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The following days were crowded with work for Houston. A bookkeeper was immediately sent over from Silver City to do the office work, but, excepting Houston, the company had no man, both competent and who could be trusted, to fill Morgan’s position. It was therefore arranged that for the next few weeks, until they could ascertain the address of a former superintendent, who had recently returned east, and communicate with him, Houston was to superintend the working of all the mines.
This involved much additional work and responsibility, but Houston filled the position so satisfactorily and showed such business tact and executive ability, that Mr. Blaisdell, on his return to Silver City, had fully determined to retain him permanently as superintendent at the mines, and, if possible, secure Barden, their former man, as an assistant.
“I tell you, Rivers, that Houston is a capable man, wonderfully capable,” he said, having related to the remaining officers of the company Houston’s success in filling Morgan’s position.
“It seems to me, Blaisdell,” said Mr. Brunnell, the benevolent looking old gentleman whom Houston had seen on his first visit to the offices, and one of the board of directors, “it seems to me you had better look out for him yourself; that young man is rising so fast, he’s likely to oust you yet.”
“Well, no, I guess not,” replied Mr. Blaisdell confidently, with his complacent smile, “I don’t think you fellows could get along without me, just yet. I don’t know what we would do with him, though, in case of any disagreement, he’s as independent as though he were a millionaire instead of a salaried clerk; he would never care a rap for anything we might say, he would take his own way every time,” and Mr. Blaisdell gave an account of his interview with Houston at the Y.
“Humph!” sniffed Mr. Rivers contemptuously, “You’d better let me manage that fellow, Blaisdell, he’ll run away with you.”
“He’ll run away with those mines up there, Blaisdell,” chuckled Mr. Brunnell, peering over his glasses at the general manager, who was strutting pompously about the office.
“Well, you fellows may joke as much as you please,” said Mr. Blaisdell, a little testily, “I tell you the man is smart.”
“Confound it! I know he’s smart; I tell you he’s too damned smart for you!” responded Mr. Rivers, who had very little respect for Mr. Blaisdell’s business ability, but found him a very convenient cat’s-paw.
As early as possible after the completion of the new arrangements at the mines, Houston and Van Dorn, in accordance with a previous engagement, visited Jack at his cabin. The hour was late, and as they entered the room already familiar to Houston, a lamp was burning brightly, but a heavy screen hung over it, concentrating the light upon the table beneath, on which lay various drawings and tracings, and allowing only a dim light to pervade the room.
Houston introduced Van Dorn, whom Jack greeted with characteristic courtesy, though with something of his old reserve, and having seated his guests, he at once proceeded to the discussion of the business which had brought them together.
In reply to an inquiry of his regarding the present situation of affairs, Houston informed him of the arrangement just completed by which he was to have entire charge of the work at the mines for the next few weeks, until the coming of Mr. Barden.
“Your present position is much more favorable for your work,” replied Jack, “it is exceedingly doubtful whether the company will have any use for the services of Mr. Barden.”
Houston then stated briefly what had been done since Van Dorn’s arrival, adding in conclusion, “Of course, we would have accomplished more within this time, had it not been for the confusion and changes resulting from Morgan’s sudden death.”
“Yes,” said Jack, “that has hindered you temporarily, but it will result to your advantage. All that I regretted was that an examination which I hoped you and Mr. Van Dorn might be able to make last week, immediately upon his arrival, will now have to be postponed until next week, but even that is better as it is.”
“How is that?” inquired Houston, with much interest, “to what do you refer?”
“I refer to the Lucky Chance mine; are you familiar with that property?”
“Not especially,” said Houston, “I have paid no attention to it, as it was not one in which our company was interested, nor one of which I was in charge. Since the recent change, I have visited the mine once with Mr. Blaisdell, but we only went in a short distance, and he informed me there was but little work done there, and but few men employed.”
“Yes,” replied Jack, with peculiar emphasis, “but that ‘little work’ as he terms it yields the company a larger percentage than any other single mine which they own.”
Houston’s face expressed considerable astonishment. “You surprise me,” he exclaimed, “because I thought I knew their best paying properties, and I never would have supposed that was one of them, either from my own observation, or from anything I have heard of it.”
“It would not be for the interests of the company to have much said regarding the mine, or to have the workings investigated very closely. You are probably aware that the claim adjoins the Yankee Boy?”
“Certainly,” answered Houston, “I am aware of that fact.”
“Very well,” replied Jack, rising and going to the table. “I have prepared some diagrams here which I would like you and Mr. Van Dorn to examine. Here you will see,” he continued, as they drew their chairs near the table,“ the boundaries and underground workings of the Lucky Chance mine, with their approximate measurements. Please look them over and see if you detect any irregularities.”
