Read CHAPTER VIII - THE SILVER TREASURE of Silver and Gold A Story of Luck and Love in a Western Mining Camp , free online book, by Dane Coolidge, on

As evening came on and the red eye of the sun winked and closed behind a purple range of mountains Denver Russell came out of his cliff-dwelling cave and looked at the old town below. Mysterious shadows were gathering among the ruins, the white walls stood out ghostly and still, and as a breeze stirred the clacking leaves of the sycamores a voice mounted up like a bird’s. It rose slowly and descended, it ran rippling arpeggios and lingered in flute-like trills; but it was colorless, impersonal, void of feeling.

It was more like a flute than like the voice of a bird that pours out its soul for joy; it was perfect, but it was not moving. Only as the spirit of the desolate town as of some lost soul, pure and passionless did it find its note of appeal and Denver sighed and sat silent in the darkness. His thoughts strayed far away, to his boyhood in the mountains, to his wanderings from camp to camp; they leapt ahead to the problem that lay before him, the choice between the silver and gold treasures; and then, drowsy and oblivious, he left the voice still singing and groped to his bed in the cave.

All night the prying pack-rats, dispossessed of their dwelling, raced and gnawed and despoiled his provisions; but when the day dawned Denver left them to do their worst, for his mind was on greater things. At another time, when he was not so busy, he would swing some rude cupboards on wires and store his food out of reach; but now he only stopped to make a hasty breakfast and started off up the trail. When the sun rose, over behind Apache Leap, and cast its black shadow among the hills, Denver was up on the rim-rock, looking out on the promised land that should yield him two precious treasures.

The rim where he stood was uptilted and broken, a huge stratified wall like the edge of a layer cake or the leaves of some mighty book. They lay one upon the other, these ledges of lime and sandstone, some red, some yellow, some white; and, heaped upon the top like a rich coating of chocolate, was the brownish-black cap of the lava. In ages long past each layer had been a mud bank at the bottom of a tropic sea, until the weight of waters had pressed them down and time had changed them to stone. Then Mother Earth had breathed and in a slow, century-long heave, they had emerged from the bottom of the sea, there to be broken and shattered by the pent-up forces of the fire which was raging in her breast.

Great rents had been formed, igneous rocks had boiled up through them; and then in a grand, titanic effort the fire had forced its way up. For centuries this extinct volcano had belched forth its lava, building up the frowning heights of Apache Leap; and then once more the earth had subsided and the waters of the ocean had rushed in. The edge of the rim-rock had been sheered by torrential floods, erosion had fashioned the far heights; until once more, with infinite groanings, the earth had risen from the depths. There it stayed, cracking and trembling, as the inner fires cooled down and the fury of the conflict died away; and boiling waters bearing ores in solution burst like geysers from every crack. And there atom by atom, combined with quartz and acids, the metals of the earth were brought to the surface and deposited on the sides of the cracks. Copper and gold and silver and lead, and many a rarer metal, all spewed up from the molten heart of the world to be sought out and used by man.

All this Denver sensed as he gazed at the high cliff where the volcano had overflowed the earth, and at the layers and layers of sedimentary rock that protruded from beneath its base; but his eyes, though they sensed it, cared nothing for the great Cause what they looked for was the fruit of all that labor. Where along this shattered rim-rock, twisted and hacked and uptilted, were the hidden cracks, the precious fissure veins, that had brought up the ore from the depths? There at his feet lay one, the gash through the rim where Queen Creek took its course; and further to the north, where the rim-rock was wrenched to the west, was another likely place. To the south there was another, a deep, sharp canyon that broke through the formation to the heights; and over them all, like a sheltering hand, lay the dark, moving shadow of Apache Leap. He traced out its line as it crept back towards the town and then, big eyed and silent, he started down the trail, still looking for some sign that might guide him.

But other eyes than his had been sweeping the rim and as he came up the trail Bunker Hill appeared and walked along beside him.

“I’ll just show you those claims,” he said smiling genially, “it’ll save you a little time, and maybe a pair of shoes. And just to prove that I’m on the square I’ll take you to the best one first.”

He led on up the street and as they passed a stone cabin the door was yanked violently open and then as suddenly slammed shut.

