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gold and silver for years, himself. Well, this Spanish man had relatives
that wanted his property, and he'd made a will and left it to them; but
he wouldn't die, the climate was so good. So his folks allowed maybe if
they sent him to Spain on a journey he'd die and then they'd get the
property legal. So he went, and he did die; but he left orders for his
body to be sent back to California to be buried. So when his body came
they buried him in California, the way he asked - so Greenwood says.

"But did they get his property? Not at all! The old Spanish man, almost
as soon as he was buried in California dirt, he came to life again! He's
alive to-day out there, and this man Greenwood says he's a neighbor of
his and he knows him well! Of course, if that's true you can believe
almost anything about what a wonderful country California is. But for
one, I ain't right sure. Maybe not everybody who goes to California is
going to find a mountain of gold, or live to be three hundred years old!

"But to think, Molly! Here you knew all this away back to Laramie!
Well, if the hoorah had started there 'stead of here there'd be dead
people now back of us more'n there is now. That old man Bridger told
you - why? And how could you keep the secret?"

"It was for Will," said Molly simply. "I had given him up. I told him to
go to California and forget me, and to live things down. Don't chide me
any more. I tried to marry the man you wanted me to marry. I'm tired.
I'm going to Oregon - to forget. I'll teach school. I'll never, never
marry - that's settled at last."

"You got a letter from Sara Woodhull too."

"Yes, I did."

"Huh! Does he call that settled? Is he going to California to forget you
and live things down?"

"He says not. I don't care what he says."

"He'll be back."

"Spare his journey! It will do him no good. The Indian did me a
kindness, I tell you!"

"Well, anyways, they're both off on the same journey now, and who knows
what or which? They both may be three hundred years old before they find
a mountain of gold. But to think - I had your chunk of gold right in my
own hands, but didn't know it! The same gold my mother's wedding ring
was made of, that was mine. It's right thin now, child. You could of
made a dozen out of that lump, like enough."

"I'll never need one, mother," said Molly Wingate.

The girl, weeping, threw her arms about her mother's neck. "You ask why
I kept the secret, even then. He kissed me, mother - and he was a thief!"

"Yes, I know. A man he just steals a girl's heart out through her lips.
Yore paw done that way with me once. Git up, Dan! You, Daisy!

"And from that time on," she added laughing, "I been trying to forget
him and to live him down!"




CHAPTER XXXIX

THE CROSSING


Three days out from Fort Hall the vanguard of the remnant of the train,
less than a fourth of the original number, saw leaning against a gnarled
sagebrush a box lid which had scrawled upon it in straggling letters one
word - "California." Here now were to part the pick and the plow.

Jim Bridger, sitting his gaunt horse, rifle across saddle horn, halted
for the head of the train to pull even with him.

"This here's Cassia Creek," said he. "Yan's the trail down Raft River
ter the Humboldt and acrost the Sierrys ter Californy. A long, dry jump
hit is, by all accounts. The Oregon road goes on down the Snake. Hit's
longer, if not so dry."

Small invitation offered in the physical aspect of either path. The
journey had become interminable. The unspeakable monotony, whose only
variant was peril, had smothered the spark of hope and interest. The
allurement of mystery had wholly lost its charm.

The train halted for some hours. Once more discussion rose.

"Last chance for Californy, men," said old Jim Bridger calmly. "Do-ee
see the tracks? Here's Greenwood come in. Yan's where Woodhull's wagons
left the road. Below that, one side, is the tracks o' Banion's mules."

"I wonder," he added, "why thar hain't ary letter left fer none o' us
here at the forks o' the road."

He did not know that, left in a tin at the foot of the board sign
certain days earlier, there had rested a letter addressed to Miss Molly
Wingate. It never was to reach her. Sam Woodhull knew the reason why.
Having opened it and read it, he had possessed himself of exacter
knowledge than ever before of the relations of Banion and Molly Wingate.
Bitter as had been his hatred before, it now was venomous. He lived
thenceforth no more in hope of gold than of revenge.

The decision for or against California was something for serious
weighing now at the last hour, and it affected the fortune and the
future of every man, woman and child in all the train. Never a furrow
was plowed in early Oregon but ran in bones and blood; and never a
dollar was dug in gold in California - or ever gained in gold by any
man - which did not cost two in something else but gold.

Twelve wagons pulled out of the trail silently, one after another, and
took the winding trail that led to the left, to the west and south.
Others watched them, tears in their eyes, for some were friends.

