Read CHAPTER X - THE BISHOP OF ALL OUTDOORS of The Gold Girl , free online book, by James B. Hendryx, on ReadCentral.com.

The days slipped into weeks, as Patty Sinclair, carefully and methodically traced valleys to their sources, and explored innumerable coulees and ravines that twisted and turned their tortuous lengths into the very heart of the hills. Rock ledges without number she scanned, many with deep cracks and fissures, and many without them. But not once did she find a ledge that could by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as the ledge of the photograph. Disheartened, but not discouraged, the girl would return each evening to her solitary cabin, eat her solitary meal, and throw herself upon her bunk to brood over the apparent hopelessness of her enterprise, or to read from the thumbed and tattered magazines of the dispossessed sheep herder. She rode, now, with a sort of dogged persistence. There was none of the wild thrill that, during the first days of her search, she experienced each time she topped a new divide, or entered a new valley.

Three times since she had informed him she would play a lone hand in the search for her father’s strike, Bethune had called at the cabin. And not once had he alluded to the progress of her work. She was thankful to him for that-she had not forgotten the hurt in her father’s eyes as the taunting questions of the scoffers struck home. Always she had known of the hurt, but now, with the disheartening days of her own failure heaping themselves upon her, she was beginning to understand the reason for the hurt. And, guessing this, Bethune refrained from questioning, but talked gaily of books, and sunsets, and of life, and love, and the joy of living. A supreme optimist, she thought him, despite the half-veiled cynicism that threaded his somewhat fatalistic view of life, a cynicism that but added the necessary sauce piquante to so abandoned an optimism.

Above all, the man was a gentleman. His speech held nothing of the abrupt bluntness of Vil Holland’s. He would appear shortly after her early supper, and was always well upon his way before the late darkness began to obscure the contours of her little valley. An hour’s chat upon the doorstep of the cabin and he was gone-riding down the valley, singing as he rode some old chanson of his French forebears, with always a pause at the cottonwood grove for a farewell wave of his hat. And Patty would turn from the doorway, and light her lamp, and proceed to enjoy the small present which he never failed to leave in her hand-a box of bon-bons of a kind she had vainly sought for in the little town-again, a novel, a woman’s novel written by a man who thought he knew-and another time, just a handful of wild flowers gathered in the hills. She ate the candy making it last over several days. She read the book from cover to cover as she lay upon her air mattress, tucked snugly between her blankets. And she arranged the wild flowers loosely in a shallow bowl and watered them, and talked to them, and admired their beauty, and when they were wilted she threw them out, but she did not gather more flowers to fill the bowl, instead she wiped it dry and returned it to its shelf in the cupboard-and wondered when Bethune would come again. She admitted to herself that he interested-at least, amused her-helped her to throw off for the moment the spirit of dull depression that had fastened itself upon her like a tangible thing, bearing down upon her, threatening to crush her with its weight.

Always, during these brief visits, her lurking distrust of him vanished in the frank boyishness of his personality. The incidents that had engendered the distrust-the substitution of the name Schultz for Schmidt in the matter of the horse pasture, his abrupt warning against Vil Holland, and his attempt to be admitted into her confidence as a matter of right, were for the moment forgotten in the spell of his presence-but always during her lonely rides in the hills, the half-formed doubt returned. Pondering the doubt, she realized that the principal reason for its continued existence was not so much in the incidents that had awakened it, as in the simple question asked by Vil Holland: “You say your dad told you all about this partnership business?” And in the “Oh,” with which he had greeted the reply that she had it from the lips of Bethune. With the realization, her dislike for Vil Holland increased. She characterized him as a “jug-guzzler,” a “swashbuckler,” and a “ruffian”-and smiled as she recalled the picturesque figure with the clean-cut, bronzed face. “Oh, I don’t know-I hate these hills! Nobody seems sincere excepting the Wattses, and they’re-impossible!”

