Tish by Mary Roberts Rinehart
My Country Tish of Thee--
We had meant to go to Europe this last summer, and Tish would have gone anyhow, war or no war, if we had not switched her off onto something else. "Submarines fiddlesticks!" she said. "Give me a good life preserver, with a bottle of blackberry cordial fastened to it, and the sea has no terrors for me."
She said the proper way to do, in case the ship was torpedoed, was to go up on an upper deck, and let the vessel sink under one.
"Then without haste," she explained, "as the water rises about one, strike out calmly. The life-belt supports one, but swim gently for the exercise. It will prevent chilling. With a waterproof bag of crackers, and mild weather, one could go on comfortably for a day or two."
I still remember the despairing face Aggie turned to me. It was December then, and very cold.
However, she said nothing more until January. Early in that month Charlie Sands came to Tish's to Sunday dinner, and we were all there. The subject came up then.
It was about the time Tish took up vegetarianism, I remember that, because the only way she could induce Charlie Sands to come to dinner was to promise to have two chops for him. Personally I am not a vegetarian. I am not and never will be. I took a firm stand except when at Tish's home. But Aggie followed Tish's lead, of course, and I believe lived up to it as far as possible, although it is quite true that, stopping in one day unexpectedly to secure a new crochet pattern, I smelled broiling steak. But Aggie explained that she merely intended to use the juice from a small portion, having had one of her weak spells, the balance to go to the janitor's dog.
However, this is a digression.
"Europe!" said Charlie Sands. "Forget it! What in the name of the gastric juice is this I'm eating?"
It was a mixture of bran, raisins, and chopped nuts, as I recall it, moistened with water and pressed into a compact form. It was Tish's own invention. She called it "Bran-Nut," and was talking of making it in large quantities for sale.
Charlie Sands gave it up with a feeble gesture. "I'm sorry, Aunt Letitia," he said at last; "I'm a strong man ordinarily, but by the time I've got it masticated I'm too weak to swallow it. If-- if one could have a stream of water playing on it while working, it would facilitate things."
"The Ostermaiers," said Aggie, "are going West."
"Good for the Ostermaiers," said Charlie Sands. "Great idea. See America first. 'My Country Tish of Thee,' etc. Why don't you three try it?"
Tish relinquished Europe slowly.
"One would think," Charlie Sands said, "that you were a German being asked to give up Belgium."
"What part of the West?" she demanded. "It's all civilized, isn't it?"
"The Rocky Mountains," said Charlie Sands, "will never be civilized."
Tish broke off a piece of Bran-Nut, and when she thought no one was looking poured a little tea over it. There was a gleam in her eye that Aggie and I have learned to know.
"Mountains!" she said. "That ought to be good for Aggie's hay fever."
"I'd rather live with hay fever," Aggie put in sharply, "than cure it by falling over a precipice."
"You'll have to take a chance on that, of course," Charlie Sands said. "I'm not sure it will be safe, but I am sure it will be interesting."
Oh, he knew Tish well enough. Tell her a thing was dangerous, and no power could restrain her.
I do not mind saying that I was not keen about the thing. I had my fortune told years ago, and the palmist said that if a certain line had had a bend in it I should have been hanged. But since it did not, to be careful of high places.
"It's a sporting chance," said Charlie Sands, although I was prodding him under the table. "With some good horses and a bag of this--er--concentrated food, you would have the time of your young lives."
This was figurative. We are all of us round fifty.
"The--the Bran-Nut," he said, "would serve for both food and ammunition. I can see you riding along, now and then dropping a piece of it on the head of some unlucky mountain goat, and watching it topple over into eternity. I can see--"
"Riding!" said Aggie. "Then I'm not going. I leave never been on a horse and I never intend to be."
"Don't be a fool," Tish snapped. "If you've never been on a horse, it's time and to spare you got on one."
Hannah had been clearing the table with her lips shut tight. Hannah is an old and privileged servant and has a most unfortunate habit of speaking her mind. So now she stopped beside Tish.
"You take my advice and go, Miss Tish," she said. "If you ride a horse round some and get an appetite, you'll go down on your knees and apologize to your Maker for the stuff we've been eating the last four weeks." She turned to Charlie Sands, and positively her chin was quivering. "I'm a healthy woman," she said, "and I work hard and need good nourishing food. When it's come to a point where I eat the cat's meat and let it go hungry," she said, "it's time either I lost my appetite or Miss Tish went away."
Well, Tish dismissed Hannah haughtily from the room, and the conversation went on. None of us had been far West, although Tish has a sister-in-law in, Toledo, Ohio. But owing to a quarrel over a pair of andirons that had been in the family for a time, she had never visited her.
"You'll like it, all of you," Charlie Sands said as we waited for the baked apples. "Once get started with a good horse between your knees, and--"
"I hope," Tish interrupted him, "that you do not think we are going to ride astride!"
"I'm darned sure of it."
That was Charlie Sands's way of talking. He does not mean to be rude, and he is really a young man of splendid character. But, as Tish says, contact with the world, although it has not spoiled him, has roughened his speech.
"You see," he explained, "there are places our there where the horses have to climb like goats. It's only fair to them to distribute your weight equally. A side saddle is likely to turn and drop you a mile or two down a crack."
Aggie went rather white and sneezed violently.
But Tish looked thoughtful. "It sounds reasonable," she said. "I've felt for along time that I'd be glad to discard skirts. Skirts," she said, "are badge of servitude, survivals of the harem, reminders of a time when nothing was expected of women but parasitic leisure."
I tried to tell her that she was wrong about the skirts. Miss MacGillicuddy, our missionary in India, had certainly said that the women in harems wore bloomers. But Tish left the room abruptly, returning shortly after with a volume of the encyclopedia, and looked up the Rocky Mountains.
I remember it said that the highest ranges were, as compared with the size and shape of the earth, only as the corrugations on the skin of an orange. Either the man who wrote that had never seen an orange or he had never seen the Rocky Mountains. Orange, indeed! If he had said the upper end of a pineapple it would have been more like it. I wish the man who wrote it would go to Glacier Park. I am not a vindictive woman, but I know one or two places where I would like to place him and make him swallow that orange. I'd like to see him on a horse, on the brink of a canon a mile deep, and have his horse reach over the edge for a stray plant or two, or standing in a cloud up to his waist, so that, as Aggie so plaintively observed, "The lower half of one is in a snowstorm while the upper part is getting sunburned."
For we went. Oh, yes, we went. It is not the encyclopaedia's fault that we came back. But now that we are home, and nothing wrong except a touch of lumbago that Tish got from sleeping on the ground, and, of course, Aggie's unfortunate experience with her teeth, I look back on our various adventures with pleasure. I even contemplate a return next year, although Aggie says she will die first. But even that is not to be taken as final. The last time I went to see her, she had bought a revolver from the janitor and was taking lessons in loading it.
The Ostermaiers went also. Not with us, however. The congregation made up a purse for the purpose, and Tish and Aggie and I went further, and purchased a cigar-case for Mr. Ostermaier and a quantity of cigars. Smoking is the good man's only weakness.
I must say, however, that it is absurd to hear Mrs. Ostermaier boasting of the trip. To hear her talk, one would think they had done the whole thing, instead of sitting in an automobile and looking up at the mountains. I shall never forget the day they were in a car passing along a road, and we crossed unexpectedly ahead of them and went on straight up the side of a mountain.
Tish had a sombrero on the side of her head, and was resting herself in the saddle by having her right leg thrown negligently over the horse's neck. With the left foot she was kicking our pack-horse, a creature so scarred with brands that Tish had named her Jane, after a cousin of hers who had had so many operations that Tish says she is now entirely unfurnished.
Mr. Ostermaier's face was terrible, and only two days ago Mrs. Ostermaier came over to ask about putting an extra width in the skirt to her last winter's suit. But it is my belief that she came to save Tish's soul, and nothing else.
"I'm so glad wide skirts have come in," she said. "They're so modest, aren't they, Miss Tish?"
"Not in a wind," Tish said, eying her coldly.
"I do think, dear Miss Tish," she went on with her eyes down, "that to--to go about in riding-breeches before a young man is-- well, it is hardly discreet, is it?"
I saw Tish glancing about the room. She was pretty angry, and I knew perfectly well what she wanted. I put my knitting-bag over Charlie Sands's tobacco-pouch.
Tish had learned to roll cigarettes out in Glacier Park. Not that she smoked them, of course, but she said she might as well know how. There was no knowing when it would come in handy. And when she wishes to calm herself she reaches instinctively for what Bill used to call, strangely, "the makings."
"If," she said, her eye still roving,--"if it was any treat to a twenty-four-year-old cowpuncher to see three elderly women in riding-breeches, Mrs. Ostermaier,--and it's kind of you to think so,--why, I'm not selfish."
Mrs. Ostermaier's face was terrible. She gathered up her skirt and rose. "I shall not tell Mr. Ostermaier what you have just said," she observed with her mouth set hard. "We owe you a great deal, especially the return of my earrings. But I must request, Miss Tish, that you do not voice such sentiments in the Sunday school."
Tish watched her out. Then she sat down and rolled eleven cigarettes for Charlie Sands, one after the other. At last she spoke.
"I'm not sure," she said tartly, "that if I had it to do over again I'd do it. That woman's not a Christian. I was thinking," she went on, "of giving them a part of the reward to go to Asbury Park with. But she'd have to wear blinders on the bathing- beach, so I'll not do it."
However, I am ahead of my recital.
For a few days Tish said nothing more, but one Sunday morning, walking home from church, she turned to me suddenly and said:--
"Lizzie, you're fat."
"I'm as the Lord made me," I replied with some spirit.
"Fiddlesticks!" said Tish. "You're as your own sloth and overindulgence has made you. Don't blame the Good Man for it."
Now, I am a peaceful woman, and Tish is as my own sister, and indeed even more so. But I was roused to anger by her speech.
"I've been fleshy all my life," I said. "I'm no lazier than most, and I'm a dratted sight more agreeable than some I know, on account of having the ends of my nerves padded."
But she switched to another subject in her characteristic manner.
"Have you ever reflected, either of you," she observed, "that we know nothing of this great land of ours? That we sing of loving 'thy rocks and rills, thy woods and templed hills'--although the word 'templed' savors of paganism and does not belong in a national hymn? And that it is all balderdash?"
Aggie took exception to this and said that she loved her native land, and had been south to Pinehurst and west to see her niece in Minneapolis, on account of the baby having been named for her.
But Tish merely listened with a grim smile. "Travel from a car window," she observed, "is no better than travel in a nickelodeon. I have done all of that I am going to. I intend to become acquainted with my native land, closely acquainted. State by State I shall wander over it, refreshing soul and body and using muscles too long unused."
"Tish!" Aggie quavered. "You are not going on another walking- tour?"
Only a year or two before Tish had read Stevenson's "Travels with a Donkey," and had been possessed to follow his example. I have elsewhere recorded the details of that terrible trip. Even I turned pale, I fear, and cast a nervous eye toward the table where Tish keeps her reading-matter.
Tish is imaginative, and is always influenced by the latest book she has read. For instance, a volume on "Nursing at the Front" almost sent her across to France, although she cannot make a bed and never could, and turns pale at the sight of blood; and another time a book on flying machines sent her up into the air, mentally if not literally. I shall never forgo the time she secured some literature on the Mormon Church, and the difficulty I had in smuggling it out under my coat.
Tish did not refute the walking-tour at once, bud fell into a deep reverie.
It is not her custom to confide her plans to us until they are fully shaped and too far on to be interfered with, which accounts for our nervousness.
On arriving at her apartment, however, we found a map laid out on the table and the Rocky Mountains marked with pins. We noticed that whenever she straightened from the table she grunted.
"What we want," Tish said, "is isolation. No people. No crowds. No servants. If I don't get away from Hannah soon I'll murder her."
"It wouldn't hurt to see somebody now and then, Tish," Aggie objected.
"Nobody," Tish said firmly. "A good horse is companion enough." She forgot herself and straightened completely, and she groaned.
"We might meet some desirable people, Tish," I put in firmly. "If we do, I don't intend to run like rabbit."
"Desirable people!" Tish scoffed. "In the Rocky Mountains! My dear Lizzie, every desperado in the country takes refuge in the Rockies. Of course, if you want to take up with that class--"
Aggie sneezed and looked wretched. As for me, I made up my mind then and there that if Letitia Carberry was going to such a neighborhood, she was not going alone. I am not much with a revolver, but mighty handy with a pair of lungs.
Well, Tish had it all worked out. "I've found the very place," she said. "In the first place, it's Government property. When our country puts aside a part of itself as a public domain we should show our appreciation. In the second place, it's wild. I'd as soon spend a vacation in Central Park near the Zoo as in the Yellowstone. In the third place, with an Indian reservation on one side and a national forest on the other, it's bound to be lonely. Any tourist," she said scornfully, "can go to the Yosemite and be photographed under a redwood tree."
"Do the Indians stay on the reservation?" Aggie asked feebly.
"Probably not," Tish observed coldly. "Once for all, Aggie--if you are going to run like a scared deer every time you see an Indian or a bear, I wish you would go to Asbury Park."
She forgot herself then and sat down quickly, an action which was followed by an agonized expression.
"Tish," I said sharply, "you have been riding a horse!
"Only in a cinder ring," she replied with unwonted docility. "The teacher said I would be a trifle stiff."
"How long did you ride?"
"Not more than twenty minutes," she said. "The lesson was to be an hour, but somebody put a nickel in a mechanical piano, and the creature I was on started going sideways."
Well, she had fallen off and had to be taken home in a taxicab. When Aggie heard it she simply took the pins out of the map and stuck them in Tish's cushion. Her mouth was set tight.
"I didn't really fall," Tish said. "I sat down, and it was cinders, and not hard. It has made my neck stiff, that's all."
"That's enough," said Aggie. "If I've got to seek pleasure by ramming my spinal column up into my skull and crowding my brains, I'll stay at home."
"You can't fall out of a Western saddle," Tish protested rather bitterly. "And if I were you, Aggie, I wouldn't worry about crowding my brains."
However, she probably regretted this speech, for she added more gently: "A high altitude will help your hay fever, Aggie."
Aggie said with some bitterness that her hay fever did not need to be helped. That, as far as she could see, it was strong and flourishing. At that matters rested, except for a bit of conversation just before we left. Aggie had put on her sweater vest and her muffler and the jacket of her winter suit and was getting into her fur coat, when Tish said: "Soft as mush, both of you!"
"If you think, Tish Carberry," I began, "that I--"
"Apple dumplings!" said Tish. "Sofa pillows! Jellyfish! Not a muscle to divide between you!"
I drew on my woolen tights angrily.
"Elevators!" Tish went on scornfully. "Street cars and taxicabs! No wonder your bodies are mere masses of protoplasm, or cellulose, or whatever it is."
"Since when," said Aggie, "have you been walking to develop yourself, Tish? I must say--"
Here anger brought on one of her sneezing attacks, and she was unable to finish.
Tish stood before us oracularly. "After next September," she said, "you will both scorn the sloth of civilization. You will move about for the joy of moving about. You will have cast off the shackles of the flesh and be born anew. That is, if a plan of mine goes through. Lizzie, you will lose fifty pounds!"
Well, I didn't want to lose fifty pounds. After our summer in the Maine woods I had gone back to find that my new tailor-made coat, which had fitted me exactly, and being stiffened with haircloth kept its shape off and looked as if I myself were hanging to the hook, had caved in on me in several places. Just as I had gone to the expense of having it taken in I began to put on flesh again, and had to have it let out. Besides, no woman over forty should ever reduce, at least not violently. She wrinkles. My face that summer had fallen into accordion plaits, and I had the curious feeling of having enough skin for two.
Aggie had suggested at that time that I have my cheeks filled out with paraffin, which I believe cakes and gives the appearance of youth. But Mrs. Ostermaier knew a woman who had done so, and being hit on one side by a snowball, the padding broke in half, one part moving up under her eye and the second lodging at the angle of her jaw. She tried lying on a hot-water bottle to melt the pieces and bring them together again, but they did not remain fixed, having developed a wandering habit and slipping unexpectedly now and then. Mrs. Ostermaier says it is painful to watch her holding them in place when she yawns.
