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

It was evident to Bunker Hill that no common measures would serve to interest this young capitalist in his district; and yet there he was, a big husky young miner, with eight hundred dollars in his pocket. That eight hundred dollars, if wisely expended, might open up a bonanza in Pinal; and in any case, if it was spent with him, it would help to pay the freight. Old Bunk chopped open a bale of hay with an ax and gave his horse a feed; and, after he had given his prospect time to rest, he drifted off down towards the creek.

The creek at Pinal was one of those vagrant Western streams that appear and disappear at will. Where its course was sandy it sank from sight, creeping along on the bed-rock below; but where as at Pinal the bed-rock came to the surface, then the creek, perforce, rushed and gurgled. From the dark and windy depths of Queen Creek Canyon it came rioting down over the rocks and where the trail crossed there was a mighty sycamore that almost dammed its course. With its gnarled and swollen roots half dug from their crevices by the tumultuous violence of cloudbursts, it clung like an octopus to a shattered reef of rocks and sucked up its nourishment from the water. In the pool formed by its roots the minnows leapt and darted, solemn bull-frogs stared forth from dark holes, and in a natural seat against the huge tree trunk Big Boy sat cooling his feet. He looked younger now, with the blood washed off his face and the hard lines of hunger ironed out, and as Bunker Hill made some friendly crack he showed his white teeth in a smile.

“Pretty nice down here,” he said and Bunker nodded gravely.

“Yes,” he said, “nice place for frogs. Say, did you ever hear the story about Spud Murphy’s frog farm? Well Spud was an old-timer, awful gallant to the ladies, especially when he’d had a few drinks, and every time he’d get loaded about so far he’d get out an old flute and play it. But it sounded so sad and mournful that everybody kicked, and one time over at a dance when Spud was about to play some ladies began to jolly him about it.

“‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ says Spud, ’there’s a story connected with that flute. The only time I ever stood to make a fortune I spoiled it by playing that sad music.’

“‘Oh, tell us about it,’ they all says at once; so Spud began on his tale.

“It seems he was over around Clifton when some French miners came in and, knowing their weakness, Spud dammed up the creek and got ready to have a frog farm. He sent back to Arkansaw and got three carloads of bull-frogs thoroughbreds old Spud said they was and turned them loose in the creek; and every evening, to keep them from getting lonely, he’d play ’em a few tunes on his flute. Well, they were doing fine, getting used to the dry country and beginning to get over being homesick, when one night Murph went up there and played them the Arkansaw Traveler.

“Well, of course that was the come-on Old Spud stopped his story and finally one lady bit.

“‘Yes, but how did you lose your fortune?’ she asks and Spud he shakes his head.

“‘By playing that tune,’ he says. ’Them frogs got so homesick they started right out for Arkansaw and every one perished on the desert.’”

“Huh!” grunted Big Boy, who had been listening intolerantly. “Say, is that all you do sit around and tell stories for a living? Why the hell don’t you git out and work?”

“Well, you got me again, kid,” admitted Old Bunk mournfully, “I’m sure sorry I made you that talk. But I was so doggoned sore at that pardner of yours that I kinder went out of my head.”

“Well, all right,” conceded Big Boy, “if that’s the way you feel about it there’s no use rubbing it in, but you certainly lost out with me. My hands may be big, but I never broadened my knuckles by battering on other people’s back doors. At the same time if I have to ask a man for a meal I expect to be treated civil. When I’m working around town and a miner strikes me for a stake I give him a dollar to eat on, and if I happen to be broke when I land in a new camp I work my face the same way. That’s the custom of the country, and when a man asks me why I don’t work ”

“Aw, forget it!” pleaded Bunker, “didn’t I ask your pardon? Didn’t my wife tell you why I said it? But I’ll bet you, all the same, if you’d fed as many as I have you’d throw a fit once in a while, yourself. Here’s the whole camp shut down, only one outfit working and they’re just running a diamond drill and at the same time I have to feed every hobo that comes through, whether he’s got any money or not. How’d you like to buy your grub at these war-time prices and run a hotel for nothing, and at the same time keep up the assessment work on fifteen or twenty claims? Maybe you’d get kind of peevish when a big bum laid in his blankets and wouldn’t even get up for breakfast!”

