Chapter XII. Old Mizzou Resigns
 

Bennington went faithfully to the Rock for four days. During whole afternoons he sat there looking out over the Bad Lands. At sunset he returned to camp. Aliris: A Romance of all Time gathered dust. Letters home remained unwritten. Prospecting was left to the capable hands of Old Mizzou until, much to Bennington's surprise, that individual resigned his position.

The samples lay in neatly tied coffee sacks just outside the door. The tabulations and statistics only needed copying to prepare them for the capitalist's eye. The information necessary to the understanding of them reposed in a grimy notebook, requiring merely throwing into shape as a letter to make them valuable to the Eastern owner of the property. Anybody could do that.

Old Mizzou explained these things to Bennington.

"You-all does this jes's well's I," he said. "You expresses them samples East, so as they kin assay 'em; an' you sends them notes and statistics. Then all they is to do is to pay th' rest of the boys when th' money rolls in. That ain't none of my funeral."

"But there's the assessment work," Bennington objected.

"That comes along all right. I aims to live yere in the camp jest th' same as usual; and I'll help yo' git started when you-all aims to do th' work."

"What do you want to quit for, then? If you live here, you may as well draw your pay."

"No, sonny, that ain't my way. I has some prospectin' of my own to do, an' as long as I is a employay of Bishop, I don't like to take his time fer my work."

Bennington thought this very high-minded on the part of Old Mizzou.

"Very well," he agreed, "I'll write Bishop."

"Oh, no," put in the miner hastily, "no need to trouble. I resigns in writin', of course; an' I sees to it myself."

"Well, then, if you'll help me with the assessment work, when shall we begin?"

"C'yant jest now," reflected Old Mizzou, "'cause, as I tells you, I wants to do some work of my own. A'ter th' Pioneer's Picnic, I reckons."

The Pioneer's Picnic seemed to limit many things.

Bennington shipped the ore East, tabulated the statistics, and wrote his report. About two weeks later he received a letter from Bishop saying that the assay of the samples had been very poor--not at all up to expectations--and asking some further information. As to the latter, Bennington consulted Old Mizzou. The miner said, "I told you so," and helped on the answer. After this the young man heard nothing further from his employer. As no more checks came from the East, he found himself with nothing to do.

For four afternoons, as has been said, he fruitlessly haunted the Rock. On the fifth morning he met the girl on horseback. She was quite the same as at first, and they resumed their old relations as if the fatal picnic had never taken place. In a very few days they were as intimate as though they had known each other for years.

Bennington read to her certain rewritten parts of Aliris: A Romance of all Time, which would have been ridiculous to any but these two. They saw it through the glamour of youth; for, in spite of her assertions of great age, the girl, too, felt the whirl of that elixir in her veins. You see, he was twenty-one and she was twenty: magic years, more venerable than threescore and ten. She gave him sympathy, which was just what he needed for the sake of his self-confidence and development, just the right thing for him in that effervescent period which is so necessary a concomitant of growth. The young business man indulges in a hundred wild schemes, to be corrected by older heads. The young artist paints strange impressionism, stranger symbolism, and perhaps a strangest other-ism, before at last he reaches the medium of his individual genius. The young writer thinks deep and philosophical thoughts which he expresses in measured polysyllabic language; he dreams wild dreams of ideal motive, which he sets forth in beautiful allegorical tales full of imagery; and he delights in Rhetoric--flower-crowned, flashing-eyed, deep-voiced Rhetoric, whom he clasps to his heart and believes to be true, although the whole world declares her to be false; and then, after a time, he decides not to introduce a new system of metaphysics, but to tell a plain story plainly. Ah, it is a beautiful time to those who dwell in it, and such a funny time to those who do not!

They came to possess an influence over each other. She decided how they should meet; he, how they should act. She had only to be gay, and he was gay; to be sad, and he was sad; to show her preference for serious discourse, and he talked quietly of serious things; to sigh for dreams, and he would rhapsodize. It sometimes terrified her almost when she saw how much his mood depended on hers. But once the mood was established, her dominance ceased and his began. If they were sad or gay or thoughtful or poetic, it was in his way and not in hers. He took the lead masterfully, and perhaps the more effectually in that it was done unconsciously. And in a way which every reader will understand, but which genius alone could put into words, this mutual psychical dependence made them feel the need of each other more strongly than any merely physical dependence ever could.

There is much to do in a new and romantic country, where the imminence of a sordid, dreary future, when the soil will raise its own people and the crop will be poor, is mercifully veiled. The future then counts little in the face of the Past--the Past with its bearded strong men of other lands, bringing their power and vigour here to be moulded and directed by the influences of the frontier. Its shadow still lies over the land.

They did it all. The Rock was still the favourite place to read or talk--crossbars nailed on firmly made "shinning" unnecessary now--but it was often deserted for days while they explored. Bennington had bought the little bronco, and together they extended their investigations of the country in all directions. They rode to Spring Creek Valley. They passed the Range over into Custer Valley. Once they climbed Harney by way of Grizzly Gulch.

Thus they grew to know the Hills intimately. From the summit of the Rock they would often look abroad over the tangle of valleys and ridges, selecting the objective points for their next expedition. Many surprises awaited them, for they found that here, as everywhere, a seemingly uniform exterior covered an almost infinite variety.

Or again, the horses were given a rest. The sarvis-berries ripened, and they picked hatfuls. Then followed the raspberries on the stony hills. They walked four unnecessary miles to see a forest fire, and six to buy buckskin work from a band of Sioux who had come up into the timber for their annual supply of tepee poles. They taught their ponies tricks. They even went wading together, like two small children, in a pool of Battle Creek.

Bennington was deliciously, carelessly, forgetfully happy. Only there was Jim Fay. That individual was as much of a persecution as ever, and he seemed to enjoy a greater intimacy with the girl than did the Easterner. He did not see her as often as did the latter, but he appeared to be more in her confidence. Bennington hated Jim Fay.