Infomotions, Inc.The Sky Pilot, a Tale of the Foothills / Connor, Ralph, Pseudonym, 1860-1937



Author: Connor, Ralph, Pseudonym, 1860-1937
Title: The Sky Pilot, a Tale of the Foothills
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): gwen; pilot; bill; duke; canyon; bruce; lady charlotte; swan creek; charlotte; old timer; bronco bill
Contributor(s): Bright, Mynors, 1818-1883 [Translator]
Versions: original; local mirror; HTML (this file); printable
Services: find in a library; evaluate using concordance
Rights: GNU General Public License
Size: 47,513 words (really short) Grade range: 7-9 (grade school) Readability score: 72 (easy)
Identifier: etext3248
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Title: The Sky Pilot

Author: Ralph Connor

Release Date: May 30, 2006 [EBook #3248]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE SKY PILOT ***




Produced by Donald Lainson; David Widger





THE SKY PILOT

A TALE OF THE FOOTHILLS


By Ralph Connor




PREFACE


The measure of a man's power to help his brother is the measure of the
love in the heart of him and of the faith he has that at last the good
will win. With this love that seeks not its own and this faith that
grips the heart of things, he goes out to meet many fortunes, but not
that of defeat.

This story is of the people of the Foothill Country; of those men of
adventurous spirit, who left homes of comfort, often of luxury, because
of the stirring in them to be and to do some worthy thing; and of those
others who, outcast from their kind, sought to find in these valleys,
remote and lonely, a spot where they could forget and be forgotten.

The waving skyline of the Foothills was the boundary of their lookout
upon life. Here they dwelt safe from the scanning of the world, freed
from all restraints of social law, denied the gentler influences of home
and the sweet uplift of a good woman's face. What wonder if, with the
new freedom beating in their hearts and ears, some rode fierce and hard
the wild trail to the cut-bank of destruction!

The story is, too, of how a man with vision beyond the waving skyline
came to them with firm purpose to play the brother's part, and by sheer
love of them and by faith in them, win them to believe that life is
priceless, and that it is good to be a man.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

I.     The Foothills Country

II.    The Company of the Noble Seven

III.   The Coming of the Pilot

IV.    The Pilot's Measure

V.     First Blood

VI.    His Second Wind

VII.   The Last of the Permit Sundays

VIII.  The Pilot's Grip

IX.    Gwen

X.     Gwen's First Prayers

XI.    Gwen's Challenge

XII.   Gwen's Canyon

XIII.  The Canyon Flowers

XIV.   Bill's Bluff

XV.    Bill's Partner

XVI.   Bill's Financing

XVII.  How the Pinto Sold

XVIII. The Lady Charlotte

XIX.   Through Gwen's Window

XX.    How Bill Favored "Home-Grown Industries"

XXI.   How Bill Hit the Trail

XXII.  How the Swan Creek Church was Opened

XXIII. The Pilot's Last Port




THE SKY PILOT



CHAPTER I

THE FOOTHILLS COUNTRY


Beyond the great prairies and in the shadow of the Rockies lie the
Foothills. For nine hundred miles the prairies spread themselves out in
vast level reaches, and then begin to climb over softly rounded mounds
that ever grow higher and sharper till, here and there, they break
into jagged points and at last rest upon the great bases of the mighty
mountains. These rounded hills that join the prairies to the mountains
form the Foothill Country. They extend for about a hundred miles only,
but no other hundred miles of the great West are so full of interest
and romance. The natural features of the country combine the beauties
of prairie and of mountain scenery. There are valleys so wide that the
farther side melts into the horizon, and uplands so vast as to suggest
the unbroken prairie. Nearer the mountains the valleys dip deep and ever
deeper till they narrow into canyons through which mountain torrents
pour their blue-gray waters from glaciers that lie glistening between
the white peaks far away. Here are the great ranges on which feed herds
of cattle and horses. Here are the homes of the ranchmen, in whose wild,
free, lonely existence there mingles much of the tragedy and comedy, the
humor and pathos, that go to make up the romance of life. Among them are
to be found the most enterprising, the most daring, of the peoples of
the old lands. The broken, the outcast, the disappointed, these too
have found their way to the ranches among the Foothills. A country it is
whose sunlit hills and shaded valleys reflect themselves in the lives
of its people; for nowhere are the contrasts of light and shade more
vividly seen than in the homes of the ranchmen of the Albertas.

The experiences of my life have confirmed in me the orthodox conviction
that Providence sends his rain upon the evil as upon the good; else I
should never have set my eyes upon the Foothill country, nor touched its
strangely fascinating life, nor come to know and love the most striking
man of all that group of striking men of the Foothill country--the dear
old Pilot, as we came to call him long afterwards. My first year in
college closed in gloom. My guardian was in despair. From this distance
of years I pity him. Then I considered him unnecessarily concerned about
me--"a fussy old hen," as one of the boys suggested. The invitation from
Jack Dale, a distant cousin, to spend a summer with him on his ranch in
South Alberta came in the nick of time. I was wild to go. My guardian
hesitated long; but no other solution of the problem of my disposal
offering, he finally agreed that I could not well get into more trouble
by going than by staying. Hence it was that, in the early summer of
one of the eighties, I found myself attached to a Hudson's Bay Company
freight train, making our way from a little railway town in Montana
towards the Canadian boundary. Our train consisted of six wagons
and fourteen yoke of oxen, with three cayuses, in charge of a French
half-breed and his son, a lad of about sixteen. We made slow enough
progress, but every hour of the long day, from the dim, gray, misty
light of dawn to the soft glow of shadowy evening, was full of new
delights to me. On the evening of the third day we reached the Line
Stopping Place, where Jack Dale met us. I remember well how my heart
beat with admiration of the easy grace with which he sailed down upon
us in the loose-jointed cowboy style, swinging his own bronco and the
little cayuse he was leading for me into the circle of the wagons,
careless of ropes and freight and other impedimenta. He flung himself
off before his bronco had come to a stop, and gave me a grip that made
me sure of my welcome. It was years since he had seen a man from home,
and the eager joy in his eyes told of long days and nights of lonely
yearning for the old days and the old faces. I came to understand this
better after my two years' stay among these hills that have a strange
power on some days to waken in a man longings that make his heart grow
sick. When supper was over we gathered about the little fire, while Jack
and the half-breed smoked and talked. I lay on my back looking up at the
pale, steady stars in the deep blue of the cloudless sky, and listened
in fullness of contented delight to the chat between Jack and the
driver. Now and then I asked a question, but not too often. It is
a listening silence that draws tales from a western man, not vexing
questions. This much I had learned already from my three days' travel.
So I lay and listened, and the tales of that night are mingled with the
warm evening lights and the pale stars and the thoughts of home that
Jack's coming seemed to bring.

Next morning before sun-up we had broken camp and were ready for our
fifty-mile ride. There was a slight drizzle of rain and, though rain and
shine were alike to him, Jack insisted that I should wear my mackintosh.
This garment was quite new and had a loose cape which rustled as I moved
toward my cayuse. He was an ugly-looking little animal, with more white
in his eye than I cared to see. Altogether, I did not draw toward him.
Nor did he to me, apparently. For as I took him by the bridle he snorted
and sidled about with great swiftness, and stood facing me with his feet
planted firmly in front of him as if prepared to reject overtures of
any kind soever. I tried to approach him with soothing words, but he
persistently backed away until we stood looking at each other at the
utmost distance of his outstretched neck and my outstretched arm. At
this point Jack came to my assistance, got the pony by the other side of
the bridle, and held him fast till I got into position to mount. Taking
a firm grip of the horn of the Mexican saddle, I threw my leg over his
back. The next instant I was flying over his head. My only emotion was
one of surprise, the thing was so unexpected. I had fancied myself a
fair rider, having had experience of farmers' colts of divers kinds, but
this was something quite new. The half-breed stood looking on, mildly
interested; Jack was smiling, but the boy was grinning with delight.

"I'll take the little beast," said Jack. But the grinning boy braced me
up and I replied as carelessly as my shaking voice would allow:

"Oh, I guess I'll manage him," and once more got into position. But no
sooner had I got into the saddle than the pony sprang straight up into
the air and lit with his back curved into a bow, his four legs gathered
together and so absolutely rigid that the shock made my teeth rattle.
It was my first experience of "bucking." Then the little brute went
seriously to work to get rid of the rustling, flapping thing on his
back. He would back steadily for some seconds, then, with two or three
forward plunges, he would stop as if shot and spring straight into the
upper air, lighting with back curved and legs rigid as iron. Then he
would walk on his hind legs for a few steps, then throw himself with
amazing rapidity to one side and again proceed to buck with vicious
diligence.

"Stick to him!" yelled Jack, through his shouts of laughter. "You'll
make him sick before long."

I remember thinking that unless his insides were somewhat more
delicately organized than his external appearance would lead one to
suppose the chances were that the little brute would be the last to
succumb to sickness. To make matters worse, a wilder jump than ordinary
threw my cape up over my head, so that I was in complete darkness. And
now he had me at his mercy, and he knew no pity. He kicked and plunged
and reared and bucked, now on his front legs, now on his hind legs,
often on his knees, while I, in the darkness, could only cling to
the horn of the saddle. At last, in one of the gleams of light that
penetrated the folds of my enveloping cape, I found that the horn had
slipped to his side, so the next time he came to his knees I threw
myself off. I am anxious to make this point clear, for, from the
expression of triumph on the face of the grinning boy, and his encomiums
of the pony, I gathered that he scored a win for the cayuse. Without
pause that little brute continued for some seconds to buck and plunge
even after my dismounting, as if he were some piece of mechanism that
must run down before it could stop.

By this time I was sick enough and badly shaken in my nerve, but the
triumphant shouts and laughter of the boy and the complacent smiles on
the faces of Jack and the half-breed stirred my wrath. I tore off the
cape and, having got the saddle put right, seized Jack's riding whip
and, disregarding his remonstrances, sprang on my steed once more, and
before he could make up his mind as to his line of action plied him so
vigorously with the rawhide that he set off over the prairie at full
gallop, and in a few minutes came round to the camp quite subdued, to
the boy's great disappointment and to my own great surprise. Jack
was highly pleased, and even the stolid face of the half-breed showed
satisfaction.

"Don't think I put this up on you," Jack said. "It was that cape. He
ain't used to such frills. But it was a circus," he added, going off
into a fit of laughter, "worth five dollars any day."

"You bet!" said the half-breed. "Dat's make pretty beeg fun, eh?"

It seemed to me that it depended somewhat upon the point of view, but I
merely agreed with him, only too glad to be so well out of the fight.

All day we followed the trail that wound along the shoulders of the
round-topped hills or down their long slopes into the wide, grassy
valleys. Here and there the valleys were cut through by coulees through
which ran swift, blue-gray rivers, clear and icy cold, while from the
hilltops we caught glimpses of little lakes covered with wild-fowl that
shrieked and squawked and splashed, careless of danger. Now and then we
saw what made a black spot against the green of the prairie, and Jack
told me it was a rancher's shack. How remote from the great world, and
how lonely it seemed!--this little black shack among these multitudinous
hills.

I shall never forget the summer evening when Jack and I rode into
Swan Creek. I say into--but the village was almost entirely one of
imagination, in that it consisted of the Stopping Place, a long log
building, a story and a half high, with stables behind, and the store in
which the post-office was kept and over which the owner dwelt. But the
situation was one of great beauty. On one side the prairie rambled down
from the hills and then stretched away in tawny levels into the misty
purple at the horizon; on the other it clambered over the round, sunny
tops to the dim blue of the mountains beyond.

In this world, where it is impossible to reach absolute values, we are
forced to hold things relatively, and in contrast with the long,
lonely miles of our ride during the day these two houses, with their
outbuildings, seemed a center of life. Some horses were tied to the rail
that ran along in front of the Stopping Place.

"Hello!" said Jack, "I guess the Noble Seven are in town."

"And who are they?" I asked.

"Oh," he replied, with a shrug, "they are the elite Of Swan Creek; and
by Jove," he added, "this must be a Permit Night."

"What does that mean?" I asked, as we rode up towards the tie rail.

"Well," said Jack, in a low tone, for some men were standing about the
door, "you see, this is a prohibition country, but when one of the boys
feels as if he were going to have a spell of sickness he gets a permit
to bring in a few gallons for medicinal purposes; and of course, the
other boys being similarly exposed, he invites them to assist him in
taking preventive measures. And," added Jack, with a solemn wink, "it is
remarkable, in a healthy country like this, how many epidemics come near
ketching us."

And with this mystifying explanation we joined the mysterious company of
the Noble Seven.



CHAPTER II

THE COMPANY OF THE NOBLE SEVEN


As we were dismounting, the cries, "Hello, Jack!" "How do, Dale?"
"Hello, old Smoke!" in the heartiest of tones, made me see that my
cousin was a favorite with the men grouped about the door. Jack simply
nodded in reply and then presented me in due form. "My tenderfoot cousin
from the effete," he said, with a flourish. I was surprised at the grace
of the bows made me by these roughly-dressed, wild-looking fellows. I
might have been in a London drawing-room. I was put at my ease at once
by the kindliness of their greeting, for, upon Jack's introduction,
I was admitted at once into their circle, which, to a tenderfoot, was
usually closed.

What a hardy-looking lot they were! Brown, spare, sinewy and hard as
nails, they appeared like soldiers back from a hard campaign. They moved
and spoke with an easy, careless air of almost lazy indifference,
but their eyes had a trick of looking straight out at you, cool and
fearless, and you felt they were fit and ready.

That night I was initiated into the Company of the Noble Seven--but of
the ceremony I regret to say I retain but an indistinct memory; for they
drank as they rode, hard and long, and it was only Jack's care that got
me safely home that night.

The Company of the Noble Seven was the dominant social force in the Swan
Creek country. Indeed, it was the only social force Swan Creek knew.
Originally consisting of seven young fellows of the best blood of
Britain, "banded together for purposes of mutual improvement and social
enjoyment," it had changed its character during the years, but not
its name. First, its membership was extended to include "approved
colonials," such as Jack Dale and "others of kindred spirit," under
which head, I suppose, the two cowboys from the Ashley Ranch, Hi Keadal
and "Bronco" Bill--no one knew and no one asked his other name--were
admitted. Then its purposes gradually limited themselves to those of a
social nature, chiefly in the line of poker-playing and whisky-drinking.
Well born and delicately bred in that atmosphere of culture mingled with
a sturdy common sense and a certain high chivalry which surrounds the
stately homes of Britain, these young lads, freed from the restraints
of custom and surrounding, soon shed all that was superficial in their
make-up and stood forth in the naked simplicity of their native manhood.
The West discovered and revealed the man in them, sometimes to their
honor, often to their shame. The Chief of the Company was the Hon. Fred
Ashley, of the Ashley Ranch, sometime of Ashley Court, England--a big,
good-natured man with a magnificent physique, a good income from home,
and a beautiful wife, the Lady Charlotte, daughter of a noble English
family. At the Ashley Ranch the traditions of Ashley Court were
preserved as far as possible. The Hon. Fred appeared at the wolf-hunts
in riding-breeches and top boots, with hunting crop and English saddle,
while in all the appointments of the house the customs of the English
home were observed. It was characteristic, however, of western life that
his two cowboys, Hi Kendal and Bronco Bill, felt themselves quite his
social equals, though in the presence of his beautiful, stately wife
they confessed that they "rather weakened." Ashley was a thoroughly good
fellow, well up to his work as a cattle-man, and too much of a gentleman
to feel, much less assert, any superiority of station. He had the
largest ranch in the country and was one of the few men making money.

Ashley's chief friend, or, at least, most frequent companion, was a man
whom they called "The Duke." No one knew his name, but every one said
he was "the son of a lord," and certainly from his style and bearing
he might be the son of almost anything that was high enough in rank. He
drew "a remittance," but, as that was paid through Ashley, no one knew
whence it came nor how much it was. He was a perfect picture of a man,
and in all western virtues was easily first. He could rope a steer,
bunch cattle, play poker or drink whisky to the admiration of his
friends and the confusion of his foes, of whom he had a few; while as to
"bronco busting," the virtue par excellence of western cattle-men, even
Bronco Bill was heard to acknowledge that "he wasn't in it with the
Dook, for it was his opinion that he could ride anythin' that had legs
in under it, even if it was a blanked centipede." And this, coming from
one who made a profession of "bronco busting," was unquestionably high
praise. The Duke lived alone, except when he deigned to pay a visit
to some lonely rancher who, for the marvellous charm of his talk, was
delighted to have him as guest, even at the expense of the loss of a few
games at poker. He made a friend of no one, though some men could tell
of times when he stood between them and their last dollar, exacting only
the promise that no mention should be made of his deed. He had an easy,
lazy manner and a slow cynical smile that rarely left his face, and the
only sign of deepening passion in him was a little broadening of his
smile. Old Latour, who kept the Stopping Place, told me how once The
Duke had broken into a gentle laugh. A French half-breed freighter on
his way north had entered into a game of poker with The Duke, with the
result that his six months' pay stood in a little heap at his enemy's
left hand. The enraged freighter accused his smiling opponent of being a
cheat, and was proceeding to demolish him with one mighty blow. But
The Duke, still smiling, and without moving from his chair, caught the
descending fist, slowly crushed the fingers open, and steadily drew the
Frenchman to his knees, gripping him so cruelly in the meantime that he
was forced to cry aloud in agony for mercy. Then it was that The Duke
broke into a light laugh and, touching the kneeling Frenchman on his
cheek with his finger-tips, said: "Look here, my man, you shouldn't
play the game till you know how to do it and with whom you play." Then,
handing him back the money, he added: "I want money, but not yours."
Then, as he sat looking at the unfortunate wretch dividing his attention
between his money and his bleeding fingers, he once more broke into a
gentle laugh that was not good to hear.

The Duke was by all odds the most striking figure in the Company of
the Noble Seven, and his word went farther than that of any other.
His shadow was Bruce, an Edinburgh University man, metaphysical,
argumentative, persistent, devoted to The Duke. Indeed, his chief
ambition was to attain to The Duke's high and lordly manner; but,
inasmuch as he was rather squat in figure and had an open, good-natured
face and a Scotch voice of the hard and rasping kind, his attempts at
imitation were not conspicuously successful. Every mail that reached
Swan Creek brought him a letter from home. At first, after I had got
to know him, he would give me now and then a letter to read, but as the
tone became more and more anxious he ceased to let me read them, and I
was glad enough of this. How he could read those letters and go the pace
of the Noble Seven I could not see. Poor Bruce! He had good impulses, a
generous heart, but the "Permit" nights and the hunts and the "roundups"
and the poker and all the wild excesses of the Company were more than he
could stand.

Then there were the two Hill brothers, the younger, Bertie, a
fair-haired, bright-faced youngster, none too able to look after
himself, but much inclined to follies of all degrees and sorts. But
he was warm-hearted and devoted to his big brother, Humphrey, called
"Hump," who had taken to ranching mainly with the idea of looking after
his younger brother. And no easy matter that was, for every one liked
the lad and in consequence helped him down.

In addition to these there were two others of the original seven, but by
force of circumstances they were prevented from any more than a nominal
connection with the Company. Blake, a typical wild Irishman, had joined
the police at the Fort, and Gifford had got married and, as Bill said,
"was roped tighter'n a steer."

The Noble Company, with the cowboys that helped on the range and two or
three farmers that lived nearer the Fort, composed the settlers of the
Swan Creek country. A strange medley of people of all ranks and nations,
but while among them there were the evil-hearted and evil-living, still,
for the Noble Company I will say that never have I fallen in with men
braver, truer, or of warmer heart. Vices they had, all too apparent and
deadly, but they were due rather to the circumstances of their lives
than to the native tendencies of their hearts. Throughout that summer
and the winter following I lived among them, camping on the range with
them and sleeping in their shacks, bunching cattle in summer and hunting
wolves in winter, nor did I, for I was no wiser than they, refuse my
part on "Permit" nights; but through all not a man of them ever failed
to be true to his standard of honor in the duties of comradeship and
brotherhood.



CHAPTER III

THE COMING OF THE PILOT


He was the first missionary ever seen in the country, and it was the Old
Timer who named him. The Old Timer's advent to the Foothill country
was prehistoric, and his influence was, in consequence, immense. No one
ventured to disagree with him, for to disagree with the Old Timer was to
write yourself down a tenderfoot, which no one, of course, cared to do.
It was a misfortune which only time could repair to be a new-comer, and
it was every new-comer's aim to assume with all possible speed the style
and customs of the aristocratic Old Timers, and to forget as soon as
possible the date of his own arrival. So it was as "The Sky Pilot,"
familiarly "The Pilot," that the missionary went for many a day in the
Swan Creek country.

I had become schoolmaster of Swan Creek. For in the spring a kind
Providence sent in the Muirs and the Bremans with housefuls of
children, to the ranchers' disgust, for they foresaw ploughed fields
and barbed-wire fences cramping their unlimited ranges. A school
became necessary. A little log building was erected and I was appointed
schoolmaster. It was as schoolmaster that I first came to touch The
Pilot, for the letter which the Hudson Bay freighters brought me early
one summer evening bore the inscription:


     The Schoolmaster,
               Public School,
                        Swan Creek,
                                 Alberta.


There was altogether a fine air about the letter; the writing was in
fine, small hand, the tone was fine, and there was something fine in the
signature--"Arthur Wellington Moore." He was glad to know that there was
a school and a teacher in Swan Creek, for a school meant children, in
whom his soul delighted; and in the teacher he would find a friend,
and without a friend he could not live. He took me into his confidence,
telling me that though he had volunteered for this far-away mission
field he was not much of a preacher and he was not at all sure that he
would succeed. But he meant to try, and he was charmed at the prospect
of having one sympathizer at least. Would I be kind enough to put up in
some conspicuous place the enclosed notice, filling in the blanks as I
thought best?


      "Divine service will be held at Swan creek
       in ---- ----- at ---- o'clock.
          All are cordially invited.
                    Arthur Wellington Moore."


On the whole I liked his letter. I liked its modest self-depreciation
and I liked its cool assumption of my sympathy and co-operation. But I
was perplexed. I remembered that Sunday was the day fixed for the great
baseball match, when those from "Home," as they fondly called the land
across the sea from which they had come, were to "wipe the earth" with
all comers. Besides, "Divine service" was an innovation in Swan Creek
and I felt sure that, like all innovations that suggested the approach
of the East, it would be by no means welcome.

However, immediately under the notice of the "Grand Baseball Match for
'The Pain Killer' a week from Sunday, at 2:30, Home vs. the World," I
pinned on the door of the Stopping Place the announcement:


"Divine service will be held at Swan Creek, in the Stopping Place
Parlor, a week from Sunday, immediately upon the conclusion of the
baseball match.

"Arthur Wellington Moore."


There was a strange incongruity in the two, and an unconscious challenge
as well.

All next day, which was Saturday, and, indeed, during the following
week, I stood guard over my notice, enjoying the excitement it produced
and the comments it called forth. It was the advance wave of the
great ocean of civilization which many of them had been glad to leave
behind--some could have wished forever.

To Robert Muir, one of the farmers newly arrived, the notice was a
harbinger of good. It stood for progress, markets and a higher price
for land; albeit he wondered "hoo he wad be keepit up." But his
hard-wrought, quick-spoken little wife at his elbow "hooted" his
scruples and, thinking of her growing lads, welcomed with unmixed
satisfaction the coming of "the meenister." Her satisfaction was shared
by all the mothers and most of the fathers in the settlement; but by the
others, and especially by that rollicking, roistering crew, the Company
of the Noble Seven, the missionary's coming was viewed with varying
degrees of animosity. It meant a limitation of freedom in their wildly
reckless living. The "Permit" nights would now, to say the least, be
subject to criticism; the Sunday wolf-hunts and horse-races, with their
attendant delights, would now be pursued under the eye of the Church,
and this would not add to the enjoyment of them. One great charm of the
country, which Bruce, himself the son of an Edinburgh minister, and now
Secretary of the Noble Seven, described as "letting a fellow do as he
blanked pleased," would be gone. None resented more bitterly than he the
missionary's intrusion, which he declared to be an attempt "to
reimpose upon their freedom the trammels of an antiquated and bigoted
conventionality." But the rest of the Company, while not taking
so decided a stand, were agreed that the establishment of a church
institution was an objectionable and impertinent as well as unnecessary
proceeding.

Of course, Hi Kendal and his friend Bronco Bill had no opinion one way
or the other. The Church could hardly affect them even remotely. A dozen
years' stay in Montana had proved with sufficient clearness to them that
a church was a luxury of civilization the West might well do without.

Outside the Company of the Noble Seven there was only one whose opinion
had value in Swan Creek, and that was the Old Timer. The Company had
sought to bring him in by making him an honorary member, but he refused
to be drawn from his home far up among the hills, where he lived with
his little girl Gwen and her old half-breed nurse, Ponka. The approach
of the church he seemed to resent as a personal injury. It represented
to him that civilization from which he had fled fifteen years ago with
his wife and baby girl, and when five years later he laid his wife in
the lonely grave that could be seen on the shaded knoll just fronting
his cabin door, the last link to his past was broken. From all that
suggested the great world beyond the run of the Prairie he shrank as one
shrinks from a sudden touch upon an old wound.

"I guess I'll have to move back," he said to me gloomily.

"Why?" I said in surprise, thinking of his grazing range, which was
ample for his herd.

"This blank Sky Pilot." He never swore except when unusually moved.

"Sky Pilot?" I inquired.

He nodded and silently pointed to the notice.

"Oh, well, he won't hurt you, will he?"

"Can't stand it," he answered savagely, "must get away."

"What about Gwen?" I ventured, for she was the light of his eyes. "Pity
to stop her studies." I was giving her weekly lessons at the old man's
ranch.

"Dunno. Ain't figgered out yet about that baby." She was still his baby.
"Guess she's all she wants for the Foothills, anyway. What's the use?"
he added, bitterly, talking to himself after the manner of men who live
much alone.

I waited for a moment, then said: "Well, I wouldn't hurry about doing
anything," knowing well that the one thing an old-timer hates to do is
to make any change in his mode of life. "Maybe he won't stay."

He caught at this eagerly. "That's so! There ain't much to keep him,
anyway," and he rode off to his lonely ranch far up in the hills.

I looked after the swaying figure and tried to picture his past with its
tragedy; then I found myself wondering how he would end and what would
come to his little girl. And I made up my mind that if the missionary
were the right sort his coming might not be a bad thing for the Old
Timer and perhaps for more than him.



