Overton sat silent and thoughtful
for a little while after Mrs. Huzzard’s words.
Then he glanced up and smiled at her.
“I’ve just been getting
an idea of the direction your fancies are taking,”
he said mockingly, “and they’re very pretty,
but I reckon you’ll change them to oblige me;
what I’m doing for her is what I’d do for
any other child left alone. But as this child
doesn’t happen to be a boy, I can’t take
it on the trail, and a ranger like me is not fit to
look after her, anyway. I think I told you before,
I’m not a marrying man, and she, of course,
would not look at me if I was; so what does it matter
about her thinking of me? Of course, she won’t it
ain’t my intention. Even if she leaves
these diggings some day and forgets all about me, just
as the young wolves or wildcats do well,
what difference? I’ve helped old bums all
over the country, and never heard or wanted to hear
of them again, and I’m sure it’s more
worth one’s while to help a young girl.
Now, you’re a nice little woman, Mrs. Huzzard,
and I like you. But if you and I are to keep
on being good friends, don’t you speak like that
about the child and me. It’s very foolish.
If she should hear it, she’d leave us some fine
night, and we’d never learn her address.”
Then he put on his hat, nodded to
her, and walked out of the door as though averse to
any further discussion of the subject.
“Bums all over the country!”
repeated Mrs. Huzzard, looking after him darkly.
“Well, Mr. Dan Overton, it’s well for you
that ward of yours, as you call her, wasn’t
near enough to hear that speech. And you’re
not a marrying man, are you? Well, well, I guess
there’s many a man and woman, too, goes through
life and don’t know what they might be, just
because they never meet with the right person who
could help them to learn, and you’re just of
that sort. Not a marrying man! Humph!
When there’s not a better favored one along
this valley that there ain’t.”
She fidgeted about the dinner preparations,
filled with a puzzled impatience as to why Dan Overton
should thus decidedly state that he was not one of
the men to marry, though all the rest of the world
might fall into the popular habit if they chose.
“It’s the natural ambition
of creation,” she declared in confidence to the
dried peach-pie she was slipping from the oven.
“Of course, being as I’m a widow myself,
I can’t just make that statement to men folks
promiscuous like. But it’s true, and every
man ought to know it’s true, and why Dan Overton ”
She paused in the midst of her soliloquy,
and dropped into the nearest chair, while a light
of comprehension illuminated her broad face.
“To think it never came in my
mind before,” she ejaculated. “That’s
it! Poor boy! he’s had a girl somewhere
and she’s died, I suppose, or married some other
fellow; and that’s why he’s a bachelor
at nearly thirty, I guess,” she added, thoughtfully.
“She must have died, and that’s why he
never looks as gay or goes on larks with the other
boys. He just goes on a lone trail mostly, Dan
does. Even his own stepfather don’t seem
to have much knowledge about him. Well, well!
I always did feel that he had some sort of trouble
lookin’ out of them dark eyes of his, and his
words to-day makes it plain to me all at once.
The pensive expression of her face,
as it rested on her fat hand, was evidence that Lorena
Jane Huzzard had, after all, found a romance in real
life suited to her fancy, and the unconscious hero
was Dan Overton. Poor Dan!
The grieving hero to whom her thoughts
went out was at that moment walking in a most prosaic,
lazy fashion down the main thoroughfare of the settlement.
The road led down to the Ferry from seemingly nowhere
in particular, for from the Ferry on both sides of
the river the road dwindled into mere trails that
slipped away into the wildernesses trails
traveled by few of the white race until a few short
years ago, and then only by the most daring of hunters,
or the most persevering of the gold-seekers.
In the paths where gold is found the
dwellings of man soon follow, and the quickly erected
shanties and more pretentious buildings of Sinna Ferry
had grown there as evidence that the precious metals
in that region were no longer visionary things of
the enthusiasts, but veritable facts. The men
who came to it along the water, or over the inland
trails, were all in some way connected with the opening
up of the new mining fields.
Overton himself had drifted up there
as an independent prospector, two years before.
Then, when works were got under way all along that
river and lake region, when a reliable man was needed
by the transfer company to get specie to their men
for pay-days, it was Overton to whom was given the
Various responsible duties he had
little by little shouldered, until, as Lyster said,
he seemed a necessity to a large area, yet he had not
quite abandoned the dreams with which he had entered
those cool Northern lands. Some day, when the
country was more settled and transportation easier,
it was his intention to slip again up into the mountains,
along some little streams he knew, and work out there
in quietness his theories as to where the gold was
to be found.
Meantime, he was contented enough
with his lot. No vaulting ambition touched him.
