Shadow mountain, p.1
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She reached out smiling wistfully and touched him withher hand.]
AUTHOR OF THE DESERT TRAIL, ETC.
GEORGE W. GAGE
GROSSET & DUNLAP
PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1919, BY
W. J. WATT & COMPANY
Chapter Page I. The Last of Ten Thousand 1 II. The Shotgun Widow 10 III. The Shadow 22 IV. The Ghost Man 30 V. A Load of Buckshot 38 VI. All Crazy 48 VII. Between Friends 58 VIII. The Tip 68 IX. A Peace Talk 78 X. The Best Head in Town 89 XI. A Touch 98 XII. The Expert 106 XIII. A Sack of Cats 118 XIV. The Explosion 127 XV. The God of Ten Per Cent 135 XVI. A Showdown With the Widow 143 XVII. Peace--and the Price 151 XVIII. On Christmas Day 160 XIX. The Enigma 170 XX. An Appeal To Charley 179 XXI. The Dragon's Teeth 187 XXII. Virginia Explains--Nothing 196 XXIII. On Demand 204 XXIV. Double Trouble 214 XXV. Virginia Repents 223 XXVI. The Call 231 XXVII. The Thunder Clap 239 XXVIII. The Way Out 248 XXIX. Across Death Valley 259 XXX. An Evening With Socrates 269 XXXI. The Broken Trust 279 XXXII. A Huff 290 XXXIII. The Fiery Furnace 299 XXXIV. A Clean-up 305
THE LAST OF TEN THOUSAND
Under the rim of Shadow Mountain, embraced like a pearl of great priceby the curve of Bonanza Point and the mined-out slope of Gold Hill, thedeserted city of Keno lay brooding and silent in the sun. A dry, gustywind, swooping down through the northern pass, slammed the great ironfire-doors that hung creaking from the stone bank building, caught up acloud of sand and dirt and, whirling it down past empty stores and assayoffices, deposited it in the doorways of gambling houses and dancehalls, long since abandoned to the rats. An old man, pottering aboutamong the ruins, gathered up some broken boards and hobbled off; andonce more Keno, the greatest gold camp the West has ever seen, sank backto silence and dreams.
A round of shots wakened the echoes of Shadow Mountain; a lonely minercame down the trail from Gold Hill, where in the old days the Paymasterhad turned out its million a month; and then, far out across the floorof the desert on the road that led in from the railroad, there appearedan arrow-point of dust. It grew to a racing streak of white, the distantpurring of the motor gave way to a deep-voiced thunder and as thepowerful car glided swiftly up the street the doors of old houses openedunexpectedly and the last of ten thousand looked out.
There were old men and cripples, left stranded by the exodus; andprospectors who had moved into the vacant houses along with the otherdesert rats; but out on the gallery of the old Huff mansion--where thecreepers still clung to the lattice--there was a flutter of white and agirl came out with a kitten in her arms. In the days of gold--when tenthousand men, the choice spirits of two hemispheres, had tramped downthis same deserted street--the house of Colonel Huff, the discoverer ofthe Paymaster, had been the social center of Keno. And so it was still,for the Widow Huff remained; but across the front of the hospitablegallery where the Colonel had entertained the town, a cheap cloth signannounced meals fifty cents and Virginia, his daughter, was the waiter.She stood by the sign, still high-headed and patrician, and when thedriver of the car saw her he came to a sudden stop. He was long andgaunt, with deep lines around his mouth from bucking the wind and dustand after a moment's hesitation he threw on his brake and leapt out.
"Did you want something?" she asked and, glancing warily about, henodded and came up the steps.
"Yes," he said, still eying her doubtfully, "what's the chance forsomething to eat?"
"Why, good," she answered with a suspicion of a smile. "Or--well, comein; I'll speak to mother."
She showed him into the spacious dining room, where the Colonel hadonce presided in state, and hurried into the kitchen. The young mangazed after her, looked swiftly about the room and backed away towardsthe door; then his strong jaw closed down, he smiled grimly to himselfand sat down unbidden at a table. The table was mahogany and, in acase against the wall, there was a scant display of cut glass; but thelinen was worn thin and the expensive velvet carpet had been ruined byhob-nailed boots. Heavy workingmen's dishes lay on the tables, theplating was worn from the knives, and the last echoing ghost ofvanished gentility was dispelled by a voice from the kitchen. It wasthe Widow Huff, once the first lady of Keno, but now a boarding-housecook.
"What--a dinner now? At half-past three? And with this wind fairlydriving me crazy? Well, I can't _hire_ anybody to keep such hoursfor _me_ and----"
There was a murmur of low-voiced protest as Virginia pleaded his causeand then, as the Widow burst out anew, the young man pushed back hischair. His blue eyes, half hidden beneath bulging brows, turned asteely, fighting gray, his wind-blown hair fairly bristled; and as helistened to the last of the Widow's remarks his lower lip was thrust upscornfully.
"You danged old heifer," he muttered and then the kitchen door flewopen. The baleful look which he had intended for the Widow was surprisedon his face by Virginia and after a startled moment she closed the doorbehind her.
"Why--Wiley Holman!" she cried accusingly and a challenge leapt into hiseyes.
"Well?" he demanded and gazed at her sullenly as she scanned him fromhead to foot.
"I knew it," she burst out. "I'd know that stubborn look anywhere! Youdouble up your lip like your father. Honest John!" she addedsarcastically and brushed some crumbs from the table.
