The Sabbatical Year
It takes more than fool’s gold to make a fool of the inimitable Zeusie
ROBERT E. PINKERTON
The story so far—Lewis Barr, on vacation in the woods of Northern Ontario, is arrested by three mystifying messages that have been scratched in the snow! ‘To the Rescue’, ‘I love You’ and a third couched in classical Greek. Following these clues, Barr is led to a young, boyish girl, whom he finds endeavoring to chloroform a trapped, mink. He learns that she is ‘Peg’ Littleton, the daughter of Professor Melville Littleton, who is spending his sabbatical year working in an abandoned gold mine with the idea of extracting the metal that he believes to be there. At Peg’s request, Barr enters the mine in search of the professor, who has been missing for some hours, and is instrumental in rescuing him after he has been trapped by a rock fall. The Littletons invite Barr to stay and use one of the cabins of the deserted camp. The morning after the professor’s adventure, an old prospector appears on the scene whose name they do not know, but whose purpose they fear they can guess.
THE newcomer stood motionless as Professor Littleton and Lewis approached. The fierce aspect of the beard and his attitude were softened somewhat by shrewd but warm blue eyes, and these widened slightly in astonishment as he studied the professor.
Even rough clothing could not disguise the academic manner. Lewis’s outfit, fresh from a sporting goods house, marked him at once, and he was given only a glance. His companion evidently was something of a specimen.
“How do you do, sir,” Professor Littleton greeted the man warmly. “Won’t you come inside where it is warmer?”
“I was just going to do that when I saw you coming,” was the reply. “Feller don’t want to stand around long a day like this when he’s all sweated up.”
“Of course,” the professor agreed. “My name is Littleton, Melville Littleton, and this is my friend Mr. Barr, of Winnipeg.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the stranger said as he jerked off a mitten and awkwardly took Littleton’s extended hand.
He shook it with the quick, limp, embarrassed manner of a woodsman and then, more confidently, said:
“My name’s McGee, Jimmie McGee. If you was an old timer you would a’ heard of me. Gold Bug Jimmie they used to call me in the days of the Seine River rush.” They went inside, where Professor Littleton built up the fire.
“Which one of you just come in?” McGee asked. “Much obliged for breaking the trail.”
“I arrived at dark yesterday,” Lewis said.
“They told me about you in town. Sounded funny, a man coming out here just for a vacation.”
“They thought I was crazy, or a liar,” Lewis laughed, “but it’s true nevertheless.”
Jimmie McGee looked at him speculatively. It was clear that he, too, had doubts, and then his eyes turned to Professor Littleton. But the professor failed to understand that he was being given his chance to explain.
“I hope you find it convenient to spend a day or so with us,” he said, with hospitality unmistakably sincere. .“Mr. Barr occupies a cabin in good repair and I am sure he will share it with you. You two are our first guests since our arrival in September, with the exception of an occasional aborigine, and I want you to feel that you are more than welcome.”
Jimmie McGee’s eyes widened. Lewis, watching him closely, understood his astonishment and perplexity and he also knew that, being a woodsman, the newcomer would not seek, through questions, to gain enlightenment. The young man sought to add to his bewilderment.
“You must have become lonesome, professor,” he remarked.
“No,” was the reply, “and I have discovered that solitude is not a question of the presence or absence of people but of the lack or possession of certain qualities within oneself.”
If Gold Bug Jimmie noticed the use of the word ‘professor’ he did not indicate it then.
“You’re talking!” he agreed, with enthusiasm. “I’ve spent half my life alone and I didn’t mind it. If a feller’s busy, folks are just in the way.”
“Exactly,” Professor Littleton beamed. “A book, a task, absorption in an idea—those are the things that really count. I don’t deprecate human companionship, however. It, too, is necessary.”
“You bet!” Jimmie declared. “I get along fine for months and then all of a sudden I got to get to town and have a chin and a bust. If a feller don’t do that he gets to talking to hisself.”
“Again permit me to agree with you,” the professor said, and then, after a quick glance at Lewis: “Even a bit of dissipation serves to relieve tension and set one’s mental machinery in tune.”
“That’s it! A good bust now and then keeps a man’s head level. Loco, they call a nut out west, bushy here. Some folks say I’m bushy from bein’ alone so much but I ain’t bit on any fool’s gold yet.”
Lewis started, but Professor Littleton did not appear to see anything more than a figure of speech in the term.
“I would deduct, Mr. McGee,” he said, “from references you have dropped, that you are a miner, or, specifically, one of those more daring, inspired souls, a propector.”
“You’ve hit it,” Jimmie grinned. “Thirty years, now, I’ve been at it from here right through to California, the Yukon and the Peace and the Stikine. Few places where there’s gold I haven’t stuck a pick in.”
“I envy you!” Professor Littleton exclaimed, so warmly that Lewis looked at him in surprise. “If I had my life to live over again I would do the same. I cannot imagine a more wonderful existence. It is, perhaps, the only form of gambling that is both legal and ethical.” “That’s what I used to say when the faro sharps tried to get me to set in up in the Klondike,” Jimmie agreed. “Those pikers, flippin’ a card for a few dollars, don’t know what a real kick is. Of course, there ain’t the action, but a man couldn’t stand it, takin’ a chance on a million every half hour.”
“You are right, and yet I feel that the discovery of riches as riches must become a minor factor. The thing that would appeal to me most is the possession of that sublime faith, that perfect trust, without which no one should attempt to extract wealth from the earth. If ever there were an oocupation in which faith is an essential tool, it is in the searching for and mining of gold.”
Gold Bug Jimmie McGee arose slowly from his chair and stretched out a hand to Professor Littleton.
