So the next morning at daylight Keith found himself sitting in the boot, enveloped in old Tim’s greatcoat, enthroned in that high seat toward which he had looked in his childhood-dreams.
It was hard work and more or less perilous work, but his experience as a boy on the plantation and at Squire Rawson’s, when he had driven the four-horse wagon, stood him in good stead.
Old Tim’s illness was more protracted than any one had contemplated, and, before the first winter was out, Gordon had a reputation as a stage-driver second only to old Gilsey himself.
Stage-driving, however, was not his only occupation, and before the next Spring had passed, Keith had become what Mr. Plume called “one of Gumbolt’s rising young sons.” His readiness to lend a hand to any one who needed a helper began to tell. Whether it was Mr. Gilsey trying to climb with his stiff joints to the boot of his stage, or Squire Rawson’s cousin, Captain Turley, the sandy-whiskered, sandy-clothed surveyor, running his lines through the laurel bushes among the gray debris of the crumbled mountain-side; Mr. Quincy Plume trying to evolve new copy from a splitting head, or the shouting wagon-drivers thrashing their teams up the muddy street, he could and would help any one.
He was so popular that he was nominated to be the town constable, a tribute to his victory over Mr. Bluffy.
Terpy and he, too, had become friends, and though Keith stuck to his resolution not to visit her “establishment,” few days went by that she did not pass him on the street or happen along where he was, and always with a half-abashed nod and a rising color.
KEITH DECLINES AN OFFER
With the growth of Gumbolt, Mr. Wickersham and his friends awakened to the fact that Squire Rawson was not the simple cattle-dealer he appeared to be, but was a man to be reckoned with. He not only held a large amount of the most valuable property in the Gap, but had as yet proved wholly intractable about disposing of it. Accordingly, the agent of Wickersham & Company, Mr. Halbrook, came down to Gumbolt to look into the matter. He brought with him a stout, middle-aged Scotchman, named Matheson, with keen eyes and a red face, who was represented to be the man whom Wickersham & Company intended to make the superintendent of their mines as soon as they should be opened.
The railroad not having yet been completed more than a third of the way beyond Eden, Mr. Halbrook took the stage to Gumbolt.
Owing to something that Mr. Gilsey had let fall about Keith, Mr. Halbrook sent next day for Keith. He wanted him to do a small piece of surveying for him. With him was the stout Scotchman, Matheson.
The papers and plats were on a table in his room, and Keith was looking at them.
“How long would it take you to do it?” asked Mr. Halbrook. He was a short, alert-looking man, with black eyes and a decisive manner. He always appeared to be in a hurry.