The Prospector by Ralph Connor
XIV. The Old Prospector's Awaking
For six weeks the Old Prospector lay fretting his life away in his shack, not so ill as to be in danger. The pneumonia had almost disappeared and the rheumatism had subsided, but yet such grave symptoms remained as made the doctor forbid his setting forth upon his annual quest of the Lost River. In these days his chief comfort was Shock, whose old habit of sharing his experiences in imagination with those who could not share them in reality, relieved for the Old Prospector many a monotonous hour.
But Shock's days, and most of his nights, even, were spent upon the trail rounding up "strays and mavericks," as Ike said, searching out the lonely bachelor shacks, and lonelier homes where women dwelt whose husbands' days were spent on the range, and whose nearest neighbour might be eight or ten miles away, bringing a touch of the outer world, and leaving a gleam of the light that he carried in his own sunny, honest face.
And so Shock soon came to know more of the far back settlers than did even the oldest timer; and, what was better, he began to establish among them some sort of social life. It was Shock, for instance, that discovered old Mrs. Hamilton and her two sons, and drove her after much persuasion eight miles over "The Rise," past which she had not set her foot for the nine long, sad years that had dragged out their lonely length since her husband left her alone with her two boys of seven and nine, to visit Mrs. Macnamara, the delicate wife of the rollicking Irish rancher, who, seldom out of the saddle himself, had never been able to understand the heart- hunger that only became less as her own life ran low. It was her little family growing up about her, at once draining her vitality but, thank God, nourishing in her heart hope and courage, that preserved for her faith and reason. It was a great day for the Macnamaras when their big fiend drove over their next neighbour, Mrs. Hamilton, to make her first call.
Another result of Shock's work became apparent in the gradual development of Loon Lake, or "The Lake," as it was most frequently named, into a centre of social life. In the first place a school had been established, in which Marion had been installed as teacher, and once the children came to the village it was easier for the parents to find their way thither.
Every week, too, The Kid and Ike found occasions to visit The Lake and call for Shock, who made his home, for the most part, with the Old Prospector. Every week, too, the doctor would appear to pay a visit to his patients; but, indeed, in some way or other the doctor was being constantly employed on cases discovered by Shock. The Macnamara's baby with the club-foot, Scrub Kettle's girl with the spinal trouble; Lawrence Delamere, the handsome young English lad up in "The Pass," whose leg, injured in a mine accident, never would heal till the doctor had scraped the bone--these and many others owed their soundness to Shock's prospecting powers and to the doctor's skill. And so many a mile they drove together to their mutual good. For, while the doctor prosecuted with delight and diligence his healing art, all unconsciously he himself was regaining something of his freedom and manhood.
"Digs 'em up, don't he?" said Ike one Sunday, when the second flat of Jim Ross's store was filled with men and women who, though they had lived in the country for from two to twenty years, were still for the most part strangers to each other. "Digs 'em up like the boys dig the badgers. Got to come out of their holes when he gits after 'em."
"Dat's so," said Perault, who had become an ardent follower of Shock's. "Dat's so. All same lak ole boss."
"Prospector, eh?" said Ike.
"Oui. Prospector, sure enough, by gar!" replied Perault, with the emphasis of a man who has stumbled upon a great find; and the name came at once to be recognised as so eminently suitable that from that time forth it stuck, and all the more that before many weeks there was none to dispute the title with him.
All this time the Old Prospector fretted and wasted with an inward fever that baffled the doctor's skill, and but for the visits of his friends and their constant assurances that next week would see him fit, the old man would have succumbed.
"It's my opinion," said Ike, who with The Kid had made a habit of dropping in for a visit to the sick man, and then would dispose themselves outside for a smoke, listening the while to the flow of song and story wherewith his daughter would beguile the old man from his weariness; "it's my opinion that it aint either that rheumatism nor that there pewmonia,"--Ike had once glanced at the doctor's label which distinguished the pneumonia medicine from that prescribed for rheumatism,--"it aint either the rheumatism nor that there pewmonia," he repeated, "that's a-killin' him."
"What then do you think it is, Ike?" said the doctor, to whom Ike had been confiding this opinion.
"It's frettin'; frettin' after the trail and the Lost River. For thirteen years he's chased that river, and he'll die a-chasin' it."
