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“The shining mountains,” said Gregory Compton softly, throwing back his
head, his eyes travelling along the hard bright outlines above the high
valley in which his ranch lay. “The shining mountains. That is what the
Indians called them before the white man came.”
His wife yawned frankly. “Pity they dont shine inside as well as
out--what weve got of em.”
“Who knows? Who knows?”
“We dont. Thats the trouble.”
But although she spoke tartly, she nestled into his arm, for she was
not unamiable, she had been married but sixteen months, and she was
still fond of her husband “in a way”; moreover, although she cherished
resentments open and secret, she never forgot that she had won a
prize “as men go.” Many girls in Butte[A] had wanted to marry Gregory
Compton, not only because he had inherited a ranch of eleven hundred
and sixty acres, but because, comprehensively, he was superior to the
other young men of his class. He had graduated from the High School
before he was sixteen; then after three years work on the ranch under
his unimaginative father, he had announced his intention of leaving the
State unless permitted to attend the School of Mines in Butte. The old
man, who by this time had taken note of the formation of his sons jaw,
gave his consent rather than lose the last of his children; and for two
years and a semester Gregory had been the most brilliant figure in the
School of Mines.
“Old Man Compton,” who had stampeded from his small farm in northern
New York in the sixties to meet with little success in the mines, but
more as a rancher, had been as typical a hayseed as ever punctuated
politics with tobacco juice in front of a corner grocery-store, but
had promised his wife on her death-bed that their son should have
“schooling.” Mrs. Compton, who had arrived in Montana soon after the
log house was built, was a large, dark, silent woman, whom none of
her distant neighbours had ever claimed to know. It was currently
believed in the New York village whence she came that in the early days
of the eighteenth century the sturdy Verrooy stock had been abruptly
crossed by the tribe of the Oneida. Ancient history in a new country
is necessarily enveloped in mist, but although the children she had
lost had been fair and nondescript like their father, her youngest, and
her only son, possessed certain characteristics of the higher type of
Indian. He was tall and lightly built, graceful, supple, swift of foot,
with the soft tread of the panther; and although his skin was no darker
than that of the average brunette, it acquired significance from the
intense blackness of his hair, the thin aquiline nose, the long, narrow
eyes, the severe and stolid dignity of expression even in his earlier
He had seemed to the girls of the only class he knew in Butte an
even more romantic figure than the heroes of their magazine fiction,
particularly as he took no notice of them until he met Ida Hook at a
picnic and surrendered his heart.
Ida, forced by her thrifty mother to accept employment with a
fashionable dressmaker, and consumed with envy of the “West Siders”
whose measurements she took, did not hesitate longer than feminine
prudence dictated. Before she gave her hair its nightly brushing her
bold unpedantic hand had covered several sheets of pink note-paper with
the legend, “Mrs. Gregory Compton,” the while she assured herself there
was “no sweller name on West Broadway.” To do her justice, she also
thrilled with young passion, for more than her vanity had responded
to the sombre determined attentions of the man who had been the
indifferent hero of so many maiden dreams. Although she longed to be a
Copper Queen, she was too young to be altogether hard; and, now that
her hour was come, every soft enchantment of her sex awoke to bind and
blind her mate.
Gregory Comptons indifference to women had been more pretended than
real, although an occasional wild night on The Flat had interested him
far more than picnics and dances where the girls used no better grammar
than the “sporting women” and were far less amusing. He went to this
picnic to please his old school friend, Mark Blake, and because Nine
Mile Cañon had looked very green and alluring after the June rains when
he had ridden through it alone the day before. The moment he stood
before Ida Hook, staring into the baffling limpid eyes, about which
heavy black lashes rose and fell and met and tangled and shot apart in
a series of bedevilling manœuvres, he believed himself to be possessed
by that intimate soul-seeking desire that nothing but marriage can
satisfy. He kept persistently at her side, his mans instinct prompting
the little attentions women value less than they demand. He also took
more trouble to interest her verbally than was normal in one whom
nature had prompted to silence, and he never would learn the rudiments
of small talk; but his brain was humming in time with his eager
awakened pulses, and Ida was too excited and exultant to take note of
his words. “It was probably about mines, anyway,” she confided to her
friends, Ruby and Pearl Miller. “Nobody talks about anything else long
in this old camp.”
Gregorys infatuation was by no means reduced by the fact that no less
than six young men contended for the favour of Miss Hook. She was the
accredited beauty of Butte, for even the ladies of the West Side had
noticed and discussed her and hoped that their husbands and brothers
had not. It was true that her large oval blue-grey eyes, set like
Calliopes, were as shallow as her voice; but the lids were so broad
and white, and the lashes so silky and oblique, that the critical
faculty of man was drugged, if dimly prescient. Her cheeks were a
trifle too full, her nose of a type unsung in marble; but what of that
when her skin was as white as milk, the colour in cheek and lips of a
clear transparent coral, that rarest and most seductive of natures
reds, her little teeth enamelled like porcelain? And had she not every
captivating trick, from active eyelash to the sudden toss of her small
head on its long round throat, even to the dilating nostril which made
her nose for the moment look patrician and thin! Her figure, too, with
its boyish hips, thin flexible waist, and full low bust, which she
carried with a fine upright swing, was made the most of in a collarless
blouse, closely fitting skirt, and narrow dark belt.
Miss Hook, although her expression was often wide-eyed and innocent,
was quite cynically aware of her power over the passions of men. More
than one man of high salary or recent fortune had tried to “annex”
her, as she airily put it; her self-satisfaction and the ever-present
sophistications of a mining town saving her from anything so gratuitous
as outraged maidenhood.
The predatory male and his promises had never tempted her, and it
was her boast that she had never set foot in the road houses of The
Flat. She had made up her mind long since to live on the West Side,
the fashionable end of Butte, and was wise enough, to quote her own
words, to know that the straight and narrow was the only direct route.
Ambition, her sleepless desire to be a grand dame (which she pronounced
without any superfluous accent), was stronger than vanity or her
natural love of pleasure. By the ordinary romantic yearnings of her
age and sex she was unhampered; but when she met Gregory Compton, she
played the womans game so admirably the long day through that she
brushed her heavy black hair at night quite satisfied he would propose
when she gave him his chance. This she withheld for several days, it
being both pleasant and prudent to torment him. He walked home with her
every afternoon from the dressmaking establishment on North Main Street
to her mothers cottage in East Granite, to be dismissed at the gate
coyly, reluctantly, indifferently, but always with a glance of startled
wonder from the door.
In the course of the week she gave him to understand that she should
attend the Friday Night dance at Columbia Gardens, and expected him to
escort her. Gregory, who by this time was reduced to a mere prowling
instinct projected with fatal instantaneity from its napping ego, was
as helpless a victim as if born a fool. He thought himself the most
fortunate of men to receive permission to sit beside her on the open
car during the long ride to the Gardens, to pay for the greater number
of her waltzes, to be, in short, her beau for the night.
The evening of Friday at Columbia Gardens is Society Night for all
respectable Butte, irrespective of class; the best floor and the
airiest hall in Silver Bow County proving an irresistible incentive to
democracy. Moreover, Butte is a city of few resources, and the Gardens
at night look like fairyland: the immense room is hung with Chinese
lanterns depending from the rafters, the music is the best in Montana;
and the richer the women, the plainer their frocks. A sort of informal
propriety reigns, and millionaire or clerk pays ten cents for the
privilege of dancing with his lady.
