The Sabbatical Year
Zeusie and Jimmie have found the mysterious gold! It isn't gold! It is! And so, this stirring tale moves on to an astounding climax
ROBERT E. PINKERTON
PART THREE (Conclusion)
PEG and Lewis prepared supper and the meal was nearly ready before the prospector returned. "We've worried so about you!" the girl exclaimed
when he entered.
“Huh!” he snorted. “A fellow can’t stay cooped up all the time because of a little weather. I’d get soft sitting around a fire all day.”
And he offered no further explanation of his absence. As he removed his cap and mittens he saw the otter, thawing behind the stove, and immediately wheeled upon Peg.
“You catch that?” he demanded angrily. “Don’t you know—?”
Her warning glance stopped him and he looked toward Professor Littleton.
“Don’t you know those old bachelor otters are tricky, mighty hard to trap?” he continued as he bent over the prize.
“Lewis helped me or I never would have caught him,” Peg said, and sfc.e gave an excited description of what had happened at the old beaver house.
Jimmie made no further comments, except to say he -would skin and stretch the pelt after supper. During the meal he lacked his usual loquacity. Professor Littleton was as eager and absorbed as ever but for once he failed -to stir the prospector’s customary response.
The professor was not deterred by Jimmie’s silence, however. All effects of his discouragement of two days previous seemed to have vanished. He was whimsically
philosophical, displayed a keen perception of the queer psychological twists !of those who comb the earth for rare -metals and a true appreciation of the romance and the fine adventure of the prospector’s life.
But Jimmie did not express approval or contribute. After supper he skinned the otter and shaped a board. Stretched,
Adonis measured nearly five feet from his nose to the tip of his tail. He was unusually dark and when the hair was brushed back the fur beneath showed pure silver.
“What a beautiful, beautiful thing!’
“How much will I get for him?”
“You folks been living on rabbits all winter?” asked .Jimmie, ignoring her question.
“I’ll have to get out and knock down a moose,” he said.
“And catch some •fish, too. That’s one reason I quit prospecting in Nevada. No fish. I got to have ’em and there’s a lake a mile back here that’s full ,of lake trout. I’ve .caught lots of ’em there and I’ve brought some hooks and lines along.”
He turned to Professor Littleton and
asked: “Run across any lead around the mill? I want to melt up some sinkers.”
“There is a large quantity of it. I’ll get you some in the morning.”
“All right. Maybe this storm’ll blow out to-night.”
That was the last contribution Jimmie made to the conversation. A little later he arose with the bare announcement that he was ready for bed and went out.
But when Lewis entered their cabin two hours later the old prospector was sitting beside the stove smoking.
“What you let that girl catch an otter for?” he burst forth at once. “She’s liable to get into trouble.”
“I told her it was against the law,” Lewis answered, “but she said she didn’t care so long as her father didn’t know about it.”
“Never saw a couple of bigger fools,” Jimmie growled. “Must be down to their last cent, she’s so anxious to know how much she’ll get. How she expect to get rid of it?”
“I’ll do that for her if necessary.”
“Huh! Get yourself into trouble. Big fine for having otter on you.”
“I’ll risk it,” the young man said coldly.
“Huh! Wildest goose chase I ever heard of. No gold here. Ought to a’ known there wasn’t when old timers give it up.”
“I notice you came back.”
“I had good reason. I knew where there was some.” “You said it was on Princess property.”
“And I thought it was. But that was all right. It didn’t make so much difference where it was.”
“I see,” Lewis said. “You found the ridge this afternoon and it ish’t on Princess property.”
“He wouldn’t a’ known it. I could a’ made him believe it was. Easy enough to fool him on a thing like that. I was going to lead him to it and together we could a’ worked it by hand. There probably wouldn’t a’ been much. But enough for him. Pound it out with a hammer, we could. A man like that ain’t got any right in this country.”
For the first time Lewis comprehended, understood what had prompted the gruff tirades of the old prospector He was only trying to cover up his admiration for the blind faith and courage of the Greek professor, his desire to do all he could for the man who understood him. Gold Bug .Jimmie McGee had meant it when he had declared, that first day, that he would be glad to take Professor Littleton on as a partner.
“I want to beg your pardon,” Lewis said gently. “I didn’t understand.”
“Understand what? There’s nothing to talk about. That ridge is there, but it’s not on Princess land. I found the line just south of it. But that wouldn’t a’ made any difference. We could a’ got it anyhow and he could have had that ten thousand dollars he seems to want so bad. Only someone beat us to it. It’s cleaned out.”
“Cleaned out!” Lewis repeated.
“Didn’t have to shovel any snow away to see. But it was a hand job. Somebody did it all alone with a hammer. There’s a trail leadin’ to the Queen. No road, no machinery. Somebody went in there, cut out the vein, pounded out the best stuff and packed it on - his back to the Queen, where he give it the amalgam. Now—” He stopped and scowled at the stove.
“Who’s going to tell him?” Lewis asked after a moment.
“What he come here for anyway?” Jimmie demanded angrily. “Damndest fool thing I ever heard of. Don’t know anything about mining. No gold here, anyhow. Serves him right. Wild goose chase like that.”
“But he must be told, and at once. It’s a crime to let him go on hoping. You ought to do it. You know mines and he’ll believe you.”
“But I can’t!” and now Jimmie’s anger was directed toward himself. “I’ve gone shootin’ off my fool mouth about a feller just havin’ to believe there’s gold and all that sort of thing. Besides, I—hell! It
would be worse than slapping a baby in the face.”
“Peg has the courage to do it,” Lewis said.
“What you want to go wishing it onto her for? Poor little kid’s had hard enough time as it is. You just leave this alone. I’ll take him fishing to-morrow and maybe I can work up nerve enough to tell him.”
'T'HE next morning broke ■*clear but very cold. Immediately after breakfast Jimmie went to the blacksmith shop to make an ice chisel. Professor Littleton accompanied him. As soon as they had gone, Lewis tried to nerve himself to the task of telling Peg what he had learned the previous evening, for he had determined that she, at least, should be told at once. But he hesitated, for he knew what it meant to her, and then she herself opened the subject.
