FOUND AT BLAZING STAR
FOUND AT BLAZING STAR
The rain had only ceased with the gray streaks of morning at
Blazing Star and the settlement awoke to a moral sense of
cleanliness and the finding of forgotten knives tin cups and
smaller camp utensils where the heavy showers had washed away the
debris and dust heaps before the cabin doors. Indeed it was
recorded in Blazing Star that a fortunate early riser had once
picked up on the highway a solid chunk of gold quartz which the
rain had freed from its incumbering soil and washed into immediate
and glittering popularity. Possibly this may have been the reason
why early risers in that locality during the rainy season adopted
a thoughtful habit of body and seldom lifted their eyes to the
rifted or india-ink washed skies above them.
"Cass" Beard had risen early that morning but not with a view to
discovery. A leak in his cabin roof--quite consistent with his
careless improvident habits--had roused him at 4 A. M. with a
flooded "bunk" and wet blankets. The chips from his wood pile
refused to kindle a fire to dry his bed-clothes and he had
recourse to a more provident neighbor's to supply the deficiency.
This was nearly opposite. Mr. Cassius crossed the highway and
stopped suddenly. Something glittered in the nearest red pool
before him. Gold surely! But wonderful to relate not an
irregular shapeless fragment of crude ore fresh from Nature's
crucible but a bit of jeweler's handicraft in the form of a plain
gold ring. Looking at it more attentively he saw that it bore the
inscription "May to Cass."
Like most of his fellow gold-seekers Cass was superstitious.
"Cass!" His own name! He tried the ring. It fitted his little
finger closely. It was evidently a woman's ring. He looked up and
down the highway. No one was yet stirring. Little pools of water
in the red road were beginning to glitter and grow rosy from the
far-flushing east but there was no trace of the owner of the
shining waif. He knew that there was no woman in camp and among
his few comrades in the settlement he remembered to have seen none
wearing an ornament like that. Again the coincidence of the
inscription to his rather peculiar nickname would have been a
perennial source of playful comment in a camp that made no
allowance for sentimental memories. He slipped the glittering
little hoop into his pocket and thoughtfully returned to his
Two hours later when the long straggling procession which every
morning wended its way to Blazing Star Gulch--the seat of mining
operations in the settlement--began to move Cass saw fit to
interrogate his fellows. "Ye didn't none on ye happen to drop
anything round yer last night?" he asked cautiously.
"I dropped a pocketbook containing government bonds and some other
securities with between fifty and sixty thousand dollars"
responded Peter Drummond carelessly; "but no matter if any man
will return a few autograph letters from foreign potentates that
happened to be in it--of no value to anybody but the owner--he
can keep the money. Thar's nothin' mean about me" he concluded
This statement bearing every evidence of the grossest mendacity
was lightly passed over and the men walked on with the deepest
"But hev you?" Cass presently asked of another.
"I lost my pile to Jack Hamlin at draw-poker over at Wingdam last
night" returned the other pensively "but I don't calkilate to
find it lying round loose."
Forced at last by this kind of irony into more detailed explanation
Cass confided to them his discovery and produced his treasure. The
result was a dozen vague surmises--only one of which seemed to be
popular and to suit the dyspeptic despondency of the party--a
despondency born of hastily masticated fried pork and flapjacks.
The ring was believed to have been dropped by some passing "road
agent" laden with guilty spoil.
"Ef I was you" said Drummond gloomily "I wouldn't flourish that
yer ring around much afore folks. I've seen better men nor you
strung up a tree by Vigilantes for having even less than that in
"And I wouldn't say much about bein' up so d----d early this
morning" added an even more pessimistic comrade; "it might look
bad before a jury."
With this the men sadly dispersed leaving the innocent Cass with
the ring in his hand and a general impression on his mind that he
was already an object of suspicion to his comrades--an impression
it is hardly necessary to say they fully intended should be left
to rankle in his guileless bosom.
Notwithstanding Cass's first hopeful superstition the ring did not
seem to bring him nor the camp any luck. Daily the "clean up"
brought the same scant rewards to their labors and deepened the
sardonic gravity of Blazing Star. But if Cass found no material
result from his treasure it stimulated his lazy imagination and
albeit a dangerous and seductive stimulant at least lifted him out
of the monotonous grooves of his half-careless half-slovenly but
always self-contented camp life. Heeding the wise caution of his
comrades he took the habit of wearing the ring only at night.
