Chapter VIII. Love Versus Gold
 

The next day Reynolds spent as usual out in the hills, though he did no hunting. When not stretched out upon the ground, he was wandering aimlessly around wherever his spirit listed. He had no more interest in the mountain sheep, and he passed several fine flocks without firing a shot. His thoughts were elsewhere, upon game of far greater importance. He had spent a sleepless night, for Curly's action not only annoyed but disgusted him. He did not wish to remain near such a cur, and the sooner he left, the better it would be for both of them. His only desire was to be left alone, and that seemed impossible so long as he stayed at Big Draw. But where could he go, and what should he do? Had he not met Glen Weston it would be an easy task to leave the north at once. But since she was here, and just beyond the hills, he could not bear the thought of going away without seeing her again.

As he lay under a big tree, there suddenly came into his mind the old fairy tale of "The Sleeping Beauty and the Enchanted Palace." He smiled as he recalled it now, for was not he himself something like the young knight who faced all manner of difficulties and won the prize? But the knight of the fairy tale did not have to contend with a desperate father and a tribe of Indians, as all the people connected with the ancient story were asleep. This was a much more difficult undertaking, and a greater adventure by far. It stirred his blood as he thought of it, making him anxious to be away upon the quest.

It was about the middle of the afternoon when he at length made his way to the ravine where he had met Glen the previous day. There was just the slightest chance that he might see her again, for something he had detected in her eyes encouraged him in the belief that she looked upon him with favor. But when he reached the place no sign of life could he behold. He went to the spot where he had left the grizzly half buried beneath the rocks and earth. To his surprise no sign of the bear was to be seen. No doubt the Indians had been sent to recover the animal for its skin and meat. Had Glen come with them? he wondered, to show where the animal had fallen? Such an idea was feasible, and he chided himself for not being there early in the day when he might have again met her.

Going to the tree on the bank where he had first beheld the girl on horseback, he threw himself down upon the ground and kept his eyes fixed upon the trail across the ravine. He still cherished the hope that she might reappear, and this would be the best place to see her. His earnest longings, however, were of no avail, for no sign of the girl could he behold. Birds flitted here and there, while a great eagle alighted upon a rocky pinnacle and eyed him curiously and somewhat suspiciously.

"If I only had your power of flight, my fine fellow," Reynolds mused, "it would not take me long to go beyond the Golden Crest. I wonder why human beings were made the most helpless of all creatures? We are endowed with aspirations, yet how often they come to naught for lack of power to achieve them. But I shall achieve mine. If I have not the wings of an eagle, I have the mind of a man, as well as strength of body. I shall go to her, no matter what obstacles intervene." He rose from his reclining position and began to descend the bank. He had gone but half way, when, happening to glance once more across the ravine, he was surprised to see an Indian mounted upon a horse far up the trail. Both horse and rider were motionless until Reynolds' eyes rested upon them, when they vanished as if by magic. He gazed in amazement, thinking that perhaps he had seen a vision. But look as he might, nothing more could he see, and, much mystified, he continued on his way back to Big Draw.

Reynolds' mind was now fully made up. The day of meditation spent in the hills had proven beneficial. He would at once undertake the venture, and find out what lay beyond the Golden Crest. He would be the knight of the fairy tale, and either win or die in the attempt to win the Princess of his heart and mind.

So much was Glen in Reynolds' thoughts that he could think of little else. He visioned her mounted upon her horse, facing the grizzly. What a picture she would make! Never before had he beheld such a scene, and his fingers burned to sketch her as she now stood out clear and distinct in his mind.

Producing a pencil and a sheet of his scanty supply of paper, he was soon at work before the door of his tent. The bottom of a biscuit box, placed at the proper angle on the stump of a jack-pine, formed his easel. Perched upon another box, he was soon busily engaged upon the outline of what was to be his masterpiece. Forgotten was everything else as he sat there, devoting all the energy of heart, mind, and hand to the work before him. The miners might delve for gold; Curly and his companions might gamble to their hearts' content; such things were nothing to him. He had struck a vein of wealth, the true gold of love, by the side of which all the treasures of earth were as dross.

And as he worked, a shadow suddenly fell across the picture. Looking quickly up, he was surprised to see Frontier Samson standing quietly by his side, looking intently upon the sketch.

"You startled me," and Reynolds gave a slight laugh, feeling for the instant a sense of embarrassment.

"Caught in the act, eh?" the prospector queried.

"It seems so, doesn't it? I wasn't expecting company."

"Oh, I don't mean you, young man. I was thinkin' of her," and Samson pointed to the picture. "Where did ye ketch her?"

"Out on the hills. Isn't she wonderful?"

