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The Grub-Staker
by [?]

“I’d send a sneak to purgatory–if I c’u’d. Ye thought ye’d ooze out, did ye? Nice speciment you are!”

Bidwell was roused. “If I had planned to sneak I wouldn’t ‘a’ come into the room with you a-standin’ in the middle of the floor,” he replied, with some firmness. “You ordered me out, didn’t you? Well, I’m goin’. I can’t pay you–you knew that when you told me to go–and I owe you a good deal–I admit that–but I’m going to pay it. But I must have a little time.”

The other men, with a grateful sense of delicacy, got up and went out, leaving Bidwell free space to justify himself in the eyes of the angry woman.

As the door slammed behind the last man the widow walked over and gave Bidwell a cuff. “Get off thim boondles. Gaw set on a chair like a man, an’ not squat there like a baboon.” She pitched his bundles through an open door into a small bedroom. “Ye know where yer bed is, I hope! I do’ know phwat Dan Delaney w’u’d say to me, housin’ and feedin’ the likes o’ you, but I’ll do it wan more summer–and then ye gaw flyin’. Ye hear that now!”

And she threw the door back on its hinges so sharply that a knob was broken.

Bidwell went in, closed the door gently, and took to his bed, dazed with this sudden change in the climate. “She’s come round before–and surprised me,” he thought, “but never so durn sudden as this. I hope she ain’t sick or anything.”

Next morning at breakfast Maggie was all smiles. The storm of the evening before had given place to brilliant sunshine. She ignored all winks and nudgings among her boarders, and did not scruple to point out to Bidwell the choicest biscuit on the plate, and to hand him the fattest slice of bacon, all of which he accepted without elation.

“Old Sherm must be one o’ these hypnotical chaps,” said Johnson as they were lighting their pipes in the sitting-room. “He’s converted the widow into another helping. He’s goin’ to get his flour and bacon all right!”

“You bet he is, and anything else he wants. Beats me what she finds in that old side-winder, anyhow.”

“Oh, Sherm isn’t so worse if he had a decent outfit.”

Bidwell was deeply touched by Maggie’s clemency, and would have put his feelings into the best terms he was familiar with, but the widow stopped him.

“The best way to thank me is to hustle out and trail up that flo-at. If it’s there, find it. If it’s not there, give o’er the search, for ye are a gray man, Sherm Bidwell, and I’m not the woman I was eight years ago.”

In the exaltation of the moment Bidwell rose, and his shoulders were squared as he said: “I’m a-goin’, Maggie. If I find it I’ll come back and marry you. If I don’t–I’ll lay my useless old bones in the hills.”

“Ah–go ‘long! Don’t be a crazy fool!” she said, but her face flushed with pleasure at the sincerity of his tone. “Ye’ve made such promises ivery time before.”

“I know I have, but I mean it now.”

“Aho! so that’s the way of it–ye didn’t mean it before? Is that phwat ye’re sayin’?”

His proud pose collapsed. “You know what I mean–only you’re such a tormentin’ little devil.”

“Thank ye for the compliment, Mr. Bidwell.”

Bidwell turned. “I’m going after old Nebuchadnezzar,” he said, firmly. “I can’t waste time on a chicken-headed woman–“

“Out wid ye before I break the measly head of ye!” she retorted.

An hour later, with his mule packed with food and blankets and tools, he moved off up the trail. The other men stood to watch him go, consumed with curiosity, yet withholding all question.

The widow did not so much as look from the door as her grub-staker disappeared.


Three days later Bidwell crept stealthily down the trail, leading his mule as silently as possible. He timed his arrival so that Mrs. Delaney would be in the kitchen alone with the Chinaman, getting the dishes ready for breakfast.