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- OF FROM SAND HILL TO PINE - 10/36 -


convent, endeared her the more to him. And when she said, "And now, Mr. Edward Brice, sit over at that end of the sofy and let's talk," they talked. They talked for an hour, more or less continuously, until they were surprised by a discreet cough and the entrance of Mrs. Tarbox. Then there was more talk, and the discovery that Mr. Brice was long due at the office.

"Ye might drop in, now and then, whenever ye feel like it, and Flo is at home," suggested Mrs. Tarbox at parting.

Mr. Brice DID drop in frequently during the next month. On one of these occasions Mr. Tarbox accompanied him to the door. "And now-- ez everything is settled and in order, Mr. Brice, and ef you should be wantin' to say anything about it to your bosses at the office, ye may mention MY name ez Flo Dimwood's second cousin, and say I'm a depositor in their bank. And," with greater deliberation, "ef anything at any time should be thrown up at ye for marryin' a niece o' Snapshot Harry's, ye might mention, keerless like, that Snapshot Harry, under the name o' Henry J. Dimwood, has held shares in their old bank for years!"

A TREASURE OF THE REDWOODS

PART I

Mr. Jack Fleming stopped suddenly before a lifeless and decaying redwood-tree with an expression of disgust and impatience. It was the very tree he had passed only an hour before, and he now knew he had been describing that mysterious and hopeless circle familiar enough to those lost in the woods.

There was no mistaking the tree, with its one broken branch which depended at an angle like the arm of a semaphore; nor did it relieve his mind to reflect that his mishap was partly due to his own foolish abstraction. He was returning to camp from a neighboring mining town, and while indulging in the usual day- dreams of a youthful prospector, had deviated from his path in attempting to make a short cut through the forest. He had lost the sun, his only guide, in the thickly interlaced boughs above him, which suffused though the long columnar vault only a vague, melancholy twilight. He had evidently penetrated some unknown seclusion, absolutely primeval and untrodden. The thick layers of decaying bark and the desiccated dust of ages deadened his footfall and invested the gloom with a profound silence.

As he stood for a moment or two, irresolute, his ear, by this time attuned to the stillness, caught the faint but distinct lap and trickle of water. He was hot and thirsty, and turned instinctively in that direction. A very few paces brought him to a fallen tree; at the foot of its upturned roots gurgled the spring whose upwelling stream had slowly but persistently loosened their hold on the soil, and worked their ruin. A pool of cool and clear water, formed by the disruption of the soil, overflowed, and after a few yards sank again in the sodden floor.

As he drank and bathed his head and hands in this sylvan basin, he noticed the white glitter of a quartz ledge in its depths, and was considerably surprised and relieved to find, hard by, an actual outcrop of that rock through the thick carpet of bark and dust. This betokened that he was near the edge of the forest or some rocky opening. He fancied that the light grew clearer beyond, and the presence of a few fronds of ferns confirmed him in the belief that he was approaching a different belt of vegetation. Presently he saw the vertical beams of the sun again piercing the opening in the distance. With this prospect of speedy deliverance from the forest at last secure, he did not hurry forward, but on the contrary coolly retraced his footsteps to the spring again. The fact was that the instincts and hopes of the prospector were strongly dominant in him, and having noticed the quartz ledge and the contiguous outcrop, he determined to examine them more closely. He had still time to find his way home, and it might not be so easy to penetrate the wilderness again. Unfortunately, he had neither pick, pan, nor shovel with him, but a very cursory displacement of the soil around the spring and at the outcrop with his hands showed him the usual red soil and decomposed quartz which constituted an "indication." Yet none knew better than himself how disappointing and illusive its results often were, and he regretted that he had not a pan to enable him to test the soil by washing it at the spring. If there were only a miner's cabin handy, he could easily borrow what he wanted. It was just the usual luck,--"the things a man sees when he hasn't his gun with him!"

He turned impatiently away again in the direction of the opening. When he reached it, he found himself on a rocky hillside sloping toward a small green valley. A light smoke curled above a clump of willows; it was from the chimney of a low dwelling, but a second glance told him that it was no miner's cabin. There was a larger clearing around the house, and some rude attempt at cultivation in a roughly fenced area. Nevertheless, he determined to try his luck in borrowing a pick and pan there; at the worst he could inquire his way to the main road again.

