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   Chapter 32 GRENFELL’S GIFT

The Gold Trail By Harold Bindloss Characters: 36491

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


It was snowing hard, and, though it was still two hours before sunset, the light was growing dim when Weston pulled the foremost pack-horse up on the edge of the gully. He and Devine had each a beast in his charge, and the freighter had started with two, but one of these had been left behind with a broken leg and a merciful bullet in its brain. That country is a difficult one, even to the Cayuse horses, which are used to its forest-choked valleys and perilous defiles.

In front of them a rugged peak rose above the high white ridge of Dead Pine. They could see the latter cutting against a lowering sky some twelve hundred feet above, though the peak showed only a ghostly shape through its wrappings of drifting mist. In altitude alone the ridge was difficult to reach, but, while that would not have troubled any of the men greatly, the ascent was made more arduous by the fact that the unmarked trail followed the slope of an awful gully. The latter fell almost sheer from close beside their feet, running down into the creeping obscurity out of which the hoarse thunder of a torrent rose. Here and there they could catch a glimpse of a ragged pine clinging far down among the stones, and that seemed only to emphasize the depth of the gloomy pit. On the other hand, the hillside rose like a slightly slanted wall, and the sharp stones of the talus lay thinly covered with snow between it and the gully.

The freighter glanced dubiously up the hollow.

"I've struck places that looked nicer; but we can't stop here and freeze," he said. "We'll either have to take the back trail and camp among that last clump of pines or get on a hustle and get up."

"I'm certainly not going back," said Weston. "We have come out to see in just what time we can make the journey to the railroad over the new trail. When we have done it, we'll try to spread the information to everybody likely to find it interesting."

"You're not going to worry about how many horses you leave behind, I suppose?"

"That," said Devine, with a little laugh, "is one of the facts they never do mention in a report of the kind. We've lost only one so far, and two bags of rather high-grade ore."

"If you've one altogether when you fetch the head of this gully you'll be blame lucky," said the freighter. "Give that beast a whack to start him. Get up there!"

They went on, with the snow in their faces, and the stones they could not see slipping beneath their feet; and the light grew dimmer as they proceeded. A bitter wind swept down the gully and drove their wet clothing against their chilled bodies, while the hillside, growing steeper, pushed them nearer the brink of the awful hollow. The slope of the latter, as far down as they could see, was apparently too steep to afford a foothold, and every now and then there was a roar and a rattle as the stones they dislodged plunged into the depths of it. Weston, plodding along behind the freighter, however, kept his eyes fixed for the most part on the face of the hill, for it seemed to him that the cost of changing that perilous passage into a reasonably safe trail would not be excessive.

When they had climbed for an hour, the snow grew thicker, and it became evident that the light was dying out rapidly. The freighter announced that he could scarcely see a dozen yards ahead, and Weston could discern no more than the blurred shape of the horse that floundered over the slippery stones a few paces in front of him. He could, however, hear Devine encouraging the one he led, and occasionally breaking out into hoarse expletives.

"It's gluey feet they want," said the latter, when they stopped for a minute or two. "You can't expect horses to crawl up a wall."

"They've managed about half of it," Weston declared. "We could make this quite an easy trail with a little grading. It's the only really difficult spot."

"Well," said Devine, dryly, "I guess you could. In this country they call any trail easy that you can crawl up on your hands and knees. Still, that little grading's going to cost you about two thousand dollars a mile."

They could scarcely see one another when they went on again, and the sound of their footsteps was muffled by the sliding snow. Weston could dimly make out something that moved on in front of him, but it had no certain shape, and he stumbled heavily every now and then as the stones rolled round beneath him. He gripped the pack-horse's bridle in a half-numbed hand, but, as he admitted afterward, he made no attempt to lead the beast. He said he rather clung to it for company, for the others vanished now and then for minutes amidst the whirling snow.

Suddenly there was a crash and a cry behind him. For a moment he stood half-dazed, with his hand on the bridle, while the jaded horse plunged. Then he let it go as the freighter appeared, and together they stumbled back to where Devine was clinging to the bridle of another horse which lay close at his feet amidst a wreath of snow. He staggered back just as they reached him; there was a frantic scrambling in the snow, and then the half-seen horse rolled over and slid away down the white slope of the gully.

They watched it, horrified, for a moment or two; and said nothing for a brief space when it vanished altogether into the obscurity. The sight was more unpleasant because they knew that they had seen only the commencement of that awful journey. Then Devine, who was white and gasping, made a deprecatory gesture.

"I don't know whether it was my fault," he said. "The beast stumbled and almost jerked me over. Then I guess the bridle either broke or pulled out."

"Two horses and four bags of ore, and we're not through yet," commented the freighter. "Guess it's going to cost you something if you pack much pay-dirt out over Dead Pine trail. Anyway, you'll have to get that grading done before I come back here again."

"Get on," said Weston, quietly.

They struggled on; and in another half-hour the gully died out and lost itself in the hillside, after which they made a rather faster pace over the thinning talus. Still, it was snowing hard, and none of them was capable of much further exertion when, soaked through and white all over, they limped into the lee of a ridge of rock on the crest of the divide. A bitter wind wailed above them, but there was a little shelter beneath the wall of ragged stone, and, picketing the jaded horses, they lay down in their wet blankets, packed close together in a hollow, when their frugal meal was over. There was nothing they might make a fire with on that empty wind-swept plateau.

Any one unused to the gold trail would have lain awake shivering that night, and in all probability would have found it very difficult to set out again the next morning, for a horrible ache in the hip is, as a rule, not the least unpleasant result of such experiences; but these men slept, and took up the trail almost fresh with the first of the daylight. It was by no means the first time they had slept out in the open in the frost or rain, and fed on wet, unwarmed food.

In due time they reached the settlement on the railroad; and, after delivering the remaining bags of ore to the station-agent and leaving the freighter with his horses, Weston went back along the trail with Devine. Descending the gully in clear daylight, they reached the Grenfell camp without misadventure.

It was some time later when the freighter, coming up by the other route, with provisions, brought them a letter. It was from the manager of the reducing plant, who stated that the yield of the ore sent him for treatment was eminently satisfactory, and he enclosed a certificate with particulars, as they had requested. Probably with a view to further business he also offered to purchase any of the Grenfell shares they might have to dispose of.

Saunders' eyes gleamed as he handed the certificate around.

"I guess that's going to send our stock up with a bang," he said. "We'll put it right into Wannop's hands, so he can get a notice of the new mineral field into the papers. The smelter man doesn't seem to know that the last news we had was that the Grenfell stock was tumbling down, but when he's open to buy it's a sure thing that he figures it will soon stand at a big premium."

Then he waved his hand impressively.

"After what Weston has told us, boys, you want to get hold of the significance of that. People have been selling our stock way down, on the notion that before they had to deliver they could cover at a still lower figure. Now, they can't buy it. We're going to smash them flat."

They celebrated the occasion that night with the most elaborate meal Devine could prepare, and invited as many as possible of their neighbors, who also had struck what promised to be payable milling ore. As it happened, their satisfaction was fully warranted, for a few days after Weston's letter arrived in Montreal two gentlemen connected with western mines called on Wannop. Stirling was sitting in the latter's office at the time, and he made no sign of retiring when they entered.

"We should like a few minutes' conversation with you about the Grenfell stock," said one of the strangers. "Naturally, we'd prefer to have it alone."

Wannop looked at Stirling, who smiled and answered the man.

"I'm afraid you'll have to put up with my presence," he said. "In fact, this is a pleasure that I've been expecting for the last few days."

"What standing has Mr. Stirling in this matter?" the stranger asked.

"I hold most of the Grenfell stock that's likely to be salable," said Stirling, dryly. "You can't pick up much on the market, which is presumably why you have come to Wannop. Seems to me you have been selling rather heavily."

"If we'd known you were in it, we might have let the thing alone," one of the men admitted.

"You're going to realize that it's quite a pity you didn't."

The men looked at each other, and one of them turned to Stirling.

"I'll get to the point," he said. "We have certainly been selling, and now that settling day is almost on us we find that we can't buy in. Now, of course, if you hold most of the available stock you have the whip hand of us. We'll admit that right away, and we're quite prepared to face any reasonable tax you and Wannop may think fit to exact. Still, it might be wiser to be reasonable."

"How much do you want?" Stirling asked.

They told him how many shares, and Stirling appeared to consider.

"Well," he said, "what are you going to offer?"

One wrote something on a strip of paper and handed it to the other, who nodded, and made an offer.

"That's our idea," he said. "I don't mind admitting that it will cost us twenty cents on the dollar."

"No," said Stirling, "it's going to cost you just whatever I like to call it. I can swing every dollar that stock stands for up to two or three. Will you do me the favor to glance at that certificate?"

