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

Denver Russell was young, in more ways than one, but that did not prove he was wrong. Perhaps he was presumptuous in trying to tell an artist how to gain a foothold on the stage, but he was still convinced that, in grand opera as in mining, there was no big demand for a quitter. As for that swift, back stab, that veiled intimation that he might live to be a quitter himself, Denver resolved then and there not to quit working his mine until his last dollar was gone. And, while he was doing that, he wondered if Drusilla could boast as much of her music. Would she weaken again, as she had twice already, and declare that she was a miserable failure; or would she toil on, as he did, day by day, refusing to acknowledge she was whipped?

Denver returned to his cave in a defiant mood and put on a record by Schumann-Heink. There was one woman that he knew had fought her way through everything until she had obtained a great success. He had read in a magazine how she had been turned away by a director who had told her her voice was hopeless; and how later, after years of privation and suffering, she had come back to that same director and he had been forced to acknowledge her genius. And it was all there, in her voice, the sure strength that comes from striving, the sweetness that comes from suffering; and as Denver listened to her “Cradle Song” he remembered what he had read about her children. Every night, in those dark times when, deserted and alone, she sang in the chorus for her bread, she had been compelled for lack of a nursemaid to lock her children in her room; and evening after evening her mother’s heart was tormented by fears for their safety. What if the house should burn down and destroy them all? All the fear and love, all the anguished tenderness which had torn her heart through those years was written on the stippled disc, so deeply had it touched her life.

Denver put them all on, the best records he had by singers of world renown, and then at the end he put on the “Barcarolle,” the duet from the “Love Tales of Hoffmann.” For him, that was Drusilla’s song, the expression of her gayest, happiest self. Its lilt and flow recalled her to his thoughts like the embroidered motifs that Wagner used to anticipate the coming of his characters. It was a light song, in a way, not the greatest of music; but while she was singing it he had seen her for the first time and it had become the motif of her coming. When he heard it he saw a vision of a beautiful young girl, singing and swaying like a slender flower; and all about her was a golden radiance like the halo of St. Cecelia. And to him it was a prophecy of her ultimate success, for when she sung it she had won his heart. So he played it over and over, but when he had finished there was silence from the old town below.

Yet if Drusilla was silent it was not from despair for in the morning as Denver was mucking out his tunnel he heard her clear voice mount up like the light of some bird.

“Ah, Ah-h-h-h, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah.”

It was the old familiar exercise, rising an octave at the first bound and then fluttering down like some gorgeous butterfly of sound till it rested on the octave below. And at each renewed flight it began a note higher until it climbed at last to high C. Then it ran up in roulades and galloping bravuras, it trilled and sought out new flights; yet always with the pellucid tones of the flute, the sweet, virginal purity of a child. She was right there was something missing, a something which she groped for and could not find, a something which the other singers had. Denver sensed the lack dimly but he could not define it, all he knew was that she left out herself. In the brief glimpse he had of her she had seemed torn by dark passions, which caused her at times to brood among the sycamores and again to seek a quarrel with him; yet all this youthful turbulence was left out of her singing she had not learned to express her emotions.

Denver listened every morning as he came out of his dark hole, pushing the wheel-barrows of ore and waste before him, and then he bade farewell to sun, air and music and went into the close, dark tunnel. By the light of a single candle, thrust into its dagger-like miner’s candlestick and stabbed into some seam in the wall, he smashed and clacked away at his drill until the whole face was honeycombed with holes. At the top they slanted up, at the bottom down, to keep the bore broken clean; but along the sides and in the middle they followed no system, more than to adapt themselves to the formation. When his round of holes was drilled he cut his fuse and loaded each hole with its charge; after which with firm hands he ignited each split end and hurried out of the tunnel. There he sat down on a rock and listened to the shots; first the short holes in the center, to blow out the crown; then the side holes, breaking into the opening; and the top-holes, shooting the rock down from above; and then, last and most powerful, the deep bottom holes that threw the dirt back down the tunnel and left the face clear for more work.

As the poisonous smoke was drifting slowly out of the tunnel mouth Denver fired up his forge and re-sharpened his drills; and then, along towards evening, when the fumes had become diffused, he went in to see what he had uncovered. Sometimes the vein widened or developed rich lenses, and sometimes it pinched down until the walls enclosed nothing but a narrow streak of talc; but always it dipped down, and that was a good sign, a prophecy of the true fissure vein to come. The ore that he mined now was a mere excrescence of the great ore-body he hoped to find, but each day the blanket-vein turned and dipped on itself until at last it folded over and led down. In a huge mass of rocks, stuck together by crystals of silica and stained by the action of acids, the silver and copper came together and intermingled at the fissure vent which had produced them both. Denver stared at it through the powder smoke, then he grabbed up some samples and went to see Bunker Hill.

Not since that great day when Denver had struck the copper had Bunker shown any interest in the mine. He sat around the house listening to Drusilla while she practiced and opening the store for chance customers; but towards Denver he still maintained a grim-mouthed reserve, as if discouraging him from asking any favors. Perhaps the fact that Denver’s money was all gone had a more or less direct bearing on the case; but though he was living on the last of his provisions Denver had refrained from asking for credit. His last shipment of powder and blacksmith’s coal had cost twenty per cent more than he had figured and he had sent for a few more records; and after paying the two bills there was only some small change left in the wallet which had once bulged with greenbacks. But his pride was involved, for he had read Drusilla a lecture on the evils of being faint-hearted, so he had simply stopped buying at the little store and lived on what he had left. But now well, with that fissure vein opened up and a solid body of ore in sight, he might reasonably demand the customary accommodations which all merchants accord to good customers.

“Well, I’ve struck it,” he said when he had Bunker in the store, “just take a look at that!”

He handed over a specimen that was heavy with copper and Bunker squinted down his eyes.

“Yes, looks good,” he observed and handed it somberly back.

“I’ve got four feet of it,” announced Denver gloating over the specimens, “and the vein has turned and gone down. What’s the chances for some grub now, on account? I’m going to ship that sacked ore.”

“Danged poor with me,” answered Bunker with decision. “You’d better try your luck with Murray.”

“Oh, boosting for Murray, eh?” remarked Denver sarcastically. “Well, I may take you up on that, but it’s too far to walk now and I’ve been living on beans for a week. I guess I’m good for a few dollars’ worth.”

“Sure you’re good for it,” agreed Bunker, “but that ain’t the point. The question is when will I get my money?”

“You’ll get it, by grab, as soon as I do,” returned Denver with considerable heat. “What’s the matter? Ain’t that ore shipment good enough security?”

“Well, maybe it is,” conceded Bunker, “but you’ll have a long wait for your money. And to tell you the truth, the way I’m fixed now, I can’t sell except for cash.”

“Oh! Cash, eh?” sneered Denver suddenly bristling with resentment. “It seems like I’ve heard that before. In fact, every time that I ask you for a favor you turn me down like a bum. I came through here, one time, so danged weak I could hardly crawl and you refused to even give me a meal; and now, when I’ve got a mine that’s worth millions, you’ve still got your hand out for the money.”

“Well, now don’t get excited,” spoke up Bunker pacifically, “you can have what grub you want. But I’m telling you the truth those people down below won’t give me another dollar’s worth on tick. These are hard times, boy, the hardest I’ve ever seen, and if you’d offer me that mine back for five hundred cents I couldn’t raise the money. That shows how broke I am, and I’ve got a family to support.”

“Well, that’s different,” said Denver. “If you’re broke, that settles it. But I’ll tell you one thing, old-timer, you won’t be broke long. I’m going to open up a mine here that will beat the Lost Burro. I’ve got copper, and that beats ’em all.”

“Sure does,” agreed Bunker, “but it’s no good for shipping ore. It takes millions to open up a copper property.”

“Yes, and it brings back millions!” boasted Denver with a swagger. “I’m made, if I can only hold onto it. But I’ll tell you right now, if you want to hold your claims you’d better do a little assessment work. There’s going to be a rush, when this strike of mine gets out, that’ll make your ground worth millions.”

Old Bunk smiled indulgently and took a chew of tobacco and Denver came back to earth.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” proposed Denver after a silence, “I’ll take a contract to do your assessment work for ten dollars a claim, in trade. I’ll make an open cut that’s four by six by ten, and that’s held to be legal work anywhere. Come on now, I’m tired of beans.”

“Well, come down to supper,” replied Bunker at last, “and we’ll talk it over there.”

“No, I don’t want any supper,” returned Denver resentfully, “you’ve got enough hoboes to feed. You can give me an answer, right now.”

“All right I won’t do it,” replied Bunker promptly and turned to go out the door; but it had opened behind them and Drusilla stood there smiling, a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

“What are you two men quarreling about?” she demanded reprovingly, “we could hear you clear over to the house.”

“Well, I asked him over to supper,” began Bunker in a rage, “and ”

“That’s got nothing to do with it,” broke in Denver hotly, “I’m making him a business proposition. But he’s so danged bull-headed he’d rather kill some jumper than comply with the law as it stands. He’s been holding down these claims with a lead-pencil and a six-shooter just about as long as he can and ”

“Oh, have you made another strike?” asked Drusilla eagerly and when she heard the news she turned to her father with a sudden note of gladness in her voice. “Then you’ll have to do the work,” she said, “because I’ll never be happy till you do. Ever since you sold your claim I’ve been sorry for my selfishness but now I’m going to pay you back. I’m going to take my five hundred dollars and hire this assessment work done and then ”

“It won’t cost any five hundred,” put in Denver hastily. “I’m kinder short, right now, and I offered to do it for ten dollars a claim, in trade.”

“Ten dollars? Why, how can you do it for that? I thought the law required a ten foot hole, or the same amount of work in a tunnel.”

“Or an open cut,” hinted Denver. “Leave it to me I can do it and make money, to boot.”

“Well, you’re hired, then!” cried Drusilla with a rush of enthusiasm, “but you have to go to work to-morrow.”

“Well ll,” qualified Denver, “I wanted to look over my strike and finish sacking that ore. Wouldn’t the next day do just as well?”

“No, it wouldn’t,” she replied. “You can give me an answer, right now.”

“Well, I’ll go you!” said Denver and Old Bunker grunted and regarded them with a wry, knowing smile.