Harold Bindloss.

Delilah of the Snows



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They climbed the hillside together, Ingleby carrying the little bag; but he scarcely saw the glow of the fire that still burned outside the shanty or the clustering pines. His heart no longer throbbed as it had done, and while a curious lassitude came upon him, alluring visions floated before him. Then as they stopped in front of the shanty a shadowy figure slipped out of it, and, for the firelight fell upon them, Hetty felt her fingers quiver as she glanced at Ingleby's face.

"Oh!" she said with a little gasp, "you have found the gold!"

Ingleby gravely held out the bag. "That is the first of it – and it's yours," he said. "If it hadn't been for you we should never have held the mine. One third of it all belongs to you."

Hetty took the gold with a little smile.

"I am very glad you found it – and remembered me," she said.

Then she turned away somewhat abruptly, and went back into the shanty.

"Hetty scarcely seems as delighted as one would have expected," said Ingleby.

Leger, whose face had grown a trifle grave, laughed in a fashion which suggested that it cost him an effort. "One so seldom gets a windfall of this kind that it's a trifle difficult to know how to express one's satisfaction. The only thing that occurs to me is to smash all the cooking utensils, but, considering the distance from the settlement, that would scarcely be convenient."

Ingleby, who flung himself down beside the fire, made no answer, but vacantly drank the coffee and ate the food that Hetty brought him. He was, in fact, almost oblivious of his surroundings, for again his fancy was busy with alluring visions, and now that the tension was over his perceptions were dulled by the weariness of his worn-out body. At last, however, he became sensible that Leger was no longer there and that Hetty was sitting alone on the opposite side of the sinking fire.

"Where's Tom?" he asked.

"I think he's asleep," said Hetty. "It's no wonder. Aren't you very tired, Walter?"

Ingleby laughed drowsily and stretched his aching limbs. "I really believe I am, though I scarcely felt it until this moment. What are you sitting up for, Hetty?"

"I don't quite know. Still, one doesn't come into a fortune every day. I suppose it is a fortune, Walter?"

Ingleby's face grew a trifle grave. "It at least looks like it, but nobody could tell just now. A placer mine often works out unexpectedly."

"Still, if it doesn't, what are you going to do?"

"Why don't you say – we?"

Hetty smiled curiously, and shook her head. "You will not want Tom and me now."

"If you fancy I would ever be willing to lose sight of either of you you are doing me a wrong. Haven't I been living on your bounty – on what you made by baking with your own little hands? Would we have found the gold if it hadn't been for you?"

Hetty flushed a little, but she persisted.

"I'm not sure the new friends you will make would approve of us," she said.

"Then," said Ingleby decisively, "they will not be friends of mine.

You don't seem to understand that you have a third share in the mine, and Tom holds another. The result of that will be that you will be able to live as you like and dress as prettily as anybody. Still, don't you think that old print gown – I suppose it is print – you put on to bake in is worth all a court-lady's finery?"

Hetty once more shook her head. "I should still be Hetty Leger – who waited at a boarding-house, and sold bread to the miners," she said. "If I pretended to be any one else people would only find me out and laugh, as well as look down on me. Nothing that I could put on or any one could teach me would make me quite the same as – Miss Coulthurst – you see."

Ingleby, who had not expected this, was not exactly pleased. He was very grateful to Hetty, and thought, which was how he expressed it, a good deal of her; but since she had raised the point, there was certainly a difference between her and Grace Coulthurst. It did not occur to him that the difference might, after all, be in Hetty's favour, and that there were qualities she possessed which are worth more than many accomplishments and a reposeful manner. In the meanwhile Hetty appeared to expect an answer, and he felt that she had placed him in a difficulty.

"What you have suggested applies as much to me," he said.

Hetty laughed. "I was wondering what you would say – and I suppose it does. Still, nobody seems to mind the little difference so much in a man when he has plenty of money. You are going to marry Miss Coulthurst if you get rich, Walter?"

"Yes," said Ingleby gravely, "if she will have me, which I am afraid is far from certain; but I must make myself more than a placer miner first. That is why, if Tom is willing, I shall probably start a contractor's business and build roads and bridges. They are always wanted in this Province, and I fancy making them wouldn't be so very difficult. Tom would stay in the office – he has the brains, you see – and I like the outside life in the bush. It is a useful profession that everybody looks up to here, and we could, of course, bring out a young English engineer."

He had sunk back a little upon the pile of branches where he lay, and Hetty noticed that his eyes were heavy; but he roused himself with an effort.