She had borrowed Watts’s team and made a second trip to town for supplies, and the check that she drew in payment cut her bank account in half. As before she had offered to take Microby Dandeline, but the girl declined to go, giving as an excuse that “pitcher shows wasn’t as good as circusts, an’ they wasn’t no fights, an’ she didn’t like towns, nohow.”

Upon her return from town Patty stopped at the Thompsons’ for dinner where she was accorded a royal welcome by the genial rancher and his wife, and where also, she met the Reverend Len Christie, the most picturesque, and the most un-clerical minister of the gospel she had ever seen. To all appearances the man might have been a cowboy. He affected chaps of yellow hair, a dark blue flannel shirt, against which flamed a scarf of brilliant crimson caught together by means of a vivid green scarab. He wore a roll brimmed Stetson, and carried a six-gun at his belt. A pair of high-heeled boots added a couple of inches to the six feet two that nature had provided him with, and he shook hands as though he enjoyed shaking hands. “I’ve heard of you, Miss Sinclair, back in town and have looked forward to meeting you on my first trip into the hills. How are my friends, the Wattses, these days? And that reprobate, Vil Holland?” He did not mention that it was Vil Holland who had spoken of her presence in the hills, nor that the cowboy had also specified that she utterly despised the ground he rode on.

To her surprise Patty noticed that there was affection rather than disapprobation in the word reprobate, and she answered a trifle stiffly: “The Wattses are all well, I think: but, as for Mr. Holland, I really cannot answer.”

The parson appeared not to notice the constraint but turned to Thompson: “By the way, Tom, why isn’t Vil riding the round-up this year? Has he made his strike?”

Thompson grinned: “Naw, Vil ain’t made no strike. Facts is, they’s be’n some considerable horse liftin’ goin’ on lately, an’ the stockmen’s payin’ Vil wages fer to keep his eye peeled. He’s out in the hills all the time anyhow with his prospectin’, an’ they figger the thieves won’t pay no ’tention to him, like if a stranger was to begin kihootin’ ’round out there.”

“Have they got a line on ’em at all?”

“Well,” considered Thompson. “Not as I know of-exactly. Monk Bethune an’ that there Lord Clendennin’ is hangin’ ’round the hills-that’s about all I know.”

The parson nodded: “I saw Bethune in town the other day. Do you know, Tom, I believe there’s a bad Injun.”

“Indian!” cried the girl. “Mr. Bethune is not an Indian!”

Thompson laughed: “Yup, that is, he’s a breed. They say his gran’mother was a Cree squaw-daughter of a chief, or somethin’. Anyways, this here Monk, he’s a pretty slick article, I guess.”

“They’re apt to be worse than either the whites or the Indians,” Christie explained. “And this Monk Bethune is an educated man, which should make him doubly dangerous. Well, I must be going. I’ve got to ride clear over onto Big Porcupine. I heard that old man Samuelson’s very sick. There’s a good man-old Samuelson. Hope he’ll pull through.”

“You bet he’s a good man!” assented Thompson, warmly. “He seen Bill Winters through, when they tried to prove the murder of Jack Bronson onto him, an’ it cost him a thousan’ dollars. The districk attorney had it in fer Bill, count of him courtin’ his gal.”

“Yes, and I could tell of a dozen things the old man has done for people that nobody but I ever knew about-in some instances even the people themselves didn’t know.” He turned to Patty: “Good-by, Miss Sinclair. I’m mighty glad to have met you. I knew your father very well. If you see the Wattses, tell them I shall try and swing around that way on my return.” The parson mounted a raw-boned, Roman-nosed pinto, whose vivid calico markings, together with the rider’s brilliant scarf gave a most unministerial, not to say bizarre effect to the outfit. “So long, Tom,” he called.

“So long, Len! If they’s anything we can do, let us know. An’ be sure an’ stop in comin’ back.” Thompson watched the man until he vanished in a cloud of dust far out on the trail.