“If that vein Jimmie came to find is on Princess land he can’t file on it, can he?” she asked abruptly, as they washed dishes.
But the very fact that he was struggling with the problem robbed Lewis of a ready answer. Peg " glanced up quickly.
“You’re either trying to tell me something or keep something from me,” she declared. “Which is it?”
“Both, and I don’t know which to do. You see, Peg,
“Means the end,” she finished when he hesitated. “I can stand it.”
“Well, that’s where Jimmie went yesterday, to the ridge he came to investigate. It’s not on Princess property and he was too late. Someone else found it.”
“Lewis!” the girl cried. “And he came all that long way just for this!”
He looked at her with undisguised admiration. There was no doubting the sincerity of her compassion for Jimmie McGee; that for the moment her father’s problem was forgotten.
“If anyone ever deserved good fortune, it is you and your father!” he exclaimed. “According to the story books, you would have had it, too, for it was Jimmie’s intention to turn that prospect over to you. He even planned to deceive your father, make him believe it was on Princess land.”
“Turn it over to Zeusie!” Peg repeated incredulously. “You mean he was going to give it to dad?”
“What a wonderful, wonderful thing for him to do. But Zeusie wouldn’t have permitted it, nor would I.” “Neither of you would have known it. He wouldn’t have told even me.”
“Isn’t he the darlingest little old bear? But why would he ever do such a thing?”
“You would have to understand him and his type. He has a great admiration for your father, believes they are kindred souls, that the professor is a simón pure prospector side-tracked by a college.”
“But all that money! He probably needs it badly.” “Jimmie doesn’t think of money when he looks for a mine. It’s only the finding of it that interests him. He didn’t travel two thousand miles to get the gold so much as to satisfy himself it was there, that he hadn’t made a mistake the day he ran across it. He simply wanted to clear his mind of the matter.”
He stopped when he saw that Peg was not interested. Her hands were still in the dishpan and she was staring blankly at him.
“Then—then there’s no use—no chance—poor Zeusie!” “I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t think there is absolutely no hope,” Lewis said gently.
“I know. You and Jimmie have been so wonderful to us. And now I must tell Zeusie.”
“I don’t think you’ll have to do that. I talked to Jimmie last night. He doesn’t want to, but he said he would try to do it to-day while he and your father are fishing.”
At that same moment Jimmie McGee was wrestling with the problem while he pumped the forge billows and Pbkeá 9 pi§çe of steel deeper into the glowing coals. Pro-
fessor Littleton watched in admiration of such dexterity as he hammered out a chisel, tempered it and then welded on a long wrought iron handle.
The prospector was silent. Sometimes he growled a comment as his companion talked but he appeared to be absorbed in his task.
“There!” he said, when he had finished. “Now for the lead. I’ll melt up a few sinkers and maybe we’ll have lake trout for supper.”
“It is in the mill,” Professor Littleton said. “I’ll get a piece.”
“Darned old fool!” Jimmie growled when he was alone, and talkiing aloud as so many lonely men do. “I’d rather be shot. Guess I’ll get him to go fishing with me and tell him then. No sense having so much trouble over a little thing.”
The professor returned with a heavy bar of metal. Jimmie tossed it onto a work bench and searched for a cold chisel.
“No use melting up the whole thing,” he said, as he found the tool. “Whack off a chunk. Just give that bellows a pump or two.”
He placed the chisel on the lead bar, hit it with a hammer, then dropped both tools and bent forward. For a moment he stared, then rolled the bar into a corner.
“That’s not lead!” he exclaimed. “It’s babbit. Bearing metal. Where’d you find it?”
“That’s a peculiar thing,” Professor Littleton answered “It was when I first came and was repairing the foundation of the mill at the corner where the masonry gave way. There was a pile of similar bars behind the wall and beneath the mill floor.”
“Huh!” Jimmie growled. “Funny place to keep babbit. What you do with them?”
“I didn’t understand why they needed lead, as I thought it was, but it seemed a waste, leaving them there. I carried them into the mill and piled them in a corner near the door.”
“More nutty things done around this roill’n I ever
TIMMIE packed a lunch ^ and he and Professor Littleton did not return until after dark. As a result, Lewis had no opportunity to talk to the prospector, though he believed that Jimmie had not let the opportunity slip.
But the moment the two men entered the room there was no doubt in the minds of both Peg and Lewis that her father’s faith in the presence of gold in the Princess mine was still unshattered. The fishermen had caught several fine trout and, though they had suffered considerably from the cold, the companionship that had grown so quickly between these two men of such diverse experiiences and existence seemed to have reached an even more intimate plane.
Gold Bug Jimmie, particularly, was in high spirits. He insisted on helping get dinner.
“Fish got to be cooked right or it ain’t fit to be eat,” he declared. “And after bacon and rabbits you folks ought to be glad to have a change.”
Peg was appalled at the amount of trout he prepared for the frying pans.
“Wait until you see what me and your dad do to it,” he said. “We ain’t been sittin’ around the house all day.”
heard of,” the prospector commented angrily. “Lug" babbit all this way into the bush and then dump it through a hole in the floor. Much of it there?”
“There were ten bars like that, if I remember correctly.” Jimmie reached for the bar he had tossed aside, then quickly withdrew his hand.
“Oh, well,” he said, with a sudden good humor. “Fish is more important than babbit. I’ll take some óf these nuts. They’ll do for sinkers. Come on, old timer. Let’s get started.”
“We haven’t either,” Peg retorted. “We set out more traps farther up the creek and we caught a mink and two weasels.”
“More work for me, eh? You keep that up and you’ll have to learn to skin your own fur. Besides, I’m going to start trappin’ myself pretty soon. I been foolin’ around long enough.”
Jimmie continued in his jovial mood until he and Lewis retired to their cabin. There, as soon as the door was closed, a candle lighted and a fire roaring, he began to curse, mingling his imprecations with fault-finding comments and scathing observations on Professor Littleton’s ability as a miner.