“Put her there, old timer!” he exclaimed huskily. “If I’d met you thirty years ago I’d a’ saved myself a lot of thinkin’. You’ve hit the nail on the head when I’ve been batting around it. Perfect faith! That’s the thingl That’s what keeps us at it and what gives us our strikes.” The professor had risen and they beamed upon each other delightedly as they shook hands.
“And say!” Jimmie continued in a fresh burst of enthusiasm. “I’d take you on as a pardner right now without knowing another thing about you. You got a head on your shoulders and I’ll bet you don’t know how to quit.”
“I shall always cherish that as the highest compliment I have ever received,” Professor Littleton replied with genuine emotion. “I would like nothing better than to become your partner but I fear—at my time of life, with sedentary habits firmly established. No, you tempt me to an extreme, but I cannot.”
“But you must have done something of the sort,” Jimmie protested. “You know the inside of the game.” “I am merely a dabbler and perhaps it was only by chance I divined the essence of your calling.”
“But what you dabblin’ around here for? There’s no gold in this country.”
“I am sorry to disagree with you, but there is. I have found it.”
Gold Bug Jimmie stared blankly. Amazement and chagrin and then anger twisted his features but suddenly he burst out laughing and slapped Professor Littleton on the back.
“You old son of a gun!” he cried. “You went and tumbled onto that, eh? I didn’t think another soul but me knew it and here I’ve come all the way from the Stikine just to get it. What you do? Get lost in that swamp like I done and fall onto it?”
“I am afraid I do not understand,” the professor said. “I haven’t found anything new. I merely continued working where the management left off.”.
“You mean you found gold down the Princess shaft?” Jimmie demanded incredulously.
As the prospector stared Lewis read his thoughts, knew that Jimmie was too old a hand at the game not to understand what had happened. Lewis expected a contemptuous snort a blurting out of the truth, and he glanced at Professor Littleton with compassion and dread.
The professor was looking at Jimmie his fine, gentle face so expressive of his faith that the glistening particles in his laboriously gathered ore meant riches. There was something childlike and appealing about him, something that must have touched Gold Bug Jimmie, for instead of commenting derisively the prospector said in an altered voice:
“Then they shut down here just before they would have struck good ore.”
“That is the incomprehensible part of it,” Professor Littleton said. “They stopped right in the ore-bearing vein.”
Jimmie had nothing to say. He glanced at Lewis and squirmed uneasily in his chair.
“You believe there is gold here,” Lewis said “if you have come from northern British Columbia to find it.” “There’s a funny thing about that!” Jimmie exclaimed. Apparently he was relieved to find something that would turn the conversation and he plunged into his story with animation.
“In that big swamp north of here I run into a low ridge right in the middle. The ridge was bare, except for moss, which was why it didn’t show above the trees. I was lost in a way—just hitting straight through to the lake— and when I run down this ridge a foot slipped and took off a big patch of moss.
“I wouldn’t a’ stopped except I saw a streak of white in the granite and sure enough it was quartz with traces of gold showing right on top.
“Well it was most dark and I knew I had to get on. I marked down the place best I could and kept my bearin’s on the way out. I could a’ got back all right, only something always happened. ’Tween one thing and another, I never did get to make the trip but all the time I been west the last ten years I been thinkin’ about that patch of quartz. It sort of bothered me and so this winter I just made up my mind I’d come and settle the thing.”
“You think there’s gold there?” Professor Littleton demanded eagerly.
“I know it. I broke off a piece with my hammer and took it along. It assayed twelve hundred to the ton.” “Twelve hundred!” the professor exclaimed. “Marvelous! I—I certainly wish you success, sir, in your under-
taking. But are you sure you can find it, after all these years? Those swamps—I—”
“That’s the easiest part of it,” Jimmie declared.
“What’s bothering me is this.”
He paused a moment, staring speculatively at Littleton, then suddenly burst forth:
“Say! How much Princess stock you got?”
“Stock!” the professor repeated. “Why, practically none. That is, I have fifty shares for which I paid five hundred dollars, twelve years ago.”
“Fifty shares!” Jimmie exclaimed. “They sold twenty thousand. Why, that makes only a four hundredth interest you got.”
His amazement was no greater than Lewis’s. The young man had believed the Greek scholar lost many thousands in the worthless mine and here he was devoting his sabbatical year to the chance of recovering so small a sum, not nearly enough to pay his expenses.
“You ought to a’ just kissed it good-by,” Jimmie said.
“Oh, I did, long age,”
Professor Littleton answered. “The loss was too trivial ever to consider.”
“I see!” Lewis exclaimed in relief. “This winter—it is more or less of an adventure, an entire change of scene and environment and interests.”
“It is that, my boy, I’ll grant, though it was not adventure but duty, or at least a sense of duty, that brought me here.”
“I don’t understand that,” Jimmiesaid bluntly.
“It is simple,” the professor answered. “Originally I invested ten thousand dollars, my life’s savings, in Princess stock. I believed in the mine, absolutely, because I knew the man who i nduced me to buy believed in it. It was then that I got my first insight into that essential equipment of the gold miner, faith that the gold was there.”
“Short, thick-set lad, limped in his right leg?” Gold Bug interrupted.
“I think he did limp slightly.”
“Dave Sanborn. He located this mine. Dave was square, all right, only he went and got drowned in the Seine the next summer.”
“I have often wondered what happened to him. Yes, a man who instilled a feeling of complete faith. I am sorry to hear of his tragic end.”
“You’d a’ got a little money back if that canoe of his’d kept right side up,” Jimmie said. “After Dave died, an old English army officer was put in charge. He couldn’t tell a mine from a well. They were in good ore then, and the boys took every ounce of it. Easiest high gradin’ you ever saw. There was lots of iron pyrites and they sacked that up—’fore the mill here was built—and the old fellow never knew the difference.”