“Best doggone preacher ever was born,” he vouchsafed. “He can ride, an’ shoot, an’ rope, an’ everything a man ort to. An’ if anyone’s sick! Well, he’s worth all the doctors an’ nurses in the State of Montany. He’ll make you git well just ‘cause he wants you to. An’ they ain’t nothin’ too much trouble-an’ they ain’t no work too hard for him to tackle. There ain’t no piousness stickin’ out on him fer folks to hang their hat on, neither. He’ll mix with the boys, an’ listen to the natural cussin’ an’ swearin’ that goes on wherever cattle’s handled, an’ enjoy it-but just you let some shorthorn start what you might call vicious or premeditated cussin’-somethin’ special wicked or vile, an’ he’ll find out there’s a parson in the crowd right quick, an’ if he don’t shut up, chances is, he’ll be spittin’ out a couple of teeth. There’s one parson can fight, an’ the boys know it, an’ what’s more they know he will fight-an’ they ain’t one of ’em that wouldn’t back up his play, neither. An’ preach! Why he can tear loose an’ make you feel sorry for every mean trick you ever done-not for fear of any punishment after yer dead-but just because it wasn’t playin’ the game. That’s him, every time. An’ he ain’t always hollerin’ about hell-hearin’ him preach you wouldn’t hardly know they was a hell. ‘The Bishop of All Outdoors,’ they call him-an’ they say he can go back East an’ preach to city folks, an’ make ’em set up an’ take notice, same as out here. He’s be’n offered three times what he gets here to go where he’d have it ten times easier-but he laughs at ’em. He sure is one preacher that ain’t afraid of work!”

As Watts’s team plodded the hot miles of the interminable trail Patty’s brain revolved wearily about its problem. “I’ve made almost a complete circle of the cabin, and I haven’t found the rock ledge with the crack in it yet-and as for daddy’s old map-I’ve spent hours trying to figure out what that jumble of letters and numbers mean, I’ll just have to start all over again and keep reaching farther and farther into the hills on my rides. Mr. Bethune said I might not recognize the place when I come to it!” she laughed bitterly. “If he knew how that photograph has burned itself into my brain! I can close my eyes and see that rock wall with its peculiar crack, and the rock-strewn valley, and the lone tree-recognize it! I would know it in the dark!”

Her eyes rested upon the various packages of her load of supplies. “One more trip to town, and my prospecting is done, at least, until I can earn some more money. The prices out here are outrageous. It’s the freight, the man told me. Five cents’ freight on a penny’s worth of food! But what in the world can I do to make money? What can anybody do to make money in this Godforsaken country? I can’t punch cattle, nor herd sheep. I don’t see why I had to be a girl!” Resentment against her accident of birth cooled, and her mind again took up its burden of thought. “There is one way,” she muttered. “And that is to admit failure and take Mr. Bethune into partnership. He will advance the money and help with the work-and, surely there will be enough for two. And, I’m not so sure but that-” She broke off shortly and felt the hot blood rise in a furious blush, as she glanced guiltily about her-but in all the vast stretch of plain was no human being, and she laughed aloud at the antics of the prairie dogs that scolded and barked saucily and then dove precipitously into their holes as a lean coyote trotted diagonally through their “town.”