CHAPTER IV

THE PILOT'S MEASURE


It was Hi Kendal that announced the arrival of the missionary. I was
standing at the door of my school, watching the children ride off
home on their ponies, when Hi came loping along on his bronco in the
loose-jointed cowboy style.

"Well," he drawled out, bringing his bronco to a dead stop in a single
bound, "he's lit."

"Lit? Where? What?" said I, looking round for an eagle or some other
flying thing.

"Your blanked Sky Pilot, and he's a beauty, a pretty kid--looks too
tender for this climate. Better not let him out on the range." Hi was
quite disgusted, evidently.

"What's the matter with him, Hi?"

"Why, HE ain't no parson! I don't go much on parsons, but when I calls
for one I don't want no bantam chicken. No, sirree, horse! I don't want
no blankety-blank, pink-and-white complected nursery kid foolin' round
my graveyard. If you're goin' to bring along a parson, why bring him
with his eye-teeth cut and his tail feathers on."

That Hi was deeply disappointed was quite clear from the selection of
the profanity with which he adorned this lengthy address. It was
never the extent of his profanity, but the choice, that indicated Hi's
interest in any subject.

Altogether, the outlook for the missionary was not encouraging. With
the single exception of the Muirs, who really counted for little, nobody
wanted him. To most of the reckless young bloods of the Company of the
Noble Seven his presence was an offence; to others simply a nuisance,
while the Old Timer regarded his advent with something like dismay; and
now Hi's impression of his personal appearance was not cheering.

My first sight of him did not reassure me. He was very slight, very
young, very innocent, with a face that might do for an angel, except for
the touch of humor in it, but which seemed strangely out of place among
the rough, hard faces that were to be seen in the Swan Creek Country.
It was not a weak face, however. The forehead was high and square, the
mouth firm, and the eyes were luminous, of some dark color--violet, if
there is such a color in eyes--dreamy or sparkling, according to
his mood; eyes for which a woman might find use, but which, in a
missionary's head, appeared to me one of those extraordinary wastes of
which Nature is sometimes guilty.

He was gazing far away into space infinitely beyond the Foothills and
the blue line of the mountains behind them. He turned to me as I drew
near, with eyes alight and face glowing.

"It is glorious," he almost panted. "You see this everyday!" Then,
recalling himself, he came eagerly toward me, stretching out his hand.
"You are the schoolmaster, I know. Do you know, it's a great thing? I
wanted to be one, but I never could get the boys on. They always got
me telling them tales. I was awfully disappointed. I am trying the next
best thing. You see, I won't have to keep order, but I don't think I
can preach very well. I am going to visit your school. Have you many
scholars? Do you know, I think it's splendid? I wish I could do it."

I had intended to be somewhat stiff with him, but his evident admiration
of me made me quite forget this laudable intention, and, as he talked
on without waiting for an answer, his enthusiasm, his deference to my
opinion, his charm of manner, his beautiful face, his luminous eyes,
made him perfectly irresistible; and before I was aware I was listening
to his plans for working his mission with eager interest. So eager was
my interest, indeed, that before I was aware I found myself asking him
to tea with me in my shack. But he declined, saying:

"I'd like to, awfully; but do you know, I think Latour expects me."

This consideration of Latour's feelings almost upset me.

"You come with me," he added, and I went.

Latour welcomed us with his grim old face wreathed in unusual smiles.
The pilot had been talking to him, too.

"I've got it, Latour!" he cried out as he entered; "here you are,"
and he broke into the beautiful French-Canadian chanson, "A la Claire
Fontaine," to the old half-breed's almost tearful delight.

"Do you know," he went on, "I heard that first down the Mattawa,"
and away he went into a story of an experience with French-Canadian
raftsmen, mixing up his French and English in so charming a manner that
Latour; who in his younger days long ago had been a shantyman himself,
hardly knew whether he was standing on his head or on his heels.

After tea I proposed a ride out to see the sunset from the nearest
rising ground. Latour, with unexampled generosity, offered his own
cayuse, "Louis."

"I can't ride well," protested The Pilot.

"Ah! dat's good ponee, Louis," urged Latour. "He's quiet lak wan leetle
mouse; he's ride lak--what you call?--wan horse-on-de-rock." Under which
persuasion the pony was accepted.

That evening I saw the Swan Creek country with new eyes--through the
luminous eyes of The Pilot. We rode up the trail by the side of the Swan
till we came to the coulee mouth, dark and full of mystery.

"Come on," I said, "we must get to the top for the sunset."

He looked lingeringly into the deep shadows and asked: "Anything live
down there?"

"Coyotes and wolves and ghosts."

"Ghosts?" he asked, delightedly. "Do you know, I was sure there were,
and I'm quite sure I shall see them."

Then we took the Porcupine trail and climbed for about two miles the
gentle slope to the top of the first rising ground. There we stayed and
watched the sun take his nightly plunge into the sea of mountains, now
dimly visible. Behind us stretched the prairie, sweeping out level to
the sky and cut by the winding coulee of the Swan. Great long shadows
from the hills were lying upon its yellow face, and far at the distant
edge the gray haze was deepening into purple. Before us lay the hills,
softly curving like the shoulders of great sleeping monsters, their tops
still bright, but the separating valleys full of shadow. And there, far
beyond them, up against the sky, was the line of the mountains--blue,
purple, and gold, according as the light fell upon them. The sun had
taken his plunge, but he had left behind him his robes of saffron and
gold. We stood long without a word or movement, filling our hearts with
the silence and the beauty, till the gold in the west began to grow dim.
High above all the night was stretching her star-pierced, blue canopy,
and drawing slowly up from the east over the prairie and over the
sleeping hills the soft folds of a purple haze. The great silence of the
dying day had fallen upon the world and held us fast.

"Listen," he said, in a low tone, pointing to the hills. "Can't you
hear them breathe?" And, looking at their curving shoulders, I fancied I
could see them slowly heaving as if in heavy sleep, and I was quite sure
I could hear them breathe. I was under the spell of his voice and his
eyes, and nature was all living to me then.

We rode back to the Stopping Place in silence, except for a word of mine
now and then which he heeded not; and, with hardly a good night, he
left me at the door. I turned away feeling as if I had been in a strange
country and among strange people.

How would he do with the Swan Creek folk? Could he make them see the
hills breathe? Would they feel as I felt under his voice and eyes? What
a curious mixture he was! I was doubtful about his first Sunday, and was
surprised to find all my indifference as to his success or failure gone.
It was a pity about the baseball match. I would speak to some of the men
about it to-morrow.

Hi might be disappointed in his appearance, but, as I turned into my
shack and thought over my last two hours with The Pilot and how he had
"got" old Latour and myself, I began to think that Hi might be mistaken
in his measure of The Pilot.



CHAPTER V

FIRST BLOOD


One is never so enthusiastic in the early morning, when the emotions are
calmest and the nerves at their steadiest. But I was determined to try
to have the baseball match postponed. There could be no difficulty. One
day was as much of a holiday as another to these easy-going fellows.
But The Duke, when I suggested a change in the day, simply raised his
eyebrows an eighth of an inch and said:

"Can't see why the day should be changed." Bruce stormed and swore all
sorts of destruction upon himself if he was going to change his style of
life for any man. The others followed The Duke's lead.

That Sunday was a day of incongruities. The Old and the New, the
East and the West, the reverential Past and iconoclastic Present were
jumbling themselves together in bewildering confusion. The baseball
match was played with much vigor and profanity. The expression on The
Pilot's face, as he stood watching for a while, was a curious mixture of
interest, surprise, doubt and pain. He was readjusting himself. He was
so made as to be extremely sensitive to his surroundings. He took on
color quickly. The utter indifference to the audacious disregard of all
he had hitherto considered sacred and essential was disconcerting. They
were all so dead sure. How did he know they were wrong? It was his first
near view of practical, living skepticism. Skepticism in a book did not
disturb him; he could put down words against it. But here it was alive,
cheerful, attractive, indeed fascinating; for these men in their western
garb and with their western swing had captured his imagination. He was
in a fierce struggle, and in a few minutes I saw him disappear into the
coulee.

Meantime the match went uproariously on to a finish, with the result
that the champions of "Home" had "to stand The Painkiller," their defeat
being due chiefly to the work of Hi and Bronco Bill as pitcher and
catcher.

The celebration was in full swing; or as Hi put it, "the boys were
takin' their pizen good an' calm," when in walked The Pilot. His face
was still troubled and his lips were drawn and blue, as if he were in
pain. A silence fell on the men as he walked in through the crowd and up
to the bar. He stood a moment hesitating, looking round upon the faces
flushed and hot that were now turned toward him in curious defiance. He
noticed the look, and it pulled him together. He faced about toward old
Latour and asked in a high, clear voice:

"Is this the room you said we might have?"

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders and said:

"There is not any more."

The lad paused for an instant, but only for an instant. Then, lifting a
pile of hymn books he had near him on the counter, he said in a grave,
sweet voice, and with the quiver of a smile about his lips:

"Gentlemen, Mr. Latour has allowed me this room for a religious service.
It will give me great pleasure if you will all join," and immediately he
handed a book to Bronco Bill, who, surprised, took it as if he did not
know what to do with it. The others followed Bronco's lead till he came
to Bruce, who refused, saying roughly:

"No! I don't want it; I've no use for it."

The missionary flushed and drew back as if he had been struck, but
immediately, as if unconsciously, The Duke, who was standing near,
stretched out his hand and said, with a courteous bow, "I thank you; I
should be glad of one."

"Thank you," replied The Pilot, simply, as he handed him a book. The men
seated themselves upon the bench that ran round the room, or leaned up
against the counter, and most of them took off their hats. Just then in
came Muir, and behind him his little wife.

In an instant The Duke was on his feet, and every hat came off.

The missionary stood up at the bar, and announced the hymn, "Jesus,
Lover of My Soul." The silence that followed was broken by the sound of
a horse galloping. A buckskin bronco shot past the window, and in a few
moments there appeared at the door the Old Timer. He was about to stride
in when the unusual sight of a row of men sitting solemnly with hymn
books in their hands held him fast at the door. He gazed in an amazed,
helpless way upon the men, then at the missionary, then back at the men,
and stood speechless. Suddenly there was a high, shrill, boyish laugh,
and the men turned to see the missionary in a fit of laughter. It
certainly was a shock to any lingering ideas of religious propriety they
might have about them; but the contrast between his frank, laughing face
and the amazed and disgusted face of the shaggy old man in the doorway
was too much for them, and one by one they gave way to roars of
laughter. The Old Timer, however, kept his face unmoved, strode up to
the bar and nodded to old Latour, who served him his drink, which he
took at a gulp.

"Here, old man!" called out Bill, "get into the game; here's your deck,"
offering him his book. But the missionary was before him, and, with very
beautiful grace, he handed the Old Timer a book and pointed him to a
seat.

I shall never forget that service. As a religious affair it was a dead
failure, but somehow I think The Pilot, as Hi approvingly said, "got in
his funny work," and it was not wholly a defeat. The first hymn was sung
chiefly by the missionary and Mrs. Muir, whose voice was very high, with
one or two of the men softly whistling an accompaniment. The second hymn
was better, and then came the Lesson, the story of the feeding of the
five thousand. As the missionary finished the story, Bill, who had been
listening with great interest, said:

"I say, pard, I think I'll call you just now."

"I beg your pardon!" said the startled missionary.

"You're givin' us quite a song and dance now, ain't you?"

"I don't understand," was the puzzled reply.

"How many men was there in the crowd?" asked Bill, with a judicial air.

"Five thousand."

"And how much grub?"

"Five loaves and two fishes," answered Bruce for the missionary.

"Well," drawled Bill, with the air of a man who has reached a
conclusion, "that's a little too unusual for me. Why," looking pityingly
at the missionary, "it ain't natarel."

"Right you are, my boy," said Bruce, with a laugh. "It's deucedly
unnatural."

"Not for Him," said the missionary, quietly. Then Bruce joyfully took
him up and led him on into a discussion of evidences, and from evidences
into metaphysics, the origin of evil and the freedom of the will, till
the missionary, as Bill said, "was rattled worse nor a rooster in the
dark." Poor little Mrs. Muir was much scandalized and looked anxiously
at her husband, wishing him to take her out. But help came from an
unexpected quarter, and Hi suddenly called out:

"Here you, Bill, shut your blanked jaw, and you, Bruce, give the man a
chance to work off his music."

"That's so! Fair play! Go on!" were the cries that came in response to
Hi's appeal.

The missionary, who was all trembling and much troubled, gave Hi a
grateful look, and said:

"I'm afraid there are a great many things I don't understand, and I am
not good at argument." There were shouts of "Go on! fire ahead, play the
game!" but he said, "I think we will close the service with a hymn." His
frankness and modesty, and his respectful, courteous manner gained the
sympathy of the men, so that all joined heartily in singing, "Sun of My
Soul." In the prayer that followed his voice grew steady and his nerve
came back to him. The words were very simple, and the petitions were
mostly for light and for strength. With a few words of remembrance of
"those in our homes far away who think of us and pray for us and never
forget," this strange service was brought to a close.

After the missionary had stepped out, the whole affair was discussed
with great warmth. Hi Kendal thought "The Pilot didn't have no fair
show," maintaining that when he was "ropin' a steer he didn't want no
blanked tenderfoot to be shovin' in his rope like Bill there." But Bill
steadily maintained his position that "the story of that there picnic
was a little too unusual" for him. Bruce was trying meanwhile to beguile
The Duke into a discussion of the physics and metaphysics of the case.
But The Duke refused with quiet contempt to be drawn into a region where
he felt himself a stranger. He preferred poker himself, if Bruce
cared to take a hand; and so the evening went on, with the theological
discussion by Hi and Bill in a judicial, friendly spirit in one corner,
while the others for the most part played poker.

When the missionary returned late there were only a few left in the
room, among them The Duke and Bruce, who was drinking steadily and
losing money. The missionary's presence seemed to irritate him, and he
played even more recklessly than usual, swearing deeply at every loss.
At the door the missionary stood looking up into the night sky and
humming softly "Sun of My Soul," and after a few minutes The Duke joined
in humming a bass to the air till Bruce could contain himself no longer.

"I say," he called out, "this isn't any blanked prayer-meeting, is it?"

The Duke ceased humming, and, looking at Bruce, said quietly: "Well,
what is it? What's the trouble?"

"Trouble!" shouted Bruce. "I don't see what hymn-singing has to do with
a poker game."

"Oh, I see! I beg pardon! Was I singing?" said The Duke. Then after a
pause he added, "You're quite right. I say, Bruce, let's quit. Something
has got on to your nerves." And coolly sweeping his pile into his
pocket, he gave up the game. With an oath Bruce left the table, took
another drink, and went unsteadily out to his horse, and soon we heard
him ride away into the darkness, singing snatches of the hymn and
swearing the most awful oaths.

The missionary's face was white with horror. It was all new and horrible
to him.

"Will he get safely home?" he asked of The Duke.

"Don't you worry, youngster," said The Duke, in his loftiest manner,
"he'll get along."

The luminous, dreamy eyes grew hard and bright as they looked The Duke
in the face.

"Yes, I shall worry; but you ought to worry more."

"Ah!" said The Duke, raising his brows and smiling gently upon the
bright, stern young face lifted up to his. "I didn't notice that I had
asked your opinion."

"If anything should happen to him," replied the missionary, quickly, "I
should consider you largely responsible."

"That would be kind," said The Duke, still smiling with his lips. But
after a moment's steady look into the missionary's eyes he nodded his
head twice or thrice, and, without further word, turned away.

The missionary turned eagerly to me:

"They beat me this afternoon," he cried, "but thank God, I know now
they are wrong and I am right! I don't understand! I can't see my way
through! But I am right! It's true! I feel it's true! Men can't live
without Him, and be men!"

And long after I went to my shack that night I saw before me the eager
face with the luminous eyes and heard the triumphant cry: "I feel it's
true! Men can't live without Him, and be men!" and I knew that though
his first Sunday ended in defeat there was victory yet awaiting him.



CHAPTER VI

HIS SECOND WIND


The first weeks were not pleasant for The Pilot. He had been beaten, and
the sense of failure damped his fine enthusiasm, which was one of his
chief charms. The Noble Seven despised, ignored, or laughed at him,
according to their mood and disposition. Bruce patronized him; and,
worst of all, the Muirs pitied him. This last it was that brought him
low, and I was glad of it. I find it hard to put up with a man that
enjoys pity.

It was Hi Kendal that restored him, though Hi had no thought of doing
so good a deed. It was in this way: A baseball match was on with The
Porcupines from near the Fort. To Hi's disgust and the team's dismay
Bill failed to appear. It was Hi's delight to stand up for Bill's
pitching, and their battery was the glory of the Home team.

"Try The Pilot, Hi," said some one, chaffing him.

Hi looked glumly across at The Pilot standing some distance, away; then
called out, holding up the ball:

"Can you play the game?"

For answer Moore held up his hands for a catch. Hi tossed him the ball
easily. The ball came back so quickly that Hi was hardly ready, and the
jar seemed to amaze him exceedingly.

"I'll take him," he said, doubtfully, and the game began. Hi fitted on
his mask, a new importation and his peculiar pride, and waited.

"How do you like them?" asked The Pilot.

"Hot!" said Hi. "I hain't got no gloves to burn."

The Pilot turned his back, swung off one foot on to the other and
discharged his ball.

"Strike!" called the umpire.

"You bet!" said Hi, with emphasis, but his face was a picture of
amazement and dawning delight.

Again The Pilot went through the manoeuvre in his box and again the
umpire called:

"Strike!"

Hi stopped the ball without holding it and set himself for the third.
Once more that disconcerting swing and the whip-like action of the arm,
and for the third time the umpire called:

"Strike! Striker out!"

"That's the hole," yelled Hi.

The Porcupines were amazed. Hi looked at the ball in his hand, then at
the slight figure of The Pilot.

"I say! where do you get it?"

"What?" asked Moore innocently.

"The gait!"

"The what?"

"The gait! the speed, you know!"

"Oh! I used to play in Princeton a little."

"Did, eh? What the blank blank did you quit for?"

He evidently regarded the exchange of the profession of baseball for the
study of theology as a serious error in judgment, and in this opinion
every inning of the game confirmed him. At the bat The Pilot did not
shine, but he made up for light hitting by his base-running. He was
fleet as a deer, and he knew the game thoroughly. He was keen, eager,
intense in play, and before the innings were half over he was recognized
as the best all-round man on the field. In the pitcher's box he puzzled
the Porcupines till they grew desperate and hit wildly and blindly,
amid the jeers of the spectators. The bewilderment of the Porcupines was
equaled only by the enthusiasm of Hi and his nine, and when the game was
over the score stood 37 to 7 in favor of the Home team. They carried The
Pilot off the field.

From that day Moore was another man. He had won the unqualified respect
of Hi Kendal and most of the others, for he could beat them at their own
game and still be modest about it. Once more his enthusiasm came back
and his brightness and his courage. The Duke was not present to witness
his triumph, and, besides, he rather despised the game. Bruce was there,
however, but took no part in the general acclaim; indeed, he seemed
rather disgusted with Moore's sudden leap into favor. Certainly his
hostility to The Pilot and to all that he stood for was none the less
open and bitter.

The hostility was more than usually marked at the service held on the
Sunday following. It was, perhaps, thrown into stronger relief by the
open and delighted approval of Hi, who was prepared to back up anything
The Pilot would venture to say. Bill, who had not witnessed The Pilot's
performance in the pitcher's box, but had only Hi's enthusiastic
report to go upon, still preserved his judicial air. It is fair to say,
however, that there was no mean-spirited jealousy in Bill's heart even
though Hi had frankly assured him that The Pilot was "a demon," and
could "give him points." Bill had great confidence in Hi's opinion upon
baseball, but he was not prepared to surrender his right of private
judgment in matters theological, so he waited for the sermon before
committing himself to any enthusiastic approval. This service was an
undoubted success. The singing was hearty, and insensibly the men fell
into a reverent attitude during prayer. The theme, too, was one that
gave little room for skepticism. It was the story of Zaccheus, and
story-telling was Moore's strong point. The thing was well done.
Vivid portraitures of the outcast, shrewd, converted publican and the
supercilious, self-complacent, critical Pharisee were drawn with a few
deft touches. A single sentence transferred them to the Foothills and
arrayed them in cowboy garb. Bill was none too sure of himself, but
Hi, with delightful winks, was indicating Bruce as the Pharisee, to the
latter's scornful disgust. The preacher must have noticed, for with a
very clever turn the Pharisee was shown to be the kind of man who likes
to fit faults upon others. Then Bill, digging his elbows into Hi's ribs,
said in an audible whisper:

"Say, pardner, how does it fit now?"

"You git out!" answered Hi, indignantly, but his confidence in his
interpretation of the application was shaken. When Moore came to
describe the Master and His place in that ancient group, we in the
Stopping Place parlor fell under the spell of his eyes and voice, and
our hearts were moved within us. That great Personality was made
very real and very winning. Hi was quite subdued by the story and the
picture. Bill was perplexed; it was all new to him; but Bruce was mainly
irritated. To him it was all old and filled with memories he hated to
face. At any rate he was unusually savage that evening, drank heavily
and went home late, raging and cursing at things in general and The
Pilot in particular--for Moore, in a timid sort of way, had tried to
quiet him and help him to his horse.

"Ornery sort o' beast now, ain't he?" said Hi, with the idea of
comforting The Pilot, who stood sadly looking after Bruce disappearing
in the gloom.

"No! no!" he answered, quickly, "not a beast, but a brother."

"Brother! Not much, if I know my relations!" answered Hi, disgustedly.

"The Master thinks a good deal of him," was the earnest reply.

"Git out!" said Hi, "you don't mean it! Why," he added, decidedly, "he's
more stuck on himself than that mean old cuss you was tellin' about this
afternoon, and without half the reason."

But Moore only said, kindly, "Don't be hard on him, Hi," and turned
away, leaving Hi and Bill gravely discussing the question, with the aid
of several drinks of whisky. They were still discussing when, an hour
later, they, too, disappeared into the darkness that swallowed up the
trail to Ashley Ranch. That was the first of many such services. The
preaching was always of the simplest kind, abstract questions being
avoided and the concrete in those wonderful Bible tales, dressed in
modern and in western garb, set forth. Bill and Hi were more than
ever his friends and champions, and the latter was heard exultantly to
exclaim to Bruce:

"He ain't much to look at as a parson, but he's a-ketchin' his second
wind, and 'fore long you won't see him for dust."



CHAPTER VII

THE LAST OF THE PERMIT SUNDAYS


The spring "round-ups" were all over and Bruce had nothing to do but
to loaf about the Stopping Place, drinking old Latour's bad whisky and
making himself a nuisance. In vain The Pilot tried to win him with loans
of books and magazines and other kindly courtesies. He would be decent
for a day and then would break forth in violent argumentation against
religion and all who held to it. He sorely missed The Duke, who was away
south on one of his periodic journeys, of which no one knew anything
or cared to ask. The Duke's presence always steadied Bruce and took
the rasp out of his manners. It was rather a relief to all that he was
absent from the next fortnightly service, though Moore declared he was
ashamed to confess this relief.

"I can't touch him," he said to me, after the service; "he is far too
clever, but," and his voice was full of pain, "I'd give something to
help him."

"If he doesn't quit his nonsense," I replied, "he'll soon be past
helping. He doesn't go out on his range, his few cattle wander
everywhere, his shack is in a beastly state, and he himself is going
to pieces, miserable fool that he is." For it did seem a shame that a
fellow should so throw himself away for nothing.

"You are hard," said Moore, with his eyes upon me.

"Hard? Isn't it true?" I answered, hotly. "Then, there's his mother at
home."

"Yes, but can he help it? Is it all his fault?" he replied, with his
steady eyes still looking into me.

"His fault? Whose fault, then?"

"What of the Noble Seven? Have they anything to do with this?" His voice
was quiet, but there was an arresting intensity in it.

"Well," I said, rather weakly, "a man ought to look after himself."

"Yes!--and his brother a little." Then, he added: "What have any of you
done to help him? The Duke could have pulled him up a year ago if he had
been willing to deny himself a little, and so with all of you. You all
do just what pleases you regardless of any other, and so you help one
another down."

I could not find anything just then to say, though afterwards many
things came to me; for, though his voice was quiet and low, his eyes
were glowing and his face was alight with the fire that burned within,
and I felt like one convicted of a crime. This was certainly a
new doctrine for the West; an uncomfortable doctrine to practice,
interfering seriously with personal liberty, but in The Pilot's way
of viewing things difficult to escape. There would be no end to one's
responsibility. I refused to think it out.

Within a fortnight we were thinking it out with some intentness. The
Noble Seven were to have a great "blow-out" at the Hill brothers' ranch.
The Duke had got home from his southern trip a little more weary-looking
and a little more cynical in his smile. The "blow-out" was to be held
on Permit Sunday, the alternate to the Preaching Sunday, which was a
concession to The Pilot, secured chiefly through the influence of Hi
and his baseball nine. It was something to have created the situation
involved in the distinction between Preaching and Permit Sundays. Hi put
it rather graphically. "The devil takes his innin's one Sunday and The
Pilot the next," adding emphatically, "He hain't done much scorin'
yit, but my money's on The Pilot, you bet!" Bill was more cautious and
preferred to wait developments. And developments were rapid.

The Hill brothers' meet was unusually successful from a social point
of view. Several Permits had been requisitioned, and whisky and beer
abounded. Races all day and poker all night and drinks of various brews
both day and night, with varying impromptu diversions--such as shooting
the horns off wandering steers--were the social amenities indulged in by
the noble company. On Monday evening I rode out to the ranch, urged by
Moore, who was anxious that someone should look after Bruce.

"I don't belong to them," he said, "you do. They won't resent your
coming."

Nor did they. They were sitting at tea, and welcomed me with a shout.

"Hello, old domine!" yelled Bruce, "where's your preacher friend?"

"Where you ought to be, if you could get there--at home," I replied,
nettled at his insolent tone.

"Strike one!" called out Hi, enthusiastically, not approving Bruce's
attitude toward his friend, The Pilot.

"Don't be so acute," said Bruce, after the laugh had passed, "but have a
drink."

He was flushed and very shaky and very noisy. The Duke, at the head
of the table, looked a little harder than usual, but, though pale, was
quite steady. The others were all more or less nerve-broken, and about
the room were the signs of a wild night. A bench was upset, while broken
bottles and crockery lay strewn about over a floor reeking with filth.
The disgust on my face called forth an apology from the younger Hill,
who was serving up ham and eggs as best he could to the men lounging
about the table.