"Well, he'll certainly die if he starts after it in his present condition."
"Maybe so, doctor. I wouldn't interdict any opinion of yours. But I reckon he'd die a mighty sight easier."
"Well, Ike, my boy," said the doctor in his gentle voice, "perhaps you are right, perhaps you're right. The suggestion is worth considering."
And the result seemed to justify Ike's opinion, for from the day that the doctor fixed the time for the Old Prospector's departure the fever abated, his philosophic calm returned, he became daily stronger and daily more cheerful and courageous, and though he was troubled still with a cough he departed one bright day, with Perault, in high spirits.
"I shall remember you all," he cried, waving his hand gaily in farewell. "Doctor, I shall build you a hospital where your skill will have opportunity and scope. Mr. Macgregor, your heart will be delighted with that church-manse-school building of yours." This was Shock's pet scheme for the present. "To all of you suitable rewards. This time I see success. Farewell."
After he had turned away he reined back his pony and addressed Shock again.
"Mr. Macgregor," he said, with almost solemn earnestness, "I give my daughter into your charge. I am sure you will watch over her. She will be comfortable with Josie, and she will be safe under your care."
His spirit of enthusiastic confidence caught all the crowd standing by, so that they gave him a hearty cheer in farewell.
"Did not say what he would give us, eh, Carroll?" said Crawley, who with Carroll stood at the back of the crowd.
"Blanked old fool!" growled Carroll.
"And yet he has a marvellous instinct for mines," said Crawley, "and this time he has got something more than usual in his head, I believe. He has been particularly secretive. I could not get anything out of him. Guess he means to euchre us out of our share of anything big, partner."
"Curse him for an owld thief!" said Carroll. "I'll have it out av his hide, so I will, if he tries that."
"Then, Carroll, you'll have to do it when his big friend is not round."
Carroll's answer was a perfect flood of profanity, copious enough to include not only the Old Prospector, Shock, all the relatives living and dead, but Crawley, who stood listening with a sarcastic grin on his evil face.
"Well, well," at last said Crawley soothingly, "your time will come. And, partner, you may depend on me when it comes. I owe him something, too, and I would rather pay it than get a mine."
The days that followed the Old Prospector's departure were lonely enough for his daughter. Her father's illness had brought to them both the inestimable boon of mutual acquaintance and affection. It was the girl's first experience of having near her one to whom she could freely give the long-hoarded treasures of her love; and now that he was gone she could only wonder how she could have lived so long without him. It was well for her that she had her school, which she transferred now to her father's house, for though Shock occupied the inner room he was very little at home.
In addition to the school there was Patsy, who, never very strong, had not regained even his puny strength since the operation. Every fine day Marion would take the little lad for a glorious canter up the trail that ran along The Lake, but the day was never complete to Patsy unless it included a visit to the Jumping Rock, and there a tale, and at least one song. In these rides Stanton, as often as he visited the village, would join, and then it was the Swallow that the little cripple would ride, holding his reins in cowboy style high in one hand, and swaying with careless security in the saddle, and all the more because of the strong arm about him.
These were happy days to Patsy, happy to young Stanton, happier than she knew to Marion, and all the happier by contrast to the dark, sad days that followed.
About three weeks after the Old Prospector's departure a half-breed, on a cayuse wet and leg-weary, appeared at the Loon Lake Stopping Place, asking for the preacher.
"Blanked if I know!" growled Carroll. "Off on some fool hunt or other."
"Ask Ike there," said Crawley, who was sitting on the stoop. "You belong to his flock, don't you, Ike? Elder, aint you?"
"His flock?" echoed Ike. "Wouldn't mind if I did. I'd be sure of my company, which I can't always be almost anywhere else. Want the preacher, eh?" turning to the half-breed.
"Letter from de old man."
"What old man? Let me see it," said Crawley quickly. "Ah! 'Rev. Mr. Macgregor, or one of his friends.' Guess this is from the Old Prospector, eh?"
The half-breed nodded.
"Where is he?"
"Way up in mountain," he said, waving his hand toward the hills.
"Well, the preacher isn't here. It must be important," continued Crawley. "I suppose I might as well open it, especially as it is likely it will be something about outfit. Eh, Carroll?"
