Chapter XXX. The Unmasking
 

Frontier Samson was sitting before an open fire as Glen and Reynolds entered. The flames were licking around the big sticks, lighting up the room, and playing fantastic tricks upon the walls and ceiling. They fell, too, upon the prospector's face, and had not the young couple been so full of their own happiness they would have noticed the sad, far-away look in the old man's eyes. He was huddled in his chair, but straightened himself suddenly up at the first sound of approaching footsteps. By the time the young people were at his side, he was the same genial companion as of old.

"Having pleasant dreams?" Glen asked, as she took a seat by his side, while Reynolds sat opposite.

"Evenin' dreams, Miss," Samson thoughtfully replied, as he looked into the girl's bright, animated face, and intuitively divined the meaning of her happiness. "They're different from day-dreams, ye know, 'specially when yer settin' before a fire like this. Things come to ye then which ye imagined ye had forgotten long ago."

"You must have had some wonderful experiences in this land," Reynolds remarked. "And what scenes you have witnessed, especially in winter. If only you were an artist or a poet, what masterpieces you could produce."

Samson reached for his pipe, filled and lighted it in thoughtful silence. Glen and Reynolds gazed into the fire, fascinated by the leaping, curling flames. Their hearts were so filled with joy that they could think of little but their own overflowing happiness.

"Yes," Samson at length began, "I have seen some wonderful sights, an' no mistake. I ain't no artist nor poet as fer as puttin' things on paper or canvas is consarned. But it's all here," and he tapped his breast with the fingers of his right hand. "When I hear the great mountains a-roarin' at night when the wind is abroad, an' at times listen to the breezes purrin' down their sides, I tell ye I'm a poet then. An' at night, 'specially in winter, when the moon is full an' ridin' aloft above the highest peaks, an' the hull land is lit up with a wonderful glory, then I'm an artist. I s'pose them things are all right in their way," and the old man gave a deep sigh, as he looked wistfully into the fire. "But they don't altogether satisfy the soul. One needs the touch of human nature, the bond of fellowship, an' the warm fire of love to make life really worth livin'. Now, I could tell ye about a man--but thar, you two don't want to hear a yarn from me to-night. You've got other things to think about."

"Indeed we do," Glen declared. "I'm just in a mood for a story. It will help to pass the time until daddy returns. I wonder what in the world is keeping him."

"Oh, he'll be here shortly, so don't worry," Samson told her. "He'll come so suddenly, mebbe, that ye'll be surprised. I find that it's ginerally the unexpected that happens in this world. An' so ye want to hear me little yarn, eh?"

"Certainly we do," and Glen settled herself comfortably in her chair.

"Well, I warn ye at the outset that it's about some of the deepest things of life; of love an' sich like. But it's true as the Gospel."

"That should make it all the more interesting," Reynolds replied. "We are both young, remember, and are fond of such things."

"Sure, sure, I'm well aware of that," and the prospector's eyes twinkled. "Now, this story of mine goes back quite a number of years. It is about a man who was carryin' on a very prosperous bizness in a sartin city, the name of which I shall not mention jist now. He had everything that his heart could desire, sich as money, friends, a good home, a wife who was one in a million, an' a little child who made that home full of joy. Then suddenly a great change took place. His wife died, an' the man was left dazed an' helpless. He no longer took any interest in his bizness, an' his one object was to git away from people, far off into the wilderness that he might be alone with his sorrow. The day at last came when he was missed in the city, an' his friends an' acquaintances did not know what had become of him. But thar was one thing that made them think he was not dead, an' that was something which appeared in one of the papers. I remember the exact words:

"'I go from the busy haunts of men, far from the worry an' bustle of bizness life. I may be found, but only he who is worthy will find me, an' whoever finds me, will, I trust, not lose his reward. From the loopholes of retreat I shall watch the stress an' fever of life, but shall not mingle in the fray."

Before Samson had ended, Reynolds was on his feet, standing excitedly before him.

