“My dear fellow, there is, of course, no way of thanking you sufficiently fo_our care of her; but I can only say I am mighty glad to know a man like you.”
It was Mr. Seldon who said so, and Dan Overton looked embarrassed an_eprecating under the praise he had to accept.
“It is all right for you to make a fuss over it, Seldon,” he returned; “bu_ou know, as well as you know dinner time, that you would have done no less i_ou had found a young girl anywhere without a home—and especially if you foun_er in an Indian camp.”
“Did she give you any information as to how she came to be there?”
Overton looked at him good-naturedly, but shook his head.
“I can’t give you any information about that,” he answered. “If you want t_now anything of her previous to meeting her here, she will have to tell you.”
“But she won’t. I can’t understand it; for I can see no need of mystery. _new her mother when she was a girl like ’Tana, and—”
“Yes, I did. So now, perhaps, you will understand why I take such an interes_n her—why Mr. Haydon takes an interest in her. Simply because she is hi_iece.”
“Oh, she is—is she? And he came here, found her dying, or next door to it, an_ever claimed her.”
“No; that is a little way of his,” acknowledged his partner. “If she ha_eally died, he never would have said a word about it, for it would hav_aused him a lot of troublesome explanation at home. But I guess he knew _ould be likely to come across her. She is the very image of what her mothe_as. He told me the whole story of how he found her here, and all. And now h_ants to do the proper thing and take her home with him.”
“The devil he does!” growled Overton. “Well, why do you come to me about it?”
“Your influence with her was one thing,” answered Mr. Seldon, with a dubiou_mile at the dark face before him. “This _protégée_ of yours has a will of he_wn, it seems, and refuses utterly to acknowledge her aristocratic relations, refuses to be a part of her uncle’s household; and we want your influenc_oward changing her mind.”
“Well, you’ll never get it,” and the tone was decided as the words. “If sh_ays she is no relation to anybody, I’ll back her up in it, and not ask he_er reasons, either. If she doesn’t want to go with Mr. Haydon, she is th_nly one I will allow to decide, unless he brings a legal order from som_ourt, and I might try to hinder him even then. She willingly came under m_uardianship, and when she leaves it, it must be willingly.”
“Oh, of course there will be no coercion about the matter,” explained Mr.
Seldon, hastily. “But don’t you, yourself, think it would be a decide_dvantage for her to live for a while with her own relatives?”
“I am in no position to judge. I don’t know her relatives. I don’t know why i_s that she has not been taken care of by them long ago; and I am not askin_ny questions. She knows, and that is enough; and I am sure her reasons fo_ot going would satisfy me.”
“Well, you are a fine specimen to come to for influence,” observed the other.
“She has a grudge against Haydon, that is the obstacle—a grudge, because h_uarreled with her mother long ago. I thought that as you have done so muc_or her, your word might have weight in showing her the folly of it.”
“My word would have no more weight than yours,” he answered, curtly. “All _ave done for her amounts to nothing; and I’ve an idea that if she wanted m_o know her family affairs, she would tell me.”
“Which, interpreted, means that I had better be at other business tha_ossiping,” said Mr. Seldon, with much good humor. “Well, you are a fine pair, and something alike, too—you goldfinders! She snubbed Max for trying t_ersuade her, and you snub me. As a last resort, I think I shall try to ge_hat old Indian into our lobbying here. He is her next great friend, I hear.”
“I haven’t seen him in camp to-day, for a wonder; but he is sure to be aroun_efore night.”
“But, you see, we are to go on up to the new works on the lake to-day, and b_ack day after to-morrow. I wish you, too, could go up to-morrow, for I woul_ike your judgment about some changes we expect to make. Could you leave her_or twenty-four hours?”
“I’ll try,” promised Overton. “But the new men from the Ferry will be up to- day or to-morrow, so I may not reach there until you are about ready to star_ack.”
“Come anyway, if you can, I don’t seem to get much chance to talk to you her_n camp—maybe I could on the river. You may be in a more reasonable mood about ’Tana by that time, and try to influence her to partake of civilization.”
“‘Civilization!’ Oh, yes, of course, you imagine it all lies east of th_ppalachian range,” remarked Overton, slightingly. “I expect that from a ma_f Haydon’s stamp, but not from you.”
Seldon only laughed.
“One would think you had been born and bred out here in the West,” h_emarked, “while you are really only an importation. But what is that racke_bout?”
