“He must have had an extraordinary companion, if he had learned to care for him in that way,” remarked Mr. Allen.
“Extraordinary, yew say,” began Dad in a low, measured tone. “Bet the last button on your britches, he was that an’ more. He was a youngish feller, an’ quick as scat. Knowed more ’bout machinery ’n all the other fellers I ever knowed. Seems to me he growed up in Kankakee, or suthin’ like that, an’ he was a—”
“Where did you say he came from, Mr. Wright?” asked Willis in a voice that betrayed his excitement. Willis had been thinking very rapidly as Dad told his story. What was there in this strange tale that so fascinated him, and made him want to cry aloud? He had never felt so strange before.
“Why, I don’t ’zackly recollect,” replied Dad. “It was Kankakee or Kangaroo, er some sech name. Many’s the night he’s stopped with me in the big cabin an’ told me about all kinds o’ machinery. The night the big cabin burned he was here a showin’ me a lot o’ plans of machinery he had got up himself. They were ‘bout all he saved out o’ the fire, ’cept his hide, an’ that was some scorched.
“I never seed a man ’at went so plumb dumb crazy over a few gold nuggets as him. ‘T was here at the old cabin he met his pard, an’ they made plans fer a great minin’ company. Of all the fellers they was settin’ up machinery in the mines a dozen years ago, this feller was the best o’ the lot. Why, oncet he rigged up a—”
“O, Mr. Wright, were there lots of different men installing mine machinery here in the early days?” inquired Willis. A note of anxiety had crept into his voice.
“More’n one, do ye mean, lad? Well, I should snicker. I mind oncet they was five o’ them at the cabin one night, an’ every feller could prove that his machinery was the best. Sech a jamborees o’ arguatin’ I never heerd. I had to send ’em all t’ their bunks t’ keep ’em frum fightin’. Laws, yes, plenty o’ ’em, boy; but this one feller, I forgit his name, now—my pard could say it quicker’n scat—was wuth all the rest o’ the bunch put together. He was a reg’lar genius with machinery.”
Dad had been filling his pipe from the package Mr. Allen had given him. He now lighted it and began to smoke. Mr. Allen knew that there would be no more stories that day, so, bidding good-bye to the old man, he suggested to the boys that they make a start for the Park. After a last drink from the cool, bubbling spring, they turned up the gulch, and were soon lost from view.
“Well, I hope you’ll find explorin’ a plenty, young fellers,” called Dad. “Keep yer eye peeled fer pole-cats. They’s powerful friendly to strangers in these parts.”
A Wilderness Camp
As the little party climbed upward on the gulch trail, they were discussing Dad and what they knew of his life. Each boy telling little stories and incidents that he had heard concerning the old man. Willis lagged behind, and did not seem to be particularly interested in the conversation.