Wannop handed it to the nearest man, and the latter's face fell.

"Now," said Stirling, "at the moment, you're the only people anxious to buy; but I've only to send that certificate and a nicely worked-up account of the rich new find around to the press, and everybody with a dollar to spare will be wanting Grenfell stock. Still, there'll be no shares available-I've made sure of that. I'll ask you, as men with some knowledge of these matters, where's the price going to?"

One of the men sat down limply.

"What'll you take to hold the thing over until after settling day?" he asked.

"In money?" inquired Stirling, whose face grew hard. "If you put it that way, we'll call it half your personal estate."

The second man, who saw that his companion had been injudicious, hastily broke in.

"No," he said; "in the shape of mutual accommodation. Perhaps there's some little arrangement you might like us to make."

Stirling laughed, "Anyway, why should you want to make an offer of that kind? Suppose I held the certificate over, it wouldn't straighten things out for you. You have to deliver to the people who acted on my behalf so much Grenfell stock, and you can't get it-now."

"That's true," was the dejected answer. "What are you going to do?"

"That," said Stirling, grimly, "is a matter that must stand over until I can send for the man who found the Grenfell mine. I can't tell you what course he's likely to adopt, but in the meantime I'd like to point out just how you stand. You set in motion the laws of supply and demand to break a struggling man. They're the only ones you recognize; but, as it happens, they're immutable laws that work both ways, and you're hard up against them now. It's not a pleasant situation, but I can't say how far we may be disposed to let you off it until I've had a talk with Mr. Weston. After that, I'll send for you."

There was nothing more to be said; and when the two men went out, Stirling turned to Wannop.

"If you can get a wire through to Mr. Weston, tell him to come back at once."

"I'll have it done," said Wannop. "He said he had sent an Indian to wait for letters or messages at the nearest railroad settlement. You have those men in your clutches. You could break them if you wanted to."

"Well," laughed Stirling, "on the whole I'm more disposed to make them hand over a moderate sum, and to let them off after that, on condition that in the future they keep their hands off the Grenfell Consolidated."

"You'd take their word?" Wannop asked.

"Yes," said Stirling, with an air of whimsical reflection; "in this case, anyway, I 'most think I could. They've had about enough of the Grenfell Consols. I guess they found them prickly."

Then he went out, and Wannop despatched a telegram to Weston, who left the mine immediately after it reached him. Somewhat to his astonishment, he, found Stirling awaiting him when he sprang down from the car platform in the station at Montreal, and the latter smiled benevolently as he grasped his hand.

"Ida would have come along if I'd let her," he explained. "I felt, however, I'd better make things clear to you before you saw her. We'll go straight to Wannop's office and have a little talk."

It did not take Wannop long to explain the situation; and when he judiciously left Weston and Stirling alone together, the latter smiled at his companion.

"Well," he said, "as the specimens we have just been handling seem quite as rich as the last lot, it's evident that your share in the Grenfell will keep you comfortable, and, as far as I'm concerned, there's no reason why you and Ida should not set up housekeeping as soon as you like. Now, it's my intention to hand her a block of the Grenfell stock as part of her wedding present, on condition that she takes your advice as to what she does with it. I'd just like to suggest that you make the people who want that stock subscribe quite smartly, and then let them off. It's not wise to push a beaten enemy too far."

Weston, who agreed with this, expressed his thanks and then asked a question.

"Wannop mentioned one lot of six hundred shares. Where did you get those?"

"They were thrown on the market by an English holder. I believe you gave some stock to friends over there?"

"I did. On condition that they didn't sell without consulting me."

"Then it seems that somebody must have gone back on you."

Weston's face grew a trifle flushed.

"I think," he said, "we'll let that subject drop altogether. It's a rather painful one."

Stirling made a sign of comprehension.

"Well," he said, "I've other business on hand, and I guess Ida is expecting you."

Weston took the hint; and not long afterward Ida was smiling up at him with shining eyes. They had a good deal to tell each other, and some time had passed when Ida said:

"We'll go back to the bush again as soon as the snow melts, if only for a week or two." Then she flashed a quick glance at him. "That is, unless you are longing for a trip to England."

A shadow crept into Weston's face as he remembered the six hundred shares, but he smiled a moment later.

"No," he said. "We'll go over there together by and by-but not just now. We'll camp beside the lake where I met you first, instead."

After a while Ida lifted his right hand gently, and glanced down at the battered knuckles and broken nails.