“You mean the stockholders were robbed?” Professor Littleton demanded.
“Guess you’d call it that. The vein pinched out right after. This was a fine mill and it’s run less than four thousand dollars. I left before that but I’ve seen fellows who told me all about it.”
Lewis had watched Professor Littleton closely after this second reference to iron pyrites but most evidently he failed to suspect that he and the ex-army officer might have been duped in the same manner.
“I imagine there were further irregularities,” he said, “for the gold is there—has been—rich ore. Mr. Sanborn’s faith was justified, as I have always felt it would be.” Again Gold Bug Jimmie looked searchingly at the professor. Lewis believed he was about to tell what he must suspect and made no effort to stop him. As the Greek scholar did not have a lifetime’s savings at stake, the truth would not prove so great a tragedy. But
evidently the prospector had something else in mind.
“You was lucky to sell out most of yours,” he said
“It has been one of the misfortunes of my life that I did so,” Professor Littleton answered unhappily. “I would have lost that sum again and again rather than have events transpire as they did.. However,” and he brightened quickly, “with the ore I am now taking from the mine I expect to remove the load from my conscience.”
There was no doubting the sincerity and the sense of responsibility of this gentle delver for Greek roots. Lewis was conscious of a feeling of shame that he had doubted his motives that morning and Gold Bug Jimmie though clearly at a loss as to what was meant, was unmistakably impressed.
But the prospector had other things on hismind as well.
“I’m pretty sure that this place I’m looking for is on Princess property,” he said. “I sort o’ thought everything had gone to smash around here and the mine had gone back to the government and I could file again. But long’s it ain’t, and you’re here representing the stockholders, I guess we cam—”
“But I represent no one,” Professor Littleton interrupted, “I am here on a mission of my own.”
“But the company isn’t going yet, is it?” Jimmie demanded. “It must have been closed out or something.”
“So far as I have been informed, it is in no way defunct,” was the reply.
Gold Bug Jimmie stared, He was about to comment, perhaps ask another pertinent question, when all three heard a sound outside, The door opened and Peg came in.
HAD the ancient Greeks lived in a harsher clime their boreal nymph would have differed little from the girl who stood in the open door. Clouds of vapor swirled in past her feet as the cold draft struck the moist air of the room. Snow clung to her woollen coat and trousers and was crusted, on her small moccasins. There were flakes and patches of it in the shock of reddish brown hair
Since his first sight of her up the creek, Lewis had been impressed by Peg’s buoyant personality. He had never quite lost that first impression that she was a boy but now there was no thought of it. He even believed she was beautiful Cheeks red from the cold, eyes dancing, face dimpled by her smile, she was a picture to take away one’s breath.
“Look!” she cried as she held up two mink and a weasel. “The best day I’ve had. Isn’t it wonderful, Zeusie?”
The girl turned to Lewis.
“You did it,” she admitted frankly. “If I hadn’t left the traps set all night I wouldn’t have had a thing. And now—how much do you suppose I’ll get for these skins?”
Before Lewis could hazard a guess Professor Littleton introduced Jimmie McGee.
“An old prospector, my dear,” he said; “a man who was here many years ago. He knew there was gold, had faith there was, came all the way from the Pacific Coast to get it.”
Gold Bug Jimmie was embarrassed in the presence of so radiant a creature.
“We’re getting a regular colony here, Zeusie!” she exclaimed. “We’ll have to open up the old boarding-house.”
“But, listen, Peg!” her father insisted. “Mr. McGee actually knows where there is a rich ledge, probably on the Princess property. He found it many years ago.”
The girl glanced at her father and then shot a furtive look at the prospector. Evidently she was reassured by the unmistakable understanding and community, of interests of these two.
“That’s fine!” she exclaimed. “I hope you make a fortune, Mr. McGee.”
r I 'HERE was no doubt but that Gold Bug Jimmie McGee was woman-shy. A lifetime spent in far places did not give him a sense of ease in their presence and after the girl’s arrival he became dumb.
But not for long. There was something so natural and so buoyant about Peg he responded to it quickly,
as he had to the ingenuousness and charm of her father.
Whether the girl drew him out consciously, Lewis could not determine. He only saw that Jimmie was soon examining the mink, offering to skin them.
“If you would!” Peg exclaimed. “It takes me hours. And the first one—I cut it in three places.”
“You’re like your dad,” Jimmie said, admiringly. “Didn’t know any more about trapping than he did about mining but you went ahead and did it just the same.”
“But it’s not nearly so important.”
“Don’t you fool yourself. Many a gold mine’s been found through fur. Lots of prospectors get a grubstake trappin’ winters.”
“Did you intend to trap here?” Peg asked.
“Nothin’ else to do till spring and two or three hundred dollars would come in handy.”
“Oh, that’s too bad!” the girl exclaimed, and then she added impulsively: “But I’ll share my creek with you.”
“That’s white and I’m much obliged but there’s lots of country around here and there was no sign of Indians where I come through.”
In what, to Peg, was an incredibly short time, the mink and weasel were skinned, boards whittled out and the pelts stretched.
‘"Inhere,” Jimmie said, as he handed them to her. “You ought to get fifteen dollars for this morning’s work.”
“Think of that, Zeusie!” she exclaimed. “And won’t it be fun to trade them for flour and bacon?”
“Our grubstake,” Professor Littleton smiled. “And a pertinent subject, with guests present. Do you think you can prepare a meal for four?”
“I’ll help,” Lewis said quickly, and he went into the kitchen and began laying a fire.
