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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.
He assured himself further that its lurid contrasts to the higher
civilisation would play like a search-light upon the theme for a novel
he long had had in mind: the subtle actions and reactions of the Boston
But that was three years ago, and meanwhile several things had happened
to him. He had ceased to wear his spats and silk hat in public after
their first appearance on Broadway; the newsboys, who were on strike,
had seen to that. He wrote his novel, and the _Atlantic Monthly_,
honored by the first place on his list, declined to give space to his
innocent plagiarisms of certain anæmic if literary authors now passing
into history. An agent sent the manuscript the rounds without avail,
but one of the younger editors had suggested that he try his hand at
Montana. He was more shocked and mortified at this proposition than
at the failure of his novel. Time, however, as well as the high cost
of living in Butte, lent him a grudging philosophy, and he digested
the advice. But his were not the eyes that see. The printed page was
his world, his immediate environment but a caricature of the subtle
realities. Nevertheless, he had what so often appears in the most
unlikely brains, the story-telling kink. Given an incident he could
work it up with an abundance of detail and “psychology,” easily
blue-pencilled, and a certain illusion. Condescend to translate his
present surroundings into the sacred realm of American fiction he would
not, but he picked the brains of old-timers for thrilling incidents of
the days when gold was found at the roots of grass, and the pioneers
either were terrorized by the lawless element or executed upon it a
summary and awful justice. Some of his tales were so blood-curdling,
so steeped in gore and horror, that he felt almost alive when writing
them. It was true that their market was the Sunday Supplement and the
more sensational magazines, whose paper and type made his soul turn
green; but the pay was excellent, and they had begun to attract some
attention, owing to the contrast between the fierceness of theme and
the neat precise English in which it was served. Butte valued him as a
counter-irritant to Mary McLane, and he became a professional diner-out.
“Do you think hell condescend to tutor?” Gregory had asked of Blake.
Whalen was by no means unknown to him, but heretofore had been regarded
as a mere worm.
“Sure thing. Nobody keener on the dollar than Whalen. Hell stick you,
but he knows his business. Hes got all the words there are, puts em
in the right place, and tones em up so youd hardly know them.”
Ida was out when her prospective tutor called, and she was deeply
impressed by the card she found under the door: “Mr. William Cullen
Whalen,” it was inscribed.
It was the custom of the gentlemen of her acquaintance to express
their sense of good fellowship even upon the formal pasteboard. “Mr.
Matt Dance,” “Mr. Phil Mott,” “Mr. Bill Jarvis,” the legends read. Ida
felt as if she were reciting a line from the Eastern creed as her lips
formed again and again the suave and labial syllables on her visitors
card. She promptly determined to order cards for her husband on the
morrow--he was so remiss as to have none--and they should be engraved,
in small Roman letters: “Mr. Gregory Verrooy Compton.”
“And believe me,” she announced to her green dining-room, as she sat
down before her husbands desk, “that is some name.”
Her note to Professor Whalen, asking him to call on the following
afternoon at two oclock, was commendably brief, so impatient was she
to arrive at the signature, “Mrs. Gregory Verrooy Compton;” little
conceiving the effect it would have upon Mr. Whalens fastidious spine.
He called at the hour named, and Ida invited him into the dining-room.
It was here that Gregory read far into the night, and she vaguely
associated a large table with much erudition. Moreover, she prided
herself upon her economy in fuel.
Mr. Whalen sat in one of the hard, upright chairs, his stick across
his knee, his gloves laid smartly in the rolling brim of his hat,
studying this new specimen and wondering if she could be made to do him
credit. He was surprised to find her so beautiful, and not unrefined in
style--if only she possessed the acumen to keep her ripe mouth shut.
In fact he found her quite the prettiest woman he had seen in Butte,
famous for pretty women; and--and--he searched conscientiously for the
right word, and blushed as he found it--the most seductive. Ida was
vain of the fact that she wore no corset, and that not the least of her
attractions was a waist as flexible as an acrobats. What flesh she had
was very firm, her carriage was easy and graceful, the muscles of her
back were strong, her lines long and flowing; she walked and moved at
all times with an undulating movement usually associated with a warmer
temperament. But nature often amuses herself bestowing the semblance
and withholding the essence; Ida, calculating and contemptuous of the
facile passions of men, amused herself with them, confident of her own
It was now some time since she had enjoyed the admiration of any man
but her husband, and his grew more and more sporadic, was long since
dry of novelty. Like most Western husbands, he would not have permitted
her to make a friend of any other man, nor even to receive the casual
admirer when he was not at home. Ida was full of vanity, although she
would have expressed her sudden determination to captivate “little
Whalen” merely as a desire to keep her hand in. He was the only man
upon whom she was likely to practise at present (for Gregory would have
none of the Club dances), and vanity can thirst like a galled palate.
She had “sized him up” as a “squirt” (poor Ida! little she recked how
soon she was to be stripped of her picturesque vocabulary), but he was
“a long sight better than nothing.”
After they had exhausted the nipping weather, and the possibility of a
Chinook arriving before night--there was a humming roar high overheard
at the moment--she lowered her black eyelashes, lifted herself against
the stiff back of her chair with the motion of a snake uncoiling,
raised her thick white lids suddenly, and murmured:
“Well, so youre goin to polish me off? Tell me all my faults! Fire
away. I know youll make a grand success of it. Lord knows (her voice
became as sweet as honey), youre different enough from the other men
in this jay town.”
Mr. Whalen felt as if he were being drenched with honey dew, for he
was the type of man whom women take no trouble to educate. But as that
sweet unmodulated voice stole about his ear porches he drew himself up
stiffly, conscious of a thrill of fear. To become enamoured of the
wife of one of these forthright Westerners, who took the law into
their own hands, was no part of his gentle programme; but he stared
at her fascinated, never having felt anything resembling a thrill
before. Moreover, like all people of weak passions, more particularly
that type of American that hasnt any, he took pride in his powers
of self-control. In a moment he threw off the baleful influence and
replied drily.
“I think the lessons would better be oral for a time. Do--do I
understand that I am to correct your individual method of expression?”
“Thats it, I guess.”
“And you wont be offended?” Mr. Whalens upper teeth were hemispheric,
but he had cultivated a paternal and not unpleasing smile. Even the
pale blue orbs, fixed defiantly upon the siren, warmed a trifle.
“Well. I dont spose Ill like bein corrected bettern the next,
but thats what Im payin for. Now that my husbands studyin for a
profession, I guess Ill be in the top set before so very long. Theres
Mrs. Blake, for instance--her husband told Mr. Compton shed call this
week. Is she all that shes cracked up to be?”
“Mrs. Blake has had great advantages. She might almost be one of
our own products, were it not for the fact that she--well--seems
deliberately to wish to be Western.” He found himself growing more and
more confused under the steady regard of those limpid shadowy eyes--set
like the eyes of a goddess in marble, and so disconcertingly shallow.
He pulled himself up sharply. “Now, if I may begin--you must not sign
your notes, Mrs. Gregory Verrooy Compton----”
Idas eyes flashed wide open. “Why not, Id like to know? Isnt it as
good a name as yours?”
“What has that to do with it? Ah--yes--you dont quite understand. It
is not the custom--in what we call society--to sign in that manner--it
is a regrettable American provincialism. If you really wish to
“Fire away,” said Ida sullenly.
“Sign your own name--may I ask what it is?”
“My name was Ida Maria Hook before I married.”
“Ida is a beautiful and classic name. We will eliminate the rest. Sign
yourself Ida Compton--or if you wish to be more swagger, Ida Verrooy
“Lands sake! Wed be laughed clean out of Montana.”
“Yes, there is a fine primitive simplicity about many things in this
region,” replied Mr. Whalen, thinking of his spats and silk hat. “But
you get my point?”
“I get you.”
“Oh!--Well have a little talk later about slang. And you mustnt begin
your letters, particularly to an acquaintance, Dear friend. This is
an idealistic and--ah--bucolic custom, but hardly good form.”
He was deeply annoyed at his lack of fluency, but Ida once more was
deliberately “upsetting” him. She smiled indulgently.
“I guess I like your new-fangled notions. Ill write all that down
while youre thinkin up what to say next.”
She leaned over the table and wrote slowly that he might have leisure
to admire her figure in profile. But he gazed sternly out of the window
until she swayed back to the perpendicular and demanded,
“What next? Do you want me to say băth and cănt?”
“Oh, no, I really shouldnt advise it, not in Butte. I dont wish to
teach you anything that will add to the discomforts of life--so long as
your lines are cast here. Just modify the lamentably short American _a_
a bit.” And he rehearsed her for a few moments.
“Fine. Ill try it on Greg--Mr. Compton. If he laughs Ill know Im too
good, but if he only puckers his eyebrows and looks as if somethin
queer was floatin round just out of sight, then Ill know Ive struck
the happy medium. Ill be a real high-brow in less than no time.”
“You certainly are surprisingly quick,” said Professor Whalen
handsomely. “In a year I could equip you for our centres of culture,
but as I remarked just now it would not be kind to transform you into
an exotic. Now, suppose we read a few pages of this grammar----”
“I studied grammar at school,” interrupted Ida haughtily. “What do
you take Butte for, anyhow. It may be a mining camp, and jay enough
compared with your old Boston, but I guess we learn something morn the
alphabet at all these big red brick schoolhouses weve got--Montanas
famous for its grand schoolhouses----”
“Yes, yes, my dear Mrs. Compton. But, you know, one forgets so quickly.
And then so many of you dont stay in school long enough. How old were
you when you left?”
“Fifteen. Ma wouldnt let me go to the High.”