For screeches were sounding from the cabin—cries, feminine and frightened.
Overton and Seldon started for it, as did several of the workmen, but thei_aste slackened as they saw ’Tana leaning against a doorway and laughing, while the squaw stood near her, chuckling a little as a substitute fo_erriment.
But there were two others within the cabin who were by no means merry—the tw_ousins, who were standing huddled together on the couch, uttering spasmodi_creeches at every movement made by a little gray snake on the floor.
It had crept in at a crevice, and did not know how to make its escape from th_oisy shelter it had found. Its fright was equal to that of the women, for i_ppeared decidedly restless, and each uneasy movement of it was a signal fo_resh screams.
“Oh, Mr. Overton! I beg of you, kill the horrible reptile!” moaned Mis_locum, who at that moment was as indifferent to the proprieties as Mrs.
Huzzard, and was displaying considerable white hosiery and black gaiter tops.
“Oh, lawsy! It is coming this way again. Ooh—ooh—h!” and Mrs. Huzzard did _ittle dance from one foot to the other, in a very ecstasy of fear. “Oh, Lavina, I’ll never forgive myself for advising you to come out to this Idah_ountry! Oh, Lord! won’t somebody kill it?”
“Why, there is no need to fear that little thing,” said Overton. “Really, i_s not a snake to bite—no more harm in it than in a mouse.”
“A _mouse_!” they both shrieked. “Oh, please take it away.”
Just then Akkomi came in through the other cabin, and, hearing the shrieks, simply stooped and picked up the little stranger in his hand, holding it tha_hey might see how harmless it was.
But, instead of pacifying them, as he had kindly intended, they only cowere_gainst the wall, too horrified even to scream, while they gazed at the ol_ndian, as at something just from the infernal regions.
“Lord, have mercy on our souls,” muttered Lavina, in a sepulchral tone, an_ith pallid, almost moveless, lips.
“Forever and ever, amen,” added Lorena Jane, clutching her drapery a littl_loser, and a little higher.
And not until Overton persuaded Akkomi to throw the frightened little thin_way did they consent to move from their pedestal. Even then it was with fea_nd trembling, and many an awful glance toward the placid old Indian, wh_moked his pipe and never glanced toward them.
“Never again will I sleep in that room—not if I die for it!” announced Mrs.
Huzzard, and Miss Slocum was of the same mind.
“But the cabin is as safe as a tent,” said ’Tana, persuasively, “and, really, it was not a dangerous snake.”
“Ooh—h! I beg that you will not mention it,” shivered Miss Slocum. “For m_art, I don’t expect to sleep anywhere after this terrible experience. Bu_’ll go wherever Lorena Jane goes, and do what I can to comfort and protec_er, while she rests.”
Akkomi sat on Harris’ doorstep, and smoked, while they argued on the danger_round them, and were satisfied only when Overton put a tent at thei_isposal. They proceeded to have hammocks swung in it on poles set for th_urpose, as they could feel safe on no bed resting on the ground.
“But, really, my conscience troubles me about leaving you here alone, ’Tana,” said Mrs. Huzzard, and Overton also looked at her as if interested in he_omfort.
“Well, your conscience had better give itself a rest, if that is all it has t_isturb it,” she answered. “I don’t care the least bit about staying alone—_ather like it; though, if I need any one, I’ll have Flap-Jacks stay.”
So Overton left them to their arrangements, and said nothing to ’Tana; but a_eldon and Haydon were about to embark, he spoke to the former.
“I may not be able to get up there after all, as I may feel it necessary to b_ere at night, so don’t wait for me.”
“All right, Overton; but we’d like to have you.”
After the others had left the cabin, Akkomi still remained, and the gir_atched him uneasily but did not speak. She talked to Harris, telling him o_he funny actions of the two frightened women, but all the time she talked an_ried to entertain the helpless man, it was with an evident effort, for th_ark old Indian’s face at the door was constantly drawing her attention.
When she finally entered her own room, he appeared at the entrance, and, afte_ careful glance, to see that no one was near, he entered and spoke:
“’Tana, it is now two suns since we talked. Will you go to-day in my boat fo_ little ways?”
“No,” she said, angrily. “Go home to your tepee, Akkomi, and tell the ma_here I am sorry he is not dead. I never will see him again. I go away fro_his place now—very soon—maybe this week. What becomes of him I do not care, and it will be long before I come back.”
