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   Chapter 6 TOM CATCHES THE NEVADA FEVER

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 14306

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Two nights passed without adventure. On each of these nights the three campers--for Alf didn't "count" divided the hours of darkness into three watches, each standing guard in his turn. On the third morning after the departure of the Bright Hope group the campers were seated at breakfast around the packing case that served as table.

"I feel as though we ought to be at work," suggested Hazelton.

"Good!" mocked Tom. "You've been riding every day lately, and I have remained in camp, testing samples of ore that I've picked up on my strolls."

"You take the horse today," proposed Harry, "and I'll stay in camp and work."

"Suppose both of us stay in and work," proposed Reade.

"That'll be all right, too," nodded Harry, pleasantly. "May I ask, Tom, what you're up to, anyway?"

"Yes," Reade smiled. "If the Bright Hope is a real mine there must be other good property in this region. I've been looking about, and making an assay every now and then. Jim, you've prospected a bit, haven't you?"

"Yes," nodded the guide. "And, gentlemen, in my day I've been sole owner of three claims, each one of which panned out a fortune."

"Great!" glowed Harry. "But how did you lose your money, Jim!"

"I never got a cent out of any of the mines," rejoined the guide grimly.

"How did that happen?"

"Did you ever hear of 'square gamblers'?" inquired Ferrers.

"Some," Tom admitted with a grimace. "We ran up against one of that brood in Arizona, eh, Harry?"

"You didn't play against him, I hope, hinted Jim soberly.

"Yes, we did," admitted Tom. "Not with his own marked cards, though, nor with any kind of cards. We met him with men's weapons, and it is necessary to add that our 'square gambler' lost."

"The 'square gamblers' that I met didn't lose," sighed Jim Ferrers. "They won, and that's why all three of my mines passed out of my hands before they began to pay."

"You must know something about ore and croppings, and the like,

Jim?", Tom continued.

"In a prospector's way, yes," Ferrers admitted.

"Then we'll take a walk, now. Alf can wash up the dishes."

"It's all the little wretch is fit for," muttered Ferrers contemptuously.

Jim looked carefully into the magazine of his repeating ride, then saw to it that his ammunition belt was filled.

"Ready when you gentlemen are," he announced.

"Say, won't you take me with you?" pleaded Alf.

"You wouldn't be of any use to us," Reade answered.

"But I--I am afraid to stay here alone."

"Do you believe yourself to be so valuable that any one will want to steal you?" Tom laughed.

Alf made a wry face and watched the others depart. Then, filled with needless alarm, he crawled out into a thicket and hid himself. He didn't mean to be trapped by prowlers!

Tom led the way for nearly a mile. At last the trio climbed a slight ascent, halting at the top of the ridge.

"You see, Jim," Tom explained, "this ridge runs southwesterly from here."

"I see it does?" nodded the guide.

"Now, to the northeastward I don't believe there are any croppings that look good enough. But just keep along to the southeast, picking up a specimen here and there. Some of the rock looks good to me."

Jim Ferrers didn't answer in words, though his eyes gleamed with the old fever that he had known before.

"Here's a pretty piece of stone," called the guide in a low tone.

He stood holding a fragment about as big as his two fists.

"It's streaked" pretty well with yellow, you see, gentlemen," he remarked;

"It is," Tom agreed, taking the specimen.

"Does the vein run with the top of the ridge?" demanded Harry eagerly.

"It runs a little more to eastward, from this point, I think," Tom made answer. "But let us walk along, in three parallel lines, and see who finds the best indications."

By noon all three were fairly tired out by the steep climbing over the rocky ground. Each had as many specimens as he could carry. The result of the exploration had tended to confirm Tom's notion as to where the vein lay.

"Now, let's see about where we'd stake the claim," Tom proposed. "Of course, we want to get the best rock obtainable. We don't want to leave the best part of this slope for some one else to stake out. It seems to me that the claim ought to start up by that blasted tree. What do you say, Jim?"

"Well, I don't like to make mistakes where you young gentleman are concerned," Ferrers answered, taking off his felt hat and scratching his head. "You see, it isn't my claim."

"The dickens it isn't!" Reade retorted.

"Why, you--you gentlemen didn't plan to take me in, did you," asked Ferrers, opening his eyes very wide in his amazement over the idea. "You see I--I can't contribute my share of the brains, along with a pair like you," continued the guide. "Look at you two--engineers already! Then look at me--more'n twice as old as either of you, and yet I'm only a cook."