He was about to tear the letter open when Ike interposed.
"Hold up, there. It strikes me you're a little rapid in your conclusions. Let's have a look at the letter."
Crawley very unwillingly gave it up.
"One of his friends," read Ike, with some difficulty, "You count yourself in there, do you?" to Crawley. "You'd be mighty lucky if he agreed with you on that there point. Now I judge this ought to go to the preacher or, if he aint round, to the young lady."
So saying, Ike, without another glance at the disappointed Crawley, strode away with the letter to find Marion.
He found her busy in the school. She read the letter, looked at Ike with white face and wide-open eyes, read it a second time, and said, "He wants Mr. Macgregor, quick--and me. He is ill. Oh, Ike!" she cried suddenly, "he is ill, and Mr. Macgregor is away."
"Where did he go?" said Ike shortly.
"I heard him say to Willow Creek, to the Martins. The doctor is with him."
"The Martins, eh? Why, that's only eight miles, I reckon. Well, git yourself ready and your horse. I'll be back in an hour and a half."
He turned away, but after he had gone a few steps he strode back.
"No use lookin' like that," he said almost gruffly. "We'll git a wagon and bring him home easy. A wagon's easier than ridin', though 'taint likely he's very bad."
"Bad!" exclaimed Marion, with a sob. "Oh, Ike you don't know my father. If he were not bad he would not--" Here her voice failed her.
"Don't you worry, miss. We'll be on the trail in two hours. And look here, we'll want beddin' and lots of things, so hustle." And Ike set off with long strides. "Hustle's the word for her. Got to keep her busy, poor girl!" he said to himself. "Guess he's a goner. You bet that old chap don't weaken for no belly-ache. He's right bad."
The only wagon in the place belonged to Carroll. "Want your wagon and outfit, Carroll," said Ike briefly. "Old Prospector's pretty bad. Got to get him home."
Carroll growled a refusal. He had never recovered his wanted good nature since his encounter with Shock, and his resentment against the one man, seemed to poison his whole nature against all.
"What!" said Ike, amazed at Carroll's refusal. In that country men in need of anything helped themselves without reference to the owner.
"Why, sure, Carroll," interposed Crawley hastily. "You'll let Ike have that wagon. I tell you what, I'll drive it for him. Shut up, Carroll!" he said in an aside. "When do you start, Ike? Two hours? I'll be there."
In an hour and a half, true to his word, Ike was back with Shock and the doctor. Before another half hour had gone past they were all on the trail, Marion riding her pony, Shock and the doctor in the buckboard, and Crawley driving the wagon, in which, besides mattress and bedding, were saddles for use when the trail should forbid wheels.
After long hesitation Ike decided that he ought not to join the party.
"That there Crawley," he argued to himself, "aint to be trusted, especially when he's goin' round lookin' like a blank hyena. But I guess I'll have to let him go and git back to the ranch." And so with an uneasy feeling Ike watched them set off.
Half-way back to the ranch he met his boss.
"Hello, Ike," saluted The Kid gaily. "You're needing a powder. Off your feed, eh?"
"Howdy, boss," replied the cowboy gravely.
"I'm feelin' proper enough, but there's others not so frisky."
"What's up, Ike? Your grandmother poorly?"
"Well, do you know," said Ike, watching The Kid keenly with his half shut eyes, "there's been a great mix-up at The Lake there. A breed, half dead with the saddle, came from the Old Prospector askin' for the preacher. Guess the old chap's about quittin' the trail."
The Kid's hand tightened on the reins.
"Hit him there, I reckon," grunted Ike to himself, but the other paid no attention. "So," continued Ike, "they've all gone off."
"Why the hull town, seemingly. There's the preacher, and the doctor, and that there Crawley, with Carroll's wagon outfit. They looked a little like a circus, except that there want any wild animals. Unless you'd count Crawley for a monkey, which would be rather hard on the monkey, I guess."
Ike chuckled, a rare chuckle that seemed to begin a long way below his diaphragm and work slowly up to his lips.
"What the deuce are you talking about?" enquired The Kid. "What has Crawley got to do with this?"
