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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lookout Man - Chapter 21. Gold Of Repentance, Sunlight Of Love And A Man Gone Mad
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The Lookout Man - Chapter 21. Gold Of Repentance, Sunlight Of Love And A Man Gone Mad Post by :jazz434 Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :622

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The Lookout Man - Chapter 21. Gold Of Repentance, Sunlight Of Love And A Man Gone Mad

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE. GOLD OF REPENTANCE, SUNLIGHT OF LOVE AND A MAN GONE MAD


Marion was up at the foot of the last grilling climb, the steep acclivity where manzanita shrubs locked arms and laughed at the climber. Fearful of a sprained ankle like Kate's, she had watched carefully where she set down her feet and had not considered that it would be wise to choose just as carefully the route she should follow to gain the top; so long as she was climbing in that general direction she felt no uneasiness, because Taylor Rock topped it all, and she was bound to come out somewhere close to the point at which she was aiming.

But the wall of manzanita stopped her before she had penetrated a rod into it. One solid mass blanketed with snow it looked to be when she stepped carefully upon a rock and surveyed the slope. She had borne too far to the right, away from the staggering rush of wind. She hated to turn now and face the storm while she made her way around to the line of timber, but she had no choice. So she retreated from the manzanita and fought her way around it--finding it farther than she had dreamed; finding, too, that the storm was a desperate thing, if one had to face it for long in the open.

She made the timber, and stood leaning against the sheltered side of a dark-trunked spruce whose branches were thick and wide-spread enough to shield her. The physical labor of fighting her way thus far, and the high altitude to which she had attained, made her pant like a runner just after the race. She held her muff to her face again for the sense of warmth and well-being its soft fur gave to her cheeks. Certainly, no one else would be fool enough to come out on such a day, she thought. And what a surprise to Jack, seeing her come puffing into his cave! She had not been there since the snow fell, just before Thanksgiving. Now it was nearly Christmas--a month of solitary grandeur Jack had endured.

She glanced up at the tossing boughs above her; felt the great tree trunk quiver when a fresh blast swept the top; looked out at the misty whiteness of the storm, clouded with swaying pine branches. What a world it was! But she was not afraid of it; somehow she felt its big, rough friendliness even now. It did not occur to her that the mountains could work her ill, though she reminded herself that standing still was not the best way to keep warm on such a day.

She started up again, ignorantly keeping among the trees, that a mountaineer would have shunned. But straightway she stopped and looked around her puzzled. Surely she had not come down this way when she skirted the manzanita. She remembered coming in among the trees from the right. She turned and went that way, saw her filling footprints in the snow, and plodded back. There were tracks coming down the hill, and she had not made them. They must surely be Jack's.

With the new wisdom of having tramped nearly every day through snow, she studied these new tracks and her own where she had come to the spruce tree. These other tracks, she decided, had been made lately--she must have missed by minutes seeing him pass before her. Perhaps she could overtake him. So she faced the wind and ran gasping down the slope, following the tracks. She nearly caught Mike unaware, but she did not know it. She hurried unsuspectingly past the tree where he was hiding, his rifle held ready to fire if she looked his way. He was hesitating, mumbling there with his finger on the trigger when she went out of sight around a bush, still following where the tracks led. Mike stepped out from behind the tree and came bowlegging after her, walking with that peculiar, flat-footed gait of the mountain trained man.

Luck was with her. Jack had gone down a gully rim, thinking to cross it farther on, ran into rocks and a precipitous bank, and was coming back upon his trail. He met Marion face to face. She gave a cry that had in it both tears and laughter, and stood looking at him big-eyed over her muff.

"Well, forevermore! I thought I never would catch you! I was going to the cave--" Something in Jack's scrutinizing, unfriendly eyes stopped her.

"Sorry, but I'm not at home," he said. There was more than a sulky mood in his tone. Marion was long since accustomed to the boyish gruffness with which Jack strove to hide heartaches. This was different. It froze her superficial cheerfulness to a panicky conviction that Jack had in some manner discovered her betrayal of him; or else he had taken alarm at Hank's prowling.