Strangely enough, however, a few weeks later Tish's enthusiasm for the West had apparently vanished. When several weeks went by and the atlas had disappeared from her table, and she had given up vegetarianism for Swedish movements, we felt that we were to have a quiet summer after all, and Aggie wrote to a hotel in Asbury Park about rooms for July and August.
There was a real change in Tish. She stopped knitting abdominal bands for the soldiers in Europe, for one thing, although she had sent over almost a dozen very tasty ones. In the evenings, when we dropped in to chat with her, she said very little and invariably dozed in her chair.
On one such occasion, Aggie having inadvertently stepped on the rocker of her chair while endeavoring by laying a hand on Tish's brow to discover if she was feverish, the chair tilted back and Tish wakened with a jerk.
She immediately fell to groaning and clasped her hands to the small of her back, quite ignoring poor Aggie, whom the chair had caught in the epigastric region, and who was compelled for some time to struggle for breath.
"Jumping Jehoshaphat!" said Tish in an angry tone. It is rare for Tish to use the name of a Biblical character in this way, but she was clearly suffering. "What in the world are you doing, Aggie?"
"T-t-trying to breathe," poor Aggie replied.
"Then I wish," Tish said coldly, "that you would make the effort some place else than on the rocker of my chair. You jarred me, and I am in no state to be jarred."
But she refused to explain further, beyond saying, in reply to a question of mine, that she was not feverish and that she had not been asleep, having merely closed her eyes to rest them. Also she affirmed that she was not taking riding-lessons. We both noticed however, that she did not leave her chair during the time we were there, and that she was sitting on the sofa cushion I had made her for the previous Christmas, and on which I had embroidered the poet Moore's beautiful words: "Come, rest in this bosom."
As Aggie was still feeling faint, I advised her to take a mouthful of blackberry cordial, which Tish keeps for emergencies in her bathroom closet. Immediately following her departure the calm of the evening was broken by a loud shriek.
It appeared, on my rushing to the bathroom, while Tish sat heartlessly still, that Aggie, not seeing a glass, had placed the bottle to her lips and taken quite a large mouthful of liniment, which in color resembled the cordial. I found her sitting on the edge of the bathtub in a state of collapse.
"I'm poisoned!" she groaned. "Oh, Lizzie, I am not fit to die!"
I flew with the bottle to Tish, who was very calm and stealthily rubbing one of her ankles.
"Do her good," Tish said. "Take some of the stiffness out of her liver, for one thing. But you might keep an eye on her. It's full of alcohol."
"What's the antidote?" I asked, hearing Aggie's low groans.
"The gold cure is the only thing I can think of at the moment," said Tish coldly, and started on the other ankle.
I merely record this incident to show the change in Tish. Aggie was not seriously upset, although dizzy for an hour or so and very talkative, especially about Mr. Wiggins.
Tish was changed. Her life, which mostly had been an open book to us, became filled with mystery. There were whole days when she was not to be located anywhere, and evenings, as I have stated, when she dozed in her chair.
As usual when we are worried about Tish, we consulted her nephew, Charlie Sands. But like all members of the masculine sex he refused to be worried.
"She'll be all right," he observed. "She takes these spells. But trust the old lady to come up smiling."
"It's either Christian Science or osteopathy," Aggie said dolefully. "She's not herself. The fruit cake she sent me the other day tasted very queer, and Hannah thinks she put ointment in instead of butter."
"Ointments!" observed Charlie thoughtfully. "And salves! By George, I wonder--I'll tell you," he said: "I'll keep an eye open for a few days. The symptoms sound like--But never mind. I'll let you know."
We were compelled to be satisfied with this, but for several days we lingered in anxiety. During that painful interval nothing occurred to enlighten us, except one conversation with Tish.
We had taken dinner with her, and she seemed to be all right again and more than usually active. She had given up the Bran- Nut after breaking a tooth on it, and was eating rare beef, which she had heard was digested in the spleen or some such place, thus resting the stomach for a time. She left us, however, immediately after the meal, and Hannah, her maid, tiptoed into the room.
"I'm that nervous I could scream," she said. "Do you know what she's doing now?
"No, Hannah," I said with bitter sarcasm. "Long ago I learned never to surmise what Miss Tish is doing."
"She's in the bathroom, standing on one foot and waving the other in the air. She's been doing it," Hannah said, "for weeks. First one foot, then the other. And that ain't all."
"You've been spying on Miss Tish," Aggie said. "Shame on you, Hannah!"
"I have, Miss Aggie. Spy I have and spy I will, while there's breath in my body. Twenty years have I--Do you know what she does when she come home from these sneakin' trips of hers? She sits in a hot bath until the wonder is that her blood ain't turned to water. And after that she uses liniment. Her underclothes is that stained up with it that I'm ashamed to hang 'em out."
Here Tish returned and, after a suspicious glance at Hannah, sat down. Aggie and I glanced at each other. She did not, as she had for some time past, line the chair with pillows, and there was an air about her almost of triumph.
She did not, however, volunteer any explanation. Aggie and I were driven to speculation, in which we indulged on our way home, Aggie being my guest at the time, on account of her janitor's children having measles, and Aggie never having had them, although recalling a severe rash as a child, with other measly symptoms.
"She has something in mind for next summer," said Aggie apprehensively, "and she is preparing her strength for it. Tish is forehanded if nothing else."
"Well," I remarked with some bitterness, "if we are going along it might be well to prepare us too."
"Something," Aggie continued, "that requires landing on one foot with the other in the air."
"Don't drivel," said I. "She's not likely going into the Russian ballet. She's training her muscles, that's all."
But the mystery was solved the following morning when Charlie Sands called me up.
"I've got it, beloved aunt," he said.
"Got what?" said I.
"What the old lady is up to. She's a wonder, and no mistake. Only I think it was stingy of her not to let you and Aunt Aggie in."
He asked me to get Aggie and meet him at the office as soon as possible, but he refused to explain further. And he continued to refuse until we had arrived at our destination, a large brick building in the center of the city.
"Now," he said, "take a long breath and go in. And mind--no excitement."
We went in. There was a band playing and people circling at a mile a minute. In the center there was a cleared place, and Tish was there on ice skates. An instructor had her by the arm, and as we looked she waved him off, gave herself a shove forward with one foot, and then, with her arms waving, she made a double curve, first on one foot and then on the other.
"The outside edge, by George!" said Charlie Sands. "The old sport!"
Unluckily at that moment Tish saw us, and sat down violently on the ice. And a quite nice-looking young man fell over her and lay stunned for several seconds. We rushed round the arena, expecting to see them both carried out, but Tish was uninjured, and came skating toward us with her hands in her pockets. It was the young man who had to be assisted out.
"Well," she said, fetching up against the railing with a bang, "of course you had to come before I was ready for you! In a week I'll really be skating."
We said nothing, but looked at her, and I am afraid our glances showed disapproval, for she straightened her hat with a jerk.
"Well?" she said. "You're not tongue-tied all of a sudden, are you? Can't a woman take a little exercise without her family and friends coming snooping round and acting as if she'd broken the Ten Commandments?"
"Breaking the Ten Commandments!" I said witheringly. "Breaking a leg more likely. If you could have seen yourself, Tish Carberry, sprawled on the at your age, and both your arteries and your bones brittle, as the specialist told you,--and I heard him myself,--you'd take those things off your feet and go home and hide your head."
"I wish I had your breath, Lizzie," Tish said. "I'd be a submarine diver."
Saying which she skated off, and did not come near us again. A young gentleman went up to her and asked her to skate, though I doubt if she had ever seen him before. And as we left the building in disapproval they were doing fancy turns in the middle of the place, and a crowd was gathering round them.
Owing to considerable feeling being roused by the foregoing incident, we did not see much of Tish for a week. If a middle- aged woman wants to make a spectacle of herself, both Aggie and I felt that she needed to be taught a lesson. Besides, we knew Tish. With her, to conquer a thing is to lose interest.
On the anniversary of the day Aggie became engaged to Mr. Wiggins, Tish asked us both to dinner, and we buried the hatchet, or rather the skates. It was when dessert came that we realized how everything that had occurred had been preparation for the summer, and that we were not going to Asbury Park, after all.
"It's like this," said Tish. "Hannah, go out and close the door, and don't stand listening. I have figured it all out," she said, when Hannah had slammed out. "The muscles used in skating are the ones used in mountain-climbing. Besides, there may be times when a pair of skates would be handy going over the glaciers. It's not called Glacier Park for nothing, I dare say. When we went into the Maine woods we went unprepared. This time I intend to be ready for any emergency."
But we gave her little encouragement. We would go along, and told her so. But further than that I refused to prepare. I would not skate, and said so.
"Very well, Lizzie," she said. "Don't blame me if you find yourself unable to cope with mountain hardships. I merely felt this way: if each of us could do one thing well it might be helpful. There's always snow, and if Aggie would learn to use snowshoes it might be valuable."
"Where could I practice?" Aggie demanded.
But Tish went on, ignoring Aggie's sarcastic tone. "And if you, Lizzie, would learn to throw a lasso, or lariat,--I believe both terms are correct,--it would be a great advantage, especially in case of meeting ferocious animals. The park laws will not allow us to kill them, and it would be mighty convenient, Lizzie. Not to mention that it would be an accomplishment few women possess."
I refused to make the attempt, although Tish sent for the clothesline, and with the aid of the encyclopoedia made a loop in the end of it. Finally she became interested herself, and when we left rather downhearted at ten o'clock she had caught the rocking- chair three times and broken the clock.
Aggie and I prepared with little enthusiasm, I must confess. We had as much love for the rocks and rills of our great country as Tish, but, as Aggie ob- served, there were rocks and rocks, and one could love them without climbing up them or falling off them.
The only comfort we had was that Charlie Sands said that we should ride ponies, and not horses. My niece's children have a pony which is very gentle and not much larger than a dog, which comes up on the porch for lumps of sugar. We were lured to a false sense of security, I must say.
As far as we could see, Tish was making few preparations for the trip. She said we could get everything we needed at the park entrance, and that the riding was merely sitting in a saddle and letting the pony do the rest. But on the 2lst of June, the anniversary of the day Aggie was to have been married, we went out to decorate Mr. Wiggins's last resting-place, and coming out of the cemetery we met Tish.
She was on a horse, astride!
She was not alone. A gentleman was riding beside her, and he had her horse by a long leather strap.
She pretended not to see us, and Aggie unfortunately waved her red parasol at her. The result was most amazing. The beast she was on jerked itself free in an instant, and with the same movement, apparently, leaped the hedge beside the road. One moment there was Tish, in a derby hat and breeches, and the next moment there was only the gentleman, with his mouth open.
Aggie collapsed, moaning, in the road, and beyond the hedge we could hear the horse leaping tombstones in the cemetery.
"Oh, Tish!" Aggie wailed.
I broke my way through the hedge to find what was left of her, while the riding-master bolted for the gate. But to my intense surprise Tish was not on the ground. Then I saw her. She was still on the creature, and she was coming back along the road, with her riding-hat on the back of her head and a gleam in her eye that I knew well enough was a gleam of triumph.
She halted the thing beside me and looked down with a patronizing air.
"He's a trifle nervous this morning," she said calmly. "Hasn't been worked enough. Good horse, though,--very neat jump."
Then she rode on and out through the gates, ignoring Aggie's pitiful wail and scorning the leading-string the instructor offered.
We reached Glacier Park without difficulty, although Tish insisted on talking to the most ordinary people on the train, and once, losing her, we found her in the drawing-room learning to play bridge, although not a card-player, except for casino. Though nothing has ever been said, I believe she learned when too late that they were playing for money, as she borrowed ten dollars from me late in the afternoon and was looking rather pale.
"What do you think?" she said, while I was getting the money from the safety pocket under my skirt. "The young man who knocked me down on the ice that day is on the train. I've just exchanged a few words with him. He was not much hurt, although unconscious for a short time. His name is Bell--James C. Bell."
Soon after that Tish brought him to us, and we had a nice talk. He said he had not been badly hurt on the ice, although he got a cut on the forehead from Tish's skate, requiring two stitches.
After a time he and Aggie went out on the platform, only returning when Aggie got a cinder in her eye.
"Just think," she said as he went for water to use in my eye- cup, "he is going to meet the girl he is in love with out at the park. She has been there for four weeks. They are engaged. He is very much in love. He didn't talk of anything else."
She told him she had confided his tender secret to us, and instead of looking conscious he seemed glad to have three people instead of one to talk to about her.
"You see, it's like this," he said: "She is very good looking, and in her town a moving-picture company has its studio. That part's all right. I suppose we have to have movies. But the fool of a director met her at a party, and said she would photograph well and ought to be with them. He offered her a salary, and it went to her head. She's young," he added, "and he said she could be as great a hit as Mary Pickford."
"How sad!" said Aggie. "But of course she refused?"
"Well, no, she liked the idea. It got me worried. Worried her people too. Her father's able to give her a good home, and I'm expecting to take that job off his hands in about a year. But girls are queer. She wanted to try it awfully."
It developed that he had gone to her folks about it, and they'd offered her a vacation with some of her school friends in Glacier Park.
"It's pretty wild out there," he went on, "and we felt that the air, and horseback riding and everything, would make her forget the movies. I hope so. She's there now. But she's had the bug pretty hard. Got so she was always posing, without knowing it."
But he was hopeful that she would be cured, and said she was to meet him at the station.
"She's an awfully nice girl, you understand," he finished. "It's only that this thing got hold of her and needed driving out."
Well, we were watching when the train drew in at Glacier Park Station, and she was there. She was a very pretty girl, and it was quite touching to see him look at her. But Aggie observed something and remarked on it.
"She's not as glad to see him as he is to see her," she said. "He was going to kiss her, and she moved back."
In the crowd we lost sight of them, but that evening, sitting in the lobby of the hotel, we saw Mr. Bell wandering round alone. He looked depressed, and Aggie beckoned to him.
"How is everything?" she asked. "Is the cure working?"
He dropped into a chair and looked straight ahead.
"Not so you could notice it!" he said bitterly. "Would you believe that there's a moving-picture outfit here, taking scenes in the park"
"There is. They've taken two thousand feet of her already, dressed like an Indian," he said in a tone of suppressed fury. "It makes me sick. I dare say if we tied her in a well some fool would lower a camera on a rope."
Just at that moment she sauntered past us with a reddish-haired young man. Mr. Bell ignored her, although I saw her try to catch his eye.
"That's the moving-picture man with her," he said in a low, violent tone when they had passed. "Name's Oliver." He groaned. "He's told her she ought to go in for the business. She'd be a second Mary Pickford! I'd like to kill him!" He rose savagely and left us.
We spent the night in the hotel at the park entrance, and I could not get to sleep. Tish was busy engaging a guide and going over our supplies, and at eleven o'clock Aggie came into my room and sat down on the bed.
"I can't sleep, Lizzie," she said. "That poor Mr. Bell is on my mind. Besides, did you see those ferocious Indians hanging round?"
Well, I had seen them, but said nothing.
"They would scalp one as quick as not," Aggie went on. "And who's to know but that our guide will be in league with them? I've lost my teeth," she said with a flash of spirit, "but so far I've kept my hair, and mean to if possible. That old Indian has a scalp tied to the end of a stick. Lizzie, I'm nervous."
"If it is only hair they want, I don't mind their taking my switch," I observed, trying to be facetious, although uneasy. As to the switch, it no longer matched my hair, and I would have parted from it without a pang.
"And another thing," said Aggie: "Tish can talk about ponies until she is black in the face. The creatures are horses. I've seen them."
Well, I knew that, too, by that time. As we walked to the hotel from the train I had seen one of than carrying on. It was arching its back like a cat that's just seen a strange dog, and with every arch it swelled its stomach. At the third heave it split the strap that held the saddle on, and then it kicked up in the rear and sent saddle and rider over its head. So far as I had seen, no casualty had resulted, but it had set me thinking. Given a beast with an India-rubber spine and no sense of honor, I felt I would be helpless.
