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With many jokes and much hilarity, the mining party proceeded on their way. Arriving at the mines, they found Morgan and Haight awaiting them, who were duly introduced to the party, the English expert looking at Haight with much the same expression with which a mastiff might regard a rat terrier.
Everything being in readiness, they began the descent of the long incline shaft, Mr. Blaisdell and Haight leading the way with Mr. Lindlay, while Mr. Rivers followed with Mr. Winters and his son and Van Dorn, Morgan bringing up the rear.
It was nearly three hours before they reappeared at the surface, and to a physiognomist, their faces, as they emerged from the mouth of the shaft, would have furnished an amusing study.
Mr. Blaisdell looked irritated and annoyed, but jubilant. He had been thoroughly disgusted by the conduct of the English expert. Instead of taking Mr. Blaisdell’s word regarding the mine, corroborated as it was by undisputable evidence in the shape of mining reports, surveyor’s notes, and maps, he had insisted on ascertaining for himself the important data, the width, dip and course of the vein, and the measurement of various angles and distances, with a persistency and accuracy that was simply exasperating. He also picked up samples of ore in the most unexpected places which he examined with the closest scrutiny. But having taken his measurements and made his examinations, the results were immediately jotted down in his note book, and the samples dropped in his pockets, without a word, which convinced Mr. Blaisdell that the expert knew very little of his business, and was probably either doing this to keep up appearances, or to gain a little information for his own benefit. Not a word had been said contradicting the statements he had made, not a question raised implying any doubt of their correctness;––evidently they were just the kind of purchasers he wanted, and his firmly set jaws and tightly compressed lips expressed his satisfaction.
Mr. Rivers scanned the company keenly with his ferret-like glances; such unexpected acquiescence on their part made him slightly suspicious and very watchful. The thought uppermost in his mind was, “Either these people know absolutely nothing about mining, or they know too much for our good.” He had intended going back to the city that evening, but he now decided to remain over.
Mr. Winters, senior, reappeared, wearing the same expression of benevolence and dignity with which he had entered the mine. He seemed serenely unconscious of the existence of deceit or fraud in business transactions generally, and in mining negotiations in particular. Only those well acquainted with him could detect from the exaggerated twinkle of his eyes, that something had more than ordinarily amused him.
Van Dorn and Lindlay had agreed before hand that they would keep entirely separate, and each pursue his own course of investigation independently of the other,––Van Dorn of course not being able to take any measurements, as he was not supposed to be an expert,––and compare notes later. As the two emerged into daylight and their eyes met, Van Dorn’s laughing, blushing face would have betrayed him, had any one known his real business there, but a young inventor, exploring mines just for the fun of the thing, is supposed to find plenty of amusement. Under the big, blond mustache of the Englishman, a pair of lips curled scornfully, and his eyes rolled wildly for a moment, but that was all.
As the gentlemen gathered around the dump, the last vestige of Mr. Blaisdell’s irritation seemed to have disappeared, as he blandly expatiated upon the quantity and quality of the ore.
Van Dorn’s eyes sparkled as he saw the shining lumps from the Yankee Boy, and he and Lindlay exchanged quick glances.
“Look at that,” said the latter, quickly extracting from his pocket a sample of the Sunrise ore and placing it beside a piece taken at random from the dump; “does any one pretend to tell me that those are from the same vein?”
“It is a different class of ore altogether,” replied Van Dorn, “such ore as that never would be found under the conditions existing in that mine, but I’ll be blest if I wouldn’t like to see the mine it did come from.”
Mr. Rivers had observed this little side conversation and Van Dorn’s close scrutiny of the samples, and was at his side in a moment, inquiring in his smoothest tones:
“What do you think of that ore, Mr. Van Dorn?”
“Very fine ore, so far as I can judge,” said Van Dorn carelessly, “I would like to see it run through that concentrator and amalgamator of mine; if these men ever get through talking about mines, Mr. Rivers, I must get you and Mr. Blaisdell interested in my machinery.”
At the suggestion of Mr. Lindlay, the party next paid a visit to the Morning Star mine, that being the one which Mr. Blaisdell had declared was on the same lead as the Sunrise. This they found to be a valuable mine, but there was not the slightest indication of the vein being identical with that of the Sunrise, its strike carrying it in a totally different direction, and its characteristics being wholly dissimilar.
As it was too late for any further mining explorations, the team was ordered, and preparations made for a return to the house.
Lindlay and Van Dorn, by mutual agreement, started up the canyon road together, in advance of the others.