“Oh, shut up!” Lewis exclaimed in exasperation. “You’re the one that keeps him hoping he’ll find something. Why don’t you show him there’s no gold in that place you came to find?”
“What good it do? He’s got the bug. Won’t quit now. Greek spoiled a good prospector when it got him.”
“But he ought to be told. You admitted that last night. It’s criminal to let him keep on this way.”
Jimmie did not reply to that. He only resumed his muttered tirades against Professor Littleton as he poked more wood into the stove.
“If you don’t tell him, I will,” Lewis declared.
“Don’t be a fool. It’s none of your business—anyhow. Besides, he’s got nothing else to do. He told me he wasn’t expected back at his college until fall.”
Lewis went to bed, leaving Jimmie muttering beside the stove, and soon dropped off to sleep with the drone of Jimmie’s voice in his ears.
Once in the night he awakened. The fire had gone out and it was very cold. He listened a moment, for he believed a sound had aroused him, but he heard nothing and a moment later was asleep.
Peg had breakfast ready when Lewis and Jimmie appeared the next morning. She chided them for being late and Lewis was duly apologetic. But Jimmie ignored her. His spirits were high again and while they ate he suggested that Professor Littleton accompany him on a ‘little sashay after meat’.
“I fear I would be utterly useless,” was the response.
“I never killed anything larger than a fly and the chase has never attracted me.”
“You got to learn to hunt if you’re going to be a prospector,” Jimmie retorted. “How’d you live if you didn’t?’
“Aw, you come along! Besides, this wind blew some of the ridges bare and no tellin’ what we might find.”
That won the professor. “By the way,” he said, “you haven’t displayed the least interest in the ledge you discovered so long ago.”
“I took a look at that day ’fore yesterday,” Jimmie answered indifferently.
“You found it without difficulty!” Professor Littleton exclaimed eagerly.
“That part was easy—so easy somebody else found it. Cleaned out the vein.”
The professor displayed far greater distress than when his own confident expectations had been blasted and there was no mistaking the sincerity of his sympathy.
Peg looked at him as he spoke. Tears were close but she shook her head with that little resolute motion for which Lewis had learned to look and turned to Jimmie.
“And after you have traveled so far!” she exclaimed. “Pm so sorry.”
“It’s part of the game,” Jimmie replied, “and anyhow, I know now it was there. I’m satisfied I was right about it and I know who got it, too.”
“Then—-then you can recover something?” Peg asked. “Nary a cent. I never filed on it. I got no more right to it’n a rabbit. Ben Short, feller who was watchman at the Queen after it shut down, he must a’ stumbled onto it j ust like I done.”
Peg was tense now, leaning forward. She shot a glance at her father, then turned and plunged on with the thing she felt she had to do.
“With that gone, with nothing else in sight, you haven’t any hope of finding gold here, have you?”
“If a man can happen onto a ridge and take out twelve to fifteen thousand like Ben Short done, anybody else can,” Jimmie retorted severely.
“But you’ve said yourself—” Peg began in protest.
“I don’t watch my fool mouth half enough,” Jimmie interrupted.
“But all the prospectors and miners have given up here,” the girl insisted.
“Faith, perfect trust that the gold is there, that is the very essence of mining” Professor Littleton said fervently.
“You’re shouting!” Jimmie cried.
“There wouldn’t be a mine in the world to-day if that was not so. You hang on, pardner.”
Peg and Lewis stared at each other in amazement. If Jimmie saw he gave no heed. He was getting ready to go hunting.
“It’s a shame, his raising Zeusie’s hopes again!” the girl cried as soon as the two older men had departed.
“I don’t know what’s got into him,” Lewis said.
“Zeusie must be told. To-night, when he comes back, I’m going to tell him.
Besides, there’s Jove. He thinks—
him,” Lewis said.
“I talked to him again last night. He says, now, your father may as well stay and keep on looking, though I never heard of anyone prospecting while there is snow on the ground.”
Oh, I wish I hadn’t written him!”
“You mean he believes you’ve found gold?”
“Of course! The day after Zeusie discovered it, an Indian came by on his way to the railroad. I had to write Jove. I thought it would be cruel not to. Now I’ve got to tell him there’s nothing.”
She stood there, a forlorn, helpless little thing, her eyes filled with tears, her face distorted by the effort to force them back. To Lewis she was, in that moment, as he had first seen her, barely more than a child, and as naturally and as instinctively as he would have comforted a little girl he threw an arm around her and drew her head down on his shoulder.
She did not resist but sobbed without restraint, her face pressed close to his shirt. At first Lewis was aware only of his compassion, of helpless tenderness, but as he held her tightly, striving to stifle the sobs, he realized that life would stretch endlessly, blankly, an unthinkable void, if Peg Littleton did not always turn to him in her distress.
“Peg! Peg!” he whispered hoarsely. “You mustn’t!
“Somehow—something—I can’t have you feel like this!”
She straightened, tried to free herself, but he tightened his embrace with sudden passion.
“Do you see what’s happened to me?” he cried. “You and your tears and your smiles and that wonderful, wonderful, courage of yours?”
She leaned back, stared at him a moment, then smiled as she released herself.
“You’re a dear, Lewis,” she said, “but you’re rash, and inaccurate, and easily influenced by inconsequential things, and neglectful, and inconsiderate, and—”
“Neglectful!” he protested. “Inconsiderate! What are you—?”
“Neglectful of the dishes. They must be washed. And inconsiderate of me—with father and Jimmie gone all day and me here alone.”
“Good heavens! What do you want me to do? Stay out in the cold?”
“No, that would be cruel. But we would pack a lunch and take a long tramp, up the trap line, on after rabbits and partridges, and back past the traps again.”
TN THAT long, delightful day on the creeks and the -*■ lake and in the forest, Peg presented the same airy and yet impervious front. Lew tried to penetrate it but at last gave up and abandoned himself to the sheer joy of being with her.
They returned just after dark to gloat, with their dozen
partridges, over the fruitless hunt of Professor Little ton and Jimmie. But the birds had not been prepared for supper when they heard someone outside. Lewis opened the door to see a man at the head of a dog team. A second man was rising from the toboggan at the rear.
