The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Colorado

Brady Cyrus Townsend
The Chalice Of Courage: A Romance of Colorado

He had built his cabin on a level shelf of rock perhaps fifty by a hundred feet in area. It was backed up against an overtowering cliff, otherwise the rock fell away in every direction. She divined that the descent from the shelf into the pocket or valley spread before her was sheer, except off to the right where a somewhat gentler acclivity of huge and broken boulders gave a practicable ascent – a sort of titantic stairs – to the place perched on the mountain side. The shelf was absolutely bare save for the cabin and a few huge boulders. There were a few sparse, stunted trees further up on the mountain side above; a few hundred feet beyond them, however, came the timber line, after which there was nothing but the naked rock.

Below several hundred feet lay a clear emerald pool, whose edges were bordered by pines where it was not dominated by high cliffs. Already the lakelet was rimmed with ice on the shaded side. This enchanting little body of water was fed by the melting snow from the crest and peaks, which in the clear pure sunshine and rarefied air of the mountains seemed to rise and confront her within a stone's throw of the place where she stood.

On one side of the lake in the valley or pocket beneath there was a little grassy clearing, and there this dweller in the wilderness had built a rude corral for the burros. On a rough bench by the side of the door she saw the primitive conveniences to which he had alluded. The water was delightfully soft and as it had stood exposed to the sun's direct rays for some time, although the air was exceedingly crisp and cold, it was tempered sufficiently to be merely cool and agreeable. She luxuriated in it for a few moments and while she had her face buried in the towel, rough, coarse, but clean, she heard a step. She looked up in time to see the man lay down upon the bench a small mirror and a clean comb. He said nothing as he did so and she had no opportunity to thank him before he was gone. The thoughtfulness of the act affected her strangely and she was very glad of a chance to unbraid her hair, comb it out and plait it again. She had not a hair pin left of course, and all she could do with it was to replait it and let it hang upon her shoulders; her coiffure would have looked very strange to civilization, but out there in the mountains, it was eminently appropriate.

Without noticing details the man felt the general effect as she limped back into the room toward the table. Her breakfast was ready for her; it was a coarse fare, bacon, a baked potato hard tack crisped before the fire, coffee black and strong, with sugar but no cream. The dishes matched the fare, too, yet she noticed that the fork was of silver and by her plate there was a napkin, rough dried but of fine linen. The man had just set the brimming smoking coffee pot on the table when she appeared.

"I am sorry I have no cream," he said, and then before she could make comment or reply, he turned and walked out of the door, his purpose evidently being not to embarrass her by his presence while she ate.

Enid Maitland had grown to relish the camp fare, bringing to it the appetite of good health and exertion. She had never eaten anything that tasted so good to her as that rude meal that morning, yet she would have enjoyed it better, she thought, if he had only shared it with her, if she had not been compelled to eat it alone. She hastened her meal on that account, determined as soon as she had finished her breakfast to seek the man and have some definite understanding with him.

And after all she reflected that she was better alone than in his presence, for there would come stealing into her thoughts the distressing episode of the morning before, try as she would to put it out of her mind. Well, she was a fairly sensible girl, the matter was passed, it could not be helped now, she would forget it as much as was possible. She would recur to it with mortification later on, but the present was so full of grave problems that there was not any room for the past.

CHAPTER XIV
A TOUR OF INSPECTION

The first thing necessary, she decided, when she had satisfied her hunger and finished her meal, was to get word of her plight and her resting place to her uncle and the men of the party; and the next thing was to get away, where she would never see this man again and perhaps be able to forget what had transpired – yet there was a strange pang of pain in her heart at that thought!

No man on earth had ever so stimulated her curiosity as this one. Who was he? Why was he there? Who was the woman whose picture he had so quickly taken from her gaze? Why had so splendid a man buried himself alone in that wilderness? These reflections were presently interrupted by the reappearance of the man himself.

"Have you finished?" he asked unceremoniously, standing in the doorway as he spoke.

"Yes, thank you, and it was very good indeed."

