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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lookout Man - Chapter 19. Trouble Rocks The Pan, Looking For Grains Of Gold
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The Lookout Man - Chapter 19. Trouble Rocks The Pan, Looking For Grains Of Gold Post by :jazz434 Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :3364

Click below to download : The Lookout Man - Chapter 19. Trouble Rocks The Pan, Looking For Grains Of Gold (Format : PDF)

The Lookout Man - Chapter 19. Trouble Rocks The Pan, Looking For Grains Of Gold

CHAPTER NINETEEN. TROUBLE ROCKS THE PAN, LOOKING FOR GRAINS OF GOLD


Up on the peaks Jack was touching the heights and the depths of his own nature, while the mountains stood back and waited, it seemed to him, for the final answer. He had lived with them too long and too intimately to disregard them now, uninfluenced by their varying moods. He watched them in sunlight when they were all shining white and violet and soft purple, with great shadows spread over their slopes where the forests stood deepest; and they heartened him, gave him a wordless promise that better times were to come. He saw them swathed with clouds, and felt the chill of their cold aloofness; the world was a gloomy place then, and friendship was all false and love a mockery. He saw them at night--then was he an outcast from everything that made life worth while; then was he almost ready to give up.

When he had waited until the sun was low, and Marion did not come or send him a signal from the little knoll behind the cabin, he told himself that he was just a whim of hers; that he merely furnished her with a little amusement, gave her a pleasant imitation of adventure; that if something more exciting came into her dull life there in the Basin, she would never bother with him again. He told himself cynically that she would merely be proving her good sense if she stopped meeting him or sending those brief little messages; but Lord, how they did put heart into a fellow!--those little dots of brightness, with now and then a wider, longer splash of radiance, which she told him meant "forevermore"; or, if it were very long and curved, as when she waved the glass over her head, it meant a laugh, and "here's hoping."

But when she did not come, or even run up the hill and send him the one-two-three signal which meant she could not meet him that day, he faced the long night feeling that the world held not one friend upon whom he could depend. The next day he went out, but he was so absolutely hopeless that he persuaded himself she would not come and that he did not want her to come. He did not want to meet any human being that he could think of--except his mother, and his punishment was that he should never see her again. He had to walk for exercise, and he might get a shot at a grouse. He was not going to meet Marion at all. Let her stay at home, if she wanted to--he could stand it if she could.

He tramped down the mountain toward the Basin. It was a dreary journey at best, and today his perverse mood would not let him brighten it with the hope of seeing Marion. She had fooled him the day before, after she had promised to come, and he had carried that chunk of bear meat all the way down from the cave, so now he was going to fool her. If she came he would just let her stand around in the cold, and see how funny it was to wait for some one who did not show up.

Near their last meeting place, on the brink of the deep gulley that divided the Crystal Lake road from the first slope of Grizzly Peak, he stopped, half tempted to turn back. She was keen-eyed, and he did not want her to see him first. She should not have the chance, he reflected, to think he was crazy about meeting her every day. If she wanted to make it once a week, she wouldn't find him whining about it. He moved warily on down to the place, his eyes searching every open spot for a glimpse of her.

He got his glimpse just as she and Hank were climbing the side of the gulley to the road. It was a glimpse that shocked him out of his youthful self-pity and stood him face to face with a very real hurt. They were climbing in plain sight, and so close to him that he could hear Hank's drawling voice telling Marion that she was a cute one, all right; he'd have to hand it to her for being a whole lot cuter than he had sized her up to be. Uncouth praise it was, bald, insincere, boorish. Jack heard Marion laugh, just as though she enjoyed Hank's conversation and company--and all his anger at yesterday's apparent slight seemed childish beside this hot, man's rage that filled him.

Any man walking beside Marion would have made him wild with jealousy; but Hank Brown! Hank Brown, holding her by the arm, walking with her more familiarly than Jack had ever ventured to do, for all their close friendship! Calling her cute--why cute, in particular? Did Hank, by any chance, refer to Marion's little strategies in getting things for Jack? The bare possibility sickened him.

He stood and watched until they reached the trail and passed out of sight among the trees, their voices growing fainter as the distance and the wind blurred the sounds. Had they looked back while they were climbing out of the gulley, they must have seen him, for he stood out in the open, making no attempt at concealment, not even thinking of the risk. When they had gone, he stood staring at the place and then turned and tramped apathetically back to his cave.

What was Marion doing with Hank Brown, the one man in all this country who held a definite grudge against Jack? What had she done, that Hank should consider her so cute? Was the girl playing double? Loyalty was a part of Jack's nature--a fault, he had come to call it nowadays, since he firmly believed it was loyalty toward his father that had cost him his mother's love; since it was loyalty to his friends, too, that had sent him out of Los Angeles in the gray of the morning; since it was loyalty to Marion that had held him here hiding miserably like an animal. Loyalty to Marion made it hard now to believe his own eyes when they testified against her.

There must be some way of explaining it, he kept telling himself hopelessly. Marion--why, the girl simply couldn't pretend all the time. She would forget herself some time, no matter how clever she was at deception. She couldn't keep up a make-believe interest in his welfare, the way she had done; if she could do that--well, like Hank Brown, he would have to hand it to her for being a lot cleverer than he had given her credit for being. "If she's been faking the whole thing, she ought to go on the stage," he muttered tritely. "She'd make Sarah Bernhardt look like a small-time extra. Yes, sir, all of that. And I don't quite get it that way." Then he swore. "Hank Brown! That hick--after having her choice of town boys, her taking up with that Keystone yap! No, sir, that don't get by with me." But when he had gone a little farther he stopped and looked blackly down toward the Basin. A swift, hateful vision of the two figures walking close together up that slope struck him like a slap in the face.

"All but had his arm around her," he growled. "And she let him get by with it! And laughed at his hick talk. Huh! Hank Brown! I admire her taste, I must say!"

Up near the peak the wind howled through the pines, bringing with it the bite of cold. His shoulders drawn together with the chill that struck through even his heavy sweater and coat, he went on, following the tracks he had made coming down. They were almost obliterated with the snow, that went slithering over the drifts like a creeping cloud, except when a heavier gust lifted it high in air and flung it out in a blinding swirl. Battling with that wind sent the warmth through his body again, but his hands and feet were numb when he skirted the highest, deepest, solidest drift of them all and crept into the desolate fissure that was the opening to his lair.

Inside it was more dismal than out on the peak, if that could be. The wind whistled through the openings in the roof, the snow swirled down and lay uneasily where it fell. His camp-fire was cheerless, sifted over with white. His bed under the ledge looked cold and comfortless, with the raw, frozen hide of the bear on top, a dingy blank fringe of fur showing at the edges.

Jack stood just inside, his shoulders again hunched forward, his chilled fingers doubled together in his pockets, and looked around him. He always did that when he came back, and he always felt nearly the same heartsick shrinking away from its cold dreariness. The sun never shone in there, for one thing. The nearest it ever came was to gild the north rim of the opening during the middle of the day.

Today its chill desolation struck deeper than ever, but he went stolidly forward and started a little fire with a splinter or two of pitch that he had carried up from a log down below. Hank had taught him the value of pitch pine, and Jack remembered it now with a wry twist of the lips. He supposed he ought to be grateful to Hank for that much, but he was not.

He melted snow in a smoky tin bucket and made a little coffee in another bucket quite as black. All his food was frozen, of course, but he stirred up a little batter with self-rising buckwheat flour and what was left of the snow water, whittled off a few slices of bacon, fried that and afterwards cooked the batter in the grease, watching lest the thick cake burn before it had cooked in the center. He laid the slices of bacon upon half of the cake, folded the other half over upon them, squatted on his heels beside the fire and ate the ungainly sandwich and drank the hot black coffee sweetened and with a few of the coarser grains floating on top. While he ate he stared unseeingly into the fire, that sputtered and hissed when an extra sifting of snow came down upon it. The cave was dusky by now, so that the leaping flames made strange shadows on the uneven rock walls. The whistle of the wind had risen to a shriek.

Jack roused himself when the fire began to die; he stood up and looked around him, and down at his ungainly clothes and heavy, high-cut shoes laced over thick gray socks whose tops were turned down in a roll over his baggy, dirt-stained trousers. He laughed without any sound of mirth, thinking that this was the Jack Corey who had quarreled over the exact shade of tie that properly belonged to a certain shade of shirt; whose personal taste in sport clothes had been aped and imitated by half the fellows he knew. What would they think if they could look upon him now? He wondered if Stit Duffy would wag his head and say "So-me cave, bo, so-me cave!"

Then his mind snapped back to Hank Brown with his hand clasping Marion's arm in that leisurely climb to the trail. His black mood returned, pressing the dead weight of hopelessness upon him. He might as well settle the whole thing with a bullet, he told himself again. After all, what would it matter? Who would care? Last night he had thought instantly of Marion and his mother, and he had felt that two women would grieve for him. Tonight he thought of Marion and cast the thought away with a curse and a sneer. As for his mother--would his mother care so very much? Had he given her any reason for caring, beyond the natural maternal instinct which is in all motherhood? He did not know. If he could be sure that his mother would grieve for him--but he did not know. Perhaps she had grieved over him in the past until she had worn out all emotions where he was concerned. He wondered, and he wished that he knew.

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