Peg followed and a moment later Professor Littleton announced that he and Jimmie McGee were going to Lewis’s cabin to unload the prospector’s toboggan. A& soon as the door closed Lewis turned to the girl.
“Listen!” he said, a little brusquely, for he had to force
himself to speak. “There’s something I must tell you, and it isn’t good news.” She looked at him steadily a moment, then said:
“So you do own stock in the Princess.” “Not a share. I think I understand what you mean. Your father was about to explain it when you came. He said he owned only fifty shares and that he is here because of a sense of duty.”
“Oh, I was afraid of this!” Peg cried. “He means to do the right thing, believes he is doing it. And this prospector —he’ll cause trouble.”
“I hardly think so. In fact, there’s nothing to cause trouble about.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m sorry, but it will be easier for you to tell him. He hasn’t found gold at all —only iron pyrites—fool’s gold, people call it.”
Stunned as she was, there was no escaping her instant reaction. It was not of herself or the presence or absence of gold that she thought.
“Oh, Zeusie! Zeusie!” she cried. “What a terrible thing to happen to him!”
“Then it did mean so very much?” “Everything. More than you can know. The end of years of self-accusation. And he was so certain. Why—it must be gold! I’ve seen it. Are you sure?”
“If you had ever seen gold-bearing quartz you would know instantly.” “Then—then you think there is no gold here at all?”
“I’m afraid not. No mine in this district has ever paid.”
“But this prospector!” she exclaimed with fresh hope. “He says he’s found it, right on Princess property.”
“Perhaps. That has been the tragedy of this district, just pockets of it, small veins that pinch out after they’ve organized a company, built a mill, expended thousands in the hope of a paying mine.”
“But we didn’t want much. All we needed was just a little. And he thought he had found it and could make everything all right! It was the only reason I let him go down in that black hole. And now I’ve got to tell him there is no chance—that all this i—”
“Won’t you tell me what it is he has tried to do?” Lewis asked. “You can trust me.”
“Of course I can! Zeusie would tell you. “It wasn’t that we were afraid. You know after seeing him, talking to him, that he wouldn t do anything that wasn’t really right.”
“I’m sure of it. I’d trust your father under any circumstances.”
“I knew you’d understand. He doesn’t see things from the ordinary angle. He’s a pagan, the gentlest, sweetest, dearest, kindliest pagan that ever lived. All.his life he’s studied Greece and everything pertaining to the Greeks. He’s really lived more than two thousand years ago; doesn’t belong in any way to this age.
“That’s why I call him Zeusie. Mother called him Zeus to tease him. It’s because he believes Zeus rules the world, still does. He thinks no religion compares with that of ancient Greece. They’re real to him, every one of the gods and goddesses.”
“But what has that to do with the Princess mine?” Lewis asked when she paused.
“Nothing, in a way. I only want you to understand him. He’s the most honest, upright person imaginable, and yet because of his beliefs he does things others might not understand.
“It’s that way here. He invested ten thousand in the Princess. Perhaps that doesn’t mean much to you, but it was all his savings. He did it because he believed the man who started the company, a Mr. Sanborn, was honest. Most of the stock was sold in Winnipeg—money just like dad’s, scraped together a little at a time.
“I know it must sound foolish to you—a wild investment. But it isn’t greed. The saving way is so slow and never can be very much. After a while, people mistrust even their own caution. They know they’re tied to salaries and then someone comes along—like Mr. Sanborn-—who promises to make all their dreams come true. I think,” she declared, with sudden vehemence, “there should be a closed season on college professors.
“But right after dad made this investment, mother became very ill. I don’t remember much. I was only a child. But operations were necessary, and a sanitarium,
a big surgeon from Montreal. Dad had to have money and decided to sell his stock.
“There was a friend of his in the faculty, Professor Randall. He was head of the Latin department. They had known each other all their lives. It was funny. They were always fighting over Latin and Greek culture, and were inseparable. When Professor Randall heard Zeusie wanted to sell his stock he said he would buy it.
“Zeusie didn’t urge it. He even argued against it a little. Not much, though. He believed in it. And at last he sold it, all but fifty shares, at par.”
“And now Professor Randall is dead and his widow is penniless,” Lewis suggested, “and your father wants to get back that money for her.”
“No, though that’s almost it. He’s a helpless invalid. But he has a son, Ronald. Ronnie’s really very brilliant, a painter, and wants to go to Paris. Jove—that’s Professor Randall—wants him to. His heart is set on it. But Jove’s helpless. And that money—it was his savings, too.’ “I think I understand now,” Lewis said. “Your father never lost faith in the mine and he came to get the gold.” “Without saying a word to the other stockholders or the officers of the mine,” Peg added. “That’s where his beliefs would seem queer. He says the Greek gods took a personal interest in humans, had many human qualities themselves, and that their justice was not a blanket thing, a set of rigid laws, but a matter of personal interest. He thinks Professor Randall has fright to his money, that Zeus would give it to him, and that Ronnie’s genius makes it imperative that Jove have funds.”
CHE had spoken dispassionately, evidently trymg to ^ state the case fairly and clearly, but now she tooK fire.
“Don’t you see?” she cried. “It’s going to kill Zeusie. He was so confident. He promised Jove he’d come back with the money.
He was so sure he even advanced all he could spare, money he had saved for our trip to Greece this year. And now—I don’t know what he’ll do.”
“Nevertheless, he’ll have to be told,”
Lewis said gently. “He can’t go on digging out worthless rock. Besides, that tunnel is—”
“Dangerous,” Peg finished when he stopped. “I knew something had happened. And he’d go down there again, risk everything—”
She stopped, a forlorn little thing, slumping in a chiar. Then, the door of the other room opened and they heard Professor Littleton and Jimmie McGee come in.