"That man is Henry Redmond!" he exclaimed. "Did you know him? Have you any idea where he is?"

"Set down, young man, set down," the prospector ordered. "Don't git excited. Yes, I'm speakin' of Henry Redmond. No doubt ye've heard of him."

"Indeed I have, and if you know where he is, tell me quick."

Samson's eyes twinkled with amusement as he waved Reynolds back to his chair.

"Jist be patient until I git through with me yarn, will ye? I'm mighty glad that yer so interested in the story. Yes, the man was Henry Redmond, an', as I told ye, he suddenly lit out to parts unknown. But I know what happened to him. He did leave the busy haunts of men, an' went far off into the wilderness, takin' with him his little child. He lived alone fer a time in a cabin that he built. He thought that he could be happy with nature, an' find comfort fer his great heart-ache in the loneliness of the wild. But he soon found out his mistake. He needed human companionship more'n he could git from his little child. After a while he jined himself to a band of Injuns, became their leader, an' ruled 'em with a strong hand. Fer a time this gave him some comfort, an' he believed that sich a life was all that he could desire. He had his books, an' when he wished he could talk with the natives, whose lingo he soon larned."

Samson paused and gazed for a few minutes steadfastly into the fire. Reynolds had listened to every word and he could not tolerate the least delay. A startling thought had come suddenly into his mind which stirred him to a high pitch of excitement.

"Go on," he ordered. "Finish your story."

Samson aroused from his reverie, and looked keenly into the young man's eager eyes.

"Whar was I?" he asked. "Oh, yes, I remember. It was jist whar Redmond had settled down among the Injuns. Me mind was wanderin' a bit, due, no doubt, to old age. Well, Redmond tried to find peace an' contentment in the little village. From the loopholes of retreat he did watch the ways of civilization, an' the more he watched, the more dissatisfied he became. He longed fer the companionship of people of his own kind, fer between him an' the Injuns thar was too wide a gap. He needed the company of white people, an' that he did not have. He did not care to visit the outside world fer fear of bein' recognized. Then something happened which made a great change."

"What was it?" Glen eagerly asked, for she, too, was intensely interested.

"It was the discovery of gold in the very region whar Redmond thought he was secure from all contact with civilized life. The miners flocked into the place, pokin' their noses into every hole an' corner, until Redmond found it necessary to keep them at arm's length an' at the same time strike terror into their hearts, that he might protect his Injuns from their evil influence."

"Why, that's just like daddy," Glen remarked. "He won't allow the miners to come to Glen West."

"Sure, sure. Any man would have done the same as Redmond did. Thar was nuthin' else fer him to do. But after the miners came, he had a great longin' to meet 'em, an' talk to 'em in a friendly way. At first he didn't know how to manage this without bein' found out. But by a lucky chance he came across an old Injun, who had once been a great medicine-man, an' was a mighty good hand at makin' disguises. So he fixed up Redmond in sich a way that no one could tell but what he was a real old sourdough prospector who had spent most of his life lookin' fer gold."

A half suppressed exclamation from Reynolds caused Samson to turn quickly in his direction.

"Hey, anything wrong?" he asked. "Ye seem to be somewhat excited. Nuthin' serious, I hope?"

"Yes, there is," was the emphatic reply. "But go on. Never mind me."

"I s'pose I might as well git along with me yarn," the old man continued. "Yes, Redmond got all fixed up as a prospector, an' then he visited the minin' camps fer miles around. No one suspected who he was, an' so he used to come an' go in a most mysterious manner, to their way of thinkin'."

"What did he call himself?" Reynolds asked.

"I'll come to that later, young man," and Samson slyly tipped him a warning wink. "We'll jist call him Redmond fer the present. He sartinly did have a great time of it, an' no one was the wiser. An' he uster travel to the outside, too, an' everybody put him down as an old prospector hardly worth considering Say, it was great fun fer Redmond."

"But where was his child all this time?" Reynolds questioned.