"It's my housemaid's afternoon out," he explained gravely.

"Gone for a walk in the park," added an other.

"Hope MISTER Connor will pardon the absence," sneered Bruce, in his most
offensive manner.

"Don't mind him," said Hi, under his breath, "the blue devils are
runnin' him down."

This became more evident as the evening went on. From hilarity Bruce
passed to sullen ferocity, with spasms of nervous terror. Hi's attempts
to soothe him finally drove him mad, and he drew his revolver, declaring
he could look after himself, in proof of which he began to shoot out the
lights.

The men scrambled into safe corners, all but The Duke, who stood quietly
by watching Bruce shoot. Then saying:

"Let me have a try, Bruce," he reached across and caught his hand.

"No! you don't," said Bruce, struggling. "No man gets my gun."

He tore madly at the gripping hand with both of his, but in vain,
calling out with frightful oaths:

"Let go! let go! I'll kill you! I'll kill you!"

With a furious effort he hurled himself back from the table, dragging
The Duke partly across. There was a flash and a report and Bruce
collapsed, The Duke still gripping him. When they lifted him up he was
found to have an ugly wound in his arm, the bullet having passed through
the fleshy part. I bound it up as best I could and tried to persuade him
to go to bed. But he would go home. Nothing could stop him. Finally The
Duke agreed to go with him, and off they set, Bruce loudly protesting
that he could get home alone and did not want anyone.

It was a dismal break-up to the meet, and we all went home feeling
rather sick, so that it gave me no pleasure to find Moore waiting in my
shack for my report of Bruce. It was quite vain for me to make light of
the accident to him. His eyes were wide open with anxious fear when I
had done.

"You needn't tell me not to be anxious," he said, "you are anxious
yourself. I see it, I feel it."

"Well, there's no use trying to keep things from you," I replied, "but
I am only a little anxious. Don't you go beyond me and work yourself up
into a fever over it."

"No," he answered quietly, "but I wish his mother were nearer."

"Oh, bosh, it isn't coming to that; but I wish he were in better shape.
He is broken up badly without this hole in him."

He would not leave till I had promised to take him up the next day,
though I was doubtful enough of his reception. But next day The Duke
came down, his black bronco, Jingo, wet with hard riding.

"Better come up, Connor," he said, gravely, "and bring your bromides
along. He has had a bad night and morning and fell asleep only before
I came away. I expect he'll wake in delirium. It's the whisky more than
the bullet. Snakes, you know."

In ten minutes we three were on the trail, for Moore, though not
invited, quietly announced his intention to go with us.

"Oh, all right," said The Duke, indifferently, "he probably won't
recognize you any way."

We rode hard for half an hour till we came within sight of Bruce's
shack, which was set back into a little poplar bluff.

"Hold up!" said The Duke. "Was that a shot?" We stood listening. A
rifle-shot rang out, and we rode hard. Again The Duke halted us, and
there came from the shack the sound of singing. It was an old Scotch
tune.

"The twenty-third Psalm," said Moore, in a low voice.

We rode into the bluff, tied up our horses and crept to the back of the
shack. Looking through a crack between the logs, I saw a gruesome thing.
Bruce was sitting up in bed with a Winchester rifle across his knees and
a belt of cartridges hanging over the post. His bandages were torn off,
the blood from his wound was smeared over his bare arms and his pale,
ghastly face; his eyes were wild with mad terror, and he was shouting at
the top of his voice the words:

     "The Lord's my shepherd, I'll not want,
        He makes me down to lie
      In pastures green, He leadeth me
        The quiet waters by."

Now and then he would stop to say in an awesome whisper, "Come out here,
you little devils!" and bang would go his rifle at the stovepipe, which
was riddled with holes. Then once more in a loud voice he would hurry to
begin the Psalm,

     "The Lord's my Shepherd."

Nothing that my memory brings to me makes me chill like that
picture--the low log shack, now in cheerless disorder; the ghastly
object upon the bed in the corner, with blood-smeared face and arms and
mad terror in the eyes; the awful cursings and more awful psalm-singing,
punctuated by the quick report of the deadly rifle.

For some moments we stood gazing at one another; then The Duke said, in
a low, fierce tone, more to himself than to us:

"This is the last. There'll be no more of this cursed folly among the
boys."

And I thought it a wise thing in The Pilot that he answered not a word.



CHAPTER VIII

THE PILOT'S GRIP


The situation was one of extreme danger--a madman with a Winchester
rifle. Something must be done and quickly. But what? It would be death
to anyone appearing at the door.

"I'll speak; you keep your eyes on him," said The Duke.

"Hello, Bruce! What's the row?" shouted The Duke.

Instantly the singing stopped. A look of cunning delight came over his
face as, without a word, he got his rifle ready pointed at the door.

"Come in!" he yelled, after waiting for some moments. "Come in! You're
the biggest of all the devils. Come on, I'll send you down where you
belong. Come, what's keeping you?"

Over the rifle-barrel his eyes gleamed with frenzied delight. We
consulted as to a plan.

"I don't relish a bullet much," I said.

"There are pleasanter things," responded The Duke, "and he is a fairly
good shot."

Meantime the singing had started again, and, looking through the chink,
I saw that Bruce had got his eye on the stovepipe again. While I was
looking The Pilot slipped away from us toward the door.

"Come back!" said the Duke, "don't be a fool! Come back, he'll shoot you
dead!"

Moore paid no heed to him, but stood waiting at the door. In a few
moments Bruce blazed away again at the stovepipe. Immediately the Pilot
burst in, calling out eagerly:

"Did you get him?"

"No!" said Bruce, disappointedly, "he dodged like the devil, as of
course he ought, you know."

"I'll get him," said Moore. "Smoke him out," proceeding to open the
stove door.

"Stop!" screamed Bruce, "don't open that door! It's full, I tell you."
Moore paused. "Besides," went on Bruce, "smoke won't touch 'em."

"Oh, that's all right," said Moore, coolly and with admirable quickness,
"wood smoke, you know--they can't stand that."

This was apparently a new idea in demonology for Bruce, for he sank
back, while Moore lighted the fire and put on the tea-kettle. He looked
round for the tea-caddy.

"Up there," said Bruce, forgetting for the moment his devils, and
pointing to a quaint, old-fashioned tea-caddy upon the shelf.

Moore took it down, turned it in his hands and looked at Bruce.

"Old country, eh?"

"My mother's," said Bruce, soberly.

"I could have sworn it was my aunt's in Balleymena," said Moore. "My
aunt lived in a little stone cottage with roses all over the front of
it." And on he went into an enthusiastic description of his early home.
His voice was full of music, soft and soothing, and poor Bruce sank back
and listened, the glitter fading from his eyes.

The Duke and I looked at each other.

"Not too bad, eh?" said The Duke, after a few moments' silence.

"Let's put up the horses," I suggested. "They won't want us for half an
hour."

When we came in, the room had been set in order, the tea-kettle was
singing, the bedclothes straightened out, and Moore had just finished
washing the blood stains from Bruce's arms and neck.

"Just in time," he said. "I didn't like to tackle these," pointing to
the bandages.

All night long Moore soothed and tended the sick man, now singing softly
to him, and again beguiling him with tales that meant nothing, but that
had a strange power to quiet the nervous restlessness, due partly to the
pain of the wounded arm and partly to the nerve-wrecking from his months
of dissipation. The Duke seemed uncomfortable enough. He spoke to Bruce
once or twice, but the only answer was a groan or curse with an increase
of restlessness.

"He'll have a close squeak," said The Duke. The carelessness of the tone
was a little overdone, but The Pilot was stirred up by it.

"He has not been fortunate in his friends," he said, looking straight
into his eyes.

"A man ought to know himself when the pace is too swift," said The Duke,
a little more quickly than was his wont.

"You might have done anything with him. Why didn't you help him?"
Moore's tones were stern and very steady, and he never moved his eyes
from the other man's face, but the only reply he got was a shrug of the
shoulders.

When the gray of the morning was coming in at the window The Duke rose
up, gave himself, a little shake, and said:

"I am not of any service here. I shall come back in the evening."

He went and stood for a few moments looking down upon the hot, fevered
face; then, turning to me, he asked:

"What do you think?"

"Can't say! The bromide is holding him down just now. His blood is bad
for that wound."

"Can I get anything?" I knew him well enough to recognize the anxiety
under his indifferent manner.

"The Fort doctor ought to be got."

He nodded and went out.

"Have breakfast?" called out Moore from the door.

"I shall get some at the Fort, thanks. They won't take any hurt from me
there," he said, smiling his cynical smile.

Moore opened his eyes in surprise.

"What's that for?" he asked me.

"Well, he is rather cut up, and you rather rubbed it into him, you
know," I said, for I thought Moore a little hard.

"Did I say anything untrue?"

"Well, not untrue, perhaps; but truth is like medicine--not always good
to take." At which Moore was silent till his patient needed him again.

It was a weary day. The intense pain from the wound, and the high fever
from the poison in his blood kept the poor fellow in delirium till
evening, when The Duke rode up with the Fort doctor. Jingo appeared
as nearly played out as a horse of his spirit ever allowed himself to
become.

"Seventy miles," said The Duke, swinging himself off the saddle. "The
doctor was ten miles out. How is he?"

I shook my head, and he led away his horse to give him a rub and a feed.

Meantime the doctor, who was of the army and had seen service, was
examining his patient. He grew more and more puzzled as he noted the
various symptoms. Finally he broke out:

"What have you been doing to him? Why is he in this condition? This
fleabite doesn't account for all," pointing to the wound.

We stood like children reproved. Then The Duke said, hesitatingly:

"I fear, doctor, the life has been a little too hard for him. He had a
severe nervous attack--seeing things, you know."

"Yes, I know," stormed the old doctor. "I know you well enough, with
your head of cast-iron and no nerves to speak of. I know the crowd and
how you lead them. Infernal fools! You'll get your turn some day. I've
warned you before."

The Duke was standing up before the doctor during this storm, smiling
slightly. All at once the smile faded out and he pointed to the bed.
Bruce was sitting up quiet and steady. He stretched out his hand to The
Duke.

"Don't mind the old fool," he said, holding The Duke's hand and
looking up at him as fondly as if he were a girl. "It's my own
funeral--funeral?" he paused--"Perhaps it may be--who knows?--feel queer
enough--but remember, Duke--it's my own fault--don't listen to those
bally fools," looking towards Moore and the doctor. "My own fault"--his
voice died down--"my own fault."

The Duke bent over him and laid him back on the pillow, saying, "Thanks,
old chap, you're good stuff. I'll not forget. Just keep quiet and you'll
be all right." He passed his cool, firm hand over the hot brow of the
man looking up at him with love in his eyes, and in a few moments Bruce
fell asleep. Then The Duke lifted himself up, and facing the doctor,
said in his coolest tone:

"Your words are more true than opportune, doctor. Your patient will need
all your attention. As for my morals, Mr. Moore kindly entrusts himself
with the care of them." This with a bow toward The Pilot.

"I wish him joy of his charge," snorted the doctor, turning again to the
bed, where Bruce had already passed into delirium.

The memory of that vigil was like a horrible nightmare for months.
Moore lay on the floor and slept. The Duke rode off somewhither. The
old doctor and I kept watch. All night poor Bruce raved in the wildest
delirium, singing, now psalms, now songs, swearing at the cattle or his
poker partners, and now and then, in quieter moments, he was back in his
old home, a boy, with a boy's friends and sports. Nothing could check
the fever. It baffled the doctor, who often, during the night, declared
that there was "no sense in a wound like that working up such a fever,"
adding curses upon the folly of The Duke and his Company.

"You don't think he will not get better, doctor?" I asked, in answer to
one of his outbreaks.

"He ought to get over this," he answered, impatiently, "but I believe,"
he added, deliberately, "he'll have to go."

Everything stood still for a moment. It seemed impossible. Two days ago
full of life, now on the way out. There crowded in upon me thoughts of
his home; his mother, whose letters he used to show me full of anxious
love; his wild life here, with all its generous impulses, its mistakes,
its folly.

"How long will he last?" I asked, and my lips were dry and numb.

"Perhaps twenty-four hours, perhaps longer. He can't throw off the
poison."

The old doctor proved a true prophet. After another day of agonized
delirium he sank into a stupor which lasted through the night.

Then the change came. As the light began to grow at the eastern rim of
the prairie and up the far mountains in the west, Bruce opened his eyes
and looked about upon us. The doctor had gone; The Duke had not come
back; Moore and I were alone. He gazed at us steadily for some moments;
read our faces; a look of wonder came into his eyes.

"Is it coming?" he asked in a faint, awed voice. "Do you really think I
must go?"

The eager appeal in his voice and the wistful longing in the wide-open,
startled eyes were too much for Moore. He backed behind me and I could
hear him weeping like a baby. Bruce heard him, too.

"Is that The Pilot?" he asked. Instantly Moore pulled himself up, wiped
his eyes and came round to the other side of the bed and looked down,
smiling.

"Do YOU say I am dying?" The voice was strained in its earnestness. I
felt a thrill of admiration go through me as the Pilot answered in a
sweet, clear voice: "They say so, Bruce. But you are not afraid?"

Bruce kept his eyes on his face and answered with grave hesitation:

"No--not--afraid--but I'd like to live a little longer. I've made such
a mess of it, I'd like to try again." Then he paused, and his
lips quivered a little. "There's my mother, you know," he added,
apologetically, "and Jim." Jim was his younger brother and sworn chum.

"Yes, I know, Bruce, but it won't be very long for them, too, and it's a
good place."

"Yes, I believe it all--always did--talked rot--you'll forgive me that?"

"Don't; don't," said Moore quickly, with sharp pain in his voice, and
Bruce smiled a little and closed his eyes, saying: "I'm tired." But he
immediately opened them again and looked up.

"What is it?" asked Moore, smiling down into his eyes.

"The Duke," the poor lips whispered.

"He is coming," said Moore, confidently, though how he knew I could not
tell. But even as he spoke, looking out of the window, I saw Jingo come
swinging round the bluff. Bruce heard the beat of his hoofs, smiled,
opened his eyes and waited. The leap of joy in his eyes as The Duke came
in, clean, cool and fresh as the morning, went to my heart.

Neither man said a word, but Bruce took hold of The Duke's hand in both
of his. He was fast growing weaker. I gave him brandy, and he recovered
a little strength.

"I am dying, Duke," he said, quietly. "Promise you won't blame
yourself."

"I can't, old man," said The Duke, with a shudder. "Would to heaven I
could."

"You were too strong for me, and you didn't think, did you?" and the
weak voice had a caress in it.

"No, no! God knows," said The Duke, hurriedly.

There was a long silence, and again Bruce opened his eyes and whispered:

"The Pilot."

Moore came to him.

"Read 'The Prodigal,'" he said faintly, and in Moore's clear, sweet
voice the music of that matchless story fell upon our ears.

Again Bruce's eyes summoned me. I bent over him.

"My letter," he said, faintly, "in my coat--"

I brought to him the last letter from his mother. He held the envelope
before his eyes, then handed it to me, whispering:

"Read."

I opened the letter and looked at the words, "My darling Davie." My
tongue stuck and not a sound could I make. Moore put out his hand and
took it from me. The Duke rose to go out, calling me with his eyes, but
Bruce motioned him to stay, and he sat down and bowed his head, while
Moore read the letter.

His tones were clear and steady till he came to the last words, when his
voice broke and ended in a sob:

"And oh, Davie, laddie, if ever your heart turns home again, remember
the door is aye open, and it's joy you'll bring with you to us all."

Bruce lay quite still, and, from his closed eyes, big tears ran down his
cheeks. It was his last farewell to her whose love had been to him the
anchor to all things pure here and to heaven beyond.

He took the letter from Moore's hand, put it with difficulty to his
lips, and then, touching the open Bible, he said, between his breaths:

"It's--very like--there's really--no fear, is there?"

"No, no!" said Moore, with cheerful, confident voice, though his, tears
were flowing. "No fear of your welcome."

His eyes met mine. I bent over him. "Tell her--" and his voice faded
away.

"What shall I tell her?" I asked, trying to recall him. But the message
was never given. He moved one hand slowly toward The Duke till it
touched his head. The Duke lifted his face and looked down at him, and
then he did a beautiful thing for which I forgave him much. He stooped
over and kissed the lips grown so white, and then the brow. The light
came back into the eyes of the dying man, he smiled once more, and
smilingly faced toward the Great Beyond. And the morning air, fresh from
the sun-tipped mountains and sweet with the scent of the June roses,
came blowing soft and cool through the open window upon the dead,
smiling face. And it seemed fitting so. It came from the land of the
Morning.

Again The Duke did a beautiful thing; for, reaching across his dead
friend, he offered his hand to The Pilot. "Mr. Moore," he said,
with fine courtesy, "you are a brave man and a good man; I ask your
forgiveness for much rudeness."

But Moore only shook his head while he took the outstretched hand, and
said, brokenly:

"Don't! I can't stand it."

"The Company of the Noble Seven will meet no more," said The Duke, with
a faint smile.

They did meet, however; but when they did, The Pilot was in the chair,
and it was not for poker.

The Pilot had "got his grip," as Bill said.



CHAPTER IX

GWEN


It was not many days after my arrival in the Foothill country that I
began to hear of Gwen. They all had stories of her. The details were not
many, but the impression was vivid. She lived remote from that centre of
civilization known as Swan Creek in the postal guide, but locally as
Old Latour's, far up among the hills near the Devil's Lake, and from her
father's ranch she never ventured. But some of the men had had glimpses
of her and had come to definite opinions regarding her.

"What is she like?" I asked Bill one day, trying to pin him down to
something like a descriptive account of her.

"Like! She's a terrer," he said, with slow emphasis, "a holy terrer."

"But what is she like? What does she look like?" I asked impatiently.

"Look like?" He considered a moment, looked slowly round as if searching
for a simile, then answered: "I dunno."

"Don't know? What do you mean? Haven't you seen her?"

"Yeh! But she ain't like nothin'."

Bill was quite decided upon this point.

I tried again.

"Well, what sort of hair has she got? She's got hair, I suppose?"

"Hayer! Well, a few!" said Bill, with some choice combinations of
profanity in repudiation of my suggestion. "Yards of it! Red!"

"Git out!" contradicted Hi. "Red! Tain't no more red than mine!"

Bill regarded Hi's hair critically.

"What color do you put onto your old brush?" he asked cautiously.

"'Tain't no difference. 'Tain't red, anyhow."

"Red! Well, not quite exactly," and Bill went off into a low, long,
choking chuckle, ejaculating now and then, "Red! Jee-mi-ny Ann! Red!"

"No, Hi," he went on, recovering himself with the same abruptness as he
used with his bronco, and looking at his friend with a face even more
than usually solemn, "your hayer ain't red, Hi; don't let any of your
relatives persuade you to that. 'Tain't red!" and he threatened to go
off again, but pulled himself up with dangerous suddenness. "It may be
blue, cerulyum blue or even purple, but red--!" He paused violently,
looking at his friend as if he found him a new and interesting object
of study upon which he could not trust himself to speak. Nor could he be
induced to proceed with the description he had begun.

But Hi, paying no attention to Bill's oration, took up the subject with
enthusiasm.

"She kin ride--she's a reg'lar buster to ride, ain't she, Bill?" Bill
nodded. "She kin bunch cattle an' cut out an' yank a steer up to any
cowboy on the range."

"Why, how big is she?"

"Big? Why, she's just a kid! 'Tain't the bigness of her, it's the nerve.
She's got the coldest kind of nerve you ever seen. Hain't she, Bill?"
And again Bill nodded.

"'Member the day she dropped that steer, Bill?" went on Hi.

"What was that?" I asked, eager for a yarn.

"Oh, nuthin'," said Bill.

"Nuthin'!" retorted Hi. "Pretty big nuthin'!"

"What was it?" I urged.

"Oh, Bill here did some funny work at old Meredith's round-up, but he
don't speak of it. He's shy, you see," and Hi grinned.

"Well, there ain't no occasion for your proceedin' onto that tact," said
Bill disgustedly, and Hi loyally refrained, so I have never yet got the
rights of the story. But from what I did hear I gathered that Bill, at
the risk of his life, had pulled The Duke from under the hoofs of a mad
steer, and that little Gwen had, in the coolest possible manner, "sailed
in on her bronco" and, by putting two bullets into the steer's head, had
saved them both from great danger, perhaps from death, for the rest of
the cattle were crowding near. Of course Bill could never be persuaded
to speak of the incident. A true western man will never hesitate to tell
you what he can do, but of what he has done he does not readily speak.

The only other item that Hi contributed to the sketch of Gwen was that
her temper could blaze if the occasion demanded.

"'Member young Hill, Bill?"

Bill "'membered."

"Didn't she cut into him sudden? Sarved him right, too."

"What did she do?"

"Cut him across the face with her quirt in good style."

"What for?"

"Knockin' about her Indian Joe."

Joe was, as I came to learn, Ponka's son and Gwen's most devoted slave.

"Oh, she ain't no refrigerator."

"Yes," assented Bill. "She's a leetle swift." Then, as if fearing he
had been apologizing for her, he added, with the air of one settling the
question: "But she's good stock! She suits me!"

The Duke helped me to another side of her character.

"She is a remarkable child," he said, one day. "Wild and shy as
a coyote, but fearless, quite; and with a heart full of passions.
Meredith, the Old Timer, you know, has kept her up there among the
hills. She sees no one but himself and Ponka's Blackfeet relations, who
treat her like a goddess and help to spoil her utterly. She knows their
lingo and their ways--goes off with them for a week at a time."

"What! With the Blackfeet?"

"Ponka and Joe, of course, go along; but even without them she is as
safe as if surrounded by the Coldstream Guards, but she has given them
up for some time now."

"And at home?" I asked. "Has she any education? Can she read or write?"

"Not she. She can make her own dresses, moccasins and leggings. She can
cook and wash--that is, when she feels in the mood. And she knows
all about the birds and beasts and flowers and that sort of thing,
but--education! Why, she is hardly civilized!"

"What a shame!" I said. "How old is she?"

"Oh, a mere child; fourteen or fifteen, I imagine; but a woman in many
things."

"And what does her father say to all this? Can he control her?"

"Control!" said The Duke, in utter astonishment. "Why, bless your soul,
nothing in heaven or earth could control HER. Wait till you see her
stand with her proud little head thrown back, giving orders to Joe, and
you will never again connect the idea of control with Gwen. She might
be a princess for the pride of her. I've seen some, too, in my day, but
none to touch her for sheer, imperial pride, little Lucifer that she
is."

"And how does her father stand her nonsense?" I asked, for I confess I
was not much taken with the picture The Duke had drawn.

"Her father simply follows behind her and adores, as do all things that
come near her, down, or up, perhaps, to her two dogs--Wolf and Loo--for
either of which she would readily die if need be. Still," he added,
after a pause, "it IS a shame, as you say. She ought to know something
of the refinements of civilization, to which, after all, she belongs,
and from which none of us can hope to escape." The Duke was silent for
a few moments, and then added, with some hesitation: "Then, too, she is
quite a pagan; never saw a prayer-book, you know."

And so it came about, chiefly through The Duke's influence, I imagine,
that I was engaged by the Old Timer to go up to his ranch every week and
teach his daughter something of the elementaries of a lady's education.

My introduction was ominous of the many things I was to suffer of that
same young maiden before I had finished my course with her. The Old
Timer had given careful directions as to the trail that would lead me to
the canyon where he was to meet me. Up the Swan went the trail, winding
ever downward into deeper and narrower coulees and up to higher open
sunlit slopes, till suddenly it settled into a valley which began with
great width and narrowed to a canyon whose rocky sides were dressed out
with shrubs and trailing vines and wet with trickling rivulets from the
numerous springs that oozed and gushed from the black, glistening rocks.
This canyon was an eerie place of which ghostly tales were told from
the old Blackfeet times. And to this day no Blackfoot will dare to pass
through this black-walled, oozy, glistening canyon after the moon has
passed the western lip. But in the warm light of broad day the canyon
was a good enough place; cool and sweet, and I lingered through, waiting
for the Old Timer, who failed to appear till the shadows began to darken
its western black sides.

Out of the mouth of the canyon the trail climbed to a wide stretch of
prairie that swept up over soft hills to the left and down to the bright
gleaming waters of the Devil's Lake on the right. In the sunlight the
lake lay like a gem radiant with many colors, the far side black in the
shadow of the crowding pines, then in the middle deep, blue and purple,
and nearer, many shades of emerald that ran quite to the white, sandy
beach. Right in front stood the ranch buildings, upon a slight rising
ground and surrounded by a sturdy palisade of upright pointed poles.
This was the castle of the princess. I rode up to the open gate, then
turned and stood to look down upon the marvellous lake shining and
shimmering with its many radiant colors. Suddenly there was an awful
roar, my pony shot round upon his hind legs after his beastly cayuse
manner, deposited me sitting upon the ground and fled down the trail,
pursued by two huge dogs that brushed past me as I fell. I was aroused
from my amazement by a peal of laughter, shrill but full of music.
Turning, I saw my pupil, as I guessed, standing at the head of a most
beautiful pinto (spotted) pony with a heavy cattle quirt in her hand. I
scrambled to my feet and said, somewhat angrily, I fear:

"What are you laughing at? Why don't you call back your dogs? They will
chase my pony beyond all reach."

She lifted her little head, shook back her masses of brown-red hair,
looked at me as if I were quite beneath contempt and said: "No, they
will kill him."

"Then," said I, for I was very angry, "I will kill them," pulling at the
revolver in my belt.

"Then," she said, and for the first time I noticed her eyes blue-black,
with gray rims, "I will kill you," and she whipped out an ugly-looking
revolver. From her face I had no doubt that she would not hesitate to do
as she had said. I changed my tactics, for I was anxious about my pony,
and said, with my best smile:

"Can't you call them back? Won't they obey you?"

Her face changed in a moment.

"Is it your pony? Do you love him very much?"

"Dearly!" I said, persuading myself of a sudden affection for the cranky
little brute.

She sprang upon her pinto and set off down the trail. The pony was now
coursing up and down the slopes, doubling like a hare, instinctively
avoiding the canyon where he would be cornered. He was mad with terror
at the huge brutes that were silently but with awful and sure swiftness
running him down.

