ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
The fate of Millie Manson depended on the finding of oil. How she waited for the cry: “We'll have to pull and shoot!”
FROM where he stood on the sparsely-wooded height of land, Jake Boone’s frowning eyes commanded an excellent view of the surrounding country. On all sides, like the steps of a giant stairway, forested hills flamed valleyward, their riotous colors gradually dimming and melting in the smoky haze that canopied the lowlands.
But Boone saw nothing of the beauty of the Autumn day. His gaze was fastened on the tall wooden derricks that dotted the stumpy fields a mile or more below him; his ear attuned to the faint chug-chug of the drills biting their way through limestone far beneath the earth.
Feet braced on a lichened rock, arms folded across his breast, his face expressionless save for a contemptuous sag to the corners of the mouth, Boone looked down on the operations of a man he hated, a man whom he would crush as his heavy heels now crushed the moss beneath them, if so he might work his will.
He turned at length and, picking up an axe, descended the slope toward the valley. As he advanced, the poplargroves of the hills thickened to a density that made progress difficult. Half way down the slope he paused and glanced searchingly about him.
Somewhere, close at hand, like the subdued whisper of wind among the trees, sounded the tinkle of running water.
Boone lowered his head and bored his way through a canelike growth of saplings toward the sound.
When, half-an-hour later, he returned to the trail down the hills, his face was grimly smiling.
Reaching the foot of the hill, Boone turned westward across a wide valley toward the derricks of the drillers, moving with a free stride that bespoke a tremendous strength of limb.
Rounding a curve in the path, he checked his pace suddenly.
Beneath a great cluster of flowering sumac stood a girl-a tall, slender girl dressed in a mannish khaki shirt, tweed outing skirt and knee-high boots of tanned leather. Her back was towards Boone, and she was quite unaware of his nearness until his heavy voice spoke her name. “Mornin’, Millie.”
She turned quickly, her wide eyes seeking Boone’s face questioningly. Then, as though reassured by what she saw there, she advanced and held out her hand.
"Vou’re not cross at me, are you, Jake?” she asked, the color flaming to her cheeks.
“Me cross at you?”
He laughed and tapped the wee hand he held in his calloused one.
“I should say not! Of course, I’m sorry for myself, Millie, but that’s natural enough, I suppose.”
He relinquished her hand grudgingly, and standing back thrust his hands deep in his trousers pockets.
“And what’s more, I’m not holdin’ any grudge against Stanton. He won you fair enough. I wish him only the best of luck, and am on my way over to his outfit now to tell him so. When’s the big event to be?” he asked, forcing his stiff lips to smile.
The girl’s face clouded.
“Jim hopes to bring in a well on the Holden lease,” she said, slowly. “If he strikes oil there—”
“I see,” nodded Boone. “But if he brings in another ‘duster’, what then?”
His small grey eyes seemed to meet hers gloatingly as he asked the question.
She shook her head. “In that event, we’ll have to wait.”
Boone nodded and turned away, but her brown hands clutched his arm.
“Jake,” she spoke pleadingly, “why won’t you lease this valley to Jim? It would mean so much to him—and to you too. Jim is sure the Pennyslvania vein lies somewhere beneath these hills. They have struck oil at Croton, south of here, as you know, and only last week the Tambleton Company brought in a ‘gusher’ in Harts Township. Your land lies directly between these two.”
D OONE shook his head. “I’m a farmer, Millie,” he said. J-' “I don’t take much stock in this oil boom. Besides, I think Stanton is mistaken in thinking the stuff is here. Anyway,” he added with a short laugh, “I’ve got more than enough money to last me my lifetime without probing a mile or so in the earth for more.”
“But, Jake,” the girl insisted, “it would mean so much to Jim, and to me, if you would lease.”
He smiled cynically, “Providing he found oil, yes; maybe it would. But supposin’ he brought in another ‘dry hole’?”
She sighed: “Jim can’t stand many more set-backs,” she faltered.
She raised her eyes to his.
“You are just about our last hope, Jake. Jim was coming to see you again this morning.”
“And you was cornin’ with him?”