Wrapped in his blanket he stealthily slipped the golden circlet
over his little finger and as he averred "slept all the better
for it." Whether it ever evoked any warmer dream or vision during
those calm cold virgin-like spring nights when even the moon and
the greater planets retreated into the icy blue steel-like
firmament I cannot say. Enough that this superstition began to be
colored a little by fancy and his fatalism somewhat mitigated by
hope. Dreams of this kind did not tend to promote his efficiency
in the communistic labors of the camp and brought him a self-
isolation that however gratifying at first soon debarred him the
benefits of that hard practical wisdom which underlaid the
grumbling of his fellow workers.
"I'm dog-goned" said one commentator "ef I don't believe that
Cass is looney over that yer ring he found. Wears it on a string
under his shirt."
Meantime the seasons did not wait the discovery of the secret.
The red pools in Blazing Star highway were soon dried up in the
fervent June sun and riotous night wind of those altitudes. The
ephemeral grasses that had quickly supplanted these pools and the
chocolate-colored mud were as quickly parched and withered. The
footprints of spring became vague and indefinite and were finally
lost in the impalpable dust of the summer highway.
In one of his long aimless excursions Cass had penetrated a thick
undergrowth of buckeye and hazel and found himself quite
unexpectedly upon the high road to Red Chief's Crossing. Cass knew
by the lurid cloud of dust that hid the distance that the up coach
had passed. He had already reached that stage of superstition when
the most trivial occurrence seemed to point in some way to an
elucidation of the mystery of his treasure. His eyes had
mechanically fallen to the ground again as if he half expected to
find in some other waif a hint or corroboration of his imaginings.
Thus abstracted the figure of a young girl on horseback in the
road directly before the bushes he emerged from appeared to have
sprung directly from the ground.
"Oh come here please do; quick!"
Cass stared and then moved hesitatingly toward her.
"I heard some one coming through the bushes and I waited" she
went on. "Come quick. It's something too awful for anything."
In spite of this appalling introduction Cass could not but notice
that the voice although hurried and excited was by no means
agitated or frightened; that the eyes which looked into his
sparkled with a certain kind of pleased curiosity.
"It was just here" she went on vivaciously "just here that I went
into the bush and cut a switch for my mare--and"--leading him
along at a brisk trot by her side--"just here look see! this is
what I found."
It was scarcely thirty feet from the road. The only object that
met Cass's eye was a man's stiff tall hat lying emptily and
vacantly in the grass. It was new shiny and of modish shape.
But it was so incongruous so perkily smart and yet so feeble
and helpless lying there so ghastly ludicrous in its very
appropriateness and incapacity to adjust itself to the surrounding
landscape that it affected him with something more than a sense of
its grotesqueness and he could only stare at it blankly.
"But you're not looking the right way" the girl went on sharply;
Cass followed the direction of her whip. At last what might have
seemed a coat thrown carelessly on the ground met his eye but
presently he became aware of a white rigid aimlessly-clinched
hand protruding from the flaccid sleeve; mingled with it in some
absurd way and half hidden by the grass lay what might have been a
pair of cast-off trousers but for two rigid boots that pointed in
opposite angles to the sky. It was a dead man. So palpably dead
that life seemed to have taken flight from his very clothes. So
impotent feeble and degraded by them that the naked subject of a
dissecting table would have been less insulting to humanity. The
head had fallen back and was partly hidden in a gopher burrow but
the white upturned face and closed eyes had less of helpless death
in them than those wretched enwrappings. Indeed one limp hand
that lay across the swollen abdomen lent itself to the grotesquely
hideous suggestion of a gentleman sleeping off the excesses of a
"Ain't he horrid?" continued the girl; "but what killed him?"
Struggling between a certain fascination at the girl's cold-blooded
curiosity and horror of the murdered man Cass hesitatingly lifted
the helpless head. A bluish hole above the right temple and a few
brown paint-like spots on the forehead shirt cellar and matted
hair proved the only record.
"Turn him over again" said the girl impatiently as Cass was
about to relinquish his burden. "May be you'll find another
But Cass was dimly remembering certain formalities that in older
civilizations attend the discovery of dead bodies and postponed a