Page images
PDF
EPUB

had never asked a question, for Dan was not a nice secret to have up here in the not given to asking questions of a per- hills, under no safer keeping than Bud's, sonal nature. But now that Jim had for Bud was sure to talk. voluntarily sent him the information that Carter moved uneasily in his chair. the bag contained a large quantity of There was an uncomfortable little stir the precious metal, two things troubled at his heart as he remembered that there him at once. Why had Jim never before was a gang down on the lower creek told his friend and chum of this hoard; that would be just as well pleased to have and why, having kept the matter secret gold ready washed out to hand as to dig for so long a time, should he tell him after it themselves, and who wouldn't now?

care who knew it—least of all a lonely, On the day before, Jim had started 'for unknown miner on the ridge, whose partthe settlement, twenty miles down the ner was twenty miles away from home stream on which they were working with a broken leg. after supplies. He had taken their two And then, Bud himself was a thief, Mexican helpers and Bud, the boy, with just a pilfering nuisance, to be sure, who · him. Bud had just returned, bringing couldn't keep his hands off anything that the news that Jim had broken his leg in struck his fancy, no matter who it bea fall in the gulch, fifteen miles away, longed to, from revolver cartridges to and had gone on, in care of the Mexicans, whiskey. It had been a wonder to Dan to find a surgeon, sending the boy back that even Jim, good-natured, easy-going, to apprise Dan of the occurrence. And big-hearted Jim, had tolerated him so he had added this strange verbal mes- long. Fifty times, since the boy had sage about the gold to his bare state come to them, Carter himself had been ment of the fact of his accident, as if ready to kick him down to the creek he never expected to return at all. bottom-almost.

Dan ruminated deeply. “By Jing!” he "It's a wonder Jim couldn't have said at last, repeating his former state- thought out some way to send me word ment, “there must be pounds of the stuff without confidin' the whole darn tale to there."

the kid," he thought. “They is," assented the boy.

He reached over and tried again the Carter glanced quickly at him and the weight of the little grip. “Gee, Jim's a crease between his brows deepened. close-mouthed duck!” he muttered and

"Well, I don't know how he ever come frowned again, for, somehow, in the light to tell you, Bud," he remarked slowly. of the hard times they had been through “Course, I s'pose he had to tell some- together the discovery of Jim's secrecy body and a feller can't always choose hurt him. who he will tell.”

Bud's eyes were bulging with interest He did not expect Bud to answer this in the grip and the strange look that the statement, and his thoughts ran on miner had always attributed to the boy's swiftly. Now that he considered it mental lacks was strong in them. again, of course it wasn't remarkable “Dan," he whispered suddenly, leanthat Jim had told Bud. · What else could ing forward with his hand on the miner's he do, lying hurt down there in the gulch, arm, "what'd you do if Chinny Mike with nobody but a couple of greasers to Dolley should come up here after that take him out to the settlement and to a gold?" doctor? Besides Jim had always felt "Chinny.” Mike was the notorious kindly toward the poor, three-quarters leader of the down-creek gang, who was witted waif, whom he had certainly no known for a bad man, but who had reason to love except that he had saved earned his title by an odd habit of talkthe forlorn youngster from starving to ativeness. Carter's teeth shut tight. death among the camps. A man some- "I'd shoot him," said the miner coldly. times felt kindly toward a person for “I'd shoot him so full of holes he'd look whom he had done a good turn. Carter like a sieve, 'sonny.” And then he added himself knew that, and probably Jim felt with sudden vehemence, “And you, too!" that way about Bud. But that was no “Me?” The boy cowered reason for trusting him, and this was “Yes, you—fer Chinny Mike ain't goin' to come up here fer no gold un- hurt than the broken leg. Of course the less you tell him it's here. See? An' if Mexicans would bring the supplies for you do, I'll put you where you won't which Jim had started, and of course ever tell any more secrets."

Jim would have sense enough to get himHe turned again to the grip. “I'd self fixed up right. It was too bad, like to open the darn thing," he mut- though, that he hadn't kept Bud with tered, “an' weigh out the stuff. But-I him instead of sending him back—and guess that ain't a square thing to do with such a message. by Jim. Poor old Jim!"

“If I hadn't known about the pesky It struck him as odd, after he had gold, and Bud hadn't known, there

[graphic][subsumed][merged small]

said it, that he should call Jim poor when wouldn't have been no trouble," he all that gold was his, and he thought thought. “There won't be, anyway, I about it as he put the bag carefully back guess, but I got to keep Bud scairt." under the bunk. By the time he had He glanced across at the boy's dirty pushed it well out of sight next to the little face. The youngster certainly wall, however, he had concluded that it seemed to have been frightened by liis was some other feeling for Jim than pity threat. He had not looked the man in that had brought out the words.

the eyes since. He carefully avoided “Darn him !” he said aloud and smiled. Dan's gaze now. He even seemed tired.