Instantly Peg was on her feet. She shook her thick bobbed hair, squared her shoulders, forced a smile and walked out of the kitchen.
“I hope you’re not disappointed in your quarters, Mr. McGee,” she said brightly. “We really weren’t expecting guests.”
“That’s a palace to me, miss, compared to some of the shakedowns I’ve had,” he told her, and then added with a grin: “Besides, that’s one thing a prospector gets used to, is disappointments.”
“Yoti mean—about gold?” she asked.
“Of course. If I had all I thought I’d found I could use it for rocks to throw at the neighbors.”
Peg did not laugh with the others.
“Then sometime, when you first started prospecting,” she said, “you must have been terribly disappointed because what you were so sure was gold was only —iron pyrites.”
Jimmie McGee’s mouth opened in quick protest but before the words came he caught her tense expression.
For a moment he returned her stare and then glanced quickly at Professor Littleton.
“It’s hard to get an old timer to admit that,” he grinned sheepishly,
“but I don’t mind. We all got to learn I didn’t know a thing about mineral, then, and when I saw that stuff in a piece of rock—why, say! I’d got a million dollars spent before night.”
“What is it like?” Peg persisted intently.
“It’s in little flakes, yellow and shiny. You’d swear it was gold, until you once seen the real thing in quartz.”
“Quartz—that’s white, isn’t it?”
“Mostly, around here.”
Peg turned and looked at her father,
that she was making a tremendous effort to speak and when the words came there was a twisted little smile about her mouth.
“Zeusie,” she said, “do you think it is possible you could have been—could have made a mistake?”
Professor Littleton jerked upright in his chair.
“Mistake!” he repeated. “You mean—”
The very possibility seemed to stun him. He was incapable of movement or speech. Peg took a quick step forward and her hands were lifted in a little, helpless gesture.
And then Professor Littleton smiled. It was not a pitiful attempt. He had shaken off the blow.
. “It is an eventuality I had never considered,” he said in his usual gentle tone. “However, it is a question on which we need not remain long in doubt. If you will excuse me a moment.”
He had risen and now he walked quickly to the door and out. Peg looked at Lewis. There were tears in her eyes.
“He knows—now,” she whispered.
“I been afraid of that,” Gold Bug Jimmie said. “Didn’t sound right, finding anything where he said.” But it’s tough. I know. I bet he’s bought you all sorts of fine things—spent half of it.”
“But he didn’t want it for me, for himself!” Peg cried. “That’s the terrible part of it. It was for Jove—Professor Randall. If only I hadn’t written! But he seemed so sure, and I couldn’t bear to have Jove worrying when it wasn’t necessary. So I wrote him we’d found the gold for Ronnie.”
“Couldn’t blame you none for that,” Jimmie said. “He talked like he had a million stacked up in that pile
of rock. But you mean he was doing all that for another man?”
Peg was too near tears to explain and Lewis briefly outlined the debt which the professor’s sense of duty had led him too assume. Jimmie listened in silence and then his first bewilderment gave way to something as near excitement as the situation permitted.
“So that was what was in his mind all the time he was grubbing down there in that no-count tunnel! Of all the damn fool things to do! But white, I tell you! He runs more to the ton than any man I ever saw. I knew he had the makings of a pardner the first time I clapped eyes on him.”
“And now someone has to tell him it was fool’s—” Peg began, but the opening door cut short her speech.
Professor Littleton entered with a piece of rock in one hand. He was not smiling now. His face was a little drawn and there was dread in his eyes but he did not hesitate. He handed the rock to the prospector.
Jimmie hardly gave it a glance. He was watching the professor’s face and squirming uneasily in his chair. The professor saw, and understood, and his lips parted in a brave attempt to smile.'
“At least,” he said, “I’ll not make that mistake again.”
He turned and sat down, suddenly and heavily. Lewis did not dare blink for fear he would find his eyes were wet, nor did he dare look at Peg.
“But that’s past, beside the question!” Professor Littleton exclaimed with startling force. “There’s gold here. I know it, believe it.”
“But, Zeusie!” Peg protested. “Lewis says a geologist told him-—”
“They guess same’s anybody else,” Jimmie interrupted scornfully. “If they knew so much about it none of us prospectors would have a chance. Do you know what’s the matter with them?” He looked around the circle and then answered his own question with an air of triumph. “They know so much about it they ain’t got any room left for just plain faith. That’s where me and the professor’s got ’em beat right at the start.”
It was a kindly speech but Lewis felt the unwisdom of it.
“Still, in this district the experience of miners has justified the findings of the geologists,” he said. “Perhaps it would be wiser to accept and—”
“Accept nothing!” Jimmie snapped. “You ain’t got even the beginnings of a prospector in you. You and the girl had better stick to the traps and leave the professor and me to do the mining. He’s had to find out what iron pyrites look like same’s every other prospector and now he’s ready for real mining. I tell you, when a-man’s a natural born prospector he’s bound to find the gold.”
DEG proved as courageous as her father and outdid * herself in leading the gay banter at dinner, for which she had made one of her characteristic pies. Jimmie took a bite and surveyed the adamantine crust speculatively.
“You know,” he said, “your dad and me’s going to be too busy to pack in grub and maybe you’d better—”
“Not at all,” Lewis interrupted. “Experimentation is always valuable. If, in her endeavor to feed us, she should discover some new and marvelously resistant road-making material she would be amply justified.”
“Or even evolve a perennial pie,” Peg added. “Framed.
this would be an adornment for any wall and we could become famous as the Princess boarding house, which guarantees always to have a pie ready for the weary traveler.”
“Daring, not weary,” Lewis corrected.
“Anyway,” and Jimmie pushed back his chair, “the professor and me’d better not eat it. Prospectors have got to keep spry and active. Right ^ now we ought to be looking over this mine.”
