Glen of the High North by H. A. Cody
Chapter VI. A Shot That Told
The life at Big Draw mining camp on Scupper Creek did not appeal to Reynolds. He watched the men at work upon their various claims, and noted how meagre was their success. They toiled like slaves, lured on by the hope of a rich strike that never came. The principal place of meeting was the roadhouse, where "Shorty" Bill held sway. He lodged men, served meals, and conducted a bar. He was a good-hearted fellow, rough and uncouth, but well liked by all, and a genial companion. It was, therefore, but natural that at this place many of the men should congregate at night, and at times during the day, for a brief respite from their labors. It was here, too, that news would occasionally drift in from the outside world, which would be discussed by the men as they played cards, the only amusement for which they seemed to care. When the mail arrived, as it did at irregular intervals, all work on the creek was suspended, and the men flocked to the roadhouse to receive their scanty dole of letters and papers. Shorty was the custodian of the mail after its arrival, and he magnified his office. With a quid of tobacco tucked away in his cheek, he would study each address most carefully before calling forth the owner's name in a stentorian voice.
Although mining was not in his line, Reynolds realised that he must do something. As he studied the life of the camp, and watched the men at their work, he thought of his friend, the editor. What an article he might write for The Telegram that would make the editor's eyes dance with joy. And he could do it, too, he felt certain, if he could only get up sufficient energy. He could add a number of sketches drawn from life, which would be of much value. He thought of all this as he wandered aimlessly around, and as he lay at night in his little tent.
Several days thus passed without anything being done. Frontier Samson had again disappeared, and no one had any idea where he had gone. Reynolds soon grew tired with having nothing to do, so he accordingly turned his attention to the hills. Fresh meat was urgently needed for the camp, as the miners would not spare the time to go after it themselves. Wild sheep roamed the mountains, and Reynolds decided that he could make more money by supplying the camp with meat than digging for the uncertain gold. It would also satisfy his desire to get away into the wilds, where he could explore to his heart's content the mysteries of the foothills, the great valleys, and the vast expanses of wild meadows.
Reynolds at once put this plan into execution, and each morning he left camp for a day in the hills. At night he returned, loaded down with a mountain sheep he had bagged, and which he readily sold for several ounces of gold. When not hunting, he would spend his time either exploring some creek or lying on the hillside studying the scenery around him, and imbibing impressions for the masterpieces he planned to produce.
But it was not always the beauties of nature which occupied his mind. No matter where he went Glen was ever with him. In some mysterious manner she seemed to be near, and he wondered if he should ever see her again. He often looked away to the east, for there Frontier Samson had told him she lived. How far off was the place? he asked himself, and if he did find her what would her lion of a father do? He was tempted to make the try, anyway, and find out for himself if Jim Weston was as desperate a character as he had been painted. He could do no more than kill him, and he did not fear death. Had he not often faced it on the field of battle, and why should he shrink now?
The more Reynolds thought about this, the more inclined he became to make the effort. It would be another grand adventure to once again go over the top. He might fail, but he would have the satisfaction of making the attempt and showing Glen that he was not a coward. He had been longing for some wild undertaking, and here was the opportunity right at hand. It would be far more preferable than spending his time around camp, or even hunting mountain sheep.
He was thinking seriously of this one beautiful afternoon as he lay on the side of a deep ravine beneath a big weather-beaten fir tree. Below, a brook gurgled, now very small owing to the dryness of the season, but at times swollen by floods into a raging torrent. Across this ravine the mountain rose steep and rugged. Along its side a narrow trail wound, worn smooth by the feet of Indians, mountain sheep, and other denizens of the wild. Reynolds idly wondered whither the trail led, and he was half tempted to start forth on an exploration journey. But it was so comfortable there on the hillside that he gave up the idea, so, lying full upon his back with his hands under his head, he watched the tops of the far-off mountains, and the clouds drifting across the great savannas of the blue.
For some time he remained thus, thinking of Glen and recalling the last time he had seen her. He was trying once more to solve the mystery of her disappearance from Whitehorse, when a sudden noise across the ravine arrested his attention. Casting his eyes in that direction, great was his surprise to see a woman mounted on a magnificent horse riding slowly down that crooked and dangerous trail. Then his heart leaped within him as he recognized Glen. What was he to do? he intuitively asked himself. Should he remain where he was, or hurry down to the brook to meet her? But what right had he to go near her? He had never spoken a word to her, and as she did not even know who he was, she might resent his appearance. Would it not be better for him to remain where he was, and worship at a distance? But was it gentlemanly that he should stay there and watch her when she was unaware of his presence?
And all this time Glen was coming slowly down that winding trail. Reynolds watched her almost spell-bound. She was a superb horsewoman, and rode as one born to the saddle. How graceful was her figure, and how perfectly the noble animal she was riding responded to the lightest touch of the rein as he cautiously advanced. Reynolds could see the girl most plainly now. She sat astride the saddle, with the reins in her right hand, and a small riding-whip in the other. She wore buckskin riding-breeches, a khaki-colored blouse, open at the throat, and a soft felt hat of the same color. The sleeves of her blouse were rolled up to her elbows, thus exposing her strong, supple arms. All this Reynolds quickly noticed, and he believed that he had never before beheld a more beautiful picture of true virile womanhood.
The horse was jet-black, and although walking on such a perilous and difficult trail, it was easy to tell at the first glance that it was a splendid thoroughbred. The animal's carriage showed not only pride in bearing such a beautiful rider, but a full sense of its responsibility as well. Fine were its proportions, reminding Reynolds more of some victor of the race-track than the rough and hardy cayuses of the north.
And even as he looked and wondered from whence such a pair of creatures had so unexpectedly come, the horse gave a terrified snort, threw up its head, and recoiled back upon its haunches. The cause of this fright was at once apparent, for around a huge boulder a large hear had suddenly made its appearance. Reynolds saw at a glance that it was a grizzly, the most formidable animal of the north, and the terror of the trails. Although greatly startled at meeting the horse and its rider, the bear had no idea of retreating. They were blocking his lordly advance and it made him angry. Its coarse savage growl sawed the air as it moved menacingly forward.
All this Reynolds noted as he kneeled upon the ground, firmly clutching his rifle with both hands. Beads of perspiration stood out upon his forehead as he watched the scene across the deep gulch. The horse was rearing wildly, and backing slowly up the trail. There was no room to turn around, so with remarkable coolness and self-control the fair rider was keeping him pressed close to the bank and face to face with the on-coming grizzly. At any instant the horse might disregard the guiding hand as well as the friendly words of encouragement, and in mad terror attempt to swerve suddenly around, and thus hurl itself and rider into the yawning abyss below.
All this passed through Reynolds' mind with lightning rapidity, and he realised that there was not a moment to lose. The bear was advancing more rapidly now, and in a twinkling he might hurl his full weight of eight hundred pounds of compact flesh, bone and muscle upon horse and rider. But ere it could do this, Reynolds brought the rifle to his shoulder, took a quick, steady aim, and fired. The bullet sped true and pierced the bear's body just back of its powerful right shoulder. The great brute stopped dead in its tracks. It swayed for an instant, and then with a roar that drove the recoiling horse almost frantic with terror, it leaped sideways and plunged down the precipice, carrying with it a small avalanche of rocks, earth, and rattling stones.
Reynolds watched the bear until it had plowed its way to the ravine below, where it remained a confused and motionless heap. Then a smile of satisfaction over-spread his face as he lowered his rifle and lifted his eyes to the trail above. The girl had the horse under control now, and was urging him slowly down the narrow way. But the animal's fear was most apparent, for he was advancing very timidly, his whole body quivering with excitement. The fair rider, however, seemed perfectly at ease, and not the least disturbed at what had just happened.
After she had passed the spot where the bear had first appeared, she reined up the horse and looked across to where Reynolds was standing watching her most intently. Waving her band in friendly salutation, she called aloud:
"Come on over."
The young man obeyed with alacrity. He sped down the hill, leaped across the narrow stream, and hurried up the trail. He was panting heavily when he reached the girl's side, and the perspiration was streaming down his face. She looked at him curiously, and her eyes danced with merriment.
"Do you always do that?" she questioned.
"Do what?" Reynolds asked in reply.
"Hustle like that at a woman's call?"
"I never did so before, simply because I never had the chance. This is a new experience to me."
The girl looked at him steadily for a few seconds. Then she smiled and held out her hand.