“Ah, that man Meacham!” burst out Big Boy scornfully. “Say do you know what that yap did to me? We were drilling pardners in the double-jack contest it was just yesterday, over in Globe and in the last few minutes he began to throw off on me, so I had to win the money myself. Practically did all the work, and while they were giving me a rub-down afterwards he collected the money and beat it. I’d put up every dollar I had in side bets, and the first prize was seven hundred dollars; but he collected it all and then, when I began looking for him, he took out over this trail. Well, I was so doggoned mad when I found out what he’d done that I didn’t even stop to eat, and I followed him on the run until dark. When I ran out of matches to look for his tracks I laid down and slept in the trail and this morning when I got up I was so stiff and weak that I couldn’t hardly crawl. But I caught the big jasper and believe me, old-timer, he’ll think twice before he robs me again!”

“He will that,” nodded Bunker, “but say, tell me this ain’t half of that money his?”

“Not a bean!” declared Big Boy. “We fought for the purse, the winner to take it all. He saw I was weak or he’d never have stood up to me that’s why he was so sore when he lost.”

“I’d never’ve let him hurt you!” protested Old Bunk vehemently, “I had my gun on him, all the time. And if I’d had my way you’d never have fought him I’d have taken the purse away from him.”

“Yes, that’s it, you see that’s what he was fishing for he wanted you to make it a draw! But I knew all the time I could lick him with one hand and I did, too, and got the money!”

“You did danged well!” praised Bunker roundly, “I never see a gamier fight; but I thought at the end he sure had you beat you could hardly hold up your hands.”

“All a stall!” exclaimed Big Boy proudly. “I began fighting his way at first, but I saw I was too weak to slug; so, just for a come-on, I pulled my blows and when he made a swing I downed him.”

“Well, well!” beamed Old Bunk, “you certainly are a wise one you know how to use your head. I wouldn’t have believed it, but if you’re as smart as all that you’ve got no business working as a miner. You’ve got a little stake why don’t you buy a claim and make a play for big money? Look at the rich men in the West take Clark and Douglas and Wingfield how did they all get their money? Every one of them made it out of mining. Some started in as bankers, or store-keepers or saloon-keepers; but they got their big money, just the same as you or I will, out of a four-by-six hole in the ground. That’s the way I dope it out and I’ve spent fifteen years of my life just playing that system to win. Me and old Bible-Back Murray, the store-keeper down in Moroni, have been working in this district for years; and, sooner or later, one or the other of us will strike it and we’ll pile up our everlasting fortunes. I hate the Mormon-faced old dastard, he’s such a sanctified old hypocrite, but I always treat him white and if his diamond drill hits copper he’ll make the two of us rich. Anyhow, that’s what I’m waiting for.”

Big Boy looked up at the striated hills which lay like a section of layer cake between the base of the mountains and the creek and then he shook his head.

“Nope,” he said, “it don’t look good to me. The formation runs too regular. What you need for a big mineral deposit is some fissure veins, where the country has been busted up more.”

“Oh, it don’t look like a mineral country at all, eh?” enquired Bunker Hill sarcastically. “Well, how do you figure it out then that they took out four million dollars’ worth of silver from that little hill right up the creek?”

“Don’t know,” answered Big Boy, “but you couldn’t work it now, with silver down to fifty-two cents. It’s copper that’s the high card now.”

“Yes, and look what happened to copper when the war broke out?” cried Bunker Hill derisively, “it went down to eleven cents. But is it down to eleven now? Well, not so you’d notice it thirty-one would be more like it and all on account of the metal trust. They smashed copper down, then bought it all up, and now they’re boosting the price. Well, they’ll do the same with silver.”

