Harold Bindloss.

Delilah of the Snows



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"Do you suppose I would take advantage of your necessity by making a bargain of that kind?" he asked.

Tomlinson made a clumsy gesture. "You'd have to let your own claim go. A man can't hold two placer claims, and you're on the lead," he said. "I've got to have a partner, and I guess I'm not offering any more than the thing's worth to me."

"He's right in one respect," said Sewell. "There are, of course, men in the valley who would be glad to take the claim on a smaller share – but they're not here now, and Esmond and his troopers may turn up at any minute. Besides, the prospects of your finding gold on the claim you hold are tolerably good."

"I'll be gone in 'bout five minutes," said Tomlinson quietly. "If none of you will have the claim, it falls to the Crown."

That, at least, was evident, and Leger nodded when Ingleby glanced at him.

"A half-share is more than you are entitled to, but what you can do for Tomlinson is, as he pointed out, worth something, and you would have to let your own claim go," he said.

"Then I'll offer him a thousand dollars for a third share, on condition that he takes a four months' bill for them. I'll divide the risk and profit with you, Leger."

Leger smiled. "It seems to me Tomlinson is taking all the risk there is. If you don't find the money in the mine it's scarcely likely that you will meet the bill. Still, the notion's a good one. The thing has a more genuine look when it's based on value received."

The agreement was drawn up hastily on a scrap of uncleanly paper with Sewell's fountain pen, but he made it hard and fast, while Hetty flitted busily between the shed and the shanty. Then Sewell carefully wiped and put away his pen.

"Do you know where you're going, Tomlinson?" he asked.

"No," said the miner simply, "I hadn't quite thought of that."

"Then if you head south for the settlements you will certainly be overtaken. In fact, I'm not sure the corporal will not have sent a man along the trail already. You can't live in the ranges with nothing to eat, and that only leaves Westerhouse. They would never expect you to strike out for there, but if you will listen for two minutes I'll tell you the trail."

He was scarcely so long, for time was precious, but, though few men unused to the wilderness would have understood or remembered most of what he said, it was quite plain to Tomlinson, who nodded.

"Well," he said, "I'll light out when I've got the major to record the agreement."

They pointed out that this was not exactly necessary and entailed a risk, but Tomlinson was quietly resolute.

"I'm going away to save my claim, and I'll make quite sure," he said. "It's an old woman back in Oregon I want the money for. She hasn't another son – they're all gone but me. Well, I guess I'm ready. The troopers would pick up my trail if I took a horse along."

He was scarcely a minute stowing the provisions Hetty thrust upon him inside two blankets, which he rolled up and lashed with strips of deer-hide to pack upon his back; and he wasted no time in thanks; but when Sewell opened the door he walked gravely up to the girl, and laid both his big hands on the one she held out to him.

"I guess I'm not going to worry you any more.

It's scarcely likely I'll ever come back," he said.

Hetty's face flushed a little, and there was a slight tremor in her voice.

"It's all my fault," she said.

Tomlinson slowly shook his head. "You couldn't do anything that wasn't just right if you tried, and you'll think of me now and then," he said. "I'm going to remember you while I live."

He did not wait for her answer, but turned abruptly away, and Hetty stood still a moment with hot cheeks and misty eyes. Then she moved hastily forward, and touched Ingleby's arm as he went out of the door.

"There's one of the horses in the swamp. Couldn't you put the pack-saddle on him and make a trail down to the ford?" she said. "The troopers couldn't help seeing it. The ground's quite soft."

Ingleby laughed. "Of course! It's an inspiration, Hetty."

He was some little time catching the horse, and when he reached the commissioner's house Coulthurst was already sitting with a book in front of him. He looked up with a little dry smile when Ingleby came in.

"It is after my usual office hours, but I understand from Mr. Sewell that you are anxious I should register you to-night as one of the owners of the claim held by Tomlinson?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," said Ingleby. "There are one or two reasons that make it advisable."

He fancied there was a very faint twinkle which might have suggested comprehension in Coulthurst's eyes as the latter took up a pen.

"Then I think I can make an exception in your case, especially as Tomlinson seems equally anxious, and we will get the business done," he said.

There was silence for a minute or two, and they waited with an impatience that was the fiercer because it was suppressed while Coulthurst turned over the papers in front of him and took down a book. There was no sound but the splashing of the rain upon the roof and the snapping of the little stove, but Ingleby felt his nerves tingle as he listened. Coulthurst, however, closed the book at last and handed him a paper.