"Why," said Ike in a surprised tone, "dunno, onless he's a friend of the old man's. They do have a lot of business together seemingly. Or perhaps as company for the gel."
"The girl! Steady there, Swallow," to his mare, for Swallow had given a sudden spring. "What girl?" demanded The Kid. "Why don't you talk sense? You didn't say anything about a girl."
"Why, didn't I mention about that gel? Well, I'm gettin' forgetful. Why, what gel do you think? They aint growin' on rose bushes or old willows round here, so far as I've seen. Now, how many gels have you observed in your pilgrimages round that town?"
"Oh, blank you for an idiot!" said The Kid wrathfully. "Do you mean that the--Miss Mowbray has gone off with the rest?" In spite of his splendid self-control, as The Kid spoke the name a red flush on his face could be suddenly seen through the brown tan.
Ike nodded gravely.
"Yes, she's gone. But she'll be all right. The preacher's there. He'll be busy with the old man, of course, but he'll find some time for her. And then there's the other chap, you know. He's been mighty kind to-day, mighty kind, and considerable, too. Can't say as I'd just cotton to him, but when he likes he's ingraciousin' ways, mighty ingraciousin' ways."
"Oh!" roared The Kid. "Crawley" Then he looked at his cowboy's face. "Confound you, Ike! So you were pulling my leg a little, were you? Never mind, my day will come."
With this he turned the Swallow toward the Lake and set off.
"Good-bye," called out Ike. "Where you going?"
"Oh, I say," cried The Kid, wheeling the Swallow.
"What trail did they take?"
"You mean Crawley?" inquired Ike.
With a curse The Kid bore down upon him.
"Which way did they go?" he demanded.
"Okanagan trail," said Ike, with a slow grin. "So long."
"Good-bye, Ike. You'll see me when I come back."
And The Kid waved his hand, and gave the Swallow her head.
Ike looked after him, and allowed himself the very, unusual indulgence of a hearty laugh.
"Well," he said, "I tried to help Crawley a little, but somehow it didn't seem to go right."
A tail chase is a long chase, and so The Kid found it, for the speed and endurance of the Swallow were both fully tested before the advance party were overtaken.
As he came in sight of them he pulled himself up with the question, "What am I doing here? What is my business with that party?" For a mile or so he rode slowly, keeping out of their sight, trying to find such answer to this question as would satisfy not so much himself but those before him, to whom, somehow, he felt an answer was due. The difficulty of explaining his presence became sensibly greater as he pictured himself attempting to make it clear to Crawley.
"It is none of his business, anyway," at length he said impatiently. "She doesn't want him around. How did he know?"
Crawley was a man of some parts. He had money and ability. He was a scholar, and could talk well about rocks and plants. The Kid had heard him discourse to the Old Prospector and Marion many a day on these subjects, and intelligently, too.
"Well," he said at length, "I may be of some use, anyway. Surely a fellow has a right to offer his services to his friends in trouble."
With this explanation on his lips he sailed down upon the company. Marion and the half-breed were riding far in front, Crawley following as closely as he could with the wagon. Some distance in the rear were Shock and the doctor in the backboard. The Kid could hear Crawley pointing out to Marion in a loud voice the striking features of the beauty that lay around them in such a wealth and variety of profusion. The words of Ike came to his mind, "mighty ingraciousin'."
"Confound his impudence!" he growled. "I wonder if she knows the kind of snake he is? I believe I'll tell her, for her own sake. No, that won't do, either. Well, I guess I must wait my chance."
Put the chance seemed slow in coming.
"Thought I would ride after you and offer--see if you--if I could be of service."
"And we are very glad to have you," said Shock heartily.
"Yes, we found you useful on occasion before, and doubtless shall again," said the doctor, in a tone of pleasant sufferance.
The Kid reined up behind the buckboard, waiting for an excuse to ride forward, but for miles finding a none.
"I wonder now," said Shock at length, "if we had not better stop and have tea, and then ride till dark before we camp. If Marion is not tired that would be the better way."
"I'll ride up and ask," said The Kid eagerly, and before any other suggestion could be made he was gone.
The proposition found acceptance with Marion and, what was of more importance, with the half-breed guide.
