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The Leaser
by [?]

–the tenderfoot hay-roller from the
prairies–still tries his luck in some
abandoned tunnel–sternly toiling for
his sweetheart far away.

The only passenger in the car who really interested me was a burly young fellow who sat just ahead of me, and who seemed to be something more than a tourist, for the conductor greeted him pleasantly and the brakeman shook his hand. We were climbing to Cripple Creek by way of the Short Line, but as “the sceneries” were all familiar to me, I was able to study my fellow-passengers.

The man before me was very attractive, although he was by no interpretation a gentle type. On the contrary, he looked to be the rough and ready American, rough in phrase and ready to fight. His corduroy coat hunched about his muscular shoulders in awkward lines, and his broad face, inclining to fat, was stern and harsh. He appeared to be about thirty-five years of age.

The more I studied him the more I hankered to know his history. The conductor, coming through, hailed him with:

“Well, gettin’ back, eh? Had a good trip?”

Once or twice the miner–he was evidently a miner–leaned from the window and waved his hat to some one on the crossing, shouted a cheery, “How goes it?” and the brakeman asked:

“How did you find the East?”

From all this I deduced that the miner had been away on a visit to New York, or Boston, or Washington.

As we rose the air became so cool, so clear, so crisp, that we seemed to be entering a land of eternal dew and roses, and as our car filled with the delicious scent of pine branches and green grasses, the miner, with a solemn look on his face, took off his hat and, turning to me, said, with deep intonation:

“This is what I call air. This is good for what ails me.”

“You’ve been away,” I stated rather than asked.

“I’ve been back East–back to see the old folks–first time in eleven years.”

“What do you call East?” I pursued.

“Anything back of the Missouri River,” he replied, smiling a little. “In this case it was Michigan–near Jackson.”

“Citizen of the camp?” I nodded up the canyon.

“Yes, I’m workin’ a lease on Bull Hill.”

“How’s the old camp looking?”

“All shot to pieces. Half the houses empty, and business gone to pot. It’s a purty yellow proposition now.”

“You don’t say! It was pretty slow when I was there last, but I didn’t suppose it had gone broke. What’s the matter of it?”

“Too many monopolists. All the good properties have gone into one or two hands. Then these labor wars have scared operators away. However, I’m not complainin’. I’ve made good on this lease of mine.” He grinned boyishly. “I’ve been back to flash my roll in the old man’s face. You see, I left the farm rather sudden one Sunday morning eleven years ago, and I’d never been back.” His face changed to a graver, sweeter expression. “My sister wrote that mother was not very well and kind o’ grievin’ about me, so, as I was making good money, I thought I could afford to surprise the old man by slapping him on the back. You see, when I left, I told him I’d never darken his door again–you know the line of talk a boy hands out to his dad when he’s mad–and for over ten years I never so much as wrote a line to any of the family.”

As he mused darkly over this period, I insinuated another question. “What was the trouble?”

“That’s just it! Nothing to warrant anything more than a cuss-word, and yet it cut me loose. I was goin’ around now and then with a girl the old man didn’t like–or rather, my old man and her old man didn’t hitch–and, besides, her old man was a kind of shiftless cuss, one o’ these men that raised sparrows in his beard, and so one Sunday morning, as I was polishin’ up the buggy to go after Nance, who but dad should come out and growl: