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The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913, February 26, 1905, Image 4

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THE SUNDAY CALL'S
50$ A WEEK PRIZE
STORY
THE TALE OF A PACK-TRAIN
LOUISE
WEAVER
THE Western sun poured a flood of
dear, speckless light down the
long parting between the moun-
JL tain slopes. On either side red
woods, flr£. spruces, close-packed, rose
to the crests of the ranges, while down
the river to the west, nanking the sun's
pathway, crowding, timber-clad ridges
faded away- -Into jagged, purple dis
tances.
A faded, false-fronted store, with a
high porch, a blacksmith shop and two
dwellings spread their rustic, rambling
shapes on the level and unlevel be
tween the meetings of the hills.
Billy Williams stood below the store
porch taking off the packs and pack
saddles from the back? if twenty-three
mules. Twenty-four of the sturdy, ill-,
tempered beasts had formed the train
in the morning.
As he tossed the bundles of picks and
shovels, the kegs of powde. and colls
of fuse, the sacks of flour and slabs of
bacon in a pile alcng the edge of the
porch, through the open store door
Billy could hear Bcastr. his boss, tell
ing Brown, the blacksmith, in graphic,
lorceful language how another mule
and pack had gone down the bank on
the dangerous River Trail.
He was saying, "By gum. Billy'd bust
up a millionaire at the rate he's going —
two Bales in five month
Billy could not hear Brown's reply,
but he had no difficulty in catching
Be&sly's next heated remark.
"It's no use. Luck's dead agin him.
"Well, no; I don't know as he's to blame,
but when Luck gets a man up a stamp
be Might as well quit, and, by cracky,
if he looses another one before th* year
is out I'll lire him."
The red Mood of anger and chagrin
surged up over Billy's face and burned
darkly in his" cheek?, for out of the- tail
of his eye he eouid see Charley Chirm,
the other pack-driver, leaning against
the door-jamb smoking and listening
to every word that was said.
At the gleam of satisfaction which
shot over that smiling' "face up there
above him Billy's Ire rose. It would
have given him a savage joy to strike
the chance to chew his rival.
Billy finished unpacking and drove
the mules down to the feed corral,
while his heart was hot within him.
He was not going to let the boss "are"
him — bo he told the mules— he'd jump
the job and let old .Beasly whistle for
a driver. It was not his fault that* that
rope slipped on that keg of nails and
threw the weight to one side and over
balanced that last mule. Guess the
boss wouldn't find it such ah easy mat
ter to »pick up a trusty man these
times. The next driver might not be
any luckier arid might slide' out with
th' whole caboodle to boot, then
where'd Bc-aely get off. /
As he tossed the pitchfork on' the
haymow a eoft."who-oo" came to him
from across .the narrow trail. . .
At sight ot the face above the pickets
of the little garden fence in front of
the low ranch l.ouse Billy's anger slid
from him as a /cloak slips unnoticed
from the shoulders to the ground.
It wag Bessie, old BeaSly's daughter.
Billy had forgotten her .while he cursed
h «• luck' and Charley and old Beasly
and the mules' all in a bunch. ;
"The kitten has fallen into the well
and Johnny and 1 can't get her out."
she called to ; him. , , ' '"'■
Billy strod^ acroes to; the ence, leap
ed over arid stood beside the girl.
Daintily winsome ehe looked as she
stood there in the late afternoon light.
■What made you so late . to-day,
Billy?" she asked he t followed her
up to the well. ' ',
"Oh," he answered slowly, "I played
on the way." 'j^^gWl^j^^^^S^^^
Fhe looked steadily up at him for an
Instant but said nothing* 5 then their
heads bent close together over the high
curbing. ' . . \ :/ , ' '
V. hen Billy let himself down into the
we.ll and brought up the dripping crea
ture, Bessie's face as she took the
wretched kitten from his pocket while
he still hung in the curbing, more than
repaid him. He was rather glad puss
fell into the well. -■-,■..
And It was pleasant standing under
the pulley, drawing up bucketful after
bucketful of the water into .which the"
cat had taken her involuntary plunge
while Bessie chatted to him or turned
the trough to water the geranium »°ds.
Quite suddenly Bessie asked, "What
is it. Billy?" > .
"What what?" he asked in reply,
glancing inquiringly down at her.
Why. with you." she said, looking
searchingly at this tall pack driver.
"Nothing." he answered quietly,
resting the bucket on the curbing.
She looked at him evenly for a mo
ment, then with h"r head up she
turned and walked toward th 2 house.