Alone on her cart seat, here at the fateful parting of the ways, Molly
Wingate sat with a letter clasped in her hand, frank tears standing in
her eyes. It was no new letter, but an old one. She pressed the pages to
her heart, to her lips, held them out at arm's length before her in the
direction of the far land which somewhere held its secrets.

"Oh, God keep you, Will!" she said in her heart, and almost audibly.
"Oh, God give you fortune, Will, and bring you back to me!"

But the Oregon wagons closed up once more and held their way, the stop
not being beyond one camp, for Bridger urged haste.

The caravan course now lay along the great valley of the Snake. The
giant deeds of the river in its cañons they could only guess. They heard
of tremendous falls, of gorges through which no boat could pass, vague
rumors of days of earlier exploration; but they kept to the high
plateaus, dipping down to the crossings of many sharp streams, which in
the first month of their journey they would have called impassable. It
all took time. They were averaging now not twenty miles daily, but no
more than half that, and the season was advancing. It was fall. Back
home the wheat would be in stack, the edges of the corn would be seared
with frost.

The vast abundance of game they had found all along now lacked. Some
rabbits, a few sage grouse, nightly coyotes - that made all. The savages
who now hung on their flanks lacked the stature and the brave trappings
of the buffalo plainsmen. They lived on horse meat and salmon, so the
rumor came. Now their environment took hold of the Pacific. They had
left the East wholly behind.

On the salmon run they could count on food, not so good as the buffalo,
but better than bacon grown soft and rusty. Changing, accepting,
adjusting, prevailing, the wagons went on, day after day, fifty miles, a
hundred, two hundred. But always a vague uneasiness pervaded. The
crossing of the Snake lay on ahead. The moody river had cast upon them a
feeling of awe. Around the sage fires at night the families talked of
little else but the ford of the Snake, two days beyond the Salmon Falls.

It was morning when the wagons, well drawn together now, at last turned
down the precipitous decline which took them from the high plateau to
the water, level. Here a halt was called. Bridger took full charge. The
formidable enterprise confronting them was one of the real dangers of
the road.

The strong green waters of the great river were divided at this ancient
ford by two midstream islands, which accounted for the selection of the
spot for the daring essay of a bridgeless and boatless crossing. There
was something mockingly relentless in the strong rippling current, which
cut off more than a guess at the actual depth. There was no ferry, no
boat nor means of making one. It was not even possible to shore up the
wagon beds so they might be dry. One thing sure was that if ever a
wagon was swept below the crossing there could be no hope for it.

But others had crossed here, and even now a certain rough chart existed,
handed down from these. Time now for a leader, and men now were thankful
for the presence of a man who had seen this crossing made.

The old scout held back the company leaders and rode into the stream
alone, step by step, scanning the bottom. He found it firm. He saw wheel
marks on the first island. His horse, ears ahead, saw them also, and
staggeringly felt out the way. Belly-deep and passable - yes.

Bridger turned and moved a wide arm. The foremost wagons came on to the
edge.

The men now mounted the wagon seats, two to each wagon. Flankers drove
up the loose cattle, ready for their turn later. Men rode on each side
the lead yoke of oxen to hold them steady on their footing, Wingate,
Price, Kelsey and Hall, bold men and well mounted, taking this work on
themselves.

The plunge once made, they got to the first island, all of them, without
trouble. But a dizzying flood lay on ahead to the second wheel-marked
island in the river. To look at the rapid surface was to lose all sense
of direction. But again the gaunt horse of the scout fell out, the
riders waded in, their devoted saddle animals trembling beneath them.
Bridger, student of fast fords, followed the bar upstream, angling with
it, till a deep channel offered between him and the island. Unable to
evade this, he drove into it, and his gallant mount breasted up and held
its feet all the way across.

The thing could be done! Jim Bridger calmly turned and waved to the
wagons to come on from the first island.

"Keep them jest whar we was!" he called back to Hall and Kelsey, who had
not passed the last stiff water. "Put the heavy cattle in fust! Hit
maybe won't swim them. If the stuff gets wet we kain't help that. Tell
the wimern hit's all right."

He saw his friends turn back, their horses, deep in the flood, plunging
through water broken by their knees; saw the first wagons lead off and
crawl out upstream, slowly and safely, till within reach of his voice.
Molly now was in the main wagon, and her brother Jed was driving.

Between the lines of wading horsemen the draft oxen advanced, following
the wagons, strung out, but all holding their footing in the green water
that broke white on the upper side of the wagons. A vast murmuring roar
came up from the water thus retarded.

They made their way to the edge of the deep channel, where the cattle
stood, breasts submerged.

Bridger rose in his stirrups and shouted, "Git in thar! Come on
through!"

They plunged, wallowed, staggered; but the lead yokes saw where the ford
climbed the bank, made for it, caught footing, dragged the others
through!

Wagon after wagon made it safe. It was desperate, but, being done,
these matter-of-fact folk wasted no time in imaginings of what might
have happened. They were safe, and the ford thus far was established so
that the others need not fear.

But on ahead lay what they all knew was the real danger - the last
channel, three hundred yards of racing, heavy water which apparently no
sane man ever would have faced. But there were wheel marks on the
farther shore. Here ran the road to Oregon.

The dauntless old scout rode in again, alone, bending to study the water
and the footing. A gravel bar led off for a couple of rods, flanked by
deep potholes. Ten rods out the bar turned. He followed it up, foot by
foot, for twenty rods, quartering. Then he struck out for the shore.

The bottom was hard, yes; but the bar was very crooked, with swimming
water on either hand, with potholes ten feet deep and more all
alongside. And worst of all, there was a vast sweep of heavy water below
the ford, which meant destruction and death for any wagon carried down.
Well had the crossing of the Snake earned its sinister reputation.
Courage and care alone could give any man safe-conduct here.

The women and children, crying, sat in the wagons, watching Bridger
retrace the ford. Once his stumbling horse swam, but caught footing. He
joined them, very serious.

"Hit's fordin' men," said he, "but she's mean, she shore is mean. Double
up all the teams, yoke in every loose ox an' put six yoke on each
wagon, er they'll get swep' down, shore's hell. Some o' them will hold
the others ef we have enough. I'll go ahead, an' I want riders all along
the teams, above and below, ter hold them ter the line. Hit can be
did - hit's wicked water, but hit can be did. Don't wait - always keep
things movin'."

By this time the island was packed with the loose cattle, which had
followed the wagons, much of the time swimming. They were lowing
meaningly, in terror - a gruesome thing to hear.

The leader called to Price's oldest boy, driving Molly's cart, "Tie on
behind the big wagon with a long rope, an' don't drive in tell you see
the fust two yoke ahead holdin'. Then they'll drag you through anyhow.
Hang onto the cart whatever happens, but if you do get,' in, keep
upstream of any animile that's swimmin'."

"All set, men? Come ahead!"

He led off again at last, after the teams were doubled and the loads had
been piled high as possible to keep them dry. Ten wagons were left
behind, it being needful to drive back, over the roaring channel, some
of the doubled heavy teams for them.

They made it well, foot by foot, the cattle sometimes swimming gently,
confidently, as the line curved down under the heavy current, but always
enough holding to keep the team safe. The horsemen rode alongside,
exhorting, assuring. It was a vast relief when at the last gravel
stretch they saw the wet backs of the oxen rise high once more.

"I'll go back, Jesse," said Kelsey, the man who had wanted to go to
California. "I know her now."

"I'll go with you," added young Jed Wingate, climbing down from his
wagon seat and demanding his saddle horse, which he mounted bare-backed.

It was they two who drove and led the spare yokes back to repeat the
crossing with the remaining wagons. Those on the bank watched them
anxiously, for they drove straighter across to save time, and were
carried below the trail on the island. But they came out laughing, and
the oxen were rounded up once more and doubled in, so that the last of
the train was ready.

"That's a fine mare of Kelsey's," said Wingate to Caleb Price, who with
him was watching the daring Kentuckian at his work on the downstream and
more dangerous side of the linked teams. "She'll go anywhere."

Price nodded, anxiously regarding the laboring advance of the last
wagons.

"Too light," said he. "I started with a ton and a half on the National
Pike across Ohio and Indiana. I doubt if we average five hundred now.
They ford light."

"Look!" he cried suddenly, and pointed.

They all ran to the brink. The horsemen were trying to stay the drift of
the line of cattle. They had worked low and missed footing. Many were
swimming - the wagons were afloat!

The tired lead cattle had not been able to withstand the pressure of the
heavy water a second time. They were off the ford!