"I wish to thank you for what you have done for me to-day," she naively told him. "I am certain you saved my life. My, that was a great shot you made!"
Reynolds took her hand in his, and a thrill of joy swept through his body. It was not a soft hand, but brown and firm as if accustomed to toil. Her eyes met his and there was something in her look which aroused the noblest within him. It was an expression of admiration, almost hero-worship, and confidence. It said to him, "I know I can trust you, for you are worthy. You are different from most men in this region. Why are you up here?"
"I am glad that I happened to be near," Reynolds replied. "I was merely resting and enjoying the scenery when you and the bear appeared. You must be more careful in the future, as I might not be around."
The girl gave a merry laugh, and brushed back a wayward tress of hair that had drifted temptingly over her right cheek.
"I forgot to bring my gun," she explained, "and so the bear had me at its mercy. It is always the way, isn't it? Something is sure to happen when you are not prepared."
"And do you always ride alone in such dangerous places?" Reynolds asked.
"Oh, yes," and again the girl smiled. "Midnight and I know the trails well, don't we, old boy?" and she affectionately patted the horse's sleek neck. "But we came farther to-day than usual. But it was worth it, though, just to see that shot you made. Won't daddy be interested when I tell him about it."
"It was nothing much," Reynolds replied, although the sudden flush which mantled his face told Glen that he was pleased at her words of praise. "I am used to shooting brutes. In fact, it was my special work for several years."
"Grizzlies?" the girl queried.
"Worse than grizzlies, and far more ugly, crafty, and brutal."
"My, I never heard of such creatures," and the girl's eyes grew big with astonishment.
"Oh, I guess you have," and Reynolds smiled. "They raise and train them in Germany. I met them in France."
"What! were you over there?" Glen's interest and admiration were intense now.
"Yes, almost from the beginning of the war. I was a sharpshooter, you see, and so had excellent practice."
"Oh!" It was all the girl said, but it thrilled the young man's very soul, and when his eyes again met hers a sudden embarrassment came upon him.
"Do you live here?" he unexpectedly asked.
This question aroused Glen, and she at once assumed the defensive. The expression in her eyes changed, and she looked apprehensively around.
"A long way from here," she replied. "I must be off at once."
"Let me go with you, Miss Weston," Reynolds suggested. "You are unarmed, and may meet another grizzly before you reach home."
"How do you know who I am?" the girl asked. "You never saw me before, did you?"
"We travelled up the coast together on the Northern Light," Reynolds explained. "I was the one who drew the captain's attention to that canoe when the fog-bank lifted. You remember that, I suppose."
"Indeed I do, and too well at that. I wish that the fog had not lifted just then. Your eyes were too sharp that morning."
"But the men in the canoe were not sorry, though. They seemed to be mighty glad to be picked up."
"It is too bad that the fog lifted when it did," and the girl gave a deep sigh.
"You know the men, then?"
"Only one, but he is enough."
"I saw you with him at the dance. I suppose he is the one you mean."
"Where is he now?" There was a note of sternness in the girl's voice.
"At Big Draw. Any message I can take to him?"
The girl's face underwent a marvellous change. It was like the sweep of a cloud over a sunny landscape. She touched Midnight with her whip, and he sprang forward. Down the trail he clattered at a reckless gait, and when he had reached the level below his rider swung him sharply around. Then he bounded upward, and when near to where Reynolds was standing, Glen pulled him up with a sudden jerk.
"There is no message," she announced. "Why have you misjudged me? Are all men alike? Thank you for what you did for me to-day. Good-by."
She again lifted her whip and it was about to fall upon Midnight's flank when Reynolds stepped forward and laid his right hand upon the horse's bridle.
"Forgive me," he pleaded. "I meant nothing. I was merely joking. Perhaps I understand more than you realise. May I accompany you home? It is not safe for you to travel alone, unarmed as you are, in a place like this."
"No, no, you must not come," the girl protested. "It is much safer for me than it would be for you. Never cross the Golden Crest. I have warned you, so remember."
Again she touched her whip to Midnight, who leaped forward up the steep trail, pleased to be away from the place where he had received such a fright. Only once did the girl look back to wave a friendly hand to Reynolds ere a sharp turn in the trail hid her from view.