At the suggestion Professor Littleton arose with alacrity.
“I’m glad,” Peg said, as the door closed behind them. “It will make Zeusie happy to show what he retrieved from the wreckage.”
“I never saw anyone quite so game,” Lewis declared while they gathered up the dishes. “Unless,” he added, ^ impulsively, “it’s his daughter.”
■ + “I didn’t do anything,” she pro-
tested. “I only—”
“I watched you. In fact, I suspect that pie was «iade to serve a purpose.” “Meaning that no one could be quite such an awful cook by accident. Well, we had to have something to laugh over. It was terrible to see his face. But he took it standing. I wanted to weep over him, and then cheer. He’d been so sure, and so proud. And now—you don’t think there's a chance, do you?”
Continued on page 75
Continued from page 24
“Frankly, I don’t. It’s not even kind to let him go on hoping.”
“But Jimmie McGee! Why does he seem so sure?”
“Jimmie’s an old time prospector, the ultimate in optimism. He couldn’t dig a grave for his partner without examining every shovelful, and he’d probably get so interested he’d go right on past the usual six feet.”
“What a pair they make!” There was a catch in Peg’s voice. “It was sublime, and it was pitiful.”
“Jimmie certainly rose to the occasion. He hadn’t been here half an hour before those two understood each other. He almost made me believe thereisgoldhere.” “Me, too, and perhaps it’s best for a time. But it mustn’t go on too long. Zeusie’s worked too hard and now—” “You mean your sabbatical year is ended?”
She was silent for a moment and then declared warmly:
“But I don’t regret it! It was a wonderful thing for Zeusie even to think of. Zeusie is—Zeusie, and there’s only one. Even if it does mean a few more of those darned theme papers next year, I’m not going to be sorry for a minute of the time we’ve spent here.”
“Is that how the orgies of sabbatical years are financed—theme papers?” “Daughters of Greek professors always pay for their follies by enduring the horrors of freshman English,” she laughed “The torture of the hanging participle, I call it. Let’s hope you have a more painless method of atoning for a vacation.” “I’m supposed to practice law.”
“Of course. I might have known. That’s why you’ll never have that faith Jimmie talks about. But you’ve both been wonderful, and for perfect strangers—”
She leaned far over the dish pan and began scrubbing a kettle with sudden vigor.
“See any signs of Adonis this morning?” Lewis asked in an effort to turn the subject.
“The old villain! He killed a rabbit near the last trap and dragged it up the creek to an old beaver house. I think he’s living there. He took the rabbit inside and I set one of the big traps at the door. I’m going up this afternoon to see if he came out and got caught. Want to come?” “I’d like to see Venus gloat.”
“I’ll gloat, if I catch him.”
Outside they found the weather had changed. The temperature had risen rapidly and there was every indication of a storm. Peg led the way up the snowshoe trail, swinging along at a swift pace. When she passed the first messages written in the snow she turned and smiled.
“Were you ever greeted quite so warmly?” she asked.
_ “It’s ruined the woods for me. I’ll always be looking for love notes.”
“I’m cured,” she laughed. “Wouldn’t it have been funny if Gold Bug Jimmie had come first and seen them?”
“Perhaps he did. He followed me in.” “But what would he think?” she asked, aghast.
“That you’re a fast worker. He knows I arrived only last night.”
“That would be terrible.”
“I know. I’m worried, too. These wilderness people feel very strongly on a fairly close approximation of ages.” “What are you talking about?”
“A difference of ten years, to them, is nothing less than scandalous.”
Peg looked at him wide-eyed for a moment and then turned and started on. Lewis thought he saw an indication of defiance, or resentment, perhaps both, in the way she swung her arms and shoulders.
But it was forgotten when they reached the abandoned beaver house. Peg stood, amazed and angry, as she stared at the
small opening before which she had set her trap. It had been stuffed from the inside with sticks and soft mud which, in that temperature, had quickly turned hard as granite. Lewis laughed.
“Well, Venus, you’ll have to dig up some new wiles,” he said.
“But why did he do that?”
_ “Perhaps he went down the creek last night and saw your snow messages.”
Peg was intent on this new problem, however. She looked at the beaver house, then walked around it.
“How will he get out now?” she asked. “It’s the only opening.”
“He’s too clever to cut off all possibility of escape,” Lewis said. “Let’s look around.”
He went back to the remains of an old beaver dam. There was still a slight fall and though the ice was two feet thick, resting on the bottom, there was a big cleft directly over the fast water. Peg walked up to look in but Lewis held her back.
“I think this is it,” he said. “The beavers had an underground passage into the creek. That’s how he got the mud and he intends to come out through the water and this hole.”
They set two double-spring traps eighteen inches back from the edge of the cleft, slipping them in under the snow and leaving the surface undisturbed.
“That’s just far enough for him to hit one or the other with his first step,” Lewis explained. “And if he gets into one he’ll get into the other.”
“And if he does?” Peg asked breathlessly.
“I think Adonis will be really worried.”
The sky clouded over before they returned and a stiff wind had sprung up. They found Jimmie McGee cutting wood and Professor Littleton carrying it into the house.
“We’re in for a rattlin’ good storm,” the prospector explained. “Nobody’ll care to go out doors the next couple of days.”
“Another thing,” he declared, when darkness had come and they were gathered around the stove, “I’m not going to board here. I’ve brought grub and it’s too hard for you folks to get it in. So I’ll bring my stuff over and get my share of the meals.”
“That has bothered me, too,” Lewis said. “I’ll bring mine and we’ll get supper.”
“You don’t like my cooking!” Peg exclaimed.
