Ranch at the Wolverine (Chapter 9, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 9

One day, when the sun was warm and the breeze that filtered down the gorge was pleasantly cool, Ward straightened his aching back, waded out to dry ground, and sat down to rest a few minutes and make a smoke. His interest in the work had oozed steadily since sunrise, and left nothing but the back-breaking toil. He had found a nugget the size of a hazelnut in the second pan that morning, so it was not discouragement that had made his monotonous movements grow slow and reluctant. Until he had smoked half the cigarette, he himself did not know what it was that ailed him. Then he flung up his head quite suddenly and gave a snort of understanding.

"Hang the gold! I'm going visiting for a change."

He concealed the goldpan and his pick, shovel, and sacks in the clump of service berries and chokeberries that grew at the foot of the ledge and hid from view the bank where he dug out his pay dirt. That did not take more than two or three minutes, and he made them up after he had swung into the saddle on the farther hillside. It was not a good trail, and except for his first exultant ride home that way, he had ridden it at a walk. Now he made Rattler trot where loping was too risky; and so he came clattering down the steep trail into the little flat beside his cabin. He would have something to eat, and feed Rattler a little hay, and then ride on to the Wolverine. And now that he had yielded to his hunger to see the one person in the world for whom he felt any tenderness, he grudged every minute that separated him from her. He loosened the cinch with one or two yanks and left the saddle on Rattler, to save time. He turned him loose in the hay corral with the bridle off, rather than spend the extra minutes it would take to put him in a stall and carry him a forkful of hay. He thought he would not bother to start a fire and boil coffee; he would eat the sour-dough bread and fried rabbit hams he had taken with him for lunch, and he would start down the creek in half an hour. He imagined himself an extremely sensible young man and considerate of his horse's comfort, to give him thirty precious minutes in which to eat hay. It was not absolutely necessary; Rattler could travel forty miles instead of twenty without another mouthful, so far as that was concerned. Ward was simply behaving in a perfectly normal manner and was not letting his feelings get the better of him in the slightest degree. As to his impromptu vacation, he was certainly entitled to it; he ought to have taken one long ago, he told himself virtuously. He had panned dirt all day, the Fourth of July; that was last week, he believed. And he had not made more than two dollars, either. No, he was not behaving foolishly at all. He had himself well in hand.

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