Chapter 36
 

Slingerland saw Allie Lee married to Neale by that minister of God whose prayer had followed the joining of the rails.

And to the old trapper had fallen the joy and the honor of giving the bride away and of receiving her kiss, as though he had been her father. Then the happy congratulations from General Lodge and his staff; the merry dinner given the couple, and its toasts warm with praise of the bride's beauty and the groom's luck and success; Neale's strange, rapt happiness and Allie's soul shining through her dark-blue eyes--this hour was to become memorable for Slingerland's future dreams.

Slingerland's sight was not clear when, as the train pulled away, he waved a last good-bye to his young friends. Now he had no hope, no prayer left unanswered, except to be again in his beloved hills.

Abruptly he hurried away to the corrals where his pack-train was all in readiness to start. He did not speak to a man. He had packed a dozen burros--the largest and completest pack-train he had ever driven. The abundance of carefully selected supplies, tools, and traps should last him many years--surely all the years that he would live.

Slingerland did not intend to return to civilization, and he never even looked back at that blotch on the face of the bluff--that hideous Roaring City.

He drove the burros at a good trot, his mind at once busy and absent, happy with the pictures of that last hour, gloomy with the undefined, unsatisfied cravings of his heart. Friendship with Neale, affection for Allie, acquainted him with the fact that he had missed something in life--not friendship, for he had had hunter friends, but love, perhaps of a sweetheart, surely love of a daughter.

For the rest the old trapper was glad to see the last of habitations, and of men, and of the railroad. Slingerland hated that great, shining steel band of progress connecting East and West. Every ringing sledge-hammer blow had sung out the death-knell of the trapper's calling. This railroad spelled the end of the wilderness. What one group of greedy men had accomplished others would imitate; and the grass of the plains would be burned, the forests blackened, the fountains dried up in the valleys, and the wild creatures of the mountains driven and hunted and exterminated. The end of the buffalo had come--the end of the Indian was in sight--and that of the fur- bearing animal and his hunter must follow soon with the hurrying years.

Slingerland hated the railroad, and he could not see as Neale did, or any of the engineers or builders. This old trapper had the vision of the Indian--that far-seeing eye cleared by distance and silence, and the force of the great, lonely hills. Progress was great, but nature undespoiled was greater. If a race could not breed all stronger men, through its great movements, it might better not breed any, for the bad over-multiplied the good, and so their needs magnified into greed. Slingerland saw many shining bands of steel across the plains and mountains, many stations and hamlets and cities, a growing and marvelous prosperity from timber, mines, farms, and in the distant end--a gutted West.

He made his first camp on a stream watering a valley twenty miles from the railroad. There were Indian tracks on the trails. But he had nothing to fear from Indians. That night, though all was starry and silent around him as he lay, he still held the insupportable feeling.

Next day he penetrated deeper into the foothills, and soon he had gained the fastnesses of the mountains. No longer did he meet trails except those of deer and wildcat and bear. And so day after day he drove his burros, climbing and descending the rocky ways, until he had penetrated to the very heart of the great wild range.

In all his roaming over untrodden lands he had never come into such a wild place. No foot, not--even an Indian's, had ever desecrated this green valley with its clear, singing stream, its herds of tame deer, its curious beaver, its pine-covered slopes, its looming, gray, protective peaks. And at last he was satisfied to halt there-- to build his cabin and his corral.

Discontent and longing, and then hate, passed into oblivion. These useless passions could not long survive in such an environment. By and by the old trapper's only link with the past was memory of a stalwart youth, and of a girl with violet eyes, and of their sad and wonderful romance, in which he had played a happy part.

The rosy dawn, the days of sun and cloud, the still, windy nights, the solemn stars, the moon-blanched valley with its grazing herds, the beautiful wild mourn of the hunting wolf and the whistle of the stag, and always and ever the murmur of the stream--in these, and in the solitude and loneliness of their haunts, he found his goal, his serenity, the truth and best of remaining life for him.