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The Silver Caves_ A Mining Story

The Silver Caves_ A Mining Story
Title: The Silver Caves_ A Mining Story
Release Date: 2018-06-17
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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S I L V E R   C A V E S.

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THE IMPASSABLE CHASM (Page 91).

Silver Caves, Frontispiece.

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T H E   S I L V E R   C A V E S

A MINING STORY

BY
ERNEST   INGERSOLL

NEW YORK
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
PUBLISHERS
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Copyright,
1890,
By DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
.

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CONTENTS.

CHAPTER  PAGE
I.THE “LAST CHANCE,”.1
II.THE FURNISHING OF A NEW HOME,.11
III.A DISCOURAGING EXPLORATION,.19
IV.MAX HAS AN IDEA,.31
V.OLD BOB TAKES A PARTNER,.47
VI.PROGRESS IN MINING,.55
VII.A DIME NOVEL HERO,.63
VIII.HOW LEN FOOLED THE PROFESSOR,.79
IX.SANDY MCKINNON’S EAVESDROPPING,.91
X.FACING THE NEW SITUATION,.101
XI.PREPARATIONS FOR WAR,.111
XII.THE ENEMY APPEARS,.127
XIII.A FLAG OF TRUCE,.139{vi}
XIV.SOME DANGEROUS TARGET PRACTICE,.151
XV.OLD BOB TAKES A THRASHING,.167
XVI.THE FIGHT AT THE FORD,.177
XVII.THE CAPITALIST EXAMINES THE MINE,.193
XVIII.SUCCESS ACHIEVED,.209

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THE “LAST CHANCE.”

THE SILVER CAVES.

CHAPTER I.
THE “LAST CHANCE.”

Matters had come to a crisis with Len and Max, when Sandy McKinnonarrived at the camp, with a letter of introduction from a friend inDenver.

These two young men had not been at all fortunate, so far, and, like therest of the community, were sorely discouraged. They had wavered forsome days between deserting the place and another alternative, thenature of which they kept to themselves, for they knew that they mightnot only be laughed at, but perhaps prevented from carrying out theirplan, were it announced.

The camp I refer to is now a flourishing{4} town, the center of many smallside-villages on the northern slope of Sierra San Juan; but twenty-fiveyears ago, when my story occurred, it was at the point of collapse, andperhaps would never have recovered had not what I am about to relateoccurred; and you must bear with me while I explain the circumstancesthat led up to its revival.

The beginnings of the town had been made half a dozen miles higher upPanther Creek, almost at its source, in fact; but after diggingnumberless prospect-holes and driving three fairly long tunnels,everybody voted that locality a failure, and came down to the presenttown-site where paying mines had since been worked for two or threeyears.

The two young men had become the owners, some time before, of one ofthese early tunnels (that one nearest the source of the Creek), throughtaking it as payment of a joint debt because nothing better was to behad. It was called the Last Chance, and the boys accepted the name assignificant, and{5} proposed to risk what means they had left in givingthe mine a new trial.

About 200 feet down stream was a second tunnel, the Aurora, owned bytwo men who were friendly to our heroes, one of whom, named Bowen, wasfamous for his reckless yet good-natured exploits of bravado.

Some distance still farther down the cañon, on the same side (theright-hand wall of the narrow gulch, looking down stream), was the thirdold tunnel, the Cardinal. This last was the property of a thoroughscallawag, despised and avoided by all respectable citizens, and onlykept from being a positive criminal by his natural cowardice. The enmityof this man, whose real name was lost in the nick-names “Old Bob” and“Squint-eye,” had been incurred by the boys through their exposing afraud by which he had once proposed to sell to a stranger namedAnderson, as a productive mine, this very property—the LastChance—although he neither owned it nor believed it worth anything.{6}

It was not strange, therefore, that, while trying to avoid generalcuriosity, they were especially anxious to keep their intentions secretfrom Old Bob.

And just at this juncture came Mr. Alexander McKinnon, straight fromGlasgow, and hoping to do something at the camp which might teach himhow silver mining should be carried on, and perhaps open a way to makehis fortune. Placing all the chances of failure, and their poverty,fairly before him, they offered to let him into their new partnership,to be called Brehm, Bushwick & Co., on very liberal terms, and heaccepted.

So they fitted him out with the kind of clothing, tools, and generaloutfit which were needful, purchased enough provisions to last afortnight, after which they could come to town for more, and to-morrowthe three were to start bright and early to their new home and the LastChance.

When the rising sun of the next morning had begun to tinge thesnow-peaks with{7} rose-color, but hours before his beams could scale themountain wall of this deep valley and flood it with warmth and light,our hopeful adventurers were awake and busy with breakfast.

Sandy showed himself a much more skillful cook than either of hisAmerican friends, and was warmly applauded.

“There’s a difference between fend and fare weell,” he remarked,sententiously, when they told him of some of their troubles in thismatter; “by which I mean,” he added, as he saw their puzzled faces,“that shifting for a meal is bad policy beside knowing how to haveplenty of good food and how to prepare it. It’s poor economy, I’mthinkin’, to half-starve one’s self. ‘Lang fasting hains’—that’ssaves, ye ken—‘nae bread.’

McKinnon dropped more and more into broad Scotch as he became betteracquainted, and his fund of old saws, into each of which whole chaptersof worldly experience had{8} been boiled down, were a constant source ofenjoyment to his partners.

Breakfast out of the way in a hurry, the three burros (Mexicandonkeys) hired to carry their luggage were brought around, the littlesawbuck saddles placed upon their backs, and cinched to them with atightness that made them groan and grunt lustily; then the load of eachwas placed between the forks, or hung to the four horns of the saddle,surmounted by the long-handled tools, and securely lashed on by ropesand thongs of twisted rawhide, which never break or stretch, and rarelyget loose from the “squaw-hitch.”

The whole baggage made about six fair burro-loads, and these were to becarried in two trips. It was not necessary for them to burden themselveswith a great amount of furniture or provisions, since the former couldbe left locked up in town, and the provisions could be replenished whenthey ran short. Besides, the lads expected to catch an{9} abundance oftrout and perhaps shoot an occasional deer or mountain sheep, anexpectation in which they would not have been disappointed had theextraordinary affair which happened later left time for hunting andfishing.

The trail was a steep and little-used pathway up the mountain, throughdense woods, where it straggled about to avoid rocks and fallen logs. Itwas built up, shelf-fashion, around projecting knobs, crossed fiercetorrents upon narrow bridges, and was full of sharp turns, miry holes,and bad going of every description. Here and there an opening in theforest gave a magnificent view, far out over the foot-hills, for theelevation, toward the head of the creek, was more than four thousandfeet above the valleys and fully ten thousand feet above the sea.

Beyond the woods the party found itself on the brink of a deep gorge, atthe bottom of which Panther Creek tore down in a series of cascades. Thetorrent ran four or{10} five hundred feet below, and above them themountains rose to invisible heights. Along this cliff-face the narrowtrail had been carried irregularly and often very dangerously, but thehardy little beasts picked their way cautiously up and down, and neversank too deep in a bog or got too far over the edge of a precipice.

Finally the trail reached the edge of the creek, near its head, and herewas a ford, beyond which it led through the willows and over theAurora’s dump to the Last Chance, whose cabin, perched on a bench, orterrace, was gained by a stiff climb up a zigzag in the face of therocky bluff.

The burros were turned loose in a small meadow above the cabin, andafter a hearty supper the tired boys quickly made beds of boughs andblankets, and slept as their long tramp entitled them to do.

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FURNISHING A NEW HOME.

CHAPTER II.
THE FURNISHING OF A NEW HOME.

It was understood, without discussion, that Max should take thesuperintendence of all mining operations, that Len should be the buyerand business man of the firm generally, and that Sandy should look afterthe housekeeping. Of course, they would all work together, but thesewere the specialties of each partner.

“Now who is to go back after the rest of our possessions,” demandedLennox, as they gathered at breakfast on the morning following theirarrival. “I don’t reckon there’s any use of two going.”

“No—I’d as lief do it,” Max remarked. “I can re-cinch and manage thejacks rather better than the rest of you, I imagine.”

“You certainly have my permission,” remarked Lennox, with a smile.{14}

“An’ I’m no hinderin’ ye, as the brig said to the burn,” Sandy echoed.“The young man frae Virginia can stay an’ help me get the hoose intrim.”

So the donkeys were brought up and saddled, Max marched away, and theother lads turned to their house-cleaning.

The former owners of the property had built a pretty good log cabin atthe head of the dump, close to the mouth of the tunnel, the door andfront window of which faced down the gulch and straight at the Aurora’sdump. There was a rude fireplace in which had been left a dilapidatedcooking stove. The first task was the straightening up of this, andputting it into condition for use, which Len soon accomplished.

At the farther end of the cabin a series of bunks had been built out ofpoles. These were now broken and unwholesome, so they were pulled topieces, the loose bark and other dirt cleared away from the logs andfloor behind them, and new ones were put up,{15} a layer of slender,elastic poles making an excellent bed-bottom in each bunk; and spruceboughs luxurious mattresses upon which to spread the buffalo robes andblankets.

This and some other tidying had taken all day, but when Max came inabout sundown, the kettle was singing and dancing on the old stove, thatleaked fire-light, if not fire, from a dozen cracks, and all three werewell satisfied with themselves and their snug home; while the boy, whocame with Max to drive the donkeys back, was loud in his praises, andwent away convinced that no body on the Creek could make flapjacks equalto Sandy McKinnon.

That evening, as they sat in the doorway, wedging handles into the picksand preparing the little mine lamps, Max suddenly exclaimed:

“Oh, I forgot to tell you! While I was packing the last burro,Squint-eyed Bob came moseying around and wanted to know what I was up toand where I was going, and so on—evidently prying ’round forinforma{16}tion. I gave him short answers, but he wasn’t satisfied, andfinally boned me outright to know if we weren’t going up to Jim Bowen’smine on Panther Creek. That roused my dander. ‘Hang it, Bob,’ Iretorted, ‘what business is it of yours, where I’m going, or what I amdoing? May be I’m going up Panther Creek and may be I’m not—I don’t seewhat odds it makes to you!’ He saw

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