Glen of the High North by H. A. Cody
Chapter V. Comrades of the Trail
There was no wild stampede to the Big Draw mining camp on Scupper Creek, where gold had been discovered. There had been so many such reports in the past which proved but flurries, that many of the old-timers became sceptical, and waited for further developments. There were some, however, who were always on the lookout for anything new, and the hope of making a strike induced them to hasten away at the least information of any discovery. These drifted forth in little groups by the way of the river and mountain passes. Among such there were always newcomers, men from the outside, as well as miners who had left the country years before.
It was with the latest arrivals that Reynolds made his way into Big Draw. He was accustomed to life in the open, and his recent experience of camp life in France served him in good stead now. He had just himself to look after, and, accordingly, he did not need a large outfit. He also learned that provisions could be procured at the mining camp, where a store had been established. He, therefore, took with him only what was absolutely necessary, such as a small tent, a few cooking utensils, a good rifle, and sufficient food to last him for several days. A steamer would carry him part of the way, while the rest of the journey would be made overland on foot.
After her departure from the dance that night, Reynolds saw nothing more of Glen. He found that she had left the hotel, but where she had gone he did not know. He inquired of the clerk, and was answered with a curt "Don't know." He wondered who the Indian could be. There seemed to be a mutual understanding between him and the girl, at any rate, and they must have departed together. During the remainder of his stay in town he had wandered about the streets, with the faint hope that he might again see the girl, or learn something as to her whereabouts.
Frontier Samson had also disappeared, and no one seemed to know anything about him. Reynolds did not mind asking about the old prospector, as it was different from enquiring about Glen. In fact, the girl had become so real to him and such a vital part of his very existence that should he speak of her to others he might betray his deep concern.
During the voyage down river he thought much about her and tried to imagine who she really was and what had become of her. The idea even suggested itself that she might be that stolid Indian's wife. Strange things often happened in the north, so he had read, and this might be one of them. He banished the thought, however, as too ridiculous, and beyond the bounds of probability.
The voyage was an uneventful one to Reynolds, who kept much to himself and did not join his companions at cards, which were played day and night. At times there was considerable roughness, though no shooting. Curly was there, and enjoying himself to his heart's content. He played most of the time, losing and winning in turn. Reynolds often sat and watched him as he played, wondering where the fellow had first met Glen and what he knew about her. He had never spoken to the rascal, and had no inclination to do so. But several times glancing up from his cards Curly noticed Reynolds' eyes fixed intently upon him. Although he had found out that the quiet, reserved man was not a "parson," yet he knew that he had been with Frontier Samson, and he was curious to know what the old prospector had told him about his career. His record was so black that he naturally became suspicious until he at length imagined that the young man with the steady unswerving eyes was following him north with some special object in view. The idea annoyed him, although he said nothing, but went on with his game.
It took the little steamer some time to reach her destination, as she had to buck a heavy current part of the way. When she at length tied up at the landing where the trail over the mountain began, the passengers scrambled quickly ashore, and started at once upon their hard journey, carrying heavy loads upon their backs. With their long trip of several thousand miles almost at an end, the excitement of the quest increased, and eagerly and feverishly they pressed forward, each anxious to be the first of the party to reach the mining camp.
But Reynolds was in no hurry. He had not the same incentive as the others, and so long as his supply of food lasted he was as contented on the trail as anywhere else. His pack was heavy and the day promised to be very warm. He preferred to be alone, away from the insipid chatter and profanity of his companions. It would give him an opportunity to think and to study the beauty of the landscape.
Leaving the landing, he walked along the trail, which in a short time began to ascend around the right side of the mountain. Here he stopped and looked back. The river wound below, and the little steamer was lying at the bank discharging her cargo. It was the last link between him and the great outside world of civilization. In a few hours it would be gone, and for an instant there came to him the longing to go back and give up his foolish quest. He banished the temptation, however, and plodded steadily on his way. He had never turned back yet, and he was determined that this should not be the first time. He had the unaccountable conviction that the lap of the future held something in store for him, and that he would come into his own in due time.