The girl on the pinto whistled shrilly, and called to her dogs: "Down,
Wolf! Back, Loo!" but, running low, with long, stretched bodies, they
heeded not, but sped on, ever gaining upon the pony that now circled
toward the pinto. As they drew near in their circling, the girl urged
her pinto to meet them, loosening her lariat as she went. As the pony
neared the pinto he slackened his speed; immediately the nearer dog
gathered herself in two short jumps and sprang for the pony's throat.
But, even as she sprang, the lariat whirled round the girl's head
and fell swift and sure about the dog's neck, and next moment she lay
choking upon the prairie. Her mate paused, looked back, and gave up the
chase. But dire vengeance overtook them, for, like one possessed, the
girl fell upon them with her quirt and beat them one after the other
till, in pity for the brutes, I interposed.

"They shall do as I say or I shall kill them! I shall kill them!" she
cried, raging and stamping.

"Better shoot them," I suggested, pulling out my pistol.

Immediately she flung herself upon the one that moaned and whined at her
feet, crying:

"If you dare! If you dare!" Then she burst into passionate sobbing.
"You bad Loo! You bad, dear old Loo! But you WERE bad--you KNOW you
were bad!" and so she went on with her arms about Loo's neck till Loo,
whining and quivering with love and delight, threatened to go quite
mad, and Wolf, standing majestically near, broke into short howls of
impatience for his turn of caressing. They made a strange group, those
three wild things, equally fierce and passionate in hate and in love.

Suddenly the girl remembered me, and standing up she said, half ashamed:

"They always obey ME. They are MINE, but they kill any strange thing
that comes in through the gate. They are allowed to."

"It is a pleasant whim."

"What?"

"I mean, isn't that dangerous to strangers?"

"Oh, no one ever comes alone, except The Duke. And they keep off the
wolves."

"The Duke comes, does he?"

"Yes!" and her eyes lit up. "He is my friend. He calls me his
'princess,' and he teaches me to talk and tells me stories--oh,
wonderful stories!"

I looked in wonder at her face, so gentle, so girlish, and tried to
think back to the picture of the girl who a few moments before had so
coolly threatened to shoot me and had so furiously beaten her dogs.

I kept her talking of The Duke as we walked back to the gate, watching
her face the while. It was not beautiful; it was too thin, and the mouth
was too large. But the teeth were good, and the eyes, blue-black with
gray rims, looked straight at you; true eyes and brave, whether in love
or in war. Her hair was her glory. Red it was, in spite of Hi's denial,
but of such marvellous, indescribable shade that in certain lights, as
she rode over the prairie, it streamed behind her like a purple banner.
A most confusing and bewildering color, but quite in keeping with the
nature of the owner.

She gave her pinto to Joe and, standing at the door, welcomed me with
a dignity and graciousness that made me think that The Duke was not far
wrong when he named her "Princess."

The door opened upon the main or living room. It was a long, apartment,
with low ceiling and walls of hewn logs chinked and plastered and all
beautifully whitewashed and clean. The tables, chairs and benches were
all home-made. On the floor were magnificent skins of wolf, bear, musk
ox and mountain goat. The walls were decorated with heads and horns of
deer and mountain sheep, eagles' wings and a beautiful breast of a loon,
which Gwen had shot and of which she was very proud. At one end of the
room a huge stone fireplace stood radiant in its summer decorations of
ferns and grasses and wild-flowers. At the other end a door opened
into another room, smaller and richly furnished with relics of former
grandeur.

Everything was clean and well kept. Every nook, shelf and corner was
decked with flowers and ferns from the canyon.

A strange house it was, full of curious contrasts, but it fitted this
quaint child that welcomed me with such gracious courtesy.



CHAPTER X

GWEN'S FIRST PRAYERS


It was with hesitation, almost with fear, that I began with Gwen; but
even had I been able to foresee the endless series of exasperations
through which she was destined to conduct me, still would I have
undertaken my task. For the child, with all her wilfulness, her tempers
and her pride, made me, as she did all others, her willing slave.

Her lessons went on, brilliantly or not at all, according to her sweet
will. She learned to read with extraordinary rapidity, for she was eager
to know more of that great world of which The Duke had told her such
thrilling tales. Writing she abhorred. She had no one to write to. Why
should she cramp her fingers over these crooked little marks? But she
mastered with hardly a struggle the mysteries of figures, for she would
have to sell her cattle, and "dad doesn't know when they are cheating."
Her ideas of education were purely utilitarian, and what did not appear
immediately useful she refused to trifle with. And so all through the
following long winter she vexed my righteous soul with her wilfulness
and pride. An appeal to her father was idle. She would wind her long,
thin arms about his neck and let her waving red hair float over him
until the old man was quite helpless to exert authority. The Duke could
do most with her. To please him she would struggle with her crooked
letters for an hour at a time, but even his influence and authority had
its limits.

"Must I?" she said one day, in answer to a demand of his for more
faithful study; "must I?" And throwing up her proud little head, and
shaking back with a trick she had her streaming red hair, she looked
straight at him from her blue-gray eyes and asked the monosyllabic
question, "Why?" And The Duke looked back at her with his slight smile
for a few moments and then said in cold, even tones:

"I really don't know why," and turned his back on her. Immediately she
sprang at him, shook him by the arm, and, quivering with passion, cried:

"You are not to speak to me like that, and you are not to turn your back
that way!"

"What a little princess it is," he said admiringly, "and what a time she
will give herself some day!" Then he added, smiling sadly: "Was I rude,
Gwen? Then I am sorry." Her rage was gone, and she looked as if she
could have held him by the feet. As it was, too proud to show her
feelings, she just looked at him with softening eyes, and then sat down
to the work she had refused. This was after the advent of The Pilot at
Swan Creek, and, as The Duke rode home with me that night, after long
musing he said with hesitation: "She ought to have some religion, poor
child; she will grow up a perfect little devil. The Pilot might be of
service if you could bring him up. Women need that sort of thing; it
refines, you know."

"Would she have him?" I asked.

"Question," he replied, doubtfully. "You might suggest it."

Which I did, introducing somewhat clumsily, I fear, The Duke's name.

"The Duke says he is to make me good!" she cried. "I won't have him, I
hate him and you too!" And for that day she disdained all lessons, and
when The Duke next appeared she greeted him with the exclamation, "I
won't have your old Pilot, and I don't want to be good, and--and--you
think he's no good yourself," at which the Duke opened his eyes.

"How do you know? I never said so!"

"You laughed at him to dad one day."

"Did I?" said The Duke, gravely. "Then I hasten to assure, you that I
have changed my mind. He is a good, brave man."

"He falls off his horse," she said, with contempt.

"I rather think he sticks on now," replied The Duke, repressing a smile.

"Besides," she went on, "he's just a kid; Bill said so."

"Well, he might be more ancient," acknowledged The Duke, "but in that he
is steadily improving."

"Anyway," with an air of finality, "he is not to come here."

But he did come, and under her own escort, one threatening August
evening.

"I found him in the creek," she announced, with defiant shamefacedness,
marching in The Pilot half drowned.

"I think I could have crossed," he said, apologetically, "for Louis was
getting on his feet again."

"No, you wouldn't," she protested. "You would have been down into the
canyon by now, and you ought to be thankful."

"So I am," he hastened to say, "very! But," he added, unwilling to give
up his contention, "I have crossed the Swan before."

"Not when it was in flood."

"Yes, when it was in flood, higher than now."

"Not where the banks are rocky."

"No-o!" he hesitated.

"There, then, you WOULD have been drowned but for my lariat!" she cried,
triumphantly.

To this he doubtfully assented.

They were much alike, in high temper, in enthusiasm, in vivid
imagination, and in sensitive feeling. When the Old Timer came in Gwen
triumphantly introduced The Pilot as having been rescued from a watery
grave by her lariat, and again they fought out the possibilities
of drowning and of escape till Gwen almost lost her temper, and was
appeased only by the most profuse expressions of gratitude on the part
of The Pilot for her timely assistance. The Old Timer was perplexed. He
was afraid to offend Gwen and yet unwilling to be cordial to her guest.
The Pilot was quick to feel this, and, soon after tea, rose to go.
Gwen's disappointment showed in her face.

"Ask him to stay, dad," she said, in a whisper. But the half-hearted
invitation acted like a spur, and The Pilot was determined to set off.

"There's a bad storm coming," she said; "and besides," she added,
triumphantly "you can't cross the Swan."

This settled it, and the most earnest prayers of the Old Timer could not
have held him back.

We all went down to see him cross, Gwen leading her pinto. The Swan was
far over its banks, and in the middle running swift and strong.
Louis snorted, refused and finally plunged. Bravely he swam, till the
swift-running water struck him, and over he went on his side, throwing
his rider into the water. But The Pilot kept his head, and, holding
by the stirrups, paddled along by Louis' side. When they were half-way
across Louis saw that he had no chance of making the landing; so, like
a sensible horse, he turned and made for the shore. Here, too, the banks
were high, and the pony began to grow discouraged.

"Let him float down further!" shrieked Gwen, in anxious excitement; and,
urging her pinto down the bank, she coaxed the struggling pony down the
stream till opposite a shelf of rock level with the high water. Then she
threw her lariat, and, catching Louis about the neck and the horn of
his saddle, she held taut, till, half drowned, he scrambled up the bank,
dragging The Pilot with him.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" she said, almost tearfully. "You see, you couldn't
get across."

The Pilot staggered to his feet, took a step toward her, gasped out:

"I can!" and pitched headlong. With a little cry she flew to him, and
turned him over on his back. In a few moments he revived, sat up, and
looked about stupidly.

"Where's Louis?" he said, with his face toward the swollen stream.

"Safe enough," she answered; "but you must come in, the rain is just
going to pour."

But The Pilot seemed possessed.

"No, I'm going across," he said, rising.

Gwen was greatly distressed.

"But your poor horse," she said, cleverly changing her ground; "he is
quite tired out."

The Old Timer now joined earnestly in urging him to stay till the storm
was past. So, with a final look at the stream, The Pilot turned toward
the house.

Of course I knew what would happen. Before the evening was over he had
captured the household. The moment he appeared with dry things on he ran
to the organ, that had stood for ten years closed and silent, opened
it and began to play. As he played and sang song after song, the Old
Timer's eyes began to glisten under his shaggy brows. But when he
dropped into the exquisite Irish melody, "Oft in the Stilly Night," the
old man drew a hard breath and groaned out to me:

"It was her mother's song," and from that time The Pilot had him fast.
It was easy to pass to the old hymn, "Nearer, My God, to Thee," and then
The Pilot said simply, "May we have prayers?" He looked at Gwen, but she
gazed blankly at him and then at her father.

"What does he say, dad?"

It was pitiful to see the old man's face grow slowly red under the deep
tan, as he said:

"You may, sir. There's been none here for many years, and the worse for
us." He rose slowly, went into the inner room and returned with a Bible.

"It's her mother's," he said, in a voice deep with emotion. "I put it
in her trunk the day I laid her out yonder under the pines." The Pilot,
without looking at him, rose and reverently took the book in both his
hands and said gently:

"It was a sad day for you, but for her--" He paused. "You did not grudge
it to her?"

"Not now, but then, yes! I wanted her, we needed her." The Old Timer's
tears were flowing.

The Pilot put his hand caressingly upon the old man's shoulder as if he
had been his father, and said in his clear, sweet voice, "Some day you
will go to her."

Upon this scene poor Gwen gazed with eyes wide open with amazement and
a kind of fear. She had never seen her father weep since the awful day
that she could never forget, when he had knelt in dumb agony beside the
bed on which her mother lay white and still; nor would he heed her till,
climbing up, she tried to make her mother waken and hear her cries. Then
he had caught her up in his arms, pressing her with tears and great sobs
to his heart. To-night she seemed to feel that something was wrong. She
went and stood by her father, and, stroking his gray hair kindly, she
said:

"What is he saying, daddy? Is he making you cry?" She looked at The
Pilot defiantly.

"No, no, child," said the old man, hastily, "sit here and listen."

And while the storm raved outside we three sat listening to that ancient
story of love ineffable. And, as the words fell like sweet music upon
our ears, the old man sat with eyes that looked far away, while the
child listened with devouring eagerness.

"Is it a fairy tale, daddy?" she asked, as The Pilot paused. "It isn't
true, is it?" and her voice had a pleading note hard for the old man to
bear.

"Yes, yes, my child," said he, brokenly. "God forgive me!"

"Of course it's true," said The Pilot, quickly. "I'll read it all to you
to-morrow. It's a beautiful story!"

"No," she said, imperiously, "to-night. Read it now! Go on!" she said,
stamping her foot, "don't you hear me?"

The Pilot gazed in surprise at her, and then turning to the old man,
said:

"Shall I?"

The Old Timer simply nodded and the reading went on. Those were not my
best days, and the faith of my childhood was not as it had been; but, as
The Pilot carried us through those matchless scenes of self-forgetting
love and service the rapt wonder in the child's face as she listened,
the appeal in her voice as, now to her father, and now to me, she
cried: "Is THAT true, too? Is it ALL true?" made it impossible for me
to hesitate in my answer. And I was glad to find it easy to give my firm
adherence to the truth of all that tale of wonder. And, as more and more
it grew upon The Pilot that the story he was reading, so old to him and
to all he had ever met, was new to one in that listening group, his face
began to glow and his eyes to blaze, and he saw and showed me things
that night I had never seen before, nor have I seen them since. The
great figure of the Gospels lived, moved before our eyes. We saw Him
bend to touch the blind, we heard Him speak His marvellous teaching, we
felt the throbbing excitement of the crowds that pressed against Him.

Suddenly The Pilot stopped, turned over the leaves and began again: "And
He led them out as far as to Bethany. And He lifted up His hands and
blessed them. And it came to pass as He blessed them He was parted from
them and a cloud received Him out of their sight." There was silence for
some minutes, then Gwen said:

"Where did He go?"

"Up into Heaven," answered The Pilot, simply.

"That's where mother is," she said to her father, who nodded in reply.

"Does He know?" she asked. The old man looked distressed.

"Of course He does," said The Pilot, "and she sees Him all the time."

"Oh, daddy!" she cried, "isn't that good?"

But the old man only hid his face in his hands and groaned.

"Yes," went on The Pilot, "and He sees us, too, and hears us speak, and
knows our thoughts."

Again the look of wonder and fear came into her eyes, but she said no
word. The experiences of the evening had made the world new to her. It
could never be the same to her again. It gave me a queer feeling to see
her, when we three kneeled to pray, stand helplessly looking on, not
knowing what to do, then sink beside her father, and, winding her arms
about his neck, cling to him as the words of prayer were spoken into the
ear of Him whom no man can see, but who we believe is near to all that
call upon Him.

Those were Gwen's first "prayers," and in them Gwen's part was small,
for fear and wonder filled her heart; but the day was to come, and all
too soon, when she should have to pour out her soul with strong crying
and tears. That day came and passed, but the story of it is not to be
told here.



CHAPTER XI

GWEN'S CHALLENGE


Gwen was undoubtedly wild and, as The Sky Pilot said, wilful and wicked.
Even Bronco Bill and Hi Kendal would say so, without, of course, abating
one jot of their admiration for her. For fourteen years she had lived
chiefly with wild things. The cattle on the range, wild as deer, the
coyotes, the jack-rabbits and the timber wolves were her mates and her
instructors. From these she learned her wild ways. The rolling prairie
of the Foothill country was her home. She loved it and all things that
moved upon it with passionate love, the only kind she was capable of.
And all summer long she spent her days riding up and down the range
alone, or with her father, or with Joe, or, best of all, with The
Duke, her hero and her friend. So she grew up strong, wholesome and
self-reliant, fearing nothing alive and as untamed as a yearling range
colt.

She was not beautiful. The winds and sun had left her no complexion to
speak of, but the glory of her red hair, gold-red, with purple sheen,
nothing could tarnish. Her eyes, too, deep blue with rims of gray, that
flashed with the glint of steel or shone with melting light as of the
stars, according to her mood--those Irish, warm, deep eyes of hers were
worth a man's looking at.

Of course, all spoiled her. Ponka and her son Joe grovelled in abjectest
adoration, while her father and all who came within touch of her simply
did her will. Even The Duke, who loved her better than anything else,
yielded lazy, admiring homage to his Little Princess, and certainly,
when she stood straight up with her proud little gold-crowned head
thrown back, flashing forth wrath or issuing imperious commands, she
looked a princess, all of her.

It was a great day and a good day for her when she fished The Sky Pilot
out of the Swan and brought him home, and the night of Gwen's first
"prayers," when she heard for the first time the story of the Man of
Nazareth, was the best of all her nights up to that time. All through
the winter, under The Pilot's guidance, she, with her father, the Old
Timer, listening near, went over and over that story so old now to many,
but ever becoming new, till a whole new world of mysterious Powers
and Presences lay open to her imagination and became the home of great
realities. She was rich in imagination and, when The Pilot read Bunyan's
immortal poem, her mother's old "Pilgrim's Progress," she moved and
lived beside the hero of that tale, backing him up in his fights and
consumed with anxiety over his many impending perils, till she had him
safely across the river and delivered into the charge of the shining
ones.

The Pilot himself, too, was a new and wholesome experience. He was the
first thing she had yet encountered that refused submission, and the
first human being that had failed to fall down and worship. There was
something in him that would not ALWAYS yield, and, indeed, her pride
and her imperious tempers he met with surprise and sometimes with a pity
that verged toward contempt. With this she was not well pleased and not
infrequently she broke forth upon him. One of these outbursts is stamped
upon my mind, not only because of its unusual violence, but chiefly
because of the events which followed. The original cause of her rage was
some trifling misdeed of the unfortunate Joe; but when I came upon the
scene it was The Pilot who was occupying her attention. The expression
of surprise and pity on his face appeared to stir her up.

"How dare you look at me like that?" she cried.

"How very extraordinary that you can't keep hold of yourself better!" he
answered.

"I can!" she stamped, "and I shall do as I like!"

"It is a great pity," he said, with provoking calm, "and besides, it is
weak and silly." His words were unfortunate.

"Weak!" she gasped, when her breath came back to her. "Weak!"

"Yes," he said, "very weak and childish."

Then she could have cheerfully put him to a slow and cruel death. When
she had recovered a little she cried vehemently:

"I'm not weak! I'm strong! I'm stronger than you are! I'm strong
as--as--a man!"

I do not suppose she meant the insinuation; at any rate The Pilot
ignored it and went on.

"You're not strong enough to keep your temper down." And then, as she
had no reply ready, he went on, "And really, Gwen, it is not right. You
must not go on in this way."

Again his words were unfortunate.

"MUST NOT!" she cried, adding an inch to her height. "Who says so?"

"God!" was the simple, short answer.

She was greatly taken back, and gave a quick glance over her shoulder as
if to see Him, who would dare to say MUST NOT to her; but, recovering,
she answered sullenly:

"I don't care!"

"Don't care for God?" The Pilot's voice was quiet and solemn, but
something in his manner angered her, and she blazed forth again.

"I don't care for anyone, and I SHALL do as I like."

The Pilot looked at her sadly for a moment, and then said slowly:

"Some day, Gwen, you will not be able to do as you like."

I remember well the settled defiance in her tone and manner as she took
a step nearer him and answered in a voice trembling with passion:

"Listen! I have always done as I like, and I shall do as I like till I
die!" And she rushed forth from the house and down toward the canyon,
her refuge from all disturbing things, and chiefly from herself.

I could not shake off the impression her words made upon me. "Pretty
direct, that," I said to The Pilot, as we rode away. "The declaration
may be philosophically correct, but it rings uncommonly like a challenge
to the Almighty. Throws down the gauntlet, so to speak."

But The Pilot only said, "Don't! How can you?"

Within a week her challenge was accepted, and how fiercely and how
gallantly did she struggle to make it good!

It was The Duke that brought me the news, and as he told me the story
his gay, careless self-command for once was gone. For in the gloom
of the canyon where he overtook me I could see his face gleaming out
ghastly white, and even his iron nerve could not keep the tremor from
his voice.

"I've just sent up the doctor," was his answer to my greeting. "I looked
for you last night, couldn't find you, and so rode off to the Fort."

"What's up?" I said, with fear in my heart, for no light thing moved The
Duke.

"Haven't you heard? It's Gwen," he said, and the next minute or two he
gave to Jingo, who was indulging in a series of unexpected plunges. When
Jingo was brought down, The Duke was master of himself and told his tale
with careful self-control.

Gwen, on her father's buckskin bronco, had gone with The Duke to the big
plain above the cut-bank where Joe was herding the cattle. The day
was hot and a storm was in the air. They found Joe riding up and down,
singing to keep the cattle quiet, but having a hard time to hold the
bunch from breaking. While The Duke was riding around the far side of
the bunch, a cry from Gwen arrested his attention. Joe was in trouble.
His horse, a half-broken cayuse, had stumbled into a badger-hole and had
bolted, leaving Joe to the mercy of the cattle. At once they began to
sniff suspiciously at this phenomenon, a man on foot, and to follow
cautiously on his track. Joe kept his head and walked slowly out, till
all at once a young cow began to bawl and to paw the ground. In another
minute one, and then another of the cattle began to toss their heads and
bunch and bellow till the whole herd of two hundred were after Joe.
Then Joe lost his head and ran. Immediately the whole herd broke into a
thundering gallop with heads and tails aloft and horns rattling like the
loading of a regiment of rifles.

"Two more minutes," said The Duke, "would have done for Joe, for I could
never have reached him; but, in spite of my most frantic warnings and
signalings, right into the face of that mad, bellowing, thundering
mass of steers rode that little girl. Nerve! I have some myself, but I
couldn't have done it. She swung her horse round Joe and sailed out with
him, with the herd bellowing at the tail of her bronco. I've seen some
cavalry things in my day, but for sheer cool bravery nothing touches
that."

"How did it end? Did they run them down?" I asked, with terror at such a
result.

"No, they crowded her toward the cut-bank, and she was edging them off
and was almost past, when they came to a place where the bank bit in,
and her iron-mouthed brute wouldn't swerve, but went pounding on, broke
through, plunged; she couldn't spring free because of Joe, and pitched
headlong over the bank, while the cattle went thundering past. I flung
myself off Jingo and slid down somehow into the sand, thirty feet below.
Here was Joe safe enough, but the bronco lay with a broken leg, and half
under him was Gwen. She hardly knew she was hurt, but waved her hand to
me and cried out, 'Wasn't that a race? I couldn't swing this hard-headed
brute. Get me out.' But even as she spoke the light faded from her eyes,
she stretched out her hands to me, saying faintly, 'Oh, Duke,' and lay
back white and still. We put a bullet into the buckskin's head, and
carried her home in our jackets, and there she lies without a sound from
her poor, white lips."

The Duke was badly cut up. I had never seen him show any sign of grief
before, but as he finished the story he stood ghastly and shaking. He
read my surprise in my face and said:

"Look here, old chap, don't think me quite a fool. You can't know what
that little girl has done for me these years. Her trust in me--it is
extraordinary how utterly she trusts me--somehow held me up to my best
and back from perdition. It is the one bright spot in my life in this
blessed country. Everyone else thinks me a pleasant or unpleasant kind
of fiend."

I protested rather faintly.

"Oh, don't worry your conscience," he answered, with a slight return
of his old smile, "a fuller knowledge would only justify the opinion."
Then, after a pause, he added: "But if Gwen goes, I must pull out, I
could not stand it."

As we rode up, the doctor came out.

"Well, what do you think?" asked The Duke.

"Can't say yet," replied the old doctor, gruff with long army practice,
"bad enough. Good night."

But The Duke's hand fell upon his shoulder with a grip that must have
got to the bone, and in a husky voice he asked:

"Will she live?"

The doctor squirmed, but could not shake off that crushing grip.

"Here, you young tiger, let go! What do you think I am made of?" he
cried, angrily. "I didn't suppose I was coming to a bear's den, or I
should have brought a gun."

It was only by the most complete apology that The Duke could mollify the
old doctor sufficiently to get his opinion.

"No, she will not die! Great bit of stuff! Better she should die,
perhaps! But can't say yet for two weeks. Now remember," he added
sharply, looking into The Duke's woe-stricken face, "her spirits must be
kept up. I have lied most fully and cheerfully to them inside; you must
do the same," and the doctor strode away, calling out:

"Joe! Here, Joe! Where is he gone? Joe, I say! Extraordinary selection
Providence makes at times; we could have spared that lazy half-breed
with pleasure! Joe! Oh, here you are! Where in thunder--" But here the
doctor stopped abruptly. The agony in the dark face before him was too
much even for the bluff doctor. Straight and stiff Joe stood by the
horse's head till the doctor had mounted, then with a great effort he
said:

"Little miss, she go dead?"

"Dead!" called out the doctor, glancing at the open window. "Why,
bless your old copper carcass, no! Gwen will show you yet how to rope a
steer."

Joe took a step nearer, and lowering his tone said:

"You speak me true? Me man, Me no papoose." The piercing black eyes
searched the doctor's face. The doctor hesitated a moment, and then,
with an air of great candor, said cheerily:

"That's all right, Joe. Miss Gwen will cut circles round your old cayuse
yet. But remember," and the doctor was very impressive, "you must make
her laugh every day."

Joe folded his arms across his breast and stood like a statue till the
doctor rode away; then turning to us he grunted out:

"Him good man, eh?"

"Good man," answered The Duke, adding, "but remember, Joe, what he told
you to do. Must make her laugh every day."

Poor Joe! Humor was not his forte, and his attempt in this direction
in the weeks that followed would have been humorous were they not so
pathetic. How I did my part I cannot tell. Those weeks are to me now
like the memory of an ugly nightmare. The ghostly old man moving out
and in of his little daughter's room in useless, dumb agony; Ponka's
woe-stricken Indian face; Joe's extraordinary and unusual but loyal
attempts at fun-making grotesquely sad, and The Duke's unvarying and
invincible cheeriness; these furnish light and shade for the picture my
memory brings me of Gwen in those days.

For the first two weeks she was simply heroic. She bore her pain without
a groan, submitted to the imprisonment which was harder than pain with
angelic patience. Joe, The Duke and I carried out our instructions with
careful exactness to the letter. She never doubted, and we never let her
doubt but that in a few weeks she would be on the pinto's back again and
after the cattle. She made us pass our word for this till it seemed as
if she must have read the falsehoods on our brows.

"To lie cheerfully with her eyes upon one's face calls for more than I
possess," said The Duke one day. "The doctor should supply us tonics. It
is an arduous task."

And she believed us absolutely, and made plans for the fall "round-up,"
and for hunts and rides till one's heart grew sick. As to the ethical
problem involved, I decline to express an opinion, but we had no need
to wait for our punishment. Her trust in us, her eager and confident
expectation of the return of her happy, free, outdoor life; these
brought to us, who knew how vain they were, their own adequate
punishment for every false assurance we gave. And how bright and brave
she was those first days! How resolute to get back to the world of air
and light outside!

