THE DESERT TRAIL, ETC.
Under the rim of Shadow Mountain, embraced like a pearl of great price by the curve of Bonanza Point and the mined-out slope of Gold Hill, the deserted city of Keno lay brooding and silent in the sun. A dry, gusty wind, swooping down through the northern pass, slammed the great iron fire-doors that hung creaking from the stone bank building, caught up a cloud of sand and dirt and, whirling it down past empty stores and assay offices, deposited it in the doorways of gambling houses and dance halls, long since abandoned to the rats. An old man, pottering about among the ruins, gathered up some broken boards and hobbled off; and once more Keno, the greatest gold camp the West has ever seen, sank back to silence and dreams.
A round of shots wakened the echoes of Shadow Mountain; a lonely miner came down the trail from Gold Hill, where in the old days the Paymaster had 2turned out its million a month; and then, far out across the floor of the desert on the road that led in from the railroad, there appeared an arrow-point of dust. It grew to a racing streak of white, the distant purring of the motor gave way to a deep-voiced thunder and as the powerful car glided swiftly up the street the doors of old houses opened unexpectedly and the last of ten thousand looked out.
There were old men and cripples, left stranded by the exodus; and prospectors who had moved into the vacant houses along with the other desert rats; but out on the gallery of the old Huff mansion–where the creepers still clung to the lattice–there was a flutter of white and a girl came out with a kitten in her arms. In the days of gold–when ten thousand men, the choice spirits of two hemispheres, had tramped down this same deserted street–the house of Colonel Huff, the discoverer of the Paymaster, had been the social center of Keno. And so it was still, for the Widow Huff remained; but across the front of the hospitable gallery where the Colonel had entertained the town, a cheap cloth sign announced meals fifty cents and Virginia, his daughter, was the waiter. She stood by the sign, still high-headed and patrician, and when the driver of the car saw her he came to a sudden stop. He was long and gaunt, with deep lines around his mouth from bucking the wind and dust and after a moment’s hesitation he threw on his brake and leapt out.
3“Did you want something?” she asked and, glancing warily about, he nodded and came up the steps.
“Yes,” he said, still eying her doubtfully, “what’s the chance for something to eat?”
“Why, good,” she answered with a suspicion of a smile. “Or–well, come in; I’ll speak to mother.”
She showed him into the spacious dining room, where the Colonel had once presided in state, and hurried into the kitchen. The young man gazed after her, looked swiftly about the room and backed away towards the door; then his strong jaw closed down, he smiled grimly to himself and sat down unbidden at a table. The table was mahogany and, in a case against the wall, there was a scant display of cut glass; but the linen was worn thin and the expensive velvet carpet had been ruined by hob-nailed boots. Heavy workingmen’s dishes lay on the tables, the plating was worn from the knives, and the last echoing ghost of vanished gentility was dispelled by a voice from the kitchen. It was the Widow Huff, once the first lady of Keno, but now a boarding-house cook.
“What–a dinner now? At half-past three? And with this wind fairly driving me crazy? Well, I can’t hireanybody to keep such hours for me and─”