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."