But she had need of all her brightness and courage and resolution before
she was done with her long fight.



CHAPTER XII

GWEN'S CANYON


Gwen's hope and bright courage, in spite of all her pain, were wonderful
to witness. But all this cheery hope and courage and patience snuffed
out as a candle, leaving noisome darkness to settle down in that
sick-room from the day of the doctor's consultation.

The verdict was clear and final. The old doctor, who loved Gwen as his
own, was inclined to hope against hope, but Fawcett, the clever young
doctor from the distant town, was positive in his opinion. The scene is
clear to me now, after many years. We three stood in the outer room; The
Duke and her father were with Gwen. So earnest was the discussion that
none of us heard the door open just as young Fawcett was saying in
incisive tones:

"No! I can see no hope. The child can never walk again."

There was a cry behind us.

"What! Never walk again! It's a lie!" There stood the Old Timer, white,
fierce, shaking.

"Hush!" said the old doctor, pointing at the open door. He was too late.
Even as he spoke, there came from the inner room a wild, unearthly
cry as of some dying thing and, as we stood gazing at one another with
awe-stricken faces, we heard Gwen's voice as in quick, sharp pain.

"Daddy! daddy! come! What do they say? Tell me, daddy. It is not true!
It is not true! Look at me, daddy!"

She pulled up her father's haggard face from the bed.

"Oh, daddy, daddy, you know it's true. Never walk again!"

She turned with a pitiful cry to The Duke, who stood white and stiff
with arms drawn tight across his breast on the other side of the bed.

"Oh, Duke, did you hear them? You told me to be brave, and I tried not
to cry when they hurt me. But I can't be brave! Can I, Duke? Oh, Duke!
Never to ride again!"

She stretched out her hands to him. But The Duke, leaning over her and
holding her hands fast in his, could only say brokenly over and over:
"Don't, Gwen! Don't, Gwen dear!"

But the pitiful, pleading voice went on.

"Oh, Duke! Must I always lie here? Must, I? Why must I?"

"God knows," answered The Duke bitterly, under his breath, "I don't!"

She caught at the word.

"Does He?" she cried, eagerly. Then she paused suddenly, turned to me
and said: "Do you remember he said some day I could not do as I liked?"

I was puzzled.

"The Pilot," she cried, impatiently, "don't you remember? And I said I
should do as I liked till I died."

I nodded my head and said: "But you know you didn't mean it."

"But I did, and I do," she cried, with passionate vehemence, "and I will
do as I like! I will not lie here! I will ride! I will! I will! I will!"
and she struggled up, clenched her fists, and sank back faint and weak.
It was not a pleasant sight, but gruesome. Her rage against that Unseen
Omnipotence was so defiant and so helpless.

Those were dreadful weeks to Gwen and to all about her. The constant
pain could not break her proud spirit; she shed no tears; but she
fretted and chafed and grew more imperiously exacting every day. Ponka
and Joe she drove like a slave master, and even her father, when he
could not understand her wishes, she impatiently banished from her room.
Only The Duke could please or bring her any cheer, and even The Duke
began to feel that the day was not far off when he, too, would fail, and
the thought made him despair. Her pain was hard to bear, but harder than
the pain was her longing for the open air and the free, flower-strewn,
breeze-swept prairie. But most pitiful of all were the days when, in her
utter weariness and uncontrollable unrest, she would pray to be taken
down into the canyon.

"Oh, it is so cool and shady," she would plead, "and the flowers up in
the rocks and the vines and things are all so lovely. I am always better
there. I know I should be better," till The Duke would be distracted and
would come to me and wonder what the end would be.

One day, when the strain had been more terrible than usual, The Duke
rode down to me and said:

"Look here, this thing can't go on. Where is The Pilot gone? Why doesn't
he stay where he belongs? I wish to Heaven he would get through with his
absurd rambling."

"He's gone where he was sent," I replied shortly. "You don't set much
store by him when he does come round. He is gone on an exploring trip
through the Dog Lake country. He'll be back by the end of next week."

"I say, bring him up, for Heaven's sake," said The Duke, "he may be of
some use, and anyway it will be a new face for her, poor child." Then he
added, rather penitently: "I fear this thing is getting on to my nerves.
She almost drove me out to-day. Don't lay it up against me, old chap."

It was a new thing to hear The Duke confess his need of any man, much
less penitence for a fault. I felt my eyes growing dim, but I said,
roughly:

"You be hanged! I'll bring The Pilot up when he comes."

It was wonderful how we had all come to confide in The Pilot during
his year of missionary work among us. Somehow the cowboy's name of "Sky
Pilot" seemed to express better than anything else the place he held
with us. Certain it is, that when, in their dark hours, any of the
fellows felt in need of help to strike the "upward trail," they went to
The Pilot; and so the name first given in chaff came to be the name
that expressed most truly the deep and tender feeling these rough,
big-hearted men cherished for him. When The Pilot came home I carefully
prepared him for his trial, telling all that Gwen had suffered and
striving to make him feel how desperate was her case when even The Duke
had to confess himself beaten. He did not seem sufficiently impressed.
Then I pictured for him all her fierce wilfulness and her fretful
humors, her impatience with those who loved her and were wearing out
their souls and bodies for her. "In short," I concluded, "she doesn't
care a rush for anything in heaven or earth, and will yield to neither
man nor God."

The Pilot's eyes had been kindling as I talked, but he only answered,
quietly:

"What could you expect?"

"Well, I do think she might show some signs of gratitude and some
gentleness towards those ready to die for her."

"Oh, you do!" said he, with high scorn. "You all combine to ruin her
temper and disposition with foolish flattery and weak yielding to her
whims, right or wrong; you smile at her imperious pride and encourage
her wilfulness, and then not only wonder at the results, but blame her,
poor child, for all. Oh, you are a fine lot, The Duke and all of you!"

He had a most exasperating ability for putting one in the wrong, and
I could only think of the proper and sufficient reply long after the
opportunity for making it had passed. I wondered what The Duke would say
to this doctrine. All the following day, which was Sunday, I could see
that Gwen was on The Pilot's mind. He was struggling with the problem of
pain.

Monday morning found us on the way to the Old Timer's ranch. And what
a morning it was! How beautiful our world seemed! About us rolled the
round-topped, velvet hills, brown and yellow or faintly green, spreading
out behind us to the broad prairie, and before, clambering up and up
to meet the purple bases of the great mountains that lay their mighty
length along the horizon and thrust up white, sunlit peaks into the blue
sky. On the hillsides and down in the sheltering hollows we could see
the bunches of cattle and horses feeding upon the rich grasses. High
above, the sky, cloudless and blue, arched its great kindly roof from
prairie to mountain peaks, and over all, above, below, upon prairie,
hillsides and mountains, the sun poured his floods of radiant yellow
light.

As we followed the trail that wound up and into the heart of these
rounded hills and ever nearer to the purple mountains, the morning
breeze swept down to meet us, bearing a thousand scents, and filling us
with its own fresh life. One can know the quickening joyousness of these
Foothill breezes only after he has drunk with wide-open mouth, deep and
full of them.

Through all this mingling beauty of sunlit hills and shady hollows and
purple, snow-peaked mountains, we rode with hardly a word, every minute
adding to our heart-filling delight, but ever with the thought of
the little room where, shut in from all this outside glory, lay Gwen,
heart-sore with fretting and longing. This must have been in The Pilot's
mind, for he suddenly held up his horse and burst out:

"Poor Gwen, how she loves all this!--it is her very life. How can she
help fretting the heart out of her? To see this no more!" He flung
himself off his bronco and said, as if thinking aloud: "It is too awful!
Oh, it is cruel! I don't wonder at her! God help me, what can I say to
her?"

He threw himself down upon the grass and turned over on his face. After
a few minutes he appealed to me, and his face was sorely troubled.

"How can one go to her? It seems to me sheerest mockery to speak of
patience and submission to a wild young thing from whom all this
is suddenly snatched forever--and this was very life to her, too,
remember."

Then he sprang up and we rode hard for an hour, till we came to the
mouth of the canyon. Here the trail grew difficult and we came to a
walk. As we went down into the cool depths the spirit of the canyon came
to meet us and took The Pilot in its grip. He rode in front, feasting
his eyes on all the wonders in that storehouse of beauty. Trees of many
kinds deepened the shadows of the canyon. Over us waved the big elms
that grew up here and there out of the bottom, and around their feet
clustered low cedars and hemlocks and balsams, while the sturdy, rugged
oaks and delicate, trembling poplars clung to the rocky sides and
clambered up and out to the canyon's sunny lips. Back of all, the great
black rocks, decked with mossy bits and clinging things, glistened cool
and moist between the parting trees. From many an oozy nook the dainty
clematis and columbine shook out their bells, and, lower down, from
beds of many-colored moss the late wind-flower and maiden-hair and tiny
violet lifted up brave, sweet faces. And through the canyon the Little
Swan sang its song to rocks and flowers and overhanging trees, a song
of many tones, deep-booming where it took its first sheer plunge,
gay-chattering where it threw itself down the ragged rocks, and
soft-murmuring where it lingered about the roots of the loving,
listening elms. A cool, sweet, soothing place it was, with all its
shades and sounds and silences, and, lest it should be sad to any, the
sharp, quick sunbeams danced and laughed down through all its leaves
upon mosses, flowers and rocks. No wonder that The Pilot, drawing a deep
breath as he touched the prairie sod again, said:

"That does me good. It is better at times even than the sunny hills.
This was Gwen's best spot."

I saw that the canyon had done its work with him. His face was strong
and calm as the hills on a summer morning, and with this face he looked
in upon Gwen. It was one of her bad days and one of her bad moods, but
like a summer breeze he burst into the little room.

"Oh, Gwen!" he cried, without a word of greeting, much less of
Commiseration, "we have had such a ride!" And he spread out the sunlit,
round-topped hills before her, till I could feel their very breezes in
my face. This The Duke had never dared to do, fearing to grieve her with
pictures of what she should look upon no more. But, as The Pilot talked,
before she knew, Gwen was out again upon her beloved hills, breathing
their fresh, sunny air, filling her heart with their multitudinous
delights, till her eyes grew bright and the lines of fretting smoothed
out of her face and she forgot her pain. Then, before she could
remember, he had her down into the canyon, feasting her heart with its
airs and sights and sounds. The black, glistening rocks, tricked out
with moss and trailing vines, the great elms and low green cedars, the
oaks and shivering poplars, the clematis and columbine hanging from
the rocky nooks, and the violets and maiden-hair deep bedded in their
mosses. All this and far more he showed her with a touch so light as not
to shake the morning dew from bell or leaf or frond, and with a voice so
soft and full of music as to fill our hearts with the canyon's mingling
sounds, and, as I looked upon her face, I said to myself: "Dear old
Pilot! for this I shall always love you well." As poor Gwen listened,
the rapture of it drew the big tears down her cheeks--alas! no longer
brown, but white, and for that day at least the dull, dead weariness was
lifted from her heart.



CHAPTER XIII

THE CANYON FLOWERS


The Pilot's first visit to Gwen had been a triumph. But none knew better
than he that the fight was still to come, for deep in Gwen's heart were
thoughts whose pain made her forget all other.

"Was it God let me fall?" she asked abruptly one day, and The Pilot
knew the fight was on; but he only answered, looking fearlessly into her
eyes:

"Yes, Gwen dear."

"Why did He let me fall?" and her voice was very deliberate.

"I don't know, Gwen dear," said The Pilot steadily. "He knows."

"And does He know I shall never ride again? Does He know how long the
days are, and the nights when I can't sleep? Does He know?"

"Yes, Gwen dear," said The Pilot, and the tears were standing in his
eyes, though his voice was still steady enough.

"Are you sure He knows?" The voice was painfully intense.

"Listen to me, Gwen," began The Pilot, in great distress, but she cut
him short.

"Are you quite sure He knows? Answer me!" she cried, with her old
imperiousness.

"Yes, Gwen, He knows all about you."

"Then what do you think of Him, just because He's big and strong,
treating a little girl that way?" Then she added, viciously: "I hate
Him! I don't care! I hate Him!"

But The Pilot did not wince. I wondered how he would solve that problem
that was puzzling, not only Gwen, but her father and The Duke, and all
of us--the WHY of human pain.

"Gwen," said The Pilot, as if changing the subject, "did it hurt to put
on the plaster jacket?"

"You just bet!" said Gwen, lapsing in her English, as The Duke was not
present; "it was worse than anything--awful! They had to straighten me
out, you know," and she shuddered at the memory of that pain.

"What a pity your father or The Duke was not here!" said The Pilot,
earnestly.

"Why, they were both here!"

"What a cruel shame!" burst out The Pilot. "Don't they care for you any
more?"

"Of course they do," said Gwen, indignantly.

"Why didn't they stop the doctors from hurting you so cruelly?"

"Why, they let the doctors. It is going to help me to sit up and perhaps
to walk about a little," answered Gwen, with blue-gray eyes open wide.

"Oh," said The Pilot, "it was very mean to stand by and see you hurt
like that."

"Why, you silly," replied Owen, impatiently, "they want my back to get
straight and strong."

"Oh, then they didn't do it just for fun or for nothing?" said The
Pilot, innocently.

Gwen gazed at him in amazed and speechless wrath, and he went on:

"I mean they love you though they let you be hurt; or rather they let
the doctors hurt you BECAUSE they loved you and wanted to make you
better."

Gwen kept her eyes fixed with curious earnestness upon his face till the
light began to dawn.

"Do you mean," she began slowly, "that though God let me fall, He loves
me?"

The Pilot nodded; he could not trust his voice.

"I wonder if that can be true," she said, as if to herself; and soon
we said good-by and came away--The Pilot, limp and voiceless, but I
triumphant, for I began to see a little light for Gwen.

But the fight was by no means over; indeed, it was hardly well begun.
For when the autumn came, with its misty, purple days, most glorious of
all days in the cattle country, the old restlessness came back and the
fierce refusal of her lot. Then came the day of the round-up. Why should
she have to stay while all went after the cattle? The Duke would
have remained, but she impatiently sent him away. She was weary and
heart-sick, and, worst of all, she began to feel that most terrible of
burdens, the burden of her life to others. I was much relieved when The
Pilot came in fresh and bright, waving a bunch of wild-flowers in his
hand.

"I thought they were all gone," he cried. "Where do you think I found
them? Right down by the big elm root," and, though he saw by the
settled gloom of her face that the storm was coming, he went bravely on
picturing the canyon in all the splendor of its autumn dress. But the
spell would not work. Her heart was out on the sloping hills, where the
cattle were bunching and crowding with tossing heads and rattling horns,
and it was in a voice very bitter and impatient that she cried:

"Oh, I am sick of all this! I want to ride! I want to see the cattle
and the men and--and--and all the things outside." The Pilot was cowboy
enough to know the longing that tugged at her heart for one wild race
after the calves or steers, but he could only say:

"Wait, Gwen. Try to be patient."

"I am patient; at least I have been patient for two whole months, and
it's no use, and I don't believe God cares one bit!"

"Yes, He does, Gwen, more than any of us," replied The Pilot, earnestly.

"No, He does not care," she answered, with angry emphasis, and The Pilot
made no reply.

"Perhaps," she went on, hesitatingly, "He's angry because I said I
didn't care for Him, you remember? That was very wicked. But don't you
think I'm punished nearly enough now? You made me very angry, and I
didn't really mean it."

Poor Gwen! God had grown to be very real to her during these weeks
of pain, and very terrible. The Pilot looked down a moment into the
blue-gray eyes, grown so big and so pitiful, and hurriedly dropping on
his knees beside the bed he said, in a very unsteady voice:

"Oh, Gwen, Gwen, He's not like that. Don't you remember how Jesus was
with the poor sick people? That's what He's like."

"Could Jesus make me well?"

"Yes, Gwen."

"Then why doesn't He?" she asked; and there was no impatience now, but
only trembling anxiety as she went on in a timid voice: "I asked Him to,
over and over, and said I would wait two months, and now it's more than
three. Are you quite sure He hears now?" She raised herself on her elbow
and gazed searchingly into The Pilot's face. I was glad it was not into
mine. As she uttered the words, "Are you quite sure?" one felt that
things were in the balance. I could not help looking at The Pilot with
intense anxiety. What would he answer? The Pilot gazed out of the window
upon the hills for a few moments. How long the silence seemed! Then,
turning, looked into the eyes that searched his so steadily and answered
simply:

"Yes, Gwen, I am quite sure!" Then, with quick inspiration, he got her
mother's Bible and said: "Now, Gwen, try to see it as I read." But,
before he read, with the true artist's instinct he created the proper
atmosphere. By a few vivid words he made us feel the pathetic
loneliness of the Man of Sorrows in His last sad days. Then he read that
masterpiece of all tragic picturing, the story of Gethsemane. And as he
read we saw it all. The garden and the trees and the sorrow-stricken
Man alone with His mysterious agony. We heard the prayer so pathetically
submissive and then, for answer, the rabble and the traitor.

Gwen was far too quick to need explanation, and The Pilot only said,
"You see, Gwen, God gave nothing but the best--to His own Son only the
best."

"The best? They took Him away, didn't they?" She knew the story well.

"Yes, but listen." He turned the leaves rapidly and read: "'We see Jesus
for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor.' That is how He
got His Kingdom."

Gwen listened silent but unconvinced, and then said slowly:

"But how can this be best for me? I am no use to anyone. It can't be
best to just lie here and make them all wait on me, and--and--I did
want to help daddy--and--oh--I know they will get tired of me! They are
getting tired already--I--I--can't help being hateful."

She was by this time sobbing as I had never heard her before--deep,
passionate sobs. Then again the Pilot had an inspiration.

"Now, Gwen," he said severely, "you know we're not as mean as that, and
that you are just talking nonsense, every word. Now I'm going to smooth
out your red hair and tell you a story."

"It's NOT red," she cried, between her sobs. This was her sore point.

"It is red, as red can be; a beautiful, shining purple RED," said The
Pilot emphatically, beginning to brush.

"Purple!" cried Gwen, scornfully.

"Yes, I've seen it in the sun, purple. Haven't you?" said The Pilot,
appealing to me. "And my story is about the canyon, our canyon, your
canyon, down there."

"Is it true?" asked Gwen, already soothed by the cool, quick-moving
hands.

"True? It's as true as--as--" he glanced round the room, "as the
Pilgrim's Progress." This was satisfactory, and the story went on.

"At first there were no canyons, but only the broad, open prairie. One
day the Master of the Prairie, walking out over his great lawns, where
were only grasses, asked the Prairie, 'Where are your flowers?' and the
Prairie said, 'Master, I have no seeds.' Then he spoke to the birds,
and they carried seeds of every kind of flower and strewed them far and
wide, and soon the Prairie bloomed with crocuses and roses and buffalo
beans and the yellow crowfoot and the wild sunflowers and the red lilies
all the summer long. Then the Master came and was well pleased; but he
missed the flowers he loved best of all, and he said to the Prairie:
'Where are the clematis and the columbine, the sweet violets and wind
flowers, and all the ferns and flowering shrubs?' And again he spoke to
the birds, and again they carried all the seeds and strewed them far and
wide. But, again, when the Master came, he could not find the flowers he
loved best of all, and he said: 'Where are those, my sweetest flowers?'
and the Prairie cried sorrowfully: 'Oh, Master, I cannot keep the
flowers, for the winds sweep fiercely, and the sun beats upon my
breast, and they wither up and fly away.' Then the Master spoke to the
Lightning, and with one swift blow the Lightning cleft the Prairie to
the heart. And the Prairie rocked and groaned in agony, and for many a
day moaned bitterly over its black, jagged, gaping wound. But the Little
Swan poured its waters through the cleft, and carried down deep black
mould, and once more the birds carried seeds and strewed them in the
canyon. And after a long time the rough rocks were decked out with soft
mosses and trailing vines, and all the nooks were hung with clematis
and columbine, and great elms lifted their huge tops high up into
the sunlight, and down about their feet clustered the low cedars and
balsams, and everywhere the violets and wind-flower and maiden-hair grew
and bloomed, till the canyon became the Masters place for rest and peace
and joy."

The quaint tale was ended, and Gwen lay quiet for some moments, then
said gently:

"Yes! The canyon flowers are much the best. Tell me what it means."

Then The Pilot read to her: "The fruits--I'll read 'flowers'--of the
Spirit are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness,
faith, meekness, self-control, and some of these grow only in the
canyon."

"Which are the canyon flowers?" asked Gwen softly, and The Pilot
answered:

"Gentleness, meekness, self-control; but though the others, love, joy,
peace, bloom in the open, yet never with so rich a bloom and so sweet a
perfume as in the canyon."

For a long time Gwen lay quite still, and then said wistfully, while her
lip trembled:

"There are no flowers in my canyon, but only ragged rocks."

"Some day they will bloom, Gwen dear; He will find them, and we, too,
shall see them."

Then he said good-by and took me away. He had done his work that day.

We rode through the big gate, down the sloping hill, past the smiling,
twinkling little lake, and down again out of the broad sunshine into
the shadows and soft lights of the canyon. As we followed the trail
that wound among the elms and cedars, the very air was full of gentle
stillness; and as we moved we seemed to feel the touch of loving hands
that lingered while they left us, and every flower and tree and vine
and shrub and the soft mosses and the deep-bedded ferns whispered, as we
passed, of love and peace and joy.

To The Duke it was all a wonder, for as the days shortened outside they
brightened inside; and every day, and more and more Gwen's room became
the brightest spot in all the house, and when he asked The Pilot:

"What did you do to the Little Princess, and what's all this about the
canyon and its flowers?" The Pilot said, looking wistfully into The
Duke's eyes:

"The fruits of the Spirit are love, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,
goodness, faith, meekness, self-control, and some of these are found
only in the canyon," and The Duke, standing up straight, handsome and
strong, looked back at The Pilot and said, putting out his hand:

"Do you know, I believe you're right."

"Yes, I'm quite sure," answered The Pilot, simply. Then, holding The
Duke's hand as long as one man dare hold another's, he added: "When you
come to your canyon, remember."

"When I come!" said The Duke, and a quick spasm of pain passed over his
handsome face--"God help me, it's not too far away now." Then he smiled
again his old, sweet smile, and said:

"Yes, you are all right, for, of all flowers I have seen, none are
fairer or sweeter than those that are waving in Gwen's Canyon."



CHAPTER XIV

BILL'S BLUFF


The Pilot had set his heart upon the building of a church in the Swan
Creek district, partly because he was human and wished to set a mark
of remembrance upon the country, but more because he held the sensible
opinion, that a congregation, as a man, must have a home if it is to
stay.

All through the summer he kept setting this as an object at once
desirable and possible to achieve. But few were found to agree with him.

Little Mrs. Muir was of the few, and she was not to be despised, but her
influence was neutralized by the solid immobility of her husband. He had
never done anything sudden in his life. Every resolve was the result of
a long process of mind, and every act of importance had to be previewed
from all possible points. An honest man, strongly religious, and a great
admirer of The Pilot, but slow-moving as a glacier, although with plenty
of fire in him deep down.

"He's soond at the hairt, ma man Robbie," his wife said to The Pilot,
who was fuming and fretting at the blocking of his plans, "but he's
terrible deleeberate. Bide ye a bit, laddie. He'll come tae."

"But meantime the summer's going and nothing will be done," was The
Pilot's distressed and impatient answer.

So a meeting was called to discuss the question of building a church,
with the result that the five men and three women present decided that
for the present nothing could be done. This was really Robbie's opinion,
though he refused to do or say anything but grunt, as The Pilot said
to me afterwards, in a rage. It is true, Williams, the storekeeper just
come from "across the line," did all the talking, but no one paid
much attention to his fluent fatuities except as they represented the
unexpressed mind of the dour, exasperating little Scotchman, who sat
silent but for an "ay" now and then, so expressive and conclusive that
everyone knew what he meant, and that discussion was at an end. The
schoolhouse was quite sufficient for the present; the people were too
few and too poor and they were getting on well under the leadership of
their present minister. These were the arguments which Robbie's "ay"
stamped as quite unanswerable.

It was a sore blow to The Pilot, who had set his heart upon a church,
and neither Mrs. Muir's "hoots" at her husband's slowness nor her
promises that she "wad mak him hear it" could bring comfort or relieve
his gloom.

In this state of mind he rode up with me to pay our weekly visit to the
little girl shut up in her lonely house among the hills.

It had become The Pilot's custom during these weeks to turn for cheer to
that little room, and seldom was he disappointed. She was so bright, so
brave, so cheery, and so full of fun, that gloom faded from her presence
as mist before the sun, and impatience was shamed into content.

Gwen's bright face--it was almost always bright now--and her bright
welcome did something for The Pilot, but the feeling of failure was upon
him, and failure to his enthusiastic nature was worse than pain. Not
that he confessed either to failure or gloom; he was far too true a
man for that; but Gwen felt his depression in spite of all his brave
attempts at brightness, and insisted that he was ill, appealing to me.

"Oh, it's only his church," I said, proceeding to give her an account
of Robbie Muir's silent, solid inertness, and how he had blocked The
Pilot's scheme.

"What a shame!" cried Gwen, indignantly. "What a bad man he must be!"

The Pilot smiled. "No, indeed," he answered; "why, he's the best man in
the place, but I wish he would say or do something. If he would only get
mad and swear I think I should feel happier."

Gwen looked quite mystified.

"You see, he sits there in solemn silence looking so tremendously wise
that most men feel foolish if they speak, while as for doing anything
the idea appears preposterous, in the face of his immovableness."

"I can't bear him!" cried Gwen. "I should like to stick pins in him."

"I wish some one would," answered The Pilot. "It would make him seem
more human if he could be made to jump."

"Try again," said Gwen, "and get someone to make him jump."

"It would be easier to build the church," said The Pilot, gloomily.

"I could make him jump," said Gwen, viciously, "and I WILL," she added,
after a pause.

"You!" answered The Pilot, opening his eyes. "How?"

"I'll find some way," she replied, resolutely.

And so she did, for when the next meeting was called to consult as to
the building of a church, the congregation, chiefly of farmers and their
wives, with Williams, the storekeeper, were greatly surprised to see
Bronco Bill, Hi, and half a dozen ranchers and cowboys walk in at
intervals and solemnly seat themselves. Robbie looked at them with
surprise and a little suspicion. In church matters he had no dealings
with the Samaritans from the hills, and while, in their unregenerate
condition, they might be regarded as suitable objects of missionary
effort, as to their having any part in the direction, much less control,
of the church policy--from such a notion Robbie was delivered by his
loyal adherence to the scriptural injunction that he should not cast
pearls before swine.

The Pilot, though surprised to see Bill and the cattle men, was none the
less delighted, and faced the meeting with more confidence. He stated
the question for discussion: Should a church building be erected this
summer in Swan Creek? and he put his case well. He showed the need of a
church for the sake of the congregation, for the sake of the men in the
district, the families growing up, the incoming settlers, and for the
sake of the country and its future. He called upon all who loved their
church and their country to unite in this effort. It was an enthusiastic
appeal and all the women and some of the men were at once upon his side.

Then followed dead, solemn silence. Robbie was content to wait till
the effect of the speech should be dissipated in smaller talk. Then he
gravely said:

"The kirk wad be a gran' thing, nae doot, an' they wad a'
dootless"--with a suspicious glance toward Bill--"rejoice in its
erection. But we maun be cautious, an' I wad like to enquire hoo much
money a kirk cud be built for, and whaur the money wad come frae?"

The Pilot was ready with his answer. The cost would be $1,200. The
Church Building Fund would contribute $200, the people could give $300
in labor, and the remaining $700 he thought could be raised in the
district in two years' time.

"Ay," said Robbie, and the tone and manner were sufficient to drench any
enthusiasm with the chilliest of water. So much was this the case that
the chairman, Williams, seemed quite justified in saying:

"It is quite evident that the opinion of the meeting is adverse to any
attempt to load the community with a debt of one thousand dollars,"
and he proceeded with a very complete statement of the many and various
objections to any attempt at building a church this year. The people
were very few, they were dispersed over a large area, they were not
interested sufficiently, they were all spending money and making little
in return; he supposed, therefore, that the meeting might adjourn.

Robbie sat silent and expressionless in spite of his little wife's
anxious whispers and nudges. The Pilot looked the picture of woe, and
was on the point of bursting forth, when the meeting was startled by
Bill.

"Say, boys! they hain't much stuck on their shop, heh?" The low,
drawling voice was perfectly distinct and arresting.

"Hain't got no use for it, seemingly," was the answer from the dark
corner.

"Old Scotchie takes his religion out in prayin', I guess," drawled in
Bill, "but wants to sponge for his plant."

This reference to Robbie's proposal to use the school moved the
youngsters to tittering and made the little Scotchman squirm, for he
prided himself upon his independence.

"There ain't $700 in the hull blanked outfit." This was a stranger's
voice, and again Robbie squirmed, for he rather prided himself also on
his ability to pay his way.

"No good!" said another emphatic voice. "A blanked lot o' psalm-singing
snipes."

"Order, order!" cried the chairman.

"Old Windbag there don't see any show for swipin' the collection, with
Scotchie round," said Hi, with a following ripple of quiet laughter, for
Williams' reputation was none too secure.

Robbie was in a most uncomfortable state of mind. So unusually stirred
was he that for the first time in his history he made a motion.

"I move we adjourn, Mr. Chairman," he said, in a voice which actually
vibrated with emotion.

"Different here! eh, boys?" drawled Bill.

"You bet," said Hi, in huge delight. "The meetin' ain't out yit."

"Ye can bide till mor-r-nin'," said Robbie, angrily. "A'm gaen hame,"
beginning to put on his coat.

"Seems as if he orter give the password," drawled Bill.

"Right you are, pardner," said Hi, springing to the door and waiting in
delighted expectation for his friend's lead.

Robbie looked at the door, then at his wife, hesitated a moment, I have
no doubt wishing her home. Then Bill stood up and began to speak.

"Mr. Chairman, I hain't been called on for any remarks--"

"Go on!" yelled his friends from the dark corner. "Hear! hear!"

"An' I didn't feel as if this war hardly my game, though The Pilot ain't
mean about invitin' a feller on Sunday afternoons. But them as runs the
shop don't seem to want us fellers round too much."

Robbie was gazing keenly at Bill, and here shook his head, muttering
angrily: "Hoots, nonsense! ye're welcome eneuch."

"But," went on Bill, slowly, "I guess I've been on the wrong track.
I've been a-cherishin' the opinion" ["Hear! hear!" yelled his admirers],
"cherishin' the opinion," repeated Bill, "that these fellers," pointing
to Robbie, "was stuck on religion, which I ain't much myself, and reely
consarned about the blocking ov the devil, which The Pilot says can't be
did without a regular Gospel factory. O' course, it tain't any biznis
ov mine, but if us fellers was reely only sot on anything condoocin',"
["Hear! hear!" yelled Hi, in ecstasy], "condoocin'," repeated Bill
slowly and with relish, "to the good ov the Order" (Bill was a
brotherhood man), "I b'lieve I know whar five hundred dollars mebbe cud
per'aps be got."

"You bet your sox," yelled the strange voice, in chorus with other
shouts of approval.

"O' course, I ain't no bettin' man," went on Bill, insinuatingly, "as a
regular thing, but I'd gamble a few jist here on this pint; if the boys
was stuck on anythin' costin' about seven hundred dollars, it seems to
me likely they'd git it in about two days, per'aps."

Here Robbie grunted out an "ay" of such fulness of contemptuous unbelief
that Bill paused, and, looking over Robbie's head, he drawled out, even
more slowly and mildly:

"I ain't much given to bettin', as I remarked before, but, if a man
shakes money at me on that proposition, I'd accommodate him to a limited
extent." ["Hear! hear! Bully boy!" yelled Hi again, from the door.] "Not
bein' too bold, I cherish the opinion" [again yells of approval from
the corner], "that even for this here Gospel plant, seein' The Pilot's
rather sot onto it, I b'lieve the boys could find five hundred dollars
inside ov a month, if perhaps these fellers cud wiggle the rest out ov
their pants."

Then Robbie was in great wrath and, stung by the taunting, drawling
voice beyond all self-command, he broke out suddenly:

"Ye'll no can mak that guid, I doot."

"D'ye mean I ain't prepared to back it up?"

"Ay," said Robbie, grimly.

"'Tain't likely I'll be called on; I guess $500 is safe enough," drawled
Bill, cunningly drawing him on. Then Robbie bit.

"Oo ay!" said he, in a voice of quiet contempt, "the twa hunner wull be
here and 'twull wait ye long eneuch, I'se warrant ye."

Then Bill nailed him.

"I hain't got my card case on my person," he said, with a slight grin.

"Left it on the pianner," suggested Hi, who was in a state of great
hilarity at Bill's success in drawing the Scottie.

"But," Bill proceeded, recovering himself, and with increasing suavity,
"if some gentleman would mark down the date of the almanac I cherish the
opinion" [cheers from the corner] "that in one month from to-day there
will be five hundred dollars lookin' round for two hundred on that there
desk mebbe, or p'raps you would incline to two fifty," he drawled, in
his most winning tone to Robbie, who was growing more impatient every
moment.

"Nae matter tae me. Ye're haverin' like a daft loon, ony way."

"You will make a memento of this slight transaction, boys, and per'aps
the schoolmaster will write it down," said Bill.

It was all carefully taken down, and amid much enthusiastic confusion
the ranchers and their gang carried Bill off to Old Latour's to "licker
up," while Robbie, in deep wrath but in dour silence, went off through
the dark with his little wife following some paces behind him. His
chief grievance, however, was against the chairman for "allooin' sic a
disorderly pack o' loons tae disturb respectable fowk," for he could
not hide the fact that he had been made to break through his accustomed
defence line of immovable silence. I suggested, conversing with him next
day upon the matter, that Bill was probably only chaffing.

"Ay," said Robbie, in great disgust, "the daft eejut, he wad mak a fule
o' onything or onybuddie."

That was the sorest point with poor Robbie. Bill had not only cast
doubts upon his religious sincerity, which the little man could not
endure, but he had also held him up to the ridicule of the community,
which was painful to his pride. But when he understood, some days later,
that Bill was taking steps to back up his offer and had been heard to
declare that "he'd make them pious ducks take water if he had to put up
a year's pay," Robbie went quietly to work to make good his part of the
bargain. For his Scotch pride would not suffer him to refuse a challenge
from such a quarter.



CHAPTER XV

BILL'S PARTNER


The next day everyone was talking of Bill's bluffing the church people,
and there was much quiet chuckling over the discomfiture of Robbie Muir
and his party.

The Pilot was equally distressed and bewildered, for Bill's conduct, so
very unusual, had only one explanation--the usual one for any folly in
that country.

"I wish he had waited till after the meeting to go to Latour's. He
spoiled the last chance I had. There's no use now," he said, sadly.

"But he may do something," I suggested.

"Oh, fiddle!" said The Pilot, contemptuously. "He was only giving Muir
'a song and dance,' as he would say. The whole thing is off."

But when I told Gwen the story of the night's proceedings, she went into
raptures over Bill's grave speech and his success in drawing the canny
Scotchman.

"Oh, lovely! dear old Bill and his 'cherished opinion.' Isn't he just
lovely? Now he'll do something."

"Who, Bill?"

"No, that stupid Scottie." This was her name for the immovable Robbie.

"Not he, I'm afraid. Of course Bill was just bluffing him. But it was
good sport."

"Oh, lovely! I knew he'd do something."

"Who? Scottie?" I asked, for her pronouns were perplexing.

"No!" she cried, "Bill! He promised he would, you know," she added.

"So you were at the bottom of it?" I said, amazed.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" she kept crying, shrieking with laughter over
Bill's cherishing opinions and desires. "I shall be ill. Dear old Bill.
He said he'd 'try to get a move on to him.'"

Before I left that day, Bill himself came to the Old Timer's ranch,
inquiring in a casual way "if the 'boss' was in."

"Oh, Bill!" called out Gwen, "come in here at once; I want you."

After some delay and some shuffling with hat and spurs, Bill lounged
in and set his lank form upon the extreme end of a bench at the door,
trying to look unconcerned as he remarked: "Gittin' cold. Shouldn't
wonder if we'd have a little snow."

"Oh, come here," cried Gwen, impatiently, holding out her hand. "Come
here and shake hands."

Bill hesitated, spat out into the other room his quid of tobacco, and
swayed awkwardly across the room toward the bed, and, taking Gwen's
hand, he shook it up and down, and hurriedly said:

"Fine day, ma'am; hope I see you quite well."

"No; you don't," cried Gwen, laughing immoderately, but keeping hold
of Bill's hand, to his great confusion. "I'm not well a bit, but I'm a
great deal better since hearing of your meeting, Bill."

To this Bill made no reply, being entirely engrossed in getting his
hard, bony, brown hand out of the grasp of the white, clinging fingers.

"Oh, Bill," went on Gwen, "it was delightful! How did you do it?"

But Bill, who had by this time got back to his seat at the door,
pretended ignorance of any achievement calling for remark. He "hadn't
done nothin' more out ov the way than usual."

"Oh, don't talk nonsense!" cried Gwen, impatiently. "Tell me how you got
Scottie to lay you two hundred and fifty dollars."

"Oh, that!" said Bill, in great surprise; "that ain't nuthin' much.
Scottie riz slick enough."

"But how did you get him?" persisted Gwen. "Tell me, Bill," she added,
in her most coaxing voice.

"Well," said Bill, "it was easy as rollin' off a log. I made the remark
as how the boys ginerally put up for what they wanted without no fuss,
and that if they was sot on havin' a Gospel shack I cherished the
opinion"--here Gwen went off into a smothered shriek, which made Bill
pause and look at her in alarm.

"Go on," she gasped.

"I cherished the opinion," drawled on Bill, while Gwen stuck her
handkerchief into her mouth, "that mebbe they'd put up for it the seven
hundred dollars, and, even as it was, seein' as The Pilot appeared to be
sot on to it, if them fellers would find two hundred and fifty I cher--"
another shriek from Gwen cut him suddenly short.

"It's the rheumaticks, mebbe," said Bill, anxiously. "Terrible bad
weather for 'em. I get 'em myself."

"No, no," said Gwen, wiping away her tears and subduing her laughter.
"Go on, Bill."

"There ain't no more," said Bill. "He bit, and the master here put it
down."

"Yes, it's here right enough," I said, "but I don't suppose you mean to
follow it up, do you?"

"You don't, eh? Well, I am not responsible for your supposin', but them
that is familiar with Bronco Bill generally expects him to back up his
undertakin's."

"But how in the world can you get five hundred dollars from the cowboys
for a church?"

"I hain't done the arithmetic yet, but it's safe enough. You see, it
ain't the church altogether, it's the reputation of the boys."

"I'll help, Bill," said Gwen.

Bill nodded his head slowly and said: "Proud to have you," trying hard
to look enthusiastic.

"You don't think I can," said Gwen. Bill protested against such an
imputation. "But I can. I'll get daddy and The Duke, too."

"Good line!" said Bill, slapping his knee.

"And I'll give all my money, too, but it isn't very much," she added,
sadly.

"Much!" said Bill, "if the rest of the fellows play up to that lead
there won't be any trouble about that five hundred."

Gwen was silent for some time, then said with an air of resolve:

"I'll give my pinto!"

"Nonsense!" I exclaimed, while Bill declared "there warn't no call."

"Yes. I'll give the Pinto!" said Gwen, decidedly. "I'll not need him any
more," her lips quivered, and Bill coughed and spat into the next room,
"and besides, I want to give something I like. And Bill will sell him
for me!"

"Well," said Bill, slowly, "now come to think, it'll be purty hard to
sell that there pinto." Gwen began to exclaim indignantly, and Bill
hurried on to say, "Not but what he ain't a good leetle horse for his
weight, good leetle horse, but for cattle--"

"Why, Bill, there isn't a better cattle horse anywhere!"

"Yes, that's so," assented Bill. "That's so, if you've got the rider,
but put one of them rangers on to him and it wouldn't be no fair show."
Bill was growing more convinced every moment that the pinto wouldn't
sell to any advantage. "Ye see," he explained carefully and cunningly,
"he ain't a horse you could yank round and slam into a bunch of steers
regardless."

Gwen shuddered. "Oh, I wouldn't think of selling him to any of those
cowboys." Bill crossed his legs and hitched round uncomfortably on his
bench. "I mean one of those rough fellows that don't know how to treat
a horse." Bill nodded, looking relieved. "I thought that some one like
you, Bill, who knew how to handle a horse--"

Gwen paused, and then added: "I'll ask The Duke."

"No call for that," said Bill, hastily, "not but what The Dook ain't all
right as a jedge of a horse, but The Dook ain't got the connection, it
ain't his line." Bill hesitated. "But, if you are real sot on to sellin'
that pinto, come to think I guess I could find a sale for him, though,
of course, I think perhaps the figger won't be high."

And so it was arranged that the pinto should be sold and that Bill
should have the selling of it.

It was characteristic of Gwen that she would not take farewell of the
pony on whose back she had spent so many hours of freedom and delight.
When once she gave him up she refused to allow her heart to cling to him
any more.

It was characteristic, too, of Bill that he led off the pinto after
night had fallen, so that "his pardner" might be saved the pain of the
parting.

"This here's rather a new game for me, but when my pardner," here he
jerked his head towards Gwen's window, "calls for trumps, I'm blanked if
I don't throw my highest, if it costs a leg."



CHAPTER XVI

BILL'S FINANCING


Bill's method of conducting the sale of the pinto was eminently
successful as a financial operation, but there are those in the Swan
Creek country who have never been able to fathom the mystery attaching
to the affair. It was at the fall round-up, the beef round-up, as it
is called, which this year ended at the Ashley Ranch. There were
representatives from all the ranches and some cattle-men from across
the line. The hospitality of the Ashley Ranch was up to its own
lofty standard, and, after supper, the men were in a state of high
exhilaration. The Hon. Fred and his wife, Lady Charlotte, gave
themselves to the duties of their position as hosts for the day with a
heartiness and grace beyond praise. After supper the men gathered round
the big fire, which was piled up before the long, low shed, which stood
open in front. It was a scene of such wild and picturesque interest as
can only be witnessed in the western ranching country. About the fire,
most of them wearing "shaps" and all of them wide, hard-brimmed cowboy
hats, the men grouped themselves, some reclining upon skins thrown upon
the ground, some standing, some sitting, smoking, laughing, chatting,
all in highest spirits and humor. They had just got through with their
season of arduous and, at times, dangerous toil. Their minds were full
of their long, hard rides, their wild and varying experiences with mad
cattle and bucking broncos, their anxious watchings through hot nights,
when a breath of wind or a coyote's howl might set the herd off in
a frantic stampede, their wolf hunts and badger fights and all the
marvellous adventures that fill up a cowboy's summer. Now these were all
behind them. To-night they were free men and of independent means, for
their season's pay was in their pockets. The day's excitement, too, was
still in their blood, and they were ready for anything.

Bill, as king of the bronco-busters, moved about with the slow, careless
indifference of a man sure of his position and sure of his ability to
maintain it.

He spoke seldom and slowly, was not as ready-witted as his partner, Hi
Kendal, but in act he was swift and sure, and "in trouble" he could
be counted on. He was, as they said, "a white man; white to the back,"
which was understood to sum up the true cattle man's virtues.

"Hello, Bill," said a friend, "where's Hi? Hain't seen him around!"

"Well, don't jest know. He was going to bring up my pinto."

"Your pinto? What pinto's that? You hain't got no pinto!"

"Mebbe not," said Bill, slowly, "but I had the idee before you spoke
that I had."

"That so? Whar'd ye git him? Good for cattle?" The crowd began to
gather.

Bill grew mysterious, and even more than usually reserved.

"Good fer cattle! Well, I ain't much on gamblin', but I've got a leetle
in my pants that says that there pinto kin outwork any blanked bronco in
this outfit, givin' him a fair show after the cattle."

The men became interested.

"Whar was he raised?"

"Dunno."

"Whar'd ye git him? Across the line?"

"No," said Bill stoutly, "right in this here country. The Dook there
knows him."

This at once raised the pinto several points. To be known, and, as
Bill's tone indicated, favorably known by The Duke, was a testimonial to
which any horse might aspire.

"Whar'd ye git him, Bill? Don't be so blanked oncommunicatin'!" said an
impatient voice.

Bill hesitated; then, with an apparent burst of confidence, he assumed
his frankest manner and voice, and told his tale.

"Well," he said, taking a fresh chew and offering his plug to his
neighbor, who passed it on after helping himself, "ye see, it was like
this. Ye know that little Meredith gel?"

Chorus of answers: "Yes! The red-headed one. I know! She's a
daisy!--reg'lar blizzard!--lightnin' conductor!"

Bill paused, stiffened himself a little, dropped his frank air and
drawled out in cool, hard tones: "I might remark that that young lady
is, I might persoom to say, a friend of mine, which I'm prepared to back
up in my best style, and if any blanked blanked son of a street sweeper
has any remark to make, here's his time now!"

In the pause that followed murmurs were heard extolling the many
excellences of the young lady in question, and Bill, appeased, yielded
to the requests for the continuance of his story, and, as he described
Gwen and her pinto and her work on the ranch, the men, many of whom had
had glimpses of her, gave emphatic approval in their own way. But as he
told of her rescue of Joe and of the sudden calamity that had befallen
her a great stillness fell upon the simple, tender-hearted fellows,
and they listened with their eyes shining in the firelight with growing
intentness. Then Bill spoke of The Pilot and how he stood by her and
helped her and cheered her till they began to swear he was "all right";
"and now," concluded Bill, "when The Pilot is in a hole she wants to
help him out."

"O' course," said one. "Right enough. How's she going to work it?" said
another.

"Well, he's dead set on to buildin' a meetin'-house, and them fellows
down at the Creek that does the prayin' and such don't seem to back him
up!"

"Whar's the kick, Bill?"

"Oh, they don't want to go down into their clothes and put up for it."

"How much?"

"Why, he only asked 'em for seven hundred the hull outfit, and would
give 'em two years, but they bucked--wouldn't look at it."

[Chorus of expletives descriptive of the characters and personal
appearance and belongings of the congregation of Swan Creek.]

"Were you there, Bill? What did you do?"

"Oh," said Bill, modestly, "I didn't do much. Gave 'em a little bluff."

"No! How? What? Go on, Bill."

But Bill remained silent, till under strong pressure, and, as if making
a clean breast of everything, he said:

"Well, I jest told 'em that if you boys made such a fuss about anythin'
like they did about their Gospel outfit, an' I ain't sayin' anythin'
agin it, you'd put up seven hundred without turnin' a hair."

"You're the stuff, Bill! Good man! You're talkin' now! What did they say
to that, eh, Bill?"

"Well," said Bill, slowly, "they CALLED me!"

"No! That so? An' what did you do, Bill?"

"Gave 'em a dead straight bluff!"

[Yells of enthusiastic approval.]

"Did they take you, Bill?"

"Well, I reckon they did. The master, here, put it down."

Whereupon I read the terms of Bill's bluff.

There was a chorus of very hearty approvals of Bill's course in "not
taking any water" from that variously characterized "outfit." But the
responsibility of the situation began to dawn upon them when some one
asked:

"How are you going about it, Bill?"

"Well," drawled Bill, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice, "there's
that pinto."

"Pinto be blanked!" said young Hill. "Say, boys, is that little girl
going to lose that one pony of hers to help out her friend The Pilot?
Good fellow, too, he is! We know he's the right sort."

[Chorus of, "Not by a long sight; not much; we'll put up the stuff!
Pinto!"]

"Then," went on Bill, even more slowly, "there's The Pilot; he's going
for to ante up a month's pay; 'taint much, o' course--twenty-eight a
month and grub himself. He might make it two," he added, thoughtfully.
But Bill's proposal was scorned with contemptuous groans. "Twenty-eight
a month and grub himself o' course ain't much for a man to save money
out ov to eddicate himself." Bill continued, as if thinking aloud, "O'
course he's got his mother at home, but she can't make much more than
her own livin', but she might help him some."

This was altogether too much for the crowd. They consigned Bill and his
plans to unutterable depths of woe.

"O' course," Bill explained, "it's jest as you boys feel about it. Mebbe
I was, bein' hot, a little swift in givin' 'em the bluff."

"Not much, you wasn't! We'll see you out! That's the talk! There's
between twenty and thirty of us here."

"I should be glad to contribute thirty or forty if need be," said The
Duke, who was standing not far off, "to assist in the building of a
church. It would be a good thing, and I think the parson should be
encouraged. He's the right sort."

"I'll cover your thirty," said young Hill; and so it went from one to
another in tens and fifteens and twenties, till within half an hour I
had entered three hundred and fifty dollars in my book, with Ashley yet
to hear from, which meant fifty more. It was Bill's hour of triumph.

"Boys," he said, with solemn emphasis, "ye're all white. But that leetle
pale-faced gel, that's what I'm thinkin' on. Won't she open them big
eyes ov hers! I cherish the opinion that this'll tickle her some."

The men were greatly pleased with Bill and even more pleased with
themselves. Bill's picture of the "leetle gel" and her pathetically
tragic lot had gone right to their hearts and, with men of that stamp,
it was one of their few luxuries to yield to their generous impulses.
The most of them had few opportunities of lavishing love and sympathy
upon worthy objects and, when the opportunity came, all that was best in
them clamored for expression.



CHAPTER XVII

HOW THE PINTO SOLD


The glow of virtuous feeling following the performance of their generous
act prepared the men for a keener enjoyment than usual of a night's
sport. They had just begun to dispose themselves in groups about the
fire for poker and other games when Hi rode up into the light and with
him a stranger on Gwen's beautiful pinto pony.

Hi was evidently half drunk and, as he swung himself of his bronco,
he saluted the company with a wave of the hand and hoped he saw them
"kickin'."

Bill, looking curiously at Hi, went up to the pinto and, taking him by
the head, led him up into the light, saying:

"See here, boys, there's that pinto of mine I was telling you about; no
flies on him, eh?"

"Hold on there! Excuse me!" said the stranger, "this here hoss belongs
to me, if paid-down money means anything in this country."

"The country's all right," said Bill in an ominously quiet voice, "but
this here pinto's another transaction, I reckon."

"The hoss is mine, I say, and what's more, I'm goin' to hold him," said
the stranger in a loud voice.

The men began to crowd around with faces growing hard. It was dangerous
in that country to play fast and loose with horses.

"Look a-hyar, mates," said the stranger, with a Yankee drawl, "I ain't
no hoss thief, and if I hain't bought this hoss reg'lar and paid down
good money then it ain't mine--if I have it is. That's fair, ain't it?"

At this Hi pulled himself together, and in a half-drunken tone declared
that the stranger was all right, and that he had bought the horse fair
and square, and "there's your dust," said Hi, handing a roll to Bill.
But with a quick movement Bill caught the stranger by the leg, and,
before a word could be said, he was lying flat on the ground.

"You git off that pony," said Bill, "till this thing is settled."

There was something so terrible in Bill's manner that the man contented
himself with blustering and swearing, while Bill, turning to Hi, said:

"Did you sell this pinto to him?"

Hi was able to acknowledge that, being offered a good price, and knowing
that his partner was always ready for a deal, he had transferred the
pinto to the stranger for forty dollars.

Bill was in distress, deep and poignant. "'Taint the horse, but the
leetle gel," he explained; but his partner's bargain was his, and
wrathful as he was, he refused to attempt to break the bargain.

At this moment the Hon. Fred, noting the unusual excitement about the
fire, came up, followed at a little distance by his wife and The Duke.

"Perhaps he'll sell," he suggested.

"No," said Bill sullenly, "he's a mean cuss."

"I know him," said the Hon. Fred, "let me try him." But the stranger
declared the pinto suited him down to the ground and he wouldn't take
twice his money for him.

"Why," he protested, "that there's what I call an unusual hoss, and down
in Montana for a lady he'd fetch up to a hundred and fifty dollars." In
vain they haggled and bargained; the man was immovable. Eighty dollars
he wouldn't look at, a hundred hardly made him hesitate. At this point
Lady Charlotte came down into the light and stood by her husband,
who explained the circumstances to her. She had already heard Bill's
description of Gwen's accident and of her part in the church-building
schemes. There was silence for a few moments as she stood looking at the
beautiful pony.

"What a shame the poor child should have to part with the dear little
creature!" she said in a low tone to her husband. Then, turning to the
stranger, she said in clear, sweet tones:

"What do you ask for him?" He hesitated and then said, lifting his hat
awkwardly in salute: "I was just remarking how that pinto would fetch
one hundred and fifty dollars down into Montana. But seein' as a lady is
enquirin', I'll put him down to one hundred and twenty-five."

"Too much," she said promptly, "far too much, is it not, Bill?"

"Well," drawled Bill, "if 'twere a fellar as was used to ladies he'd
offer you the pinto, but he's too pizen mean even to come down to the
even hundred."

