The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Coloradoскачать книгу бесплатно
"It can't be," began Mrs. Maitland in great anguish for the girl she had grown to love.
"Ef she seed the storm an' realized what it was, an' had sense enough to climb up the ca?on wall," answered the other, "she won't be no worse off 'n we are; ef not – "
Mrs. Maitland had only to look down into the seething caldron to understand the possibility of that "if."
"Oh," she cried, "let us pray for her that she sought the hills."
"I've been a doin' it," said the old man gruffly.
He had a deep vein of piety in him, but like other rich ores it had to be mined for in the depths before it was apparent.
By slow degrees the water subsided, and after a long while the rain ceased, a heavy mist lay on the mountains and the night approached without any further appearance of the veiled sun. Toward evening Robert Maitland with the three men and the three children joined the wretched trio above the camp. Maitland, wild with excitement and apprehension, had pressed on ahead of the rest. It was a glad faced man indeed who ran the last few steps of the rough way and clasped his wife in his arms, but as he did so he noticed that one was missing.
"Where is Enid?" he cried, releasing his wife.
"She went down the ca?on early this mornin' intendin' to stay all day," slowly and reluctantly answered old Kirkby, "an' – "
He paused there, it wasn't necessary for him to say anything more.
Maitland walked to the edge of the trail and looked down into the valley. It had been swept clean of the camp. Rocks had been rolled over upon the meadow land, trunks of trees torn up by the roots had lodged against them, it was a scene of desolate and miserable confusion and disaster.
"Oh, Robert, don't you think she may be safe?" asked Mrs. Maitland.
"There's jest a chance, I think, that she may have suspicioned the storm an' got out of the ca?on," suggested the old frontiersman.
"A slim chance," answered Maitland gloomily. "I wouldn't have had this happen for anything on earth."
"Nor me; I'd a heap ruther it had got me than her," said Kirkby simply.
"I didn't see it coming," continued Maitland nodding as if Kirkby's statement were to be accepted as a matter of course, as indeed it was. "We were on the other slope of the mountain, until it was almost over head."
"Nuther did I. To tell the truth I was lyin' down nappin' w'en Pete, yere, who'd been down the ca?on rounding up some of the critters, came bustin' in on us."
"I ain't saved but four hosses," said Pete mournfully, "and there's only one burro on the hogback."
"We came back as fast as we could," said Maitland. "I pushed on ahead. George, Bradshaw and Phillips are bringing Bob and the girls. We must search the ca?on."
"It can't be done to-night, old man," said Kirkby.
"I tell you we can't wait, Jack!"
"We've got to. I'm as willin' to lay down my life for that young gal as anybody on earth, but in this yere mist an' as black a night as it's goin' to be, we couldn't go ten rod without killin' ourselves an' we couldn't see nothin' noways."
"But she may be in the ca?on."
"If she's in the ca?on 'twon't make no difference to her w'ether we finds her to-morrer or next day or next year, Bob."
Maitland groaned in anguish.
"I can't stay here inactive," he persisted stubbornly.
"It's a hard thing, but we got to wait till mornin'.
Ef she got out of the ca?on and climbed up on the hogback she'll be all right; she'll soon find out she can't make no progress in this mist and darkness. No, old friend, we're up agin it hard; we jest got to stay the night w'ere we are an' as long as we got to wait we might as well make ourselves as comfortable as possible. For the wimmen an' children anyway. I fetched up some ham and some canned goods and other eatin's in these yere canvas sacks, we might kindle a fire – "
"It's hardly possible," said Maitland, "we shall have to eat it cold."
"Oh, Robert," pleaded his wife, "isn't it possible that she may have escaped?"
"Possible, yes, but – "
"We won't give up hope, ma'am," said Kirkby, "until to-morrer w'en we've had a look at the ca?on."
By this time the others joined the party. Phillips and Bradshaw showed the stuff that was in them; they immediately volunteered to go down the ca?on at once, knowing little or nothing of its dangers and indifferent to what they did know, but as Kirkby had pointed out the attempt was clearly impossible. Maitland bitterly reproached himself for having allowed the girl to go alone, and in those self reproaches old Kirkby joined.