“Precisely. Well, I will adhere to my original purpose, and defer
books until our next lesson. Perhaps you would like me to tell you
something more of our Eastern methods of speech--not only words,
“Oh, hang your old East! You make me feel downright patriotic.”
Professor Whalen was conscious that it was a distinct pleasure to make
those fine eyes flash. “One would think we were not all Americans,” he
said with a smile.
“Well, I guess you look upon America as East and West too. Loads of
young surveyors and mining men come out here to make their pile, and at
first Montana aint good enough to black their boots, but it soon takes
the starch out of em. No use puttin on dog here. It dont work.”
“Oh, I assure you its merely a difference of manner--of--er tradition.
We--and I in particular--find your West most interesting--and
significant. I--ah--regard it as the great furnace under our
“And we are the stokers! I like your impudence!”
He had no desire to lose this remunerative pupil, whose crude mind
worked more quickly than his own. She was now really angry and he made
a mild dive in search of his admitted tact.
“My dear lady, you put words into my mouth that emanate from your own
clever brain, not from my merely pedantic one. Not only have I the
highest respect for the West, and for Montana in particular, but please
remember that the contempt of the East for the West is merely passive,
negative, when compared with the lurid scorn of the West for the East.
Effete is its mildest term of opprobrium. I doubt if your virile
Westerner believes us to be really alive, in a condition to inhabit
aught but a museum. Your men when they make their pile, or take a
vacation, never dream of going to Boston, seldom, indeed, to Europe.
They take the fastest train for New York--and by no means with a view
to exploring that wilderness for its oases of culture----”
“Well, I guess not!” cried Ida, her easy good nature restored.
“All-night restaurants, something new in the way of girls--chickens
and squabs--musical shows, watchin the sun rise--thats their
little old New York. They always come home shakin themselves like a
Newfoundland puppy, or purrin like a cat full of cream, but talkin
about the Great Free West, Gods Own Country, and the Big Western
Heart. Ive a friend who does manicurin, and she knows em like old
Whalen, who had a slight cultivated sense of humor, laughed. “You are
indeed most apt and picturesque, dear Mrs. Compton. But--while I think
of it--you mustnt drop your final _gs_. That, I am told, is one of the
fashionable divagations of the British aristocracy. But with us it is
the hallmark of the uneducated. Now, I really have told you all you can
remember for one day, and will take my leave. It is to be every other
day, I understand. On Wednesday, then, at two?”
Ida walked to the gate with him. She was quite a head taller than he,
but subtly made him feel that the advantage was his, as it enabled
her to pour the light of her eyes downward. He picked his way up the
uneven surface of East Granite Street, slippery with a recent fall of
snow, not only disturbed, but filled with a new conceit; in other words
thrilling with his first full sense of manhood.
Ida looked after him, smiling broadly. But the smile fled abruptly,
her lips trembled, then contracted. Advancing down the street was
Mrs. Mark Blake. Ida had known her enterprising young husband before
he changed his name from Mike to Mark, but she knew his lady wife by
sight only; Mrs. Blake had not patronized Madame OReilley. Ruby and
Pearl pronounced her “all right”, although a trifle “proud to look
at.” Ida assumed that she was to receive the promised call, and wished
she could “get out of it.” Not only did she long for her rocker, gum
and magazine, after the intellectual strain of the past hour, but she
had no desire to meet Mrs. Blake or any of “that crowd” until she
could take her place as their equal. She had her full share of what is
known as class-consciousness, and its peculiar form of snobbery. To be
patronized by “swells”, even to be asked to their parties, would give
her none of that subtle joy peculiar to the climbing snob. When the
inevitable moment came she would burst upon them, dazzle them, bulldoze
and lead them, but she wanted none of their crumbs.
But she was “in for it.” She hastily felt the back of her shirtwaist
to ascertain if it still were properly adjusted, and sauntered towards
the cottage humming a tune, pretending not to have seen the lady who
stopped to have a word with Professor Whalen. “Anyhow, shes not a
bonanzerine,” thought Ida. “I guess she did considerable scrapin at
one time; and Mark, for all he could make shoe-blackin look like
molasses, aint a millionaire yet.”
She might indeed, further reflected Ida, watching the smartly tailored
figure out of the corner of her eye, be pitied, for she had been
“brought up rich, expecting to marry a duke, and then come down kaplunk
before shed much moren a chance to grow up.” Her father, Judge
Stratton, a graduate of Columbia University, had been one of the most
brilliant and unscrupulous lawyers of the Northwest. He had drawn
enormous fees from railroads and corporations, and in the historic
Clark-Daly duels for supremacy in the State of Montana, and in the
more picturesque battle between F. Augustus Heinze and “Amalgamated”
(that lusty offspring of the great Standard Oil Trust), when the number
of estimable citizens bought and sold demonstrated the faint impress
of time on original sin, his legal acumen and persuasive tongue, his
vitriolic pen, ever had been at the disposal of the highest bidder.
He had been a distinguished resident of Butte but a few years when he
built himself a spacious if hideous residence on the West Side. But
this must have been out of pure loyalty to his adopted state, for it
was seldom occupied, although furnished in the worst style of the late
seventies and early eighties. Mrs. Stratton and her daughter spent
the greater part of their time in Europe. As Judge Stratton disliked
his wife, was intensely ambitious for his only child, and preferred
the comforts of his smaller home on The Flat, he rarely recalled his
legitimate family, and made them a lavish allowance. He died abruptly
of apoplexy, and left nothing but a life insurance of five thousand
dollars; he had neglected to take out any until his blood vessels were
too brittle for a higher risk.
Mrs. Stratton promptly became an invalid, and Ora brought her home to
Butte, hoping to save something from the wreck. There was nothing to
save. As she had not known of the life insurance when they received the
curt cablegram in Paris, she had sold all of her mothers jewels save a
string of pearls, and, when what was left of this irrelative sum after
the luxurious journey over sea and land, was added to the policy, the
capital of these two still bewildered women represented little more
than they had been accustomed to spend in six months. When Mark Blake,
who had studied law in Judge Strattons office after graduating from
the High School, and now seemed to be in a fair way to inherit the
business, besides being County Attorney at the moment, implored Ora
to marry him, and manifested an almost equal devotion to her mother,
whom he had ranked with the queens of history books since boyhood, she
accepted him as the obvious solution of her problem.
She was lonely, disappointed, mortified, a bit frightened. She
had lived the life of the average American princess, and although
accomplished had specialised in nothing; nor given a thought to the
future. As she had cared little for the society for which her mother
lived, and much for books, music, and other arts, and had talked
eagerly with the few highly specialised men she was fortunate enough
to meet, she had assumed that she was clever. She also believed that
when she had assuaged somewhat her appetite for the intellectual and
artistic banquet the gifted of the ages had provided, she might develop
a character and personality, possibly a gift of her own. But she was
only twenty when her indulgent father died, and, still gorging herself,
was barely interested in her capacities other than receptive, less
still in the young men that sought her, unterrified by her reputation
for brains. She fancied that she should marry when she was about
twenty-eight, and have a salon somewhere; and the fact that love had
played so little a part in her dreams made it easier to contemplate
marriage with this old friend of her childhood. His mother had been
Mrs. Strattons seamstress, to be sure, but as he was a good boy,--he
called for the frail little woman every evening to protect her from
roughs on her long walk east to the cottage her husband had built
shortly before he was blown to pieces somewhere inside of Butte--he
had been permitted to hold the dainty Ora on his knee, or toss her,
gurgling with delight, into the air until he puffed.
Mark had been a fat boy, and was now a fat young man with a round
rosy face and a rolling lazy gait. He possessed an eye of remarkable
shrewdness, however, was making money rapidly, never lost sight of
the main chance, and was not in the least surprised when his marriage
lifted him to the pinnacle of Butte society. In spite of his amiable
weaknesses, he was honest if sharp, an inalienable friend, and he
made a good husband according to his lights. Being a mans man, and
naturally elated at his election to the exclusive Silver Bow Club soon
after his marriage to the snow maiden of his youthful dreams, he
formed the habit of dropping in for a game of billiards every afternoon
on his way home, and returning for another after dinner. But within
three years he was able to present the wife of whom he was inordinately
proud with a comfortable home on the West Side, and he made her an
allowance of ever increasing proportions.
Ora, who had her own idea of a bargain, had never complained of
neglect nor intimated that she found anything in him that savoured of
imperfection. She had accepted him as a provider, and as he filled this
part of the contract brilliantly, she felt that to treat him to scenes
whose only excuse was outraged love or jealousy, would be both unjust
and absurd. Moreover, his growing passion for his club was an immense
relief after his somewhat prolonged term of marital uxoriousness, and
as her mother died almost coincidentally with the abridgment of Mr.
Blakes home life, Ora returned to her studies, rode or walked for
hours, and, after her double period of mourning was over, danced two or
three times a week in the season, or sat out dances when she met a man
that had cultivated his intellect. For women she cared little.
It never occurred to Mark to be jealous of his passionless wife,
although he would have asserted his authority if she had received men
alone in the afternoon. But Ora paid a scrupulous deference to his
wishes in all respects. She even taught herself to keep house, and
her servants manners as well as the elements of edible cooking. This
she regarded as her proudest feat, for she frankly hated the domestic
details of life; although after three years in a “Block”,--a sublimated
lodging house, peculiar to the Northwest--she enjoyed the space and
privacy of her home. Mark told his friends that his wife was the most
remarkable woman in Montana, rarely found fault, save in the purely
mechanical fashion of the married male, and paid the bills without a
murmur. Altogether it was a reasonably happy marriage.
