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"When are you going to make a start again?" Jerry asked, after drinking a, pannikin of tea.
"We are not going on to-day; perhaps not to-morrow. It will depend on how you get on."
"I shall be a nuisance to you anyway," the miner said, "and it would be a dog-goned sight the best way to leave me here; but I know you won't do that, so it ain't no use my asking you. I expect I shall be all right to-morrow except for this shoulder, but just now my head is buzzing as if there was a swarm of wild bees inside."
"You will be all the better when you have had a good sleep; I reckon we could all do a bit that way. Young Tom and Hunting Dog are going to try a bit of fishing with those hooks of yours. We talked about it when we started, you know, but we have not done anything until now. We want a change of food badly. We may be a month going down this canon for anything I know, and if it keeps on like this there ain't a chance of seeing a head of game. It ought to be a good place for fish at the foot of the rapids--that is, if there are any fish here, and I reckon there should be any amount of them. If they do catch some, we will wait here till we can dry a good stock. We have nothing now but the dried flesh and some of the big-horn. There ain't above twenty pounds of flour left, and we could clear up all there is in the boat in a week. So you need not worry that you are keeping us."
Half an hour later Hunting Dog and Tom put out in one of the canoes, and paddling to the foot of the rapids let the lines drop overboard, the hooks being baited with meat. It was not many minutes before the Indian felt a sharp pull. There was no occasion to play the fish, for the line was strong enough to hold a shark, and a trout of six pounds weight was soon laid in the bottom of the boat.
"My turn now," Tom said; and the Indian with a smile took the paddle from his hand, and kept the boat up stream while Tom attended to the lines. Fish after fish was brought up in rapid succession, and when about mid-day a call from below told them that it was time for dinner, they had some thirty fish averaging five pounds' weight at the bottom of the boat.
There was a shout of satisfaction from Harry as he looked down into the canoe, and even the chief gave vent to a grunt that testified his pleasure.
"Hand me up four of them, Tom; I did not know how much I wanted a change of food till my eyes lit on those beauties. We saw you pulling them out, but I did not expect it was going to be as good as this."
The fish were speedily split open, and laid on ramrods over the fire.
"I reckon you will want another one for me," Jerry, who had been asleep since they started, remarked. "I don't know that I am good for one as big as those, but I reckon I can pick a bit anyhow."
A small fish was put on with the others, and as soon as they were grilled, all set to at what seemed to Tom the best meal he had ever eaten in his life. He thought when he handed them to Harry that two would have been amply sufficient for them all, but he found no difficulty whatever in disposing of a whole one single-handed.
"Now, Tom, the chief and I will take our turn while you and Hunting Dog prepare your catch. He will show you how to do it, it is simple enough. Cut off the heads, split and clean them, run a skewer through to keep them flat, and then lay them on that rock in the sun to dry. Or wait, I will rig up a line between two of the rocks for you to hang them on. There is not much wind, but what there is will dry them better than if they were laid flat."
Jerry went off to sleep again as soon as the meal was finished, and the bandages round his head re-wetted. The paddle from which the strips had been cut furnished wood for the skewers, and in the course of half an hour the fish were all hanging on a line. Twenty two more were brought in at sunset. Some of these, after being treated like the others, were hung in the smoke of the fire, while the rest were suspended like the first batch.
The next morning Jerry was able to move about, and the fishing went on all day, and by night a quantity, considered sufficient, had been brought ashore.
"There are over four hundred pounds altogether," Harry said, "though by the time they are dried they won't be more than half that weight. Two pounds of dried fish a man is enough to keep him going, and they will last us twenty days at that rate, and it will be hard luck if we don't find something to help it out as we go down."
They stopped another day to allow the drying to be completed. The fish were taken down and packed on board that evening, and at daylight they were afloat again. For the next ten days their labours were continuous. They passed several rapids as bad as the one that had cost them so dear; but as they gained experience they became more skilful in letting down the boats. Some days only two or three miles were gained, on others they made as much as twelve. At last they got out of the granite; beyond this the task was much easier, and on the fifteenth day after leaving their fishing-ground, they emerged from the canon.
By this time Jerry had perfectly recovered, and was with great difficulty persuaded to keep his arm bandaged. He had chafed terribly at first at his helplessness, and at being unable to take any share in the heavy labours of the others; but after the rapids were passed he was more contented, and sat quietly at the bottom of the boat smoking, while Harry and Tom paddled, the two Indians forming the crew of the other canoe. The diet of fish had been varied by bear's flesh, Leaping Horse having shot a large brown bear soon after they got through the rapids. A shout of joy was raised by the three whites as they issued from the gorge into a quiet valley, through which the river ran, a broad tranquil stream. Even the Indians were stirred to wave their paddles above their heads and to give a ringing whoop as their companions cheered. The boats were headed for the shore, and the camp was formed near a large clump of bushes.
Their joy at their deliverance from the dangers of the canon was dashed only by the thought of the loss of their two comrades. The next day three short canons were passed through, but these presented no difficulties, and in the afternoon they reached the mouth of the Rio Virgen, and continuing their journey arrived five days later at Fort Mojarve. This was a rising settlement, for it was here that the traders' route between Los Angeles and Santa Fe crossed the Colorado. Their appearance passed almost unnoticed, for a large caravan had arrived that afternoon and was starting east the next morning.
"We had best hold our tongues about it altogether," Harry said, as soon as he heard that the caravan was going on the next morning. "In the first place they won't believe us, and that would be likely to lead to trouble; and in the next place we should be worried out of our lives with questions. Besides, we have got to get a fresh outfit, for we are pretty near in rags, and to buy horses, food, and kit. We can leave the boats on the shore, no one is likely to come near them."
"I will stop and look after them," Tom said. "There are the saddles, buffalo-robes, blankets, and ammunition. This shirt is in rags, and the last moccasins Hunting Dog made me are pretty nearly cut to pieces by the rocks. I would rather stay here and look after the boats than go into the village; besides, it will save you the trouble of carrying all these bags of gold about with you."
Harry nodded, cut two of the little bags free from their lashings and dropped them into his pocket, and then went up to the Fort with Jerry and the Indians. Tom cut the other bags loose and put them on the ground beside him, threw a buffalo-robe over them, and then sat for some hours watching the quiet river and thinking over all they had gone through. It was almost dark when the others returned.
"It has taken us some time, Tom," his uncle said as they threw some bundles down beside him; "the stores and clothes were easy enough, but we had a lot of trouble to find horses. However, we did not mind much what we paid for them, and the traders were ready to sell a few at the prices we offered. So we have got five riding horses and two pack-ponies, which will be enough for us. That bundle is your lot, riding breeches and boots, three pairs of stockings, two flannel shirts, a Mexican hat, and a silk neck handkerchief. We may as well change at once and go up to the village."
The change was soon effected. Harry and Jerry Curtis had clothes similar to those they had bought for Tom, while the Indians wore over their shirts new deer-skin embroidered hunting-shirts, and had fringed Mexican leggings instead of breeches and boots. They, too, had procured Mexican sombreros. Taking their rifles and pistols, and hiding their stock of ammunition, the gold, and their buffalo-robes and blankets, they went up to the village. It was by this time quite dark: the houses were all lit up, and the drinking-shops crowded with the teamsters, who seemed bent on making a night of it, this being the last village through which they would pass until their arrival at Santa Fe.
They slept as usual, wrapped up in their buffalo-robes by the side of the boats, as all agreed that this was preferable to a close room in a Mexican house.
They were all a-foot as soon as daylight broke, and went up and breakfasted at a fonda, Tom enjoying the Mexican cookery after the simple diet he had been accustomed to. Then they went to the stable where the horses, which were strong serviceable-looking animals, had been placed, and put on their saddles and bridles.
The pack-horses were then laden with flour, tea, sugar, bacon, and other necessaries. By the time all was ready the caravan was just starting. Harry had spoken the afternoon before to two of its leaders, and said that he and four companions would be glad to ride with them to Santa Fe. Permission was readily granted, the traders being pleased at the accession of five well-armed men; for although Indian raids were comparatively rare along this trail, there was still a certain amount of danger involved in the journey. Some hours were occupied in crossing the river in two heavy ferry-boats, and the process would have been still longer had not half the waggons been sent across on the previous afternoon.
The long journey was made without incident, and no Indians were met with. A few deer were shot, but as it was now late in the autumn the scanty herbage on the plains was all withered up, and the game had for the most part moved away into deep valleys where they could obtain food.
The tale of their passage of the canons was told more than once, but although it was listened to with interest, Harry perceived that it was not really believed. That they had been hunting, had been attacked by Indians, had made canoes and passed through some of the canons was credible enough, but that they should have traversed the whole of the lower course of the Colorado, seemed to the traders, who were all men experienced in the country, simply incredible. The party stopped at Santa Fe a few days, and then started north, travelling through the Mexican villages, and finally striking across to Denver. At Santa Fe they had converted the contents of their bags into money, which had been equally shared among them. The Indians were not willing to accept more than the recognized monthly pay, but Harry would not hear of it.
"This has been no ordinary business, Leaping Horse," he said warmly; "we have all been as brothers together, and for weeks have looked death in the face every hour, and we must share all round alike in the gold we have brought back. Gold is just as useful to an Indian as it is to a white man, and when you add this to the hoard you spoke of, you will have enough to buy as many horses and blankets as you can use all your lifetime, and to settle down in your wigwam and take a wife to yourself whenever you choose. I fancy from what you said, Hunting Dog has his eye on one of the maidens of your tribe. Well, he can buy her father's favour now. The time is coming, chief, when the Indians of the plains will have to take to white men's ways. The buffaloes are fast dying out, and in a few years it will be impossible to live by hunting, and the Indians will have to keep cattle and build houses and live as we do. With his money Hunting Dog could buy a tidy ranche with a few hundred head of cattle. Of course, he can hunt as much as he likes so long as there is any game left, but he will find that as his cattle increase, he will have plenty to look after at home."
"We will take the gold if my brother wishes it," the chief replied gravely. "He is wise, and though now it seems to Leaping Horse that red-skins have no need of gold, it may be that some day he and Hunting Dog may be glad that they have done as their brother wished."
"Thank you, Leaping Horse. It will make my heart glad when I may be far away from you across the great salt water to know that there will always be comfort in my brother's wigwam."
On arriving at Denver they went straight to the Empire. As they entered the saloon Pete Hoskings looked hard at them.
"Straight Harry, by thunder!" he shouted; "and Jerry Curtis, and young Tom; though I would not have known him if he hadn't been with the others. Well, this air a good sight for the eyes, and to-morrow Christmas-day. I had begun to be afeard that something had gone wrong with you, I looked for news from you nigh three months ago. I got the message you sent me in the spring, and I have asked every old hand who came along east since the end of August, if there had been any news of you, and I began to fear that you had been rubbed out by the Utes."
"We have had a near escape of it, Pete; but it is a long story. Can you put us all up? You know Leaping Horse, don't you? The other is his nephew."
"I should think I do know Leaping Horse," Pete said warmly, and went across and shook the Indian's hand heartily.
"I was looking at you three, and did not notice who you had with you. In that letter the chap brought me, you said that the chief was going with you, and Sam Hicks and Ben Gulston. I did not know them so well; that is, I never worked with them, though they have stopped here many a time."
"They have gone under, Pete. Sam was drowned in the Colorado, Ben shot by the Navahoes. We have all had some close calls, I can tell you. Well now, can you put us up?"
"You need not ask such a question as that, Harry," Pete said in an aggrieved tone, "when you know very well that if the place was chock-full, I would clear the crowd out to make room for you. There are three beds in the room over this that will do for you three; and there is a room beside it as Leaping Horse and his nephew can have, though I reckon they won't care to sleep on the beds."
"No more shall we, Pete. We have been fifteen months and more sleeping in the open, and we would rather have our buffalo-robes and blankets than the softest bed in the world."
"You must have had a cold time of it the last three months up in those Ute hills, where you said you were going."
"We left there five months ago, Pete. We have been down as low as Fort Mojarve, and then crossed with a caravan of traders to Santa Fe"
Pete began pouring out the liquor.
"Oh, you won't take one, chief, nor the young brave. Yes; I remember you do not touch the fire-water, and you may be sure I won't press you. Well, luck to you all, and right glad I am to see you again. Ah! here is my bartender. Now we will get a good fire lit in another room and hurry up supper, and then we will talk it all over. You have put your horses up, I suppose?"
"Yes; we knew you had no accommodation that way, Pete."
The room into which Pete now led them was not his own sanctum, but one used occasionally when a party of miners coming in from the hills wanted to have a feast by themselves, or when customers wished to talk over private business. There was a table capable of seating some twelve people, a great stove, and some benches. A negro soon lighted a large fire; then, aided by a boy, laid the table, and it was not long before they sat down to a good meal. When it was over, Pete said:
"Lend me a hand, Jerry, to push this table aside, then we will bring the benches round the stove and hear all about it. I told the bar-tender that I am not to be disturbed, and that if anyone wants to see me he is to say that he has got to wait till to-morrow, for that I am engaged on important business. Here are brandy and whisky, and tobacco and cigars, and coffee for the chief and his nephew."
"I think you may say for all of us, Pete," Harry said. "After being a year without spirits, Jerry, Tom, and I have agreed to keep without them. We wouldn't say no to you when you asked us to take a drink, and we have not sworn off, but Jerry and I have agreed that we have both been all the better without them, and mean to keep to it; and as for Tom, he prefers coffee."
"Do as you please," Pete said; "I am always glad to hear men say no. I have made a lot of money out of it, but I have seen so many fellows ruined by it that I am always pleased to see a man give up drink."
"There is one thing, Pete," Tom said, "before we begin. We left our bundles of robes and blankets in the next room, if you don't mind I would a deal rather spread them out here--and I am sure the chief and Hunting Dog would--and squat down on them, instead of sitting on these benches. It is a long story uncle will have to tell you."
"We will fetch ours too," Harry agreed. "Benches are all well enough for sitting at the table to eat one's dinner, but why a man should sit on them when he can sit on the ground is more than I can make out."
Pete nodded. "I will have my rocking-chair in," he said, "and then we shall be fixed up for the evening."
The arrangements were soon made; pipes were lighted; the landlord sat in his chair at some little distance back from the front of the stove; Tom and the two Indians sat on their rugs on one side; Harry and Jerry Curtis completed the semicircle on the other.
"Well, in the first place, Pete," Harry began, "you will be glad to hear that we have struck it rich--the biggest thing I have ever seen. It is up in the Ute country. We have staked out a claim for you next our own. There are about five hundred pounds of samples lying at Fort Bridger, and a bit of the rock we crushed, panned out five hundred ounces to the ton."
"You don't say!" Pete exclaimed. "If there is much of that stuff, Harry, you have got a bonanza."
"There is a good bit of it anyhow, Pete. It is a true vein, and though it is not all like that, it keeps good enough. Fifty feet back we found it run twenty ounces. That is on the surface, we can't say how it goes down in depth. Where we struck it on the face it was about fourteen feet high, and the lode kept its width for that depth anyhow."
"That air good enough," the landlord said. "Now, what do you reckon on doing?"
"The place is among the hills, Pete, and the Utes are hostile, and went very nigh rubbing us all out. We reckon it ought to be worked by a party of thirty men at least. They ought to be well armed, and must build a sort of fort. I don't think the Utes would venture to attack them if they were of that strength. There is a little stream runs close to the vein, and if it were dammed up it would drive a couple of stamps, which, with a concentrator and tables and blankets, would be quite enough for such stuff as that. I reckon fifteen men will be quite enough to work, and to hold the fort. The other fifteen men would include three or four hunters, and the rest would go backwards and forwards to Bridger for supplies, and to take the gold down. They would be seven or eight days away at a time; and if there should be trouble with the red-skins they would always be back before those at the fort were really pressed. But we should not be alone long, the news that a rich thing had been struck would bring scores of miners up in no time.
"We have taken up our own ten claims, which will include, of course, the rich part. Then we have taken up the next eight or ten claims for our friends. As I said, we put yours next to ours. We have not registered them yet, but that will be the first job; and of course you and the others will each have to put a man on your claims to hold them. The lode shows on the other side of the creek, though not so rich; still plenty good enough to work. But as we shall practically get all the water, the lode cannot be worked by anyone but ourselves. Still the gravel is rich all down the creek, as rich as anything I have seen in California, and will be sure to be taken up by miners as soon as we are at work. So there will be no real danger of trouble from the Indians then. What we propose is this. We don't what to sell out, we think it is good enough to hold, but we want to get a company to find the money for getting up the machinery, building a strong block-house with a palisade, laying in stores, and working the place. Jerry, Tom, and I would of course be in command, at any rate for the first year or so, when the rich stuff was being worked."
"How much money do you think it will want, and what share do you think of giving, Harry?"
"Well, I should say fifty thousand dollars, though I believe half that would be enough. Not a penny would be required after the first ton of rock goes through the stamps. But we should have to take the stamps and ironwork from the railway terminus to Bridger, and then down. We might calculate on a month or six weeks in getting up the fort, making the leat and water-wheel, putting up the machinery, and laying down the flumes. Say two months from the time we leave Bridger to the time we begin to work. There would be the pay of the men all that time, the cost of transporting stores, and all that sort of thing; so it would be better to say fifty thousand dollars. What share ought we to offer for that?"
"Well, if you could bring that five hundredweight of stuff here and get it crushed up, and it turns out as good as you say, I could get you the money in twenty-four hours. I would not mind going half of it myself, and I should say that a quarter share would be more than good enough."
"Well, we thought of a third, Pete."
"Well, if you say a third you may consider that part of the business is done. You won't be able to apply for claims in the names of Sam and Ben, and if you did it would be no good, because they could not assign them over to the company. There are eight claims without them, and the one you have put down in my name is nine. Well, I can get say eleven men in this place, who will give you an assignment of their claims for five dollars apiece. That is done every day. I just say to them, I am registering a share in your name in the Tom Cat Mine, write an assignment to me of it and I am good for five dollars' worth of liquor, take it out as you like. The thing is as easy as falling off a log. Well, what are you thinking of doing next?"
"We shall buy a light waggon and team to-morrow or next day and drive straight over to Bridger, then we shall go to Salt Lake City and register our claims at the mining-office there. We need not give the locality very precisely. Indeed, we could not describe it ourselves so that anyone could find it, and nobody would go looking for it before spring comes and the snow clears. Besides, there are scores of wild-cat claims registered every year. Until they turn out good no one thinks anything of them. When we have got that done we will go back to Bridger, and fetch the rock over here. We will write to-morrow to Pittsburg for the mining outfit, for all the ironwork of the stamps, the concentrator, and everything required, with axes, picks, and shovels, blasting tools and powder, to be sent as far as they have got the railway."
"But they will want the money with the order, Harry," Pete said in a tone of surprise.
"They will have the money. We washed the gravel for a couple of months before the Utes lit on us, and after buying horses and a fresh outfit for us all at Fort Mojarve, we have between us got something like five thousand dollars in gold and greenbacks."
"Jee-hoshaphat!" Pete exclaimed; "that was good indeed for two months' work. Well, look here, there is no hurry for a few days about your starting back to Bridger. Here we are now, nearly at the end of December. It will take you a month to get there, say another fortnight to go on to Salt Lake City and register your claim and get back to Bridger, then it would be a month getting back here again; that would take you to the middle of March. Well, you see it would be pretty nigh the end of April before you were back at Bridger, then you would have to get your waggons and your men, and that would be too late altogether.
"You have got to pick your miners carefully, I can tell you; and it is not a job to be done in a hurry. When they see what gold there is in the rock they will soon set to work washing the gravel, and the day they do they will chuck up your work altogether. I will tell you what I would rather do, and that is, pick up green hands from the east. There are scores of them here now; men who have come as far as this, and can't start west till the snows melt. You need not think anything more about the money. You tell me what you crushed is a fair sample of that five hundred pounds, and that is quite good enough for me, and the gravel being so rich is another proof of what the lode was when the stream cut through it. I can put the twenty-five thousand dollars down, and there are plenty of men here who will take my word for the affair and plank their money down too. If there weren't I would put a mortgage on my houses, so that matter is done. To-morrow I will get the men whose names you are to give in for a claim each; it will be time in another two months to begin to look about for some steady chaps from the east, farmers' sons and such like. That is, if you think that plan is a good one. I mean to see this thing through, and I shall go with you myself, and we three can do the blasting."
"We shall be wanted to look after the stamps and pans," Harry said. "We had best get three or four old hands for the rock."
"Yes, that is best," Pete said. "Between us it is hard if we can't lay our hands upon men we can trust, and who will give us their word to stay with us if we offer them six dollars a day."
"We might offer them ten dollars," Harry said, "without hurting ourselves; but we can say six dollars to begin with, and put some more on afterwards."
"There is old Mat Morgan," Jerry put in. "I don't know whether he is about here now. I would trust him. He is getting old for prospecting among the hills now, but he is as good a miner as ever swung a sledge-hammer, and as straight as they make them."
"Yes, he is a good man," Pete agreed. And after some talk they settled upon three others, all of whom, Pete said, were either in the town or would be coming in shortly.
"Now, you stop here for a week or two, or a month if you like, Harry, then you can go to Salt Lake City as you propose, and then go back to Bridger. If as you pass through you send me five-and-twenty pounds of that rock by express, it will make it easier for me to arrange the money affair. When you get back you might crush the rest up and send me word what it has panned out, then later on you can go down again to Salt Lake City and buy the waggons and flour and bacon, and take them back to Bridger. When March comes in, I will start from here with some waggons. We want them to take the machinery, and powder and tools, and the tea and coffee and things like that, of which we will make a list, on to Bridger, with the four men we pick out, if I can get them all; if not, some others in their place, and a score of young emigrants. I shall have no difficulty in picking out sober, steady chaps, for in a place like this I can find out about their habits before I engage them. However, there will be plenty of time to settle all those points. Now, let us hear all about your adventures. I have not heard about you since Tom left, except that he wrote me a short letter from Bridger saying that you had passed the winter up among the mountains by the Big Wind River. That you had had troubles with the Indians, and hadn't been able to do much trapping or looking for gold."
"Well, we will tell it between us," Harry said, "for it is a long yarn."
It was, indeed, past midnight before the story was all told. Long before it was finished the two Indians had taken up their rugs and gone up to their room, and although the other three had taken by turns to tell the tale of their adventures, they were all hoarse with speaking by the time they got through. Pete had often stopped them to ask question at various points where the narrators had been inclined to cut the story short.
"That beats all," he said, when they brought it to an end. "Only to think that you have gone down the Grand Canon. I would not have minded being with you when you were fighting the 'Rappahoes or the Utes, but I would not try going down the canons for all the gold in California. Well, look here, boys, I know that what you tell me is gospel truth, and all the men who know you well, will believe every word you say, but I would not tell the tale to strangers, for they would look on you as the all-firedest liars in creation."
"We have learnt that already, Pete," Harry laughed, "and we mean to keep it to ourselves, at any rate till we have got the mine at work. People may not believe the story of a man in a red shirt, and, mind you, I have heard a good many powerful lies told round a miner's fire, but when it is known we have got a wonderfully rich gold mine, I fancy it will be different. The men would say, if fellows are sharp enough to find a bonanza, it stands to reason they may be sharp enough to find their way down a canon. Now, let us be off to bed, for the heat of the stove has made me so sleepy that for the last hour I have hardly been able to keep my eyes open, and have scarcely heard a word of what Jerry and Tom have been saying."
They only remained a few days at Denver. After the life they had been leading they were very speedily tired of that of the town, and at the end of a week they started on horseback, with a light waggon drawn by a good team, to carry their stores for the journey and to serve as a sleeping-place. There had been no question about the Indians accompanying them, this was regarded as a matter of course. It was by no means a pleasant journey. They had frequent snow-storms and biting wind, and had sometimes to work for hours to get the waggon out of deep snow, which had filled up gullies and converted them into traps. After a stay of three days at Fort Bridger to rest the animals, they went on to Utah, having forwarded the sample of quartz to Pete Hoskings.
A fortnight was spent at Salt Lake City. Waggons, bullocks, and stores were purchased, and Harry arranged with some teamsters to bring the waggons out to Fort Bridger as soon as the snow cleared from the ground.
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