"What's the matter, Jack? Did you find out about--anybody knowing you're here? Are you beating it, now?"

"I don't know what you mean." Jack still eyed her with that disconcerting, measuring look that seemed to accuse without making clear just what the specific accusation might be. "How do you mean--beating it?"

"I mean--oh, Jack, I did an awful thing, and I came up to tell you. And Hank Brown knows something, I'm sure, and that worries me, too. I came out to see if I could meet you, the other day, while Doug stayed with Kate. And I ran right onto Hank Brown, and he began asking about you right away, Jack, and hinting things and talking about tracks. He showed me where you had waited behind the tree, and where we stood and talked, and he guessed about my bringing cigarettes, even. He's the foxiest thing--he just worked it all out and kept grinning so mean--but I fooled him, though. I made him think it was Fred that had been out hunting, and that I met him, and the package had candy in it. I had to kid him away from the subject of you--and then the big rube got so fresh--I had the awfullest time you ever saw, Jack, getting away from the fool.

"But the point I'm getting at is that he suspects something. He said you hadn't been near Quincy, and there must be some reason. He said you didn't have any mine located, because you hadn't filed any claim, or anything. But that isn't the worst--"

"I don't care what Hank thinks." Jack pulled the collar of his coat closer to his ears, because of the seeking wind and snow. "Get under the cedar, while I tell you. I was going without seeing you, because I saw you and Hank together and I didn't like the looks of it. I was sore as a goat, Marion, and that's the truth. But it's like this: I'm going back home. I can't stand it any longer--I don't mean the way I've been living, though that ain't any soft graft either. But it's mother, I'm thinking of. I never gave her a square deal, Marion.

"I--you know how I have felt about her, but that's all wrong. She's been all right--she's a brick. I'm the one that's given the raw deal. I've been a selfish, overbearing, good-for-nothing ass ever since I could walk, and if she wasn't a saint she'd have kicked me out long ago. Why, I sneaked off and left a lie on her dresser, and never gave her a chance to get the thing straight, or anything. I tell you, Marion, if I was in her place, and had a measly cub of a son like I've been, I'd drown him in a tub, or something. Honest to John, I wouldn't have a brat like that on the place! How she's managed to put up with me all these years is more than I can figure; it gets my goat to look back at the kinda mark I've been--strutting around, spending money I never earned, and never thanking her--feeling abused, by thunder, because she didn't--oh, it's hell! I can't talk about it. I'm going back and see her, and tell her where I stand. She'll kick me out if she's got any sense, but that'll be all right. I'll see her, and then I'm going to the chief of police and straighten out that bandit stuff. I'm going to tell just how the play came up--just a josh, it was. I'll tell 'em--it'll be bad enough, at that, but maybe it'll do some good--make other kids think twice before they get to acting smart-alecky.

"So you run along home, Marion, and maybe some day--if they don't send me up for life, or anything like that--maybe I'll have the nerve to tell yuh--" A dark flush showed on his cheek-bones, that were gaunt from worry and hard living. He moved uneasily, tugging at the collar of his sweater.

"You've got your nerve now, Jack Corey, if you want to know what I think," Marion retorted indignantly. "Why, you're going up against an awfully critical time! And do you think for a minute, you big silly kid, that I'll let you go alone? I--I never did--ah--respect you as much as I do right now. I--well, I'm going right along with you. I'm going to see that chief of police myself, and I'm going to see your mother. And if they don't give you a square deal, I'm going to tell them a few things! I--"

"You can't go. Don't be a fool, sweetheart. You mustn't let on that you've thrown in with me at all, and helped me, and all that. I appreciate it--but my friendship ain't going to be any help to--"

"Jack Corey, I could shake you! The very idea of you talking that way makes me wild! I am going. You can't stop me from riding on the train, can you? And you can't stop me from seeing the chief--"

"I'd look nice, letting your name get mixed up with mine! Sweetheart, have some sense!" Jack may not have known what name he had twice called her, but Marion's eyes lighted with blue flames.