“Hello!” the stranger called as he walked swiftly forward. “Is this Professor Littleton’s house?”
Before Lewis could reply, Peg shouted joyously and rushed past him.
“Uncle Harlow!” she cried. “What are you doing
She flung herself into the arms of a tall, broad-shouldered man, then released herself and dragged him into the cabin.
“Zeusie! Look! We have a visitor.”
Professor Littleton had already started toward the door and now he stopped in amazement as the two entered.
“Harlow, I’m very glad to see you,” he said, as he extended his hand, “but I will always be at a loss to explain your presence in a desolate wilderness.”
“I’ll explain that, all right,” the brother replied gruffly as he shook hands. “And it won’t take me long.”
He turned and stared appraisingly at Lewis and Jimmie “This is my uncle, Harlow Littleton,” Peg hastened to introduce them. “Lewis Barr, of Winnipeg, Uncle Harlow, and Mr. Jimmie McGee of—”
“Whenever I turn over a canoe or hang up a snowshoe, I’m home,” Jimmie explained.
“You gentlemen are—?” and Littleton stopped significantly.
“Lewis is on a vacation and Mr. McGee came all the way from the Pacific Coast just to find a ledge of gold.” “Either one of you interested in this Princess mine, own any stock in it?”
“No,” Lewis said, and Jimmie shook his head.
Harlow Littleton turned and faced his brother.
“Well, you’ve stirred up a fine mess!” he exclaimed. Peg stepped in front of her amazed father. “What do you mean?” she demanded.
“Opening up this mine, taking out gold, and never saying a word to the stockholders about it. Half of Winnipeg is calling you a thief.”
Professor Littleton stared at his brother incredulously.
He and Peg were too stunned to speak But not so Gold Bug Jimmie McGee.
‘‘What!’’ he shouted. “Thief!” He sprang forward and faced the newcomer. He was nearly a foot shorter sixty pounds lighter and ten years older and he gave the appearance of a quivering terrier facing a mastiff.
“Any more of that sort of talk and I’ll stand you on your head out there in the snow!” he cried shrilly. “He’s my pardner, the old boy is, and when you use words like that you got me to fight.”
Harlow Littleton looked at him impassively.
“This is a matter between my brother and me,” he said, in a decisive tone.
“Like hell it is! You made it between me and you when you called him a thief. Now you going to get out or I got to take you by the collar and throw you out?”
Jimmie was almost crying in his rage and he danced up and down and shook both fists beneath the other’s nose. Littleton studied him curiously, with some anger at first, then coldly.
“Hasn't he been
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The Sabbatical Year
Continued from page 22
taking gold from this mine?” he asked.
“He hasn’t seen the color of gold,” Jimmie retorted.
“But I thought—” and Littleton looked at Peg.
“There was a mistake, a misunderstanding,” Lewis interposed quickly, and also with some heat. “He discovered a quartz vein, believed he had struck it rich, but there was no gold in the quartz.”
Peg flashed him a grateful smile but Professor Littleton was aroused to speech at last.
‘That is most considerate of Lewis,” he said; “though my feelings, being those of a tyro, do not deserve consideration. What I found was fool’s gold, iron pyrites.”
“Fool’s gold!” his brother repeated disgustedly. “Then all you’ve got out of it is the suspicion, and perhaps more, of people who have always believed you a paragon. Why, in the name of one of those Olympian deities of yours, didn’t you come to me when you stepped out of that two-thousand-year-old circle you’ve always drawn about yourself? I’d go to you for the low-down on a Greek root.”
He turned away and began removing his heavy outer garments. Jimmie watched him with undisguised animosity, Lewis guardedly, Professor Littleton without comprehension.
“But Zeusie didn’t want the low-down on anything,” Peg declared defensively.
Littleton turned from a corner, where he had hung his coat and cap.
“But you, Peg—you should—”
The girl darted forward, slipped her arms around his neck. Lewis did not hear the sound of a whisper but he knew she must have spoken, conveyed a message in some manner, for her uncle’s manner changed at once.
“Whatever it is, it is not so important as getting something to eat,” he said. “I’ve taken a lot of queer journeys but this riding on a slithery toboggan behind a bunch of wolves is the worst yet. I’m frozen and I’m starved and I’m stiff and sore. How about it? Got a place for me and the man who drove me out?”
“There is plenty of room in the cabin Lewis and Jimmie occupy,” Peg said quickly. “And we’ll get supper right away. You’ll help, won’t you!?” and she glanced at Jimmie.
She chattered on, asking her uncle about the trip, laughing, telling of the fur she had caught, of the blizzard that had just ended. Lewis saw that she sought to control the conversation, steer it away from the mine and her father, and he offered to help Jimmie with the supper.
Listening from the kitchen, he knew she was being successful. Twice her father referred to Harlow Littleton’s first statement, only to have Peg deftly turn him aside. Soon the dog driver, an Indian, came in after having attended to his animals; there was the bustle of setting the table, finding benches and assorting the limited supply of tableware.
But Professor Littleton and Gold Bug Jimmie were difficult men even for Peg to control. Jimmie remained belligerent, the professor insistent, and at last he burst through and demanded an explanation of his brother’s statement upon his arrival.
Peg laughed so spontaneously that Lewis looked at her in wonder.
Zeusie! Zeusie!” she exclaimed. “When will you learn that Uncle Harlow is always trying to stiryouup? Don’t you see? It was a joke, about what people said. He worried about us up here and came to find out if we were all right. Isn’t that it, Uncle Harlow?”
Littleton started, blinked at his niece. “Of course!” he growled. “You’re both crazy, spending a winter in a place like this. Had me worried to death.”
The professor was satisfied, though
Jimmie still glared and the tension continued until, to the relief of Peg and Lewis, Littleton announced at an early hour that he was going to bed.
'T'HERE was no pretense about his A being sleepy. The long drive in the cold, followed by the close, warm cabin, was having its effect.
The Indian said he would sleep in the stable, where he had quartered his dogs, as he feared trouble because of the presence of two new members of his team. Lewis and Jimmie conducted Harlow Littleton to théir cabin and there prepared a bed for him.
