Ranch at the Wolverine (Chapter 8, page 2 of 5)

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Chapter 8

He would tell her about the wolves, of course. It was pretty hard not to tell her everything that concerned himself, but the streak of native reticence in his nature had been strengthened by the vicissitudes of the life he had lived. While Billy Louise had found the sole weak point which made that reticence scarcely a barrier to full confidence, still he knew that he would keep this from her if he made up his mind to it.

He would not tell anybody. He raised his head and looked at the hills where his cattle would feed, and pictured it cluttered with gold-hunters, greedy, undesirable interlopers doomed to disappointment in the long run. Ward had seen the gold fever sweep through a community and spoil life for the weak ones who took to chasing the will-o'-the-wisp of sudden wealth. Tramps of the pick-and-pan brigade--they should not come swarming into these hills on any wild-goose chase, if he could help it. And he could and should. This was not, properly speaking, a gold country. He knew it. The rock formations did not point to any great deposit of the mineral, and if he had found one, it was a fluke, an accident. He resolved that his first consideration should be the keeping of his secret for the mental well-being of his fellows.

Ward did not put it quite so altruistically. His thoughts formed into sentences.

"This is cattle country. If men want to hunt gold, they can do their hunting somewhere else. They can't go digging up the whole blamed country just on the chance of finding another pocket like this one. I'm in the cattle business myself. If I find any gold, it'll go into cattle and stay there; and there won't be any long-haired freaks pestering around here if I can help it, and I reckon maybe I can, all right.

"I'd sure like to talk it over with Billy, but what she don't know won't worry her; and I don't know yet what I've gone up against. Maybe old Dame Fortune's just played another joke on me--played me for a fool again. I'll take a chance, but I won't give that little girl down below there anything to spoil her sleep."

Ward's memory was like glue, and while it held things he would give much to forget, still it served him well. He had ridden past a tiny, partly caved-in dugout, months ago, where some wandering prospector had camped while he braved the barrenness of the bills and streams hereabout. Ward had dismounted and glanced into the cavelike hut. Now, after he had eaten a few mouthfuls of dinner, he rode straight over to that dugout and got the goldpan he remembered to have seen there. It was not in the best condition, of course. It was battered and bent, but it would do for the present.

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