"Some things are better than sense--sweetheart," she said, with a shy boldness that startled her. The last word was spoken into the snow-matted fur of her muff, but Jack heard it.

"You--oh, God! Marion, do you--care?" He reached out and caught her by the shoulders. "You mustn't. I'm not fit for a girl like you. Maybe some day--"

"Some day doesn't mean anything at all. This part of today is what counts. I'm going with you. I--I feel as if I'd die if I didn't. If they send you to jail, I'll make them send me too--if I have to rob a Chinaman!" She laughed confusedly, hiding her face. "It's awful, but I simply couldn't live without--without--"

"Me? Say, that's the way I've been feeling about you, ever since Lord knows how long. But I didn't suppose you'd ever--"

"Say, my feet are simply freezing!" Marion interrupted him. "We'll have to start on. It would be terrible if we missed the train, Jack."

"You oughtn't to go. Honestly, I mean it. Unless we get married, it would--"

"Why, of course we'll get married! Have I got to simply propose to you? We'll have to change at Sacramento anyway--or we can change there just as well as not--and we'll get married while we're waiting for the train south. I hope you didn't think for a minute that I'd--"

"It isn't fair to you." Jack moved out from under the sheltering cedar and led the way up the gully's rim, looking mechanically for an easy crossing. "I'm a selfish enough brute without letting you--"

Marion plucked at his sleeve and stopped him.

"Jack Corey, you tell me one thing. Don't you--want me to--marry you? Don't you care--?"

"Listen here, honey, I'll get sore in a minute if you go talking that way!" He took her in his arms, all snow as she was, and kissed her with boyish energy. "You know well enough that I'm crazy about you. Of course I want you! But look at the fix I'm in: with just about a hundred dollars to my name--"

"I've got money in my muff to buy a license, if you'll pay the preacher, Jack. We'll go fifty-fifty on the cost--"

"And a darned good chance of being sent up for that deal the boys pulled off--"

"Oh, well, I can wait till you get out again. Say, I just love you with that little lump between your eyebrows when you scowl! Go on, Jack; I'm cold. My gracious, what a storm! It's getting worse, don't you think? When does that train go down, Jack? We'll have to be at the station before dark, or we might get lost and miss the train, and then we would be in a fix! I wish to goodness I'd thought to put on my blue velvet suit--but then, how was I going to know that I'd need it to get married in?"

Jack stopped on the very edge of the bank, and held back the snow-laden branches for her to pass. "You're the limit for having your own way," he grinned. "I can see who's going to be boss of the camp, all right. Come on--the sooner we get down into lower country, the less chance we'll have of freezing. We'll cross here, and get down in that thick timber below. The wind won't catch us quite so hard, and if a tree don't fall on us we'll work our way down to the trail. Give me a kiss. This is a toll gate, and you've got to pay--"

Standing so, with one arm flung straight out against the thick boughs of a young spruce, he made a fair target for Mike back there among the trees. Mike was clean over the edge now of sanity. The two spies had come together--two against one, and searching for him to kill him, as he firmly believed. When they had stood under the cedar he thought that they were hiding there, waiting for him to walk into the trap they had set. He would have shot them, but the branches were too thick. When they moved out along the gulch, Mike ran crouching after, his rifle cocked and ready for aim. You would have thought that the man was stalking a deer. When Jack stopped and turned, with his arm flung back against the spruce, he seemed to be looking straight at Mike.

Mike aimed carefully, for he was shaking with terror and the cold of those heights. The sharp pow-w of his rifle crashed through the whispery roar of the pines, and the hills flung back muffled echoes. Marion screamed, saw Jack sag down beside the spruce, clutched at him wildly, hampered by her muff. Saw him go sliding down over the bank, into the gulch, screamed again and went sliding after him.

Afterwards she remembered a vague impression she had had, of hearing some one go crashing away down the gully, breaking the bushes that impeded his flight.

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