Both Houston and Van Dorn studied the diagram carefully for a moment, when the latter exclaimed:
“Why, the main tunnel extends more than a hundred feet beyond the boundary line.”
“Now allow me to substitute this diagram,” said Jack, spreading a larger tracing before them. “This is the same as the other with the addition of a portion of the boundary lines and underground workings of the adjoining claim, the Yankee Boy.”
“Ah, I see,” said Houston, “the tunnel from the Lucky Chance has been carried beyond the boundary line in such a direction as to strike the vein of the adjoining claim.”
“That is it exactly,” said Van Dorn, “no wonder the mine pays well!”
“As I stated before,” continued Jack, “these measurements, and, to a certain extent, the course of the tunnel, are given approximately, as I had no means of ascertaining the exact data, but I know they are essentially correct. It only remains for you, gentlemen, to verify this, by making an examination of the tunnel and taking the courses and measurements exactly, and also by comparing the ore now taken out with that originally found in the mine, and with the ore of the Yankee Boy, and you will then have evidence of the greatest fraud which has been perpetrated upon the rightful owners of the Yankee Boy, and which has been carried on for the last four or five years.”
“But how did you discover this?” asked Houston.
“I first came here,” replied Jack, “shortly after the sale of the Yankee Boy group of properties had been consummated. Within a few months afterward, the company located the Lucky Chance mine; development work was carried forward as rapidly as possible, quite a number of men being employed, of which I was one. It was evident that in locating this mine, the company hoped they had struck an extension of the vein of the Yankee Boy lode; it proved of an entirely different character, however, yielding rather a low-grade ore. The claim was surveyed and patented as soon as the necessary amount of improvements, required by law, had been placed upon it. After obtaining patent, the company then extended the tunnel in an entirely different direction, and, as you will find upon investigation, beyond the boundary line, until it intersected a portion of the Yankee Boy vein. Here a body of very rich ore was struck, and the mine has been a paying property ever since. For this last work very few men were retained, and but few have been employed there since, those few being men whom the company thought could be trusted, or upon whom they had some hold by which they could compel them to silence. I was employed there until very recently, and from the first had a thorough understanding of the course and extent of the different workings, and consequently am perfectly familiar with them.”
“Everard,” said Van Dorn, for whom work of this kind possessed a special attraction, “I think this is just about the kind of an expedition we will like.”
“I think so myself,” Houston replied, “but at the same time, it is the most risky piece of work we have yet undertaken, and we will have to depend upon our friend here for suggestions and advice. You will of course accompany us?” he added, turning to Jack, who had withdrawn from the table and was sitting in the dim light.
“Certainly,” responded Jack, “it would be a very dangerous undertaking for two strangers to go through that part of the mine without a guide at any time, especially at night, and it will be at best, a hazardous piece of work.”
“How many are employed there? and what class of men are they?” inquired Houston.
“About a dozen on the night shift,” Jack replied, “mostly Cornishmen, but whatever their nationality, it is usually the most treacherous and brutal men that we have that are employed by the company in that mine. Maverick used to work there until he was transferred above ground. It will not be necessary for us to come in contact with very many of them, however, as they are so widely scattered through the mine, and on the night shift next week, there will be four men,––a father and three sons,––who will do just about whatever I say, especially if a little money is given them. Mr. Houston’s new position as superintendent, will aid us very materially. A visit from him, with me as guide, will not excite suspicion, but Mr. Van Dorn will be suspected in a moment, and we must disguise him.”
Van Dorn whistled softly.
“Could you assume the Irish dialect, on an occasion like this, Mr. Van Dorn?” Jack inquired.
“An’ shure,” exclaimed Van Dorn, with the broadest accent imaginable, “an’ will yez be afther tellin’ me, be-dad! why I should not shpake me own mither tongue?”
Both Houston and Jack laughed at Van Dorn’s ready answer.
“You will do,” Jack said quietly, but in a tone so rich and musical as to chain the attention of his guests while he proceeded to plan the details of their visit to the mine.
In an hour or two, the modus operandi had been fully decided upon, and nothing remained but to fix the night for their expedition, and this it was thought best to leave to be determined by circumstances the following week. The instruments needed for taking measurements were to be taken down beforehand by Houston, and concealed in a safe place near the mine, and on the night of the examination, he was to go from the house directly to the mine, where he would be joined by Jack and Van Dorn, the latter dressed in a suit of Mike’s mining clothes, and personating him as closely as possible.
All arrangements being now as nearly complete as possible, Houston and Van Dorn bade their host a cordial good night, and walked cheerfully homeward, in the cool, night air, under the star-lit sky, all unconscious of a pair of eyes, which from behind a large rock, had eagerly watched for their appearance, and followed their every movement.
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