She nodded. “I was waiting for him, here.”
Boone’s hard eyes swept the path.
“Here comes Stanton now,” he said.
He held out his hand to the young, clay-bespattered giant who strode up to them.
“And how’s Number Four cornin’?” he asked tentatively, after greetings had been exchanged.
Jim Stanton’s face clouded. “Not very good, Mr. Boone,” he answered. “Lost our drill this morning. Twelve hundred feet. Limestone. They’re fishing for it now, but it looks bad.”
Boone shot a triumphant glance at the girl. “A little thing like that shouldn’t bother a man as happy as you are, Stanton,” he sneered.
Stanton’s hand tightened on the small one that sought it.
“So Millie told you?” he asked.
Boone nodded. “I was just on my way over to congratulate you,” he informed the driller.
An awkward silence fell on the three. Boone broke it curtly.
“See here, Stanton,” he said, his tones almost friendly, “I don’t want to dampen your optimism, but don’t you think you’re spendin’ a lot of money uselessly here?
You’ve brought in two dry wells and one of flowing water. You’ve had bad luck with Number Four. Of course,” he added, as Stanton’s jaw squared, “it’s none of my business, but you’re goin’ to marry Millie, and I have known Millie ever since she was a little girl. If I were you, Stanton, I’d give this drillin’ up for a bad job. You’re playin’ a losin’ game. There’s no such thing as oil to be found here.”
CTANTON stood erect, his blue eyes meeting Boone’s ^ small grey ones in a challenge.
“Will you lease me this valley?” he asked abruptly. “I’ve asked that before and you have refused. I’m asking again.”
“And as before my answer is no,” Boone said doggedly. “I’ve never leased an acre of my land yet, for any purpose, and I won’t lease it now.”
Stanton laughed mirthlessly. “And I don’t suppose there is any use of my asking if you will sell even a small portion of this valley, an acre, say?”
Boone’s gaze was on the girl’s face. He saw the red lips quiver and a teat gleam on the long lashes.
“I don’t want to seem unreasonable, Stanton,” he said, slowly. “If you can believe it, I would like to see you bring in a gusher that would put the Tambleton well away in the shade.' But, Stanton, you will never do it here. Of that I’m firmly convinced.”
“But,” cried Stanton, “the stuff’s here somewhere.” “Oh, I’m sure it is,” Millie whispered eagerly.
Boone smiled grimly.
“All right then,” he shrugged. “If you’re both so positive, I’m willing to make you a proposition, Stanton. Take it or leave it, but remember I’m a business man, and when business is on—all friendship ceases with me.” “That suits me,” smiled Stanton.
“Listen then. You are at liberty, Stanton, to take a good look over this valley. If, after careful inspection, you are still of the opinion that there’s oil to be found here, I’ll sell you as many acres of the land as you desire.”
“That’s great!” exclaimed Stanton.
“At five thousand dollars an acre,” finished Boone. Stanton gasped. He gazed blankly at Boone, then as the farmer turned and strode a few steps away, down at the girl beside him.
“Take him up on that, Jimmy,” she murmured.
“But, Millie, dear, I’ve only five thousand dollars left,” he groaned.
“We will get the money with which to carry on some way,” she urged. “Take him up on that offer, Jimmy.” “Just a minute, Mr. Boone,” Stanton called.
Boone swung back to where they stood. There was a queer smile on his hard mouth.
“I accept that offer,” Stanton told him. “Understand, though, Mr. Boone, in the event of our striking oil, I’m warning you that you will find the old form of lease which gives you, the owner of the land, every eighth barrel—” “Listen,” interrupted Boone levelly. “As I told you before, Stanton, I’m not wantin’ any oil. If, after lookin’ the ground over, you still think you care to sink more good money in a hole—you have my offer. It stands.” He nodded and strode away. Then he turned and came back to where Stanton and Millie stood beneath the sumac.
“There’s another thing,” he said, “it almost slipped my mind, Stanton. If you should buy any of this land and sink a well and find water, I’ll pay you for the privilege of pipin’ it to my new pasture lands.”