"Oh, she jist stayed at home with a housekeeper Redmond got, an' grew up to be a fine slip of a gal. Then when she was old enough, her dad decided to send her outside to school. But when she came home fer the holidays she was somewhat unsettled, an' didn't want to stay in the north. She longed fer society, fine dresses, an' sich things. This worried her dad a great deal. But one day she happened to come across a chap who took her fancy, an' that made all the difference in the world. He saved her from a grizzly on Crooked----"

Samson never finished the sentence, for with a startled cry, Glen was on her feet, her body trembling with emotion, and her eyes wide with wonder.

"Are you Henry Redmond?" she demanded. "Are you my father?"

For an instant only did the old man look at the girl, then with a swift, deft movement he swept the long beard from his face, and the white hair from his head.

"Daddy!" It was all that Glen could say. She trembled, and would have fallen had not her father caught her in his arms, and held her close to his breast. For a time no one spoke, and Glen's sobs were the only sound heard.

"There, there, dear, don't feel so badly," her father at length told her. "Come, let me brush away your tears. One would think that I had committed some terrible deed."

"But I can't help it, daddy," the girl replied. "This is all so sudden, and such a great surprise. But I feel better now, so we can talk it all over. There are so many questions I want to ask."

The storm had now passed, and once more they resumed their seats. Glen, however, kept her eyes fixed intently upon her father's face.

"And to think that you have deceived me all these years," she upbraided. "Don't you feel thoroughly ashamed of yourself?"

"I suppose I should," was the laughing confession. "But I have had so much innocent fun out of it that my conscience doesn't trouble me in the least."

"And it was you all the time who travelled on the same steamer as I did," Glen mused. "I thought it strange that you should be going up or down the coast whenever I did."

"Yes, I was keeping a good watch over you. I must confess that you behaved yourself very well."

"Was it not difficult to play your part as a prospector?" Reynolds asked.

"Not after I got used to it, though at first it was a little awkward. But I threw myself so gladly and heartily into the character I had assumed that I really believed for the time that I was Frontier Samson. I might explain that he was a prospector I knew years ago, and was one of the finest men I ever met. So you see, it was quite easy for me to imitate him."

"How did you happen to lay claim to me, sir, on the Northern Light?"

"Oh, that is easily explained. I was always on the lookout for young men different from the ordinary miners who come to this country, and so spotted you at once. I surmised from the first that you were not on your way up here for gold alone, and so I was anxious to learn the story of your life."

"And did you?"

"Don't you think I did?" and a humorous expression shone in Redmond's eyes. "Didn't I listen to your words and study you as you were never studied before, unless it was by your mother? But when I found that you were in love with a girl beyond the Golden Crest I became doubly interested, and determined to prove your soul and find out your worth. The final test was made that night you faced me in my study at Glen West. Had you faltered then or shown the white streak, you would have been dumped beyond the pass."

The speaker paused and gazed thoughtfully into the fire. There was an expression of sadness in his eyes, and his face was somewhat strained and drawn. Both Glen and Reynolds noted this as they watched him in silence. At length he turned sharply to Reynolds, and spoke in a rapid and agitated manner.

"Young man," he began, "you have found me. I had given up all hope of anyone doing so. I was not easily found, as I wrote in that note I left behind. You have found more than my mere body--you have found my soul, my real self, and that was what I meant. And you have found something else, which is more important in your eyes--you have found your reward--the treasure of all treasures to me. Take her; she is yours, and may God bless you both."

Outside, the wind howled through the trees and over the lake. It beat upon the cabin and drove the rain lashingly against the small window-panes. But within the cabin all was peace and happiness. The flames from the burning sticks illumined the faces of the men and the girl as they sat and talked far on into the night. Many were the questions asked and answers given. They opened their hearts to one another, and as they talked and planned, all the disagreeable events of the past were forgotten, and the future looked rosy and bright. It was especially so to the young lovers as they sat close to each other, hand in hand, heart responding to heart, each thrilled with a love, deep, pure and tender--a love which transformed the commonplace into a realm of enchantment, beauty, and peace.