The higher he climbed the more wonderful became the view. The trail twisted around the mountain side, and from this vantage ground the solitary traveller could look forth upon vast reaches of forest and great wild meadows far below, with here and there placid lakes, mirroring trees, mountain peaks, and billowy clouds. The voices of his companions had long since died away, and he was alone with the brooding silence all around, and his own thoughts for company.
At noon he rested under the shade of an old storm-beaten tree, and ate his meagre lunch. This finished, he lighted his pipe and stretched himself full length upon the mossy ground. He was feeling more contented than he had been in many a day. The air was invigorating, and a desire came over him to be up and doing. His old indifference to life seemed to slip away like a useless and impeding garment, leaving him free for action. He even thought with pleasure of mingling again in the activities of civilization, and winning for himself a worthy reputation. He would make good in the north, and then go back and surprise his friend, the editor, and all who knew him.
So strong was this feeling that he sat suddenly up, wondering what had come over him to cause the subtle change. "It must be the wild mystery of this region," he mused. "It is stimulating and impelling. It may be the spirit of the mountains, and the other grand things of nature. They are carrying out the designs for which they were intended, and perhaps they have silently rebuked me for being a traitor to the highest that is in me. But I shall show them a thing or two, if I am not much mistaken."
Springing lightly to his feet, he continued his journey. His step was more buoyant, his heart lighter, and the pack seemed less heavy than when he left the river.
He travelled all that afternoon, crossed the summit, and moved swiftly down the opposite slope. It was easy walking now, and he hoped to reach the valley and there spend the night. He believed that he should find water among that heavy timber ahead of him, and thither he made his way. Neither was he mistaken, for when his steps at length began to lag he heard the ripple of water drifting up the trail. As he drew nearer he smelled the smoke of a camp-fire, and the appetizing odor of roasting meat. "Somebody must be camping there," he mused, "and I may have company. I am sorry, but then it can't be helped."
The brook was a small one, shallow, and Reynolds easily sprang across. Gaining the opposite bank, he peered among the trees, and to his surprise he saw Frontier Samson squatting upon the ground, roasting a grouse over a fire he had previously lighted. The old prospector's face brightened as the young man approached.
"My, y've been a long time comin'," he accosted. "I thought mebbe ye'd played out, tumbled down the side of the mountain, or a grizzly had gobbled ye up. What in time kept ye so long?"
"And where in the world did you come from?" Reynolds asked in reply, as he unslung his pack and tossed it aside. "I never expected to meet you here."
"Ye didn't, eh? Wall, ye never want to be surprised at anything I do. I'm here to-day an' somewhere else to-morrow. I'm allus on the move, rovin' from place to place. It's me nature, I guess."
"A rolling stone gathers no moss, so I've heard. Is that the way with you?" Reynolds asked, with a twinkle to his eyes.
"I may git no moss, young man, an' not become a fossil like some of the fellers in big cities, but I git a heap of rubbin' with me rollin', an' that keeps me brightened up."
"But how did you get here ahead of me?" Reynolds questioned. "You were not on the steamer, and I am certain you didn't walk."
Samson drew the grouse from the fire, and examined it critically. Finding it not done to his satisfaction, he thrust it back again.
"Jist hand me that fryin'-pan, will ye?" and he motioned to his left. "I want it handy when the bird's cooked. Ye didn't expect to find a supper here to-night, young man, did ye?" and he looked quizzically at Reynolds.
"Indeed I didn't," was the emphatic reply.
"Neither did ye imagine that it 'ud be a grouse's bones ye'd be pickin'. Why, it's no tellin' where that bird was three days ago. It may have been fifty miles or more away, fer all we know. But it's here now, isn't it?"
"It looks very much like it," and Reynolds laughed.