Tish came in just then and we confronted her.
"Ponies!" I said bitterly. "They are horses, if I know a horse. And, moreover, it's well enough for you, Tish Carberry, to talk about gripping a horse with your knees. I'm not built that way, and you know it. Besides, no knee grip will answer when a creature begins to act like a cat in a fit."
Aggie here had a bright idea. She said that she had seen pictures of pneumatic jackets to keep people from drowning, and that Mr. McKee, a buyer at one of the stores at home, had taken one, fully inflated, when he crossed to Paris for autumn suits.
"I would like to have one, Tish," she finished. "It would break the force of a fall anyhow, even if it did puncture."
Tish, who was still dressed, went out to the curio shop in the lobby, and returned with the sad news that there was nothing of the sort on sale.
We were late in getting started the next morning owing partly to Aggie's having put her riding-breeches on wrong, and being unable to sit down when once in the saddle. But the main reason was the guide we had engaged. Tish heard him using profane language to one of the horses and dismissed him on the spot.
The man who was providing our horses and outfit, however, understood, and in a short time returned with another man.
"I've got a good one for you now, Miss Carberry," he said. "Safe and perfectly gentle, and as mild as milk. Only has one fault, and maybe you won't mind that. He smokes considerably."
"I don't object, as long as it's in the open air," Tish said.
So that was arranged. But I must say that the new man did not look mild. He had red hair, although a nice smile with a gold tooth, and his trousers were of white fur, which looked hot for summer.
"You are sure that you don't use strong language?" Tish asked.
"No, ma'am," he said. "I was raised strict, and very particular as to swearing. Dear, dear now, would you look at that cinch! Blow up their little tummies, they do, when they're cinched, and when they breathe it out, the saddle's as loose as the tongues of some of these here tourists."
Tish swung herself up without any trouble, but owing to a large canvas bag on the back of my saddle I was unable to get my leg across, and was compelled to have it worked over, a little at a time. At last, however, we were ready. A white pack-horse, carrying our tents and cooking-utensils, was led by Bill, which proved to be the name of our cowboy guide.
Mr. Bell came to say good-bye and to wish us luck. But he looked unhappy, and there was no sign whatever of the young lady, whose name we had learned was Helen.
"I may see you on the trail," he said sadly. "I'm about sick of this place, and I'm thinking of clearing out."
Aggie reminded him that faint heart never won fair lady, but he only shook his head.
"I'm not so sure that I want to win," he said. "Marriage is a serious business, and I don't know that I'd care to have a wife that followed a camera like a street kid follows a brass band. It wouldn't make for a quiet home."
We left him staring wistfully into the distance.
Tish sat in her saddle and surveyed the mountain peaks that rose behind the hotel.
"Twenty centuries are looking down upon us!" she said. "The crest of our native land lies before us. We will conquer those beetling crags, or die trying. All right, Bill. Forward!"
Bill led off, followed by the pack-horse, then Tish, Aggie and myself. We kept on in this order for some time, which gave me a chance to observe Aggie carefully. I am not much of a horsewoman myself, having never been on a horse before. But my father was fond of riding, and I soon adapted myself to the horse's gait, especially when walking. On level stretches, however, where Bill spurred his horse to a trot, I was not so comfortable, and Aggie appeared to strike the saddle in a different spot every time she descended.
Once, on her turning her profile to me in a glance of despair, I was struck by the strange and collapsed appearance of her face. This was explained, however, when my horse caught up to hers on a wider stretch of road, and I saw that she had taken out her teeth and was holding them in her hand.
"Al-almost swallowed them," she gasped. "Oh, Lizzie, to think of a summer of this!"
At last we left the road and turned onto a footpath, which instantly commenced to rise. Tish called back something about the beauties of nature and riding over a carpet of flowers, but my horse was fording a small stream at the time and I was too occupied to reply. The path--or trail, which is what Bill called it--grew more steep, and I let go of the lines and held to the horn of my saddle. The horses were climbing like goats.
"Tish," Aggie called desperately, "I can't stand this. I'm going back! I'm--Lordamighty!"
Fortunately Tish did not hear this. We had suddenly emerged on the brink of a precipice. A two-foot path clung to the cliff, and along the very edge of this the horses walked, looking down in an interested manner now and then. My blood turned to water and I closed my eyes.
"Tish!" Aggie shrieked.
But the only effect of this was to start her horse into a trot. I had closed my eyes, but I opened them in time to see Aggie give a wild clutch and a low moan.
In a few moments the trail left the edge, and Aggie turned in her saddle and looked back at me.
"I lost my lower set back there," she said. "They went over the edge. I suppose they're falling yet."
"It's a good thing it wasn't the upper set," I said, to comfort her. "As far as appearance goes--"
"Appearance!" she said bitterly. "Do you suppose we'll meet anybody but desperadoes and Indians in a place like this? And not an egg with us, of course."
The eggs referred to her diet, as at different times, when having her teeth repaired, she can eat little else.
"Ham," she called back in a surly tone, "and hard tack, I suppose! I'll starve, Lizzie, that's all. If only we had brought some junket tablets!"
With the exception of this incident the morning was quiet. Tish and Bill talked prohibition, which he believed in, and the tin pans on the pack-horse clattered, and we got higher all the time, and rode through waterfalls and along the edge of death. By noon I did not much care if the horses fell over or not. The skin was off me in a number of places, and my horse did not like me, and showed it by nipping back at my leg here and there.
At eleven o'clock, riding through a valley on a trail six inches wide, Bill's horse stepped on a hornets' nest. The insects were probably dazed at first, but by the time Tish's horse arrived they were prepared, and the next thing we knew Tish's horse was flying up the mountain-side as if it had gone crazy, and Bill was shouting to us to stop.
The last we saw of Tish for some time was her horse leaping a mountain stream, and jumping like a kangaroo, and Bill was following.
"She'll be killed!" Aggie cried. "Oh, Tish, Tish!"
"Don't yell," I said. "You'll start the horses. And for Heaven's sake, Aggie," I added grimly, "remember that this is a pleasure trip."
It was a half-hour before Tish and Bill returned. Tish was a chastened woman. She said little or nothing, but borrowed some ointment from me for her face, where the branches of trees had scraped it, while Bill led the horses round the fatal spot. I recall, however, that she said she wished now that we had brought the other guide.
"Because I feel," she observed, "that a little strong language would be a relief."
We had luncheon at noon in a sylvan glade, and Aggie was pathetic. She dipped a cracker in a cup of tea, and sat off by herself under a tree. Tish, however, had recovered her spirits.
"Throw out your chests, and breathe deep of this pure air unsullied by civilization," she cried. "Aggie, fill yourself with ozone."
"Humph!" said Aggie. "It's about all I will fill myself with."
"Think," Tish observed, "of the fools and dolts who are living under roofs, struggling, contending. plotting, while all Nature awaits them."
"With stings," Aggie said nastily, "and teeth, and horns, and claws, and every old thing! Tish, I want to go back. I'm not happy, and I don't enjoy scenery when I'm not happy. Besides, I can't eat the landscape."
As I look back, I believe it would have been better if we had returned. I think of that day, some time later, when we made the long descent from the Piegan Pass under such extraordinary circumstances, and I realize that, although worse for our bodies, which had grown strong and agile, so that I have, later on, seen Aggie mount her horse on a run, it would have been better for our nerves had we returned.
We were all perfectly stiff after luncheon, and Aggie was sulking also. Bill was compelled to lift us into our saddles, and again we started up and up. The trail was now what he called a "switchback." Halfway up Aggie refused to go farther, but on looking back decided not to return either.
"I shall not go another step," she called. "Here I am, and here I stay till I die."
"Very well," Tish said from overhead. "I suppose you don't expect us all to stay and die with you. I'll tell your niece when I see her."
Aggie thought better of it, however, and followed on, with her eyes closed and her lips moving in prayer. She happened to open them at a bad place, although safe enough, according to Bill, and nothing to what we were coming to a few days later. Opening them as she did on a ledge of rock which sloped steeply for what appeared to be several miles down on each side, she uttered a piercing shriek, followed by a sneeze. As before, her horse started to run, and Aggie is, I believe Bill said, the only person in the world who ever took that place at a canter.
We were to take things easy the first day, Bill advised. "Till you get your muscles sort of eased up, ladies," he said. "If you haven't been riding astride, a horse's back seems as wide as the roof of a church. But we'll get a rest now. The rest of the way is walking."
"I can't walk," Aggie said. "I can't get my knees together."
"Sorry, ma'am," said Bill. "We're going down now, and the animals has to be led. That's one of the diversions of a trip like this. First you ride and than you walk. And then you ride again. This here's one of the show places, although easy of access from the entrance. Be a good place for a holdup, I've always said."
"A holdup?" Tish asked. Her enthusiasm seemed to have flagged somewhat, but at this she brightened up.
"Yes'm. You see, we're near the Canadian border, and it would be easy for a gang to slip over and back again. Don't know why we've never had one. Yellowstone can boast of a number."
I observed tartly that I considered it nothing to boast of, but Bill did not agree with me.
"It doesn't hurt a neighborhood none," he observed. "Adds romance, as you might say."
He went on and, happening to slide on a piece of shale at that moment, I sat down unexpectedly and the horse put its foot on me.
I felt embittered and helpless, but the others kept on.
"Very well," I said, "go on. Don't mind me. If this creature wants to sit in my lap, well and good. I expect it's tired."
But as they went on callously, I was obliged to shove the creature off and to hobble on. Bill was still babbling about holdups, and Aggie was saying that he was sunstruck, but of course it did not matter.
We made very slow progress, owing to taking frequent rests, and late in the afternoon we were overtaken by Mr. Bell, on foot and carrying a pack. He would have passed on without stopping, but Aggie hailed him.
"Not going to hike, are you?" she said pleasantly. Aggie is fond of picking up the vernacular of a region.
"No," he said in a surly tone quite unlike his former urbane manner, "I'm merely taking this pack out for a walk."
But he stopped and mopped his face.
"To tell you the truth, ladies," he said, "I'm working off a little steam, that's all. I was afraid, if I stayed round the hotel, I'd do something I'd be sorry for. There are times when I am not a fit companion for any one, and this is one of them."
We invited him to join us, but he refused.
"No, I'm better alone," he said. "When things get too strong for me on the trail I can sling things about. I've been throwing boulders down the mountain every now and then. I'd just as soon they hit somebody as not. Also," he added, "I'm safer away from any red-headed men."
We saw him glance at Bill, and understood. Mr. Oliver was red- headed.
"Love's an awful thing," said Bill as the young man went on, kicking stones out of his way. "I'm glad I ain't got it."
Tish turned and eyed him. "True love is a very beautiful thing," she rebuked him. "Although a single woman myself, I believe in it. 'Come live with me and be my love,'" she quoted, sitting down to shake a stone out of her riding-boot.
Bill looked startled. "I might say," he said hastily. that I may have misled you, ladies. I'm married."
"You said you had never been in love," Tish said sharply.
"Well, not to say real love," he replied. "She was the cook of an outfit I was with and it just came about natural. She was going to leave, which meant that I'd have to do the cooking, which I ain't much at, especially pastry. So I married her."
Tish gave him a scornful glance but said nothing and we went on.
We camped late that afternoon beside Two Medicine Lake, and while Bill put up the tents the three of us sat on a log and soaked our aching feet in the water which was melted glacier, and naturally cold.
What was our surprise, on turning somewhat, to see the angry lover fishing on a point near by. While we stared he pulled out a large trout, and stalked away without a glance in our direction. As Tish, with her usual forethought, had brought a trout rod, she hastily procured it, but without result.
"Of course," Aggie said, "no fish! I could eat a piece of broiled fish. I dare say I shall be skin and bone at the end of this trip- -and not much skin."
Bill had set up the sleeping-tent and built a fire, and it looked cozy and comfortable. But Tish had the young man on her mind, and after supper she put on a skirt which she had brought along and went to see him.
"I'd take him some supper, Bill," she said, "but you are correct: you are no cook."
She disappeared among the bushes, only to return in a short time, jerking off her skirt as she came.
"He says all he wants is to be let alone," she said briefly. "I must say I'm disappointed in him. He was very agreeable before."
I pass without comment over the night. Bill had put up the tent over the root of a large tree, and we disposed ourselves about it as well as we could. In the course of the night one of the horses broke loose and put its head inside the tent. Owing to Aggie's thinking it was a bear, Tish shot at it, fortunately missing it.
But the frightened animal ran away, and Bill was until noon the next day finding it. We cooked our own breakfast, and Tish made some gems, having brought the pan along. But the morning dragged, although the scenery was lovely.
At twelve Bill brought the horse back and came over to us.
"If you don't mind my saying it, Miss Carberry," he observed, "you're a bit too ready with that gun. First thing you know you'll put a hole through me, and then where will you be?"
"I've got along without men most of my life," Tish said sharply. "I reckon we'd manage."
"Well," he said, "there's another angle to it. Where would I be?"
"That's between you and your Creator," Tish retorted.
We went on again that afternoon, and climbed another precipice. We saw no human being except a mountain goat, although Bill claimed to have seen a bear. Tish was quite calm at all times, and had got so that she could look down into eternity without a shudder. But Aggie and I were still nervous, and at the steepest places we got off and walked.
The unfortunate part was that the exercise and the mountain air made Aggie hungry, and there was little that she could eat.
"If any one had told me a month ago," she said, mopping her forehead, "that I would be scaling the peaks of my country on crackers and tea, I wouldn't have believed it. I'm done out, Lizzie. I can't climb another inch."
Bill was ahead with the pack horse, and Tish, overhearing her, called back some advice.
"Take your horse's tail and let him pull you up, Aggie," she said. "I've read it somewhere."
Aggie, although frequently complaining, always does as Tish suggests. So she took the horse's tail. when a totally unexpected thing happened. Docile as the creature generally was, it objected at once, and kicked out with both rear feet. In a moment, it seemed to me, Aggie was gone, and her horse was moving on alone.
"Aggie!" I called in a panic.
Tish stopped, and we both looked about. Then we saw her, lying on a ledge about ten feet below the trail. She was flat on her back, and her riding-hat was gone. But she was uninjured, although shaken, for as we looked she sat up, and an agonized expression came over her face.
"Aggie!" I cried. "Is anything broken?"
"Damnation!" said Aggie in an awful voice. "The upper set is gone!"
I have set down exactly what Aggie said. I admit that the provocation was great. But Tish was not one to make allowances, and she turned and went on, leaving us alone. She is not without feeling, however, for from the top of the pass she sent Bill down with a rope, and we dragged poor Aggie to the trail again. Her nerves were shaken and she was repentant also, for when she found that her hat was gone she said nothing, although her eyes took on a hunted look.
At the top of the pass Tish was sitting on a stone. She had taken her mending-box from the saddle, where she always kept it handy, and was drawing up a hole in her stocking. I observed to her pleasantly that it was a sign of scandal to mend clothing while still on, but she ignored me, although, as I reflected bitterly, I had not been kicked over the cliff.
It was a subdued and speechless Aggie who followed us that afternoon along the trail. As her hat was gone, I took the spare dish towel and made a turban for her, with an end hanging down to protect the back of her neck. But she expressed little gratitude, beyond observing that as she was going over the edge piecemeal, she'd better have done it all at once and be through with it.
The afternoon wore away slowly. It seemed a long time until we reached our camping-place, partly because, although a small eater ordinarily, the air and exercise had made me feel famished. But the disagreement between Tish and Aggie, owing to the latter's unfortunate exclamation while kicked over the cliff, made the time seem longer. There was not the usual exchange of pleasant nothings between us.
But by six o'clock Tish was more amiable, having seen bear scratches on trees near the camp, and anticipating the sight of a bear. She mixed up a small cup cake while Bill was putting up our tent, and then, taking her rod, proceeded to fish, while Aggie and I searched for grasshoppers. These were few, owing to the altitude, but we caught four, which we imprisoned in a match- box.
With them Tish caught four trout and, broiling them nicely, she offered one to poor Aggie. It was a peace offering, and taken as such, so that we were soon on our former agreeable footing, and all forgotten.