"I'm glad it's hard and strong-strong enough to keep me safe. And those scars will wear off, dear," she said. "There are scars of another kind that don't-but with those you and I have nothing to do."

Then she looked up at him.

"Do you know what first made me think of you?"

"I don't," replied Weston, smiling. "In fact, I have often wondered."

"Then," said Ida, "I'll show you. I mentioned the picture once before, but you didn't think it worth while to look at it. That was left to me. I looked at it very often while you were away."

She led him across the room, and Weston started and flushed when she took out the picture Arabella Kinnaird had made.

"No," said Ida, "I really don't think you have any reason to regret your conduct that eventful evening."

"I never fancied that you or Miss Kinnaird saw me," laughed Weston. "I'm afraid it was a remarkably foolish action."

"It was one of the little actions that have big results," said Ida. And in this she was correct, for one must reap as one has sown. Then she looked up at him.

"If you hadn't taken Grenfell's part that night you would not have found the mine."

Weston smiled, and gripped the hand he held in a tightening clasp.

"The mine!" he said. "Grenfell gave me you!"

THE END

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GROSSET & DUNLAP'S LIST

REALISTIC, ENGAGING PICTURES OF LIFE

THE GARDEN OF FATE. By Roy Norton. Illustrated by Joseph Clement Coll.

The colorful romance of an American girl in Morocco, and of a beautiful garden, whose beauty and traditions of strange subtle happenings were closed to the world by a Sultan's seal.

THE MAN HIGHER UP. By Henry Russell Miller. Full page vignette illustrations by M. Leone Bracker.

The story of a tenement waif who rose by his own ingenuity to the office of mayor of his native city. His experiences while "climbing," make a most interesting example of the possibilities of human nature to rise above circumstances.

THE KEY TO YESTERDAY. By Charles Neville Buck. Illustrated by R. Schabelitz.

Robert Saxon, a prominent artist, has an accident, while in Paris, which obliterates his memory, and the only clue he has to his former life is a rusty key. What door in Paris will it unlock? He must know that before he woos the girl he loves.

THE DANGER TRAIL. By James Oliver Curwood. Illustrated by Charles Livingston Bull.

The danger trail is over the snow-smothered North. A young Chicago engineer, who is building a road through the Hudson Bay region, is involved in mystery, and is led into ambush by a young woman.

THE GAY LORD WARING. By Houghton Townley. Illustrated by Will Grefe.

A story of the smart hunting set in England. A gay young lord wins in love against his selfish and cowardly brother and apparently against fate itself.

BY INHERITANCE. By Octave Thanet. Illustrated by Thomas Fogarty. Elaborate wrapper in colors.

A wealthy New England spinster with the most elaborate plans for the education of the negro goes to visit her nephew in Arkansas, where she learns the needs of the colored race first hand and begins to lose her theories.

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York

THE NOVELS OF

GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON

GRAUSTARK.

A story of love behind a throne, telling how a young American met a lovely girl and followed her to a new and strange country. A thrilling, dashing narrative.

BEVERLY OF GRAUSTARK.

Beverly is a bewitching American girl who has gone to that stirring little principality-Graustark-to visit her friend the princess, and there has a romantic affair of her own.

BREWSTER'S MILLIONS.

A young man is required to spend one million dollars in one year in order to inherit seven. How he does it forms the basis of a lively story.

CASTLE CRANEYCROW.

The story revolves round the abduction of a young American woman, her imprisonment in an old castle and the adventures created through her rescue.

COWARDICE COURT.

An amusing social feud in the Adirondacks in which an English girl is tempted into being a traitor by a romantic young American, forms the plot.

THE DAUGHTER OF ANDERSON CROW.

The story centers about the adopted daughter of the town marshal in a western village. Her parentage is shrouded in mystery, and the story concerns the secret that deviously works to the surface.

THE MAN FROM BRODNEY'S.

The hero meets a princess in a far-away island among fanatically hostile Musselmen. Romantic love making amid amusing situations and exciting adventures.

NEDRA.

A young couple elope from Chicago to go to London traveling as brother and sister. They are shipwrecked and a strange mix-up occurs on account of it.

THE SHERRODS.

The scene is the Middle West and centers around a man who leads a double life. A most enthralling novel.

TRUXTON KING.

A handsome good natured young fellow ranges on the earth looking for romantic adventures and is finally enmeshed in most complicated intrigues in Graustark.

Grosset & Dunlap, 526 West 26th St., New York

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