“Aw, you’re crazy,” came back Big Boy, “they need copper to make munitions to sell to those nations over in Europe; but what can you make out of silver?”

“Oh, nothing,” jeered Bunker, “but I’ll tell you what you can do you can use it to pay for your copper! You hadn’t figured that out, now had you? Well, here now, let me tell you a few things. These people that are running the metal-buying trust are smart, see they look way ahead. They know that after we’ve grabbed all the gold away from Europe those nations will have to have some other metal to stand behind their money and that metal is going to be silver. The big operators up in Tonopah ain’t selling their silver now, they’re storing it away in vaults, because they know in a little while all the nations in the world are going to be bidding for silver. And say, do you see that line of hills? There’s silver enough buried underneath them to pay the national debt of the world.”

He paused and nodded his head impressively and Big Boy broke into a grin.

“Say,” he said, “you must have some claim for sale, like an old feller I met over in New Mex.

“‘W’y, young man,’ he says when I wouldn’t bite, ’you’re passing up the United States Mint. If you had Niagara Falls to furnish the power, and all hell to run the blast furnace, and the whole State of Texas for a dump, you couldn’t extract the copper from that property inside of a million years. It’s big, I’m telling you, it’s big!’ And all he wanted for his claim was a thousand dollars, down.”

“Aw, you make me tired,” confessed Bunker Hill frankly, now that he saw his sale gone glimmering, “I see you’re never going to get very far. You’ll tramp back to Globe and blow in your money and go back to polishing a drill. W’y, a young man like you, if he had any ambition, could buy one of these claims for little or nothing and maybe make a fortune. I’ll tell you what I’ll do you stay around here a while and look at some of my claims; and if you see something you like ”

“Nope,” said Big Boy, “you can’t work me now you lost your horse-shoe this morning. I was a hobo then and you told me to go to hell, but now when you see I’ve got eight hundred dollars you’re trying to bunco me out of it. I know who you are, I’ve heard the boys tell about you you’re one of these blue-bellied Yankees that try to make a living swapping jack-knives. You got your name from that Bunker Hill monument and they shortened it down to Bunk. Well, you lose that’s all I’ll say; I wouldn’t buy your claims if they showed twenty dollar gold pieces, with everything on ’em but the eagle-tail. And the formation is no good here, anyhow.”

“Oh, it ain’t, hey?” came back Bunk thrusting out his jaw belligerently, “well take a look up at that cliff. That Apache Leap is solid porphyry ”

“Apache Leap!” broke in Big Boy suddenly sitting erect and looking all around, “by grab, is this the place?”

“This is the place,” replied Old Bunk wagging his head and smiling wisely, “and that cap is solid porphyry.”

“Gee, boys!” exclaimed Big Boy getting up on his feet, “say, is that where they killed all those Indians?”

“The very place,” returned Bunker Hill proudly, “you can find their skeletons there to this day.”

“Well, for cripe’s sake,” murmured Big Boy at last and looked up at the cliff again.

“Some jump-off,” observed Bunker, but Big Boy did not hear him he was looking up at the sun.

“Say,” he said, “when the sun rises in the morning how far out does that shadow come?”

“What shadow?” demanded Bunker Hill. “Oh, of Apache Leap? It goes way out west of town.”

“And does it throw its shadow on these hills where your claims are? Well, old-timer, I’ll just take a look at them.”

He climbed out purposefully and began to put on his shoes and Old Bunk squinted at him curiously. There was something going on that he did not know about some connection between the Leap and his mines; he waited, and the secret popped out.

“Say,” said Big Boy after a long minute of silence, “do you believe in fortune-tellers?”

“Sure thing!” spoke up Bunker, suddenly taking a deep breath and swallowing his Adam’s apple solemnly, “I believe in them phenomena implicitly. And, as I was about to say, you can have any claim I’ve got for eight hundred dollars cash.”