The next day it rained, and we were obliged to sit in the tent. Bill sat with us, and talked mainly of desperadoes.
"As I observed before," he said, "there hasn't been any tourist holdup yet. But it's bound to come. Take the Yellowstone, now,-- one holdup a year's the average, and it's full of soldiers at that."
"It's a wonder people keep on going," I observed moving out of a puddle.
"Oh, I don't know," he said. "In one way it's good business. I take it this way: When folks come West they want the West they've read about. What do they care for irrigation and apple orchards? What they like is danger and a little gunplay, the sort of thing they see in these here moving pictures."
"I'm sure I don't," Aggie remarked. It was growing dusk, and she peered out into the forest round us. "There is something crackling out there now," she said.
"Only a bear, likely," Bill assured her. "We have a sight of bears here. No, ma'am, they want danger. And every holdup's an advertisement. You see, the Government can't advertise these here parks; not the way it should, anyhow. But a holdup's news, so the papers print it, and it sets people to thinking about the park. Maybe they never thought of the place and are arranging to go elsewhere. Then along comes a gang and raises h--, raises trouble, and the park's in every one's mouth, so to speak. We'd get considerable business if there was one this summer."
At that moment the crackling outside increased, and a shadowy form emerged from the bushes. Even Bill stood up, and Aggie screamed.
It was, however, only poor Mr. Bell.
"Mind if I borrow some matches?" he said gruffly.
"We can't lend matches," Tish replied. "At least, I don't see the use of sending them back after they've been lighted. We can give you some."
"My mistake," he said.
That was all he said, except the word "Thanks" when I reached him a box.
"He's a surly creature," Tish observed as he crackled through the brush again. "More than likely that girl's better off without him."
"He looks rather downhearted," Aggie remarked. "Much that we think is temper is due to unhappiness."
"Much of your charitable view is due to a good dinner too," Tish said. "Here we are, in the center of the wilderness, with great peaks on every hand, and we meet a fellow creature who speaks nine words, and begrudges those. If he's as stingy with money as with language she's hard a narrow escape."
"He's had kind of a raw deal," Bill put in. "The girl was stuck on him all right, until this moving-picture chap came along. He offered to take some pictures with her in them, and it was all off. They're making up a play now, and she's to be in it."
"What sort of a play?" Tish demanded.
"Sorry not to oblige," Bill replied. "Can't say the nature of it."
But all of us felt that Bill knew and would not say.
Tish, to whom a mystery is a personal affront, determined to find out for herself; and when later in the evening we saw the light of Bell's camp-fire, it was Tish herself who suggested that we go over and visit with him.
"We can converse about various things," she said, "and take his mind from his troubles. But it would be better not to mention affairs of the heart. He's probably sensitive."
So we left Bill to look after things, and went to call on Mr. Bell. It was farther to his camp than it had appeared, and Tish unfortunately ran into a tree and bruised her nose badly. When it had stopped bleeding, however, we went on, and at last arrived.
He was sitting on a log by the fire, smoking a pipe and looking very sad. Behind him was a bit of a tent not much larger than an umbrella.
Aggie touched my arm. "My heart aches for him," she said. "There is despair in his very eyes."
I do not believe that at first he was very glad to see us, but he softened somewhat when Tish held out the cake she had brought.
"That's very nice of you," he said, rising. "I'm afraid I can't ask you to sit down. The ground's wet and there is only this log."
"I've sat on logs before," Tish replied. "We thought we'd call, seeing we are neighbors. As the first comers it was our place to call first, of course."
"I see," he said, and poked up the fire with a piece of stick.
"We felt that you might be lonely," said Aggie.
"I came here to be lonely," he replied gloomily. "I want to be lonely."
Tish, however, was determined to be cheerful, and asked him, as a safe subject, how he felt about the war.
"War?" he said. "That's so, there is a war. To tell the truth, I had forgotten about it. I've been thinking of other things."
We saw that it was going to be difficult to cheer him. Tish tried the weather, which brought us nowhere, as he merely grunted. But Aggie broached the subject of desperadoes, and he roused somewhat.
"There are plenty of shady characters in the park," he said shortly. "Wolves in sheep's clothing, that's what they are."
"Bill, our guide, says there may be a holdup at any time."
"Sure there is," he said calmly. "There's one going to be pulled off in the next day or two."
We sat petrified, and Aggie's eyes were starting out of her head.
"All the trimmings," he went on, staring at the fire. "Innocent and unsuspecting tourists, lunch, laughter, boiled coffee, and cold ham. Ambush. The whole business--followed by highwaymen in flannel shirts and revolvers. Dead tourist or two, desperate resistance--everything."
Aggie rose, pale as an aspen. "You--you are joking!" she cried.
"Do I look like it?" he demanded fiercely. "I tell you there is going to be the whole thing. At the end the lovely girl will escape on horseback and ride madly for aid. She will meet the sheriff and a posse, who are out for a picnic or some such damfool nonsense, and--"
"Young man," Tish said coldly, "if you know all this, why are you sitting here and not alarming the authorities?"
"Pooh!" he said disagreeably. "It's a put-up scheme, to advertise the park. Yellowstone's got ahead of them this year, and has had its excitement, with all the papers ringing with it. That was a gag, too, probably."
"Do you mean--"
"I mean considerable," he said. "That red- headed movie idiot will be on a rise, taking the tourists as they ride through. Of course he doesn't expect the holdup--not in the papers anyhow. He happens to have the camera trained on the party, and gets it all. Result--a whacking good picture, revolvers firing blank cartridges, everything which people will crowd to see. Oh, it's good business all right. I don't mind admitting that."
Tish's face expressed the greatest rage. She rose, drawing herself to her full height.
"And the tourists?" she demanded. "They lend themselves to this imposition? To this infamy? To this turpitude? "
"Certainly not. They think it's the real thing. The whole business hangs on that. And as the sheriff, or whoever it is in the fool plot, captures the bandits, the party gets its money back, and has material for conversation for the next twenty years."
"To think," said Tish, "of our great National Government lending itself to such a scheme!"
"Wrong," said the young man. "It's a combination of Western railroads and a movie concern acting together."
"I trust," Tish observed, setting her lips firmly, "that the tourists will protest."
"The more noise, the better." The young man, though not more cheerful as to appearance, was certainly more talkative. "Trust a clergyman for yelling when his pocket's picked."
With one voice the three of us exclaimed: "Mr. Ostermaier!"
He was not sure of the name, but "Helen" had pointed the clergyman out to him, and it was Mr. Ostermaier without a doubt.
We talked it over with Bill when we got back, and he was not as surprised as we'd expected.
"Knew they were cooking up something. They've got some Indians in it too. Saw them rehearsing old Thunder Mountain the other day in nothing but a breech-clout."
Tish reproved him for a lack of delicacy of speech, and shortly afterward we went to bed. Owing to the root under the tent, and puddles here and there, we could not go to sleep for a time, and we discussed the "nefarious deed," as Tish aptly termed it, that was about to take place.
"Although," Tish observed, "Mr. Ostermaier has been receiving for so many years that it might be a good thing, for his soul's sake, to have him give up something, even if to bandits." I dozed off after a time, but awakened to find
Tish sitting up, wide awake.
"I've been thinking that thing over, Lizzie," she said in a low tone. "I believe it's our duty to interfere."
"Of course," I replied sarcastically; "and be shown all over the country in the movies making fools of ourselves."
"Did you notice that that young man said they would be firing blank cartridges?"
Well, even a blank cartridge can be a dangerous thing. Then and there I reminded her of my niece's boy, who was struck on the Fourth of July by a wad from one, and had to be watched for lockjaw for several weeks.
It was at that moment that we heard Bill, who had no tent, by choice, and lay under a tree, give a loud whoop, followed by what was unmistakably an oath.
"Bear!" he yelled. "Watch out, he's headed for the tent! It's a grizzly."
Tish felt round wildly for her revolver, but it was gone! And the bear was close by. We could hear it snuffing about, and to add to the confusion Aggie wakened and commenced to sneeze with terror.
"Bill!" Tish called. "I've lost my revolver!"
"I took it, Miss Carberry. But I've been lying in a puddle, and it won't go off."
All hope seemed gone. The frail walls of our tent were no protection whatever, and as we all knew, even a tree was no refuge from a bear, which, as we had seen in the Zoological Garden at home, can climb like a cat, only swifter. Besides, none of us could climb a tree.
It was at that moment that Tish had one of those inspirations that make her so dependable in emergencies. Feeling round in the tent for a possible weapon, she touched a large ham, from which we had broiled a few slices at supper. In her shadowy form there was both purpose and high courage. With a single sweeping gesture she flung the ham at the bear so accurately that we heard the thud with which it struck.
"What the hell are you doing?" Bill called from a safe distance. Even then we realized that his restraint of speech was a pose, pure and simple. "If you make him angry he'll tear up the whole place."
But Tish did not deign to answer. The rain had ceased, and suddenly the moon came out and illuminated the whole scene. We saw the bear sniffing at the ham, which lay on the ground. Then he picked it up in his jaws and stood looking about.
Tish said later that the moment his teeth were buried in the ham she felt safe. I can still see the majestic movement with which she walked out of the tent and waved her arms.
"Now, scat with you!" she said firmly. "Scat!"
He "scatted." Snarling through his nose, for fear of dropping the ham, he turned and fled up the mountainside. In the open space Tish stood the conqueror. She yawned and glanced about.
"Going to be a nice night, after all," she said. " Now, Bill, bring me that revolver, and if I catch you meddling with it again I'll put that pair of fur rugs you are so proud of in the fire."
Bill, who was ignorant of the ham, emerged sheepishly into the open. "Where the--where the dickens did you hit him, Miss Tish?" he asked.
"In the stomach," Tish replied tartly, and taking her revolver went back to the tent.
All the next day Tish was quiet. She rode ahead, hardly noticing the scenery, with her head dropped on her chest. At luncheon she took a sardine sandwich and withdrew to a tree, underneath which she sat, a lonely and brooding figure.
When luncheon was over and Aggie and I were washing the dishes and hanging out the dish towels to dry on a bush, Tish approached Bill, who was pouring water on the fire to extinguish it.
"Bill," she stated, "you came to us under false pretenses. You swear, for one thing."
"Only under excitement, Miss Tish," he said. "And as far as that goes, Miss Aggie herself said--"
"Also," Tish went on hastily, "you said you could cook. You cannot cook."
"Now, look here, Miss Tish," he said in a pleading tone, "I can cook. I didn't claim to know the whole cookbook. I can make coffee and fry bacon. How'd I know you ladies wanted pastry? As for them canned salmon croquettes with white sauce, I reckon to make them with a little showing, and--"
"Also," said Tish, cutting in sternly, "you took away my revolver, and left us helpless last night, and in peril of wild beasts."
"Tourists ain't allowed to carry guns."
He attempted to look injured, but Tish ignored him.
"Therefore," she said, "if I am not to send you back--which I have been considering all day, as I've put up a tent myself before this, and you are only an extra mouth to feed, which, as we are one ham short, is inconvenient--you will have to justify my keeping you."
"If you will just show me once about them gems, Miss Tish--" he began.
But Tish cut him off. "No," she said firmly, "you are too casual about cooking. And you are no dish-washer. Setting a plate in a river and letting the current wash it may satisfy cow-punchers. It doesn't go with me. The point is this: You know all about the holdup that is going to take place. Don't lie. I know you know. Now, you take us there and tell us all you know about it."
He scratched his head reflectively. "I'll tell you," he said. "I'm a slow thinker. Give me about twenty minutes on it, will you? It's a sort of secret, and there's different ways of looking at it."
Tish took out her watch. "Twenty minutes," she said. "Start thinking now."
He wandered off and rolled a cigarette. Later on, as I have said, he showed Tish how to do it--not, of course, that she meant to smoke, but Tish is fond of learning how to do things. She got so she could roll them with one hand, and she does it now in the winter evenings, instead of rolling paper spills as formerly. When Charlie Sands comes, she always has a supply ready for him, although occasionally somewhat dry from waiting for a few weeks.
At the end of twenty minutes Tish snapped her watch shut.
"Time!" she called, and Bill came back.
"Well, I'll do it," he said. "I don't know as they'll put you in the picture, but I'll see what I can do."
"Picture nothing!" Tish snapped. "You take us there and hide us. That's the point. There must be caves round to put us in, although I don't insist on a cave. They're damp usually."
Well, he looked puzzled, but he agreed. I caught Aggie's eye, and we exchanged glances. There was trouble coming, and we knew it. Our long experience with Tish had taught us not to ask questions. "Ours but to do and die," as Aggie later said. But I confess to a feeling of uneasiness during the remainder of that day.
We changed our course that afternoon, turning off at Saint Mary's and spending the night near the Swiss Chalet at Going-to- the-Sun. Aggie and I pleaded to spend the night in the chalet, but Tish was adamant.
"When I am out camping, I camp," she said. "I can have a bed at home, but I cannot sleep under the stars, on a bed of pine needles, and be lured to rest by the murmur of a mountain stream."
Well, we gave it up and went with her. I must say that the trip had improved us already. Except when terrified or kicked by a horse, Aggie was not sneezing at all, and I could now climb into the saddle unassisted. My waistbands were much looser, too, and during a short rest that afternoon I put a dart in my riding- breeches, during the absence of Bill after the pack-horse, which had strayed.
It was on that occasion that Tish told us as much of her plan as she thought it wise for us to know.
"The holdup," she explained, "is to be the day after to-morrow on the Piegan Pass. Bill says there is a level spot at the top with rocks all about. That is the spot. The Ostermaiers and their party leave the automobiles at Many Glaciers and take horses to the pass. It will be worth coming clear to Montana to see Mrs. Ostermaier on a horse."
"I still don't see," Aggie observed in a quavering voice, "what we have to do with it."
"Naturally not," said Tish. "You'll know as soon as is good for you."
"I don't believe it will ever be good for me," said poor Aggie. "It isn't good for anybody to be near a holdup. And I don't want to be in a moving picture with no teeth. I'm not a vain woman," she said, "but I draw the line at that."
But Tish ignored her. "The only trouble," she said, "is having one revolver. If we each had one--Lizzie, did you bring any ink?"
Well, I had, and said so, but that I needed it for postcards when we struck a settlement.
Tish waved my objection aside. "I guess it can be managed," she observed. "Bill has a knife. Yes, I think it can be done."
She and Bill engaged in an earnest conference that afternoon. At first Bill objected. I could see him shaking his head. Then Tish gave him something which Aggie said was money. I do not know. She had been short of cash on the train, but she may have had more in her trunk. Then I saw Bill start to laugh. He laughed until he had to lean against a tree, although Tish was quite stern and serious.
We reached Piegan Pass about three that afternoon, and having inspected it and the Garden Wall, which is a mile or two high at that point, we returned to a "bench" where there were some trees, and dismounted.
Here, to our surprise, we found Mr. Bell again. As Tish remarked, he was better at walking than at talking. He looked surprised at seeing us, and was much more agreeable than before.
"I'm afraid I was pretty surly the other night," he said. "The truth is, I was so blooming unhappy that I didn't give a damn for anything."
But when he saw that Bill was preparing to take the pack off the horse he looked startled.
"I say," he said, "you don't mean to camp here, do you?"
"Such is my intention," Tish observed grimly.
"But look here. Just beyond, at the pass, is where the holdup is to take place to-morrow."
"So I believe," said Tish. "What has that to do with us? What are you going to do?"
"Oh, I'm going to hang round."
"Well, we intend to hang round also."
He stood by and watched our preparations for camp. Tish chose a small grove for the tent, and then left us, clambering up the mountain-side. She finally disappeared. Aggie mixed some muffins for tea, and we invited the young man to join us. But he was looking downhearted again and refused.
However, when she took them out of the portable oven, nicely browned, and lifting the tops of each one dropped in a teaspoonful of grape jelly, he changed his mind.
"I'll stay, if you don't mind," he said. "Maybe some decent food will make me see things clearer."
When Tish descended at six o'clock, she looked depressed. "There is no cave," she said, "although I lave gone where a mountain goat would get dizzy. But I have found a good place to hide the horses, where we can get them quickly when we need them."
Aggie was scooping the inside out of her muffin, being unable to eat the crust, but she went quite pale.
"Tish," she said, "you have some desperate plan in view, and I am not equal to it. I am worn with travel and soft food, and am not as young as I once was."
"Desperate nothing!" said Tish, pouring condensed milk into her tea. "I am going to teach a lot of idiots a lesson, that's all. There should be one spot in America free from the advertising man and his schemes, and this is going to be it. Commercialism," she went on, growing oratorical, "does not belong here among these mighty mountains. Once let it start, and these towering cliffs will be defaced with toothpowder and intoxicating-liquor signs."
The young man knew the plans for the holdup even letter than Bill. He was able to show us the exact spot which had been selected, and to tell us the hour at which the Ostermaier party was to cross the pass.
"They'll lunch on the pass," he said, "and, of course, they suspect nothing. The young lady of whom I spoke to you will be one of their party. She, however, knows what is coming, and is, indeed, a party to it. The holdup will take place during luncheon."
Here his voice broke, and he ate an entire muffin before he went on: "The holdup will take place on the pass, the bandits having been hidden on this 'bench' right here. Then the outlaws, having robbed the tourists, will steal the young lady and escape down the trail on the other side. The guide, who is in the plot, will ride ahead in this direction and raise the alarm. You understand," he added, "that as it's a put-up job, the tourists will get all their stuff back. I don't know how that's to be arranged."
"But the girl?" Tish asked.
"She's to make her escape later," Mr. Bell said grimly, "and will be photographed galloping down the trail, by another idiot with a camera, who, of course, just happens to be on the spot. She'll do it too," he added with a pathetic note of pride in his voice. "She's got nerve enough for anything."
He drew a long breath, and Aggie poured him a third cup of tea.
"I dare say this will finish everything," he said dejectedly. "I can't offer her any excitement like this. We live in a quiet suburb, where nobody ever fires a revolver except on the Fourth of July."
"What she needs," Tish said, bending forward, "is a lesson, Mr. Bell--something to make her hate the very thought of a moving picture and shudder at the sound of a shot."
"Exactly," said Mr. Bell. "I've thought of that. Something to make her gun-shy and camera-shy. It's curious about her. In some ways she's a timid girl. She's afraid of thunder, for one thing."
Tish bent forward. "Do you know," she said, "the greatest weapon in the world?"
"Weapon? Well, I don't know. These new German guns--"
"The greatest weapon in the world," Tish explained, "is ridicule. Man is helpless against it. To be absurd is to be lost. When the bandits take the money, where do they go?"
"Down the other side from the pass. A photographer will photograph them there, making their escape with the loot."
"And the young lady?"
"I've told you that," he said bitterly. "She is to be captured by the attacking party."
"They will all be armed?"
"Sure, with blanks. The Indians have guns and arrows, but the arrows have rubber tips."
Tish rose majestically. "Mr. Bell," she said, "you may sleep to- night the sleep of peace. When I undertake a thing, I carry it through. My friends will agree with me. I never fail, when my heart is set on it. By the day after to-morrow the young lady in the case will hate the sight of a camera."
Although not disclosing her plan, she invited the young man to join us. But his face fell and he shook his head.
Tish said that she did not expect to need him, but that, if the time came, she would blow three times on a police whistle, which she had, with her usual foresight, brought along. He agreed to that, although looking rather surprised, and we parted from him.
"I would advise," Tish said as he moved away, "that you conceal yourself in the valley below the pass on the other side."
He agreed to this, and we separated for the night. But long after Aggie and I had composed ourselves to rest Tish sat on a stone by the camp-fire and rolled cigarettes.
At last she came into the tent and wakened us by prodding us with her foot.
"Get all the sleep you can," she said. "We'll leave here at dawn to-morrow, and there'll be little rest for any of us to-morrow night."
At daylight next morning she roused us. She was dressed, except that she wore her combing-jacket, and her hair was loose round her face.
"Aggie, you make an omelet in a hurry, and, Lizzie, you will have to get the horses."
"I'll do nothing of the sort," I said, sitting up on the ground. "We've got a man here for that. Besides, I have to set the table."
"Very well," Tish replied, "we can stay here, I dare say. Bill's busy at something I've set him to doing."
"Whose fault is it," I demanded, "that we are here in 'Greenland's Icy Mountains'? Not mine. Id never heard of the dratted place. And those horses are five miles away by now, most likely."
"Go and get a cup of tea. You'll have a little sense then," said Tish, not unkindly. "And as for what Bill's doing, he's making revolvers. Where's your writing ink?"
I had none! I realized it that moment. I had got it out at the first camp to record in my diary the place, weather, temperature, and my own pulse rate, which I had been advised to watch, on account of the effect of altitude on the heart, and had left the bottle sitting on a stone.
When I confessed this to Tish, she was unjustly angry and a trifle bitter.
"It's what I deserve, most likely, for bringing long two incompetents," was her brief remark. "Without ink we are weaponless."
But she is a creature of resource, and a moment later she emerged from the tent and called to Bill in a cheerful tone.
"No ink, Bill," she said, "but we've got black- berry cordial, and by mixing it with a little soot we may be able to manage."
Aggie demurred loudly, as there are occasions when only a mouthful of the cordial enables her to keep doing. But Tish was firm. When I went to the fire, I found Bill busily carving wooden revolvers, copying Tish's, which lay before him. He had them done well enough, and could have gone for the horses as easy as not, but he insisted on trimming them up. Mine, which I still have, has a buffalo head carved on the handle, and Aggie's has a wreath of leaves running round the barrel.
In spite of Aggie's wails Tish poured a large part of the blackberry cordial into a biscuit pan, and put in a chip of wood.
"It makes it red," she said doubtfully. "I never saw a red revolver, Bill."
"Seems like an awful waste," Bill said. But having now completed the wreath he placed all three weapons --he had made one for himself--in the pan. The last thing I saw, as I started for the horses, was the three of them standing about, looking down, and Aggie's face was full of misery.
I was gone for a half-hour. The horses had not wandered far, and having mounted mine, although without a saddle, I copied as well as I could the whoop Bill used to drive them in, and rounded them up. When I returned, driving them before me, the pack was ready, and on Tish's face was a look of intense satisfaction. I soon perceived the reason.
Lying on a stone by the fire were three of the shiniest black revolvers any one could want. I eyed Tish and she explained.
"Stove polish," she said. "Like a fool I'd forgot it. Gives a true metallic luster, as it says on the box."
Tish is very particular about a stove, and even on our camping- trips we keep the portable stove shining and clean.
"Does it come off?"
"Well, more or less," she admitted. "We can keep the box out and renew when necessary. It is a great comfort," she added, "to feel that we are all armed. We shall need weapons."
"In an emergency," I observed rather tartly, "I hope you will not depend on us too much. While I don't know what you intend to do, if it is anything desperate, just remember that the only way Aggie or I can do any damage with these things is to thrust them down somebody's throat and strangle him to death."
She ignored my remark, however, and soon we were on our horses and moving along the trail toward the pass.
It will be unnecessary to remind those familiar with Glacier Park of the trail which hugs the mountain above timber-line, and extends toward the pass for a mile or so, in a long semicircle which curves inward.
At the end it turns to the right and mounts to an acre or so of level ground, with snow and rocks but no vegetation. This is the Piegan Pass. Behind it is the Garden Wall, that stupendous mass of granite rising to incredible heights. On the other side the trail drops abruptly, by means of stepladders which I have explained.
Tish now told us of her plan.
"The unfortunate part is," she said, "that the Ostermaiers will not see us. I tried to arrange it so they could, but it was impossible. We must content, ourselves with the knowledge of a good deed done."
Her plan, in brief, was this: The sham attacking party was to turn and ride away down the far side of the pass, up which the Ostermaiers had come. They were, according to the young man, to take the girl with them, with the idea of holding her for ransom. She was to escape, however, while they were lunching in some secluded fastness, and, riding back to the pass, was to meet there a rescue party, which the Ostermaiers were to meet on the way down to Gunsight Chalet.
Tish's idea was this: We would ride up while they were lunching, pretend to think them real bandits, paying no attention to them if they fired at us, as we knew they had only blank cartridges, and, having taken them prisoners, make them walk in ignominy to the nearest camp, some miles farther.
"Then," said Tish, "either they will confess the ruse, and the country will ring with laughter, or they will have to submit to
arrest and much unpleasantness. It will be a severe lesson."
We reached the pass safely, and on the way down the other side we passed Mr. Oliver, the moving-picture man, with his outfit on a horse. He touched his hat politely and moved out on a ledge to let us by.
"Mind if I take you as you go down the mountain?" he called. "It's a bully place for a picture." He stared at Aggie, who was muffled in a cape and had the dish towel round her head. "I'd particularly like to get your Arab," he said. "The Far East and the Far West, you know."
Aggie gave him a furious glance. "Arab nothing!" she snapped. "If you can't tell a Christian lady from a heathen, on account of her having lost her hat, them you belong in the dirty work you're doing."
"Aggie, be quiet!" Tish said in an awful voice.
But wrath had made Aggie reckless. "'Dirty work' was what I said," she repeated, staring at the young man.
"I beg your pardon. I'm sure I--"
"Don't think," Aggie went on, to Tish's fury, "that we don't know a few things. We do."
"I see," he said slowly. "All right. Although I'd like to know-- "
"Good-morning," said Aggie, and kicked her horse to go on.
I shall never forget Tish's face. Round the next bend she got off her horse and confronted Aggie.
"The older I get, Aggie Pilkington," she said, "the more I realize that to take you anywhere means ruin. We are done now. All our labor is for nothing. There will be no holdup, no nothing. They are scared off."
But Aggie was still angry. "Just let some one take you for a lousy Bedouin, Tish," she said, "and see what you would do. I'm not sorry anyhow. I never did like the idea."
But Tish dislikes relinquishing an idea, once it has taken hold. And, although she did not speak to Aggie again for the next hour, she went ahead with her preparations.
"There's still a chance, Lizzie," she said. "It's not likely they'll give up easy, on account of hiring the Indians and everything."
About a mile and a half down the trail, she picked out a place to hide. This time there was a cave. We cleared our saddles for action, as Tish proposed to let them escape past us with the girl, and then to follow them rapidly, stealing upon them if possible while they were at luncheon, and covering them with the one real revolver and the three wooden ones.
The only thing that bothered us was Bill's attitude. He kept laughing to himself and muttering, and when he was storing things in the cave, Tish took me aside.
"I don't like his attitude, Lizzie," she said. "He's likely to giggle or do something silly, just at the crucial moment. I cannot understand why he thinks it is funny, but he does. We'd be much better without him."
"You'd better talk to him, Tish," I said. "You can't get rid of him now."
But to tell Tish she cannot do a thing is to determine her to do it.
It was still early, only half-past eight, when she came to me with an eager face.
"I've got it, Lizzie," she said. "I'll send off Mona Lisa, and he will have to search for her. The only thing is, she won't move unless she's driven. If we could only find a hornet's nest again, we could manage. It may be cruel, but I understand that a hornet's sting is not as painful to a horse as to a human being."
Mona Lisa, I must explain, was the pack-horse. Tish had changed her name from Jane to Mona Lisa because in the mornings she was constantly missing, and having to be looked for.
Tish disappeared for a time, and we settled down to our long wait. Bill put another coat of stove polish on the weapons, and broke now and then into silent laughter. On my giving him a haughty glance, however, he became sober and rubbed with redoubled vigor.
In a half-hour, however, I saw Tish beckoning to me from a distance, and I went to her. I soon saw that she was holding her handkerchief to one cheek, but when I mentioned the fact she ignored me.
"I have found a nest, Lizzie," she cried. "Slip over and unfasten Mona Lisa. She's not near the other horses, which is fortunate."
I then perceived that Tish's yellow slicker was behind her on the ground and tied into a bundle, from which emerged a dull roaring. I was wondering how Tish expected to open it, when she settled the question by asking me to cut a piece from the mosquito netting which we put in the doorway of the tent at night, and to bring her riding-gloves.
Aggie was darning a hole in the tablecloth when I went back and Bill was still engaged with the weapons. Having taken what she required to Tish, under pretense of giving Mona Lisa a lump of sugar, I untied her. What followed was exactly as Tish had planned. Mona Lisa, not realizing her freedom, stood still while Tish untied the slicker and freed its furious inmates. She then dropped the whole thing under the unfortunate animal, and retreated, not too rapidly, for fear of drawing Bill's attention. For possibly sixty seconds nothing happened, except that Mona Lisa raised her head and appeared to listen. Then, with a loud scream, she threw up her head and bolted. By the time Bill had put down the stove brush she was out of sight among the trees, but we could hear her leaping and scrambling through the wood.
"Jumping cats!" said Bill, and ran for his horse. "Acts as though she'd started for the Coast!" he yelled to me, and flung after her.
When he had disappeared, Tish came out of the woods, and, getting a kettle of boiling water, poured it over the nest. In spite of the netting, however, she was stung again, on the back of the neck, and spent the rest of the morning holding wet mud to the affected parts.
Her brain, however, was as active as ever, and by half-past eleven, mounting a boulder, she announced that she could see the Ostermaier party far down the trail, and that in an hour they would probably be at the top. She had her field-glasses, and she said that Mrs. Ostermaier was pointing up to the pass and shaking her head, and that the others were arguing with her.
"It would be just like the woman," Tish said bitterly, "to refuse to come any farther and spoil everything."
But a little later she announced that the guide was leading Mrs. Ostermaier's horse and that they were coming on.
We immediately retreated to the cave and waited, it being Tish's intention to allow them to reach the pass without suspecting our presence, and only to cut off the pseudo-bandits in their retreat, as I have explained.
It was well that we had concealed the horses also, for the party stopped near the cave, and Mrs. Ostermaier was weeping. "Not a step farther!" she said. "I have a family to consider, and Mr. Ostermaier is a man of wide usefulness and cannot be spared."
We did not dare to look out, but we heard the young lady speaking, and as Aggie remarked later, no one would have thought, from the sweetness of her voice, that she was a creature of duplicity.
"But it is perfectly safe, dear Mrs. Ostermaier," she said "And think, when you go home, of being able to say that you have climbed a mountain pass."
"Pass!" sniffed Mrs. Ostermaier. "Pass nothing! I don't call a wall a mile high a pass."
"Think," said the girl, "of being able to crow over those three old women who are always boasting of the things they do. Probably you are right, and they never do them at all, but you-- there's a moving-picture man waiting, remember, and you can show the picture before the Dorcas Society. No one can ever doubt that you have done a courageous thing. You'll have the proof."
"George," said Mrs. Ostermaier in a small voice, "if anything happens, I have told you how I want my things divided."
"Little devil!" whispered Aggie, referring to the girl. "If that young man knows when he is well off, he'll let her go."
But beyond rebuking her for the epithet, Tish made no comment, and the party moved on. We lost them for a time among the trees, but when they moved out above timber-line we were able to watch them, and we saw that Mrs. Ostermaier got off her horse, about halfway up, and climbed slowly on foot. Tish, who had the glasses, said that she looked purple and angry, and that she distinctly saw the guide give her something to drink out of a bottle. It might, however, have been vichy or some similar innocent beverage. and I believe in giving her the benefit of the doubt.
When at last they vanished over the edge of the pass, we led out our horses and prepared for what was to come. Bill had not returned, and, indeed, we did not see him until the evening of the second day after that, when, worn but triumphant, we emerged from the trail at the Many Glaciers Hotel. That, however, comes later in this narrative.
With everything prepared, Tish judged it best to have luncheon. I made a few mayonnaise-and-lettuce sandwiches, beating the mayonnaise in the cool recesses of the cave, and we drank some iced tea, to which Aggie had thoughtfully added sliced lemon and a quantity of ginger ale. Feeling much refreshed, we grasped our weapons and waited.
