Glen of the High North by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXIV. When the Rifles Cracked
Ever since leaving for the hills Reynolds had the strong feeling that the ruler of Glen West was studying him very closely. In various subtle ways he could tell that he was being tested, and so this morning as they moved forward he seemed like one undergoing a peculiar examination. That his war record had made a deep impression upon Weston he was well aware. But the man did not yet seem satisfied. He evidently wished to probe to the very soul of the one who had captured his daughter's heart.
After Weston had expressed himself concerning Indian superstition, little was said until they had crossed the wild meadow and partly encircled the opposite side of the lake. From here their course would take them directly overland toward the high hill with the cave of gold.
They were about to leave the shore, when Reynolds suddenly paused and looked excitedly around. Then his eyes fell upon the remains of a campfire, and nearby, fastened to a stick in the ground, he saw a piece of paper. This he quickly seized and read the brief message it contained. He at once turned to Weston, who had been silently watching his every movement.
"It's from Frontier Samson," Reynolds explained. "The old man is greatly worried over my disappearance, and has been searching for me several days. He must have known about your cabin, sir, for he mentions it here, and advises me to go there at once should I return. It is strange that he didn't mention it to me."
"He thought it hardly worth while, I suppose," Weston replied. "You were not bound that way."
"But we must have been, though," Reynolds insisted. "How else could we have reached Glen West but by the trail over which we travelled yesterday? Surely he must have known that."
"It is difficult at times to fathom an old prospector's mind," Weston replied, as he threw his rifle over his shoulder and continued on his way. "So you two were bound for Glen West, were you?" he queried, after they had gone a short distance.
"We certainly were, until I spoiled everything by getting lost."
"You must not be too sure about that, young man. It is hard to tell what might have happened to you had you reached Glen West by the trail. You must have been aware of the risk you were running."
"Oh, the risk is nothing when a great ideal lies ahead. I for one would rather die following a noble vision than lie grovelling among the broken shards of life. It was that which led so many to sacrifice their all in the Great War. Lack of vision means repression, and often ruin; vision, expression."
"In what way? Go on, I am much interested."
"In what way?" Reynolds repeated, as he stopped and looked far away upon some towering mountain peaks which just then were visible through an opening among the trees. "Take the steam-engine for example. Repress the power, and what do you get? Destruction. But give that power expression, and how beneficial it becomes. So it is with man. There is a mighty power within him. Repress that power, keep it back, and you get nothing. But let that power be released, and it expresses itself in thousands of ways for the benefit of mankind."
"But what has that to do with vision?" Weston asked.
"A great deal. It is the vision, the lure of something beyond, which calls forth that power and compels it to undertake great things. All the wonderful achievements of the past are due to men of vision. They saw what others could not see, and in the face of opposition and discouragement they went steadily forward."
"And what did you expect to accomplish when you started for Glen West?"
At these words Reynolds gave a slight start, and glanced curiously at his companion.
"I hoped to win the fairest and noblest flower of womanhood that it has ever been my lot to know except one, and that was my mother."
"Other men have said the same thing, young man," and Weston smiled. "They, like yourself, followed attractive faces, pleasing forms, and luring voices, and when it was too late they found out their mistake. You know the legend of the Sirens, I suppose?"
"That has been true, sir, in many cases. But mine is different. Some women have many outward attractions, but no souls. The first time I beheld your daughter I detected something in her that I never saw before in any woman, and that is saying a great deal. Since I have known her better, I have found that I was right, and that she is worthy of a man's noblest vision. A woman such as she is would elevate a man who has the least spark of nobleness."
"You are right, young man, you are certainly right," Weston acknowledged, and his voice was somewhat husky. "You are more than fortunate in having such a vision. But what will it lead to?"
"That remains to be seen," Reynolds slowly replied. "Anyway, the vision I have been following has made a new man of me already. Before I saw your daughter on the street one night, I had no aim in life. I was ready to drift anywhere and into anything. But the sight of her brought me up standing, and gave me a new impulse. Even though my vision should never be attained, I am better and stronger, for what the poet says is true, that 'The striving makes the man.'"
They were crossing a wild meadow now, and before them loomed the high hill up which Reynolds had so wearily climbed in his great battle for life. He could hardly believe that they were so near the place, and he expressed his astonishment to his companion.