Dismissing this politeness with a wave of his hand but taking no other notice, he spoke again.

"If you will tell me your name – "

"Maitland, Enid Maitland."

"Miss Maitland?"

The girl nodded.

"And where you came from, I will endeavor to find your party and see what can be done to restore you to them."

"We were camped down that cañon at a place where another brook, a large one, flows into it, several miles I should think below the place where – "

She was going to say "where you found me," but the thought of the way in which he had found her rushed over her again; and this time with his glance directly upon her, although it was as cold and dispassionate and indifferent as a man's look could well be, the recollection of the meeting to which she had been about to allude rushed over her with an accompanying wave of color which heightened her beauty as it covered her with shame.

She could not realize that beneath his mask of indifference so deliberately worn, the man was as agitated as she, not so much at the remembrance of anything that had transpired, but at the sight, the splendid picture, of the woman as she stood, there in the little cabin then. It seemed to him as if she gathered up in her own person all the radiance and light and beauty, all the purity and freshness and splendor of the morning, to shine and dazzle in his face. As she hesitated in confusion, perhaps comprehending its causes he helped out her lame and halting sentence.

"I know the cañon well," he said. "I think I know the place to which you refer; is it just about where the river makes an enormous bend upon itself?"

"Yes, that is it. In that clearing we have been camped for ten days. My uncle must be crazy with anxiety to know what has become of me and – "

The man interposed.

"I will go there directly," he said. "It is now half after ten. That place is about seven miles or more from here across the range, fifteen or twenty by the river; I shall be back by nightfall. The cabin is your own."

He turned away without another word.

"Wait," said the woman, "I am afraid to stay here."

She had been fearless enough before in these mountains but her recent experiences had somehow unsettled her nerves.

"There is nothing on earth to hurt you, I think," returned the man. "There isn't a human being, so far as I know, in these mountains."

"Except my uncle's party."

He nodded.

"But there might be another – bear," she added desperately, forcing herself.

"Not likely, and they wouldn't come here if there were any. That's the first grizzly I have seen in years," he went on unconcernedly, studiously looking away from her, not to add to her confusion at the remembrance of that awful episode which would obtrude itself on every occasion. "You can use a rifle or gun?"

She nodded; he stepped over to the wall and took down the Winchester which he handed her.

"This one is ready for service, and you will find a revolver on the shelf. There is only one possible way of access to this cabin, that's down those rock stairs; one man, one woman, a child even, with these weapons could hold it against an army."

"Couldn't I go with you?"

"On that foot?"

Enid pressed her wounded foot upon the ground; it was not so painful when resting, but she found she could not walk a step on it without great suffering.

"I might carry you part of the way," said the man. "I carried you last night, but it would be impossible, all of it."

"Promise me that you will be back by nightfall with Uncle Bob and – "

"I shall be back by nightfall, but I can't promise that I will bring anybody with me."

"You mean?"

"You saw what the cloud burst nearly did for you," was the quick answer. "If they did not get out of that pocket there is nothing left of them now."

"But they must have escaped," persisted the girl, fighting down her alarm at this blunt statement of possible peril. "Besides, Uncle Robert and most of the rest were climbing one of the peaks and – "

"They will be all right then, but if I am to find the place and tell them your story, I must go now."

He turned and without another word or a backward glance scrambled down the hill. The girl limped to the brink of the cliff over which he had plunged and stared after him. She watched him as long as she could see him until he was lost among the trees. If she had anybody else to depend upon she would certainly have felt differently toward him. When Uncle Robert and her Aunt and the children and old Kirkby and the rest surrounded her again she could hate that man in spite of all he had done for her, but now, as she stared after him determinedly making his way down the mountain and through the trees, it was with difficulty she could restrain herself from calling him back.

The silence was most oppressive, the loneliness was frightful; she had been alone before in these mountains, but from choice; now the fact that there was no escape from them made the sensation a very different one.

