting in the snow and holding her right ankle in both hands and moaning pitiably.
PENITENCE, REAL AND UNREAL
Kate rocked back and forth, and tears of pain rolled down her cheeks. She leaned her shoulder against a tree and moaned, with her eyes shut. It frightened Marion to look at her. She went up and put her hand on Kate's shoulder with more real tenderness than she had felt for months.
"What's the matter, Kate? Did you hurt yourself? Is it your ankle?" she asked insipidly.
"O-oh! Marion, you keep me nearly distracted! You must know I only want to guard you against—oh—gossip and trouble. You seem to look upon me as an enemy, lately—Oh!—And I only want to consider your best interests. Who is that man, Marion? I believe he is a criminal, and I'm going to send word to the sheriff. If he isn't, he is welcome at the cabin—you know it, Marion. You—you hurt me so, when you meet him out here in this sly way—just as if you couldn't trust me. And I have always been your friend." She stopped and began moaning again.