“That’s the Dutchman,” grinned Bunker, “he wakes up grouchy every morning. What did you think of that rock he showed you?”

“Good enough,” replied Denver, “it was rotten with gold. But from the looks of the pieces it’s only a stringer I doubt if it shows any walls.”

“No, nor anything else much,” answered Bunker slightingly, “you can’t even call it a stringer. It’s a kind of broken seam, going flat into the hill the Mexicans have been after it for years. Every time there’s a rain the Professor will go up there and wash out a little gold in the gulch; but a Chinaman couldn’t work it, and make it show a profit, if he had to dig out his ore. Of course it’s all right, if you think gold is the ticket, but you wait till I show you this claim of mine next to the famous Lost Burro Mine.

“You know the Lost Burro there she lays, right there and they took out four million dollars in silver before the bonanza pinched out. At first they hauled their ore to the Gulf of California and shipped it to Swansea, Wales, and afterwards they built a kind of furnace and roasted their ore right here. It was refractory ore, mixed up with zinc and antimony; but with everything against them, and all kinds of bum management, she paid from the very first day. All full of water now, or I’d show you around; but some mine in its time, believe me. I wouldn’t sell it for a million dollars.”

“Five hundred is my limit,” observed Denver with a grin and Bunker slapped his leg.

“Say,” he said, “did I tell you that story about the deacon that got stung in a horse-trade? Well, this was back east, where I used to live, before I emigrated for the good of the country, and there was an old Methodist deacon that was as smart as they make ’em when it came to driving a bargain. He and the livery-stable keeper had made a few swaps and one was about as sharp as the other; until finally it got to be a matter of pride between ’em to cut each other’s throats in some horse-trade They would talk and haggle, and drive away and come back, and jockey each other for months; but they always paid cash and if one of ’em got stuck he’d trade the horse off to some woman. Well, one day the livery-stable man drove past the deacon’s house with a fine, free, high-stepping bay; and every afternoon for about a week he’d go by at a pretty good clip. The deacon he’d rush out and try to flag him, but the livery-stable keeper wouldn’t stop; until finally the deacon’s curiosity got the best of his judgment and he went out and laid in wait for him.

“‘How much do you want for that hoss?’ he says when the livery-stable man came to a stop.

“‘Two hundred dollars,’ says the livery-stable keeper.

“‘I’ll give you fifty!’ barks the deacon coming out to look him over and the livery-stable man tossed him the reins.

“‘The hoss is yours,’ he says, and the deacon knowed he was stung.

“Quick work,” said Denver, “but I’m not like the deacon. I’m going to look around.”

“Oh, sure, sure!” protested Bunker, “take all the time you want, but this offer is only good for one week. I’ve got a special reason for wanting to make a sale or I’d never let you look at this claim. Why, the Professor himself has told me a thousand times that it’s a better proposition than the Burro, so you can see that I am making it attractive. And I ain’t pretending that I’m making you the offer for any bull-con reason. I might say that I wanted you to do some work, or to open up the district; but the fact of the matter is I need the five hundred dollars. I’ve seen times before this war when a hundred thousand cash wouldn’t pry me loose from that claim, but now it’s yours for five hundred dollars if you honestly think it’s worth it. And if you don’t, that’s all right, there’s no hard feeling between us and you can go and buy from the Professor. You wasn’t born yesterday and you’re a good, hard-rock miner; so enough said, there’s the claim, right there.”

He waved his hand at the steep shoulder of the hill, where the canyon had cut through the rim-rock; and as Denver looked at the formation of the ground a gleam came into his eyes. The claim took in the silted edge of the rim, where the strata had been laid bare, and along through the middle of the varicolored layers there ran a broad streak of iron-red. Into this a streak of copper-stained green had been pinched by the lateral fault of the canyon and where the two joined just across the creek was the discovery hole of the claim.

“Let’s go over and look at it,” he said and, crossing the creek on the stones, he clambered up to the hole. It was an open cut with a short tunnel at the end and, piled up about the location monument, were some samples of the rock. Denver picked one up and at sight of the ore he glanced suspiciously at Bunker.

“Where did this come from?” he asked holding up a chunk that was heavy with silver and lead, “is this some high-grade from the famous Lost Burro?”

“Nope,” returned Bunker, “’bout the same kind of rock, though. That comes from the tunnel in there.”