If The Kid had any doubt of his reception by the girl the glad, grateful look in her eyes as he drew near was enough to assure him of her welcome; and as he took the guide's place by her side she hastened to say, "I am glad you came, Mr. Stanton. It was very kind of you to come. It was awful riding alone mile after mile."
"Alone!" echoed The Kid.
"Well, I mean you know he cannot talk much English and--"
"Of course," promptly replied The Kid, "I am awfully glad I came, now. Wasn't sure just how you might take it. I mean, I did not like pushing myself in, you understand."
"Oh, surely one does not need to explain a kindness such as this," said the girl simply. "You see, the doctor and Mr. Macgregor are together, and will be, and the others--well, I hardly know them."
The trail wound in and out, with short curves and sharp ascents, among the hills, whose round tops were roughened with the rocks that jutted through the turf, and were decked with clumps of poplar and spruce and pine. The world seemed full of brightness to the boy. His heart overflowed with kindness to all mankind. He found it possible, indeed, to think of Crawley, even, with a benignant compassion.
Far up in the Pass they camped, in a little sheltered dell all thick with jack pines, through whose wide-spreading roots ran and chattered a little mountain brook. But for the anxiety that lay like lead upon her heart, how delightful to Marion would have been this, her first, experience of a night out of doors. And when after tea Shock, sitting close by the fire, read that evening Psalm, breathing a trust and peace that no circumstances of ill could break, the spicy air and the deep blue sky overhead, sown with stars that rained down their gentle beams through the silent night, made for Marion a holy place where God seemed near, and where it was good to lie down and rest. "I will both lay me down in peace and sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety"
And that sense of security, of being under tender, loving care, did not forsake her all through the long watches of the night, and through the weary miles of the next day's travel that brought them at length to the Old Prospector's camp.
As they neared the camp the trail emerged out of thick bushes into a wide valley, where great pines stood, with wide spaces between, and clear of all underbrush. The whole valley was carpeted thick with pine needles, and gleamed like gold in the yellow light of the evening sun. The lower boughs under which they rode were dead, and hung with long streamers of grey moss that gave the trees the appearance of hoary age.
As they entered the valley instinctively they lowered their voices and spoke in reverent tones, as if they had been ushered into an assemblage of ancient and silent sages. On every side the stately pines led away in long vistas that suggested the aisles of some noble cathedral. There was no sign of life anywhere, no motion of leaf or bough, no sound to break the solemn stillness. The clatter of a hoof over a stone broke on the ear with startling discordance. The wide reaches of yellow carpet of pine needles, golden and with black bars of shadow, the long drawn aisles of tall pines, bearing aloft like stately pillars the high, arched roof of green, the lower limbs sticking out from the trunks bony and bare but for the pendant streamers of grey moss, all bathed in the diffused radiance of the yellow afternoon light, suggested some weird and mighty fane of a people long dead, whose spirits, haunting these solemn spaces, still kept over their temple a silent and awful watch.
Out on the trail they met Perault in a frenzy of anxious excitement.
"Tank de Bon Dieu!" he cried brokenly, with hands uplifted. "Come wit' me, queek! queek!"
"Perault, tell us how your boss is." The doctor's voice was quiet and authoritative. "And tell us how long he has been ill, and how it came on. Be very particular. Take plenty of time."
Perault's Gallic temperament responded to the doctor's quiet tone and manner.
"Oui. Bon," he said, settling down. "Listen to me. We come nice and slow to dis place, an' den we go up dat gulch for little prospect. Good ting, too. Good mine dere, sure. But old boss he can't stay. He must go, go, go. Den we go up 'noder gulch, tree, four day more, for 'noder mine. Pretty good, too. Den one night we comin' back to camp, old boss feel good. Skeep along lak small sheep. By gar, he's feel too good! He's fall in crik. Dat's noting. No! Good fire, plenty blanket make dat all right. But dat night I hear de ole boss groan, and cry, and turn overe and overe. Light de fire; give him one big drink wheesky. No good. He's go bad all dat night. Nex' day he's het noting. Nex' day he's worser and worser. Wat I can do I can't tell. Den de Bon Dieu he send along dat half-breed. De ole boss he write letter, an' you come here queek."
"Thank you, Perault. A very lucid explanation, indeed. Now, we shall see the patient; and you, Miss Marion, had better remain here by the fire for a few moments."