 

She sat down and brooded over her situation until she felt that if she did not do something and in some way divert her thoughts she would break down again. He had said that the cabin and its contents were hers. She resolved to inspect them more closely. She hobbled back into the great room and looked about her again. There was nothing that demanded careful scrutiny; she wasn't quite sure whether she was within the proprieties or not, but she seized the oldest and most worn of the volumes on the shelf. It was a text book on mining and metallurgy she observed, and opening it at the fly leaf, across the page she saw written in a firm vigorous masculine hand a name, "William Berkeley Newbold," and beneath these words, "Thayer Hall, Harvard," and a date some seven years back.

The owner of that book, whether the present possessor or not, had been a college man. Say that he had graduated at twenty-one or twenty-two, he would be twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old now, but if so, why that white hair? Perhaps though the book did not belong to the man of the cabin.

She turned to other books on the shelf. Many of them were technical books which she had sufficient general culture to realize could be only available to a man highly educated and a special student of mines and mining – a mining engineer, she decided, with a glance at those instruments and appliances of a scientific character plainly, but of whose actual use she was ignorant.

A rapid inspection of the other books confirmed her in the conclusion that the man of the mountains was indeed the owner of the collection. There were a few well worn volumes of poetry and essays. A Bible, Shakespeare, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Tennyson, Keats, a small dictionary, a compendious encyclopedia, just the books, she thought, smiling at her conceit, that a man of education and culture would want to have upon a desert island where his supply of literature would be limited.

The old ones were autographed as the first book she had looked in; others, newer editions to the little library if she could judge by their condition, were unsigned.

Into the corner cupboard and the drawers of course she did not look. There was nothing else in the room to attract her attention, save some piles of manuscript neatly arranged on one of the shelves, each one covered with a square of board and kept in place by pieces of glistening quartz. There were four of these piles and another half the size of the first four on the table. These of course she did not examine, further than to note that the writing was in the same bold free hand as the signature in the books. If she had been an expert she might have deduced much from the writing; as it was she fancied it was strong, direct, manly.

Having completed her inspection of this room, she opened the door and went into the other; it was smaller and less inviting. It had only one window and a door opening outside. There was a cook stove here and shelves with cooking utensils and granite ware, and more rude box receptacles on the walls which were filled with a bountiful and well selected store of canned goods and provisions of various kinds. This was evidently the kitchen, supply room, china closet. She saw no sign of a bed in it and wondered where and how the man had spent the night.

By rights her mind should have been filled with her uncle and his party and in their alarm she should have shared, but she was so extremely comfortable, except for her foot, which did not greatly trouble her so long as she kept it quiet, that she felt a certain degree of contentment not to say happiness. The Adventure was so romantic and thrilling – save for those awful moments in the pool – especially to the soul of a conventional woman who had been brought up in the most humdrum and stereotyped fashion of the earth's ways, and with never an opportunity for the development of the spirit of romance which all of us exhibit some time in our life and which thank God some of us never lose, that she found herself reveling in it.

She lost herself in pleasing imaginations of the tales of her adventures that she could tell when she got back to her uncle and when she got further back to staid old Philadelphia. How shocked everybody would be with it all there! Of course she resolved that she would never mention one episode of that terrible day, and she had somehow absolute confidence that this man, in spite of his grim, gruff taciturnity, who had shown himself so exceedingly considerate of her feelings would never mention it either.

She had so much food for thought, that not even in the late afternoon of the long day, could she force her mind to the printed pages of the book she had taken at random from the shelf which lay open before her, where she sat in the sun, her head covered by an old "Stetson" that she had ventured to appropriate. She had dragged a bear skin out on the rocks in the sun and sat curled up on it half reclining against a boulder watching the trail, the Winchester by her side. She had eaten so late a breakfast that she had made a rather frugal lunch out of whatever had taken her fancy in the store room, and she was waiting most anxiously now for the return of the man.

The season was late and the sun sank behind the peaks quite early in the afternoon, and it grew dark and chill long before the shadows fell upon the dwellers of the lowlands.