“Look here, young fellow,” Littleton began, as soon as Lewis had started a fire in the stove, “what’s been happening here, and why all this secrecy? And,” he became suddenly aggressive, “what are you two doing here?”
“Exactly what we’ve told you,” Lewis answered curtly. “No one seems to believe I’m on a vacation but it’s a fact. Jimmie came from British Columbia .to investigate a prospect he found many years ago. I expected to find the mine deserted and so did he.”
“All right. But my brother! Where did he get this crazy notion and what does he expect to do?”
“He believed there was gold here, he thought he had found it, and Peg wrote out that he had.”
“That’s what stirred up the mess. Half of Winnipeg owns stock in the Princess and they’re wild. But whatever made Mel think there is gold here? It’s been proved that there isn’t.”
“Because that college spoiled a good prospector!” Jimmie exclaimed. “That’s why. He’s got all the makin’sof one. He come because he had faith there was gold and when a man’s faith is strong enough he finds gold. I’ve seen it work out too many times.”
Littleton studied the old man curiously for a moment and then turned to Lewis.
“But this secrecy!” he insisted. “Peg’s shutting me off with that story and everybody jumping me. I don’t care whether there’s gold here or not. Why did he come up here in the first place? Why-?”
He stopped and thrust his head forward aggressively.
“Peg said you’re from Winnipeg. Guess you’ve heard of me, and what people say. I don’t care. Whatever I do is between me and myself. I’ll answer if I have to. But Mel! He’s been straight as a string. Always! Never approved of me. Never’d let me help him, put him on a good thing. He’s been the one I’ve always banked on to—well, our father knew it, and—”
“You’ve rather counted on him to uphold the family name,” Lewis suggested when Littleton floundered. “Keep it shined up and bright.”
The other looked at him suspiciously. “Well, yes, in a way,” he said. “And now! What got into him? He never did anything like this before. It wouldn’t have surprised me more if he’d gone and robbed a bank. I just can’t understand it.”
There was something almost ludicrous in his bewilderment and Lewis was tempted to extract a little more amusement from the situation. But he saw that Jimmie was ready for another outburst and told the story, beginning with his own arrival, Professor Littleton’s imprisonment in the drift, the laborious mining of the iron pyrites and at last the reason for his coming, as Peg liad told it.
Lewis found himself aroused by the relation of the professor’s activities and he stressed his courage and sacrifice and faith. He even told how these qualities had quickly won Gold Bug Jimmie and how the old prospector had determined to share his own find.
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“Legally, perhaps he is in the wrong,” Lewis concluded; “but at heart he is as honest as a man can be. I'm only sorry he can’t find something; that this has all been so useless.”
Just how much Littleton had been affected by the story, Lewis could not determine.
“Well!” the brother snorted. “Whatever his motive, he stirred up a mess. I learned it just by accident and jumped out to Winnipeg, ready to buy all the stock. Any price. You can see it. Couldn’t have people talk that way about Mel.”
“Did you have to pay much for it?” Lewis asked solicitously but with an inward chuckle.
“I didn’t buy a share. Got to thinking that maybe this mine had reverted to the government. It had been shut down a long time. Taxes due. So I left a man there to act for me, wired to Toronto, and started up here to pull Mell off.”
“That’s what I call being farsighted,” Jimmie commented.
“Of course. I don’t like to throw money into a hole. And just as I started in here from the railroad I got an answer. The mine’s dead. There’s no company, stockholders or anything else.”
“She’s gone back!” Jimmie interrupted excitedly.
“Yes,” and Littleton looked at him sharply.
“Anybody can file here now!” the prospector exclaimed.
“You thinking of doing that?” Littleton demanded.
“Me!” Jimmie retorted, calming down at once. “What I want to file for? Lot of worthless machinery. What good that do me?”
“You didn’t come all the way from British Columbia on the bare chance of finding a ledge again.”
Jimmie arose, spluttering, shaking with rage. He started toward Littleton, then wheeled away as if in disgust and went to his bunk, where he began to take off his moccasins.
Lewis did the same. This suspicion of Jimmie did not tend to ease a resentment heightened by Littleton’s cold reception of his brother’s story and he tumbled into bed without further comment, his face to the wall. A few minutes later Littleton put out the light.
In the night Lewis was wakened by someone shaking his shoulder.
“Get up, quick!” he heard Littleton’s whisper. “Come to the window.”
Lewis followed him across the floor and looked out.
“Too late,” Littleton said. “The old fellow just went down that way. I heard him sneaking out a moment ago. What’s he up to?”
“Nothing of any consequence.”
“We’d better find out. It’s something funny. I’m going to follow. Want to come along?”
“Whatever it is, it’s all right,” Lewis said.
“And may benot. This McGee sounds fishy to me. He talks too much and too quick and I don’t swallow this business of his sharing a strike with a man he’d never seen until a few days ago. Besides, did you notice how he bit on the news of the mine having reverted. Probably going out to post his notices now.”
The room was still warm and Lewis knew he could not have slept more than an hour. He saw that Jimmie’s cap, mittens and coat were gone but that did not affect his faith in the old man.
Not only had Jimmie appealed to him ‘from the first but he had found something precious and beautiful in the friendship of the prospector and the professor of Greek. It had been so spontaneous he had never doubted its sincerity. Now he could find no reason for this nocturnal activity, and he attached no importance to it, but because he did not want Littleton to go looking for Jimmie alone he said: “I’ll go with you.”
But once outside and walking along
the hard-packed trail in the direction Jimmie had taken, Lewis began to wonder what the prospector could be doing. Also, several disturbing incidents recurred to him; Jimmie’s tirades against the professor, that journey in the blizzard to the lost ledge, the contemptuous glance at the iron pyrites. And there was no doubt but that the old man had shown delight and excitement upon hearing that the Princess was again government property, subject to filing by anyone.
“Tricky as the devil, that kind,” Littleton muttered behind him, and Lewis did not dispute it.