He waved a hand toward the hills. “There’s a fine spring up yonder, but for some reason the cattle don’t like the water.”
He turned and walked rapidly away.
Stanton stared after him.
“Well, of all the hold-ups!” he gasped.
“But, Jimmy, dear, we don’t have to buy the land,” the girl reminded him.
“That’s right!” he cried, “and as it costs us nothing to look it over, suppose we get moving.”
THAT evening Jake Boone was tuning up his car, preparatory to running down to the village for household supplies, when he saw Stanton and his tool-dresser, Hart, coming up the path. He replaced the hood of his motor and stood back waiting until they arrived.
Stanton’s first words were, “I’m buying one acre of the valley, Mr. Boone. Here’s my marked cheque for the $5,000, and this paper, which I had my lawyer draw up, is a ninety-day option on the rest of the land.”
Boone took the paper and with a contemptuous smile on his lips read it through. In his flinty heart he was experiencing the warm glow of conquest. He had set out to break Stanton—and in his mind it was already as good as done.
He nodded, signed the option and smiled as Hart witnessed it.
“You must have been satisfied with your examination of the valley,” he addressed Stanton. “Find any signs of oil?”
He was grinning broadly now. Stanton did not appear to notice it.
“Mr. Boone,” he said earnestly, “I’m more sure than ever that we’ll get oil in that valley. I believe I’m a good enough geologist to read the signs. I’m going to offer you again the form of lease which provides that you be given every eighth barrel—”
“Never mind that,” interrupted Boone. “This five thousand is good enough for me. You’re welcome to all the oil you strike.”
“But I wish to be perfectly fair,” Stanton told him. “You remember telling me that your cattle wouldn’t drink that spring water? Do you know the reason why? Because it is impregnated with oil!”
Boone laughed scoffingly. “All right,” he said. “I suppose you will be moving your outfit over right away?” “To-morrow,” Stanton answered.
TPHE next morning Jimmy Stanton abandoned well ^ Number Four, and leaving the “fisher” angling for the lost drill, moved his outfit over into the Boone Valley. For day and night sound the heavy blows of hammer and mallet as the derrick was being erected, sounds that were music to Jake Boone’s ears. Every blow from those hammers, every hour brought the man he hated nearer
ruin, and the thing his heart prized most on earth nearer to his possession.
The thought of how he had so cleverly forced Stanton to play into his hands, gave Boone a vast amount of satisfaction. He found it difficult to conceal his elation when every morning, as had become his custom, he went across to the valley and pretended an interest which he was far from feeling in the young prospector’s venture.
When at last everything was in readiness, and the gas engine began to cough and the drill to bite home, Boone could not further deny himself the pleasure of a scoff or two at Stanton’s expense.
“You say you found signs of oil in the brook-water?” he observed one morning, as he stood watching Stanton’s hand guide the slender rod of the drill. “Seems to me you’d done better to have sunk your well there.”
Stanton shook his head. “You’re forgetting that I own but one acre of this valley,” he replied. “The brook is outside my territory.”
“That’s so,” grinned Boone. “I was forgetting that. Too bad,” he added, with a chuckle.
“Oh,” said Stanton, “I may drill there yet. Don’t forget that I have an option on this whole valley.”
Boone’s grin broadened.
“Yes, at five thousand an acre,” he chuckled.
“Sure. But it will be worth it if we strike the amber fluid here, Mr. Boone.
“Yea, if you strike it, but something tells me you’re not goin’ to.” Boone thrust his hands in his pockets and took a step closer to the driller.
“Stanton,” he said, lowering his tones so they would not carry to the ears of the tool-dresser who was working at his tiny forge a short distance away, “you’re workin’ a losing proposition. I happen to know that you paid me almost your last dollar for this acre of land, and that you had to borrow money to go on with this well. You’re worse than broke right now. Now, I’ll tell you what I’m willin’ to do. If you’ll agree to leave this neighborhood to-night and promise to keep goin’, I’ll give you back your money.”
Stanton reached forward and shut off the engine. Then he stepped through the derrick timbers and stood toe-totoe with Boone.