"We will go back to Vancouver when the mine works out. You shall choose the house – one of the pretty ones outside the town with the wooden pillars and painted scrollwork. We will get a China boy to cook for you – and you shall have a pair of ponies to drive in Stanley Park. Tom will keep the books and get the orders while I do the work. Roads and bridges, flumes and dams, are always wanted – and I must be more than a placer miner."

Then his head sank forward, and Hetty, who sat still for a minute, rose with a little wistful smile, and looked down at him. He lay with eyes quite closed now, and one arm stretched out, for the needs of the worn-out body had at last proved stronger than his will. His jacket had fallen open to the waist, and Hetty noticed how thin he was and the hollowness of his quiet face. Then she slipped softly into the tent where Leger lay asleep, and coming out with a coarse brown blanket, spread it over Ingleby, though as she did it the flickering light showed a rich damask in her cheek. Then laying fresh wood on the fire she stole away and left him to sleep. The great branches that met above him kept off the dew, and one could sleep as well there as in the tent.

The sun had cleared the redwoods when he opened his eyes again and saw Leger smiling down at him.

"It's a very long while since I got up so late, and I don't quite know how I came to be lying here," he said. "I suppose I fell asleep beside the fire, but in that case it's a little difficult to understand how I could have got the blanket and tucked myself in."

Then he stood up and stretched himself, while Leger glanced at him curiously.

"I don't think it matters very much. You looked half-dazed when I left you, and scarcely likely to remember what you did," he said. "Breakfast is almost ready, and we have a good deal on hand to-day."

Within the next half-hour they were at work again, and by afternoon had satisfied themselves of the richness of the claim. They also, in accordance with established custom, put up a little flag to show all whom it might concern that they had bottomed on gold. As it happened, nobody but a police trooper, who asked them a few questions, saw it, for the pines were thick and most of the placer workings situated farther up the valley. The trooper mentioned the matter to Esmond, and the latter forthwith called upon Major Coulthurst. His opportunity had come.

"I wonder if you know that your friend Ingleby has struck gold?" he said.

"I didn't," said Coulthurst, who did not appear to notice his sardonic tone. "I'm pleased to hear it."

Esmond's smile might have meant anything. "It would," he said, "have been wiser if Ingleby had stayed on his claim. You remember that he left it for a considerable time."

"I do," said Coulthurst, who glanced at him inquiringly, with a trace of dryness. "In different circumstances it might have cost him his title."

Esmond sat silent for a moment or two.

"So far as I understand the enactments, one only holds a placer claim on the condition that the work goes on continuously," he said.

"In the case you are referring to I believe it did. Ingleby left his partner in possession."

Esmond smiled. "It is, one understands, essential that everybody holding a mineral claim of any kind should have a free miner's certificate."

"Of course! Ingleby and Leger each took one out. I remember it very well."

"All certificates," said Esmond, "expire on the thirty-first of May."

"Ingleby renewed his," said Coulthurst, and stopped abruptly.

"Ingleby, as you remember, invalidated his title."

Coulthurst rose sharply and took down his register. He flicked over several pages and closed it with a little bang. Then as he turned to Esmond his face grew a trifle grim.

"I'm not quite sure how far my authority goes until I look it up," he said. "I have rather a liking for Ingleby."

Esmond smiled in a deprecatory fashion. "It is not exactly my business, but one would fancy that you couldn't very well discriminate, sir. Anything of the kind would have an undesirable effect upon the other men."

"That is my affair," and Coulthurst glanced at him sharply. "It is a little difficult to understand why you raised the question only when they had found the gold."

"I fancy that it is very natural, sir. It is no part of my duty to see the mining regulations are carried out, and it was not until I heard they had struck the lead that I remembered the little fact I noticed in looking over your register. It seemed advisable to let you know. The men seem inclined to find fault with everything just now, and if it came out that Ingleby's claim had not been sequestrated when it should have been they might get it into their heads that you had winked at the irregularity because you were on good terms with him. That would naturally increase my difficulties with them."

Coulthurst stood looking at him with a hardening face. "I am," he said, "very sorry that this has happened, but it will be gone into. May I trouble you to send one of your troopers over for Ingleby and Leger?"

XVI
AN INVALID RECORD

Supper had just been finished, and Ingleby was lying, pipe in hand, beside the creek waiting until Leger should bring another load of wash-dirt from the mine. The sunlight was still pleasantly warm, the air filled with the balsamic odours of the pines, and there was a little smile of unalloyed content in Ingleby's face as he drank them in. Though he had toiled since morning, those few minutes would be the only rest he would enjoy until long after darkness closed in, and once more he indulged in visions of a roseate future as he made the most of them.