At half-past twelve we heard a loud shriek on the pass, far overhead, followed almost immediately by a fusillade of shots. Then a silence, followed by more shots. Then a solitary horseman rode over the edge of the pass and, spurring his horse, rode recklessly down the precipitous trail. Aggie exclaimed that it was Mr. Ostermaier, basely deserting his wife in her apparent hour of need. But Tish, who had the glasses, reported finally that it was the moving-picture man.
We were greatly surprised, as it had not occurred to us that this would be a part of the program.
As he descended, Tish announced that there must be another photographer on top, as he was "registering" signs of terror--a moving-picture expression which she had acquired from Charlie Sands--and looking back frequently over his shoulder.
We waited until he reached timber-line, and then withdrew to a group of trees. It was not our intention to allow him to see us and spoil everything. But when he came near, through the woods, and his horse continued at unabated speed, Tish decided that the animal, frightened by the shots, was running away.
She therefore placed herself across the trail to check its headlong speed, but the animal merely rushed round her. Mr. Oliver yelled something at us, which we were, however, unable to hear, and kept madly on.
Almost immediately four men, firing back over their shoulders, rode into sight at the pass and came swiftly down toward us.
"Where's the girl?" Tish cried with her glasses to her eyes. "The idiots have got excited and have forgotten to steal her."
That was plainly what had happened, but she was determined to be stolen anyhow, for the next moment she rode into view, furiously following the bandits.
"She's kept her head anyhow," Tish observed with satisfaction. "Trust a lot of men to go crazy and do the wrong thing. But they'll have to change the story and make her follow them."
At timber-line the men seemed to realize that she was behind them, and they turned and looked up. They seemed to be at a loss to know what to do, in view of the picture. But they were quick thinkers, too, we decided. Right then and there they took her prisoner, surrounding her.
She made a desperate resistance, even crying out, as we coed plainly see. But Tish was irritated. She said she could not see how the story would hold now. Either the girl should have captured them, they being out of ammunition, or the whole thing should have been done again, according to the original plan. However, as she said, it was not our affair. Our business was to teach them a lesson not to impose on unsuspecting tourists, for although not fond of Mrs. Ostermaier, we had been members of Mr. Ostermaier's church, and liked him, although his sermons were shorter than Tish entirely approved of.
We withdrew again to seclusion until they had passed, and Tish gave them ten minutes to get well ahead. Then we rode out.
Tish's face was stern as she led off. The shriek of Mrs. Ostermaier was still, as she said in a low tone, ringing in her ears. But before we had gone very far, Tish stopped and got off her horse. "We've got to pad the horses' feet," she said. "How can we creep up on them when on every stony place we sound like an artillery engagement?"
Here was a difficulty we had not anticipated. But Tish overcame it with her customary resource, by taking the blanket from under her saddle and cutting it into pieces with her scissors, which always accompany her. We then cut the leather straps from our saddles at her direction, and each of us went to work. Aggie, however, protested.
"I never expected," she said querulously, "to be sitting on the Rocky Mountains under a horse, tying piece of bed quilt on his feet. I wouldn't mind," she added, "if the creature liked me. But the way he feels toward me he's likely to haul off and murder me at any moment."
However, it was done at last, and it made a great change. We moved along silently, and all went well except that, having neglected to draw the cinch tight, and the horse's back being slippery without the padding, my saddle turned unexpectedly, throwing me off into the trail. I bruised my arm badly, but Tish only gave me a glance of scorn and went on.
Being above carelessness herself, she very justly resents it in others.
We had expected, with reason, that the so-called highwaymen, having retreated to a certain distance, would there pause and very possibly lunch before returning. It was, therefore, a matter of surprise to find that they had kept on.
Moreover, they seemed to have advanced rapidly, and Tish, who had read a book on signs of the trail, examined the hoofprints of their horses in a soft place beside a stream, and reported that they had been going at a lope.
"Now, remember," she said as she prepared to mount again, "to all intents and purposes these are real bandits and to be treated accordingly. Our motto is 'No quarter.' I shall be harsh, and I expect no protest from either of you. They deserve everything they get."
But when, after another mile or two, we came to a side trail, leading, by Tish's map, not to Many Glaciers, but up a ravine to another pass, and Tish saw that they had taken that direction, we were puzzled.
But not for long.
"I understand now," she said. "It is all clear. The photographer was riding ahead to get them up this valley somewhere. They've probably got a rendezvous all ready, with another camera in place. I must say," she observed, "that they are doing it thoroughly."
We rode for two hours, and no sign of them. The stove polish had come off the handles of our revolvers by that time, and Aggie, having rubbed her face ever and anon to remove perspiration, presented under her turban a villainous and ferocious expression quite at variance with her customary mildness.
I urged her to stop and wash, but Tish, after a glance, said to keep on.
"Your looking like that's a distinct advantage, Aggie," she said. "Like as not they'll throw up their hands the minute they see you. I know I should. You'd better ride first when we get near."
"Like as not they'll put a hole in me," Aggie objected. "And as to riding first, I will not. This is your doing, Tish Carberry, and as for their having blank cartridges--how do we know someone hasn't made a mistake and got a real one?"
Tish reflected on that. "It's a possibility," she agreed. "If we find that they're going to spend the night out, it might be better to wait until they've taken off all the hardware they're hung with."
But we did not come up with them. We kept on finding traces of the party in marshy spots, and once Tish hopped off her horse and picked up a small handkerchief with a colored border and held it up to us.
"It's hers," she said. "Anybody would know she is the sort to use colored borders. They're ahead somewhere."
But it seemed strange that they would go so far, and I said so.
"We're far enough off the main trail, Tish," I said. "And it's getting wilder every minute. There's nothing I can see to prevent a mountain lion dropping on us most any time."
"Not if it gets a good look at Aggie!" was Tish's grim response.
It began to grow dark in the valley, and things seemed to move on either side of the trail. Aggie called out once that we had just passed a grizzly bear, but Tish never faltered. The region grew more and more wild. The trail was broken with mudholes and crossed by fallen logs. With a superb disdain Tish rode across all obstacles, not even glancing at them. But Aggie and I got off at the worst places and led our horses. At one mudhole I was unfortunate enough to stumble. A horse with a particle of affection for a woman who had ridden it and cared for it for several days would have paused.
Not so my animal. With a heartlessness at which I still shudder the creature used me as a bridge, aril stepped across, dryfoot, on my back. Owing to his padded feet and to the depth of the mud- - some eight feet, I believe--I was uninjured. But it required ten minutes of hard labor on the part of both Tish and Aggie to release me from the mud, from which I was finally raised with a low, hissing sound.
"Park!" said Aggie as she scraped my obliterated features with a small branch. "Park, indeed! It's a howling wilderness. I'm fond of my native land," she went on, digging out my nostrils, so I could breathe, "but I don't calculate to eat it. As for that unfeeling beast of yours, Lizzie, I've never known a horse to show such selfishness. Never."
Well, we went on at last, but I was not so enthusiastic about teaching people lessons as I had been. It seemed to me that we might have kept on along the trail and had a mighty good time, getting more and more nimble and stopping now and then to bake a pie and have a decent meal, and putting up our hair in crimps at night, without worrying about other folks' affairs.
Late in the afternoon of that day, when so far as I could see Tish was lost, and not even her gathering a bunch of wild flowers while the horses rested could fool me, I voiced my complaint.
"Let me look at the map, Tish," I suggested. "I'm pretty good at maps. You know how I am at charades and acrostics. At the church supper--"
"Nonsense, Lizzie," she returned. "You couldn't make head or tail of this map. It's my belief that the man who made it had never been here. Either that or there has been an earthquake since. But," she went on, more cheerfully, "if we are lost, so are the others."
"If we even had Bill along!"
"Bill!" Tish said scornfully. "It's my belief Bill is in the whole business, and that if we hadn't got rid of him we'd have been the next advertising dodge. As far as that goes," she said thoughtfully, "it wouldn't surprise me a particle to find that we've been taken, without our knowing it, most any time. Your horse just now, walking across that bridge of size, for one thing."
Tish seldom makes a pun, which she herself has said is the lowest form of humor. The dig at my figure was unkind, also, and unworthy of her. I turned and left her.
At last, well on in the evening, I saw Tish draw up her horse and point ahead.
"The miscreants!" she said.
True enough, up a narrow side canon we could see a camp-fire. It was a small one, and only noticeable from one point. But Tish's keen eye had seen it. She sat on her horse and gazed toward it.
"What a shameful thing it is," she said, "to prostitute the beauties of this magnificent region to such a purpose. To make of these beetling crags a joke! To invade these vast gorges with the spirit of commercialism and to bring a pack of movie actors to desecrate the virgin silence with ribald jests and laughter! Lizzie, I wish you wouldn't wheeze!"
"You would wheeze, too, Tish Carberry," I retorted, justly indignant, "if a horse had just pressed your spinal column into your breast bone. Goodness knows," I said, "where my lungs are. I've missed them ever since my fall."
However, she was engrossed with larger matters, and ignored my petulance. She is a large-natured woman and above pettiness.
We made our way slowly up the canon. The movie outfit was securely camped under an overhanging rock, as we could now see. At one point their position commanded the trail, which was hardly more than a track through the wilderness, and before we reached this point we dismounted and Tish surveyed the camp through her glasses.
"We'd better wait until dark," Tish said. "Owing to the padding they have not heard us, but it looks to me as if one of them is on a rock, watching."
It seemed rather strange to me that they were keeping a lookout, but Tish only shrugged her shoulders.
"If I know anything of that red-headed Oliver man," she said, "he hates to let a camera rest. Like as not he's got it set up among the trees somewhere, taking flashlights of wild animals. It's rather a pity," she said, turning and surveying Aggie and myself, "that he cannot get you two. If you happen to see anything edible lying on the ground, you'd better not pick it up. It's probably attached to the string that sets off the flash."
We led our horses into the woods, which were very thick at that point, and tied them. My beast, however, lay down and rolled, saddle and all, thus breaking my mirror--a most unlucky omen-- and the bottle of olive oil which we had brought along for mayonnaise dressing. Tish is fond of mayonnaise, and, besides, considers olive oil most strengthening. However, it was gone, and although Aggie comforted me by suggesting that her boiled salad dressing is quite tasty, I was disconsolate.
It was by that time seven o'clock and almost dark. We held a conference. Tish was of the opinion that we should first lead off their horses, if possible.
"I intend," she said severely, "to make escape impossible. If they fire, when taken by surprise. remember that they have only blank cartridges. I must say," she added with a confession of unusual weakness, "that I am glad the Indians escaped the other way. I would hardly know what to do with Indians, even quite tame ones. While I know a few letters of the deaf-and-dumb language, which I believe all tribes use in common, I fear that in a moment of excitement I would forget what I know."
The next step, she asserted, was to secure their weapons.
"After all," she said, "the darkness is in our favor. I intend to fire once, to show them that we are armed and dangerous. And if you two will point the guns Bill made, they cannot possibly tell that they are not real."
"But we will know it," Aggie quavered. Now that the quarry was in sight she was more and more nervous, sneezing at short intervals in spite of her menthol inhaler. "I am sorry, Tish, but I cannot feel the same about that wooden revolver as I would about a real one. And even when I try to forget that it is only wood the carving reminds me."
But Tish silenced her with a glance. She had strangely altered in the last few minutes. All traces of fatigue had gone, and when she struck a match and consulted her watch I saw in her face that high resolve, that stern and matchless courage, which I so often have tried to emulate and failed.
"Seven o'clock," she announced. "We will dine first. There is nothing like food to restore failing spirits."
But we had nothing except our sandwiches, and Tish suggested snaring some of the stupid squirrels with which the region abounded.
"Aggie needs broth," she said decidedly. "We have sandwiches, but Aggie is frail and must be looked to."
Aggie was pathetically grateful, although sorry for the squirrels, which were pretty and quite tame. But Tish was firm in her kindly intent, and proceeded at once to set a rabbit snare, a trick she had learned in the Maine woods. Having done this, and built a small fire, well hidden, we sat down to wait.
In a short time we heard terrible human cries proceeding from the snare, and, hurrying thither, found in it a young mountain lion. It looked dangerous, and was biting in every direction. I admit that I was prepared to leave in haste, but not so Tish. She fetched her umbrella, without which she never travels, and while the animal set its jaws in it--a painful necessity, as it was her best umbrella--Tish hit it on the head--not the umbrella, but the lion--with a large stone.
Tish's satisfaction was unbounded. She stated that the flesh of the mountain lion was much like veal, and so indeed it proved. We made a nourishing soup of it, with potatoes and a can of macedoine vegetables, and within an hour and a half we had dined luxuriously, adding to our repast what remained of the sandwiches, and a tinned plum pudding of English make, very nutritious and delicious.
For twenty minutes after the meal we all stood. Tish insists on this, as aiding digestion. Then we prepared for the night's work.
I believe that our conduct requires no defense. But it may be well again to explain our position. These people, whose camp- fire glowed so brazenly against the opposite cliff, had for purely mercenary motives committed a cruel hoax. They had posed as bandits, and as bandits they deserved to be treated. They had held up our own clergyman, of a nervous temperament, on a mountain pass, and had taken from him a part of his stipend. It was heartless. It was barbarous. It was cruel.
My own courage came back with the hot food, which I followed by a charcoal tablet. And the difference in Aggie was marked. Possibly some of the courage of the mountain lion, that bravest of wild creatures, had communicated itself to her through the homely medicine of digestion.
"I can hardly wait to get after them," she said.
However, it was still too early for them to have settled for the night. We sat down, having extinguished our fire, and I was just dozing off when Tish remembered the young man who was to have listened for the police whistle.
"I absolutely forgot him," she said regretfully. "I suppose he is hanging round the foot of Piegan's Pass yet. I'm sorry to have him miss this. I shall tell him, when I see him, that no girl worth having would be sitting over there at supper with four moving-picture actors without a chaperon. The whole proceeding is scandalous. I have noticed," she added, "that it is the girls from quiet suburban towns who are really most prone to defy the conventions when the chance comes."
We dozed for a short time.
Then Tish sat up suddenly. "What's that?" she said.
We listened and distinctly heard the tramp of horses' feet. We started up, but Tish was quite calm.
"They've turned their horses out," she said. "Fortune is with us. They are coming this way."
But at first it did not seem so fortunate, for we heard one of the men following them, stumbling along, and, I regret to say, using profane language They came directly toward us, and Aggie beside me trembled. But Tish was equal to the emergency.
She drew us behind a large rock, where, spreading out a raincoat to protect us from the dampness, we sat down and waited.
When one of the animals loomed up close to the rock Aggie gave a low cry, but Tish covered her mouth fiercely with an ungentle hand.
"Be still!" she hissed.
It was now perfectly dark, and the man with the horses was not far off. We could not see him, but at last he came near enough so that we could see the flare of a match when he lighted a cigarette. I put my hand on Aggie, and she was shaking with nervousness.
"I am sure I am going to sneeze, Lizzie," she gasped.
And sneeze she did. She muffled it considerably, however, and we were not discovered. But, Tish, I knew, was silently raging.
The horses came nearer.
One of them, indeed, came quite close, and took a nip at the toe of my riding-boot. I kicked at it sharply, however, and it moved away.
The man had gone on. We watched the light of his cigarette, and thus, as he now and then turned his head, knew where he was. It was now that I felt, rather than heard, that Tish was crawling out from the shelter of the rock. At the same time we heard, by the crunching of branches, that the man had sat down near at hand.
Tish's progress was slow but sure. For a half-hour we sat there. Then she returned, still crawling, and on putting out my hand I discovered that she had secured the lasso from her saddle and had brought it back. How true had been her instinct when she practiced its use! How my own words, that it was all foolishness, came back and whispered lessons of humility in my ear!
At this moment a deep, resonant sound came from the tree where the movie actor sat. At the same moment a small creature dropped into my lap from somewhere above, and ran up my sleeve. I made frantic although necessarily silent efforts to dislodge it, and it bit me severely.
The necessity for silence taxed all my strength, but managing finally to secure it by the tail, I forcibly withdrew it and flung it away. Unluckily it struck Aggie in the left eye and inflicted a painful bruise.
