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PAGE 2

The Grub-Staker
by [?]

“You’ll get that grub-stake over the eye; the widdy is dangerous to-night.”

Sherm seemed not much concerned. Having fired his pipe, he took a piece of rock from his pocket. “What do you think o’ this?” he inquired, casually.

The other examined it eagerly, and broke out: “Jee–cripes! Why, say! that’s jest rotten with gold. Where’d you find it?”

“Out in the hills,” was the placid reply; “a new vein–high up.”

The third man took the rock and said: “That vein has got to be low down–that can’t come from high up. We’re on the wrong trail. Think o’ Cripple Creek–mine’s right under the grass on the hills. Yer can’t fool me.”

“But we know the veins are high–we’ve seen ’em,” argued the other men.

“Yes–but they’re different veins. This rock comes from lower down.”

“What do you say to that, Sherm?”

“One guess is as good as another,” he replied, and moved away with his piece of ore.

“The old man’s mighty fly this evenin’. I wonder if he really has trailed that float to a standstill. I’d sooner think he’s stringin’ us.”

Bidwell went out on the edge of the ravine, and for a long time sat on a rock, listening to the roar of the swift stream and looking up at the peaks which were still covered with heavy yellow snow, stained with the impalpable dust which the winter winds had rasped from the exposed ledges of rock. It was chill in the canyon, and the old man shivered with cold as well as with a sense of discouragement. For twenty years he had regularly gone down into the valleys in winter to earn money with which to prospect in summer–all to no purpose. For years Margaret Delaney had been his very present help in time of trouble, and now she had broken with him, and under his mask of smiling incredulity he carried a profoundly disturbed conscience. His benefactress was in deadly earnest–she meant every word she said–that he felt, and unless she relented he was lost, for he had returned from the valley this time without a dollar to call his own. He had a big, strong mule and some blankets and a saddle–nothing further.

The wind grew stronger and keener, roaring down the canyon with the breath of the upper snows, and the man’s blood cried out for a fire (June stands close to winter in the high ranges of the Crestones), and at last he rose stiffly and returned to the little sitting-room, where he found the widow in the midst of an argument with her boarders to prove that they were all fools together for hangin’ to the side of a mountain that had no more gould in it than a flatiron or a loomp o’ coal–sure thing!

“What you goin’ to do about our assays?” asked young Johnson.

“Assays, is it? Annybody can have assays–that will pay the price. Ye’re all lazy dogs in the manger, that’s phwat ye air. Ye assay and want somebody else to pay ye fer the privilege of workin’. Why don’t ye work yer-silves–ye loots? Sit around here expectin’ some wan ilse to shovel gould into yer hat. Ye’ll pay me yer board–moind that,” she ended, making a personal application of her theories; “ivery wan o’ ye.”

If any lingering resolution remained in Bidwell’s heart it melted away as he listened to Mrs. Delaney’s throaty voice and plain, blunt words. Opening the door timidly, he walked in and without looking at the angry woman seized upon his bundles, which lay behind the door.

The widow’s voice rang out: “Where ye gawun wid thim bags?”

Bidwell straightened. “They’re my bundles, I reckon. Can’t a man do as he likes with his own?”

“Not whin he’s owin’ fer board. Put thim boondles down!”

The culprit sighed and sat down on the bundles. Even young Johnson lost his desire to laugh, for Bidwell looked pathetically old and discouraged at the moment, as he mildly asked:

“You wouldn’t send a man out in the night without his blankets, would you?”