“Know where to dig for samples under this snow?”
The boy nodded. “Some in my shack too. I—” His head went down upon the crossed arms. Smith laid an awkward hand on the heaving shoulders, then rose and crossed the room to where the girl had stumbled in her vigil. Gently he touched the darkened streak where her shoulders had rubbed and blurred the newspaper print. He looked from the relentless white desert outside to the gay bravery within and bent his head. “Turkey-red—calico!”
There was the sound of jingling harness and the crunch of runners. The men bundled into fur coats.
“Hillas, the draw right by the house here,” Smith stopped and looked sharply at the plainsman, then went on with firm carelessness, “This draw ought to strike a low grade that would come out near the river level. Does Dan know Clark’s address?” Hillas nodded.
They tiptoed out and closed the door behind them softly. The wind had swept every cloud from the sky and the light of the northern stars etched a dazzling world. Dan was checking up the leaders as Hillas caught him by the shoulder and shook him like a clumsy bear.
“Dan, you blind old mole, can you see the headlight of the Overland Freight blazing and thundering down that draw over the Great Missouri and Eastern?”
“I knew you couldn’t!” Hillas thumped him with furry fist. “Dan,” the wind might easily have drowned the unsteady voice, “I’ve told Mr. Smith about the coal—for freight. He’s going to help us get capital for mining and after that the road.”
“Smith! Smith! Well, I’ll be—aren’t you a claim spotter?”
He turned abruptly and crunched toward the stage. His passengers followed. Dan paused with his foot on the runner and looked steadily at the traveller from under lowered, shaggy brows.
“You’re going to get a road out here?”
“I’ve told Hillas I’ll put money in your way to mine the coal. Then the railroad will come.”
Dan’s voice rasped with tension. “We’ll get out the coal. Are you going to see that the road is built?”
Unconsciously the traveller held up his right hand. “I am!”
Dan searched his face sharply. Smith nodded. “I’m making my bet on the people—friend!”
It was a new Dan who lifted his bronzed face to a white world. His voice was low and very gentle. “To bring a road here,” he swung his whip-handle from Donovan’s light around to Carson’s square, sweeping in all that lay behind, “out here to them—” The pioneer faced the wide desert that reached into a misty space ablaze with stars, “would be like—playing God!”
The whip thudded softly into the socket and Dan rolled up on the driver’s seat. Two men climbed in behind him. The long lash swung out over the leaders as Dan headed the old mail-sled across the drifted right-of-way of the Great Missouri and Eastern.