He went on cautiously, for Jimmie might have gone anywhere about the mine, until they came to the building over the shaft. As they slipped inside for shelter while they watched they heard a steady tapping. Someone was working on rock with a hammer and as they stood over the black hole there was no doubt but that the sound came from the drift. There was also a dim reflection of yellow light far down the shaft.
They listened for a few minutes. The tapping continued. At last Littleton drew Lewis outside.
“Told you he wasn’t to be trusted,” he declared. “What you suppose he’s up to?”
“That cave-in must have given him a hunch,” Lewis said. “Probablyapocket in it.”
“Of course! And he’s pounding out the ore with a hammer. Crooked devil. That belongs to Mel if it belongs to anyone.”
“But you said the mine has reverted to the government. He has a right to it.”
“Then why don’t he go after it in daylight? Anyhow, we’re wise to him. We’ll go back and sit up until he comes. No use freezing here.”
They built up the fire in the cabin. Littleton continued to express his suspicions of Jimmie but Lewis no longer offered a defence. He had liked Jimmie but it was in the picture of a charming comradeship with the professor that he had seen him. There had been something idyllic in that, something that had given him a great deal of pleasure, and now, even though the picture was gone, Littleton’s attitude irritated him.
“There’s no use in staying up,” he declared. “We’ll see him in tfyä morning. I’m going to bed.
Littleton followed but Lewis remained awake a long time. And while lying there he remembered how he had been wakened the previous night. This was not Jimmie’s first secret trip into the drift.
When he opened his eyes in the morning he knew at once it was very late. Dawn had come. Littleton was still sleeping but Jimmie’s bunk was empty. Lewis crossed to a window and saw that a lamp was burning in the other cabin. He dressed quickly and went over.
“Sleepy-head!” Peg greeted him, but at once she became serious.
“Jimmie has taken Zeusie down that terrible shaft,” she said. “Do you think it is safe?”
“Taken him down!” Lewis repeated. “When?”
“Right after breakfast. He said you had just told him about the cave-in and he got to thinking about it and wondered if Zeusie had examined the soft rock that fell down. He seemed awfully excited, said there was a chance there might be a pocket in it. Blamed you for not telling him sooner. But Lewis! It isn’t safe. I wish you would make Zeusie come back.”
Lewis laughed. He had no idea what had happened, what Jimmie had found, down there in the night, and he felt that it did not matter. He only knew that the picture of partnership had returned.
“They’re all right,” he assured her. “Jimmie’s too old a hand to get caught or let your father be in danger. Your uncle and I did oversleep.”
“Is he coming? I have everything warm.”
“He was still sleeping when I left. I told him everything last night.”
“I knew you would. I just couldn’t bear to have Zeusie think he had done anything dishonorable. But why did he
“Everything’s honorable enough now. The mine has reverted to the government. There’s no company any more, no stockholders. If your father had found anything, he could have filed and taken it all without anyone being able to say a word.” “That’s wonderful!” Peg cried, and then she turned despondently toward the kitchen. “Only it doesn’t do any good now. Zeusie’ll never find anything.” Lewis started after her. He wanted to comfort her, offer something, anything, but at his first step the door opened and Harlow Littleton entered.
“Well, young woman,” he began at once, “why did you ever let Mel come up here on such a fool expedition?”
“Because he wanted to and because it it was all right,” she retorted.
“But you knew he had no right to anything he might have found.”
“Not if I looked at it the way he did. And anyhow, there’s nothing to find, and the mine’s reverted to the government and you might as well have stayed in Winnipeg. But so long as you are here I don’t want you to say a word to Zeusie. He’s suffered enough.”
“You stick to him as strong as ever,” Littleton laughed. “All right, though he’ll wonder what I’m doing here.”
“You can tell him—Peg began, when she was interrupted by a wild yell from outside.
“Peg! Peg!” she heard her father shouting. “I’ve found it! Gold! Real gold!”
She threw open the door and Professor Littleton rushed in, a piece of soft rock in each hand. Gold Bug Jimmie, similarly burdened, was at his heels.
“Look at that!” the professor cried. “Gold! Chunks of it! And I was right! I had faith! It was in the drift. Right where I had been digging!”
Everyone had crowded around him but no one said a word. Their gaze did not leave the pieces of rock for there was no mistaking what they held. Gold! Gold in huge chunks! Yellow, glistening gold!
L'OR a time, no one was exactly sane.
Even Harlow Littleton, who had turned many a big deal without a flicker of a lash, succumbed to the contagion The four men and a girl gathered in that little cabin were completely under its influence. No one listened to Professor Littleton or even to Jimmie. The coffee boiled over on the kitchen stove but no one removed the pot. The door remained open but no one felt the cold. Peg wept and her uncle muttered sharp oaths but no one saw or heard.
At last Professor Littleton turned and dashed out, down the trail to the shaft, Jimmie McGee at his heels. Peg and her uncle and Lewis continued to examine the ore.
“That’s not fools’ gold!” the girl cried. “Jimmie said you would know it when you saw it.”
“The lucky devil!” Littleton exclaimed. “It’s not luck!” Peg defended. “It’s as Jimmie said. Zeusie had faith. He just felt it was there.”
“Well, whatever it is, I only hope—” Her uncle suddenly dropped the piece of ore he was examining and rushed out of the cabin. Peg laughed.
“I never saw him like that before,” she said. “He’s as excited as any of us.” Lewis had walked to a window to get a better light and now he was digging at a piece of ore with his knife. He was very intent, very serious.”
“What is it?” Peg demanded. “Nothing,” he answered absently. “I’m curious, that’s all. Never saw a real nugget before.”
“I don’t believe you’re excited in the least.”
“But I am—over several things. This,” and he held up the ore he was examining, “means little, and a great deal. I’m excited over too many things all at once.”
“But what can be more important than this gold?” she insisted.
“The miracle of your father winning out, the justification of his courage, and yours, Jimmie McGee’s friendship, my happening to come up here, and, most of all—you.”
“Lewis! Has this gone to your head?”
“No, but something else has. And I’m going to tell you about it right now. With new people dropping in here all the time I get few enough chances. And outside on the trap line—well, I’m no Eskimo. So here goes!”