They had washed up each bucket-load as they brought it to the surface, and the result had made the richness of the mine increasingly plain. Ingleby was getting accustomed to the fact that he was now, in all probability, at least, comparatively rich, and already his brain was occupied with half-formed projects. They did not include a further course of prospecting, for he had discovered that placer mines are addicted to playing out with disconcerting rapidity, and that in case of the deep lodes it is not as a rule the man who records the claim, but the capitalist or company-jobber, who takes the profit.

He would go back to civilization and embark on an industrial career, for there was, he fancied not altogether incorrectly, wealth awaiting the resolute and enterprising man with sufficient money who was willing to play his part in laying the foundations of the future prosperity of that rich land, and he had a young man's faith in his abilities which was in his case more or less warranted. Then when he had won a footing he would boldly ask Major Coulthurst for his daughter's hand. Social distinctions count for little in Western Canada, and, though the waiting would be hard, there was consolation in the thought that every bold venture would bring him so much nearer her. Ingleby was proud, and content to possess his soul in patience until he had shown that he could hold his own with his fellows and hew his own way to fortune.

It was, at least, a wholesome resolution, and there was behind it a vague participation in the belief held by primitive peoples and proclaimed in courts in the days of chivalry, that man before he mated should be required to make his manhood plain by deeds accomplished and pain endured. It was not fitting, he felt, that the woman should give everything or stoop too far. He must have something to offer, as well as the ability to lift himself to her level; and through all there ran the desire of the democratic Englishman for an opportunity to prove himself at least the equal of those accounted his betters.

Before Leger reached him with the bucket there was a rustling in the tall fern behind him, and Tomlinson came out upon the bank of the creek. He glanced at the little flag above the mine and the pile of debris at the water's edge, and then took up the pan Ingleby had laid down and dipped it in the stream. A whirl of it in his practised hand was enough for him.

"Yes," he said quietly, "I guess you've struck it rich!"

Ingleby laughed and handed him a little bag.

"I almost think we have. Feel that!" he said.

Tomlinson poised the bag in one hand, and then sat down with a little gesture of assent, for he was not by any means a demonstrative man.

"Well," he said, "it will make it easier for Hetty, and I'm glad of it. Slaving away at that bakery isn't the kind of thing for her. It's going to the opera at Vancouver with the best of them she ought to be doing. I guess that would suit most young women quite as well as baking bread; but it's a little rough on me that Hetty Leger would sooner stay right where she is."

"What do you mean?" asked Ingleby.

"Tom knows," said Tomlinson, ruefully. "I haven't put it quite straight to Hetty. Just now, anyway, it wouldn't be any good. She's quite happy holding on to that blame bakery, though what she wants to do it for is more than I can figure. It can't be the money, because I've a claim back yonder that's turning out a pile of it every day, and she could have all she'd any use for."

Ingleby found himself in a position of some perplexity. He could not well admit that there was any reason why an honest man of excellent character, such as Tomlinson appeared to be, should not marry Hetty, and yet the mere probability of this was distasteful to him. It was, in fact, unpleasant to contemplate the possibility of Hetty's marrying anybody. He remembered that she had by no means displayed the satisfaction one would have expected when they found the gold, and from this it appeared that Tomlinson's suggestion that she was quite content to continue the bakery was warranted. It was, however, difficult to discover any reason for this, and he was still considering the question when Leger came up. Tomlinson turned to him.

"You kept the thing kind of quiet. Told nobody yet?" he said.

"Only one of the policemen. We were too busy to spend a good deal of the day coming over to let the boys know, though Ingleby was thinking of going across to-night. You have a good claim already, and you can't hold more than one, you know."

Tomlinson nodded. "That's quite right," he said. "It's kind of unfortunate Sewell isn't here. You don't know where he is?"

"No," said Ingleby. "He has been away for two days looking for a deer. I suppose anybody pegging off a claim next to ours would strike gold?"

"It's quite likely. He'd get the colour, sure, but when the creek that washed the metal out was running it dropped the heavy stuff only here and there. Anyway, the chances would be good enough, I figure. What policeman was it you told?"

"Probyn."

Tomlinson's face hardened suddenly. "Oh, yes!" he said. "He's quite often hanging around here."