The Yankee took him up quickly. "Wall, if I were so blanked--pardon,
madam"--taking off his hat, "used to ladies as some folks would like to
think themselves, I'd buy that there pinto and make a present of it to
this here lady as stands before me." Bill twisted uneasily.

"But I ain't goin' to be mean; I'll put that pinto in for the even money
for the lady if any man cares to put up the stuff."

"Well, my dear," said the Hon. Fred with a bow, "we cannot well let that
gage lie." She turned and smiled at him and the pinto was transferred
to the Ashley stables, to Bill's outspoken delight, who declared he
"couldn't have faced the music if that there pinto had gone across the
line." I confess, however, I was somewhat surprised at the ease with
which Hi escaped his wrath, and my surprise was in no way lessened when
I saw, later in the evening, the two partners with the stranger taking
a quiet drink out of the same bottle with evident mutual admiration and
delight.

"You're an A1 corker, you are! I'll be blanked if you ain't a bird--a
singin' bird--a reg'lar canary," I heard Hi say to Bill.

But Bill's only reply was a long, slow wink which passed into a frown
as he caught my eye. My suspicion was aroused that the sale of the pinto
might bear investigation, and this suspicion was deepened when Gwen next
week gave me a rapturous account of how splendidly Bill had disposed
of the pinto, showing me bills for one hundred and fifty dollars! To my
look of amazement, Gwen replied:

"You see, he must have got them bidding against each other, and besides,
Bill says pintos are going up."

Light began to dawn upon me, but I only answered that I knew they had
risen very considerably in value within a month. The extra fifty was
Bill's.

I was not present to witness the finishing of Bill's bluff, but was told
that when Bill made his way through the crowded aisle and laid his five
hundred and fifty dollars on the schoolhouse desk the look of disgust,
surprise and finally of pleasure on Robbie's face, was worth a hundred
more. But Robbie was ready and put down his two hundred with the single
remark:

"Ay! ye're no as daft as ye look," mid roars of laughter from all.

Then The Pilot, with eyes and face shining, rose and thanked them all;
but when he told of how the little girl in her lonely shack in the hills
thought so much of the church that she gave up for it her beloved pony,
her one possession, the light from his eyes glowed in the eyes of all.

But the men from the ranches who could understand the full meaning
of her sacrifice and who also could realize the full measure of her
calamity, were stirred to their hearts' depths, so that when Bill
remarked in a very distinct undertone, "I cherish the opinion that this
here Gospel shop wouldn't be materializin' into its present shape but
for that leetle gel," there rose growls of approval in a variety of
tones and expletives that left no doubt that his opinion was that of
all.

But though The Pilot never could quite get at the true inwardness of
Bill's measures and methods, and was doubtless all the more comfortable
in mind for that, he had no doubt that while Gwen's influence was the
moving spring of action, Bill's bluff had a good deal to do with
the "materializin'" of the first church in Swan Creek, and in this
conviction, I share.

Whether the Hon. Fred ever understood the peculiar style of Bill's
financing, I do not quite know. But if he ever did come to know, he was
far too much of a man to make a fuss. Besides, I fancy the smile on his
lady's face was worth some large amount to him. At least, so the look of
proud and fond love in his eyes seemed to say as he turned away with her
from the fire the night of the pinto's sale.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE LADY CHARLOTTE


The night of the pinto's sale was a night momentous to Gwen, for then it
was that the Lady Charlotte's interest in her began. Momentous, too, to
the Lady Charlotte, for it was that night that brought The Pilot into
her life.

I had turned back to the fire around which the men had fallen into
groups prepared to have an hour's solid delight, for the scene was full
of wild and picturesque beauty to me, when The Duke came and touched me
on the shoulder.

"Lady Charlotte would like to see you."

"And why, pray?"

"She wants to hear about this affair of Bill's."

We went through the kitchen into the large dining-room, at one end of
which was a stone chimney and fireplace. Lady Charlotte had declared
that she did not much care what kind of a house the Hon. Fred would
build for her, but that she must have a fireplace.

She was very beautiful--tall, slight and graceful in every line. There
was a reserve and a grand air in her bearing that put people in awe of
her. This awe I shared; but as I entered the room she welcomed me with
such kindly grace that I felt quite at ease in a moment.

"Come and sit by me," she said, drawing an armchair into the circle
about the fire. "I want you to tell us all about a great many things."

"You see what you're in for, Connor," said her husband. "It is a serious
business when my lady takes one in hand."

"As he knows to his cost," she said, smiling and shaking her head at her
husband.

"So I can testify," put in The Duke.

"Ah! I can't do anything with you," she replied, turning to him.

"Your most abject slave," he replied with a profound bow.

"If you only were," smiling at him--a little sadly, I thought--"I'd keep
you out of all sorts of mischief."

"Quite true, Duke," said her husband, "just look at me."

The Duke gazed at him a moment or two. "Wonderful!" he murmured, "what a
deliverance!"

"Nonsense!" broke in Lady Charlotte. "You are turning my mind away from
my purpose."

"Is it possible, do you think?" said The Duke to her husband.

"Not in the very least," he replied, "if my experience goes for
anything."

But Lady Charlotte turned her back upon them and said to me:

"Now, tell me first about Bill's encounter with that funny little
Scotchman."

Then I told her the story of Bill's bluff in my best style, imitating,
as I have some small skill in doing, the manner and speech of the
various actors in the scene. She was greatly amused and interested.

"And Bill has really got his share ready," she cried. "It is very clever
of him."

"Yes," I replied, "but Bill is only the very humble instrument, the
moving spirit is behind."

"Oh, yes, you mean the little girl that owns the pony," she said.
"That's another thing you must tell me about."

"The Duke knows more than I," I replied, shifting the burden to him; "my
acquaintance is only of yesterday; his is lifelong."

"Why have you never told me of her?" she demanded, turning to the Duke.

"Haven't I told you of the little Meredith girl? Surely I have," said
The Duke, hesitatingly.

"Now, you know quite well you have not, and that means you are deeply
interested. Oh, I know you well," she said, severely.

"He is the most secretive man," she went on to me, "shamefully and
ungratefully reserved."

The Duke smiled; then said, lazily: "Why, she's just a child. Why should
you be interested in her? No one was," he added sadly, "till misfortune
distinguished her."

Her eyes grew soft, and her gay manner changed, and she said to The Duke
gently: "Tell me of her now."

It was evidently an effort, but he began his story of Gwen from the time
he saw her first, years ago, playing in and out of her father's rambling
shack, shy and wild as a young fox. As he went on with his tale, his
voice dropped into a low, musical tone, and he seemed as if dreaming
aloud. Unconsciously he put into the tale much of himself, revealing how
great an influence the little child had had upon him, and how empty of
love his life had been in this lonely land. Lady Charlotte listened
with face intent upon him, and even her bluff husband was conscious that
something more than usual was happening. He had never heard The Duke
break through his proud reserve before.

But when The Duke told the story of Gwen's awful fall, which he did with
great graphic power, a little red spot burned upon the Lady Charlotte's
pale cheek, and, as The Duke finished his tale with the words, "It was
her last ride," she covered her face with her hands and cried:

"Oh, Duke, it is horrible to think of! But what splendid courage!"

"Great stuff! eh, Duke?" cried the Hon. Fred, kicking a burning log
vigorously.

But The Duke made no reply.

"How is she now, Duke?" said Lady Charlotte. The Duke looked up as
from a dream. "Bright as the morning," he said. Then, in reply to Lady
Charlotte's look of wonder, he added:

"The Pilot did it. Connor will tell you. I don't understand it."

"Nor do I, either. But I can tell you only what I saw and heard," I
answered.

"Tell me," said Lady Charlotte very gently.

Then I told her how, one by one, we had failed to help her, and how
The Pilot had ridden up that morning through the canyon, and how he had
brought the first light and peace to her by his marvellous pictures of
the flowers and ferns and trees and all the wonderful mysteries of that
wonderful canyon.

"But that wasn't all," said the Duke quickly, as I stopped.

"No," I said slowly, "that was NOT all by a long way; but the rest I
don't understand. That's The Pilot's secret."

"Tell me what he did," said Lady Charlotte, softly, once more. "I want
to know."

"I don't think I can," I replied. "He simply read out of the Scriptures
to her and talked."

Lady Charlotte looked disappointed.

"Is that all?" she said.

"It is quite enough for Gwen," said The Duke confidently, "for there she
lies, often suffering, always longing for the hills and the free air,
but with her face radiant as the flowers of the beloved canyon."

"I must see her," said Lady Charlotte, "and that wonderful Pilot."

"You'll be disappointed in him," said The Duke.

"Oh, I've see him and heard him, but I don't know him," she replied.
"There must be something in him that one does not see at first."

"So I have discovered," said The Duke, and with that the subject was
dropped, but not before the Lady Charlotte made me promise to take her
to Gwen, The Duke being strangely unwilling to do this for her.

"You'll be disappointed," he said. "She is only a simple little child."

But Lady Charlotte thought differently, and, having made up her mind
upon the matter, there was nothing for it, as her husband said, but "for
all hands to surrender and the sooner the better."

And so the Lady Charlotte had her way, which, as it turned out, was much
the wisest and best.



CHAPTER XIX

THROUGH GWEN'S WINDOW


When I told The Pilot of Lady Charlotte's purpose to visit Gwen, he was
not too well pleased.

"What does she want with Gwen?" he said impatiently. "She will just put
notions into her head and make the child discontented."

"Why should she?" said I.

"She won't mean to, but she belongs to another world, and Gwen cannot
talk to her without getting glimpses of a life that will make her long
for what she can never have," said The Pilot.

"But suppose it is not idle curiosity in Lady Charlotte," I suggested.

"I don't say it is quite that," he answered, "but these people love a
sensation."

"I don't think you know Lady Charlotte," I replied. "I hardly think from
her tone the other night that she is a sensation hunter."

"At any rate," he answered, decidedly, "she is not to worry poor Gwen."

I was a little surprised at his attitude, and felt that he was unfair to
Lady Charlotte, but I forbore to argue with him on the matter. He could
not bear to think of any person or thing threatening the peace of his
beloved Gwen.

The very first Saturday after my promise was given we were surprised
to see Lady Charlotte ride up to the door of our shack in the early
morning.

"You see, I am not going to let you off," she said, as I greeted her.
"And the day is so very fine for a ride."

I hastened to apologize for not going to her, and then to get out of my
difficulty, rather meanly turned toward The Pilot, and said:

"The Pilot doesn't approve of our visit."

"And why not, may I ask?" said Lady Charlotte, lifting her eyebrows.

The Pilot's face burned, partly with wrath at me, and partly with
embarrassment; for Lady Charlotte had put on her grand air. But he stood
to his guns.

"I was saying, Lady Charlotte," he said, looking straight into her eyes,
"that you and Gwen have little in common--and--and--" he hesitated.

"Little in common!" said Lady Charlotte quietly. "She has suffered
greatly."

The Pilot was quick to catch the note of sadness in her voice.

"Yes," he said, wondering at her tone, "she has suffered greatly."

"And," continued Lady Charlotte, "she is bright as the morning, The Duke
says." There was a look of pain in her face.

The Pilot's face lit up, and he came nearer and laid his hand
caressingly upon her beautiful horse.

"Yes, thank God!" he said quickly, "bright as the morning."

"How can that be?" she asked, looking down into his face. "Perhaps she
would tell me."

"Lady Charlotte," said The Pilot with a sudden flush, "I must ask your
pardon. I was wrong. I thought you--" he paused; "but go to Gwen, she
will tell you, and you will do her good."

"Thank you," said Lady Charlotte, putting out her hand, "and perhaps you
will come and see me, too."

The Pilot promised and stood looking after us as we rode up the trail.

"There is something more in your Pilot than at first appears," she said.
"The Duke was quite right."

"He is a great man," I said with enthusiasm; "tender as a woman and with
the heart of a hero."

"You and Bill and The Duke seem to agree about him," she said, smiling.

Then I told her tales of The Pilot, and of his ways with the men, till
her blue eyes grew bright and her beautiful face lost its proud look.

"It is perfectly amazing," I said, finishing my story, "how these
devil-may-care rough fellows respect him, and come to him in all sorts
of trouble. I can't understand it, and yet he is just a boy."

"No, not amazing," said Lady Charlotte slowly. "I think I understand it.
He has a true man's heart; and holds a great purpose in it. I've seen
men like that. Not clergymen, I mean, but men with a great purpose."

Then, after a moment's thought, she added: "But you ought to care for
him better. He does not look strong."

"Strong!" I exclaimed quickly, with a queer feeling of resentment at my
heart. "He can do as much riding as any of us."

"Still," she replied, "there's something in his face that would make his
mother anxious." In spite of my repudiation of her suggestion, I found
myself for the next few minutes thinking of how he would come exhausted
and faint from his long rides, and I resolved that he must have a rest
and change.

It was one of those early September days, the best of all in the western
country, when the light falls less fiercely through a soft haze that
seems to fill the air about you, and that grows into purple on the far
hilltops. By the time we reached the canyon the sun was riding high and
pouring its rays full into all the deep nooks where the shadows mostly
lay.

There were no shadows to-day, except such as the trees cast upon the
green moss beds and the black rocks. The tops of the tall elms were sere
and rusty, but the leaves of the rugged oaks that fringed the canyon's
lips shone a rich and glossy brown. All down the sides the poplars and
delicate birches, pale yellow, but sometimes flushing into orange and
red, stood shimmering in the golden light, while here and there the
broad-spreading, feathery sumachs made great splashes of brilliant
crimson upon the yellow and gold. Down in the bottom stood the cedars
and the balsams, still green. We stood some moments silently gazing into
this tangle of interlacing boughs and shimmering leaves, all glowing in
yellow light, then Lady Charlotte broke the silence in tones soft and
reverent as if she stood in a great cathedral.

"And this is Gwen's canyon!"

"Yes, but she never sees it now," I said, for I could never ride through
without thinking of the child to whose heart this was so dear, but whose
eyes never rested upon it. Lady Charlotte made no reply, and we took the
trail that wound down into this maze of mingling colors and lights
and shadows. Everywhere lay the fallen leaves, brown and yellow and
gold;--everywhere on our trail, on the green mosses and among the
dead ferns. And as we rode, leaves fluttered down from the trees above
silently through the tangled boughs, and lay with the others on moss and
rock and beaten trail.

The flowers were all gone; but the Little Swan sang as ever its
many-voiced song, as it flowed in pools and eddies and cascades, with
here and there a golden leaf upon its black waters. Ah! how often in
weary, dusty days these sights and sounds and silences have come to me
and brought my heart rest!

As we began to climb up into the open, I glanced at my companion's face.
The canyon had done its work with her as with all who loved it. The
touch of pride that was the habit of her face was gone, and in its place
rested the earnest wonder of a little child, while in her eyes lay the
canyon's tender glow. And with this face she looked in upon Gwen.

And Gwen, who had been waiting for her, forgot all her nervous fear, and
with hands outstretched, cried out in welcome:

"Oh, I'm so glad! You've seen it and I know you love it! My canyon, you
know!" she went on, answering Lady Charlotte's mystified look.

"Yes, dear child," said Lady Charlotte, bending over the pale face with
its halo of golden hair, "I love it." But she could get no further,
for her eyes were full of tears. Gwen gazed up into the beautiful face,
wondering at her silence, and then said gently:

"Tell me how it looks to-day! The Pilot always shows it to me. Do you
know," she added, thoughtfully, "The Pilot looks like it himself. He
makes me think of it, and--and--" she went on shyly, "you do, too."

By this time Lady Charlotte was kneeling by the couch, smoothing the
beautiful hair and gently touching the face so pale and lined with pain.

"That is a great honor, truly," she said brightly through her tears--"to
be like your canyon and like your Pilot, too."

Gwen nodded, but she was not to be denied.

"Tell me how it looks to-day," she said. "I want to see it. Oh, I want
to see it!"

Lady Charlotte was greatly moved by the yearning in the voice, but,
controlling herself, she said gaily:

"Oh, I can't show it to you as your Pilot can, but I'll tell you what I
saw."

"Turn me where I can see," said Gwen to me, and I wheeled her toward the
window and raised her up so that she could look down the trail toward
the canyon's mouth.

"Now," she said, after the pain of the lifting had passed, "tell me,
please."

Then Lady Charlotte set the canyon before her in rich and radiant
coloring, while Gwen listened, gazing down upon the trail to where the
elm tops could be seen, rusty and sere.

"Oh, it is lovely!" said Gwen, "and I see it so well. It is all there
before me when I look through my window."

But Lady Charlotte looked at her, wondering to see her bright smile, and
at last she could not help the question:

"But don't you weary to see it with your own eyes?"

"Yes," said Gwen gently, "often I want and want it, oh, so much!"

"And then, Gwen, dear, how can you bear it?" Her voice was eager and
earnest. "Tell me, Gwen. I have heard all about your canyon flowers, but
I can't understand how the fretting and the pain went away."

Gwen looked at her first in amazement, and then in dawning
understanding.

"Have you a canyon, too?" she asked, gravely.

Lady Charlotte paused a moment, then nodded. It did appear strange to me
that she should break down her proud reserve and open her heart to this
child.

"And there are no flowers, Gwen, not one," she said rather bitterly,
"nor sun nor seeds nor soil, I fear."

"Oh, if The Pilot were here, he would tell you."

At this point, feeling that they would rather be alone, I excused myself
on the pretext of looking after the horses.

What they talked of during the next hour I never knew, but when
I returned to the room Lady Charlotte was reading slowly and with
perplexed face to Gwen out of her mother's Bible the words "for the
suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor."

"You see even for Him, suffering," Gwen said eagerly, "but I can't
explain. The Pilot will make it clear." Then the talk ended.

We had lunch with Gwen--bannocks and fresh sweet milk and
blueberries--and after an hour of gay fun we came away.

Lady Charlotte kissed her tenderly as she bade Gwen good-by.

"You must let me come again and sit at your window," she said, smiling
down upon the wan face.

"Oh, I shall watch for you. How good that will be!" cried Gwen,
delightedly. "How many come to see me! You make five." Then she added,
softly: "You will write your letter." But Lady Charlotte shook her head.

"I can't do that, I fear," she said, "but I shall think of it."

It was a bright face that looked out upon us through the open window as
we rode down the trail. Just before we took the dip into the canyon, I
turned to wave my hand.

"Gwen's friends always wave from here," I said, wheeling my bronco.

Again and again Lady Charlotte waved her handkerchief.

"How beautiful, but how wonderful!" she said as if to herself. "Truly,
HER canyon is full of flowers."

"It is quite beyond me," I answered. "The Pilot may explain."

"Is there anything your Pilot can't do?" said Lady Charlotte.

"Try him," I ventured.

"I mean to," she replied, "but I cannot bring anyone to my canyon, I
fear," she added in an uncertain voice.

As I left her at her door she thanked me with courteous grace.

"You have done a great deal for me," she said, giving me her hand. "It
has been a beautiful, a wonderful day."

When I told the Pilot all the day's doings, he burst out:

"What a stupid and self-righteous fool I have been! I never thought
there could be any canyon in her life. How short our sight is!" and all
that night I could get almost no words from him.

That was the first of many visits to Gwen. Not a week passed but Lady
Charlotte took the trail to the Meredith ranch and spent an hour at
Gwen's window. Often The Pilot found her there. But though they were
always pleasant hours to him, he would come home in great trouble about
Lady Charlotte.

"She is perfectly charming and doing Gwen no end of good, but she is
proud as an archangel. Has had an awful break with her family at home,
and it is spoiling her life. She told me so much, but she will allow no
one to touch the affair."

But one day we met her riding toward the village. As we drew near, she
drew up her horse and held up a letter.

"Home!" she said. "I wrote it to-day, and I must get it off
immediately."

The Pilot understood her at once, but he only said:

"Good!" but with such emphasis that we both laughed.

"Yes, I hope so," she said with the red beginning to show in her cheek.
"I have dropped some seed into my canyon."

"I think I see the flowers beginning to spring," said The Pilot.

She shook her head doubtfully and replied:

"I shall ride up and sit with Gwen at her window."

"Do," replied The Pilot, "the light is good there. Wonderful things are
to be seen through Gwen's window."

"Yes," said Lady Charlotte softly. "Dear Gwen!--but I fear it is often
made bright with tears."

As she spoke she wheeled her horse and cantered off, for her own tears
were not far away. I followed her in thought up the trail winding
through the round-topped hills and down through the golden lights of the
canyon and into Gwen's room. I could see the pale face, with its golden
aureole, light up and glow, as they sat before the window while Lady
Charlotte would tell her how Gwen's Canyon looked to-day and how in her
own bleak canyon there was the sign of flowers.



CHAPTER XX

HOW BILL FAVORED "HOME-GROWN INDUSTRIES"


The building of the Swan Creek Church made a sensation in the country,
and all the more that Bronco Bill was in command.

"When I put up money I stay with the game," he announced; and stay he
did, to the great benefit of the work and to the delight of The Pilot,
who was wearing his life out in trying to do several men's work. It was
Bill that organized the gangs for hauling stone for the foundation and
logs for the walls. It was Bill that assigned the various jobs to those
volunteering service. To Robbie Muir and two stalwart Glengarry men from
the Ottawa lumber region, who knew all about the broadaxe, he gave the
hewing down of the logs that formed the walls. And when they had done,
Bill declared they were "better 'an a sawmill." It was Bill, too, that
did the financing, and his passage with Williams, the storekeeper from
"the other side" who dealt in lumber and building material, was such as
established forever Bill's reputation in finance.

With The Pilot's plans in his hands he went to Williams, seizing a time
when the store was full of men after their mail matter.

"What do you think ov them plans?" he asked innocently.

Williams was voluble with opinions and criticism and suggestions, all of
which were gratefully, even humbly received.

"Kind ov hard to figger out jest how much lumber 'll go into the shack,"
said Bill; "ye see the logs makes a difference."

To Williams the thing was simplicity itself, and, after some figuring,
he handed Bill a complete statement of the amount of lumber of all kinds
that would be required.

"Now, what would that there come to?"

Williams named his figure, and then Bill entered upon negotiations.

"I aint no man to beat down prices. No, sir, I say give a man his
figger. Of course, this here aint my funeral; besides, bein' a Gospel
shop, the price naterally would be different." To this the boys all
assented and Williams looked uncomfortable.

"In fact," and Bill adopted his public tone to Hi's admiration and joy,
"this here's a public institooshun" (this was Williams' own thunder),
"condoocin' to the good of the community" (Hi slapped his thigh and
squirted half way across the store to signify his entire approval), "and
I cherish the opinion"--(delighted chuckle from Hi)--"that public men
are interested in this concern."

"That's so! Right you are!" chorused the boys gravely.

Williams agreed, but declared he had thought of all this in making his
calculation. But seeing it was a church, and the first church and their
own church, he would make a cut, which he did after more figuring. Bill
gravely took the slip of paper and put it into his pocket without a
word. By the end of the week, having in the meantime ridden into town
and interviewed the dealers there, Bill sauntered into the store and
took up his position remote from Williams.

"You'll be wanting that sheeting, won't you, next week, Bill?" said
Williams.

"What sheetin' 's that?"

"Why, for the church. Aint the logs up?"

"Yes, that's so. I was just goin' to see the boys here about gettin' it
hauled," said Bill.

"Hauled!" said Williams, in amazed indignation. "Aint you goin' to stick
to your deal?"

"I generally make it my custom to stick to my deals," said Bill, looking
straight at Williams.

"Well, what about your deal with me last Monday night?" said Williams,
angrily.

"Let's see. Last Monday night," said Bill, apparently thinking back;
"can't say as I remember any pertickler deal. Any ov you fellers
remember?"

No one could recall any deal.

"You don't remember getting any paper from me, I suppose?" said
Williams, sarcastically.

"Paper! Why, I believe I've got that there paper onto my person at
this present moment," said Bill, diving into his pocket and drawing out
Williams' estimate. He spent a few moments in careful scrutiny.

"There ain't no deal onto this as I can see," said Bill, gravely passing
the paper to the boys, who each scrutinized it and passed it on with a
shake of the head or a remark as to the absence of any sign of a deal.
Williams changed his tone. For his part, he was indifferent in the
matter.

Then Bill made him an offer.

"Ov course, I believe in supportin' home-grown industries, and if you
can touch my figger I'd be uncommonly glad to give you the contract."

But Bill's figure, which was quite fifty per cent. lower than Williams'
best offer, was rejected as quite impossible.

"Thought I'd make you the offer," said Bill, carelessly, "seein' as
you're institootin' the trade and the boys here 'll all be buildin'
more or less, and I believe in standin' up for local trades and
manufactures." There were nods of approval on all sides, and Williams
was forced to accept, for Bill began arranging with the Hill brothers
and Hi to make an early start on Monday. It was a great triumph, but
Bill displayed no sign of elation; he was rather full of sympathy
for Williams, and eager to help on the lumber business as a local
"institooshun."

Second in command in the church building enterprise stood Lady
Charlotte, and under her labored the Hon. Fred, The Duke, and, indeed,
all the company of the Noble Seven. Her home became the centre of a new
type of social life. With exquisite tact, and much was needed for this
kind of work, she drew the bachelors from their lonely shacks and
from their wild carousals, and gave them a taste of the joys of a pure
home-life, the first they had had since leaving the old homes years ago.
And then she made them work for the church with such zeal and diligence
that her husband and The Duke declared that ranching had become quite an
incidental interest since the church-building had begun. But The Pilot
went about with a radiant look on his pale face, while Bill gave it
forth as his opinion, "though she was a leetle high in the action, she
could hit an uncommon gait."

With such energy did Bill push the work of construction that by the
first of December the church stood roofed, sheeted, floored and ready
for windows, doors and ceiling, so that The Pilot began to hope that he
should see the desire of his heart fulfilled--the church of Swan Creek
open for divine service on Christmas Day.

During these weeks there was more than church-building going on, for
while the days were given to the shaping of logs, and the driving of
nails and the planing of boards, the long winter evenings were spent in
talk around the fire in my shack, where The Pilot for some months past
had made his home and where Bill, since the beginning of the church
building, had come "to camp." Those were great nights for The Pilot and
Bill, and, indeed, for me, too, and the other boys, who, after a day's
work on the church, were always brought in by Bill or The Pilot.

Great nights for us all they were. After bacon and beans and bannocks,
and occasionally potatoes, and rarely a pudding, with coffee, rich
and steaming, to wash all down, pipes would follow, and then yarns of
adventures, possible and impossible, all exciting and wonderful, and all
received with the greatest credulity.