The bag was more of a real worry to and sleepy, as well he might after riding him than the fact that Jim was hurt. As nearly all day on his trip home. he sat at the table that night facing Bud "I guess he's scairt enough,” repeated and dividing the rough supper with him, Dan to himself, “an' it's all right.” it lay heavy in his thoughts as the gold He rose from the table to go about the had been in his hand. He was anxious housework of the little cabin. Of course about Jim also, though Bud had re- he would take care of Jim's gold for him. ported that Jim had received no worse Jim didn't have to ask that of him, even

if he had been so slow to give his con- necessary, though. He couldn't do Jim fidence. Funny, though, that Jim could any good and Jim wouid certainly be the trust him now, when he had never men- last one to expect him to come on account tioned his riches before.

of so small a matter as a broken leg. It was a warm spring night and Dan Besides—that satchel! What a queer set the door of the shack ajar before he thing! commenced his tasks. Then he turned The dishes were washed and dried. to work with a shrug of his heavy shoul. The process required time and, being ders, as if to throw off all thoughts that somewhat strange to Dan, was absorbbothered him. Washing dishes in camping. The thoughts were absorbing, too. was not Carter's delight. Jim usually He had really quite forgotten Bud at attended to the task-Jim, who did the last till he came to scour the big nearly everything Dan did not like to do. iron cooking-kettle. Then he rememBut it was Carter's task while his partner bered him because he wanted some fresh was away. He washed them tonight, water. while Bud moved about the shack un- "Bud,” he said aloud, over his shoulwatched. So long as the miner was der. The room was quiet and his own conscious that the boy was within voice sounded loud to Dan. He paused reach, he had no thought for his lesser in his work, the idea impressing him; doings. Bud was unusually quiet, but then as the boy seemed slow to reply he that, Dan thought, was due to the threats. spoke again before he looked around.

"He's learnt a new lesson, maybe," "Bud !” thought the big fellow easily. "He'll Still no answer. Dan was vaguely act better-for a few minutes."

surprised, but he was still not quite free He worked away noisily with his back from the maze of his earlier thoughts. to the boy and to the room. He did not He raised the big kettle to empty it in care to appear to be watching. And the bucket beside him. Suddenly the impresently he forgot any special reason for pulse came upon him to whirl and look, thinking about Bud at all. The labors of and he acted instantly. his hands made his mind easy about all His eyes swept the whole room at a the little things that had seemed before glance, taking in the scant furniture to disturb him. Why should he think swiftly—chairs, bunks, bench. Bud was twice, he asked himself, about the gold not there. and any difficulty that might come in "Well, fer the love o' heaven!” he betaking care of it? There could be no gan, and then stopped again, for there in difficulty. And why should he feel the doorway stood a figure that he knew, piqued if Jim did care to keep the fact but which was not that of the camp-boy: of his wealth to himself. It was Jim's It was Chinny Mike. dust, and he could surely do as he liked Sometimes in a crisis a man lives with it. Jim had always done the square through much in a moment of time. On thing by him and always would. Any- occasion of great surprise the mind often thing he did would be all right. And as acts more rapidly than normal, and for looking after that little grip full of seems to compass whole courses of readust-well, he would, of course. . .soning in a single flash of intelligence.

The minutes passed swiftly while he Not infrequently conclusions are drawn thought of Jim. "What a bully old fellow from slight premises, far nearer to truth his partner was. He would miss Jim. than cold reasoning could have deduced. Six weeks would be a mighty long time In the moment when Dan Carter faced to be separated from his chum, who had the man of whom he and Bud had talked, been his chum and constantly with him he knew, as well as if it had been writnow for almost three years. If it wasn't ten out before him, how and why Chinny for the fact that things looked good up Mike had come. here in the gulch and that somebody The training of the camps does not ought to stay on the ground till they encourage sloth of thought or of action should get their claim staked out, he in emergency. For an instant. Dan would drop things and go down to see stared while he held his dripping hands Jim now. Of course, that wouldn't be half raised at his sides, suspending them

[ocr errors]

The Wells after

with wet fingers spread. Then without have relied more largely on the watcher a word he straightened his body and at the window than the situation warwaited. Oddly enough and quite me- ranted. At any rate he was less cautious chanically he picked up the towel from than he might have been had he known the table and began drying his hands. Dan Carter well. He reached his right

“Howdy?" said the man in the door, hand-his pistol hand-to take the bag easily.

from Dan's. “What do you want?" asked Dan At the instant, without a pause in the quietly. It was useless to feign friendli- motion of his body as he leaned forward, ness.

