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[Illustration: SHE STARED BEWILDERED INTO THE SHAGGY FACES AROUND
HER.--PAGE 21.]




A WAIF OF THE MOUNTAINS

BY

EDWARD S. ELLIS

AUTHOR OF "UP THE TAPAJOS," "FROM THE THROTTLE TO THE PRESIDENT'S CHAIR,"
"THE LAND OF WONDERS," ETC.

CHICAGO

GEO. M. HILL CO.

PUBLISHERS




COPYRIGHT, 1900,

BY

THE MERSHON COMPANY




A WAIF OF THE MOUNTAINS

CHAPTER I

AT NEW CONSTANTINOPLE


IT had been snowing hard for twenty-four hours at Dead Man's Gulch.
Beginning with a few feathery particles, they had steadily increased
in number until the biting air was filled with billions of snowflakes,
which whirled and eddied in the gale that howled through the gorges
and caņons of the Sierras. It was still snowing with no sign of
cessation, and the blizzard blanketed the earth to the depth of
several feet, filling up the treacherous hollows, caverns and abysses
and making travel almost impossible for man or animal.

The shanties of the miners in Dead Man's Gulch were just eleven in
number. They were strung along the eastern side of the gorge and at an
altitude of two or three hundred feet from the bed of the pass or
caņon. The site protruded in the form of a table-land, offering a
secure foundation for the structures, which were thus elevated
sufficiently to be beyond reach of the terrific torrents that
sometimes rushed through the ravine during the melting of the snow in
the spring, or after one of those fierce cloud-bursts that give
scarcely a minute's warning of their coming.

The diggings were in the mountain side at varying distances. The
success in mining had been only moderate, although several promising
finds raised hopes. The population numbered precisely thirty men,
representing all quarters of the Union, while five came from Europe.
The majority were shaggy, bronzed adventurers, the variety being
almost as great as the numbers. Some had been clerks, several were
college graduates, a number were the sons of wealthy parents, and one
was a full-fledged parson, while there was a certain percentage who
had left their homes to escape the grip of the offended law.

With that yearning for picturesqueness which is a peculiar trait of
Americans, the miners felt that when their settlement had attained the
dignity of nearly a dozen dwellings, it was entitled to an appropriate
name. The gorge, which seemed to have been gouged out of the solid
mass of boulders and rocks, when the mountains were split apart in the
remote past, was known from the first by the title already given,
which also clung to the diggings themselves.

The single saloon presided over by Max Ortigies, was the Heavenly
Bower,--so _that_ point was settled, but when it came to naming the
settlement itself, the difficulties were so numerous that days and
weeks passed without an agreement being reached. No matter how
striking and expressive the title offered by one man, the majority
promptly protested. It was too sulphurous, or too insipid or it lacked
in that nebulous characteristic which may be defined as true
Americanism. It looked as if the problem would never be solved, when
Landlord Ortigies, taking the bull by the horns, appointed a committee
of three to select a name, the others pledging themselves to accept
whatever the committee submitted.

But the mischief was to pay when on the night of the blizzard the
committee met at the Heavenly Bower to make their report. The chairman
insisted upon "E Pluribus Unum," the second member's favorite was
"Murderer's Holler," while the third would not listen to anything
except "Wolf Eye," and each was immovably set in his convictions.

Budge Isham was not a member of the committee, but he was known as a
college graduate. From his seat on an overturned box at the rear of
the room, where he was smoking a pipe, he asked troublesome questions
and succeeded in arraying the committeemen so fiercely against one
another that each was eager to vote, in the event of failing to carry
his own point, in favor of any name objectionable to the rest.

The chairman as stated favored the patriotic name "E Pluribus Unum,"
and boldly announced the fact.

"It has a lofty sound," blandly remarked Isham; "will the chairman be
good enough to translate it for us? In other words, what does 'E
Pluribus Unum' mean?"

"Why," replied the chairman with scorn in his manner; "everybody
oughter know it means, 'Hurrah for the red, white and blue.'"

"Thank you," returned Isham, puffing at his pipe.

Vose Adams, the second committeeman, felt it his duty to explain his
position.

"The trouble with that outlandish name is in the fust place that it
has three words and consequently it's too much to manage. Whoever
heard of a town with three handles to its name? Then it's foreign.
When I was in college (several disrespectful sniffs which caused the
speaker to stop and glare around in quest of the offenders); I say
when I was in college and studying Greek and Chinese and Russian, I
larned that that name was made up of all three of them languages. I
b'leve in America for the Americans, and if we can't find a name
that's in the American language, why let's wait till we can."

This sentiment was delivered with such dramatic force that several of
the miners nodded their heads in approval. It was an appeal to the
patriotic side of their nature--which was quick to respond.

"Mr. Chairman," said Budge Isham, addressing the landlord, who, by
general consent, was the presiding officer at these disputations, and
who like the others failed to see the quiet amusement the educated man
was extracting, "if it is agreeable to Mr. Adams, to whose eloquent
speech we have listened with much edification, I would like him to
give us his reasons for calling our handsome town 'Murderers'
Hollow.'"

The gentleman appealed to rose to his feet. Turning toward the man who
had called upon him, he gave him a look which ought to have made him
sink to the floor with mortification, preliminary to saying with
polished irony:

"If the gentleman had paid attention as he oughter, he would have
obsarved that I said 'Murderer's Holler,' not 'Murderers' _Hollow_.' I
would advise him not to forget that he ain't the only man in this
place that has received a college eddycation. Now as to the name: it
proclaims our stern virtue and love for law."

The orator paused, but the wondering expression of the bronzed
faces turned toward him showed that he would have to descend to
particulars.

"When violators of the law hear that name, what does it say to them?
It says that if any murderer shows his face in this place, he will
receive such rough handling that he will have to holler 'enough,' and
will be glad to get out--I don't see what there is to laugh at!"
exclaimed Vose angrily, looking threateningly around again with his
fists clenched and his gaze fixed specially upon the grinning Budge
Isham.

"There's some sense in what Vose says, which ain't often the case,"
remarked Ike Hoe, the other member of the committee, "but the trouble
will be that when folks hear of the name, they won't think to give it
the meanin' that he gives it. They'll conclude that this place is the
home of murderers, and, if it keeps on, bime by of hoss thieves. If it
warn't for that danger, I might go in for backing up Vose with his
name, but as it stands it won't do."

The argument of Ike had produced its effect. There was little sympathy
in the first place for the title, and that little was destroyed by the
words of Ike, who proceeded to plead for his own choice.

"Now as to 'Wolf Eye.' In the first place, it is short and easy to
say. There ain't any slur in the name, that might offend a new comer,
who would think the 'Murderer's Holler' contained ungentlemanly
allusions to his past. It is warning, too, that the place has got an
eye on everybody and has teeth as sharp as a wolf. Then there is
poetry in the name. Gentlemen," added Ike in a burst of enthusiasm,
"we oughter go in for poetry. How can any one live in such a glorious
country as this with the towering kenyons around him, with the
mountains thousands of feet deep, with the grand sun kissin' the
western tips in the morning and sinking to rest at night in the
east,--with the snow storms in summer and the blazing heat in
winter--with the glo----"

"Hold on! hold on!" called Budge Isham, rising solemnly to his feet,
with hands uplifted in protest; "if Ike doesn't stop, he'll have us
all standing on our heads. There's a brand of liquor down in
Sacramento called 'Wolf Eye;' I don't make any charges, gentlemen,
against my friend Ike, but you can draw your inferences. Wolf Eye
won't do."

A general laugh greeted this sally, seeing which the indignant Ike
turned the tables upon Budge with an admirable piece of sarcasm.

"Seeing as how all of us together don't know 'nough to git up a name
that will suit, I move that the college eddycated gentleman supplies
the brains and does it himself."

The crushing irony of this remark was spoiled by Budge accepting it in
all seriousness. He bowed his head and gracefully thanked the
satirical Vose.

"I shall be very glad to do so. The committee meant well enough, but
the trouble was that there were too many fools on it----"

At this point Wade Ruggles sprang to his feet, with the fierce
question:

"Does the gentleman refer to _me_?"

His hand was at his hip on the butt of his revolver and matters
looked squally, but the tactful Budge quelled the rising storm with
Chesterfieldian grace. Waving his hand and bowing, he said:

"I did not intend the remotest reference to you."

Vose Adams came up promptly.

"Then it's _me_ and I'm ready to make any man eat his words."

"My good friend is mistaken; nothing could induce me to apply such a
term to him; I hold him in too high esteem."

Since this left Ike Hoe as the only remaining member, he began to show
signs of explosion, perceiving which the incomprehensible Budge
proceeded to mollify him.

"And Ike knows that I would be the last person in the world to slur a
gentleman from whom I as well as the others have received so much
instruction."

Ike was mystified.



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