He thrust the door shut with a foot as he strode forward. One arm went around her. With his free hand he held up her chin.
“I’ve got to tell you,” he said huskily, “that, while I’m no Adonis you’ve trapped me just the same. And Peg! You can’t let me die by inches! Where’s all that sympathy you show in trapping? You have some chloroform left.”
“But I never set a trap for you!” she protested indignantly.
“A trapper is responsible for anything that gets into his snares, whether he set them for that particular purpose or not. That’s the law. And I’m caught! All four feet and my head. What are you going to do about it?”
He stared down into her face. Peg stared back, very seriously, with a little speculation. Nothing told him what he wanted to know.
“Don’t you see?”hepleaded. “Icouldn’t get excited about all the gold in the world. I can’t think about gold when you’re around. Since that first day up the creek—Peg! Peg! I didn’t know there were girls like you, or that I could love anyone so. I—”
He stopped, bent to kiss the upturned face, but she escaped and darted into the kitchen. The next instant the door opened and Harlow Littleton entered.
“They’ve got it!” he cried. “They’ve just hauled up a bucket of it. More gold than rock. Never heard of anything like it. Come on, Peggie! You’ve got to see it.”
The girl had returned from the kitchen and he grasped one of her hands and pulled her through the door. Laughing, she ran with him. Lewis found his cap and followed.
The day was spent at the shaft. Even Lewis worked as feverishly as the others when bucket after bucket of gold-bearing rock was brought to the surface.
Professor Littleton and Jimmie remained under ground. Lewis and Peg turned the windlass and piled the ore in a corner. Harlow Littleton climbed up and down the ladder, shouted directions and got in the way. His Indian dog driver came, looked, and went back to his dogs. He didn’t understand and didn’t care.
It was not until noon that Lewis saw there was less and less gold. When he dumped out the first bucket after lunch he did not see a gleam of yellow metal. All afternoon Jimmie and the professor wheeled the rock to the foot of the shaft and filled the bucket. When it was hoisted and emptied Peg and her uncle picked up the ore piece by piece, and as they did so their excitement died.
“It was just one of those pockets you told of,” Peg said to Lewis.
“I’m afraid so,” he said, “but even that was something.”
“But there may be another,” Littleton declared. “If this just caved in, there’s more. We’ll get some real miners in here. Too risky, Mel fooling with that shaky ceiling.”
But that night when they gathered at a late supper table Jimmie McGee did not permit the enthusiasm to mount.
“Just a pocket,” he said. “There’s nothing but granite above. I looked it all over.”
He continued with a description of exactly what had happened. No one understood his technical terms but somehow he made them convincing.
, “I’d take what you got and be satisfied,” he concluded. “Wouldn’t spend a penny on the chance of finding more. And anyhow, pardner, you don’t care. You proved you was right and that’s what a real prospector cares most about.”
“What is the value of the ore you took out to-day?” Harlow Littleton asked.
“Just guessin’, I’d say around twelve thousand. Hard to tell.”
“And it’s your opinion that there is no chance of our finding more?” the professor asked.
“I wouldn’t even go down that ladder again for what chance there is,” Jimmie declared emphatically.
“That satisfies me, pardner,” Professor Littleton said, without being conscious that he had used a colloquialism. “And, as you say, we’ve proved it was there.”
Harlow Littleton was the one to break up the excited gathering about the stove that night. Again cold and fresh air and unaccustomed exertion had proved effective. Jimmie arose to go with him but, though Lewis hesitated, there was no sign from Peg. One arm through her father’s, she waited to close the door as she wished them good-night.
Gold Bug Jimmie had been in a jovial mood that evening but as soon as the door of the cabin was closed, a candle lighted and a fire roaring, he prepared for bed without a word to the others.
“What do you claim for your share of that gold?” Littleton asked him.
“I ain’t got a claim to none of it!” was the retort.
“You mean, after you took him down there, showed it to him, that you—”
“Oh, shut up!” Jimmie cried. “He found it himself. I just went along.”
“Then what were you doing down in that shaft last night?”
Jimmie turned furiously upon Littleton. “Why in hell didn’t you stay where you belonged instead of mixing up in other folks’ business?” he shouted. “Snoopin’ around nights about something that’s none of your affair. I tell you, the old fellow and me’s pardners and I don’t have to tell you nothing.”
His anger was so great even Littleton was awed. Lewis watched them for a moment and then took a piece of ore from a pocket and began digging at it with his knife.
“Jimmie,” he said, at last, just as the prospector was getting into bed, “you’re a liar and a fraud and a salter of mines, and you’re a poor excuse at all three.” Jimmie rushed back across the room, but he was no longer angry.
“Look here, lad,” he pleaded. “I never thought about putting anything over on you. Might a’ known you’d get wise but it was only him I was aimin’ at. Now don’t go talkin’.”
“What’s this?” Littleton demanded. “I might have known there was something crooked here.”
“You keep your mouth shut!” Lewis commanded with such sudden, cold fury ! the other drew back startled. Then Lewis added gently to Jimmie: “Of course I’ll never tell. But you’d better tell me the whole thing or this fellow will spoil it all.” “Look here!” Littleton sputtered. “You can’t talk to—”
“Keep quiet!” Lewis interrupted. “You’re going to hear something a little different than you ever heard before but it won’t do you a bit of harm. You’ll probably not believe it but that doesn’t matter. Now, Jimmie, what I don’t understand is where you got it.”
“I didn’t!” the prospector exclaimed. “He did. The dodderin’old idiot! Had it right in his hands. Tossin’ it around. Pilin’ it in a corner of the mill where anybody could a’ come and took it. And thinkin’ it was lead!”
“What are you driving at?” Lewis demanded.
Jimmie did not answer the question. He filled and lighted his pipe, puffed and puffed until a tiny spark had become a glowing coal and then leaned back comfortably in his chair. When he began to
talk it was in a reminiscent tone, and wholly without reference to anything that had been said.
“I ’member old Ben Short. Ran into him on Rainy Lake the first time I come into this country. He always was kind o’ queer. Kept to himself and didn’t seem to care much how he got along. Last time I saw him he was working at the Queen, next to here, when it first started. I left the country right after that. We went to Alaska.