Tish had risen to her feet and was standing, a silent and menacing figure, while this event transpired. The movements of the horses as they grazed, the soft breeze blowing through the pines, were the only sounds. Now she took a step forward.
"He's asleep!" she whispered. "Aggie, sit still and watch the horses. Lizzie, come with me."
As I advanced to her she thrust her revolver into my hand.
"When I give the word," she said in a whisper, "hold it against his neck. But keep your finger off the trigger. It's loaded."
We advanced slowly, halting now and then to listen. Although brush crackled under our feet, the grazing horses were making a similar disturbance, and the man slept on. Soon we could see him clearly, sitting back against a tree, his head dropped forward on his breast. Tish surveyed the scene with her keen and appraising eye, and raised the lasso.
The first result was not good. The loaded end struck a branch, and, being deflected, the thing wrapped itself perhaps a dozen times round my neck. Tish, being unconscious of what had happened, drew it up with a jerk, and I stood helpless and slowly strangling. At last, however, she realized the difficulty and released me. I was unable to breathe comfortably for some time, and my tongue felt swollen for several hours.
Through all of this the movie actor had slept soundly. At the second effort Tish succeeded in lassoing him without difficulty. We had feared a loud outcry before we could get to him, but owing to Tish's swiftness in tightening the rope he was able to make, at first, only a low, gurgling sound. I had advanced to him, and was under the impression that I was holding the revolver to his neck. On discovering, however, that I was pressing it to the trunk of the tree, to which he was now secured by the lariat, I corrected the error and held it against his ear.
He was now wide awake and struggling violently. Then, I regret to say, he broke out into such language as I have never heard before. At Tish's request I suppress his oaths, and substitute for them harmless expressions in common use.
"Good gracious!" he said. "What in the world are you doing anyhow? Jimminy crickets, take that thing away from my neck! Great Scott and land alive, I haven't done anything! My word, that gun will go off if you aren't careful!"
I am aware that much of the strength of what he said is lost in this free translation. But it is impossible to repeat his real language.
"Don't move," Tish said, "and don't call out. A sound, and a bullet goes crashing through your brain."
"A woman!" he said in most unflattering amazement. "Great Jehoshaphat, a woman!"
This again is only a translation of what he said.
"Exactly," Tish observed calmly. She had cut the end off the lasso with her scissors, and was now tying his feet together with it. "My friend, we know the whole story, and I am ashamed, ashamed," she said oratorically, "of your sex! To frighten a harmless and well-meaning preacher and his wife for the purpose of publicity is not a joke. Such hoaxes are criminal. If you must have publicity, why not seek it in some other way?"
"Crazy!" he groaned to himself. "In the hands of lunatics! Oh, my goodness!" Again these were not exactly his words.
Having bound him tightly, hand and foot, and taken a revolver from his pocket, Tish straightened herself.
"Now we'll gag him, Lizzie," she said. "We have other things to do to-night than to stand here and converse." Then she turned to the man and told him a deliberate lie. I am sorry to record this. But a tendency to avoid the straight and narrow issues of truth when facing a crisis is one of Tish's weaknesses, the only flaw in an otherwise strong and perfect character.
"We are going to leave you here," she said. "But one of our number, fully armed, will be near by. A sound from you, or any endeavor to call for succor, will end sadly for you. A word to the wise. Now, Lizzie, take that bandanna off his neck and tie it over his mouth."
Tish stood, looking down at him, and her very silhouette was scornful.
"Think, my friend," she said, "of the ignominy of your position! Is any moving picture worth it? Is the pleasure of seeing yourself on the screen any reward for such a shameful position as yours now is? No. A thousand times no."
He made a choking sound in his throat and writhed helplessly. And so we left him, a hopeless and miserable figure, to ponder on his sins.
"That's one," said Tish briskly. "There are only three left. Come, Aggie," she said cheerfully--"to work! We have made a good beginning."
It is with modesty that I approach that night's events, remembering always that Tish's was the brain which conceived and carried out the affair. We were but her loyal and eager assistants. It is for this reason that I thought, and still think, that the money should have been divided so as to give Tish the lion's share. But she, dear, magnanimous soul, refused even to hear of such a course, and insisted that we share it equally.
Of that, however, more anon.
We next proceeded to capture their horses and to tie them up. We regretted the necessity for this, since the unfortunate animals had traveled far and were doubtless hungry. It went to my heart to drag them from their fragrant pasture and to tie them to trees. But, as Tish said, "Necessity knows no law," not even kindness. So we tied them up. Not, however, until we had moved them far from the trail.
Tish stopped then, and stared across the canon to the enemy's camp-fire.
"No quarter, remember," she said. "And bring your weapons."
We grasped our wooden revolvers and, with Tish leading, started for the camp. Unluckily there was a stream between us, and it was necessary to ford it. It shows Tish's true generalship that, instead of removing her shoes and stockings, as Aggie and I were about to do, she suggested getting our horses and riding across. This we did, and alighted on the other side dryshod.
It was, on consulting my watch, nine o'clock and very dark. A few drops of rain began to fall also, and the distant camp-fire was burning low. Tish gave us each a little blackberry cordial, for fear of dampness, and took some herself. The mild glow which followed was very comforting.
It was Tish, naturally, who went forward to reconnoiter. She returned in an hour, to report that the three men were lying round the fire, two asleep and one leaning on his elbow with a revolver handy. She did not see Mr. Oliver, and it was possible that it was he we had tied to the tree. The girl, she said, was sitting on a log, with her chin propped in her hands.
"She looked rather low-spirited," Tish said. "I expect she liked the first young man better than she thought she did. I intend to give her a piece of my mind as soon as I get a chance. This playing hot and cold isn't maidenly, to say the least."
We now moved slowly forward, after tying our horses. Toward the last, following Tish's example, we went on our hands and knees, and I was thankful then for no skirts. It is wonderful the freedom a man has. I was never one to approve of Doctor Mary Walker, but I'm not so sure she isn't a wise woman and the rest of us fools. I haven't put on a skirt braid since that time without begrudging it.
Well, as I have stated, we advanced, and at last we were in full sight of the camp. I must say I'd have thought they'd have a tent. We expected something better, I suppose, because of the articles in the papers about movie people having their own limousines, and all that. But there they were, open to the wrath of the heavens, and deserving it, if I do say so.
The girl was still sitting, as Tish had described her. Only now she was crying. My heart was downright sore for her. It is no comfort, having made a wrong choice, to know that it is one's own fault.
Having now reached the zone of firelight Tish gave the signal, and we rose and pointed our revolvers at them. Then Tish stepped forward and said:--
I shall never forget the expression on the man's face.
He shouted something, but he threw up his hands also, with his eyes popping out of his head. The others scrambled to their feet, but he warned them.
"Careful, boys!" he yelled. "They're got the drop on us."
Just then his eyes fell on Aggie, and he screeched:--
"Two women and a Turk, by ___." The blank is mine.
"Lizzie," said Tish sternly, as all of them, including the girl, held their hands up, "just give me your weapon and go over them."
"Go over them?" I said, not understanding.
"Search them," said Tish. "Take everything out of their pockets. And don't move," she ordered them sternly. "One motion, and I fire. Go on, Lizzie."
Now I have never searched a man's pockets, and the idea was repugnant to me. I am a woman of delicate instincts. But Tish's face was stern. I did as commanded, therefore, the total result being:--
Two large knives.
One small knife.
One bunch of keys.
One plug of chewing-tobacco.
Four cartridge belts.
Two old pipes.
Mr. Ostermaier's cigar-case, which I recognized at once, being the one we had presented to him.
Mrs. Ostermaier's wedding-ring and gold bracelet, which her sister gave her on her last birthday.
A diamond solitaire, unknown, as Mrs. Ostermaier never owned one, preferring instead earrings as more showy.
And a considerable sum of money, which I kept but did not count.
There were other small articles, of no value.
"Is that all the loot you secured during the infamous scene on Piegan Pass?" Tish demanded, "You need not hide anything from us. We know the facts, and the whole story will soon be public."
"That's all, lady," whined one of the men. "Except a few boxes of lunch, and that's gone. Lady, lemme take my hands down. I've got a stiff shoulder, and I--"
"Keep them up," Tish snapped. "Aggie, see that they keep them up."
Until that time we had been too occupied to observe the girl, who merely stood and watched in a disdainful sort of way. But now Tish turned and eyed her sternly.
"Search her, Lizzie," she commanded.
"Search me!" the girl exclaimed indignantly. "certainly not!"
"Lizzie," said Tish in her sternest manner, "go over that girl. Look in her riding-boots. I haven't come across Mrs. Ostermaier's earrings yet."
At that the girl changed color and backed off.
"It's an outrage," she said. "Surely I have suffered enough."
"Not as much," Tish observed, "as you are going to suffer. Go over her, Lizzie."
While I searched her, Tish was lecturing her.
"You come from a good home, I understand," she said, "and you ought to know better. Not content with breaking an honest heart, you join a moving- picture outfit and frighten a prominent divine- - for Mr. Ostermaier is well known--into what may be an illness. You cannot deny," she accused her, "that it was you who coaxed them to the pass. At least you needn't. We heard you."
"How was I to know--"the girl began sullenly.
But at that moment I found Mrs. Ostermaier' chamois bag thrust into her riding-boot, and she suddenly went pale.
Tish held it up before her accusingly. "I dare say you will not deny this," she exclaimed, and took Mrs. Ostermaier's earrings out of it.
The men muttered, but Aggie was equal to the occasion. "Silence!" she said, and pointed the revolver at each in turn.
The girl started to speak. Then she shrugged her shoulders. "I could explain," she said, "but I won't. If you think I stole those hideous earrings you're welcome to."
"Of course not," said Tish sarcastically. "No doubt she gave them to you--although I never knew her to give anything away before."
The girl stood still, thinking. Suddenly she said "There's another one, you know. Another man."
"We have him. He will give no further trouble," Tish observed grimly. "I think we have you all, except your Mr. Oliver."
"He is not my Mr. Oliver," said the girl. "I never want to see him again. I--I hate him."
"You haven't got much mind or you couldn't change it so quickly."
She looked sulky again, and said she'd thank us for the ring, which was hers and she could prove it.
But Tish sternly refused. "It's my private opinion," she observed, " that it is Mrs. Ostermaier's, and she has not worn it openly because of the congregation talking quite considerably about her earrings, and not caring for jewelry on the minister's wife. That's what I think."
Shortly after that we heard a horse loping along the road. It came nearer, and then left the trail and came toward the fire. Tish picked up one of the extra revolvers and pointed it. It was Mr. Oliver!
"Throw up your hands!" Tish called. And he did it. He turned a sort of blue color, too, when he saw us, and all the men with their hands up. But he looked relieved when he saw the girl.
"Thank Heaven!" he said. "The way I've been riding this country-- "
"You rode hard enough away from the pass," she replied coldly.
We took a revolver away from him and lined him up with the others. All the time he was paying little attention to us and none at all to the other men. But he was pleading with the girl.
"Honestly," he said, "I thought I could do better for everybody by doing what I did. How did I know," he pleaded, "that you were going to do such a crazy thing as this?"
But she only stared at him as if she hated the very ground he stood on.
"It's a pity," Tish observed, "that you haven't got your camera along. This would make a very nice picture. But I dare say you could hardly turn the crank with your hands in the air."
We searched him carefully, but he had only a gold watch and some money. On the chance, however, that the watch was Mr. Ostermaier's, although unlikely, we took it.
I must say he was very disagreeable, referring to us as highwaymen and using uncomplimentary language. But, as Tish observed, we might as well be thorough while we were about it.
For the nonce we had forgotten the other man. But now I noticed that the pseudo-bandits wore a watchful and not unhopeful air. And suddenly one of them whistled--a thin, shrill note that had, as Tish later remarked, great penetrative power without being noisy.
"That's enough of that," she said. "Aggie, take another of these guns and point them both at these gentlemen. If they whistle again, shoot. As to the other man, he will not reply, nor will he come to your assistance. He is gagged and tied, and into the bargain may become at any time the victim of wild beasts."
The moment she had said it, Tish realized that it was but too true, and she grew thoughtful. Aggie, too, was far from comfortable. She said later that she was uncertain what to do. Tish had said to fire if they whistled again. The question in her mind was, had it been said purely for effect or did Tish mean it? After all, the men were not real bandits, she reflected, although guilty of theft, even if only for advertising purposes. She was greatly disturbed, and as agitation always causes a return of her hay fever, she began to sneeze violently.
Until then the men had been quiet, if furious. But now they fell into abject terror, imploring Tish, whom they easily recognized as the leader, to take the revolvers from her.
But Tish only said: "No fatalities, Aggie, please. Point at an arm or a leg until the spasm subsides."
Her tone was quite gentle.
Heretofore this has been a plain narrative, dull, I fear, in many places. But I come now to a not unexciting incident--which for a time placed Tish and myself in an unpleasant position.
I refer to the escape of the man we had tied.
We held a brief discussion as to what to do with our prisoners until morning, a discussion which Tish solved with her usual celerity by cutting from the saddles which lay round the fire a number of those leather thongs with which such saddles are adorned and which are used in case of necessity to strap various articles to the aforesaid saddles.
With these thongs we tied them, not uncomfortably, but firmly, their hands behind them and their feet fastened together. Then, as the night grew cold, Tish suggested that we shove them near the fire, which we did.
The young lady, however, offered a more difficult problem. We compromised by giving her her freedom, but arranging for one of our number to keep her covered with a revolver.
"You needn't be so thoughtful," she said angrily, and with a total lack of appreciation of Tish's considerate attitude. "I'd rather be tied, especially if the Moslem with the hay fever is going to hold the gun."
It was at that moment that we heard a whistle from across the stream, and each of the prostrate men raised his head eagerly. Before Tish could interfere one of them had whistled three times sharply, probably a danger signal.
Without a word Tish turned and ran toward the stream, calling to me to follow her.
"Tish!" I heard Aggie's agonized tone. "Lizzie! Come back. Don't leave me here alone. I--"
Here she evidently clutched the revolver involuntarily, for there was a sharp report, and a bullet struck a tree near us.
Tish paused and turned. "Point that thing up into the air, Aggie," she called back. "And stay there. I hold you responsible."
I heard Aggie give a low moan, but she said nothing, and we kept on.
The moon had now come up, flooding the valley with silver radiance. We found our horses at once, and Tish leaped into the saddle. Being heavier and also out of breath from having stumbled over a log, I was somewhat slower.
Tish was therefore in advance of me when we started, and it was she who caught sight of him first.
"He's got a horse, Lizzie," she called back to me. "We can get him, I think. Remember, he is unarmed."
Fortunately he had made for the trail, which was here wider than ordinary and gleamed white in the moonlight. We had, however, lost some time in fording the stream, and we had but the one glimpse of him as the trail curved.
Tish lashed her horse to a lope, and mine followed without urging. I had, unfortunately, lost a stirrup early in the chase, and was compelled, being unable to recover it, to drop the lines and clutch the saddle.
Twice Tish fired into the air. She explained afterward that she did this for the moral effect on the fugitive, but as each time it caused my horse to jump and almost unseat me, at last I begged her to desist.
We struck at last into a straight piece of trail, ending in a wall of granite, and up this the trail climbed in a switchback. Tish turned to me.
"We have him now," she said. "When he starts up there he is as much gone as a fly on the wall. As a matter of fact," she said as calmly as though we had been taking an afternoon stroll, "his taking this trail shows that he is a novice and no real highwayman. Otherwise he would have turned off into the woods."
At that moment the fugitive's horse emerged into the moonlight and Tish smiled grimly.
"I see why now," she exclaimed. "The idiot has happened on Mona Lisa, who must have returned and followed us. And no pack-horse can be made to leave the trail unless by means of a hornet. Look, he's trying to pull her off and she won't go."
It was true, as we now perceived. He saw his danger, but too late. Mona Lisa, probably still disagreeable after her experience with the hornets, held straight for the cliff.
The moon shone full on it, and when he was only thirty feet up its face Tish fired again, and the fugitive stopped.