They were too wet and cold to sleep, there was no shelter and it was not until early in the morning they succeeded in kindling a fire. Meanwhile the men talked the situation over very carefully. They were two days' journey from the wagons. It was necessary that the woman and children should be taken back at once. Kirkby hadn't been able to save much more than enough to eat to get them back to a ranch or settlement, and on very short rations at best. It was finally decided that George and Pete with Mrs. Maitland, the two girls and the youngster should go back to the wagon, drive to the nearest settlement, leave the women and then return on horseback with all speed to meet Maitland and Kirkby who would meanwhile search the ca?on.
The two men from the east had to go back with the others although they pleaded gallantly to be allowed to remain with the two who were to take up the hunt for Enid. Maitland might have kept them with him, but that meant retaining a larger portion of the scanty supplies that had been saved, and he was compelled against his will to refuse their requests. Leaving barely enough to subsist Maitland and Kirkby for three or four days, or until the return of the relief party, the groups separated at daybreak.
"Oh, Robert," pleaded his wife, as he kissed her good-by, "take care of yourself, but find Enid."
"Yes," answered her husband, "I shall, never fear, but I must find the dear girl or discover what has become of her."
There was not time for further leave taking. A few hand clasps from man to man and then Robert Maitland standing in the midst of the group bowed his head in the sunny morning, for the sky again was clear, and poured out a brief prayer that God would prosper them, that they would find the child and that they would all be together again in health and happiness. And without another word, he and Kirkby plunged down the side of the ca?on, the others taking up their weary march homeward with sad hearts and in great dismay.
A TELEGRAM AND A CALLER
"You say," asked Maitland, as they surveyed the ca?on, "that she went down the stream?"
"She said she was goin' down. I showed her how to cut across the mountains an' avoid the big bend, I've got no reason to suspicion that she didn't go w'ere she said."
"Nevertheless," said Maitland, "it is barely possible that she may have changed her mind and gone up the ca?on."
"Yep, the female mind does often change unexpected like," returned the other, "but w'ether she went up or down, the only place for us to look, I take it, is down, for if she's alive, if she got out of the ca?on and is above us, nacherly she'd follow it down yere an' we'd a seed her by this time. If she didn't git out of the ca?on, why, all that's left of her is bound to be down stream."
Maitland nodded, he understood.
"We'd better go down then," continued Kirkby, whose reasoning was flawless except that it made no allowance for the human-divine interposition that had been Enid Maitland's salvation. "An' if we don't find no traces of her down stream, we kin come back here an' go up."
It was a hard desperate journey the two men took. One of them followed the stream at its level, the other tramped along in the mountains high above the high water mark of the day before. If they had needed any evidence of the power of that cloud burst and storm, they found it in the ca?on. In some places where it was narrow and rocky, the pass had been fearfully scoured; at other places the whole aspect of it was changed. The place was a welter of up-rooted trees, logs jammed together in fantastic shapes; it was as if some wanton besom of destruction had swept the narrow rift.
Ever as they went they called and called. The broken obstructions of the way made their progress slow; what they would have passed over ordinarily in half a day, they had not traversed by nightfall and they had seen nothing. They camped that night far down the ca?on and in the morning with hearts growing heavier every hour they resumed their search.
About noon of the second day they came to an immense log jam where the stream now broadened and made a sudden turn before it plunged over a fall of perhaps two hundred feet into the lake. It was the end of their quest. If they did not find her there, they would never find her anywhere, they thought. With still hearts and bated breath they climbed out over the log jam and scrutinized it. A brownish gray patch concealed beneath the great pines caught their eyes. They made their way to it.
"It's a b'ar, a big grizzly," exclaimed Kirkby.
The huge brute was battered out of all semblance of life, but that it was a grizzly bear was clearly evident. Further on the two men caught sight suddenly of a dash of blue. Kirkby stepped over to it, lifted it in his hand and silently extended it to Maitland. It was a sweater, a woman's sweater. They recognized it at once. The old man shook his head. Maitland groaned aloud.
"See yere," said Kirkby, pointing to the ragged and torn garment where evidences of discoloration still remained, "looks like there'd bin blood on it."
"Heavens!" cried Maitland, "not that bear, I'd rather anything than that."
"W'atever it is, she's gone," said the old man with solemn finality.
"Her body may be in these logs here – "
"Or in the lake," answered Kirkby gloomily; "but w'erever she is we can't git to her now."
"We must come back with dynamite to break up this jam and – "
"Yep," nodded the old man, "we'll do all that, of course, but now, arter we search this jam o' logs I guess there's nothin' to do but go back, an' the quicker we git back to the settlement, the quicker we can git back here. I think we kin strike acrost the mountains an' save a day an' a half. There's no need of us goin' back up the ca?on now, I take it."