"Wait." he called submissively, "it
wasn't anything only 1 just lost an
other mu'e to-day."
She watched his reddening cheeks for
a minute.
• Don't do it; Billy." she cried softly.
"Do what," he asked.
"Why, quit the job as you've -been
thinking of doing." ."Well, why Hot?"
he asked.
"What!" she exclaimed, "and let
some one else, get ahead of you? I
would!" she cried scornfully.
"Bessie," he began in low soft tones
cs he caught her hand, but the slam
of the little garden sate startled them
and Ch^rlpy Chlhri with his hat on the
buck ef his head, his hands In his
pockets and the sneering smile still on
the corner of his Ifpa lounged toward
them between the geranium beds.'-
Billy bit his lip and swore roundly
under his breath. He turned and strode
away. He would not wait to "witness
the balancing of the score. Miss Bes
sie did it with such consummate skill
that the most Impartial observer could
not have told which of the two drivers
stood first.
Billy's train with Billy in the saddle"
of the hind mule pulled out for Willow
Springs the next, morning before the
Eun capped the/peaks that towered
abi/ve j the little hamlet, and he jingled
in and out regularly twice a week for
months, then' one trip the boy who rode
the lead mule was taken down , with
the measles' and Billy was left without
a leader till Johnny jumped at' the
chance, and begged so hard for "just
this one trip" that Beasly, who del
nied the boy nothing, let him ga . ,
The next trip arid the next found the
boy astride Old Gray's back jogging
down the trail till Bessie was near
driven distracted with fear and worry
from the time the . little: fellow's. ; old
straw hat sank below : the ; banks down
the trail till it rose above them on his
return.
In the meantime Charley lost a mule
and then a pack till he had not so
much to brag over Billy, yet not a whit
of . the swagger dropped from his gait.
As for Billy, he never rode a trip that
he did not give* a sigh of relief when
his train was, safely landed. :/:; '
So ; the rivalry increased / and . each
smile of 'Bessie's' arid each successful
trip .of Billy's added fuel to the : flame
of the other's, passion till : : there was
like to be a conflagration ' along ■ the
Trinity. . ' *.■ / ;'■/;///:/;/ ;./O :? .:;; :-/ /"
And so Billy's year drew to a close.
One more down trip, one more up trip
completed . his months of grace. . . ;
. As it happened some . of \ the > young
fellows • from the - scattered }/ ranches
planned a dance - for 1 that / particular
Friday : night.* , "•■•"':;:;"
- Billy ■ didn't % hear of the ; party : till
after, he had eaten his supper Tuesday
■ night and when he went over ?to the
Beasley; cottage , Bessie had promised
■ her company to Charley for the dance.
" - Billy's defeat this time was like sail.
THE SAN FRANCISCO SUNDAY CALL.
The bitterness of it clung round him
all the. long way down to Korbel, where ,
he was to load up with goods from ...
Eureka for the return trip. .'.,, % -. •
But for all that Billy could, not resist
a ring that, caught his eye in at the
watchmaker's where he went to get his
watch that evening. He was quite car- ;
ried away with two hands clasping
two hearts and bought .It " then ■ and
, there, ' calling ..'himself a * fool all the
time he was doing it and doubting that
she would let him give it to her. "' ?!
The second morning out from iKor- '
bel Billy looked to the loading /of ..the '
packs himself. „ He tried each rope and
strap' to ttst the strength of its fasten
ing. Each r>ack; must be balanced to
th« fraction of an ounce.
With. Johnny ._ in the lead - on , Old
Gray they were off tip the river be
times. ". ; ■■ "'' V." • / '" ; .
' Acriss the ford the trail " turned
sharply to the right up stream over. a
level strip three or four rods wide. For
a mile or more the path kept its mar
gin, then ail at once the "crowding
mountain wail pushed it over to the
very ! river's brink.