"That should meet your requirements, and it will be quite in order for you to carry on the work at the claim should Tomlinson be absent from any cause," he said, and stopping abruptly looked up as though listening. "I fancy you were wise in getting the agreement recorded – now. Delays, as you are aware, are apt to be especially dangerous in case of a placer claim."

He appeared to busy himself again with his book; but Tomlinson rose suddenly, and stood a moment, tense and strung up, with head turned towards the door, as a sound that suggested men and horses splashing in the mire reached them faintly through the rain. Then he stepped forward towards the veranda by which they had entered, but Ingleby seized his arm and pointed towards the other door at the back of the room. He and Sewell knew that one could reach the bush that way through the outbuilt kitchen.

Coulthurst, who could not see the door from where he sat, looked up from his book for just a moment, and did not appear to notice that Tomlinson was no longer in front of him.

"I presume there is nothing more I can do for you, and that is apparently Captain Esmond. I think he has some business with me," he said.

The hint that he would excuse them was plain enough, even if it went no further, and he drew another bundle of papers towards him. This, no doubt, accounted for the fact that he failed to notice that while Leger and Sewell moved towards the veranda, Ingleby slipped out through the other door. Sewell, however, gasped with relief when he saw it swing silently to. Just then there was a tramp of feet outside, and in another few moments Esmond sprang upon the veranda, splashed with mire and dripping with rain. Two wet troopers appeared behind him, carbines in hand. He stopped them with a little gesture of command, and then, striding past Sewell and Leger into the room, appeared to have some difficulty in restraining himself when he saw only the major there.

"You will excuse me for coming in unceremoniously, sir, but I had reasons for believing Tomlinson was here," he said.

"He was here," said Coulthurst. "In fact, I don't quite understand how it was you didn't meet him going away."

"I certainly did not," and Esmond flashed a keen glance at him. "If I had done so, I should naturally not have troubled you about him."

Coulthurst appeared reflective.

"He was here. In fact, I have just done some business for him," he said, and stopped; for one of the troopers cried out, and all could hear a thud of hoofs and the smashing of undergrowth. Coulthurst glanced suggestively at Esmond.

"That sounds very much like somebody riding through the bush," he said.

Esmond certainly wasted no time now in ceremony. He was on the veranda in another moment and shouting to the trooper, who led up a horse. They vanished amidst a rustle of trampled fern, and Sewell laughed as he and Leger turned back towards the shanty.

"One could fancy Major Coulthurst belonged to the aristocracy some of our friends are pleased to consider played out; but there are at least signs of intelligence in him," he said. "He is, by the way, I am somewhat proud to claim, a friend of mine, though that is, of course, no compliment to him."

"Well," replied Leger drily, "it is seldom wise to generalize too freely, which is a mistake we make now and then. After all, it may be a little hard on the major to blame him for being a gentleman. He probably couldn't help it, you see."

He had spoken lightly to hide his anxiety; but now he stopped a moment and stood listening intently. A faint sound of splashing and scrambling came up out of the hollow through the rain.

"It's not a trail most men would care to ride down in daylight, but they seem to be facing it," he said. "If they caught Ingleby it would complicate the thing."

"It's scarcely likely," said Sewell. "He got away two or three minutes before they did."

"The difficulty is that Ingleby can't ride as you and the troopers can."

Sewell touched his shoulder.

"Listen," he said, and Leger heard the roar of the river throb across the dripping pines. "When they get near the ford the troopers are scarcely likely to hear anything else through that, and they would naturally not expect the man they're after to double back for the ca?on. If they push on as they seem to be doing, they should be a good way down the trail by morning."

They both laughed at this, and were sitting in the shanty half an hour later when Ingleby limped in, smiling and very miry, with his jean jacket badly split.

"Tomlinson got away?" he asked.

"Presumably," said Leger. "We were almost afraid you hadn't. We haven't seen him. Where are Captain Esmond and his troopers?"

Ingleby laughed. "They were riding very recklessly over an infamous trail with my horse in front of them when I last saw them. I was just then behind a tree. The beast I couldn't stop simplified the thing by flinging me off. I hadn't any stirrups, perhaps fortunately."

"They'd catch the horse eventually," said Sewell.

"Of course! That is, if they could keep in the saddle long enough, which is far from certain, considering the state of the trail. Then they would naturally fancy that Tomlinson had taken to the range. In fact, I shouldn't wonder if they spent most of to-morrow looking for his trail. Still, there is a question I should like to ask. Why did you worry Tomlinson about that plant?"

Sewell took a little packet from his pocket and opened it. There were one or two pulpy leaves inside it.