But the riders from the shore, led by Jim Bridger, got to them, caught a
rope around a horn, dragged them into line, dragged the whole gaunt team
to the edge and saved the day for the lead wagon. The others caught and
held their footing, labored through.

But a shout arose. Persons ran down the bank, pointing. A hundred yards
below the ford, in the full current of the Snake, the lean head of
Kelsey's mare was flat, swimming hard and steadily, being swept
downstream in a current which swung off shore below the ford.

"He's all right!" called Jed, wet to the neck, sitting his own wet
mount, safe ashore at last. "He's swimming too. They'll make it, sure!
Come on!"

He started off at a gallop downstream along the shore, his eyes fixed on
the two black objects, now steadily losing distance out beyond. But old
Jim Bridger put his hands across his eyes and turned away his face. He
knew!

It was now plain to all that yonder a gallant man and a gallant horse
were making a fight for life. The grim river had them in its grip at
last.

In a moment the tremendous power of the heavy water had swept Kelsey and
his horse far below the ford. The current there was swifter, noisier,
as though exultant in the success of the scheme the river all along had
proposed.

As to the victims, the tragic struggle went on in silence. If the man
called, no one could hear him above the rush and roar of the waters.
None long had any hope as they saw the white rollers bury the two heads,
of the horse and the man, while the set of the current steadily carried
them away from the shore. It was only a miracle that the two bobbing
black dots again and again came into view.

They could see the mare's muzzle flat, extended toward the shore; back
of it, upstream, the head of the man. Whichever brain had decided, it
was evident that the animal was staking life to reach the shore from
which it had been swept away.

Far out in midstream some conformation of the bottom turned the current
once more in a long slant shoreward. A murmur, a sob of hundreds of
observers packed along the shore broke out as the two dots came closer,
far below. More than a quarter of a mile downstream a sand point made
out, offering a sort of beach where for some space a landing might be
made. Could the gallant mare make this point? Men clenched their hands.
Women began to sob, to moan gently.

When with a shout Jed Wingate turned his horse and set off at top speed
down the shore some followed him. The horses and oxen, left alone, fell
into confusion, the wagons tangled. One or two teams made off at a run
into the desert. But these things were nothing.

Those behind hoped Jed would not try any rescue in that flood. Molly
stood wringing her hands. The boy's mother began praying audibly. The
voice of Jim Bridger rose in an Indian chant. It was for the dead!

They saw the gallant mare plunge up, back and shoulders and body rising
as her feet found bottom a few yards out from shore. She stood free of
the water, safe on the bar; stood still, looking back of her and down.
But no man rose to his height beside her. There was only one figure on
the bar.

They saw Jed fling off; saw him run and stoop, lifting something long
and heavy from the water. Then the mare stumbled away. At length she lay
down quietly. She never rose.

"She was standing right here," said Jed as the others came, "He had hold
of the reins so tight I couldn't hardly open his hand. He must have been
dead before the mare hit bottom. He was laying all under water, hanging
to the reins, and that was all that kept him from washing on down."

They made some rude and unskilled attempt at resuscitation, but had
neither knowledge nor confidence. Perhaps somewhere out yonder the
strain had been too great; perhaps the sheer terror had broken the heart
of both man and horse. The mare suddenly began to tremble as she lay,
her nostrils shivering as though in fright. And she died, after bringing
in the dead man whose hand still gripped her rein.

They buried Kelsey of Kentucky - few knew him otherwise - on a hillock by
the road at the first fording place of the Snake. They broke out the top
board of another tail gate, and with a hot iron burned in one more
record of the road:

"Rob't. Kelsey, Ky. Drowned Sept. 7, 1848. A Brave Man."

The sand long ago cut out the lettering, and long ago the ford passed to
a ferry. But there lay, for a long time known, Kelsey of Kentucky, a
brave man, who kept his promise and did not rue back, but who never saw
either California or Oregon.

"Catch up the stock, men," said Jesse Wingate dully, after a time.
"Let's leave this place."

Loads were repacked, broken gear adjusted. Inside the hour the silent
gray wagon train held on, leaving the waters to give shriving. The voice
of the river rose and fell mournfully behind them in the changing airs.

"I knowed hit!" said old Jim Bridger, now falling back from the lead and
breaking oft' his Indian dirge. "I knowed all along the Snake'd take
somebody - she does every time. This mornin' I seed two ravens that flew
acrost the trail ahead. Yesterday I seed a rabbit settin' squar' in the
trail. I thought hit was me the river wanted, but she's done took a
younger an' a better man."