"You're an honest man, aren't you, Jim?" demanded Reade.

"Why, there's some folks who say I am," Ferrers slowly admitted.

"And we're among those who believe that way," Tom continued. "Now, Jim, you're with us, and you've every right to be a partner if we find anything worth taking up in the mine line."

"But there ain't no sense in it," protested the guide, his voice shaking with emotion. "You don't need me."

"We need a man of your kind, Jim," Tom rejoined, resting a very friendly hand on the guide's shoulder. "Listen to me. Hazelton and I are engineers first of all. We'd sooner be engineers than kings. Now, the lure of gold is all well enough, and we're human enough to like money. Yet a really big engineering chance would take us away from a gold mine almost any day in the year. Eh, Harry!"

"I'm afraid it would," confirmed Hazelton.

"If we left a paying mine, Jim, what would we want?" Tom continued. "We'd want an honest partner, wouldn't we--one whom we could leave for six months or a year and still be able to depend on getting our share of the profits of the mine. You've gambled in the past, Jim, but you stopped that years ago. Now you're honest and safe. Do you begin to see, Jim Ferrers, where you come in? Another point. How old do you take us to be?"

"Well, you're more than twenty-one, each of you," replied Ferrers.

"Not quite, as yet," Tom answered. "So, you see, in order to take out a claim we'd need a guardian, and one whom we could depend upon not to rob us. Jim, if we're to take up a mine we must have a third man in with us. Do you know a man anywhere who'd use us more honestly than you would?"

"I don't," exclaimed Jim Ferrers. "At the same time, gentlemen, I know your kind well enough. Both of you talk of fighting as though you dreaded it, but I'll tell you, gentlemen, that I wouldn't dare to try any nasty tricks on either of you."

"We understand each other, then," Tom nodded. "Now, then, let us try to make up our minds just where we would want to stake off this claim if the gold assays as well as it looks."

At the beginning Tom and Harry built a little pile of stones. Then, by mere pacing they laid off what they judged to be the fifteen hundred feet of

length which the government allows to a single mining claim.

"We can attend to the proper width later," suggested Tom. "Now, what do you say if we make for camp at once. I'm not hungry; still, I think I could eat my half of a baked ox."

The instant that the trio reached camp, Jim Ferrers, with an unwonted mist in his eyes, began to juggle the cooking utensils. Tom busied himself with building the best fire that he could under the chamber of the assaying furnace, while Harry Hazelton, rolling up his sleeves, began to demonstrate his muscle by pulverizing little piles of ore in a hand-mill.

"Be careful not to mix the lots, Harry," advised Tom, glancing over from his station by the furnace.

"Thanks for the caution," smiled Hazelton. "But I have just enough intelligence left to understand the value of knowing from what section of the slope each particular lot of rock comes."

Dinner was eaten in silence. For one thing the campers were ravenously hungry. In the second place, though each kept as quiet as possible, he was deep in the thrall of the fever to dig up hidden gold.

The meal was nearly over when Alf Drew came into camp.

"Are you leaving anything to eat?" he asked.

"Maybe," said Jim Ferrers grimly, "but you were left to wash the breakfast dishes, and you haven't done it yet. Now, you'll wash the breakfast things, and then the dinner things, before you get even a cold bite to eat."

Alf didn't protest. Now that he was back safe in camp he felt much ashamed of himself for having run away and left the camp unwatched.

As soon as he had eaten his dinner Tom Reade went back to the assay furnace to improve the fire.

"Now, Harry, we'll get the powdered stuff ready to roast," Reade remarked. "We've a lot of it to rush through this afternoon."

"And we want to be sure to finish it at least two hours before dark, too," Larry nodded. "If we decide to file a claim Jim ought to be riding for Dugout City by dark, ready to file the papers the first thing in the morning."

"And Jim can bring back half a dozen men to help us sink the first shaft," proposed Tom.

"That's where I feel like a fool," muttered Ferrers. "I haven't a blessed dollar to put in as capital."

"We'll take your honesty for a good deal in the way of capital,

Jim," Tom hinted cheerfully.

"Harry, you might get out the transit, the tape, markers and other things. If we stake out a claim we'll do it so accurately that there can be no fight, afterward, as to the real boundaries of our claim."