“But I’ve heard, of course. Met up with several lads that hung on longer here. What they told me was that the Queen lasted better’n the Princess. Started later. But it was shut down and old Ben Short got the job 0’ watchin’ the place. Two, three years went by and he stayed up here all alone. Got bushy, I suppose,. Least, folks thought he was. He’d get down to town every three months or so and go on a bust and then come back.
“After while the Queen went clear broke and his pay cheques quit cornin’. He hung on, though. When he got drunk he said he didn’t care. He’d get his. Mysterious, he was, though folks just thought he was bushy.
“Anyhow, he goes to town one spring and when he’s liquored up he begins talkin how he won’t have to work any more the rest of his life. The lads in the bar josh him and he gets mad and says he’s gotgold, more’n the Queen turned out in all the time it was runnin’, and that he’s got it cached.
“Of course, nobody believes him and he gets mad and pulls out a gold bullet. Run it into a bullet mold, he had. ‘How many drinks that good for?’ he asks, and when the bartender tells him he treats the house time and again.
“Well, Ben got pretty drunk and that night he wanders out onto the railroad track and gets killed by the east-bound passenger. There wasn’t a man left in town the next morning. And I’ve heard what they done to the Queen was scandalous. They pulled the place apart and dug up all ’round it, and they never found a yellow speck. Some men worked there all summer, and there was a lot of fights, but at last they all quit. They decided Ben was plain bushy.
“Only Ben wasn’t. He’s found that ridge I’d come to look for. And he knew he talked too much when he was drunk. He never cached the stuff at the Queen at all. He cached it over here at the Princess where no one ever thought to look.”
Jimmie stopped. Lewis was sitting far forward, looking at the prospector.
“And you found it,” he whispered.
“Not me. The old fellow. Ten bars of it. He found it where the foundation of the mill gave way at the corner. Ben probably weakened it making a hole.”
“But Professor Littleton could see it was gold!” Lewis exclaimed.
“No, and you couldn’t. Ben was foxy. He melted lead and covered the bars with it. I thought it was lead until I come to break off a piece, that day we went fishing.’
“Why all this fuss?” Littleton interrupted. “What was the use in—”
“You give me a pain ever since I first laid eyes on you,” Jimmie said calmly. “You may be the old fellow’s brother but you can’t add a nickel and a dime unless you change ’em into pennies and count ’em one at a time. You see, lad,” and he turned back to Lewis, “I couldn’t tell him he had the gold in his mitts all the time. Think how he’d feel. He had to find it himself.”
“But if the bars were covered with—”
“Oh, shut up!” Jimmie exclaimed in exasperation. “You’re as bad as this jigger here. Can’t you understand anything? A feller like the old feller—why, he’s got all the makin’s of a first class prospector, he has. All he needs is the experience. That’s what he is down at the bottom, a prospector, and always has been. Suppose I was goin’ to hurt his feelings by telling him those bars was gold? Don’t you see? He had to find ’em, and believe it was ore.”
“So -that’s what you were doing last night!” Littleton exclaimed. “Pounding that gold into the soft rock!”
Jimmie looked at him contemptuously. “He has flashes of sense,” he commented as he turned to Lewis. “Now, mind you, not a word. Even to the girl.” “Of course not.”
“And that’s why you were so sure there was no more in the drift,” Littleton declared.
“He’s getting brighter all the time,” Jimmie grinned at Lewis.
“You don’t seem to realize,” the young man said, “that you are criticizing one of the best known operators on the Montreal Stock Exchange.”
“So?” was the unruffled answer. “Welk I’ve seen dealers that didn’t know anything outside a faro box.”
Littleton laughed heartily. “Go ahead!’ he shouted. “Say anything you wish. I got it coming, all right. But,” and he became serious, “I want to say something, Mr. McGee. They don’t raise men like you down in my country.”
“May be I been a little rough,” Jimmie said, as their palms met, “but I was afraid you might spoil something.”
The next morning Jimmie began sorting the ore. He and Lewis monopolized the work, for the prospector, in his hurry had done some very obvious salting. Professsor Littleton wasgiven the worthless rock and innumerable errands and Jimmie kept urging Lewis to hurry.
“Can’t stop till we get this melted back into bars,” he would whisper. “Gosh! A baby’d know this hunk 0’ gold never grew in a rock like this.”
In mid-afternoon Peg announced that she was going to look at her traps.
“I forgot them completely yesterday,” she said, “and I couldn’t bear to think of anything being left in them another night.”
“Isn’t it late?” her father asked. “Never mind,” she said carelessly as started away. “Lewis will come after me.” The sun was close to the horizon before Jimmie would let the old man go. Lewis slipped on his snowshoes and hurried over the ridge and through the swamp. There were shadows beneath the heavy growth and he ran swiftly, knowing her dread of the eerie place.
He reached the creek and turned up without seeing her. Around bend after bend he sped. The sun was gone now and the shadows beneath the trees were black. And then, only a short way from the old beaver house, he stopped. On the fresh, unbroken surface of the bank left by the last storm some words were written. He went forward eagerly, only to stop in dismay. There was a message, but it was written in Greek.
Around the next bend was another. He thought it was similar to the first but it carried no meaning and he hurried past.
Peg was standing beside the cleft in the ice where she had caught the otter. As he came nearer Lewis saw that same impish expression in her eyes. He strode up; grasped her by the shoulders.
“What do those words mean?” he demanded.
“Oh!” she cried in mock dismay. “I had forgotten that you don’t know Greek.”
“You didn’t forget it. What do they mean?”
“Really, I don’t remember,” she said. “Something I scratched in the snow as I passed.”
He grasped one hand and half dragged her back along the trail.
“There!” he said, as he stopped beside the last message she had written.. “Translate it! Quick!”
“It’s nothing,” she said, carelessly. “Here! I’ll write the English underneath.” He waited breathlessly as she scratched the smooth surface of the snow:
But she did not finish because her arms were crushed to her side.
Then two cold noses met.