He muttered some words of regret, and she turned to him more kindly.
“Yes, I know, Akkomi, you are my good friend. You think it is right to do wha_ou are doing now. Maybe it is; maybe I am wrong. But I will not be differen_n this matter—never—never!”
“If he should come here—”
“He would not dare. There are people here he had better fear. Give him th_ames of Seldon and of Haydon.”
“He knows; but it is the new miners he fears most; they come from all parts.
He wants money.”
“Let him work for it, like an honest man,” she said, curtly. “Don’t talk of i_gain. I will not go outside the camp alone, and I will not listen to any mor_ords about it. Now mind that!”
In the other cabin, Harris listened intently to each word uttered. His eye_airly blazed in his eagerness to hear ’Tana’s final decision. But when Akkom_louched past his door, and peered in, with his sharp, quick eyes, he ha_elapsed again into the apathetic state habitual to him. To all appearances h_ad not heard their words, and the old Indian walked thoughtfully past th_ents and out into the timber.
Lyster called some light greeting to him, but he barely looked up and made n_eply whatever. His thoughts were evidently on other things than cam_ociabilities.
It was dark when he returned, and his fit of thoughtfulness was yet upon him, for he spoke to no one. Overton, who had been talking to Harris, noticed hi_moking beside the door as he came out.
“You had better bring your camp down here,” he remarked, ironically. “Well, for to-night you will have to spread your blanket in this room if Harri_oesn’t object. That is what I am to do, for I’ve given up my quarters to th_adies, who are afraid of snakes.”
Akkomi nodded, and then Overton moved nearer the door again.
“Jim, I may not be back for an hour or so. I am going either on the water o_p on the mountain for a little while. Don’t lie awake for me, and I’ll send _ellow in to look after you.”
Harris nodded, and ’Tana, in her own room, heard Overton’s steps die away i_he night. He was going on the water or on the mountains—the places she love_o go, and dared not.
She felt like calling after him to wait to take her with him once more, an_id rise and go to the door, but no farther.
Lights were gleaming all along the little stream; laughter and men’s voice_ame to her across the level. Her own corner of the camp looked very dark an_hadowy in comparison. But she turned back to it with a sigh.
“You may go, Flap-Jacks,” she said to the squaw. “I don’t mind being alone, but first fix the bed of Harris.”
She noticed Akkomi outside the door, but did not speak to him. She heard th_iner enter the other cabin and assist Harris to his couch and then depart.
She wondered a little that the old Indian still sat there smoking, instead o_preading his blanket, as Overton had invited him to do.
A book of poems, presented to her by Lyster, was so engrossing, however, tha_he forgot the old fellow, until a movement at the door aroused her, and sh_urned to find the silent smoker inside her cabin.
But it was not Akkomi, though it was the cloak of Akkomi that fell from hi_houlders.
It was a man dressed as an Indian, but his speech was the speech of a whit_an, as he frowned on her white, startled face.
“So, my fine lady, I’ve found you at last, even if you have got too high an_ighty to come when I sent for you,” he said, growlingly. “But I’ll chang_our tune very quick for you.”
“Don’t forget that I can change yours,” she retorted. “A word from me, and yo_now there is not a man in this camp wouldn’t help land you where yo_elong—in a prison, or at the end of a rope.”
“Oh, no,” and he grimaced in a sardonic way. “I’m not a bit afraid of that—no_ bit in the world. You can’t afford it. These high-toned friends you’ve bee_aking might drop off a little if they heard your old record.”
“And who made it for me?” she demanded. “You! You’ve been a curse to every on_onnected with you. In that other room is a man who might be strong and wel_o-day but for you. And there is that girl buried over there by the pictur_ocks of Arrow Lake. Think of my mother, dragged to death through the slums of ’Frisco! And me—”
“And you with a gold mine, or the price of one,” he concluded—“plenty of mone_nd plenty of friends. That is about the facts of your case—friends, fro_illionaires down to that digger I saw you with the other night.”
“Don’t you dare say a word against him!” she exclaimed, threateningly.
“Oh, that’s the way the land lies, is it?” he asked, with an ugly leer at her.
“And that is why you were playing ’meet me by moonlight alone,’ that nigh_hen I saw you together at the spring. Well, I think your money might help yo_o some one besides a married man.”
“A married man?” she gasped. “Dan!”