"We have come in a straight course," Weston explained, "and that makes the difference. When you were lost, you wandered around for a long time until you happened by chance upon yonder hill. It is a wonder to me that you ever found your way out of this region."
"So it is to me," Reynolds replied. "And to think that I was so foolish as to chase that moose after what Frontier Samson told me. I see now that the old man was right. I wonder where he can be. Perhaps he has gone back to Big Draw. I must go there, too, as soon as we return, for I feel sure that Samson is worrying about me."
"If we find that mine, you will have to hurtle to Big Draw to record our claims," Weston reminded. "One of the Indians can go with you to show the way."
"I suppose the miners will make a wild stampede into this place as soon as they hear of the discovery."
"Most likely. But there have been so many 'wild-cat' claims recorded of late that they may merely consider this another, and pay little attention to it. However, do not say much about it, and they may take no notice. We can get our haul first, and then they may come as fast as they like."
After they had crossed the wild meadow it was necessary to travel several hundred yards up the little stream at which Reynolds had slaked his thirst. The meadow ere long ended, and the high, frowning sides of the two opposing hills shouldered toward each other, thus forming a deep draw about fifty yards in width.
"It was up there where the eagle fell," Reynolds explained, as he stood looking up the ravine. "Poor creature, it was hard when it was merely doing its duty. But it saved my life, though, and perhaps that was something."
"It is always the way," Weston made answer. "Little is accomplished in this world without sacrifice, and often the innocent are the sufferers. And I reckon we shall not get that gold without sacrificing something. I see that Natsu is not altogether pleased at the prospect of climbing this hill. But it cannot be helped, so we might as well begin at once."
It took them some time to ascend, and often they were forced to draw themselves up by means of rocks and small trees. Occasionally they rested, for combined with the steep climb the sun was pouring its fiery beams full upon their heads.
"I do not believe the miners will find this place in a hurry," Reynolds panted, as he sat upon a ledge of rock where he had with difficulty dragged himself. "When I first climbed up here I worked my way along the side of the hill, which was somewhat easier. Short cuts don't always pay."
"That must have been the reason why you didn't take one to Glen West," Weston replied, as he, too, rested upon the rock.
"It's a definite proof, sir, of what I just said, that short cuts don't always pay. I was cursing myself for getting lost in the wilderness, when all the time it was the only way whereby I could reach Glen West in safety. Had I gone any other route, by a short cut, for instance, you would have pitched me at once beyond the Golden Crest."
Weston made no reply, and once more they continued their climb. Up and up they slowly made their tortuous way, and at length Reynolds, who was leading, gave a shout as his eyes fell upon the desired cave. With a bound he sprang forward, reached the place and was standing before the opening when his companions arrived.
"There it is!" he cried, stooping and pointing into the cave. "And, look, there are the remains of my fire which the rain nearly put out."
Weston was greatly excited now, and drawing a candle from his pocket, he lighted it, and together the three made their way into the mine. They had not proceeded far when the richness of the cave became most apparent, and Weston stared in amazement at the wealth he beheld on every side.
"Why, it's a regular King Solomon's mine!" he exclaimed. "It has never been worked, and being so far up the side of the hill it has been missed by the prospectors who have scoured this region. The place is full of gold! Just look at that!" and he held out a handful of earth he had taken from the right hand wall. "Our fortunes are made."
"Suppose we get something to eat," Reynolds suggested. "I am almost starved. We can examine our treasure afterwards."
It did not take Natsu long to prepare their simple repast at the mouth of the cave, as their luncheon consisted merely of sandwiches and cake. But there was plenty, and they thoroughly enjoyed the meal. When it was finished Weston and Reynolds leaned back against a big rock, filled and lighted their pipes.
"My! this is comfort," Reynolds remarked. "It is not much like the first time I visited this place. I little expected to be here so soon again."
"And it won't be the last time, either," Weston replied, as he puffed thoughtfully at his pipe. "The amount of gold in this cave astonishes me."
"You thought it was all a cock-and-bull story I was telling you, I suppose?"
"I really did," was the candid confession. "I believed that the fearful experiences through which you passed had affected your brain for a time, and that you imagined you had discovered a rich mine."
Reynolds laughed as he looked down the steep cliff.
"How are we to get the gold out of this place?" he asked. "It will be difficult to take it by the way we have just come."