What was it they had said at Thompson’s about Mr. Bethune? Despite herself she had approved the outlandishly dressed preacher with the smiling blue eyes. He was so big, and so wholesome! “The Bishop of All Outdoors,” Thompson had called him. She liked that-and somehow the name seemed to fit. Looking into those eyes no one could doubt his sincerity-his every word, his every motion spoke unbounded enthusiasm for his work. What was it he had said? “Do you know, Tom, I believe there’s a bad Injun.” And Thompson had referred to Bethune as “a pretty slick article.” Surely, Thompson, whole-souled, generous Thompson, would not malign a man. Here were two men whom the girl knew instinctively she could trust, who stood four-square with the world, and whose opinions must carry weight. And both had spoken with suspicion of Bethune and both had spoken of Vil Holland as one of themselves. “I don’t understand it,” she muttered. “Everybody seems to be against Mr. Bethune, and everybody seems to like Vil Holland, in spite of his jug, and his gun, and his boorishness. Maybe it’s because Mr. Bethune’s a-a breed,” she speculated. “Why, they even hinted that he’s a-a horse-thief. It isn’t fair to despise him for his Indian blood. Why should he be made to suffer because his grandmother was an Indian-the daughter of a Cree chief? It sounds interesting and romantic. The people of some of our very best families point with pride to the fact that they are descendants of Pocahontas! Poor fellow, everybody seems down on him-everybody that is, but Ma Watts and Microby. And, as a matter of fact, he appears to better advantage than any of them, not excepting the very militant and unorthodox ‘Bishop of All Outdoors.’”

The result of the girl’s cogitations left her exactly where she started. She was no nearer the solution of her problem of the hills. And her lurking doubt of Bethune still remained despite the excuses she invented to account for his unpopularity, nor had her opinion of Vil Holland been altered in the least.

Upon arriving at her cabin she was not at all surprised to find that it had been thoroughly searched, albeit with less care than the searcher had been in the habit of bestowing upon the readjustment of the various objects of the room exactly as she had left them. Canned goods and dishes were disarranged upon their shelves, and the loose section of floor board beneath her bunk that had evidently served as the secret cache of the sheep herder, had been fitted clumsily into its place. The evident boldness, or carelessness of this latest outrage angered her as no previous search had done. Heretofore each object had been returned to its place with painstaking accuracy so that it had been only through the use of fine-spun cobwebs and carefully arranged bits of dust that she had been able to verify her suspicion that the room had really been searched-and there had been times when even the dust and the cobwebs had been replaced. Whoever had been searching the cabin had proven himself a master of detail, and had at least, paid her the compliment of possessing imagination, and a shrewdness equaling his own. Was it possible that the searcher, emboldened by her repeated failure to spy upon him at his work, had ceased to care whether or not she knew of his visits? The girl recalled the three weary days she had spent watching from the hillside. And how she had decided to buy a lock for her door, until the futility of it had been brought home to her by the discovery that her trunks were being searched along with her other belongings, and their locks left in perfect condition. So far, he might well scorn her puny attempts at discovery. Or, had a new factor entered the game? Had someone of cruder mold undertaken to discover her secret? The thought gave her a decided uneasiness. Tired out by her trip, she did not light the fire, and after disposing of the cold lunch Mrs. Thompson had put up for her, affixed the bar, and went to bed, with her six-gun within reach of her hand.

For a long time she lay in the darkness, thinking. “The way it was before, I haven’t been in any physical danger. Mr. Vil Holland knows that if what he is searching for is not here I must carry it on my person. The obvious way to get it would be to take it away from me. Of course the only way he could do that without my seeing him would be to kill me. He hesitates at murder. Either there are depths of moral turpitude into which he will not descend-or, he fears the consequences. He has imagination. He assumes that sometime I’ll leave that packet at home-either through carelessness, or because I have learned its contents by heart and don’t need it. In the meantime, in addition to his patient searching of the cabin, he is taking no chances, and while he waits for the inevitable to happen he is following me so if I do succeed in locating the claim, he can beat me to the register. It’s a pretty game-no violence-only patience and brains. But this other,” she shuddered, “there is something positively brutal in the crude awkwardness of his work. If he thinks I carry what he wants with me, would he hesitate at murder? I guess I’ll have to carry that gun again-and I better practice with it, too. If I can only get rid of this last one, I believe I’ve got a scheme for catching the other!” She sat bolt upright in bed. “Oh, if I only could! If I could only beat him at his own game-and I believe I can!” For several minutes she sat thinking rapidly, and as she lay back upon her pillow, she smiled.