Ida, who had expended five of her hard-earned dollars on a bottle
of imported perfume, wore a white serge suit cut as well as any in
“the grand dame bunch.” After the sixth waltz she draped her head and
shoulders with a coral-pink scarf and led Gregory, despite the chill of
June, out to his willing fate. The park was infested by other couples,
walking briskly to keep themselves warm, and so were the picnic grounds
where the cottonwoods and Canadian poplars were being coaxed to grow,
now that the smelters which had reduced the neighbourhood of Butte to
its bones had been removed to Anaconda.
But farther up the cañon no one but themselves adventured, and here
Gregory was permitted to ask this unique creature, provided with a new
and maddening appeal to the senses, to renounce her kingdom and live on
a ranch.
It was all very crude, even to the blatant moon, which in the thin
brilliant atmosphere of that high altitude swings low with an almost
impudent air of familiarity, and grins in the face of sentiment.
But to Gregory, who was at heart passionate and romantic, it was a
soul-quickening scene: the blazing golden disk poised on the very crest
of the steep mountain before them, the murmur of water, the rustling
young leaves, the deep-breasted orientally perfumed woman with the
innocent wondering eyes. The moon chuckled and reminded his exacting
mistress, Nature, that were he given permission to scatter some of his
vast experience instead of the seductive beams that had accumulated
it, this young man with his natural distinction of mind, and already
educated beyond his class, would enjoy a sudden clarity of vision and
perceive the defects of grammar and breeding in this elemental siren
with nothing but Evian instincts to guide her.
But the dutiful old search-light merely whipped up the ancestral
memories in Gregorys subconscious brain; moreover, gave him courage.
He made love with such passion and tenderness that Ida, for once
elemental, clung to him so long and so ardently that the grinning
moon whisked off his beam in disgust and retired behind a big black
cloud--which burst shortly afterwards and washed out the car tracks.
They were married in July, and Mrs. Hook, who had worked for forty
years at tub and ironing-board, moved over to the dusty cemetery in
September, at rest in the belief not only that her too good-looking
daughter was safely “planted,” but was a supremely happy woman.
Idas passion, however, had been merely a gust of youth, fed by
curiosity and gratified ambition; it quickly passed in the many
disappointments of her married life. Gregory had promised her a
servant, but no “hired girl” could be induced to remain more than a
week on the lonely De Smet Ranch; and Mrs. Comptons temper finding
its only relief in one-sided quarrels with her Chinese cooks, even the
philosophical Oriental was prone to leave on a moments notice. There
were three hired men and three in the family, after John Oakley came,
to cook and “clean up” for, and there were weeks at a time when Ida
was obliged to rise with the dawn and occupy her large and capable but
daintily manicured hands during many hours of the day.
Gregorys personality had kindled what little imagination she had
into an exciting belief in his power over life and its corollary, the
worlds riches. Also, having in mind the old Indian legend of the great
chief who had turned into shining gold after death and been entombed in
what was now known prosaically as the De Smet Ranch, she had expected
Gregory to “strike it rich” at once.
But although there were several prospect holes on the ranch, dug
by Gregory in past years, he had learned too much, particularly of
geology, during his two years at the School of Mines to waste any more
time digging holes in the valley or bare portions of the hills. If a
ledge existed it was beneath some tangle of shrub or tree-roots, and he
had no intention of denuding his pasture until he was prepared to sell
his cattle.
He told her this so conclusively a month after they were married that
she had begged him to raise sugar beets and build a factory in Butte
(which he would be forced to superintend), reminding him that the only
factory in the State was in the centre of another district and near
the southern border, and that sugar ranged from six to seven dollars a
hundredweight. He merely laughed at this suggestion, although he was
surprised at her sagacity, for, barring a possible democratic victory,
there was room for two beet-sugar factories in Montana. But he had
other plans, although he gave her no hint of them, and had no intention
of complicating his life with an uncongenial and exacting business.
By unceasing personal supervision he not only made the ranch profitable
and paid a yearly dividend to his three aunts, according to the terms
of his fathers will, but for the last two years, after replacing or
adding to his stock, he had deposited a substantial sum in the bank,
occasionally permitting his astute friend, Mark Blake, to turn over a
few hundreds for him on the stock-market. This was the heyday of the
American farmer, and the De Smet cattle brought the highest prices
in the stock-yards for beef on the hoof. He also raised three crops
of alfalfa a year to insure his live stock against the lean days of
a Rocky Mountain winter. He admitted to Ida that he could afford to
sink a shaft or drive a tunnel in one of his hills, but added that
he should contemplate nothing of the sort until he had finished his
long-delayed course in the School of Mines, and had thousands to throw
away on development work, miners, and machinery. At this time he saw no
immediate prospect of resuming the studies interrupted by the death of
his father: until John Oakley came, eight months after his marriage, he
knew of no foreman to trust but himself.
Ida desired the life of the city for other reasons than its luxuries
and distractions. Her fallow brain was shrewd and observing, although
often crude in its deductions. She soon realised that the longer she
lived with her husband the less she understood him. Like all ignorant
women of any class she cherished certain general estimates of men,
and in her own class it was assumed that the retiring men were weak
and craven, the bold ones necessarily lacking in that refinement upon
which their young lady friends prided themselves. Ida had found that
Gregory, bold as his wooing had been, and arrogantly masculine as he
was in most things, not only had his shynesses but was far more refined
and sensitive than herself. She was a woman who prided herself upon
her theories, and disliked having them upset; still more not knowing
where she was at, to use her own spirited vernacular. She began to
be haunted by the fear of making some fatal mistake, living, as she
did, in comparative isolation with him. Not only was her womanly
pride involved, as well as a certain affection born of habit and
possible even to the selfish, rooted as it is in the animal function
of maternity, but she had supreme faith in his future success and was
determined to share it.
She was tired, however, of attempting to fathom the intense reserves
and peculiarities of that silent nature, of trying to live up to him.
She was obliged to resort to “play-acting”; and, fully aware of her
limitations, despite her keen self-appreciation, was in constant fear
that she would “make a grand mess of it.” Gregorys eyes could be very
penetrating, and she had discovered that although he never told funny
stories, nor appeared to be particularly amused at hers, he had his own
sense of humour.
The young couple stood together in the dawn, the blue dawn of Montana.
The sky was as cold and bright as polished silver, but the low soft
masses of cloud were blue, the glittering snow on the mountain peaks
was blue, the smooth snow fields on the slopes and in the valley were
blue. Nor was it the blue of azure or of sapphire, but a deep lovely
cool polaric blue, born in the inverted depths of Montana, and forever
dissociated from art.
It was an extramundane scene, and it had drawn Gregory from his bed
since childhood, but to Ida, brought up in a town, and in one whose
horizons until a short while ago had always been obscured by the
poisonous haze of smelters, and ores roasted in the open, it was
“weird.” Novels had informed her that sunrises were pink, or, at the
worst, grey. There was something mysterious in this cold blue dawn up
in the snow fields, and she hated mystery. But as it appeared to charm
Gregory, she played up to him when he “dragged” her out to look at it;
and she endeavoured to do so this morning although her own ego was
Gregory drew her closer, for she still had the power to enthrall him
at times. He understood the resources within her shallows as little
as she understood his depths, but although her defects in education
and natural equipment had long since appalled him, he was generally
too busy to think about her, and too masculine to detect that she was
playing a part. This morning, although he automatically responded to
her blandishments, he was merely sensible of her presence, and his
eyes, the long watchful eyes of the Indian, were concentrated upon the
blue light that poured from the clouds down upon the glistening peaks.
Ida knew that this meant he was getting ready to make an announcement
of some sort, and longed to shake it out of him. Not daring to outrage
his dignity so far, she drew the fur robe that enveloped them closer
and rubbed her soft hair against his chin. It was useless to ask him
to deliver himself until he was “good and ready”, but the less direct
method sometimes prevailed.
Suddenly he came out with it.
“Ive made up my mind to go back to the School.”
“Back to school--are you loony?”
“The School of Mines, of course. I can enter the Junior Class where
I left off; earlier in fact, as I had finished the first semester.
Besides, Ive been going over all the old ground since Oakley came.”
“Is that whats in all them books.”
“Those, dear.”
“Those. Mining Engineers a lot sweller than rancher.”
“Please dont use that word.”
“Lord, Greg, youre as particular as if youd been brought up in Frisco
or Chicago, instead of on a ranch.”
He laughed outright and pinched her ear. “I use a good deal of slang
myself--only, there are some words that irritate me--I can hardly
explain. It doesnt matter.”
“Greg,” she asked with sudden suspicion, “why are you goin in for a
profession? Have you given up hopes of strikin it rich on this ranch?”
“Oh, I shall never relinquish that dream.” He spoke so lightly that
even had she understood him better she could not have guessed that the
words leapt from what he believed to be the deepest of his passions.
“But what has that to do with it? If there is gold on the ranch I shall
be more likely to discover it when I know a great deal more about
geology than I do now, and better able to mine it cheaply after I have
learned all I can of milling and metallurgy at the School. But that is
not the point. There may be nothing here. I wish to graduate into a
profession which not only attracts me more than any other, but in which
the expert can always make a large income. Ranching doesnt interest
me, and with Oakley to----”
“What woke you up so sudden?”
“I have never been asleep.” But he turned away his head lest she see
the light in his eyes. “Oakley gives me my chance to get out, that is
all. And I am very glad for your sake----”
“Aw!” Her voice, ringing out with ecstasy, converted the native
syllable into music. “It means we are goin to live in Butte!”
“Of course.”
“And I was so took--taken by surprise it never dawned on me till this
minute. Now what do you know about that?”
“We shall have to be very quiet. I cannot get my degree until a year
from June--a year and seven months from now. I shall study day and
night, and work in the mines during the winter and summer vacations. I
cannot take you anywhere.”
“Lord knows it cant be worsen this. Ill have my friends to talk to
and theres always the movin picture shows. Lord, how Id like to see
“Well, you shall,” he said kindly. “I wrote to Mark some time ago and
asked him to give the tenant of the cottage notice. As this is the
third of the month it must be empty and ready for us.”
“My goodness gracious!” cried his wife with pardonable irritation, “but
you are a grand one for handin out surprises! Most husbands tell their
wives things as they go along, but you ruminate like a cow and hand
over the cud when youre good and ready. Im sick of bein treated as
if I was a child.”
“Please dont look at it in that way. What is the use of talking about
things until one is quite sure they can be accomplished?”
“Thats half the fun of bein married,” said Ida with one of her
flashes of intuition.
“Is it?” Gregory turned this over in his mind, then, out of his own
experience, rejected it as a truism. He could not think of any subject
he would care to discuss with his wife; or any other woman. But he
kissed her with an unusual sense of compunction. “Perhaps I liked the
idea of surprising you,” he said untruthfully. “You will be glad to
live in Butte once more?”
“You may bet your bottom dollar on that. When do we go?”
“_Lands_ sakes! Well, Im dumb. And breakfast has to be got if I _have_
had a bomb exploded under me. That Chink was doin fine when I left,
but the Lord knows----”
She walked toward the rear of the house, temper in the swing of her
hips, her head tossed high. Although rejoicing at the prospect of
living in town, she was both angry and vaguely alarmed, as she so often
had been before, at the unimaginable reserves, the unsuspected mental
activities, and the sudden strikings of this life-partner who should
have done his thinking out loud.
“Lord knows,” thought Mrs. Compton, as she approached her kitchen, with
secret intent to relieve her feelings by “lambasting” the Mongolian and
leaving Oakley to shift for himself, “its like livin with that there
Sphinx. I dont spose Ill ever get used to him, and maybe the timell
come when I wont want to.”
Gregory stood for some time longer, leaning on the gate and waiting
for the red fire to rise above the crystal mountains. He was eager for
the morrow, not only because he longed to be at the foundation stones
of his real life but because his mind craved the precise training, the
logical development, the intoxicating sense of expansion which he had
missed and craved incessantly during the six years that had elapsed
since he had been torn from the School of Mines. Moreover, his heart
was light; at last he was able to shift the great responsibilities of
his ranch to other shoulders.
Some six months since, his friend, Mark Blake, had recommended to him
a young man who not only had graduated at the head of his class in
the State College of Agriculture, but had served for two years on one
of the State Experimental Farms. “What he dont know about scientific
farming, dry, intensive, and all the rest, isnt worth shucks, old
man,” Blake had written. “Hes as honest as they come, and hasnt a red
to do the trick himself, but wants to go on a ranch as foreman, and
farm wherever theres soil of a reasonable depth. Of course he wants a
share of the profits, but hes worth it to you, for the Lord never cut
you out for a rancher or farmer, well as you have done. What you want
is to finish your course and take your degree. Try Oakley out for six
months. Therell be only one result. Youre a free man.”
The contract had been signed the day before. But Oakley had been a
welcome guest in the small household for more than practical reasons.
Until the night of his advent, when the two men sat talking until
daylight, Gregory had not realised the mental isolation of his married
life. Like all young men he had idealised the girl who made the first
assault on his preferential passion; but his brain was too shrewd,
keen, practical, in spite of its imaginative area, to harbor illusions
beyond the brief period of novelty. It had taken him but a few weeks
to discover that although his wife had every charm of youth and sex,
and was by no means a fool, their minds moved on different planes, far
apart. He had dreamed of the complete understanding, the instinctive
response, the identity of tastes, in short of companionship, of the
final routing of a sense of hopeless isolation he had never lost
consciousness of save when immersed in study.
Ida subscribed for several of the “cheapest” of the cheap magazines,
and, when her Mongolians were indulgent, rocked herself in the
sitting-room, devouring the factory sweets and crude mental drugs with
much the same spirit that revelled above bargain counters no matter
what the wares. She “lived” for the serials, and attempted to discuss
the “characters” with her husband and John Oakley. But the foreman was
politely intolerant of cheap fiction, Gregory open in his disgust.
He admitted unequivocally that he had made a mistake, but assuming
that most men did, philosophically concluded to make the best of it;
women, after all, played but a small part in a mans life. He purposed,
however, that she should improve her mind, and would have been glad
to move to Butte for no other reason. He had had a sudden vision one
night, when his own mind, wearied with study, drifted on the verge
of sleep, of a lifetime on a lonely ranch with a woman whose brain
deteriorated from year to year, her face faded and vacuous, save when
animated with temper. If the De Smet Ranch proved to be mineralised,
Oakley, his deliverer, would not be forgotten.
He moved his head restlessly, his glance darting over as much of his
fine estate as it could focus, wondering when it would give up its
secrets, in other words, its gold. He had never doubted that it winked
and gleamed, and waited for him below the baffling surfaces of his
land. Not for millions down would he have sold his ranch, renounced the
personal fulfilment of that old passionate romance.
Gregory Compton was a dreamer, not in the drifting and aimless
fashion of the visionary, but as all men born with creative powers,
practical or artistic, must be. Indeed, it is doubtful if the artistic
brain--save possibly where the abnormal tracts are musical in the
highest sense--ever need, much less develop, that leaping vision, that
power of visualising abstract ideas, of the men whose gifts for bold
and original enterprise enable them to drive the elusive wealth of the
world first into a corner, then into their own pockets.
When one contemplates the small army of men of great wealth in the
world today, and, just behind, that auxiliary regiment endowed with the
talent, the imagination, and the grim assurance necessary to magnetise
the circulating riches of our planet; contemptuous of those hostile
millions, whose brains so often are of unleavened dough, always devoid
of talent, envious, hating, but sustained by the conceit which nature
stores in the largest of her reservoirs to pour into the vacancies of
the minds of men; seldom hopeless, fooling themselves with dreams of
a day when mere brute numbers shall prevail, and (human nature having
been revolutionised by a miracle) all men shall be equal and content to
remain equal;--when one stands off and contemplates these two camps,
the numerically weak composed of the forces of mind, the other of the
unelectrified yet formidable millions, it is impossible to deny not
only the high courage and supernormal gifts of the little army of
pirates, but that, barring the rapidly decreasing numbers of explorers
in the waste places of the earth, in them alone is the last stronghold
of the old adventurous spirit that has given the world its romance.
The discontented, the inefficient, the moderately successful, the
failures, see only remorseless greed in the great money makers. Their
temper is too personal to permit them to recognise that here are the
legitimate inheritors of the dashing heroes they enjoy in history,
the bold and ruthless egos that throughout the ages have transformed
savagery into civilisation, torpor into progress, in their pursuit
of gold. That these “doing” buccaneers of our time are the current
heroes of the masses, envious or generous in tribute, the most welcome
“copy” of the daily or monthly press, is proof enough that the spirit
of adventure still flourishes in the universal heart, seldom as modern
conditions permit its expansion. For aught we know it may be this
old spirit of adventure that inspires the midnight burglar and the
gentlemen of the road, not merely the desire for “easy money.” But
these are the flotsam. The boldest imaginations and the most romantic
hearts are sequestered in the American “big business” men of today.
Gregory Compton had grown to maturity in the most romantic subdivision
of the United States since California retired to the position of a
classic. Montana, her long winter surface a reflection of the beautiful
dead face of the moon, bore within her arid body illimitable treasure,
yielding it from time to time to the more ardent and adventurous of her
lovers. Gold and silver, iron, copper, lead, tungsten, precious and
semi-precious stones--she might have been some vast heathen idol buried
aeons ago when Babylon was but a thought in the Creators brain, and
the minor gods travelled the heaving spaces to immure their treasure,
stolen from rival stars.
Gregory had always individualised as well as idealised his state,
finding more companionship in her cold mysteries than in the unfruitful
minds of his little world. His youthful dreams, when sawing wood or
riding after cattle, had been alternately of desperate encounters with
Indians and of descending abruptly into vast and glittering corridors.
The creek on the ranch had given up small quantities of placer gold,
enough to encourage “Old Compton,” least imaginative of men, to use his
pick up the side of the gulch, and even to sink a shaft or two. But he
had wasted his money, and he had little faith in the mineral value of
the De Smet Ranch or in his own luck. He was a thrifty, pessimistic,
hard-working, down-east Presbyterian, whose faith in predestination had
killed such roots of belief in luck as he may have inherited with other
attributes of man. He sternly discouraged his sons hopes, which the
silent intense boy expressed one day in a sudden mood of fervour and
desire for sympathy, bidding him hang on to the live stock, which were
a certain sure source of income, and go out and feed hogs when he felt
onsettled like.
He died when Gregory was in the midst of his Junior year in the School
of Mines, and the eager student was obliged to renounce his hope of a
congenial career, for the present, and assume control of the ranch.
It was heavily mortgaged; his fathers foreman, who had worked on the
ranch since he was a lad, had taken advantage of the old mans failing
mind to raise the money, as well as to obtain his signature to the sale
of more than half the cattle. He had disappeared with the concrete
result a few days before Mr. Comptons death.
It was in no serene spirit that Gregory entered upon the struggle
for survival at the age of twenty-one. Bitterly resenting his abrupt
divorce from the School of Mines, which he knew to be the gateway to
his future, and his faith in mankind dislocated by the cruel defection
of one whom he had liked and trusted from childhood, he seethed under
his stolid exterior while working for sixteen hours a day to rid the
ranch of its encumbrance and replace the precious cattle. But as
the greater part of this time was spent out of doors he outgrew the
delicacy of his youth and earlier manhood, and, with red blood and
bounding pulses, his bitterness left him.
He began to visit Butte whenever he could spare a few days from the
ranch, to “look up” as his one chum, Mark Blake, expressed it; so
that by the time he married he knew the life of a Western mining
town--an education in itself--almost as well as he knew the white and
silent spaces of Montana. With the passing of brooding and revolt his
old dreams revived, and he spent, until he married, many long days
prospecting. He had found nothing until a few weeks ago, early in
October, and then the discovery, such as it was, had been accidental.
There had been a terrific wind storm, beginning shortly after sundown,
reaching at midnight a velocity of seventy-two miles an hour, and
lasting until morning; it had been impossible to sleep or to go out of
doors and see to the well-being of the cattle.
The wind was not the Chinook, although it came out of the west, for
it was bitterly cold. Two of the house windows facing the storm were
blown in and the roof of a recent addition went off. As such storms are
uncommon in Montana, even Gregory was uneasy, fearing the house might
go, although it had been his fathers boast that not even an earthquake
could uproot it. After daybreak the steady fury of the storm ceased.
There was much damage done to the outbuildings, but, leaving Oakley to
superintend repairs, Gregory mounted his horse and rode over the ranch
to examine the fences and brush sheds. The former were intact, and the
cattle were huddled in their shelters, which were built against the
side of a steep hill. A few, no doubt, had drifted before the storm,
but would return in the course of the day. Here and there a pine tree
had been blown over, but the winter wheat and alfalfa were too young to
be injured.
He rode towards the hill where the wind had done its most conspicuous
damage. It was a long steep hill of granite near the base and grey
limestone above topped with red shales, and stood near the northeast
corner of the ranch. Its rigid sides had been relieved by a small grove
of pines; but although in spring it was gay with anemones and primrose
moss, and green until late in July, there was nothing on its ugly
flanks at this time of the year but sunburnt grass.
The old pines had clung tenaciously to the inhospitable soil for
centuries, but some time during the night, still clutching a mass of
earth and rock in their great roots, they had gone down before the
Gregory felt a pang of distress; in his boyhood that grove of pines
had been his retreat; there he had dreamed his dreams, visualised the
ascending metals, forced upward from the earths magma by one of those
old titanic convulsions that make a joke of the modern earthquake, to
find a refuge in the long fissures of the cooler crust, or in the great
shattered zones. He knew something of geology and chemistry when he was
twelve, and he “saw” the great primary deposits change their character
as they were forced closer to the surface, acted upon by the acids of
air and water in the oxide zone.