Enid drew the bear skin around her and waited with an ever growing apprehension. If she should be compelled to spend the night alone in that cabin, she felt that she could not endure it. She was never so glad of anything in her life as when she saw him suddenly break out of the woods and start up the steep trail, and for a moment her gladness was not tempered by the fact, which she was presently to realize with great dismay, that as he had gone, so he now returned, alone.

CHAPTER XV
THE CASTAWAYS OF THE MOUNTAINS

The man was evidently seeking her, for so soon as he caught sight of her he broke into a run and came bounding up the steep ascent with the speed and agility of a chamois or a mountain sheep. As he approached the girl rose to her feet and supported herself upon the boulder against which she had been leaning, at the same time extending her hand to greet him.

"Oh," she cried, her voice rising nervously as he drew near, "I am so glad you are back, another hour of loneliness and I believe I should have gone crazy."

Now whether that joy in his return was for him, personally or for him abstractly, he could not tell; whether she was glad that he had come back simply because he was a human being who would relieve her loneliness or whether she rejoiced to see him individually, was a matter not yet to be determined. He hoped the latter, he believed the former. At any rate he caught and held her outstretched hand in the warm clasp of both his own. Burning words of greeting rushed to his lips torrentially, what he said, however, was quite commonplace; as is so often the case, thought and outward speech did not correspond.

"It's too cold for you out here, you must go into the house at once," he declared masterfully and she obeyed with unwonted meekness.

The sun had set and the night air had grown suddenly chill. Still holding her hand they started toward the cabin a few rods away. Her wounded foot was of little support to her and the excitement had unnerved her; in spite of his hand she swayed; without a thought he caught her about the waist and half lifted, half led her to the door. It seemed as natural as it was inevitable for him to assist her in this way and in her weakness and bewilderment she suffered it without comment or resistance. Indeed there was such strength and power in his arm, she was so secure there, that she liked it. As for him his pulses were bounding at the contact; but for that matter even to look at her quickened his heart beat.

Entering the main room he led her gently to one of the chairs near the table and immediately thereafter lighted the fire which he had taken the precaution to lay before his departure. It had been dark in the cabin, but the fire soon filled it with glorious light. She watched him at his task and as he rose from the hearth questioned him.

"Now tell me," she began, "you found – "

"First your supper, and then the story," he answered, turning toward the door of the other room.

"No," pleaded the girl, "can't you see that nothing is of any importance to me but the story? Did you find the camp?"

"I found the place where it had been."

"Where it had been!"

"There wasn't a single vestige of it left. That whole pocket, I knew it well, had been swept clean by the flood."

"But Kirkby, and Mrs. Maitland and – "

"They weren't there."

"Did you search for them?"

"Certainly."

"But they can't have been drowned," she exclaimed piteously.

"Of course not," he began reassuringly. "Kirkby is a veteran of these mountains and – "

"But do you know him?" queried the girl in great surprise.

"I did once," said the man, flushing darkly at his admission. "I haven't seen him for five years."

So that was the measure of his isolation, thought the woman, keen for the slightest evidence as to her companion's history, of which, by the way, he meant to tell her nothing.

"Well?" she asked, breaking the pause.

"Kirkby would certainly see the cloudburst coming and he would take the people with him in the camp up on the hogback near it. It is far above the flood line, they would be quite safe there."

"And did you look for them there?"

"I did. The trail had been washed out, but I scrambled up and found undisputed evidence that my surmise was correct. I haven't a doubt that all who were in the camp were saved."

"Thank God for that," said the girl, greatly relieved and comforted by his reassuring words. "And my uncle, Mr. Robert Maitland, and the rest on the mountain, what do you think of them?"

"I am sure that they must have escaped too. I don't think any of them have suffered more than a thorough drenching in the downpour and that they are all safe and perhaps on their way to the settlements now."

"But they wouldn't go back without searching for me, would they?" cried the girl.

"Certainly not, I suppose they are searching for you now."

"Well then – "

"Wait," said the man. "You started down the cañon, you told everybody that you were going that way. They naturally searched in that direction; they hadn't the faintest idea that you were going up the river."

