Read CHAPTER I - THE GROUND-HOG of Silver and Gold A Story of Luck and Love in a Western Mining Camp , free online book, by Dane Coolidge, on ReadCentral.com.

The day had dawned on the summit of Apache Leap and a golden eagle, wheeling high above the crags, flashed back the fire of the sun from his wings; but in the valley below where old Pinal lay sleeping the heat had not begun. A cool wind drew down from the black mouth of Queen Creek Canyon, stirring the listless leaves of the willows, and the shadow of the great cliff fell like a soothing hand on the deserted town at its base. In the brief freshness of the morning there was a smell of flaunting green from the sycamores along the creek, and the tang of greasewood from the ridges; and then, from the chimney of a massive stone house, there came the odor of smoke. A coffee mill began to purr from the kitchen behind and a voice shouted a summons to breakfast, but the hobo miner who lay sprawling in his blankets did not answer the peremptory call. He raised his great head, turned his pig eyes toward the house, then covered his face from the flies.

There was a clatter of dishes, a long interval of silence, and then the sun like a flaming disc topped the mountain wall to the east. The square adobe houses cast long black shadows across the whitened dust of the street and as the man burrowed deeper to keep out the light the door of the stone house slammed. The day seldom passed when Bunker Hill’s wife did not cook for three or four hoboes but when Old Bunk called a man in to breakfast he expected him to come. He stood for a minute, tall and rangy and grizzled, a desert squint in one eye; and then with a muttered oath he strode across the street.

“Hey!” he called prodding the blankets with his boot and the hobo came alive with a jump.

“You look out!” he snarled, bounding violently to his feet and dropping back to a crouch; but when he met Bunker Hill’s steely eyes he mumbled something and lowered his hands.

“All right, pardner,” observed Hill, “I’ll do all of that; but if you figure on getting any breakfast you’d better come in and eat it.”

“Huh!” responded the hobo scowling and blinking at the sun and then without a word he started for the house. He was a big, hulking man, with arms like a bear and bulging, bench-like legs; but the expression on his face above his enormous black mustache was that of a disgruntled ground-hog. His nose was tipped up, his eyes were small and stubborn and as he ate a hurried breakfast he glanced about uneasily as if fearful of some trap; yet if Bunker Hill had any reservations about his guest he did not abate his hospitality. The coffee was still hot, there was plenty of everything and when the miner rose to go Old Bunk accompanied him to the door.

“Going to be hot,” he observed as the heat struck through their clothes; but the hobo omitted even a nod of assent in his haste to be off down the trail.

“Well, the dadblasted bum!” exclaimed Bunker in a rage as the miner passed over the first hill and, stumping across the street, he rolled up the tumbled blankets. “The dirty dog!” he grumbled vindictively, hoisting the bed upon his shoulders; but as he started back to the house he heard something drop from the roll. He paused and looked back and there on the ground lay a wallet, stuffed with bills. It was the miner’s purse, which he had put under his pillow and forgotten in his sudden departure.

“O-ho!” observed Bunker as he picked it up. “O-ho, I thought you was broke!” He opened the purse with great deliberation, laying bare a great sheaf of bills, and as his wife and daughter came hurrying down the steps he counted the hobo’s hoard.

“Over eight hundred dollars,” he announced with ominous calm. “Some roll, when a man is bumming his meals and can’t even stop to say thanks ”

“He’s coming back for it,” broke in his wife anxiously. “And now, Andrew, please don’t ”

“Never mind,” returned her husband, slipping the wallet into his pocket, and she sighed and folded her hands. The hobo was walking fast, coming back down the hill, and when he saw Hill by the blankets he broke into a ponderous trot.

“Say,” he called, “you didn’t see a purse, did ye? I left one under my blankets.”

“A purse!” exclaimed Bunker with exaggerated surprise. “Why I thought you was broke what business have you got with a purse?”

“Well, I had a few keep-sakes and ”

“You’re a liar!” rapped out Bunker and his sharp lower jaw suddenly jutted out like a crag. “You’re a liar,” he repeated, as the hobo let it pass, “you had eight hundred and twenty-five dollars.”

“Well, what’s that to you?” retorted the miner defiantly. “It’s mine, so gimme it back!”

“Oh, I don’t know,” drawled Bunker hauling the purse from his pocket and looking over the bills, “I don’t know whether I will or not. You came in here last night and told me you were broke, but right here is where I collect. It’ll cost you five dollars for your supper and breakfast and five dollars more for your bed that’s my regular price to transients.”

“No, you don’t!” exclaimed the hobo, but as Bunker looked up he drew back a step and waited.

“That’s ten dollars in all,” continued Hill, extracting two bills from the purse, “and next time you bum your breakfast I’d advise you to thank the cook.”

“Hey, you give me that money!” burst out the miner hoarsely, holding out a threatening hand, and Bunker Hill rose to his full height. He was six feet two when he stooped.

“W’y, sure,” he said handing over the wallet; but as the miner turned to go Hill jabbed him in the ribs with a pistol. “Just a moment, my friend,” he went on quietly, “I just want to tell you a few things. I’ve been feeding men like you for fifteen years, right here in this old town, and I’ve never turned one away yet; but you can tell any bo that you meet on the trail that the road-sign for this burg is changed. I used to be easy, but so help me Gawd, I’ll never feed a hobo again. Here my wife has been slaving over a red-hot stove cooking grub for you hoboes for years and the first bum that forgets and leaves his purse has eight hundred dollars cash! Now you git, dad-burn ye, before I do the world a favor and fill you full of lead!” He motioned him away with the muzzle of his pistol while his wife laid a hand on his arm, and after one look the hobo turned and loped over the top of the hill.

“Now Andrew, please,” expostulated Mrs. Hill, and, still breathing hard, Old Bunk put up his gun and reached for a chew of tobacco.

“Well, all right,” he growled, “but you heard what I said that’s the last doggoned hobo we feed.”

“Well perhaps,” she conceded, but Bunker Hill was roused by the memory of years of ingratitude.

“No ‘perhaps’ about it,” he asserted firmly, “I’ll run every last one of them away. Do you think I’m going to work my head off for my family, only to be et out of house and home? Do you think I’m going to have you cooking meals for these miners when they’re earning their five dollars a day? Let ’em buy a lunch at the store!”

“No, but Andrew,” protested Mrs. Hill, who was a large, motherly soul and not to be bowed down by work, “I’m sure that some of them are worthy.”

“Yes, I know you are,” he answered, smiling grimly, “that’s what you always say. But you hear me, now; I’m through. Don’t you feed another man.”

He turned to his daughter for support, but his bad luck had just begun. Drusilla was shading her eyes from the sun and staring up the trail.

“Oh, here comes another one,” she cried in a hushed voice and pointed up the creek. He stood at the mouth of the black-shadowed canyon where the trail comes in from Globe a young man with wind-blown hair, looking doubtfully down at the town; but when he saw them he stepped boldly forth and came plodding down the trail.

“Oh, not this one!” pleaded Mrs. Hill when she saw his boyish face; but Bunker Hill thrust out his jaw.

“Every one of ’em,” he muttered, “the whole works all of ’em! You women folks go into the house.”