Ora Blakes attitude to life at this time was expressed in the buoyancy
of her step, the haughty carriage of her head, the cool bright
casual glance she bestowed upon the world in general. Her code of
morals, ethics, manners, as well as her acceptance of the last set of
conditions she would have picked from the hands of Fate, was summed up
in two words: _noblesse oblige_. Of her depths she knew as little as
Gregory Compton of his.
“This is Mrs. Compton, I am sure,” she said in her cool even voice, as
she came up behind the elaborately unconscious and humming Ida. “I am
Mrs. Blake.”
“Pleased to meet you,” said Ida formally, extending a limp hand. “Come
on inside.”
Mrs. Blake closed her eyes as she entered the parlour, but opened them
before Ida had adjusted the blower to the grate, and exclaimed brightly:
“How clever of you to settle so quickly. I shouldnt have dared to call
for another fortnight, but Mr. Compton told my husband yesterday that
you were quite in order. It was three months before I dared open my
“Well,” drawled Ida, rocking herself, “I guess your friends are more
critical than mine. And I guess you didnt rely wholly on Butte for
your furniture. I had Mas old junk, and the rest cost me just two
hundred dollars.”
“How very clever of you!” But although Mrs. Blake was doing her best to
be spontaneous and impressed, Ida knew instantly that she had committed
a solecism, and felt both angry and apprehensive. She was more afraid
of this young woman than of her professor. Once more she wished that
Mrs. Blake and the whole caboodle would leave her alone till she was
good and ready.
Ora hastened on to a safer topic, local politics. Butte, tired of
grafting politicians, was considering the experiment of permitting a
Socialist of good standing to be elected mayor. Ida, like all women of
the smaller Western towns, was interested in local politics, and, glad
of the impersonal topic, gave her visitor intelligent encouragement,
the while she examined her critically. She finally summed her up in
the word “pasty”, and at that stage of Ora Blakes development the
description was not inapt. She took little or no interest in her looks,
although she dressed well by instinct; and nature, supplemented by
her mother, had given her style. But her hair was almost colourless
and worn in a tight knot just above her neck, her complexion was
weather-beaten, her lips rather pale, and her body very thin. But when
men whose first glance had been casual turned suddenly, wondering
at themselves, to examine that face so lacking in the potencies of
colouring, they discovered that the eyes, deeply set and far apart,
were of a deep dark blazing grey, that the nose was straight and fine,
the ears small, the mouth mobile, with a slight downward droop at the
corners; also that her hands and feet were very slender, with delicate
wrists and ankles. Ida, too, noted these points, but wondered where her
“charm” came from. She knew that Mrs. Blake possessed this vague but
desirable quality, in spite of her dread reputation as a “high-brow”,
and her impersonal attitude toward men.
Ruby had informed her that the men agreed she had charm if she would
only condescend to exert it. “And I can feel it too,” she had added,
“every time I do her nails--she never lets anyone do that hair of hers
or give her a massage, which she needs, the Lord knows. But shes got
fascination, magnetism, whatever you like to call it, for all shes so
washed-out. Somehow, I always feel that if shed wake up, get on to
herself, shed play the devil with men, maybe with herself.”
Ida recalled the comments of the wise Miss Miller and frowned. This
important feminine equipment she knew to be her very own, and although
she would have been proud to admit the rivalry of a beautiful woman,
she felt a sense of mortification in sharing that most subtle and
fateful of all gifts, sex-magnetism, with one so colourless and
plain. That the gifts possessed by this woman talking with such
well-bred indifference of local affairs must be far more subtle than
her own irritated her still more. It also filled her with a vague
sense of menace, almost of helplessness. Later, when her brain was
more accustomed to analysis, she knew that she had divined--her
consciousness at that time too thick to formulate the promptings of
instinct--that when man is taken unawares he is held more firmly
Ida, staring into those brilliant powerful eyes, felt a sudden
desperate need to dive through their depths into this womans secret
mind, to know her better at once, get rid of the sense of mystery that
baffled and oppressed her. In short she must know where she was at
and know it quick. It did not strike her until afterward as odd that
she should have felt so intensely personal in regard to a woman whose
sphere was not hers and whose orbit had but just crossed her own.
For a time she floundered, but feminine instinct prompted the intimate
“I saw you talkin--talking to the professor,” she said casually. “I
suppose you know your husband got him for me.”
“I arranged it myself--” began Mrs. Blake, smiling, but Ida interrupted
her sharply:
“Greg--Mr. Compton didnt tell me he had talked to you about it.”
“Nor did he. I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Compton but
once--the day I married; he was my husbands best man. Mark never
can get him to come to the house, hardly to the club. But my husband
naturally would turn over such a commission to me. I hope you found the
little professor satisfactory.”
“Hell do, I guess. He knows an awful lot, and I have a pretty good
memory. But to get--and practice--it all--well, I guess that takes
years.” She imbued her tones with a pathetic wistfulness, and gazed
upon her visitor with ingenuous eyes, brimming with admiration. “It
must be just grand to have got all that education, and to have lived in
Europe while you were growing up. Nothing later on that you can get is
the same, I guess. You look just about as polished off as I look raw.”
“Oh! No! No!” cried Ora deprecatingly, her cheeks flooding with a
delicate pink that made her look very young and feminine. She had begun
by disliking this dreadfully common person, but not only was she by
no means as innocent of vanity as she had been trying for years to
believe, but she was almost emotionally swift to respond to the genuine
appeal. And, clever as she was, it was not difficult to delude her.
“Of course I had advantages that I am grateful for, but I have a theory
that it is never too late to begin. And you are so young--a few months
of our professor--are you really ambitious?”
“You bet.” Ida committed herself no further at the moment.
“Then you will enjoy study--expanding and furnishing your mind. It is
a wonderful sensation!” Mrs. Blakes eyes were flashing now, her mouth
was soft, her strong little chin with that cleft which always suggests
a whirlpool, was lifted as if she were drinking. “The moment you are
conscious that you are using the magic keys to the great storehouses
of the world, its arts, its sciences, its records of the past--when
you begin to help yourself with both hands and pack it away in your
memory--always something new--when you realise that the store is
inexhaustible--that in study at least there is no ennui--Oh, I can give
you no idea of what it all means--you will find it out for yourself!”
“Jimminy!” thought Ida. “I guess not! But that aint where her charm
for men comes from, you bet!” Aloud she said, with awe in her voice:
“No wonder you know so much when you like it like that. But dont it
make you--well--kinder lonesome?”
“Sometimes--lately----” Mrs. Blake pulled herself up with a deep blush.
“It has meant everything to me, that mental life, and it always shall!”
The astute Ida noted the defiant ring in her voice, and plunged in. “I
wonder now? Say, youre a pretty woman and a young one, and they say
men would go head over ears about you if youd give em a show. Youve
got a busy husband and so have I. Husbands dont companion much and you
cant make me believe learnings all. Dont you wish these American
Turks of husbands would let us have a man friend occasionally? They
say that in high society in the East and in Europe, the women have all
the men come to call on them afternoons they like, but the ordinary
American husband, and particularly out West--Lord! When a woman has a
man call on her, shes about ready to split with her husband--belongs
to the fast set--and hes quail hunting somewheres else. Of course Ive
known Mark all my life--and you who was--were brought up in the real
world--it must be awful hard on you. Wouldnt you like to try your
power once in a while, see how far you could go--just for fun? I guess
youre not shocked?”
“No, Im not shocked,” said Ora, laughing. “But I dont believe men
interest me very much in that way--although, heaven knows, there are
few more delightful sensations than talking to a man who makes you feel
as if your brain were on fire. I dont think I care to have American
men, at least, become interested in me in any other way. In Europe----”
She hesitated, and Ida leaned forward eagerly.
“Oh, do tell me, Mrs. Blake! I dont know a blamed thing. Ive never
been outside of Montana.”
“Well--I mean--the American man takes love too seriously. I suppose
it is because he is so busy--he has to take life so seriously. He
specialises intensely. It is all or nothing with him. Of course I
am talking about love. When they play about, it is generally with a
class of women of which we have no personal knowledge. The European,
with his larger leisure, and generations of leisure in his brain, his
interest in everything, and knowledge of many things,--above all of the
world,--has reduced gallantry to a fine art. He may give his fancy, his
sentiment, his passion, even his leisure, to one woman at a time, but
his heart--well, unless he is very young--that remains quite intact.
Love is the game of his life with a change of partner at reasonable
intervals. In other words he is far too accomplished and sophisticated
to be romantic. Now, your American man, although he looks the reverse
of romantic, and is always afraid of making a fool of himself, when
he does fall in love with a woman--say, across a legal barrier--must
annihilate the barrier at once; in other words, elope or rush to the
divorce court. It isnt that he is more averse from a liaison than the
European, but more thorough. It is all or nothing. In many respects he
is far finer than the European, but he makes for turmoil, and, less
subtle, he fails to hold our interest.”
“You mean he dont keep us guessing? Well, youre right about most of
them. I never saw a boy I couldnt read like a page ad., until I met
my husband. I thought I knew him, too, till Id been married to him
awhile. But, my land, he gets deeper every minute. I guess if I hadnt
married him hed have kidnapped me, he was that gone, and forgetting
anything else existed. Of course, I didnt expect that to last, but I
did think hed go on being transparent. But, believe me, the Sphinx
aint a patch on him. I sometimes think I dont know him at all, and
that keeps me interested.”
“I should think it might!” exclaimed Mrs. Blake, thinking of her own
standard possession. “But then Mr. Compton is a hard student, and
is said to have a voracious as well as a brilliant mind. No doubt
that is the secret of what appears on the surface as complexity and
secretiveness. I know the symptoms!”
“Praps. But--well, I live with him, and I suspicion otherwise. I
suspect him of having as many kind of leads, and cross-cuts, and
pockets, and veins full of different kinds of ore in him as weve
got right under our feet in Butte Hill. Do you think”--she spoke with
a charming wistfulness--“that when I know more, have opened up and let
out my top story, as it were, I shall understand him better?”