"Mebbe she is an' mebbe she isn't," was the cautious reply.

"Have you any doubt about it?" Reynolds somewhat impatiently asked.

"Wall, no, I s'pose not. I'll take yer word fer it."

"But can't you see for yourself, man, what she is?"

"H'm, d'ye expect me to see what you do in that picter?"

"And why not?"

"Simply 'cause I'm not as young as you are. Now that," and he pointed to the sketch, "doesn't tell me much. I see some drawin's thar of a gal on horseback, but they don't show me the gal herself. They don't tell me anything about the sound of her voice, the look in her eyes, nor the heavin' of her buzom. I can't see what her mind's like, nor her heart, fer that matter. Them's the things ye can't draw, an' them's the things by which I judge a gal."

"But good gracious! if you saw her only once you would know what she's like; the most wonderful creature in the whole world. Heaven and earth must have combined in bestowing upon her their choicest graces."

"When did ye see her like that?" and Samson again motioned to the sketch.

"Yesterday; out in the hills."

"On horseback?"

"Yes, and face to face with a grizzly."

"A grizzly!"

"It certainly was, and a monster, too. My! you should have seen the way she handled her horse when the brute was coming toward her. Some day I am going to sketch her as she looked when the horse was rearing backward. This drawing merely shows her in repose when last I saw her."

"An' what happened to the grizzly?" the old man queried.

"Oh, a bullet hit him, that was all, and he took a header into the ravine below."

"It did! An' whar did the bullet come from? Jist dropped down by accident at the right moment, I s'pose."

Reynolds merely smiled at the prospector's words, and offered no explanation.

"Modest, eh?" and Samson chuckled. "No more trouble to knock over a grizzly than it was to smash three whiskey bottles without winkin'. I like yer coolness, young man. Now, some fellers 'ud have blatted it all over camp in no time. An' that happened yesterday, so ye say?"

"Yes; toward evening."

"An' the gal was thar all alone?"

"It seems so. I wanted to go home with her, but she would not let me."

"She wouldn't! An' why not?"

"She said it wasn't safe for me to go beyond the Golden Crest."

"Did she give any reason?"

"None at all, and that's what makes me curious."

"About what?"

"What lies beyond the Golden Crest. The spirit of adventure is on me, and I intend to make the attempt to find out for myself about the mystery surrounding that place."

"Ye do! Didn't the gal say it wasn't safe?"

"All the greater reason, then, why I should go. If that girl will not come to me, I am going to her. Death is the worst that can happen to me, and I would rather die than live without Glen Weston."

"Ye've got it bad, haven't ye?" and Samson smiled. "But mebbe she's got the fever, too, since yesterday, an' has been back to the ravine to see if you was thar."

"Perhaps she did, but I was too late. I was there this afternoon, and saw no one except an Indian on horseback. The bear, too, was gone."

"Ye saw an Injun, ye say? What was he doin'?"

"Merely sitting upon his horse at the top of the trail. But he vanished just as soon as I glimpsed him."

"An' the bear was gone, too, did ye say?"

"Yes; nothing left of it. I suppose the Indians came for it. Perhaps Glen was with them, and so I missed another chance of seeing her."

During this conversation Frontier Samson had been standing. But now he sat down upon the ground, and remained for some time in deep thought. He filled and lighted his pipe, and smoked in silence, while Reynolds continued his work upon the sketch.

"When d'ye expect to leave camp?" Samson at length asked.

But Reynolds made no reply. He went on steadily with his work, while the old man watched him with twinkling eyes.

"Completely gone," he mused. "Deaf to the world. Can't hear nuthin'. It's a sure sign."

"What's that? Were you speaking?" Reynolds suddenly asked.

"Speakin'! Sure. Why, me tongue's been goin' like a mill-clapper, though ye never heard a word I said."

"I was lost, I guess," and Reynolds smiled as he turned toward the sketch.

"So I imagined. But, then, I fergive ye, fer I was young once meself, an' in love, too, so I know all the signs. I only wanted to know when ye expect to hit the trail on yer great adventure?"

"To-morrow," was the emphatic reply. "This place won't keep me an hour longer than I can help. I am sick of it."

"How d'ye expect to travel?"

"On foot, of course; straight over the mountains."

"D'ye realise the dangers?"

"Dangers are nothing to me; I am used to them."

"But s'pose I should tell ye it's impossible to git behind the Golden Crest?"

"Then, I like to do the impossible. There are plenty to do the ordinary things. I want to do the extraordinary, the so-called impossible. Did you ever hear the song that the Panama Canal diggers used to sing to cheer them up?"

"No; what is it?"