Just here Billy halted the train and
went rom 7 pack :to pack 'relying a
rope, recasting a .diamond hitch, loos
ening and resetting a pack, shaking an- '.
other to find' out if it were firm, till he
had made each secure for the perilous
trail beyond. , .■
Easily round to the left swung the
trail. '; It bore round a dip in. the can
yon wall, out again round a sharper
point where the basalt wall fell " pre
cipitately almost from the. mules' feet
sixty, "eighty, a hundred feet to the
swirling, turbid waters? of the Trinity
below. .■■-■"■_ ; ,"' ■ ■'-*.-■■■■■
- Johnny slid from Old Gray: a' shoul
ders- to i ho trail ! and ran on into th'4 I*''1 *''
deep bend of Devil's, Elbow, where a
cluster ■'/ of pepperwoods and holly
found root iii the scanty, soil in the
scams of ! the rocks. ..'/ l[ .'■'
Billy watched uld Gray away' at the "■]
lead jingle-jangling slowly round ; into |
the /Elbow, passing gln ■ behind . . the I
shrubs and • jangle-jingling leisurely
out. again' on^ the other side A coming
■ on toward him not two rods off ; across V
the bond." - The : train : followed on :at
a snail's puce -?. behind " ; her. teen ;
sixteen', seventeen, then . Johnny car- /
rying < a partly - skinned ' rattlesnake
came in sight.' • , " J >
: v, Round out of. Devil's Elbow Billy
jogged behind the train, this last out
ward' curve turned v round '■' ■'. to a ;
straight , stretch, with smoother walls :
below, more threatening masses above
than any they had yet ; passed. Away
on I beyond * there : It ; ran - safely out Into >
» grove of : pines. ■"■'; ■'" ''.':.- ..:-'.■:■/■, ''■■';■'.-' .'■ :i--
■ Billy felt an uneasy thrill every
time the train came to this part of ■/
the trail, with : its ledge so narrow,
there was . Just room for the mules' ;
feet, bo ■ narrow he must take ; infinite j
care •' lest some bulky / pack \ hang out ;
and ; brush the canyon wall. ; -£ ; :v ' r
;' : Across the river, tier on tier, rank
•on i rank, : rose "'{, the r pines. An/ oriole .
Bomewhere In a bend lilted and ? trilled
in ran : ecstacy .■'. of ■- song. '}",'; Below, the
river, narrow and deep ; and : yellow —
Irom the washings of ; the mineB —
' thundered ' over its bowldery bed.
; Billy reached out and loosened a bit
;of rock and 7 flung it into the depths >
I below. ; A long way down It was. Then '».
he watched ; a buzzard* soaring round
and '■- back and round again In the blue,
cloudless sky. Had somebody's mule 3
gone down the bank, he wondered,
:: that this creature was sailing about in
search of? ,-4,;... "'' / - -, \ :%?£
His eyes 1 roamed back to the mulus
in front, toiling on, /each with muzzle
close to ; the heels of j; the next, only a
step between, pacing steadily on to
the ting, ting-a-ling of the bell. A .
-long: string/ they made of dun and gray
and brown, their heads low with only
now ? and ; then a/pair ' of eara flapping /
above their packs. He watched the
creases roll up and disappear on old
Mike's hlpe. The old rascal kept fat,
if he did carry the heaviest load of
the lot.
Old Gray was past the middle 6f the
danger ground and Billy was beginning
to breathe freer a,nd to tell himself
that his last load was safe when with
a sudden jangle the bell ceased and
the whole train halted.
Bl!!y glanced ahead in wonder along
a lino of humpy bumpy packs, along
a line of nineteen or twenty patient
drooping; mules to where Old Gray, al-
Biott to the safety limit on the pines,
with three or four mules behind her,
stood with heads on high and ears
flung far forward snorting with fright.
Billy could see something black; he
could not make out what It was for
the mules' heads partly hid the object
in front of them.
Old Grey with the other three or four
turned on the instant and leaped and
plunged back on the animals behind
them and on each other.
« A rearing, a pounding of fore feet on
boxes and packs and shoulders, brays
of intense fear, through it all th^
clang-lang of the bell. The sudden fall
ing of four bodies, Old Gray in the
midst, the whirling, the tumbling,
packs up, heels up, the sudden final
bang of the bell, ftw sickening splash
below, all stunned Billy.
He sat and chewed the end of a
holly branch and thought how bitter
the bark was.
The open space made by the falling
mules disclosed to Billy and to several
more of the mules a black bear stand
ing on the trail.
Two more mules went down. The
clinging prolonging agony of slipping,
slipping, clinging with their fore feet
to the trail tore Billy with pity. He
waked to sense yie fact that, should
the bear come en, even If he remained
in his tracks, all the mules would go
down the precipice.
He whooped and shouted and popped
his quirt and swung his hat to frighten
the bear. He seized his horn and blew
a blast, the assembly, the reveille,
boots and saddles. He coaxed and ca
joled the mules.
"Easy, now; easy, old girl, no fear.
He's as much afald of us as we are of
him."
