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   Chapter 1 THE CAMPERS

The Highgrader By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 7641

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Inside the cabin a man was baking biscuits and singing joyously, "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary." Outside, another whistled softly to himself while he arranged his fishing tackle. From his book he had selected three flies and was attaching them to the leader. Nearest the rod he put a royal coachman, next to it a blue quill, and at the end a ginger quill.

The cook, having put his biscuits in the oven, filled the doorway. He was a big, strong-set man, with a face of leather. Rolled-up sleeves showed knotted brown arms white to the wrists with flour. His eyes were hard and steady, but from the corners of them innumerable little wrinkles fell away and crinkled at times to mirth.

"First call to dinner in the dining-car," he boomed out in a heavy bass.

Two men lounging under a cottonwood beside the river showed signs of life. One of them was scarcely more than a boy, perhaps twenty, a pleasant amiable youth with a weak chin and eyes that held no steel. His companion was nearer forty than thirty, a hard-faced citizen who chewed tobacco and said little.

"Where you going to fish to-night, Crumbs?" the cook asked of the man busy with the tackle.

"Think I'll try up the river, Colter-start in above the Narrows and work down, mebbe. Where you going?"

"Me for the Meadows. I'm after the big fellows. Going to hang the Indian sign on them with a silver doctor and a Jock Scott. The kid here got his three-pounder on a Jock Scott."

The man who had been called Crumbs put his rod against the side of the house and washed his hands in a tin pan resting on a stump. He was a slender young fellow with lean, muscular shoulders and the bloom of many desert suns on his cheeks and neck.

"Going to try a Jock Scott myself after it gets dark."

The boy who had come up from the river's bank grinned. "Now I've shown you lads how to do it you'll all be catching whales."

"Once is a happenstance, twice makes a habit. Do it again, Curly, and we'll hail you king of the river," Colter promised, bringing to the table around which they were seating themselves a frying pan full of trout done to a crisp brown. "Get the coffee, Mosby. There's beer in the icebox, kid."

They ate in their shirtsleeves, camp fashion, on an oil cloth scarred with the marks left by many hot dishes. They brought to dinner the appetites of outdoors men who had whipped for hours a turbid stream under an August sun. Their talk was strong and crisp, after the fashion of the mining West. It could not be printed without editing, yet in that atmosphere it was without offense. There is a time for all things, even for the elemental talk of frontiersmen on a holiday.

Dinner finished, the fishermen lolled on the grass and smoked.

A man cantered out of the patch of woods above and drew up at the cabin, disposing himself for leisurely gossip.

"Evening, gentlemen. Heard the latest?" He drew a match across his chaps and lit the cigarette he had rolled.

"We'll know after you've told us what it is," Colter suggested.

"The Gunnison country ce'tainly is being honored, boys. A party of effete Britishers are staying at the Lodge. Got in last night. I seen them when they got off the train-me lud and me lady, three young ladies that grade up A1, a Johnnie boy with an eyeglass, and another lad who looks like one man from the ground up. Also, and moreover, there's a cook, a hawss wrangler, a hired girl to button the ladies up the back, and a valley chap to say 'Yes, sir, coming, sir,' to the dude."

"You got it all down like a book, Steve," grinned Curly.

"Any names?" asked Colter.

"Names to burn," returned the native. "A whole herd of names, honest to God. Most any of 'em has five or six, the way the Denver Post tells it. Me, I can't keep mind of so many fancy brands. I'll give you th

e A B C of it. The old parties are Lord James and Lady Jim Farquhar, leastways I heard one of the young ladies call her Lady Jim. The dude has Verinder burnt on about eight trunks, s'elp me. Then there's a Miss Dwight and a Miss Joyce Seldon-and, oh, yes! a Captain Kilmeny, and an Honorable Miss Kilmeny, by ginger."

Colter flashed a quick look at Crumbs. A change had come over that young man's face. His blue eyes had grown hard and frosty.

"It's a plumb waste of money to take a newspaper when you're around, Steve," drawled Colter, in amiable derision. "Happen to notice the color of the ladies' eyes?"

The garrulous cowpuncher was on the spot once more. "Sure, I did, leastways one of them. I want to tell you lads that Miss Joyce Seldon is the prettiest skirt that ever hit this neck of the woods-and her eyes, say, they're like pansies, soft and deep and kinder velvety."

The fishermen shouted. Their mirth was hearty and uncontained.

"Go to it, Steve. Tell us some more," they demanded joyously.

Crumbs, generally the leader in all the camp fun, had not joined in the laughter. He had been drawing on his waders and buckling on his creel. Now he slipped the loop of the landing net over his head.

"We want a full bill of particulars, Steve. You go back and size up the eyes of the lady lord and the other female Britishers," ordered Curly gayly.

"Go yore own self, kid. I ain't roundin' up trouble for no babe just out of the cradle," retorted the grinning rider. "What's yore hurry, Crumbs?"

The young man addressed had started away but now turned. "No hurry, I reckon, but I'm going fishing."

Steve chuckled. "You're headed in a bee line for Old Man Trouble. The Johnnie boy up at the Lodge is plumb sore on this outfit. Seems that you lads raised ructions last night and broken his sweet slumbers. He's got the kick of a government mule coming. Why can't you wild Injuns behave proper?"

"We only gave Curly a chapping because he let the flapjacks burn," returned Crumbs with a smile. "You see, he's come of age most, Curly has. He'd ought to be responsible now, but he ain't. So we gave him what was coming to him."

"Well, you explain that to Mr. Verinder if he sees you. He's sure on his hind laigs about it."

"I expect he'll get over it in time," Crumbs said dryly. "Well, so-long, boys. Good fishing to-night."

"Same to you," they called after him.

"Some man, Crumbs," commented Steve.

"He'll stand the acid," agreed Colter briefly.

"What's his last name? I ain't heard you lads call him anything but Crumbs. I reckon that's a nickname."

Curly answered the question of the cowpuncher. "His name 's Kilmeny-Jack Kilmeny. His folks used to live across the water. Maybe this Honorable Miss Kilmeny and her brother are some kin of his."

"You don't say!"

"Course I don't know about that. His dad came over here when he was a wild young colt. Got into some trouble at home, the way I heard it. Bought a ranch out here and married. His family was high moguls in England-or, maybe, it was Ireland. Anyhow, they didn't like Mrs. Kilmeny from the Bar Double C ranch. Ain't that the way of it, Colter?"

The impassive gaze of the older man came back from the rushing river. "You know so much about it, Curly, I'll not butt in with any more misinformation," he answered with obvious sarcasm.

Curly flushed. "I'd ought to know. Jack's father and mine were friends, so's he and me."

"How come you to call him Crumbs?"

"That's a joke, Steve. Jack's no ordinary rip-roaring, hell-raisin' miner. He knows what's what. That's why we call him Crumbs-because he's fine bred. Pun, see. Fine bred-crumbs. Get it?"

"Sure I get it, kid. I ain't no Englishman. You don't need a two-by-four to pound a josh into my cocoanut," the rider remonstrated.

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