It occurred to Ingleby now that the trooper in question had certainly found occasion to visit their mine or the bakery somewhat frequently, but just then the lad in question appeared and came up to them. He disregarded Tomlinson, who showed no sign of recognizing him, and looked at Ingleby.

"Major Coulthurst would be glad if you and Leger could find it convenient to see him now," he said.

"What does he want?" asked Leger sharply.

"I don't know," said the trooper. "I'm telling you what he said."

There was a curious silence for a moment or two, and Ingleby felt a little thrill of apprehension run through him. Then Tomlinson rose with sudden abruptness.

"I guess you've got to go. I'm coming along," he said.

"The Recorder did not mention you. If he'd been anxious for your company he probably would have done so," said the trooper drily.

Tomlinson looked at him with a little glint in his eyes, and then laid his hand on Ingleby's shoulder.

"I've played this game quite a long while, and I guess I know the pointers 'most as well as anybody," he said.

Ingleby said nothing, but his face became suddenly intent, and, though the pace they made was fast, he grew feverishly impatient as they swung along the trail to the Gold Commissioner's office. Coulthurst was awaiting them when they reached it and glanced at Tomlinson inquiringly.

"You have some business with me?" he said.

Tomlinson sat down uninvited, with a smile. "Well," he said, "the fact is, I don't quite know yet. When you've trouble with the Crown folks in the cities you can take a lawyer along. At this game I'm 'most as good as one."

Coulthurst made his indifference apparent by a gesture. "I don't suppose it matters. Will you sit down, Mr. Leger? There's a seat yonder, Ingleby."

Ingleby sat down, and, with a sinking heart, watched him open a book. There was a difference in Coulthurst's manner. He was precise and formal and did not appear quite comfortable. One could almost have fancied that what he was about to do was distasteful to him.

"You left your claim on or about the twentieth of June, Ingleby," he said. "You did not return until – "

"Hold on!" said Tomlinson. "You've got to prove that. I guess there's no reason why you should admit anything, Walter."

Just then there were footsteps outside, and Ingleby looked up sharply as Esmond came in. He appeared a trifle disconcerted when he saw what was going on, and turned towards the door again.

"I didn't know you were busy, sir," he said.

"Sit down," and the major's tone was very dry. "I should prefer you to hear this affair with me. You remember on what day Mr. Ingleby left his claim?"

Tomlinson nodded. "That's the straight thing, Major," he said. "Keep him right there. I guess the insect's at the bottom of everything."

"We can dispense with your advice," said Coulthurst, chillingly, though there was a suggestion of a twinkle in his eyes.

In the meanwhile Ingleby looked at Esmond, and his face was a trifle pale, though a faint tinge of darker hue showed in the young officer's cheek. He was apparently not altogether free from embarrassment. It was Ingleby who spoke.

"I have no doubt Captain Esmond remembers exactly when I left the claim, sir, and there is nothing to be gained by disputing over a day or two," he said. "I was away a good deal longer than the seventy-two hours the law permits."

"Which invalidates your title!" said the major. "You failed to notify me or claim the privilege which under certain conditions I might have accorded you."

Ingleby, who had been anxious hitherto, but by no means dismayed, gasped.

"If I understand the regulations, it would be quite sufficient to leave another miner to carry on the work on my account. Besides, under the mineral-claim enactments which I think apply, the title would, in any case, revert to my partner."

Esmond, who appeared to have recovered his tranquillity, smiled a little, and there was a curious silence in the room as Coulthurst took down a book. Ingleby could feel his heart throbbing as he listened to the sharp rustle of the leaves while the major looked for the clause he wanted.

"You hold a free miner's certificate, Leger?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," said Leger, and then started visibly, while Ingleby, who saw his face, closed one hand a trifle as he leaned forward in his chair.

"You can produce it?" said the major.

Leger dejectedly passed the paper across to him, but Ingleby, who found the suspense becoming unendurable, turned to him.

"Tom," he said hoarsely, "you didn't neglect to renew it?"

Leger did not seem to remember that anybody else was there. He smiled wryly and made a little gesture.

"I'm afraid I did," he said. "I hadn't the money when the time came round. I didn't want you to know that – and I couldn't ask Hetty. We scarcely expected to find anything, you see. Afterwards, I suppose it slipped my memory."

Ingleby said nothing, though his face was very grim, and the little thud of Coulthurst's hand upon the book broke sharply through the silence.

"Should a free miner neglect to renew his certificate upon expiry all mineral-claims held by him under it revert to the Crown," he said.



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