“Boys, where are you going?” called Mr. Winters.
“Going to walk on ahead,” answered Van Dorn.
“Just as cheap to ride,” said Mr. Winters.
“Plenty of room,” added Mr. Blaisdell.
“We can’t wait for you, you’re too slow,” laughed Van Dorn.
“Give our places to those gentlemen,” said Lindlay, indicating Haight and Morgan, and with rather a painful emphasis on the word “gentlemen.”
“Egad!” he exclaimed a few moments later, “Van Dorn, what do you think of that for a mining proposition?”
“It’s pretty tough, in fact, about the toughest I ever saw,” replied Van Dorn, “but then, you remember we got a hint at Silver City that they were sharpers.”
“Sharpers!” exclaimed Lindlay, “but I don’t call them sharpers; I can admire a good, genuine piece of keen rascality, don’t you know, for I can play just as sharp a game myself as the best of them, but w’en it comes to such downright, beastly work as this, so blundering and bungling you know, w’y it looks too much as though they thought we were all born idiots, to be very complimentary.”
“I’ll admit it looks that way,” said Van Dorn, laughing, “it doesn’t look as though they had a very flattering opinion of our acquirements, or our natural penetration, if they suppose we can be gulled in this way. They are about the worst set of mining sharks I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, and I shall tell Houston so.”
“By the way, that Mr. ’Uston seems a very decent sort of a man,” commented Lindlay.
“He’s a fine fellow,” responded Van Dorn warmly, “you see I know him, he’s a friend of mine, but don’t say anything till we get out of here.”
“A friend of yours! and w’at in the deuce is he doing out ’ere, among such a beastly lot?”
“He is out on a piece of detective work on his own account,” and Van Dorn briefly gave Lindlay an outline of what Houston had told him. A prolonged “Ah––h” from Lindlay was the only response.
“I thought I’d better tell you,” said Van Dorn, “for fear you would include him in the lot out here, and be down on him with the rest. He is a splendid fellow, and I want you to know him.”
“That I will,” responded the Englishman, “’ere, give ’im my card, and tell ’im I’ll be very glad to ’elp ’im out a bit any time if he needs it later, you know; I would like to see ’im get the best of these fellows.”
“I will tell him,” replied Van Dorn, “he may give you a letter of introduction to his uncle. They are all fine people, and, as you say, I would like to see Houston get the best of these rascals; I believe he will, too, though he will have to lay low for a while yet, and there may be some pretty dangerous work for him before he gets through.”
The pedestrians and the remainder of the party reached the house at nearly the same time, the latter having been slightly delayed in starting. Although a little late, Houston and Rutherford, with Miss Gladden and Lyle, were awaiting them in the porch. The rare beauty of the two ladies elicited expressions of admiration from both Lindlay and Van Dorn, the latter exclaiming:
“They evidently have some fine specimens of ladies out here, and no mistake; there seems to be no fraud in that direction. No wonder the old gentleman was so indifferent as to whether we called for him or not!”
Miss Gladden extended a welcome, both cordial and graceful, to Mr. Winters and his son, and also to Van Dorn, whom Rutherford introduced as an old friend. Other introductions followed, and the entire company entered the long, low dining room, whither Lyle had already preceded them to see that everything was in perfect readiness. Exclamations of surprise and pleasure were heard on all sides, as the table had been tastefully decorated by the skillful fingers of the ladies, with wild flowers, and their beauty and fragrance filled the room. A very social meal followed, interspersed with jokes and repartee, and pleasant reminiscences. Toward the close, Mr. Blaisdell entertained them with amusing sketches of western life, and soon was relating some of his first mining experiences, when he had just come from the east, a newly fledged mining expert.
“I was asked, in company with another expert, a western man, much older than I, to examine some properties for some mining men. They were all experienced miners, old hands at the business, and they regarded me, a young graduate from an eastern mining school, with no practical knowledge that they knew of, as totally incompetent to advise them, and, I think, invited me more out of courtesy than anything else; perhaps also, out of benevolent intention to give me an opportunity to learn something about mines.
“The evening previous to the day the examination was to be made, they met for a little conversation regarding the history of the mine, and to make plans for the following day. Of course, our talk was principally of mining in general. Well, didn’t I play ‘green’ that evening. You can bet your sweet life that I did!”
