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   Chapter 23 TOM BEGINS TO DOUBT HIS EYES

The Young Engineers in Nevada; Or, Seeking Fortune on the Turn of a Pick By H. Irving Hancock Characters: 8900

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


When the shock came it shook the shacks so that nearly all of the sleeping miners became instantly alert.

Harry Hazelton, dozing lightly, sat up in bed, then felt dizzy and lay down again.

"You keep on your pillow, Mr. Hazelton," Tim Walsh ordered, gently.

"It isn't your time to sit up yet, sir."

"What was the racket?" asked Harry, anxiously.

"A blast in the mine," Tom Reade answered, truthfully enough.

"I didn't know we had any dynamite left," persisted Harry.

"You haven't been in a condition to know all that has been going on for the last few days," Tom retorted, gently. "Now, don't ask me any more questions, for I've got to go out and see how the blast came along."

As he spoke Tom was hustling into his coat and pulling his cap down over his ears.

Then, full of the liveliest anxiety, the young chief engineer hastened out.

His instant conclusion had been that some treachery was afoot, but whence it came he had no idea. Just now Tom Reade wanted facts, not conjectures.

As he closed the door and hurried across the camp, Tom found the aroused miners flocking out. Several of them bore rifles, for they, too, had guessed treachery.

"Here's the boss!"

"What's happened, Mr. Reade?"

"Men," Tom called softly, "I don't know what's up. But don't talk loudly or excitedly, for Hazelton has been aroused by the noise and the shake, and I've tried to turn it off. Don't let him hear your voices."

"It was in the mine, sir, wasn't it?" asked one man, hurrying to Reade's side.

"It must have been, Hunter. Come along, all of you. We'll go over to the shaft and take a look."

Several of the men were carrying lighted lanterns. At the shaft one of the first evidences they discovered was the wires running back to the magneto.

"Trickery, here!" muttered one of the men. "Mr. Reade, shall we try to pick up a trail and follow it?"

"No," answered Tom, after a moment's thought. "It would be wasted time. Even if you pick up a trail on this frozen crust, which is hardly likely, you couldn't follow it except by lantern light. That would be slow work. Besides, it would show the rascals where you were and how fast you were moving. They could fire at you easily. No; let's have a look at the damage."

Looking down the shaft, with their rim light, from the top, all looked as usual about the shaft.

"Hand me one of the lanterns," called Tom. "Hunter, you take another and come with me."

"Careful, sir," warned another man. "The blasts may not be all over as yet."

Tom Reade smiled.

"The blasts were fired by magneto," he explained. "There can't be any more blasts, unless some enemy should sneak back and adjust the magneto to some other 'mine.' You won't let any one down the shaft for that purpose, I know."

There was a laugh, amid which Tom and Hunter descended. Near the bottom of the third ladder Reade found that the rest of the way down the shaft had been blocked by the smashing of the ladders.

"Go up, Hunter," the young engineer directed, "and start the men to knotting ropes and splicing 'em. We want at least a hundred feet of knotted rope."

Tom waited on the last solid rung while this order was being carried out. By and by Hunter reached him with one end of a long, knotted line.

"Don't pass down any more," Tom called, "until I have made this end fast."

This was soon done, and the rest of the rope was lowered.

"Hunter," Tom asked, "are you good for going down a hundred feet or so on a knotted rope?"

"I don't believe I am, sir."

"Then don't try it. Go up and send down two or three men who feel sure they can do it. But urge every man against taking the risk foolishly. For a man who can't handle himself on a knotted rope it's a fine and easy way to break his neck."

"Are you going down now, sir?"

"At once."

"Then I'll stay here and hold a lantern for you," replied Hunter, doggedly. "I won't stir until I know you're safe at the bottom of the shaft."

"Go ahead up," ordered Tom. "I'm tying a lantern to my coat."

This he was even then doing, in fact, making the knot with a handkerchief passed through one of the button-holes of the garment.

"Why don't you go up, with my message, Hunter?" Tom demanded.