The doctor passed with Shock into the Old Prospector's tent.
"Mr. Macgregor," cried the old man, stretching out both hands eagerly to him, "I'm glad you have come. I feared you would not be in time. But now," sinking back upon his balsam bed, "now all will be--well."
"Mr. Mowbray," said Shock, "I have brought the doctor with me. Let him examine you now, and then we shall soon have you on your feet again."
The old gentleman smiled up into Shock's face, a smile quiet and content.
"No," he said between short breaths, "I have taken the long trail. My quest is over. It is not for me."
"Let the doctor have a look at you," entreated Shock.
"Most certainly," said the Old Prospector, in his wonted calm voice. "Let the doctor examine me. I am not a man to throw away any hope, however slight."
As the doctor proceeded with his examination his face grew more and more grave. At length he said, "It is idle for me to try to conceal the truth from you, Mr. Mowbray. You are a very sick man. The inflammation has become general over both lobes of the lung. The walls of the vessels and the surrounding tissues have lost their vitality; the vessels are extremely dilated, while exudation and infiltration have proceeded to an alarming extent. The process of engorgement is complete."
"Do you consider his condition dangerous, doctor?" said Shock, breaking in upon the doctor's technical description.
"In a young person the danger would not be so great, but, Mr. Mowbray, I always tell the truth to my patients. In a man of your age I think the hope of recovery is very slight indeed."
"Thank you, doctor" said the old man cheerfully. "I knew it long ago, but I am content that my quest should cease at this point. And now, if you will give me a few moments of close attention," he said, turning to Shock, "and if you will see that the privacy of this tent is absolutely secure, there is little more that I shall require of you."
The doctor stepped to the door.
"Doctor," said the Old Prospector, "I do not wish you to go. It is more than I hoped, that there should be beside me when I passed out of this life two men that I can trust, such as yourself and Mr. Macgregor. Sit down close beside me and listen."
He pulled out from beneath his pillow an oil-skin parcel, which he opened, discovering a small bag of buckskin tied with a thong.
"Open it," he said to Shock. "Take out the paper." His voice became low and eager, and his manner bespoke intense excitement.
"My dear friend," said the doctor, "this will be too much for you. You must be calm."
"Give me something to drink, doctor, something to steady me a bit, for I must convey to you the secret of my life's quest."
The doctor administered a stimulant, and then, with less excitement, but with no less eagerness, the old man proceeded with his story.
"Here," he said, pointing with a trembling finger to a line upon the paper Shock had spread before him, "here is the trail that leads to the Lost River. At this point we are now camped. Follow the course of this stream to this point, half a day's journey, not more; turn toward the east and cross over this low mountain ridge and you come to a valley that will strike you as one of peculiar formation. It has no apparent outlet. That valley," said the Old Prospector, lowering his voice to a whisper, "is the valley of the Lost River. This end," keeping his trembling finger at a certain point on the paper, "has been blocked up by a mountain slide. The other turns very abruptly, still to the east. Three mountain peaks, kept in perfect line, will lead you across this blockade to the source of the Lost River."
"Mr. Mowbray," said Shock, "Perault tells us you only made short excursions from this point where we are now."
"Listen," said the old man. "I made this discovery last year. I have breathed it to no one. My claim is yet unstaked, but here," said he, taking another small buckskin bag from his breast, "here is what I found."
He tried in vain with his trembling fingers to undo the knot. Shock took the bag from him and opened it up.
"Empty it out," said the old man, his eyes glittering with fever and excitement.
Shock poured forth gold dust and nuggets.
"There," he sighed. "I found these at that spot. Empty the other bag," he said to Shock. "These are the ones given me by the Indian so many years ago. The same gold, the same rock, the same nuggets. There is my Lost River. I thought to stake my claim this summer. I ought to have staked it last year, but a terrible storm drove me out of the mountains and I could not complete my work."
The old man ceased his tale, and lay back upon his couch with closed eyes, and breathing quickly. The doctor and Shock stood looking at each other in amazement and perplexity.
"Is he quite himself?" said Shock, in a low voice.
The old man caught the question and opened his eyes.
