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The kyacks were lined up and the mantas spread over them, the animals
led away for feed and water. Bridger produced a ham of venison, some
beans, a bannock and some coffee - not to mention his two bottles of
fiery fluid - before any word was passed regarding future plans or past
events.

"Come here, Jim," said Jackson after a time, tin cup in hand. The other
followed him, likewise equipped.

"Heft this pannier, Jim."

"Uh-huh? Well, what of hit? What's inter hit?"

"Not much, Jim. Jest three-four hunderd pounds o' gold settin' there in
them four packs. Hit hain't much, but hit'll help some."

Bridger stooped and uncovered the kyacks, unbuckled the cover straps.

"Hit's a true fack!" he exclaimed. "Gold! Ef hit hain't, I'm a putrified
liar, an' that's all I got to say!"

Now, little by little, they told, each to other, the story of the
months since they had met, Bridger first explaining his own movements.

"I left the Malheur at Boise, an' brung along yan two boys. Ye needn't
be a-skeered they'll touch the cargo. The gold means nothin' ter 'em,
but horses does. We've got a good band ter drive north now. Some we
bought an' most they stole, but no rancher cares fer horses here an'
now.

"We come through the Klamaths, ye see, an' on south - the old horse trail
up from the Spanish country, which only the Injuns knows. My boys say
they kin take us ter the head o' the Willamette.

"So ye did get the gold! Eh, sir?" said Bridger, his eyes narrowing.
"The tip the gal give ye was a good one?"

"Yes," rejoined Banion. "But we came near losing it and more. It was
Woodhull, Jim. He followed us in."

"Yes, I know. His wagons was not fur behind ye on the Humboldt. He left
right atter ye did. He made trouble, huh? He'll make no more? Is that
hit, huh?"

Bill Jackson slapped the stock of his rifle in silence. Bridger nodded.
He had been close to tragedies all his life. They told him now of this
one. He nodded again, close lipped.

"An' ye want courts an' the settlements, boys?" said he. "Fer me, when I
kill a rattler, that's enough. Ef ye're touchy an' want yer ree-cord
clean, why, we kin go below an' fix hit. Only thing is, I don't want
ter waste no more time'n I kin help, fer some o' them horses has a
ree-cord that ain't maybe so plumb clean their own selves. Ye ain't
goin' out east - ye're goin' north. Hit's easier, an' a month er two
closter, with plenty o' feed an' water - the old Cayuse trail, huh?

"So Sam Woodhull got what he's been lookin' fer so long!" he added
presently. "Well, that simples up things some."

"He'd o' got hit long ago, on the Platte, ef my partner hadn't been a
damned fool," confirmed Jackson. "He was where we could a' buried him
nach'erl, in the sands. I told Will then that Woodhull'd murder him the
fust chancet he got. Well, he did - er ef he didn't hit wasn't no credit
ter either one o' them two."

"What differ does hit make, Bill?" remarked Bridger indifferently. "Let
bygones be bygones, huh? That's the pleasantest way, sence he's dead.

"Now here we air, with all the gold there ever was molded, an' a hull
two bottles o' coggnac left, which takes holt e'enamost better'n
Hundson's Bay rum. Ain't it a perty leetle ol' world to play with, all
with nice pink stripes erroun' hit?"

He filled his tin and broke into a roaring song:

_There was a ol' widder which had three sons -
Joshuway, James an' John.
An' one got shot, an' one got drowned,
An' th' last un got losted an' never was found_ -

"Ain't hit funny, son," said he, turning to Banion with cup uplifted,
"how stiff likker allus makes me remember what I done fergot? Now Kit
told me, that at Laramie - "

"Fer I'm goin' out to Oregon, with my wash pan on my knee!" chanted Bill
Jackson, now solemnly oblivious of most of his surroundings and hence
not consciously discourteous to his friends; "Susannah, don't ye cry!"

They sat, the central figures of a scene wild enough, in a world still
primitive and young. Only one of the three remained sober and silent,
wondering, if one thing lacked, why the world was made.




CHAPTER XLV

THE LIGHT OF THE WHOLE WORLD


At the new farm of Jesse Wingate on the Yamhill the wheat was in stack
and ready for the flail, his deer-skin sacks made ready to carry it to
market after the threshing. His grim and weather-beaten wagon stood, now
unused, at the barnyard fence of rails.

It was evening. Wingate and his wife again sat on their little stoop,
gazing down the path that led to the valley road. A mounted man was
opening the gate, someone they did not recognize.

"Maybe from below," said Molly Wingate. "Jed's maybe sent up another
letter. Leave it to him, he's going to marry the most wonderful girl!
Well, I'll call it true, she's a wonderful walker. All the Prices was."

"Or maybe it's for Molly," she added. "Ef she's ever heard a word from
either Sam Woodhull or - "

"Hush! I do not want to hear that name!" broke in her husband. "Trouble
enough he has made for us!"

His wife made no comment for a moment, still watching the stranger, who
was now riding up the long approach, little noted by Wingate as he sat,
moody and distrait.

"Jess," said she, "let's be fair and shame the devil. Maybe we don't
know all the truth about Will Banion. You go in the house. I'll tend to
this man, whoever he may be."