And again Ora responded warmly, “Indeed, yes, dear Mrs. Compton.
It isnt so much what you put into your mind--its more the reflex
action of that personal collection in developing not only the mental
faculties, but ones intuitions, ones power to understand others--even
one whose interests are different, or whose knowledge is infinitely
greater than our own.”
“I believe you could even understand Greg!” Ida spoke involuntarily and
stared with real admiration at the quickened face with its pink cheeks
and flashing eyes, its childish mobile mouth. Ora at the moment looked
beautiful. Suddenly Ida felt as if half-drowned in a wave of ambiguous
terror. She sat up very straight.
“I guess youre right,” she said slowly. “Youve made me see it as the
others havent. Ill work at all that measly little professor gives me,
but--I dont know--somehow, I cant think hell do much more than make
me talk decent. Theres nothing _to_ him.”
Oras heart beat more quickly. Her indifference had vanished in this
intimate hour, also her first subtle dislike of Ida, whos commonness
now seemed picturesque, and whose wistful almost complete ignorance
had made a strong appeal to her sympathies. For the first time in her
lonely life she felt that she had something to give. And here was raw
and promising material ready and eager to be woven, if not into cloth
of silver, at least into a quality of merchandise vastly superior to
that which the rude loom of youth had so far produced. All she knew
of Gregory Compton, moreover, made her believe in and admire him; the
loneliness of his mental life with this woman appalled her. This was
not the first time she had been forced to admit of late that under
the cool bright surface of her nature were more womanly impulses than
formerly, a spontaneous warmth that was almost like the quickening of
a child; but she had turned from the consciousness with an impatient:
“What nonsense! What on earth should I do with it?” The sense that she
was of no vital use to anyone had discouraged her, dimmed her interest
in her studies. Her husband could hire a better housekeeper, find a
hundred girls who would companion him better. And what if she were
_instruite_? So were thousands of women. Nothing was easier.
But this clever girl of the people, who might before many years had
passed be one of the rich and conspicuous women of the United States,
above all, the wife of one of the nations “big men,” working himself
beyond human capacity, harassed, needing not only physical comfort at
home, but counsel, companionship, perfect understanding,--might it
not be her destiny to equip Ida Compton for her double part? Oras
imagination, the most precious and the most dangerous of her gifts,
was at white heat. To her everlasting credit would be the fashioning
of a helpmate for one of her countrys great men. It would be enough
to do as much for the state which her imperfect father had loved so
passionately; but her imagination would not confine Gregory Compton
within the limitations of a state. It was more than likely that his
destiny would prove to be national; and she had seen the wives of
certain men eminent in political Washington, but of obscure origin.
They were Idas mannered, grooved, crystallised; women to flee from.
She leaned forward and took Idas hand in both of hers. “Dear Mrs.
Compton!” she exclaimed. “Do let me teach you what little I know. I
mean of art--history--the past--the present--I have portfolios of
beautiful photographs of great pictures and scenes that I collected
for years in Europe. It will do me so much good to go over them. I
havent had the courage to look at them for years. And the significant
movements, social, political, religious,--all this theft under so
many different names,--Christian Science, the Uplift Movement,
Occultism--from the ancient Hindu philosophy--it would be delightful to
go into it with someone. I am sure I could make it all most interesting
to you.”
“My Gorrd!” thought Ida. “Two of em! What am I let in for?” But the
undefined sharp sense of terror lingered, and she answered when she got
her breath,
“Id like it first rate. The work in this shack is nothing. Mr.
Compton leaves first thing in the morning, and dont show up till
nearly six. The professors coming for an hour every other afternoon.
But if I go to your house I want it understood that I dont meet anyone
else. Ive got my reasons.”
“You shall not meet a soul. Cant you imagine how sick I am of Butte?
Well have heavenly times. I was wondering only the other day of what
use was all this heterogeneous mass of stuff Id put into my head.
But,” she added gaily, “I know now it was for you to select from. I am
so glad. And--and----” Her keen perceptions suggested a more purely
feminine bait. “You were with Madame OReilley, were you not? I get my
things from a very good dressmaker in New York. Perhaps you would like
to copy some of them?”
“Aw! Would I?” Ida gasped and almost strangled. For the first time
during this the most trying day of her life she felt wholly herself.
“You may just bet your life I would. I need new duds the worst way,
even if Im not a West Sider. Ive been on a ranch for nearly a year
and a half, and although Mr. Compton wont take me to any balls, there
are the movin pictures and the mats--matinees; _and_ the street, where
I have to show up once in a while! I used to think an awful lot of my
looks and style, and I guess its time to begin again. I can sew first
rate, make any old thing. Do you mean it?”
“Indeed I do! I _want_ to be of help to you in every way.” She rose and
held Idas hand once more in hers, although she did not kiss her as
another woman might have done. “Will you come tomorrow--about two?”
“You may bet your bottom dollar Ill come. I havent thanked you, but
maybe Ill do that some other way.”
“Oh, I shouldnt wonder,” said Mrs. Blake lightly.
Butte, “the richest hill in the world” (known at a period when less
famous for metals and morals as “Perch of the Devil”), is a long
scraggy ridge of granite and red and grey dirt rising abruptly out of
a stony uneven plain high in the Rocky Mountains. The city is scooped
out of its south slope, and overflows upon The Flat. Big Butte, an
equally abrupt protuberance, but higher, steeper, more symmetrical,
stands close beside the treasure vault, but with the aloof and somewhat
cynical air of even the apocryphal volcano. On all sides the sterile
valley heaves away as if abruptly arrested in a throe of the monstrous
convulsion that begat it; but pressing close, cutting the thin
brilliant air with its icy peaks, is an irregular and nearly circular
chain of mountains, unbroken white in winter, white on the blue
enamelled slopes in summer.
For nearly half the year the whole scene is white, with not a tree,
nor, beyond the straggling town itself, a house to break its frozen
beauty. It is only when the warm Chinook wind roars in from the west
and melts the snow much as lightning strikes, or when Summer herself
has come, that you realize the appalling surface barrenness of this
region devastated for many years by the sulphur and arsenic fumes of
ore roasted in the open or belching from the smelters. They ate up
the vegetation, and the melting snows and heavy June rains washed the
weakened earth from the bones of valley and mountain, leaving both as
stark as they must have been when the earth ceased to rock and began to
cool. Since the smelters have gone to Anaconda, patches of green, of a
sad and timid tenderness, like the smile of a child too long neglected,
have appeared between the sickly grey boulders of the foothills, and,
in Butte, lawns as large as a tablecloth have been cultivated. Anaconda
Hill at the precipitous eastern end of the city, with its tangled mass
of smokestacks, gallows-frames, shabby grey buildings, trestles, looks
like a gigantic shipwreck, but is merely the portal to the precious
ore bodies of the mines whose shafts, levels, and cross-cuts to the
depth of three thousand feet and more, pierce and ramify under city
and valley. These hideous buildings through which so many hundreds of
millions have passed, irrupt into the very back yards of some of the
homes, built too far east (and before mere gold and silver gave place
to copper); but the town improves as it leaps westward. The big severe
solid buildings to be found in every modern city sure of its stability
crowd the tumble-down wood structures of a day when no man looked upon
Butte as aught but a camp. And although the streets are vociferously
cobbled, the pavements are civilised here and there.
Farther west the houses of the residence section grow more and more
imposing, coinciding with the sense of Buttes inevitableness. On the
high western rim of the city (which exteriorly has as many ups and
downs as the story of its vitals) stands the red School of Mines. It
has a permanent expression of surprise, natural to a bit of Italian
renaissance looking down upon Butte.
Some of the homes, particularly those of light pressed brick, and one
that looks like the northeast corner of the upper story of a robber
stronghold of the middle ages, are models of taste and not too modest
symbols of wealth; but north and south and east and west are the snow
wastes in winter and the red or grey untidy desert of sand and rock in
But if Butte is the ugliest city in the United States, she knows
how to make amends. She is alive to her finger-tips. Her streets,
her fine shops, her hotels, her great office buildings, are always
swarming and animated. At no time, not even in the devitalised hours
that precede the dawn, does she sink into that peace which even a
metropolis welcomes. She has the jubilant expression of one who coins
the very air, the thin, sparkling, nervous air, into shining dollars,
and, confident in the inexhaustible riches beneath her feet, knows
that she shall go on coining them forever. Even the squads of miners,
always, owing to the three shifts, to be seen on the street corners,
look satisfied and are invariably well-dressed. Not only do these
mines with their high wages and reasonable hours draw the best class
of workingmen, but there are many college men in them, many more
graduates from the High Schools of Montana. The “Bohunks,” or “dark
men,” an inferior class of Southern Europeans, who live like pigs and
send their wages home, rarely if ever are seen in these groups.
And if Butte be ugly, hopelessly, uncompromisingly ugly, her
compensation is akin to that of many an heiress: she never forgets
that she is the richest hill in the world. Even the hard grip of the
most unassailable trust in America, which has absorbed almost as much
of Montanas surface as of its hidden treasure, does not interfere
with her prosperity or supreme complacency. And although she has
her pestilential politicians, her grafters and crooks, and is so
tyrannically unionized that the workingman groans under the yoke of his
brother and forgets to curse the trust, yet ability and talent make
good as always; and in that electrified city of permanent prosperity
there is a peculiar condition that offsets its evils: it is a city of
sudden and frequent vacancies. New York, Europe, above all, California,
swarm with former Montanans, particularly of Butte, who have coppered
their nests, and transplanted them with a still higher sense of
Ora was thinking of Butte and the world beyond Butte, as she splashed
along through the suddenly melted snow toward her home on the West
Side. The Chinook, loud herald from Japan, had swept down like an army
in the night and turned the crisp white streets to rivers of mud. But
Ora wore stout walking boots, and her short skirt, cut by a master
hand, was wide enough to permit the impatient stride she never had
been able to modify in spite of her philosophy and the altitude. She
walked several miles a day and in all weathers short of a blizzard; but
not until the past few weeks with the admission that her increasing
restlessness, her longing for Europe, was growing out of bonds. She
wondered today if it were Europe she wanted, or merely a change.