Dan bent and swept his arm swiftly "Oh, I just come up fer a visit, young across the table. He caught the low man,” said the other, entering coolly and lamp from its place and Aung it with all looking quickly about. "Incidentally, his power in the other's face. get that word?-incidentally, I just There was instant darkness; then a wanted to know about the dust yer pard- yell and a shot and the sound of falling ner left here."

glass from the window, but Dan had Dan's eyes held their level glance at ducked low and turned to the door. He the intruder. He was not surprised. “I was tremendously excited, but he put his s'pose the boy told you," he replied, “and hand squarely on his belt on the bench I s'pose you come prepared to back up and swung it up under his arm, without that request o' yours.”

releasing his hold of the little satchel"I got a man er two outside, pard," the precious bag of gold for which he responded the visitor, smiling. “Guess was making the fight. Next moment he we needn't quarrel, though."

was out in the cool night air, running as Dan dropped the towel on the table softly as he could down to the brink of again and smiled a little as if he also the gulch, feeling for the grip of his gun, saw the humor in the situation. Then while the blood sang in his ears. he watched while Chinny Mike took the There was another shot back at the chair by the table. He was short and cabin, then a string of curses burst out broad and bearded, red faced, with on the night air, and he knew that, whatbloated lips and pouched eye-sockets, but ever damage the blow of the lamp had his eyes were steady enough. He held done, it had not killed Chinny Mike. his hand easily on his hip in comfortable “Catch him, catch him!” yelled the reach of his gun. Carter's gun hung Irishman in a voice that echoed across from his belt which an hour earlier he the gulch like a bull's bellow, and the had thrown on the bench beside the door. sound of running feet following him The two looked at each other a moment could be plainly heard. in silence without particular expression Dan was not much afraid of such noisy showing on either countenance; then pursuit. The danger he had most to Dan turned and glanced at the little win- dread at the moment was that Mike had dow. . The face of a man outside showed brought a party of his cutthroats with white against the light.

him and that they had spread about the "I guess you caught me napping, vicinity where he might encounter one of Mike," he said quietly. "I'll give you them at any moment. He stopped runthe stuff.”

ning and listened, then silently crept to He crossed the room and knelt down the head of the path leading down to by Jim's bunk. His mind was busy, but the creek and dropped over the edge of he turned his face away from Mike that the bank. . it might show no sign. He pulled Jim's “Well, this is a darn pretty mess," he little leathern grip out and rose to his muttered, stopping coolly to buckle nis feet, making every movement as easy belt about him. “It's a blame beautiful and indifferent as he could. Crossing to kind of a mess. But I got to carry it the table, he approached the other from through now all right. Confound Jim! the right and held out the bag.

He ought to kept his mouth shut about The Irishman was confident of suc- this bloomin' dust." cess. He had this unarmed man in his Something was wrong with the belt. power and scented no strategy. He may The customary buckle-hole was torn out.

He could not remember having torn the H e snarled like an animal in fight, and leather and even in the excitement of the fired twice instantly at the spot from instant he felt surprise over the trifle, but which the light had sprung. A sickenhis thoughts ran away from it again im- ing sound like a cough told him that he mediately.

had made a hit and he turned again and "If it was anybody but Jim, darned ran down to the creek and along its if I wouldn't let Mike have the dust,” shore. he thought half angrily. "I didn't want “Good Lord—the poor cuss !” he no such a fight as this fer any other fel. panted. “I got him sure. Jim's little ler's stuff.” He paused to look up at the bag o’ dust 's going to cost some.” dark bank above. “I wonder which way T he creek was not wide, but it was that son of a gun'll come.”

deep at this point and he dared not atHe was bareheaded and the wind blow- tempt to cross. The current was swift ing through his hair made him conscious and treacherous and the task of swimof the fact. He raised his hand and ran ming against it would be sufficiently diffihis fingers through his tousled locks with cult by daylight. The only course open some pleasant sense of the freshness of to him was to follow the path along the the air.

rocks to the ford below and hope to reach A little spit of fire burst out from the that point before he could be headed. bank directly above him and, with the The blood from his wounded cheek was simultaneous sharp explosion, a bullet running down upon his neck. He felt its ture its way across his cheek.

stream warm on his skin and swore a

[graphic][ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »