Glen of the High North by H. A. Cody
Chapter VII. Bottles Will Do
For a few minutes Reynolds stood and looked up the trail after the girl and horse had disappeared from view. He was strongly tempted to follow to the heights above to see what lay beyond. He refrained, however, as the afternoon was fast wearing away, and he had a heavy load to carry back to camp. Retracing his steps to the brook, he walked up the ravine until he came to the spot where the grizzly was lying, half buried beneath the rocks and earth.
"Too bad, old chap," he remarked, as he looked down upon the brute. "But, then, it served you right. You attacked the innocent and defenseless, little thinking that such swift vengeance was so near. You were little different, however, from certain two-legged brutes who tried the same game to their own sorrow. You did me a great favor to-day, though, and it's too bad I had to shoot you. I would like to take your skin and keep it as a souvenir of this day. Guess I'll have to come back for it as I cannot carry it now. And, besides, I shall need a shovel to dig you out of that heap."
It was later than usual when Reynolds reached camp. The way was long and the sheep he carried was heavy. But his step was light and his heart happy. He had met Glen, had talked with her, looked into her eyes, and felt the firm pressure of her hand. Fate was kind to him, he reasoned, and it augured well for the future.
He was tired and hungry when he reached his little tent on the bank of the creek. A supper of broiled lamb, sour-dough bread, stewed dried fruit, and tea greatly refreshed him. He then lighted his pipe, and stretching himself out upon his blankets, meditated upon all that had taken place during the afternoon. It was good to lie there and rest with deep silence all around, the vision of Glen before him, and the remembrance of her voice and the touch of her hand. He wondered how and when he should see her again. He was determined that it must be soon, and he smiled at the idea of a terrible father keeping him away from her. What did he care for desperate men? Had he not faced them over and over again as they lay entrenched behind blazing rifles and deadly machine-guns? He had carried his life in his hand on numerous occasions on behalf of King and country, and he was not afraid to do it again for his own personal satisfaction. Just how he was to accomplish his object he had no definite idea. It was enough for him as he lay there to think of Glen's voice, the charm of her face, and the glory of her kindling eyes.
When he had finished his smoke he arose, and hoisting the sheep once again upon his back he carried it down to the roadhouse, where he sold it to Shorty, who had bargained with him the evening before for his game of the day. It was much easier than toting it around to the various tents and shacks, and selling it by the piece to the miners. He made less, to be sure, but he was satisfied. In fact, he was becoming tired of this business, and longed for something else, especially since he had met Glen in the hills.
Several men had arrived at Big Draw that day, and had brought a number of letters. One was for Reynolds, from his old friend, the editor. It was a fatherly letter, full of interest for his welfare, and the hope that he would soon return and enter upon the quest to find the missing Henry Redmond.
"I cannot get this notion out of my mind," he wrote in conclusion. "It is with me night and day since I talked it over with you. I believe you are the person best fitted for the undertaking. Give up your present wild-goose chase, and come home."
Reynolds smiled as he thrust the letter into his pocket, The editor called his trip north a "wild-goose chase." He little knew that it was a chase of a different kind, and the bird was a fascinating girl. "I guess I shall have to tell Harmon that the bird I'm after is not a wild goose, but a new species, found solely up here, and with only one known specimen in existence. But I must write to him, anyway, and tell him something about my doings and the life at Big Draw."
In an adjoining room men were playing cards. Reynolds entered and stood watching them, especially Curly, who was deep in a game. He was evidently losing heavily, and he was in a bad frame of mind. As Reynolds stood and watched him, he began to wonder when the fellow had first met Glen. Was it on the trail, or had Curly ventured beyond the Golden Crest? It pleased him to know that the girl disliked the man, and how she wished that the fog-bank had not lifted just when it did. He longed to know what was in Curly's mind. Would he attempt to meet the girl again? That he was capable of the basest villainy, he had not the shadow of a doubt. Frontier Samson had told him as much, and the old prospector apparently knew whereof he spoke. It was not safe for Glen to travel alone among the hills, he mused. She was in danger of meeting a worse brute than the raging grizzly she had encountered that afternoon.
As Reynolds thought of these things he kept his eyes fixed intently upon Curly's face, not realising that he was staring so hard. But Curly did, and glancing up several times from his cards, he met those steady, inscrutable eyes. At first it annoyed him, making him nervous and impatient. He wondered what the quiet, reserved fellow meant by looking at him in such a manner. At length he became angry, and noticing that the eyes never left his face, he leaped to his feet with a savage oath, and moving over to where Reynolds was standing, demanded of him an explanation.
Brought suddenly to earth, Reynolds started, and asked what was the trouble.
"Trouble!" Curly roared. "You'll d---- soon find out if you don't mind your own business."
"Why, I have been doing nothing," and Reynolds looked his surprise. "I was merely watching the game."
"No, you weren't. You were watching me like a cat watches a mouse, and I want to know what you mean."
"I didn't realise I was watching you," he explained. "My mind was elsewhere. I was thinking of more important things. You seem to be looking for trouble."
"I am, and you're the trouble, d---- you. You've made me lose my game."
"H'm, you needn't accuse me. It must be your own conscience. I am not looking for a quarrel, even if you are. I shall leave at once if my presence is so objectionable to you. I'm rather fond of my own company."
Reynolds had partly turned as this word smote him like a knife. He wheeled in an instant and faced Curly.
"Did you refer to me?" he asked. His eyes spoke danger, and the muscles of his body were tense. But Curly did not heed the signs; he had thrown caution to the winds.