But she did not. With one more look at the advancing figure, she herself
rose and followed her husband. As she passed she cast a swift glance at
her daughter, who had not joined them for the twilight hour. Hers was
the look of the mother - maternal, solicitious, yet wise and resolved
withal; woman understanding woman. And now was the hour for her ewe lamb
to be alone.

Molly Wingate sat in her own little room, looking through her window at
the far forest and the mountain peaks in their evening dress of many
colors. She was no longer the tattered emigrant girl in fringed frock
and mended moccasins. Ships from the world's great ports served the new
market of the Columbia Valley. It was a trim and trig young woman in the
habiliments of sophisticated lands who sat here now, her heavy hair,
piled high, lighted warmly in the illumination of the window. Her skin,
clear white, had lost its sunburn in the moister climate between the two
ranges of mountains. Quiet, reticent, reserved - cold, some said; but all
said Molly Wingate, teacher at the mission school, was beautiful, the
most beautiful young woman in all the great Willamette settlements. Her
hands were in her lap now, and her face as usual was grave. A sad young
woman, her Oregon lovers all said of her. They did not know why she
should be sad, so fit for love was she.

She heard now a knock at the front door, to which, from her position,
she could not have seen anyone approach. She called out, "Come!" but did
not turn her head.

A horse stamped, neighed near her door. Her face changed expression. Her
eyes grew wide in some strange association of memories suddenly revived.

She heard a footfall on the gallery floor, then on the floor of the
hall. It stopped. Her heart almost stopped with it. Some undiscovered
sense warned her, cried aloud to her. She faced the door, wide-eyed, as
it was flung open.

"Molly!"

Will Banion's deep-toned voice told her all the rest. In terror, her
hands to her face, she stood an instant, then sprang toward him, her
voice almost a wail in its incredulous joy.

"Will! Will! Oh, Will! Oh! Oh!"

"Molly!"

They both paused.

"It can't be! Oh, you frightened me, Will! It can't be you!"

But he had her in his arms now. At first he could only push back her
hair, stroke her cheek, until at last the rush of life and youth came
back to them both, and their lips met in the sealing kiss of years. Then
both were young again. She put up a hand to caress his brown cheek.
Tenderly he pushed back her hair.

"Will! Oh, Will! It can't be!" she whispered again and again.

"But it is! It had to be! Now I'm paid! Now I've found my fortune!"

"And I've had my year to think it over, Will. As though the fortune
mattered!"

"Not so much as that one other thing that kept you and me apart. Now I
must tell you - "

"No, no, let be! Tell me nothing! Will, aren't you here?"

"But I must! You must hear me! I've waited two years for this!"

"Long, Will! You've let me get old!"

"You old?" He kissed her in contempt of time. "But now wait, dear, for I
must tell you.

"You see, coming up the valley I met the Clerk of the Court of Oregon
City, and he knew I was headed up for the Yamhill. He asked me to serve
as his messenger. 'I've been sending up through all the valley
settlements in search of one William Banion,' he said to me. Then I told
him who I was. He gave me this."

"What is it?" She turned to her lover. He held in his hands a long
package, enfolded in an otter skin. "Is it a court summons for Will
Banion? They can't have you, Will!"

He smiled, her head held between his two hands.

"'I have a very important document for Colonel William Banion,' the
clerk said to me. 'It has been for some time in our charge, for
delivery to him at once should he come into the Oregon settlements. It
is from His Excellency, the President of the United States. Such
messages do not wait. Seeing it of such importance, and knowing it to be
military, Judge Lane opened it, since we could not trace the addressee.
If you like - if you are, indeed, Colonel William Banion' - that was what
he said."

He broke off, choking.

"Ah, Molly, at last and indeed I am again William Banion!"

He took from the otter skin - which Chardon once had placed over the
oilskin used by Carson to protect it - the long and formal envelope of
heavy linen. His finger pointed - "On the Service of the United States."

"Why, Will!"

He caught the envelope swiftly to his lips, holding it there an instant
before he could speak.

"My pardon! From the President! Not guilty - oh, not guilty! And I never
was!"

"Oh, Will, Will! That makes you happy?"

"Doesn't it you?"

"Why, yes, yes! But I knew that always! And I know now that I'd have
followed you to the gallows if that had had to be."

"Though I were a thief?"

"Yes! But I'd not believe it! I didn't! I never did! I could not!"

"You'd take my word against all the world - just my word, if I told you
it wasn't true? You'd want no proof at all? Will you always believe in
me in that way? No proof?"

"I want none now. You do tell me that? No, no! I'm afraid you'd give me
proofs! I want none! I want to love you for what you are, for what we
both are, Will! I'm afraid!"

He put his hands on her shoulders, held her away arms' length, looked
straight into her eyes.

"Dear girl," said he, "you need never be afraid any more."

She put her head down contentedly against his shoulder, her face
nestling sidewise, her eyes closed, her arms again quite around his
neck.

"I don't care, Will," said she. "No, no, don't talk of things!"

He did not talk. In the sweetness of the silence he kissed her tenderly
again and again.

And now the sun might sink. The light of the whole world by no means
died with it.

THE END








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