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The Silver Canyon: A Tale of the Western Plains, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  As Dr Lascelles stood watching there, his thoughts naturally went backto the events of the past day, the sixth since they had bidden good-byeto civilisation and started upon their expedition. He thought of theremonstrance offered by his men to their proceeding farther; then of thesatisfactory way in which the difficulty had been settled; and later onof the troubles brought up by his man's remarks. He recalled the wearyyears he had spent upon his cattle farm, in which he had invested afterthe death of his wife in England; how he had come out to New Mexico, andsettled down to form a cattle-breeding establishment with his youngdaughter Maude for companion.

  Then he thought of how everything had gone wrong, not only with him, butwith his neighbours, one of the nearest being killed by an onslaught ofa savage tribe of Indians, the news being brought to him by the son ofthe slaughtered man. The result had been that the Doctor had determinedto flee at once; but the day was put off, and as no more troublespresented themselves just then, he once more settled down. Young Bartbecame by degrees almost as it were a son, and the fight was continuedtill herd after herd had been swept away by the Indians; and at last DrLascelles, the clever physician who had wearied of England and hispractice after his terrible loss, and who had come out to the West toseek rest and make money for his child, found himself a beggar, andobliged to begin life again.

  Earlier in life he had been a great lover of geology, and was somethingof a metallurgist; and though he had of late devoted himself to thewild, rough life of a western cattle farmer, he had now and then spent afew hours in exploring the mountainous parts of the country near: sothat when he had once more to look the world in the face, and decidewhether he should settle down as some more successful cattle-breeder'sman, the idea occurred to him that his knowledge of geology might proveuseful in this painful strait.

  He jumped at the idea.

  Of course: why not? Scores of men had made discoveries of gold, silver,and other valuable metals, and the result had been fortune. Why shouldnot he do something of the kind?

  He mentioned the idea to young Bartholomew Woodlaw, who jumped at theprospect, but looked grave directly after.

  "I should like it, Mr Lascelles," he said, "but there is Maude."

  "What of her?" said the Doctor.

  "How could we take her into the wilds?"

  "It would be safer to take her into the deserts and mountains, than toleave her here," said the Doctor bitterly. "I should at least alwayshave her under my eye."

  He went out and told his men, who were hanging about the old ranchealthough there was no work for them to do.

  One minute they were looking dull and gloomy, the next they were wavingtheir hats and blankets in the air, and the result of it all was that inless than a month Dr Lascelles had well stored a waggon with the wreckof his fortune, purchased a small tent for his daughter's use, and, allwell-armed, the little party had started off into the wilds of NewMexico, bound for the mountain region, where the Doctor hoped to makesome discovery of mineral treasure sufficient to recompense him for allhis risk, as well as for the losses of the past.

  They were, then, six days out when there was what had seemed to be asort of mutiny among his men--a trouble that he was in the act ofquelling when we made his acquaintance in the last chapter--though, aswe have seen, it proved to be no mutiny at all, but merely aremonstrance on the part of the rough, honest fellows who had decided toshare his fortunes, against running into what they esteemed to beunnecessary risks.

  Joses and his three fellows were about as brigandish and wild-looking aset of half savages as a traveller could light upon in a day's journeyeven in these uncivilised parts. In fact, no stranger would have beenready to trust his life or property in their keeping, if he could havegone farther. If he had, though, he would most probably have faredworse; for it is not always your pleasantest outside that proves to hidethe best within.

  These few lines, then, will place the reader _au courant_, as the Frenchsay, with the reason of the discussion at the beginning of the lastchapter, and show him as well why it was that Dr Lascelles, BartWoodlaw, and Maud Lascelles were out there in the desert with such roughcompanions. This being then the case, we will at once proceed to dealwith their adventurous career.