"Those grew on the plant in question, which Tomlinson had never heard of. The Indians use them for stopping blood," he said. "I took them from the body of Trooper Probyn."

There was silence for a little while, and during it the sound of the river came up to them in deep pulsations through the roar of the rain. Then Leger laughed.

"I'm afraid Captain Esmond and his troopers will be very wet," he said. "He is a capable officer, but such simple-minded persons as Hetty and Ingleby are now and then a match for the wise."

"Haven't you left somebody out?" asked Ingleby.

"Major Coulthurst," said Leger, "is, of course, the Gold Commissioner, and could not be expected to have any sympathy with such a man as Tomlinson. It would, in fact, be unpardonable to suggest that he could be an accessory. Still, it is, perhaps, not quite out of the question that people outside the class to which Hetty and Ingleby and I belong should possess a few amiable qualities."

"You and Ingleby and Hetty?" said Sewell reflectively.

Leger looked at him with a little smile.

"Yes," he said, "you heard me quite correctly. It's not worth discussing, but I scarcely think one could place you in quite the same category."

XXI
A DOUBTFUL EXCHANGE

It was the Monday morning after the flight of Tomlinson when Ingleby stood beside a pile of debris on the claim which was no longer his. The rain had stopped, and there was a wonderful freshness in the mountain air. Overhead the mists were streaming athwart the forest, pierced by arrows of golden light, and the fragrance of redwood and cedar filled the hollow. It is a scent that brings sound rest to the jaded body when night closes down and braces it as an elixir in the coolness of the dawn. Ingleby drank it in with vague appreciation. There was hope in it and vigour, and as he stood with the torn blue shirt falling apart from his bronzed neck, looking out on the forest with steady eyes, there was something in his attitude which suggested the silent, hasteless strength of the wilderness.

The impulsiveness which had afflicted him in England had gone, and steadfastness had grown in its place. The crude, half-formed thoughts and theories which had worked like yeast in him had ceased their ebullition, purging themselves, perhaps, by the froth of speech, and had left him with a vague optimism too deep for articulate expression. Faith he had always had, and now the half-comprehending hope that looks beyond all formulas had also come. So much, at least, the wilderness had done for him. He laughed as he turned towards Sewell and Leger, who sat on the pile of thrown-up gravel behind him.

"I've been standing here almost five minutes, doing nothing – I don't know why," he said. "One does not, as a rule, get rich that way in this country."

Leger grinned at him. "You have just finished a remarkably good breakfast, for one thing," he said. "Still, haven't you made an admission? You always knew why you did everything in England."

Ingleby smiled good-humouredly. "Well," he said, "I'm seldom quite so sure now. Perhaps, it's because I'm older – or it may be the fault of the country. Floods and frosts, slides of gravel, and blue-grit boulders are apt to upset the results one feels reasonably certain of here. That recalls the fact that I broke out a quantity of promising-looking dirt the last time I went down this shaft, and didn't try the colour."

"You have sunk several shafts now, and you're evidently improving," said Sewell. "The original one wasn't sunk or driven. It was scratched out, anyhow."

"Three or four, and I've made some two hundred dollars out of the lot of them. In fact, I've been spending my labour profitlessly ever since I came into the country. That is, at least, so far as one can see."

Sewell smiled. "There's a good deal in the reservation. The whole country's full of just such holes from Caribou to Kootenay. A few men took gold out of them. The rest put something in."

"Buried hopes," said Leger with a grin.

"Probably," answered Sewell. "Now and then buried men. Still, the ranches and the orchards came up after them. It was presumably good for somebody, although a little rough on the prospectors in question."

Leger appeared reflective. "I wonder if any one could grow plums and apples on Captain Esmond. In the language of the country it's about the only use it could have for him. Well, I've smoked my pipe out. Are we going to stay here and maunder any longer, Ingleby?"

"I'm going down the mine; though, as it doesn't belong to me now, I don't know why. Still, it's close on bottom, and I'd like to try the colour of the dirt I broke out on Saturday."

He went down the notched pole, and filled the bucket Sewell lowered after him, and, when the latter hove it up, they proceeded to the creek, and the others sat down while Ingleby washed out its contents. Neither of them showed any particular interest in what he was doing. They had been some time in the gold-bearing region now, and had discovered that it is generally wise to expect very little. Then Ingleby scrambled up the bank with a curious look in his face, and gravely held out the pan.

"Placer mining is a tolerably uncertain thing, but here's a result I never anticipated two or three days ago," he said. "Look at this!"