"I only know four lines; they go this way:

  "'Got any rivers they say are uncrossable?
  Got any mountains you can't tunnel through?
  We specialize on the wholly impossible,
  Doing the things that no man can do.'

"I like those words, and they have heartened me more than once."

"They're sartinly stirrin', an' I like the spirit of 'em," the prospector replied. "But it seems to me that ye've got to use common sense as well as spirit. Now reason tells me that ye need someone to help ye in this undertakin' of yours, an' why shouldn't that someone be me?"

"You! Could you help me?" Reynolds eagerly asked. "Will you go with me?"

"I might on a sartin condition."

"And what is that?"

"Nuthin' much, 'cept you'll go with me."

"And why shouldn't I?"

"That's jist the pint about which I ain't sure. Though you've got the feet of a man, yit from what I gather yer heart an' yer head have eagle's wings, which'll make ye impatient to foller an old feller like me, who ain't as spry as he once was, an' whose jints are somewhat stiff."

"Oh, you needn't worry about that," Reynolds laughingly told him. "I hope I have a little sense left yet, although it's quite true what you say about my heart and my head having eagle's wings. You lead on and I'll follow like a dog."

"Now, look here, young man, thar's something else I want to put to ye. 'Twixt two things, one sartin an' t'other unsartin, which will ye choose?"

"I do not understand. Explain what you mean."

"Wall, ye see, it's this way: The findin' that gal on which ye've set yer heart is a mighty unsartin proposition. But thar's another which is as sure as the sun, an' about which all the men here in camp, an' the hull world fer that matter, would go crazy over if they knew about it."

"What is it?'

"It's gold; that's what it is, an' plenty of it, too."

"Where?" Reynolds' eyes were big with excitement.

"Oh, back in the hills. I discovered it over a year ago, an' nobody knows of it but me."

"Why didn't you report it?"

"H'm, what would be the good of doin' that? Haven't I seen too many gold strikes already, an' what have they amounted to? Look at this camp, fer instance. The men have come here an' ruined this place. They may git some gold, but what good will it do 'em? They'll gamble it, or waste it in other ways. Oh, I know, fer I've seen it lots of times."

"Why, then, are you willing to reveal the secret of your mine to me?" Reynolds asked.

"Did I say I was willin'?"

"That is what I inferred from your words."

"I merely asked ye 'twixt which would ye choose: the findin' that gal, which is an unsartin proposition, or gittin' the gold, which is as sure as the sun. That's all I asked."

"But if I choose the gold, then your secret will be known, and there will be a wild stampede into the place. You don't want that to happen, do you? It would be the same story of other camps, and perhaps worse."

"No, I don't want it to happen, that's a fact. But, ye see, it's bound to come sooner or later. Thar are so many men pokin' thar noses into every hole an' corner, that they are sure to find my mine before long. Now, I want someone to my likin' to be first on the ground, an' that someone is you. Ye kin then make yer choice an' stake two claims as discoverer. Tharfore, which will ye choose, that gal proposition or the gold? It's up to you. Is it hard to decide?"

"Not at all," was the reply. "I shall take the girl. One might run across gold any time, but a girl like that one won't find again. And, besides, what good would the gold be to me without her? I, therefore, take the girl proposition."

Samson looked at his companion in surprise, as if he had not heard aright. Here was a phase of character beyond the bounds of his experience.

"An' ye don't want the gold?" he asked.

"Certainly I want the gold, who wouldn't? But you told me I had to choose it or the girl, didn't you?"

"I surely did, though I never imagined ye'd throw down the gold. Now, all the fellers I ever met up here would have taken the gold first."

"Feeling sure of getting the girl later; is that it?"

"That's about the gist of it. They'd tackle what's sartin first, but you're willin' to try the unsartin."

"I am, and when can we start?"

"In the morning if it's all the same to you. We'll need some extry grub, which we kin git from Shorty. We won't want much, as we'll find plenty of meat along the way. We'll hit out before the camp's astir, so nobody'll know what's become of us."

"How long will it take us to cross the Golden Crest?" Reynolds asked.

"That depends upon many things. We might do it in three or four days by the way we're goin', or, again, it might take six months, an' mebbe longer. In fact, we might never git thar at all."

"I planned to do it in a couple of days," Reynolds declared.

"I s'pose ye did. But things don't allus turn out as ye plan, 'specially if ye undertake to cross the Golden Crest. Ye see, things happen thar quick as lightnin' sometimes, an' if yer lucky enough to git off alive, the patchin'-up process might take a long time. See?"

"I see," Reynolds replied, as he took the sketch from the improvised easel, "I have a number of patches on my body already, so a few more won't make much difference."