The next two or three mules were
backing and turning with noses out
and ears back. They trampled and
surged on the quivering animals be
hind them. A brown mass swung out
ward, paused an instant, down, down
it went like a shot. It was followed
by the next two or three that caught
sight of the bear.
Billy called and whistled and blew
his hern in frantic horror.
The crowding line settled back like
the jolting together of a train of cars.
The hindmost mules could not see the
bear, but they might soon be ©hoved
off by the ones that could see him.
Suddenly Billy thought of Johnny.
"My God! where is the boy?"
He 6hc-uted, "Johnny, Johnny, are
you there?"
"Here, what are you stopping for?
Old Betsy, you are crowding me,"
came in Johnny's high voice.
For an Instant Billy sat numb with
fear. If those in front kept plunging
out into space, those behind would see
the bear and whirl to certain death be
low. Johnny was there between them.
Nothing could save him. If he were
not thrown off he would be trampled to
death.
The cold sweat broke out on Billy's
face.
The trail would be a blank without
Johnny Once he glanced down, think
ing the boy had surely gone; he could
see his red calico waist dashing down
the descent.
A strong sense of shame sweyt over
him as he thought of telling the boy's
folks at home.
Then the instant's torpor left him. He
knew what to do — the only thing left
to do.
He sprang up in the saddle and
crawled carefully over to the back of
the mule in front. The beast already
carried its full burden in its pack. He
must move with care, lesti the extra
weight cause It to sway outward, or,
worse still, to step back alnd fall off
the narrow footing. Straight over the
center of its back he crept; on to its
shoulders; over to the hips of the one
in front. This one moved slightly, and
Billy braced himself for a struggle.
The trail looked narrower than ever
as he glanced down at it.
On to the next he cautiously crept,
holding himself ever ready to make the
attempt to swins in to the empty
trail If the mule went down. The shov
ing and straining Increased, and John
ny's voice called in querulous, appeal
ing tones:
"Billy, Billy, old Betsy is squeezing
me to death. Make her get up."
"Yes, yes, Johnny; hold on Just a
minute. I'm coming," Billy shouted
confidently.
On over the next and the next he
made his way. When he reached
down from Tony's back and took hold
of Johnny's arm and tried to drag
him from between the mules he
couldn't move the boy.
"You hurt my arm." whined
Johnny.
"I must if I get you out," Billy ex
claimed, desperately
"Get up, there, Betsy. Go on: move
an Inch," he screamed, as he struck
her fiercely with his quirt. The blow
forced her forward and crowded the
next but one off the trail.
The sudden ceasing of the strain
almost threw Billy off Tony's back,
but he seized the mule's neck with
one arm and dragged Johnny up with
the other.
"Would it be sr.fe to stay with
'Tony?" Billy thought for a moment.
The boy was limp and fainting.
Billy glanced forward. The horrible
melee continued ever nearer sad
nearer.
He took Johnny under one arm and
crawled over the pack, reached out
and threw hia arm over the next
mule's neck, drew his burden on this
beast's shoulders, back over hia pack,
on to his hips. A jar from the back
ward struggling mules tipped him
toward the gulf below. He clung with
his heels to the mule's flanks.
He clutched at the roach of th«
next animal and saved himself. Two
more he must clamber over before he
and Johnny were in safety at the end
of the line.
Over shoulders and packs and hips
in feverish haste yet ever slower
and slower he made his way.
His own mule backed a step and
stumbled as he slipped to the
trail safe at last.
He carried Johriffy back into the
elbow and laid him down in the
shade.
When Billy ran back to the males
but six were left on the trail and the
bear was nowhere in siyht.
Billy was stunned with his loss. He
stood and stared at the blank trail and
down at the swirling flood below him.
It had swallowed up eighteen of hto
twenty-four mules.
How could he tell them up at Beas
ley's? His fate wu sealed now. His
shimmery castles were shattered by
one tittle tap from Luck's gnarled,
scraggy sttck.
Besides his anguish for the loss of
the girl — which he now reit was a cer
tainty—stood his pity for his boss.
This last would almost ruin the old
man. He stood and looked blankly
down at. the waters that covered a Itt
tle fortune.
Then numb and heartsick he went
buck and aat down beside the boy till
the lad revivad.
Stolidly on behind the little retfinant
of the train they trndged, not yet trust-
Ing themselves \o Jack's back Hfl they
came to the pines, then Billy took
Johnny up behind htm.
(Concluded on Following Pafßv)

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