"Wall, that's jist the way with many other things. It's allus the unexpected that happens, an' thar are surprises on every trail, as ye'll larn if ye haven't done so already. Meetin' me here is one of 'em, an' my movements are jist as unsartin an' mysterious as were them of that bird which is now sizzlin' over this fire."
"But with not such an unhappy ending, I hope," and again Reynolds smiled.
The prospector's eyes twinkled as he drew the bird from the fire, and laid it carefully in the frying-pan.
"Guess it's done all right this time," he remarked. "Now fer supper. I'm most starved."
Reynolds was hungry, and he did full justice to the meal. Samson had some excellent sour-dough bread of which he was very proud.
"Made it last night," he explained, "an' it turned out better'n usual. Thought mebbe I'd have company before long."
"Did you meet the others?" Reynolds asked.
"Oh, yes, I met 'em," Samson chuckled.
"Were they far ahead?"
"Y' bet, an' chatterin' like a bunch of monkeys. Guess they're thar by now."
"Were they surprised to see you?"
"H'm, they didn't see me. I was settin' under a tree well out of sight. I didn't want to meet that crowd; they're not to my likin'. I jist wished to see if Curly was along."
"You seem to be keepin' a sharp eye on that fellow still," Reynolds remarked. He was anxious to draw the prospector out. Perhaps he might learn something about Curly's acquaintance with Glen.
"Yes, I do keep me eyes peeled fer Curly," Samson drawled, as he finished his supper and pulled out his pipe. "It's necessary, let me tell ye that. He ain't safe nohow."
"You have known him for some time, then?"
"Long enough to be suspicious of the skunk."
"He seems to be very friendly with you, though."
"Oh, he's got sense enough not to buck up aginst me. An' besides, I've yanked him out of many a nasty fix. Most likely he'd been planted long before this if I hadn't been around at the right moment."
"He's up here for more than gold, so I understand."
"How did ye larn that, young man?" There was a sharp note in Samson's voice.
"Oh, I merely overheard your conversation with him in the smoking-room of the Northern Light. That was all, but I drew my own conclusion."
"An' what was that?"
"Nothing very definite. I simply inferred that he is after a girl somewhere here in the north, and that she is so guarded by a lion of a father that Curly hasn't much of a chance."
"An' so that's what ye surmised, is it?" the prospector queried.
"Am I right?"
"Guess yer not fer astray."
"Have you seen the girl? Do you know her father?"
"Have I seen the girl? Do I know her father?" the old man slowly repeated. "Yes, I believe I've seen her, all right. But as fer knowin' her father, wall, that's a different thing. Frontier Samson doesn't pretend to know Jim Weston; he never did."
"Weston, did you say?" Reynolds eagerly asked.
"That's what I said, young man. The name seems to interest ye."
"It does. When I registered at the hotel in Whitehorse, the name just before mine was 'Glen Weston,' and the girl who wrote it came north on the Northern Light. Do you suppose she is Jim Weston's daughter?"
"She might be," was the somewhat slow reply. "As I told ye before, it's ginerally the unexpected that happens. Anyway, ye can't tell much by names these days."
"But Curly knows her, for I saw them together at a dance the night I arrived in town."
"Ye did!" The prospector took his pipe from his mouth and stared hard at Reynolds. "Are ye sure?"
"Positive. Why, I was standing at the door watching the dance, when I saw the two together upon the floor. Later they came over and sat down quite close to me. Curly did most of the talking, and the girl seemed quite uneasy. She left shortly after with a fine-looking Indian, who had evidently come for her. I have not seen her since."
"So Curly was dancin' with her," Samson mused. "Then she must be Jim Weston's gal. I wonder what the old man'll say when he hears about it?"
"How will he know?"
"Oh, he'll find out, all right. There's nuthin' that misses him here in the north."
"What will he do to Curly?"
"I wouldn't like to say at present. That remains to be seen."
