“He said to let things grow until he showed up or I heard from him,” said Jim.
“Not what I would call enlightening,” said Bob Worther.
“That was his way of expressing it; but to do him justice, he showed what a good rancher he was by his attention to the details that had to be cared for,” Jim added.
“He’s like the spirit of the winds, I guess,” put in Mrs. Galway. “Something comes a-calling him or a-driving him, I don’t know which. Indeed, I’m not altogether certain that it isn’t a case of Mary Ewold this time!”
“Yes,” agreed Jim. “The fighting look went out of his face when she spoke, and when he saw how horrified she was, why, I never saw such a change come over a man! It was just like a piece of steel wilting.”
However, the children, who had no part in the august discussions of the committee of the whole, were certain that their story-teller would come back. Their ideas about Jack were based on a simple, self-convincing faith of the same order as Firio’s. Lonely as they were, they were hardly more lonely than their elders, who were supposed to have the philosophy of adults.
No Jack singing out “Hello!” on the main street! No Jack looking up from work to ask boyishly: “Am I learning? Oh, I’ll be the boss rancher yet!” No Jack springing all sorts of conceits, not of broad humor, but the kind that sort of set a “twinkling in your insides,” as Bob Worther expressed it! No Jack inspiring a feeling deeper than twinkles on his sad days! He had been an improvement in town life that became indispensable once it was absent. Little Rivers was fairly homesick for him.
“How did we ever get along without him before he came, anyway?” Bob Worther demanded.
Then another new-comer, as distinctive from the average settler as Jack was, diverted talk into another channel, without, however, reconciling the people to their loss.
ANOTHER STRANGER ARRIVES
If the history of Little Rivers were to be written in chapter headings the first would be, “Jasper Ewold Founded the Town”; the second, “Jack Wingfield Arrived”; and the third, “John Prather Arrived.”
While Jack came in chaps and spurs, bearing an argosy of fancy, Prather came by rail, carrying a suitcase in a conventional and businesslike fashion. Bill Deering, as the representative of a spring wagon that did the local omnibus and express business, was on the platform of the station when the 11:15 rolled in, and sang out, in a burst of joy, as the stranger, a man in the early twenties, stepped off the Pullman:
“What’s this, Jack? Back by train—and in store clothes? Well, of all—” and saw his mistake when the stranger’s full face was turned toward him.
“Yes, I am sometimes called Jack,” said the stranger pleasantly. “Now, where have we met before? Perhaps in Goldfield? No matter. It is time we got acquainted. My name is Prather, and yours?”