He was merely a ranger of the Kootenai country, and
was as welcome in the scattered lodges of the Indians
as he was in the camps of the miners. He even
wore clothes of Indian make, perhaps for the novelty
of them, or perhaps because the buckskin was better
suited than cloth to the wild trails over which he
rode. And if, at times, he drifted into talk
of existence beyond the frontier, and gave one an idea
that he had drunk of worldly life deep enough to be
tired of it, those times were rare; even Lyster had
but once known him to make reference to it that
one evening after their ride along the falls of the
But however tired he might at some
time have grown of the life of cities, he was not
at all too blase to accommodate himself to Sinna
Ferry. If poor Mrs. Huzzard had seen the very
hearty drink of whisky with which he refreshed himself
after his talk with her, she would not have been so
apt to think of him with such pensive sympathy.
The largest and most popular saloon
was next door to the postoffice, the care of which
Dan had secured for his stepfather, as the duties of
it were just about as arduous as any that gentleman
would deign to accept. The mail came every two
weeks, and its magnitude was of the fourth-class order.
No one else wanted it, for a man would have to possess
some other means of livelihood before he could undertake
it, but the captain accepted it with the attitude
of a veteran who was a martyr to his country.
As to the other means of livelihood, that did not
cause him much troubled thought, since he had chanced
to fall in Dan’s way just as Dan was starting
up to the Kootenai country, and Dan had been the “other
means” ever since.
The captain watched Overton gulp down
the “fire-water,” while he himself sipped
his with the appreciation of a gentleman of leisure.
“You didn’t use to drink
so early in the day,” the captain remarked, with
a certain watchful malice in his face. “Are
your cares as a guardian wearing on your nerves, and
bringing a need of stimulants?”
Overton wheeled about as though to
fling the whisky-glass across at the speaker; but
the gallant captain, perceiving that he had overreached
his stepson’s patience, promptly dodged around
the end of the bar, squatting close to the floor.
Overton, leaning over to look at him, only laughed
contemptuously, and set the glass down again.
“You’re not worth the
price of the glass,” he decided, amused in spite
of himself at the fear in the pale-blue eyes.
Even the flowing side-whiskers betrayed a sort of
alarm in their bristling alertness. “And
if it wasn’t that one good woman fancied you
were true metal instead of slag, I’d ”
He did not complete the sentence,
leaving the captain in doubt as to his half-expressed
“Get up there!” Dan suddenly
exclaimed. “Now, you think you will annoy
me about that guardianship until I’ll give it
up, don’t you?” he said, more quietly,
as the captain once more stood erect, but in a wavering,
uncertain way. “Well, you’re mightily
mistaken, and you might as well end your childish
interference right here. The girl is as much entitled
to my consideration as you are more!
So if any one is dropped out of the family circle,
it will not be her. Do you understand? And
if I hear another word of your insinuations about
her amusements, I’ll break your neck! Two,
This last was to the barkeeper, and
had reference to a half-dollar he tossed on the counter
as payment for his own drink and that of the captain;
and again he stalked into the street with his temper
even more rumpled than when he left Mrs. Huzzard’s.
Assuredly it was not a good morning
for Mr. Overton’s peace of mind.
Down along the river he came in sight
of the cause of his discontent, the most innocent-looking
cause in the world. She was teaching Lyster to
paddle the canoe with but one paddle, as the Indians
do, and was laughing derisively at his ineffectual
attempts to navigate in a straight line.
“You promised Mrs.
Huzzard you’d take care of me,”
she said, slowly and emphatically, “and a pretty
way you’re doing it. Suppose I depended
on you getting me in to shore for my dinner, how many
hours do you think I’d have to go without eating?
Just about sixteen. Give me that paddle, and
don’t upset the canoe when you move.”
These commands Mr. Lyster obeyed with alacrity.
“What a clever little girl you
are!” he said, admiringly, as she sent the canoe
skimming straight as a swallow for the shore.
“Now, Overton would appreciate your skill at
this sort of work” and then he laughed
a little “much more than he would
your modeling in clay.”
A dark flush crept over her face,
and her lips straightened.
“Why shouldn’t he look
down on that sort of pottering around?” she
demanded. “He isn’t the sort of
man who has time to waste on trifles.”
“Why that emphasis on the he?”
asked her tormentor. “Do you mean to insinuate
that I do waste time on trifles? Well, well! is
that the way I get snubbed, because I grow enthusiastic
over your artistic modeling and your most charming
voice, Miss ’Tana?”
She flashed one sulky, suspicious
look at him, and paddled on in silence.
“What a stormy shadow lurks
somewhere back of your eyes,” he continued,
lazily. “One moment you are all sugar and
cream to a fellow, and the next you are an incipient
tornado. I think you might distribute your frowns
a little among the people you know, and not give them
all to me. Now, there’s Overton ”
“Don’t you talk about
him,” she commanded, sharply. “You
do a lot of making fun about folks, but don’t
you go on making fun of him, if that’s what
you’re trying to do. If it’s me pooh!”
and she looked at him, saucily. “I don’t
care much what you think about me; but Dan ”
“Oh! Dan, then, happens
to-day to be one of the saints in your calendar, and
plain mortals like myself must not take his name in
vain is that it? What a change from
this time yesterday! for I don’t think
you sent him to the hills in a very angelic mood.