"Oh, that will be no trouble, as we can easily get it to the Tasan, and from there take it down on The Frontiersman. I have been some distance up the river and know that it can be navigated. We can----"
Weston never finished his sentence, for the sharp crack of a rifle suddenly split the air, and a bullet, passing through the top of Reynolds' hat, spattered on the rock close to his head. Instantly another shot rang out, farther down the creek, followed immediately by a wild, piercing shriek of pain. Then all was still.
Greatly surprised and mystified, the men leaped to their feet, and stood staring across at the opposite hill from whence the sounds had come. But nothing could they see except the great silent wall of rock and earth. Each man grasped his rifle in readiness for any emergency, not knowing what to expect next.
"Who can it be?" Weston asked. "What is the meaning of that second shot, and the scream of pain? There's something wrong over there, that's quite evident."
"Suppose we cross over and investigate," Reynolds suggested. "It may have been a stray shot which went through my hat. But, hello! who's that?"
"Where?" Weston asked.
"Don't you see him?" and Reynolds pointed to his left. "Look, he is moving along the top of the hill toward where we heard the first shot."
The form of a man could be seen, gliding swiftly and cautiously forward, carrying a rifle. Only brief glimpses could be obtained of him as he emerged now and then from behind rocks and clumps of stunted trees, so it was impossible to make out whether he was a white man or an Indian. At length he vanished entirely for several minutes, while the curious and anxious watchers waited for him to reappear.
It seemed to them much longer than it really was before they saw him again, and this time he was standing upon a huge rock motioning with his arms.
"Why, it's Sconda!" Weston exclaimed in amazement. "What does he want?" he asked, turning to Natsu, who all the time had remained perfectly silent.
"'Come quick,' Sconda say," was the reply.
"Ask him what is the matter," Weston ordered.
This Natsu at once did, but all the answer he received was the request to hurry.
"What ails the fellow, anyway?" Weston growled. "Why can't he tell us what's wrong? Anyway, we might as well go and find out for ourselves, for there is something mysterious about this whole affair. Confound it all! I want to make a further examination of this mine and see how far it extends. This is certainly provoking."
It did not take them long to reach the bed of the creek, although they received a number of bruises and scratches in the swift descent. But the climb up the opposite hill was a difficult undertaking, and by the time they reached the top they were almost exhausted. Here they rested a few minutes, and then hurried as fast as possible toward the spot from where Sconda had signalled his message. The latter they did not again see until they had scrambled over a series of jagged rocks, and plowed their way through a tangle of scrubby bushes and trees. At last they suddenly beheld him bending over something lying upon a rock, which as they drew nearer they found to be the form of a man.
Weston now was in the lead, and at the first glance he recognized the prostrate man.
"It's the villain Dan!" he exclaimed. "What in time is he doing here? Is he dead?" he asked, turning to Sconda.
"Dan no dead," was the reply. "Dan all same sleep."
"Unconscious, eh?" Weston queried as he stooped and felt the man's pulse. "He's alive, all right, but bleeding. Did you shoot him, Sconda?"
"Ah, ah, Sconda shoot."
"Why did you shoot him?"
"Dan shoot first. Dan shoot at Big White Chief," and Sconda pointed to the cave across the ravine.
Weston looked at Reynolds as the light of comprehension dawned upon his mind.
"It seems to me that there is something in Indian presentiment, after all," he confessed. "How did you know that Dan was going to shoot me?" he asked Sconda.
The latter, however, made no reply. He merely shook his head and glanced furtively and anxiously around. This Weston noticed, and it aroused his curiosity.
"What's the matter, Sconda? You seem to be nervous. Do you expect more shooting?"
"Sconda no savvey. More bad white man. Ugh!"
"Well, then, let us get away from this place as soon as possible."
"What about Dan?" Reynolds asked. "We can't leave him here."
"That's true," and Weston turned toward the wounded man. "He deserves to stay, though, for his base treachery. But we cannot do that, so must tote him back to the cabin. It will be a hard task, and the villain isn't worth it. But, come to think of it, we must not let him die until we hear his story. There may be others in this plot, and we must find out who they are. Come, Sconda, give us a hand. Surely four of us can carry him."
An exclamation from Natsu caused the white men to look quickly around, and as they did so they saw Sconda some distance away, bounding like a deer from rock to rock. At first Weston stared in amazement. Then he called and ordered him to come back. For the first time in his life Sconda paid no heed to his master's command, but sped rapidly forward, and in a few minutes was entirely hidden from view.