A hurried scramble down the hill brought him to the dwelling,--a rambling addition of sheds to the usual log cabin. But he was surprised to find that its exterior, and indeed the palings of the fence around it, were covered with the stretched and drying skins of animals. The pelts of bear, panther, wolf, and fox were intermingled with squirrel and wildcat skins, and the displayed wings of eagle, hawk, and kingfisher. There was no trail leading to or from the cabin; it seemed to have been lost in this opening of the encompassing woods and left alone and solitary.

The barking of a couple of tethered hounds at last brought a figure to the door of the nearest lean-to shed. It seemed to be that of a young girl, but it was clad in garments so ridiculously large and disproportionate that it was difficult to tell her precise age. A calico dress was pinned up at the skirt, and tightly girt at the waist by an apron--so long that one corner had to be tucked in at the apron string diagonally, to keep the wearer from treading on it. An enormous sunbonnet of yellow nankeen completely concealed her head and face, but allowed two knotted and twisted brown tails of hair to escape under its frilled cape behind. She was evidently engaged in some culinary work, and still held a large tin basin or pan she had been cleaning clasped to her breast.

Fleming's eye glanced at it covetously, ignoring the figure behind it. But he was diplomatic.

"I have lost my way in the woods. Can you tell me in what direction the main road lies?"

She pointed a small red hand apparently in the direction he had come. "Straight over thar--across the hill."

Fleming sighed. He had been making a circuit of the forest instead of going through it--and this open space containing the cabin was on a remote outskirt!

"How far is it to the road?" he asked.

"Jest a spell arter ye rise the hill, ef ye keep 'longside the woods. But it's a right smart chance beyond, ef ye go through it."

This was quite plain to him. In the local dialect a "spell" was under a mile; "a right smart chance" might be three or four miles farther. Luckily the spring and outcrop were near the outskirts; he would pass near them again on his way. He looked longingly at the pan which she still held in her hands. "Would you mind lending me that pan for a little while?" he said half laughingly.

"Wot for?" demanded the girl quickly. Yet her tone was one of childish curiosity rather than suspicion. Fleming would have liked to avoid the question and the consequent exposure of his discovery which a direct answer implied. But he saw it was too late now.

"I want to wash a little dirt," he said bluntly.

The girl turned her deep sunbonnet toward him. Somewhere in its depths he saw the flash of white teeth. "Go along with ye--ye're funnin'!" she said.

"I want to wash out some dirt in that pan--I'm prospecting for gold," he said; "don't you understand?"

"Are ye a miner?"

"Well, yes--a sort of one," he returned, with a laugh.

"Then ye'd better be scootin' out o' this mighty quick afore dad comes. He don't cotton to miners, and won't have 'em around. That's why he lives out here."

"Well, I don't live out here," responded the young man lightly. "I shouldn't be here if I hadn't lost my way, and in half an hour I'll be off again. So I'm not likely to bother him. But," he added, as the girl still hesitated, "I'll leave a deposit for the pan, if you like."

"Leave a which?"

"The money that the pan's worth," said Fleming impatiently.

The huge sunbonnet stiffly swung around like the wind-sail of a ship and stared at the horizon. "I don't want no money. Ye kin git," said the voice in its depths.

"Look here," he said desperately, "I only wanted to prove to you that I'll bring your pan back safe. Now look! If you don't like to take money, I'll leave this ring with you until I come back. There!" He slipped a small specimen ring, made out of his first gold findings, from his little finger.

The sunbonnet slowly swung around again and stared at the ring. Then the little red right hand reached forward, took the ring, placed it on the forefinger of the left hand, with all the other fingers widely extended for the sunbonnet to view, and all the while the pan was still held against her side by the other hand. Fleming noticed that the hands, though tawny and not over clean, were almost childlike in size, and that the forefinger was much too small for the ring. He tried to fathom the depths of the sun- bonnet, but it was dented on one side, and he could discern only a single pale blue eye and a thin black arch of eyebrow.

"Well," said Fleming, "is it a go?"

"Of course ye'll be comin' back for it again," said the girl slowly.


OF FROM SAND HILL TO PINE - 10/36

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