And you! well, I found you with a clay
Indian crumbled to pieces in your destroying hands;
so I don’t imagine Dan’s talk to you left
a very peaceful impression.”
He laughed at her teasingly, expecting
to see her show temper again, but she did not.
She only bent her head a little lower, and when she
lifted it, she looked at him with a certain daring.
“He was right, and I was silly,
I guess. He was good so good, and I’m
mostly bad. I was bad to him, anyway, but I ain’t
too much of a baby to say so. And if he’s
mad at me when he comes back, I’ll just pack
my traps and take another trail.”
“Back to Akkomi?” he asked,
gaily. “Now, you know we would not hear
“It ain’t your affair, only Dan’s.”
“Oh, excuse me for living on
the same earth with you and Dan! It is not my
fault, you know. I suppose now, if you did desert
us, it would be to act as a sort of guardian angel
to the tribes along the river, turn into a whole life-saving
service yourself, and pick up the superfluous reds
who tumble into the rivers. I wondered for a
whole day why you made so strong a swim for so unimportant
“His mother thought he was important,”
she answered. “But I didn’t know he
had a mother just then; all I thought as I started
for him was that he was so plucky. He tried his
little best to save himself, and he never said one
word; that was what I liked about him. It would
have been a pity to let that sort of a boy be lost.”
“You think a heap of that of
personal bravery don’t you? I
notice you gauge every one by that.”
“Maybe I do. I know I hate
a coward,” she said, indifferently.
Then, as the canoe ran in to the shore,
she for the first time saw Overton, who was standing
there waiting for them. She looked at him with
startled alertness as his eyes met hers. He looked
like a statue a frontier sentinel standing
tall and muscular with folded arms and gazing with
curious intentness from one to the other of the canoeists.
In the bottom of the boat a string
of fish lay, fine speckled fellows, to delight the
palate of an epicure. She stooped and picking
up the fish, walked across the sands to him.
“Look, Dan!” she said,
with unwonted humility. “They’re the
best I could find, and and I’m sorry
enough for being ugly yesterday. I’ll try
not to be any more. I’ll do anything you
want yes, I will!” she added, snappishly,
as he smiled dubiously, she thought unbelievingly.
“I’d dress like a boy, and
go on the trails with you, paddle your canoe, or feed
your horse I would, if you like.”
Lyster, who was following, heard her
words, and glanced at Overton with curious meaning.
Overton met the look with something like a threat in
his own eyes a sort of “laugh if
“But I don’t like,”
Dan said, briefly, to poor ’Tana, who had made
such a great effort to atone for ugly words spoken
to him the day before.
She said no more; and Lyster, walking
beside her, pulled one of her unruly curls teasingly,
to make her look at him.
“Didn’t I tell you it
was better to give your smiles to me instead of to
Overton?” he asked, in a bantering way, as he
took the string of fish. “I care a great
deal more about your good opinion than he does.”
“Oh you ”
she began, and shrugged her shoulders for a silent
finish to her thought, as though words were useless.
“Oh, me! Of course,
me. Now, if you had offered to paddle a canoe
for me, I’d ”
“You’d loll in the bottom
of the boat and let me,” she flashed out.
“Of course you would; you’re made just
“Sh h, ’Tana,”
said Overton, while to himself he smiled in an indulgent
way, and thought: “That is like youth; they
only quarrel when there is a listener.”
Then turning to the girl, he said aloud:
“You know, ’Tana, I want
you to learn other things besides paddling a canoe.
Such things are all right for a boy; but ”
“I know,” she agreed;
but there was a resentful tone in her voice. “And
I guess I’ll never trouble you to do squaw’s
work for you again.”
She looked squaw-like, but for her
brown, curly hair, for she still wore the dress Overton
had presented to her at the Kootenai village; and very
becoming it was with its fancy fringes and dots of
yellow, green, and black beads. Only the hat
was a civilized affair the work of Mrs.
Huzzard, and was a wide, pretty “flat”
of brown straw, while from its crown some bunches
of yellow rosebuds nodded the very last
“artificial” blossoms left of Sinna Ferry’s
first millinery store. The young face looked
very piquant above the beaded collar; not so pinched
or worn a face as when the men had first seen her.