“I been trying to figure out some reason why we should be sittin’ around gassin’ while you work,” Jimmie answered, “but I can’t. And I’ve always paid for my board, one way or another.”
When Jimmie and Lewis returned from the other cabin with their food supplies Peg was not in sight. Lewis heard her in the other room as he and Jimmie went into the kitchen to prepare the evening meal.
There were only bare necessities, the raw materials for rough fare, in the combined larders, Canned goods were an impossibility because of the cold, and fresh meat was lacking. Yet Gold Bug Jimmie proved himself a wizard. Lewis did little more than keep the fire going and stand in awe as the prospector worked.
When he went in to set the table Peg had not appeared and it was only when the meal was ready and the three men stood waiting hungrily that the door opened.
Several emotions held Lewis dumb. First was a feeling that he had been duped, somehow. This was no tousleheaded girl of eighteen. There was still color in her face but a soft, delicate tint that had a way of advancing and retreating. Her hair was still unruly but only so far as its owner permitted.
Lewis had a fleeting thought that no woman should ever wear men trousers
and shirts, especially when such garments were heavy and rough. He had considered Peg as a roly-poly youngster, vivid and buoyant and impishly attractive. Now he found himself facing a young woman of twenty-two or more, still vivid but round and slender, poised and assured, and possessed of a soft, indefinable allure.
Only Professor Littleton did not seem to notice. Jimmie McGee was clearly embarrassed.
“Say! You the same one?” he finally blurted out.
“Of course!” Peg laughed, and girllike she could not hide her pleasure in the sensation she had caused. “If I am not allowed to be useful it is my duty at least to attempt the other.”
“You’re not Peg,” Lewis said.
“But I am. Neither one of you is behaving nicely.”
“I’ll get all the meals from now on,” Lewis declared.
They sat down, Lewis beside Professor Littleton and opposite Peg. The girl exclaimed over the food and set Jimmie to blushing with her praise. The prospector, to escape, began talking gold to the professor. Lewis, still watching Peg, suddenly smiled. He had remembered her stare and subsequent resentment when he had spoken of the disparity in their ages.
“It is really amazing how a dress canadd both years and attractiveness,” he said.
She looked up, astounded and not a little incensed that the real object of her costume should be divined and commented upon, and then she laughed in frank acknowledgment of the thrust.
“I couldn’t afford to give cause for scandal,” she said.
“But you do, still. That gown never came from Winnipeg.
“Of course not. I got it in Paris last winter.”
“Paris!” he repeated.
“You can’t reconcile that with a Greek professor’s salary, eh? Zeusie doesn’t exactly approve, either, though it’s Uncle Harlow, his brother, who took me abroad.”
“You mean Harlow Littleton?” Lewis demanded.
“Oh, do you know him?” Peg cried.
“No, though, of course, I’ve heard of him.”
“He’s a dear, even if Zeusie doesn’t approve of his financial methods. And he thinks the world of Zeusie. They are so funny together, each scolding the other.”
“I think I understand. Harlow Littleton would never have missed the sum you’re after here; and your father—”
“He’d die first.”
“Certainly!” and as Peg shook her head vehemently Lewis saw moisture in her eyes.
That night when Lewis and Gold Bug Jimmie retired to their cabin they were alone together for the first time since the prospector’s arrival. As they got the fire going, the old mai^seemed to be occupied by trivialities. The storm he had predicted was roaring outside and he discussed its possible duration and intensity without optimism in his views on either And then he suddenly demanded:
“What you know about these folks?”
“No more than you. I got here only last night.”
“Damndest fool thing I ever heard of,” Jimmie growled. “Shouldn’t be left running around alone, a man like that. Wonder he hasn’t been killed, too. What happened to him underground?”
Lewis explained what had happened after his arrival and Jimmie began to swear.
“What’d a’ happened to the girl then?” he demanded. "Just luck he wasn’t caught. And diggin' out all that junk! Besides, he’s spent a couple o’ months patching up and greasin’ up around here when there ain’t a thing that’s worth lookin’ at. Mill’d fall to pieces if you did
try to run it. Never heard anything so crazy.”
“You’ll have to admit you never saw anything gamer than the way he took that blow,” Lewis declared with some heat.
“Huh! Those kind is always game— and nothing else.”
“And it’s worse than if he were doing it only for himself.”
“Those kind is always doing it for somebody else,” Jimmie retorted. “Rattlebrained idea all the way through. Just because he knows Greek, why’s he think he can run a gold mine? Just ’cause a man teaches in a college don’t mean he knows everything. He’d a’ laughed at me if I’d stuck my head in his school room and started to show a bunch of young squirts how to read a language that’s deader’n the Princess mine.”
“Growl your head off!” Lewis exclaimed angrily. “I’m for him and I’d as soon see a brother hung as watch a man take what he got to-day.”
Jimmie paid no heed. He continued to sputter and criticize as he took off his moccasins and socks and hung the latter near the stove.
“That’s the trouble with mining. People think all they have to do is go out and pick up gold in chunks. Anybody thinks he can take a whirl at it and then they holler their heads off when they get stung. Serves ’em right. Plain suckers. Deserve to lose every cent they got.” He turned suddenly and faced Lewis. “Say, young fellow, what you doin’ here, anyhow?” he demanded belligerently.
“Just what they told you in town,” Lewis answered curtly.
“Sure you ain’t a stockholder in the Princess up to some funny business?”
“If I was a stockholder, what could I be doing?”
“That’s just what I’d like to know. How’d you learn he was here?”
“I didn’t. Never imagined such a thing.”
Jimmie turned back to the stove and scratched his head.
“I never heard anything about’ em in town,” he said. “They must have come in from the other way, the C.P.R. Well, I’m going to bed. Nothing for me to bother my head about.”