"Is this Jim Weston a desperate character?"
"The ones who have tried to fool with him say he is, an' I guess they ought to know. He's a holy terror when he gits goin', 'specially when anyone's after that lass of his."
"The men up here all know about her, I suppose?"
"Should say so. They're about crazy over her. She's been the cause of many a row, an' several shootin' rackets."
"Does she favor anyone?"
"Not as fer as I know. She's in a class all by her lonesome, an' well able to take care of herself. She's not anxious fer lovers, so I understand, at least, not the brand ye find up here. She's some lass, all right, an' whoever succeeds in winnin' her'll be a mighty lucky chap."
"What does her father do? Is he a miner?"
"It's jist hard to tell what Jim Weston does an' what he doesn't do. No one seems to know fer sartin. He lives like a lord on Big Lake, way over yonder," and Samson motioned to the east. "All the folks know that he lives thar with his lass, guarded by a hull pack of Injuns. But what he does an' what he doesn't do is a mighty problem."
"His daughter travels, though, and alone at that, doesn't she?" Reynolds queried.
"Occasionally. Jim's givin' her an eddication, so I hear. She must be comin' back now, as this is vacation time."
"But what happened to her, do you suppose, after the dance that night?" Reynolds asked. "She disappeared as if by magic, and I believe the big Indian had something to do with it."
"How d'ye know she disappeared?" was the sudden and somewhat embarrassing question.
Reynolds laughed, and his face flushed. He knew that he had betrayed himself, and that the prospector noted his confusion.
"Oh, I didn't notice her in town," he explained, "and I saw by the register that she had left the hotel."
"So you're interested in her, too, are ye, young man?"
"I certainly am," was the candid confession. "From the moment that I first saw her at a street crossing in Vancouver she has been hardly out of my mind. I never saw any girl who affected me so much, and she is the reason why I am here now."
"Ye don't tell!" Samson tapped the ashes out of his pipe, and then stretched himself full length upon the ground. "Make a clean breast of it, young man," he encouraged. "I'm an old hardened chap meself, but I do like to hear a real interestin' heart-story once in a while. I git sick an' disgusted listenin' to brutes on two legs, callin' themselves men when they talk about women. But when it comes to a clean young feller, sich as I take you to be, tellin' of his heart-stroke, then it's different, an' I'm allus pleased to listen."
And make a clean breast of it Reynolds did. He was surprised at himself for talking so freely as he told about his indifference to life until he first saw Glen Weston. It was easy to talk there in the silence of the great forest, with the shadows of evening closing around and such a sympathetic listener nearby. He felt better when his story was ended, for he had shared his heart feeling with one worthy of his confidence, so he believed.
Frontier Samson remained silent for a few minutes after the confession had been concluded.. He looked straight before him off among the trees as if he saw something there. Reynolds wondered what he was thinking about, and whether he considered him a fool for becoming so infatuated over a mere girl.
"I must seem ridiculous to you," he at length remarked. "Would any man in his senses act as I have?"
"Ye might do worse," was the quiet reply. "I am sartinly interested in what ye've jist told me, an' I thank ye fer yer confidence. Me own heart was stirred once, an' the feelin' ain't altogether left me yit. But ye've got a difficult problem ahead of ye, young man. Ye want that lass, so I believe, but between you an' her stands Jim Weston."
"And the girl, why don't you say?"
"Sure, sure; she's to be considered. But a gal kin be won when she takes a fancy to a man of your make-up. The trouble'll be with her dad, an' don't fergit that. But thar, I guess we've talked enough about this fer the present. I'm dead beat an' want some sleep. We must be away early in the mornin', remember."
"What! are you going my way?" Reynolds eagerly asked.
"Sure; if ye'd like to have me along. I'm bound fer Big Draw meself."
It was just what Reynolds desired. He liked the old prospector, and now that he had confided to him his tale of love, he was drawn closer than ever to this wandering veteran of the trails.