"Yes--Honest John!" he retorted. "And you don't need to say it likethat, either. He's my father--I know him--and I'll tell you right now henever cheated a man in his life."
"Well, he did!" she flared back, her eyes dark with anger, "and I'llbet--I'll bet if my father was here he'd--he'd prove it to your face!"
She ended in a sob and as he saw the tears starting the son of HonestJohn relented.
"Aw, Virginia," he pleaded, "what's the use of always fighting? He'sgone now, so let's be friends. I was just going by when I saw you on thegallery, and I thought--well, let's you and I be friends."
"What? After old Honest John robbed Papa of the Paymaster, and thenhounded him to his death on the desert?"
"He did nothing of the kind--he never robbed anybody! And as forhounding your father to his death, the Old Man never even knew about it.He was down on the ranch, and when they told him the news----"
"Yes, that's you," she railed, stifling back her sobs, "you can alwaysprove an alibi. But you'd better drift, Mr. Holman; because if motherknows you're here----"
"Well, what?" he demanded, truculently.
"She'll fill you full of buckshot."
"Pah!" he scoffed and snapped his fingers in the air, after which helapsed into silence.
"Well, she will," she asserted, after waiting for him to speak, butWiley only grunted.
"Wait till I get that dinner," he said at last and slumped down into achair. He muttered to himself, gazing dubiously towards the kitchen, andturned
"Where'd you get this?" he asked, holding up a piece of white rock, andshe sighed and brushed away her tears.
"Over on the dump," she answered wearily. "That's all Paymaster ore.Don't you think you'd better go?"
"Never ran away yet," he answered briefly and balanced the rock in hishand. "Pretty heavy," he observed, "I'll bet it would assay. Have yougot very much on the dump?"
"What--_that_?" she cried, snatching the specimen away from him andbursting into a nervous laugh. "That assay? Well, you are agreenie--it's nothing but barren white quartz!"
"Oh, it is, eh?" he rejoined and gazed at her hectoringly. "You seem toknow a whole lot about mineral."
"Yes, I do," she boasted. "Death Valley Charley teaches me. I've learnedhow to pan, and everything. But that rock there--that's the barrenquartz that the Paymaster ran into when the values went out of the ore.Old Charley knows all about it."
"Yes, they all do," he observed and as his lip went up her eyes dilatedsuddenly in a panic.
"Oh, you went to that school--I forgot all about it--where they studyabout the mines! Are you in the mining business now?"
"Why, yes," he acknowledged, "but that doesn't make much difference. Ifind I can learn something from most everybody."
"Well, of course, then," she stammered, "I shouldn't have said that; butthe whole Paymaster dump is covered with that heavy quartz, andeverybody knows it's barren. Are you just looking around or----"
She hesitated politely and as he reached for another specimen shenoticed a ring on his finger. It was of massive gold and, set inclutching claws, there were three stupendous diamonds. Not imitationstones nor small, off-colored diamonds, but brilliants of the very firstwater, clear as dew, yet holding in their hearts the faintest suggestionof blue.
"Oh!" she gasped, and as he did not seem to notice, she drew her skirtsaway with a flourish. "I'm surprised," she mocked, "that you condescendto speak to us--of course you own your own mines!"
"Nope," he replied, shrugging his shoulders at her sarcasm, "I'm nothingbut a prospector, yet. And you don't need to be so surprised."
"No!" she retorted, giving way to swift resentment. "I guess Idon't--when you consider how you got your money. Here's Mother outcooking for you, and I'm the waiter; and you're traveling around inracing cars with thousand-dollar rings on your hands. But if oldHonest John hadn't sold all his stock while he was advising my fatherto hold on----"
"He did not!"
"Yes, he did! He did, too! And now, after Father has been lost in DeathValley, and we have come down to this, your father writes over andoffers to buy our stock for just the same as nothing. That's _my_ring you're wearing, and the money that paid for it----"
"Oh, all right then," he sneered, stripping off the ring and handing itabruptly over to her, "if it's your ring, take it! But don't you say myfather----"
"Well, he did," she declared, "and you can keep your old ring! It won'tbring back my father--now!"
"No, it won't," he agreed, "but while we're about it I just want to tellyou something. My father went broke, buying back Paymaster stock fromfriends he'd advised to go in--and he's got the stock to prove it--andwhen he heard that the Colonel was dead he decided to buy in yourmother's. He mortgaged his cows to raise the money for her and then thatold terror--I don't care if she is your mother--she slapped him in theface by refusing it. Well, he didn't like to say anything, but you cantell her from me she don't have to cook unless she wants to! She cansell--or buy--a hundred thousand shares of Paymaster any day she saysthe word; and if that isn't honest I don't know what is! I ask you, now;isn't that fair?"
"What, at ten cents a share? When it used to sell for forty dollars!He's just trying to get control of the mine. And as for offering to buyor sell, that's perfectly ludicrous, because he knows we haven't anymoney!"
"Well, what _do_ you want?" he demanded irritably, and then he thrustup his lip. "I know," he said, "you want your own way! All right, I'llnever trouble you again. You can keep right on guarding thathole-in-the-ground until you dry up and blow away across the desert.And as for that old she-devil----"
He paused at a sudden slam from the kitchen, and Virginia's eyes grewbig; but as he rose to face the Widow Huff he slipped the white rockinto his pocket.
Shadow Mountain by Dane Coolidge / Western have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on15 votes