There he had lived down his disappointments, taken his dumb trouble
when his mother died; and he had found his way blindly to the dark
little grove after his fathers funeral and he had learned the wrong
that had been done him.
He had not gone there since. He had been busy always, and lost the
habit. But now he remembered, and with some wonder, for it was the one
ugly spot on the ranch, save in its brief springtime, that once it had
drawn his feet like a magnet. Hardly conscious of the act, he rode to
the foot of the hill, dismounted and climbed towards the grove which
had stood about fifty feet from the crest.
The ruin was complete. The grove, which once may have witnessed ancient
rites, was lying with its points in the brown grass. Its gaunt roots,
packed close with red earth and pieces of rock, seemed to strain upward
in agonised protest. Men deserted on the battlefield at night look
hardly more stricken than a tree just fallen.
As Gregory approached his old friends his eyes grew narrower and
narrower; his mind concentrated to a point as sharp and penetrating
as a needle. If the storm, now fitful, had suddenly returned to its
highest velocity he would not have known it. He walked rapidly behind
the vanquished roots and picked out several bits of rock that were
embedded in the earth. Then he knelt down and examined other pieces
of rock in the excavation where the trees had stood. Some were of a
brownish-yellow colour, others a shaded green of rich and mellow tints.
There was no doubt whatever that they were float.
He sat down suddenly and leaned against the roots of the trees. Had
he found his “mine”? Float indicates an ore body somewhere, and as
these particles had been prevented from escaping by the roots of trees
incalculably old, it was reasonable to assume that the ores were
beneath his feet.
His brain resumed its normal processes, and he deliberately gave his
imagination the liberty of its youth. The copper did not interest him,
but he stared at the piece of quartz in his hand as if it had been
a seers crystal. He saw great chambers of quartz flecked with free
gold, connected by pipes or shoots equally rich. Once he frowned, the
ruthlessly practical side of his intelligence reminding him that his
labours and hopes might be rewarded by a shallow pocket. But he brushed
the wagging finger aside. He could have sworn that he felt the pull of
the metals within the hill.
He was tired and hungry, but his immediate impulse, as soon as he had
concluded that he had dreamed long enough, was to go for his tools and
run a cut. He sprang to his feet; but he had taken only a few steps
when he turned and stared at the gashed earth, his head a little on
one side in an attitude that always indicated he was thinking hard and
with intense concentration. Then he set his lips grimly, walked down
the steep hillside, mounted his horse, and rode home. In the course of
the afternoon he returned to the hill, picked all the pieces of float
from the soil between the tree-roots, and buried them, stamping down
the earth. A few days later there was a light fall of snow. He returned
once more to the hill, this time with two of his labourers, who cut up
the trees and hauled them away. For the present his possible treasure
vault was restored to the seclusion of its centuries.
He had made up his mind that the ores should stay where they were
until he had finished his education in the School of Mines. He had
planned to finish that course, and what he planned he was in the habit
of executing. This was not the time for dreams, nor for prospecting,
but to learn all that the School could teach him. Then, if there
were valuable ore bodies in his hill he could be his own manager and
engineer. He knew that he had something like genius for geology, also
that many veins were lost through an imperfect knowledge (or sense)
of that science in mining engineers; on the other hand, that the
prospector, in spite of his much vaunted sixth sense, often failed,
where the hidden ores were concerned, through lack of scientific
training. He determined to train his own faculties as far as possible
before beginning development work on his hill. Let the prospectors
fever get possession of him now and that would be the end of study. The
hill would keep. It was his. The ranch was patented.
When he had finished the interment of the float he had taken a small
notebook from his pocket and inscribed a date: June the third, eighteen
months later. Not until that date would he even ride past his hill.
Born with a strong will and a character endowed with force,
determination and a grimly passive endurance, it was his pleasure to
test and develop both. The process was satisfactory to himself but
sometimes trying to his friends.
Until this morning he had not permitted his mind to revert to the
subject. But although the hill--Limestone Hill it was called in the
commonplace nomenclature of the country--was far away and out of the
range of his vision, he could conjure it up in its minutest external
detail, and he permitted himself this luxury for a few moments after
his wife had left him to a welcome solitude. On this hill were centred
all his silent hopes.
If he had been greedy for riches alone he would have promoted a company
at once, if a cut opened up a chamber that assayed well, and reaped the
harvest with little or no trouble to himself. But nothing was farther
from his mind. He wanted the supreme adventure. He wanted to find the
ores with his own pick. After the adventure, then the practical use of
wealth. There was much he could do for his state. He knew also that in
one group of brain-cells, as yet unexplored, was the ambition to enter
the lists of “doing” men, and pit his wits against the best of them.
But he was young, he would have his adventure, live his dream first.
Not yet, however.
The swift passing of his marital illusions had convinced him that the
real passion of his life was for Montana and the golden blood in her
veins. Placer mining never had interested him. He wanted to find his
treasure deep in the jealous earth. He assured himself as he stood
there in the blue dawn that it was well to be rid of love so early in
the game, free to devote himself, with no let from wandering mind and
mere human pulses, to preparation for the greatest of all romances,
the romance of mining. That he might ever crave the companionship of
one woman was as remote from his mind as the possibility of failure.
To learn all that man and experience could teach him of the science
that has been so great a factor in the worlds progress; to magnetise
a vast share of Earths riches, first for the hot work of the battle,
then for the power it would give him; to conquer life; these were a
few of the flitting dreams that possessed him as he watched the red
flame lick the white crests of the mountains, and the blue clouds turn
to crimson; his long sensitive lips folded closely, his narrow eyes
penetrating the mists of the future, neither seeing nor considering
its obstacles, its barriers, its disenchantments. Thrice happy are the
dreamers of the world, when their imaginations are creative, not a mere
maggot wandering through the brain hatching formless eggs of desire
and discontent. They are the true inheritors of the centuries, whether
they succeed or fail in the eyes of men; for they live in vivid silent
intense drama as even they have no power to live and enjoy in mortal
The Comptons were quickly settled in the little cottage in East Granite
Street, for as Mrs. Hooks furniture was solid Ida had not sold it.
There was little to do, therefore, but repaper the walls, build a
bathroom, furnish a dining-room, send the parlour furniture to the
upholsterers--Ida had had enough of horsehair--and chattel the kitchen.
Ida had several virtues in which she took a vocal pride, and not the
least of these was housekeeping in all its variety. The luxurious
side of her nature might revel in front parlours, trashy magazines,
rocking-chairs and chewing-gum, but she never indulged in these orgies
unless her house were in order. After her arrival in Butte it was quite
a month before she gave a thought to leisure. They spent most of this
time at a hotel, but Ida was out before the stores opened, and divided
her day between the workmen at the cottage, the upholsterer, and the
bargain counter. She was “on the job” every minute until the cottage
was “on wheels.” Her taste was neither original nor artistic, but she
had a rude sense of effect, and a passion for what she called colour
schemes. She boasted to Gregory at night, when she had him at her mercy
at the hotel dinner-table, that although everything had to be cheap
except the kitchen furnishings, colours did not cost any more than
black or drab. When the cottage was in order, and they moved in, he saw
its transfigured interior for the first time. The bedroom was done in
a pink that set his teeth on edge, and the little parlour was papered,
upholstered, carpeted, cushioned in every known shade of red.
“All you want is a chromo or two of Indian battlegrounds--just after,”
he remarked.
Ida interrupted tartly:
“Well, I should think youd be grateful for the contrast to them
everlasting white or brown mountains. We dont get away from them even
in town, now the smokes gone.”
“One would think Montana had no springtime.”
“Precious little. Thats the reason Ive got a green dining-room.”
Gregory, who had suffered himself to be pushed into an arm-chair,
looked at his wife speculatively, as she rocked herself luxuriously,
her eyes dwelling fondly on the magenta paper, the crimson curtains,
the turkey red and crushed strawberry cushions of the divan, the
blood-red carpet with its still more sanguinary pattern. What
blind struggle was going on in that uninstructed brain against the
commonplace, what seed of originality, perhaps, striving to shoot forth
a green tip from the hard crust of ignorance and conceit?
He had made up his mind to suggest the tillage of that brain without
delay, but, knowing her sensitive vanity, cast about for a tactful
“Do you really intend to do your own work?” he asked. “I am more than
willing to pay for a servant.”
“Not much. Im goin to begin to save up for the future right now. Ill
put out the wash, but its a pity if a great husky girl like me cant
cook for two and keep this little shack clean. You aint never goin to
be able to say I didnt help you all I could.”
Gregory glowed with gratitude as he looked at the beautiful face of has
wife, flushed with the ardour of the true mate.
“You are all right,” he murmured.
“The less we spend the quicker well get rich,” pursued Mrs. Compton.
“I dont mind this triflin work, but it would have made me sick to
stay much longer on that ranch workin away my youth and looks and
nothin to show for it. Now that youve really begun on somethin
high-toned and thats bound to be a go, I just like the idea of havin
a hand in the job.”
“Ah!-- Well-- If you have this faith in my power to make a fortune--if
you are looking forward to being a rich mans wife, to put it
crudely--dont you think you should begin to prepare yourself for the
“Now what are you drivin at?” She sprang to her feet. Her eyes blazed.
Her hands went to her hips. “Dyou mean to say I aint good enough?
I suppose youd be throwin me over for a grand dame when you get
up in the world like some other millionaires we know of, let alone
politicians what get to thinkin themselves statesmen, and whose
worn-out old wives aint good enough for em. Well, take this from
me and take it straight--I dont propose to wear out, and I dont
“Sit down. I shall be a rich man long before you lose your beauty. Nor
have I any social ambitions. The world of men is all that interests me.
But with you it will be different----”
“You may betcherlife itll be different--some! When I have a
cream-coloured pressed brick house with white trimmings over there in
Millionaire Gulch nobodyll be too good for me.”
“You shall live your life to suit yourself, in the biggest house in
Butte, if that is what you want. But there is more in it than that.”
“Clothes, of course. _Gowns!_ And jewels, and New York--Lord! wouldnt
I like to swell up and down Peacock Ally! And Southern California, and
Europe, and givin balls, and bein a member of the Country Club.”
“All that, as a matter of course! But you would not be content with the
mere externals. Whether you know it or not, Ida, you are an ambitious
woman.” This was a mere gamblers throw on Gregorys part. He knew
nothing of her ambitions, and would have called them by another name if
he had.
“Not know it? Well, you may just betcherlife I know it!”
“But hardly where ambition leads. No sooner would you be settled in a
fine house, accustomed to your new toys, than you would want society.
I dont mean that you would have any difficulty gaining admittance to
Butte society, for it is said that none in the world is more hospitable
and less particular. But whether you make _friends_ of the best people
here, much less become a leader, depends--well, upon several things----”
“Fire away,” said Ida sulkily. “You must be considerable in earnest to
talk a blue streak!”
“Business may take me to New York from time to time, but my home shall
remain here. I never intend to abandon my state and make a fool of
myself on New Yorks doorstep as so many Montanans have done. Nail
up that fact and never forget it. Now, you would like to win an
unassailable position in your community, would you not?”
Gregory abandoned tact. “Then begin at once to prepare yourself. You
must have a teacher and study--English, above all things.”
“My Goo-r-rd!” She flushed almost purple. For the moment she hated him.
“Ive always suspicioned you thought I wasnt good enough for you, with
your graduatin from the High School almost while you was in short
pants, and them two years and over at that high-brow School of Mines;
and now youre tellin me youll be ashamed of me the minute youre on
Gregory made another attempt at diplomacy. What his wife achieved
socially was a matter of profound indifference to him, but she must
reform her speech if his home life was to be endurable.
“I am forcing my imagination to keep pace with your future triumphs,”
he said with the charming smile that disarmed even Ida when irate. “If
you are going to be a prominent figure in society----”
“My land, you oughter heard the grammar and slang of some of the newest
West Siders when they were makin up their minds at Madame OReilleys,
or havin their measures took. They dont frighten me one little bit.”
“There is a point. To lead them you must be their superior--and the
equal of those that have made the most of their advantages.”
“Thats not such a bad idea.”
“Think it over.” He rose, for he was tired of the conversation. “These
western civilisations are said to be crude, but I fancy they are the
world in little. Subtlety, a brain developed beyond the common, should
go far----”
“Greg, you are dead right!” She had suddenly remembered that she must
play up to this man who held her ambitions in his hand, and she had the
wit to acknowledge his prospicience, little as were the higher walks of
learning to her taste. She sprang to her feet with a supple undulating
movement and flung herself into his arms.
“Ill begin the minute you find me a teacher,” she exclaimed. Then she
kissed him. “Im goin to keep right along with you and make you proud
of me,” she murmured. “Im crazy about you and always will be. Swear
right here youll never throw me over, or run round with a Prox.”
Gregory laughed, but held her off for a moment and stared into her
eyes. After all, might not study and travel and experience give depth
to those classic eyes which now seemed a mere joke of Nature? Was she
merely the natural victim of her humble conditions? Her father had
been a miner of a very superior sort, conservative and contemptuous of
agitators, but a powerful voice in his union and respected alike by men
and managers. Mrs. Hook had been a shrewd, hard-working, tight-fisted
little woman from Concord, who had never owed a penny, nor turned out
a careless piece of work. Both parents with education or better luck
might have taken a high position in any western community. He knew also
the preternatural quickness and adaptability of the American woman. But
could a common mind achieve distinction?
Ida, wondering “what the devil he was thinking about,” nestled closer
and gave him a long kiss, her womans wisdom, properly attributed to
the serpent, keeping her otherwise mute. Gregory snatched her suddenly
to him and returned her kiss. The new hope revived a passion by no
means dead for this beautiful young creature, and for the hour he was
as happy as during his rosy honeymoon.
When the cottage was quite in order Mrs. Compton invited two of her old
friends to lunch. As the School of Mines was at the opposite end of the
city, Gregory took his midday meal with him.
Miss Ruby Miller and her twin-sister Pearl were fine examples of the
self-supporting young womanhood of the West. Neither had struggled
in the extreme economic sense, although when launched they had
taken a mans chances and asked no quarter. Born in a small town in
Illinois, their father, a provident grocer, had permitted each of his
daughters to attend school until her fifteenth year, then sent her
to Chicago to learn a trade. Ruby had studied the mysteries of the
hair, complexion, and hands; Pearl the science that must supplement
the knack for trimming hats. Both worked faithfully as apprentice and
clerk, saving the greater part of their earnings: they purposed to
set up for themselves in some town of the Northwest where money was
easier, opportunities abundant and expertness rare. What they heard
of Montana appealed to their enterprising minds, and, beginning with
cautious modesty, some four years before Idas marriage, Ruby was now
the leading hair-dresser and manicure of Butte, her pleasant address
and natural diplomacy assisting her competent hands to monopolise the
West Side custom; Pearl, although less candid and engaging, more frank
in reminding her customers of their natural deficiencies, was equally
capable; if not the leading milliner in that town of many milliners,
where even the miners wives bought three hats a season, she was
rapidly making a reputation among the feathered tribe. She now ranked
as one of the most successful of the young business women in a region
where success is ever the prize of the efficient. Both she and her
sister were as little concerned for their future as the metal hill of
Butte itself.