"No," admitted Enid, "that is true. I did not tell anyone. I didn't dream of going up the cañon when I started out in the morning; it was the result of a sudden impulse."

"God bless that – " burst out the man and then he checked himself, flushing again, darkly.

What had he been about to say? The question flashed into his own mind and into the woman's mind at the same time when she heard, the incompleted sentence; but she, too, checked the question that rose to her lips.

"This is the way I figure it," continued the man hurriedly to cover up his confusion. "They fancy themselves alone in these mountains, which save for me they are; they believe you to have gone down the cañon. Kirkby with Mrs. Maitland and the others waited on the ridge until Mr. Maitland and his party joined them. They couldn't have saved very much to eat or wear from the camp, they were miles from a settlement, they probably divided into two parties; the larger with the woman and children started for home, the second went down the cañon searching for your dead body!"

"And had it not been for you," cried the girl impulsively, "they had found it."

"God permitted me to be of service to you," answered the man simply. "I can follow their speculations exactly; up or down, they believed you to have been in the cañon when the storm broke, therefore there was only one place and one direction to search for you."

"And that was?"

"Down the cañon."

"What did you do then?"

"I went down the cañon myself. I think I saw evidences that someone had preceded me, too."

"Did you overtake them!"

"Certainly not; they traveled as rapidly as I, they must have started early in the morning and they had several hours the advantage of me."

"But they must have stopped somewhere for the night and – "

"Yes," answered the man. "If I had had only myself to consider, I should have pressed on through the night and overtaken them when they camped."

"Only yourself?"

 

"You made me promise to return here by nightfall. I don't know whether I should have obeyed you or not. I kept on as long as I dared and still leave myself time to get back to you by dark."

She had no idea of the desperate speed he had made to reach her while it was still daylight.

"If you hadn't come when you did, I should have died," cried the girl impetuously. "You did perfectly right. I don't think I am a coward, I hope not, I never was afraid before, but – "

"Don't apologize or explain to me, it's not necessary; I understand everything you feel. It was only because I had given you my word to be back by sunset that I left off following their trail. I was afraid that you might think me dead or that something had happened and – "

"I should, I did," admitted the girl. "It wasn't so bad during the day time, but when the sun went down and you did not come I began to imagine everything. I saw myself left alone here in these mountains, helpless, wounded, without a human being to speak to. I could not bear it."

"But I have been here alone for five years," said the man grimly.

"That's different. I don't know why you have chosen solitude, but I – "

"You are a woman," returned the other gently, "and you have suffered, that accounts for everything."

"Thank you," said Enid gratefully. "And I am so glad you came back to me."

"Back to you," reiterated the man and then he stopped. If he had allowed his heart to speak he would have said, back to you from the very ends of the world – "But I want you to believe that I honestly did not leave the trail until the ultimate moment," he added.

"I do believe it," she extended her hand to him. "You have been very good to me, I trust you absolutely."

And for the second time he took that graceful, dainty, aristocratic hand in his own larger, stronger, firmer grasp. His face flushed again; under other circumstances and in other days perhaps he might have kissed that hand; as it was he only held it for a moment and then gently released it.

"And you think they are searching for me?" she asked.

"I know it. I am sure of what I myself would do for one I love – I loved I mean, and they – "

"And they will find me?"

The man shook his head.

"I am afraid they will be convinced that you have gone down with the flood. Didn't you have a cap or – "

"Yes," said the woman, "and a sweater. The bear you shot covered the sweater with blood. I could not put it on again."

As she spoke she flushed a glorious crimson at the remembrance of that meeting, but the man was looking away with studied care. She thanked him in her heart for such generous and kindly consideration.

"They will have gone down the stream with the rest, and it's just possible that the searchers may find them, the body of the bear too. This river ends in a deep mountain lake and I think it is going to snow, it will be frozen hard to-morrow."

"And they will think me – there?"

"I am afraid so."

"And they won't come up here?"

"It is scarcely possible."

"Oh!" exclaimed the woman faintly at the dire possibility that she might not be found.

