Chapter VI. Bennington as a Man of Business
 

That evening Old Mizzou returned from town with a watery eye and a mind that ran to horses.

"He is shore a fine cayuse," he asserted with extreme impressiveness. "He is one of them broncs you jest loves. An' he's jes 's cheap! I likes you a lot, sonny; I deems you as a face-card shore, an' ef any one ever tries fer to climb yore hump, you jest calls on pore Old Mizzou an' he mingles in them troubles immediate. You must have that cayuse an' go scoutin' in th' hills, yo' shore must! Ol' man Davidson'll do th' work fer ye, but ye shore must scout. 'Taint healthy not t' git exercise on a cayuse. It shorely ain't! An' you must git t' know these yar hills, you must. They is beautiful an' picturesque, and is full of scenery. When you goes back East, you wants to know all about 'em. I wouldn't hev you go back East without knowin' all about 'em for anythin' in the worl', I likes ye thet much!"

Old Mizzou paused to wipe away a sympathetic tear with a rather uncertain hand.

"Y' wants to start right off too, thet's th' worst of it, so's t' see 'em all afore you goes, 'cause they is lots of hills and I'm 'feared you won't stay long, sonny; I am that! I has my ideas these yar claims is no good, I has fer a fact, and they won't need no one here long, and then we'll lose ye, sonny, so you mus' shore hev that cayuse."

Old Mizzou rambled on in like fashion most of the evening, to Bennington's great amusement, and, though next morning he was quite himself again, he still clung to the idea that Bennington should examine the pony.

"He is a fine bronc, fer shore," he claimed, "an' you'd better git arter him afore some one else gits him."

As Bennington had for some time tentatively revolved in his mind the desirability of something to ride, this struck him as being a good idea. All Westerners had horses--in the books. So he abandoned Aliris: A Romance of all Time, for the morning, and drove down to Spanish Gulch with Old Mizzou.

He was mentally braced for devilment, but his arch-enemy, Fay, was not in sight. To his surprise, he got to the post office quite without molestation. There he was handed two letters. One was from his parents. The other, his first business document, proved to be from the mining capitalist. The latter he found to inclose separate drafts for various amounts in favour of six men. Bishop wrote that the young man was to hand these drafts to their owners, and to take receipts for the amounts of each. He promised a further installment in a few weeks.

Bennington felt very important. He looked the letter all over again, and examined the envelope idly. The Spanish Gulch postmark bore date of the day before.

"That's funny," said Bennington to himself. "I wonder why Mizzou didn't bring it up with him last night?" Then he remembered the old man's watery eye and laughed. "I guess I know," he thought.

The next thing was to find the men named in the letter. He did not know them from Adam. Mizzou saw no difficulty, however, when the matter was laid before him.

"They're in th' Straight Flush!" he asserted positively.

This was astounding. How should Old Mizzou know that?

"I don't exactly know," the old man explained this discrepancy, "but they generally is!"

"Don't they ever work?"

"Work's purty slack," crawfished Davidson. "But I tells you I don't know. We has to find out," and he shuffled away toward the saloon.

Anybody but Bennington would have suspected something. There was the delayed letter, the supernatural knowledge of Old Mizzou, the absence of Fay. Even the Easterner might have been puzzled to account for the crowded condition of the Straight Flush at ten in the morning, if his attention had not been quite fully occupied in posing before himself as the man of business.

When Mizzou and his companion entered the room, the hum of talk died, and every one turned expectantly in the direction of the newcomers.

"Gents," said Old Mizzou, "this is Mr. de Laney, th' new sup'rintendent of th' Holy Smoke. Mr. de Laney, gents!"

There was a nodding of heads.

Every one looked eagerly expectant. The man behind the bar turned back his cuffs. De Laney, feeling himself the centre of observation, grew nervous. He drew from his pocket Bishop's letter, and read out the five names. "I'd like to see those men," he said.

The men designated came forward. After a moment's conversation, the six adjourned to the hotel, where paper and ink could be procured.

After their exit a silence fell, and the miners looked at each other with ludicrous faces.

"An' he never asked us to take a drink!" exclaimed one sorrowfully. "That settles it. It may not be fer th' good of th' camp, Jim Fay, but I reckons it ain't much fer th' harm of it. I goes you."

"Me to," "and me," "and me," shouted other voices.

Fay leaped on the bar and spread his arms abroad.

"Speech! Speech!" they cried.

"Gentlemen of the great and glorious West!" he began. "It rejoices me to observe this spirit animating your bosoms. Trampling down the finer feelings that you all possess to such an unlimited degree, putting aside all thought of merely material prosperity, you are now prepared, at whatever cost, to ally yourselves with that higher poetic justice which is above barter, above mere expediency, above even the ordinary this-for-that fairness which often passes as justice among the effete and unenlightened savages of the East. Gentlemen of the great and glorious West, I congratulate you!"

The miners stood close around the bar. Every man's face bore a broad grin. At this point they interrupted with howls and cat-calls of applause. "Ain't he a peach!" said one to another, and composed himself again to listen. At the conclusion of a long harangue they yelled enthusiastically, and immediately began the more informal discussion of what was evidently a popular proposition. When the five who had been paid off returned, everybody had a drink, while the newcomers were made acquainted with the subject. Old Mizzou, who had listened silently but with a twinkle in his eye, went to hunt up Bennington.

They examined the horse together. The owner named thirty dollars as his price. Old Mizzou said this was cheap. It was not. Bennington agreed to take the animal on trial for a day or two, so they hitched a lariat around its neck and led it over to the wagon. After despatching a few errands they returned to camp. Bennington got out his ledger and journal and made entries importantly. Old Mizzou disappeared in the direction of the corral, where he was joined presently by the man Arthur.