She had, of course, no money of her own, and never had ceased to be
grateful that her husbands prompt and generous allowance made it
unnecessary to ask alms of him. Three times since her marriage he had
suddenly presented her with a check for several hundred dollars and
told her to “give her nerves a chance” either down “on the coast,”
or in New York. She had always fled to New York, remained a month
or six weeks, gone day and night to opera, theatre, concerts, art
exhibitions, not forgetting her tailor and dressmaker; returning to
Butte as refreshed as if she had taken her heart and nerves, overworked
by the altitude, down to the poppy fields of Southern California.
Her vacations and her husbands never coincided. Mark always departed
at a moments notice for Chicago or New York, alleging pressing
business. He returned, after equally pressing delays, well, complacent,
slightly apologetic.
Ora knew that she had but to ask permission to spend the rest of
the winter in New York, for not only was Mark the most indulgent of
husbands, but he was proud of his wifes connections in the American
Mecca, not unwilling to read references in the Butte newspapers to her
sojourn among them. The “best people” of these Western towns rarely
have either friends or relatives in the great cities of the East. The
hardy pioneer is not recruited from the aristocracies of the world, and
the dynamic men and women that have made the West what it is have the
blood of the old pioneers in them.
Ora was one of the few exceptions. Her father had been the last of a
distinguished line of jurists unbroken since Jonathan Stratton went
down with Alexander Hamilton in the death struggle between the Federal
and the new Republican party. Oras mother, one of New Yorks imported
beauties for a season, who had languished theretofore on the remnants
of a Louisiana plantation, impecunious and ambitious, but inexperienced
and superficially imaginative, married the handsome and brilliant
lawyer for love, conceiving that it would be romantic to spend a few
years in a mining camp, where she, indubitably, would be its dominant
lady. Butte did not come up to her ideas of romance. Nor had she found
it possible to dislodge the passively determined women with the pioneer
blood in their veins. The fumes afflicted her delicate lungs, the
altitude her far more delicate nerves. Judge Stratton deposited her in
the drawing-room of an eastern bound train with increasing relish. Had
it not been for his little girl he would have bade her upon the second
or third of these migrations to establish herself in Paris and return
no more.
During these long pilgrimages Ora, even while attending school in New
York, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Vevey, had seen something of society, for
Mrs. Stratton was ever surrounded by it, and did not approve of the
effect of boarding school diet on the complexion. But the ardours of
her mind, encouraged always by her father, who never was too busy to
write to her, had made her indifferent to the advantages prized by Mrs.
Today she was conscious of a keen rebellious desire for something more
frivolous, light, exciting, than had entered her life for many a year.
There can be little variety and no surprises in the social life of a
small community--for even scandal and divorce grow monotonous--and
although she could always enjoy an hours intellectual companionship
with the professors of the School of Mines, whenever it pleased her
to summon them, Ora, for the first time in her twenty-six years, had
drifted into a condition of mind where intellectual revels made no
appeal to her whatever.
She had wondered before this if her life would have been purely mental
had her obligations been different, but had dismissed the thought as
not only dangerous but ungrateful. She had reason to go on her knees
to her intellect, its ambitions and its furniture, for without it life
would have been insupportable. She ordered her quickening ego back
to the rear, or the depths, or wherever it bided its time, none too
amenable; she was only beginning to guess the proportions it might
assume if encouraged; the vague phantoms floating across her mind,
will-o-the-wisps in a fog bank, frightened her. Several months since
she had set her lips, and her mind the task of acquiring the Russian
language. It had always been her experience that nothing compared with
a new language as a mental usurper.
She had entered into a deliberate partnership with a man who protected
and supported her, and she would keep the letter, far as its spirit
might be beyond the reach of her will. Even were she to become
financially independent, it was doubtful if she would leave him for
a long period; and for New York and its social diversions she cared
not at all. What she wanted was adventure--she stumbled on the word,
and stopped with a gasp. Adventure. For the first time she wished she
were a man. She would pack two mules with a prospectors outfit and
disappear into the mountains.
She swung her mind to the Russian grammar, enough to impale it in
the death agony; but when she had entered her home, and, after a
visit to her leisurely cook, who was a unionized socialist, ascended
to her bedroom and stood before her mirror, she decided that it was
her singular interview with the wife of Gregory Compton that had
thrown her mind off its delicate balance. She recalled that Mrs.
Compton--certainly an interesting creature in spite of her appalling
commonness--had told her flagrantly that she was young, pretty, and
attractive to men, even as are young and pretty women without too much
brains. The compliment--or was it the suggestion?--had thrilled her,
and it thrilled her again. Men sometimes had tried to make love to
her, but she had ascribed such charm as she appeared to possess to the
automatically vibrating magnet of youth; and although she had never
been above a passing flirtation, either in her mothers salon or in
Butte, she merely had been bored if the party of the other part had
taken his courage in his hands on the morrow. Scruples did not trouble
her. The American woman, she would have reasoned, is traditionally
“cold.” American men, brought up on her code of ethics, are able to
take care of themselves.
Had she been superficial in her conclusions? Could she attract men
more potently than by a merely girlish charm and a vivacious mind? Her
memory ran rapidly over the functions of the winter, particularly the
dinners and dances. She could not recall a passing conquest. She was
angry to feel herself shiver, but she jerked off her hat, and the pins
out of her fine abundant hair. She was twenty-six. Had she gone off?
Faded? She never had been called a beauty, never had had the vanity
to think herself a beauty, but she remembered that sometimes in an
animated company she had glanced into the passing mirror and thought
herself quite pretty, with her pink cheeks and sparkling eyes. But
normally she was too washed-out for beauty, however good her features
might be, and of course she had no figure at all. She dressed well from
force of habit, and she had the carriage at least to set off smartly
cut garments, but as much might be said of a dressmakers “form.”
And her skin was sallow and sunburned and weather-beaten and dry, as
any neglected skin in a high altitude is sure to be. Once it had been
as white as her native snows. Her hair, also the victim of the high
dry air, and exposed to the elements for hours together, was more
colourless than Nature had made it--dull--dead. She held out a strand
in dismay, remembering how her _cendré_ hair had been admired in Paris;
then with a sudden sense of relief (it escaped from the cellar where
her ego was immured on bread and water) she informed herself that it
was her duty to invoke the services of Miss Ruby Miller. No woman with
proper pride--or self-respect--would let her skin go to pot, no, not
at any age; certainly not at twenty-six. She recalled an impulsive
remark of Miss Millers a few months since when arranging her hair for
a fancy-dress ball, and gave another sigh--of hope.
So does Nature avenge herself.
She heard her husbands voice as he entered the house, and hastily
changed her walking suit for one of the soft tea gowns she wore when
they were alone. This was a simple thing of a Copenhagen-blue silk,
with a guimpe of fine white net, and trimmed about the neck and half
sleeves with the newest and softest of the years laces. She noticed
with some satisfaction that her neck, below the collar line, was very
white; and she suddenly covered the rest of it with powder, then rubbed
the puff over her face. It was ordinary “baby powder” for the bath,
for she never had indulged in toilet accessories, but it answered
its purpose, if only to demonstrate what she might have been had she
safeguarded the gifts of nature. And the dull blue gown was suddenly
Her husband, who had spent the intervening time in the library, ran
upstairs whistling in spite of his girth--he was the lightest dancer in
Butte--and knocked on her door before going to his own room.
“Say,” he said, as he chucked her under the chin, and kissed her
maritally, “but you look all right. Run down stairs and hold your
breath until Ive made myself beautiful. Ive got big news for you.”
She rustled softly down the stair, wondering what the news might be,
but not unduly interested. Mark was always excited over his new cases.
Perhaps he had been retained by Amalgamated. She hoped so. He deserved
it, for he worked harder than anyone knew. And she liked him sincerely,
quite without mitigation now that the years had taught him the folly of
being in love with her.
And he certainly had given her a pretty home. The house was not large
enough to be pointed out by the conductor of the “Seeing Butte Car,”
but it had been designed by a first rate architect, and had a certain
air of spaciousness within. Mrs. Stratton had furnished a flat in
Paris two years before her husbands death, her excuse being that the
interior of the Butte house got on her nerves, and there was no other
way to take in household goods free of duty. Ora had shipped them when
the news of her fathers death and their own poverty came, knowing that
she would get a better price for the furniture in Butte, where someone
always was building, than in Paris.
Before it arrived she had made up her mind to marry Mark Blake, and
although it was several years before they had a house she kept it in
storage. In consequence her little drawing-room with its gay light
formal French furniture was unique in Butte, city of substantial and
tasteful (sometimes) but quite unindividual homes. Mark was thankful
that he was light of foot, less the bull in the china shop than he
looked, and would have preferred red walls, an oriental divan and
Persian rugs. He felt more at home in the library, a really large room
lined from floor to ceiling not only with Oras but Judge Strattons
books, which Mark had bought for a song at the auction; and further
embellished with deep leather chairs and several superb pieces of
carved Italian furniture. Ora spent the greater part of her allowance
on books, and many hours of her day in this room. But tonight she
deliberately went into the frivolous French parlour, turned on all the
lights, and sat down to await her husbands reappearance.