"I did," he replied. "And I repeat it, 'Coward!' for that is what----"
Curly never finished the sentence, for a rigid fist caught him suddenly under the right jaw, and sent him reeling backward upon a small table. Recovering himself as speedily as possible, and wild with pain and rage, he ripped forth a revolver from a hip-pocket. A dead silence pervaded the room, like a calm before a storm. And during that silence something unexpected happened. It was not the report of the revolver, but the angry growl of a dog, the spitting of a cat, the bleat of a sheep, and the crow of a cock.
"Gr-r-r-r, ps-s-s-s, ba-a-a-a, cock-a-doodle-do-o-o."
So incongruous did the peculiar sounds appear, that all stared in amazement. Then when they beheld Frontier Samson standing near the door, their faces broadened into knowing grins, followed by hearty outbursts of laughter.
The prospector walked at once over to where Curly was standing, and laid his big right hand upon his shoulder.
"What's all this about?" he asked. "In trouble agin, eh?"
"I've been insulted by that?" and Curly motioned to Reynolds.
"An' so yer goin' to shoot?"
"I certainly am, so leave me alone."
"An unarmed man?"
"What in h---- do I care whether he's armed or unarmed?"
"H'm, I guess ye'd care if he had a gun in his hands."
"Let him do it, Samson." It was Reynolds speaking. "An unarmed man is the only one he would try to shoot. He took mighty good care to keep out of range of the German guns during the war."
"You're a liar," Curly yelled, for the taunt stung him to the quick.
"Then the lie is on your own bead," was the quiet reply. "You and others have made the boast that you hid in the mountains and could not be caught when men were so sorely needed at the Front. If it's a lie, then you lied first, so don't blame me."
Curly's only response was to raise his revolver and fire. But Samson's hand struck the weapon in time to divert the aim, and no harm was done.
"Thar, that's enough of sich nonsense." The old prospector's voice was more than usually stern. "I'm not goin' to stand here an' see a man shot down in cold blood by the likes of you, Curly. The chap ye want to kill is worth ten of you any day. An' as fer shootin', why, ye wouldn't have a peek in with him if he had a gun."
"Give him one, then, and see how he can shoot," was the surly reply.
"But give me that first," and Samson laid his hand upon Curly's revolver.
"Never mind; I'll explain later, so jist let go. Thar, that's better," he commented when Curly had reluctantly obeyed. "Now, look here, I've got a suggestion to make. Let's settle this racket outside. It's no use practisin' on human bodies which the Lord made fer something more important. Whiskey bottles will do as well, an' the more ye smash of them the better, to my way of thinkin'. So s'pose we stick several of 'em up an' let you two crack away at 'em. That's the best way to find out who's the real marksman. Anyone got a rifle handy?"
This suggestion was not at all to Curly's liking. He preferred to have matters all his own way, and his opponent completely at his mercy. But Frontier Samson, as well as all the miners present, decided otherwise, and so Curly was forced to bow to the inevitable.
The men entered enthusiastically into this shooting-test, and in a few minutes three bottles were stuck upon a stump about fifty yards off. A rifle was procured, which Samson at once handed to Curly.
"Now, shoot, ye beggar," he ordered. "Here's the chance to show what ye kin do."
Curly's hand trembled as he took the weapon. The miners crowded around and assailed him with various remarks.
"Go to it, Curly," one encouraged. "Ye were always good at hitting the bottle."
"But not so far away," another bantered. "Curly likes it near, and full, at that."
Curly looked as if he would have liked to turn the rifle upon the men instead of the bottles. He was angry, and an angry man is always at a great disadvantage, especially where a steady nerve is needed. He accordingly fired wild, and when, the third shot had been made, the bottles remained untouched.
During this performance Reynolds had been standing silently by, apparently the least concerned of all. He felt annoyed at the trouble which had occurred, and he was anxious that Curly should be taught a salutary lesson. He picked up the rifle from the ground where his opponent had flung it in his rage, and brought it to his shoulder. He never felt calmer in his life as he took a quick and steady aim. Thrice he pulled the trigger, and each time a bottle crashed to the ground, while the excited miners cheered and shouted themselves hoarse.
When he was through, Reynolds quietly handed the rifle to Frontier Samson. Then he turned to Curly.
"Are you satisfied now?" he asked, "or do you want some more shooting? If so, I am ready."
With an oath, Curly turned upon his heel, and was about to walk away, when the old prospector laid a firm hand upon his shoulder.
"Jist a minute, young man," he ordered. "I want to give ye a word of advice, which ye kin take or leave as ye see fit. Ye've made a miserable fool of yerself today, though it isn't the first time ye've done it, not by a long chalk. If ye want to git along in this camp, stow that nasty temper of yours, an' mind yer own bizness. This young feller wasn't interferin' with you one bit. The devil was in ye, an' ye had to spit it out on somebody. Ye better be more keerful in the future, as I mightn't allus be around to check ye on yer rampage."
"But he hit me," Curly growled.
"Sure he did, an' wouldn't anyone with the least grain of spunk in him do the same if he'd been called a coward fer nuthin'? This young chap is no coward, let me tell ye that. He did more'n his bit over in France when you was hidin' away in the hills. Oh, I know all about it, an' whar ye was an' what ye was doin'. Why, this chap ye wanted to shoot has more scars on his body an' more medals to his credit than you have toes an' fingers. An' yit ye called him a coward! I guess the men here know purty well by this time who is the coward an' who isn't. Thar, that's all I have to say, so ye may go. I'm sick of the sight of ye."
Curly was angry, but so fierce and powerful did the old prospector look that he did not dare to reply. He slunk away, leaving the miners greatly amused at his defeat. But Frontier Samson was not amused, for he knew Curly better than any of the men gathered there.