"Come down," said Tish quietly.
He said a great many things which, like his earlier language, I do not care to repeat. But after a second shot he began to descend slowly.
Tish, however, approached him warily, having given her revolver to me.
"He might try to get it from me, Lizzie," she observed. "Keep it pointed in our direction, but not at us. I'm going to tie him again."
This she proceeded to do, tying his hands behind him and fastening his belt also to the horn of the saddle, but leaving his feet free. All this was done to the accompaniment of bitter vituperation. She pretended to ignore this, but it made an impression evidently, for at last she replied.
"You have no one to blame but yourself," she said. "You deserve your present humiliating position, and you know it. I've made up my mind to take you all in and expose your cruel scheme, and I intend to do it. I'm nothing if I am not thorough," she finished.
He made no reply to this, and, in fact, he made only one speech on the way back, and that, I am happy to say, was without profanity.
"It isn't being taken in that I mind so much," he said pathetically. "It's all in the game, and I can stand up as well under trouble as any one. It's being led in by a crowd of women that makes it painful."
I have neglected to say that Tish was leading Mona Lisa, while I followed with the revolver.
It was not far from dawn when we reached the camp again. Aggie was as we had left her, but in the light of the dying fire she looked older and much worn. As a matter of fact, it was some weeks before she looked like her old self.
The girl was sitting where we had left her, and sulkier than ever. She had turned her back to Mr. Oliver, and Aggie said afterward that the way they had quarreled had been something terrible.
Aggie said she had tried to make conversation with the girl, and had, indeed, told her of Mr. Wiggins and her own blasted life. But she had remained singularly unresponsive.
The return of our new prisoner was greeted by the other men with brutal rage, except Mr. Oliver, who merely glanced at him and then went back to his staring at the fire. It appeared that they had been counting on him to get assistance, and his capture destroyed their last hope. Indeed, their language grew so unpleasant that at last Tish hammered sharply on a rock with the handle of her revolver.
"Please remember," she said, "that you are in the presence of ladies!"
They jeered at her, but she handled the situation with her usual generalship.
"Lizzie," she said calmly, "get the tin basin that is hanging to my saddle, and fill it with the water from that snowbank. On the occasion of any more unseemly language, pour it over the offender without mercy."
It became necessary to do it, I regret to state. They had not yet learned that Tish always carries out her threats. It was the one who we felt was the leader who offended, and I did as I had been requested to. But Aggie, ever tender-hearted, feared that it would give the man a severe cold, and got Tish's permission to pour a little blackberry cordial down his throat.
Far from this kindness having a salubrious effect, it had the contrary. They all fell to bad language again, and, realizing that they wished the cordial, and our supply being limited, we were compelled to abandon the treatment.
It had been an uncomfortable night, and I confess to a feeling of relief when "the rift of dawn" broke the early skies.
We were, Tish calculated, some forty miles from breakfast, and Aggie's diet for some days had been light at the best, even the mountain-lion broth having been more stimulating than staying. We therefore investigated the camp, and found behind a large stone some flour, baking-powder, and bacon. With this equipment and a frying-pan or two we were able to make some very fair pancakes-- or flapjacks, as they are called in the West.
Tish civilly invited the girl to eat with us, but she refused curtly, although, on turning once, I saw her eyeing us with famished eyes. I think, however, that on seeing us going about the homely task of getting breakfast, she realized that we were not the desperate creatures she had fancied during the night, but three gentlewomen on a holiday--simple tourists, indeed.
"I wish," she said at last almost wistfully--"I wish that I could understand it all. I seem to be all mixed up. You don't suppose I want to be here, do you?"
But Tish was not in a mood to make concessions. "As for what you want," she said, "how are we to know that? You are here, aren't you? --here as a result of your own cold-heartedness. Had you remained true to the very estimable young man you jilted you would not now be in this position."
"Of course he would talk about it!" said the girl darkly.
"I am convinced," Tish went on, dexterously turning a pancake by a swift movement of the pan, "that sensational movies are responsible for much that is wrong with the country to-day. They set false standards. Perfectly pure-minded people see them and are filled with thoughts of crime."
Although she had ignored him steadily, the girl turned now to Mr. Oliver.
"They don't believe anything I tell them. Why don't you explain?" she demanded.
"Explain!" he said in a furious voice. "Explain to three lunatics? What's the use?"
"You got me into this, you know."
"I did! I like that! What in the name of Heaven induced you to ride off the way you did?"
Tish paused, with the frying-pan in the air. "Silence!" she commanded. "You are both only reaping what you have sowed. As far as quarreling goes, you can keep that until you are married, if you intend to be. I don't know but I'd advise it. It's a pity to spoil two houses."
But the girl said that she wouldn't marry him if he was the last man on earth, and he fell back to sulking again.
As Aggie observed later, he acted as if he had never cared for her, while Mr. Bell, on the contrary, could not help his face changing when he so much as mentioned her name.
We made some tea and ate a hearty breakfast, while the men watched us. And as we ate, Tish held the moving-picture business up to contumely and scorn.
"Lady," said one of the prostrate men, "aren't you going to give us anything to eat?"
"People," Tish said, ignoring him, "who would ordinarily cringe at the sight of a wounded beetle sit through bloody murders and go home with the obsession of crime."
"I hope you won't take it amiss," said the man again, "if I say that, seeing it's our flour and bacon, you either ought to feed us or take it away and eat it where we can't see you."
"I take it," said Tish to the girl, pouring in more batter, "that you yourself would never have thought of highway robbery had you not been led to it by an overstimulated imagination."
"I wish," said the girl rudely, "that you wouldn't talk so much. I've got a headache."
When we had finished Tish indicated the frying-pan and the batter. "Perhaps," she said, "you would like to bake some cakes for these friends of yours. We have a long trip ahead of us."
But the girl replied heartlessly that she hoped they would starve to death, ignoring their pitiful glances. In the end it was our own tender-hearted Aggie who baked pancakes for them and, loosening their hands while I stood guard, saw that they had not only food but the gentle refreshment of fresh tea. Tish it was, however, who, not to be outdone in magnanimity, permitted them to go, one by one, to the stream to wash. Escape, without horses or weapons, was impossible, and they realized it.
By nine o'clock we were ready to return. And here a difficulty presented itself. There were six prisoners and only three of us. The men, fed now, were looking less subdued, although they pretended to obey Tish's commands with alacrity.
Aggie overheard a scrap of conversation, too, which seemed to indicate that they had not given up hope. Had Tish not set her heart on leading them into the great hotel at Many Glaciers, and there exposing them to the taunts of angry tourists, it would have been simpler for one of us to ride for assistance, leaving the others there.
In this emergency Tish, putting her hand into her pocket for her scissors to trim a hangnail, happened to come across the policeman's whistle.
"My gracious!" she said. "I forgot my promise to that young man!"
She immediately put it to her lips and blew three shrill blasts. To our surprise they were answered by a halloo, and a moment later the young gentleman himself appeared on the trail. He was no longer afoot, but was mounted on a pinto pony, which we knew at once for Bill's.
He sat on his horse, staring as if he could not believe his eyes. Then he made his way across the stream toward us.
"Good Heavens!" he said. "What in the name of--" Here his eyes fell on the girl, and he stiffened.
"Jim!" cried the girl, and looked at him with what Aggie afterward characterized as a most touching expression.
But he ignored her. "Looks as though you folks have been pretty busy," he observed, glancing at our scowling captives. "I'm a trifle surprised. You don't mind my being rather breathless, do you?"
"My only regret," Tish said loftily, "is that we have not secured the Indians. They too should be taught a lesson. I am sure that the red man is noble until led away by civilized people who might know better."
It was at this point that Mr. Bell's eyes fell on Mr. Oliver, who with his hands tied behind him was crouching over the fire.
"Well!" he said. "So you're here too! But of course you would be." This he said bitterly.
"For the love of Heaven, Bell," Mr. Oliver said, "tell those mad women that I'm not a bandit."
"We know that already," Tish observed.
"And untie my hands. My shoulders are about broken."
But Mr. Bell only looked at him coldly. "I can't interfere with these ladies," he said. "They're friends of mine. If they think you are better tied, it's their business. They did it."
"At least," Mr. Oliver said savagely, "you can tell them who I am, can't you?"
"As to that," Mr. Bell returned, "I can only tell them what you say you are. You must remember that I know nothing about you. Helen knows much more than I do."
"Jim," cried the girl, "surely you are going to tell these women that we are not highway robbers. Tell them the truth. Tell them I am not a highway robber. Tell them that these men are not my accomplices, that I never saw them before."
"You must remember," he replied in an icy tone, "that I no longer know your friends. It is some days since you and I parted company. And you must admit that one of them is a friend of yours- -as well as I can judge, a very close friend."
She was almost in tears, but she persisted. "At least," she said, "you can tell them that I did not rob that woman on the pass. They are going to lead us in to Many Glaciers, and--Jim, you won't let them, will you? I'll die of shame."
But he was totally unmoved. As Aggie said afterward, no one would have thought that, but a day or two before, he had been heartbroken because she was in love with someone else.
"As to that," he said, "it is questionable, according to Mrs. Ostermaier, that nothing was taken from you, and that as soon as the attack was over you basely deserted her and followed the bandits. A full description of you, which I was able to correct in one or two trifling details, is now in the hands of the park police."
She stared at him with fury in her eyes. "I hope you will never speak to me again," she cried.
"You said that the last time I saw you, Helen. If you will think, you will remember that you addressed me first just now."
She stamped her foot.
"Of course," he said politely, "you can see my position. You maintain and possibly believe that these--er--acquaintances of yours"--he indicated the men--"are not members of the moving- picture outfit. Also that your being with them is of an accidental nature. But, on the other hand--"
She put her fingers in her ears and turned her back on him.
"On the other hand," he went on calmly, "I have the word of these three respectable ladies that they are the outfit, or part of it, that they have just concluded a cruel hoax on unsuspecting tourists, and that they justly deserve to be led in as captives and exposed to the full ignominy of their position."
Here she faced him again, and this time she was quite pale. "Ask those--those women where they found my engagement ring," she said. "One of those wretches took it from me. That ought to be proof enough that they are not from the moving-picture outfit."
Tish at once produced the ring and held it out to him. But he merely glanced at it and shook his head.
"All engagement rings look alike," he observed. "I cannot possibly say, Helen, but I think it is unlikely that it is the one I gave you, as you told me, you may recall, that you had thrown it into a crack in a glacier. It may, of course, be one you have recently acquired."
He glanced at Mr. Oliver, but the latter only shrugged his shoulders.
Well, she shed a few tears, but he was adamant, and helped us saddle the horses, ignoring her utterly. It was our opinion that he no longer cared for her, and that, having lost him, she now regretted it. I know that she watched him steadily when he was not looking her way. But he went round quite happily, whistling a bit of tune, and not at all like the surly individual we had at first thought him.
The ride back was without much incident. Our prisoners rode with their hands tied behind them, except the young lady.
"We might as well leave her unfastened," the young man said casually. "While I dare say she would make her escape if possible, and particularly if there was any chance of getting filmed while doing it, I will make myself personally responsible."
As a matter of fact she was exceedingly rude to all of us, and during our stop for luncheon, which was again bacon and pancakes, she made a dash for her horse. The young man saw her, however, in time, and brought her back. From that time on she was more civil, but I saw her looking at him now and then, and her eyes were positively terrified.
It was Aggie, at last, who put in a plea for her with him, drawing him aside to do so. "I am sure," she said, "that she is really a nice girl, and has merely been led astray by the search for adventure. Naturally my friends, especially Miss Tish, have small sympathy with such a state of mind. But you are younger-- and remember, you loved her once."
"Loved her once!" he replied. "Dear lady, I'm so crazy about her at this minute that I can hardly hold myself in."
"You are not acting much like it."
"The fact is," he replied, "I'm afraid to let myself go. And if she's learned a lesson, I have too. I've been her doormat long enough. I tried it and it didn't work. She's caring more for me now, at this minute, than she has in eleven months. She needs a strong hand, and, by George! I've got it--two of them, in fact."
We reached Many Glaciers late that afternoon, and Tish rode right up to the hotel. Our arrival created the most intense excitement, and Tish, although pleased, was rather surprised. It was not, however, until a large man elbowed his way through the crowd and took possession of the prisoners that we understood.
"I'll take them now," he said. "Well, George, how are you?"
This was to the leader, who merely muttered in reply.
"I'd like to leave them here for a short time," Tish stated. "They should be taught a severe lesson and nothing stings like ridicule. After that you can turn them free, but I think they ought to be discharged."
"Turn them free!" he said in a tone of amazement. "Discharged! My dear madam, they will get fifteen years' hard labor, I hope. And that's too good for them."
Then suddenly the crowd began to cheer. It was some time before Tish realized that they were cheering us. And even then, I shall have to confess, we did not understand until the young man explained to ms.
"You see," he said, "I didn't like to say anything sooner, for fear of making you nervous. You'd done it all so well that I wanted you to finish it. You're been in the right church all along, but the wrong pew. Those fellows aren't movie actors, except Oliver, who will be freed now, and come after me with a gun, as like as not! They're real dyed-in- the-wool desperadoes and there's a reward of five thousand dollars for capturing them."
Tish went rather white, but said nothing. Aggie, however, went into a paroxysm of sneezing, and did not revive until given aromatic ammonia to inhale.
"I was fooled at first too," the young man said. "We'd been expecting a holdup and when it came we thought it was the faked one. But the person" --he paused and looked round--"the person who had the real jolt was Helen. She followed them, since they didn't take her for ransom, as had been agreed in the plot.
"Then, when she found her mistake, they took her along, for fear she'd ride off and raise the alarm. All in all," he said reflectively, "it has been worth about a million dollars to me."
We went into the hotel, with the crowd following us, and the first thing we saw was Mrs. Ostermaier, sitting dejectedly by the fire. When she saw us, she sprang to her feet and came to meet us.
"Oh, Miss Tish, Miss Tish!" she said. "What I have been through! Attacked on a lonely mountain-top and robbed of everything. My reason is almost gone. And my earrings, my beautiful earrings!"
Tish said nothing, but, reaching into her reticule, which she had taken from the horn of her saddle, she drew out a number of things.
"Here," she said. "Are your earrings. Here also is Mr. Ostermaier's cigar-case, but empty. Here is some money too. I'll keep that, however, until I know how much you lost."
"Tish!" screeched Mrs. Ostermaier. "You found them!"
"Yes," Tish said somewhat wearily, "we found them. We found a number of things, Mrs. Ostermaier,--four bandits, and two lovers, or rather three, but so no longer, and your things, and a reward of five thousand dollars, and an engagement ring. I think," she said, "that I'd like a hot bath and something to eat."
Mrs. Ostermaier was gloating over her earrings, but she looked up at Tish's tired and grimy face, at the mud encrusted on me from my accident the day before, at Aggie in her turban.
"Go and wash, all of you," she said kindly, "and I'll order some hot tea."
But Tish shook her head. "Tea nothing!" she said firmly. "I want a broiled sirloin steak and potatoes. And"-- she looked Mrs. Ostermaier full in the eye--"I am going to have a cocktail. I need it."
Late that evening Aggie came to Tish's room, where I was sitting with her. Tish was feeling entirely well, and more talkative than I can remember her in years. But the cocktail, which she felt, she said, in no other way, had gone to her legs.
"It is not," she observed, "that I cannot walk. I can, perfectly well. But I am obliged to keep my eyes on my feet, and it might be noticed."
"I just came in," Aggie said, "to say that Helen and her lover have made it up. They are down by the lake now, and if you will look out you can see them."
I gave Tish an arm to the window, and the three of us stood and looked out. The moon was rising over the snow-capped peaks across the lake, and against its silver pathway the young people stood outlined. As we looked he stooped and kissed her. But it was a brief caress, as if he had just remembered the strong hand and being a doormat long enough.
Tish drew a long breath.
"What," she said, "is more beautiful than young love? It will be a comfort to remember that we brought them together. Let go of me now, Lizzie. If I keep my eye on the bedpost I think I can get back."