Mark, who had taken kindly to the idea of dressing for dinner, came
running downstairs in a few moments.
“In the dolls house?” he called out, as he saw the illumination in the
drawing-room. “Oh, come on into a real room and mix me a cocktail.”
“It isnt good for you to drink cocktails so long before eating;
Huldah, who receives The Peoples War Cry on Monday, informed me that
dinner would be half an hour late.”
“I wish youd chuck that wooden-faced leaden-footed apology for a
servant. This is the third time----”
“And get a worse? Butte rains efficient servants! Please sit down.
I--_feel_ like this room tonight. You may smoke.”
“Thanks. I believe this is the first time you have given me permission.
But Im bound to say the room suits you.”
Ora sat in a _chaise-longue_ of the XV^{me} Siècle, a piece of
furniture whose awkward grace gives a womans arts full scope. Much
exercise had preserved the natural suppleness of Oras body and she had
ancestral memories of all arts and wiles. Mark seated himself on the
edge of a stiff little sofa covered with faded Aubusson tapestry, and
hunched his shoulders.
“If the French women furnish their rooms like this I dont believe
all thats said about them,” he commented wisely. “Men like to be
comfortable even when theyre looking at a pretty woman.”
“Mama let me choose the furniture for this room, and I wasnt thinking
much about your sex at the time. I--I think it expressed a side of me
that I wasnt conscious of then.”
“Its a pretty room all right.” Mark lit the consolatory cigarette.
“But not to sit in. What struck you tonight?”
“Oh, Id been thinking of Paris.”
Marks face was large and round and bland; it was only when he drew his
brows together that one saw how small and sharp his eyes were.
“Hm. Ive wondered sometimes if you werent hankering after Europe. I
suppose it gets into the blood.”
“Oh, yes, it gets into the blood!” Ora spoke lightly, but she was
astonished at his insight.
“Ive never been able to send you--not as you were used to going--I
dont see you doing anything on the cheap----”
“Oh, my dear Mark, you are goodness itself. Ive thought very little
about it, really.”
“Suppose you found yourself suddenly rich, would you light out and
leave me?”
“Wed go together. It would be great fun being your cicerone.”
“No chance! Im going to be a rich man inside the next ten years, and
here I stick. And I dont see myself travelling on a womans money,
either. But I suppose youd be like all the rest if you could afford
“Oh, I dont know. Of course I look forward to spending a year in
Europe once more--Id hardly be human if I didnt. But I can wait for
“Ive always admired your philosophy,” he said grimly. “And now Ive
got a chance to put it to a real test. I believe you are in a way, if
not to be rich, at least to make a pretty good haul.”
“What do you mean?” Ora sat up straight.
“Your father made a good many wild-cat investments when he first came
out here, and the one he apparently thought the worst, for I found no
mention of it among his papers, was the Oro Fino Primo mine, which he
bought from a couple of sharks in the year you were born--thats where
you got your name, I guess. One of the men was a well known prospector
and the Judge thought he was safe. The ore assayed about eighty dollars
a ton, so he took over the claim, paid the Lord knows how much to the
prospector, who promptly lit out, had it patented, and set a small crew
to work under a manager. They found nothing but low grade ore, which
in those days roused about as much enthusiasm as country rock. The
mine had been salted, of course. It was some time before your father
would give up, and he spent more than the necessary amount of money
to perfect the patent; always hoping. When he was finally convinced
there was nothing in it he quit. And it was characteristic of your
father that when he quit he quit for good. He simply dismissed the
thing from his mind. Well, times have changed since then. New processes
and more railroads have caused fortunes to be made out of low grade
ore when there is enough of it. Some people would rather have a big
lode of low grade ore than a pockety vein of rich quartz. As you know,
abandoned mines are being leased all over the state, and abandoned
prospect holes investigated. Well, there you are. This morning two
mining engineers from New York came into my office with a tale of woe.
They came out here to look about, and after considerable travel within
a reasonable distance of railroads found an old prospect hole with a
shaft sunk about fifty feet. It looked abandoned all right, but as
the dump was still there and they liked the looks of it they went to
the De Smet ranch house--the hole is just over the border of Gregs
ranch--and made inquiries. Oakley, who is a monomaniac on the subject
of intensive farming and doesnt know a mine from a gopher hole, told
them that the adjacent land belonged to no one but the government.
So they staked their claim, recorded it in Virginia City, retimbered
the shaft and sank it twenty feet deeper. They began to take out ore
that looked good for fifteen dollars a ton. Then along comes an old
prospector and tells them the story of the mine. They leave their two
miners on the job and post up to Helena to have the records examined
in the Land Office. There, sure enough, they find that the mine was
duly patented by Judge Stratton, and all of the government requirements
complied with. So they come to me. They want a bond and lease for
three years--which means they may have the privilege of buying at the
end of the lease--and offer you ten per cent. on the net proceeds. I
havent given them my answer yet, for Im going to take Greg out there
next Sunday and have a look at it. There was a sort of suppressed
get-rich-quickishness in their manner, and their offer was not what
you would call munificent. Greg is a born geologist, to say nothing
of his training. I dont mean so much in the School of Mines, but he
was always gophering about with old prospectors, and ran away into the
mountains several times when his father was alive. Never showed up all
summer. Hes at ore now every spare moment he gets, and is as good an
assayer as there is in the state. If theres mineral on his own ranch
hell find it, and if there isnt hell find it elsewhere. So, I do
nothing till hes looked the property over. But in any case I think I
can promise you a good lump of money.”
Oras breath was short. Her face had been scarlet for a few moments
but now showed quite pale under the tan and powder. When her husband
finished, however, and she replied, “How jolly,” her voice was quite
“And shall you fly off and leave me if it pans out?”
“Of course not. What do you take me for?”
“To tell you the truth it will mean a good deal to me if you stay until
the fall. Ive a client coming out here from New York whom I am trying
to persuade to buy the old Iron Hat mine. Theres a fortune in it for
anyone with money enough to spend rebuilding the old works and putting
in new machinery and timbers; and a big rake-off for me, if I put the
deal through. Well, this client figures to bring his wife and daughter,
and you could help me a lot--persuade them theyd have the time of
their lives if they spent several months of every year out here for
a while--hes a domestic sort of man. After that take a flyer if you
like. You deserve it.”
“How nice of you! Here is dinner at last.” Ora felt almost physically
sick, so dazzling had been the sudden prospect of deliverance,
followed by the certainty, even before her husband asked for the
diplomatic assistance she so often had given him, that she could not
take advantage of it. Noblesse oblige! For the moment she hated her
She mixed a cocktail with steady hand. “Ill indulge in a perfect orgie
of clothes!” she said gaily. “And import a chef. By the way,” she
added, as she seated herself at the table and straightened the knives
and forks beside her plate, “what do you think I let myself in for
“Not been speculating? Theres a quart of Worcestershire in this soup.”
“Ill certainly treat you to a chef. No, not speculating--I wonder if
it mightnt be that? I called on your friends wife----”
“Good girl! Shes not your sort, but shes Gregs wife----”
“I thought she was quite terrible at first, but I soon became
interested. Shes clever in her way, ignorant as she is, and has
individuality. Before I knew it I had offered to take a hand in her
“Good lord! What sort of a hand?”
“Oh, just showing her my portfolios, giving her some idea of art. It
sounds very elemental, but one must begin somewhere. She knows so
little that it will be like teaching a child a b c.”
“Im afraid it will bore you.”
“No, I like the idea. It is something new, and change is good for the
soul. I have an idea that I shall continue to find her as interesting
as I intend she shall find the lessons.”
“Shell get more than lessons on art. Shell get a good tone down, and
she needs that all right. Poor old Greg! He deserved the best and he
got Ida Hook. I tried to head him off but I might as well have tried to
head off a stampede to a new gold diggings. He ought to have married a
lady, thats what.”
Ora glanced up quickly, then, thankful that her husband was intent upon
his carving, dropped her eyes. It was the first time he had ever hinted
at the differences of class. In his boyhood there had been a mighty
gulf between his mother and the haughty Mrs. Stratton who employed her
in what was then the finest house in Butte. But he was too thoroughly
imbued with the spirit of the West, in which he had spent his life,
to recognise any difference in class save that which was determined
by income. As soon as his own abilities, industry, and the turn of
Fortunes wheel, placed him in a position to offer support to the two
dainty women that had been his ideals from boyhood, he knew himself to
be their equal, without exhausting himself in analysis.
As for Ora, the West was quick in her blood, in spite of her heritage
and education. Her father had assumed the virtue of democracy when
he settled in Montana. In the course of a few years a genuine liking
and enthusiasm for his adopted state, as well as daily associations,
transformed him into as typical a Westerner as the West ever turned out
of her ruthless crucible. He even wore a Stetson hat when he visited
New York. His wifes “airs” had inspired him with an increasing disgust
which was one of the most honest emotions of his life, and the text
of his repeated warnings to his daughter, whom he was forced to leave
to the daily guidance of his legal wife (Oras continued presence
in Butte, would, in truth, have caused him much embarrassment), had
been to cherish her Western birthright as the most precious of her
“Remember this is the twentieth century,” he had written to her not
long before his death. “There is no society in the world today that
cannot be invaded by a combination of money, brains, and a certain
social talent--common enough. The modern man, particularly in the
United States, makes himself. His ancestors count for nothing, if he
doesnt. If he does they may be a good asset, for they (possibly) have
given him breeding ready-made, moral fibre, and a brain of better
composition than the average man of the people can expect. But that is
only by the way. The two most potent factors in the world today are
money and the waxing, rising, imperishable democratic spirit. That was
reborn out here in the West, and the West is invading and absorbing
the East. The old un-American social standards of the East are
expiring in the present generation, which resort to every absurdity to
maintain them; its self-consciousness betraying its recognition of the
inevitable. Twenty years hence this class will be, if still clinging
to its spar, as much of a national joke as the Western women were when
they first flashed their diamonds in Peacock Alley. That phase, you
may notice, is so dead that the comic papers have forgotten it. The
phase was inevitable, but our women are now so accustomed to their
money that they are not to be distinguished from wealthy women anywhere
except that their natural hospitality and independence make them seem
more sure of themselves. Of course the innately vulgar are to be found
everywhere, and nowhere more abundantly than in New York.