If, however, the powers of belief were put to too great a strain by a
tale of more than ordinary marvel, Bill would follow with one of such
utter impossibility that the company would feel that the limit had been
reached, and the yarns would cease. But after the first week most of the
time was given to The Pilot, who would read to us of the deeds of the
mighty men of old, who had made and wrecked empires.

What happy nights they were to those cowboys, who had been cast up like
driftwood upon this strange and lonely shore! Some of them had never
known what it was to have a thought beyond the work and sport of the
day. And the world into which The Pilot was ushering them was all new
and wonderful to them. Happy nights, without a care, but that The Pilot
would not get the ghastly look out of his face, and laughed at the idea
of going away till the church was built. And, indeed, we would all have
sorely missed him, and so he stayed.



CHAPTER XXI.

HOW BILL HIT THE TRAIL


When "the crowd" was with us The Pilot read us all sorts of tales of
adventures in all lands by heroes of all ages, but when we three sat
together by our fire The Pilot would always read us tales of the heroes
of sacred story, and these delighted Bill more than those of any of
the ancient empires of the past. He had his favorites. Abraham, Moses,
Joshua, Gideon, never failed to arouse his admiration. But Jacob was to
him always "a mean cuss," and David he could not appreciate. Most of
all he admired Moses and the Apostle Paul, whom he called "that little
chap." But, when the reading was about the One Great Man that moved
majestic amid the gospel stories, Bill made no comments; He was too high
for approval.

By and by Bill began to tell these tales to the boys, and one night,
when a quiet mood had fallen upon the company, Bill broke the silence.

"Say, Pilot, where was it that the little chap got mixed up into that
riot?"

"Riot!" said The Pilot.

"Yes; you remember when he stood off the whole gang from the stairs?"

"Oh, yes, at Jerusalem!"

"Yes, that's the spot. Perhaps you would read that to the boys. Good
yarn! Little chap, you know, stood up and told 'em they were all sorts
of blanked thieves and cut-throats, and stood 'em off. Played it alone,
too."

Most of the boys failed to recognize the story in its new dress. There
was much interest.

"Who was the duck? Who was the gang? What was the row about?"

"The Pilot here'll tell you. If you'd kind o' give 'em a lead before you
begin, they'd catch on to the yarn better." This last to The Pilot, who
was preparing to read.

"Well, it was at Jerusalem," began The Pilot, when Bill interrupted:

"If I might remark, perhaps it might help the boys on to the trail
mebbe, if you'd tell 'em how the little chap struck his new gait." So he
designated the Apostle's conversion.

Then The Pilot introduced the Apostle with some formality to the
company, describing with such vivid touches his life and early training,
his sudden wrench from all he held dear, under the stress of a new
conviction, his magnificent enthusiasm and courage, his tenderness and
patience, that I was surprised to find myself regarding him as a sort of
hero, and the boys were all ready to back him against any odds. As The
Pilot read the story of the Arrest at Jerusalem, stopping now and then
to picture the scene, we saw it all and were in the thick of it. The
raging crowd hustling and beating the life out of the brave little man,
the sudden thrust of the disciplined Roman guard through the mass, the
rescue, the pause on the stairway, the calm face of the little hero
beckoning for a hearing, the quieting of the frantic, frothing mob, the
fearless speech--all passed before us. The boys were thrilled.

"Good stuff, eh?"

"Ain't he a daisy?"

"Daisy! He's a whole sunflower patch!"

"Yes," drawled Bill, highly appreciating their marks of approval.
"That's what I call a partickler fine character of a man. There ain't no
manner of insecks on to him."

"You bet!" said Hi.

"I say," broke in one of the boys, who was just emerging from the
tenderfoot stage, "o' course that's in the Bible, ain't it?"

The Pilot assented.

"Well, how do you know it's true?"

The Pilot was proceeding to elaborate his argument when Bill cut in
somewhat more abruptly than was his wont.

"Look here, young feller!" Bill's voice was in the tone of command. The
man looked as he was bid. "How do you know anything's true? How do you
know The Pilot here's true when he speaks? Can't you tell by the feel?
You know by the sound of his voice, don't you?" Bill paused and the
young fellow agreed readily.

"Well how do you know a blanked son of a she jackass when you see him?"
Again Bill paused. There was no reply.

"Well," said Bill, resuming his deliberate drawl. "I'll give you the
information without extra charge. It's by the sound he makes when he
opens his blanked jaw."

"But," went on the young skeptic, nettled at the laugh that went round,
"that don't prove anything. You know," turning to The Pilot, "that there
are heaps of people who don't believe the Bible."

The Pilot nodded.

"Some of the smartest, best-educated men are agnostics," proceeded the
young man, warming to his theme, and failing to notice the stiffening of
Bill's lank figure. "I don't know but what I am one myself."

"That so?" said Bill, with sudden interest.

"I guess so," was the modest reply.

"Got it bad?" went on Bill, with a note of anxiety in his tone.

But the young man turned to The Pilot and tried to open a fresh
argument.

"Whatever he's got," said Bill to the others, in a mild voice, "it's
spoilin' his manners."

"Yes," went on Bill, meditatively, after the slight laugh had died,
"it's ruinin' to the judgment. He don't seem to know when he interferes
with the game. Pity, too."

Still the argument went on.

"Seems as if he ought to take somethin'," said Bill, in a voice
suspiciously mild. "What would you suggest?"

"A walk, mebbe!" said Hi, in delighted expectation.

"I hold the opinion that you have mentioned an uncommonly vallable
remedy, better'n Pain Killer almost."

Bill rose languidly.

"I say," he drawled, tapping the young fellow, "it appears to me a
little walk would perhaps be good, mebbe."

"All right, wait till I get my cap," was the unsuspecting reply.

"I don't think perhaps you won't need it, mebbe. I cherish the opinion
you'll, perhaps, be warm enough." Bill's voice had unconsciously passed
into a sterner tone. Hi was on his feet and at the door.

"This here interview is private AND confidential," said Bill to his
partner.

"Exactly," said Hi, opening the door. At this the young fellow, who was
a strapping six-footer, but soft and flabby, drew back and refused to
go. He was too late. Bill's grip was on his collar and out they went
into the snow, and behind them Hi closed the door. In vain the young
fellow struggled to wrench himself free from the hands that had him by
the shoulder and the back of the neck. I took it all in from the window.
He might have been a boy for all the effect his plungings had upon the
long, sinewy arms that gripped him so fiercely. After a minute's furious
struggle the young fellow stood quiet, when Bill suddenly shifted his
grip from the shoulder to the seat of his buckskin trousers. Then began
a series of evolutions before the house--up and down, forward and back,
which the unfortunate victim, with hands wildly clutching at empty
air, was quite powerless to resist till he was brought up panting and
gasping, subdued, to a standstill.

"I'll larn you agnostics and several other kinds of ticks," said Bill,
in a terrible voice, his drawl lengthening perceptibly. "Come round
here, will you, and shove your blanked second-handed trash down our
throats?" Bill paused to get words; then, bursting out in rising wrath:

"There ain't no sootable words for sich conduct. By the livin' Jeminy--"
He suddenly swung his prisoner off his feet, lifted him bodily, and held
him over his head at arm's length. "I've a notion to--"

"Don't! don't! for Heaven's sake!" cried the struggling wretch, "I'll
stop it! I will!"

Bill at once lowered him and set him on his feet.

"All right! Shake!" he said, holding out his hand, which the other took
with caution.

It was a remarkably sudden conversion and lasting in its effects. There
was no more agnosticism in the little group that gathered around The
Pilot for the nightly reading.

The interest in the reading kept growing night by night.

"Seems as if The Pilot was gittin' in his work," said Bill to me; and
looking at the grave, eager faces, I agreed. He was getting in his work
with Bill, too; though perhaps Bill did not know it. I remember one
night, when the others had gone, The Pilot was reading to us the Parable
of the Talents, Bill was particularly interested in the servant who
failed in his duty.

"Ornery cuss, eh?" he remarked; "and gall, too, eh? Served him blamed
well right, in my opinion!"

But when the practical bearing of the parable became clear to him, after
long silence, he said, slowly:

"Well, that there seems to indicate that it's about time for me to get
a rustle on." Then, after another silence, he said, hesitatingly, "This
here church-buildin' business now, do you think that'll perhaps count,
mebbe? I guess not, eh? 'Tain't much, o' course, anyway." Poor Bill, he
was like a child, and The Pilot handled him with a mother's touch.

"What are you best at, Bill?"

"Bronco-bustin' and cattle," said Bill, wonderingly; "that's my line."

"Well, Bill, my line is preaching just now, and piloting, you know." The
Pilot's smile was like a sunbeam on a rainy day, for there were tears in
his eyes and voice. "And we have just got to be faithful. You see
what he says: 'Well done, good and FAITHFUL servant. Thou hast been
FAITHFUL.'"

Bill was puzzled.

"Faithful!" he repeated. "Does that mean with the cattle, perhaps?"

"Yes, that's just it, Bill, and with everything else that comes your
way."

And Bill never forgot that lesson, for I heard him, with a kind of quiet
enthusiasm, giving it to Hi as a great find. "Now, I call that a fair
deal," he said to his friend; "gives every man a show. No cards up the
sleeve."

"That's so," was Hi's thoughtful reply; "distributes the trumps."

Somehow Bill came to be regarded as an authority upon questions of
religion and morals. No one ever accused him of "gettin' religion." He
went about his work in his slow, quiet way, but he was always sharing
his discoveries with "the boys." And if anyone puzzled him with
subtleties he never rested till he had him face to face with The
Pilot. And so it came that these two drew to each other with more than
brotherly affection. When Bill got into difficulty with problems that
have vexed the souls of men far wiser than he, The Pilot would either
disentangle the knots or would turn his mind to the verities that stood
out sure and clear, and Bill would be content.

"That's good enough for me," he would say, and his heart would be at
rest.



CHAPTER XXII

HOW THE SWAN CREEK CHURCH WAS OPENED


When, near the end of the year, The Pilot fell sick, Bill nursed him
like a mother and sent him off for a rest and change to Gwen, forbidding
him to return till the church was finished and visiting him twice a
week. The love between the two was most beautiful, and, when I find my
heart grow hard and unbelieving in men and things, I let my mind wander
back to a scene that I came upon in front of Gwen's house. These two
were standing alone in the clear moonlight, Bill with his hand upon The
Pilot's shoulder, and The Pilot with his arm around Bill's neck.

"Dear old Bill," The Pilot was saying, "dear old Bill," and the voice
was breaking into a sob. And Bill, standing stiff and straight, looked
up at the stars, coughed and swallowed hard for some moments, and said,
in a queer, croaky voice:

"Shouldn't wonder if a Chinook would blow up."

"Chinook?" laughed The Pilot, with a catch in his voice. "You dear old
humbug," and he stood watching till the lank form swayed down into the
canyon.

The day of the church opening came, as all days, however long waited
for, will come--a bright, beautiful Christmas Day. The air was still and
full of frosty light, as if arrested by a voice of command, waiting the
word to move. The hills lay under their dazzling coverlets, asleep. Back
of all, the great peaks lifted majestic heads out of the dark forests
and gazed with calm, steadfast faces upon the white, sunlit world.
To-day, as the light filled up the cracks that wrinkled their hard
faces, they seemed to smile, as if the Christmas joy had somehow moved
something in their old, stony hearts.

The people were all there--farmers, ranchers, cowboys, wives and
children--all happy, all proud of their new church, and now all
expectant, waiting for The Pilot and the Old Timer, who were to drive
down if The Pilot was fit and were to bring Gwen if the day was fine. As
the time passed on, Bill, as master of ceremonies, began to grow uneasy.
Then Indian Joe appeared and handed a note to Bill. He read it, grew
gray in the face and passed it to me. Looking, I saw in poor, wavering
lines the words, "Dear Bill. Go on with the opening. Sing the Psalm,
you know the one, and say a prayer, and oh, come to me quick, Bill. Your
Pilot."

Bill gradually pulled himself together, announced in a strange voice,
"The Pilot can't come," handed me the Psalm, and said:

"Make them sing."

It was that grand Psalm for all hill peoples, "I to the hills will lift
mine eyes," and with wondering faces they sang the strong, steadying
words. After the Psalm was over the people sat and waited, Bill looked
at the Hon. Fred Ashley, then at Robbie Muir, then said to me in a low
voice:

"Kin you make a prayer?"

I shook my head, ashamed as I did so of my cowardice.

Again Bill paused, then said:

"The Pilot says there's got to be a prayer. Kin anyone make one?"

Again dead, solemn silence.

Then Hi, who was near the back, said, coming to his partner's help:

"What's the matter with you trying, yourself, Bill?"

The red began to come up in Bill's white face.

"'Taint in my line. But The Pilot says there's got to be a prayer, and
I'm going to stay with the game." Then, leaning on the pulpit, he said:

"Let's pray," and began:

"God Almighty, I ain't no good at this, and perhaps you'll understand if
I don't put things right." Then a pause followed, during which I heard
some of the women beginning to sob.

"What I want to say," Bill went on, "is, we're mighty glad about this
church, which we know it's you and The Pilot that's worked it. And we're
all glad to chip in."

Then again he paused, and, looking up, I saw his hard, gray face working
and two tears stealing down his cheeks. Then he started again:

"But about The Pilot--I don't want to persoom--but if you don't mind,
we'd like to have him stay--in fact, don't see how we kin do without
him--look at all the boys here; he's just getting his work in and is
bringin' 'em right along, and, God Almighty, if you take him away it
might be a good thing for himself, but for us--oh, God," the voice
quivered and was silent "Amen."

Then someone, I think it must have been the Lady Charlotte, began: "Our
Father," and all joined that could join, to the end. For a few moments
Bill stood up, looking at them silently. Then, as if remembering his
duty, he said:

"This here church is open. Excuse me."

He stood at the door, gave a word of direction to Hi, who had followed
him out, and leaping on his bronco shook him out into a hard gallop.

The Swan Creek Church was opened. The form of service may not have been
correct, but, if great love counts for anything and appealing faith,
then all that was necessary was done.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE PILOT'S LAST PORT


In the old times a funeral was regarded in the Swan Creek country as a
kind of solemn festivity. In those days, for the most part, men died in
their boots and were planted with much honor and loyal libation. There
was often neither shroud nor coffin, and in the Far West many a poor
fellow lies as he fell, wrapped in his own or his comrade's blanket.

It was the manager of the X L Company's ranch that introduced crape.
The occasion was the funeral of one of the ranch cowboys, killed by his
bronco, but when the pall-bearers and mourners appeared with bands and
streamers of crape, this was voted by the majority as "too gay." That
circumstance alone was sufficient to render that funeral famous, but it
was remembered, too, as having shocked the proprieties in another and
more serious manner. No one would be so narrow-minded as to object to
the custom of the return procession falling into a series of horse-races
of the wildest description, and ending up at Latour's in a general
riot. But to race with the corpse was considered bad form. The
"corpse-driver," as he was called, could hardly be blamed on this
occasion. His acknowledged place was at the head of the procession, and
it was a point of honor that that place should be retained. The fault
clearly lay with the driver of the X L ranch sleigh, containing the
mourners (an innovation, by the way), who felt aggrieved that Hi Kendal,
driving the Ashley team with the pall-bearers (another innovation),
should be given the place of honor next the corpse. The X L driver
wanted to know what, in the name of all that was black and blue, the
Ashley Ranch had to do with the funeral? Whose was that corpse, anyway?
Didn't it belong to the X L ranch? Hi, on the other hand, contended that
the corpse was in charge of the pall-bearers. "It was their duty to see
it right to the grave, and if they were not on hand, how was it goin' to
get there? They didn't expect it would git up and get there by itself,
did they? Hi didn't want no blanked mourners foolin' round that corp
till it was properly planted; after that they might git in their
work." But the X L driver could not accept this view, and at the first
opportunity slipped past Hi and his pall-bearers and took the place next
the sleigh that carried the coffin. It is possible that Hi might have
borne with this affront and loss of position with even mind, but the
jeering remarks of the mourners as they slid past triumphantly could not
be endured, and the next moment the three teams were abreast in a race
as for dear life. The corpse-driver, having the advantage of the beaten
track, soon left the other two behind running neck and neck for second
place, which was captured finally by Hi and maintained to the grave
side, in spite of many attempts on the part of the X L's. The whole
proceeding, however, was considered quite improper, and at Latour's,
that night, after full and bibulous discussion, it was agreed that the
corpse-driver fairly distributed the blame. "For his part," he said, "he
knew he hadn't ought to make no corp git any such move on, but he wasn't
goin' to see that there corp take second place at his own funeral.
Not if he could help it. And as for the others, he thought that the
pall-bearers had a blanked sight more to do with the plantin' than them
giddy mourners."

But when they gathered at the Meredith ranch to carry out The Pilot
to his grave it was felt that the Foothill Country was called to a new
experience. They were all there. The men from the Porcupine and from
beyond the Fort, the Police with the Inspector in command, all the
farmers for twenty miles around, and of course all the ranchers and
cowboys of the Swan Creek country. There was no effort at repression.
There was no need, for in the cowboys, for the first time in their
experience, there was no heart for fun. And as they rode up and hitched
their horses to the fence, or drove their sleighs into the yard and
took off the bells, there was no loud-voiced salutation, no guying nor
chaffing, but with silent nod they took their places in the crowd about
the door or passed into the kitchen.

The men from the Porcupine could not quite understand the gloomy
silence. It was something unprecedented in a country where men laughed
all care to scorn and saluted death with a nod. But they were quick to
read signs, and with characteristic courtesy they fell in with the mood
they could not understand. There is no man living so quick to feel your
mood, and so ready to adapt himself to it, as is the true Westerner.

This was the day of the cowboy's grief. To the rest of the community
The Pilot was preacher; to them he was comrade and friend. They had been
slow to admit him to their confidence, but steadily he had won his place
with them, till within the last few months they had come to count him as
of themselves. He had ridden the range with them; he had slept in their
shacks and cooked his meals on their tin stoves; and, besides, he was
Bill's chum. That alone was enough to give him a right to all they
owned. He was theirs, and they were only beginning to take full pride in
him when he passed out from them, leaving an emptiness in their life new
and unexplained. No man in that country had ever shown concern for them,
nor had it occurred to them that any man could, till The Pilot came.
It took them long to believe that the interest he showed in them was
genuine and not simply professional. Then, too, from a preacher they
had expected chiefly pity, warning, rebuke. The Pilot astonished them
by giving them respect, admiration, and open-hearted affection. It was
months before they could get over their suspicion that he was humbugging
them. When once they did, they gave him back without knowing it all the
trust and love of their big, generous hearts. He had made this world new
to some of them, and to all had given glimpses of the next. It was no
wonder that they stood in dumb groups about the house where the man, who
had done all this for them and had been all this to them lay dead.

There was no demonstration of grief. The Duke was in command, and his
quiet, firm voice, giving directions, helped all to self-control. The
women who were gathered in the middle room were weeping quietly. Bill
was nowhere to be seen, but near the inner door sat Gwen in her chair,
with Lady Charlotte beside her, holding her hand. Her face, worn with
long suffering, was pale, but serene as the morning sky, and with not a
trace of tears. As my eye caught hers, she beckoned me to her.

"Where's Bill?" she said. "Bring him in."

I found him at the back of the house.

"Aren't you coming in, Bill?" I said.

"No; I guess there's plenty without me," he said, in his slow way.

"You'd better come in; the service is going to begin," I urged.

"Don't seem as if I cared for to hear anythin' much. I ain't much used
to preachin', anyway," said Bill, with careful indifference, but he
added to himself, "except his, of course."

"Come in, Bill," I urged. "It will look queer, you know," but Bill
replied:

"I guess I'll not bother," adding, after a pause: "You see, there's them
wimmin turnin' on the waterworks, and like as not they'd swamp me sure."

"That's so," said Hi, who was standing near, in silent sympathy with his
friend's grief.

I reported to Gwen, who answered in her old imperious way, "Tell him I
want him." I took Bill the message.

"Why didn't you say so before?" he said, and, starting up, he passed
into the house and took up his position behind Gwen's chair. Opposite,
and leaning against the door, stood The Duke, with a look of quiet
earnestness on his handsome face. At his side stood the Hon.
Fred Ashley, and behind him the Old Timer, looking bewildered and
woe-stricken. The Pilot had filled a large place in the old man's life.
The rest of the men stood about the room and filled the kitchen beyond,
all quiet, solemn, sad.

In Gwen's room, the one farthest in, lay The Pilot, stately and
beautiful under the magic touch of death. And as I stood and looked down
upon the quiet face I saw why Gwen shed no tear, but carried a look of
serene triumph. She had read the face aright. The lines of weariness
that had been growing so painfully clear the last few months were
smoothed out, the look of care was gone, and in place of weariness and
care, was the proud smile of victory and peace. He had met his foe and
was surprised to find his terror gone.

The service was beautiful in its simplicity. The minister, The Pilot's
chief, had come out from town to take charge. He was rather a little
man, but sturdy and well set. His face was burnt and seared with the
suns and frosts he had braved for years. Still in the prime of his
manhood, his hair and beard were grizzled and his face deep-lined, for
the toils and cares of a pioneer missionary's life are neither few nor
light. But out of his kindly blue eye looked the heart of a hero, and
as he spoke to us we felt the prophet's touch and caught a gleam of the
prophet's fire.

"I have fought the fight," he read. The ring in his voice lifted up all
our heads, and, as he pictured to us the life of that battered hero who
had written these words, I saw Bill's eyes begin to gleam and his lank
figure straighten out its lazy angles. Then he turned the leaves quickly
and read again, "Let not your heart be troubled . . . in my father's
house are many mansions." His voice took a lower, sweeter tone; he
looked over our heads, and for a few moments spoke of the eternal hope.
Then he came back to us, and, looking round into the faces turned so
eagerly to him, talked to us of The Pilot--how at the first he had sent
him to us with fear and trembling--he was so young--but how he had come
to trust in him and to rejoice in his work, and to hope much from his
life. Now it was all over; but he felt sure his young friend had not
given his life in vain. He paused as he looked from one to the other,
till his eyes rested on Gwen's face. I was startled, as I believe he
was, too, at the smile that parted her lips, so evidently saying: "Yes,
but how much better I know than you."

"Yes," he went on, after a pause, answering her smile, "you all know
better than I that his work among you will not pass away with his
removal, but endure while you live," and the smile on Gwen's face grew
brighter. "And now you must not grudge him his reward and his rest . . .
and his home." And Bill, nodding his head slowly, said under his breath,
"That's so."

Then they sang that hymn of the dawning glory of Immanuel's land,--Lady
Charlotte playing the organ and The Duke leading with clear, steady
voice verse after verse. When they came to the last verse the minister
made a sign and, while they waited, he read the words:


     "I've wrestled on towards heaven
      'Gainst storm, and wind, and tide."


And so on to that last victorious cry,--


     "I hail the glory dawning
      In Immanuel's Land."


For a moment it looked as if the singing could not go on, for tears
were on the minister's face and the women were beginning to sob, but The
Duke's clear, quiet voice caught up the song and steadied them all to
the end.

After the prayer they all went in and looked at The Pilot's face and
passed out, leaving behind only those that knew him best. The Duke and
the Hon. Fred stood looking down upon the quiet face.

"The country has lost a good man, Duke," said the Hon. Fred. The Duke
bowed silently. Then Lady Charlotte came and gazed a moment.

"Dear Pilot," she whispered, her tears falling fast. "Dear, dear Pilot!
Thank God for you! You have done much for me." Then she stooped and
kissed him on his cold lips and on his forehead.

Then Gwen seemed to suddenly waken as from a dream. She turned and,
looking up in a frightened way, said to Bill hurriedly:

"I want to see him again. Carry me!"

And Bill gathered her up in his arms and took her in. As they looked
down upon the dead face with its look of proud peace and touched with
the stateliness of death, Gwen's fear passed away. But when The Duke
made to cover the face, Gwen drew a sharp breath and, clinging to Bill,
said, with a sudden gasp:

"Oh, Bill, I can't bear it alone. I'm afraid alone."

She was thinking of the long, weary days of pain before her that she
must face now without The Pilot's touch and smile and voice.

"Me, too," said Bill, thinking of the days before him. He could have
said nothing better. Gwen looked in his face a moment, then said:

"We'll help each other," and Bill, swallowing hard, could only nod his
head in reply. Once more they looked upon The Pilot, leaning down and
lingering over him, and then Gwen said quietly:

"Take me away, Bill," and Bill carried her into the outer room. Turning
back I caught a look on The Duke's face so full of grief that I could
not help showing my amazement. He noticed and said:

"The best man I ever knew, Connor. He has done something for me too.
. . . I'd give the world to die like that."

Then he covered the face.

We sat Gwen's window, Bill, with Gwen in his arms, and I watching.
Down the sloping, snow-covered hill wound the procession of sleighs and
horsemen, without sound of voice or jingle of bell till, one by one,
they passed out of our sight and dipped down into the canyon. But we
knew every step of the winding trail and followed them in fancy through
that fairy scene of mystic wonderland. We knew how the great elms and
the poplars and the birches clinging to the snowy sides interlaced their
bare boughs into a network of bewildering complexity, and how the cedars
and balsams and spruces stood in the bottom, their dark boughs weighted
down with heavy white mantles of snow, and how every stump and fallen
log and rotting stick was made a thing of beauty by the snow that had
fallen so gently on them in that quiet spot. And we could see the rocks
of the canyon sides gleam out black from under overhanging snow-banks,
and we could hear the song of the Swan in its many tones, now under
an icy sheet, cooing comfortably, and then bursting out into sunlit
laughter and leaping into a foaming pool, to glide away smoothly
murmuring its delight to the white banks that curved to kiss the dark
water as it fled. And where the flowers had been, the violets and the
wind-flowers and the clematis and the columbine and all the ferns and
flowering shrubs, there lay the snow. Everywhere the snow, pure, white,
and myriad-gemmed, but every flake a flower's shroud.

Out where the canyon opened to the sunny, sloping prairie, there they
would lay The Pilot to sleep, within touch of the canyon he loved, with
all its sleeping things. And there he lies to this time. But Spring has
come many times to the canyon since that winter day, and has called to
the sleeping flowers, summoning them forth in merry troops, and ever
more and more till the canyon ripples with them. And lives are like
flowers. In dying they abide not alone, but sow themselves and bloom
again with each returning spring, and ever more and more.

For often during the following years, as here and there I came upon one
of those that companied with us in those Foothill days, I would catch a
glimpse in word and deed and look of him we called, first in jest, but
afterwards with true and tender feeling we were not ashamed to own, our
Sky Pilot.





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