TIM MIE resumed his complaint when he wakened in the morning but when the four gathered at the breakfast table he was as genial as on the previous day. He gave no heed to Lewis, paid scant attention to Peg, but with Professor Littleton he talked ceaselessly of gold and the finding of it.
“I believe we could discuss anything under the sun and they would never be aware of what we were saying,” Peg laughed.
Lewis did not comment. The prospector’s quick change in attitude was disturbing. Listening to him talk now, one would imagine he and Professor Littleton had been partners for years.
“Do you think Adonis would venture out a day like this?” Peg asked.
“The weather wouldn’t bother him but you would suffer terribly,” he answered.
“Not so much as thinking he might be caught and slowly freezing to death.” Lewis argued in vain but after breakfast when he suggested that she go outside, she returned quickly.
“I couldn’t stand it,” she said. “Let’s hope Lot’s wife was pretty. I don’t feel that my features warrant their being done in stone.”
Lewis laughed. He wanted to assure her that they would but, although she was again dressed in woollen trousers and shirt, he could not regain that comfortable feeling that she was little more than a child. She had become for him an unusually attractive young woman—almost dismayingly so. In that metamorphosis she had lost none of the vivid personality which had first attracted him and her Continued on page 78
Continued from page 76 courage and her buoyancy had only become the more amazing.
Professor Littleton and Jimmie were absorbed in their discussion on the other side of the stove.
“You bet,” Jimmie was saying. “I figure that only about one in a thousand is born a prospector. And they got to prospect same’s a beaver’s got to build. I know folks are laughing when they call me Gold Bug Jimmie, but I don’t care. I got something those folks are born without. I’ve had strikes, of course, but sooner or later I’m going to find the big one I’ve looked for.”
“I think you’re right,” the professor agreed. “There is a satisfaction when a man knows he has fulfilled his destiny. Many of us cannot, and must delegate that task to others. It is a sacred trust— mining for all those men who believe the gold is there and are willing to invest their savings—a trust, I am sorry to say, of which many mining companies -iem to be unaware.”
“Now it would take you to put it into words,” an d Jimmie drew closer and clawed at the wild disorder of his whiskers. “I used to think they were just easy marks but they’re prospectors same as me, they with their money, me with my hands.”
“Listen to them,” Peg whispered. “Did you ever see such perfect accord from two such opposite angles? If Zeusie never finds anything else, at least he’s had this.”
The day passed quickly. Jimmie, spurred by the most appreciative audience he had ever found, encountered the glorious Odyssey of the prospector. Peg and Lewis stoked the fire, fed the stormbound quartette and discovered that a day of inactivity had its compensations.
The next morning dawned wth the wind still a face-searing blast. Peg’s distress over her unvisited traps increased until, afternoon, she put on her outdoor clothing.
“I can’t stand it any longer,” she said.
Lewis accompanied her, fighting his way against the wind up the creek and breaking trail. He suffered tortures himself, wondered how she could stand it, and once when he turned to look at her he saw that both her cheeks were frozen white.
He rubbed them with his bare hands until they were red again and warned her to do the same when she felt the first stiffening of the skin. But she did not complain; scorned his suggestion that they turn back; urged him on.
At the beaver dam, there was no sign of otter, traps or drags. Snow had drifted over the creek bed and packed hard by the cold and wind. Near the opening above the running water the ice was almost bare.
“He’s gone!” Peg cried. “Taken everything!”
“He couldn’t go far,” Lewis said. “Wait.”
He poked around in a drift with the tail of a snowshoe until he found one of the poles they had used as a drag. Ripping it out of the snow, he drew forth a trap and then a long, stiff, black object. There was a second trap at the other end of it.
“Adonis!” Peg cried, but there was no triumph in her voice. “Oh, why didn’t we come yesterday? I wouldn’t have had him die like that for anything.”
Her distress was so genuine Lewis glanced at her in sympathy and saw that her eyes were wet.
“None of that!” he commanded. “Your lashes will freeze together.”
He jerked off a mitten and with his stiff fingers tried to wipe away the moisture. The tears only ran the faster.
“I can’t help it!” she sobbed.
“Here!” Lewis exclaimed. “If you must weep, get what protection you can.”
He threw an arm about her shoulders and held her close against his breast. She did not resist but buried her face in his rough stag shirt and wept freely. When she was more quiet Lewis reached for a handkerchief and gave it to her.
“Wipe ’em off,” he said, “or you’ll freeze to me.”
She looked up with a smile. Her face was very close and very lovely and Lewis felt himself tremble. For a moment they stood without moving. Then she dried her eyes and slipped away.
“You’ve been awfully good to me—in several ways,” she said.
“I didn’t like to see you freeze your face.”
“Yes, and you didn’t laugh, as you must have wanted to, and—and just now—you didn’t kiss me.”
"As I wanted to,” he added quickly, and then, to cover a sudden confusion: “It would have been dangerous. I might not have been able to stop—get away, I mean.”
“Is that a compliment or a comment on the temperature? I’ve often wondered how an Eskimo ever goes courting.”
“Perhaps they rub noses,” Lewis laughed.
“Of course! That’s where the custom originated. Here’s your handkerchief. Why, it’s frozen! All stiff and crackly.”
They both laughed. Apparently it had all been humorous and yet when they returned with the otter, both were conscious that something had happened, that a certain happy freedom in their relationship was gone.
“It is very wonderful,” Professor Littleton said, when they displayed Adonis.
“But where is Mr. McGee?” Peg asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve wondered. He went out without explanation right after you left and he hasn’t returned.”
The early darkness came with an increased howling of the searing wind but no Gold Bug Jimmie.
To be Concluded