“Twenty years from now, the West will have overrun the East; it will
have helped itself with both hands to all the older civilisation has to
give, and it will have made New York as democratic as Butte--or London!
So dont let yourself grow up with any old-fashioned nonsense in your
head. I want you to start out in life modern to the core, unhampered
by any of the obsolete notions that make your mother and most of our
relations a sort of premature has-beens. When your time comes to
marry, select a Western man who either has made his own fortune or
has the ability to make it. Dont give a thought to his origin if his
education is good, and his manners good enough. You can supply the
frills. I wouldnt have you marry a man that lacked the fundamentals of
education at least, but better that than one whose brain is so full of
old-fashioned ideas that it has no room for those that are born every
minute. And I hope you will settle here in this state and do something
for it, either through the abilities of the man you marry or with your
own. It isnt only the men that build up a new state. And if you marry
a foreigner never let me see nor hear from you again. They are all very
well in their way, but it is not our way.”
Ora, who had worshipped her father and admired him above all men, never
forgot a word he uttered, and knew his letters by heart. Possibly it
was the memory of this last of his admonitions which had enabled her
to sustain the shock of a proposal from the son of her mothers old
seamstress and of a miner who had died in his overalls underground.
It is doubtful if she would have been conscious of the shock had it
not been for Mrs. Strattons lamentations. That lady from her sofa in
one of the humbler Blocks, had sent wail after wail in the direction
of the impertinent aspirant. Ora, during the brief period in which
she made her decision, heard so much about the “bluest blood of the
South,” and the titled foreigners whom she apparently could have had
for the accepting when she was supposed to belong to the Millionaire
Sisterhood, that she began to ponder upon the violent contrasts
embodied in Mark with something like rapture. After the marriage was
accomplished, Mrs. Stratton had the grace to wail in solitude, and
shortly after moved on to a world where only the archangels are titled
and never have been known to marry. Ora had not given the matter
another thought. Mark had been carefully brought up by a refined little
woman, his vicious tendencies had been negligible, and he was too
keen to graduate from the High School and make his start in life to
waste time in even the milder forms of dissipation. When he married he
adapted himself imperceptibly to the new social world he entered; if
not a Beau Brummel, nor an Admirable Crichton, he never would disgrace
his aristocratic wife; and, unlike Judge Stratton, he wore a silk hat
in New York.
His last remark apparently had been a mere vapour from his subconscious
mind, for he went on as soon as he had taken the edge from his
appetite, “Perhaps Ida Hook can be made into one. Ive seen waitresses
and chambermaids metamorphosed by a million or two so that their own
husbands wouldnt recognise them if they stayed away too long. But
it takes time, and Ida has an opinion of herself that would make an
English duchess feel like a slag dump. Say--do you know it was through
me Greg met her? It was that week you were out on the Kelley ranch.
I met two or three of the old crowd on the street and nothing would
do but that I should go to their picnic for the sake of old times.
Greg was in town and I persuaded him to come along. Didnt want to,
but I talked him over. Guess theres no escaping our fate. Possibly
I couldnt have corralled him if it hadnt been for reaction--hed
been whooping it up on The Flat. Well, I wished afterward that Id
left him to play the wheel and all the rest of it for a while longer.
Greg never loses his head--that is to say he never did till he met Ida
Hook. The sporting life never took a hold on him, for while he went
in for it with the deep deliberation that was born in him, its just
that deliberation that saves him from going too far. He cuts loose
the minute he figured out beforehand to cut loose, and all the kings
horses--or all the other attractions--couldnt make him put in another
second. A girl shot herself one night out at the Five Mile House
because he suddenly said good-bye and turned on his heel. She knew he
meant it. He never even turned round when he heard her drop----”
“What a brute!”
“Greg? Not he. Ive known him to sit up all night with a sick dog----”
“I hate people that are kind to animals and cruel to one another.”
“Greg isnt cruel. He said he was going and he went; thats all. Its
his way. Girls of that kind are trash, anyhow, and when a woman goes
into the sporting life she knows enough to take sporting chances.”
“You are as bad as he.”
Mark stared at her in open-eyed amazement. He never had seen her really
roused before. “Dont you bother your dear little head,” he said
soothingly. “Angels like you dont know anything about that sort of
life--and dont need to.”
Oras anger vanished in laughter. “Well, suppose you give me a hint
about his wife. I really am interested, and delighted at the prospect
of being of some use in the world.”
“Youre all right! Ida--well, I guess youll do a lot for her, by just
having her round. Shes no fool--and she certainly is a looker. If you
tone her down and polish her up Ill feel its a sort of favour to
myself. Gregll be one of the richest men in this country some day,--if
he has to walk over a few thousand fellow citizens to get there--and I
dont want to see him queered by a woman. Seen that before.”
“I intend to do my best, but for her sake, not his----”
“Say!” It was patent that Mark had an inspiration. “Why not take Ida
with you to Europe? I dont like the idea of a dainty little thing like
you” (Ora was five feet six) “travelling alone, and a husky girl like
Ida could take care of you while putting on a few coats of European
polish. Greg can afford it; he must have cleared a good many thousands
on his ranch during the last two years, besides what Ive turned over
for him; and he can live here with me and get all the comforts of
home. Ill let you off for six months. What do you say?”
Ora was looking at him with pink cheeks and bright eyes. “You are sure
you wont mind?”
“Ill miss you like fun, of course; especially when you look as pretty
as you do this minute, but I think it would be a good thing for you and
better for Ida--and Ill fire this cook.”
“Will Mr. Compton give his consent?”
“No one on Gods earth would take chances on what Gregory Compton would
do until he had done it, but I dont mind throwing a guess that he
could live without Ida for six months and not ask me to dry his tears.
And there isnt a mean bone in his body.”
“It would interest me immensely to take Mrs. Compton abroad. Now hurry
if you expect to get a seat at one of the bridge tables. It is late----”
“I rather thought Id like to stay and talk to you----”
“How polite of you! But Im tired out and going straight to bed. So
toddle along.”
“Tailored suits have to be made by a tailor, but Id like first rate to
copy this one you call a little afternoon frock. Its got the style all
right, and I could get some cheap nice-looking stuff.”
Ida was gloating over Oras limited but fashionable wardrobe, and
while she held the smart afternoon frock out at arms length, her eye
wandered to an evening gown of blue satin and chiffon that lay over the
back of a chair.
“Glory!” she sighed. “But Id like to wear a real gown like that.
Low-neck, short sleeves! Ive got the neck and arms too, you bet----”
“Why not copy it?” Ora was full of enthusiasm once more. “You can do it
here, and I have an excellent seamstress----”
“Whered I wear a rig like that? Even if I made it in China silk and
Greg took me anywheres, I couldnt. We dont go in for real low necks
in our bunch.”
“But surely youll go to the Junior Prom?”
Ida opened her mouth as well as her eyes. “The Junior Prom? I never
thought of it. Of course Id be asked, Greg being in the Junior Class
and all----”
Ida frowned. “Well, I aint going. I said I wouldnt go anywheres--to
any swell blowouts, until Im as big as anybody there.”
“But the School of Mines is composed of young men of all classes. Each
asks his friends. The Prom is anything but an exclusive affair. You go
out to the Garden dances on Friday nights in summer?”
“Oh, in that jam--and everybody wearing their suits, or any old
“Well, I think you should go to the Prom. Mr. Compton is the star pupil
in the School of Mines. The professors talk of no one else. I rather
think your absence would cause comment.”
“Well--maybe Ill go. Id like to all right. But I cant wear low-neck.
I guess you know it wouldnt do.”
“No doubt you are right.” Ora made no attempt at conversion; it was
encouraging that Ida had certain inclinations toward good taste, even
if they were prompted by expediency.
“Jimminy, but your rooms pretty!” exclaimed Ida. “Mines pink--but
She gazed about the room, which, although she never had seen the sea,
recalled descriptions of its shells washed by its foam. She knit her
brows. “I guess it takes experience, and seein things,” she muttered.
Her eyes travelled to the little bed in one corner. It would have
looked like a nuns, so narrow and inconspicuous was it, had it not
been for its cover of pale pink satin under the same filmy lace.
“Sakes alive!” she exclaimed. “Dont you sleep with your husband?”
Ora was angry to feel herself coloring. She answered haughtily, “We
have separate rooms. It is the custom--I mean--I have always seen----”
“Ive heard it was the stunt among swells, but I dont hold to it. Its
only at night that youve really got a chance to know where a man is;
and the more rope you give him the more hell take. Whats to prevent
Mark slippin out when he thinks youre asleep? Or coming home any old
time? Besides, some men talk in their sleep. That gives you another
hold. Im always hoping Greg will, as he talks so little when hes
awake. You bet your life he never gets a room to himself.”
“Poor Mr. Compton!” thought Ora. “I fancy hell expiate.” “Shall we go
downstairs?” she asked. “I got my portfolios out this morning.”