The one week of sheltered content had given her cheeks
a fullness and color remarkable. She was prettier
than either man had imagined she would be. But
it was not a joyous, girlish face even yet. There
was too much of something like suspicion in it, a
certain watchful attention given to the people with
whom she came in contact; and this did not seem to
abate in the least. Overton had noticed it, and
decided that first night that she must have been treated
badly by people to have distrust come so readily to
her. He noticed, also, that any honest show of
kindness soon won her over; and that to Lyster, with
his graceful little attentions and his amused interest,
she turned from the first hour of their acquaintance
as to some chum who was in the very inner circle of
those to whom her favor was extended. Overton,
hearing their wordy wars and noting their many remarks
of friendship, felt old, as though their light enjoyment
of little things made him realize the weight of his
own years, for he could no longer laugh with them.
Looking down now at the clouded young
face under the hat, he felt remorsefully like a “kill-joy;”
for she had been cheery enough until she caught sight
“And you will never do squaw
work for me again, little squaw?” Dan questioned,
banteringly. “Not even if I asked you?”
“You never will ask me,” she answered,
“Well, then, not even if I should get sick and
need a nurse?”
“You!” and she surveyed
him from head to foot with pronounced unbelief. “You’ll
never be sick. You’re strong as a mountain
lion, or an old king buffalo.”
“Maybe,” he agreed, and
smiled slightly at the dubious compliment. “But
you know even the old king buffaloes die sometime.”
“Die? Oh, yes, in a fight,
or something of that sort; but they don’t need
“And even if you did,”
said Lyster, addressing Overton, “I’m going
to give you fair warning you can’t depend on
’Tana, unless you mend your ways. She threatened
to-day to leave us, if you allow the shadow of your
anger to fall on her again. So take heed, or
she will swim back to Akkomi.”
Overton looked at her sharply, and
saw that back of Lyster’s badinage there was
something of truth.
“You did?” he asked, reproachfully.
“I did not know I had been so bad a friend to
you as that.”
But no answer was made to him.
She was ashamed, and she looked it. She was also
angry at Lyster, and he was made aware of it by a withering
“Now I’m in her
bad books,” he complained; “but it was
only my fear of losing her that urged me to give you
warning. I hope she does not take revenge by
refusing me all the dances I am looking forward to
to-night. I’d like to get you, as her guardian,
on my side, Overton.”
The girl looked up, expectantly, and
rested her slim fingers on the arms of the two men.
“I could not be of much use,
unless I had an invitation myself to the dance,”
Dan remarked, dryly; “mine has evidently been
delayed in the mail.”
“You don’t like it?”
said the girl, detecting the fact in his slight change
of tone. “You don’t want me to go
“What an idea!” exclaimed
Lyster. “Of course, he is not going to spoil
our good time by objecting are you, Dan?
I never thought of that. You see, you were away;
but, of course, I fancied you would like it, too.
I’ll write you out a flourishing request for
your presence, if that’s all.”
“It isn’t necessary; I’ll
be there, I reckon. But why should you think I
mean to keep you from jollifications?” he asked,
looking kindly at ’Tana. “Don’t
get the idea in your head that I’m a sort of
’Bad Man from Roaring River,’ who eats
a man or so for breakfast every day, and all the little
girls he comes across. No, indeed! I’ll
whistle for you to dance any time; so get on your
war-paint and feathers when it pleases you.”
The prospect seemed to please her,
for she walked closer to him and looked up at him
with more content.
“Anyway, you ain’t like
Captain Leek,” she decided. “He’s
the worst old baby! Why, he just said all sorts
of things about dances. Guess he must be a heavy
swell where he comes from, and where all the fandangoes
are got up in gilt-edged style. I’d like
to spoil the gilt for him a little. I will, too,
if he preaches any more of his la-de-da
society rules to me. I’ll show him I’m
a different boy from Mrs. Huzzard.”
“Now, what would you do?”
asked Lyster. “He wouldn’t trust himself
in a boat with you, so you can’t drown him.”
“Don’t want to. Huh!
I wouldn’t want to be lynched for him.
All I’d like to hit hard would be his good opinion
of himself. I could, too, if Dan wouldn’t
“If you can, you’re a
wonder,” remarked Dan. “And I’ll
give you license to do what I confess I can’t.
But I think you might take us into your confidence.”
This she would not do, and escaped
all their questions, by taking refuge in Mrs. Huzzard’s
best room, and much of her afternoon was spent there
under that lady’s surveillance, fashioning a
party gown with which to astonish the natives.
For Mrs. Huzzard would not consent to her appearing
in the savageness of an Indian dress, when the occasion
was one of importance namely, the first
dance in the settlement held in the house of a respectable
And as ’Tana stitched, and gathered,
and fashioned the dress, according to Mrs. Huzzard’s
orders, she fashioned at the same time a little plan
of her own in which the personality of Captain Leek
was to figure.
If Mrs. Huzzard fancied that her silent
smiles were in anticipation of the dancing festivities,
she was much mistaken.