"Doctor, I am quite sane. You know I am quite sane. I am excited, I confess, but I am quite sane. For thirteen years and more I have sought for those little pieces of metal and rock, but, thank God! I have found them, not for myself, but for my girl. I ruined her life- -I now redeem. And now, Mr. Macgregor, will you undertake a charge for me? Will you swear to be true, to faithfully carry out the request I am to make?"
"Do not disappoint me," said the old man, taking hold of Shock's hand eagerly with his two hands so thin and worn and trembling. "Promise me," he said.
"I promise," said Shock solemnly.
"I want you to follow this trail, to stake out this claim, to register it in your name for my daughter, and to develop or dispose of this mine in the way that may seem best to yourself. I trust you entirely. I have watched you carefully through these months, and have regained my faith in my fellow men and my faith in God through knowing you. I will die in peace because I know you will prove true, and," after a pause, "because I know God will receive a sinful, broken man like me. You promise me this, Mr. Macgregor?" The old man in his eagerness raised himself upon his elbow and stretched out his hand to Shock.
"Once more," said Shock, in a broken voice, "I promise you, Mr. Mowbray. I will do my best to carry out what you desire, and so may God help me!"
The old man sank quietly back on his couch. A smile spread over his face as he lay with closed eyes, and he breathed, "Thank God! I can trust you as if you were my son."
"Hark!" he said a moment afterwards in an anxious whisper. "There is someone near the tent." The doctor hurried out, and found Crawley in the neighbourhood of the tent gathering some sticks for the fire. He hastened back.
"It is only Mr. Crawley," he said, "getting some wood for the fire."
A spasm of fear distorted the old man's face.
"Crawley!" he whispered, "I fear him. Don't let him see--or know. Now take these things--away. I have done with them--I have done with them! You will give my love--to my daughter," he said to Shock after some moments of silence.
"She is here," said Shock quietly.
"Here! Now! I feared to ask. God is good. Yes, God is good."
The doctor stepped out of the tent. The old man lay with eager eyes watching the door.
Swiftly, but with a step composed and steady, his daughter came to him.
"Father, I am here," she said, dropping on her knees beside him.
"My daughter!" he cried with a sob, while his arms held her in a close embrace. "My daughter! my daughter! God is good to us."
For a long time they remained silent with their arms about each other. Shock moved to the door. The girl was the first to master her emotions.
"Father," she said quietly, "the doctor tells me you are very ill."
"Yes, my daughter, very ill, but soon I shall be better. Soon quite well."
The girl lifted up her face quickly.
"Oh, father!" she cried joyfully, "do you think--" The look on her father's face checked her joy. She could not mistake its meaning. She threw herself with passionate sobs on the ground beside him.
"Yes, my daughter," went on the old man in a clear, steady voice, "soon I shall be well. My life has been for years a fevered dream, but the dream is past. I am about to awake. Dear child, I have spoiled your life. We have only a few precious hours left. Help me not to spoil these for you."
At once the girl sat up, wiped her eyes, and grew still.
"Yes, father, we will not lose them."
She put her hand in his.
"You make me strong, my daughter. I have much to say to you, much to say to you of my past."
She put her fingers on his lips gently.
"Is that best, father, do you think?" she said. looking lovingly into his face.
He glanced at her in quick surprise. She was a girl no longer, but a woman, wise and strong and brave.
"Perhaps you are right, my daughter. But you will remember that it was for you I lived my lonely life, for you I pursued my fevered quest. You were all I had left in the world after I had laid your mother in her grave. I feared to bring you to me. Now I know I need not have feared. Now I know what I have missed, my daughter."
"We have found each other, dear, dear father," the girl said, and while her voice broke for a moment in a sob her face was bright with smiles.
"Yes, my daughter, we have found each other at length. The doors of my heart, long closed, had grown rusty, but now they are wide open, and gladly I welcome you."
There was silence for some minutes, then the old man went on, painfully, with ever-shortening breath. "Now, listen to me carefully." And then he told her the tale of his search for the Lost River, ending with the eager exclamation: "And last year I found it. It is a mine rich beyond my fondest hopes, and it is yours. It is yours, my daughter."
"Oh, father," cried the girl, losing herself for a moment, "I don't want the mine. It is you I want."
"Yes, my daughter, I know that well, but for the present it is not the will of God that I should be with you, and I have learned that it is good to trust to Him, and without fear I give you, my daughter, to His care."
Again the girl grew steady and calm.
"Call Mr. Macgregor and the doctor, my dear," her father said. "These gentlemen alone," he continued when they had come to him, "hold my secret. Even Perault does not know all. He knows the valley which we explored last year, but he does not know it is the Lost River. Mr. Macgregor has promised to see the claim staked. Perault will guide him to it."
"This paper," taking a packet from his breast, "is my will. In it a full disposal is made of all. Now I will sign it."
The paper was duly signed and witnessed. With a sigh of content the old man sank back upon his bed.
"Now all is done. I am well content."
For some time he lay with closed eyes. Then, waking suddenly, he looked at Shock and said: "Carry me out, Mr. Macgregor. Carry me out where I can see the trees and the stars. Through long years they have been my best friends. There, too, I would lie in my long sleep."
They made a bed of boughs and skins for him before the camp-fire, and out into the dry, warm night Shock carried him. In the wide valley there still lingered the soft light of the dying day, but the shadows were everywhere lying deeper. Night was rapidly drawing up her curtains upon the world. The great trees stood in the dim light silent, solemn, and shadowy, keeping kindly watch over the valley and all things therein. Over the eastern hill the full moon was just beginning to rise. The mingled lights of silver and gold falling through the trees lent a rare, unearthly loveliness to the whole scene.
The Old Prospector, reclining on his couch, let his eyes wander over the valley and up through the trees to the sky and the stars, while a smile of full content rested on his face.
"It is a lovely night, dear father," said his daughter, quick to interpret his thought.
"Yes, my daughter, a rare night. Often have I seen such nights in this very spot, but never till to-night did their full joy enter my heart. My life was one long, terrible unreality. To-night the world is new, and full of loveliness and all peace."
Then he lay in long silence. The doctor came near, touched his wrist, listened to the beating of his heart, and whispered to his daughter, "It will not be long now."
The old man opened his eyes. "You are near, my daughter," he said.
"Yes, father, dear, I am here," she replied, pressing his hand between hers.
"Could you sing something, do you think?"
The girl drew in her breath sharply as with a sob of pain.
"No," said her father. "Never mind, my daughter. It is too much to ask."
"Yes, yes, father, I will sing. What shall I sing?"
"Sing Bernard's great hymn, 'The world is very evil.'"
It was a hymn she had often sung for him, selecting such of its verses as were more familiar, and as expressed more nearly the thought in their hearts.
As she began to sing the doctor passed out beyond the firelight to the side of the tent. There he found Stanton, with his head bowed low between his knees.
"My boy," said the doctor, "that is very beautiful, but it is very hard to bear."
"Yes," said Stanton. "I'm a baby. I would like to help her, but I cannot."
"Well, my boy, she needs no help that either you or I can give."
Perault, the half-breed, and Crawley sat in silence at the other side of the fire. Shock remained near, the girl, wondering at her marvellous self-control. Verse after verse she sang in a voice low, but clear and sweet. As the refrain occurred again and again,
"O sweet and blessed country, the home of God's elect, O sweet and blessed country that eager hearts expect, Jesus, in mercy bring us to that dear land of rest,"
the only change was that the song rose a little clearer and fuller and with deeper tone.
After she had finished the camp lay in perfect silence.
"Are you asleep, father, dear?" his daughter said at length, but there was no reply. She touched his hands and his face.
"Father!" she cried in a voice of awe and fear, but still there was no reply.
The doctor came hastily into the light, looked into the old man's face, and said: "He is gone."
With a long, low, wailing cry the girl laid herself upon the ground by her father's side and put her arms around him. They all gathered about the couch, with the doctor and Shock standing nearest.
"Poor child!" said the doctor softly. "This is a sad night for her."
"Yes," said Shock, in a voice quiet and steady. "For her the night is sad, but for him the day has dawned and there shall be night no more."
There, in that wide valley where the yellow pine needles lie deep and where morning and evening the mingling lights fall softly through the overarching boughs, they laid the Old Prospector to rest under the pines and the stars that had been his companions for so long.