"No," answered the other. "The quicker the better, as you say, and we can head off George and the others that way."
They searched the pile eagerly, prying under it, peering into it, upsetting it, so far as they could with their naked hands, but with little result, for they found nothing else. They had to camp another day and next morning they hurried straight over the mountains, reaching the settlement almost as soon as the others. Maitland with furious energy at once organized a relief party. They hurried back to the logs, tore the jam to pieces, searched it carefully and found nothing. To drag the lake was impossible; it was hundreds of feet deep and while they worked it froze. The weather had changed some days before, heavy snows had already fallen, they had to get out of the mountains without further delay or else be frozen up to die. Then and not till then did Maitland give up hope. He had refrained from wiring to Philadelphia, but when he reached a telegraph line some ten days after the cloud burst, he sent a long message east, breaking to his brother the awful tidings.
And in all that they did he and Kirkby, two of the shrewdest and most experienced of men, showed with singular exactitude how easy it is for the wisest and most capable of men to make mistakes, to leave the plain trail, to fail to deduce the truth from the facts presented. Yet it is difficult to point to a fault in their reasoning, or to find anything left undone in the search.
Enid had started down the ca?on, near the end of it they had discovered one of her garments which they could not conceive any reason for her taking off. It was near the battered body of one of the biggest grizzlies that either man had ever seen, it held evidence of blood stains upon it still, they had found no body, but they were as profoundly sure that the mangled remains of the poor girl lay within the depths of that mountain lake as if they had actually seen her there. The logic was all flawless.
It so happened that on that November morning, when the telegram was approaching him, Mr. Stephen Maitland had a caller. He came at an unusually early hour. Mr. Stephen Maitland, who was no longer an early riser, had indeed just finished his breakfast when the card of Mr. James Armstrong of Colorado was handed to him.
"This, I suppose," he thought testily, "is one of the results of Enid's wanderings into that God-forsaken land. Did you ask the man his business, James?" he said aloud to the footman.
"Yes, sir; he said he wanted to see you on important business, and when I made bold to ask him what business, he said it was none of mine, and for me to take the message to you, sir."
"Impudent," growled Mr. Maitland.
"Yes, sir; but he is the kind of a gentleman you don't talk back to, sir."
"Well, you go back and tell him that you have given me his card, and I should like to know what he wishes to see me about, that I am very busy this morning and unless it is a matter of importance – you understand?"
"I suppose now I shall have the whole west unloaded upon me; every vagabond friend of Robert's and people who meet Enid," he thought, but his reveries were shortly interrupted by the return of the man.
"If you please, sir," began James hesitatingly, as he re-entered the room, "he says his business is about the young lady, sir."
"Confound his impudence!" exclaimed Mr. Maitland, more and more annoyed at what he was pleased to characterize mentally as western assurance. "Where is he?"
"In the hall, sir."
"Show him into the library and say I shall be down in a moment."
"Very good, sir."
It was a decidedly wrathful individual who confronted Stephen Maitland a few moments afterwards in the library, for Armstrong was not accustomed to such cavalier treatment, and had Maitland been other than Enid's father he would have given more outward expression of his indignation over the discourtesy in his reception.
"Mr. James Armstrong, I believe," began Mr. Maitland, looking at the card in his hand.
"Er – from Colorado?"
"And proud of it."
"Ah, I dare say. I believe you wished to see me about – "
"Your daughter, sir."
"And in what way are you concerned about her, sir?"
"I wish to make her my wife."
"What!" exclaimed the older man in a voice equally divided between horror and astonishment. "How dare you, sir? You amaze, me beyond measure with your infernal impudence."
"Excuse me, Mr. Maitland," interposed Armstrong quickly and with great spirit and determination, "but where I come from we don't allow anybody to talk to us in this way. You are Enid's father and a much older man than I, but I can't permit you to – "
"Sir," said the astounded Maitland, drawing himself up at this bold flouting, "you may be a very worthy young man, I have no doubt of it, but it is out of the question. My daughter – "
Again a less excited hearer might have noticed the emphasis on the pronoun.