"I took an empty bottle with me," said the man, breaking the silence, "in which I had enclosed a paper saying that you were here and safe, save for your wounded foot, and giving directions how to reach the place. I built a cairn of rocks in a sheltered nook in the valley where your camp had been pitched and left the tightly corked bottle wedged on top of it. If they return to the camp they can scarcely fail to see it."

"But if they don't go back there."

"Well, it was just a chance."

"And if they don't find me?"

"You will have to stay here for a while; until your foot gets well enough to travel," returned the man evasively.

"But winter is coming on, you said the lake would freeze to-night, and if it snows?"

"It will snow."

The woman stared at him, appalled.

"And in that case – "

"I am afraid," was the slow reply, "that you will have to stay here" – he hesitated in the face of her white still face – "all winter," he added desperately.

"Alone!" exclaimed the girl faintly. "With you?"

"Miss Maitland," said the man resolutely, "I might as well tell you the truth. I can make my way to the settlements now or later, but it will be a journey of perhaps a week. There will be no danger to me, but you will have to stay here. You could not go with me. If I am any judge you couldn't possibly use your foot for a mountain journey for at least three weeks, and by that time we shall be snowed in as effectually as if we were within the Arctic Circle. But if you will let me go alone to the settlement I can bring back your uncle, and a woman to keep you company, before the trails are impassable. Or enough men to make it practicable to take you through the cañons and down the trails to your home again. I could not do that alone even if you were well, in the depth of the winter."

The girl shook her head stubbornly.

"A week alone in these mountains and I should be mad," she said decisively. "It isn't to be thought of."

"It must be thought of," urged the man. "You don't understand. It is either that or spend the winter here – with me."

The woman looked at him steadily.

"And what have I to fear from you?" she asked.

"Nothing, nothing," protested the other, "but the world?"

"The world," said the woman reflectively. "I don't mean to say that it means nothing to me, but it has cause enough for what it would fain say now." She came to her decision swiftly. "There is no help for it," she continued; "we are marooned together." She smiled faintly as she used the old word of tropic island and southern sea. "You have shown me that you are a man and a gentleman, in God and you I put my trust. When my foot gets well, if you can teach me to walk on snow shoes and it is possible to get through the passes, we will try to go back; if not, we must wait."

"The decision is yours," said the man, "yet I feel that I ought to point out to you how – "

"I see all that you see," she interrupted. "I know what is in your mind, it is entirely clear to me, we can do nothing else."

"So be it. You need have no apprehension as to your material comfort; I have lived in these mountains for a long time, I am prepared for any emergency, I pass my time in the summer getting ready for the winter. There is a cave, or recess rather, behind the house which, as you see, is built against the rock wall, and it is filled with wood enough to keep us warm for two or three winters; I have an ample supply of provisions and clothing for my own needs, but you will need something warmer than that you wear," he continued.

"Have you needle and thread and cloth?" she asked.

"Everything," was the prompt answer.

"Then I shall not suffer."

"Are you that wonder of wonders," asked the man, smiling slightly, "an educated woman who knows how to sew?"

"It is a tradition of Philadelphia," answered the girl, "that her daughters should be expert needlewomen."

"Oh, you are from Philadelphia."

"Yes, and you?"

She threw the question at him so deftly and so quickly that she caught him unaware and off his guard a second time within the hour.

"Baltimore," he answered before he thought and then bit his lip.

He had determined to vouchsafe her no information regarding himself and here she had surprised him into an admission in the first blush of their acquaintance, and she knew that she had triumphed for she smiled in recognition of it.

She tried another tack.

"Mr. Newbold," she began at a venture, and as it was five years since he had heard that name, his surprise at her knowledge, which after all was very simple, betrayed him a third time. "We are like stories I have read, people who have been cast away on desert islands and – "

"Yes," said the man, "but no castaways that I have ever read of have been so bountifully provided with everything necessary to the comfort of life as we are. I told you I lacked nothing for your material welfare, and even your mind need not stagnate."

Рейтинг@Mail.ru