"I'm afraid I can't stir, sir, until I know that you're safe at the bottom."

"Nonsense! What could you do to save me if I lost my hold and fell?"

Tom questioned.

"Nothing at all, sir; but I'll feel a

heap easier when I know you're safe at the bottom."

"All right, then," called Reade. "Watch me!"

He swung off into space with the skill and sureness of the practiced athlete. A little later Tom touched bottom, calling up:

"Now, get busy, Hunter. I'm all right."

"Are you at the bottom of the shaft, sir?"

"I'm on solid ground, but I'm not sure about being at the bottom of the shaft. I'm afraid the opening to the tunnel has been blocked. Send down two or three men, and then some tools. The tools can come down in the tub, but forbid any men to try that way. The tub is too uncertain and likely to tip over."

"If the tub tips out a pick or two, they might fall on you, sir, and wind up your life," Hunter objected.

"That's a chance to which no good sport can object," laughed Tom.

"Go ahead and see that my instructions are carried out."

One of the men came down the rope first. He landed safely, but looked at his hands in the dim light.

"That's a hard road to travel, Mr. Reade," he remarked. "I'll not be much pleased with the trip back."

"It's easy to any one who has had enough practice," Tom observed, mildly.

Then two other men came down in turn.

"We've enough men here," shouted Reade. "Now send tools."

Before long the young engineer had his little force busily engaged.

Of course, many of the timbers had been blown out of the walling of the shaft. There was danger of the dirt caving in on the few workers below.

"Now, you four can keep going, digging straight down and to the eastward," said Tom. "I'm going up to get some more men at work, putting in temporary walling. I don't want any of you men hurt by saving dirt from the sides of the shaft."

All four men stopped work at once.

"What's the matter!" asked Reade.

"Coming down's easy, sir; we're waiting to see you go up that rope."

"Then I'll endeavor not to keep you long away from your tasks," smiled the young engineer athlete.

Grasping the rope just above a knot over his head, Tom gave a slight heave, then went rapidly up, hand over hand. He was soon lost from the little circle of light thrown by the lanterns at the shaft's bottom.

"Not many men like him," remarked one of the miners named Tibbets, admiringly.

"I've been told that's what young fellers learn at college," said another miner, as he spat on his hands and raised his pick.

For two hours Reade attended to the mending of the walling, as the system of laying walls in shafts is termed. Ladders had to be rebuilt even in order to put temporary walling in place.

Then the young chief engineer deemed it time to run over to the partners' shack. He opened the door softly, peeping in. Feeling the draught Tim Walsh turned and came to the door.

"Mr. Hazelton is doing all right, sir."

"Has he asked for me?"

"No, sir."

"If he does, tell him that I'm putting in all night at the mine.

If he gets worse run over and get me."

Then Tom went back to his labors.

Dolph Gage and his fellow rascals, owing to their haste, and also to the fact that they did not know as much as they thought they did about laying and tamping blasts, had not done as much harm as they had planned.

By the time that the miners had dug down some four feet, sending up the dirt in the hoist-tub, they came to the opening of the tunnel. Thus encouraged, they worked faster than ever, until a new shift was sent down the repaired ladders to relieve them.

By daylight the men, changing every two hours for fresher details, were well into the tunnel.

Here, for some yards, the tunnel was somewhat choked. After this semi-obstruction had been cleared away, Tom Reade was able to lead his men for some distance down the tunnel. Then they came upon the scene of the late big blast.

Here the rock had been hurled about in masses. A scene of apparent wreck met the eyes of the miners and their leader, though even here the damage was not as great as had been expected by Gage and his rascals.

To the north of the tunnel lay a great, gaping, jagged tear in the wall of rock. This tear, or hole, extended some ten feet to the north of the tunnel proper.

As Tom entered, a glint caught his eye. Something in the aspect of that dull illumination, reflected back to him, made his pulses leap.

He passed his left hand over his eyes, wondering if he were dreaming.

"I--I can't believe it!" he stammered. "Look, boys, and tell me what you see!"

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