"What shall we call the claim?" inquired Hazelton, as he came back with the surveying outfit.

"Suppose we wait until the assay is done, and find out whether the claim is worth anything better than a bad name," laughed Tom.

The crucibles were in the furnace now, and a hot flame going. Jim Ferrers sat by, puffing reflectively at his pipe as he squatted on the ground nearby. Alf Drew was smoking, too, somewhere, but he had taken his offensive cigarettes to some place of concealment.

Harry anxiously watched the course of the sun, while Tom kept his gaze, most of the time, near the furnace.

"Come on, Harry!" called Tom at last. "We'd rake out the crucibles.

My, but I hope the buttons are going to be worth weighing."

A withering blast of hot air reached the young engineers as the oven door of the portable assay furnace was thrown open. The crucibles were raked out and set in the air to cool.

"Would fanning the crucibles with my hat do any good?" asked Hazelton eagerly.

"Some," yawned Tom, "if you're impatient."

Reade strolled off under the trees, whistling softly to himself. Jim Ferrers smoked a little faster, the only sign he gave of the anxiety that was consuming him. Harry frequently sprang to his feet, walked up and down rapidly, then sat down again. Two or three times Hazelton burned his fingers, testing to see whether the crucibles were cool enough to handle. At last Tom strolled back, his gaze on the dial of his watch.

"Cool enough for a look, now, I think," Reade announced.

Harry bounded eagerly toward the crucibles, feeling them with his hands.

"Plenty cool enough," he reported. "But how did you guess, Tom?"

"I didn't guess," Reade laughed. "I've timed the crucibles before this, and I know to a minute how long it ought to take."

"What a chump I am!" growled Harry, in contempt for self. "I never think of such things as that."

Tom now carefully emptied the crucibles. In the bottom of each was found a tiny bead of half-lustrous metal, which miners and assayers term the "button."

"The real stuff!" glowed Hazelton.

"Ye-es," said Tom slowly. "But the next question is whether the buttons will weigh enough to hint at good-paying ore. Even at that, these buttons are only from surface ore."

"But the ore underneath is always better than the surface ore," contended Hazelton.

"Usually is," Tom corrected. "If we get good enough results from this assay it will at least be worth while to stake a claim and work it for a while."

Harry waited with feverish impatience. Tom Reade, on the other hand, was almost provokingly slow and cool as he carefully adjusted the sensitive assaying balance and finally weighed the buttons. Then he did some slow, painstaking calculating. At last he looked up.

"Well, sir?" asked Jim Ferrers.

"From this surface ore," replied Tom calmly, "twenty-eight dollars in gold to the ton; silver, six dollars."

"That's good enough for me!" cried Ferrers, his eyes brightening.

"Wow! Whoop! Oh--whee!" vented Harry, then ran and snatched up the surveying transit.

"Yes; I guess we'd better go along and do our staking," assented Tom.

"And I'll be ready at daylight to file the claim at Dugout City," promised Jim. "I won't sleep until I've seen our papers filed."

"You'll file the claim in your own name, Jim," Tom suddenly suggested.

"No; I won't," retorted Ferrers. "I'll play squarely."

"That will be doing squarely by us, Jim," Tom continued. "We don't want to use up our claim privileges on one stretch of Nevada dirt."

If we can find claims enough we'll stake out three, and then pool them all together in a gentlemen's agreement."

"That's a good deal of trust you're showing in me, gentlemen," said

Jim huskily.

"Never mind, Jim," returned Reade quietly. "You can show us, you know, that we didn't waste our confidence."

While they were still talking the three came in sight of the ridge.

"Look there!" gasped Harry suddenly.

"Dolph Gage and his tin-horn crowd!" flared Jim Ferrers, in anger.

"Hang the fellow! This time I'll---"

"Stop fingering your rifle, Jim," ordered Reade. "Remember, nothing like fighting! If they haven't filed notice in due form on the claim, we're safe yet. If they have---"

"Look!" hissed Ferrers.

At that moment Dolph Gage could be seen nailing a sheet of white paper to a board driven into the soil.

"We've staked what you want, I reckon!" bellowed Gage laconically.

"Staked it in due form, too, if you want to know."

"I guess we've lost that claim," said Tom slowly.

"Have we?" hissed Jim Ferrers.

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