They bent over the pan, and their faces grew intent at the sight of the little grains of metal in its bottom. Then Leger looked up with a gasp.

"You've struck it again," he said. "Apparently as rich as ever!"

Ingleby stood still a moment, gazing straight in front of him with vacant eyes, and one hand closed a trifle at his side.

"Yes," he said harshly. "The second time, and once more it's of no use to me. When I recorded as part-owner of Tomlinson's claim, this one fell in to the Crown. You're on the lead, Tom, and you'll strike it, too; but you can get your stakes in, Sewell. Sunday's an off day, or the major would have had his notice out by now."

It was a relief to do anything just then, and he cut and drove in two of the location pegs the law required. Then when the last was driven he turned to Sewell with grim quietness.

"Well," he said, "why don't you get away and make your record? There's no reason you should throw away a fortune, too."

Sewell smiled a little. "For one thing, Major Coulthurst would certainly not be up when I reached his office. For another, before I record the claim there's something to be said. The law, you see, cannot be expected to cover every contingency, and, if you look at it from one point of view, the claim is still yours. I'll buy the goodwill of you, if you'll take my bill."

Ingleby shook his head impatiently. "I can't sell you what isn't mine," he answered. "Anybody who thinks it worth while can record that claim. It belongs to the Crown. I have my share in Tomlinson's mine, and, in one respect, I'm not sorry to see this one come into your possession. You, at least, would not consider the gold you took out belonged to yourself."

Sewell looked at him with an expression in his face which somewhat puzzled Leger.

"No?" he said. "It's not wise to be too sure of anything, Ingleby."

"I believe you told us you had struck gold once before. What did you do with it? When we met you in Vancouver you hadn't the appearance of a man who has a balance at his bank."

A suggestion of darker colour crept into Sewell's face. "You can't carry on a campaign of any kind without funds. The one I embarked upon not long before you came across me was too big for us. It broke the exchequer, and landed me in jail."

"Precisely!" said Ingleby. "And what title have I to the money you would hold in trust? That is the difference between us. I'm not a leader – I'm glad of it just now – and what gold I find I want for myself."

Once more Sewell's expression furnished Leger with food for reflection, though Ingleby did not appear to notice it. It is now and then a trifle embarrassing to have one's good deeds proclaimed to one's face, and Leger was aware that all Sewell gained was usually expended on the extension of his propaganda; but that did not seem to account for everything, and he fancied the man had winced at his comrade's speech, as though it had hurt him. Then Sewell made a curious little gesture.

"It is," he said, "seldom worth while to decide what other people will do. They don't know themselves very frequently. Well, since nobody ever persuaded you, I'll get on and record the claim."

He left them, and neither Ingleby nor Leger broke the silence as they pushed on up the valley, near the farther end of which Tomlinson's claim lay. Leger knew that, because his claim adjoined the one his comrade had allowed to fall to the Crown, he, too, would in all probability find gold, and, since now it would all be his, that fact alone was sufficient to occupy him. Still, he was getting accustomed to the dramatic unexpectedness of the results of placer mining; and he was also sensible of a certain sympathy for Ingleby, who held no more than a third-share in Tomlinson's mine. Then he recalled Sewell's face and wondered again.

The man had certainly appeared embarrassed, and that had its significance in connection with what Ingleby had said. Sewell was certainly entitled to use what gold he dug toilfully from the earth as seemed best to him, and there was no reason why he should devote it to the liberation or enlightenment of those he might regard oppressed unless he wished. That he had done so hitherto was, it seemed to Leger, plain; but he fancied it was to be different now. This led to the question, what did Sewell, who lived with Spartan simplicity, want the gold for – and to that there was no answer until he changed the what to whom. Then a reason suggested itself, for Sewell of late had played chess with Major Coulthurst frequently, more often, indeed, Leger fancied, than Ingleby knew.

It was a relief to both of them when they reached Tomlinson's mine, which was by no means imposing at first sight, consisting, as it did, of a little gap in the forest strewn with blackened branches and charred fir stumps, a shanty, a pile of shattered rock and gravel, and a black hole with a very rude windlass straddling it. It did not count at all that it was engirdled by towering trees whose sombre spires, lifted one beyond the other in climbing ranks, led the wondering vision upwards ever across the face of a tremendous crag, where they clung dotted against the grey rock in the fissures, to the ethereal gleam of never-melting snow. It was sufficient that the clink of the shovel and clatter of flung-up gravel came out of the scented shadow, in token that Tomlinson's claim was on the lead, the bed which had been worn out and left ages ago by the Green River, or some other, which had washed away the matrix rock.



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