"Why, she is half way engaged to me now," interrupted the younger man with a certain contemptuous amusement in his voice. "Look here, Mr. Maitland, I've knocked around the world a good deal, I know what's what, I know all about you Eastern people, and I don't fancy you any more than you fancy me. Miss Enid is quite unspoiled yet and that is why I want her. I'm well able to take care of her too; I don't know what you've got or how you got it, but I can come near laying down dollar for dollar with you and mine's all clean money, mines, cattle, lumber, and it's all good money. I made it myself. I left her in the mountains three weeks ago with her promise that she would think very seriously of my suit. After I came back to Denver – I was called east – I made up my mind that I'd come here when I'd finished my business and have it out with you. Now you can treat me like a dog if you want to, but if you expect to keep peace in the family you'd better not, for I tell you plainly whether you give your consent or not I mean to win her. All I want is her consent, and I've pretty nearly got that."
Mr. Stephen Maitland was black with wrath at this clear, unequivocal, determined statement of the case from Armstrong's point of view.
"I would rather see her dead," he exclaimed with angry stubbornness, "than married to a man like you. How dare you force yourself into my house and insult me in this way? Were I not so old a man I would show you, I would give you a taste of your own manner."
The old man's white mustache fairly quivered with what he believed to be righteous indignation. He stepped over to the other and looked hard at him, his eyes blazing, his ruddy cheeks redder than ever. The two men confronted each other unblenchingly for a moment, then Mr. Maitland touched a bell button in the wall by his side. Instantly the footman made his appearance.
"James," said the old man, his voice shaking and his knees trembling with passion, which he did not quite succeed in controlling despite a desperate effort, "show this – er – gentleman the door. Good morning, sir, our first and last interview is over."
He bowed with ceremonious politeness as he spoke, becoming more and more composed as he felt himself mastering the situation. And Armstrong, to do him justice, knew a gentleman when he saw him, and secretly admired the older man and began to feel a touch of shame at his own rude way of putting things.
"Beg pardon, sir," said the footman, breaking the awkward silence, "but here is a telegram that has just come, sir."
There was nothing for Armstrong to do or say. Indeed, having expressed himself so unrestrainedly to his rapidly increasing regret, as the old man took the telegram he turned away in considerable discomfiture, James bowing before him at the door opening into the hall and following him as he slowly passed out. Mr. Stephen Maitland mechanically and with great deliberation and with no premonition of evil tidings, tore open the yellow envelope and glanced at the dispatch. Neither the visitor nor the footman had got out of sight or hearing when they heard the old man groan and fall back helplessly into a chair. Both men turned and ran back to the door, for there was that in the exclamation which gave rise to instant apprehension. Stephen Maitland now as white as death sat collapsed in the chair gasping for breath, his hand on his heart. The telegram lay open on the floor. Armstrong recognized the seriousness of the situation, and in three steps was by the other's side.
"What is it?" he asked eagerly, his hatred and resentment vanished at the sight of the old man's ghastly, stricken countenance.
"Enid!" gasped her father. "I said I would rather see her – dead, but – it is not true – I – "
James Armstrong was a man of prompt decision. Without a moment's hesitation he picked up the telegram; it was full and explicit, thus it read:
"We were encamped last week in the mountains. Enid went down the ca?on for a day's fishing alone. A sudden cloud burst filled the ca?on, washed away the camp. Enid undoubtedly got caught in the torrent and was drowned. We have found some of her clothing but not her body. Have searched every foot of the ca?on. Think body has got into the lake now frozen. Snow falling, mountains impassable, will search for her in the spring when the winter breaks. I am following this telegram in person by first train. Would rather have died a thousand deaths than had this happen. God help us."
Armstrong read it, stared at it a moment frowning heavily, passed it over to the footman and turned to the stricken father.
"Old man, I loved her," he said simply. "I love her still, I believe that she loves me. They haven't found her body, clothes mean nothing, I'll find her, I'll search the mountains until I do. Don't give way, something tells me that she's alive, and I'll find her."
"If you do," said the broken old man, crushed by the swift and awful response to his thoughtless exclamation, "and she loves you, you shall have her for your wife."
"It doesn't need that to make me find her," answered Armstrong grimly. "She is a woman, lost in the mountains in the winter, alone. They shouldn't have given up the search; I'll find her as there is a God above me whether she's for me or not."
A good deal of a man this James Armstrong of Colorado, in spite of many things in his past of which he thought so little that he lacked the grace to be ashamed of them. Stephen Maitland looked at him with a certain respect and a growing hope, as he stood there in the library stern, resolute, strong.
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