"Man, man," exclaimed stout-hearted Molly Wingate, "what for kind of a
country have you brought us women to? One more thing like that and my
nerve's gone. Tell me, is this the last bad river? And when will we get
to Oregon?"

"Don't be a-skeered, ma'am," rejoined Bridger. "A accident kin happen
anywheres. Hit's a month on ter Oregon, whar ye're headed. Some fords on
ahead, yes; we got ter cross back ter the south side the Snake again."

"But you'll go on with us, won't you?" demanded young Molly Wingate.

They had halted to breathe the cattle at the foot of lava dust slope.
Bridger looked at the young girl for a time in silence.

"I'm off my country, Miss Molly," said he. "Beyant the second ford, at
Fort Boise, I ain't never been. I done aimed ter turn back here an' git
back home afore the winter come. Ain't I did enough fer ye?"

But he hesitated. There was a kindly light on the worn old face, in the
sunken blue eye.

"Ye want me ter go on, Miss Molly?"

"If you could it would be a comfort to me, a protection to us all."

"Is hit so! Miss Molly, ye kin talk a ol'-time man out'n his last pelt!
But sence ye do want me, I'll sornter along a leetle ways furtherer with
ye. Many a good fight is spoiled by wonderin' how hit's goin' to come
out. An' many a long trail's lost by wonderin' whar hit runs. I hain't
never yit been plumb to Californy er Oregon. But ef ye say I must, Miss
Molly, why I must; an' ef I must, why here goes! I reckon my wimern kin
keep my fire goin' ontel I git back next year."




CHAPTER XL

OREGON! OREGON!


THE freakish resolves of the old-time trapper at least remained
unchanged for many days, but at last one evening he came to Molly's
wagon, his face grim and sad.

"Miss Molly," he said, "I'm come to say good-by now. Hit's for keeps."

"No? Then why? You are like an old friend to me. What don't I owe to
you?"

"Ye don't owe nothin' ter me yit, Miss Molly. But I want ye ter think
kindly o' old Jim Bridger when he's gone. I allow the kindest thing I
kin do fer ye is ter bring Will Banion ter ye."

"You are a good man, James Bridger," said Molly Wingate. "But then?"

"Ye see, Miss Molly, I had six quarts o' rum I got at Boise. Some folks
says rum is wrong. Hit ain't. I'll tell ye why. Last night I drinked up
my lastest bottle o' that Hundson's Bay rum. Hit war right good rum, an
ez I lay lookin' up at the stars, all ter oncet hit come ter me that I
was jest exactly, no more an' no less, jest ter the ha'r, ez drunk I was
on the leetle spree with Kit at Laramie. Warn't that fine? An' warn't
hit useful? Nach'erl, bein' jest even up, I done thought o' everything I
been fergettin'. Hit all come ter me ez plain ez a streak o' lightnin'.
What it was Kit Carson told me I know now, but no one else shall know.
No, not even you, Miss Molly. I kain't tell ye, so don't ask.

"Now I'm goin' on a long journey, an' a resky one; I kain't tell ye no
more. I reckon I'll never see ye agin. So good-by."

With a swift grasp of his hand he caught the dusty edge of the white
woman's skirt to his bearded lips.

"But, James - "

Suddenly she reached out a hand. He was gone.

* * * * *

One winter day, rattling over the icy fords of the road winding down the
Sandy from the white Cascades, crossing the Clackamas, threading the
intervening fringe of forest, there broke into the clearing at Oregon
City the head of the wagon train of 1848. A fourth of the wagons
abandoned and broken, a half of the horses and cattle gone since they
had left the banks of the Columbia east of the mountains, the cattle
leaning one against the other when they halted, the oxen stumbling and
limping, the calluses of their necks torn, raw and bleeding from the
swaying of the yokes on the rocky trail, their tongues out, their eyes
glassy with the unspeakable toil they so long had undergone; the loose
wheels wabbling, the thin hounds rattling, the canvas sagged and
stained, the bucket under each wagon empty, the plow at each tail gate
thumping in its lashings of rope and hide - the train of the covered
wagons now had, indeed, won through. Now may the picture of our own Ark
of Empire never perish from our minds.

On the front seat of the lead wagon sat stout Molly Wingate and her


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