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   Chapter 17 THE MINERS WHO STUCK

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 8056

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"Hey, Tom!" Harry called down, from the top of their shaft, now one hundred and thirty feet down into the ground.

"Yes!" Reade answered from below, making a trumpet of his hands.

"Doing anything?" Harry bawled.

"Not much. Why?"

"If you want to come up I'll show you something."

"What?"

"The first snow of winter is falling." Harry tried to speak jovially, but his tone was almost sepulchral.

"Yes, I'll come up, then," Tom Reade answered. "It's high time for us to see to building a shelter that will keep out of the shaft the big snows that are coming."

"The big snows are likely to be here, now, within a week," remarked

one of the miners who had paused to rest from digging for a moment.

"Men!" bawled Tom, stepping from the long into the short tunnel.

"All hands knock off and go up to the surface."

There was a tub hand-hoist for carrying up ore, but the men always used the series of ladders that had been built in on the side of the shaft. Two minutes later these ladders swarmed with men going above.

As they stepped out into the world the first soft flakes of winter floated into their faces.

"Reade, we'll have to start building the cover to the shaft," spoke

Jim Ferrers, who stood beside Hamilton.

"I know it," Tom nodded. "However, first of all, I want a few words with you and Harry."

The three partners stepped aside, waiting in silence while a whispered consultation went on around Tom.

At length Reade stepped back.

"Men" he began, and every eye was turned in his direction. "You are waiting for orders to start on shedding over the shaft, and the lumber is ready. However, we mean to be fair with you. You all know that this claim has been going badly. When my partners and I started we had some capital. Before we do any more work here it is only fair to tell you something. We now have money enough left so that we can pay you your wages up to Saturday. When we've paid that we shall have a few dollars left. If you men want to quit now we'll pay you up to Saturday, and you'll have time to be in Dugout before your time here is up."

"Do you want us to go, Mr. Reade?" asked Tim Walsh."

"Why, no, of course not," Tom smiled. "If we had the money we'd want to keep you here all winter. But we haven't, and so we've no right to ask you to stay."

Walsh glanced around him, as though to inquire whether the men were willing that he be their spokesman. Receiving their nods the big miner went on:

"Mr. Reade, sir, we've seen this coming, though, of course, we didn't know just how big your pile was. We've talked it over some, and I know what the fellows think. If you don't pay us our wages, but put the money into grub only, you can keep a-going here some weeks yet."

"Yes," Tom nodded. "But in that case, if the mine didn't pan out, we wouldn't have a cent left out of which to pay you off. At least, not until Reade and I had been at work for months, perhaps a year, on some salaried job. So you see that we can't fairly encourage you men to remain here."

"Mr. Reade," Walsh declared, this time without glancing at the other men, and there was a slight huskiness in the big miner's voice, "we wouldn't feel right if we went anywhere else to work. We've never worked under men as fair and square as you three men have been. You've treated all of us white. Now, what kind of fellows would we be if we cleared out and left you just because the snow had come and the money had gone. No, sir! By your leave, gentlemen, we'll stay here as long as you do, and the money can take care of itself until it shows up again. Mr. Reade, and gentlemen, we stick as long as you'll let us!"

Tom felt slightly staggered, as his face showed it.

"Men," he protested, "this is magnificent on your part. But it wouldn't be fair to let you do it. You are all of you working for your living."

"Well, aren't you three working for your living, too?" grinned Walsh.

"Yes; but we stand to make the big stake here, in case of victory at last."

"And

I reckon we stand a show of having a little extra coming to us, if we do right by you at this minute," laughed Walsh.

"Yes, you do--if we strike the rich vein for which we're hunting. Yet have you men any idea a how little chance we may have of striking that vein? Men, the mine may--perhaps I would better say probably will--turn out a fizzle. I am afraid you men are voting for some weeks of wasted work and a hungry tramp back to Dugout City at the end. As much as we want to go on with the work, we hate to see you all stand to lose so much."

"You're no fool, Mr. Reade. Neither is Mr. Hazelton," returned

Walsh bluntly. "You're both engineers, and not green ones, either.

You've been studying mines and mining, and it isn't just guess-work

with you when you say that you feel sure of striking rich ore."

"Only one of us is sure," smiled Tom Reade wistfully. "I'm the sure one. As for my partners, I'm certain that they're sticking to me just because they're too loyal to desert a partner. For myself, I wouldn't blame them if they left me any day. As for you men, I shall be glad to have you stay and stand by us, now that you know the state of affairs, but I won't blame you if you decide to take your money and the path back to Dugout City."

"It's no use, Mr. Reade," laughed Walsh, shaking his shaggy head.

"You couldn't persuade one of us to leave you now."

"And I'd thrash any man who tried to," declared another miner.

"Men, I thank you," Tom declared, his eyes shining, "and I hope that we shall all win out together."

"Now, what do you want us to do?" asked Walsh.

"We have timbers and boards here," Tom replied. "If the big snows are likely to be upon us within a week, then we can't lose any time in getting our shaft protected. At the same time we must use other timber for putting up two or three more shacks. The tents will have to come down until spring."

Harry immediately took eight of the men and started the erection of three wooden shacks not far from the mine shaft. Ferrers took the rest of the men and speedily had timbers going up in place over the mouth of the shaft.

For three hours the snow continued to float lightly down. Then the skies cleared, but the wind came colder and more biting.

Jim Ferrers and one of the men started for Dugout City with a two-horse wagon, that the camp might be kept well-supplied with food.

By night of the day following all of the carpenter work had been finished, though not an hour too soon, for now the weather was becoming colder.

"Never put in a winter on the Indian Smoke Range, did you, Mr.

Reade?" Walsh inquired.

"Never."

"Then you'll find out what cold weather is like. A winter on this Range isn't much worse, though, than what I've heard about cold weather in Alaska."

"It'll be a relief to see six feet of snow, after living on the hot desert of Arizona," Harry muttered.

By evening of the following day, when Jim and his companion returned with the wagon-load of provisions, another day's work had been done in the mine.

"Any color today?" was Ferrers's first question.

"No signs of gold," sighed Harry.

"I heard a new one over at Dugout City," Jim remarked carelessly.

"Heard a new one?" echoed Tom. "What was it?"

"A baby," Jim answered dryly.

"What are you talking about?" Harry demanded. "What has a baby to do with a 'new one'?"

When the men began to laugh Harry suddenly discovered the joke.

"That's all right, Jim," growled Harry. "But I know something that would tickle you."

"A feather, or a straw," mocked Ferrers.

"No! A crowbar!" grunted Hazelton making a reach for a tool of that description.

Jim hastily jumped out of the way as Harry balanced the bar.

"Go and tell the men about the 'new one' you heard, Jim," laughed Tom. "By the time you get back Harry will have the joke pried loose with that bar of his."

"'Heard a new one'!" grunted Harry. But his look of disgust was because it had taken him so long to penetrate the "sell."

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