His face was drawn and tense, as he said, “Will you tell me your reason for making me that proposition, Boone?”
Boone returned the other’s gaze unflinchingly.
“I guess you know already,” he sneered.
“I think I know,” Stanton said, “but I’m not sure. I’m waiting for you to tell me.”
“All right, then, tell you I will,” Boone returned with an oath. “You can’t marry Millie Manson now. I intend to marry her myself, and I want you out of my way.”
He stepped back and braced himself as though he expected Stanton to spring upon him. Then he gasped and stood staring. Stanton was smiling, actually smiling as though he were enjoying a joke. Hot fury surged through Boone’s burly frame.
He took a quick step forward, then halted as he saw Stanton’s smile vanish and his sinewy hands double into fists.
“I’ve had my say so, Stanton,” he spoke with an effort. “You best consider my proposition. Understand, though, I’m not holdin’ it open longer than to-night. If you decide to accept it, you’ve got to come to me.”
He turned and strode heavily off across the valley. Stanton called to the tool-dresser.
“We’ll chance drills, Hart,” he said. “We’re down fourteen hundred feet, and well through the limestone.” “We ought to be gettin’ near the juice, if she’s there,” Hart replied, as he started the engine and threw the cable-reel in gear.
TT WAS somewhere about mid-afternoon that Hart, busy shaping a rock-dulled drill into biting-form, heard a shout from Stanton. He went stumbling over timbers till he stood by the driller’s side. Stanton’s face was working, his eyes wild. He pointed to a dark green ooze that seeped up the iron piping of the hole.
“Oil,” whispered the tool-dresser hoarsely. “Heavens, Jimmy, she’s cornin’ in! We’ll have to pull and shoot.” “Reel, Jack!” Stanton cried. “Reel for all you’ve got in you! I’m off to get Shooter Joe and his nitro-glycerine!” Jake Boone was over to the village after his mail that evening when he heard the astounding news. Jimmy Stanton had brought in a “gusher.”
“She’s spouting a hundred dollars’ worth of oil an hour,” Spence, an old oil man, told him, “I’m going down to help ’em cap her. She’s good for a small fortune a day, that girl. She’ll make you a richer man than you are now, Boone.”
“What d’ye mean?” Boone demanded.
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“You get every eighth barrel, I suppose?” Spence asked.
Boone did not answer. He climbed into his car and drove furiously to the home of his lawyer.
“Look at this!” he snarled, taking a paper from his pocket and thrusting it before the other.
The lawyer examined the paper. “What about it?” he answered.
“Can I break it?”
“No,” the lawyer answered, “you can’t break it, Boone. It’s a cast-iron, fully witnessed option agreement of sale. This man Stanton can buy your whole valley at the price here specified, and you can’t help yourself.”
Boone climbed heavily into his car and drove homeward.
At the gate he met Stanton. Millie Manson was with him, but Boone scarcely saw the girl. He stopped his car and stepped out. Stanton was very much oilbespattered, but looked very happy. Boone's heart knew murder as he glared at him.
“So,” he snarled, “you struck it, did you, Stanton?”
“Yes, Mr. Boone,” Stanton answered.
“It was no great surprise to me, though. As I told you, I believed the stuff was there.”
“And how about me?” Boone demanded. “What share of this oil do I get?”
“Why,” Stanton, a little surprised at the question, answered, “you get no share. I brought this well in on my own property. You preferred to sell outright to leasing, you remember.”
“You can’t get away with that kind of a steal,” Boone cried with an oath. “I’m goin’ to have a share of that oil.”
“Listen, Boone,” Stanton’s voice was crisp and hard now. “If you want oil, you’ll have to go up on in the hills and bring down that barrel of crude you planted in the spring.”
He smiled as Boone’s jaw sagged. “Oh, I’ve known it was there all the time. Millie and I found it that afternoon we looked the valley over.”
“I’ll see you again,” growled Boone, climbing back into his car.
“Surely,” Stanton nodded. “Come down to my lawyer’s to-morrow, Boone. We’ve decided to buy that portion of your valley on which we hold an option.”