“Well, what do you know about that?” they cried simultaneously, as Ida
ushered them into the parlour. “Say, its grand!” continued Miss Ruby
with fervour. “Downright artistic. Ide, youre a wonder!”
Miss Pearl, attuned to a subtler manipulation of colour, felt too happy
in this intimate reunion and the prospect of “home-cooking,” to permit
even her spirit to grin. “Me for red, kiddo,” she said. “Its the
colour a hard workin man or woman wants at the end of the day--warm,
and comfortin, and sensuous-like, and contrastin fine with dirty
streets and them hills. Glory be, but this chairs comfortable! I
suppose its Gregs.”
“Of course. Luckily a woman dont have the least trouble findin out a
mans weak points, and Greg has a few, thank the goodness godness. But
come on to the dining-room. Ive got fried chicken and creamed potatoes
and raised biscuit.”
The guests shrieked with an abandon that proclaimed them the helpless
victims of the Butte restaurant or the kitchenette. The fried chicken
in its rich gravy, and the other delicacies, including fruit salad,
disappeared so rapidly that there was little chance for the play of
intellect until the two girls fled laughing to the parlour.
“Its all very well for Pearl,” cried Miss Ruby, disposing her plump
figure in Gregorys arm-chair, and taking the pins from a mass of red
hair that had brought her many a customer; “for shes the kind thatll
never have to diet if she gets rich quick. I ought to be shassaying
round with my hands on my hips right now, but I wont.”
Miss Pearl extended herself on the divan, and Ida rocked herself with a
complacent smile. One of her vanities was slaked, and she experienced a
sense of immense relief in the society of these two old friends of her
own sort.
“Say!” exclaimed Miss Miller, “if we was real swell, now, wed be
smokin cigarettes.”
“What!” cried Ida, scandalised. “No ladyd do such a thing. Say, I
forgot the gum.”
She opened a drawer and flirted an oblong section of chewing-gum at
each of her guests, voluptuously inserting a morsel in the back of her
own mouth. “Where on earth have you seen ladies smokin cigarettes?”
“You forget Im in and out of some of our best families. In other words
them thats too swell--or too lazy--to come to me, has me up to them.
And theyre just as nice--most of em--as they can be; no more airs
than their men, and often ask me to stay to lunch. I aint mentionin
no names, as I was asked not to, for you know what an old-fashioned
bunch there is in every Western town--well, they out with their gold
tips after lunch, and maybe you think they dont know how. I have my
doubts as to their enjoyin it, for tobacco is nasty tastin stuff, and
I notice they blow the smoke out quickern they take it in. No inhalin
for them. But they like _doin_ it; thats the point. And I guess they
do it a lot at the Country Club and at some of the dinners where the
Old Guard aint asked. They smoke, and think its vulgar to chew gum!
We know its the other way round.”
“Well, I guess!” exclaimed the young matron, who had listened to this
chronicle of high life with her mouth open. “What their husbands
thinkin about to permit such a thing! I can see Gregs face if I lit
“Oh, their husbands dont care,” said Pearl, the cynic. “Not in that
bunch. Theyre trained, and they dont care, anyhow. Make the most of
Greg now, kiddo. When he strikes it rich, hell be just like the rest
of em, annexin right and left. Matter of principle.”
“Principle nothing!” exclaimed Ruby, who, highly sophisticated as any
young woman earning her living in a mining town must be, was always
amiable in her cynicism. “Its too much good food and champagne, to say
nothin of cocktails and highballs and swell club life after the lean
and hungry years. Theyre just like kids turned loose in a candy store,
helpin themselves right and left with both hands. Dear old boys,
theyre so happy and so jolly you cant help feelin real maternal over
em, and spoilin em some more. I often feel like it, even when they
lay for me--they look so innocent and hungry-like; but others I could
crack over the ear, and I dont say I havent. Lord, how a girl alone
does get to know men! I wouldnt marry one of them if hed give me the
next level of the Anaconda mine. Me for the lonesome!”
“Well, Im glad Im married,” said Ida complacently. “The kind of life
I want you can only get through a husband. Gregs goin to make money,
all right.”
“Greg wont be as bad as some,” said the wise Miss Ruby. “Hes got big
ideas, and as he dont say much about em, hes likely thinkin about
nothin else. At least thats the way I figure him out. The Lord knows
Ive seen enough of men. But you watch out just the same. Them long
thin ones that looks like they was all brains and jaw is often the
worst. Theyve got more nerves. The minute the grind lets up they begin
to look out for an adventure, wonderin whats round the next corner.
Wives aint much at supplyin adventure----”
“Well, lets quit worryin about what aint happened,” said Miss Pearl
abruptly. Men did not interest her. “Will he take you to any of the
dances? Thats what I want to know. Youve been put up and elected
to our new and exclusive Club. No more Coliseum Saturday Nights for
us--Race Track is a good name for it. Weve taken a new little hall
over Murphys store for Saturday nights till the Gardens open up, and
we have real fun. No rowdyism. We leave that to the cut below. This
Club is composed of real nice girls and young men of Butte who are
workin hard at something high-toned and respectable, and frown hard on
the fast lot.”
“Sounds fine. Perhaps Gregll go, though he studies half the night. Do
you meet at any other time? Is it one of them mind improvers, too?”
“Nixie. We work all week and want fun when we get a few hours off. I
improve my mind readin myself to sleep every night----”
“What do you read?” interrupted Ida, eagerly.
“Oh, the mags, of course, and a novel now and then. But you dont need
novels any more. The mags are wonders! They teach you all the life you
dont know--all the way from lords to burglars. Then theres the movin
pictures. Lord, but we have advantages our poor mothers never dreamed
“Greg wants me to study with a teacher.” Ida frowned reminiscently and
fatidically. “He seems to think I didnt get nothin at school.”
“Well, what do you know about that?” gasped Miss Miller. Pearl removed
her gum with a dry laugh.
“If a man insinuated I wasnt good enough for him--” she began; Ruby,
whose quick mind was weather-wise, interrupted her.
“Gregs right. Hes got education himself ands proved he dont mean
to be a rancher all his life. Whats more, Ive heard men say that
Gregory Compton is bound one way or another to be one of the big men of
Montana. Hes got the brains, hes got the jaw, and he can outwork any
miner that ever struck, and no bad habits. Ide, you go ahead and polish
“Why should I? I never could see that those bonanzerines were so much
bettern us, barring clothes.”
“You dont know the best of em, Ide. Madame OReilley was too gaudy
to catch any but the newest bunch. The old pioneer guard is fine,
and their girls have been educated all over this country and the
next. Lord! Look at Ora Blake! Whered you beat her? In these new
Western towns its generally the sudden rich that move to New York to
die of lonesomeness, and nowhere to show their clothes but Peacock
Alley in the Waldorf-Astoria. The _real_ people keep their homes
here, if they are awful restless; and I guess the Society they make,
with their imported gowns and all, aint so very different from top
Society anywheres. Of course, human nature is human nature, and some
of the younger married women are sporty and take too much when a
bunch goes over to Boulder Springs for a lark, or get a crush on some
other womans husband--for want mostly of something to do; but their
grammars all right. I hope youll teach them a lesson when youre on
top, Ide. Good American morals for me, like good American stories.
