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The Remittance Man
by [?]

After Windy Bill had finished his story we began to think it time to turn in. Uncle Jim and Charley slid and slipped down the chute-like passage leading from the cave and disappeared in the direction of the overhang beneath which they had spread their bed. After a moment we tore off long bundles of the nigger-head blades, lit the resinous ends at our fire, and with these torches started to make our way along the base of the cliff to the other cave.

Once without the influence of the fire our impromptu links cast an adequate light. The sheets of rain became suddenly visible as they entered the circle of illumination. By careful scrutiny of the footing I gained the entrance to our cave without mishap. I looked back. Here and there irregularly gleamed and spluttered my companions’ torches. Across each slanted the rain. All else was of inky blackness except where, between them and me, a faint red reflection shone on the wet rocks. Then I turned inside.

Now, to judge from the crumbling powder of the footing, that cave had been dry since Noah. In fact, its roof was nearly a thousand feet thick. But since we had spread our blankets, the persistent waters had soaked down and through. The thousand-foot roof had a sprung a leak. Three separate and distinct streams of water ran as from spigots. I lowered my torch. The canvas tarpaulin shone with wet, and in its exact centre glimmered a pool of water three inches deep and at least two feet in diameter.

“Well, I’ll be,” I began. Then I remembered those three wending their way along a wet and disagreeable trail, happy and peaceful in anticipation of warm blankets and a level floor. I chuckled and sat on my heels out of the drip.

First came Jed Parker, his head bent to protect the fire in his pipe. He gained the very centre of the cave before he looked up.

Then he cast one glance at each bed, and one at me. His grave, hawk-like features relaxed. A faint grin appeared under his long moustache. Without a word he squatted down beside me.

Next the Cattleman. He looked about him with a comical expression of dismay, and burst into a hearty laugh.

“I believe I said I was sorry for those other fellows,” he remarked.

Windy Bill was the last. He stooped his head to enter, straightened his lank figure, and took in the situation without expression.

“Well, this is handy,” said he; “I was gettin’ tur’ble dry, and was thinkin’ I would have to climb way down to the creek in all this rain.”

He stooped to the pool in the centre of the tarpaulin and drank.

But now our torches began to run low. A small dry bush grew near the entrance. We ignited it, and while it blazed we hastily sorted a blanket apiece and tumbled the rest out of the drip.

Our return without torches along the base of that butte was something to remember. The night was so thick you could feel the darkness pressing on you; the mountain dropped abruptly to the left, and was strewn with boulders and blocks of stone. Collisions and stumbles were frequent. Once I stepped off a little ledge five or six feet–nothing worse than a barked shin. And all the while the rain, pelting us unmercifully, searched out what poor little remnants of dryness we had been able to retain.

At last we opened out the gleam of fire in our cave, and a minute later were engaged in struggling desperately up the slant that brought us to our ledge and the slope on which our fire burned.

“My Lord!” panted Windy Bill, “a man had ought to have hooks on his eyebrows to climb up here!”