“Dan, it is,” he answered, insolently. “But you needn’t faint away on tha_ccount. I have other use for you—I want some money.”
“You are telling that lie about him because you think it will trouble me,” sh_aid, regarding his painted face closely and giving no heed to his demand.
“You know it is not true.”
“About the marriage? I’ll swear—”
“I would not believe your oath for anything.”
“Oh, you wouldn’t? Well, now, what if I prove to you, right in this camp, tha_ know his wife?”
“His wife?” She sat down on the side of the couch, and all the cabin seeme_hirling around her.
“Well—a girl he married. You may call her what you please. She had been calle_ good many things before he picked her up. Humph! Now that he has struck i_ich, some one ought to let her know. She’d make the dollars fly.”
“It is not true! It is not _true_!” she murmured to herself, as if by th_ords she could drive away the possibility of it.
He appeared to enjoy the sensation he had created.
“It is true,” he answered—“every word of it, and he has been keeping quie_bout it, has he? Well, see here. You don’t believe me—do you? Now, while _as waiting there at the door, a man came in to put your paralyzed partner t_ed. The man was Jake Emmons—used to hang out at Spokane. He knew Lotti_nyder before this Overton did—and after Overton married her, too, I guess.
You ask him anything you want to know of it. He can tell you—if he will.”
She did not answer. She feared, as he talked, that it was true; and she longe_or him to go away, that she could think alone. The hot blood burned in he_heeks, as she remembered that night by the Twin Springs. The humiliation o_t, if it proved true!
“But, see here, ’Tana. I didn’t come here to talk about your virtuous ranger.
I want some money—enough to cut the country. It ain’t any more than fair, anyway, that you divide with me, for if it hadn’t been for that sneaking houn_n the other room, half of this find would have been mine a year ago.”
“It will do more good where it is,” she answered. “He did right not to trus_ou. And if he were able to walk, you would not be allowed to live man_inutes within reach of him.”
“Oh, yes; I know he was trailing me,” he answered, indifferently, “but it wa_o hard trick to keep out of his road. I suppose you let him know you approv_f his feelings toward me.”
“Yes, I would load a gun for him to use on you if he were able to hold it,” she answered, and he seemed to think her words amusing.
“You have mighty little regard for your duty to me,” he observed.
“Duty? I can’t owe you any duty when I never received any from you. I a_early seventeen, and in all the years I remember you, I can’t recall any goo_ct you have ever done for me.”
“Nearly seventeen,” and he smiled at her in the way she hated. “Didn’t you_ew uncle, Haydon, tell you better than that? You are nearly eighteen year_ld.”
“Eighteen!” and she rose in astonishment. “I?”
“You—though you don’t look it. You always were small for your age, so I jus_old you a white lie about it in order to manage you better. But that is over; I don’t care what you do in the future. All I want of you is money to get t_outh America; so fix it up for me.”
“I ought to refuse, and call them in to arrest you.”
“But you won’t,” he rejoined. “You can’t afford it.”
He watched her, though, with some uncertainty, as she sat silent, thinking.
“No, I can’t afford it,” she said, at last. “I will be doing wrong to hel_ou, just as if I let a poison snake loose where people travel—for that i_hat you are. But I am not strong enough to let these friends go and star_ver again; so I will help you away this once.”
He drew a breath of relief, and gathered up his blanket.
“That is the way to talk. You’ve got a level head—”
“That will do,” she said, curtly. “I don’t want praise from a coward, a thief, or a murderer. You are all three. I have no money here. You will have to com_gain for it to-morrow night.”
“A trick—is it?”
“It is no trick. I haven’t got it, that is all. Maybe I can’t get it in money, but I will get it in free gold by to-morrow at dusk. I will put it here unde_he pillow, and will manage to keep the rest away at that time. You can com_s you came this evening, and get it; but I will neither take it nor send i_o you. You will have to risk your freedom and your life to come for it. Bu_hile I can’t quite decide to give you up or to kill you, myself, I hope som_ne else will.”
“Hope what you please,” he returned, indifferently. “So long as you get th_ust for me, I can stand your opinion. And you will have it here?”
“I will have it here.”
“I trust you only because I know you can’t afford to go back on me,” he said, as he wrapped the blanket around him, and dropped his taller form to th_eight of Akkomi. “It is a bargain, then, my dear. Good-night.”
“I don’t wish you a good-night,” she answered. “I hope I shall never see yo_live again.”