Ranch at the Wolverine (Chapter 8, page 1 of 5)


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Chapter 8

He had no goldpan of his own, since this was not a mining country, and his ambition had run in a different channel. He, therefore, took the tin washbasin down to the creek and dumped the sand into it. Then, squatting on his boot-heels at the edge of the stream, he filled the basin with water and rocked it gently with a rotary motion that proved him no novice at the work. His eyes were sharper and more intent in their gaze than Billy Louise had ever seen them, and, though his movements were unhurried, they were full of eagerness held in leash.

Several times he refilled the basin, and the amount of sand grew less and less, until there remained only a few spoonfuls of coarse gravel and a sediment that clung to the bottom of the basin and moved sluggishly around and around. He picked out the tiny pebbles one by one and threw them in the creek. He peered sharply at a small bit and held it in his fingers, while he bent his face close to the pan, his eyes two gimlets boring into the contents.

He got up stiffly, backed, and sat down upon the low bank with his feet far apart and his shoulders bent, while he stared at the little bit of mineral in his fingers.

"Coarse gold, and not such a hell of a lot," he pronounced to himself with careful impartiality. "But it's pay dirt, and if there's enough of it, it'll help a lot at this end of the cow business." He sat there a long time, thinking and planning and holding himself sternly to cold reality, rejecting every possibility that had the slightest symptom of being an air-castle. He did not intend to let this thing turn his head or betray him into any foolishness whatsoever. He was going to look at the thing cold-bloodedly and put his imagination in cold storage for the present.

His first impulse--to ride straight to the Wolverine and show Billy Louise these three tiny nuggets--he rejected as a bit of foolishness. He was perfectly willing to trust Billy Louise with any secret he possessed, but he knew that he would be feeding her imagination with dangerous fuel. She would begin dreaming and building castles and prospecting for herself, very likely; and that trail led oftenest to black disappointment. If he made good, he would tell her--when he told her something else. And if the whole thing were just a fluke, a stray deposit of a little gold that did not amount to anything, then it would be best for her to know nothing about it. Ward felt in himself, at that moment, the keen foretaste of bitter disappointment which would follow such a certainty. He did not want Billy Louise exposed to that pain.

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