She tactfully had shown Ida her wardrobe first, and the guest descended
to the library in high good humour. For an hour they hung over the
contents of the Italian portfolios. Ida was enchanted with the castles
and ruins, listened eagerly to the legends, and was proud of her
own knowledge of the horrors enacted in the Coliseum. But over the
photographs of the masterpieces in the Pitti and the Uffizi she frankly
“No more cross-eyed saints, and fat babies and shameless sporting women
in mine,” she announced. “Them virgins sitting on thrones, holding
four-year-olds trying to look like six months, make me tired.”
“Oh, well, I fancy you must see the old masters for the first time in
their proper setting--and wonderful colouring----” Ora wondered if the
masterpieces would appear somewhat overrated to herself if seen for the
first time in Butte. It certainly was interesting to watch the effect
of fixed standards--or superstitions--upon an untrained but remarkably
sharp mind.
“That Last Supper looks like theyd been eating the paint,” pursued Ida.
Ora laughed. “I shant show you any more pictures today. This furniture
is Italian--Florentine and Venetian. Let me tell you something about
“Id like to see all your rooms.” Ida rose and stretched herself
luxuriously. Ora thought she looked like a beautiful Persian cat.
“Houses interest me morn pictures, although Ill buy them too some
day. Not old masters, though. Theyd give me the willys. This carved
oak with faded gilt panels is a dream!” she exclaimed with instant
appreciation. “Id learn wood-carving if there was anyone in this
God-forsaken camp to teach it.”
Ora clapped her hands, and once more, to Idas startled eyes she looked
like a very young girl. “I studied several of the crafts when I was in
Germany,” she cried, “wood-carving, brass-hammering, enamelling. Ill
set up a workshop--let me see, the attic would be the best place, and
the furnace warms it--and teach you, and work myself. Its just what I
need. I wonder I never thought of it----”
“Need what?” interrupted Ida sharply.
“Oh, a relief from too much study. Theres nothing like a craft for
mental workers--I should have thought of it before,” she repeated.
“What do you say?”
“Id like it first rate, and I guess youll find me quick enough with
my hands, whatever you think of my cocoanut.”
“I think very highly of your cocoanut. This is my little drawing-room.”
Ida stood on the threshold for a few moments without comment. She
had never cast a thought to her Puritan inheritance, but anger,
disapproval, possessed her. She hated the room, but had no reason to
“You dont like my favourite room?” asked Ora, who was watching her
“Is it your favourite room?” She turned this over. “No, I guess I like
the heavy, solid, durable things best.” She struggled for her reasons.
“You get your moneys worth in them. This looks like the first Chinook
would blow it clear over into North Dakota, or as if you might come
in some morning and find a heap of dust where it had been the night
before--like a corpse when the airs let in. I didnt mind your bedroom
being dainty and looking like some sea shells I saw once in a picture
frame,--it looks all of a piece, too, you might say; but this--with
them queer thin faded out chairs and sofas--the colours on the wood
even, and them pictures over the doors and mantel look like they would
do the final disappearing act while you wait--well, theres something
kinder mysterious--ghostly--it looks so stiff--and--at the same
time--so kinder immoral----”
“I wonder if what you are groping for is the atmosphere of the past,
which all old furniture must have, particularly if rearranged in
something like its original setting.” Ora was regarding her with a new
interest. “This furniture came out of a _hôtel_--what we would call a
residence--with a history--several histories, I should think--and I
fancy it was all frivolous, and wicked, and exciting----”
“I aint no spiritualist!” said Ida tartly. “Is that what youre
driving at?”
“I dont know that I was thinking of occultism, even,” said Ora
lightly. “But it is interesting to find these old things have
atmosphere for you as well as for me----”
“Why is it your favourite room? Because it has atmosphere?”
“I dont know. I doubt if I have ever given the matter a thought.”
“So this is your favourite room.” Ida turned her back on it. “Hm.
Well, maybe Ill understand some things better one of these days than
I do now. Perhaps,” with one of her uncanny dashes of intuition, “Ill
understand it when I do you.”
“Let us go up to the attic and look it over. Ill have the table and
benches made tomorrow.” Something was moving toward expression in her
own mind, but she flung it aside and ran up the stair followed by Ida,
who dismissed the subject as promptly.
There had been a good deal of haggling over the lease of the Oro Fino
Primo mine, the engineers demanding a three years lease and bond,
proposing to purchase it at the end of that period for fifty thousand
dollars. Nor were they willing to pay more than ten per cent. in
royalty, displaying the assay report on the ore and arguing that after
the necessary outlay on development work, the ore body might be too
small to repay them.
Mark, however, was determined not to close with them until he had
visited the claim with Gregory Compton, and this proved to be
impossible for several weeks. The engineers, unable to proceed, had
dismissed their men. They threatened to withdraw their offer and look
for another abandoned property. Mark told them to go ahead, and they
remained in Butte.
In the course of a month Mark and Gregory were both free on a Sunday.
They took a train for Pony, hired a rig and drove over to the Stratton
claim, dignified by the name of mine.
The claim was on a small tableland between Gregorys own hill, which
terminated just beyond the borders of his ranch, and another slope
covered with pines and firs. The engineers had put up a windlass,
retimbered the shaft, sunk it twenty feet lower, and added a pile of
dirty looking ore to the original half-obliterated heap about the
collar of the shaft.
Gregory picked up half a dozen pieces of various sizes and examined
them. “Their assay was about right, I should think,” he said. “Looks
like good low grade ore, but not too good. It will do no harm to assay
it myself, however,” and he dropped the sample into the pocket of
his coat. Suddenly he gave a startled exclamation, and Mark saw his
nostrils dilate, his nose almost point, as he darted forward and kicked
aside a heap of loosely piled quartz. Then he knelt down and lifted
out several lumps of greyish-black ore.
“What is it?” asked Mark curiously, and feeling something of the
excitement of the hunter whose gun is trained on a bear. “Dyou mean
theyve found copper glance?”
“At a depth of sixty feet? Not exactly. This is a basic igneous rock
called pyroxenite, that may not be rich in gold but is more than likely
to be--particularly as our friends have hidden it so carefully and said
nothing about it. It may assay anywhere from ten dollars a ton to five
hundred. Im going down.”
The shaft was inclined, four by eight, and timbered with lagging.
Gregory lit the candle he had brought and descended the ladder. He
remained below about ten minutes; when he returned to the surface he
was excited and triumphant.
“Theyve begun to drift on the vein,” he announced. “Theyve gone about
three feet--it must have been then they learned the history of the
claim. Its pyroxenite all right, every inch of it.”
“Well, damn them!” said Mark.
“They cant plead that they didnt recognise the ore, uncommon as it
is, because they began to drift the moment they struck the vein. It
dips toward the ranch,” he added abruptly.
Mark whistled. “Its pretty close. That would be a kettle of fish--if
it apexed on your land! Lawsuit. Friendship of a lifetime broken. The
beautiful Mrs. Mark Blake brings suit against the now famous Gregory
“Oh, nonsense!” said Gregory shortly. But he was disturbed nevertheless.
“But theres no nonsense in the idea that your own ore bodies may be
just over the border. Why dont you sink a shaft, just for nuts.”
Gregory, who was still excited, felt an impulse to confide his
discovery to his friend. But his natural secretiveness overcame him and
he turned abruptly away. “When I have finished at the School,” he said,
“no doubt Ill begin gophering again, but not before. What are you
going to do about this? Let them have it?”
“Ill let them have a piece of my mind first. What do you
advise?--that I work the mine, myself? I could easily form a company if
the ore is as rich as you think.”
“I wouldnt take the chances. Lease the claim to them for a year.
Theyll take it for that time with all this ore in sight. If theyve
hit a large chamber theyll soon be netting several thousand dollars a
day. If its only a pocket, let them find it out. At the end of a year
youll know a good deal more about the mine than you do now. But keep
an eye on them so that they dont gouge, and make them pay you twenty
per cent. royalty.”
“Theyll pay it through the nose,” said Mark emphatically.
Gregory laughed. “You feel as virtuously indignant as if you had never
tried to do anybody yourself. Its do or be done out West as well as
back East, and precious few mines have a clean history. Marcus Daly
never would have got the best part of Butte Hill if he hadnt kept his
mouth shut.”
“It isnt that Im so virtuous,” said Mark ingenuously, “but I dont
like the idea that anybody so nearly got the best of me. And just look
at the way they covered it up.”
Gregory had kicked aside the greater part of a pile of grey ore, and
revealed quite a hillock of the pyroxenite. He put several pieces in
his pocket, discarding the first specimens. “Ill get to work on this
tonight,” he said, “and let you know first thing in the morning. But
Im willing to wager that it runs from sixty to a hundred dollars a
“And not a fleck of gold to be seen!” Mark, who, like all intelligent
men of mining localities, had some knowledge of ores, examined the dark
rock attentively. “Theyre some geologists,” he added with unwilling
admiration. “This would fool any ordinary mining engineer. Say!” he
cried, “Ill not tell Ora until shes ready to leave--shes figuring on
going to Europe in the fall. It will be the surprise of her life, for
I led her to think shed get only a hundred or so a month. Dont say a
word about it to Ida.”
Gregory turned away to hide a curl of his lip. “I suppose wed better
go over and see Oakley, as were so close,” he said. “Hell probably
talk for an hour on his hobby, but any knowledge comes in useful to a
“Whats he done.”
“He figured out that Iowa and the Dakotas and Kansas were likely to
have a drought next year, so he will sow about five hundred acres with
flax in May. He has already put in about three hundred acres of winter
wheat. The bottoms are reserved for alfalfa. He raises the capital and
gets half profits. If it turns out as he expects hell have something
at the end of a year to live on besides enthusiasm for intensive
* * * * *
They were driving toward Pony two hours later when Gregory said