I always skip the Europe stories in the mags. Dont seem modern and
human, somehow, after Butte.”
“Now I like Europe stories,” said Ida, “just because they are so
different. The people in em aint walkin round over gold and copper
when theyre dishwashin or makin love, but their mines have been
turned centuries ago into castles and pictures and grand old parks.
Theres a kind of halo----”
“Halo nothin!” exclaimed Miss Pearl, who was even more aggressively
American than her sister. “Its them ridiculous titles. And kings
and queens and all that antique lot. I despise em, and Im dead
set against importin foreign notions into Gods own country. Were
dyed-in-the-wool Americans--out West here, anyhow--including every last
one of them fools thats buyin new notions with their new money. All
their Paris clothes _and_ hats, _and_ smokin cigarettes, _and_ loose
talk cant make em anything else. Apin Europe and its antiquated
morals makes me sick to my stomach. Cut it out, kid, before you go any
further. Stand by your own country and itll stand by you.”
“Well, Ive got an answer to that. In the first place Id like to
know where youll find more girls on the loose than right here in
Butte--and I dont mean the sporting women, either. Why, I meet bunches
of schoolgirls every day so painted up they look as if they was fixin
right now to be bad; and as for these Eastern workin girls who come
out here after jobs, pretendin its less pressure and bigger pay
theyre after, when its really to turn loose and give human nature
a chance with free spenders--well, the way they hold down their jobs
and racket about all night beats me. None of _thems_ been to Europe,
I notice, and Id like to bet that the schoolgirls that dont make
monkeys of themselves is the daughters of them that has.”
“Oh, the schoolgirls is just plain little fools and no doubt has their
faces held under the spout for em when they get home. But as for the
Eastern girls, you hit it when you said they come out here to give
human nature a chance. Some girls is born bad, thousands and thousands
of them; and reformers might just as well try to grow strawberries in a
copper smelter as to make a girl run straight when she is lyin awake
nights thinkin up new ways of bein crooked. But the rotten girls in
this town are not the whole show. And lots of women that would never
think of goin wrong--dont naturally care for that sort of thing a
bit--just get their minds so mixed up by too much sudden money, and
liberty, and too much high livin and too much Europe and too much
nothin to do, that they just dont know where theyre at; and it isnt
long either before they get to thinkin theyre not the dead swell
thing unless they do what the nobility of Europe seems to be doin all
the time----”
“Shucks!” interrupted Ruby, indignantly. “Its just them stories in the
shady mags, and the way our women talk for the sake of effect. Theres
bad in America and good in poor old Europe. Ill bet my new hat on
it. Only, over there the good is out of sight under all that sportin
high life everybody seems to write about. Over here weve got a layer
of good on top as thick as cream, and every kind of germ swimmin
round underneath. Lord knows there are plenty of just females in this
town, of all towns, but the U. S. is all right because it has such
high standards. All sorts of new-fangled notions come and go but them
standards never budge. No other country has anything like em. Sooner
or later well catch up. Im great on settin the right example and Im
dead set on uplift. Thats one reason were so strict about our Club
membership. Not one of them girls can get in, no matter how good her
job or how swell a dresser she is. And they feel it, too, you bet. The
lines drawn like a barbed-wire fence.”
“I guess youre dead right,” admitted Ida. “And my morals aint in any
danger, believe me. Ive got other fish to fry. Ive had loves young
dream and got over it. Im just about dead sick of that side of life.
Id cut it out and put it down to profit and loss, but youve got to
manage men every way natures kindly provided, and thats all there is
to it.”
“My land!” exclaimed Ruby. “If I felt that way about my husband Id
leave him too quick.”
“Oh, no, you wouldnt. You can make up your mind to any old thing.
Thats life. And I guess life never holds out both hands full at once.
Either, ones got a knife in it or its out of sight altogether.”
Ruby snorted with disgust. “Once more I vow Ill marry none of them. Me
for self-respect.”
“Now as to Europe,” pursued Ida. “Youre just nothin till youve been,
both as to what you get, and sayin youve been there----”
“Ida,” said Ruby, shaking her wise red head, “dont you go leaving your
husband summers, like the rest. Men dont get much chance to go to
Europe. They prefer little old New York, anyhow--when they get on there
alone. I wonder what ten thousand wives that go to Europe every summer
think their husbands are doin? I havent manicured men for nine years
without knowin they need watchin every minute. Why, my lord! theyre
so tickled to death when summer comes round they can hardly wait to
kiss their wives good-bye and try to look lonesome on the platform.
Theyd like to be down and kick up their heels right there at the
station. And I didnt have to come to Butte to find that out.”
“Gregll never run with that fast lot.”
“No, but he might meet an affinity; and theres one of _them_ lyin in
wait for every man.”
Idas brow darkened. “Well, just let her look out for herself, thats
all. Ill hang on to Greg. But it aint time to worry yet. Lets have a
game of poker.”
Gregory, through the offices of his friend, Mark Blake, found a
teacher for Ida before the end of the week, Mr. William Cullen Whalen,
Professor of English in the Butte High School.
Mr. Whalens present status was what he was in the habit of designating
as an ignominious anti-climax, considering his antecedents and
attainments; but he always dismissed the subject with a vague,
“Health--health--this altitude--this wonderful air--climate--not for me
are the terrible extremes of our Atlantic seaboard. Here a man may be
permitted to live, if not in the deeper sense--well, at least, there
are always ones thoughts--and books.”
He was a delicate little man as a matter of fact, but had East winds
and summer humidities been negligible he would have jumped at the
position found for him by a college friend who had gone West and
prospered in Montana. This friends letter had much to say about the
dry tonic air of winter, the cool light air of summer, the many hours
he would be able to pass in the open, thus deepening the colour of his
corpuscles, at present a depressing shade of pink; but even more about
a salary far in excess of anything lying round loose in the East. Mr.
Whalen, who, since his graduation from the college in his native town,
had knocked upon several historic portals of learning in vain, finding
himself invariably outclassed, had shuddered, but accepted his fate by
the outgoing mail. Of course he despised the West; and the mere thought
of a mining camp like Butte, which was probably in a drunken uproar
all the time, almost nauseated him. However, in such an outpost the
graduate of an Eastern college who knew how to wear his clothes must
rank high above his colleagues. It might be years before he could play
a similar rôle at home. So he packed his wardrobe, which included spats
and a silk hat, and went.
Nature compensates even her comparative failures by endowing them with
a deathless self-conceit. Whalen was a man of small abilities, itching
ambition, all the education his brains could stand, and almost happy
in being himself and a Whalen. It was true that Fortune had grafted
him on a well-nigh sapless branch in a small provincial town, while
the family trunk flourished, green, pruned, and portly, in Boston, but
no such trifle could alter the fact that he was a Whalen, and destined
by a discriminating heredity to add to the small but precious bulk of
Americas literature. Although he found Butte a city of some sixty
thousand inhabitants, and far better behaved than he had believed could
be possible in a community employing some fifteen thousand miners, he
was still able to reassure himself that she outraged every sensibility.