Here Lindlay elbowed Houston, who in turn nudged Van Dorn. The last named gentleman telegraphed across to the younger Winters and Rutherford, and there seemed imminent danger of a general explosion; however, Mr. Blaisdell thought it was all in appreciation of his story, and blandly continued:
“I think when we broke up that night, the rest of them must have wondered among themselves why they had been such fools as to invite me. But I was only anxious for the time to come to go down into that mine. It was a property which the company had bought when it was nothing but a prospect, but which had then possessed every indication of being a wonderful producer of very rich ore, and it was supposed that with a little further development it would make a very fine property. The company had immediately proceeded to develop the mine, following the vein, as they supposed, for several hundred feet, but it did not amount to anything worth speaking of. Occasionally they would find croppings of very rich ore, but no true vein, and they had finally determined to call in one or two experts, and after an examination, decide whether it was worth the expenditure of any more money, or whether it had better be abandoned.
“Well, aside from having received a fine education in this branch of science, I had worked a good deal in some of old Nature’s laboratories, and was more familiar with these things than they thought. I knew, from their talk, that they were not following the course of the vein, though they thought they were, but of course, I said nothing of that kind; I was playing green.
“The next day we went down into the mine, and I found just what I expected to find; that they were simply following a false lead, and in reality, going farther and farther from the vein every move they made. There was the original vein to start with, and they had struck a false lead close beside it, and were going down; digging down lower and lower, while the true vein was right over their heads, and those miners and that confounded expert that knew so much more than I did, didn’t any of them know enough just to look up there and see it. Why, near the point where they had first started, I could see the ore shining in places over my head, and there were croppings of it all along.
“Well, to make a long story short, I advised them to stick to the mine, and the expert advised them to abandon it. A little while afterward, I asked them what they would take for the mine; of course they thought that an additional proof of my greenness that I should talk of buying it, but I hung on, not appearing very anxious about it of course, for then they might suspect something. You won’t believe me, but I bought that mine for five hundred dollars, cash, and they thought I was the biggest fool and tenderfoot that ever came out here. I tell you, I made sure of a good, clear title to that property, and then I went to work. I followed the old, original vein, and in less than six weeks I had gold just a pouring out of that mine. My! but didn’t that company try to get back then! but I wouldn’t have anything to do with them; I told them I was a greenhorn and a tenderfoot, and they had better let me alone. Well, sir, I worked that mine eighteen months, and cleared, over and above all expenses, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and then I sold it for half a million, and those other fellows have been kicking themselves ever since.”
There was a hearty laugh at the termination of the story, and the company adjourned to the porch and the open space surrounding the house, for the evening.
Taken all in all, there was in that little company sheltered under the old house that night, a strange combination of plots and counter plots, secrets and mysteries; and to Houston himself, as he sat a little apart from the others, watching the group with thoughtful eyes, it seemed a curious coincidence, that, on that evening, and at that place, there should be assembled so many of the principal actors in the drama which he knew must ere long be enacted, and he was unable to shake off a vague presentiment that this was the opening scene. Just what would that drama be, he wondered, would it be comedy or tragedy? never, with all his foresight, dreaming the depth of tragedy so soon to follow, or recognizing as such, some of the chief actors, even then passing within his ken.
On one side of the low porch was seated Miss Gladden, entertaining Mr. Winters and his son, while behind her, Lyle was standing with unconscious grace, and a far-away, dreamy look in her eyes. Just across the entrance, on the other side, were Lindlay, Van Dorn and Rutherford, the last two engaged in animated conversation regarding old times, Lindlay occasionally joining with them, but most of the time watching Miss Gladden, with much admiration expressed in his usually critical face. Mr. Rivers sauntered back and forth before the house, smoking, while, at a little distance, Mr. Blaisdell, Haight and Morgan were talking together. Jim Maverick, coming from behind the house, touched his hat as a salute to Mr. Blaisdell, and after a quick glance of suspicious distrust at the elder Mr. Winters, shuffled off in the direction of the miners’ quarters. A little later, a man with powerful, athletic frame, who walked with quick, elastic step, and yet as though conscious of his power, passed the house, followed by a fine collie. His hat was drawn low over his eyes, partly concealing his face, but this did not prevent his watching the group on the porch with close, keen scrutiny. Houston and Rutherford started slightly, and exchanged glances, for they had recognized their fellow passenger from Valley City, and they would doubtless have made some comment, but that just then Miss Gladden spoke:
“Lyle, dear, I wonder who that can be; he is dressed like a miner, but his carriage and appearance is that of a gentleman.”
“That,” answered Lyle, in a low tone, “is Jack; he is a miner, and he is also a gentleman.”
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