“Like hell!” scoffed Denver with a swift look at the specimen, “and for sale for five hundred dollars? Well, there’s something funny here, somewhere.”

He stepped into the tunnel and there, across the face, was a four inch vein of the ore. It lay between two walls, as a fissure vein should; but the dip was almost horizontal, following the level of the uptilted strata. Except for that it was as ideal a prospect as a man could ask to see and for sale for five hundred dollars! A single ton of the ore, if it was as rich as it looked, ought easily to net five hundred dollars.

Denver knocked off some samples with his prospector’s pick and carried them out into the sun.

“Why don’t you work this?” he asked as he caught the gleam of native silver in the duller gray of the lead and Old Bunk hunched his shoulders.

“Little out of my line,” he suggested mildly, “I leave all that to the Swedes. Say, did you ever hear that one about the Swede and the Irishman you don’t happen to be Irish, do you?”

“No,” answered Denver and as he waited for the story he remembered what the Professor had told him. This long, gangly Yankee, with his drooping red mustache and his stories for every occasion, was nothing but a store-keeper and a cowman. He knew nothing about mining or the value of mines but like many another old-timer simply held down his claims and waited and to cover up his ignorance of mining he told stories about Irishmen and Swedes. “No,” said Denver, “and you’re no Swede, or you’d drift in there and see what you’ve got.”

“A mule can work,” observed Bunker oracularly, “but here’s one I heard sprung on an Irishman. He was making a big talk about Swedes and Swede luck, and after he’d got through a feller made the statement that the Swedes were the greatest people in the world.

“‘In the wur-rold!’ yells the Irishman, like he was out of his head, ‘well, how do you figure thot out?’

“‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ says the feller, ’the Swedes invented the wheel-barrow and then they learned you Irish to stand on your hind legs and run it!’ Har, har, har; he had him going that time the Mick couldn’t think what else to do so he went to heaving bricks.”

“Yes sure,” nodded Denver, “that was one on the Irish. But say, have you got a clean title to this claim? Because if you have ”

“You bet I have!” spoke up Bunker, now suddenly strictly business; but as he waited expectantly there was a shout from the trail and Professor Diffenderfer came rushing up.

“Oh, I heard you!” he cried shaking a trembling fist at Bunker. “I heard vot you said about my claim! Und now, Mister Bunk, I’ll have my say no sir, you haf no goot title. You haf not done your yearly assessment vork on dis or any oder claims!”

“Say, who called you in on this?” inquired Bunker Hill coldly. “You danged, bat-headed Dutchman, you keep butting in on my deals and I’ll forget and bust you on the jaw!”

His long, sharp chin was suddenly thrust out, one eye had a dangerous droop; but the Professor returned his gaze with an insolent stare and a triumphant toss of the head.

“Dat’s all right!” he said, “you say my golt mine is a stringer I say your silver mine is nuttings. You haf no title, according to law, but only by the custom of the country.”

“Well, you poor, ignorant baboon,” burst out Bunker in a fury, “what better title do you want? The claim is mine, everybody knows it and acknowledges it; and I’ve got your signature, sworn before a notary public, that the annual work was done!”

“Just a form, just a form,” returned the Professor with a shrug, “I do like everyone else. But dis claim dat I haf and my tunnel on the hill on dem the vork is done. And now, Mr. Russell, if you haf finished looking here, I will take you to see my mine.”

“Well, I don’t know,” began Denver still gazing at the silver ore, “this looks pretty good, right here.”

“But the prophecy!” exclaimed the Professor with a knowing smirk, “don’t it tell you to choose between the two? And how can you tell if you don’t even look whether the golt or the silver is better?”

“Aw, go down and look at it!” broke in Bunker Hill angrily as Denver scratched his head, “go and see what he calls a mine and if you don’t come running back and put your money in my hand you ain’t the miner I think you are. But by the holy, jumping Judas, I’m going to forget myself some day and knock the soo-preme pip out of this Dutchman!” He turned abruptly away and went striding back towards the town and the Professor leered at Denver.

“Vot I told you?” he boasted, “I ain’t scared of dat mens he promised his vife he von’t fight!”

“Good enough,” said Denver, “but don’t work it too hard. Now come on and let’s look at your mine.”